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.