By CHRISTINE MARIE
“Social Reproduction Theory: Remapping Class, Recentering Oppression.” Edited by Tithi Bhattacharya; forward by Lise Vogel (London: Pluto Press 2017).
Social reproduction feminism is not new. Marxist thinkers began to focus in earnest on the relationship between production and social reproduction in capitalist society nearly 40 years ago, in the context of what used to be referred to as the second wave of feminism. In 1979, the Fourth International approved the resolution, “Socialist Revolution and the Struggle for Women’s Liberation.”
That early mass movement also put on its agenda the theoretical work of Lise Vogel, “Marxism and the Oppression of Women,” first published in 1983. Vogel and other Marxist scholars put forth the concepts of what came to be called “social reproduction theory.”
Tithi Bhattacharya explains in the introduction to this new book that “social reproduction theorists perceive the relation between labor dispensed to produce commodities and labor dispensed to produce people as part of the systemic totality of capitalism. The framework thus seeks to make visible labor and work that are analytically hidden by classical economists and politically denied by policy makers.”
She goes on to point out that social reproduction theorists “by no means represent a unified political or theoretical tradition.” But while differences remain among the exponents of the theory, “SRT is primarily concerned with understanding how categories of oppression (such as gender, race, and ableism) are coproduced in simultaneity with the production of surplus value.”
It is no accident that the new volume of essays on social reproduction theory, edited by Bhattacharya, is appearing in the midst of the emergence of giant women’s mobilizations on the global stage.
These mobilizations include the 2016 Polish women’s strike to defend abortion access, the October 2016 Ni Una Menos demonstrations and strikes against femicide in Argentina, and the March 2018 strike of 5 million in Spain against discrimination in wages and violence based on gender. These 2016 women’s strikes led to the formation of a new international network of radical women.
The potential for sustained motion by working women struggling in the context of the most serious global anti-working-class offensive in around 100 years has created the context for a burst of new work on the roots of gender oppression and its relationship to one of capitalism’s most profound contradictions. The system needs to drive women into the pool of waged labor producing surplus value, while relying on gender and the kin-based family, rather than socialized institutions, to create, develop, and sustain that workforce.
As profit rates have dropped over the last three decades, and the bosses have both super-exploited women in the less developed countries and cut the social wage in developed countries to the bone, the crises for working women have grown exponentially. Mass action and strikes by women, on the job and off, are becoming central factors in the class struggle.
Key figures from the leadership of the U.S. formation attempting to provide an anti-capitalist framework for this new upsurge, the International Women’s Strike U.S., have essays in this volume. Cinzia Arruza explains how social reproduction theory can anchor a movement to challenge the liberal feminism that sees Hillary Clinton as a solution. Tithi Bhattacharya interrogates the parts of Marx’s “Capital” that imply but do not detail the relationship of social reproduction to production.
David McNally argues that we should use the wonderfully thick descriptions of racialized and gendered class experience provided by those working with intersectionality theory, but reject its failure to explain the workings of capitalism and the related strategy of defeating it.
Additional essays are included from such key figures as Nancy Fraser, Salar Mohandesi, Emma Teitelman, Susan Ferguson, Carmeen Temple Hopkins, Serap Saritas Oran, and Alan Sears. Every socialist needs to read it now.