(Part I of the annotated text of my presentation for the panel "Socialism is Feminist" at the Left Forum, June 8th, Pace University, New York)
The theme of our panel is from Hugo Chavez’s 2009 declaration at the Via Campesina conference in Brazil. (Audience member said this was actually at the World Social Forum; I checked and it was but the event was sponsored by the Via Campesina.) “True socialism,” he said, “is feminist.” Three other Latin American presidents stood beside him: from Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay. It was President Rafael Correa of Ecuador who amplified the Chavez declaration, by saying that unlike traditional socialism, 21st century socialism includes gender justice, ethnic justice and inter-generational justice. These issues are often considered “soft issues” by those who perceive class as the main or predominant system of oppression/exploitation in society.
Despite this unequivocal declaration, those of us who work at the organizing of and advocacy for women continue to be at the receiving end of catcalls, continue to experience friction with other political groups and continue to be required to defend the ideological and political position we have taken. These compel us to periodically examine the issue of intersectionality and why this concept is so difficult to integrate into the binary view of class conflict. Several core or pivotal reasons come to the fore immediately:
1) the continued refusal to accept women’s historical scholarship and its findings that the reification of women’s knowledge, labor and bodies antedated the institutionalization of private property; that in truth, such reification was integral to the creation of private property and that indeed, women comprised the first form of private property
2) the insistence – and we can only call it a patriarchal insistence – on separating the category “women” from the category “people,” such that women’s liberation is often juxtaposed, contrasted, counter-poised, deemed secondary to people’s liberation. In this view, women’s liberation is often reduced to a thin tissue of gender relations, rather than viewed as a comprehensive resolution of a complex set of contradictions affecting women, contradictions which, taken as a whole, actually condemn class society and demand its transformation.
3) the dismissal or under-valuation of the dynamic between production and re-production – the non-integration of the latter in the social structural analysis, following the separation, during the Industrial Revolution, of home and workplace. Ironically, this is a capitalist narrative, truly, that compartmentalizes human social existence, the better to inflict a higher rate of exploitation upon an atomized labor force. In this narrative, only work is divorced and separated as a special human activity done under the aegis of capital; only wage labor is recognized as work; hence the oft-repeated and rather ludicrous prescription for women “to engage in production” in order to liberate themselves – ignoring the historical truth that women have always been engaged in production since the beginning of human history.
4) the under-valuation of either or both generational and daily replenishment of labor in the cycle of production and reproduction of goods and services. The cost of such replenishment has been borne by women, largely; it is estimated that the global unpaid household labor of women annually amounts to $1 trillion – an unprecedented theft casually ignored in the Left’s creation of its laundry lists of demands.
(Part II next week)