Tag Archives: feminism

Marxism and the Social Reproduction of Labor Exploring the roots of women’s oppression

By Lisa Luinenburg

When I became a mother four years ago, I began to feel my oppression as a woman in capitalist society more acutely. All of the endless demands on my time began to add up—the sleepless nights, the feedings, childcare, cooking, housework, errands and laundry around the clock. And then there were the demands at work—no paid maternity leave, the pressure to go back to work as soon as possible after giving birth, pumping in a bathroom. Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids and I love being a mother, but I began to think deeper. Have women always been oppressed? Where does my oppression as a woman stem from? And isn’t there a better way to do things that spreads out all the work that women do more evenly?

The book that has ultimately helped me the most to understand my own oppression as a woman is Marxism and Women’s Oppression by Lise Vogel. Originally written in 1983 and since updated, the book gives a comprehensive overview of the evolution of socialist feminist theory since the time of Marx and Engels. It delves into the debates between radical and socialist feminists in the 1960s and 1970s and ultimately offers a detailed explanation of a socialist feminist way of understanding women’s oppression—social reproduction theory. I would urge anyone who is interested in the subject to give Vogel’s book a close read for a deeper understanding of this important subject.

Before we delve into the origins of women’s oppression, let’s dispel a central myth in our society—that women have ALWAYS been oppressed. This viewpoint claims that women’s subordination is inevitable because it is a function of their biology or psychology. Eleanor Burke Leacock, a feminist anthropologist and Marxist wrote Myths of Male Dominance in 1981 and debunked this myth. Her research showed that male dominance results from the effects of colonization and participation in market relations in societies that were previously egalitarian, from developing inequality in societies where specialization of labor and production for exchange is undercutting the collective economy, and from data as viewed through a Western lens. At the same time, history shows that women have not always been oppressed. While their childbearing function has always remained the same, women’s social status has changed dramatically throughout history. The oppression of women is not rooted in our biology. The origins of women’s oppression are economic and social in character and the development of women’s oppression is intertwined with the transition from pre-class to class society.

Before the rise of class society, social production was organized communally and products shared equally, and the material basis for the exploitation of one group over another did not exist. The social status of women and men reflected the indispensable roles each played in the subsistence process, and gender and sexuality were often much more fluid categories than they are today. The change in women’s status developed along with the growing productivity of human labor based on agriculture, the domestication of animals, the rise of new divisions of labor, the private appropriation of an increasing social surplus, and the development of the possibility for some humans to prosper from the exploitation of the labor of others.

There are many different theories about the causes of women’s oppression that have been hotly debated by socialist and radical feminists since the 1960s. They have raised many questions which are not easily resolved (read Vogel for a comprehensive overview of these debates). Questions raised include: What is the nature of domestic labor? What is the purpose of the family? What is the meaning of patriarchy? Of reproduction? What is the relationship between imperialism and the family? Between sex and class oppression? Between women’s oppression and other forms of oppression (for example, racial oppression)?

Some theories, called dual systems theories, imply that women’s oppression comes from two distinct and autonomous systems, such as capitalism and patriarchy, the mode of production and the mode of reproduction, or the class system and the gender system. But these theories fail to explain how these systems are related.

On the other hand, socialist feminism starts from the assumption that there is a material root to women’s oppression, and that the family is a major terrain. Marx, Engels and other early socialist thinkers did write about the “woman-question,” but their theories were often inadequate or not fully developed and they were constrained by the social conventions and male-dominated ways of thinking of their time (read Vogel for a more in-depth analysis). At the same time, Engels made an important contribution in “Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State” as he closely examined the way these three institutions actually co-developed and continue to sustain each other. They are a powerful 3-legged stool on which Capitalism stands.

Social reproduction theory considers two concepts of Marx’s work as a point of departure: labor-power and the reproduction of labor power. Basically, workers sell their labor power on the market as a commodity. Labor power is realized when workers produce something with a use-value, which may or may not be exchanged. But workers also suffer wear and tear and eventually die. They must renew themselves on both a daily (individual) and long-term (societal) basis—this is the reproduction of labor power.

There are three types of processes that make up the reproduction of labor power in class societies: daily activities, the maintenance of non-laborers (for example children, the sick, and the elderly), and biological/generational replacement.

It is also important to note that the reproduction of labor power can take place in many locations, such as labor camps or barracks, and through many different processes, such as replacing laborers through slavery or immigration. However, most capitalist societies primarily reproduce labor power through kin-based family units and through biological procreation. These heterosexual family norms are most often institutionalized in class-based societies. They are constantly reinforced and made to seem like they’ve been around forever, even though (as we have seen) this is not historically the case.

Women’s special role in the biological reproduction of labor rests on a capitalist contradiction—capitalists need women to have babies to reproduce the labor pool, but when women give birth, it temporarily decreases their ability to contribute both as direct producers and in daily maintenance activities. Men also have to spend more time maintaining women during this period of time, which means they are less able to spend time producing commodities. This cuts into the capitalists’ ability to accumulate even more profits.

Although this differential division of labor that surrounds a woman’s ability to bear children need only last for a short period of time surrounding her pregnancy, most societies assign these roles a more permanent status through the family structure. Families then become the site for the performance of the daily and generational replacement routines, and are usually legitimized by male domination and backed up by institutionalized structures of female oppression. This also helps explain why heteronormative forms of the family are institutionalized. Non-normative families, such as LGBTQI families, or people who don’t fit neatly into binary gender categories, such as trans women, are less likely to be directly engaged in the social reproduction of new workers. Thus, it profits the capitalist system to exclude these people from mainstream society.

The family system is the fundamental institution of class society that determines and maintains the specific character of the oppression of women. In the upper classes, women’s oppression stems from their role in passing property along to their heirs. In the lower classes, it stems from women’s role in the reproduction of labor. Thus, women can experience oppression across all classes, although on different levels.

Let’s return to the concept of labor for a moment. There are two types of labor in capitalist society: necessary labor, and surplus labor. Necessary labor is the labor needed to renew a worker so they can continue to work the next day (this can be on an individual or societal scale). For example, cooking food, taking care of children, or preparing for the next day’s work. When workers work for their capitalist bosses, part of their work during the day is necessary work (the work they do to earn wages). Workers need wages in order to buy the products of capitalism for their personal consumption and renew their labor. The other part of their work is surplus labor. This is the extra labor they are essentially doing for free—the labor the capitalists bosses appropriate for their own profit.

Necessary labor has two parts: the social component (the part that earns wages) and the domestic component (unpaid labor in the home). The domestic labor often takes the form of additional labor needed to make commodities purchased by the worker for their consumption at home useable. For example, if you buy food, you have to cook it before you can eat it. It can also include caring for people who are not part of the labor pool, such as childcare or care for the elderly who cannot work.

Because of the contradiction in women’s roles in the reproduction of labor power and the institutionalization of the family structure, men are often primarily responsible for earning the wages, while women become primarily responsible for domestic labor. In capitalist society, the realms of productive and domestic spheres become spacially, temporally, and institutionally isolated from each other.

The capitalist bosses are always looking for ways to decrease necessary labor so they can increase their surplus labor and maximize their profits. They can do this in several ways—through longer working hours, speed ups, or increasing worker productivity. There is also a tendency to decrease domestic labor, for instance by socializing education, or obtaining even more profits through outsourcing tasks such as child care to daycare centers, or laundry to laundromats. This also helps explain the drive to privatize education to gain even more profits for the ruling class.

It is important to note here that women also play an important role in production and have often worked outside of the home (both in the present and historically). But it is through their role in the reproduction of labor that their oppression arises. Family members who are not working and are maintained by the family wage also help make up a reserve army of labor that capitalists can draw on when they need more workers. In fact, it benefits capitalists to have women as a mobile workforce they can exploit on demand, and women entering the workforce doesn’t necessarily mean that a family’s circumstances or wages will improve. For example, capitalists can use this as an excuse to pay everyone lower wages if more members of a family are working (and the lower wages have historically gone to women and children). The entry of women in the workforce has also been a controversial topic in socialist feminist debate.

So now that we understand where women’s oppression comes from, what can we do about it? Domestic labor has often been a class battleground and working people strive to win the best conditions for their personal lives and the renewal of their labor. Historically, women have been incorporated into strikes even if they are not in the workforce, for example the women’s auxiliary in the 1934 Teamster’s strike in Minneapolis. Women also played a crucial role in the recent teacher’s strikes that took the nation by storm.

Efforts to organize and expand equality can also reveal the fundamentally exploitative character of capitalism while moving everyone towards a more equal footing. Social struggle, as we all know, is essential and many things we take for granted today, such as the 8-hour day or child labor laws, were won through hard struggle by the working class. Despite the family’s base for the exploitation and oppression of women, families can also have a protective aspect for the working class—they can be centers for organizing against exploitation and provide social ties and supports to working people.

It is important to recognize here that there are democratic demands that we can fight for now that can be achieved under capitalism. Social reproduction theory provides a useful lens for us to examine social struggles that are currently occurring in a context of capitalist crisis. When capitalism is in crisis, there is an extraordinary level of pressure on women to “return” to their “traditional” role in the home. I put “return” and “traditional” in quotes because for working class women and especially women of color, not to mention women who are not heterosexual or cis-gendered, this traditional family role is pure mythology. Being full time in the family home and playing a support role for the nuclear family is not a viable option. But the ideological and physical assaults are real. There are attacks on reproductive freedom. All the services which support women in exercising full autonomy over our own bodies are on the chopping block. Abortion certainly, but also sex education and birth control. Services which help mothers maintain themselves in the workplace, such as paid maternity leave, breastfeeding supports, and low-cost quality childcare are all under attack as part of Capitalism’s offensive against women, as are social support programs targeted towards women and children, such as SNAP, WIC, and Medicaid. Immigrant women, whether undocumented or refugees, are doubly oppressed, as they face super low wages and deportation of the head of the family household, and are barred access to social service programs due to their immigration status.

Sexual harassment, sexual assault and domestic violence are part of the same offensive, a conscious ruling class campaign to “put women in their place.” African American women and women of color have faced especially brutal levels of repression in this area and experience deeper layers of oppression as women because of their race. Socialist Action has always spoken out when women are under attack. We join the chorus welcoming the #MeToo movement and we join the protests against violent misogynists in power—from Trump to Kavanaugh and beyond. But we have a lens that others lack, which helps us explain where this entitlement and violence comes from. It is the violence of the capitalist system in crisis, desperately lashing out against women’s ability and right to function in the public sphere.

Socialist Action recognizes that the oppression of women and the oppression of LGBTQIA people are intertwined and we have always supported LGBTQIA liberation struggles. We have done so because we believe that everyone has the right to be fully who they are. Here too, social reproduction theory gives us additional insight into the nature of the oppression LGBTQIA people face. The normative and central role played by the heterosexual nuclear family unit under capitalism implies additional levels of oppression for those who fail to comply. It is important to affirm everyone’s unconditional right to be who they are, and to be free from discrimination, harassment, and violence because of their sex, sexuality, or gender.

At the same time that we support all of these important social struggles, we must also recognize that a true end to women’s oppression can only be achieved through a socialist society. Socialist society will give us the freedom to re-think and re-distribute labor, which is the only way to eliminate the material root of women’s oppression. The need for domestic labor will never go away, but socialist society will allow us to socialize domestic labor under worker’s control. It is interesting to think here about what will happen to the institution of the family under socialist society. Once the material basis for women’s oppression is gone, the family will also begin to naturally shift and take on new forms and shapes.

I would like to end with a quote from Vogel’s book (page 181-182): “Historical materialism poses the difficult question of simultaneously reducing and redistributing domestic labor in the course of transforming it into an integral component of social production in communist society. Just as in the socialist transition ‘the state is not “abolished”, it withers away’, so too, domestic labor must wither away…In the process the family in its particular historical form as a kin-based social unit for the reproduction of exploitable labour-power in class-society will also wither away—and with it both patriarchal family-relations and the oppression of women.”

This text was presented at the SA Educational Conference (Toronto) on November 16, 2018.

How “inspiring” is Trudeau’s “feminism”?

by Barry Weisleder
Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau praised the tens of thousands of people who participated in the Women’s March across Canada, including over 60,000 in Toronto, on January 21.

“Congratulations to the women and men across Canada who came out yesterday to support women’s rights. You keep your government inspired,” Trudeau wrote on Twitter. Continue reading How “inspiring” is Trudeau’s “feminism”?

On the 104th Anniversary of IWD – For Feminism and Socialism!

A Socialist International women’s conference in Copenhagen in 1910 launched International Women’s Day globally in 1911. Trotskyist parties, including the predecessor organization of Socialist Action / Ligue pour l’Action socialiste in the Canadian state, re-launched the modern IWD in 1978. For good reason.

Women’s oppression is rooted in the capitalist system. As with heterosexism, racism, environmental destruction and war, capitalism profits from discrimination, dispossession and plunder.

Continue reading On the 104th Anniversary of IWD – For Feminism and Socialism!

A manifesto: Feminism is ‘pro-life’



— BARCELONA — The debate in political circles and in the media in recent decades around the question of abortion has been accompanied by a growing monopoly ownership of the defense of the right to life by the Right, in a way that skillfully counter-poses it to the feminist demand of the right to choose.

Although we as feminists have defended ourselves against these Sibylline accusations of egoism and/or infanticide, coming from the propaganda machine of the Catholic Church and its secular followers, we should recognize that our attempts at questioning the defense of life as the exclusive instrument of the Right have so far produced very few results. As “anti-choice” as they may be, the anti-choice activists are known by everyone as “pro-life,” and as pro-life as it may be, the feminist movement is still identified as “pro-abortion.”

However, apart from its calculated polarization, this logic is wrong. Feminism defends life. And it always has done. And that is why at a time when the paragons of traditional morality come out of their burrows to attack once again freedom and the right to decide, in a context where the cuts and the caverns combine to resurrect the vision of women as submissive and full of abnegation, it is more than ever necessary from a strategic perspective to assert feminism as being profoundly pro-life and to get rid of the semantic corset that is being imposed on us from outside.

A feminist pro-life manifesto does not only strengthen the demand for women’s freedom and autonomy as key elements of women’s struggle: it also allows us, at a time when the Right is back on the offensive, criminalizing us and robbing us of our rights, to assert and substantiate our re-appropriation of life as emancipatory path and guiding principle. Here is a first draft:

A question of rights…

1) Feminism defends the right of women to terminate their pregnancies in a safe manner. As the World Health Organization stresses, the prohibition of abortion only serves to increase maternal mortality; today, on a world scale, 47,000 women die each year because they terminate their pregnancy in a clandestine way. Thirteen percent of maternal deaths are due to unsafe abortions, and the majority of cases occur in countries with restrictive legislation on abortion.

The number of voluntary terminations of pregnancy does not diminish when legislation is harsh; on the other hand, the number of dangerous abortions increases. It is out of respect for the memory of all those women who, while trying to exercise their right not to have a child, have found themselves in unsanitary situations, have risked their lives or indeed died, that feminism is pro-life.

2) According to the UN, the term “clandestine and unsafe abortion” refers not only to risks to the health and the lives of women, but also to the negation of their right to information, to life and to freedom. Thus, this type of abortion does not just represent a health problem; it is first and foremost a question of human, social, and economic rights.

The many obstacles that prevent women from accessing abortion in a free and equal way—for example, the fact of having the means necessary to travel and/or pay for a discreet private clinic, their age, place of residence, country of origin or administrative position—are not only patently hypocritical, they are also discriminatory. If all of these barriers still exist in the present legislation of the Spanish state concerning abortion, they will increase if the Popular Party carries out its threat to reform that legislation. It is because it is determined to eliminate these barriers that feminism is pro-life.

3) The main factors that promote the reduction of unwanted pregnancies and abortions among young women are the increased use of contraceptives, better access to information and better sexual and relationship education: all that has been demanded for years by the feminist movement.

In spite of the fact that this same Right that calls us “anti- life” is opposed to our young people having safe, free, and intelligent sexual relations, it is necessary and urgent to create and transmit a model of sexuality that is rewarding, mature, and safe. We will not succeed in doing that by hypocritically advocating abstinence or by silence, but rather by ensuring that young people’s choices are increasingly based on information, freedom, and mutual respect. It is by its firm defense of the prevention of unwanted pregnancies—and therefore, of abortions—on the basis of the transmission of values of equality and autonomy that feminism is pro-life.

… for everyone, men and women!

4) In his delusional crusade against women’s right to choose, the minister Gallardón threatens to make the present legislation even more restrictive than it was in 1985, and he proposes suppressing the criterion of fetus malformation as a reason for abortion. He does so with the argument that all those people who have been born or are “about to be born” with any kind of disability must have the same rights as other citizens.

As feminists, we can already wonder how the right-wing forces at the head of and in the shadow of the government have the impudence to proclaim themselves heroic saviors of a section of society to which they deny any kind of dignified existence through their measures of austerity and privatization in the services, programs and other forms of support to people with limited autonomy.

Is the Popular Party not rather seeking to create a situation where it is families, and women in particular, who take sole responsibility for those that the PP forces to be born, but in whom it loses interest from the very first minute of their lives?

The same families and the same women that they drive into poverty because of their fraudulent rescue of the banks and their destruction of the Welfare State?

It is by its firm denunciation of this imposture, which pretends to defend social rights from Monday to Thursday while destroying them by their decrees just before the weekend, that feminism asserts itself, today more than ever, as pro-life.

5) The Popular Party not only forces women to become mothers against their will, it also prevents many other women, who want to be mothers and feel prepared for it, to actually become mothers. It does this through the defense of forced sterilization of people with psychic disabilities, despite the opposition of social organizations and the recommendations of the UN. It does so by opposing before the Constitutional Tribunal marriage between people of the same sex, because it considers that only the heterosexual family is the “natural” framework for raising children.

And it does so by preventing women living alone and lesbians from having access to public services of medically assisted reproduction in order to have a child without the direct intervention of a man.

The government thus divides women into “good” and “bad” mothers, good and bad women, and it decides who can start a family and who cannot. Gallardón says that motherhood makes women really women, but he forgets to make it clear (such forgetfulness!) that he is only talking about those women who have an adequate sexual orientation, who want to form the correct type of family (nuclear, heterosexual, etc…), and who do not have any kind of mental disability.

Only the God of Rouco Varela (Archbishop of Madrid and president of the Spanish Episcopal Conference) knows what might happen if we allow children to be brought up among “queers” and “dykes” or if we guarantee that persons with physical handicaps will have full autonomy in decisions concerning their bodies and their sexuality. It is, finally, in its determination to defend the rights and freedoms of all people, and to do so from Monday to Sunday, that feminism is pro-life.

A more just and a freer society

Feminism is pro-life because its raison d’être is to build a more just and a freer society, one which places welfare and common good at the centre of everything; a society which does not condemn its poorest, youngest and most vulnerable women to bleed to death because of a clandestine abortion; a society which does not aspire to domesticate people’s bodies and their lives and to force them into moralistic little pigeon-holes; a society that educates its young people in principles of reason, responsibility and truth, so that their actions will not have negative impacts on themselves or on other people; a society that integrates, cares for and genuinely respects people with functional diversity: that accepts freedom for all human beings to make decisions concerning their feelings and their desires and that does not say one thing and are do another.

Nevertheless, it is the prohibitive and anti-choice discourse that has the advantage today. We do not have much time: new attacks are being prepared. Let us take to the streets, let us take back possession of what is ours and go on the offensive. Feminism, today and always, is pro-life.

Sandra Ezquerra is currently a sociology professor at the Universitat de Vic (Barcelona). She is also an active feminist participant in the !5-M movement of Barcelona. Photo: Barcelona anti-austerity protest on Oct. 15, 2011 / Emilio Morenatti.

Feminist Rebellion Today

Published November 24, 2013 | By Socialist Action U.S.A.
womenBy CHRISTINE MARIE The following presentation was given by Christine Marie, representing Socialist Action at a Nov. 10 forum in Philadelphia called Feminist Rebellion Today. The other panelists were Preeti Pathak, Co-Chair of Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment (PAVE), a new group that uses education and action to shatter the silence of sexual violence; Rebecca Katherine Hirsch from Permanent Wave, a network of feminist artists and activists; and Nuala Cabral, co-founder of  FAAN Mail, a media literacy and activist project formed by women of color in Philadelphia.
I want to thank Socialist Action of Philadelphia for inviting me to participate on this wonderful panel of activists and leaders from the movement against sexual violence. By all accounts the Sept. 28 demonstration here in Philly was a more than successful part of the growing movement against rape culture—the movement against sexual violence, rape, street harassment, and every other attack on our ability to function fully and productively in this society, to function unimpeded by any kind of subordination by gender.I am an admirer of the role that PAVE has played in bringing the issue of sexual violence on campuses to the attention of the whole nation. I was delighted to view the videos of FANN’s educational forays onto the street around sexual harassment. In short, I am very happy to be part of this discussion with those leading on the ground here in Philadelphia today.I want to focus my remarks on two aspects of the issue of violence and the way that it relates to the whole fight for an end to gender oppression. First, I want to talk about the context in which sexual violence is on the rise, here and globally. Secondly, I want to address the elephant in the room: what is the root cause of gender oppression and what does that mean about the fight to end it once and for all.I want to situate my remarks by referring to three news items/publications from this year: (1) This week’s NPR story about the fight of female farm workers fighting rape on the job. (2) The death in April of over 1000 sisters in a garment factory in Bangladesh. (3) The publication of Beth Ritchie’s new book, “Arrested Justice: Black Women, Violence, and America Prison Nation.”I choose these three events to highlight the deliberate and systematic character of sexual violence in a capitalist world, its relationship to the global austerity drive against working people as a whole, and the way that an acknowledgement of this relationship problematizes one of the strategies behind current efforts to tackle sexual violence. My hope is that my presentation will encourage all of us to nurture our most radical hopes. My goal is to stimulate all of us to raise our political goals to a place that is truly commensurate with the degree of oppression that women and gender non-conforming people really face under this system.What is the system really like for women? Let’s take a look at my chosen recent events:First, the NPR broadcast this week told the stories of Guadalupe Chavez, singlehandedly raising three kids, who was denied her paycheck of $245 unless she submitted to the sexual advances of the grower’s supervisor, and Maricruz Ladino, who was raped by a farm supervisor with the power to hire and promote employees—or fire, blacklist, and deport her if she protested.Such employer power, enforced by the threat of sexual violence and terror is part of the way that growers prevent workers from organizing and fighting back against the most horrific conditions, conditions that include pesticide poisoning, other severe occupational diseases, and a dramatically shortened lifespan. Sexual violence, viewed as a social phenomenon, is a tool of the powerful against the subordinate and used to maintain those hierarchies.

My second example is the Bangladesh garment fire. In April, we all remember, over 1000 women were killed in a garment factory fire in Bangladesh. What we might not have focused on at the time was how the bosses used patriarchy and sexual violence to prevent those workers from organizing against the dangers before their deaths. But we can do that now.

Research by feminists and Marxists explain a lot about the way that gender subordination and sexual violence contributed to those deaths. First, all these women ended up in that factory because neoliberal reforms have transformed the countryside, forcing them to leave villages to earn the dowries that their families can no longer afford. This system of marriage was not some hoary hangover from a backward past but, as Peter Custers and others document, a patriarchal system that urban corporate elites enforce because it fills their sweatshops.

Once in the factories, these young women face a system of sexual violence that is used to weaken their ability to organize and that thwarts any genuine independence that could flow from work outside the home.

In 2003, Lourdes Pantaleon published a groundbreaking study of women workers in export processing zones in the Dominican Republic and found that 40 percent endured sexual harassment from bosses eager to keep a workforce quiescent. In a 2008 survey of female Export Processing Zone workers in Kenya, 90% reported that they had experienced some form of sexual harassment on the job or been forced to provide sexual favors in order to get hired and stay hired. And this kind of exploitation is not a small part of the effort of the ruling rich to generate profit.

Here is how the Economist business magazine described the economic role of these women in 2006: “The increase in female employment has also accounted for a big chunk of global growth in recent decades. GDP growth can come from three sources: employing more people; using more capital per worker; or an increase in the productivity of labour and capital due to new technology, say. Since 1970 women have filled two new jobs for every one taken by a man. Back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that the employment of extra women has not only added more to GDP than new jobs for men but has also chipped in more than either capital investment or increased productivity. Carve up the world’s economic growth a different way and another surprising conclusion emerges: over the past decade or so, the increased employment of women in developed economies has contributed much more to global growth than China has.

So the big point here is that we make a mistake if we begin our analysis of the problem of sexual violence by looking at it as a problem primarily caused by individual criminal, sick, or socially challenged men. Certainly, all of our efforts at mass education about rape culture, zero tolerance for sexual violence on campus, and the promotion of bystander intervention are important and necessary and should not be minimized in any way. This is just to say that sexual violence is much, much more than that. It is one of many tools of repression used in capitalist society to keep women subordinate and vulnerable economically in a way that benefits the elites.

We should begin to think about sexual violence and all the structures and regimes of this society that facilitate it as something other than residual backwardness and start to think of it in a way more akin to the way that we think of other tools used to divide and weaken the working class, such as mass deportation or mass incarceration.

The topic of mass incarceration leads me to my third telling incident, the publication of Beth Richie’s extraordinary new book: “Arrested Justice: Black women, Sexual violence, and the Prison Nation.” In “Arrested Justice,” Ritchie sets out to describe the way that the movement against violence against women, as it was reshaped in the neoliberal 1990s, has ill-served poor African American women.

One of her sample cases is that of a community organizer named Mrs. B, who upon failing to move out of Chicago public housing targeted for destruction and gentrification in time to suit the powers that be, became the victim of repeated rapes by a group of young policemen assigned 24-7 to regulate life in the project. Mrs. B. was vulnerable to the state because she lived in a neighborhood consciously depopulated by the banks and developers. Despite repeated efforts to get help from rape crisis centers and social services, the fact that she was asking them to confront rape by agents of the state that funded them, meant that they could not fit her victimization into their system. After years of struggle, Mrs. B. finally found an advocate and won a settlement from the Chicago Police Department, but she lives each day fearful of retaliation by the cops, the social service system, or some other arm of the Chicago governmental apparatus.

So those are my three examples. I am telling you these stories to make the point that outside of the violence in the home, in nuclear family units of one kind or another, from domestic partners or lovers—and, of course, the home remains the main site of violence against women—violence on the job and from agents of the state is a central issue for working women and poor women.

Violence comes in the nuclear family, in the workplace, in prison, and from agents of the state. It is this material reality—the enforcement of gender subordination to keep the system running—that fuels rape culture, that makes rape culture fundamentally acceptable, and that keeps rape culture deeply woven into our lives. Gender-based violence flows from a system that is maintained by our economic subordination.

Why is gender violence and rape culture on the rise today? I contend that the rise of rape culture cannot be separated from the fact that the corporate powers in this world are facing the most serious crisis of their system since 1929. Socialists believe that the employers are determined to recover the level of profitability they need by any means necessary.

At the moment, they are hoarding trillions of dollars that they refuse to invest in industries globally. Instead of providing jobs, they are sitting on those trillions until they can invest them in a manner that will give them a rate of return close to that of the 1950s. When they do invest, they invest in ways that yield primarily low-wage jobs of the kind justified ideologically by the myth that they are for young people just entering the job market or women who are partnered with someone making the real household wage. The whole pattern of current investment relies on our impoverishment.

Secondly, the corporate elites are demanding that governments here and all over the world dramatically cut social spending of any kind. Marxists call this cutting the social wage. In the U.S. they just cut $85 billion under “sequestration.  They are getting ready to cut more.  If you drive down the social wage—that is if you get rid of government pre-school programs, and health care for poor children, and cut social security for the seniors, and so on and so on—who takes up the slack? Well, women, of course, and it is work for which they are not paid.

If you privatize water in Bolivia to lower the social wage, who has to add an hour of unpaid labor to their day to carry it from a greater distance? Women. If you lower the social wage by making it more difficult for old people to get into a hospital, who finds more hours in the day to nurse them at home? Women. When women are forced to do unpaid labor in the home, they are vulnerable to having to take low-paid, part-time, and temporary jobs in the public sphere. When women feel forced to work on low-paying jobs, the bosses can use it to drive down the wages of the whole working class. Women’s subordination is not a fluke of the system. This is the way that capitalism uses gender differentiation to keep the system afloat.

Marxists refer to this crazy Catch 22 for women as the relationship between social reproduction and production. We argue that the capitalist system created a new kind of production, based on the horrific logic that corporate profits can only rise as our wages and standard of living go down. And along with that system of production goes a special kind of social reproduction.

In the capitalist system of social reproduction, the feeding, clothing, educating, nursing, and emotional caring for the majority of society—children, the elderly, all working people in fact, is thrown onto individual working-class households in a manner to reinforce elite capitalist rule.

Sometimes the powers that be push women to stay in the home, as they did in the 1950s. Sometimes they make it impossible for a home to survive without two wages, as they began to do in the 1970s, and they privatize some domestic functions such as laundry and fast food. They are flexible. But always, our work arrangements and domestic arrangements—on the broad social plane of course—are manipulated to increase profit and profitability for the capitalist class. And to enforce these profitable arrangements, they work hard to normalize and stabilize sexualities and gender identities that work with the system.

When you get down to the basics, all the highly profitable cultural degradations that we are enduring at the moment are designed to make it seem natural for women to be at the bottom of the heap. It is not a conspiracy per se. It is just that our subordination by the elites gives the green light to media portrayals and sexism in the culture at large.

The reality of our subordination and disparagement on the job, in the community, on the campus, and in the political arena, grows sexism in return. The introduction of anti-abortion laws in the majority of states blasts the message that women are too childlike, too irresponsible, or too evil to control our own bodies. Forcing poor women to get drug testing before applying for the meager benefits still available to help them raise their children signals that they are unfit mothers.

Federal think-tank pronouncements that blame poverty on non-gendering-conforming households in the Black community pathologize alternatives to the nuclear family. Predatory lending and the resultant foreclosures send the message that Black women cannot manage wealth. Throwing African American and Latino women into prison at the today’s rate—a rise of 747%—says that they are criminals actually unworthy of any of society’s wealth. Throwing people out of hospitals too early, with the expectation that women at home will take up the slack, transmits the notion that we are “naturally” of the disposition to replace the social wage with our compassionate and altruistic natures. Sexism is reinforced at every turn in this system.

The way out of this madness is creating a social order in which the wellbeing of children, the elderly, and, indeed, all working people is the responsibility of society as a whole. The way out of this madness is the creation of a social order in which the wealth we produce in the 40, 50, or 60 hours a week that we work, can go toward the social welfare of all. To create a movement that can win such a society, we have to break down the divisions among working people on sexual and gender lines. That means putting the demands not only for equal pay but for affirmative action for jobs from which we have been excluded, for full reproductive justice, for “Medicare for all,” and most, importantly for 24-hour child care, at the center of our fight.

In our current system, the gap between the hours worked by women in low-wage jobs and the hours of child care available condemns working women to victimization. Infant care can now cost more than sending a child to college. The gap between the hours a child is in school and most parents’ work schedules is around 25 hours a week.  This condemns women and those responsbile for domestic labor to unending victimization. There is simply no way to eliminate the economic subordination of women and the victimization of all working class family units than demanding a program of full quality childcare.

This type of demand challenges the most basic workings of the capitalist system. But it also speaks directly to the fight to end violence against women. Such violence will not end without creating the conditions in which society as a whole takes responsibility for relieving the double and triple burden facing working women by making such child care available, and by curtailing the economic disparities that force women into dangerous liaisons, that force women to stay in abusive relationships, that force women into abusive employment situations, and to endure sexual victimization by bosses. There is no other way.

The movement against violence against women has gone through a number of mutations. During the deep social radicalization of the 1960s and 1970s, the rape and domestic violence movements relied on activist-volunteers who were acutely aware of the miserable reality of welfare state intervention, cop violence, employer abuse, and a discriminatory criminal justice system factored into the story.  The movement that put tens of thousands of women and their allies in the streets was based on a radical vision in which all the instruments that maintained patriarchy, racism, and class society would be dismantled.

Sadly, that radicalization waned and U.S. capitalism began to experience new international competition and a falling rate of profit. Those who politically serve the corporations unleashed a concerted attack on working people, dubbed “neoliberal reform.”

It was not all the use of the stick, however. It also involved the use of the carrot. In response to the mass sentiment for women’s equality and safety, the Democratic and Republican parties agreed to give support to a system of institutions devoted to ameliorating violence against women. On the one hand, this led to the funding of some things we desperately need. But it came at a great cost because institutional aid to women suffering violence was interwoven into a general strengthening of the truly criminal “criminal justice system.”  The Violence Against Women Act, whose provisions tie non-profits and social service agencies deeply into a project that puts a gleam on the most pernicious criminal justice system in the world, is a case in point. For those of you who would like to look at this history more closely, I suggest again Beth Ritchie’s book, which dissects the politics of this process with precision.

I want to conclude with the idea, then, that today’s movement against sexual violence can go one of two ways. It can begin to create the kind of broad, mass, militant movement of millions of women and non-conforming gender victims that is necessary to take on the capitalist offensive against women and working people. This in my mind is the only kind of movement that can win real concessions, all the while building up our independent power for a future assault on the system itself.

Or, we can succumb to the funds and logic of winning our safety through collaboration with the criminal justice system that is implementing the New Jim Crow, the New Jane Crow, the union-busting, the surveillance of activists, and so on.  I think that viewed this way, the answer should be clear. I hope to join you in the streets soon to put the nation on notice that our tolerance for rape culture is at an end and that our eyes are on the prize of an end to patriarchy and the current system that sustains it.