The Marxist-Feminist Stream

 

Women protests across the world
Egypt, USA, and France 

Since 2012 the Marxist-feminist stream has been a key component of the Historical Materialism conference in London. The number of feminists participating in the HM conference until then had been much lower than it should have been, and feminist discussions had not garnered the attention and centrality that they deserve. A number of us affiliated to the journal in various ways decided it was time for Historical Materialism to make an effort to include more feminist debates, scholars, and activists within both the conference and the journal.

We did not want to create a ‘feminist ghetto’, or separate feminist discussions from other streams of Marxist thought. Rather, we were and are convinced that Marxism must use a feminist lens in order to understand and change the world, or it will simply fail to produce convincing analyses and strategies to bring about the end of capitalism. However, we also know that Marxist feminism is not just a prism through which we look at the world, but it has also become a research programme in its own right. Since the inception of Marxism as a political and theoretical tradition, feminists have produced key contributions, theoretical dilemmas, concepts and distinctive approaches to the critique of political economy and the complexity of capital as a social relation. The Marxist-feminist stream at HM has thus aimed to become a platform in and through which this wealth of ideas and struggles can be discussed and deepened.

For half a decade already, hundreds of scholars and activists have contributed their ideas and energy to the Marxist-feminist stream at HM London, displaying an incredible level of originality, rigorousness, anger, and fun. The stream has become a meeting place for Marxist feminists from many parts of Europe and the world. From discussions on social reproduction theory, feminised labour and value, the common, the environment, feminist art and literary histories, to debates on the relationship between gender, race and class, and much more, the Marxist-feminist stream has proved to be one of the liveliest and most engaging contexts for rethinking gendered and racial oppression in relation to capitalist exploitation and the commonalities and divides of anti-capitalist struggle. A small part of this wealth of ideas has also appeared in the pages of the journal, both with the publication of a special issue on Social Reproduction Feminism in 2016 and feminist contributions to other journal issues. Yet much of the research encountered at the Marxist-feminist conference sessions is not disseminated more widely. There is a clear need to translate the success of these sessions into a more regular and ongoing presence by promoting more feminist contributions within Historical Materialism overall and particularly in the book series.

Women protesting around the world
Barcelona, Teheran, and Santiago de Chile

As we write these lines, in 2017, there is a widespread perception that the divides on which capitalism grounds its hegemony are becoming rifts. Appalling regimes of white privilege and male supremacy, attacks on reproductive rights, the humiliation of refugees and migrant workers (many of them women), multiple and intersecting political and economic ‘crises’ are symptoms of the deficits of capitalism as such. The re-composition of the working class alongside the making of redundant populations, globally and locally, has been going on for some time now, and the role of racialised, heterosexist gender relations in these developments is indisputable. The Marxist-feminist stream will continue posing questions on this unfolding history of discontent, the collective subjects brought forth and the possibilities of rupture generated.  

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Poster 2018
Art by David Mabb

Marxist-Feminist Stream CFP 

Fifteenth Annual Conference, London (SOAS, Central London)

8-11 November 2018
Read the general 'Taking on the Right' CFP with all conference details 

All queries to: historicalmaterialism@soas.ac.uk
Abstract submissions: 
https://conference.historicalmaterialism.org/index.php/hmlondon/hm15
Deadline: FINAL EXTENSION TILL 13 JUNE 2018

The rise of the nationalist right across the globe is alarming for women. From the Polish government’s resolve to ban abortion, to the revolting violence against women and children in India defended by politicians of Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist party, to Trump’s regular misogynist comments and policies, right-wing demagogues and their supporters are not only creating a climate that legitimizes and justifies violence against women but they are also implementing laws to restrict women’s freedoms as much as undermine or negate the rights of LBTQ people. The prominence of the political right coincides with and fuels racist far-right and fascistic movements that are making headlines on a daily basis. The recent attack in Toronto by an ‘incel’ follower revealed the links between this group of women-haters and the alt-right.

These tendencies are not simply reminiscent of some of the darkest pages of history, when fascist rulers declared women’s bodies to be the property of men and the nation, and rape was treated mainly as a moral offence. Rather, they align with and reinforce neoliberal capitalist policies that destroy individuals’ lives and the planet on an unprecedented level – policies often implemented and still supported by liberal and centre-left politicians.

But the misogyny of the right-wing is not restricted to the legitimation of physical violence and their attacks on women’s reproductive rights. It is also evident in the social and economic degradation of women’s lives. Austerity policies across Europe and North America have hit women the hardest. According to the Women’s Budget Group in the UK, seven years of Tory government cuts to welfare provisions have meant the loss of jobs in the public sector (where women are prevalently employed) and the closure of almost 20% of refuges for victims of domestic violence. Such policies entrench further women’s position as the poorest section of society, often in heavily racialized terms. In the US, the budget cuts proposed by Trump’s administration in Medicaid, housing assistance and low-income energy assistance would bear particularly negatively on women, especially women of colour. Furthermore, migrant women find themselves confronting the sharpest end of the right-wing nationalist stick. Not only do they constantly face the risk of being deported, but they are also segregated in the care and domestic/cleaning sectors, which are the worst paid and devalued sectors of the economy. This is the result of the ongoing and intensifying devaluation of workers’ social reproduction, or those activities that are not always directly and immediately profitable for capitalism (such as healthcare and education) but are nonetheless crucial if capitalism is to have a cheap and exploitable workforce at its disposal. 

In such a bleak context, women have nonetheless shown a strength and level of organization that we have not seen in decades. In Argentina, the US, Poland, Italy, Spain and many other countries women have taken to the streets, organizing against gender violence and the misogyny to which they are subjected on a daily basis. In movements like #MeToo, Ni Una Menos, and the International Women’s Strike, they are fighting back against the climate of male impunity and hatred fueled by the right. They are also challenging the hypocrisy and calls to ‘lean in’ by neoliberal self-proclaimed feminists. 

Marxist-feminists are playing a key role in these movements. Not only are we directly involved in the resistance against the right but we are also developing new theoretical and organizational tools to face the challenges women encounter at this nationalist, ultra-authoritarian turn in neoliberal capitalism. From the development of the Social Reproduction framework to the critique of corporate and right-wing feminisms, to the unraveling of, and battle against femo- and homo-nationalisms that want us to believe that Islam is the patriarchal and homophobic enemy to combat, Marxist-feminists in the last ten years have produced some of the most sophisticated and effective approaches to analyse and oppose capitalist barbarity. 

To continue developing our theoretical and organizational tools and create new ones, we welcome papers that cover (but are not restricted to) the following themes:

• Women’s and feminists’ resistance against the right: struggles and movements
• Why are women leading or participating in far-right formations and political parties? 
• What are the strategies of right and far-right platforms in approaching working-class women specifically?
• The forms of violence activated in suppressing feminist and LGBTQ activism
• The role of the judiciary system and state apparatuses overall in legitimizing capitalism’s authoritarian turn as regards women’s and feminist struggles 
• If and how cultural practices and theories, including those that concern art and literature, engage Marxist-feminist thought in undermining the far right and the ‘fascist matrix’ of much contemporary politics
• The role of religion – for example, of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches – in promoting and normalizing authoritarian misogyny and nationalism and joining forces with the right and far right
• Marxist-feminist pedagogy in combating the far right (in the classroom, student movements, social centres)
• Marxist-feminist theorisations of the links between capitalism and fascism.
• Strategies and tactics: what can Marxist-feminism do in order to combat the rise of the far right and its social appeal?
• The utility of Social Reproduction Theory in assessing and theorizing capitalism

Abstracts and panel proposals should explicitly mention the Marxist-Feminist Stream. Panel proposals should include names and abstracts of all participants.

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The Marxist Feminist CFP for the 2017 London Annual HM Conference can be found below and here with details on how to register. 

Marxist-Feminist Stream - Stream at the Historical Materialism Annual Conference

The contribution of women in mass/popular/class/revolutionary uprisings has often been overlooked, even in cases where women played a leading role. Following the Call for Papers of the 14th HM London conference in commemorating the Marxist legacy in revolutions of the past at the centenary of the October Revolution while thinking about present struggles, this is then also an opportune time to highlight and reflect on the role of women and feminist ideas in revolutionary situations.

Processes of excision, of silencing, of sidelining help explain the sway of a (neo)liberal feminism in the so-called West that places feminism as an emancipatory possibility engendered by capitalism rather than socialism or communism. This suppression of women's revolutionary histories has been successful in establishing neoliberal feminism as the mainstream. Marxist-feminists need to revisit and reclaim their histories, not only to set the record straight but to move beyond them by critically engaging with other anti-racist, anti-colonialist, revolutionary feminisms. A new generation of feminist activists and theorists is challenging neoliberal feminism and placing feminist struggles again squarely within anti-capitalist and anti-racist agendas. All across the globe, 2016 and 2017 have been years of struggle for abortion rights (as in Poland's Black Monday) and women's self-determination as well as years of resurgence of significant feminist movements (as in the case of the Women's March in the USA and the Women's Strike in many parts of the world).

In 2017, the HM London conference's Marxist feminist stream invites critical Marxist feminist thinking on the processes and strategies of excision and silencing as described above, but also on elaborating on the ways in which the important struggles of the past years can lead to the emergence and consolidation of revolutionary feminist movements worldwide. We invite papers that re-work Alexandra Kollontai's question 'what has the October Revolution done for women in the West?' (1927) to which we add the question 'what has the October Revolution done for Women in the East?' as well as a series of other questions:

  • How has Marxist feminism approached the legacy of revolutions so far?

  • Are there Marxist feminist theorisations of the revolution today that can operate against the neo-fascist offensive in its alliance with contemporary capitalism?

  • What are the sites of Marxist feminist revolutionary pedagogy today?

  • What is the connection of social movements against racism to the Marxist feminist critique of revolutions?

  • What has the November Revolution, and Rosa Luxemburg's murder, achieved in terms of burying the issue of female revolutionary leaders for most of the 20th century?

  • What is the experience of women as participants in, or leaders of, revolutions beyond Europe? What feminist politics have informed those experiences? How can we expand a transnational, even global dialogue as a shared space for negotiating a possibly collective experience?

  • What are the positions of Marxist feminism on the questions of revolution, violence, and self-defense?

  • What counts as revolutionary praxis today from the perspectives of Marxist feminism? Does the strike, for instance, allow for a successful imbrication of women's demands concerning production and reproduction, a distinction forced by capitalist economy and economics?

  • What is the impact of the wage relation (and dependency) on keeping women 'in their place' (in factories, the service industry, the home), ensuring therefore their suppression as a revolutionary force? Or should we have other readings of the wage relation as the ground of economic independence within the actuality of capitalism?

What is the role (and revival) of religion as politics in suppressing or enabling women as a revolutionary force?

  • Is the abolition or the multiplication of genders a revolutionary utopia that we should strive for in opposing the concrete exploitations of capitalism?

  • Has the notion of 'passive revolution' been of use to Marxist feminist struggles, or has it been twisted to negate the possibility of 'active revolution'?

  • What is the relationship of sexual relations to class struggle today as opposed to 1921, when Kollontai wrote a text under this heading?

We hope that contributors to the Marxist feminist stream will bring their own critical questions, of relevance to research and to everyday struggle, to be added to the above provisional list of questions – not least in relation to what and who the social category 'woman' may encompass today as a revolutionary subject beyond a normative biologism. We invite panels, papers, and platforms where such questions can be openly debated with the sense of urgency our times command.