Social reproduction and feminist class struggle

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By CINTHYA BASTOS FERREIRA*

Reflections based on the contributions of Silvia Federici

This text aims to encompass reflections on social reproduction and its contradictions at the heart of class societies, based on some of the contributions of the Italian author, from an autonomous Marxist line, Silvia Federici. The two main works to be mobilized on this route are: Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation; is The ground zero of the revolution: domestic work, reproduction and feminist struggle.

Based on this contribution, dialogues will be sought with Marxist and feminist thought, in order to build an assessment, obviously not exhaustive, of the dilemmas that permeate the feminization of reproductive work and its specific echoes in neoliberal and financialized contemporary times, which shape migratory flows that express asymmetrical power relations, as well as the generalized tendency of precariousness in the world of work, which has dissimilar impacts on the concreteness of what is experienced, depending on aspects such as gender, class, nationality, sexuality, age group, among others .

Having outlined these initial comments, the text will be divided into two topics, which aim to discuss both the procedural origins of women's position under the rule of capital, and the position of reproductive and care work in relation to the social totality (in becoming constant) of capitalism as an ordering system for multiple realities, including those that directly or indirectly confront it. Thus, the power of the theme chosen as a front of struggle stands out, which evokes the need for qualitative transformation of the bases on which sociability guided by the supremacy of the appreciation of value is based.

In this sense, faced with the impossibility of conciliation between the irreconcilable, feminisms, as organized plural movements, carry with them the revolutionary verve of rupture with the status quo, in particular, when thinking that women (racialized, peripheral, responsible for the care of one or more members of the family or community, with an accumulation of tasks that mix material and affective, technical and relational) are at the base of the social pyramid today, on the front line of the daily battles for the survival of oneself and those around one another, with its (our) politicization being indispensable – and incendiary – in the construction of an anti-capitalist, anti-patriarchal and anti-racist world.

Peculiarities of women's position within capitalist society

According to Silvia Federici, “discrimination against women in capitalist society is not the legacy of a pre-modern world, but rather a formation of capitalism, built on pre-existing sexual differences and reconstructed to fulfill new social functions” (2017 , p. 11). In this way, it is understood that it is not possible to approach the phenomena linked to the exploitation and domination of women in a generalist or trans-historical way, because these phenomena only make sense within the movement of reality, and are conditioned to it. In order to reveal what is unique about this historically located arrangement, it is opportune to rescue the changes made in the “transition from feudalism to capitalism” and the impacts of these changes on the gendering of what is experienced.

That said, still in line with the Italian author, the concept of “transition” helps to think about a prolonged process of transformations and in societies in which capitalist accumulation coexisted with political, economic and cultural formations that were not yet predominantly capitalist, resulting in a social mosaic of discrepant, but coexisting and simultaneous, characteristics. The question that arises is: what are the conditions that allowed the development of the capitalist system as such? In order to explore this question, let us return to Marxian thought.

Money and merchandise, from the beginning, are as little capital as the means of production and subsistence. They require their transformation into capital. But this transformation itself can only take place under certain circumstances, which boil down to the following: two very different species of commodity owners have to face each other and come into contact; on the one hand, possessors of money, means of production and means of subsistence, who propose to value the sum-value they possess through the purchase of other people's labor power; on the other, free workers, sellers of their own labor power and, therefore, sellers of work. Free workers in a double sense, because they do not directly belong to the means of production, like slaves and servants, nor do the means of production belong to them like, for example, the economically autonomous peasant (MARX, 1998, p. 340).

The establishment of this relationship (the result of the contradictory development of history), which foresees a split between workers and the ownership of the conditions under which work is carried out – a split, in short, between workers who own nothing, other than their own working strength, and owners who produce nothing directly – provides the foundations and are the assumptions of the capitalist mode of production, being identified in the last third of the 1998th century and the first decades of the 2017th century, both by Marx (XNUMX) and the critical rereading of Silvia Federici (XNUMX ).

However, it is important to bear in mind that the advent of this social conformation has concrete determinations, although not linear and not resulting from the flow of Consciousness or Spirit, with a purely ideational or teleological genesis, artificially isolated from other aspects. On the contrary, “the so-called primitive accumulation” has as its privileged strategy the violent expulsion of the peasantry from its land base (through the laws of enclosure of communal lands), with comings and goings whose outcome is ultimately unpredictable, but understandable: its root is material, with all the tensions that come with it.

Furthermore, as discussed by Silvia Federici (2017), this systematic expulsion of people, and their forced deterritorialization, took on different forms (including the eviction of tenants, increased rent and high taxes that led to debt and the sale of land ), also encompassing colonial expansion and exploitation, the transformation of the peasantry into salaried workers via the expropriation of their means of subsistence, as well as the transformation of territories subjectively and communally conveyed in exchange value.

This “freed proletariat”, however, does not see itself capable of being fully absorbed by industry or, more broadly, by the reconfigured and rising labor market, which has resulted in a reserve army blamed for its own plunder and subjected to a constant and growing disciplinarization of body and spirit. It follows that, instead of the worker being freed from the hitherto hegemonic servile relations, what was freed was capital, with violence and the production of exclusion and marginality being a premise of this, rather than a residual aspect, which supposedly could be adjusted while maintaining their structures.

In these intricacies, the enclosure of communal lands represents both a loss of autonomy in the face of the immediate possibilities of supporting one's own survival, and a loss in terms of class solidarity: a loss that, not unreasonably, impedes the bond and articulation in the interior of the exploited class. However, the way in which this process of primitive accumulation affects men and women unequally, in terms of social sex relations, is not thematized by Marx. However, Silvia Federici (2017) is dedicated precisely to this issue, rescuing the not merely occasional, but instrumental and structuring role of women in sustaining the capitalist system.

In general terms, this was a process that demanded “the transformation of the body into a work machine and the subjection of women to the reproduction of this work force”; therefore, in addition to an accumulation of workers exploitable by capital, capitalist accumulation was also “an accumulation of differences and divisions within the working class” (2017, p. 119), instituting a new sexual division of labor – a division that hides and distorts the exploitation of unpaid female work by presenting it under the sign of affection, of the biological destiny of the human female.

Under such circumstances, the new scenario that was imposed (and that is imposed, in re-elaborated formats), with the loss of land and the disintegration of collective common spaces, resulted in different consequences for men and women and this is due to different factors, however, not dissociated: consubstantial and coextensive, in the sense defined by Falquet and Kergoat (2008), based on the non-hierarchical conjugation of social relations of power.

For women, it was much more difficult to become “sluts” or migrant workers, as a nomadic life exposed them to male violence, especially at a time when misogyny was on the rise. Women also had reduced mobility due to pregnancy and childcare. Furthermore, women also found themselves harmed by enclosures, because as soon as land was privatized and monetary relations began to dominate economic life, they began to find it more difficult than men to support themselves, having been confined to work. reproductive at the exact moment when this work was being absolutely devalued (FEDERICI, 2017, p. 144).

As the subsistence economy, pre-capitalist and anchored in a productive unit (production and reproduction), begins to be replaced by the primacy of monetization, only what is produced for the market (therefore, only what serves for appreciation of value) is valued. What is circumscribed outside these parameters is left on the margins and made invisible, leveraging links between tasks typified as feminine, their non-employment in the family domain, their social discredit and financial dependence which, in turn, generates multiple vulnerabilities, material and psychological.

“All the surplus now left by production belonged to man; women had a share in consumption, but not in property. The division of labor in the family had been the basis for the distribution of property between men and women. This division of labor within the family continued to be the same, but now it disrupted domestic relations, simply because the division of labor outside the family had changed. The same cause that had assured women of their previous supremacy in the home and exclusivity in dealing with domestic problems - now ensured the preponderance of men in the home: women's domestic work now lost its importance, compared to men's productive work; this work became everything; the former, an insignificant contribution” (ENGELS, 1984, p. 182).

In this way, within the context of expropriation of the land base and the emergence of a new sexual division of labor, which keeps women in the domestic sphere, a depreciation of activities designated as typically feminine and, in unison, an operation in which For male workers, women start to become “substitutes for the lands they had lost through enclosures” (FEDERICI, 2017, p. 191). Women and land, associated, then, for what they can provide, for what can be extracted from them. In the meantime, the notion of the “ordinary woman” and the growth of misogyny become emblematic.

This understanding dialogues with Pateman's (1988) defense about the social contract being a story of selective freedom, which is only maintained with the domination of a significant social contingent and the dissimulation of its gendered sexual dimension: in other words , the bourgeois contract requires the domination of women and their representation as substantially enjoyable bodies.

“Men’s domination over women and men’s right to regular sexual access to them are at issue in the formulation of the original pact. The social contract is a story of freedom; the sexual contract is a story of subjection. The original contract creates both freedom and domination. Man's freedom and woman's subjection derive from the original contract, and the meaning of civil liberty cannot be understood without the missing half of the story, which reveals how men's patriarchal right over women is created by the contract. Civil freedom is not universal – it is a male attribute and depends on patriarchal law. Sons subvert the paternal regime not only to gain their freedom, but also to secure women for themselves. His success in this endeavor is chronicled in the story of the sexual contract. The original pact is both a sexual and a social contract: it is social in the sense of patriarchal – that is, the contract creates the political right of men over women – and also sexual in the sense of establishing systematic access by men to the bodies of women. women. The original contract creates what I will call, following Adrienne Rich, the 'male sexual entitlement law'. The contract is far from opposing patriarchy: it is the means by which modern patriarchy is constituted” (PATEMAN, 1988, p. 19).

In these terms, unpaid female domestic work involves the dimension that what women obtain to meet their own needs (whether stomach or mental) appear not to actually belong to women, that is, as a result of their work, but as a donation or favor on the part of the husband (who traditionally held possession of the money commodity), since he, in fact, participates in the amount of productive work and is socially recognized as such via salary.

From this, it can be seen that the institution of marriage not only implies an appropriation of the invisible and unpaid work of women, it also implies the appropriation of their bodies. This conjunction of social phenomena, useful in the maintenance and necessary for the development of capitalism, forms a compulsory heterosexuality, a mechanism through which marriage and sexual orientation aimed at men are seen as inevitable and unique for women, as Rich (2010) discusses. Therefore, the subordination of female sexuality to the reproduction of the workforce means that heterosexuality has been imposed as the only acceptable sexual behavior, so that division of labor, the institution of marriage and compulsory heterosexuality are intimately and originally interconnected in many societies.

“We are raped, both in our bed and on the street, precisely because we are wired to be the purveyors of sexual satisfaction, the escape valves for everything that goes wrong in men's lives, and men have always been allowed to turn their hatred against us if we are not up to the role, particularly when we refuse to do it. Compartmentalization is just one aspect of the mutilation of our sexuality. The subordination of our sexuality to the reproduction of the workforce means that heterosexuality has been imposed on us as the only acceptable sexual behavior” (FEDERICI, 2019, p. 57).

In this way, womanhood, with a long path of naturalization, has its origins in real interests, in reposed relationships that have nothing to do with the being or not being inherent to women with certain characteristics. An example of this is the demographic and economic crisis that peaked between 1620 and 1630 and which, as Silvia Federici (2017) discusses, intensified the persecution of “witches” (women who had knowledge about their own bodies and practices of controlling their birth rate, knowledge that, at this historical moment, came to be considered a threat).

In this scenario, the ongoing witch hunt aims to regulate procreation and undermine women's control over their own reproduction. Procreation, in this way, was placed at the service of capitalist accumulation, making the womb a political territory in dispute. More than that, the expropriation of this knowledge is accompanied by the ideal that women, in order to become complete and fulfilled, would need to give birth and exercise motherhood: a destiny composed of us blind between material necessity and inculcated ways of subjectivation.

Now, based on the above, comments could emerge claiming that times are different, women currently work outside the home, have access to contraceptive methods and, therefore, this analysis would be completely obsolete. And, certainly, the historical passage is not static. History, from a Marxist perspective, refers to the movement of reality in its dialectic of continuity and rupture, which presupposes a dynamic and multicausal understanding of social phenomena. Times are, in fact, different. But what “same” underlies the new? Let us then turn to that.

Friedrich Engels, when stating that “the emancipation of women and their equality with men are and will continue to be impossible, as long as they remain excluded from social productive work and confined to domestic work, which is private work” (ENGELS, 1984, p. 182 ), possibly did not envisage that the inclusion of women in social productive work would be a necessary condition, but not remotely sufficient for the emancipation of women. This inclusion, far from enabling emancipation, restructured forms of exploitation. More than that, when thinking about formal equality with men, one must recognize its ultimate limits, unless one assumes that men are already free, unless one does not think of freedom as a relational category.

In this regard, when Silvia Federici (2019) advocates the defense of wages for domestic work, this means exposing the fact that domestic work already is and has been money for capital, that capital earned and earns money when women cook, clean, take care. Furthermore, it means highlighting that domestic work is more than serving the demands of the house. It involves serving employees physically, emotionally and sexually, preparing them for work day after day, while providing the necessary conditions for training future employees. This means that, behind every factory, every school or hospital, every office, there is the hidden work of millions of women who consume their lives and their strength for the production of the workforce that moves these factories, schools or hospitals, offices and other locus of salaried work.

On the other hand, in the current reading of domestic work, while excluded from the social field and closed within the private sphere, it is as if it, domestic work, were a personal and external service to capital. A residue of non-belonging. As if the central problem resided not in the appropriation of reproductive labor by capital itself, but rather in its absence or insufficiency. In other words, the problem would be that capital failed to reach the kitchen and the bedroom, domesticity. Therefore, readings that frame the cause of women's oppression in their presumed exclusion from capitalist relations result, as a rule, in propaganda to enter into these relations, instead of contesting them and having as a horizon their destruction, their overcoming .

In this sense, a connection can be seen between the strategy of struggle for women and the so-called “Third World”, peripheral and dependent. In the same way that women should be taken to factories and productive work traditionally associated with men, factories and exemplary productivism from central countries must be taken to the “Third World”. In both cases, a conception is superimposed that the “underdeveloped” or “subalternized” are backward or inferior (instead of inferiorized), and that it would only be possible to achieve “model modernization” through obtaining a more advanced capitalist exploitation, from a developmental perspective that refuses to see the structural limits of capital.

But capitalist development offered women (in different ways, depending on women's different positions in the social fabric) not only the “right to work outside the home”, but also the need to work more, so that “working outside the home” not only does it not exempt women from domestic tasks, but, furthermore, it must not hinder them. Therefore, to have a certain economic independence, women are only free to work double shifts” (DELPHY, 2015, p. 110). And if, as has been seen, getting a second job tends not to free women from their first, working double or triple shifts is not empowering (stereotype of independent and/or entrepreneurial woman), it just means having even less time and energy to fight against both.

However, it is worth noting the fact that the social struggle for wages is not limited to or coincides, necessarily and directly, with a demand for inclusion or, even less, for the defense of the abuses of capital via insertion in wage relations (not least because, as women workers, we were never outside of them). The salary agenda is tactical. It is part of the movement to break with work in its capitalist, salaried and demeaning formulation. The salary, as well as its absence, tends to be a thermometer of our multifaceted class exploitation, being, therefore, the direct expression of the correlations of force between capital and the working class, and within the working class. Considerations and contradictions that need to be faced in the design of praxis.

Productive restructuring and structural adjustment

When examining feminist policies in the United States and Europe, Silvia Federici (2019) concludes that a considerable number of feminists have not considered the changes brought about by the restructuring of the world economy on the material conditions of women, nor the reverberations of these changes in feminist organizations. Even though studies prove the impoverishment of women around the world, there is no consensus that globalization not only caused a “feminization of poverty” but also contributed to the emergence of a new colonial order, creating new divisions among women.

Even poles critical of the policies applied by the World Bank and the IMF often conform to reformist positions that condemn gender discrimination, but maintain intact the global hegemony of capitalist relations and what they set in motion in the name of presumed freedom – contradictorily, for Therefore, they oppose sexism without opposing their own gears.

In order to examine this contradiction, it is worth going back to some characteristics of capitalism in its present historical form, based on flexible accumulation. Thus, it appears that among the reforms that structural adjustment prescribes, the privatization of land (with a view to the abolition of communal property), the liberalization of trade (elimination of tariffs on imported goods), the reduction of public sector, the cutting of funding for social services and a control system that effectively transfers economic planning from governments to the World Bank and private sectors. In short, structural adjustment is at the heart of the neoliberalizing turn that has been witnessed since the mid-1970s, with its inclination towards austerity policies and increasing informalization and precariousness of work.

When analyzing these transformations from the point of view of production and reproduction, we can see a very different panorama from that projected by the defenders of the “new world order”. Firstly, it can be seen that the expansion of capitalist relations is still based on the separation between producers and the means of (re)production, as well as on the destitution of any non-market-oriented economic activity, starting with subsistence farming. Thus, structural adjustment programs, despite being presented as a form of economic recovery, disadvantage the provision of a large part of the population, hindering the ability to maintain life, one of the main objectives of structural adjustment programs, for example , is the “modernization of agriculture”, that is, its reorganization on a commercial and export basis: and this means that more land is directed to commercial cultivation and more women, who are the main subsistence farmers in the world, find themselves unallocated.

One of the consequences of the impoverishment that economic liberalization has produced on the world proletariat is manifested in the vast migratory movement from the “South” to the “North”. According to Silvia Federici (2019), this is one of the proofs that the debt crisis and that “structural adjustment” established a system of apartheid global. With this, it is shown that it is women from the “South”, from the periphery of the globalized capitalist system, who nowadays take care of children and the elderly in the United States and many European countries (which they nourish, in short, with their workforce, the demands of others' daily lives), a phenomenon commonly described as “global mothering” and/or “global care” (HIRATA, 2022), with relevant variations in their levels of specialization and recognition.

In a similar sense, it is possible to identify that migrations linked to the so-called sex industry, with flows from the “South” towards the “North”, have also been increasing since the 1980s and 1990s and, in general, comprise a family strategy , with regular sending of money to relatives who remained in the country of origin (logically, in cases where these migrations are not based on trafficking, with debt bondage, restricted movement and violence). In this vein, Pscitelli (2007) analyzes migratory flows in Brazil-Italy and Brazil-Spain and shows that women, originally prostitutes in Brazil, in the context of sexual tourism, often migrate to Europe not only to (re) enter the foreign sex market, but to marry tourists they previously met in Brazil. Added to this, it is pointed out that one of the reasons that lead these men to choose Brazilian wives is the search for “styles” or “modalities” of femininity considered difficult to find among “less independent” European women, which include the willingness for motherhood and home care: which reflects the overlap between racialization, machismo, class and international division of labor.

Capital, in its current social organization, thus reveals itself to be especially catastrophic for women; not solely and necessarily because it is managed/led by bodies dominated by men who do not understand the so-called particularities of women, but because of the objectives they intend to achieve. Presence policies are merely instrumental when devoid of coherence in terms of substance and content. Therefore, if globalization aims to give corporate capital complete control over work and natural resources, women, carrying out this script, alter the mortifying results of these objectives, including and mainly, for women themselves, in their scope. ? Now, globalization, as such, cannot triumph unless it carries out a systematic attack on the conditions of social reproduction and on the main subjects of this work, which, in most countries, are women.

In the list of such events, women have been the buffers of economic globalization, as they have found themselves responsible for compensating with their work the deterioration of economic and social conditions produced by the liberalization of the world economy and the increasing disinvestment of States in the reproduction of force. work (FEDERICI, 2019). For example, due to budget cuts, much of the work that hospitals and other public agencies traditionally did was privatized and transferred to homes, hiding women's unpaid work and creating task overload.

Another factor that returned the centrality of domestic work to the home was the expansion of “home work”, partly due to productive-industrial deconcentration, partly due to the spread of deregulated work and the growth of the service sector. This triggers, on the one hand, an increase in the workload within families; while, on the other hand, it points both to an increase in the demand for paid domestic work by the wealthier classes; and in its supply, since there are a greater number of women looking for a means of support.

And this is because in times marked by sociability in crisis, such as today, activities that were once incorporated by the market or the state apparatus – from restaurants and daycare centers, to laundries – tend to return to homes (VIEIRA, 2020) and, from this point of departure, In view, it becomes essential to understand the care system both in its macrostructural face and in its layers that demand a microanalysis of the people who work in these production functions of living in society.

That said, in general terms, social reproduction is understood as a condition of possibility for continued capital accumulation; However, capitalism's orientation towards unlimited accumulation tends to destabilize the very processes of social reproduction on which it depends. This socio-reproductive contradiction of capitalism is what lies at the root of the so-called “crisis of care” (FRASER, 2020). In addition to reducing public social welfare provision and recruiting women into the salaried workforce, capitalism has currently reduced real wages, thus increasing the number of hours of paid work that, per household, they are necessary to maintain a family or group, as well as causing a rush to transfer care work to others, based on increasingly longer “global care chains” that generate gaps between women themselves.

That said, by reaffirming the specific subjection of women in capitalism, it is not about dividing or fragmenting the class, an idea that still permeates the left-wing sectors, as if the feminist struggle obstructed the path of the class struggle and took the focus away from the "main". It is, on the contrary, about understanding the particularities of the class in order to understand it in its entirety, without losing its unity in identity particularisms, which, by emphasizing only differences, fragment, isolate and lose what we have in common and which unifies us: the need for a collective, classist and emancipatory project.

Unity requires, however, the recognition of differences. Otherwise, it would be homogeneity, and we cannot deny that class is not homogeneous, since it is permeated and constituted by different social markers of difference (CISNE, 2018, p. 112). It is with this understanding that anti-capitalist feminism (Marxist, classist, materialist) presents itself as a horizon and as a tool in the articulation between theoretical production (in the socialization of knowledge about the roots of our oppression) and confrontation via the mobilization of women around a project emancipatory politician.

*Cinthya Bastos Ferreira holds a degree in psychology from the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais (PUC-MG).

References


SWAN, Mirla. Feminism and Marxism: theoretical-political notes for confronting social inequalities. Serv. Soc. Soc.., São Paulo, n. 132, p. 211-230, 2018.

ENGELS, Friedrich. Barbarism and Civilization. In: The origin of the family, private property and the state. São Paulo: Ed. Centauro, 2012.

FEDERICI, Silvia. Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation. São Paulo: Elephant, 2017.

FEDERICI, Silvia. The ground zero of the revolution: domestic work, reproduction and feminist struggle. São Paulo: Elephant, 2019.

FRASER, Nancy. Contradictions between capital and care. Principles: Philosophy Magazine, Christmas, v. 27, no. 53, May – Aug. 2020.

HIRATA, Helena. Care: theories and practices. Sao Paulo: Boitempo, 2022.

MARX, Karl. The so-called primitive accumulation. In: Capital: critique of political economy: Book 1, Vol. 1 and 2. São Paulo: Nova Cultura, 1988.

PATEMAN, Carole. The Sexual Contract. Rio de Janeiro: Peace and Land, 1988.

PISCITELLI, Adriana. Tropical sex in a European country: migration of Brazilian women to Italy within the framework of international “sex tourism”. Journal of Feminist Studies, v. 15, no. 3, p. 717–744, Sept. 2007.

RICH, Adrienne. Compulsory heterosexuality and lesbian existence. BAGOAS, vol. 5, p. 17-44, 2010.

VIEIRA, Regina Stela Corrêa. Care, crisis and the limits of Brazilian labor law. Law and Praxis Magazine, v. 11, no. 4, p. 2517–2542, Oct. 2020.


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