Marxist Feminism: dialectics as creation not application

Raya Dunayevskaya explains in Marxism and Freedom that Marx didn’t just take over the categories of Ricardo, Smith, and other bourgeois economists and simply apply the dialectic to their work. This is important but isn’t enough. Rather, Marx created new theoretical categories that political economy could not explain, social phenomena which existed but that was not theorized. Ricardo was the highest point of political economy in the sense that he saw labor as the basis of value, but Marx split labor into two new categories: labor as activity and labor-power as commodity. Ricardo confounded the two which meant his inability to explain why it was that the bourgeoisie becomes more wealthy while the working class becomes less so. Ricardo had no perspective on alienation because he was confined to the vantage point of the labor market (the exchange of equals) instead departing from the point of production where labor ceases being a commodity and becomes an activity.

This is exactly what Selma James has done. Rather than merely applying Marx’s method the way previous Marxist feminists have done–which has further obscured the pivot of housework in the maintenance of the wage–Selma created housework as a theoretical category. Prior to James, Marxist feminists could only put a feminist gloss on Marx’s analysis of the exploitation of labor and how it “affects” working class women, but Selma’s housework placed women’s unwaged labor in the home as that which makes possible the capitalists ability to exploit waged labor. Such a contribution in Marx’s period would have meant revising the WHOLE of Capital to incorporate this category, both in its function, in which case it met rest nicely after The Buying and Selling of Labor Power (chapter 6) and the Labor Process (chapter 7), and its historical development–which is where Federici comes into play–and would need to be incorporated into Marx’s chapter on The So-Called Primitive Accumulation (chapter 26).

I think I understand now what I have heard [a friend] say in the past about “taking the method beyond the method” which is to say that the method isn’t static while history is in motion, but BOTH are in motion. The Marxist method isn’t something an academic applies, but something living that workers develop.

This makes me rethink my whole approach to thinking about hip-hop (a very important pastime of mine) where I have previously understood the dialectic as an “application” and not as the creation of new categories.


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