You would have thought that Communism was over. Over and done with. You would have thought that with the fall of the Berlin Wall, with China discarding Maoism for capitalism and the track record of Venezuela… serious thinkers, and even some not-so-serious thinkers would long have stopped drooling over the promise of a Marxist-Leninist Paradise.
For pure destructive force, Communism ranks up there with the bubonic plague. Why do academic intellectuals, in particular, still teach students how to think like Communists?
Some of them must have believed that the colossal failure of Marxist-Leninist economies was a test of their faith. They are bitter clingers or sore losers, and they continue to mouth the party line about overthrowing the capitalist order.
Which brings us to someone that the New York Times considers worthy of a long interview. The individual in question is Nancy Fraser, a professor who has a chair at a place called the New School.
The New School is anything but a distinguished academic institution. It has turned into a bastion of the radical left, and thus a place that no one takes very seriously. It has seen better days. The proof: Nancy Fraser’s musings about how Marxist principles should inform feminist thought and practice. Since Fraser believes that mainstream feminists are what is best characterized as wusses, for the sake of clarity I will call Fraser a crackpot feminist.
Fraser's views do not correlate to what the mainstream media calls feminism, but they do correlate well with a book that counts as one of the central theoretical foundations of modern feminism. I am thinking of Friedrich Engels’ book, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State.
Fraser does not mention the book in her Times interview, but it’s presence is felt throughout. Besides, it was written by a white male, and we can't have that.
Fraser takes serious issue with the wussified feminism of one Sheryl Sandberg. No leaning-in for Fraser. She wants to overthrow the capitalist order because—don’t you know—capitalism devised the division of household labor that places women in the home and men in the world of work.
Keep in mind that Engels—bless his Communist heart—also believed that the Revolution would not be fulfilled until women were freed from their domestic servitude and given their rightful places in the workplace.
Engels, of course, understood that the division of family labor was not unique or indigenous to capitalism. Fraser does not.
For me, feminism is not simply a matter of getting a smattering of individual women into positions of power and privilege within existing social hierarchies. It is rather about overcoming those hierarchies. This requires challenging the structural sources of gender domination in capitalist society — above all, the institutionalized separation of two supposedly distinct kinds of activity: on the one hand, so-called “productive” labor, historically associated with men and remunerated by wages; on the other hand, “caring” activities, often historically unpaid and still performed mainly by women. In my view, this gendered, hierarchical division between “production” and “reproduction” is a defining structure of capitalist society and a deep source of the gender asymmetries hard-wired in it. There can be no “emancipation of women” so long as this structure remains intact.
One understands the Fraser, like Engels, does not really care about women, or men or children for that matter. She is an idealist. She wants to foment rebellion and overthrow the capitalist order. In that way justice will reign.
Engels did not know what happened when his grand schemes were put into practice, but Fraser should know that they killed over 100,000,000 people in a matter of a several decades. Most of those who died, especially in China, died of starvation.
So, Fraser takes out after Sheryl Sandberg, accusing her of classist prejudice against the women who are taking care of her children while she is out breaking the glass ceiling:
The trouble is, this feminism is focused on encouraging educated middle-class women to “lean in” and “crack the glass ceiling” – in other words, to climb the corporate ladder. By definition, then, its beneficiaries can only be women of the professional-managerial class. And absent structural changes in capitalist society, those women can only benefit by leaning on others — by offloading their own care work and housework onto low-waged, precarious workers, typically racialized and/or immigrant women. So this is not, and cannot be, a feminism for all women!
Don’t ask who should take care of the children while these women are all out in the world of work. And do not ask whether women really want to climb the corporate ladder or to offload childcare. If you do you will find yourself bumping up against reality. Fraser does not know it, but many women simply do not want to break any glass ceilings. They prefer work/life balance, which means spending more time with their children.
It’s not just Sheryl Sandberg. Fraser believes that any feminist who is mainstream, who is not a crackpot is conspiring with the capitalist order:
Mainstream feminism has adopted a thin, market-centered view of equality, which dovetails neatly with the prevailing neoliberal corporate view. So it tends to fall into line with an especially predatory, winner-take-all form of capitalism that is fattening investors by cannibalizing the living standards of everyone else. Worse still, this feminism is supplying an alibi for these predations. Increasingly, it is liberal feminist thinking that supplies the charisma, the aura of emancipation, on which neoliberalism draws to legitimate its vast upward redistribution of wealth.
Vivid imagery indeed. One hastens to note that efforts to overcome the predatory nature of capitalism, like in Mao’s Great Leap Forward produced massive famines. And one has not forgotten that Mao’s Red Guards not only murdered their teachers, but cannibalized their remains. It was a great moment in the Cultural Revolution. Only when China and other countries turned to capitalism were they able to feed their people. Here Fraser is oblivious to reality. Or else, she lost control of her imagery.
If we want to be fair and balanced, Fraser should be credited with one notable accomplishment. She succeeds in making mainstream feminism sound reasonable.
Those mainstream feminists who think that they have taken a step toward feminist nirvana by splitting all chores and all childcare responsibilities should think again. Fraser wants them to know that they are tools of the “neoliberal” capitalist order.
In her words:
Today, the feminist critique of the family wage has assumed an altogether different cast. Its overwhelming thrust is now to validate the new, more “modern” household ideal of the “two earner family,” which requires women’s employment and squeezes out time for unpaid carework. In endorsing this ideal, the mainstream feminism of the present aligns itself with the needs and values of contemporary neoliberal capitalism. This capitalism has conscripted women into the paid work force on a massive scale, while also exporting manufacturing to the global south, weakening trade unions, and proliferating low-paid, precarious McJobs. What this has meant, of course, is declining real wages, a sharp rise in the number of hours of paid work per household needed to support a family, and a desperate scramble to transfer carework to others in order to free up more time for paid work. How ironic, then, that it is given a feminist gloss! The feminist critique of the family wage, once directed against capitalism’s devaluation of caregiving, now serves to intensify capitalism’s valorization of waged labor.
Actually, manufacturing has mostly been exported to capitalist China, not to mention India and Vietnam and Indonesia. And it left the USA because wages here are not competitive. One cause is the power of trade unions.
Fraser is correct to see that there is something wrong with the American economy, that wealth is being concentrated at the top, in banking and high tech. She does not ask how well the educational system is preparing students to add more value to the economy. If they are being taught to foment a Marxist rebellion, they should not be surprised that the economy does not value their contributions very highly.
And Fraser does not consider the extent to which government interference in markets has caused these problems. When she talks about the neoliberal “glorification of the market and the vilification of the state” she makes clear that she wants the state to control the means of production, regardless of the disasters such policies have produced everywhere they have been tried.
When the interviewer suggests that she has signed up for a lost cause, Fraser responds that capitalism is facing a new crisis:
Well, I’m not at all convinced that transforming neoliberal capitalism is a lost cause. It seems to me that this social system is in a very deep, multidimensional crisis – a crisis at once economic, ecological, social, and political) – and that something will have to give, as was the case in the 1930s. So I would say that the question is not whether this capitalism will be transformed, but how, by whom and in whose interests.
Obviously, she is not looking for reform. She is looking for revolutionary transformation. She does not recognize that getting government out of markets is more constructive and efficient.
Naturally, Fraser sees sexism everywhere:
Unconscious bias against women – and indeed against everything coded as “feminine” – is pervasive in our society.
Remind me: who was it who denounced the feminine mystique, who expressed limitless contempt for all things feminine in society? Who was it who wanted women to overcome the oppressive condition of being feminine?
After militating against femininity for five decades feminists should at least have the decency not to shift the blame to capitalist patriarchs.