Ehrenreich, Rowbotham, and Socialist Feminism Assignment

Ehrenreich, Rowbotham, and Socialist Feminism Assignment Words: 2323

Matt Z. Marx and Marxist Theory-Final PaperDecember 19, 2003 Rowbotham, Hartmann*, and Ehrenreich each draw on Marx to construct a new socialist-feminist approach to social analysis and political change. What aspect or aspects of Marx’s thought does each find to be most useful? Show how their choices about what to take from Marx shape the political implications of their theories. Whose use of Marx makes the most sense for contemporary feminism(or, if you wish, another contemporary social movement)? *will not be discussing her in my paper] “So where do we go from here? (Gottlieb, 345). ” This question marks the beginning of Barbara Ehrenreich’s conclusion to her article, Life without Father: Reconsidering Socialist-Feminist Theory. However, I believe that this question extends much farther than just a mere conclusion to Ehrenreich’s views on the theory of “capitalism-plus-patriarchy. The views and selected writings of Sheila Rowbotham and Barbara Ehrenreich were meant to point modern socialist-feminists of the 20th century in the proper direction; trying to implement new ways of rethinking their ideologies, and even how to infuse Marxist tradition and thought into their teachings. With regards to the subject at hand, I use that same question to help understand the place of Marxist tradition in modern socialist-feminism; which teachings of his are utilized in helping to further the feminist cause, and furthermore, whose usage best helps the movement in its application and pragmatism.

I will venture to show that the direct approach of Rowbotham in discussing individual and gender consciousness and the subsequent political action which they are to sprout, is much more useful and helpful in garnering followers within a modern socialist-feminist movement than trying to follow Ehrenreich’s approach: uncovering, logically, the hidden aspects of alienation of socialist-feminists within the “capitalism-plus- patriarchy” explanation of male domination in capitalist society (as it is fundamental to socialist-feminist theory), and trying to foment a modern movement starting from there. Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life… The individuals composing the ruling class possess among other things consciousness, and therefore think”(Tucker, 155). These words were written by Marx in his work, The German Ideology, and were then used by Rowbotham to open Through the Looking-Glass, a selection from her 1973 work, Women’s Consciousness, Man’s World.

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From the outset, the theme of her article professed the combination of ones individual experiences of struggle and strife with ones consciousness and recognition that that is the state in which one is living. Rowbotham was carrying on the common theme of late-1960’s feminism, which was the idea of raising consciousness as a political method, also known to many as saying, “the personal is political” (Kurtz Lecture, 12/1).

The personal issues being discussed and debated at the forefront of feminist ideals, were birth control, divorce laws, and even the day-to-day expectations of women in the household and society: all of which were subject to a form of collective action on the part of all women, thus giving them a political platform upon which to act and make their voices heard, in the hope that changes would be made on behalf of women everywhere (Lecture, 12/1). Enter Sheila Rowbotham to say, In order to create an alternative, an oppressed group must at once shatter the self-reflecting world which encircles it, and, at the same time, project its own mage onto history. In order to discover its own identity as distinct from that of the oppressor it has to become visible to itself. All revolutionary movements become visible to itself… People who are without names, who do not know themselves,… experience a kind of paralysis of consciousness. The first step is to connect and learn to trust one another (Gottlieb, 281). The words of Rowbotham are quite reminiscent of, and reflective of those words of Marx written in his 1844 Manuscripts where he discusses the notion of “free, conscious activity” and his questioned riddle of history.

The riddle being, why humans within his realm of observation (those of the working class within capitalist society) were not living to their full potential. Marx pointed out that, fundamentally, man is free, in that, he is self-directing, and consciousness is what separates man from animals: meaning that man realizes the state in which he is living and has the freedom and knowledge to act and make changes if necessary (Tucker, 85-88). Unfortunately, as Marx stated, those who were subjected to the capitalists’ dominance in society were unable to consciously realize their state of being, and, in a sense, lost their human-ness:

As a result, therefore, man(the worker) no longer feels himself to be freely active in any but his animal functions’ eating, drinking, procreating,… and in his human functions he no longer feels himself to be anything but an animal. What is animal becomes human, and what is human becomes animal (Tucker, 74). With the recognition of ones downtrodden status within a collective group who is suffering as well, comes the foundation for a collective movement towards a greater society in which people can live human lives, where there are no restrictions on “free, conscious activity” or other fundamental human rights.

These were the thoughts of Marx as seen in his 1844 Manuscripts, but which also seemed to reappear within the pages of Sheila Rowbotham’s article, in that, the conscious realization of ones suffering and subservience within society serves as a building block for a corporate recognition of that suffering, and the subsequent collective action to follow. The collective action, as was seen by Marx in his Communist Manifesto, and by Rowbotham as well in her work, was that of a political movement.

Marx told his audience to “win the battle of democracy”(Tucker, 490), and Rowbotham stated, “In the absence of a political movement, we become accomplices” (Gottlieb, 292). Barbara Ehrenreich desperately wanted a unified front for the socialist-feminist movement as well. However, in her writings, it is unclear to find such fundamental ideas as individual and group consciousness coupled with collective action as professed by Marx and Rowbotham. Rather, Ehrenreich sought to question, and reform, socialist-feminist theory as of 1984.

By the time she wrote her article, Life Without Father: Reconsidering Socialist-Feminist Theory, there were many different branches of the socialist- feminist movement, thus creating an atmosphere of disjunction and incongruity amongst socialist-feminists (Lecture, 12/8). Ehrenreich was quite troubled as to why disunity was plaguing socialist-feminists, and in response, discussed that previous generalizations on socialist-feminist theory being based on the “capitalism-plus-patriarchy” explanation of male dominance in society, caused such alienation and distance of many from the true socialist-feminist movement.

Alienation: A theme heavily discussed and emphasized by Marx in his 1844 Manuscripts, as he stated in the section entitled Estranged Labour: The worker becomes all the poorer the more wealth he produces, the more his production increases in power and range. The worker becomes an even cheaper commodity the more commodities her creates. With the increasing value of the world of things proceeds in direct proportion the devaluation of the world of men. Labor produces… itself and the worker as a commodity (Tucker, Page 71).

Within the capitalist society that Marx was observing, workers were becoming the very things that they were helping to produce: Commodities. Their status as human beings was becoming alien to them, in that, they were only living to produce the goods in their workplace, and the relationships which they had with fellow workers, and even family, were cheapened, and reduced to that of almost non-existence. As Marx wrote, “The relation of the worker to the product of labour… the worker to his own activity as an alien activity not belonging to him… strangement from man… and separation from the species-being” (Pages 74-75). With this recognition of a general sense of worker alienation from the self, society, and potential to progress, Marx, in his Communist Manifesto, said that the solution to this problem is to be dealt with in a gradual scale: The workers must unionize in cooperative units around the world and plan simultaneous (or even individual) strikes to start chipping away at the dominance of the capitalist (Page 480).

Another part of the worker revolution was to be with the forming of a political party, in order to help gain such important changes as worker’s rights, higher wages… up until the point that the party has gained enough influence and power that it can abolish private property and become the dominant party (484, 490). This, as Marx believed, would be winning the battle of democracy. These dreams and ideas of Marx necessitated the communal realization of everyone’s suffering, and the subsequent communal acceptance of the same fundamental ideals and beliefs of Communism.

From the point at which Marx penned the Manifesto, through the fall of the First International, and even through the bloody reign of Joseph Stalin, it appeared as if the people, who were to be the source and major driving force of revolution, were alienated from, and were quite detached from Marxist ideals of communal living and living lives of “free, conscious activity. ” In this same vein, Barbara Ehrenreich, in her essay, explained how women came to be alienated from, and disassociated from the socialist feminist movement.

The aforementioned aloofness of women, as Ehrenreich explained, came from the naivete’ in thinking that the capitalism-plus-patriarchy explanation of society could be the grounds by which socialists feminists could base their theory, for it was the constant state in which they were living. However, Ehrenreich, in pointing out their fault, wrote: If the theory couldn’t account for the clashes as well as the reinforcements, it couldn’t account for change???such as the emergence of feminism itself in the ate-eighteenth century ferment of bourgeois and antipatriarchal liberalism… There is another problem. Things have changed… feminists and socialists—went wrong in assuming that “the system,” whatever it was called, would, left to itself, reproduce itself (Gottlieb, Page 340). Feminists assumed that everything would just stay stagnant within capitalist society. However, according to Ehrenreich, socialist-feminists brought to light the usage of women within capitalist society as merely serving the interests of men and capitalism.

But with regards to terminology and what these women were actually doing, that served as the subject of contention for Ehrenreich. Capitalism, inscribed with the will to “reproduce,” became “patriarchal capitalism. : This suggested that, in a sense, our theory was a family metaphor for the world: capitalists were the “fathers,” male workers were “sons,” and all women were wives/daughters… and producing more sons to keep the whole system going (Page 344). In an explanation to this comment, Ehrenreich further wrote:

I think now that the “capitalism-plus-patriarchy” paradigm overpersonalized (and humanized) capitalism precisely because it depersonalized women… Once all the interactions and efforts of child-raising have been reduced to “reproducing labor power” (and children have been reduced to units of future labor power, there is no place for human aspiration or resistance… the women who perform these “processes” have lost all potential autonomy and human subjectivity. (Pages 344-345)

From these excerpts, we see a modern socialist-feminist who is claiming that all previous attempts at trying to formulate and validate a socialist-feminist theory, upon which to base a movement and garner support from all women, did the exact opposite, in that, it dehumanized their actions within the household. In addition, they were no longer even considered women; rather they were seen as producers of, and sustaining agents of the male element, or, the capitalist/ patriarchal figures within society.

So what was Ehrenreich’s alternate approach to establishing a new, and somewhat flawless socialist-feminist theory? I still believe that if there is a vantage point from which to comprehend and change the world, our world today, it will be socialist and feminist. Socialist’ or perhaps I should say Marxist’ because a Marxist way of thinking, at its best, helps us to understand the cutting edge of change,… dislocations,… and global reshufflings. Feminist because feminism offers our best insight into that which is most ancient and intractable about our common situation: the gulf that divides the pecies by gender and, tragically, divides us all from nature and that which is most human in our nature (Page 346). Her approach was simply a return to the fundamental teachings of Marx, from which bore out Socialism and all notions of class cohesion and the oppressed group’s potential for a form of collective action. In addition, fundamental feminism was to be employed, for this, unlike the explanations of “capitalism-plus-patriarchy,” would include women acting as women, women being women, and the strength and individuality of women within society.

They would not be depersonalized, nor would they lose all potential autonomy and human subjectivity as it was within the realm of previous theories and explanations of the socialist-feminist cause. The reasons why I employed such original writings of Marx, like those from the 1844 Manuscripts, was in hope to show how both, Rowbotham and Ehrenreich, utilized those fundamental ideas of alienation, class-consciousness, and the need for political action in their writings.

In my opinion, however, Rowbotham’s technique implements these teachings with greater strength and significance. She acknowledged, and sought to implement the fundamental ideas of arousing group consciousness, and then strongly stated how in the absence of a political movement, socialist feminists become accomplices. In a sense, she says that women themselves hold the key to the significance and success of any socialist-feminist movement.

She coupled together theory and political action, whereas, Ehrenreich undid the foundation upon which socialist-feminists were standing, and only gave her thoughts on a new theory to be employed, neglecting to put emphasis on the necessity of political action with which to bring it to fruition. Ehrenreich fails to awaken the sleeping minds of those socialist-feminists in dire need of direction and leadership, as Rowbotham does with her excellent use of the fundamental teachings and theories laid out by the ancestral figure of Marx.

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