By CHRISTINE MARIE
Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya, and Nancy Fraser, “Feminism for the 99%: A Manifesto” (London and New York: Verso, 2019), 85 pp.
Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya, and Nancy Fraser have a mission. They are collaborating to bring the lessons of a new global feminist uprising to the United States. Their latest effort is an 85-page manifesto that lays out the anti-capitalist alternative to the liberal feminism of the corporate and political elite.
The path of struggle they advocate in 11 theses and a postface comes from an analysis of the recent and effective mobilizations of women, cis and trans, immigrant and indigenous, unionized and unorganized, waged and unwaged in Argentina, Brazil, and Chile, as well as Spain, Italy, Ireland, and Poland. Their goal is to chart an anti-capitalist feminism that rejects both the neoliberal feminism of the elites that “celebrates diversity for its own sake,” as well as a “class reductionist left that conceives of the working class as an empty, homogenous abstraction.”
Based on the last three years of organizing experiences that have led to March 8 women’s strikes in 55 countries around the world, they ask us to imagine a future in which we refuse to allow capitalism to “weaponize our differences” and, instead, fight for a unity in action that recognizes and refuses to trivialize the issues that divide the oppressed and exploited. That is, they argue for a feminism of the 99% that is “always in formation, always open to transformation and contestation, and always establishing itself anew through solidarity” (p. 85).
Thesis 1 argues that a new feminist wave is “reinventing” the strike. After decades of retreat by the trade-union officialdoms and social democratic parties around the world, feminists initiated calls for days of a general strike of waged and unwaged labor—strikes and mass mobilizations that target both production in factories and transport centers, as well as the work of social reproduction that takes place in schools, hospitals, nurseries social service centers, and in the homes of the working classes—and, thus, take up anti-austerity demands that will benefit the whole working class. In a sense, they begin to model the kind of political strikes that the whole working class needs to employ to combat the capitalist crisis in all its manifestations.
Theses 2 and 3 together suggest that the current global capitalist crisis has demonstrated the extreme bankruptcy of liberal feminism and the need for something far different. Liberal feminism, based in a professional and managerial demographic and in alliance with corporate funders and mainstream political parties, has proven to be quite compatible with policies leading to growing inequality, ever-increasing imperialist war, and the capitalist-based existential threat to the planet as a whole.
Equality under the law is an inadequate principle when the law also structures and maintains private capitalists’ right to drive down wages, hours, and benefits, and cut social services to the bone. In the global South, where we find movements that we should emulate, the women’s upsurge has targeted the neoliberal austerity drives, the degradation of work, and the ecocide associated with the demands of the imperialist bankers and military planners. With this strategy, they have brought other sectors into motion alongside them.
Theses 4 and 5 theorize that given the nature of the current global capitalist crisis, in which dysfunction in the sphere of social reproduction is most extreme, it is quite reasonable to expect that females of the working classes will be pushed into effective action in advance of other sectors. Gender oppression today is based on the fact that capitalism subordinates social reproduction—the making, shaping, and nurturing of people in the family, the schools, and so on that is mostly left to women—to the needs of production for profit.
In the current economic moment, when the business class cannot solve the problem of the falling rate of profit, the pressures they impose on social reproduction in all its expressions will result in a social explosion in which women play a central role. And since social reproductive work under capitalism is organized to maintain the elite rule, it is structured to reinforce materially deepened divisions based on national origin, racialization, sexualities, the policing of gender norms, and degrees of ableness. A feminism of the 99% must create a space in which legitimate but contending demands can be explored and sorted, and out of which action unified around the needs of the most oppressed in the class can be mounted.
Gender violence and sexual liberation are the themes of theses 6 and 7. The manifesto is firmly against a carceral feminism that ignores the role of the capitalist criminal justice system in racial and national oppression, the control of the social movement, and the maintenance of class disempowerment. Instead, the authors argue that gender violence under capitalism is not only a phenomenon of the private sphere but of the public sphere as well. And that violence in both spheres is shaped by a thousand elite choices regarding how to manage social reproduction in their interest.
Such management also poses obstacles to sexual liberation. Obstacles emanate from the far and populist right, who use the disarray and misery caused by the capitalist attacks on the social services and wages that sustain the nuclear family to advocate for retrogressive legislation on reproduction, sexuality, and gender nonconformity. They also are posed by sexual liberalism, which posits individual freedom of identity but refuses to challenge the basic capitalist norms that limits expressions of sexuality and gender to those that fit within or easily alongside the structures of the family and the market and imperialism.
“We fight,” the authors state,” to liberate sexuality not only from procreation and normative family norms, but also from the restrictions of gender, class, and race, and from the deformations of statism and consumerism” (p. 39).
No contemporary work on social reproduction could avoid arguing that the new feminism must be ecosocialist. Thesis 9 illuminates the impact of the current climate crisis on women. Women make up 80% of the world’s climate refugees. As the majority of the world’s farmers, they play an outsized role in the effort to cope with drought, pollution, and the legacy of industrial farming on the land.
All over the world, women lead the fights against extreme extractivism, protection of water supplies, and for sustainable farming. That women of the global South suffer the earliest effects of warming is due to environmental racism and imperialist aggression.
At key moments in the history of feminism under capitalism, the movement has shamefully and shortsightedly resisted the demands of women in the oppressed nations of the world and instead supported, openly or tacitly, the foreign policy of the bosses, filling roles domestically and internationally in the “development” agencies of the dominant global powers. Similarly, liberal feminism has refused to accept the degree to which racism, ethno-nationalism, and imperialism shaped the experience of misogyny for the majority of women of this world. Thesis 8 postulates that a feminism of the 99% must be thoroughly antiracist and internationalist.
The feminism we need, they conclude in theses 10 and 11, is a feminism that seeks the overthrow of the capitalist economic system. Necessary to the construction of a fighting force capable of this task is a recognition that the working class is embodied in ways that have led to special experiences of oppression, be they racialized, gendered, gender nonconforming, or differently abled.
Revolutionary socialists can name the anti-capitalist economic form that will not subordinate social reproduction and production to private profit. It is socialism. And the path to it most certainly involves the application of the 11 theses of the manifesto. This wonderful short text is the perfect introduction to the basic Marxist view regarding capitalism’s oppression of women and a summary of what the last three years of the International Women’s Strike have taught us.