This article was originally written for the Socialist Resistance website. The author now has requested that Socialist Resistance remove the article. The original is being republished here at Judith Green’s request.
Judith Green reviews Marxism and Feminism edited by Shahrzad Mojab. Zed Books, London (400 pages, £21.99). Published March 2015.
“Marxism and Feminism” is not intended primarily as a contribution to the rarified world of academia (where arguably both feminism and Marxism have languished for decades, cut off from the movements that sustain them). Rather, editor Shahrzad Mojab’s objective in this collection of essays by Marxist feminists is to “present an analysis of feminism and Marxism that is fully coherent and integrated through dialectical and historical materialism, which can serve as a basis for both scholarship and activism.”
In her introduction, Mojab sets out her rejection of the economistic/workerist approach of most left tendencies. She also takes on the objective conservativism of non-Marxist social theory, dominated by cultural relativism, identity politics, post-structuralism/postmodernism, that have undercut both the ambitions and efficacy of social movements, including, perhaps especially, feminism. Mojab, and her contributors, are unashamed advocates of the much-derided ‘grand narrative’ of socialism and feminism as interlinked global emancipatory projects. Their project refuses ever more fragmented micro-political interpretations of the world, but asserts the presence of the universal in the particular, and urges us to address our interpretative and theoretical efforts to the task of changing our reality.
Mojab has selected essays by Frigga Haug and Himani Bannerji for the introductory section of the book ‘Class and Race in Marxism and Feminism’. Haug draws on the history of Marxist and feminist theorising about gender relations, concluding that ‘gender relations are always relations of production’ and ‘relations of production are always also gender relations.’ Haug’s second contribution elaborates on Marx’s concepts of ‘real life’, ‘work’ and ‘family’ as vital for contemporary practical feminism. It is to be welcomed that race is so firmly central in Mojab’s framing of the book, and this is particularly brought out in Bannerji’s chapter – which strives to stake out a path between economism on one hand and the cultural turn on the other. In a chapter that critiques both imperialist co-opting of feminist discourses and official multiculturalism she concludes that ‘Theorists of the left or Marxists have no reason to fear ‘identity’, because there is enough ground in the works of Marx himself to create social movements which do not have to choose between culture, economy and society or ‘race’, class and gender in order to organize politics of social revolution. Going beyond gestures of intersectionality, coalition and social cohesion, Marxists have recourse to a non-fragmentary understanding of the social which could change the world as we know it.”
The second section consists of twelve chapters on ‘Marxist-feminist Keywords.’ Ranging alphabetically from ‘Democracy’ to ‘Standpoint theory’, through ‘Financialization’ ‘Ideology’ ‘Labour-Power’ ‘Patriarchy/Patriarchies’ and ‘Revolution’ and more besides. Developed through collective discussion in a Marxist theory group, each keyword chapter would provide an excellent basis for a Marxist Feminist reading/discussion group meeting. Many chapters are demanding, insofar as they make arguments or trace theoretical developments that draw on a wide range of authors, ideas and knowledge, including Marxist and feminist ‘classics’. Some contributors, like Amir Hassanpour on ‘Nation and Nationalism’, contrast Marxist and feminist approaches to their chosen theme, while others seek synthesis. These keyword chapters show an active and open engagement with many different strands in Marxist and feminist theory, and justice is done to positions and ideas discussed even as authors map their limitations or propose alternative approaches. Thus, Delia Aguilar writes in her chapter on ‘Intersectionality’ that it ‘has a few relatively invariant features that signal complicity with the conservatism of the historical period’ and addresses herself to the adaptability of Crenshaw’s concept over King’s ‘multiple jeopardies’ or Hill Collins ‘interlocking systems of oppression.’ But she also provides a very complete and sympathetic account of Crenshaw’s purpose, so often missing from accounts of this now fashionable term. Conversely, Judith Whithead’s chapter on ‘Imperialism and Primitive Accumulation’ concludes that ‘Intersectional theory can provide the framework that sutures an array of relations of domination to the process of global accumulation that, in turn, influences contemporary trajectories of primitive accumulation.’
As with any edited book, some chapters are more successful than others, they are certainly not all in agreement with each other, but all were worth engaging with and provided plenty to think about fruitfully. The Maoist-inflected Marxism of some contributors was sometimes jarring for this reader who learnt her Marxism in a very different school. Teresa Ebert’s final epilogue, rightly castigates what she calls ‘ludic’ feminism (which I take to be the postmodern cultural turn, concerned with linguistic ‘playfulness’) for its retreat from transformative politics. However, I found her outline of a new ‘red’ feminism to too often fall into the trap of economistic reductionism that is warned against and avoided by other contributors. Despite that final negative note, this book, ably does what it sets out to do in open up exciting discussions. I hope many readers will take up Mojab’s challenge to ‘debate the issues, push the theoretical boundaries framed here, try them out in practice, and, most importantly, see whether it offers learning for the purpose of building the better world that we all deserve.”