A Rejoinder to JMP on Proletarian Feminism

 

First of all we would like to note that our original intervention was not as JMP seems to have interpreted it a challenge to the legitimacy of the project of proletarian feminism as the necessary development of a feminist discourse which upholds the leadership of the party, the dictatorship of the proletariat, the historical materialist method of analysis and the legacy of the international communist movement.

As was implied by the reference to “gaps” in the title of the piece and the qualification in the first paragraph we think that proletarian feminism has the potential both for further scientific refinement in which case it will serve as a weapon for the qualitative advancement of the communist movement and for degeneration into an ideological discourse which will serve as a sophisticated justification of continued male domination. That being said lets proceed to the points raised by JMP’s response:

“First of all, Signalfire criticizes the claim that women are not homogenous and divided by class. The point here is that proletarian women do not share the same interests as bourgeois women and that the former, unlike the latter, are the most exploited group under capitalism. While Signalfire agrees that differentiating women based on class is correct, it argues that this analysis somehow ignores that “gender itself is a class relation”. Of course it never explains, in any significant detail, what this means and then goes on to say that the differentiation between proletarian and bourgeois (and petty-bourgeois) women “is of little relevance.”

The above is based in a misunderstanding of our argument. We stated in our original piece that the class relation of gender as the appropriation of women’s unpaid labor in reproduction and the super-exploitation of their waged labor in production is in fact an experience largely exclusive to proletarian and semi-proletarian women especially with the granting of bourgeois rights to women as nominally independent legal subjects.

Thus bourgeois and petty bourgeois women far from forming part of the same gendered class as proletarian women have in many ways escaped the material class position of women (though they still experience the cultural effects of such)-we emphasized this by noting the “outsourcing” of reproductive labor. For us what is “of little relevance” is not the differences between proletarian and bourgeois women. On the contrary it the position of bourgeois and petty bourgeois women which is of little relevance to understanding the qualitatively different specific gendered class position of proletarian women.

We formulated our argument precisely with the intention of making our stance on this perfectly clear and thus drawing a necessary demarcation against those like Delphy who uphold an anti-communist position which homogenizes all women into a single sex class. For us what is important is understanding the class contradiction within the proletariat and semi-proletariat between men and women. Not asserting a class contradiction between men and women in general. That would be patently absurd as the men and women of the bourgeois share a common status as non-laborers and hence cannot be differentiated in such a manner (and significant strides have been made towards eliminating any differentiation between them in the superstructure by bourgeois feminism). .

“The distinction here is between patriarchy as an essential part of the mode of production versus the residue of patriarchy that is preserved in the superstructure and then obstructs the development of the base.”

JMP is incorrect to think that we misunderstood the concept of “patriarchal vestiges” as employed by the RCP-PCR. We understood it precisely as described above and take exception to it for the following reasons. Patriarchy as the male appropriation of female labor in the economic structure and the accompanying superstructures is on a purely theoretical level just as “inessential” to tributary modes of production based off the appropriation of surplus from direct producers united with their means of production by extra-economic force as it is to a capitalist mode of production based in the extraction of surplus value from wage laborers through their separation from the means of production.

One can hypothesize either form of production as being carried by biologically androgynous individuals or under female domination without modifying their structural features in the slightest. However in actual (non-theoretical) human history both pre-capitalist and capitalist modes of production have only developed with patriarchy as a constituent element of their own functioning. Patriarchy is not reducible to either capitalist or pre-capitalist modes of production. Its in an autonomous factor which has formed a constituent element of both in their actual historical development.

Furthermore we have no reason to think that patriarchal relations obstruct the development of the capitalist economic base in anyway. As the RCP-PCR and Marxists in general have often pointed out the development of the capitalist economic base opens up new possibilities for struggle against patriarchal relations which in turn results in their weakening or restructuring but the former is not identical to the latter.

We are not advocating a class struggle between two nominally homogeneous male and female sex classes running across the fundamental dichotomy between the proletariat and the bourgeois. We are asserting the foundational significance of the contradiction between men and women within the proletarian and popular classes and their movements and parties.

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