Marxism, at the most basic level, is an analysis of the opposing forces within and the connections between capitalism and the sociopolitical system. Feminists and pro-feminists can gain a huge amount from an understanding of Marx’s criticism of capitalism. This post isn’t a primer on Marxism or feminism, but is intended to show some of the practical ways a Marxist analysis adds to feminist theory and practice.
Patriarchy and capitalism are separate, but connected, oppressive social systems. Patriarchal oppression often relies on the logic and needs of capitalism, especially the need to maximize profits and the accumulation of investment funds. Women are denied jobs and promotions under “neutral” market forces, it becomes easier to justify misogyny when someone can blame the lower productivity from a potential pregnancy and kids for denying someone a promotion. These same “neutral” market forces are used to justify gender wage gaps.
Capitalism thus has a strong interest in preserving patriarchy, since women make up such an important part in recreating daily life. Women, regardless of whether they work or not, are almost mandated to bear the majority of the burden of housework and child care. The role of women in creating the necessary social conditions for the continuation of capitalism makes them not only important, it makes their oppression beneficial to the stability of capitalism.
A Marxist analysis adds depth to feminist analysis of world events, one of the most important is economic and military imperialism.
Many liberal feminist groups supported the war against Afghanistan, one group that still supports escalation is the Feminist Majority Foundation:
it was so discouraging to learn that the Feminist Majority Foundation has lent its good name — and the good name of feminism in general — to advocate for further troop escalation and war.
On its foundation Web site, the first stated objective of the Feminist Majority Foundation’s “Campaign for Afghan Women and Girls” is to “expand peacekeeping forces.”
However, any serious analysis of patriarchy can understand why this is neoliberal bullshit
Most hot wars of recent memory, little and big, have been resolved or nudged into remission through what is called a power-sharing agreement. The big men from most or all of the warring parties—and war is basically a guy thing, in case you hadn’t noticed—shoulder in to the negotiating table and carve up a country’s or region’s military, political, and financial pie. Then they proclaim the resulting deal “peace.”
But as I learned firsthand as an aid worker in one so-called post-conflict country after another, when the men in power stop shooting at each other, they often escalate the war against civilians—especially women and girls. It seems to be hard for men to switch off violence, once they’ve gotten the hang of it. From Liberia to Myanmar, rape, torture, mutilation and murder continue unabated or even increase in frequency. In other words, from the standpoint of civilians, war is often not over when it’s “over,” and the “peace” is no real peace at all. Think of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the notorious “rape capital of the world,” where thousands upon thousands of women are gang-raped again and again, although the country has officially been at “peace” since 2003.
An analysis based on class power and structure brings a greater understanding to these conflicts. If we take the DRC as an example:
The Congo was among the most brutally oppressed of the African colonies. It was also one of the richest, abounding with mineral wealth like diamonds and copper.
Belgian King Leopold II’s colonial rule of the Congo, from 1885 to 1909, was infamous for its brutality. Belgian troops massacred whole villages. Workers’ hands were cut off for “stealing” that which belonged to their land or not reaching work quotas. An estimated 10 million people were killed during Leopold’s reign.
Following World War II, countries under the yoke of imperialism struggled for independence. This was the setting in which Patrice Lumumba began political organizing. Beginning as a trade union leader in 1955, he helped found the Congolese National Movement (MNC) in 1958, which became a leading force for independence from Belgian rule. The MNC won elections in December 1959 with a plurality of the votes. Running on a non-regional, non-tribal platform for a unified Congo, the MNC emerged ahead of the middle-class-based Abako party of Joseph Kasavubu. Lumumba became the first prime minister.
Lumumba’s main contribution to the Congolese struggle was his articulation of the idea of a united Congo. This vision sought to build a united nation across all ethnic and tribal divisions, despite fierce European opposition. Lumumba’s national vision paralleled his Pan-African sentiment of African unity. Both ideals were unacceptable to the imperialist powers, which sought a Congo and Africa riven with internal strife in order to be held in submission.
On Sept. 5, the pro-imperialist president, Kasavubu, illegally removed Lumumba from office. Lumumba brought his case directly to the parliament, which reaffirmed his post. In response, Kasavubu dismissed the parliament.
UN General Secretary Dag Hammarskjold publicly endorsed Kasavubu’s move. UN forces had earlier hampered Lumumba by closing a radio station he was using to plead his case with the people.
Amid the struggle, Col. Joseph Mobutu took power in a CIA-backed coup d’etat on the side of Kasavubu and the United States. Lumumba was placed under house arrest, “protected” by UN troops actively intervening against his rule.
We can clearly see the ways that transnational corporate interests are protected by governments and international bodies. Due to the logic of capitalism, these transnational corporations benefit most from a weak, destabilized government where transnational corporations can have the most influence.
The price of gold recently rose to over $1,000 per ounce. Yet in the super-rich goldmines of the Democratic Republic of Congo 1.5 million workers, including young children, trudge through chemical-infested soil for little or no pay. They are subjected to tuberculosis epidemics.
The miners receive no pay, only a daily pail of toxic sludge, the contents of which they may keep. On a good day, a pail may contain $30 worth of gold. On most days, it contains none.
As expected whenever the capitalist game of stocks and bonds implodes, speculators have turned to gold—the “safe” commodity. The profiteers are capitalists in imperialist countries, who benefit by exploiting the mine workers. The mines of the DRC are run by U.S., British, Canadian, Australian and South African companies.
“We are working so hard. … But who is really winning? We are not profiting. The real money is being made by other people outside this country,” stated Luc Likambo, a union leader.
An analysis of class power and structure is useful for examining issues in our communities, like prostitution. A radical feminist analysis recognizes that 90-95% of prostituted women in canada and the US would get out if they could, and that this is rape on a massive scale. When we use a Marxist analysis, then we recognize that the capitalist system itself brings about the conditions for this atrocity.
It needs to be emphasized that white supremacy runs through all of these issues. What we face is not just a capitalist patriarchy, but an imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. White supremacy eases liberal support for “civilizing” Afghanistan, it ensures that liberal feminists will overlook the fact that 92% of Native American prostituted women are raped, and it encourages liberal feminists to attack anyone who criticizes the white supremacy of Slutwalk.
If you want to learn more about Marxism:
http://davidharvey.org/ – a guided reading of capital vol 1 with David Harvey
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-e8rt8RGjCM – a quick rundown of marxism and economic crisis
http://www.youtube.com/user/brendanmcooney – he has a bunch of cool videos on marxist stuff