The Class Regimen of Contemporary Feminism

Jennifer Cotter





In the "Foreword" to her recent book Arts of the Possible (Norton 2001), Adrienne Rich, a long time advocate of contemporary feminism's rejection of Marxism, calls for contemporary feminism to re-examine its own "uncriticized and uninvestigated" anti-Marxism. When she first invoked Marx, she recalls, it was "to dismiss Marxism 'for women'" and, in doing so, she, along with the dominant part of the U.S. feminist movement, was "echoing the standard anti-Marxism of the postwar American cultural and political mainstream" (4). In the meantime, the feminist method of "the personal is political" which was meant to show that the "personal" and "daily" lives of women were not of their own choosing and individual making but were the product of a totality of social relations that themselves needed to be transformed has, in the wake of the suppression of Marx's explanatory critique of the social totality, turned into the understanding that personal "choice" is the root of women's position in society. "Personal anecdote was replacing critical argument" as the means by which to investigate the conditions of women's lives and the class desires of some women were displacing the needs of all women for economic equality and social justice. While "personal narrative was becoming valued as the true coin of feminist expression", she observes, "at the same time, in every zone of public life, personal and private solutions were being marketed by a profit-driven corporate system, while collective action and even collective realities were mocked at best and at worst rendered historically sterile" (2). Articulating feminism on the terms of collective struggles for the social emancipation of all persons from the exploitation of labor in capitalism, from imperialism and racism, in this context, has been overtaken by a "growing middle-class self absorption" (3) with one's own life, pleasures, experiences.

Indeed, contemporary feminism has by and large abandoned any notion of the relationship of gender, sexuality, and the daily lives of specific women to collective needs, capital, labor, and their relation in the mode of production (that is, exploitation). It has disconnected "feminism" from the struggle to transform the fundamental economic and social relations of production that shape women's lives. Contemporary feminism has taken the "unrealizability of emancipation" that postmodern feminist Judith Butler declared in the early 1990s as an uncontestable truth (8). Instead it has (at most) resigned itself to offering codes of affect and caring and rules for "civil" and "ethical behavior" as the only means for addressing economic inequalities and social injustice around the globe.

What is striking is that, in large part, this shift and the growing myopia of contemporary feminism have occurred in the very name of an engagement with the "material" conditions of women's lives. "Materialism" to be clear, has itself been rearticulated in the wake of "post" theories—from postructuralism to post-marxism—to mean what Teresa Ebert has called "delectable materialism". As Ebert explains, "delectable materialism" is "the theory of the material put forth in late capitalism to displace dialectical materialism" (280). "Delectable materialism" places a great deal of emphasis on what it calls the "concrete". But by "concrete" it means not the materiality of the totality of social relations and the conditions of necessity that can explain why women's conditions of life are being deteriorated around the globe, but the materiality of the sensuous, erotic, and tactile—particularly the sensuousness of the body and its pleasures and pains. For example, in her book Volatile Bodies, "delectable materialist" feminist Elizabeth Grosz argues for the "primacy of corporeality" in explaining the material conditions of women's lives and as a means to "transform women's social subordination to men" (viii). According to Grosz, "Bodies have all the explanatory power of minds. Indeed, for feminist purposes the focus on bodies, bodies in their concrete specificities, has the added bonus of inevitably raising the question of sexual difference" (vii). The "concrete" of gender, sexuality, "questions about which kind of bodies, what their difference are, and what their products and consequences might be" are all to be explained by the sensuous singularities of the body that "resist" conceptualization and exceed explanation (vii).

This notion of the "concrete" as "sensuous singularity", I argue, is a far cry from the dialectical materialism that is actually needed for feminism to explain the social relations of production that are confronting women in capitalism now—and to see through the local differences of its strategies for exploitation—so that it can effectively "transform the social subordination of women" to private property around the globe. The success of "delectable materialism" within feminism and cultural theory in general is in part owing to the fact that it claims to go beyond what it calls the "reductionist", "abstract", and "totalizing" logic of classical Marxism, which is now declared to be outdated in the face of triumphalist capitalism. These claims have, in fact, become trademarks of contemporary cultural theory after the "post" and are so much a part of the contemporary "commonsense" that they go unquestioned. But herein lies the problem. They have received a great deal of publication space, funding, and university support in the North precisely because they articulate the interests of transnational capitalism by covering over its "trouble spots" and representing the actual conditions of labor and need in capitalism as "unsayable". Delectable materialism all but eliminates class, production, social totality, labor, collectivity, etc. from the explanatory vocabulary of contemporary feminism and reduces world historical concerns for women in transnational capitalism—the exploitation of their labor—that have brought about the deterioration of their financial income, health, nutrition, economic security, and social well being to matters of individual choice, taste, and preference.

A case in point is Elpeth Probyn's Carnal Appetites: FoodSexIdentities, in which she applies Grosz "corporeal feminism" to questions of "food" and the "gendered, eating body". For Probyn, the concrete "materiality" of gender, sexuality, food and eating is located in "alimentary assemblages": the alimentary and erotic "sensations" of the body and its multiple surfaces. Eating, Probyn argues, is at root a "radically solitary" and "physical act". Thus, the "concrete" of food and eating is constituted by its "physicality" and "singularity": the feelings and sensations of the body in taking in and expelling food, from touch, texture, and taste to "hunger, greed, shame, disgust, and pleasure" (11). Using this delectable materialism, Probyn's "sensuous" reading of "food" marginalizes burning social questions about the material relationship of women to the social relations in which food is produced and distributed in transnational capitalism. Probyn argues for what she calls "gut ethics"—or thinking "with our stomachs"—as the "method" of social change for women. "Gut ethics" requires acting on the body's physio-psycho-social reaction—that is, feelings of appetite, desire, greed as well as dread, repulsion, shame, and disgust—that underlie and belie our reasoned decisions. Thinking with our stomachs and with our bodies requires abandoning so called "reductive" scientific and theoretical inquiry as a means to explain the material conditions of life for our "gut feelings" and "drives". Probyn argues that "gut ethics" is a "non-reductive" understanding of the "concrete" of gender and food because it does not prescribe a set of moral rules and regulations that restrict others; rather, it is a matter of what Foucault calls the "care of the self".

Instead of being more "concrete" and "innovative" Probyn's theory is a re-articulation of Ernst Mach's nineteenth century "subjective idealism" that Lenin critiqued in Materialism and Empirio-Criticism. As Lenin shows in his critique of Mach, when the body is theorized as a "complex of sensations" whose materiality does not exist independent of these sensations then all that is left is a "naked abstract I, an I infallibly written with a capital letter and italicised" (35). What is offered as "concrete", in other words, is the height of bourgeois myopia: the abstract and ahistorical monadic individual of "civil society" who is autonomous from the external world and its social relations.

The consequence of Probyn's "care of the self" and "monadic subject" of civil society is that collective needs, and the position of the majority of women as collective producers—exploited labor-power—who are denied access to basic needs (such as food) is unsayable. Instead, Probyn translates important social questions for feminism over food, hunger, starvation, and economic inequality—that is, who eats well and who eats not at all—into a frivolous matter of individual preferences, tastes, and choices. As a basic necessity, without which human beings cannot live and no social formation can exist, "food" and the social relations that shape the production of food and citizens' access to it is an urgent social question for feminism. Food is an important index of whether a society is organized so that the material resources and social products belong to all members of society or whether they are privately appropriated by a few who own the means of producing these resources for profit. Under capitalism in which articles of necessity are produced as a means for profit not need, control over the world food supply means control over world development, the supply of labor-power and the rate at which workers can be exploited. This question of the organization of ownership and control of means for producing material resources and necessities such as food is crucial for feminism at a time when the expansion of global capitalism has widened the gap between classes and, moreover, these increased class contradictions have significantly deteriorated the material conditions of women's lives in the international division of labor. According to a 1995 United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) report, at the same time the global economy produces enough food to feed 6 billion people, 2 billion suffer from malnutrition and of these people 840 million—disproportionately women and girl children—suffer long term malnutrition (FAO 1). A Global Health Council report indicates that "nearly a half billion women are stunted from malnutrition" (Mathis, Nancy, Women's E-News, June 2001).

The turn away from the relation of women to basic necessities such as food under the wage-labor/capital relation is an extremely disenabling view for feminism because it steps backward from decades of the struggle to re-understand the material conditions of women's lives as social and historical, and therefore changeable, and instead reduces unequal social and economic arrangements to personal differences—a matter of taste, preference, and consumption.

The erasure of collectivity has led many feminists, including Rich, to question "whatever happened to feminism" and where is it going without Marx? As Maya Jhansi has put it, "Feminists need to rethink the relationship of women's liberation to Marx, so that we do not fall into the same blithe reiterations of post-Marx Marxism". Moreover, "until the women's movement confronts Marx" she continues "it will not be able to move 'beyond' anything—let alone capitalism" (Jhansi 1). What the reflections of Rich, Jhansi and other feminists who are now "questioning" the rejection of Marxism and the turn away from class, labor, and production in feminism points to is that the history of contemporary feminism is proving that a feminism not founded on material conditions—on the relationship of gender and sexuality to the social relations of production, wage-labor/capital, imperialism, and the international division of labor—has been completely ineffective for transforming the material conditions of women's lives in transnational capitalism.

However, Rich and other contemporary feminists who are now formally objecting to the "post-" logic of much of contemporary feminism still have a very divided understanding of the use of Marx for feminism. On the one hand, Rich and others argue for the need to "return to Marx" and understand "women" on the basis of a totality of relations in capitalism, on the other hand, they want to restore Marx without using his dialectical materialist theory of political economy to explain the "concrete" conditions of women's lives. One exemplary articulation of this is Nancy Holmstrom's "The Socialist Feminist Project" in which she argues that:

Marxism's basic theory does not need significant revision in order to take better account of

women's oppression. However, I do believe that the theory needs to be supplemented [...] [by] a social theory that gives a fuller picture of production and reproduction than Marx's political economic theory does, one that extends questions of democracy not only to the economy but to personal relations (46).

On these terms, Marx's theory of the totality of social relations of production cannot serve to explain the "concrete" of women's lives. Instead, Marx is mainly "(re)turned" to as a philosopher of ethics, morality, and caring. Like the "postmodern" feminism that they critique for its abandonment of collectivity, Rich, Holmstrom and others see the "personal relations" of women as separate from the economic relations of class society. Despite their deployment of concepts of "class" and "capitalism" and their gesturing to the growing social inequalities, these concepts are emptied of any meaning. Rich, Holmstrom and other "socialist" feminists are not "returning to Marx" as much as they are attempting to re-write the history of Red Feminism—of the revolutionary theorization of gender as determined by class and the social division of labor enabled by the wage-labor capital relation. The are, in short, trying to make Red Feminism more palatable and reconcile it with the imperatives of the "upper middle class" feminism that they claim to critique. They do so by advancing a theory of feminism in which the "daily" aspects of women's lives cannot be explained except by the "sensuous" and "experiential", and thus by a theory of class as lifestyle and not as one's relation to the means of production.

This "humanist" reading of Marx leads Rich to read the "crisis" of contemporary feminism and its complete incapacity to help emancipate women, its absorption with "upper-middle class" lifestyle and "self-improvement" over collectivity and the material needs of all, as the product of a "moral", "ethical", and "psychic" crisis in American culture: "a cognitive and emotional dissonance, a kind of public breakdown, with symptoms along a spectrum from acute self-involvement to extreme anxiety to individual and group violence" (147). However, it is not, as Rich contends, a "moral", "ethical" or "cultural" crisis that lies behind the transformation of feminism into a "self-absorbed" discourse in which collectivity is at best ridiculed and "mocked". Rather, it is the economic crisis endemic to capitalism. The monadic subject of private property advanced in contemporary feminism is needed by capitalism in crisis. In order to stave off a decline in the rate of profit transnational capital has embarked on a war on any notion of collective needs, social welfare, and economic well being—to re-privatize social resources, cheapen the cost of labor-power, and raise the rate of exploitation. Far from being a matter of "cognitive" or "emotional" confusion, contemporary feminism has been a most effective ally of transnational capitalism.

The development and heightening of the economic crisis in capitalism is, moreover, at the root of the "renewed interest" in Marxism on the part of feminists and cultural critics who have spent the last several decades denying the relevance of "Marxism" and "class" to the study of culture. The economic "buffer" of higher salaries, retirement investments, health insurance for some, that once helped to support the illusion that "we are all middle class now" in imperialist nations is quickly becoming eroded as economic crisis heightens class contradictions around the globe and the conditions of workers lives both in the North and the South are being severely deteriorated. As unemployment grows in the North it has become increasingly clear that the "middle class" only exists on paper: usually in the form of credit card bills, mortgages, bankrupt retirement investments, HMO statements denying coverage of prescription drugs and necessary medical procedures, rising grocery receipts... As more wealth is being transferred from workers to the ruling class, those who were once part of the so-called "upper middle-class" and thought class was irrelevant to their lives are now having to take a second look.

But the question for feminism remains: is feminism going to focus on the "local" conditions of some women's lives (the formerly "upper middle class" of the North) in isolation from the "global" (all workers in the international division of labor) and, therefore, consider class, exploitation, production only so long as "our way of life" (as right-wingers put it) in the North is threatened by the current wave of economic crisis? Or is it going to be a practice that is capable of weathering the local strategies of capitalism in crisis, seeing through them by grasping their historical relation to the laws of motion of capitalism, and advancing emancipation of all persons from exploitation? Only a grasp of gender and sexuality in relation to the social totality of the capitalist relations of production is going to enable feminism to be a transformative practice capable of bringing about economic equality and social justice for all. It is, therefore, all the more imperative for feminism to (re)examine the explanatory materialist critique of social totality offered by Marxism and to distinguish this from the "hybrid" renditions of Marxism in the contemporary which represent it as a "moral" and "ethical" code of conduct. While "post-" theories have made these kind of sharp distinctions "unsayable" in the contemporary by representing them as an articulation of "reductivism", "totalization", and "exclusivity", they are exactly what is necessary to move feminism out of its impasse.


Contrary to the "sensuous", "empirical", and "individual", what is needed in feminism is a method that can explain the relationship of specific women's lives to the social relations of production in capitalism and the international division of labor—not treat individual women as "autonomous" singularities and isolated monads. Dialectical materialism is necessary for this because it understands the "concrete" as a complex set of historical and social relations—not the empirical or individual. The "concrete", as Marx argues in the "Introduction" to the Grundrisse, "is concrete because it is the concentration of many determinations—hence, unity of the diverse" (101).

It is important to note here, before proceeding, that this argument is widely (mis)construed in contemporary cultural theory and turned into a point that is quite the opposite of what Marx argues: that the "concrete" is indeterminate and, therefore, in excess of social totality. One extremely influential reading that ultimately leads to this conclusion can be found in Antonio Negri's reading of the Grundrisse in Marx Beyond Marx. Among other things, Negri argues that the concrete in Marx is the product of what Negri calls "determinate abstraction". In contrast to "naïve methodology that begins with the concrete as a presupposition", Negri proceeds, "Marx's methodology takes the concrete as a result", which he regards to mean that the concrete is the product of "the development of a 'process of synthesis' of the givens of intuition and representation" (47). According to Negri, Marx argues that the concrete is the result of "the cognitive process" and that the determination of the concrete "is the product of a theoretical approximation which utilizes general abstractions, polarities and dimensions for this end" (47). "Therefore", Negri proceeds, the necessary method goes from "the abstraction to the concrete, to the determination" (47).

To put this another way, Negri uses Marx as an endorsement of idealizing the concrete, arguing that epistemological abstractions are what enable us to arrive at the "concrete" and constitute it. Negri attributes to Marx a metaphysical explanation of the "concrete". In effect, Negri argues that the "concrete" only has an ideal existence, not a material existence, and, in doing so, he puts forward a binary between "concrete" determinations and "abstract" universals that Marx actually subjects to a historical materialist critique. Marx never argued that the "concrete" is determined by "epistemological abstraction". On the contrary, he argued that the "concrete" is determined by historical material relations. In contrast to this metaphysical reading, in outlining the dialectical materialist understanding of the "concrete" in the Grundrisse, Marx argued that:

It seems to be correct to begin with the real and the concrete, with the real precondition, 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 [Vorstellung] of the whole, and I would then, by means of further determination, move analytically towards ever more simple concepts [Begriff], from the imagined concrete towards ever thinner abstractions until I had arrived at the simplest determinations. From there the journey would have to be retraced until I had finally arrived 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 (100).

In Marxism, the "concrete" is not a metaphysical abstraction—the empirical, individual, or epistemologically indeterminate—as it is represented in contemporary cultural theory. Rather, it is a materialist abstraction of social relations, which must be explained through conceptualization of these relations. The "concrete" is a concentration of the totality of historical and praxical relations in which human beings enter into conditions of production independent of their will and produce their conditions of life. A materialist explanation of the "concrete" requires explaining how and why it is situated in these historical labor processes and praxical relations of production.

On the one hand it is surprising to see a theorist, such as Negri, who is regarded as having in-depth and nuanced knowledge of Marxism, put forward such a superficial (mis)reading of Marxism. On the other hand, Negri's reading is particularly revealing of the "post" condition in contemporary cultural theory, which represents the actual contradictions of private property—in which some people own the means of production and therefore command over the surplus-labor and lives of the majority who are exploited—as epistemological contradictions and language games.

The reason that such readings of "Marx" have been so dominant is because they help to provide explanations of transnational capitalism that present the fundamental conflict between capital and labor as "solvable" outside of any question of transforming private ownership, and simply by the expansion of the market and of global capitalist production. The basing of the "concrete" on "determinate abstraction" is at the core of Negri's theory that the "knowledge economy" has displaced labor as the basis of production. It is telling that Negri, along with his collaborator Michael Hardt, argues not for the emancipation of people "through" labor—through the transformation of the relations of production in which labor processes take place—but for "liberation from waged and manual labor" (Hardt and Negri 280). To be clear, for Hardt and Negri, this means a liberation from labor "as such"; a "post-labor" economy. What Hardt and Negri put forward is a reading of capitalism quite useful for the labor needs required for transnational capitalism to stave off a decline in the rate of profit. On the one hand, it serves the need of transnational capitalism for the skilled labor necessary to expand the market by representing the "service" and "technical" labor in the North as "free" from wage-labor; on the other hand, it conceals the private property relations that continue to determine both "skilled" advanced technological labor as well as "unskilled" labor, making them both occasions for the private appropriation of surplus-labor. Negri's notion of "determinant abstraction" actually returns to the same notion of the "empirical concrete" that he claims to avert, by fetishizing the local conditions of production in the North as an explanation of the global relations of production in capitalism. By moving from "abstraction to the concrete, to the determination", Negri's "post-" theory does not de-idealize the "concrete" rather, it is an articulation of the pursuit of the concrete over the global totality of relations.

But what does this understanding do for feminism? How does it articulate the "concrete" of "women" and their "needs"? One can see how the "determinate abstraction" is really a version of the "empirically concrete"—and that both are idealist abstractions—by examining the "concrete" of social needs such as "food" in contemporary feminism. In her reading of food, for instance, Probyn deploys Negri's notion of the "concrete" as "determinate abstraction". Probyn maintains that a "non-reductive" understanding of the "concrete" of food sees "food" as indeterminate. Probyn claims that by "reducing"—that is, explaining—that bodies and the food they consume are determined by one's conditions in the social relations of production, class analysis re-enforces the existing "alignment of tastes, food, and class, that threaten to colonise the body in fixed identities" (31). Moreover, according to Probyn, the "problem" with class analysis is that it leads to the understanding that "food can only confirm identity" (31). Instead, she wants to articulate a theory in which food "can open up new avenues" of subjectivity, to "answer back" (31). In short, for Probyn, "food" is indeterminate and, therefore, can work to realign the relationship between gender, class, sexuality, and the body.

This is itself a very abstract and highly commodified notion of "food" which makes food its own independent agency endowed with "special powers". Probyn's notion of "food" as "indeterminate" is basically a form of commodity fetishism that abstracts the "power of food" from the social relations that determine its production: from the labor relations based on private ownership of the means of production and exploitation of labor. Instead, Probyn presents "food" as its own agency: as an independent source of "wealth" and "value", outside of labor, that can "resist" and "change" the class relations in which it is produced. In fact, it is precisely private property relations that enables the "commodity fetishism" of food. As Marx explains, "this fetishism of the world of commodities arises from the peculiar social character of the labour which produces them" (Capital, Vol. 1 165). It is under private property relations in which workers do not own the means of production and therefore, do not have access to and control over the products of their own labor, that "things" appear to inherently produce wealth without the intervention of labor.

Even a brief look at world historical conditions reveals that "food" does not have an independent agency and in itself it does not radically transform conditions of life for the majority in capitalism. In Indonesia, for instance, economic inequality and class contradictions have not decreased or been reversed by a greater abundance of food. A 1999 report of the South East Asian Food Security and Fair Trade Council (SEAFTC) that examines Indonesia's food crisis shows that citizens' unequal access to food is not the result of food shortages brought on by natural disaster, warfare, or even to lack of food production. In fact, not only Indonesia's participation in transnational agribusiness, but also its small-scale farming has increased significantly over the last decade. What has not improved are its levels of malnutrition and poverty. In like manner food production around the world has been on the rise and the concurrence of hunger and starvation alongside huge food surpluses has intensified. The abundance of food and the agricultural and technological capacity to produce food does not, in itself, produce wealth and transform the class position of the majority. This is precisely because food is not an autonomous agency or a "thing" invested with special value-producing powers outside of the dialectical praxis of labor and the totality of social relations of production in which it takes place.

The main problem, according to the SEAFTC and many other reports on similar situations in India and Africa, is widespread poverty and the inability of people to purchase basic needs such as nutritious food (1). That is, on the one hand, while workers have increased their productivity in agriculture and related food industries, on the other hand, their access to the resources that they produce has declined. What remains un-assessed here, however, is why poverty, payment for basic necessities, and the inability of those who produce basic needs to pay for them continues to persist—especially when there is no lack of their abundance? What lies underneath the "concrete" of "food" and the alienation of direct producers from the products of their own labor is private ownership of the means of production and social production for profit. Under such conditions food, like any commodity, is merely a means for surplus-value extraction and the realization of profit, not need. What determines wealth—what "changes" class position—is not access to food (and other articles of consumption) but access to the means of production.

To isolate the "concrete" of needs such as food (its consumption, exchange, distribution,...) from the totality of material relations in capitalist production and to represent it as an autonomous agency is to produce a "one-sided" abstraction—an imagined concrete—that has very little to do with the real conditions of labor and need confronting the majority, including the majority of women, in capitalism. At best what such a method enables is the "negotiation" of specific women's individual relationship to food, poverty, and class relations, but it leaves all questions of why poverty, class relations, and the production for profit not needs must persist, and thus treats them as inevitable.

It has now become "commonplace" in feminism to represent Marxism's emphasis on "labor" and the social relations of production as a method that dehistoricizes "women". One such argument is articulated in the ecofemist arguments of Maria Mies and Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen in their book The Subsistence Perspective: Beyond the Globalised Economy. Here Mies and Bennholdt-Thomsen offer a similar reading of Marx as does Negri: that is, they understand his emphasis on "labor" to be an instance of "determinate abstraction"—an idealist understanding of the concrete—that erases the actual conditions of women's lives. The "difference" from Negri is that they use their formal rejection of "abstraction" in order to reject "Marx" for feminism. Labor, they argue, is a destructive and monolithic force that "exploits" nature, by treating it as a "free good" for human consumption and, in doing so, exploits women's labor as part of nature. The reliance of Marxism on the category of "labor", they argue, makes it participate in the same exploitation of nature by capitalism. Like Negri, Mies and Bennholdt-Thomsen argue that the key to emancipating women is not the emancipation of women through labor—through the transformation of the social relations of production based on private ownership of the means of production. But, in contrast to Negri, they argue that women are freed from economic inequality through their liberation from the service industry and advanced technological labor.

At the core of their of their book is the understanding that the "root problem" with capitalism is an "evidently ineradicable male fixation on technology" (180). Science, growth, and "technology" inevitably lead to hunger, exploitation, and violence against women, they assert, because they ultimately rest on the colonization and expropriation of nature as a "free good". For Mies and Bennholdt-Thomsen, exploitation is founded on "the development of the productivity of human labour [power]" through its transformation of nature, not the private ownership of the means of production, which enables owners to command over the workers surplus labor (34). Moreover, they claim, it is the expropriation of nature as a "free good" that is the basis of the exploitation of women's reproductive and "life giving" labor. This is, for Mies and Bennholdt-Thomsen, a "failure" of both bourgeois ideology and Marxism in accounting for women and nature. They suggest that the Marxist argument for freeing the forces of production from the existing relations of production shares the "enlightenment" conception of "nature" (and "women's reproductive labor") as "free" and "unlimited", which leads to the boundless appropriation of nature and, consequently, the exploitation of women's unpaid reproductive labor for private gain and profit.

As an alternative, they advocate for a "subsistence perspective", which involves rejecting industrial and technological development and a conservation of local agricultural production controlled by the subsistence labor of women—what they call "the real female-maternal, agrarian subsistence practice" (181). The subsistence perspective, they argue, demonstrates respect for "nature" by above all, respecting "women's bodies" and recognizing that "women [are] the beginning, the arkhé, of human life" (33). Moreover, they argue, that by turning away from the development of human labor-power, the "subsistence perspective" promotes "meeting needs" over profit.

However, when Mies and Bennholdt-Thomsen collapse "women" and "nature", they repeat the same patriarchal logic that was used to naturalize the social division of labor under capitalism and keep women out of the workforce. Moreover, they put forward an ahistorical and idealist understanding of oppression that abstracts out the transformation of nature and the development of the forces of production from the social relations of production toward which this development is put: whether labor is used for profit or need. By suppressing the importance of the relations under which social resources are produced, Mies and Bennholdt-Thomsen actually treat nature and "human need" in a very ahistorical and idealist way. For one, they presuppose that the resources necessary to meet human needs (and not profit) ultimately exist in "nature" alone, without the intervention of labor. But even a "basic" form of satisfying hunger—the gathering of vegetation grown without human intervention—requires the appropriation of nature by labor. Moreover, Mies and Bennholdt-Thomsen do not "escape" the appropriation of nature with the "subsistence perspective". "Subsistence production" requires "agriculture" which itself requires a whole series of historical developments of the productive forces (the disruption of the existing ecosystem to clear land for crops, the extraction of metal for tools with which to plow, the domestication of animals,… ). As Marx explains: "The earth itself is an instrument of labor, but its use in this way, in agriculture, presupposes a whole series of other instruments and a comparatively high stage of development of labour-power. As soon as the labour process has undergone the slightest development, it requires specially prepared instruments" (Capital, Volume I 285).

Far from offering a "materialist" understanding of "meeting needs", the "subsistence perspective" does not even account for the "necessary conditions" for its own existence: that is, the dialectical praxis of labor in which, as Marx explains: "by acting on external nature and transforming it" to meet needs, "humankind also transforms its own nature" including its needs (Capital, Vol. 1, 283). In other words, Mies and Bennholdt-Thomsen base their argument for the "subsistence perspective" on an imaginary independence from conditions of necessity.

It is hardly surprising, owing to their idealist theory, that Mies and Bennholdt-Thomsen read the dialectical materialism of Marxism as itself a version of idealism which posits "nature" without limits, and technology as the basis of emancipation. But what they attribute to Marxism is actually a reversal of its dialectical materialist understanding of nature and technology. As Marx argued, nature is indeed just as much the source of use-values as labor (which is itself only the manifestation of a force of nature, human labor power) (Selected Works, V. 3 13). What Mies and Bennholdt-Thomsen do not account for is that, "precisely from the fact that labour depends on nature it follows that the [one] who possesses no other property than [her] labour power must, in all conditions of society and culture, be the slave of others who have made themselves the owners of the material conditions of labour. [She] can work only with their permission hence live only with their permission" (Selected Works, V. 3 13).

The articulation of freedom from the exploitation of "labor-power" as "too abstract" to be of root importance to women is actually a highly privileged notion for women who no longer see exploitation as a problem because they seem to have the freedom to "live without permission" of others who exploit them: to eat nutritious, well balanced meals, have access to high quality health care, to good housing, education, etc. But in Marxism, labor is not the empty abstraction that is presented in contemporary cultural theory and feminism in order to maintain the class position of those who own the means of production. Even the "simplest economic categories", Marx argued, "can never exist other than as an abstract, one-sided relation within an already given, concrete, living whole" (Grundrisse 101; emphasis added). This is to say that even the simplest concepts are made possible on the basis of the material conditions of production. Concepts and economic categories do not have their own independent existence. They too are dependent upon the material conditions determining their production. As Marx makes absolutely clear, this is even the case with such founding concepts in historical materialism as "labor":

Indifference towards any specific kind of labour presupposes a very developed totality of real kinds of labour, of which no single one is any longer predominant. As a rule, the most general abstractions arise only in the midst of the richest possible concrete development, where one thing appears as common to many, to all. Then it ceases to be thinkable in a particular form alone. On the other side, this abstraction of labour as such is not merely the mental product of a concrete totality of labours. Indifference towards specific labours corresponds to a form of society in which individuals can with ease transfer from one labour to another, and where the specific kind is a matter of chance for them, hence indifference. Not only the category, labour, but labour in reality has here become the means of creating wealth in general, and has ceased to be organizally linked with particular individuals in any specific form (Grundrisse 104).

Even as an "abstract" concept, "labor" is enabled by the historical level of development of the forces of production and the social relations of production within which this development takes place. The "abstract" in Marxism is not an idealist abstraction disconnected from the actual conditions and relations under capitalism, but a materialist one:  "in the theoretical method, too, the subject, society, must always be kept in mind as the presupposition" (102).

In short, for Marx, "totality" is always explained on the basis of actually existing relations of production. It is not, as it is in Hegel and post-Marxism, a "self-producing" ideal that erases the complex concreteness of daily life under capitalism, rather, it is founded on explaining the praxical relations in which people carry out the production of social life—that is, the mode of production. Totality is the historical grasping of the complex social series, what Marx calls "the ensemble of social relations". Far from being the "evil monolith" that contemporary feminism attributes to it, the historical grasping of social totality, and the relation of the seemingly "singular" and "particular" to social totality is necessary for feminism if it is going to work to transform existing social relations. It is the only way to explain on what basis the conditions of life for women are not simply "personal" or "women's problems". It is, moreover, the only way for feminism to move beyond the class privileges of an ever smaller clique of women.

Contrary to the idealist "naturalism" of Mies and Bennholdt-Thomsen's ecofeminism, Minnie Bruce Pratt begins to illustrate the necessity of social totality for feminism in a recent critique of the imperialist wars in Central Asia and the Middle East. "Fighting to stop Pentagon war is a women's issue", she argues:

not because women are instinctively and 'naturally' more peaceful. Not because women give birth or because women have been the "guardians of life" while men have been making war. Fighting Pentagon war is a women's issue because it flows out of the inherent need of capital to expand its markets and its rate of exploitation in order to survive—and women's labor, paid and unpaid, is a foundation upon which this profit system rests. Capitalism wages brutal imperialist wars and imposes brutal imperialist peace in order to secure those profits, extorted from working class, oppressed and impoverished people of all sexes.

It is impossible to understand the relevance of the war to women—and to resist the cynical appropriation of the "liberation of women" in the service of imperialist warfare—without a historical grasp of social totality. Nor can feminism, without social totality, grasp how "women's labor, paid and unpaid" is not simply a "women's issue" but is determined by the exploitation of human labor-power—of "people of all sexes"—and is therefore a class issue that affects all.


It is important to clearly re-state here that the "problem" with excluding the dialectical materialist critique of social totality from feminism is not that feminism does not go "far enough" without it but that, by erasing the relation of women to the mode of production, it actually helps transnational capitalism cover over its "trouble spots", its fundamental contradictions and the economic crises that result from them. The gestures in feminism toward "materialism" and "Marx" without a historical grasping of the social relations of production are ways to help update ruling class ideology and dismantle the revolutionary knowledges necessary to emancipate women from exploitation.

Such "updatings" are driven by the needs of transnational capitalism in crisis. Transnational capitalism, to be clear, is increasingly a highly unstable system of production, which requires desperate and violent "solutions" to help try and create "stability" and "equilibrium". Not only does this show up in the daily struggles of workers who are forced to go without basic needs in health care, social security, education… so that the ruling class can fund massive military expenditures in order to protect or gain access to conditions necessary to stave off a decline in profit, it also shows up within the ruling class itself in the form of increased bankruptcies and failed business ventures as wealth gets concentrated into fewer hand. The "root" issue is that the objective structures of private property in capitalism are based on exploitation and the accumulation of socially produced wealth (capital) in the hands of the few and the increased immiseration and impoverishment of the majority.

Crisis brought on by the concentration of wealth is endemic to capitalism. As capital accumulates, it becomes increasingly difficult for the ruling class to maintain its rate of profit, in part because the rate at which labor-power must be exploited in order not simply to reproduce existing wealth but to produce new wealth exceeds the historical capabilities of the proletariat. In short, it "overproduces" capital. As a response, capitalists must seek new technologies and labor saving devises and means to raise the productivity of workers and thus increase the rate at which workers can be exploited. In order to stave off falling rates of profit, capital must produce labor-saving technologies, expand production to create new needs (and thus, new sites for profit), and at the same time export capitalist production to new regions where access to reserves of cheap labor can be found. All of this requires a continuous supply of labor-power from which surplus-labor can be extracted. The transnational ruling class, therefore, has every interest in battling over the life conditions of workers of the world in order to control the development and growth of the laboring population and thus, the rate at which it can be exploited.

Contemporary feminism has served as a most effective ally of transnational capitalism by helping to inculcate women into the labor needs of transnational capitalism now. The "differences" between the feminists that I have discussed thus far—that is, those such as Probyn who see the "post-" as an enabling condition for women and those such as Rich, Mies and Bennholdt-Thomsen who see it as disenabling for women—is not all that vast. This is because both positions articulate the labor needs of transnational capitalism. Their "differences" are not fundamental differences over the social relations of production. Rather, they are "differences" that are the effect of these relations of production: the fact that capitalism brings about "uneven development", that its constant quest for profit which requires it to expand production, export capital, etc. also requires that it have both "skilled" and "unskilled" labor. Their "differences", in short, are local differences—specific needs of capital for particular kinds of labor—that are determined by the general need of capitalism for a continuous supply of labor-power that it can exploit for profit. The problem for feminism is not the status of the "post-" (whether feminists are "for" or "against" it; whether women are living under "modernity" or "postmodernity", etc). Rather, it is the private ownership of the means of production that cuts across the local differences in production for women in the international division of labor.

For instance, "delectable feminism", with its emphasis on an "ethics" for "care of the self", is especially useful for articulating the labor needs of transnational capitalism in the imperialist nations of the North. In order to turn over a profit, capital needs to maintain a skilled labor force to work increasingly complex means of production but at the same time, as a means of securing high rates of profit, it must maintain such a workforce while still keeping the social cost of its reproduction low. Delectable feminism helps with this task by focusing on strategies for women that are aimed, on the one hand, at expanding the market by creating new "needs" so that workers can absorb some of the cost of "overproduction" and, on the other, at reducing the social cost of the laboring population so that wages can be lowered and the rate of exploitation can be raised. It articulates a new "ethics" for transnational capitalism that will enable women of the North to adjust to the specific historical labor needs that capitalism requires of them now in order to maintain profit.

It is in the context of the growing crisis of production that Probyn's theory of "gut ethics" works in theory to legitimate a new regime for controlling labor costs in the North. Responding to a crisis of "obesity" among working people that is threatening corporate profits, what is notable in Probyn's gut ethics is the emphasis she places on the "productive" powers of "shame", "disgust", and "restraint". "Shame" and "disgust", Probyn argues, are "productive forces" of the body that help to "remake" gender relations. "In denying their affective force", she continues, "we stand to lose the acuteness of the body's own capacities for reflection" (141-142). In a criticism of the limits of "fat pride" for addressing the "empowerment" of women who are overweight, Probyn argues that the "fat pride" movement covers over the "productive use" of shame and disgust—what they tell us about the limits of existing social arrangements and what they reveal about our desires. To this Probyn emphasizes not only the "productive powers" of shame and disgust but also the "powers of restraint".

"Body weight", according to Probyn's delectable feminism, is a matter of "self-regulation". She proceeds with sensuous specificity in describing the "affective and relational possiblilties" of an "ethics of restraint [...] embodied in the slow caress given to each detail, each ingredient, the sense of timing and movement so essential to eating, cooking, loving, and being" (77, 97-100). But what are the conditions that enable a woman to "eat well" in the first place, with access to the resources with which to purchase "each ingredient" and the "freedom" to allow a relaxed and comfortable sense of "timing" and "movement" in the preparation of food? Is her time spent on "each ingredient" and "cooking" owing to the fact that she has her basic needs met and can view cooking and eating as "fun" and "exotic" or because her position in the social relations of production also relegates her to the daily grind of a strict division of labor that is inflexible regarding gender? Is her sense of "self-regulation" and "restraint" an effect of access to an abundance of ingredients and familiarity of cosmopolitan cuisines gained from travel and access to diverse restaurants? Or is it the effect of crushing poverty and lack of access to food? The conditions in question are fundamentally connected to a woman's class position and her position in the social division of labor. Yet, delectable feminism proceeds by erasing the class privilege of the pleasures and pains of the eating body that it celebrates. In short, while such a theory might explain the conditions of life for ruling class women who are able to meet their every desire and can thus selectively determine their eating habits, how does this theory stand to explain the "concrete" of women's body weight, nutrition, and health for the majority for whom necessity is the determining factor? How does this theory, for instance, stand to explain and address the "concrete" reality of obesity which is increasing among women and children of the North and, worldwide, now equals the 1.1 billion people who are facing hunger and starvation (Worldwatch Institute, March 4, 2000)?

One explanation of this rise in obesity is that the labor needs in the North have changed as manufacturing and manual labor have been moved to the south and, as a result, the dietary needs of workers laboring under more "sedentary" conditions (e.g., telemarketing, data entry, computer programming, etc.) have also changed. On the terms of Probyn's "delectable feminism" what is needed is a more "caring" and "selective" understanding of food in order to allow women to adjust to these new conditions. But obesity, as many studies are now showing, cannot be explained by a mere lack of "sophisticated", urbane, "self-restraint". It is a form of malnutrition that is the effect of poverty and economic inequality. As one study from the University of California, Davis indicates: "women struggling to put food on the table are more likely to be overweight than those with a reliably full refrigerator" (Lok 1). As household income "nears the poverty line", the study states, "the prevalence of obesity increases among women". In the United States, "Poor neighborhoods often lack large grocery stores, forcing people, especially those without cars, to shop at small, local convenient stores which stock little fresh fruit or vegetables but plenty of high-fat, high-starch processed food". Contrary to what Probyn implies—that a lack of "self-restraint" in consumption is at the root of the problem—it is actually a "lack of control over their food supply" that is leading to obesity in women. It is not a "diet of excess" but a "diet of poverty" that has made obesity rates soar in the United states, especially among African-American, Mexican-American, and Native American women who are often reduced to diets high in carbohydrates and fats and low in fruits, vegetables, and often protein (The National Women's Health Information Center).

To put this another way, women's body weight and (mal)nutrition cannot be explained entirely by their consumption practices. In fact, it also cannot be explained entirely by the relationship between their food consumption and the specific, concrete labors that they perform for capitalism (i.e., whether they are required to engage in manual and physical labor or intellectual, information, etc. type labor). Rather, it is their relationship to the means of production that determines women's relationship to food consumption, position in the technical division of labor, and body weight. When women live in conditions of private ownership of the means of production and are not themselves owners of the means of production (as is the case with the majority of women) their surplus-labor and lives are economically commanded over by those who own the means of production. In capitalist production, women's position within the division of labor, their consumption and food intake, their health and nutrition are all determined by the ruling-class imperatives of profit. This is because production for profit (not need) determines what jobs are "necessary" and what resources are available to workers to consume. Without freeing women from the conditions of necessity in capitalism that determine women's lives, the focus on "body weight" is simply the necessary strategy for capitalism to increase worker's productivity and therefore profit for some. It is not about putting the root conditions in place for economic security (including health and nutrition) for all women.

Probyn's "gut ethics" of "disgust" and "self-restraint" represents obesity as a matter of "pedestrian excess" and, in effect, mocks the class relations in capitalism that reduce millions of women to the diets of poverty and malnutrition that lead to obesity. Her only imagined alternative to the limits of "fat pride" is the "agency of anorexia". Probyn reads "anorexia" as an agency of resistance to the excesses of commodity culture and social control: "instead of conceiving of the anorexic as a victim of social forces, it may be that she is also registering profound disgust at those around her. Rather than placing her as a hapless cipher, this reveals the strength of the anorexic's response to the world: 'it/you are disgusting, I will not take you in'" (141).

It should not go without saying that in this reading Probyn glamorizes an extremely disenabling and life-threatening effect of the commodification of women's bodies in capitalism by representing anorexia as "radical resistance" to commodity culture. But what is most telling about her reading is the way that it articulates the labor needs of the ruling class in capitalism now. In many advanced capitalist nations, such as the United States, where obesity and related health problems (diabetes, heart disease, osteoarthritis...) especially among women and children have been rapidly increasing as the physical and technical requirements of new divisions of labor are changing what workers must do, obesity is costing the economy an average of $118 billion dollars a year in lost work days, lowered productivity, and medical bills (Inter Press Service March 7,2000).

Probyn's "ethics of restraint" is a "new" strategy for new conditions that continues a very old task in transnational capitalism: to lower the cost incurred by the ruling class for the social reproduction of the laboring population and increase the rate of exploitation. In response to the rising social cost of obesity, the ruling class, the corporate media, and celebrity spokespersons such as Sarah Ferguson have declared a moral and ethical crisis in food consumption and the need to transform consumption behaviors. Such strategies are essentially about protecting the economic security of ruling class and upper-middle class women who want to reserve greater amounts of the social surplus for their own use and reduce the social resources that go to the life conditions of working class women. Moreover, the notion in delectable feminism that the regulation of one's "own" regimen is the basis of change follows the same corporate logic as Republicans who support the cutting of food stamps on the one hand and authorize tax breaks to individuals and insurance companies for weight loss programs on the other. The overt ideological spin for these measures is that they reduce the social cost of obesity and obesity related disease to the economy and, at the same time, allow for more "freedom" and "choice" for individuals to pursue weight loss options in consultation with a physician.

In actuality, they are aimed at transferring wealth in medical benefits and nutrition away from workers and into the hands of weight loss companies and pharmaceutical cartels who are already pulling in an average of $33 billion per year (and counting) out of the pockets of workers, especially women, on weight loss related programs and products while obesity rates continue to grow. On the one hand, these measures enables the continuation of obesity and unequal access to nutritious food brought on by food production for profit and, on the other, they put forward "solutions" to economic inequality and malnutrition that help bolster the profits for the ruling class. The "crisis" of obesity is not a moral, ethical, or cultural crisis: it is an economic crisis in production for profit. As one study has put it: "the century with the greatest potential to eliminate malnutrition instead saw it boosted to record levels" where "the number of hungry people remains high in a world of food surpluses" (Worldwatch Institute, March 4, 2000). In short, production for profit subordinates the production and consumption of basic necessities such as "food" to what it profitable to transnational corporations.

"Subsistence feminism", using a different mode, also articulates the labor needs of transnational capitalism, but not for women of the North. Its emphasis on a "moral economy" in which people consume less and economic development is halted, articulates the labor needs of transnational capitalism for women of the South—where transnational capitalism relies on a continuous supply of unskilled cheap labor.

It is quite telling in this regard when Mies and Bennholdt-Thomsen read the relationship between the capitalist and wage-laborer as an exchange of equivalents by taking the legal labor contract at face value. In order to posit the expropriation of nature, and not the appropriation of surplus-labor, as the basis of class society, they erase the exploitation in the wage-labor capital relation altogether and present it as a relationship of equality. Thus, instead of working to transform the relations for the extraction of surplus-labor by capital, the "subsistence perspective" proclaims that what needs to be changed are consumption behaviors. It is "excessive consumption" of the North that drives "development" and causes the dire need in the South and the use of women's labor as an "unlimited resource".

The subsistence perspective asserts that by opening up pockets of "resistance" such as community gardens in the city, growing one's own vegetables alongside farming for corporations in the country, reclaiming land for common use in subsistence farming, workers, and women in particular, can gain autonomy from the production of food for profit and can gradually "edge it out" and reclaim production for need. The understanding here is that by decreasing "demand" for food produced by transnational agribusiness and other transnational industries and increasing the demand for locally grown and produced food, small scale farming and handicrafts can be revived against transnational capitalism. But what this conceals is the way in which "subsistence farming" is itself inculcated into the wage-labor/capital relation. As one study of rural life in Kenya and Lesotho puts it:

In Kenya, the tendency of increasing numbers of rural households to become [integrated into the market economy] […] has been disguised by the fact that many smallholders cling to small, infertile, degraded plots of land. They are not 'landless' in the strict sense, but have been forced into reliance on casual wage-work, non-farm artisanal activities, and high-value export crops […] [The] resulting paradox: the dissolution of the peasantry 'takes place precisely at the same time as a highly weakened peasantry continues to retain relations to patches of land and hence maintains the illusion of a property owning class' (Wisner 26).  

The proletarianization of the peasantry does not require that it ceases to own land when all means of production necessary in order to work the land, and all necessities necessary to sustained the life of the workers, are privately owned and controlled. What Mies and Bennholdt-Thomsen erase is that ALL needs under capitalism are produced under conditions of private property. While they might "control" an immediate plot of land, subsistence farmers are nonetheless compelled to rely for basic needs on a host of privatized services including healthcare and veterinary medicine; farm equipment, livestock and seed reserves; clothing and education… This is the material reality under capitalism that drives many subsistence farmers out of farming and into the factory and other modes of wage labor: because "land" without the means to support labor and even "food" produced on the farm does not pay for medicine, farm equipment and repairs, plant disease control, irrigation systems... It also makes subsistence farmers sites for "outsourcing" of some of the labor of agribusiness and thus involves subsistence farmers directly in the wage-labor/capital-relation as exploited labor. In effect this turns many subsistence farmers into "disguised wage-laborers" whose farms are corporate annexes where even the minimum of labor laws do not apply. Without confronting the wage-labor/capital relation—without working to transform the world's agricultural and industrial production in its totality—"subsistence feminism" merely puts forward a "just say no" policy to capitalism: assuming that the pressures of production for profit on farmers is a matter of consumer "choice".

But more than "just saying no", subsistence feminism actually is useful to transnational capitalism and helps to serve its needs for a continuous cheap labor supply from the South. For one, since the "subsistence perspective" does not actually eliminate the objective pressures on farmers and workers of social relations of production for profit, what its "anti-development" policy does instead is help to keep the cost of reproducing labor low, and thus make it less expensive for transnational capitalism to use.

Moreover, the subsistence perspective is not only a means to normalize the strategies of transnational capital to make sure that existing labor-power remains cheap, it also helps to normalize the strategies by which transnational capitalism works to maintain control over the continuous supply of labor-power: the rate of growth and development of the laboring population. This is especially apparent in the way in which the subsistence perspective attempts to revive the "innate power" of femaleness and childbirth to produce wealth. According to Mies and Bennholdt-Thomsen, "femaleness is more than only a symbolic metaphor for natural, life giving growth... after all", they contend, "women's capacity to give birth to children cannot be separated from women, in spite of all the intellectual acrobatics" (188). But in fact, reproduction and women's capacity to give birth is not a "given" or "autonomous" capacity, nor is it an innately female power requiring, as it were, the involvement of men. On the contrary, a woman's capacity to reproduce is in dialectical relation to the social relations of production, her material conditions of necessity, and her position within the division of labor. For women of the South, who contribute to producing the majority of the world's food resources, private ownership of the means of production has led to a situation in which there are increasing numbers of women reduced to a diet of less than 1,500 calories/day (1,000 less than the recommended minimum). Moreover, even when calorie intake is higher, the production of food for profit has led to a diet severely lacking in micronutrients and protein.

Poverty brought on by the concentration of socially produced resources in the hands of a few has made it impossible for workers to afford to buy the more expensive "protein" and "micronutrient" rich food. The priority to produce food for profit and keep social reproduction costs to capital at a minimum has lead to the least nutritious foods being the most widely available for the proletariat. Such a situation has led to a rise in the level of anemia, protein deficiency among women and the increase in rates of infant and maternal mortality, childhood disease and deformity. Moreover, long term malnutrition brought on by production for profit has lead to the loss of menstruation and the capacity of many women to reproduce. Far from being an "innate power" that women can use to transcend conditions of dire need, women's capacity to reproduce is historical and depends upon their position in the social relations of production.

The control of women's diets that is advocated in "subsistence feminism" is also a strategy by transnational capitalism to control women's reproductive cycles and control 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 daily life, health, nutrition, and 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.

Although in different rhetorics, both "delectable feminism" and "subsistence feminism" ultimately advance a transnational "ethics" that articulates "freedom" on the terms of consumption under capitalism, and thus leave intact for women the material conditions of private ownership in capitalism that "necessitate" the exploitation of their surplus-labor. In other words, both put forward the understanding of freedom as autonomous from conditions of necessity and, therefore, assume that women are autonomous agents who can be freed from economic inequality and social injustice without transforming the fundamental property relation under capitalism. The maintenance of private property relations and production for profit leads to continuing economic crisis, insecurity, and instability for both workers and capitalists (who must compete more aggressively to maintain profit levels) as the productive forces develop.

Unemployment, starvation, destitution, economic stagnation and decline, bankruptcy, are all inevitable results of maintaining capitalism. What this goes to show is that the position of women in society and their relationship to their bodies, desires, and needs is not a cultural matter of ethical and moral consumption choices, rather it is the product of economic conditions of necessity brought about by private property relations. Capitalism needs to keep workers economically insecure in order to drive down the cost of wages and make it easier to adjust workers to new strategies for ruling class profit. But doing so does not actually "resolve" the contradictions and crises in capitalism: both the disparity between workers and owners and the instability of transnational capitalism is growing not diminishing. Changing the position of women in society is not, at root, founded on the local strategies of capitalism in crisis, but on transformation private property relations. It therefore requires not "ethical consumption" or a "moral economy", but heightening the fundamental contradictions in capitalism between wage-labor and capital, bringing them to crisis, and fundamentally transforming them. By contrast what is needed is a Red Feminism, which grasps the "local" strategies of capitalism in the "North" and the "South" in relation to the underlying labor relations in the international division of labor and thus which advances material "freedom" for women through fundamental transformation of the material conditions of necessity not through imagined autonomy from them. This is because, as I have argued, what determines gender, sexuality, and women's relationship to their bodies and need (such as food) is not consumption but class—whether they are owners of the means of production or exploited surplus-labor. Without transforming the social relations of production based on private ownership of the means of production, projects that inculcate women into changing consumption patterns merely inculcate women into "structural adjustment" to transnational capitalism in crisis but do not change their fundamental conditions of economic inequality. Only with the historical grasping of the totality of relations of production can feminism work not simply to avoid the conditions of labor and necessity for the majority, but work to transform them.

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THE RED CRITIQUE 8 (Spring 2003)