This post was written by Executive board member Ana Jakšić.
Marxist analysis of feminism is full of conceptual problems and inner paradoxes. This article will deal with those problems through two dimensions. Firstly by covering, in theory already well known but in practice rarely spoken about, problems concerning the relationship between modern socialist feminism and its theoretical foundation – Marxist theory. The other dimension will be covering theoretical and practical work of the socialist feminism itself.
First, we have to get familiar with Marxist theory and its stands on women’s issues. Marxism itself, as a conflict theory that gave birth to the whole left movement, had two outcomes for women. One on the ideological and the other on practical level. Both were utterly harmful to the women’s rights movement and to women as individuals.
On the ideological level, by failing to recognize people as individual political subjects, Marxism positioned the relation between man and woman beyond the borders of social phenomena, thus shifting it into a completely biological relation. The problem of inequality between man and women, which is the outcome of different patriarchal structures, has been completely biologized by Marx himself in his work The German Ideology.
When Marxist theorists weren’t preoccupied with delegitimizing and hiding away women’s issues, their approach to the problem of women’s subordination was of an entirely reductionist nature. The shining example of this is Engels’ theory that the genesis of capitalism caused patriarchy to occur and that the proletarian revolution will simultaneously free women from the shackles of patriarchy. His theory has no empirical support, and by putting so much emphasis on economic determinism he reduced women’s subordination to a casual and unimportant ideological consequence.
As was previously mentioned, Marxism did, because of the enormous political influence of this quasi-revolutionary science, disable all categories of oppressed people to constitute themselves as political subjects, because within it’s paradigm it completely ignores the fact that class is made out of individuals, one by one. That means that the masses weren’t fighting for themselves but for the party and their commander. And when the big economic transformation happened (forceful nationalization of private property and constitution of socialist countries), fundamental change (transition from socialism to communism) never came about because people themselves hadn’t changed.
Besides the fact that the Marxist movement failed to achieve any real and relevant change when women’s issues are concerned, it went a step further. It disabled women to carry out the wanted change by themselves. On the practical level, all communist parties and leaders reacted to any attempt by women to unite, so they could face and challenge the issues of gender inequality, by shutting them down and labeling them as fractionists.
In order to find empirical evidence for the aforementioned, I need to look no further than my own (ex) country, Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, where in 1953, the Communist party abolished the Women’s Anti-Fascist Front under the explanation of “too much effort being put into political engagement”.
The conclusion that follows directly from the Marxist premise is that, women cannot exist as a political subject outside of their own class which as a consequence has the fact that the synthesis between Marxism and feminism requires a fundamental reconstruction of the basic premises of Marxist theory – which is, you’ll agree, an impossible task.
Marxist theory, even in it’s least dogmatic interpretation and understanding still denies the most basic postulate of socialist feminism – that the housework women do at home is in fact unpaid, exploitative work. In Marxist theory, all work women traditionally do at home is a thing of nature (The German Ideology), and even if we could get over this vulgar biologization we could not reconcile Marxism with the demands of social feminists because in Marxist theory no work can be recognized as real work unless it has market value.
Not only did modern socialist feminists base their theory on the one that denies their problems and themselves, but they found their arch enemy and culprit in capitalism, completely ignoring consumer power and emancipatory recourses it gave them, also disregarding the fact that patriarchy survived and thrived in every socialist regime there was.
Concrete political goals, usually demanded by the socialist feminists have proven to be not only dysfunctional, but also damaging for the feminist movement. Paradoxically, equality demanding activists who fight for their cause by demanding positive discrimination, implicitly only confirm their own inferiority. Be it positive or negative, discrimination is still discrimination and demanding special treatment for a certain social group only reinforces beliefs that the aforementioned group is not capable of achieving the wanted changes on its own.
Second wave socialist feminists that worked on strengthening the welfare state indirectly worked on their our discrediting. Their “accomplishments” didn’t bring more political, or any other type of power to women, and their unrealistic demands for maternity leave only had negative consequences where they were implemented, because it became riskier for employers to hire women regardless of their qualifications.
While other requests made by socialist feminists completely stepped out of boundaries of reality. Here I’m thinking primarily about the request for paid housework. Even if we could, by some act of miracle, determine the market price for this type of work, we would still be doing women harm because this measure for equality would only work as another mechanism for keeping women at home, in the private sphere.
Also, higher minimal wages, that socialist feminist explicitly fought for, only destroy the dynamic of the market and just create more space for gray economy to thrive in. Establishing and raising minimal wages has proven to be counterproductive, especially for women. As is already known, unemployment goes higher, so it really is no surprise that most of the grey economy is composed of women in today’s society.
As a closing argument, I have to emphasize that it would be careless and ignorant to say that socialist feminist didn’t do any good when it comes to strengthening the women’s movement and recognizing certain problems which other types of feminist theories were blind for (opening up a question of double oppression, making the distinction between private and public patriarchy). Nevertheless, even though they pointed out some major problems, all the solutions they provided were inefficient and worst of all, counterproductive.
1. Vitig M. (2010). Ženom se ne rađa, Časopis za kvir teoriju i kulturu 1-2, (108-117).
2. Milić A. (2011), Uvod u rodne teorije, Mediterran publishing, Novi Sad, (153-172).
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