Kosambi Circle meeting 16 notes

16 August 2020

Meeting notes

This was the sixteenth meeting of the KRAC and the first meeting of Gender and Marxism month. A total of 255 members (220 peak at a time) attended via Zoom.

The meeting started with updates on the circle school, where one could learn/refresh basics of socialist theory, and a call was made for volunteers to help run the circle.

This was the first of three meetings on gender month. Three readings were discussed in this meeting. The first reading by Judith Lorber set out the different strands of feminisms in a paper titled “The Variety of Feminisms and their Contributions to Gender Equality”. The second reading by Heidi Hartmann explored the theoretical relationship between Marxism and feminism and sought a healthier relation between them rather than the dominance of Marxism over feminism. The third reading, ‘Feminism for the 99%’ , unlike the first two, was not theoretical and laid out a feminist manifesto for the 99% by highlighting flaws of liberal feminism and the way capitalism engendered violence. It also traced out the radical movements that have been led by women.

The discussion began with a crisp summary of Lorber’s paper by the months’ convenors. They dived into the three broad categories into which the author had grouped the different types of feminisms.

The first, gender reform feminism, attempts merely to elevate the oppressed gender without reforming the concept of gender. It includes liberal feminism which pursued equal rights and affirmative action and wished for women to be elevated to power and positions held by men. It does not seek to change the status quo beyond increasing representation of women. Marxist feminism argues that while affirmative action helps women take up positions outside the house, it traps them with the double burden of wage labour and household labor. Socialist states attempted to remedy this by having states take over certain household functions, but this puts the state in a very powerful position. The third strand in this category, development feminism is used in the analysis of developing and post colonial societies. The second category, gender resistance feminism, recognized that women faced great difficulty even when represented. Radical feminism, according to the author, states that the relationship between men and women is characterized by patriarchy. The mental states of men and women are imposed or developed out of the characteristics of patriarchal society. It holds that the characteristics associated with men are valourized while those of women are minimized. Lesbian feminism valorizes relations between women. Psychoanalytic feminism is based on Freud’s theory of development and argues that women are more emotionally expressive due to their upbringing, and men are attracted to this expressiveness due to their repressed emotionality. Their repression leads to them forming attachments with women and certain characteristics of women, such as in the Oedipus complex. Standpoint feminism aims at breaking male hegemony by publicising women’s experiences in the male dominated public space by talking, writing, activism, etc. However, it ignores that not all women have similar experiences.

The last category in the paper, gender revolutionary feminism, aims to deconstruct gender itself. It provides us with identity politics but it is not able to translate its theory into praxis. Multi ethnic strand of feminism centers race and ethnicity in the analysis of women’s feminism and gives us the concept of intersectionality. It recognises that women from oppressed sections of society experience oppression differently from women from dominant sections Eg -White/Upper caste women. Men’s feminism argues that men and women can’t be studied separately. It focuses on sources of male authority and dominance and rejects them. It also focuses on groups of men oppressed by patriarchy such as homosexual men, feminine men, men of color etc. Social construction feminism rejects the dichotomy of male and female and sees gender as being reproduced through societal norms. It requires that these norms be challenged openly. Postmodern feminism and queer theory hold that gender and sexuality are fluid. For them, the real revolution is having more diversity of gender and sexuality. It identifies how cross-dressing and trans genderism creates queer spaces in the world that de-establishes the existing social order. According to Lorber, postmodern feminism and queer theory combined with social construction feminism can provide higher emancipation to women.

The discussion on this reading raised issues with how Lorber overlooks the diversity within development feminism. It was acknowledged that there is an overlap among the strands in the gender reform category i.e. between development feminism, Marxist feminism, and liberal feminism respectively.

The convenors proceeded to discuss Hartmann’s piece “The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism: Towards a more Progressive Union”. It argues that there existed an unhappy marriage between marxism and feminism with marxism dominating. She notes that marxists accused feminists of weakening the class struggle and argues that marxists deal with the woman question but not the feminist question. The paper speaks of three main approaches: The Wage Labour Approach put forth by Engels’ observes that the oppression of women is linked to property ownership and because the proletariat own no property, there is no oppression of proletarian women. It sees wage labor therefore as being progressive for destroying traditional relations and giving parity in misery to men and women. The Separate Spheres Approach by Zaretsky states that sexism predates capitalism but capitalism accelerates it. It divides men and women into separate spheres where women perform labor of social reproduction for capitalism. Housework Approach by Dalla Costa and Federici points out that women’s reproductive labor produces surplus value and insists that women be paid for housework. This would ensure that house work gets the recognition it deserves and also allow for organization of workers. However, this approach runs the risk of reinforcing gender norms.

The author noted that approaches are sex-blind and also romanticize pre-capitalist social relations between men and women. They treat the women’s question as one of “women workers” and restrict the potential of Marxism to one of fighting capitalism, thereby ignoring women’s oppression.

Hartmann now moves on to the dual systems theory. Here it is argued by radical feminists that men and women's psyches are influenced by patriarchy in societies. Therefore male and female psyches are mental states of domination and dependence. This argument, Hartmann notes, requires a materialist system for explaining gender conflict.

The convenors pointed out the idea that distinct male and female psyches can exist in the first place, as being soft essentialism on the author’s part. She goes on to explore Rubin who defines a sex-gender system that stands in parallel to an economic system. It is a system in which society transforms biological differences into economic differences.

Firestone identifies a material base for the difference. She views it as a man exploiting a woman’s relative incapacity because of pregnancy, menstruation, and child rearing thus creating a strict division of labor between man and woman. This is criticized by Hartmann for focusing too much on biology.

Gender creationism views gender as a superstructure built on sex. TERFs (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists) see gender as rooted in biological sex.

Hartmann states patriarchy and capitalism are symbiotic. The paper defines patriarchy as a set of relations that create interdependence and solidarity among men, who may be at different levels in a hierarchy, to dominate women. Patriarchy is particular, as opposed to the economic class system. It results in men’s control over women’s labor power as well. Women’s entrance to the job-market reduced wages for women. This was combated by the family wage i.e. a wage for the whole family paid to the men. This doubly advantages men by making women serve them and giving men more power and wages. Thus contrary to Engel’s argument, capitalism hasn’t erased patriarchy. Hartmann ends the paper saying that a different form of feminism is required.

We moved on to discuss the last reading on the Agenda, Feminism for the 99%. The convenors set it up by saying that it does not offer an alternative to capitalism but merely focuses on the process of fighting capitalism. It does not theorize on why, for example, women primarily do housework. They emphasized that it is primarily a political praxis document with the end goal of defeating capitalism.

The book says that social reproduction analysis is central to class analysis. As per the authors, Marxism has been blind to crises which are not economic in nature such as social reproductive crisis, political crisis, ecological crisis. (Social reproductive crisis is where one extracts values from unpaid work without according value to it.) Multiple crises left unaddressed in Marxism has led to the anti capitalist fight becoming more varied in the issues it tackles as well as the constituents it fights for. The solutions, implicitly stated in the book, such as universal health care or housing for all which would cause a rupture in capitalism’s structure, would disproportionately benefit women.

The context of the crises in the face of capitalists contradictions have given rise to radical movements all over the world led and powered by women. A few examples would be the US teachers and nurse’s strikes, 2016/2018 EU strikes internationally and ASHA workers arrested at Jantar Mantar demanding better pay; anti CAA protests (immigrants and workers), safai karamcharis; Karnataka garment mill protest in India. The tools used in these protests have been a mix of the traditional sit ins, labor strikes combined with new tools such as withdrawing house work, sex work, refusing to smile.

The alternatives to anticapitalist feminism do not locate the problem correctly and have eroded moderate alternatives themselves. The authors note that liberal feminism is essentially equal opportunity domination. Liberal feminists locate the oppression in the lack of legal reform, representation and in the right wing reactionary forces. Right wing radical feminism on the other hand attributes the breakdown of their nuclear families and impoverishment of their communities to immigrants, Muslims and LGBTQ people. Feminism for the 99% offers tangible political aims and a process, where women are part of the story and decision-making in a post capitalist society. It doesn't however offer an end vision. Capitalism arrives at LGBTQ issues from both sides. The first is to normalise sexual taboos via legislation to encourage more consumption (e.g. rainbow coloured products); the second is to fund and embolden right wing forces that incorrectly attribute capitalism’s failings to LGBTQ people. In both cases the structural conditions surrounding the oppression of LGBTQ people goes untouched.

The book is anti racist, anti war, anticapitalist, but recognizes that the issues that affect humanity affect women specifically as a constituency. It recognizes capitalism as perpetuating gender based violence in the private and industrial space to increase profits. The responses have been inadequate and carceral feminism is blind to race and class. Western Feminism has leftout women oppressed by wage slavery, domesticity; women in the global south suffering from war, economic crises, social breakdown and austerity. Women are also most affected by climate change with nearly 80% of climate refugees constituted by women. Gendered nature of work pushes women to the frontlines with activities like fetching water, fuel collection, smallholder farming etc.

The meeting ended with discussion on how during the heyday of the Socialist movement (1913-1914), socialists and marxists were extremely dismissive of feminist concerns.