Closing the Conceptual Gap: A Response to Cinzia Arruzza’s “Remarks on Gender”

Hannah Höch, Fashion Show, 1923-1935.
Han­nah Höch, Fash­ion Show, 1923-1935.

This text raises the ques­tion of a uni­fied the­ory of social rela­tions. Cinzia Arruzza’s essay “Remarks on Gen­der” reminds us of the debates, left dor­mant for decades, around cre­at­ing a uni­fied theory of cap­i­tal. How­ever, Arruzza’s path toward that uni­fi­ca­tion is one that abdi­cates the pos­si­bil­ity of locat­ing gen­der and race as part of the abstract, log­i­cal, or  “essen­tial mech­a­nisms” of cap­i­tal­ism, opt­ing instead to incor­po­rate these per­va­sive rela­tions as aspects of capitalism’s his­tor­i­cal and con­crete unfold­ing.

This rejec­tion of gen­der and race as part of the inner logic of cap­i­tal is not par­tic­u­lar to Arruzza. It is stan­dard prac­tice within Marx­ist-fem­i­nism, as well as other ten­den­cies which attempt to argue for the impor­tance of axes of vio­lence, oppres­sion, or exploita­tion beyond class (e.g. race, sex­u­al­ity, gen­der) within the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion.  The pos­si­bil­ity that gen­der and race are some­how inher­ent to the inner logic of cap­i­tal is not rejected because the attempts to prove it have failed – it is dis­missed out of hand, before any attempt has been made. Hypothe­ses which do locate gen­der or race in the essen­tial log­i­cal struc­ture of cap­i­tal are so rare or unpop­u­lar that Marx­ist crit­ics like Arruzza do not even feel the need to argue against that pos­si­bil­ity. It is taken for granted that these rela­tions do not appear in capital’s inner logic, in the abstract struc­ture at the heart of cap­i­tal­ism.

While join­ing, albeit ambiva­lently, in this out-of-hand dis­missal (see below), Arruzza also brings some impor­tant cri­tiques to bear upon this and other erro­neous res­o­lu­tions to the ques­tion at hand.

Arruzza’s essay lays out three com­mon approaches taken by fem­i­nists who care to attend to cap­i­tal­ism: “dual sys­tems the­ory,” “indif­fer­ent cap­i­tal­ism,” and the “uni­tary the­sis.” I would like to add another cat­e­gory, what I pro­vi­sion­ally call sys­temic fun­da­men­tal­ism. With this approach, I assoc­iate some the­o­rists who Arruzza has des­ig­nated within dual sys­tems the­ory, such as Christine Del­phy. Arruzza crit­i­cizes Del­phy for hold­ing that patri­archy is a sys­tem of exploita­tion more fun­da­men­tal than cap­i­tal­ist class rela­tions, and upon which cap­i­tal­ist class rela­tions are estab­lished. Arruzza’s pri­mary cri­tique of this per­spec­tive is that it implies the exis­tence of class rela­tions between women and men, and hence “irrec­on­cil­able antag­o­nisms” between the two gen­ders, of which she finds no evi­dence (more on this below). But more impor­tantly for my des­ig­na­tion of “sys­temic fun­da­men­tal­ism,” Arruzza cri­tiques Del­phy for argu­ing that patri­ar­chal class rela­tions would trump cap­i­tal­ist class rela­tions – deflat­ing the impor­tance of one sys­tem by empha­siz­ing another more fun­da­men­tal and essen­tial one. Arruzza writes: “In ‘The Main Enemy,’ Del­phy insists that being a mem­ber of the patri­ar­chal class is a more impor­tant fact than being part of the cap­i­tal­ist class.” For Del­phy, on Arruzza’s read­ing, the sys­tem of patri­archy is more fun­da­men­tal than that of cap­i­tal­ism.

Arruzza’s cen­tral cri­tique of our next approach, dual sys­tems the­ory (or triple, for those who deign to acknowl­edge race rela­tions), is that they do not attrib­ute to patri­ar­chal or racial sys­tems their own inter­nal force of self-repro­duc­tion, which is osten­si­bly the most basic require­ment for the exis­tence of an inde­pen­dent mode of pro­duc­tion. Arruzza aptly notes that the only for­mi­da­ble attempt to artic­u­late this force has been in ide­o­log­i­cal or psy­cho­log­i­cal terms, as an inde­pen­dent sys­tem of signs. She dis­misses these on the basis of their implau­si­bil­ity, their close tar­ry­ing with fetishis­tic and ahis­tor­i­cal notions of psy­che. She crit­i­cizes most dual sys­tems the­o­ries for tak­ing eco­nom­ics to be the purview of cap­i­tal­ist social rela­tions, while ide­o­log­i­cal and cul­tural forms are the ter­rain of gen­der and racial processes. Finally, Arruzza rightly crit­i­cizes the lack of “orga­niz­ing prin­ci­ple” or “logic” to the “Holy alliance” of sys­tems which would explain their inter­re­la­tion. This down­fall can also be attrib­uted to the “inter­sec­tion­al­ity” approach – which, while con­sti­tut­ing an impor­tant inter­ven­tion into legal the­ory (the gen­e­sis of the term), and serv­ing as a use­ful short­hand for peo­ple who want to say that they care about all three and don’t priv­i­lege one over another, nonethe­less leaves the details of these rela­tions entirely vague.

How­ever, Arruzza takes most issue with her third approach, the “indif­fer­ent cap­i­tal­ism” approach – and appro­pri­ately so, since it is the most for­mi­da­ble in con­tem­po­rary Marx­ist and com­mu­nist thought. For some thinkers that adhere to the “indif­fer­ent cap­i­tal­ism” approach, capitalism’s abstract indif­fer­ence to gen­der and race means that cap­i­tal­ism is in fact ben­e­fi­cial for women in gen­eral, and/or for racial minori­ties, in cer­tain con­texts. Arruzza writes, for instance, that “some claim that within cap­i­tal­ism women have ben­e­fited from a degree of eman­ci­pa­tion unknown in other kinds of soci­ety.” How­ever some peo­ple who take up the “indif­fer­ent cap­i­tal­ism” approach do attend to the impor­tance of racial and gen­der rela­tions, argu­ing that the log­i­cal “indif­fer­ence” of cap­i­tal to race and gen­der is com­pli­cated by the his­tor­i­cally ubiq­ui­tous role of gen­der and race, which re-inscribes gen­dered and racial oppres­sion through con­tin­gent his­tor­i­cal processes. On this read­ing, gen­dered and racial oppres­sion are rel­a­tively inescapable because of how exten­sively they have per­me­ated cap­i­tal­ism, his­tor­i­cally.

In pos­ing her own cho­sen hypoth­e­sis, that of a “uni­tary the­ory” of cap­i­tal­ist and patri­ar­chal social rela­tions, Arruzza chooses the excel­lent foil of Ellen Meiksins Wood, a pro­po­nent of the “indif­fer­ent cap­i­tal­ism” approach, who staunchly argued that race and gen­der only have a “con­tin­gent and oppor­tunis­tic rela­tion­ship” to cap­i­tal, not a nec­es­sary one. She sum­ma­rizes Wood’s per­spec­tive thus: “Cap­i­tal­ism is… not struc­turally dis­posed to cre­at­ing gen­der inequal­i­ties.”

How­ever, Arruzza makes a sub­stan­tial con­ces­sion to Wood:

It is per­haps dif­fi­cult to show at a high level of abstrac­tion that gen­der oppres­sion is essen­tial to the inner work­ings of cap­i­tal­ism… If we were to think of cap­i­tal­ism as “pure,” that is, ana­lyze it on the basis of its essen­tial mech­a­nisms, then maybe Wood would be right. How­ever, this does not prove that cap­i­tal­ism would not nec­es­sar­ily pro­duce, as a result of its con­crete func­tion­ing, the con­stant repro­duc­tion of gen­der oppres­sion, often under diverse forms.

Here we find a rel­a­tively straight­for­ward argu­ment for the log­i­cal indif­fer­ence but his­tor­i­cally-con­crete neces­sity of gen­der to cap­i­tal – some­thing she seems to cast doubt upon ear­lier in the piece when she writes, in her cri­tique of the “indif­fer­ent cap­i­tal­ism” per­spec­tive, that some of this perspective’s adher­ents “main­tain that we should care­fully dis­tin­guish the log­i­cal and his­tor­i­cal lev­els: log­i­cally, cap­i­tal­ism does not specif­i­cally need gen­der inequal­ity and could get rid of it; his­tor­i­cally, things are not so sim­ple.” Else­where she again pro­poses this per­spec­tive, which she seemed at first to cri­tique, but now in a pos­i­tive light: “In order to respond to the ques­tion of whether it is pos­si­ble for women’s eman­ci­pa­tion and lib­er­a­tion to be attained under the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion, we must look for the answer at the level of con­crete his­tor­i­cal analy­sis, not at the level of a highly abstract analy­sis of cap­i­tal.”

There is some ten­sion here. At the same time as she she states that on the most abstract level, we may not find gen­der within the defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics of cap­i­tal, Arruzza also crit­i­cizes the “indif­fer­ent cap­i­tal­ism” the­sis for argu­ing that cap­i­tal­ism is not struc­turally dis­posed to cre­at­ing gen­der inequal­i­ties, and that cap­i­tal­ism “has an essen­tially oppor­tunis­tic rela­tion with gen­der inequal­ity.”

For a moment, let us look back to Del­phy, and the “sys­temic fun­da­men­tal­ism” approach that I added to Arruzza’s list of approaches to the gender/capital ques­tion. The prob­lem with this per­spec­tive was that it dis­placed the impor­tance of cap­i­tal­ist social rela­tions by empha­siz­ing the more fun­da­men­tal and essen­tial rela­tions of patri­archy. Arruzza’s ver­sion of a “uni­tary the­sis” does the oppo­site – it log­i­cally dis­places gen­der rela­tions in favor of the more fun­da­men­tal rela­tions of cap­i­tal (which osten­si­bly do not nec­es­sar­ily include gen­der). She insists upon avoid­ing the eco­nomic reduc­tion­ism that is taken up by some Marx­ist the­o­ries of cap­i­tal, and on this point she is unde­ni­ably cor­rect.1 But on Arruzza’s account, whether or not the inner laws of cap­i­tal are exclu­sively eco­nomic, we still do not find gen­der there. Nor race, which enters for Arruzza pri­mar­ily as a com­pli­ca­tion, along with class, to straight­for­ward gen­der rela­tions. While Arruzza does not firmly state that gen­der can­not be under­stood log­i­cally or in the abstract forms of cap­i­tal, she casts doubt on this pos­si­bil­ity and instead moves to a dis­cus­sion of osten­si­bly non-abstract his­tor­i­cal processes in order to locate the repro­duc­tion of gen­der in cap­i­tal.

Arruzza intro­duces the con­cept of “social repro­duc­tion,” mod­i­fy­ing it from its more tra­di­tional def­i­n­i­tion as “the process of repro­duc­tion of a soci­ety in its total­ity” to a more focused def­i­n­i­tion of social repro­duc­tion gen­er­ated by the Marx­ist-fem­i­nist tra­di­tion, in which “social repro­duc­tion des­ig­nates the way in which the phys­i­cal, emo­tional, and men­tal labor nec­es­sary for the pro­duc­tion of the pop­u­la­tion is socially orga­nized: for exam­ple, food prepa­ra­tion, youth edu­ca­tion, care for the elderly and the sick, as well as ques­tions of hous­ing and all the way to ques­tions of sex­u­al­ity.” Arruzza lauds the con­cept for “enlarg­ing our vision of what was pre­vi­ously called domes­tic labor,” thereby extend­ing our analy­sis “out­side the walls of the home, since the labor of social repro­duc­tion is not always found in the same forms.”2

Social repro­duc­tion here appears to des­ig­nate processes and rela­tions that are both log­i­cally and his­tor­i­cally nec­es­sary. This neces­sity func­tions, for Arruzza, to sub­vert the prob­lem of con­sid­er­ing gen­dered dynam­ics (such as domes­tic life, gen­dered divi­sions of labor in the fac­tory) and some racial dynam­ics (immi­gra­tion, racial divi­sions of labor) as “con­tin­gent.” In other words, I under­stand Arruzza to be say­ing some­thing like this: since this cat­e­gory of social repro­duc­tion cir­cum­scribes the essen­tial gen­der­ing and racial­iz­ing processes within cap­i­tal – whether they take place in the waged sphere or not – and we can say with cer­tainty that this cat­e­gory of activ­ity is nec­es­sary to cap­i­tal, then on this basis we can argue for the deep neces­sity of gen­der and race to cap­i­tal.

How­ever, what remains log­i­cally and struc­turally con­tin­gent is the anchor between these nec­es­sary forms of social repro­duc­tion (e.g. house­work, slave labor) to gen­der and to race. On Arruzza’s account, it appears to be this asso­ci­a­tion between cer­tain activ­i­ties on the one hand, and gen­der or race on the other hand, that is his­tor­i­cally con­sti­tuted. To put this point slightly dif­fer­ently: whereas cap­i­tal will always require mem­bers of work­ing class to do unwaged activ­ity such as chil­drea­r­ing and dish­wash­ing, and will always engage in exploita­tive forms of social dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion in which some peo­ple are cast out of work, enslaved, or oth­er­wise hyper-exploited, it appears as if it is not “nec­es­sary” that these dynam­ics are asso­ci­ated with gen­der or race.

Her dis­cus­sion beau­ti­fully sets in relief the ques­tion she doesn’t ask: how can race and gen­der rela­tions be located within the log­i­cal under­stand­ing of the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion? Some peo­ple work­ing within the com­mu­niz­ing cur­rent have impor­tantly approached this ques­tion,3 attempt­ing, in the words of Gon­za­lez and Neton, to “delin­eate cat­e­gories [of gen­der] that are as speci­fic to cap­i­tal­ism as ‘cap­i­tal’ itself.”4 The way that Arruzza frames her dis­cus­sion of social repro­duc­tion allows the ques­tion to emerge in an inter­est­ing way. She acknowl­edges that cer­tain forms that exceed waged labor are log­i­cally nec­es­sary to cap­i­tal - e.g. unpaid house­work.5 She also acknowl­edges that women are inti­mately con­nected to this nec­es­sary form of work. How­ever, that con­nec­tion remains con­tin­gent – women and social repro­duc­tion could, the­o­ret­i­cally, be decou­pled. But what if we were to col­lapse the set of nec­es­sary social rela­tions asso­ci­ated with women in cap­i­tal­ism and the cat­e­gory of women in cap­i­tal­ism. What if “woman” was noth­ing but the for­mal cat­e­gory of peo­ple who are on one side of speci­fic set of social rela­tions, sim­i­lar to the way in which the pro­le­tariat is noth­ing but the for­mal cat­e­gory of peo­ple who are on one side of a speci­fic set of social rela­tions. In the case of the pro­le­tariat, the social rela­tions con­sist in being those who own noth­ing but their own labor power, which they must sell in order to make a liv­ing, and be sub­ject to the threat of being cast out of labor pool by cap­i­tal. In the case of “women”, or per­haps more effec­tively and accu­rately “fem­i­nized peo­ple” (see below), this set of essen­tial social rela­tions cer­tainly involves the bulk of what Arruzza refers to as “social repro­duc­tion.”

This set of rela­tions has been gen­er­ally been the­o­rized by some work­ing within a com­mu­niza­tion frame­work as a dis­tinc­tion between two gen­dered spheres imma­nent to the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion. Recently, these spheres have been fur­ther spec­i­fied in terms of the non-social6 or the abject7, but I’m sure all inter­ested par­ties would agree it requires far more thought and study. Fur­ther, it seems clear that the cat­e­gory woman is insuf­fi­cient, and that a more dynamic con­cept such as “fem­i­nized peo­ple” may serve both to empha­size the fact that it is a process and a rela­tion­ship, and that the peo­ple in ques­tion are not always women. This also entails a richer under­stand­ing of the social rela­tions involved, includ­ing, for exam­ple, sex­ual vio­lence, which is some­thing which can be eas­ily left to the side in the­o­ries of social repro­duc­tion, but which is cer­tainly fun­da­men­tal to the gen­der rela­tion. As I’ve argued else­where: “Under­stand­ing sex­ual vio­lence as a struc­tur­ing ele­ment of gen­der also helps us to under­stand how patri­archy repro­duces itself upon and through gay and queer men, trans peo­ple, gen­der non­con­form­ing peo­ple and bod­ies, and chil­dren of any gen­der.”8 I also believe it is also one of the ways to ren­der inter­nal to a the­ory of gen­der the way in which some women, par­tic­u­larly trans women, women of color, and poor women, expe­ri­ence on aver­age far higher lev­els of sus­cep­ti­bil­ity to vio­lence and appro­pri­a­tion. At the moment, such acknowl­edg­ments still remain side­bars to our the­o­riz­ing, as is made quite clear by the pre­ced­ing sen­tence. The ques­tion is: how do we develop our cat­e­gories in a way that inte­grates these ele­ments more deeply and inte­grally, in a way that sub­verts these super­fi­cial nods?

Arruzza’s for­mu­la­tion car­ries another con­fus­ing impli­ca­tion: it sug­gests that that rela­tions of social repro­duc­tion, like house­work, latch onto gen­der and become entwined with it. This implies that gen­der must then stand autonomous from those social rela­tions, as wait­ing to be used in some sense. Here is where the “indif­fer­ent cap­i­tal­ism” the­sis comes in through the back­door, and we find our­selves back at the ini­tial cri­tique of an “oppor­tunis­tic rela­tion­ship” between gen­der and cap­i­tal. We also abruptly encoun­ter the ques­tion of what exactly is gen­der, then, and from whence does it come? 

So let us close the con­cep­tual gap between “fem­i­nized peo­ple” and the mate­rial rela­tions they have in cap­i­tal. A sim­i­lar move is essen­tial for the cat­e­gory of racialized/ethnicized peo­ple. To this end, Cedric Robinson’s work is extremely effec­tive. In Black Marx­ism, he argues force­fully for the nec­es­sary role of what he calls “racial­ism” in the estab­lish­ment and repro­duc­tion of cap­i­tal­ism, as a process with its own ratio­nale that is imma­nent to capital’s ratio­nale, rather than as a con­tin­gent adjunct to the class rela­tion.9 His work, for one, along with the Afro-Pes­simist con­cept of “social death”10 points towards defin­ing that set of social rela­tions which would be the real con­tent of the cat­e­gory of racial­ized peo­ple in cap­i­tal­ism. Chris Chen has recently mobi­lized this work, along with an analy­sis of par­a­digms in racial­ism and race stud­ies, towards the goal of accu­rately spec­i­fy­ing the rela­tion between race and cap­i­tal, argu­ing that “‘[r]ace’ is not extrin­sic to cap­i­tal­ism or sim­ply the pro­duct of speci­fic his­tor­i­cal for­ma­tions such as South African Apartheid or Jim Crow Amer­ica. Like­wise cap­i­tal­ism does not sim­ply incor­po­rate racial dom­i­na­tion as an inci­den­tal part of its oper­a­tions.”11

While Marx­ist crit­ics have con­tended that rela­tions of race and gen­der appear too mal­leable and com­plex to be artic­u­lated as struc­tural and abstract,12 the class rela­tion is no less blurry and porous – there are as many excep­tions to the basic def­i­n­i­tion of work­ing class as there are to the basic def­i­n­i­tion of fem­i­nized peo­ple and racial­ized peo­ple. Surely min­ers and cler­i­cal work­ers and sailors and nurses are no more or less log­i­cally united as “the work­ing class” by their rela­tion to cap­i­tal than fem­i­nized or racial­ized peo­ple are? And there are innu­mer­able excep­tions to the strict def­i­n­i­tion of the pro­le­tariat amongst those we would surely like to include within that class that will strug­gle and win against cap­i­tal­ism: semi-pro­le­tar­i­an­ized sea­sonal migrant labor­ers who retain cul­ti­vated land; petit bour­geois who own their own busi­nesses and store­fronts; reli­gious com­mu­ni­ties or lead­ers who live off dona­tions; and, most famously, the lumpen­pro­le­tariat.

In this text, I am more con­cerned with clos­ing the con­cep­tual gap ref­er­enced above than I am with nail­ing down the speci­ficity of these rela­tions that repro­duce gen­der and race. That lat­ter project is, in the end, the more impor­tant one, but here my goal is merely to show that if we are truly com­mit­ted to a rig­or­ous and uni­fy­ing the­ory of cap­i­tal, we must con­sider the pos­si­bil­ity that race and gen­der are as log­i­cally nec­es­sary as class is to this mode of pro­duc­tion. We must fol­low this hypoth­e­sis as far as it takes us. There has not yet been any good rea­son estab­lished as to why we should turn back from it. This path would entail the rig­or­ous inves­ti­ga­tion of what those rela­tions truly are. It would invari­ably ren­der our under­stand­ing of cap­i­tal more accu­rate, pro­vid­ing a more effec­tive con­cep­tual whet­stone on which to sharpen our prac­ti­cal weaponry.

On a dif­fer­ent note, it is impor­tant to chal­lenge Arruzza’s state­ments about the neg­li­gi­ble ben­e­fits of patri­archy to men. She sug­gests that “A man would lose noth­ing, in terms of work­load, if the dis­tri­b­u­tion of care work were com­pletely social­ized instead of being per­formed by his wife. In struc­tural terms, there would be no antag­o­nis­tic or irrec­on­cil­able inter­ests.” But this is far from the case: it is not pos­si­ble for many ele­ments of the hier­ar­chized gen­der rela­tion to be social­ized. Men ben­e­fit directly and indi­rectly from the unpaid invis­i­ble work that women do, as well as from the rela­tions of dom­i­na­tion which are inher­ent aspects of the cap­i­tal­ist gen­der rela­tion. Speci­fic activ­i­ties within the sphere of unwaged work can be social­ized, but there will always nec­es­sar­ily remain a sphere of un-social­ized work, and women – or fem­i­nized peo­ple – will, for the most part, do it. It is also not pos­si­ble for coer­cive rela­tions of secre­tive sex­ual abuse to be social­ized. It is not pos­si­ble for vio­lent forms of con­trol and psy­chic iso­la­tion and dom­i­na­tion to be social­ized. These are essen­tial com­po­nents of the gen­der rela­tion which bol­sters men’s power, of the mech­a­nisms by which men obtain and pro­tect power, resources, acqui­es­cence. There is no rea­son for men to let go of them any­more than there is rea­son for cap­i­tal­ists to social­ize their prof­its. The gen­der rela­tion, like the class rela­tion, is, even in the abstract, not exclu­sively “eco­nomic.”

Sim­i­larly, the direct and indi­rect mate­rial ben­e­fits of racial­iza­tion to white and non- or less-racial­ized peo­ple are pro­found, and have been defended to the death through­out the his­tory of cap­i­tal. Nei­ther can the par­tic­u­lar rela­tions of exploita­tion and oppres­sion that char­ac­ter­ize racial­ism or racial­iza­tion be con­sid­ered social­iz­able. They are dynam­ics which can­not be ame­lio­rated by even the best cap­i­tal­ist plan­ning; to the con­trary, cap­i­tal is in part these processes of racialization/ethnicization. These processes include, at least, (1) the per­ma­nent and semi-per­ma­nent mar­gin­al­iza­tion from remotely sta­ble wage labor: as there will, def­i­n­i­tion­ally, always be a group mar­gin­al­ized in this way, that group is thereby a racialized/ethnicized group. In Chen’s words, “The expul­sion of liv­ing labour from the pro­duc­tion process places a kind of semi-per­me­able racial­is­ing bound­ary bifur­cat­ing pro­duc­tive and unpro­duc­tive pop­u­la­tions even within older racial cat­e­gories: a kind of flex­i­ble global colour line sep­a­rat­ing the for­mal and infor­mal econ­omy, and waged from wage­less life.”13 Those who are not mar­gin­al­ized in this way, and hence who are less racialized/ethnicized, will defend any threat to their posi­tion. In the United States, work­ing class whites have fought back vehe­mently on every pos­si­ble bat­tle­field when black peo­ple have fought to gain access to waged eco­nomic sta­bil­ity. Also essen­tial to racialization/ethnicization is (2) the vul­ner­a­bil­ity to untimely death, which is a vul­ner­a­bil­ity inher­ent to some large sec­tion of the pro­le­tariat no mat­ter what. On this read­ing, the cre­ation of this sec­tion is a racial­iz­ing and eth­ni­ciz­ing process, and so the group which expe­ri­ences this vul­ner­a­bil­ity has and will be, for the most part, racial­ized and/or eth­ni­cized. In the words of Ruth Wilson Gilmore, “Racism, specif­i­cally, is the state-sanc­tioned or extrale­gal pro­duc­tion and exploita­tion of group-dif­fer­en­ti­ated vul­ner­a­bil­ity to pre­ma­ture death.”14

Finally, this type of uni­fy­ing the­ory which closes the gap (“uni­fy­ing” rather than “uni­tary” here is meant to acknowl­edge that the pic­ture will never be com­plete, will always entail fur­ther detail and nuance, a re-scaf­fold­ing – which is not to doubt our access to truth and accu­racy, but to acknowl­edge our finite lim­its) sub­verts the “com­mon sense” of Arruzza’s point that triple sys­tems the­ory is intu­itive because these rela­tions “man­i­fest them­selves” inde­pen­dently. She writes that “those who have devel­oped an aware­ness of gen­der inequal­ity usu­ally expe­ri­ence and per­ceive it as deter­mined by a logic that is dif­fer­ent and sep­a­rate from cap­i­tal.” In con­cor­dance with the argu­ments of many fem­i­nist the­o­rists of color that race, gen­der, and class never appear as dis­tinct,15 or of work­ing-class fem­i­nist the­o­rists who describe their inabil­ity to dis­ag­gre­gate their gen­der oppres­sion from their class oppres­sion,16 of trans women activists and the­o­rists who artic­u­late the mutual con­sti­tu­tion of of these axes with trans­misog­yny,17 and of prison abo­li­tion­ists who, in their work, are fully con­fronted with the imbri­ca­tion of race, class, sex, gen­der, sex­u­al­ity, and so forth,18 we must acknowl­edge that for many peo­ple, these things do not tend to man­i­fest them­selves inde­pen­dently. To some they appear inde­pen­dent while to oth­ers they appear uni­fied, and while that poses some inter­est­ing ques­tions, it is beyond the scope of my con­cerns here. I believe that when we under­stand class, fem­i­niza­tion, and racial­iza­tion as dif­fer­ent organs in a body, dif­fer­ent laws within an ecosys­tem, or what­ever metaphor we choose to use for dif­fer­ent but mutu­ally con­sti­tuted parts within a whole, it is unques­tion­able that at every moment all of them are really at play. Their appear­ance depends on many things, includ­ing an individual’s sit­u­a­tion within the whole.

I wel­come Arruzza’s reopen­ing of these debates with tremen­dous warmth and excite­ment, and I offer my cri­tiques and ques­tions in com­rade­ship to the project of a uni­fy­ing the­ory of a cap­i­tal­ism in which, by Arruzza’s words, “It is evi­dent that social rela­tions include rela­tions of dom­i­na­tion and hier­ar­chy based on gen­der and race that per­me­ate both the social whole and daily life.”

This arti­cle is part of a dossier enti­tled Gen­der and Cap­i­tal­ism: Debat­ing Cinzia Arruzza’s “Remarks on Gen­der.”

  1. It is less clear whether or not Arruzza believes that the inner laws of cap­i­tal are them­selves “purely eco­nomic.” This essay assumes, fol­low­ing Marx’s work in the Grun­drisse and through­out the vol­umes of Cap­i­tal, that the essen­tial inner laws of cap­i­tal are not con­fined to an eco­nomic sphere. 

  2. Note that the Marx­ist-fem­i­nist use of the term repro­duc­tion and other com­ple­men­tary con­cepts is aptly prob­lema­tized by Maya Gon­za­lez and Jeanne Neton in “The Logic of Gen­der” in End­notes, Vol. 3. 

  3. See Gon­za­lez and Neton, op. cit; P. Valen­tine  “The Gen­der Dis­tinc­tion in Com­mu­niza­tion The­ory,” in Lies: A Jour­nal of Mate­ri­al­ist Fem­i­nism, Vol­ume 1, 191-208; Bernard Lyon, “The Sus­pended Step of Com­mu­ni­sa­tion” in SIC: Inter­na­tional Jour­nal for Com­mu­ni­sa­tion; Théorie Com­mu­niste, “Response to the Amer­i­can Com­rades on Gen­der.” 

  4. Gon­za­lez and Neton, 57. 

  5. Many Marx­ists who oppose log­i­cal under­stand­ings of race and gen­der also acknowl­edge this; see, for exam­ple, David Har­vey Sev­en­teen Con­tra­dic­tions and the End of Cap­i­tal­ism (New York: Oxford Uni­ver­sity Press, 2015). 

  6. See P. Valen­tine, op. cit. 

  7. See Gon­za­lez and Neton, op. cit. 

  8. Valen­tine, op. cit., 204.  

  9. Cedric Robin­son, Black Marx­ism: The Mak­ing of the Black Rad­i­cal Tra­di­tion (Chapel Hill, Uni­ver­sity of North Car­olina Press, 2000 [1983]). 

  10. See, for exam­ple, Frank Wilder­son III, “Gramsci’s Black Marx: Whither the Slave in Civil Soci­ety?,” Social Iden­ti­ties: Jour­nal for the Study of Race, Nation and Cul­ture 9.2 (2003), 225-240; and Jared Sex­ton “The Social Life of Social Death: On Afro-Pes­simism and Black Opti­mism,” InTen­sions 5 (Fall/Winter 2011), 1-47. 

  11. Christo­pher Chen, “The Limit Point of Cap­i­tal­ist Equal­ity,” in End­notes Vol. 3. 

  12. See, for exam­ple, exchanges between David Har­vey, Alex Dubul­lay, and myself regard­ing Harvey’s recent book. 

  13. Chen, op. cit. 

  14. Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Golden Gulag: Pris­ons, Sur­plus, Cri­sis, and Oppo­si­tion in Glob­al­iz­ing Cal­i­for­nia (Berke­ley: Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia Press, 2006), 28. 

  15. See, for exam­ple, bell hooks, Ain’t I a Woman? (Boston: South End Press, 1981), as well as Sojourner Truth’s own words and work; Sharon Patri­cia Holland’s The Erotic Life of Racism (Durham: Duke Uni­ver­sity Press, 2012); Lakeyma King, “Inver­sions & Invis­i­bil­i­ties: Black Women, Black Mas­culin­ity, & Anti­-Blackness” and Pluma Sumac’s “Notes on Pros­ti­tu­tion”, both forth­com­ing in Lies: A Jour­nal of Mate­ri­al­ist Fem­i­nism, Vol. 2. 

  16. See, for instance, Rox­anne Dun­bar Ortiz’ Out­law Woman: A Mem­oir of the War Years, 1960-75 (San Fran­cisco, City Light Books, 2002); Michelle Tea’s Rent Girl (San Fran­cisco, Last Gasp Books, 2004); and Selma James’s Sex, Race, and Class (Oak­land: PM Press, 2012). 

  17. See Susan Stryker’s film Scream­ing Queens; also, recent inter­views with Lav­erne Cox, for exam­ple here. 

  18. See, for exam­ple, both Angela Davis and Dean Spade’s work, nicely epit­o­mized in speeches found here (Davis) and here (Spade)

Author of the article

is a communist living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her primary research is into the necessary forms and internal relations of capital, through the convergence of political economy, philosophy, and psychoanalysis. She is currently working on a project which attempts to locate race and gender within the logical inner structure of capital.