“Social Reproduction Theory: Remapping Class, Recentering Oppression.” Edited by Tithi Bhattacharya; forward by Lise Vogel (London: Pluto Press 2017).
Social reproduction feminism is not
new. Marxist thinkers began to focus in earnest on the relationship
between production and social reproduction in capitalist society
nearly 40 years ago, in the context of what used to be referred to as
the second wave of feminism. In 1979, the Fourth International
approved the resolution, “Socialist Revolution and the Struggle for
That early mass movement also put
on its agenda the theoretical work of Lise Vogel, “Marxism and the
Oppression of Women,” first published in 1983. Vogel and
other Marxist scholars put forth the concepts of what came to be
called “social reproduction theory.”
Tithi Bhattacharya explains in the
introduction to this new book that “social reproduction theorists
perceive the relation between labor dispensed to produce commodities
and labor dispensed to produce people as part of the systemic
totality of capitalism. The framework thus seeks to make visible
labor and work that are analytically hidden by classical economists
and politically denied by policy makers.”
She goes on to point out that
social reproduction theorists “by no means represent a unified
political or theoretical tradition.” But while differences remain
among the exponents of the theory, “SRT is primarily concerned with
understanding how categories of oppression (such as gender, race, and
ableism) are coproduced in simultaneity with the production of
It is no accident that the new
volume of essays on social reproduction theory, edited by
Bhattacharya, is appearing in the midst of the emergence of giant
women’s mobilizations on the global stage.
These mobilizations include the
2016 Polish women’s strike to defend abortion access, the October
2016 Ni Una Menos demonstrations and strikes against femicide in
Argentina, and the March 2018 strike of 5 million in Spain against
discrimination in wages and violence based on gender. These 2016
women’s strikes led to the formation of a new international network
of radical women.
The potential for sustained motion
by working women struggling in the context of the most serious global
anti-working-class offensive in around 100 years has created the
context for a burst of new work on the roots of gender oppression and
its relationship to one of capitalism’s most profound
contradictions. The system needs to drive women into the pool of
waged labor producing surplus value, while relying on gender and the
kin-based family, rather than socialized institutions, to create,
develop, and sustain that workforce.
As profit rates have dropped over
the last three decades, and the bosses have both super-exploited
women in the less developed countries and cut the social
wage in developed countries to the bone, the crises for working women
have grown exponentially. Mass action and strikes by women, on the
job and off, are becoming central factors in the class struggle.
Key figures from the leadership of
the U.S. formation attempting to provide an anti-capitalist
framework for this new upsurge, the International Women’s Strike
U.S., have essays in this volume. Cinzia Arruza explains how social
reproduction theory can anchor a movement to challenge the liberal
feminism that sees Hillary Clinton as a solution. Tithi Bhattacharya
interrogates the parts of Marx’s “Capital” that imply but do
not detail the relationship of social reproduction to production.
David McNally argues that we should
use the wonderfully thick descriptions of racialized and gendered
class experience provided by those working with intersectionality
theory, but reject its failure to explain the workings of capitalism
and the related strategy of defeating it.
Additional essays are included from
such key figures as Nancy Fraser, Salar Mohandesi, Emma Teitelman,
Susan Ferguson, Carmeen Temple Hopkins, Serap Saritas Oran, and Alan
Sears. Every socialist needs to read it now.
>> The article above was written by Christine Marie, and is reprinted from Socialist Action newspaper.