Feminism Now

Jennifer Cotter



To say again that "feminism" is in crisis is to repeat a political cliché but how else does one describe the situation of contemporary feminism in which the more class contradictions of global capitalism surface, the more feminism retreats into reading cultural texts and limiting its struggles for emancipation to locating "resistance" sites in the dominant texts?  Under the pressure of increasing class inequalities, contemporary "transnational" feminists such as Caren Kaplan, Inderpal Grewal, Norma Alarcón and Minoo Moallem claim to "resist" both the Enlightenment principles of "abstract equality" in the modern nation state (Alarcón et al, Between Woman and Nation 14-15), which divorces "freedom" and "equality" from the material conditions of women's lives, as well as an apolitical post-structuralism that is "unable to account for contemporary global conditions" of women in capitalism (Kaplan and Grewal, Scattered Hegemonies 1).  Yet, far from confronting capitalism and its consequences for women and working to transform the material conditions of women's lives in the international division of labor, these same feminists have retreated into a hybrid logic of "boarder crossing" and "muddying"—in short of "inbetween-ness"—in which the only way to address the "objective reality" of women's lives is to "ethically negotiate" within capitalism and its cultural arrangements.

In this paper I argue that for feminism to confront its own crisis, it must deal with its obsession with "post-" theories (from post-structuralism to post-Marxism) and instead produce transformative praxis that puts the focus on the needs of women for material equality and freedom from necessity.  The retreat into culturalism—in which culture is determining of all social relations—is so deep in contemporary feminism that an argument such as the one I make is nowadays automatically dismissed as a late form of "economism".  But a feminism not founded on material conditions, as the history of feminism in fact proves, is ineffective.

In its most effective moments, feminism has worked to address this task by dialectically relating the questions of gender and sexuality to matters of labor, capital, and their relation ("exploitation"). Gender, sexuality, and the needs of women for material equality and freedom from necessity were never treated as simply personal or cultural issues—that is, as interpersonal relations or floating signs without any set meanings. Rather, they were understood as social relations and as such the effects of englobing historical conditions of production.

Contemporary feminism, as I have already implied, has all but abandoned the question of mode of production—especially the relation of labor-capital and its impact on gender and sexuality—and has put in place of revolutionary praxis (as a means for ending economic inequality and restoring social justice), an "ethical resistance"—a new "transnational civil society".  "Ethical resistance", to be clear, transforms the laws of motion of capital into sentimental codes of affect, caring, and civility and, therefore, advocates primarily for changes in behavior as a means for social transformation. In this context, contemporary feminism has placed primary emphasis on interpersonal, "emotional relations", and specifically "caring labor" and "emotional labor" as the root site of "resistance" and "agency" for women.  In doing so, transnational feminism puts forward the understanding that the social relations of reproduction are not only autonomous from the relations of production but also the root social relations that need to be transformed in order to emancipate women.  In doing so, transnational feminism restricts change for women to within the social relations of production based on exploitation.

For instance, cultural theorists such as J.K. Gibson-Graham, Stephen Resnick and Richard Wolff argue that what is important in determining the material conditions of people's lives under capitalism is not whether or not they are exploited but the "affective [and emotional] intensity associated with exploitation"—that is, how they experience exploitation (Class and Its Others 14-15).  Following this logic, feminists such as Harriet Fraad and Jenny Cameron argue that what is necessary for changing the conditions of women's lives is transforming the "emotional division of labor" and how women affectively and emotionally perceive their position in the mode of production and the social division of labor. As a consequence, contemporary feminists are advocating as solutions to material inequalities and conditions of economic necessity for women under capitalism, "new" models of civil, interpersonal, and emotional behavior such as Chela Sandoval's "postmodern love", Marjorie Mayo's "emotional democracy", and Rosemary Hennessy's "revolutionary love".

What makes a critique of this turn to "civility" all the more urgent is that many contemporary feminists (such as Mayo and Hennessy) who advance "ethical resistance" do so under the pretext of presenting a "revolutionary", "socialist" or "anti-capitalist" solution to the material contradictions of women's lives in capitalism and, as a consequence, mislead women who are struggling for social transformation to reformist solutions.  "Ethics" has, in fact, become the primary method by which contemporary feminism and cultural theory generally try to "distance" itself from the problems related to its reliance on "post-" theories (such as post-structuralism and its notion of "free play", which, it has increasingly become evident, serves as a defense of the "free market" and ruling class interests).  As a result of the increasing pressure of economic inequalities in transnational capitalism and its consequences in deteriorating the conditions of women's lives, many feminists have had to embrace projects that "oppose" capitalism (on "ethical grounds") in order to remain "credible".  Transnational feminism, to put it bluntly, is political opportunism with a progressive face.  That is, it purports to address the needs of women globally—but the actual practices proposed by transnational feminists do little to change the material conditions of the vast majority of women's lives, and in fact reveal that the (affective/emotional) "needs" to which transnationalists attend are actually the very privileged concerns of those whose needs have already been met.

This is because by reducing the transformation of material conditions of exploitation to changing behavioral norms and codes of civil conduct, feminism goes no further than offering a "caring capitalism" as "resistance" to material inequality and dire necessity for the majority of women around the globe.  As I argue throughout the essay, far from working to address the material conditions of need for women in transnational capitalism, the "new models" of "transnational civil society", "civility" and "ethical citizenship" that transnational feminism offers are actually an updating of the traditional and illusory notion of "freedom" as "autonomy" from material conditions necessity that has long served to help maintain capitalist production and the exploitation of the majority's labor for the profit of the minority.  In fact, transnational feminism is a particularly destructive path for feminism and has become a most effective ally of transnational capitalism, which is violently working to undermine and erode the material conditions available for collective social well being, economic security, and freedom from exploitation and economic necessity for all persons, in order to maintain profit.  By putting forward the notion that social transformation for women is to be found primarily in behavioral changes and changes in interpersonal relations, transnational feminism abandons any notion of "material freedom" for women, which requires not merely "self-empowered" changes in personal conduct and how we emotionally and affectively perceive the material conditions in which we live, but change in the material conditions of production that subordinate the needs of the majority to profit for the few.

Against this defeatist and opportunist turn to "civility" and ethical reform, I argue for Red Feminism, which explains social differences such as gender and sexuality in terms of the mode of production and the social division of labor, and argues for material freedom: freedom as emancipation from exploitation and economic necessity for all.   


Before further examining the consequences for women of contemporary feminism's turn to "civility", it is first necessary to further examine the underlying "post-" theory of "difference" that it uses to support its argument for "ethical resistance" and "negotiation within" capitalism as the only way to change the material conditions of women's lives.  The dominant feminism has long embraced "post-" theories which understand social "differences" as "irreducible differences" that are "post-production", "post-class", and "post-labor".  In other words, contemporary feminism sees "differences" as autonomous and unexplainable on any terms outside themselves such as the mode of production.  With increases in material inequality in the international division of labor, there has been a "renewed" interest in materialism and pressure on feminists to address the material conditions of gender and sexuality and their relation to inequality in transnational capitalism.  However, while many contemporary feminists now formally distance themselves from "post-" theories, they embrace its logic by explaining material reality through a logic of "muddying" and "inbetween-ness" in which there is no way to totally transform (or even explain) social relations, only the possibility of "negotiation" within capitalism.

It is by now a routine assumption within contemporary feminism (and the left in general) that a dialectical and historical materialist theory of "totality"—which explains social differences in terms of their root historical relations in the mode of production and opens up the possibility of fundamental transformation—reduces the material reality of women's lives to an "abstract" and "binary", metaphysical narrative.  For instance, in their introduction to Between Woman and Nation: Nationalism, Transnational Feminisms, and the State, Caren Kaplan, Norma Alarcón and Minoo Moallem argue that "the marxist call to 'totalize' in opposition to 'globalization' ignores the implications for many subjects vis-à-vis the (dis)array of localities and differences that have been produced through the material effects of discursive practices and the discursive effects of material practices" (Kaplan et al 3).

The claim here is that dialectically relating gender and sexuality to the mode of production represents the material reality of differences as "fixed" and "self-evident" and, therefore, erases the "actual conditions" and "lived reality" of "historical women".  What is instead necessary, transnational feminists argue, is a "playful" logic of "in-betweeness" that does not purport to resolve social contradictions but "negotiates" within them.  According to this argument, an "eclectic" position that "negotiates" social differences (without deciding on any set position) produces a more historically aware and "post-binary" understanding of "concrete" material reality of "historical women" that "links" discourse to "lived reality".  Transnational feminist cultural studies has, therefore, embraced a logic of "negotiation", "muddying" and "inbetween-ness" to explain the material conditions of women's lives and the "relation" between various "differences".  In fact, transnational feminists Kaplan and Grewal argue, it is precisely a logic of "inbetween-ness" and "negotiation"—what they call a "muddying" logic which "refuses to choose"—that "bypasses conventional binary divisions" and brings Transnational Feminist Cultural Studies beyond the divides between "gender" and "class", "Marxism" and "feminism" . . .  They, therefore, go on to argue for an eclectic fusion of feminism, Marxism, and poststructuralism as a way to "negotiate" the historical divides between gender and class and resolve the rift between Marxism and Feminism.

What is at stake in this "inbetween" theory of materialism and how does a "muddying logic" explain the "actual conditions" of "historical women"?  More importantly, what consequence does this explanation have for struggles to transform the material conditions of women's lives and free them from conditions of exploitation and dire need in the international division of labor?

At the core of transnational feminism's "in-between" theory of "difference" is the argument that social differences such as "gender", "sexuality" and "race" are "non-dialectizable", or what Judith Butler calls "irreducible" differences.  More specifically, this means that they cannot be posited as having material conditions outside themselves such as the mode of production, class, and labor.  Instead, transnational feminists such as Caren Kaplan, Norma Alarcón, and Minoo Moallem argue that "differences" are constituted by an internal "double bind".  A "double bind" to be clear, is an epistemological contradiction within "differences"—what is considered in "post" theories to be a basic condition of all language, meaning, and explanation—that denies difference and simultaneously universalizes difference.  Kaplan, Alarcón and Moallem argue, for instance, that "difference" is constituted by:

An aporia, a spatial-temporal indeterminacy where différance as 'interminable experience' comes into being, [which] is not a 'dialectizable contradiction in the Hegelian or Marxist sense' and is constitutive of a double bind that cannot be overcome except through an epistemological metanarrative, which in turn denies the marginalization of difference qua difference and the suffering that construction entails". (Alarcón et al 2; also quoting Derrida's Aporias)

For these feminists, there is no definite "outside" to the "double bind" that constitutes differences and social inequalities.  To put this another way, there is no position from which one can decisively oppose social inequalities without, at the same time, universalizing and erasing "difference" and, therefore, reproducing another set of inequalities.  The only way to try and "explain" differences "outside" of this "double bind"—that is, the only way out of the simultaneous erasure and universalization of difference—is through a contesting "epistemological metanarrative".  However, according to this same logic, a "metanarrative" cannot actually resolve the contradiction at the core of the "double bind" without at the same time reinstalling a universalized identity that erases difference.  This is because any new "narrative" or mode of explaining difference is, according to this theory, always based on this irresolvable "double bind".  This internal "double bind" in other words, is the fundamental and basic condition of all differences.  For this theory, the only way one can ultimately explain social differences is to see them as "epistemological contradictions" and yet, this theory ultimately leads to the conclusion that there is no way outside of such epistemological contradictions and the inequalities they create.  The "double bind" is a pan-historical and eternal contradiction.  As a consequence, social inequalities that are "enabled" by this double bind are also eternal.  Here transnational feminist cultural studies re-turns to exactly what it claims to move away from: an ahistorical post-structuralism that reduces social contradictions to the textual play of differences in meaning and, meanwhile, leaves the historical and material conditions of inequality intact. '

"Inbetween-ness" and "negotiation" in other words do not offer a position that explains the historical conditions of inequality that have produced social differences rather, they advance a metaphysical account of social differences that reduce difference to an ahistorical aporia or "interminable [that is, endless] experience".  This is not so much a position "beyond binaries" as it is a return to a new order of "experience" that displaces the social and historical relations that produce material inequality with "textual" interpretations and descriptions of "experience".  But what lies behind this ahistorical notion of "difference" is the understanding that social differences are "autonomous" and "self-producing" differences.  For instance, in Danielle Juteau's contribution to Between Woman and Nation she argues that social differences such as "gender", "ethnicity", "nation" and "sex" are constituted by "analytically distinct" social formations, each with their own "conditions of production, reproduction, and transformation" (Juteau 142).  There is no "outside" to social differences, only an internal self-producing dynamic—like the metaphysical dynamic of the "double-bind"—that lies outside of any historical relations that enable their production.

It is not surprising, therefore, to see transnational feminists such as Norma Alarcón, return to "flesh and blood experience" as the basis for understanding the "materiality" of gender, and sexuality.  In the midst of the claims for uncovering the social conditions of "historical women" is a return to the "naturalness" of differences and "bodily experience" of them.  Such a position naturalizes social differences and, as a consequence, conceals over the social and historical conditions that produce differences and that enable difference to be used as a tool for increasing exploitation.  What this reveals is that transnational feminism does not, in fact, produce a "post-binary" postion ("beyond" male/female, inside/outside, idealism/materialism, nature/culture, etc.) rather, it produces an eclectic position that merely oscillates between "discursive invention" (the understanding that social differences are "invented" by discourse) and "biologism" (the understanding that social differences are "self-producing", "self-evident", and natural processes outside of any historical and social relation of production).  In short, what lies behind transnational feminisms' call for "negotiation" is a thin culturalism that is actually a very traditional defense of the autonomy of social differences.  "In-between-ness" and "negotiation" are, in other words, rhetorical seductions for advancing "singularity", particularity, and autonomy: the notion that social differences are natural, unchangeable and independent of any external historical and material conditions that enable their production.  That is, that they are "self-inventing", "self-producing" differences.

But what are the consequences if feminism presents the root condition of social inequality and differences for women in the international division of labor as "outside" of the social relations of production and instead founded on a metaphysical, ahistorical and autonomous "flesh and blood" or "interminable experience"?

It is quite telling when transnational feminists such as Norma Alarcón read the collective struggles of women workers in the maquiladoras as an instance of Lyotard's "differend".  Following Lyotard, Alarcón argues that the maquila woman is "a case of conflict, between (at least) two parties, that cannot be equitably resolved for lack of rule of judgement applicable to both arguments" (Lyotard as quoted in Alarcón 70).  According to Alarcón, the root problem for women workers of the maquiladoras (and other Chicana, female workers on the U.S./Mexican boarder) are the state-regulated cultural constructions they are caught between: on the one hand, for instance, an "Anglo-American literacy" enabled by the U.S. nation-state "that interpellates them as individuals" and, on the other, a "communal mode of power" enabled by the Mexican nation-state that "interpellates them as 'Mothers' (the bedrock of the 'ideal family' at the center of the nation-making process…)" (Alarcón 69).  The female maquiladora worker, Alarcón argues, is an instance of an "actual Chicana differend" whose basic condition for freedom and equality is her "engage[ment] in a living struggle to seize her 'I' or even her feminist 'We'" (Alarcón 70).

The basic condition of "freedom" for female maquiladora workers is, according to Alarcón's argument, "freedom" of "self-representation" of one's own "flesh and blood experience" unregulated by the state and other "nation-making processes" (70).  Even being part of a "we", in this case, is preconditioned on the maquiladora worker's struggle to "seize her I".  To put this another way, the basic precondition for freedom and equality for women in the international division of labor is, according to transnational feminists, freedom to be "oneself" to maintain control over ones own "identity-in-difference".  Far from being a "radical" understanding of freedom, however, this understanding of "freedom" (freedom to seize one's own "I" in all of its "differences") is basically a re-articulation of the right of the "private individual" to be protected from state regulation.  That is, it is a re-articulation of classical rights of civil society—particularly the right to "liberty"—in bourgeois democracy under capitalism and a return to the same "abstract equality" that transnational feminism claims to oppose in the first place.

The notion of "freedom" as ownership, control, and "liberty" over one's own "identity" (one's "I") or person is itself founded on private property as a necessary precondition.  As Marx demonstrated, over 150 years ago, the right to "liberty"—for control over one's own person and identity—is "a question of the liberty of man regarded as an isolated monad, withdrawn into himself . . . not founded upon the relations between man and man, but rather on the separation of man from man" ("On the Jewish Question" 42).  Moreover, "the practical application of the right to liberty", Marx explained, "is the right to private property . . . the right to enjoy one's fortune and to dispose of it as one will, without regard for other men and independently of society.  It is the right of self-interest" (42).  On these terms, Marx argues, equality "is only the equal right to liberty . . . namely that every [human] is equally regarded as a self-sufficient monad" ("On the Jewish Question" 42).

This understanding of "freedom" as "liberty" of the nomadic subject is, in fact, quite useful to transnational capital in the international division of labor (for example those corporations which have come to the maquiladoras to secure sources of cheap labor) because it allows the ruling class to extract greater amounts of surplus-value from workers without having to turn as much of its profits over to the cost of social reproduction and public welfare.  One striking example of the way in which the ideology of the "self-sufficient monad" enables the cutting of reproduction costs for capital are the "self-help settlements" in Mexico made up of casas des cartónes (shacks built of scraps and cardboard) the standard housing of the extremely poor in Mexico and a common place of residence for a vast number of maquiladora workers and their families.  In these "self-help settlements" of cardboard shacks, there is no publicly funded infrastructure: no paved streets, sidewalks, no electricity, no plumbing and sewer services, or clean drinking water.  While some of these "self-help settlements" eventually achieve the status of "Colonias", and therefore become entitled to some public funding for paved roads and sidewalks, this process can take 20 years and, even then, "Colonias" still contain substandard living conditions brought on by unmet needs such as "lack of sufficient water or sewer services to meet the residential needs" (Arriola 1).  By regarding the maquiladora workers who live in these "settlements" as "self-sufficient" and therefore, not in need of public funds, the Mexican government is able to offer its citizens at a cheap wage to attract transnational corporations.  Moreover, these transnational corporations, who extract surplus-value from these workers for private profit, are prevented from having to turn money over to the state to support the cost of social reproduction for the workers who have produced the surplus value to begin with.

The maquiladoras and the living conditions of its workers are not a "special case" that is "autonomous" from the social relations of production but, in fact, part of the daily workings of class society and production for profit not needs.  What is taken for granted in the notion of "freedom" as "liberty" of the "self-sufficient monad" in all of her "differences" (i.e., freedom to seize one's own "I" free from regulation), are the unequal material conditions in a society based on private property and class relations.  In such a society, those who own the means of production are able to command over the surplus-labor of others and, therefore, privately determine the uses toward which collectively produced resources are put.  What this means for workers is a continual decrease in their standard of living from not only shouldering the burden of the cost of their own reproduction, but producing surplus-value for the profit of the ruling class.

Moreover, as Marx argues, "the political suppression of private property"—that is, the fact that it is not legally or politically recognized as what qualifies one as a citizen, as a political subject endowed with "rights"—"not only does not abolish private property; it actually presupposes its existence" ("On The Jewish Question" 33).  While in the notion of "freedom" as "liberty" there is a formal denial of "private property" as a qualification for being a political subject of the state, private property and the capacity to command over the labor of others that it enables—as well as other differences that stem from this basic inequality such as education, differences in access to health care, nutrition, clean drinking water, quality housing and protection from the elements, etc—are still allowed to "act after their own fashion" as "personal", "singular", "autonomous" differences in civil society.  Totally excluded in this notion of "freedom", which is based on freedom of "private property" is freedom from private property and exploitation and for social and economic well being for all persons.

Transnational feminism, by putting forward an autonomous notion of "difference" and limiting its struggles to freedom of "identity-in-difference" (one's "I") from state regulation, is only rearticulating as a "resistant citizenship" the normal workings of "civil society" (and its contradiction with the state) in capitalism: as an arena in which differences that are a consequence of exploitation and class society (and used as a site of exploitation) are allowed to "act in their own fashion" and appear as "independent" and "autonomous"—or "authentic"—differences.  In short, transnational feminism goes no further than opposing the "state" ("power") without opposing wage-labor (exploitation).  (What reveals the ruling class interests of transnational feminism is that, even on the limited terms of "interminable experience" it completely excludes from its "analysis" of "experience" the daily conditions of the working day for the majority of persons under capitalism who work part of the day to reproduce their own conditions of life and part of the day producing surplus-value for the benefit of the ruling class).  Moreover, by opposing the "state" without opposing wage-labor and exploitation (i.e., the class relations on which the state is founded) transnational feminism is actually serving in the interest of transnational capitalism insofar as it works to "deregulate" the nation-state to help produce international conditions more conducive for the extraction of surplus-value.  As Teresa Ebert has shown, the dominant feminism merely succeeds in joining efforts of transnational capital in it attack on "social citizenship"—the guarantee of economic and social well-being, and freedom from exploitation and necessity for all persons—and its attempt to privatize all aspects of workers' lives turning them into sites of production for profit (Ebert 278-279).

This is a particularly destructive understanding of "rights" and "citizenship" for feminism because it erases the material conditions of exploitation and dire necessity that the majority of women face in the international division of labor that fundamentally prevent them from economic and social well-being.  It puts forward the understanding that "freedom" is a matter of personal will and does not require material conditions to be in place.  In doing so, it limits the struggles of feminism to a defeatist position of teaching women to adjust to conditions of economic inequality and necessity within class society.  It also has the effect, once again, of "universalizing" and rendering transhistorical the existing class relations and the inequalities in economic access that they produce.

The destructive logic of transnational feminism's defense of "liberty" becomes quite clear if we widen the scope of analysis of women in the maquiladoras beyond transnational feminism's notion of "flesh and blood experience" to account for the dialectical relations of gender and sexuality to the mode of production, specifically wage-labor and capital and their relation (exploitation).

In the maquiladoras, it has become a longstanding practice on the part of transnational corporations such as Zenith, Tyco International, Johnson Controls, Samsung Group, and Sunbeam-Oster, to submit women to pregnancy testing as a condition of hiring or continued employment.  In order to gain or maintain employment, women workers in the maquiladoras have been routinely required to produce urine specimens for pregnancy testing, to undergo abdominal pregnancy exams by company doctors, and fill out detailed questionnaires about their menstruation cycles, birth control use, and sexual activity to determine pregnancy.  Some female maquiladora workers, such as those who work for Siemens, Lear Corporation, and National Processing Company, have also been required by their employers to show used sanitary napkins to factory infirmaries as a means of proving that they are not pregnant.  Moreover, those who become pregnant after being hired are often fired or pressured to quit, sometimes by being shifted to tasks with heavy lifting and toxic fumes to compel them to quit (Human Rights Watch August 1996, 8.6).  At the same time, health and safety standards in the maquiladoras are so low that many workers have received toxic exposure leading to nausea, vomiting, urinary tract cancer and, among women, loss of menstruation and the capacity to reproduce children.

If we restrict our analysis to the ahistorical "flesh and blood experience" of the body that transnational feminism advances, the issue of "menstruation" and "pregnancy" for maquiladora women can only, ultimately, be considered a woman-specific issue.  Indeed, many "human rights" organizations, such as "Human Rights Watch" see the regulation of women's menstrual cycles, pregnancy, and sexual activity as primarily a "sex-based" form of discrimination.  As a consequence of limiting their analysis to the "flesh and blood" experience of "women", such human rights groups advocate for "reproductive freedoms" for women to choose the "number and spacing" of their children free from regulation by the state and corporate interests.  But this position restricts freedom for women to "reproductive choice" and says nothing of the conditions of production in which they reproduce.  While access to the material conditions for women to freely determine the "spacing" and "number" of children is necessary for the emancipation of women and their economic well being, freedom to determine the "spacing" and "number" of children is a limited freedom when one cannot determine the life conditions within which children are reproduced and the ends and interests toward which their lives are put.

The control of "pregnancy" by transnational capitalism is not merely control of "women" but control over the future labor force and the "surplus population": how much reserve labor-power is available for capital to exploit, the cost of its social reproduction, and whether or not it is "cost-effective" for capital to invest in the social reproduction of labor-power (i.e., whether it will receive a "return" of greater profit for its investment or not).  As long as the reproduction of children takes places within relations of production based on private ownership of the means of production in which the few can command over the surplus-labor of others, this reproduction will continue to be subordinated to production for profit—regardless of the "number" and "spacing" of children involved.  This is just as much the case when women are discouraged or prevented from childbearing as when women are encouraged to bear children through romanticizing "motherhood", "childbearing", and "family values"—as is increasingly the case for women of the North.

Freedom of "sexuality", "reproduction", and freedom for women, as the case of women in the maquiladoras shows, is in dialectical relation to the social relations of production and one's position within the division of labor.  Under conditions of private property, specific sexual and reproductive relations are enabled (or disenabled) depending on whether or not they help to reproduce conditions necessary for production for profit.  Understood in this context, gender, sexuality, and reproduction become tools for the extraction of surplus-labor and regulation of the workforce to make it more conducive to surplus-value extraction.  By abstracting gender and sexuality from the social relations of production, transnational feminism accepts the logic of ruling class strategies used by transnational capital in the maquiladoras to isolate women workers from their collective class interests with all workers and command over women's labor as collective producers.  Moreover, by denying the dialectical relation of gender and sexuality to the mode of production and class relations, and presenting social differences as "autonomous", transnational feminists go no further than "freedom" of gender and sexuality (which amounts to a limited "reproductive freedom") without freedom from exploitation (the private appropriation of surplus-labor).  In doing so, it advocates for (a limited reproductive) "freedom" for some women and continued exploitation for the majority.  That is, it advocates for the limited "freedoms" available in capitalism to those women who already have access to material conditions to meet their needs.

As the conditions of dire need for women in the maquiladoras clearly demonstrates, what is needed is a historical materialist understanding of freedom that can account for the conditions of exploitation that must be transformed in order to free workers from economic necessity and compulsion.  Engels clarifies this materialist understanding of "freedom" in Anti-Dühring, when he argues that "Freedom . . . consists in command over ourselves and over external nature, a command founded on knowledge of natural necessity; it is therefore necessarily a product of historical development" (144).  Understood as a "product of historical development" freedom is not "imaginary independence" from conditions of necessity, but command over these conditions which, at root, requires collective ownership and control of the means of production and the abolition of class society.  Engels, of course, has been read as simply reproducing capitalism's drive to "dominate" and exploit nature by emphasizing "collective control".  However, what these criticisms conveniently erase are the fundamental differences between a society based on private appropriation of social and natural resources (which privileges profit, regardless of the unmet needs of society and the costs to the "environment" among other things) and a society based on collective ownership (which prioritizes social need).  The effect of such a (mis)reading however is to simply "oppose" the effects of capitalism without ever addressing the conditions under which private ownership is produced, in effect occluding the conditions under which human's relation to nature can be radically transformed.  It is, in short, not "control" over nature that is the "problem" with capitalism (a purely formal analysis of capital), but that all natural and social resources are privately controlled for the production of profit—at the expense of the vast majority of people as well as the "natural" environment.  If feminism is going to take seriously the conditions of women in the international division of labor and not simply use the example of women in the South, as Norma Alarcón does, to advance a ruling-class notion of "freedom" as "self-help", it must put forward a feminism for freedom from economic necessity founded not upon imaginary independence from conditions of necessity but upon changing the social relations of production (of private ownership) that determine the production and meeting of needs.

What is needed for such a transformative feminism—that is, a Red Feminism based on "material freedom"—is a dialectical understanding of social difference that explains them in terms of a totality of relations: in terms of their root relations in the social relations of production.  What enables feminism to account in materialist terms for the "lived reality" of "historical women" is not the seeming "tangibility" of "flesh and blood" experience, but the historical relations of production behind the "lived reality" of women's lives.  Far from being "concrete", the very notion of material reality as a "tangible experience" (that transnational feminism puts forward as the "concrete" reality) is actually an "abstraction" that must be explained through conceptualization.  As Marx explained in the Grundrisse, the "concrete is concrete because it is the concentration of many determinations" (101).  More specifically, he explains:

It seems to be correct to begin with the real and the concrete, with the real preconditions, thus to begin, in economics, with e.g. the population, which is the foundation and the subject of the entire social act of production.  However, on closer examination this proves false.  The population is an abstraction if I leave out, for example, the classes of which it is composed.  These classes in turn are an empty phrase if I am not familiar with the elements on which they rest.  E.g., wage labour, capital, etc.  These latter in turn presuppose exchange, division of labour, prices, etc.  For example, capital is nothing without wage labour, without value, money, price etc.  Thus, if I were to begin with the population, this would be a chaotic conception . . . of the whole. (100)

To begin with the immediate perception of the "concrete"—its "flesh and blood" experience—in other words, is to begin with an abstraction which itself must be unpacked to explain the root relations behind it that enable its production.  Moreover this unpacking and explain requires "moving analytically toward ever more simple concepts . . . arriv[ing] at the simplest determinations . . . [which] would have to be retraced until  . . . finally arriving at the population again, but this time not as the chaotic conception of a whole, but as a rich totality of many determinations and relations" (101).  It is only by unpacking the historical conditions of production behind the "concrete" of "women's lives" and "retracing" the dialectical relation between these conditions of production and their effect on the material conditions of women's lives—that is, understanding gender and sexuality as part of a totality of relations—that feminism can begin to explain and work to transform the conditions of necessity for women under capitalism.


What are the consequences of transnational feminism's notion of "difference" and "ethical resistance" and what kind of changes does it actually advance in the material conditions of women's lives?

Proceeding from the logic of transnational feminism's theory of "differences" as "irreducible" and unexplainable on the terms of the mode of production, many feminists argue that what is most needed to change the material conditions of women's lives in the international division of labor is a "resistant ethics" or "new morality" that embraces differences and takes "loving care" to understand the point of view of others.  For instance, transnational feminists such as Chela Sandoval are now articulating a "new morality" of "postmodern love" as the way to address social inequalities around the globe.  "Postmodern love" is what Sandoval describes as "radical mestizaje . . . a complex kind of love in the postmodern world, where love is understood as affinity—alliance and affection across lines of difference that intersect both in and out of the body" (170).  This "postmodern love", Sandoval argues, is forged through what she calls the "methodology of the oppressed", which are essentially "semiotic skills" that "recode" and "redefine" reality, and have been developed by oppressed persons in order to psychologically survive under conditions of oppression in capitalism.  According to Sandoval, "postmodern love" serves as a "punctum" that "breaks through" established understandings of social difference, "traditional, older narratives of love, [and] that ruptures everyday being" in the interests of the oppressed (142).  Sandoval claims that it is "postmodern love" (and the "semiotic skills" she calls the "methodology of the oppressed") that serve as "technical skills" required for "survival" within capitalism and "produce. . . human being[s] that are capable of generating egalitarian social relations" (168).

The claim here is that the "radical mestizaje" of "postmodern love" undoes traditional notions of love in which love is understood as a "singularity" of the isolated "couple in love".  Through postmodern love, Sandoval claims, "subjectivity becomes freed from ideology as it ties and binds reality" (170).  This modality of love, according to Sandoval, "undoes the 'one' that gathers the narrative, the couple, the race, into a singularity.  Instead, . . . [it] gathers up the mezcla, the mixture that lives through differential movement between possibilities of being" (170).  Yet, at the same time that Sandoval claims that postmodern love undoes "singularity", what she claims is radical about it is that it sees "differences" as "instances of 'elaborate specificity' and the 'loving care' people might take to learn how to see faithfully from another point of view" (Donna Haraway as quoted in Sandoval 170).  Sandoval presents this "elaborate specificity" and "particularity" as in opposition to "singularity" because it emphasizes "plurality".  But "singularity" is not simply determined by its "lack of plurality" but by its autonomy from conditions that produce it.  "Affinity through difference" is concerned with restoring our understanding of the "specificity" and "particularity" of social differences not the capacity to explain them on the terms of the larger historical and material conditions that produce them.

What is especially revealing in Sandoval's theory of "love" and human relations for the "postmodern world" is that it is theorized as a "transclass" love in which "'love' is a hermeneutic, . . . a set of practices and procedures that transit all citizen-subjects, regardless of social class, toward a differential mode of consciousness and its accompanying technologies of method and social movement" (140; my emphasis).  Postmodern love, in other words, is a trans-social modality of love—what Sandoval describes as a "drifting" or "movement of meanings that will not be governed"—that claims not to be determined by social conditions such as private property and class relations (143).  But such a view of a "transclass" notion of love is not one that works to transform the conditions that produce class in the first place rather, it merely accepts the co-existence of classes and encourages better relations between them.  Seen on these terms, it becomes clear that while "postmodern love" is concerned with "making a place for the different social subject" (172), it says nothing of the conditions of exploitation within which these differences are produced and used as tools for the extraction of surplus-labor.  Differences are, in fact, quite acceptable in social relations of production as "instruments" of labor", making it "more or less expensive to use" (Marx and Engels, Selected Works, 115).

In fact, the "methodology of the oppressed", "survival skills", and "postmodern love" that Sandoval argues are a mode of "radical resistance" to unequal conditions for women in transnational capitalism, are actually identitical to new managerial and behavioral control strategies of "emotional tolerance" that are advocated for in corporations to increase worker productivity and maintain the economic "bottom line"—that is, conditions that are favorable to increasing surplus-value extraction and profit for owners.  In the advanced capitalist societies of the North where a great deal of productive labor now takes place in the "service" industry, in jobs often held by women, strategies of "netiquette", civility, and behavioral control have become increasingly important to the ruling class in order to help reproduce conditions that enable production for profit.  They are, in other words, ruling class strategies to enable workers to adjust to economic exploitation and keep them from changing the social and economic conditions that alienate them in the first place.  But many corporations are finding that maintaining these conditions requires seemingly "open" and "flexible" arrangements with workers.

In a study of "emotional management" in the workplace over a decade ago, Nicky James argued that the "repression of emotional expression" may appear to have greater efficiency in production, but that there are "hidden costs" for capitalism and the production of wealth in this style of "emotional management".  For example she argues:

It has been suggested that a society which requires equilibrium for the production of wealth must minimize the impact of death . . . With fewer people taking a day off work to attend a funeral than formerly there is less disruption in the workplace, but an increase in the amount of pathological grieving . . . with hidden costs in health care".  (James 20)

A more recent study of job stress in the service industry, in fact, suggests that the "emotional labor" (combined with low wages) required of clerical and service workers, in which "service with a smile" is mandated by the company, not only can cause "absenteeism, decreased productivity, fatigue, and burnout" but, according to industrial and organizational psychologist Alicia Grandey, it also "taxes the body over time by overworking the cardiovascular and nervous systems and weakening the immune system" which research has linked to "high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer" (Penn State News January 7, 2000).  This same study reports that the American Heart Association estimated cardiovascular diseases cost the U.S. economy more than $130 billion  (in health care, lost productivity, and employee replacement costs) in 1995.  As a consequence, Grandey argues that "Overall, companies need to be concerned about providing friendly customer service but also recognize how this may tax their employees' health.  Both have an impact on the bottom line" (Penn State News Jan. 7, 2000).

But what these analyses actually reveal (contrary to the claims of both James and Grandey who support "emotional expression" and "behavioral change" as a root material change in labor relations), is that it is neither the "emotional repression" nor "emotional expression" that is the core of root changes in material relations in order to meet the needs of the majority: both can be used as managerial behavioral strategies for capitalism depending on what reproduces conditions that are most cost-effective (the "bottom line") to make a profit.  The "post-repressive" understanding of emotion (that James and Grandey each ultimately endorse) can just as easily be used as a managerial strategy under capitalism in order to make conditions more favorable for surplus-value extraction as "emotional repression".  In fact, since the time in which James wrote her article, many corporations have come to recognize the "hidden costs" of "emotional repression management" and, as a "response" to the negative effect this has had on production levels, corporations are now putting in place new "post-repressive" managerial strategies in order to get workers to adjust to their conditions of exploitation more easily.

According to Temple University's Department of Human Resource Administration, one "effective" managerial approach in increasing worker productivity has been to:

train employees to try to generate real, rather than fake, emotions when working with customers.  Akin to famous theater director Stanislavsky's notion of actually 'becoming the role' one is asked to play, employees can be encouraged to try to empathize with and feel toward the customer in a way that is appropriate for their task". (HRM Network, Spring 2001, 2)

By instituting policies that allow for the "emotional differences" of employees and, moreover, get employees to identify and empathize with the "emotional differences" of customers, corporations have, evidently, been able to increase job performance within the workplace.  This is, in fact, identical to the strategies in transnational feminism for changing "ethical" and "civil" behavior", such as Sandoval's notion of "postmodern love", at the root of which is "behavioral management" and a "new morality" in order to "empathize" with the "other" and "survive" within capitalism.  As Sandoval puts it: "the semiotic perception of signs in culture as structured meanings that carry power" as well as the capacity to "deconstruct" and "recode" these signs and perceive differently are "basic survival skills necessary to the subordinated and oppressed citizenry" (131).

On the contrary, instead of being "trans-social" and "above" class relations, "ethics" (and the codes of civility and emotional conduct advocated by a particular "ethics") are in dialectical relations to class.  As Engels argues, human beings "consciously or unconsciously, derive their ethical ideas in the last resort from the practical relations on which their class position is based—from the economic relations in which they carry on production and exchange" (Anti-Dühring 118).  It is, for instance, under conditions in which private ownership of "personal property" develops that the moral injunction "Thou shalt not steal" develops and becomes commonplace.  The "ethical ideas", in other words, are not eternal truths: "In a society in which the motives for stealing are done away with ….how the preacher of morals would be jeered at who tried solemnly to proclaim the eternal truth: Thou shalt not steal!" (118).  Ethics as well as emotional relations with others, are historical products of the social relations of production.

The "ethical" ideas of Sandoval's "trans-class" postmodern love are no exception.  They are ruling class ideas aimed at producing subjects—what Sandoval calls "risky subject-citizens"—who can more easily adjust to capitalist relations of production.  Her call for "postmodern love", "affinity" and "alliance and affection across lines of difference" is really no more than a traditional call for liberal pluralist "inclusion" and "awareness" of the other—a call for "respecting differences".  Such a position presupposes that the conditions of exploitation and economic necessity for the majority in capitalism are simply a product of "insensitive" and "disrespectful" attitudes toward differences.  This is, moreover, quite useful in protecting the economic interests of some women at the expense of the majority by allowing them to opportunistically "oppose" the oppression of women only insofar as it serves as a limit to their own "success" within capitalism (articulated as their own "particular differences").  When "affinity", "affirmation", and "affection" are understood as the foundation of social transformation then one need only participate in social change so long as one feels "affirmed" in doing so.  What "postmodern love" occludes are the material conditions of exploitation that economically compel the majority of women of the world to "affirm" and "respect" the difference between "exploiter" and "exploited".  Capitalism, in other words, does not depend on the "exclusion" of difference rather, its social relations of production based on exploitation produce social and economic differences.

Postmodern love, is not at all trans-social or trans-class but enabled by historical developments in the capitalist mode of production.  "Love", as Alexandra Kollontai argued, is a "social emotion": both the kinds of love produced and the "needs" that they work to fulfill are enabled by the mode of production.  As the forces of production have developed, and capitalist production has expanded, this has changed the social division of labor and, in doing so, it requires new subjectivities and new modalities of "interpersonal relations" to help maintain conditions for production for profit.  While earlier stages of capitalism sharpened antagonisms between men and women by isolating women within the "family" and robbing women of their role as productive laborers, the advance of capitalism puts into place conditions that throw "gender" into sharp relief.  At the same time that capitalism continues to reproduce conditions for the privatized family, it needs the productive labor of women to maintain profit—it needs their surplus-labor as collective producers—and, therefore, pulls women out of the "home", integrates women into productive wage-labor, makes women's relation to wage-labor/capital more evident and confronts working women with the fact that a solution to conditions of women's oppression in general cannot be found in abstraction from solution to the class question.

Traditional notions of "couple-love", while still useful for the ruling class because of the way in which they construct love as a "private matter" and, therefore, help "to channel the expression of love in its class interests" (Kollontai 279), are increasingly becoming historically outdated in the face of changes in the division of labor brought on by developments in the forces of production.  As a consequence of these changes, the bourgeoisie in advanced capitalism is now also supporting practices that "negotiate" between "class" and "gender" because it cannot avoid the issue that capital requires the labor-power of women, but at the same time, in order to help maintain social relations of production based on profit it seeks to blunt the class consciousness of workers in general and women in particular by offering a position of "negotiation" of the fundamental class contradictions for women.  "Postmodern love" is a useful mode of "love" for transnational capitalism because it emphasizes "flexibility", "negotiation", and survival within existing social relations of production.  Such a position, which sees social differences such as "gender" as "affectively linked" to class but not dialectically related, "addresses" gender without addressing the material needs—the historical preconditions—that must be fulfilled in order to free women from exploitation.  To put this another way, it attempts only to resolve interpersonal problems and, at that, only for ruling class women (and petit-bourgeois women who protect the interests of the ruling class), but does not actually materially resolve the conditions of economic inequality for proletarian women of the world who are excluded from "negotiation".  In this way, despite the fact that "postmodern love" is presented as a "resistance" to traditional modes of couple-love—and, therefore, a site of "emotional freedom" for women—it is likewise a "bourgeois ideal of love" that "does not correspond to the needs of the largest section of the population—the working class" (Kollontai 284).  As Kollontai further argued, without working to free women for subordination to production for profit, women cannot be freed from emotional and personal relations based on financial considerations (274).

The "postmodern love" of Sandoval's "risky citizen-subject" is actually a liberal hegemonic coalitionism, which sutures the utopian pluralism of multiculturalism to the deregulation of the transnational corporation.  The "risky" and "drifting" subject represents the abandonment of economic and social well being for all for the ruthless and reckless practices of the transnational corporation, which must maintain flexibility in its quest for the accumulation of profit all around the globe.  Instead of being "anti-imperialist" and "anti-capitalist", transnational feminism is really quite useful for the accumulation of capital on a world scale as it works to produce the pragmatic, flexible subjects necessary for capitalism to ensure a cheap labor force from which to extract surplus-value.  The "risky citizen-subject" is the new entrepreneur of transnational capitalism whose "drifting" and "deregulation" eliminates the limits to profiting off of the labor of others.

Yet the root condition for capitalist "deregulation" is the increased exploitation of workers of the world, including the majority of women.  If feminism is to prioritize the economic and social emancipation of all women over the liberation of an already privileged minority of women, then it must work to transform the social relations of production instead of limiting its interventions to lessons in "moral conduct" for the 21st century.  If we understand "morality" in historical materialist terms then "morality which stands above class antagonisms and above any remembrance of them becomes possible only at a stage of society which has not only overcome class antagonisms but has even forgotten them in practical life" (Engels, Anti-Dühring 119).  The root issue in determining whether or not society is organized so that its "interpersonal" and "emotional relations" are based on freedom from class relations, exploitation and economic necessity, or whether they will be a front for the class interests of some at the expense of the majority, is whether social resources are privately or collectively owned and thus, whether society produces for profit or collective need.  In itself, transforming emotional and ethical behavior toward others does not resolve the root material inequality brought on by production for profit, which is the basic condition that causes alienation among workers.  Without confronting "class" and private ownership of the means of production, feminism cannot understand the conditions that produce dire need and economic compulsion of workers brought on by exploitation.  Without confronting conditions of necessity and economic compulsion, there is no ground upon which to establish collectivity.  Collectivity is not a structure of interpersonal relations and behaviors rather, it is a structure of social and economic relations founded on collective ownership and control of the means of production.  It is a social relation in which no one person can privately own means of production and, therefore, command over the surplus-labor (and thus lives) of others.


Under the pressure of growing class contradictions, transnational feminism has increasingly turned to the concept of "emotional labor" to explain the material basis of "emotion", "behavior" and morality.  The concept "emotional labor", it is claimed, proposes to recognize that "emotions", "behavior" and "morality" are structured by the social relations of production and points to a dialectical relation between "emotion" and all other forms of labor relations in capitalism.  However, the dominant analysis of "emotional labor" is not a dialectical one but a localist analysis that isolates it from other labor relations as a "special case".  The main way in which this is advanced is that "emotional labor", it is argued, is treatable through a change in emotional relations and not the social relations of production.  Insofar as "labor" is theorized it is as a largely interpersonal "process" not as a structure of ownership of the means of production.

What is notable here is that at the same time transnational feminism denies class antagonisms, it claims to advance class as a necessary category of analysis in its readings.  But class, for transnational feminism and the transnational left generally is, as J.K. Gibson-Graham argue, a PROCESS in which what matters is the "distributive moment" (The End of Capitalism).  Class is not understood in terms of irreconcilable property relations but in terms of a process of distribution and consumption of the products of labor, irrespective of one's relationship to ownership of the means of production.  "Class" as a "property relation" is considered too abstract to explain what are multiple and varied processes of "surplus-value" appropriation.

In their respective contributions to the volume Class and Its Others, Jenny Cameron and Harriet Fraad each articulate a theory of "emotional surplus labor" and "emotional exploitation" in which the concepts of "labor" and "exploitation" are seemingly "freed" from private ownership of the means of production.  As Fraad argues, "emotional exploitation" is understood to be the process by which any labor that involves emotional expenditure is "appropriated by those who are not performers of that labor" (Fraad 70).  What is most central to the "exploitative relation" is not whether or not one privately owns the means of production and, therefore, has command over the labor-power of others rather, it is whether or not one consumes the products of other peoples labor or produces for their consumption.

In actuality, this theory does not produce a more historical and materialist understanding of "labor" and "exploitation".  Instead, it produces an unspecified and ahistorical understanding of surplus-labor.  When surplus-labor is taken to be any labor produced by one person whose product is consumed by another then a disabled person who receives rides to work from his cousin, a homeless person who sleeps in a bed prepared at a homeless shelter, or, as Cameron claims, a child who eats breakfast prepared by her father, can all be considered exploiters of surplus-labor just as much as an owner of a transnational corporation who appropriates the labor of thousands of workers for the sole purpose of capital accumulation.  But labor is not inherently and transhistorically productive of surplus-value.  It is not the concrete usefulness of labor for others that determines surplus-labor rather, it is the social relations of production.  Labor is productive of surplus-value only when material conditions of production have reached a level in which socially necessary labor time for producing the existing conditions of life does not monopolize all available labor-time.  When the forces of production are considerably less developed and all hours of the day must be spent by all members of the community to simply sustain life, a surplus of collective resources is not historically and materially possible.  Moreover, labor is only productive of surplus-value when it is "directly consumed in the course of production for the valorization of capital" not when it is consumed for the reproduction of labor-power (Capital, Vol. 1 1038).

The consequence of abstracting surplus-labor from property relations and turning it into an entirely local power relation in which "everyone" exploits and is exploited is to suppress transformative praxis for collective social relations of production.  If all labor is exploited surplus-labor by virtue of being used by others, then collective social relations—based on collective ownership of the means of production—are inherently relations of exploitation.  Exploitation, in other words, is a transhistorical phenomenon that can only be modified in form but not abolished.  This erases the social conditions of labor and represents a society in which "the free condition of each is the free condition of all" as impossible and unnecessary.  On the one hand transnational feminism claims to acknowledge the "labor" of those not "recognized" by capitalism (a gesture toward the "other" and the "interdependence" of individuals). On the other, because it is still working within the framework of capitalist relations, it ends up asserting a deeply individualist argument—the unsaid (yet familiar) conclusion of which is that we should all aim to be as independent and "self-sufficient" as possible.  That is, the problem of capitalism is that individual people cannot meet their own individual needs, by themselves. But it is not because people rely on others that individual's needs go unmet rather, it is because of the production relations in which that interdependence is organized.

This abstract and ahistorical reading of exploitation in "emotional relations" is itself historically specific to capitalism and works to produce subjectivities that are useful to the ruling class.  At the core of this reading is the monadic subject of civil society in capitalism for whom freedom is "freedom of private property" relations.  This monadic subject is ruled by what Marx called "the right of self-interest" which leads every person to see in other persons "not the realization but the limitation of his own liberty" ("On the Jewish Question", Tucker, 42).  On these terms, emotional relations and emotional needs—in fact, all needs—are understood as individual and "private matters" that are separate from and contrary to the social collective and the needs of others in society.  In fact, the needs of others are understood as a hindrance to one's own personal liberation since meeting the needs of another is fundamentally and transhistorically considered to be an instance of exploitation.

But this is a specific result of the subordination of collective needs to private property relations.  As Marx and Engels explain in The German Ideology, the production and satisfaction of "needs" is fundamental to human life and at the same time develops in historical relation to the mode of production:

We must begin by stating the first premise of all human existence and, therefore, of all history, the premise, namely, that men must be in a position to live in order to 'make history'.  But life involves before everything else eating and drinking, housing, clothing, and various other things.  The first historical act is thus the production of the means to satisfy these needs, the production of material life itself.  And indeed this is an historical act, a fundamental condition of all history, which today, as thousands of years ago, must daily and hourly be fulfilled merely in order to sustain human life  (Marx and Engels, The German Ideology 47).

In other words, "needs" and the conditions for producing and satisfying needs are historical.  As Marx explains, they involve the dialectical praxis of labor in which humans "act upon external nature and change it, and in this way . . . simultaneously change [their] own nature" (Marx, Capital, Vol. 1 283).  The production and satisfaction of needs, in turn, gives rise to new needs.  As the forces of production develop so do needs and the methods and modes of producing and meeting needs: "Hunger is hunger, but the hunger gratified by cooked meat eaten with a knife and fork is a different hunger from that which bolts down raw meat with the aid of hand, nail and tooth. Production thus produces not only the object but also the manner of consumption, not only objectively but also subjectively" (Marx, Grundrisse 92).  For instance, what counts as "nutrition" and the conditions necessary in order to gain access to this nutrition (whether this requires hunting and gathering, tools for agricultural cultivation, or large scale industry) is historically enabled by the mode of production.  In this way "production not only supplies a material for the need, but it also supplies a need for the material" (92).  The conditions of production, both the forces of production and the relations in which they are organized, therefore, determine both the historical development of need themselves and the way in which they are fulfilled.

Under capitalism, where the productive forces have enabled the historical development of new needs and ways of fulfilling them, the private property relations subordinate the majority to dire economic necessity by excluding them from access to the resources necessary to meet needs.  By subordinating the needs of many—the collective needs of all persons for freedom from exploitation and economic necessity—to production of profit, capitalist relations of production impede the development of human capacity enabled by meeting existing need and increasingly deteriorate the standard of living of workers.  When human beings are reduced to a means for profit-making for a few, workers are pitted against each other for mere survival and must shoulder the economic burden not only of meeting their own needs but producing surplus-value for the ruling class, the needs of others represent an obstacle to capital accumulation for the ruling class and impoverishment for workers.

When inequality in emotional relations is divorced from class contradictions in the mode of production and the dire economic necessity that exploitation produces for the majority, at best, one can work for what Marjorie Mayo calls "emotional democracy" and Fraad calls "communal emotional relations" in which persons have the right to express their own feelings and the key to social change is ethical negotiation and behavioral reform: adopting caring behavior toward others and negotiating with them to get needs met.  But it is telling that one of the signs that such "communal emotional relations" are "working well" is that, as Fraad explains, a school age child can negotiate between "sustaining [communal practices] at home while learning to submit, at least to some extent, to what are often non-communal emotional requirements at school" (81).  In short, the theory of class processes and negotiation merely advocates a more "humane" capitalism—a caring capitalism—with "functional" emotional, sexual, and family relations that help to reproduce subjects who can more easily adjust to capitalism and its cultural consequences.

Far from "freeing" emotional relations from private property, the dominant feminism's theory of "negotiation" and "ethical resistance" offers an idealist and illusory freedom that has no ground in the real material conditions of need and labor that shape gender difference, sexuality and emotional relations.  Instead of working to address the needs of all persons for freedom from economic necessity and exploitation, it serves as a cover for the reproductive requirements of capital, which is now engaging in a massive assault on any notion of social collectivity in order to secure an exploitable labor force with which to make a profit.  Behind the privatized and individualized "need" that grounds dominant theories of emotional labor in feminism are the class interests of the bourgeoisie to bolster property relations and the monadic individualism of civil society as the only ground of freedom.

One of the "objections" from transnational feminists to the critique I have made thus far of the turn in feminism to "civility" and "ethical resistance" is that Marxism "ignores" the "emotional" and "affective needs" of people and that without putting a foundational emphasis on "ethics" and the "affective experiences" of others, it will be impossible to build the kind of collective organization necessary in order to transform existing social relations.  This understanding of collective organization and Marxism is, in fact, so pervasive that even theorists who claim to advance "classical Marxism" are now rearticulating its revolutionary theory of "needs" and "labor" to prioritize "affective needs" as a foundational component to revolutionary struggle.  One striking example of this is Rosemary Hennessy's book Profit and Pleasure in which she claims to advance a "Marxist" theory of sexuality and "affect" and their dialectical relation to needs, class, and labor.  Hennessy's book is especially important to examine here because of the way in which it rewrites the Marxist concepts of "class", "collectivity", "labor", and "need" at the same time that it claims to restore their centrality in contemporary cultural critique.  Her text, in fact, argues that one of the main limits to contemporary cultural critique is an erasure of "class", "needs" and "production" as fundamental structures that must be transformed in order to enable material transformation of the conditions of people's lives.  More specifically, she claims to want to restore the centrality of the Marxist concept of "need" (and its dialectical relation to the mode of production) to debates about desire, sexuality, identity, affect, and emotion.

But when we look closely at Hennessy's theory of "need", "labor" and "class" we find not a materialist understanding, but one which once again separates emotion from the relations of production.  According to Hennessy, not only the dominant cultural theory but also revolutionary collectivity has by and large proceeded by abstracting "affect" and "human affective capacities" from basic needs and the social relations of production and, in doing so, revolutionary organizations have limited the possibility and scope of revolutionary praxis and class struggle by alienating potential participants and their "individual" experiences in their everyday lives.  For Hennessy, "affect" represents a "basic human need" which is no less necessary to survival than other "basic needs" such as food, clothing, shelter, and healthcare.  The primary concern of revolutionary organization, she argues, should therefore be "how to marshal our human affective capacities in the struggle to redress the inequitable meeting of other human needs" (208).  Hennessy continues:

If we no longer ignore affect in the calculus of human needs, then in forging a collective standpoint for oppositional—even revolutionary—forms of consciousness we will need to acknowledge how political agency, practice, and commitment are motivated, complicated, and undermined by our human capacity for affect", to which she adds "perhaps especially the emotion . . .  "love". (208)

In fact, as a solution to the abstraction of "affect" from "needs" she argues that revolutionary organizations need to be organized on the basis of what she calls "revolutionary love".  Revolutionary love, according to Hennessy embraces "multiple" forms of love—both "individual" and "collective"—so that individuals in their everyday "love" and "affective" lives are not fundamentally alienated from revolutionary struggle.  "To endorse . . . collective love [i.e., love for a collective people]" she is quick to point out "without acknowledging other kinds of love that are more individual . . . that also have an intense hold on us, would be not just dishonest but a costly political mistake" (Hennessy 205).  "Revolutionary love" in short, is able to "bridge" the gap between "individual experience" and "collectivity" that Hennessy argues is "missing" from revolutionary praxis, by working to meet the "affective needs" of its participants.

Rather than producing a dialectical understanding of "love" and "affect" that understands its relation to the mode of production and need, Hennessy rewrites "need" to produce the understanding that it is "love" and "affect" that form the basis of production relations.  As part of her theorization of "affective needs" Hennessy argues that, "affective needs are inseparable from the social component of most need satisfaction . . . but they also constitute human needs in themselves in the sense that all people deserve to have the conditions available that will allow them to exercise and develop their affective capacities" (210-211).  But affective capacities are here treated very ahistorically: the right to develop these capacities is in itself quite banal—this amounts to the right for freedom of emotional expression, but abstracts the "expression" itself from the conditions in which it is produced and the ends and interests that it serves.  Moreover, Hennessy argues that "alienation from sensation and affect underpins the organization of commodity production and consumption and the logic of exchange value.  In capitalist divisions of labor, the extraction of surplus value requires that workers alienate themselves from their human potentials, including their sex-affective potentials" (217; my emphasis).  This is another way of saying that "alienation" is not founded upon class and the separation of workers from ownership of the means of production but on our separation from "ourselves", our "experience", and from the "ideal human" (which Hennessy calls "human affective potential").

What belies the idealism of Hennessy project of "revolutionary love" is that it requires an idealized "human being" who already embodies the interpersonal relationships and affective capacities that are projected onto a "communist future".  This is a far cry from the understanding of "emotional relations" and "love" produced by historical materialists such as Alexandra Kollontai who argued that the basis of the "hypocritical morality" of capitalism is not in its failure to produce "ideal human beings", but on "the structure of its exploitative economy, while at the same time mercilessly convering with contempt any girl or woman who was forced to" depart from this ideal (263).  It is important to note here that the concepts of "red love" and "love-comradship" produced by revolutionaries such as Kollontai are dramatically different from Hennessy's sentimentalizing of revolutionary struggle because they understand "love-comradeship" to be based on a structure of economic relations in which no person can appropriate the surplus-labor of others.  "Red Love" in other words is not a set of interpersonal relations nor even "solidarity" but a set of social and economic relations in which class antagonisms have not only already been abolished (because private property has been abolished) but have been "forgotten in practical life".  Hennessy's theorization of the concept of "affective needs" and their exclusion from revolutionary "solidarity" is not a historical materialist understanding of the relationship between "affect", "love", and needs but a version of Max Stirner's theorization of the "ideal human" that Marx and Engels critiqued in The German Ideology.  Like Stirner, Hennessy's concept of "revolutionary love", "imagines that people up to now have always formed a concept of man, and then won freedom for themselves to the extent that was necessary to realize this concept; that the measure of freedom that they achieved was determined each time by their idea of the ideal of man at the time" (456).  In actuality, however, people won freedom for themselves "to the extent that was dictated and permitted not by their ideal of man" (for example, the revolutionary lover who is able to harmonize her personal relationships with her relationship to revolutionary struggle), "but by the existing productive forces" (457).  However, so long as the "productive forces" themselves continue to be restricted by the social relations of production based on private property, "development [is] possible only if some persons satisfy their needs at the expense of others" (457).

An instructive example of the fact that Hennessy's theorization of "need" empties it of its revolutionary content and restricts social change to within capitalism is her critique of the "minimum wage".  In this discussion, Hennessy argues that the "minimum wage", which represents the "needs" of the proletariat that are excluded by capitalism, "is of course invariably not the same as a living wage" (216).  Unlike the "living wage", Hennessy argues, "the minimum wage cannot cover even the most basic needs for living—food and clothing and housing and healthcare, no less education and time for intellectual and creative development—many unmet needs for living a full human life are virtually "outlawed'" (216).  But what is left unchallenged by her defense of the "living wage" is the system of "wage-labor".  The "needs" of workers are not excluded by the minimum wage alone, but by the system of wage-labor founded on private property.  Moreover, what is obscured here is that even with a "living wage", workers are still exploited.  Such a reading of living/minimum wage in other words shows how the theory of "ethical resistance" and "revolutionary love" has the effect of distracting attention away from causes of exploitation and oppression, substituting the amelioration of the effects of capitalism for their transformation.

If feminism is going to be a transformative praxis and not simply a cover for ruling class interests, it must break with the idealism of "ethical resistance" and the "monadic subject" and build a theory and praxis of emancipation for women as part of a social collectivity based on meeting needs, social well being, and freedom from exploitation for all.  Feminism needs to articulate a materialist theory—a red theory of gender and sexuality—which understands needs, including emotional needs, as not simply private matters or "free floating" choices, but historical practices that develop and change in response to the development of forces of production as they come into conflict with the relations of production.  The conditions of possibility for freedom for women, including in their emotional and sexual relations, are in dialectical relation to class and economic necessity—that is, to the material conditions within which their society produces its needs and their position within the social relations of production and division of labor.  The material conditions for freedom of sexuality, emotions, and love for women who occupy gendered positions in the social division of labor and are economically compelled to take up strictly heterosexual positions in marriage such as single women in the export processing zones of Taiwan who are trading their eyesight for cash to save money for expensive dowries, are quite different from the conditions for women who are well paid professionals in occupations in advanced capitalism that are relatively flexible regarding gender.  Understanding "emotional relations" as separate from class antagonisms and restricting change to within interpersonal relations is strategy of transnational capital to "maintain an elastic labor force" by "muting" class consciousness and turning women away from their "commitment to work and their solidarity . . . with men as well as women" (Gallin 190).

The significance of private ownership of the means of production and command over the labor-power of others as well as its normalization in contemporary feminism, matters because it determines what material resources and conditions are at the disposal of all members of society (and what material interests they can advance) and therefore determines whether the social arrangements will be able to free all persons from necessity or whether they will need to be transformed to do so.  Freedom of sexuality, love, desire cannot be produced unless emotional relations are, as Alexandra Kollontai argues, freed from financial considerations, which is to say, freed from class society and its privatized relations of production that produce dire economic necessity for the majority.  Transnational feminism, with its focus on "ethical resistance" to the material conditions of inequality for women, actually works in the interest of subordinating the needs of women for material equality and freedom from necessity to the reproductive requirements of transnational capitalism.  What is necessary in feminism is not the individualized "responsibility" of "transnational" feminism but the collective solidarity of revolutionary internationalism for a feminism that will participate in the class struggle to abolish capitalism's regime of profit and wage-labor and therefore put the material conditions in place to emancipate all people from exploitation and economic necessity.

Works Cited

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Mayo, Marjorie.  "New Language: New Labor: Exploring the Politics of Emotions".  Soundings 11 (Spring 1999): 144-151.

Sandoval, Chela.  Methodology of the Oppressed.  Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000.

THE RED CRITIQUE 3  (March/April 2002)