A Materialist Feminism Is Possible (1980)

by cominsitu

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Christine Delphy (Feminist Review, No. 4, 1980, pp. 79-105)

The concepts used for the Marxist analysis of capitalist exploitation (or Capital, to simplify) cannot actually account for the exploitation of women for the same reason that they cannot account for the exploitation of serfs, or slaves, or indentured servants, or prisoners in labour camps, or African share-croppers. The simple reason is that the concepts used to account for exploitation by wages-and it is this which is the subject of Capital-cannot account for the exploitation of the unwaged. But the concepts used in the analysis of capitalism are not the whole of Marxist thought. On the contrary, they are themselves derived from more general concepts. How, otherwise, would Marx have been able to analyse non-capitalist modes of production and exploitation, such as slavery and feudalism? The concepts of class and exploitation do not come from the study of capitalism; on the contrary, they pre-exist it, permit it, and are at the origin of the notion of capitalism in its Marxist sense, ie. as a particular system of exploitation. These more general concepts–class and exploitation–not only in no way require that sexual divisions be ignored, but on the contrary are eminently useful in explaining them. And I mean here ‘explain’ in the strong sense: not just in describing it, not in describing only what happens after the division exists, but in accounting for its genesis.

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