Class, the Digital and (Immaterial) Feminism

Jennifer Cotter

ONE: Immaterial Feminism, Inequality and Exploitation

Immaterial feminisms have emerged as part of the digital movements of "new economy" and "network society" in order to help capital eliminate old ideological fetters of gender that stand in the way of the expansion of capitalist production and the intensification of the exploitation of labor for profit. By "immaterial feminisms" I mean the network of feminisms—from "cyberfeminism," to feminist theories of "immaterial labor," "(im)materiality," and "new materiality," to "network feminisms," "digital feminism" and "technofeminism"—which, as a species of new economy theory, ideologically displace the relation of gender to class, labor, exploitation, and the social relations of production in capitalism by positing a constitutive change in the wage-labor/capital relation brought on by the innovations of "new technologies," the growth of the service industries and of "knowledge work" (i.e., "immaterial labor"). This is another way of saying that the role of immaterial feminisms in history is to represent as "radical," "innovative" and as "progress" for women toward human freedom what capital is economically compelled to do to temporarily stave off declines in profit.

In fact, in some respects it could be argued that it is the discourses of bourgeois feminism in the post-WWII period in particular—from the second-wave anti-worker feminism of Betty Friedan to the contemporary "post-capitalist feminism" of J.K. Gibson-Graham—that have assisted capital in establishing the ideology that a post-industrial capitalism is a capitalism beyond exploitation, with the rising status of women in the global workforce as "proof" of the new economy's inherently democratic leanings and the prophesized coming of the end of social inequality. There is a clear ideological lineage, in other words, from Daniel Bell's declarations in the 1970's that "Work in the industrial sector…has largely been men's work" and that as a result of the emergence of the service industry in the North, "For the first time, one can say that women have a secure base for economic independence" (xvii), to Donna Haraway's "cyborg feminism" in which she argues that women working in Asia for transnational corporations located in the North are "actively rewriting the text of their bodies and societies" (177), to former Hewlett Packard CEO and current McCain spokesperson Carly Fiorina's populist rhetoric that it is because of the immaterial economy that women are finally able to "reject the idea that there is a glass ceiling" and instead "work for a world where all women are able to go further, retire, dream bigger, and accomplish more than any generation before."

What links this narrative of a gender-less, class-free capitalism without exploitation is one of the primary tenets of bourgeois economic and cultural theory over the past thirty years; namely, that we are witness to the development of a "digital" capitalism and the transition from an economy based in material production to an immaterial economy of coded interfaces. According to this narrative, capital no longer relies on the exploitation of labor as the source of new value, but rather accumulates new value through the control of the creativity and knowledge work of immaterial workers, in particular what is characterized as "women's labor"—that is, work in "non-productive" industries of service and exchange. As a result of the expansion of the market into new avenues of employment, it is argued that developments in communications, information and cyber-technologies have moved us beyond class relations—and beyond the theft of surplus-labor in production—into an increasingly flat world of "equal opportunity" (Thomas Friedman, The World Is Flat).

However, contrary to the claims of digital movements which displace "labor" with "knowledge" and "services" as the basis of "value" in capitalism, there has not been a fundamental transformation in wage-labor/capital relations or the fact that profit is the product of the theft of the surplus-labor of all productive workers, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, nationality, etc. That is to say, while bourgeois theorists have learned Derrida's lessons of deferral and delay and use the substitution of an endless series of tropes to define 21st century capitalism as internally "different" from itself—from "new economy," to "globalization," "empire," "flat world," "network society," "technocapitalism," "knowledge economy," "post-capitalism," "cybercapitalism," etc—capitalism remains a system based in the exploitation of labor. As such, it remains the labor theory of value as theorized by Marx and Lenin that can explain not only the developments in production which have occurred that have resulted in cultural and political changes for women since the second-half of the 20th century, but also why these changes do not transform the fundamental contradiction of capitalism—the division of ownership between capital and labor.

In other words, social relations that are said to be "outside" capitalism in the discourses of immaterial feminism are decidedly "inside" the logic of exploitation. To posit that changes in the location of production or the tools of production as evidence of a new economic model, as immaterial feminism does, works to obscure the fundamental realities of life in which the condition of survival for increasing numbers of women around the world depends upon their ability to sell their labor-power to capital for a wage and thus become part of the logic of the capitalist working day. In fact, it is precisely because capital "cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production" and "must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere" (Manifesto 487) in search for new sources of labor to exploit that the developments outlined in bourgeois theories of a "digital" economy cannot be understood except as expanding the logic of capitalism over every aspect of social life.

It is in this context that unlike earlier bourgeois feminisms and their promise of equality to come, the ideological value of immaterial feminism is that it points to the rising position of some women in the global economy—for example, the increase of women in higher education and the waged-workforces, and especially in managerial positions—as clear "evidence" that capitalism has changed and that it is no longer a matter of ending exploitation, but finding ways of managing the new developments to ensure that women have equal access to the market. In reality, it is not the logic of capitalism that has changed, merely its mode of accumulation. That is to say, what has changed in the post-WWII period is that the productive base of economies, such as those in the North Atlantic, that were once centers of productive labor before the end of the long boom of capitalism, are now eroding as capital has shifted production from the North to the South and the economies of the North are now more heavily concentrated with branches of the global capitalist economy devoted to redistribution and circulation of existing values, and to the reproduction of the historical conditions of capitalist production, but not to the production of new value.  The transfer of productive labor from the North to the South in search of securing sources of cheaper labor to exploit, has changed the geo-political surfaces of capitalism and the location of specific industries, and this surface change has been represented in ruling class ideology as a constitutive change in capitalism itself. But the underlying class relations of the global capitalist economy have not changed. As Paula Cerni has argued in her essay, "Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century":

In particular, the intellectual demotion of material production reflects the real shift towards [unproductive] service sectors in Western economies. The dominance of these 'post-material' sectors—a symptom […] of imperialist decay— has fostered the illusion that they constitute independent engines of growth.

In fact, "knowledge work" and "service work" have not and do not "constitute independent engines of growth" autonomous from productive labor.  Whether or not "services"—or any historically specific form of laboring activity—are productive labor has to do with whether they contribute directly to the production of surplus value.  Moreover, this is determined not by whether it increases the wealth of an individual capitalist, but whether the laboring activity adds wealth to the total mass of surplus-value in the capitalist economy as a whole (Mandel 41-43).  But, by and large services are unproductive, meaning that they transfer and redistribute existing wealth (produced by past productive labor), without adding to it. In the United States, for example, the increasing shift to services since the end of WWII has resulted in a decline in profit relative to competing capitals, as "the US share of the world economy [is] down from 27.8% in 1951 to 21.4% in 2001" (Cerni). In the course of shifting from productive to unproductive labor, as Cerni puts it

something very material has accompanied the creation of a 'post-material' economy where 83% of non-farm employees work in services. Today, America can no longer produce enough goods to fund her own massive physical requirements, and, as a result, she is running an unprecedented trade deficit in merchandise. Growing from the 1970s, this deficit reached a record $665bn in 2004, almost 6% of GDP.

It is precisely because the basis of profit has been and continues to be productive labor that the wealth of the U.S. economy—and its share of the profits of the world market—is in decline as it relies more heavily on the productive labor of workers outside of its national borders.  This does not mean that U.S. capital "transcends" the laws of motion of capital rather it means that it is a manifestation of them.  It is, in fact, the dependence of capital on the exploitation of the surplus-labor of productive workers that compels U.S. capital to continue to wage an imperialist war in the Middle East and Central Asia.  This war is a class war to re-divide the surplus-labor of the globe and to gain ownership and control of the means of production in the Middle East and Central Asia (such as the building, owning, and controlling of an oil pipeline) that would allow U.S. capital a greater share of the world market and greater control over the rate of growth and development of the surplus-labor producing population of workers in China, India, Pakistan, North Korea (who are heavily dependent on oil from the region and who are some of the main suppliers of exploitable productive labor for transnational capital). 

By "fostering the illusion" that added value is autonomous from the production and exploitation of surplus-labor, the discourses of immaterial feminists and their focus on "service" work as the new engine of capitalism are not actually materialist explanations of the contradictions of capitalism and its historical conditions of production now, rather they are ways of ideologically resituating and adjusting the subject of labor to the continuation of exploitation of wage-labor in capitalism, by obscuring the social relations of production founded on private ownership of the means of production. When, for example, Thomas Friedman euphemistically argues that "globalization" is leading to a "flat world" and is "leveling the playing field" or Carly Fiorina declares that "in today's economy, the companies that are going to win cannot afford the luxury of bias, or prejudice, or discrimination" what they are claiming is that the expansion of capitalism leads to human freedom, economic equality, and prosperity for all.

But this is not the case. The expansion of capitalist production and the intensification of the exploitation of labor has led and is leading to the transfer and concentration of wealth into fewer hands. Summing up a study undertaken by the World Institute for Development Economics Research of the United Nations University, The New York Times has reported that "In 2000, the top 1 percent of the world's population… accounted for about 40 percent of the world's total net worth" (Porter). In the United States, moreover, as more members of all families are working for a wage, wealth has been concentrated into fewer hands as the wealthiest 1% of households have gone from owning 125 times the median wealth to 190 times the median wealth (Sahidi). Moreover, this transfer and concentration of wealth into fewer hands through the exploitation of labor has had wide reaching effects on workers. At the same time workers are working longer hours, they cannot afford basic necessities. At the same time women have been pulled into the paid workforce in increasing numbers, they have been falling further into poverty. In recent years, as the income gap between men and women has reached what some have called greater "equality," this is owing to men's falling wages rather than rising wages for women (Taylor and Kleiman).  In fact, in the United States in 2006, as the Bush regime touted the "increasing equality" between men's and women's wages, U.S. Labor Bureau statistics actually reveal that both men's and women's wages are falling, with men's falling at a faster rate ("Bush Labor Department Brags about Drop in Wages"). In other words, it is not only for the majority of women that poverty has increased as a result of the transfer of social wealth upward; it has increased for all workers:  the top 100 CEOs who 30 years ago made 39 times the average workers income, now make 1000 times their income ("Ever Higher Society").

In short, neither class nor gender has "ended" despite the "post-class" and "post-gender" triumphalism of new economy movements. However, it is precisely on these terms that "immaterial" feminism is now "renewing" itself within digital and "new economy" movements as a premier ideology to further obscure the fundamental reality of capitalism that earlier forms of bourgeois feminism can no longer obscure: that class society does not and cannot bring about human freedom and economic equality because it depends on the exploitation of wage-labor by capital and instead leads to deepening economic crisis as wealth gets concentrated into fewer hands. (Im)material feminisms "address" the effects on women of increasing class contradictions and the concentration of wealth into fewer hands, not through addressing the root of the social contradictions for women in the theft of surplus-labor, but through crisis-management of gender inequality within capitalism and for the expansion of capitalist production and the accumulation of profit.  Immaterial feminism, as I examine throughout this text, actively marginalizes and displaces analysis of class relations in feminist theory with talk of "inequality."

The discourses of "inequality" in cultural studies today, and immaterial feminisms in particular, have become a way of talking about the continuing effects of class relations on the contemporary workforces of capitalism while keeping the causes of these effects in exploitation—by which I mean the theft of worker's surplus-labor by capital—further and further from view.  This is because, as Teresa Ebert and Mas'ud Zavarzadeh have put it in their groundbreaking Marxist critique of class in the contemporary, Class In Culture (Paradigm 2008), "inequality is the statistical index of social differences without conflicts" while, by contrast, "class is the structural relations of labor grounded in antagonisms over the appropriation of surplus labor—exploitation" (15; emphasis added). A statistical index does not explain the material relations and structure of conflicts that produce economic and social inequality between people, it only measures the empirical effects of these relations.  To substitute "exploitation" with "inequality," as a concept for explaining the deterioration of women's material conditions of life in capitalism now, is to erase the private property relations that produce economic, social, and political inequality for women. 

What the concept of "inequality" (cleansed of exploitation) does not explain is why—as women have been shifted further into the paid workforces of capitalism and have presumably gained greater "equality" with men in terms of paid workforce participation—the majority of women have actually been falling deeper into poverty, as have the majority of men. "Inequality" does not explain why women and the majority of world's population are falling further into poverty while wealth is transferred upward.  Nor does this account for the fact that the majority of women and men get their income not from "profit" but from wages and, therefore, their income does not represent actual wealth, it represents only what is needed to reproduce their labor-power for the next working day. This is because "inequality" does not account for the social relations of production based on exploitation. As I argue at length throughout this essay, to simply focus on inequality without contributing to explaining the relationship of the gender to class relations, private ownership of the means of production, and the exploitation of surplus-labor, conceals the fact that for the majority "equality" within capitalism is equality in what Goretti Horgan calls the "race to the bottom upon which global capitalism is founded" (online)—in short, it is equality in exploitation.


TWO: Repackaging Capitalism with a Virtual Sex Change

What has made immaterial feminism a particularly useful ideology for the expansion of global capitalism is its substitution of technological advances in production as the basis of women's freedom from exploitation from within capitalism rather than bringing an end to the capitalist system of production. In the cyberfeminist inscriptions of Sadie Plant, VNS Matrix, Sherry Turkle and others, technology is represented as a revolutionary force that brings about the end of inequality without requiring a transformation in the mode of production by opening the market to all that have been excluded. According to this narrative, a fundamental break has occurred within capitalism, in which recent advances in production and communication technologies render unnecessary the social structures of capitalism by creating a new "post-exploitative" capitalist system built upon the explosion of difference and the end of class and gender inequalities.

An exemplary version of this narrative today is Judy Wajcman's book TechnoFeminism in which, in the guise of a critique of the celebrationism of cyber-feminism, she nonetheless still puts forward the capitalist ideology that in the contemporary moment technology is transformed into a revolutionary force that displaces labor as the source of value, thereby freeing labor, and most importantly the labor of women, from the conditions of exploitation that defined "industrial" capitalism. In doing so, Wajcman represents not the needs of the majority of women, but the material interests of the most advanced sectors of the ruling class, who require a "new" thinking about gender in order to expand the conditions of exploitation

According to Wajcman, what is most needed for feminism, if it is to more effectively address the needs of women today, is a rethinking about technology and its implications for the role of women in the global workforce. She argues that the failure of cyberfeminism is that it assumed that technology alone would transform the conditions of women. Wajcman criticizes writers such as Sadie Plant (Zeroes and Ones) for presuming that the "virtuality of cyberspace and the internet" has "ended" the "embodied basis for sex difference" (by which she means its "lived reality") and, ultimately, for presuming that "in the wired world, traditional hierarchies are replaced by horizontal, diffuse, flexible networks that have more affinity with women's values and ways of being than with men's" (106). The theories of cyberfeminism, Wajcman contends, ultimately rely on a "technological fix"—that is, they rely on technological determinism which assumes that technology automatically and autonomously transcends gender and "axes of inequality" (12). In cyberfeminism, she concludes, "we have a technological and biological determinism in a new postmodern guise, this time as cyberculture in and of itself freeing women" (106).

Wajcman poses the question of whether or not "new technologies have undergone a sex change" by which she means whether or not "mass digitalization" has ended social inequalities between men and women (102-103). She follows up this question by vaguely marking that rather than transcending gender inequality, "there is a suspicion that existing social patterns of inequality are being reproduced in a new technological guise" (103). "What has been lacking," Wajcman claims, "is a coherent theoretical framework that allows us to engage with the process of technical change as integral to the renegotiation of gender power relations" (103). This so called "coherent theoretical framework" is what she calls "technofeminism," the main goal of which is "to explore the effect of gender power relations on design and innovation, as well as the impact of technological change on the sexes" (107).

Technofeminism, Wajcman contends, is more "materialist" than cyberfeminism because it recognizes the continuation of "inequality" for women even with the development of new technologies and works to bring about "equality" for women by, for instance, changing gendered technological design and restoring the liberal feminist project of "equal opportunity" in the workplace. It is this discourse that is what enables Wacjman to speak to corporate interests while maintaining credibility as a "left" voice of capital. However, her criticism of the limits of cyberspace for eliminating social inequalities does not actually break from the cyberfeminism she rejects, but, in the guise of a new conceptual framework, ultimately advances a version of the same logic.  This is because it does not deal with the material basis of inequality for women in private ownership of the means of production and the exploitation of wage-labor (class) and instead posits technology—its (re)design, (re)interpretation, and everyday use (consumption)—as the main terrain of struggle and freedom for women.

What Wajcman proposes as a "materialist" alternative to cyberfeminism is, in other words, a "sex change" to technology through the redesign of the interface of technology and the political and cultural re-interpretation of technology and its "everyday use," and a "sex change" to the (so called) "new economy" through moving more women into professional and managerial positions in the technosciences. So, for example, she discusses the gendered interface of K-Bot, which is a robot developed at the University of Texas with a female human (inter)face, and reads the design of a female human face on K-Bot as indicative of "the fantasy of systems designers, in a service economy predicated on female labour, who dream of being relieved of the mundane work involved in servicing themselves" (116). The implication of her remarks is that by redesigning the interface of technology (such as K-Bot) so that it is less an aesthetic articulation of "patriarchal desires" and more cognizant of a diverse economy, the material relations in which women labor will change.  At one point, for instance, Wajcman enthuses about the "telephone"—and specifically the "cell phone"—as a liberatory device for women, in which they are able to "actively subvert" the original aims of the "land line" phone which was developed as a business tool and put it to "new uses" for "personal security," "contact with family," "remote mothering" and "better balance between work and family" (119). 

By redefining transformative social change as technological design, Wajcman's more "material" reading of technology accepts the cyber-feminist reading that technology in itself transforms the relations of production and merely proposes that what is necessary is a change in its implementation and "everyday use." In each instance, she returns to the same logic of cyberfeminism by positing a "new technology" that "resolves" social contradictions not ultimately resolved by the "old technology." Thus it is their use of "take out food" rather than the "washing machine" which liberates women from domestic labor and the use of the "fax machine" and "cell phone" which transforms the relation of the family to social production and the place of women in the social division of labor. This is the sine qua non of technological determinism. Technological determinism, to be clear, is an ideology of capitalism that takes the development of new technologies to be the driving force of history and historical change. It assumes that new technologies—things—have an immanent power to bring into being new social forms.  Thus, according to the logic of technological determinism, it is the "washing machine" and "dishwasher" that "liberate" women from domestic labor; the "cotton gin" and the "assembly line" that "liberate" the worker from physical labor; and, most recently, the "computer," "internet" and "cell phone" that "liberate" the worker from the industrial factory and even from the workplace itself.  Each new development of technology is, according to this narrative, a new wave of "liberation" within capitalism. Technological determinism erases the role of labor in history. New technologies do not "descend from heaven to earth." They are the products of labor, which always produces under definite historical conditions of production. Technological determinism suppresses the fact that technology presupposes the dialectical praxis of labor, in which workers, producing under definite historical conditions of production made possible by past labor, "act on external nature and change it" in the course of the social production of human existence and, in doing so, "simultaneously change [their] own nature" (Capital 1: 283). Technology, to put this another way, is "dead labor": the product of the expenditure of previous living-labor, producing under definite historical conditions and relations of production. In erasing the role of labor in history, moreover, technological determinism also ideologically "disappears" the relations of production—the property relations under which labor-power is set to work, which, under capitalism, are class relations founded on private ownership of the means of production and production for the profit of the owners and not the needs of all.

What unites cyberfeminism and technofeminism is that—as versions of immaterial feminism—both marginalize the relationship of gender and technology to class relations and, consequently, both articulate (in different rhetorical idioms) the interests of the ruling class. In a very familiar and commonsensical narrative of Marxism, Wajcman begins by declaring her "Marxist credentials" by stating that she was a "Marxist feminist" in the 1970s "immersed in Marxist labor process debates about production" (25).  She does so, in order to dismiss the relevance of Marxism and revolutionary transformation of the social relations of production for the majority of women. Just as cyberfeminist writers such as Plant and Haraway maintain that "Feminisms and Marxisms have run aground on Western epistemological imperatives to construct a revolutionary subject from the perspective of a hierarchy of oppressions" (Haraway 176), Wajcman contends, "Our ideas about identity and agency remain too close to the model of solidarity and collective action proposed for the transformation of class-based industrial society, a model in which gender was conspicuous by its absence" (130).

In marginalizing the class relations of capitalism from her analysis of gender and technology, Wajcman's theory is not materialism, rather, it is really a form of "materiality." "Materiality" is a species of network theory and a spiritualization of material relations, which disconnects empirical reality from the structure of conflicts and material relations that produce it. "Technology," Wajcman claims, "must be understood as part of the social fabric that holds society together; it is never merely technical or social.  Rather, technology is always a socio-material product—a seamless web or network combining artefacts, people, organizations, cultural meanings and knowledge" (106). Wajcman reduces material relations to an ahistorical web of structureless stratifications—a constellation of "signs," "artefacts," "bodies," cultural effects and affects with no history.  Not only does this read capitalism on the surface, it also posits that changing any one node of the network (technology, artefacts, bodies, values, etc.) has as mutual, equal, and relative—if indeterminate and immeasurable—effect on the social, as does the alteration of any other node of the network.  To this end, Wajcman argues that "technological change is a contingent and heterogeneous process in which technology and society are mutually constituted" (106).

This "acausal" analysis is, for example, at the core of Thomas Friedman's corporate notion of the expansion of global capitalism (what he euphemistically calls the "flat world") as having arisen from a series of "accidental" and "cabalistic" "dates and events" (e.g., persons in the United States "accidentally" investing in 401ks in new technologies in the 1990s, leading to the accidental wiring of the globe with fiber optic cable, leading "accidentally" to "globalization" developing "while you were sleeping" and the era of "freedom of the individual" and so on and so forth).  The effect of this theory is to justify pragmatism—the local alteration and re-interpretation of surface effects of capitalism—and present as a radical transformation for women what capital already needs to alter, while leaving the class relations that exploit women's labor-power firmly in place, in order to bolster profit.

More specifically, when Wajcman discusses technology as socio-material what she means by the "social" are the cultural practices through which technologies are (re)interpreted and put to "new" uses in everyday life: "Long after artefacts leave the research laboratory," she contends, "they continue to evolve in everyday practices of use" (106-107).  She argues that it is this (so called) "interpretative flexibility of technology" which "means that the possibility always exists for a technology and its effects to be otherwise" (106-107). Social relations in other words, are only understood by Wajcman as "relations of interpretation"—a matter of "re-coding" and "re-presenting" technologies in new form. Moreover, what she means by the "material" aspect of technology is the "embodied"—the physical, aesthetic, and empirical appearance of technology.  Technology, in this analytical framework, is completely abstracted from the historical and material relations of production that produce it, that convert it into a commodity, and that, moreover, put it to use in the production process as a tool to increase the extraction of surplus-value from workers. Moreover, gender as the social relation in which technology is situated according to Wajcman's analysis, is also reduced to a relation of interpretation.  Gender is only understood as a code, construct, and discourse which becomes "material" through being "embodied" in the design of technology." "[G]ender relations," she claims, "can be thought of as materialized in technology, and masculinity and femininity in turn acquire their meaning and character through their enrolment and embeddedness in working machines" (107). The transformation of gender relations, therefore, is reduced to a matter of changing cultural attitudes and values of gender.

But the material reality of "gender" is not at root, a code, construct, aesthetic design, nor is it the "embodiment" of these codes in the physical and aesthetic design of technology, rather, it is a social relation of capital.  Gender differences and relations are historically (re)produced out of the social division of labor and property relations. By social division of labor and property relations, to be clear, I mean class: the social division of labor and property between those who privately own the means of production and therefore live and profit off the surplus-labor of workers, and all of the rest who only own their labor to sell in order to survive and are exploited.  Gender relations are a site of social struggle in capitalism because gender in class society is what Marx and Engels call an "instrument of labor" making it more or less expensive to use (Manifesto 491).  Gender becomes useful to capital, as an instrument of labor, to raise or lower the rate of exploitation by, for example, organizing workers into divided and competing labor forces which can be pitted against each other in order to divide class solidarity and cheapen the cost of labor. Gender relations are also useful for capital as an instrument of labor, by serving as tool in controlling the rate of growth and development of the surplus-labor producing population. For example, in historical conditions in which capital needs to reproduce the surplus-labor producing population in absolute terms (adding a new generation of workers), gender serves as a means to push women into reproductive labor and childbearing. Moreover, in historical conditions of production in which capital is looking to deepen the exploitation of the current workforce within capitalism, gender has served as a tool to manipulate the rate of exploitation within the working day by devaluing the labor-power of women, pulling them into production at a cheaper rate, pushing men out, and, as a consequence lowing the wages of men as well. Gender, in short, is a tool of class warfare by the ruling class against workers. The use of gender as an instrument of labor is rooted in capital's dependence on labor-power as the only commodity that produces value.  As an instrument of labor, gender relations can be culturally modified, revised, etc. depending on what is most profitable to capital under the existing historical conditions of production. What is not changed, however, with these cultural modifications in gender relations, is the social relations of production based on the exploitation of surplus-labor. Production for profit is not transformed without abolishing private ownership of the means of production. "Materiality" legitimates getting rid of an outdated ideology of gender that capitalism no longer needs, while doing nothing to address gender as an instrument of labor to increase the rate of exploitation and profit.

In Wajcman's narrative, the class relations of transnational capital which have brutally deployed gender as an instrument of labor in order to inculcate women into some of the most exploited labor forces in the world in the export processing zones of capitalism—some of the sites in which the "new technologies" are produced for profit not need—and have reduced the majority of women in the world to dire poverty, are ideologically converted into problems deriving from the design and interpretation of high-tech commodities. But by promoting the "re-design" and "re-interpretation" of technology as material change in gender relations, Wajcman reduces social transformation for women to expanding their consumption of high-tech commodities. The private property relations in capitalism remain hidden from serious analysis and, as a consequence, are excluded from any project of change. This ideological privileging of consumption as the material terrain of struggle and freedom for women around the world today is more or less a marketing strategy for capital to redesign, repackage, and re-market its techno-commodities to women as consumers and erase the fact that the vast majority of women in the world (along side the vast majority of men) are exploited workers

Because one can hardly call themselves a "feminist" today—even in the "West"—without at least mentioning "the poorly paid producers" of new technologies, Wajcman follows suit by doing the absolute least one can do (and, yet, still be regarded as an "ethical subject" in capitalist culture) and, merely mentions the issues in passing. She makes sure to devote a paragraph or two in her extensive celebration of the subversive female consumer of the new technologies to the exploited female producer of new technologies and the fact that "production has not disappeared" and that "much low-skilled, assembly-line work has moved offshore to the Third World, and is performed predominantly by women rather than men" (121). Thus, she points out the contradiction that "For a young woman in the West, her silver cell phone is experienced as a liberating extension of her body" while, at the same time, "the social relations of production that underpin its existence are invisible to her" (121-122).

But these passing remarks are not a point of departure from the ruling class politics of technofeminism, rather, they are a performance of it. In her narrative the collective producers—millions of exploited workers—are merely used as a rhetorical devise to legitimate as "feminism" a politics absorbed with promoting solutions in the service of transnational capitalism. The main point of mentioning the exploited producer in Wajcman's narrative is to ideologically restore the "consumer" as the subversive agent of social transformation for women and, in so doing, to promote consumption of new commodities as an (ideological) resolution to the economic and social contradictions for women workers that originate in production for profit.   In concluding her brief remarks regarding the producer, her main emphasis is on celebrating the ways in which the women who do have access to the internet are a "dynamic presence in cyberspace" and are "using this space" (presumably via their computers, iPods, "cellies," and Blackberries) "to express solidarity with the poorly paid producers of their fashionably branded goods" (122).  The content of this so called "solidarity" (solidarity over what? for whom? toward what ends and whose interests?) is left completely unexplained precisely because, within the logic of Wajcman's discourse, it does not need to be explained since it is there only as a strategy to repackage the expansion of consumption as social transformation.  Her comments do not take seriously the social division of labor and the way the theft of surplus-labor (exploitation) in production has made it possible for the vast majority on the planet to produce social wealth, yet struggle with basic necessities, while a tiny minority profits from the surplus-labor of the collective producers.  Instead, her remarks are focused on blurring the relations of production between the exploiter (owners of the means of production) and the exploited (workers who own nothing but their labor-power to sell in order to survive) by ideologically "refashioning" the exploited woman worker as a "new consumer" in order to sell her new commodities:

The internet and mobile phone may ultimately have even greater significance for women in low-income households and communities in the global South. Pay-as-you-go mobiles have enabled hundreds of millions in Africa, Asia and the former Soviet Union to bypass the financial and bureaucratic obstacles of land-line phones and get connected. (120)

Wajcman's critical adolescence would be comical, if it were not so painfully and brutally post-colonial.  She substitutes marketing strategies deployed by transnational capital to expand consumption among exploited workers in both the global South, in place of social transformation in the relations of production. "Subversive consumption" is a class based understanding of freedom for women, which is an ideological illusion for working class women, even when some own palm pilots, cell phones and computers. New "redesigned" technologies and new strategies of consuming them are not the basis of freedom and economic equality. This is because consumption (and objects owned) do not represent actual wealth. They are an historical index of the reproduction of labor-power under a specific level of development of social production. To limit change to consumption is not only to limit change to those who already have the economic means to consume new high-tech commodities, but it is also to displace the actual source of profit for some and poverty for the majority: the private property relations in capitalism and the capacity of owners to command over the surplus-labor of workers owing to their monopoly of the means of production. 

Production is neither the design (the physical and technical manipulation) nor the "interpretation" and "everyday use" (consumption) of technology or, more specifically techno-commodities. Production is a relation of labor.  More specifically, production is a structure of material relations and conflicts between the forces of production and relations of production. The forces of production are the historical and material conditions of development under which labor produces. The forces of production include the available raw materials supplied by nature, the means of production (machinery, including "new technologies," used in production) that have been produced by labor under previous historical conditions of production, and the living labor-power that sets these means of production in motion in the course of producing new value. The level of historical and material development of the productive forces determines the capacity of labor-power to produce value and the rate at which it can produce new value.

The development of the forces of production always takes places within the prevailing social relations of production. The social relations of production are the property relations within which the forces of production develop and within which labor-power is set to work on the means of production in order to produce its needs. In capitalism, as a form of class society, these relations of production are based on private ownership of the means of production in which a small minority owns and controls the social means of production, while the majority only owns their labor-power to sell in order to survive and is exploited. As a consequence, the productive forces are "set to work" for the purpose not of producing wealth for the needs of all, but for producing (private) profit for the owners. When technology is deployed in what Marx called "productive consumption"—which means when technology is used not only to reproduce the workers individual conditions of life through private consumption (which is the primary focus of Wajcman's discussion) but is used as an instrument by living labor in the process of producing new value—it is used as a tool to increase the rate of extraction of surplus-labor from the workers by the owners.  In other words, it is used to increase the rate of exploitation of the workers and, in turn, the rate of profit for the owners.

As a consequence of private ownership of the means of production in the social relations of production, the existing forces of production are restricted to what is profitable for the owners rather than what is needed by people around the world. The forces of production (the means of production and labor power) have been developed to the extent that it is possible, for instance, to meet the needs of all the people in the world for food. However, not all people's needs for food are met because all production—including food—is for profit, not need. Capitalists will not produce food—even if it is needed by people—if there is no (or not enough) profit in producing food. This is why, today, despite a global food shortage, corn is in some instances being used to (very inefficiently) produce fuel rather than meeting global food needs—because there is greater profit to be made in doing so. It is the objective class relations—the social relations of production based on production for profit—that block the realization of the potential of the existing forces of production to meet the needs of all persons on the planet. It is owing to the fact that the forces of production have come into contradiction with the relations of production in capitalism and, moreover, that the relations of production based on private property, in turn, have become the material fetters of the forces of production that, for example, capitalism produces food surpluses, burning, and waste as well as corporate subsidies not to grow food, next to starving, unemployed and homeless people. 

Moreover, it is this material contradiction between the increasingly socialized forces of production and the privatized relations of production that explains why women, as a group, can only access a small portion of the wealth that they collectively produce around the world.  While new productive forces in the form of new technologies have, indeed, made it possible for workers around the world to co-operate and communicate with each other and produce increasing amounts of social wealth, this wealth (and the means of producing it) are still privately owned and controlled and used for the production of profit. As a consequence of this material relation, technology is used to increase productivity and cheapen labor power so that the workers (which increasingly includes women) hired to work not only on the assembly line in export processing zones, but in the call centers of capitalism, at the checkout counters in grocery stores, and the corridors of urban hospitals are now working at a greater speed with lower wages. At the same time that, with the aid of new technologies, ready cooked meals can now be produced in mass quantity and women can now purchase them instead of making them at home, these new technologies merely allow them to work more hours as wage-laborers for capital. Moreover, food and countless other basic necessities are still produced under conditions of exploitation and sold for the profit of the owners—not for the needs of people. Rather than being used to increase the collective wealth of all of humanity and meet the needs of all, under capitalist relations of production technology is deployed to increase the wealth of the minority, and the exploitation and poverty of the majority.

As a relation of labor, the social relations of production are not transformed by the redesign or the re-interpretation of technologies in either the production process or the consumption of high tech-commodities in the process of reproduction. Working for a wage from a "smart home" (instead of a factory, call center or office), and the "new technologies" that facilitate this such as the computer, fax machine, and modem, do not change the production relations of the working day under capitalism in which part of the worker's day is spent producing necessary value equivalent to her means of subsistence, and part of the working day is spent producing surplus-value that is privately appropriated by the owner for profit. This is because things—including new technologies—and their consumption never "liberate" people from the prevailing material relations of production only the transformation of material relations of production by means of social praxis (abolishing private property relations) and replacing them with new material relations of production, can emancipate people from the existing relations of production and from the social relations of reproduction founded on them.

Moreover, new technologies do not transform the social relations of reproduction and the specific form of the family under capitalism. The "cell phone" and "take out food" have not changed the fact that the family under capitalism continues to be what Jen Roesch, following Engels, calls an "economic unit": 

The institution of the…family as an economic unit is central to meeting the needs of capitalism. Under the current system, employers pay workers a wage, but take no responsibility for most of the social costs of maintaining the current generation of workers—or for raising the next generation of workers into adulthood. Rather than these responsibilities being shared collectively by society as whole through government programs—paid for by taxing the profits of the private enterprises that employ workers—they are shouldered by individual families.

Under capitalism, workers reproduce their labor-power privately in the family out of their wages while the majority of socially produced wealth is concentrated into fewer hands and put back into production for the profit of the owners.  "Remote mothering" and a "better balance between work and family" is not a transformation of this material relation in which working class families shoulder the economic burden of reproducing the next generation of labor-power out of their wages.

New technology has not transformed the class relations of capitalism, nor does it transform the gender relations that are reproduced in transnational capitalism, because technology does not bring into being new social forms. It is an extension of the current social relations of production.  The computer and the internet and the "electronic home office" are no more above class than the assembly line and the Fordist style factory; they are class in operation, because, under class society, they, like all advances in technology, are used as tools to administer and reproduce the existing social relations of production. It is the exploitation of material labor, which is to say, productive labor, including the material labor of women who produce the cyber-wares in the export processing zones of capitalism, that is the necessary precondition of the cyber-reality. The continuation of social relations of production for profit—and the reliance of capital on the exploitation of workers' surplus-labor for profit—explains why inequality has continued.


THREE: The Equality to be Exploited

Having cleansed gender of its historical relationship to class relations by getting rid of class in feminist analysis and positing that new technologies have eliminated class and eliminated the material basis of gender inequality, the quandary for immaterial feminism is how to account for the continuation of the economic and social inequality of women at a time of high technological advancement and the increased integration of women into higher education and the waged workforces of capitalism.  In other words, if, as Wajcman contends, that with the (so-called) new economy "the traditional basis for men's domination of scientific, engineering and technical institutions has been well and truly undermined" (110), then why has the economic and social inequality of women continued? Wajcman's answer to this is to reduce the "continuing inequality for women" to patriarchal cultural values and behaviors:

[W]omen's problem is men. The challenge is for men who have premised their masculinity on technical mastery to relinquish their hold on technology and give up the privileges and power that go with this construction of masculinity… These technoscientific spheres will become more attractive to women when entry does not entail co-option into a world of patriarchal values and behavior.  As the proportion of women engineers grows, for example, the strong relationship between the culture of engineering and hegemonic masculinity will eventually be dismantled. (112)

What Wajcman proposes is that insofar as the material basis of both class and gender is eradicated with "new technologies" gender exists only as an ideology without a material basis in private property relations.  What is left to do now, according to this narrative, is to get rid of the ideological fetters—the outdated attitudes, cultural values and behaviors—which are the last vestiges of sexism standing in the way of equality for women in an otherwise post-exploitative economy.  The continuation of inequality (as I discuss again further below) she attributes not to the exploitation of labor in capitalism—or the fact that gender is a social relations of capital—but to an "irrationality" in the "male culture" of capitalism (110). Changes in the material relations of capitalist production, so the story goes, do not need to take place for women. Rather, the assumption is that capitalism needs to work more "rationally" by making better use of women as a resource.

It is precisely on these terms that Wajcman concludes that what is necessary now is for technofeminism to "revisit the liberal feminist agenda of equal opportunities, and not regard it as simply superseded" (110).  What she means, more specifically, is putting more women into professional and managerial positions and giving them "equal opportunity" in new occupations in the technosciences: "Every aspect of our lives is touched by sociotechnical systems, and unless women are in the engine-rooms of technological production, we cannot get our hands on the levers of power." In this way—by translating gender as a social relation of capital into gender as a set of behaviors and attitudes without a material basis—she firmly recasts the feminism of the "future" as a liberal feminism of equal opportunities. 

"Equal opportunity," to be clear, is equality on the market; that is, equal opportunity for women to sell their labor-power at the same price as men and to sell their labor-power doing the same occupations as men. Equality on the market, however, is only a formal and legal equality for workers—including women workers—behind which, as Marx maps out in Capital, Vol. 1, "in the hidden abode of production" is the theft of worker's surplus labor (279). This "equality on the market" is ultimately tolerable by capital because it is not the "buying and selling of labor-power" at unequal rates on the market that is the source of profit under-capitalism.  What is the source of profit is the theft of workers' surplus-labor in production.

By marginalizing class struggle against exploitation from feminism, and defending a liberal feminism of equal opportunities on the market as the "future" of feminism, immaterial feminism defends not the material interests of the majority of women but the class interests of a small fraction of men and women.  Wajcman's main concern is that "Women still face considerable barriers when they attempt to pursue a professional or managerial career in technoscience" (110). While this is the case for women in technoscience, overcoming this barrier would not, in itself, address various forms of social inequality, including inequality in hiring, because even if more women do become "professionals," it means only that they have become higher paid workers who are still subject to the profit dictates of capital. That is to say, what is completely exempted from the argument for "equal opportunity" is that "the capitalist mode of production […] rests on the fact that the material conditions of production are in the hands of non-workers in the form of property in capital and land, while the masses are only owners of the personal conditions of production, of labour power" (Marx Critique 19). "Equal opportunity," in short, says nothing of the private ownership of the means of production—which is the material basis of "how" and "why" the ruling class has the capacity to extract surplus-labor from a working population that has no other means to live except to sell its labor in order to survive.  As a result, "equal opportunity" is not actually the ending of inequality for all, it is the establishing of equal opportunity to be exploited as wage-labor.  With "equal opportunity," the workers are, at most, allowed "equality" in consumption—that is, they are allowed equality in wages, which represents not wealth but the means of subsistence necessary to reproduce their labor-power. But this "equal right" is what Marx argues is actually an "unequal right for unequal labor" (Critique 18).  Even on its own terms, as "equality on the market," "equal opportunity" and "equal wages" are not equal when, for instance, one worker has more children or dependents than another, one worker has AIDS, cancer, or a back injury and thus increased medical expenses compared to another, and so on and so forth (19). More importantly, however, the ruling class is entirely exempted from this so called "equality" in exploitation because of its monopoly of the means of social production (which are themselves the product of the social labor of workers) which, in turn, gives the ruling class the material means to privately appropriate the surplus-labor of workers as profit. This is why Marx argues that "instead of […] 'the elimination of all social and political inequality'," it must be clearly understood that is only "with the abolition of class distinctions"—by which he means with the praxical transformation of the social relations of production from private ownership to public, collective ownership of the means of production—that "all social and political inequality arising from them would disappear" (Critique 24). Precisely because equality on the market is "equality" without ending exploitation, equal opportunity ultimately does not end the exploitation and impoverishment of the vast majority of women around the world, but rather becomes the means for expanding it.

Wajcman's argument in fact, is directed toward capitalist expansion. It is essentially directed at making the case to capital that by holding onto the ideological fetters of "gender," capital is not exploiting its labor force effectively.  She mentions the increase of women in higher education in various fields, contends that women are "better positioned" to engage in knowledge work which is "brain-enhancing" not "muscle-enhancing" and, points to the "irrationality" of the so called "network society" for not putting women in managerial positions in the technosciences: 

Such relatively stubborn sex-stereotyping is particularly intriguing given the feminization of higher education and work which has seen, for example, women entering law, medicine and business schools in unprecedented numbers.  Moreover, it is highly irrational in a post-industrial society, whose economy is reputedly based on investment in human rather than physical capital. (110)

Wajcman displaces the transformative project of ending the exploitation of all workers—and the exploitation of all women—with the managerial project of ending the irrationality of not using female workers more efficiently.  In doing so, technofeminism is an articulation of the social relations of production of capitalism, but in an inverse manner: it is at once a manifestation of the fact that capital continues to rely on the exploitation of living labor power for profit, and on the other it conceals this through tropes of the "post-industrial economy." Because it conceals the historical relationship of gender inequality to the exploitation of labor-power under capitalism—that is, it hides the fact that moving women into the workforce on "equal" terms with men does not end the exploitation of women's labor as wage-workers—and because it, as a result, marginalizes the struggle to end class relations from feminist political praxis, Wajcman's analysis is a managerial analysis that is aimed at helping facilitate what capital is already doing to expand the exploitation of labor-power. To put this another way, by erasing class and exploitation, in effect, her argument serves not as an advance for feminism and the emancipation of women from the exploitation of their labor rather it functions as managerial advice to capital to more effectively exploit the labor of women.  Her feminism is a corporate feminism the ideological effect of which is to counsel capital to recognize that socially produced wealth has been expended to "skill" the female labor force, but capital is not exploiting this labor-power for profit efficiently, and thus it is wasting resources that it could be using to expand its profit and stave off further declines in profit for the owners.  To be clear, the problem is not that Wajcman argues for integrating women further into the workforce and making them equal with male workers, the problem is that she erases the historical relation of gender inequality to the theft of worker's surplus labor in production, and sutures "feminism" to the interests of the ruling class to expand its profit at the expense of the majority of women who are exploited workers.

What Wajcman is representing as a new "materialist" feminism and a radical break from the idealism of cyberfeminism, is almost identical to what corporate spokesperson Thomas Friedman advocates when he argues that the world is "flat" and that in the flat world "you are going to see every color of the human rainbow take part" ("It's a Flat…" 34). Friedman's "flat world" thesis, to be clear, is an argument of capitalist triumphalism.  It is, to put this another way, an argument that the expansion of capitalist production—and the way it, to use Marx and Engels words, "has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his 'natural superiors' and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than […] callous 'cash-payment'" (Manifesto 486-487)—actually leads to human freedom and greater prosperity in a "post-race," "post-gender," and "post-class" society rather than to sharpening class antagonisms.  Friedman's argument celebrating transnational capital for drawing in "every color of the human rainbow" is aimed at getting rid of the ideological fetters of race that have stood in the way of profit for capital at the current level of development of the productive forces.

The difference between canonic "network theory" and "technofeminism" is, therefore, a formal one: Friedman thinks equality "has happened/is happening" while Wajcman thinks it has not happened enough and needs to. They both articulate the interests of transnational capital in working to get rid of the ideological fetters of race and gender in the way of capitalist expansion. Yet this "getting rid of" the old ideological fetters of gender and race that stand in the way of profit for capital does not prevent capital from continuing to use these historically produced differences as instruments of labor to increase the rate of exploitation and, as a result, does not end inequality.

What explains why increasing inequality continues in an era of high development of technology and of increased participation of women in the paid workforces of capitalism is that the exploitation of workers' surplus-labor by capital continues to shape social life in the 21st century.  Marx's explanation of the social relations of exploitation behind the development of new technologies and the integration of women into wage-labor continues to provide the most effective means for understanding the material relations behind the deepening inequality of women now. When women were historically restricted to unpaid domestic labor, Marx explains, "The value of labor-power was determined, not only by the labor-time necessary to maintain the individual adult laborer, but also by that necessary to maintain his family" (The Woman Question 29). However as social production develops and women and children are further inculcated into wage-labor, the value of labor power is broken down among them. Marx explains this further: 

Machinery, by throwing every member of that family on to the labor market, spreads the value of the man's labor-power over his whole family.  It thus depreciates his labor-power.  To purchase the labor-power of a family of four workers may, perhaps, cost more than it formerly did to purchase the labor-power of the head of the family, but, in return, four days' labor takes the place of one, and their price falls in proportion to the excess of the surplus labor of four over the surplus labor of one.  In order that the family may live, four people must now not only labor but expend surplus labor for the capitalist.  Thus we see that machinery, while augmenting the human material that forms the principle object of capital's exploiting power, at the same time raises the degree of exploitation. (29)

It is the increase of the rate of exploitation with the development of new technologies and the further integration of women into the workforces of capitalism that explains why women and men are becoming poorer as they work longer hours and even when they receive a greater "income." Even when women are made equal to men in capitalism, this is equal opportunity to be exploited as wage-labor. "Equality on the market" does not resolve the material contradictions confronting the majority of women and creating increased poverty, because it does not deal with the root of women's economic inequality in the theft of surplus-labor by capital.


FOUR: The Agency of Capital and/as Immaterial Feminism

What I have been arguing is that capitalism has not moved beyond wage-labor, and gender has not moved beyond class relations.  More specifically, it is necessary to return to the labor theory of value to understand why, with all of the advances of cyber-technologies and the integration of women further and further into paid labor, women are not freed from deepening exploitation and the deterioration of their economic conditions of life in transnational capitalism, even when some become techno-managers. By ideologically displacing labor as the source of value, immaterial feminisms continue to cleanse the relation of the inequality of women to class and its history in the relations of production, and, as a consequence, substitute in the place of the necessity of material transformation of the social relations of production to bring about freedom and equality for women, what are more or less changes to the culture of capitalism, its managerial practices, and its methods of exploitation.

It is important to note here that it is, of course, not only Wajcman's "technofeminism" which is representative of this trajectory in bourgeois feminism.  It is therefore important to examine the articulation of "immaterial feminism" in yet another rhetorical idiom whose main aim is to ideologically translate cultural changes that have occurred in transnational capitalism into a fundamental change within capitalist production itself and, ultimately, into progress for women within capitalism.  More specifically, the discourses of "immaterial" labor which, like the discourses of "technofeminism," rewrite cultural values, affect, lifestyle, consumption, and social reproduction as constitutive of "surplus-labor." Advanced in the writings of Maurizio Lazzarato, Antonio Negri, Michael Hardt and Antonella Corsani, among others, this notion maintains that capitalist production has been fundamentally transformed by the development of cybertechnologies, the transfer of industrial manufacturing from the North to the South, the growth of the service industries in the North, and the institutionalization of post-Fordist production practices and post-Taylorist managerial techniques so that earlier distinctions between "productive" and "reproductive" labor have collapsed. Michael Hardt argues, that these changes have led to a fundamentally changed role for affective labor, which is now positioned "in a role that is not only directly productive of capital but at the very pinnacle of the hierarchy of laboring forms" ("Affective" 90). Antonella Corsani, in her essay "Beyond the Myth of Woman: The Becoming Transfeminist of (Post)Marxism," rehearses this argument when she claims that, "the sphere of reproductive activities is integrated into that of production, so these activities no longer function to reproduce labor-power but instead are activities that directly produce surplus-value" (125). Increasingly reproduction—or "life itself"—is, in this view, productive of surplus-value. 

This emphasis on the centrality of "reproduction" to economic production and, therefore, to social transformation is defended today as an "advance" for feminism and women over classical Marxism and its emphasis on the exploitation of productive labor and the proletariat as the agent of social transformation.  This is essentially Wajcman's claim when she suggests that "the relations of production are constructed as much out of gender divisions as out of class divisions" (27). The effect of these discourses is to represent "reproduction," "lifestyle"—and ultimately consumption—as the main site of material struggle and transformation for women in transnational capitalism, which leads to the conclusion that change in the property relations of capitalism—ending the wage-labor/capital relation—is not necessary for women in the 21st century.  In a world of immaterial labor, "class" and "exploitation" have been fundamentally restructured and power has shifted to the desires, affects and cultural values of the multitude. 

What this "immaterial" feminism conceals, however, is the fact that capitalism produces reforms to its reproduction relations and gender relations not to abolish or displace, but to accommodate the continued appropriation of surplus-labor in production. It is not surprising when Corsani argues that "the crisis of Fordism was intimately bound up with the emergence of feminist movements, in the sense that the struggles against the sexual division of labor… destabilized the welfare state and its corollary, familial welfare" (122).  "To recognize feminist struggles as struggles against welfare," Corsani continues, "is to recognize the power of a movement against the institutional compromise that ties us to the welfare state and connects the capitalist enterprise, the state and the family" (122). The implication here is that the dismantling of welfare has been a mark of progress for women within capitalism and has "destabilized" the "traditional" arrangements the family and brought about freedom for women.  But in this argument, Corsani sutures feminism and its future to the managerial techniques of post-Fordism and the policies of neo-liberalism which were developed by a fledgling transnational capital in order to advance its class war on workers, including working class women.  The dismantling of welfare provisions that had previously distributed a portion of social wealth to public institutions (such as education, social security, day care, health care, welfare, etc); the break up social collectivity and worker's solidarity in trade-unions; the reform of tax laws to transfer wealth upward; the deregulation of labor laws and removing legal barriers and tariffs to transnational corporations; and the move to export capital and set up manufacturing sites to the South where relatively cheaper labor could be secured have all been instruments of transnational capital's class war to concentrate into fewer hands the social wealth produced by workers in order to stave off a crisis of profit in capitalist production.  

For feminism to understand the material contradictions confronting women now, it is necessary to return to the labor theory of value to explain "cyber-capitalism." Post-Fordism and cybertechnologies, and corresponding shifts in gender relations, are not a fundamental break from wage-labor/capital relations; they are an extension and outgrowth of class relations that continue to be based on the exploitation of surplus-labor in production. They are changes in the techniques through which surplus-labor is extracted but not a change in the material relations between owners and workers.  This is because capitalism is still a system that is founded on private property relations in which some own the means of production and can command over the surplus labor and lives of others while the majority have nothing but their labor to sell and are exploited.  Capitalism is still a system in which, as Marx and Engels argued, profit "cannot increase except upon the condition of begetting a new supply of wage-labor fresh for exploitation" (Manifesto 498).

The advanced productivity of workers brought on by advances in labor saving technologies intensifies the concentration of wealth. Capital starts to invest more in technology and raw materials and less in labor-power, since less labor-power is needed in order to produce the same commodities for exchange. But, this leads to a crisis of profit since without increased labor-power, there is no increase of surplus-value, and capitalist profit tends to decline. Capital therefore works to draw in previously excluded workers as well as to export capital to other regions of the world to set up production in conditions in which, as Lenin put it in his explanatory critique of imperialism, "capital is scarce, the price of land is relatively low, wages are low, raw materials are cheap" (Imperialism 63).  The transferring of production for computing and technology from the North to the South indicates that it is not "knowledge" but labor that is the source of wealth—in this case now produced by workers in Latin America, India, China and Pakistan who are some of the main suppliers of cheap productive labor for transnational capital.

And this is also why capital transforms gender relations and the sexual division of labor.  In the service of its quest for new sources of surplus-labor, the "old" sexual division of labor under Fordism based on a strict division between women in reproduction and men in production became a hindrance to profit.  The measures that capital once took, when it invested a small fraction of surplus-labor into social welfare and reproductive labor in the family, to secure the conditions for reproducing the surplus-labor producing population that had been depleted during World War II, have since become a hindrance to profit as the forces of production have developed and women are now needed as new sources of cheaper labor. Capital increasingly accommodates cultural changes to the domestic division of labor and legal changes in gender, sexuality, and family arrangements in order to "free" women to join the exploitable workforce in increasing numbers. As I marked earlier, when Wajcman argues that transforming gender power relations means "making [work] more flexible and potentially enabling an easier blend of work and caring responsibilities" (113), she is not advancing feminism rather, she is advancing the cultural commonsense of transnational capitalism and its post-Fordist production practices of flex time and the electronic home office which have not ended the exploitation of women.

These changes, while freeing some women from the older constraints of gender, are founded on deepening exploitation for the majority. What has continued, moreover, is that gender is still an "instrument of labor" making labor "more or less expensive to use."  It has always been the role of liberal feminism—now translated and updated into the cultural idioms of techno and immaterial feminism—to help justify the expansion of capitalism under the name of "advancement for women" when capital needs access to more and more quantities of productive labor at a cheap price, and it has more or less exhausted the current labor reserves within its own national boundaries (or these reserves are more costly to use) and must seek them out elsewhere and transform previously unproductive laborers into productive ones.  Liberal feminism has a long history in advancing the agenda of transnational capitalism.  This feminism is, in fact, so "(im)material," so dematerialized, that it has evaporated and dissolved feminism.  It is not feminism, that is, if feminism is a serious project of social transformation to emancipate women from the material relations of exploitation and necessity.  Liberal feminism is, rather, a form of updating the contemporary workforces for the needs of capitalism now. It has always served the purpose of suppressing working class women's struggle for social transformation in the interests of updating women to become workers that are more useful to capital. The "agency" of liberal feminism, in short, is founded on the "agency" of capitalism.

It is, moreover, telling of the class politics of this feminism, when Corsani, in a cowritten essay with Maurizio Lazzarato, argues that:

This "setting to work" of life by an increasingly globalized capital, made possible by neoliberal logic, generates insecurity—insecurity and risk for life in its globality, and no longer just for labor as in Fordism.  From poverty to Mad Cow Disease, from exclusion to AIDS, from the problem of housing to "sexual identity," the very foundations of life are being undermined. (as quoted in Corsani 127) 

Here Corsani and Lazzarato articulate the intelligibilities of the North Atlantic left who now live in a collapsing economy which lives off of loans from China, Japan, South Korea,... in exchange for exporting capital and exploiting productive labor abroad, and whose lifestyle is not actual wealth and power but is owned largely by the banks in the form of credit cards and bankrupt home loans. What is significant about this statement is that, evidently, for Corsani and Lazzarato, the exploitation of labor was perfectly tolerable under Fordism, as long as it did not affect "our way of life."  In other words, it is perfectly tolerable as long as the effects of exploitation are not felt by that fraction of workers in transnational capitalism who are given, by capital, a portion of the surplus-labor capital extracts from the entire global workforces in the form of increased income and consumption, in order to secure their loyalty as managers of other workers on behalf of capital. 


FIVE: Red Feminism for Women's Emancipation

Immaterial feminism is liberal feminism, and liberal feminism is an ally of transnational capitalism, not of exploited women. One of the historical and material reasons that "immaterial" feminism and its suppression of the relation of gender to class relations has become "convincing" and has been supported is that there is now a small fraction of women who, alongside of a small minority of men, have benefited from the exploitation of labor, the dismantling and privatization of social wealth, and the concentration of wealth into fewer hands.  Goretti Horgan remarks in her article "How Does Globalisation Affect Women?":

Women's influx into the global workforce has brought potent evidence of the class nature of women's oppression. The idea that all men benefit from women's oppression is clearly nonsense when we can see that a growing layer are women are [sic] doing considerably better than the majority of men. So while the mass of women earn the lowest wages, some women are doing very well from global capitalism. In Indonesia in 1992, for example, 11 percent of women earned wages of more than Rp150,000 per month, whereas some 75 percent of male workers earned less than that figure. In Ireland in 1997-1998 at least 5 percent of women earned IR£40,000 or more per year, while over half of all workers (women and men) earned less than IR£13,500.

By marginalizing class relations and arguing for no more than the reforms that are needed by capital to re-produce and expand production for profit, immaterial feminism protects the material interests of some women (and men) in transnational capitalism who have now joined the ranks of the owners of capital. It also articulates the interests of the owners by representing as an historical advance for all women, the ruling class practice of paying some working women and men a far greater wage in exchange for their solidarity to capital as managers of all other workers.

What is needed for the vast majority of women in transnational capitalism who are exploited is not more "immaterial" feminism, but historical materialist feminism, which is to say, Red feminism. To elaborate, it will be helpful at this juncture to return to Lenin and his Red feminist critique of the exploitation of women. Lenin had a sharply critical relation to the bourgeois feminism of his time which he saw as placating and condescending toward the majority of women of the world by "appeasing them with reforms" and "liberal pieties" useful to some women and aimed at "lulling [working class women] into inaction and keeping them on leading strings" (Marx et al, The Woman Question 91). When he referred to "feminism" and critiqued and opposed it in his writing, it is this ruling class feminism that he was opposed to.  However, he did not take the ideological and practical limits of the bourgeois feminist movement to be a cause for the indifference of revolutionary movements to the "woman question" or to what he called "the burning needs, the shameful humiliation of women in bourgeois society" (91).

For example, in an interview with German Marxist feminist, Clara Zetkin, Lenin started from the premise that the "woman question"—women's unequal conditions; brutality and violence against women by employers, managers, men; political oppression, exploitation, growing poverty; the whole nexus of contradictions and inequalities in the workplace, the family, sexual relations and all parts of social life confronting the majority of women—derives from "the inseparable connection between the social and human position of the woman, and private property in the means of production" (Lenin, Interview 89). Far from the popular belief, which has charged that Marxism advocates for "waiting for the revolution" before gender is taken as an historical site of struggle and transformation, Lenin argued quite the contrary: that the "woman question" should be considered not "women's problem" but "part of the social question, of the workers' problem" (90; emphasis added).  Women should, he argued, be regarded as full and equal members of the revolutionary party "with equal rights and duties" and should be understood not as "support" but as revolutionaries who are "equals in transforming the old economy and ideology" (90, 91).  Moreover, he argued, at the same time, this does not mean dissolving the struggle against oppression and exploitation of women into the struggle for socialism and "closing our eyes" to the specific class contradictions confronting women in capitalism which continues to use gender as an instrument of labor.  Nor did it mean turning a blind eye to the limits within the revolutionary party itself and softening critique of practices which ignored gender as a social relation of capital. Lenin harshly critiqued tendencies within the revolutionary party itself that did not consider the development of a mass movement of working women to be "an important part of entire party activity" (92; emphasis added).  He, moreover, critiqued the "occasional recognition of the necessity and value of a powerful, clear-headed Communist women's movement" in the party as a "platonic verbal recognition, not the constant care and obligation of [i.e., needed within] the party" (92; emphasis added). 

And most importantly, Lenin argued that doing away with the "right and dignity of a man" and developing a mass movement of working class women within the party, as without in society at large, must be done on the basis of making clear material advances for women in matters of work, education, marriage, family, law, sexual relations, health, childcare, and so on a priority, recognizing that without doing so women would not be in the material position to act as full and equal participants in revolutionary struggle.  But, he added, this must be done without limiting the struggle for women to the limited reforms within bourgeois democracy in capitalism which redirect these struggles to solutions profitable for capital but exploitative for women (92-93).

The material basis of women's economic and social equality is not constituted by reforming the "gender" division of labor or practices of managing women within capitalism, as immaterial feminisms ultimately argue. Rather, it requires the abolition of private property relations through the transformation of the social relations of production. What is necessary for ending the inequality of women in an age of "cyber-capitalism" is still the collectivity of the working class—of which the majority of women are firmly a part—to end exploitation by taking collective ownership and control of the new productive forces that would enable the meeting and development of the needs of all.


This essay was made possible by research through the UCLA Center for the Study of Women.

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THE RED CRITIQUE 13 (Fall/Winter 2008)