Toward a Liberationist Feminism (Or, I Hope Pro-Capitalist Feminism Is an Oxymoron)

1. 

We’re all well aware that online discourse around feminism/s lately has heated up around varying definitions of what feminism is and should be. One of the most persistent areas of debate has been whether “intersectionality,” or a multi-issue politic, is spreading feminism too thin. I don’t want to repeat the many and strong arguments that have already been made against the premise that a singular focus on women’s oppression would make for a more effective feminism—a premise I think is not merely flawed, but blatantly racist/classist/heteronormative/ableist and otherwise absurd. But, after reading the comments in several threads here about capitalism and individualism over the past week or so, I do want to spend some words on what a feminism of liberation might look like.

I see a lot of people who say they believe in “intersectionality” talk about it kind of like this: Since some women are people of color, and some women are poor, and some women are queer, it’s important for feminism to take an intersectional approach that recognizes the way some women experience sexism and racism, or sexism and economic exploitation, or sexism and homophobia, or other such combinations. And then maybe they’ll go a step further, and say something about how, for women of color, sexism and racism aren’t just two separate forms of oppression experienced simultaneously, but are intertwined in really complicated ways. So, a lot of self-identified supporters of intersectionality will say, if feminism is going to be a movement by and for all women, it needs to look at how all forms of oppression, not just sexism, play out in different women’s lives. And I think that’s all true and good.

But I think a feminist politic of intersectionality goes deeper than that. To me, the really key thing about intersectionality is connecting the above analysis around individuals’ lived experiences to the insight that all systems of power are interconnected. So it’s not just that some individual people experience multiple forms of oppression, or even that all people have some kind of personal relationship with all systems of oppression (for instance, as a white woman, I experience sexism on the oppressed side, and white supremacy on the side of privilege), but also that the systems of power themselves—racism, economic hierarchy, sexism, heteronormativity, ableism, etc.—are working together.

Take, for instance, violence against women. While self-identified feminists earnestly question whether this or that is or should be or isn’t really a feminist issue, I don’t think anyone would really question that violence against women is properly, unequivocally, a feminist concern. I also don’t know how we could even try to understand, let alone resist and transform, a culture of widespread violence against women without looking at a culture of general violence, a culture that uses violence to maintain hierarchies of all forms. How could we think about, let alone challenge and offer alternatives to, violence of any kind without looking at how violence (of all forms and against women specifically) is connected to militarism and colonialism, which are connected to the spread and global imposition of both white supremacy and neoliberal capitalism, which …  I could go in a slew of different directions with this.

Which is why I believe we must simultaneously challenge all forms of unjust power to achieve any kind of liberation. Which is why I’d like to believe pro-capitalist feminism is an oxymoron.

Capitalism is a huge part of how/why the world has been colonized. Antiracist feminism must be anticolonial feminism must be a feminism that resists capitalism — not just because the effects of capitalism are damaging to individual women, but because capitalism, as a system of power, is connected to sexism, to racism, to …

2.

None of what I wrote up there is some unique insight of mine. It’s all stuff I’ve learned –- from experience, from observation, and, very significantly, from the work of feminist activists/artists/thinkers/scholars/writers who have gone before me. Over generations and across borders, feminists of color and a few allies have developed a language and way of thinking about how systems of power are interconnected. For instance:

In 1986, the Combahee River Collective wrote, “We are…trying…to address a whole range of oppressions … If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.”

bell hooks’ insistent, decades-long use of the phrase  “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.”

2003’s Feminism Without Borders, in which Chandra Talpade Mohanty wrote: “I firmly believe an antiracist feminist framework, anchored in decolonization and committed to an anticapitalist critique, is necessary.” (Do check out the entire book if you haven’t already, but quickly, see how she connects anticapitalist feminism to a resistance to U.S.-centric feminism: “a protocapitalist or ‘free market’ feminism is symptomatic of the ‘americanization’ of definitions of feminism’.)

 And quite recently, Sudy introduced many of us to the concept of kyriarchy.

Those are just a few examples. I could not have written any of what I wrote in the first section of this post without having encountered the profound work of everyone quoted above as well as Andrea Smith, Angela Davis, Vandana Shiva, Patricia Hill Collins, and so, so many others.

It is not because I believe gender oppression underlies or trumps other forms of oppression that I work within the context of feminism. It is not because, as someone the world reads as a “woman” within a binary and patriarchal gender system, “women’s” issues are the issues that are closest to my heart and experience that I work within the context of feminism.

It is because Audre Lorde, the Combahee River Collective, bell hooks, Cherie Moraga, Gloria Anzaldua, Chandra Talpade Mohanty, INCITE!, and so many others did this work, built this language, nurtured this vision of challenging all forms of unjust power within the context of feminism that I work within the context of feminism. They and so many others have, in their different ways, created a flexible and shifting and many-sided framework — and a beautifully complex legacy — of multi-issue work toward liberation. They have offered visions of liberation that do not ask any of us to leave any pieces of ourselves behind to participate in building something new, visions that will not uncritically support one piece of the scaffolding of oppressive power while trying to take apart another. The Combahee River Collective, again:

“Our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.”

(2b. 

To those who are about to say I am calling for an elitist, or academic, feminism, by suggesting we should know and be mindful of the people who have built these arguments, in words, before us, a little bit about me and how I encountered these feminisms:

I don’t have a college degree, and I’ve never taken a women’s studies class. I did take one ethnic-studies class at a community college in the late ’90s, and we did read one bell hooks book together — but I’d already encountered hooks a few years before. 

My financial-aid package at a pricey liberal-arts college had fallen through, and having been raised by a single mom who was scared of debt – no credit cards for her – and hadn’t gone through the college system herself, the idea of going into debt for school wasn’t one that made sense to me. So I was eighteen, very partially employed, and living for an aimless few months with my best friend at her mom’s place. 

Her mom had just ended the last in a series of abusive relationships, and she was hell-bent on figuring out how to become financially secure on her own so that she wouldn’t be tempted to rely on a guy financially ever again. She’d decided, in her mid-40s with a frenetic house full of kids (her own as well as assorted occasional hangers-on like myself), to go back to school and become an elementary-school teacher. She was working her way through, and when she realized I was hanging out longer than the few days I’d initially anticipated, she sat me down and explained how, if she was gonna let my aimless and close-to-penniless little late-adolescent self stay there rent-free, eating food and using electricity and all that, in addition to helping with childcare and cooking and cleaning and such around the house, I was gonna help her with school. 

Working, managing and sustaining household, and parenting her own kids and others’ on top of being in school was a huge juggle, and she was pretty damn resourceful and creative in figuring out how to make it work. She realized quickly that while the readings she was supposed to do for her classes were interesting and important, she simply didn’t have enough hours in the day to get through them all. So, while I was rambling around her house most of the day, I was gonna do some of that reading for her. Then, while I helped her make dinner for all the other kids at night, I was gonna tell her what I read, and we’d talk through it. She’d ask me all sorts of clarifying questions, make sure I explained things in detail, challenge me to figure out which were the really important parts for her to grasp for her class and emphasize those, etc. 

Wonderfully, she was learning to be a teacher in a program that focused on anti-oppression education, so the first book she gave me was Angela Davis’s Women, Race, and Class. Lounging in the sun on this woman’s front porch one afternoon, I read about forced sterilizations of women of color in U.S. history. History, and the world, and the country I was born a citizen in, have never looked the same to me since.

I read bell hooks and Paulo Freire this way, too – reading by myself through sunny afternoons, talking through what I’d read with a way overstretched mom/student/teacher/thinker each evening as we cooked huge pots of curried cauliflower with rice and other large, affordable dishes for a big household.

This woman also taught me how to shop on a budget — which ingredients would go furthest while still providing nutrients; which meals could be made in one pot with minimal time for prep and cleanup. And she taught me and my best friend/her daughter, in the months I lived with her, how and why to establish good credit — because she didn’t want us staying in abusive relationships for way too long, as she had, too many times, because she didn’t have any credit of her own so who’d even want to look at her rental application if she tried to move out and get an apartment for herself and the kids? She taught me a lot about how to read critically, and about antiracist feminism, as she enlisted me to help her get her schoolwork done. And she also taught me a lot about how to make do and take care of oneself and one’s dependents, no matter how limited resources may be. She did these things simultaneously, as we talked about Angela Davis while cooking a good and cheap dinner, because she knew that you can learn about how to survive and take care of yourself within an unjust system without pretending that system is going to take care of you, is okay.)

3.

And so I was surprised and disturbed — despite all I’ve witnessed of the persistent, and sad, politics of white and class privilege among people who call themselves feminists — to see such a lack of critical analysis around “capitalism” and “individualism” in the comments on some recent threads here. I realize that both terms were being tossed around with a rather significant lack of definition. But still, I felt like I was watching, and occasionally participating in, a conversation that bewilderingly sidestepped feminist — and even general progressive — takes on economic hierarchy and economic justice. As jessilikewhoa wrote in one of those conversations

i dont see how it can be possible to have gender equality in a culture built on a system of inequality, call it cognitive dissonance or whatever, but i just cant grasp how that could even be possible.

 

Why was that such a rare voice? What does feminism, or sexism, mean in a vacuum?

And what is that pro-capitalist, individualist notion of feminism aiming for? More Carly Fiorinas and Madeline Albrights? More women participating in — profiting from — the endgame rush to climate chaos fueled by global capitalism?

Again, I get stuck: So many people have already made this critique. Is it that it’s not being circulated, heard, widely enough? Is it that the people defending a pro-capitalist feminism have heard those critiques and simply disagree? But if it’s that, why are they not even substantively engaging with, responding to, addressing those arguments?

““Ideas are always communally wrought, not privately owned,” Mohanty wrote in Feminism without Borders. The kind of discussion that can happen on blogs has such exciting potential in documenting feminist discourse and new ideas as they are communally wrought, real-time, across many borders. Yet I worry that there is also a tendency in these spaces toward a decontextualized, unanchored, unaccountable, disconnected kind of discourse. We have certainly seen evidence of that in a certain widely discussed case of appropriation.

4.

I read and sometimes participate in these unfolding feminist-blogosphere conversations and I start to get preoccupied with questions about media consumption and production, forgotten histories, unacknowledged/marginalized work …

Why, in these recent threads, so little engagement with, or even acknowledgment of, vast bodies of work and conversation around feminism and (anti)capitalism?

Why do feminist communities keep having the same conversations over and over about privilege and power and different visions of feminism, with so little engagement with the conversations that have happened before? The insights and lessons that have already been offered? The brilliant conversations happening in other spaces right now?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be having new conversations, or learning our own lessons. But I do feel bewildered and disoriented at what sometimes seems to me a new-new-new, me-me-me approach to media making, which produces texts and conversations that feel disconnected from larger feminist and other progressive/radical-Left conversations, past and present, online and offline.

I wonder in what senses the feminist blogosphere itself is connected to, substantively in relationship with, offline feminist communities. I understand, of course, that it varies from blog to blog, community to community, but sitting here I wonder:

Are the conversations around capitalism here representative of, or similar to, the conversations happening in feminist communities doing offline work in the U.S.? Elsewhere? Is this how most self-identified feminists are defining feminism? (I am provoked to ask this in part because they are not at all similar to conversations I’m having with feminists offline—which is why I was so surprised by what looked like so many sighs of relief that folks could stop pretending that as feminists they had any commitment to resisting, or even questioning, capitalism.)

The feminists I am listening to — past and present; in print, in conversation, at work, and elsewhere — are trying to call into being new visions, whole new ways of being in the world. And I do believe that entails being critical of dominant systems — questioning how they work and and why they exist … I do not believe we will see liberation via uncritical, sigh-of-relief acceptance of dominant systems such as capitalism because we have the privilege of being able to (partially) move on up within them.

And I would argue that those of us who can move up, who have privilege within and can play the game of oppressive systems and sometimes win – we are not the ones whose visions should be leading, or at the center of, liberatory feminist discourse or action. People who see better how all of these systems of power work because they are not mystified by privilege — they’re holding the visions that we most need to encounter, hear, nurture, and center.

I cannot envision a liberation-oriented, social-justice feminism that does not challenge class hierarchy and economic exploitation. And I don’t believe there can be a pro-capitalist challenge to economic domination because I believe capitalism, even “regulated capitalism,” is rooted in economic hierarchy and exploitation — as well as a focus on money/the financial bottom line as some kind of ultimate determinant that will solve and resolve everything else. The planet, society, cultures, people—all are more complicated than that. Capitalism, for all its supporting myths of individuality and freedom, is a blunt system that ignores, excuses, fails to integrate way too much.

This is not to suggest that there is any one “right way” to resist capitalism in our everyday lives, or one “right way” to deal with money (“Enough: The Personal Politics of Resisting Capitalism certainly points to all kinds of different ideas and approaches), but I do think that resisting capitalism, globally, is integral to antiracist, progressive, social-justice feminisms — that is, the only kinds of feminism I think have a chance of liberating anyone/everyone, and the only kinds of feminism I want to have anything to do with. 

5. 

By titling this post “toward a liberationist feminism,” I do not mean to suggest that I am calling toward that direction myself. What I mean is that I am walking, working, along a path that has been described and cared for by many before me, and that is now being tended and walked along by many more, and, while I am a guest in this space, I want to point toward that path. Some parts of it have been long well-tended, and I think we’d all do well to familiarize, or re-familiarize, ourselves with those — appreciating their details, enjoying (learning from and critiquing and sitting with) them sometimes in solitude and sometimes together, and each doing some of the tending work that needs to be done. It is a long and winding path, not linear, with stops and starts and cleared mainways and brushy offshoots. And while some parts have been well tended, others remain to be noticed, understood.

Walking, working — and caring for the places we walk and work — are long and sometimes slow processes. And I think that’s a good thing. Which is why I don’t think a week-ish later is too late for this post, and why I want to actively resist the high-speed modes of production and consumption of media and all else that would suggest it is too late, or too slow. 

Hoping we can walk together sometime,

 Jess

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99 Responses

  1. DavidSpade
    DavidSpade August 22, 2008 at 5:56 pm |

    Are women in other political-social systems, like communism or fascism, better off than in capitalist societies?

    Capitalism has tremendous power to push gender equity forward. When an industry generally underpays a class of workers competing firms will enter the market, offer the underpaid workers more, snatch up a lot of skilled workers, and be able to keep their prices lower than the competition. Over time, and with low enough market barriers for new firms, discriminating firms will be weeded out.

    Sure capitalism has it’s dark side, but the solution is to fix capitalism, not to discard the entire system. You can’t blame all of sexism, racism, and classism on capitalism. Is American and modern European colonialism that much different from the conquests of Alexander the Great, the Roman Empire, the Mongol hordes, Timur the Lame, the Japanese Empire, or the Azteks?

  2. William
    William August 22, 2008 at 6:13 pm |

    And I would argue that those of us who can move up, who have privilege within and can play the game of oppressive systems and sometimes win – we are not the ones whose visions should be leading, or at the center of, liberatory feminist discourse or action. People who see better how all of these systems of power work because they are not mystified by privilege — they’re holding the visions that we most need to encounter, hear, nurture, and center.

    If not you, then who? You say that people who are not mystified by privilege should be the ones leading the movement but the very things that grant them the vision you value are the same things that, under the current system, virtually guarantee that the concerns of survival will consume their waking lives. Even if they do have the time or energy to become involved, the realities of being outside the privileged sphere significantly reduce the likelihood that their voices will be heard at all. Perhaps that isn’t the way it should be, but I have trouble seeing how that will ever change if people of privilege don’t step up in the first place.

  3. William
    William August 22, 2008 at 6:19 pm |

    David: be a dear and learn to recognize the boundaries of the discussion. I can quote Hayek and Nozick till dawn with the best of them, but that just isn’t the discussion that Jess is trying to start. That middle passage about having the same discussions over and over, thats what some people like to call a “cue.” It was a signal that, perhaps, the person starting the discussion would like to discuss what they came to discuss as opposed to having to begin from the ground up every time.

  4. Elly
    Elly August 22, 2008 at 6:32 pm |

    Hi,

    just to tell that the link toward http://www.enoughenough.org/ in the post is broken (I guess it lacks an “http://” ).

  5. r.
    r. August 22, 2008 at 6:47 pm |

    well, here’s my sigh of relief. thanks for saying all of this, jess. and for the story and quotes and links — it’s a beautiful post. i wonder too about feminist communities and what role (feminist) blogging might play in movement-making… i’ve been thinking about this for a while, and discussed it with people in the context of the different forms that independent media and activism can take, and questions about whether blogging is one of them, does blogging bring anything new to the table, and are there advantages and drawbacks to so much energy going into blogging these days?! it’s hard to figure out the answers. i do tend to believe that without an aspect of real-life organizing, blogs can just throw together people with radically different political commitments under a common “banner” that at a deeper level actually implies different things for those involved – which can be good or bad to have (it’s a whole other discussion), but at least it shows very clearly where different folks are at, which commitments exist and which are still needed, what’s going well and what’s not; and maybe that‘s a useful tool for organizing, helping us with the reflection part of (feminist) praxis.

  6. r.
    r. August 22, 2008 at 7:03 pm |

    william, my own almost response to that, which i sort of stumbled upon in the middle of a different argument in the “individualism” thread was this: “… within a “democratic” capitalist system the idea that individualism is a superior value hinders not only movement-building, it’s a problem even within movements, activist groups… AND it makes people miserable. no wonder effective social justice movements and alternatives are so hard to come by. (but pockets of them do exist: primarily, they’re made by people who don’t “do” activism as a hobby or a “choice” or some such… they arise and exist out of necessity and dedication to nonindividualism as a value…” the point being that perhaps more important than “people of privilege stepping up” is exactly how they go about doing their thing (including stepping up) – which i think comes close to jess’s point about (lack of) vision, though individualism is just a part of all that.

  7. Mona
    Mona August 22, 2008 at 7:05 pm |

    Thank you for this.

  8. octogalore
    octogalore August 22, 2008 at 7:44 pm |

    Jess –first of all, apologies in advance that I’m heading out of town for a week tomorrow, and therefore may not be able to engage with your reactions to our posts as much as the subject matter deserves.

    First of all, by “I Hope Pro-Capitalist Feminism is an Oxymoron,” are you opining that women in favor of regulated capitalism are not feminists?

    Also, conflating anti-capitalism and anti-racism is not only inflammatory but inaccurate. In the previous threads about capitalism which you cite, nobody successfully produced a workable alternative to managed capitalism or one that avoids poverty. Regulated capitalism is an imperfect method, but markets are the best way for substance to overcome prejudices. If you read the threads you cite, you’ll see a wide array of women of color, some whose families lived under other regimes, claiming regulated capitalism has helped them.

    Along these lines, the goals of intersectionality are best realized through a capitalist-focused system, not because it’s inherently better, but because it’s the only one human nature supports.

    Most modern economists reject labor theories of value. Without some level of capitalism, it would be difficult to build technological and social advance (yeah, as in advance of intersectionality) through entrepreneurship and trial and error. Economic systems requiring government planning and coercion will stagnate as individual enterprise is stifled.

    Also, the assumption that because Smith, Davis, Collins, Lorde, etc. are not discussed in a particular post that they haven’t been read is also inaccurate. If you read my post, you’ll see that the goal is not a stark promotion of capitalism. It’s a suggestion that if women as a group avoid means of empowerment through our current (imperfect but not-going-anywhere-quickly and arguably uninprovable-on) system, thereby perpetuating a significant power gap relative to men, we will cede our ability to act on any kinds of reform, including those relating to intersectionality. “Liberating” women, white and WOC, from capitalism, when your chances of overturning that system are slim to none, results in creating further obstacles to groups you are ostensibly trying to help. Reform requires both grassroots and systemic support – can you name any human rights victory that was won without the latter?

    “Are the conversations around capitalism here representative of, or similar to, the conversations happening in feminist communities doing offline work in the U.S.? Elsewhere? Is this how most self-identified feminists are defining feminism? (I am provoked to ask this in part because they are not at all similar to conversations I’m having with feminists offline—which is why I was so surprised by what looked like so many sighs of relief that folks could stop pretending that as feminists they had any commitment to resisting, or even questioning, capitalism.)”

    Nope, they’re not. Look around the third wave, your ideas are more in vogue than mine. I was surprised by the signs of relief too. And speaking of surprise, I’m a bit surprised that you’d claim feminists aren’t questioning capitalism when the thread was comprised of exactly that, and the author responded to almost all dissenting comments (which, frankly, you’d do well to grant is unusual – if you were actually interested in dialogue rather than accusation).

  9. SnowdropExplodes
    SnowdropExplodes August 22, 2008 at 7:51 pm |

    ::applause::

    Well-said!

  10. Mary Tracy9
    Mary Tracy9 August 22, 2008 at 8:09 pm |

    Thank you very much, Jess, for this awesome post. I’ve been dealing with these issues myself on a personal level, questioning why and how is it possible that so many feminists take capitalism for granted. But so far, I’ve never managed to express them in the right way (I guess I was too scared).

    So thank you. I agree with you 100% that “pro-capitalism” feminism is an oxymoron. And I’d go further than that, and state point blank that it’s very easy to be in favour of capitalism when you live in the wealthiest nation in the world.

    This really summarizes it:

    “Our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.”

    And that includes capitalism, a system of oppression if there’s ever been one. And I’m sorry if not many feminists like the idea.

  11. SnowdropExplodes
    SnowdropExplodes August 22, 2008 at 8:14 pm |

    …it’s the only one human nature supports.

    I cringe every time I hear a pro-capitalist make this argument, because it means that human nature is somehow monolithic and immutable, and that ultimately the best we can do is try imperfectly to mitigate its effects. It is also exactly the same argument that anti-feminists make in support of the sexist system. It’s the argument used by racists in support of “white supremacy”. “Human nature,” they say, “means we are right. People are born to be the way we say they should be.”

    Economic systems requiring government planning and coercion will stagnate as individual enterprise is stifled.

    You know, capitalism isn’t the only such system that can be imagined. Karl Marx imagined a system with no government planning, in which the individual human being is able to achieve her or his full human potential (which isn’t possible under capitalism, due to the alienating nature of capitalist exchange). It is only because of this claim that human nature won’t allow a communist system to develop that people say “we should make the best of a bad job”.

    Capitalism depends for its operation, on poverty and class privilege. Capitalism also directly supports the dual status of women as the “sex class” and the “no-sex class” because sex as the ultimate reward for work is a useful motivator for the workers, and thus capitalism maintains sexism. Capitalism functions most smoothly when there is less sympathy for the “poverty-sink” on which it depends, so it helps when the poor are disproportionately of another race, and it helps if it can be presented that the poor are somehow there of their own fault, or because “human nature” requires that they be lesser. Thus, capitalism fuels racist attitudes.

    There are ways that the harms of capitalism can be mitigated to some extent, and I believe that while we live in a capitalist system, we should work very hard to see that those ways are put into practice to the utmost extent possible. But to pretend that capitalism is the best possible way is, I think, to admit that feminism is ultimately doomed to failure. Unless women being equally oppressed as men is viewed as a success.

  12. Sara Anderson
    Sara Anderson August 22, 2008 at 9:00 pm |

    Some of us aren’t familiar with the sociological canon, including (maybe especially) myself, and are past the point where they could just sign up for a women’s studies class that they never got a chance to take when they had to take 6 hours’-worth of labs a week in college.

    It can be difficult and embarassing to learn this stuff as you think out loud, and definitely not the most simple and comfortable way to do it, I imagine.

  13. Sara Anderson
    Sara Anderson August 22, 2008 at 9:08 pm |

    Or, a shorter way to say that would be that I often don’t know wtf I’m talking about, but I’ve found that it often takes saying something dumb out loud to realize how dumb it is.

  14. Hot Tramp
    Hot Tramp August 22, 2008 at 9:21 pm |

    This is a beautifully written and provocative piece. Honestly, I think American feminists (and I completely include myself in this) are not challenging capitalism for two main reasons:

    1. We still buy into the capitalist ideology, in part or in whole. This might be because we haven’t explored many critiques of capitalism, or it might be because we’ve explored them and we’ve rejected them for any of a number of reasons — because they don’t work for us philosophically, because we fear losing our class privilege, because we’re encountering them through the distorting capitalist ideology itself, and so on. Which brings me to #2 …

    2. The anti-capitalist movement/s is/are beyond the political pale in the U.S. You cannot identify as a communist or socialist or foe of capitalism and be taken seriously in the American mainstream. I think about how I felt when I first started learning about reparations. I thought, “You know, if I decide that I support reparations, that sort of makes me … radical.” Radical is attractive when you’re giddy and idealistic. Radical is more frightening when you start thinking about the pragmatic political reality of our democracy, where emotions drive decisions and if you push the wrong button you get dismissed out of hand. And of course, that feeds back into #1. We don’t regularly encounter critiques of capitalism because people aren’t willing to discuss them seriously.

  15. exholt
    exholt August 22, 2008 at 9:41 pm |

    Karl Marx imagined a system with no government planning, in which the individual human being is able to achieve her or his full human potential (which isn’t possible under capitalism, due to the alienating nature of capitalist exchange).

    Last I checked, Karl Marx’s calling for the “dictatorship of the proletariat” where the workers seize the means of production and attempt to regulate them so that the system lives up to his idea of “from each according to his abilities….to each according to his needs” fulfills the definition of government planning.

    Unfortunately, what ended up happening in practice when Marx’s ideas were implemented was that the ostensible “representative of workers’ interests”….or in the case of Maoism…ostensible “representatives of peasant and worker interests”:

    1. Agitated for revolutions

    2. Won them.

    3. Seized power

    4. Found being the ruling class so comfortable that they ended up using Marxist/Maoist rationalizations to justify their hold on power by saying that their respective societies have not reached a proper state of “socialistic consciousness” to allow for Marx’s “withering of the state” towards “true Communism” where the “dictatorship of the proletariat” is no longer needed.

    Moreover, I find it quite amusing to hear that considering nearly every Marxist-based regime I know of ran a planned economy….the Soviet Union and Maoist China were known for their state mandated 5 year economic plans.

    IMO, it would be better to move beyond Marxism and Capitalism towards a new economic paradigm. Why is it that most economists and academics are stuck with paradigms from the 19th century and before???

  16. jessilikewhoa
    jessilikewhoa August 22, 2008 at 9:47 pm |

    oh man, we should totally make out. fer serious. i was reading this post and bobbing my head in agreement and then i saw lil ol me quoted and talk about cognitive dissonance.

    i dont pretend to have the answers, but i ended up here following similar paths to your own, bell hooks and angela davis not read becos i had to for a class, but becos i felt a need to for survival. my feminism too grew out of my time spent in anarcho and marxist punk communities.

    over at womanist musings renee had a great post recently about this same sort of stuff and she brought up the phrase “with the masters tools” and it kinda dug itself into my brain and nestled in to my synapses. i dont want to recreate the world we live in only with women in charge. that world will still be fucking grey.

    i do not believe that greed is human nature, becos if it is then i would by default no longer be human. hoarding does not make me feel good, getting more stuff doesnt make my life better. sharing what i have and what i kno with people warms my soul and makes things less grey.

    my encounters with academic feminism alienated me, the classes i took and the prof i had were just focused on recreating the current system with women on top.

    there are communes right now where people live and share, communes that have been in working existence for 30, 40 years. certainly another way is possible, just our map is incomplete.

  17. Dan in Denver
    Dan in Denver August 22, 2008 at 10:15 pm |

    I cringe every time I hear a pro-capitalist make this argument, because it means that human nature is somehow monolithic and immutable, and that ultimately the best we can do is try imperfectly to mitigate its effects.

    Human nature is monolithic (one species, one blood) and immutable, and the best we can do is try imperfectly to mitigate its effects.

    Capitalism of the sort the octogalore likes (and me too) recognizes this as reality, and does its imperfect best. . Anti-capitalists reject it and do their best, resulting in poor kleptocracies and totalitarian/authoritarian states trying, fruitlessly, to change the monolithic and immutable human nature. It just doesn’t work. How many people have to die to prove it? How many Cubas and Russias do you have to see?

    It would be *great* if we could come up with a way to manage things without systems of oppression. You come up with a plan, sign me up. I’ve never seen a desired outcome that I like better than the one associated with pure-bore, full-scale communism. The problem is, all the actual plans that have been come up with have great “Goals and Proposed Outcomes” sections, crappy “How We Do It” sections.

    There are a lot of bastards out there. The Soviets didn’t start out as bloody prison-camp administrators, they started out as beautiful idealists. The reasons why it fails are instructive – and they point to a monolithic, and immutable, human nature. Sorry. I wish it wasn’t so.

  18. Brianna
    Brianna August 22, 2008 at 10:16 pm |

    I only read this blog casually, and am not intimately familiar with the conversations taking place in the feminist blogosphere. I did, however, feel driven to comment on this particular issue.

    I do not wish to repeat arguments as to whether capitalism is or isn’t compatible/necessary to feminism – others will doubtless do this. Rather, I believe I can shed some light on your questions directly. It seems to me that your main purpose in this post was essentially to ask why the feminist blogosphere is rehashing the same discussions which have already been completed or solved by authors in other media. You are especially concerned with the status of capitalism in those discussions. Notably, you claim that there is an ignorance those previous discussions in the current ones – this is pointless, you say, as we already know the answers.

    I see three factors which contribute to the nature of the extant online feminist conversations: Firstly, the age and education of the participants. Secondly, the attitudes of internet discussion participants in general. Thirdly, the nature of the feminist movement itself.

    Considering the first factor: judging from your personal experience and those authors you cite, you seem to expect to converse with those whom I would term ‘professional feminists’. By this I mean, those activists, teachers, students, et al. whose primary focus in life, their identity, is feminism. Many of those with who you converse on the internet have neither the background nor the education to even potentially be professional feminists. Many only have a casual interest in feminism, and while they may be very strong or vocal feminists, they may have overriding family, cultural, or political concerns that cause them to ignore certain feminist discussions – and to argue them anew. Many of them are also too young – and internet participants tend to be quite young – to have experienced said discussions without either making a special effort to learn them, or else without having an unusual life experience. In other words, you are correct when you say the the views you discuss in this post are not widely distributed in the blogosphere.

    The second point is related – internet use in general requires a certain familiarity with technology, which is more likely present in those with class privilege. That, of course, tends to come with a dependence on capitalism which is hard to overcome, thus the arguments.

    I hesitate to make the third point, as I feel that I am not really qualified to speak on this subject, having read and been exposed to but a small part of the feminist literature and ideas. Please correct me if my facts are wrong:

    I was not aware that there was ever a consensus within so-called ‘off-line feminism’ as to the status of capitalism, as you suggest. According to my understanding of feminist history (and this is very simplified), at the time of the second wave feminist movement there was another feminist philosophy which could be called libertarian feminism, or possibly sex-positive feminism. This branch was often at odds with mainstream second-wave feminism. As modern third-wave feminism developed, this brand of feminism merged with the others into the more fluid movement we know today. While most modern feminist views follow those of the second wave feminists, in a few points the libertarian views largely prevailed (mostly the ‘sex-positive’ portion), while others (capitalism, for example) remain a point of contention.

    On a personal note, when you say:
    “… I believe we must simultaneously challenge all forms of unjust power to achieve any kind of liberation. Which is why I’d like to believe pro-capitalist feminism is an oxymoron.”
    I fervently hope not. I hate oppression, and hate that capitalism causes it, but I still value individual freedom tremendously. I cannot think of a socialist (used in the broadest sense) system that does not cause the oppression of the individual by the society, and also do not see how any sort of system could prevent oppression of the many by the few for long. Perhaps this only stems from my white, middle class background. Perhaps my knowledge of feminist discussions is sorely lacking, and more knowledge would give me a different perspective. But until such time that I come to believe these things, I will be glad to see the discussion on the nature of feminism alive and well.

  19. ripley
    ripley August 22, 2008 at 10:17 pm |

    thank you for this

  20. jess
    jess August 22, 2008 at 10:23 pm |

    Hi there.

    Thanks for all the comments so far!

    I’m about to start cooking dinner, but first I thought I’d jump in and respond to a few things:

    I haven’t once explicitly advocated socialism, communism, or any other particular economic system. I don’t presume to know what the best alternatives to capitalism are — but I feel fairly sure that they are multiple and certain, that we need to experiment at the local level with different possibilities that make sense for our different communities as well as the planet we share, and that exploring alternatives to capitalism is essential if we want not only justice but to sustain life on Earth.

    I think we need new economic paradigms, multiple. So far, some of the best ideas I’ve encountered are coming from Vandana Shiva — who focuses on local, diverse, democratic, community-created, ecologically sustainable systems (i.e., systems much more complex and considerate than monetary-bottom-line-focused capitalism). There are surely lots of other ideas being circulated and tried out that I haven’t encountered.

    And:

    I don’t believe in “human nature” (for feminist and other reasons).

    I do believe anticapitalism and antiracism are strongly linked, as I believe capitalism is a system of unjust power, and I believe all systems of unjust power are linked. And also as, from U.S. slavery to industrial-era colonialism to Viking imperialism, history and the present provide clear examples of the ways economic hierarchy and exploitation (which I believe are inherent in, foundational principles of, capitalism) are linked to racism.

    I love that Hot Tramp is being honest about how “radical” can feel scary — and I always am amazed that reparations seem a radical idea in this society. (And there’s another example of the intersection between capitalism and white supremacy in the U.S.)

    And I’m not at all interested in judging who is and isn’t a feminist. I’m very interested in participating in versions of feminism that challenge all forms of oppression, and critiquing those that don’t.

  21. Stentor
    Stentor August 22, 2008 at 10:24 pm |

    I realize that both terms were being tossed around with a rather significant lack of definition

    So … how’s about we define them?

    (I must admit that I’ve seen so many different definitions of capitalism, and so many arguments invoking it with only the vaguest of parameters about what it exactly is, that I’ve come to the suspicion that it’s not really a useful term of analysis.)

  22. exholt
    exholt August 22, 2008 at 10:48 pm |

    We don’t regularly encounter critiques of capitalism because people aren’t willing to discuss them seriously.

    Agreed that this is the situation in mainstream US society.

    Depending on the academic institution concerned and certain fields such as sociology and history, however, one can be exposed to plenty of anti-capitalist critiques. The main reason why those critiques don’t get strong consideration from the vast majority of undergrads…especially at more mainstream institutions other than the strong influence of mainstream culture is that IME, the vast majority of undergrads at those places don’t really care about what they are learning as they are mainly focused on getting the degree necessary for their job or otherwise enhancing their socio-economic status.

    The fact most students IME also tend to self-select into courses/schools where they perceive their personal political, economic, and philosophical outlooks won’t pose an obstacle towards receiving a good grade/getting that degree is another factor. Most radical-left progressive undergrads tended to avoid taking courses/majoring in more “conservative” fields such as Classics, Economics/Business, and sometimes certain technical sciences unless they need them to fulfill requirements…..or enrolling in conservative/military institutions such as The Citadel, West Point, Bob Jones, Dartmouth, or even Yale (One classmate turned down admission there after she felt the campus was far too politically conservative for her).

    Likewise, the vast majority of conservative students avoid taking courses/major in Anthropology/Sociology, History, Women’s/Gender Studies, and Ethnic studies unless they need them to fulfill requirements….or enrolling in perceived/actual progressive radical-left institutions such as UC Berkeley, Antioch College, Oberlin, Swarthmore, or Reed.

    This high degree of self-selection means that in most cases, the students end up placing themselves into majors, courses, and institutions where they aren’t going to be challenged on their prior held beliefs. That was certainly the case for the vast majority of classmates at my undergrad institution which is listed among the ones conservative students tended to avoid like the plague.

  23. Orodemniades
    Orodemniades August 22, 2008 at 10:57 pm |

    This is one of the best posts on Feministe.

    E.V.E.R.

    I think too often we get caught up in the trees and are unable to see the forest, or even acknowledge its existence.

    Thanks.

  24. jayinchicago
    jayinchicago August 22, 2008 at 11:00 pm |

    I love how the capitalism-apologists immediately attempt to muddle the discussion with their economics wank.
    Can’t we critique capitalism without immediately getting branded socialists or communists or marxists? That’s such a classic silencing technique.

  25. Brianna
    Brianna August 23, 2008 at 12:17 am |

    Just out of curiosity, where could one find some alternative systems expounded?

    That is, alternatives to: capitalism (everyone works for themselves, self regulated through supply/demand), socialism/communism (everyone must work for the society), dictatorship/similar (everyone works for the leaders/military), and anarchy.

    I honestly have never seen any other ideas explained. That was why I referenced socialism as the alternative to capitalism – since I am sure we don’t want a dictatorship or anarchy.

  26. dananddanica
    dananddanica August 23, 2008 at 12:40 am |

    orodemniades,
    The problem for me in these discussions is the trees. I’m all for grand ideals and changing “systems”, I just cant clearly see how things would be changed, what they would be changed to and how some of the problems we have now wouldnt infect any new system we set up. I know its not simple but lets say there is a revolution here in the state, violent or not, and we have a blank slate starting tomorrow, what needs to change? How will we change it? For example how to conduct intrastate, interstate, and worldwide trade in the most equitable manner? Not just the grand idea of how but the nitty gritty of how it is to be done. Even within that, anti-capitalists, like any other segment of people, will disagree.

    I have yet to see any economic policies or philosophies that take into the account the totality of technological change in the last 100 years and how this would impact any new system we’d like to see.

    In the short term, and I’m probably seeing this wrong, what people in the states will need to be sold on is a severe lessening in their quality of life, or at least what they perceive quality of life to be, while we raise up peoples from other parts of the globe. Theres no way around that in the short term if we want to see their quality of life increase and the system become more “fair”. Thats going to be incredibly tough to sell people on. Perhaps on a long enough timeline we could get to where the whole population of the world wants for no necessary items or services but the time in the interim is going to be tough. Just like in the more socialist countries of Northern Europe, even with their ideals that are far progressed beyond ours, they are struggling to provide and that struggle will only worsen in the future.

    Finally, the pessimistic side of me says a new system could never really happen, without the innovation and capital our current system produces we couldnt fund the war machine we have. Without that,someone else will and then they will dictate the terms. For example if as a country we became completely pacifist or lacked the military might, Russia could very well do absolutely whatever it pleases as even with an economic war, a country strong enough militarily can take enough to sustain itself. Different cultures produce different results and though it saddens me to think it, the strong, in this case literally, will take advantage of the weak, whether that be regional hegemons like the americas, china, and russia or some other nation-state.

  27. dananddanica
    dananddanica August 23, 2008 at 12:43 am |

    wow, very long, i apologize.

    had to wonder though, who gets to define capitalism as not feminist? Us? The woman living in a ravaged ex-colonial nation who hates capitalism or the woman who now has rights and privleges never dreamed of, who used to live in a communist state, who favors capitalism?

  28. Manju
    Manju August 23, 2008 at 1:13 am |

    “had to wonder though, who gets to define capitalism as not feminist? Us? The woman living in a ravaged ex-colonial nation who hates capitalism or the woman who now has rights and privleges never dreamed of, who used to live in a communist state, who favors capitalism?”

    We all do. The market decides.

  29. Mariella
    Mariella August 23, 2008 at 1:39 am |

    First off, I love this post. I completely agree with you about feminism being necessarily anti-oppression, and that includes anti-capitalism. I’ve been heavily influenced by Gloria Anzaldua and bell hooks as well.

    The thing is, as my sister put it recently: I reside in the real world.

    We’re not going to overthrow capitalism. We’re just not, it’s not possible. So I don’t know how useful it really is to develop academic models of alternative systems. And I don’t blame people for not wanting to devote a lot of their energy to fighting capitalism.

    What I do think is really useful about intersectionality and class analysis in particular is that it can raise awareness about the arbitrary and oppressive nature of power hierarchies. People can become aware of their privilege, and see their own responsibility to help others instead of hyper-individualism and expecting that everyone should be able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

    Our efforts are best spent fighting to minimize harm and oppression within capitalism.

  30. tanglad
    tanglad August 23, 2008 at 1:42 am |

    Strong, beautiful words.

    I’m hoping that part of the reason there was not enough critical engagement in the threads that you mentioned was that other women like me were just too disheartened. People were applauding the benefits a regulated capitalism generates here in the US/Western world (Money means health insurance and the ability to leave a bad relationship? We need a system wherein everyone has access to these things!).

    A regulated capitalist system that lets people here get comfy and “ahead” is propped up by a globalized capitalist system. One wherein non-white women in developing countries are displaced from their communities, exposed to violence, and commodified.

    This is all my fried brain is capable right now, but I hope to walk more with you. But I just wanted to say that your post really gave this anti-globalist Filipina feminist renewed hope. Salamat.

  31. Sudy
    Sudy August 23, 2008 at 2:35 am |

    Well hot damn- an anti-capitalist conversation in a feminist space. You’ve renewed my hope in bloga(d)ramaland.

    I’m 48 hours away from re-entering the border of the US after spending 2 months in the Philippines and I’m scared shitless to talk about capitalism because the basic fundamental truth is that most US citizens are caught in the web of capitalism with no serious alternative in lifestyle unless you go -gasp – radical an actually mind/give a damn about your human consumption.

    I recently was in an economics class learning about capitalism from outside the country- my first formal educational experience concerning capitalism – and nearly everyone violently wrestled with how to absorb the fundamental stone that capitalism rests on the concept of pure exploitation. Our business practices, jobs, and consumeristic mentalities are steel pro-exploitative rods thrust into the backbone of “developing” countries. Try and swallow that one. I’m still clearing my throat on that one.

    On an extremely basic level, few people can acknowledge and accept that our lifestyle as US citizens rests on the throats of womyn and girls of color all over the world who are DYING. They’re not just sick and denied benefits, they’re not just developing asthma from the textile factories, they’re not just being denied every kind of justice while they’re alive. They’re dying.

    We’ve built up our US-centric feminism so high that we can’t even see over our own fucking walls anymore. I’m coming back over the wall and all I can say is our consumption, our pathetic lazy asses who think boycotting Walmart is enough, is anti-feminist. Call me crazy, but operating within a capitalistic frame work as a feminist, as a nation, means that a womyn somewhere is dying from our system.

    That, to me, remains unacceptable.

  32. Jennifer-Ruth
    Jennifer-Ruth August 23, 2008 at 7:29 am |

    One of the best posts I have ever read on the feminist blogosphere.

    I may not have all the answers or knowledge of how to create a better socio-economic system but this doesn’t preclude me from seeing that Capitalism isn’t a great system for many, many people. I am privileged enough for it to benefit me but that doesn’t stop me seeing how it oppresses so, so many other people not as lucky as I.

    Capitalism may be one of the best systems we have, but it is not good ENOUGH. That is why these conversations are so important. We shouldn’t stop and rest because it is “the best we have” we should be marching forward to try and create something better. Something that can liberate all of us.

  33. Mary Tracy9
    Mary Tracy9 August 23, 2008 at 8:03 am |

    Sudy rocks!

  34. Kai
    Kai August 23, 2008 at 9:00 am |

    Jess H, this is the best post I’ve ever read here, with no close seconds, in terms of quality and precision of thought and vision and language, depth of knowledge and substance, encompassing breadth and compassion of worldview. Thank you for your work.

    Sudy, I feel what you’re doing through. I remember my apprehension at re-entering the US after spending more than a year in “the third world”. Truth is, I’ve never fully come back. You really can’t.

  35. Sudy
    Sudy August 23, 2008 at 9:54 am |

    Kai-alicious,
    This is my 4th time of leaping over the wall and onto US soil and I couldn’t agree with you more about “never fully coming back.”

    The transformative power of other nations and cultures cannot be overstated.

  36. Natalia
    Natalia August 23, 2008 at 10:37 am |

    And I’d go further than that, and state point blank that it’s very easy to be in favour of capitalism when you live in the wealthiest nation in the world.

    I can’t speak for anyone else, but I presently do not live in a wealthy nation (and wasn’t born in one either) – and the fact that I am in favour of regulated capitalism has been shaped precisely by that.

    I’m not going to hijack this thread in attempts to explain why this is the case for me, but I would like to point out that in these discussions surrounding capitalism, not everyone is coming from the same place. Someone else in my position may have diametrically opposed views. I suppose therein lies the beauty (and inconvenience! LOL) of being an individual.

  37. shah8
    shah8 August 23, 2008 at 10:57 am |

    Are we talking about the nuts and bolts of capitalism as being bad, or the ideology of capitalism as being bad?

    I ask this because, sayin’ it again without a rigorous definition that is being adhered to, it’s easy for glibertarians-with-feminist-leanings to disrupt the conversation by playing everyone against the middle through using multiple inflections of what capitalism means to different people.

    Let’s take a look at Octogalore‘s post…

    1) First she takes on a victim’s mantle by suggesting that Jess is arguing that people who believe in capitalism can’t be feminist even though Jess is talking in multifaceted and nonexclusive feminism. Understand that here, Octogalore is talking about capitalism as an ideology. Also note how a challenge to capitalism is interpreted to mean that mainstream would be excluded.

    2) Next, note how she talks about the conflation of capitalism and race, specifically. Not sex, and obviously not class. I guess race conflated with *anything* is inflammatory, eh? However, capitalism (ideology) has *everything* to do with race. To make land “productive” it was necessary to kill off or enslave people by various means. One only has to read old letters by Founding Fathers, defenders of southern slavery, and pioneering capitalist in the frontiers to get how wrong Octogalore’s point is.

    3) The fastest way for one person to detect a glibertarian is to hear a variant of…”The Market Will Fix Everything”. It’s true that an economically liberal system will encourage people to have freedom. Old-time department stores were drivers in getting women some degree of financial autonomy, for example. However, just about all such drives are motivated by the possibility of exploiting such women. Some women succeed despite all, but many do not. In any event, the fastest way to shut down this line of discussion is to talk about timeframes. So, how long will it take for capitalism to fix all our woes? Or maybe just making sure women have access to the full range of family planning options? I’m sure some enterprising capitalist can make a bundle in South Dakota by opening a clinic that offers abortions on the border!

    3)Human nature loves Capitalism? xxxxsnort! Non-evopsych evidence please.

    4)Next up is a dog-whistle (labor theory of value) that suggest Jess is a commie and is wrong to boot. Here’s a wiki link for LTV http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labor_theory_of_value Beyond that, nobody here is talking about Labor Theory of Value.

    5) Check out how she explains that women as a group must work the current system in order realize gains, completely oblivious to how rarely that works for any oppressed groups. It’s simple enough to just say, with what? Exploitation means that people are *taking* the value of your existence, however one might describe it, on an ongoing basis. Typically there is no wealth that can be used as a weapon. There is little or no infrastruction, human or otherwise, that can used to end oppression. Expecting the likes of Winfrey or Fiorina to be gender or race heros drastically overstates their ability to enact change as well as their motives.

    6) The grassroots and “silent majority” stuff comes straight out of Nixon’s playbook, so I’ll ignore that.

    Okay, here’s the thing. If we want to be talking about capitalism, we have to be talking about it! Labor theory of value vs Marginal Utility! Arbitrage! Comparative Advantage! Pareto Improvements! Iron Law of Wages! Gresham’s Law! Parkinson’s Law! Say’s Law! Natural Rate of Unemployment!

    We can’t understand whether capitalism itself is bad, that bad people use capitalism, that it speaks to human natures better or worse impulses, or anything serious and effective, without splitting the ideology of capitalism (especially the Anglo-American model) from the practical nuts and bolts of it. Thinking on how to change or eliminate it *must* include stuff of this nature.

  38. La Lubu
    La Lubu August 23, 2008 at 11:25 am |

    Thank you Jess, for a magnificent post. I especially liked your illustration about your own feminist education—lots of reading, thinking discussing with others just as passionate about the work—-and the cooking!

    As for capitalism being more in tune with “human nature”—bullshit. There is very little that can be said to be “human nature”—human nature is for the most part learned. We are born with very few instincts. Whose nature is being invoked when capitalism is defended by this appeal to nature, hmm? Considering that most of the audience of this blog has been hearing throughout our lives just exactly what the boundaries of human nature are, and how dare we transgress them…..

    And Sudy, you are a goddess among women. Salud!

  39. William
    William August 23, 2008 at 11:53 am |

    Radical is more frightening when you start thinking about the pragmatic political reality of our democracy, where emotions drive decisions and if you push the wrong button you get dismissed out of hand. And of course, that feeds back into #1. We don’t regularly encounter critiques of capitalism because people aren’t willing to discuss them seriously.

    I think what counts as radical is highly contextual. You can say that we don’t regularly encounter critiques of capitalism or that people aren’t willing to discuss them seriously, but I’m not so sure thats accurate. For the better part of the century we’ve had socialist-in-all-but-name class warfare being played with attacks on the wealthy. Our system of taxation is designed (although it mostly fails) to redistribute wealth. We have a serious national dialog going on about whether or not we should take health care out of the sphere of capitalism. Beyond that you have lots of little arguments that are challenges of capitalism: windfall taxes on oil companies, the debate about consumption in the US, hand wringing about obesity (look at the rhetoric and tell me straight faced that its about health and not consumption), laws against price gouging. Take a look at Obama’s stances, his use of “us” and “we,” his focus on the social instead of the individual, his proposition of public service to rival the military. Hell, theres at least one well funded group proposing a year of public service for everyone when they turn 18. One by one those things might not be a critique of capitalism, but together I think they are. And once you step just a little bit out of the mainstream, to college campuses, to the blogs, to the monthly political magazines? The critique is out there in full force.

    Still, I do understand what you’re saying about being a radical being scary. Discussions like this are always difficult for me because, really, while I fall more on the capitalist side than not, my interests lie more in the direction of radical individual liberty. Trying to find a place where you’ll be taken seriously when you’re for gay rights and unlimited gun rights is only marginally less difficult than finding somewhere you’ll be taken seriously for being in favor of reparations.

  40. Elly
    Elly August 23, 2008 at 12:09 pm |

    Concerning the feminist/anticapitalist link, this may be out of topic, but living in a country (France) where there is an of course in minority but yet relatively visible anticapitalist movement, I felt more the opposite problem, that is to say that for lot of anticapitalists, being feminist is not really obvious. I mean, generally there is no problem in political groups and trade unions to say that it’s not OK that women earn 30% less than men for the same job, but there is a lack of real involvement and education into going further (particulary, many groups are quite oblivious to the domination of men on women which takes place inside of those groups), with the unspoken (or sometimes voiced) opinion that class war is prioritary and that sexism, racism, homophobia, etc. will be dealt after a revolution.

    Another problem in linking all oppressions is the fact that “capitalism” makes effort to recuperate emancipating struggles in order to justify its politics: for example, like the whole “human rights”, women and lgbti rights are used to justify imperialist wars. Also in France (maybe it is specifical) we have a pseudo-feminist rethoric to justify muslim women exclusion and denial of naturalisation.

    Of course the goal for them is to divide people and struggles, but it’s not always easy not to fall in this trap :/

  41. We Need More of This « Too Much To Say For Myself

    [...] Need More of This Jess H has got a post up at Feministe entitled “Towards a Liberationist Feminism (Or, I Hope Pro-Capitalist Feminism is an Oxymoron)”, that for me is like a breath of fresh air wafting through the [...]

  42. tanglad
    tanglad August 23, 2008 at 12:14 pm |

    La Lubu: “As for capitalism being more in tune with “human nature”—bullshit.”

    Yes! Thank you for calling this out. How did this supposed me-first individualist approach become the default for human nature? Indigenous women in the Cordillera region of the Philippines have built communities on practices of mutual support and the exchange of labor, and these practices such as innabuyog and binnadang date back centuries and even longer. It was precisely the forcible introduction of capitalist production in their communities (“regulated” logging, “regulated” mining, weaving industries, etc) that have undermined the community relations that have allowed people to flourish and protected women from violence.

    And instead of working to find out how to nurture or restore these community relations, well-meaning development workers are coming in, using micro-entrepreneurship to “help” women out of poverty, and seem shocked when these programs do not work.

  43. Manju
    Manju August 23, 2008 at 1:04 pm |

    “And I’d go further than that, and state point blank that it’s very easy to be in favour of capitalism when you live in the wealthiest nation in the world.”

    Yes, its certainly harder to favor capitalism in Cuba.

  44. TD
    TD August 23, 2008 at 1:05 pm |

    One of the things is capitalism and economic theory don’t state that people are solely interested in money. Rational choice states that companies are solely interested in profit, yes. But individuals are interested in utility (happiness, enjoyment, etc.) The funny thing is when looking at issues of utility it is incredibly broad. A person who donates money to charity and a person who spends in on themselves are both fulfilling the rational choice theory so long as they think that manner of expense will make them happier. Further when it comes to the choice between two perceived negatives the person will choose the lesser of those two negatives.

  45. Joanna
    Joanna August 23, 2008 at 1:06 pm |

    Jess – Thank you for this. Your post was inspiring and well-timed (for me, personally, and for the larger feminist community – online and off).

    I just want to say yes, yes, yes, yes!

    And Sudy, this is right on:
    “Operating within a capitalistic frame work as a feminist, as a nation, means that a womyn somewhere is dying from our system.”

  46. exholt
    exholt August 23, 2008 at 1:23 pm |

    The Soviets didn’t start out as bloody prison-camp administrators, they started out as beautiful idealists. The Soviets didn’t start out as bloody prison-camp administrators, they started out as beautiful idealists.

    While most probably did start out as starry eyed idealists, the Bolsheviks also tended to attract power hungry opportunists who joined solely to fulfill their own ambitions and to satisfy their own bloody and even sociopathic impulses. One perfect example from the Bolshevik revolution is Joseph Stalin whose bloody brutality and possible sociopathy became apparent with his numerous purges, executions, exiling to gulags, etc. His reign of terror over the Soviet citizenry only ended with his death in 1953.

    In Mainland China’s case, Mao Zedong may have been an idealist to some extent….but he was also attracted by a complex combination of personal ambition, a need to be an infallible leading figure, a love of large grandiose plans, and even the idea that regular chaotic social upheavals were a good thing….which was influenced by his love for the classical Chinese novel 水滸傳(Water Margin/All Men Brothers/Outlaws of the Marsh) which romanticized the lives of Sung dynasty bandits.

    A factor in Mao’s initiating the 100 Flowers campaign to supposedly solicit “honest opinions” about him and his party from Chinese citizenry, the anti-rightist campaigns to persecute those whose opinions he and the CCP didn’t like, and the initiation of two movements that ended up causing great upheaval at the expense of the lives of millions of Chinese.

    The first movement was the Great Leap Forward in the late ’50s where a combination of incompetent leadership, neglect of agricultural work to concentrate peasants and workers in steel production, and various other detrimental policies ended causing three years of famine which ended in the deaths of millions of Chinese citizens in the rural areas and the severe reduction of food supplies to urban areas.

    The second movement was the decade-long Cultural Revolution where Mao’s desire for constant revolutions ended up not only persecuting and killing of unknown millions of Chinese citizens, but also effectively shut down the entire country’s economic, research, and educational institutions and brought the nation to the brink of anarchy and civil war.

    What’s more is that many of the persecutions were carried out not by state security agents….but by mobs of students from elementary school to university known as Red Guards who confined, harassed, interrogated, beaten, imprisoned, and even killed those they deemed against the revolution….all with the full approval of Mao and his cronies. In addition to the massive deaths and bloody brutalizing persecutions carried out against those deemed “capitalist roaders” and from “bad family backgrounds”, a whole generation of Chinese somewhat analogous to the US baby boomers ended up missing 10 years of education ranging from elementary to college years…a serious human cost that continues to affect those unable to remedy this educational gap to the present.

    Though I’ve known some baby-boomer aged Westerners in academia who romanticized this period….with the exception of the minute number of die-hard Chinese Maoists(Mostly descended from Cadre families who benefited during this period), every Mainland Chinese I’ve met who lived through that period or who had close family members who did saw this period as an unmitigated disaster and a waste not only for them and their families, but also for their society.

    I honestly have never seen any other ideas explained. That was why I referenced socialism as the alternative to capitalism – since I am sure we don’t want a dictatorship or anarchy.

    As with Capitalism….Communism/Socialism does not necessarily preclude a dictatorship or anarchy as the history of Maoist China has unfortunately shown…

  47. Sudy
    Sudy August 23, 2008 at 1:41 pm |

    Tanglad,
    I mean, seriously – why weren’t you chosen over Biden?

  48. wham
    wham August 23, 2008 at 2:00 pm |

    I wonder how many people here have actually lived in a non-capitalist country? Or who have actually taken the time to mathematically and statistically study economics? There is much ignorance revealed in “anti-capitalist” rhetoric. Free markets overwhelmingly yield better results. You can point to anecdotes until you are blue in the face (“this person/group of people was exploited in the name of capitalism”) but it is not scientific or rational to point to particular harms of a system and base your conclusions on that without looking scientifically and statistically at the system as a whole, and drawing mathematically sound conclusions. Anecdotes do not constitute data. Viewed rationally, the data overwhelmingly indicates that free markets leads to better outcomes for everyone – men, women, and children – in a society.

    This is why anti-capitlists will tell you that one cannot privilege “rationality” or “science” over any other mode of thought, and to do so is racist/classist/hierarchical (nevermind that this all logically begs the question). Once we have gotten to this point however we have reached the impassable cognitive divide between reason and un-reason, to which rational argument can be of no avail, and both sides have to go their separate ways.

  49. shah8
    shah8 August 23, 2008 at 2:43 pm |

    Okay, here’s the thing. If we want to be talking about capitalism, we have to be talking about it! Labor theory of value vs Marginal Utility! Arbitrage! Comparative Advantage! Pareto Improvements! Iron Law of Wages! Gresham’s Law! Parkinson’s Law! Say’s Law! Natural Rate of Unemployment!

    We can’t understand whether capitalism itself is bad, that bad people use capitalism, that it speaks to human natures better or worse impulses, or anything serious and effective, without splitting the ideology of capitalism (especially the Anglo-American model) from the practical nuts and bolts of it. Thinking on how to change or eliminate it *must* include stuff of this nature.

  50. tanglad
    tanglad August 23, 2008 at 3:24 pm |

    @ Wham:

    We are presenting evidence about how globalized capitalism is exploitative. I will not put a ton of links in this post b/c I don’t want to get stuck in moderation, but for starters:

    Google “Focus on the Global South” for a good collection of critiques of globalization from economists. I recommend Walden Bello.

    For a more historical approach, there’s “Labor Immigration Under Capitalism,” edited by Lucie Cheng and Edna Bonacich (UC Press, 1984). It’s an older book, but one of the first that connects colonialism and global capitalism with Asian labor migration to the US, and the exploitative labor conditions and anti-Asian hostility they were forced to endure here.

    The stories that Sudy shared, my own research about indigenous women from the Cordilleras, are data. Ethnographic data. I’m working on the interviews and oral histories and participant observations of indigenous women who are brutalized by globalization and capitalism. These ethnographic and other qualitative research strategies are employed to get to the voices that mathematical data/economic statistics cannot measure. And btw, this research design is for my dissertation, which was approved by my dissertation committee.

    It’s a rational argument to maintain that capitalism may generate benefits for certain privileged populations in liberal democratic countries like the US, but destroys communities in developing countries in Southeast Asia and other parts of the Global South. Do not dismiss the significant body of work in this area just because you prefer not to engage in it.

  51. Brianna
    Brianna August 23, 2008 at 3:36 pm |

    “If we want to be talking about capitalism, we have to be talking about it!”

    Absolutely! So let’s talk. From the original post:

    “Is it that the people defending a pro-capitalist feminism have heard those critiques and simply disagree? But if it’s that, why are they not even substantively engaging with, responding to, addressing those arguments?”

    As someone who does disagree, I would like to build a case for pro-capitalist feminism, and address said arguments. I will not hijack this thread, but I am going to start writing in my own blog about this subject. If anyone would like to criticize, etc. *please* do so.

    By the way, if I sound critical, let me say I have found this discussion to be very thought-provoking. Thank you, Jess, for writing such a wonderful and interesting post.

  52. exholt
    exholt August 23, 2008 at 4:36 pm |

    Okay, here’s the thing. If we want to be talking about capitalism, we have to be talking about it! Labor theory of value vs Marginal Utility! Arbitrage! Comparative Advantage! Pareto Improvements! Iron Law of Wages! Gresham’s Law! Parkinson’s Law! Say’s Law! Natural Rate of Unemployment!

    Shah8,

    Those requirements are extremely high expectations considering the vast majority of capitalism’s defenders in corporate America IME, much less the American mainstream at large barely have even a superficial command of more that a few of those concepts.

  53. Mary Tracy9
    Mary Tracy9 August 23, 2008 at 6:05 pm |

    Maths! MAAATHS!!! USE MATHS TO JUSTIFY WHATEVER I WANT TO JUSTIFY!!!

    What’s the point in coming up with theories, data, maths and all, if the pro-capitalists aren’t willing to give these ideas a chance?

    “You can point to anecdotes until you are blue in the face”

    Exactly. The same can be said of both positions.

  54. exholt
    exholt August 23, 2008 at 7:00 pm |

    Or who have actually taken the time to mathematically and statistically study economics?

    You know…that’s funny considering how many Econ majors…including a few grad students at an Ivy had so much trouble with a basic Stats course for Econ majors I happen to be taking one summer….

    One of the problems the Prof noticed was that most of the Econ majors were far too inclined to mindlessly use formulas and plug in numbers without taking the time to understand the parameters of the given problem….or attempting to analyze and otherwise understand what those numbers actually mean.

    According to friends who are grad students in Econ and Poli-Sci….it is also an increasing problem in their departments as rational choice theory has been pushed as THE definitive tool for their fields which has ended up causing too many oversimplifications of complex social and cultural problems/phenomena which cannot be easily boiled down to quantifiable data sets to be examined by quantitative analysis.

  55. Feminist Capitalism? No. « The Partial Muse

    [...] 23, 2008 Posted by Emily in Uncategorized. trackback Wow. It’s actually nice to see some good feminist analysis on a mainstream feminist [...]

  56. Si
    Si August 24, 2008 at 2:36 am |

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart for this post.

    I have been living in a communist regime for two years and my experiences here have only broadened my anti-capitalistic stance (as well as my regard for human right and free speech rights).

  57. exholt
    exholt August 24, 2008 at 5:06 am |

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart for this post.

    I have been living in a communist regime for two years and my experiences here have only broadened my anti-capitalistic stance (as well as my regard for human right and free speech rights).

    Out of curiosity, which regime?

  58. Roundup - what do you want from a feminist group? « The Bead Shop

    [...] Which brings me to the second part of my post, where I announce that Jessica Hoffman has struck again! New Jessica Hoffman posts don’t come very often, but they’re always worth it when they do, and this one is no exception. I’ll even risk linking to Feministe just so you can read it too. [...]

  59. Being Amber Rhea » Blog Archive » Super-annoyed, part 1

    [...] this Feminsite post (which a friend emailed me, because as I mentioned, I’ve been taking a break from reading [...]

  60. Manju
    Manju August 24, 2008 at 12:49 pm |

    If feminists must confront “all forms of unjust power,” how can Angela Davis be considered a feminist?

  61. one last post on tropic thunder « cripchick’s weblog

    [...] (h/t to Sudy) and has been writing a lot about capitalism and feminism. In part of Jess’ last post, she built on the words of Sister Lorde, Moraga, Anzaldua, and others to talk about why [...]

  62. Constintina
    Constintina August 24, 2008 at 10:12 pm |

    Great post, thank you.

  63. Liberationist Feminism… *sigh* « The Pop Perspective

    [...] Feminism… *sigh* Posted on August 25, 2008 by haley1018 So, Jess H. at Feministe has the best blog post, feminist or otherwise, that I’ve read all year. It’s long and personal, it’s got [...]

  64. Natalia
    Natalia August 25, 2008 at 3:51 am |

    I enjoyed the post in the comments (having just re-read them), it’s an interesting perspective for someone like me, but there are two things I’d like to say:

    I think that calling pro-capitalist feminism an oxymoron is not helpful, it’s like calling pro-porn feminism an oxymoron. For my part, I’d never go up to, say, an anarchist feminist and say, “what you believe in is an oxymoron.” Why draw lines in the sand? You can further your position without this rhetoric.

    I also think that what we have in the United States today is not late-stage capitalism. The system is messed up, and healthcare is just one example. I mean, when dentistry is better and more affordable in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (or so I see it), you have to wonder what this “richest country in the world” business really means, and whether or not the U.S. government is duping us all just a little bit, or whether we are duping ourselves. But is dismantling of this system the answer? I think enhancing it is, though you are free to disagree.

    My feelings on capitalism itself aren’t static, but I’ve since I’ve actually seen it aiding the preservation of community and culture, as well as impacting it negatively, I don’t believe it is a singular phenomenon at all.

  65. Liz
    Liz August 25, 2008 at 11:50 am |

    Well said, I hate to be moaning pedant here , but why have ads particularly for American Apparel if pro capitalist feminism is an oxymoron? They infantalise women to an unacceptable degree in their advertising. I know we need money to get by, and we can’t live outside of the capitalist system – but American Apparel seem like a particularly poor choice.

  66. How the Twilight books hurt my soul, today in feminism, and some other news. « The Social Exchange

    [...] And although I don’t always agree with Jessica Hoffman (her discussions of race and racism in feminism sometimes smack of “See how enlightened I am! I can’t possible be racist!” and the squirrelly idea that a problem isn’t a problem until a white person blogs about it), she does do well in detailing how related issues in feminism might actually be *main* issues in feminism: Toward a Liberationist Feminism (Or, I Hope: Pro-Capitalist Feminism is an Oxymoron). [...]

  67. Destructor
    Destructor August 26, 2008 at 12:19 am |

    I’m really glad that this post was written and I always love to hear different perspectives from my own, but this post reads (as many folks have mentioned, above) like someone trying to tie two of their passions (feminism and anti-capitalism) together and then quietly saying that anyone who doesn’t conflate these two principles really doesn’t believe in either- which I must disagree with strongly.

  68. Zenobia
    Zenobia August 26, 2008 at 5:15 am |

    Thanks for this post, Jess – your posts are generally one of the approximately three and a half things that keep me interested in feminism, so I’m not sure if I should bless or curse you for that, but thanks for writing such great posts and saying what needs to be said, anyway.

  69. Those stuckup anti-capitalist feminists « The Bead Shop

    [...] recent post on Feministe about feminism and anti-capitalism (Oh fuck it, what the hell, I’ll link once [...]

  70. amandaw
    amandaw August 26, 2008 at 12:06 pm |

    Jess, I am coming to this awfully late, but I’d like to say thank you. The post was beautiful.

    Honestly, capitalism isn’t something I focus too much of my energy on. I have thought on it, in the past, and realizing that when you dig down to its root, capitalism cannot exist without exploitation. It cannot exist without a multitude of layered second-classes. Turtles all the way down…

    But I don’t know what to do about it, because I don’t know how to do anything but work within the system we’ve got. I take my bashes at it all when I can, but I don’t have a very deep understanding of it all and what could be done to really start unraveling the threads. So, yeah, when I see a string floating around I pull at it. But I haven’t been able to really study the fabric and start working it, you know?

    But honestly, this post is a great and important read even for reasons beyond capitalism alone. It’s a beautiful look at “intersectionality” (which I actually fear is just becoming a convenient buzz-word) and how important it is to stand against all the interworking systems of oppression, not separately but together, realizing that it is impossible to extract any one from another. You articulate this so well and I really appreciate it.

  71. Manju
    Manju August 26, 2008 at 12:57 pm |

    “capitalism cannot exist without exploitation”

    But can anti-capitalism exist without tryanny? Or does it necessitate a power that forces some to work for the unearned benefit of others. Will the restriction of economic freedom necessitate the restricion of other freedoms, since freedom is indivisible?

    Its an old argument. Freedom and equality have always been at odds with each other. By putting itself within the framework of classic liberalism, capitalism has done a better job detaching itself from it s tyrannies, like slavery and colonialism, which could easily be seen as a violation of capitalism, ie the denial of property rights to individuals. Thus former colonized people are embracing free-markets as a liberating force, after decades of unimaginable (to the democratic west) poverty and oppression under the iron fist of anti-capitalists.

  72. amandaw
    amandaw August 26, 2008 at 6:49 pm |

    Don’t start with that. Anti-feminists use the same tactic when we criticize something sexist: OK, so if you think the pink-collar phenomenon is crap, you must be saying women shouldn’t be allowed to work!

    I think the commenters here make a great point in saying that there are no useable alternatives because seeking alternatives is so “extreme” and “radical” that we don’t have a chance to hash things out publicly.

    There is no freedom vs equality dichotomy. I’m sure the women working the fields under the table in California right now are just oh so grateful for that freedom they got for giving up their equality.

    It’s a nice rationalization and all, but there is no such dichotomy. There is an established system that has evolved in many ways over time, but which is still fundamentally built on suffering and exploitation. Trying to take apart such a large and growing system is necessarily going to mean new conflicts and challenges. The reason you think it’s better to keep the current system rather than figure out the best way to dismantle it is because the current system is doing mostly fine for you. That’s nice and all, but the whole point is that’s not fair while people are suffering under that same system.

  73. Natalia
    Natalia August 27, 2008 at 4:58 am |

    The fact that capitalism cannot exist without exploitation is a popular statement (made by Michael Hardt in Empire, et al), but the way I see it, a genuine free market (and not the cartels we have in the U.S. today, to give one example), demands that as many people are prosperous as possible.

  74. b
    b August 27, 2008 at 6:26 am |

    pro-capitalist feminist IS an oxymoron. liberation is not about buying your way out. systems of oppression include capitalism, which creates unnecessary hierarchy and a hardworking poor that particularly in the US, is an atrocious example of the ways we exploit one another. how is supporting that model taking a feminist stance on anything? jessica did such a nice job of explaining this that, while the comments shouldnt (and mostly dont) surprise me, it speaks to the same dissonance i feel when i read blogs and have conversations offline. the two dont match up in my experience either, which is deeply troubling and alienating. this post isnt about conflating “passions.” this is about responding to a lack of analysis, about understanding the roots of oppression and how we continue to reinforce systems that harm us all. do people think answering anti-capitalist calls to action means we should all be miserably poor of our own accord? im interested in this because i dont understand why anyone defends capitalism. what are we hanging onto? how do we read the combahee river collective, even that small passage, and not see the truth of woven injustice?

  75. La Lubu
    La Lubu August 27, 2008 at 8:12 am |

    But can anti-capitalism exist without tryanny? Or does it necessitate a power that forces some to work for the unearned benefit of others.

    Wait a minute…..isn’t that a concise description of capitalism? Forcing some to work for the unearned benefit of others? Poor and working class people laboring while the lion’s share of the wealth they create goes to those who had no hand in its production, save for being the to-the-manor-born owning class?

  76. shah8
    shah8 August 27, 2008 at 9:10 am |

    1) No one who is very familiar with economic history relative to the New World is going to be convinced that capitalism could exist without exploitation. People who think so are drastically underestimating how much bonded and might-as-well-be-bonded labor built much of this country and others. Nor are people in the Old World very much clean in this respect. I would invite people to read Kenneth Pomeranz’s The Great Divergence, in which he attempts to tease apart how East Asia fell behind Europe in terms of essentially GNP. His efforts all aligned towards new land eradicated of previous inhabitants and exploited labor to work on (and gain expertise) from those lands. His work flowed into the conclusion that East Asia suffered Malthusian constraints because they were not able to dominate new lands and prevent inport substitution that takes hands and minds away from producing large surpluses in primary goods like sugar, tea, and rice. No sea-based colonial exploitation at all until Taiwan and Korea by the Japanese, the former had a start by the latter era Qing. Meanwhile, in the bustling factories of Birmingham and service industries in London, workers were fed “shadow calories” from “shadow lands” via sugar from the West Indies. That with tea formed much of the surplus calories needed for industrialized economies. The farmers outside the main cities were beneficiaries of a huge growth of agronomy and agricultural expertise discovered at the expense of the slaves living in the West Indies.

    2) Civil Rights is almost entirely a function of bargaining between an elite and certain elements of the masses with an eye towards national defense. Histories of Rome, Byzantium, and China bear that out. Good negative examples include declining Fatimid Egypt, Ottoman Turks, and late Qin and Qing China. When an elite does not fear displacement, no liberalism–economic, civil, or otherwise is allowed to flourish, no matter how bad it gets. In that light, absent wars, no capitalism is allowed to flourish that which does not entrench elite tyranny. Take a look at the economy history of the US South to grep this. This is why non-coopted unions are so feared, because ultimate threat behind collective action is its very essence of an alternative power base, one that can help drive an insurrection. The French elite has done a wonderful job of turning unions into part of the ecology of the national economy–with lots of little fires burning loose chaff.

    This is sort of why I think discussion of capitalism as being anti-feminist to be daft. Capitalism as it is construed in the public debate is anti-feminist, of course. It is mostly discussed as an ideological framework instead of a collection of techniques to store, collateralize, and redistribute value. We don’t practice genuine economic liberalism. Not anywheres. Because That Would Be Meritocratic, and That Would Be Bad. There would be no parasitic elite. Think Capitalism to Colonialism/Mercantilism as Marxism to Stalinism/Maoist.

  77. Natalia
    Natalia August 27, 2008 at 10:15 am |

    But that depends on how you define capitalism, shah8. Indentured or might-as-well-be-indentured labour does not aid a relatively free market, quite the opposite. In that respect, what we’ve had in America, for centuries now, is cartel-ism.

  78. shah8
    shah8 August 27, 2008 at 10:38 am |

    Natalia: I said that capitalism in the form it is allowed to exist, is dependent on extreme exploitation. This is so because no elite would ever allow a capitalism that does not include this aspect because it would otherwise redistribute wealth away from said elites. Think about what a perfect market is and the implications, if you could envision it in the real world.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perfect_competition

  79. Natalia
    Natalia August 27, 2008 at 10:59 am |

    Now we’re getting somewhere. ;)

    I think I would broaden the term “elite” to include – corruption, cronyism, lobbyists, etc. I think when you break these things down to a tangible level, you can talk about how you can fight them in your own sphere.

    And you start with fighting ignorance.

    Think about it this way: why is Roman Abramovich so damn rich? Is it because he stole? Not exactly. He exploited people’s ignorance.

  80. shah8
    shah8 August 27, 2008 at 11:02 am |

    Or, if you like, think about it this way…

    When capitalist trends drives social and political inequities to become untenable, empowered people become progressively more and more irrational and thuggish.

    For example, one of the deep underlying causes of the American Civil War was that the North was growing in economic size and power. As a result, they attracted more immigrants and overseas investment. However, the working class whites in the North did not want to compete with slave labor. This dynamic continued as America expanded west. More people from the North were moving into new territories and declaring them non-slavery states. The elites of the South kept trying to export slavery, to Cuba and Nicauraugua as well as Kansas and California, but few people wanted to risk their slaves, and there was little land that would be profitably used with slaves anyways (no waterworks in the West).

    This was bad for the elites of the South because such elites had dominated US politics from the very beginning with most presidents coming from slave states and Congress being fully in control by the South. The demographic changes and the capital techniques that drove it and supplied jobs and created economically exploitable farmland (Erie Canal) soon meant that the South began to lose grip on the House. When the MO Compromise began to break down with the entry of California and Kansas as free states, a vicious paramilitary war not unlike what we’ve seen in Colombia broke out in Kansas so as to force it to be a slave state and balance out the admission of California for preserving the slave state control of the Senate.

    During all that time, only a minority ever cared a wit about a black slave’s rights or opinion. It was an accident of history that created the 14th ammendment, and it took a hundred years to put some meaning behind that change of law.

    You see all kinds of accidents of capitalism increasing the rights of people as well as decreasing them when viewed through the lenses of history.

  81. shah8
    shah8 August 27, 2008 at 11:16 am |

    Part of the dialogue that I hope help push and create with anti-capitalist feminism is to force people to look at the intersections between dynamics. Having an awareness of intersectionality is like a mechanical engineer having an awareness of moments, even though it seems like a abstract concept distantly related to applied forces and objects.

    Think kyriarchy, ebb and flows between different power dynamics where the action is actually at the intercises of vortexes like race, gender, class, and all that, including capitalist aspects. Improving things isn’t about challenging vortexes. You can’t stop people from wanting to feel superior to others, just as much as you can’t expect people to not have sex, procure food and water, etc, etc… Therefore, you have to structure a societal framework where capitalism creates zones of enhanced anti-racism and sexism creates low capitalist zones. Being creative and figuring out how to aikido the worst impulses of humanity into something like a system that most people can live in and be content requires just that: sophisticated, ends focused creativity.

  82. Natalia
    Natalia August 27, 2008 at 12:22 pm |

    The slave-owning South was a monster feeding on itself. It’s one of the reasons why I think that things that hurt and destroy people the way slavery hurts and destroys also happen to hurt a genuine free market. I don’t think this is true across the board, but I see enough evidence of it to where I don’t think it can be simply ignored.

  83. amandaw
    amandaw August 27, 2008 at 4:48 pm |

    shah8, if you don’t blog you really should. This analysis of feminism & feminist-related ideas in a context of historical societal evolution is something I don’t see often, and I think would be an incredible contribution to the ‘sphere as a whole. It also might get my history major husband more interested in my crazy feminism, lol.

  84. Ravenmn
    Ravenmn August 27, 2008 at 6:37 pm |

    Darnit it all, Jess. I wish I had seen this thread earlier. And the comments (I browsed) look awesome as well. I’ll try to get back to this after the Republicans leave St. Paul and my anti-war activist life settles down a bit.

    And a shout out to Octo, who I admire and respect. People like her are why I believe feminism and capitalism mix quite well.

    After all Marx thought capitalism was a giant leap forward for the world. He just hoped humanity chose to move beyond it one day.

  85. Shea
    Shea August 27, 2008 at 6:50 pm |

    A brilliant post Jess and long overdue.

    Theres a troubling conflation of socialism/communism going on here. I think actually in Europe there are varying levels of socialist government, certainly some of the most prosperous countries are the Scandinavian ones, which are much more socialist than the UK for example and with a much better quality of life and greater levels of equality. There are alot of socialist type anti-capitalist experiments going on, Christiania in Copenhagen is the most memorable for me.

    Cuba is also a very bad example to use in mocking any anti-capitalist regime. You have to factor in the illegal US boycott into the poverty and deprivation there. Even so, the population all have access to primary and secondary education, healthcare which puts the US to shame and no one is deprived of the basic essentials such as food and clean drinking water. Can you say the same of your own country? Its easy to promote civil rights when your basic needs are met, but you have a hard time engaging your civil and human rights when your life is a struggle to fufil the most basic requirements.

    I wonder as well, of the poverty of the capitalism as human nature argument. Prior to the enclosure of the commons, women would have had much greater access to bioresources and the ability to forage for and grow their own food without having dependency on others. Also mutual co-operation would have been much more beneficial. It was this establishment of private property rights and enclosure which led to women losing their independence.

    I think the ecological argument here has been downplayed. Capitalism is predicated on unlimited expansion and the growth of markets, something which cannot continue in a world of finite resources. It should be clear in a world where 70% of the poorest people are women, that, this lack of resources, food, clean water will most heavily impact upon women (intersectionality again) and this must be a feminist concern.

    That pro- capitalist feminist is oxymoronic isn’t even an argument. Alot of the gains of women in the west has been on the backs of poor women in the majority world. Its shameful even thinking of it. Even within our society there is huge inter-exploitation most clearly in the area of childcare.

    I think Jess you are totally right, we need a better way of doing things, than simply seeking to succeed in a capitalist patriarchial world, using the tools of oppression to repeat that oppression on others.

  86. exholt
    exholt August 27, 2008 at 7:04 pm |

    I would invite people to read Kenneth Pomeranz’s The Great Divergence, in which he attempts to tease apart how East Asia fell behind Europe in terms of essentially GNP. His efforts all aligned towards new land eradicated of previous inhabitants and exploited labor to work on (and gain expertise) from those lands. His work flowed into the conclusion that East Asia suffered Malthusian constraints because they were not able to dominate new lands and prevent inport substitution that takes hands and minds away from producing large surpluses in primary goods like sugar, tea, and rice.

    Shah8,

    There were substantial ideological factors for that as well.

    One big factor was the Confucian/Neo-Confucian scholar-gentry elite’s continuing disdain for the merchant class and commerce as they were seen as potential disruptive forces to the prevailing imperial social order. This is a big factor which contributed to the self-imposed isolationism during the Ming dynasty not too long after the Zheng He voyages. The fact that Zheng He was a eunuch along with a substantial anti-eunuch feeling among the same elite due to the perception they tended to contribute to the corrupting and decline of previous dynasties did not help matters. Though the anti-commerce/merchant attitudes among the scholar-gentry elite eased as time went on, I still came across many scholar-gentry writings with anti-commerce/merchant attitudes well into the latter part of the 19th century.

    Interestingly enough, even though the strong Confucian..or more accurately…mostly Neo-Confucian imperial orthodoxy tended to be a conservative and extremely hierarchical based hierarchy…..the ideology’s anti-commerce/merchant attitudes was such that it was probably one factor in why the anti-capitalist and utopian ideals of Marxist-Leninism/Maoism held so much appeal to many academics and intellectuals…..including my great-aunt and her husband. Heck, Beijing University, the Harvard and Yale of China then and now, was the incubator of the Chinese Communist Party and many Chinese Marxist-Leninist/Maoist thinkers….including Mao Zedong who worked as a part-time librarian and took a few classes.

    Though there were some Chinese…including some intellectuals who felt such anti-commerce/merchant attitudes should be discarded as it was obsolete and self-sabotaging….their small numbers in relation to the population; the severe poverty due to decades of colonialism, wars, and a massive drug epidemic introduced by Western colonialists at gunpoint; chaotic social conditions due to wars, political disintegration during the warlords era, and more imperialism from Japan; and the still strong anti-commerce/merchant attitudes among many in the intelligensia meant that such attitudes were retained and reframed in the Marxist-Leninist/Maoist contexts. This applied to both the early Chinese Nationalist and the Chinese Communist parties as both were trained and organized on Marxist-Leninist lines….though the former later distanced itself from Marxist-Leninist principles.

    However, in the aftermath of Maoist rule…especially in light of the calamitous events of the Anti-Rightist campaigns, The Great Leap Forward and The Cultural Revolution….most Chinese became disillusioned with Marxist/Maoist ideology and the anti-commerce/merchant attitudes that came with it.

    With the exception of the descendants of Cadre families who were supportive of Mao’s campaigns and a minority of Maoist die-hards,* every mainland Chinese person I’ve met has exhibited tended to be so supportive of market capitalism and “got mine, fuck everybody else” mentality that they put most American Wall Street/ibanker types to shame. Any mention of Marx/Mao…or even socialism is regarded as little more than a punchline to a dark sardonic joke about what is considered a series of tragic periods in their nation’s history.

    * There are also a lot of Chinese workers and peasants who pine for the days of Mao due to their being far more privileged back in that period along with the security of receiving a guaranteed..though meager job and other social welfare benefits. A factor in the crackdown during Tienanmen and a few other worker/peasant uprisings which were all suppressed with great force. There is, however, precedence for such actions during the Maoist era as shown in the 1950’s era Maoist persecutions of peasants who after gaining a small plot of land to farm for only a few years…were understandably reluctant to give it up for the sake of Maoist collectivization.

  87. exholt
    exholt August 27, 2008 at 7:13 pm |

    Shah8,

    Here’s a video done by a few Chinese which uses a rock version of a popular Cultural Revolution song to act out how the Red Guards “struggled” anyone deemed “imperialist” or “counterrevolutionary”…labels which were often manipulated by Maoists for political and personal reasons……

    The crossed-out label of the person being beaten, running away, and stomped on is “imperialist”.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cBWbe7SwrV8

    If you want an idea of the song’s content, here’s a link:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socialism_is_good

  88. exholt
    exholt August 27, 2008 at 7:24 pm |

    After all Marx thought capitalism was a giant leap forward for the world. He just hoped humanity chose to move beyond it one day.

    Marx was accurate in his description of the shortcomings of 19th century industrial capitalism in Western/Central Europe.

    On the other hand, his writings on non-Western societies like China exhibited much orientialist ignorance of actual Chinese economic, social, and cultural conditions….and unfortunately….Karl Wittfogel’s “Oriental Despotism” fell into the same trap by using Marx’s framing as the basis of his analysis of Imperial Chinese society. :roll:

    Moreover, Marx’s teleological view of history is not only overly simplistic, flawed and problematic, his proposal of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” provided a gaping flaw which made the totalitarian Marxist-based dictatorships of the 20th century possible and ideologically sustainable.

  89. Destructor
    Destructor August 28, 2008 at 12:59 am |

    Wait a minute…..isn’t that a concise description of capitalism? Forcing some to work for the unearned benefit of others? Poor and working class people laboring while the lion’s share of the wealth they create goes to those who had no hand in its production, save for being the to-the-manor-born owning class?

    No, that’s a description of Feudalism. Capitalism is working for the benefit of one’s self, with the personal rights required to do that enshrined in law. I see a lot of attacks of capitalism here, which is fine, but no-one is proposing a viable, implementable solution. It’s nice to dream, but activism should be rooted in the notion of change that can actually be acheived. Doing away with capitalism, one of the root causes of civil rights and woman’s rights, would do far more harm than good- history has proven this.

  90. Feminism and anti-capitalism « High On Rebellion

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    [...] For the past year I have been reading the work of a writer who I find literarily-talented, insightful, intelligent and concise. She blogs at The Bilerico Project and her name is Jessica Hoffman. Exactly a week ago she wrote this guest blog at Feministe: “Toward a Liberationist Feminism (Or, I Hope Pro-Capitalist Feminism Is an Oxymoron)”.  [...]

  92. Walk Away « Tanglad
    Walk Away « Tanglad August 31, 2008 at 3:43 pm |

    [...] been reminded of this short story by the ongoing discussions regarding feminism and capitalism. As an economic system, capitalism generates different levels of benefits for different privileged [...]

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    [...] seems that anyone who attempts to have a frank discussion about labor and/or capitalism finds themselves staving off the same arguments again and again. So, [...]

  94. morAW
    morAW September 1, 2008 at 3:19 pm |

    “I don’t presume to know what the best alternatives to capitalism are — but I feel fairly sure that they are multiple and certain, that we need to experiment at the local level with different possibilities that make sense for our different communities …”

    Doesn’t this undermine your whole argument? Either there’s an existing system that would be better, or we need something new entirely. How can you be sure that alternatives exist without knowing what they are? Maybe capitalism is like Churchill’s definition of democracy – the worst system except for all the others.

  95. jess
    jess September 1, 2008 at 6:53 pm |

    hey, everyone.

    just wanted to pop back in after a bit of a delay to thank you all for your thoughtful and passionate comments (and linked posts) here. i tend to be a bit of a slow processor, so please know that i am out here reading and mulling over and reading and mulling again and will offer more when i feel like i’ve got something new and useful to offer. for now, i’m doing a lot of reading of and reflecting on the substantive, engaged ideas you’re all putting out there.

    xo,

    jess

  96. octogalore
    octogalore September 2, 2008 at 9:30 pm |

    morAW — funny, my mom raised the Churchill definition yesterday at breakfast when we discussed this post. Of course, I’m biased, but she’s the smartest woman I know.

  97. LadyBlog » Blog Archive » Feminist Is as Feminist Does

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  98. susan
    susan September 19, 2008 at 4:23 pm |
  99. sohbet chat
    sohbet chat September 29, 2008 at 9:31 am |

    bell hooks’ insistent, decades-long use of the phrase ”white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.

    what?

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