War and Domestic Violence
TEXT AND CLASS
It has by now become routine to use "violence against women" and the "liberation" of all women from this violence as a means to justify the wars in Central Asia and the Middle East. After September 11, the right-wing First Lady of the United States, Laura Bush, emerged "overnight" as a progressive "feminist" concerned with the brutal treatment of the women of Afghanistan under the Taliban. In order to bolster support for a "pre-emptive" strike on Iraq, President Bush has declared the treatment of women in Iraq as a reason for the need to bomb Iraq and further destroy its civilian infrastructure. But the public relations ploy to represent imperialist warfare as a defense of democracy for women has turned the "liberation" of women into a cruel joke. It erases the fact that the United States financed mujahedin forces, which led to the overthrow of a government that allowed women access to education and employment and the rise of the Taliban dictatorship, in which the beating and murdering of women by their husbands was state sanctioned. Moreover, it also erases the devastating effects that the prolonged military and economic war in Central Asia and the Middle East is having on the economic and social well being of women worldwide. In Iraq, for example, as the result of prolonged economic sanctions, a 1995 United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization study states that one-fifth of the population is starving to death, the health care system (which prior to the sanctions was one of the most universal in the region) has been severely deteriorated, and the standing of women has decreased dramatically as many have lost their jobs and abandoned their education in the struggle for daily survival (Masri 1).
Perhaps most striking of recent evidence that current wars have not engendered equality for women, even in the North, are the murders of four women in six weeks this past summer at the hands of their military husbands stationed at Fort Bragg, three of whom had recently returned from combat duties in Afghanistan. Domestic violence against women, in fact, continues to be a persistent problem in the United States where on average four women are killed each day by their male partners (Women's Action Coalition 1-64). Moreover, studies show that the U.S. military exhibits domestic violence rates that are 3-5 times higher than in the "civilian population".
Sue Davis points out that the continued existence of domestic violence within the United States, and its practices abroad, not only reveal that the current wars are not being fought on behalf of women, but they also reveal that the common underlying basis of both war and domestic violence is private property relations:
War and domestic violence, to be clear, are matters of class: the social relations of production based on private ownership of the means of production. The wars in Central Asia and the Middle East are imperialist wars on behalf of U.S. capital, which is trying to gain a monopoly over the production of the total, global surplus-labor. In order to stave off declining rates of profit brought on by overproduction, U.S. monopoly capital—specifically oil cartels and their financiers—are compelled to seek out new conditions of production (a concentration of ownership of means of production, raw materials, and access to cheap labor) through the building of a Central Asian oil pipeline, gaining access to Iraqi oilfields, and access to new reserves of labor-power in Central Asia and the Middle East from which to extract surplus-labor. War, in short, has become historically necessary for U.S. capital if it is going to stave off a decline in profit. As Lenin argued, war is a historical necessity under capitalism in its imperialist phase. It is the outcome of the intense concentration of production (of multiple industries) into the hands of a few, the domination of monopolies over global production, a resulting crisis of overproduction, and the subsequent need under capitalism for competing imperialist interests to re-divide ownership of production in the world, often requiring violent force (war), in an attempt to raise the rate of profit (Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism).
Far from helping to "liberate women" the imperialist wars sharpen class antagonisms, preserve private property relations, and intensify the violent effects of private property on women "abroad" and "at home", including domestic violence. The crisis of profit that develops as a result of the concentration of capital into fewer hands, requires the increased exploitation of workers in production (through access to new reserves of cheap labor and increased appropriation of their surplus-labor). Moreover, this, in turn, requires the use of existing capital to put the conditions in place to make this possible (e.g., through shifting capital into the military and warfare). The concentration of wealth into fewer hands and the resulting crisis of profit leads to increased impoverishment of workers, which sharpens workers' dependence on the privatized family of capitalism as an economic unit of survival. At the same time, the family—the relations of reproduction—cannot themselves stave off the crisis of profit in production, which requires seeking out new sources of production and surplus-labor extraction. Both the economic contradictions of the privatized family (that is, that the family cannot resolve the crisis of profitability in production and the increased impoverishment of workers) and the ideology of the privatized family of capitalism, which puts forward a possessive individualism, especially an ideology of "ownership" of women by men, support conditions of domestic violence against women.
But in the wake of the onset of the current imperialist wars and the Fort Bragg murders, there has been a massive public relations campaign—from the Bush Administration to the cultural "left"—to disconnect the material conditions of violence against women and war from wage-labor/capital and their conflict in the social relations of production (exploitation) and to use the cause of "women" to defend the interests of transnational capitalism.
The dominant discourses—from the Bush Administration and the corporate press, to the cultural "left" and transnational feminism—represent the root issue of freedom for women from economic inequality, social injustice, and violence to rest on matters of the "state" and whether women's relationship to it should be viewed from the standpoint of "national security" or "civil rights". Contemporary feminism has itself been consumed by these issues and feminists have become deeply divided over whether the state should be understood as a sight of "recuperation" or "resistance" for women. As evidenced in such books as Cynthia Daniels' Feminists Negotiate the State: The Politics of Domestic Violence, domestic violence in contemporary feminism is largely considered to be an issue of "state power" grounded in "protection" of individuals by the state from the conditions that enable domestic violence versus "civil citizenship" defined as "the right to bodily integrity" and a woman's right to choose (Daniels 3). The "core issues" for contemporary feminism have thus been: whether the "state" should intervene on behalf of women to protect them from domestic violence or whether this further "victimizes" women by denying them their civil rights to "individual" freedom from "state regulation". Another symptom of this logic is the current reduction, in contemporary feminism, of global violence against women to a question of the "veil" and whether, as right-wing advocates and liberal feminists alike argue, the United States has an "obligation" to free the women of Afghanistan and the Islamic diaspora from the veil or whether, as transnational feminists have argued, this denies the "resistant agency" of the women who wear the veil. What feminism has largely turned toward as a way out of this impasse is the eclectic position that Daniels offers: that is, that women must "negotiate" between "state power" and "civil citizenship" to resolve the problem of domestic violence. In short, the "state" must be read simultaneously as a site of "recuperation" and "resistant agency".
However, this eclectic approach to violence against women is founded upon an increasingly problematic understanding of "rights" and the "state" which abstracts them from private ownership of the means of production. By explaining the "root problem" of violence against women, from war to domestic violence, as a matter of "state power" and not "exploitation" in private property relations, these theories serve as a most effective ally of transnational capitalism. They quietly support the existing social relations of production by seeking "solutions" in the social relations of reproduction, to the class contradictions that stem from private property in production. Moreover, by putting forward "civil citizenship" as the basis of "agency" for women against the limits of the "state", contemporary feminists suppress the need for social citizenship founded on collective ownership and control of the means of production. What an analysis of both approaches reveals, however, is that "war", "domestic violence", and their relation to each other are not, at root, a matter of "rights" and "reproduction" but of class and labor, and as such they are the effect of the social relations of production.
For liberal feminists, who argue that the state should (and can) be a "neutral arbiter" of contradictions in civil society, inequality for women is a product of attitudes of inequality and a resulting unequal application of laws and rights to protect women. For instance, from the standpoint of "Liberal" feminists such as the "Feminist Majority", the domestic homicides of women at Fort Bragg, and the high levels of domestic violence in the military, are read as primarily a problem with a "masculine culture" in the military, which they contend results in inadequate psychological debriefing for soldiers returning from combat into civilian life and the fear on the part of soldiers to admit that they have a "problem". As a response to the Fort Bragg murders and the persistence of domestic violence in the military, liberal feminism therefore supports such measures as equal application of the Domestic Violence Offenders Gun Ban for military and police personnel, Fort Bragg's new mandatory 48-72 hour spouse separation policy after domestic violence has been reported, and Senate Amendment 4447 to the final version of the Defense Appropriations Bill introduced by Sens. Paul Wellstone (D-MN), Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) to allocate $10 million to domestic violence programs on military bases.
This "liberal" position is not, in short, opposed to but rather takes as its fundamental presupposition the right-wing position of "U.S. national security", which presents the imperialist wars in Central Asia and the Middle East as a necessary means to liberate the women of the world from violence, currently articulated as freedom from the "veil". Feminist Majority leader Eleanor Smeal has argued that "we must finish what we started in Afghanistan", which, she points out, involves expanding "peacekeeping" troops beyond the capital (Feminist Daily News Wire, 9/26/2002). This position is also evident in the corporate feminism of such celebrities as Oprah Winfrey who, in an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show dedicated to an examination of the Fort Bragg murders, argued that the military, in order to "defend democracy", must be trained in a highly undemocratic and authoritarian environment that is conducive to the promotion of domestic violence at home. This, in turn, is considered to be all the more reason to provide increased state spending on behavioral health services in the military for soldiers and their families: so that they are more effective in their task of fighting the current wars (The Oprah Winfrey Show, October 2002).
However, these measures actually reveal the class interests of liberal—that is "corporate"—feminism, which caters to the economic interests of upper-middle class women in imperialist nations. These women largely support imperialist war in Central Asia and the Middle East because it is helping to put in place economic conditions for U.S. capital (such as an oil pipeline running through Central Asia) to extract a larger portion of surplus-labor from the international proletariat, of which these women can then vie for a greater portion. It is no surprise that massive public attention was given to the "need" to allocate greater resources to the military to "help" it combat the problem of domestic violence at the same time that Congress was passing the largest Defense Appropriations Bill in history (now signed into law as of October 23, 2002), which allocates $354.8 billion for national security programs administered by the Department of Defense. The hollowness of these measures as a means for ending domestic violence and inequality for women is made even more obvious by the fact that the Defense Appropriations Bill also requires shifting billions of dollars away from social security, health benefits, as well as social and economic resources to improve conditions of life for women in society at large. At the same time the Bush Administration has been bombing the citizens of Afghanistan in the name of "women", it has cut social resources for working class women and proposed welfare reforms that emphasize marriage over employment as a solution to the impoverishment of working class mothers in the U.S. As a consequence, women will have fewer resources at their disposal to leave abusive marriages and will be economically compelled to tolerate them. Moreover, as a New York Times report indicates, the current administration has either eliminated women's agencies of the Labor Department, military, and social services or demonstrated negligence toward renewing charters and leadership of these agencies, thus stalling the work they are set up to do and undermining years of work to put these conditions in place ("Cloudy Future for U.S. Women's agencies", December 19, 2001). The actions of the current administration, moreover, follow on the tails of a widening gap in income between men and women since 1995 ("Male-Female Salary Gap Growing, Study Says", The Washington Post, January 24, 2002). This demonstrates the deterioration of what little resources are reserved for women under capitalism to improve their social and economic conditions of life, when these resources are no longer necessary to maintain profitable conditions of production.
In short, the subordination of "domestic violence" to the project of "national security", the "military", and family values, is actually an effort in defense of monopoly capitalists who will invest in "behavioral health services" so long as it is "cost effective" in helping to reproduce those sectors of the workforce (in this case, the military and defense industry) that are currently most useful in securing international conditions favorable to production for profit.
Moreover, the class interests behind the "national security" project and the military's interest in "family values" reveal that the "family", and domestic violence, are not at root a matter of "reproduction" and "intimate relations" but of labor and, hence, of production. Capitalism, which is founded on the private appropriation of the majority's surplus labor for profit by those who own the means of production, subordinates "reproductive relations" to the interests of production for profit. That is, capitalism reproduces the privatized family—where the economic burden for the social reproduction of workers lies in the hands of individual workers and not the social collective—in order to reduce the portion of social surplus-labor that is used for meeting workers' needs rather than profit for the owners. Moreover, when subordinated to private property relations, this results in family and interpersonal relations characterized by what Alexandra Kollontai called "possessive individualism": an ideological condition in class society in which "love" relations are thought to be autonomous from social conditions and are viewed as a relation of "ownership", most often of women by men (Selected Writings 237-249). In such a situation, in which family and interpersonal relations are subordinated to production for profit not needs and relationships take on the character of possessive individualism that is fostered under capitalism, women become commodified as objects toward which abuse seems "justified".
The military, as an institution of capitalism, is no exception. Cynthia Enloe has pointed out that the military uses the "family" form to reproduce a "well-run base" and "ensure a cohesive military a generation later". As a result, she argues, it encourages traditional gender conventions which "lower wives' expectations of paid work, encourage them to derive their own sense of self-worth from their husbands' accomplishments, and suppress wives' stories of depression and physical abuse for fear that they might damage their husbands' chances of promotion" (Enloe 72). This ideology has been useful for the base (which is an institution of capitalism) in order to help conceal the contradictions, particularly for women, of workers' dependence on the family as an economic unit and, moreover, to get women to more easily adjust to performing reproductive labor to produce the next generation of labor-power. In short, the military makes use of the privatization of the family under capitalism: the fact that workers, whose surplus labor is appropriated for profit and are, therefore, economically dependent on the family for their survival, at the same time, are privately responsible for the reproduction of their own conditions of life and the next generation of laborers. The decision to start bases in which whole families live was an economic decision to offset the cost from the social surplus-labor for social reproduction of soldiers and officers. Despite the initial costs of accommodating families, it was considered more "cost effective" in the long run to have women's unpaid labor help to reproduce conditions of life for soldiers, to reserve more of the social surplus-labor for owners. This subordination of the family to production for profit (which is why the military needs to be "reproduced" under capitalism to begin with), combined with the subordination of sexuality to production for profit through the routine international use of violence against women as a weapon of imperialist warfare (in Vietnam, Rwanda, Kosovo . . . ) as well as through the use of sex workers on and off military bases, leads to the reproduction of conditions conducive to violence against women in the home.
It is important to point out here, that the problem of domestic violence cannot be resolved by changes within the capitalist family and the relations of reproduction. The fact that domestic violence is fundamentally an issue of production in class society (and therefore cannot be resolved within measures aimed only at changing "reproduction"), can be seen in the contradictions of the military's domestic violence programs. While the U.S. military's domestic violence program is considered to be the largest in the world and seemingly the most "harsh" intervention and treatment program according to many of its critics—because once domestic violence is reported to military personnel, the commanding officer is immediately informed and has the authority to court-marshal a soldier—it is incapable of actually resolving the problems that reproduce domestic violence because the military's entire premise is built upon protection of the very conditions that perpetuate domestic violence: private ownership of the means of production and the resulting privatized family. This contradiction is evident, for example, in the fact that as a response to the military's formal policies on domestic violence, many women who are victims of domestic violence at the hands of their military husbands will not report it for fear that their husband will lose his job. This has been interpreted as "evidence" that the problem of domestic violence is a "personal" or "family matter" that, ultimately, cannot be resolved outside of the family. However, at the same time, numerous reports have made it clear that commanding officers often use their authority to protect military personnel from conviction for domestic violence, and to actively ignore or discourage women who put forward official complaints (Benfer 2). What is often sighted as the "reason" for this is that, according to federal law (the Lautenberg Amendment), anyone who is convicted of a domestic assault is prohibited from owning or operating a firearm, thus rendering them useless to the military. In these "explanations" the military gets treated as a "special population" that is separate from the social conditions that produce domestic violence and domestic violence, in turn, gets treated as a "private" family or individual matter, not a matter of the social and economic relations that the military is produced to protect. On the one side the "state" (and the military as an apparatus of the state) is represented as "above" class contradictions and a "neutral regulator" of them, on the other hand, the "citizen" is considered as a "monadic individual" responsible for her own conditions of life, autonomous from exploitation and economic compulsion.
What actually lies behind these contradictions are historical conditions of necessity in capitalism: the fact that, on the one hand, economic compulsion brought on by exploitation in production drives women to continue to rely on the privatized family even though it is a site of violence and abuse and, on the other hand, the military is itself necessary under capitalism in order to defend private property relations, and specifically the interests of monopoly capitalists, that economically compel workers to rely on the privatized family to begin with. These contradictions are symptomatic of the failure to resolve domestic violence by means of rearranging the social relations of reproduction. Negotiation with the "state" for more resources to help crisis manage the privatized family does not address the root issue of domestic violence. What is needed is freedom from necessity brought on by exploitation. This is because domestic violence is a problem that stems from contradictions in production, which cannot be resolved through the social relations of reproduction. Domestic violence is enabled by the privatized family which itself is a historical necessity under capitalism: workers are economically compelled to rely on it as an economic unit owing to their increasing impoverishment in the social relations of production (the more they produce, the more capital gets concentrated into fewer hands), at the same time they provide a valuable service for capital by absorbing the burden of reproducing labor-power. The contradictions of the family under capitalism, therefore, lead to greater economic and social contradictions for workers, not fewer. Fundamental changes in the relations of reproduction require changes in the relations of production. This is further seen in the fact that, although capital historically necessitates the subordination of relations of reproduction to private ownership of the means of production in order to offset the cost to capital of reproducing labor-power, this use of "cost effective" measures (what Lenin called "clipping coupons") to reserve more of the existing surplus-labor for profit does not stop the crisis in production and the decline in the rate of profit. It reduces the drain on profit, but does not itself resolve the over all decline in the rate of profit. This requires access to new reserves of labor-power from which to extract surplus-labor (through exploitation)—thus reproducing the economic conditions of private property and their ideological effects that enable domestic violence against women.
It is not an autonomous "state power" (which locates change in "reproduction") but the social relations of production based on private property that the state is produced in order to maintain, that is the "root cause" of violence against women through warfare and domestic violence. "National security" is an ideological strategy to represent the interests of the ruling class to use imperialist warfare for a greater monopoly over the global surplus-labor, as the general interests of all. Feminism, in order to enable the eradication of domestic violence needs to confront the conditions of exploitation in the social relations of production that necessitate the state, imperialist warfare, and violence against women. Without addressing the emancipation of labor from exploitation (the private appropriation of surplus labor), and freedom of workers from conditions of necessity in capitalism (such as the economic compulsion of workers to rely upon the "privatized family" as an economic unit to survive), women cannot be freed from the conditions that reproduce domestic violence and imperialist warfare.
In contrast to "liberalism" (which is indistinguishable from the "right-wing" agenda of national security and its underlying imperialist interests), the cultural "left" and "transnational feminists" have advanced an "ethical resistance" to the imperialist wars for their deterioration of "civil rights" within the United States and their human slaughter in Central Asia and the Middle East. However, in the face of the "use" of women to defend the national security project and the imperialist interests of U.S. capital in its efforts for a monopoly over the world's oil production and related industries, contemporary feminism and the cultural left have by and large abandoned any fundamental transformation of capitalism for "resistance" within globalization. Instead of providing a materialist critique of the conditions behind the "national security" project—which would require understanding it as an ideological alibi for private property relations—transnational feminism has retreated into rereading transnational capitalism as "always already" a sight of "resistant agency" for women by presenting capitalist culture as a "hybrid" site of "oppression" and "resistance". In doing so, it embraces capitalism through a cultural mediation: by suggesting that the problem for women has been the "state" not capitalism, and that transnational capitalism by "deregulating" the state, has now provided conditions that enable "resistance" on the part of women. Thus, while seeking to oppose specific consequences of the imperialist interests of U.S. monopoly capitalists (i.e., warfare), transnational feminism does not oppose the economic relations at the root of global capitalism (private ownership of the means of production and production for profit).
For instance, we are told by "left" cultural theorists Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, that "imperialism is over" and that what we are witnessing is the birth of "Empire": a "decentered and deterritorializing apparatus" that is charged with sites of "resistance". The "primary symptom" of this "new global order", they contend, is the decline of sovereignty of nation-states: that "no nation-state can today, form the center of the imperialist project" (xi-xvii). Following suit, in their statement, "Transnational Feminist Practices Against the War" (October 2001), Paola Bacchetta, Tina Campt, Inderpal Grewal, Caren Kaplan, Minoo Moallem, and Jennifer Terry "question" the notion of the nation-state "in the face of numerous examples of transnational and global practices and formations". What is necessary for feminist struggles against the war, they argue, is an "analysis of the numerous ways in which transnational networks and entities both limit and at the same time enable resistance".
Transnational feminism, in short, is focused on re-narrating transnational capitalism as a "positive" situation for women by representing it as a site that is enabling of "resistance" to the "nation-state". Moreover, the most "effective" approach for women of the world in ending violence against them is one of "resistant agency" against the "state". For instance, Shahnaz Khan argues that the main problem with liberal feminist representations of Afghan women as oppressed and silent "victims" under the "veil" or "burqa" is that it denies the agency, the everyday acts of resistance, and the experience of women under the veil, and instead offers an oppressive representation by representing Afghan women as in need of "help" from the U.S. State (Kahn 1). Moreover, according to this logic, this victimization is also enabled by those who see transnational capitalism as fundamentally oppressive to women. What is necessary, instead, Khan argues, is care and respect for the individual "agency" of women behind the "burqa", their capacity to "survive", to draw on "informal networks of power and resources to survive and live to tell [their] tale" (14).
However, here transnational feminists do not depart from the "liberal" notion of "citizenship" as a "civil citizenship"—the agency of the monadic individual—against the state, articulated in transnational feminism as a "resistant agency". While, unlike liberalism, they do not see the state as a neutral arbiter on behalf of women and, instead see it as a "regulator" of women's reliance on "informal networks of power", transnational feminism still relies on the notion of "agency" as civil citizenship. Thus, for transnational feminists, the root problem for women is still the "State" (that is "power relations") not class (that is, exploitation). Moreover, the "state" is understood to be autonomous from class relations. Thus, in response to the limits of the bourgeois state in guaranteeing women freedom from domestic violence and abuse, transnational feminism seeks solutions in "civil society" independent of the state.
But where does this notion of "resistant agency" lead in intervening in the conditions of violence against women, including domestic violence?
In their book The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It), Katherine Gibson and Julie Graham (who write under the common pen name "J.K. Gibson-Graham"), argue for a "resistant agency" in response to globalization and violence against women. Following Sharon Marcus' deconstruction of "rape", Gibson-Graham argue that both globalization and violence against women need to be re-understood not as "inevitable truths" but as "language scripts" that can be "rewritten" and "resisted". For Gibson-Graham, like Marcus, re-understanding globalization and violence against women in these terms allows for "agency" on the part of women and workers to "resist" physical or economic violence in the "act" and to prevent it. For instance, according to Marcus, by approaching "rape" as a "language script", feminism can "shift the scene from rape and its aftermath" in the courts "to rape situations themselves and to rape prevention" (Marcus 387).
This is also the dominant understanding of "prevention" in such films as Enough starring Jennifer Lopez and Panic Room starring Jodie Foster, which mark the degree to which in capitalist culture "self-defense" is understood as the limit of intervention into domestic violence in particular, and violence against women in general. Agency, on these terms, is the individual woman's capacity to prevent an assault from occurring in the first place by not accepting her "victimization" as inevitable and instead "fighting back". What this assumes is a very limited notion of "agency" as freedom of the "private individual". This is, in short, a re-articulation of the notion of "resistant citizenship" as the freedom of the monadic subject from the state. Domestic violence in this view becomes a matter of individualized agency—of volunteerism for women—and is cut off from the social relations of production that make it possible. This notion of "prevention" makes domestic violence not a SOCIAL concern, therefore requiring investigation into the underlying social and economic conditions that enable the reproduction of violence against women, but a PRIVATE matter and an individual woman's private responsibility. This is a highly destructive position for women because it steps backwards from the struggle to understand domestic violence as a public and social issue and, therefore, a matter of the organization of social resources (i.e., property relations) and instead makes individuals responsible for "managing" social contradictions on their own.
Moreover, by generalizing Marcus' understanding of "rape prevention" to explain globalization in all of its practices, Gibson-Graham represent "resistance" to globalization on these same terms: as an autonomous act of private individuals not requiring general transformation of the social conditions of production for all. Far from offering a mode of "resistance", this actually offers a position that is highly useful to transnational capitalism, which is daily trying to dismantle any social resources committed to the economic, social, and physical well being of workers in general, and women in particular, in the international division of labor. In short, this position is consistent with the efforts of transnational capital to dismantle social resources and re-privatize them and destroy any conditions for social citizenship in order to stave off declines in the rate of profit. Gibson-Graham's privatized view of globalization and violence against women, for instance, follows the same logic as the Bush administration, which, working on behalf of transnational capital, has been working to dismantle social resources for women and reprivatize them.
What is most troubling for women is that this has become the dominant mode of addressing the conditions of women's lives in the international division of labor. Contemporary feminism, in short, has by and large been subordinated to the interests of transnational capitalism. This is evident in the growing popularity of what Spivak calls "globe–girdling" resistance within contemporary "transnational" feminism: that is, the notion that the basis of "agency" and change to "resist" global capitalism are "transnational-local initiatives" in civil society (Spivak and Plotke 8). In transnational feminism, which assumes that the "state" is the root problem, this has often come to mean developing "local initiatives" that appeal to "non-governmental organizations" (NGO's), as the sight of "resistance" for women around the globe. What is considered to be "radical" about "globe-girdling" is that it "operates with the real goal of redistributing generated capital, reallocating the uses of capital" (Spivak and Plotke 8). For instance, according to Valentine Moghadam, "transnational feminist networks" based on the "ethical assistance" from the "international donor community" are evidence of the possibility of "resistance" within capitalism for the women of Afghanistan (Moghadam 7).
This assumes that by being a "transnational effort" that is not linked to any specific nation-state but instead uses the resources of non-governmental organizations it is now "free" from the social contradictions of the "state". But the social contradictions of the state are the contradictions of private property and class antagonisms: the fact that while the "bourgeois state" is the only provider of social services at a time of transnationalization, it is itself subordinated to the interests of production for profit and deploys these services on behalf of the ruling class. Moreover, these class contradictions do not disappear from the non-governmental "international donor community". In fact, historically, during imperialist warfare when the majority of the social surplus-labor at the hands of the state in imperialist nations is being deployed in the interests of monopoly capitalists, which requires massive social resources to be transferred into "defense" and militarization, other sectors of the capitalist class absorb some of the cost of social reproduction in order to re-secure conditions in the workforce that will enable them to make a profit.
The notion of "enlighteded donorship" (to use Spivak's term) advanced by transnational feminists is a "return" to the privatized "charity services" for women in 19th century United States—services based in "private interests" (with no regard for even the limited norms of democracy under capitalism) that helped to reproduce women as subjects useful for capitalism, especially at times when social resources were monopolized by war efforts (Daniels 11). NGO's, which are largely financed by transnational corporations, are not "free" from private property relations, they are an example of the further privatization of social surplus-labor. They invest in specific sectors of the global workforce in order to maintain conditions in which they can more easily exploit workers, they do not address the needs of workers, including women, for freedom from exploitation and the social contradictions that class relations create in their daily lives. For instance, some corporations have found it historically necessary to invest in anti-domestic violence programs in order to offset a larger cost to them—estimated at $67 billion dollars annually in the United States—brought on by "absenteeism, lower productivity, higher turnover and health and safety costs associated with battered workers" (American Institute of Domestic Violence). But these measures remain restricted within private property relations, "family values" and helping the privatized reproduction in the family function better for capitalism. They serve not to eradicate the conditions in production that reproduce domestic violence, and violence against women in general, but simply to offset the cost of domestic violence to particular corporations.
Far from challenging the material basis—the class relations—behind the state, transnational feminism simply furthers the logic of privatization and inculcates women into the imperialist project by presenting the complete deterioriation of social control of resources, as an instance of "radical agency". The formal opposition to the "state" and to "imperialist war" by transnational feminism turns out to be a quiet support for the economic relations of imperialism. The support by transnational feminism for the "redistribution of capital" conceals the source of the material contradictions for women in the international division of labor: that is, the production of capital—the fact that workers must work part of the day to produce necessary labor for their own reproduction and part of the day to produce surplus-labor for the ruling class. By supporting the "redistribution of capital" as a radical act of "resistance", transnational feminists are merely representing the interests of monopoly capital for profit as the general interest of all women. It is an economic necessity for monopoly capitalists not simply to export goods but to "export capital" to new regions to develop production relations conducive to raising profit. When other imperialist interests are also competing to concentrate production in the same regions in their own hands, or when other local conditions owing to uneven development in capitalism prevent this from being done through peaceful means, this makes warfare a necessary means for monopoly capitalists to raise the rate of profit. But, in other circumstances this can be done by peaceful means. NGOs, and the transnational feminist support of them as the "alternative", are merely one means to advance imperialist interests through peaceful means. They are one way in which transnational capital exports capital to secure profitable conditions of production: they serve as a supplement to direct financial investment into industry and production by specific cartels and finance capitalists, by investing in the social and cultural conditions that will promote the adjustment of workers to their new conditions of exploitation. The fixation on the "state" and "war" as autonomous problems are an ideological "decoy" for the underlying economic interests of capitalism. What transnational feminism helps provide ideological alibis for is not actually the dismantling of the "state". Instead, it simply helps to ideologically "get rid" of the problems of the state as the only provider of social services under capitalism and the necessity of socially owned and controlled resources to emancipate women, in order to create more room for transnational capitalism. What it is instead set on dismantling is social citizenship, the necessity for collective ownership and control of the means of production so that the life conditions of citizens cannot be dictated by the interests of a few for profit, but are determined on the basis of human need. The notion of "resistant agency" is simply a re-articulation of "civil citizenship"—"autonomous" freedoms of the individual abstracted from the conditions of necessity for the majority of women in the international division of labor.
Understood on these terms, arguments about the individualized agency of women under the burqa, it is becoming all too clear, are a thin mask for protecting imperialism. This ideological strategy specifically appeals to the interests of petit-bourgeois women of the North (aiming to protect their share of the surplus-labor of women of the South), who support measures of increased productivity for women of Afghanistan and the Islamic diaspora so long as these "investments" are made within production relations that will allow for a greater "return" to investment in the form of higher levels of surplus-labor. This project is not at all inconsistent with the material basis and the ideological masking of the "war effort" that transnational feminists formally oppose. For example, many have held up as "proof positive" that the current war is a war of "liberation", that Afghan women are now being taught to read and write for the first time as a result of the overthrow of the Taliban dictatorship. But the opportunistic track record of the United States toward protecting the material conditions to ensure equality for women in Afghanistan, Iraq, the United States . . . including freedom from domestic violence, reveals that these conditions are only "supported" when it is profitable to the ruling class. The U.S. support for the literacy of women and freedom from state sanctioned abuse and murder by their husbands was not a priority when it meant accepting a regime in Afghanistan with which the U.S. could not easily dominate the business relationship. Moreover, it is not an effort to emancipate women from exploitation and oppression now that the Taliban proved to be no longer profitable for U.S. monopoly capital. Instead, it is an effort to process women into the skills necessary to be better (i.e., more profitable) workers for transnational capital now that a regime more friendly to U.S. capital rules in Afghanistan. Moreover, because these women are coming out of a situation of state sanctioned domestic violence and discrimination, they will prove to be cheaper labor for transnational corporations. In like manner, by idealizing the conditions of violence against Afghan women as a question of "individualized agency" and "civil rights" (against the U.S. and/or Islamic fundamentalism), transnational feminism erases the necessity of economic security founded not upon private property and "national security" but on collective ownership of the means of production.
The contradictions of "public control" over social resources under capitalism—that is, in the form of the modern "state"—is not an effect of an autonomous "state power" rather, it is the subordination of these collectively produced resources to private ownership of the means of production. That is, the fact that the state at its material basis is a product of class antagonisms and is produced to protect class relations. It is, as Marx and Engels argued, "a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie" (57). The state's social resources are the reserves of surplus-labor (made possible by the exploitation of labor in production) that are allotted for reproducing social conditions for profit, not need. Moreover, this basic contradiction—the extraction of surplus-labor for profit and the use of a portion of this surplus-labor to reproduce production for profit—does not disappear if "reproduction" is further privatized in the hands of specific corporations and non-governmental organizations.
To challenge subordination of workers' needs—including all women's need for freedom from domestic violence—to production for profit, it is necessary to transform the conditions of exploitation and private ownership of the means of production that "necessitate" the production of surplus-labor and, as a consequence, need the modern state to adjudicate a portion of these resources to reproduce social conditions on behalf of the ruling class. Women cannot be emancipated from violence against them, through warfare or domestic violence, without freeing them from these conditions of necessity under capitalism. That is, without abolishing the material conditions that reproduce global violence against women—the privatized family and the social relations of production on which it depends (private property)—and putting in place social relations of production based on collective ownership and control of the means of production.
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