Daniel Denvir: Welcome to The Dig, a podcast from Jacobin Magazine. My name is Daniel Denvir and I’m temporarily broadcasting from Santiago de Chile. Happy International Women’s Day––that’s this Friday, March 8th. I’ll be joining thousands demonstrating in Santiago’s enormous women’s strike. Yet not long ago, feminism was popularly portrayed as Sheryl Sandberg making her case that gender equity would be achieved by way of wealthy executive women leaning in and Hillary Clinton offering her presidential aspirations as a stand-in for the aspirations of women everywhere. Today, women are fighting back against workplace harassment and abuse, and striking women have begun to reclaim feminism as a project of working class struggle against not only patriarchy’s domination of women by men, but also against the capitalist order that sexism serves, that imposes the domination of the many by the few.
As Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya, and Nancy Fraser write in Feminism for the 99%: A Manifesto, “our answer to lean-in feminism is kick-back feminism. We have no interest in breaking the glass ceiling while leaving the vast majority to clean up the shards. Far from celebrating women CEOs who occupy corner offices, we want to get rid of CEOs and corner offices.” Today, Tithi Bhattacharya is my guest. We’re discussing this remarkable new manifesto and why a feminism worthy of its name must systematically fight all forms of oppression, because, as she explains, sexism, racism, and colonialism are all fundamental features of capitalism.
One more thing before we get started. House Democratic leadership is organizing another round of attacks against Representative Ilhan Omar, attempting to silence one of the few true heroes in national office for speaking truth to power about US support for Israeli atrocities. We must make it clear––with our phone calls, with our protests, with our donations to her campaign at ActBlue, and yes, even with our tweets––that we will respond to their every cynical attack with our vocal and rock-solid support. Democratic leadership is running interference for a murderous regime. This fight is over whether mere opposition to occupation, apartheid, and ethnic cleansing is tolerated. If we can’t speak against the Israeli-Saudi-Egyptian alliance, we can never end US support for it. If we can’t defend Omar, we can’t end imperialism. If we can’t end imperialism, we can’t have social democracy, let alone socialism, at home. If we can’t defend Omar, we won’t be able to defend Bernie when they come for him on Palestine. No doubt, Omar is more vulnerable on this. She’s a Black refugee Muslim woman. Bernie is Jewish. But make no mistake, attacks on Omar are a proxy war to shut down this entire movement.
Okay, here’s Tithi Bhattacharya, professor of history and director of Global Studies at Purdue University, and a national organizer for the International Women’s Strike. She is the author of The Sentinels of Culture: Class, Education, and the Colonial Intellectual in Bengal, from Oxford University Press, the editor of Social Reproduction Theory: Remapping Class, Recentering Oppression from University of Chicago Press, and co-author with Nancy Fraser and Cinzia Arruzza of Feminism for the 99%: A Manifesto, from Verso.
DD: Tithi Bhattacharya, Welcome to The Dig.
Tithi Bhattacharya: Thank you, Daniel. It’s great to be here.
DD: Let’s start with what’s happening right now and why it’s happening right now, before we get to your manifesto’s argument about what we should do about it. You write that there is “a crisis of society as a whole: simultaneously a crisis of economy, of ecology, of politics, and of care.” Explain your general argument about how it is that capitalism depends on more than economics narrowly construed, including the subordination of women through the expropriation of social reproductive labor––how all of these relationships of expropriation, to labor exploitation, dependent but denied, deepen these multiple sites of contradiction and as a result have pushed us into this general crisis you’re writing about.
TB: We understand Marxism, or Capital Volume 1, anyway, to be about exploitation and the extraction of profit and surplus value. Not just Marxists, but many people, understand that as the explanation for capitalism. So in this understanding, the extraction of surplus value or profit is done through the economic motor that makes workers either work longer hours or work more in order to make profit for the boss. So this is considered the motor of capitalism. But there are several places in Marx, for instance in “The German Ideology,” where Marx and Engels are basically saying that all of this happens in order for the worker to live, because at some point, that is, at the inception of the system, the worker had to be separated from her means of living––and that was a violent process. So there we have a story of colonialism as the beginnings of capitalism, or the conditions of possibility for capitalism. So if we all had access to reproducing our lives, then we wouldn’t have to work for our bosses. No one is going to go to a horrible 9 to 5 job, or increasingly, many more hours than 9 to 5, if we had access to making our own food, leading our own lives. So that separation of the working class, or the violent tearing away of the working class from her means of production, of herself and her life, is why the worker is dependent on the capitalist to reproduce her life. So becoming wage slaves for capital is not a natural thing. We have to be made into it, so certain capacities are actually emphasized or deemphasized by capitalist social relations in order for us to become workers. And in this expansive understanding of life-making and profit-making, we often forget, even Marxists often forget, that people go to work in order to live. The wage form actually intervenes between the human being and her life-making, and this is why workers fight for the wage, because it is not for the wage itself that she is fighting but it is for what the wage can achieve, which is life. And this is a very important understanding of wage labor that I think many Marxists, class reductionists, and definitely the bosses of unions forget––that the worker is not struggling for the wage per say, but she is struggling for the life that the wage can afford. So when conditions of life worsen for working class people, struggle erupts. So this is the larger theoretical understanding behind our theory of crisis that we advance in the book, that the current capitalist crisis actually threatens life as we know it. So if you look at climate change as one of the forms in which the crisis manifests itself, Andreas Malm has argued that if we have any policy that does not acknowledge, that if we don’t deal with climate change urgently and immediately, it’s basically genocide. So any government that does not support substantive measures for dealing with climate change, not just dealing but actually trying to stop and regulate climate change, then they are basically saying yes to mass genocide. And from our perspective as well, 80 percent of climate refugees are women. So this is an ecological crisis. We are confronted with the question whether life-making is even possible for our grandchildren, whether social reproduction is even possible for our grandchildren. Then there’s the crisis of politics itself. Again, bourgeois understandings of politics train us to think that we have control over political life through the trappings of bourgeois democracy, which is, you know, we go to vote once every four years. So there is a very direct and discreet separation between control over social life that we’ve been talking about, and political life. And I think this crisis is that while vast swaths of the globe feel that they have the right “to vote,” actually this right obscures the fact that neoliberalism has steadily basically denuded our control over social life. So a part of the answer to the political crisis, as we have talked about in the book, is that we seek control back over our social life. So it’s not just suffrage that we want extended. We actually want more control over how we lead our lives. The third crisis that we outline on top of all this is the crisis of social reproduction. And here I think we have to look at the concept of care in a more political sense than we normally understand care to be. We understand care to be sort of individual care that individual caregivers give to the vulnerable and the needy in our society. But I think under neoliberalism, what has happened is––again, because it actually attacked the infrastructure of life-making, so it attacked the very elements that we need to reproduce our lives: hospitals to heal us, schools to educate us, public parks that provide us with green spaces, and not to mention, public transportation…all of these basic infrastructures that make life-making possible were taken away, devastated, or just canceled by neoliberalism. So in this barren landscape of this virulent attack on these institutions of caregiving, not just the idea of care but the institutions of caregiving, care then emerges as a political practice, I want to say. So every teacher who’s fighting against school closures, every nurse that is fighting against lean production, is actually, in their real work, trying to heal the injuries of class. So in that context, care is a political phenomenon and the crisis of care is beyond just the denudation of these public infrastructures. It is actually a much more deep-rooted attack on working class life-making, and this is why to regain control, we must understand care and caregiving as a politicized phenomenon. And this is why we should not be surprised that the majority of struggles are erupting in the current context over the battle over these infrastructures of care. So battle over clean air, clean water, public schools, public parkways, and so on.
DD: Explain how it is that capitalism makes this division between the backstage of expropriation, including in social reproduction, and the front stage that we most often associate with Marxist analysis, of exploitation––a relationship that, under capitalism, is dependent but then denied and obscured, including to many on the left. And explain how that all deepens these various sites of contradiction.
actually mean by capitalist production. Capitalist production is not just the production of commodities through which profit is made by the expropriation of surplus value, of workers. Capitalist production also requires two other things: one, the social reproduction of itself. Capital must have stable, dependent social relations that it can rely on to carry on that production. It actually needs a pliant workforce, preferably divided by all kinds of race, gender, and sexuality-oriented divisions. And so those social relations are what capital relies on for its continued existence. But we have to think also that capitalism produces commodities––that’s the source of its life. But somebody has to produce those commodities in order for capitalist profits to be realized, and those somebodies are actually the working class. And so the system also needs a reliable mechanism for the reproduction of the working class and the reproduction of the class’s labor power, which is what it needs. So those two circuits––the reproduction of labor power, which I call people-making, if you like, or life-making, and the production of commodities, or profits––are actually united circuits. Both go into the maintenance of the system. If one were to collapse then the other would collapse as well. For instance, in the early days of industrial capitalism, Engels’s book, The Conditions of the Working Class in England, shows that at the early beginnings, as the system was getting set up, capitalism had no idea that there could be some limits to its greed. So it basically ate up all the labor palette that it found available, which is men, women, children, everyone. So there are devastating descriptions of working-class homes in Engels’s book, which I think should be a companion to Capital Volume 1, where working women, children, are found dead on floors of one room where six or seven of them live with no toilet facilities and so on. So that was an actual threat of interruption to working class life-making, which is why the capitalist state had to step in and say “okay, we cannot kill the golden goose,” so we have to regulate working hours and we have to regulate certain things, which is, not surprisingly, when laws were passed to strengthen, actually, the working-class family. So laws were passed to send working-class women back from the workplace into the home where they could carry on these so-called care activities, and the male breadwinner emerged, ultimately, as the––
DD: And this was the political economy of Victorian morality.
TB: Correct. Exactly. And so it was never, ever true that working-class women mainly stayed at home. I mean, look at the lives of Black women in the United States. But the discourse was created that housework was women’s work. So actually, in the case of women of color throughout history, and working-class women in general, it is now that they had to work these long hours in the factories in order to make life-making possible, but then they also had to do all the homemaking in the house, and childrearing and so on. So this is the relationship between life and production that capitalism actually obscures. This is the root of what I said before, of the separation between economic and political life with social life. So like capitalism naturalizes all social relations, the family is seen or declared by capitalism as a transhistorical unit, where women have always given birth, and isn’t it natural to imagine that they always will? So this is basically the root of gender oppression: the bourgeois family. This is not to say that there was no gender oppression previous to capitalism, but this is the specific form that gender oppression takes under capitalism, which is why the effort of revolutionaries and socialists and feminists have always been to evacuate the house of all social reproductive functions, so communal laundries, communal kitchens, and so on…That society as a collective will assist in the work of reproduction, which would be far more efficient than an individual family doing it. If you think about the concept of public kitchens, we should realize that they actually exist. They’re called restaurants.
TB: Only that the rich can afford them, right? We are just merely saying that there should be a public restaurant in every neighborhood where each neighborhood member…
DD: It seems like such a radical proposal, but in fact there’s a lot of evidence that people quite like and desire public kitchens.
TB: Right, exactly! This would be an effective way to change out the McDonald’s diet into a healthy, neighborhood, local public kitchen.
DD: And decommodify it all at the same time.
TB: Correct. This has been the effort since the start of the 20th century, you know, the Bolsheviks being, Kollontai particularly, being an early advocate for this. But in a way, wages for housework is not the same thing, but it is still identifying in a way the same problem, that housework is the problem and we need to abolish it in some way.
DD: An important argument that you make, that I hadn’t really connected to social reproduction theory before, is that capitalism not only hijacked social reproduction to feed and clothe workers and what not, so as to prepare them for workplace exploitation, but under capitalism, care work is also used by the powers that be, and the system, that is, to craft people into a certain type of subject––nationalist, cis, heterosexual, obedient to authority in and out of the workplace, and of course, accepting of their station in life. Explain this social control function of social reproduction under capitalism.
TB: Okay, so now let’s think about the modern school system. I do Indian history––I was trained in South Asian history. So all precapitalist education systems were yes, gender, and in my case, because I do South Asia, caste based, but none of these education systems had hourly routines. You didn’t go to school at a certain time in the morning, stay there for a certain time, your time being divided into periods. This is a very, very 19th century addition to when modern schools are coming into being. And what is that timing? It is the discipline of the workplace, that you are being taught early. My kid struggles to get up sometimes at 5:30 in order to make her orchestra class before school, but that discipline she is learning right now, so that it prepares her for when she’s going to be a worker. So the very existence of these kind of temporal rhythms that we encounter very early in school are efforts to make us into compliant beings for capital. I always ask my class this question: when you were a child, you know, between the ages of, let’s say, three and five or six, who taught you to love your parents? Like did you have anthems at home that said you must love your parents, or whoever the caregivers might be, that you should love your guardians? Was there anything? Like was there a script you followed? And they said no. I said, “why not?” They said, “because they were there and they cared for us and so we loved them back.” I said “okay, then if the nation is such a stable identity that we all believe in its existence, that it’s there for us, to protect us against our enemies, then you shouldn’t need a Pledge of Allegiance, you shouldn’t need a national anthem to basically train you that the nation is great and glorious.”
DD: Ronald Reagan cradling me as a small child.
TB: Exactly. And then they get the whole point, that you don’t love the nation as a natural biological response to the nation loving you, but you have to be taught to love the nation. And in America it’s particularly, I think, early and severe, this indoctrination, because it starts at age five. From age five, without understanding even the words, children are taught to parrot the Pledge of Allegiance. And so those are capital’s mechanisms. Two of the most sort of common ones that I told you, which are related to when we are children, as to how it creates people who they will find useful for profit-making purposes. We are trained as humans to be servants to the profit-making impulse.
DD: And then the gender conditioning is everywhere and pretty obvious and has reached its apotheosis in the explosion of “gender reveal parties.”
TB: Exactly. Actually, how do we know that a baby, a fetus who has exhibited a penis, is actually gendered male? I mean, all we can say is “we are going to show you what the genitalia is of the baby.” How can it be gender? So it should be called genitalia parties, rather than gender parties. So there is that. But I want to say that this all sounds very Foucauldian, and we are sort of prisoners in this system, but I think there is a huge caveat to that when it comes to relations of social reproduction. It’s important to remember that while the circuits, which I talked about before, the circuit of commodity production and the circuit of life-making, while they’re united, they’re also separate. They’re united but separate. Capital has direct control over the profit-making circuit. It can actually tell the worker what to do. Over the circuit of life-making it only has indirect control. So this is not to say “we can all be what we want to be” and so on. Our decisions that we make in the social reproduction sphere are suffused by the silent compulsions of the wage labor relation. That is certainly true but it is not complete. So people do not actually have pleasure in each other or have sex with each other with the acute thought that “I must make a generation of workers for capital.” So there is a genuinely human––
DD: Maybe that’s a small number of people’s very particular fetish.
TB: Okay, I’m allowing for that.
DD: You never know.
TB: Yeah, please don’t ever tell me what their bedroom talk is.
DD: We won’t yuck their yum. But go ahead.
TB: So people actually, in this sphere, have a limited but important ability to express, and perhaps shape, real human relations. This is very different from the workplace condition where there is no mercy at all. We say now there is gender fluidity in our society. But actually, if you look back in any decent history of queer struggles, we can see that there was gender fluidity throughout history. So despite what capital wants in its heteronormative narrative, people have always done what they thought was important to them in terms of their sexuality. Now of course, the vast majority of people could not. So some of these legal rights that we have gained in our generation, extremely important, to allow people to come out more openly, but that is not to deny that these relations of human love and human beauty were completely suppressed by capitalism. Then we would just be living in some kind of automaton world. And we don’t, human beings still love, create beauty, and so on. Despite capitalism.
DD: There’s always this point of conflict here. What Nancy Fraser calls “boundary struggles,” if I remember correctly.
TB: Correct. My interpretation of that boundary struggle is to add one more point to it, which is…Nancy is absolutely right that the struggle is over extending our powers of life-making, and making our right to life-making as the key determinant of our struggle, that it’s not just about wages and benefits. What good is a wage or a benefit if you’re going to be arrested by ICE after your major union victory? What is the point of a bread and butter struggle if you are shot down on your way to school? Who’s going to eat that bread? So Nancy’s absolutely right in pointing to that boundary struggle. But I want to say also, that what I said about us having some relative autonomy, some relative autonomy in our life-making sphere…we should never forget that the horizons of that sphere are always limited by capitalism. So I want to imagine a world where that horizon extends to infinity, and then I want to see what humanity is capable of––in their gender relations, in their human relations––because if we think this is gender fluidity, I think we are only seeing the tip of that immense iceberg that has a potential to lift humanity up to heights that we deserve.
DD: Is this in part, I wonder, Althusser’s argument about ideological state apparatuses but read through a feminist, and thus more substantive, lens?
TB: Yes, you could say that I would say that. I would say that in Althusser, I think there is a…between the great debate in Marxism between structure and agency, in Althusser there is an overt dependence on structure. And so I think this way to look at social relations, through both the agency of human beings and the limits of the structure, which is a dialectical relationship between structure and agency that is encapsulated by Marx’s famous words that we make history, but not according to circumstances of our choosing. But we cannot emphasize the circumstances that we don’t choose. We also have to emphasize that we do make history despite those circumstances. So I think that’s the way I would see the relationship between work and class struggle, which is a multiracial, multigendered working class, and the limits put on working class struggle by both capital and traditional understandings of labor struggles.
DD: Let’s talk more about these struggles and conflicts. You write that “social reproduction struggles are especially explosive today.” Why is that and particularly, why is this more the case today than during prior moments of capitalist crisis?
TB: Well, think about how neoliberalism came into being. If we look at the period of its birth, from the late 1970s after the major struggles recede, and the early 1980s, we can actually track the crucial moments that were necessary for its victory. And some of those crucial moments can be tracked through the spectacular defeats of some major strikes. So I want to think about the textile strike in India, the miners’ strike in the UK, PATCO, the air traffic controllers strike in the US, and, of course, the violent installation of US-backed dictators in various places in Latin America, including where you are right now. But here’s the thing that happened, I think, as a result of that, that neoliberalism sought to break union power in all of these major ways across the Global South and North, which means the working class was actually rendered powerless in the arena of workplaces; at the point of production, neoliberalism sought to take away all its traditional weapons of fight back. And so when that power is broken, then those who basically backed that move said that the working class is finished, and those traditional, I would say, Marxists and so on, said “okay, we need to focus on rebuilding the union movement because that’s where our greatest strength lies and that’s where the working class will recover.” But neither of those two happy things happened. Neither did we rebuild unions nor did the working class recede, because life conditions got so severe that the working class actually started protesting in the best way that it could, which was no longer in the workplace but actually in their life-place, so in communities, on the streets. If you look at the struggles that erupted from the 90s onwards––the water struggles in Bolivia, Cochabamba, the water tax struggles in Ireland, the struggles against big dams in India, evictions everywhere, against housing prices and so on…did not start in the workplace. They started while strike levels were pretty low. Community struggles were pretty high. This is the period of the building of the Palestine movement, the BDS movement, the building of the Black Lives Matter movement. So all of these important social movements came into being in the aftermath of unions losing power. And so again, the traditional understanding has been that when unions build power we will build social power. But actually, I think social reproduction theory teaches us that while we are powerful in the workplace for obvious reasons of collective power to shut down capital, it is not necessary that the spark to that struggle will come from the workplace. So actually, this radical change of consciousness through these social movements can actually affect workers and their confidence to strike in the workplace. And please, let’s remember that the key areas of strikes in workplaces recently have not just been on wages but it has been on benefits as well, which is a very clear indicator of workers fighting for their life conditions, rather than necessarily for their job conditions––which they are as well. And I also noticed that, for instance in the teachers strikes, this time around…so I was in West Virginia, in Kentucky, I’ve talked to teachers from Arizona and so on. Last year there was not, except amongst teachers of color, there wasn’t a clear race component––anti-racist component––to the strikes. I spoke to some brilliant teachers of color in in Kentucky, Louisville, and they basically told me, “well, how can I teach if my student comes traumatized from their experience or their family’s experience with the police on the street?” So there was this consciousness, but mainly amongst teachers of color and some other teachers who stood in solidarity with the teachers of color. What didn’t happen last year was actually that consciousness pervade the strike movement. But look at the Los Angeles teachers’ strike. Race became a very important element of that strike––or anti-racism, rather. And they actually included anti-racist elements in their strike demands. So here we see a sort of advanced layer of teachers, the teachers of color, who came into the strike movement last year having been politicized through BLM are now actually having an effect on the strike movement to adopt certain demands that BLM has taught us. I think again, we have to look at this movement and dynamism between workplace struggle and social struggles.
DD: That brings up something I wanted to ask you about, which is something I’ve been thinking about in terms of the teachers’ movement and their fight against neoliberal education reform and austerity. How should we think of the struggle in the context of public education’s traditional role in making certain types of docile economic and political subjects, which we discussed earlier? This is an aspect of public education that neoliberal privatizers have cynically exploited, presenting themselves as less rigid models, even though they often go on to double down on things like high stakes standardized testing. Do you see the current teacher movement as not only defending public education as it has existed but also fighting to transform it so that it is not a tool of social control?
TB: Absolutely the second. Because I think if you look at it, the neoliberal tools of social control have had a devastating effect not just on the fate of the students, i.e. make them compliant or what have you––which it hasn’t succeeded, obviously, in making the students compliant––but it has had a devastating effect on those who are forced to deliver those tools. Which is our teachers. So when you have standardized tests and standardized tests being the only mechanism to judge your teachers, then there is no joy in teaching. You can’t actually control any conditions of your work and you are constantly at risk of being fired because you haven’t met the absurd standards that some bureaucrat or Bill Gates-millionaire has set somewhere. So it is absolutely against that. But I also think that this new idea that has existed before, in the 30s and so on, but is being revived right now, is the question of social justice unionism or class struggle unionism. So I was there during the Chicago teachers’ strike, where I think this idea was promoted really, really strongly. The radical caucus within CTU––the Chicago Teachers Union––lots of socialists in that caucus built and fought for this caucus to promote the ideals of social justice unionism. But how exactly did they do it? Before they’ve called a strike or even discussed their demands, for years, they went to Black and brown communities where schools were being closed down and they brought their CTU banner with them. So these communities saw that this union has come to our aid. Every time there was a school closure, a police shooting, the CTU would try to go and advocate for these racialized communities that are the most vulnerable in Chicago, even today…the rampant violence of the Chicago police and the rampant forgivance of the Chicago Police by the system is off the charts. And remember, the slogan that CTU made popular was “our teaching conditions are our students’ learning conditions.” So in other words, how you treat us is basically how you treat the students. And so when the union called for a strike, these communities that they had shown solidarity towards came out in droves to support the teachers’ strike. I was there two days, actually, before the strike, wearing my red CTU t-shirt and walking through the South Side of Chicago. Every car honked, every window opened and waved when they saw a red T-shirt. It was astonishing. And remember, this was like, what, six years ago? So there was nothing called “a strike,” even, in people’s imaginations. So it was just extraordinary to see. So I think this strike wave that we are experiencing now is actually trying to push forward the idea of social justice unionism, which actually combines the life-making activities of workers with the profit-making activities that workers are forced to do. So changing the conditions of life is as important as changing the conditions of work. Now, between you and me, I think that ideal of social justice unionism is not as widespread or generalized as perhaps you and I would like it to be, but I think this is an important beginning.
DD: Let’s turn to the core of the manifesto’s argument for a feminism of the 99 percent. First, you have the model of the feminism that you’re fighting against, which is embodied by Facebook CEO and former Larry Summers chief of staff, Sheryl Sandberg, and her idea that women must “lean in” and win success in business for gender equality to be achieved. You write, “they want a world where the task of managing exploitation in the workplace and oppression in the social whole is shared equally by ruling class men and women, a form of equal opportunity domination.” You contrast this model to that put forward by striking women in Spain, Poland, and elsewhere––feminist movements that are about ending that domination. Explain these two sorts of feminism.
TB: Okay, so if you wanted me to create a hashtag for the manifesto besides #feminismforthe99% then my hashtag would be #theglassceilingisalsoaclassceiling. So that’s kind of the message we wanted to get across, that breaking the glass ceiling is only possible for a certain class of women, while the rest of us are in the basement cleaning up that glass. It is an effort to ground the idea of working class power, because feminism, particularly in the neoliberal period––not just in the United States, but I work very closely with feminists in India and that’s prevalent too––is neoliberalism has shaped the discourse on feminism in a particular way. Neoliberal proponents argue that feminism constituted this vague understanding of “empowerment,” and that idea of empowerment was actually immune or immunized from questions such as, for instance, “whose empowerment are we talking about and to what end?” So these are the questions that neoliberalism silences. So feminism came to be neatly conceived as the empowerment of women, which in real terms translated to the empowerment of a tiny upper section of rich women across the world. So feminism came to be equated with success within capitalism. But Feminism for the 99% argues that if feminism is going to become a threat to sexism and capitalist violence, again, rather than a handmaiden to capitalist development, then feminism has to be of the 99 percent rather than feminism of the 1 percent. So that understanding is very closely tied to the question of working class power and the radical transformation of society. Feminism, we argue, cannot be narrowed to what bourgeois feminists teaches us are feminist issues––for instance, bourgeois feminism says that “equal wages for equal work” is a feminist issue, or abortion is a feminist issue. And we agree. I certainly agree. But equal wages for equal work…equality is a tricky term, right? Is it equality in prosperity or is it equality in misery? I want to be earning the same as my fellow working class men, but if his wage is below poverty level, if his wage is not enough to meet the needs of life-making, then why would I want that wage? I want both wages to be lifted. So actually, wage struggle is a feminist issue. Similarly for abortion. Yes, of course women should have the right to abortion, but is that enough? What if that abortion, the legal right to abortion exists, but abortion clinics are so expensive and the price of abortion is so expensive in other ways in society that only a tiny minority of women actually can access abortion? So what is the point of that? But instead, if we argue for universal healthcare with full abortion facilities, then we are actually talking about a real feminist issue, a feminism for the 99 percent issue, that goes beyond the question of just a legal right to abortion, because then we’re talking about questions of who has the right to give birth and who has the right not to give birth. Because just as abortion is a legal right, the right to have children, particularly in this country with the history of sterilization of women of color, the right to give birth is also a fundamental right that has to be paired with abortion. But then once our child is born, what is the point of having a child if she and I and our family has no access to clean water, to public schools and so on?
DD: This really resonates with the ideas around reproductive freedom advanced by scholars like Dorothy Roberts.
TB: Exactly. So Dorothy Roberts is actually one of the key people here who talks about reproductive justice as a whole, rather than just the right to abortion. So that’s kind of where I think the question of working-class power and feminism for the 99 percent are inextricably linked.
DD: You make a similar argument in terms of liberal feminism’s approach to domestic violence. You write that laws criminalizing domestic violence and prosecuting its perpetrators are “a cruel hoax if they turn a blind eye to the structural racism and sexism of criminal justice systems, leaving intact police brutality, mass incarceration, deportation threats, military interventions, and harassment and abuse in the workplace.” And then you also note that liberal feminists fail to “include public services, social housing, and funding to ensure that women can leave domestic and workplace violence.” What is it that liberal feminism obscures about domestic violence?
TB: Well, like all social problems, bourgeois feminists and liberal feminists see that at an individual level. So “domestic violence is done by bad men, just as police violence is done by bad police officers.” So these are all “bad apple” theories of social injustice, whereas I think feminists for the 99 percent argue that these threads of violence are actually all connected. For instance, domestic violence is in a way condoned by a society which is highly militarized and values the killing of other people in other countries. So if that is the basis of pride in a country, in the national discourse of a country, that kind of violence and expropriation, then is it any surprise that that country will have a worship of guns and a worship of violence, even at the micro-level, which is the domestic sphere? But the second thing is that working-class men often perpetrate violence against their female partners or family members. And this feminism for the 99 percent does not turn a blind eye to that. And what I’m gonna say next is not a justification for working class violence, far from it, but it is an explanation for working class violence, which is the loss of control in their lives, in their workplaces, in their societies, push men to become the controller, and feel that control is back in their lives when they can beat their female companions or children in the home. So this is the sort of toxicity that bourgeois masculinity combines with the helplessness of working class men in society, and they feel that this is one way to assert their manliness and take back their power and so on. So again, domestic violence is actually not about “bad men doing bad things.” It is a systemic violence that has its roots in much more important institutions of violence that capitalism promotes and upholds.
DD: On those lines, you have a good line in the manifesto. You write, “the gender dynamics we experience today reflect the contradictory dynamics of family and personal life in capitalist society, and these in turn are based in the system’s signature division between people-making and profit-making: family and work.” There is this dynamic that you highlight in the manifesto between sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace and domestic violence in the home, rooted in that very division between the two spaces and the different forms of domination that reign in both.
TB: So if you take the example of the economic processing zones, in the Global South in particular, and the maquiladoras along the US border and so on, these were all institutions––labor regimes––that were set up during the neoliberal period, where companies could absolutely exploit labor as it wished and the government would not be able to interfere. So these are little kingdoms that the companies ran within nations and could, at will, violate all national labor laws. So what happens in these places? I want to use these places as a symbol of that argument about domestic violence and the workplace. Gender violence in particular is rampant in these workplaces: rape, strip searches, all kinds of humiliation, in largely-female workplaces, is the norm in these export processing zones. And women are hired over men in these communities because women are deemed to be more docile. They have nimble fingers to stitch your Gap t-shirts and your H&M trousers. This is the understanding. So what then happens? One is that once this violence is condoned or operates in the workplace, it of course diffuses the rest of society. That it’s allowed here. So gender control becomes a tool of labor control. Secondly, because of the practice in which women are hired over men, the men in these communities are pitted against their sisters and partners and daughters. The men then extend that kind of control in their own sphere of control, which is the home. So in Bangladesh, for instance, I have talked to several female workers in the garment industry, which is where all the textiles go, and they say that “our husbands are very suspicious when we work overtime in these factories, because they say, ‘well why are you out till two in the morning, are you seeing other men?’ whereas we argue that if I don’t do overtime, then we cannot feed the children.” And sometimes, in certain families that I spoke with, doing overtime, they would risk a beating when they got back home, because it was clearly their sexual desires or uncontrolled sexuality that was using overtime as an excuse to stay out late and hang out with other men. So here you see these perfect examples of the imbrication of gender relations and labor relations, where the violence in one strengthens the violence in others and they reinforce each other.
DD: I want to talk more about the role of strikes in your manifesto, and more generally, in this emerging left feminist movement that the manifesto is about and addressed to. You argue that the emergent left feminist movement has “invented new ways to strike and infused the strike form itself with a new kind of politics.” In other words, women have struck as women in women’s strikes, a tactic that has emphasized the critical role played by women’s often unpaid work in social reproduction, and thus “broadening the very idea of what counts as labor.” But women workers have also, as we’ve discussed, transformed traditional labor strikes by centering women’s key role in increasingly-critical sectors of wage labor that are socially reproductive, like education and healthcare. And altogether, these fights have highlighted this obscured connection between production and reproduction. Explain your larger argument here about the emergence of these two forms of women’s strikes and the relationship between the two.
TB: The women’s strike, I would say, is a culminating form––new, but culminating form––of the social struggles that went before it. And all of these social struggles were led by women or were about issues that affected women in disproportionate ways to men. For instance, all the struggles we talked about before––water struggles, struggles for housing, and so on, were all led by women because women felt the disproportionate burden of care and living during the neoliberal period. So the women’s strike, if you remember, in 2017, happened after two major mass strikes in Argentina and Poland. The Argentina strike was against femicide, which is very, very related to neoliberal practices in Argentina. There was a marked increase of gender violence and femicide in Argentina with the coming of neoliberalism. And in Poland, there was a mass demonstration in 2016 for abortion rights. And so these two strikes were the instances where women came out in their millions on the streets to protest against these two issues. And several thousand men joined them. And it was basically, in effect, a women’s strike, in the sense that, because millions of women came out in the streets, they were not in their workplace, but they were also not at home, caring for children or washing dishes. So this idea that when women stop, society stops, was then cohered by international feminists in the late fall of 2016. And people argued––we argued––how about a Global Women’s Strike? Which will allow us to reclaim March 8th as International Working Women’s Day. That’s the roots of the Women’s Strike. That’s why we say in the book that it broadens the concept of strike and it broadens the concept of labor. That it is much more effective, that if it becomes a mass strike––in the Rosa Luxemburg sense, not just one workplace strikes or several workplaces strike––that it becomes a mass strike, and that means that women actually have that lever of power to say, “not only will we not work in your factories or your schools or so on, but we will also not work in your homes.” So this is a double blow to the two capitalist circuits, one of life-making and one of commodity production. I think that is really the connection between the current teachers’ strike wave and the women’s strike movement. So even though the teachers’ strike wave or the nurses’ strike or, as Sara Nelson pointed out, the flight attendants’ threat of striking, even though they do not yet have explicit feminist content, their form is actually explicitly feminist, because they are striking not just as teachers but actually as women. If you look at the numbers in America, 80 percent of the workforce of teachers are women, and some of these attacks on them are very, very gendered. And again, it is part of that attack on the care sector of the economy broadly understood. So it is the same as the attack on the freedom to access free water. The same attack on clean air is the same as the attack on public schools. So this is where I think we, as Marxists and revolutionaries, need to constantly emphasize that connection rather than promote one sector of struggle over the other, i.e. the workplace over the non workplace.
DD: I want to ask about the historical context. You write that, “an anti-capitalist feminism has become thinkable today.” And I want to ask you about a few of the reasons why, starting with one key factor––Hillary Clinton’s 2016 run and loss, which is often, and I think not entirely incorrectly, portrayed as a win for male reaction. But that’s, of course, not the whole story and indeed, part of the story is sort of the opposite of that. You write, “the much ballyhooed candidacy of Hillary Clinton failed to excite women voters, and for good reason. Clinton personified the deepening disconnect between elite women’s ascension to high office and improvements in the lives of the vast majority.” You’re making an argument here entirely contrary to the conventional wisdom that Clinton did embody women’s aspirations. What, for you and for many other women who did not support Hillary Clinton, did she represent?
TB: It really depends on what we are aspiring to. Hillary Clinton’s candidacy absolutely embodied female aspiration, but this was an aspiration to become the leading power to drone bomb other countries, or the leading power to control capitalistic exploitation, or drive down wages. In that sense, it did embody the aspiration of women being at the helm of capitalist social relations, and I think that is not the aspiration that the vast majority of women share, either within America or globally, because America is a global imperialist power. So I don’t think this is of particular significance to my sisters in Afghanistan, that a woman is sending the drones rather than a man. So that’s the first part of it. And the question of Hillary Clinton is also about the question of diversity, in a way. So this is a very neoliberal packaging of the notion of diversity. The way we understood diversity in the 1970s, when it was not called that, or the 80s, we understood there to be anti-racism or anti-sexist struggles. Those were our ways of achieving power for the disempowered––people of color, women, and so on.
DD: A moment before Benetton advertising.
TB: Exactly. Exactly. But diversity in effect, under neoliberalism, has come to mean the diversification of the 1 percent. If you look around the globe, the 1 percent is now more diverse than it has ever been in its history. We’ve already elected a Black president when the vast majority of Black lives in the US declined in their welfare, and police violence remained unabated, and if we elect Kamala Harris, for instance, this is a woman who actually advocates for the mass incarceration of Black and brown bodies. So the ruling class is more diversified now than ever before. And this language and politics of neoliberal diversity is used to obscure and stop us from demanding this diversity being applied to all. So rights of Black and brown people, rights of working-class women, are actually silenced because they keep saying, “well, if you elect a rich white woman or you elect a rich Black woman who’s going to serve the purposes of capital, then that’s a way of empowerment.” This is the most narrow sense of representation ever available, in which case, representation becomes a tool for the suppression of those who they claim to represent. So this neoliberal diversification of the 1 percent, I think, is something that Feminism for the 99% challenges, in which we argue that diversity is not really the issue here. We do not want diversification of the 1 percent, or the generalization of poverty and racism. What we do want is the vast majority of people, especially people from oppressed communities, to be given the right to decide our own futures. That’s really the demand here, rather than the empowerment of a few rich women to positions of power.
DD: I’m thinking back to Clinton’s concession speech on election night, when she lamented, “we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling.” And I’m wondering, do you think it’s fair to say that liberal feminism as a hegemonic project is centrally about identifying the particular interests of elite women like Clinton as representing the interests of women as a whole? Is that, at its core, what it’s doing symbolically?
TB: Absolutely. So this is why I began by saying that the glass ceiling is actually a class ceiling. Clinton is all for equal pay for equal work, but not for questioning the conditions that make work unbearable and wages low. It doesn’t matter to her that all wages are low. It just means that she can claim a formal equality of having achieved equal pay for equal work between men and women. So bourgeois feminism and liberal feminism really is about the empty shell of juridical equality. It’s about what rights we can gain from the state. And this is a dangerous argument, because it could be construed that I’m arguing against juridical rights––absolutely not. But I think we should argue that juridical rights are the beginning of a process, rather than the end of a process. A juridical right is not a right at all unless we create conditions for substantiating those rights. And this is where, I think, socialists and feminists for the 99 percent, are pointing to that disjuncture between Clinton’s feminism and our feminism, where Clinton wants to stop at gaining a particular juridical right while we want that right to be applicable, and the conditions created for the right to be applicable, to all of us, not just to Clinton.
DD: There is one very strong and funny (if it wasn’t actually entirely terrifying) piece of recent evidence that this sort of feminism is losing its legitimacy and that is senator and presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar being revealed as the cruelest, most vilely abusive boss imaginable, and the initial feeble efforts by some to characterize these reports as sexist attacks on a strong elder woman.
TB: You can probably guess my answer to that, but I’m going to match that story with another story that came to us during the first Women’s Strike of 2017. One of our speakers in New York on the day of the strike was this fantastic trans woman who worked at a shop called Pleasure Chest. It’s located in New York and its owner was a woman. This is a feminist store: it sells sex toys and pleasure manuals and things like that. And the boss was very, very feminist. So our trans comrade said, “this was something that attracted me to go work for the store, but I understood quickly that she was a feminist only up to the point that we did not demand a raise in our wages.” So at the rally, the comrade called it “boss feminism.” That she was fine with her commitment to equality and emancipation until her workers demanded a higher wage. And she absolutely refused, and so the workers actually walked out in strike. So that’s when what feminism is was revealed to everyone––that feminism is actually incompatible with boss feminism, that that is not about emancipation, that is about finding a place for a minority of women within capitalism. And that cannot be a real feminist goal at all.
DD: In terms of the origins of this moment, where does the 2017 Women’s March fall in terms of the role that it has played? It represented, I think, quite a few and sometimes quite contradictory strands of American feminism.
TB: The Women’s March in January of 2017 was, I would say, one of the most brilliant events in American social movements. More than a million people marched in various parts of the country on that day in January. People wanted to express directly and openly their condemnation of the new president and it came in all kinds of forms, people from all kinds of lives, all walks of life, women, men, children joined that march. And I think it was fantastic. What was not so fantastic, I think, was how the leadership envisioned that march and what they had in place to offer as solutions to these million people who came out. For instance, we had supporters of Zionism, Scarlett Johansson, speaking at the march. So when our comrade Angela Davis, who is basically unstoppable in any conditions, when she came on and she just said “we need to fight for Palestine,” I was literally whooping. Someone needs to use that forbidden word. And of course, she did––which was Palestine. So it is interesting that the march was cast by the march organizers as non-political. They didn’t even say that this would be sort of a solution to Trump, or “these are the ways we are going to succeed against Trump.” It was just a show of power. Now, a show of power is very important, but it is particularly important to create infrastructures from that show of power which can sustain social protest beyond the one day of marching. I think that didn’t quite happen in 2017 and the heterogeneity of the politics of the march I don’t think was particularly representative of the heterogeneity of the people who came to the march. For instance, the framing was very liberal feminist framing, in which there were certain fissures and breakthrough like Angela Davis, but the general framing of it was very liberal feminist. In other words, it didn’t really offer any concrete solutions to the people who came out for it. And I think that was a missed opportunity, although I will say that the Women’s March’s new platform is very good. I am very pleased with it and it really addresses a lot of social issues. It talks about Islamophobia and so on. So I am pleased. But I think it’s because the movement has pushed the organizers to move left to a certain extent. So that was important. One of the things that we tried to highlight on March 8, following from the Women’s March, was yes we are against Trump, but we are against the conditions that created Trump. So that way we are signaling our opposition or hostility to the entire Democratic apparatus that actually went before in creating the neoliberal conditions that ultimately gave rise to this neoliberal monster of Trump. He is a creation of the processes that came before him…in order to mark ourselves clearly that this wasn’t just an anti-Trump protest, this was actually a protest against capitalism as a whole. And we cannot ensure that more Trumps will not arise unless we attack the basis of that creation.
DD: Let’s talk a little bit more about some of the basis of that creation, about the history of progressive neoliberalism, this tethering of pro-diversity social politics to neoliberal economics that you all argue laid the groundwork in so many ways for right-wing populist reaction. Can you explain how it did so? I take it that it wasn’t, as some might portray it, because of so-called excesses in the racial and gender justice movements provoking an inevitable backlash against progress.
TB: Let’s look at neoliberalism’s tackling of race in America. So first, there is no acknowledgement in any of that neoliberal discourse of the transformative power of racism in this country and of the slave trade in this country, which was basically the basis of capitalist production worldwide and particularly in America. So if we don’t understand that as one of the key motors of capitalism, then how can we even acknowledge what the legacies of that history are? There is no such understanding in neoliberalism. Instead, there is a scolding by neoliberal politicians that the condition of Black lives and brown lives in America are because that they have made poor choices. This is the absolute discourse of neoliberalism: our conditions are what they are because we fail to make the right choices, that people like Cory Booker or Hillary Clinton have made. So Obama’s famous statement, “pull up your pants,” quintessentially captures this scolding discourse of neoliberalism towards Black and brown communities in this country. So this is their approach towards race: that race is not a product of structural violence that was committed in the past and the legacies of which we carry through and are sustained by capitalism, but instead, racist problems are because of particular individuals, and if they didn’t make those choices, then everyone could be the president of the United States. So this discourse then severs the relationship between class and race in a particular way. This is where progressive neoliberalism, with all their talk of diversity, actually has no clue about what allows for Black life. Well, actually, they do have a clue––but they systematically silence that––of what creates poverty and deprivation in communities of color in this country and how widespread it is. Basically, our access to water and air are racialized, like in the case of Detroit. Now in response to this, we have the archaic troglodytes coming back to claim the discourse of class. So Trump is basically attacking establishment––well, in 2016, anyway––he was attacking establishment politicians for ignoring the lives of the working class. So this class rhetoric is being reclaimed by these virulent racists. This is the same in Hungary with Orban, Bolsanaro in Brazil––they are trying to say that they now stand for class values and class emancipation. And of course, their class values are violently guarded against communities of color, migrants, and so on. I think this is the terrain that feminists for the 99 percent as well as the labor movement found itself post-2016. How do we navigate between progressive neoliberalism and archaic, open racism and misogyny? And I think it is a terrain that we are still navigating but I think we are building consensus now that actually, both of those choices are false choices and that we need to chart an independent path for working class power which challenges the very basic premise of capitalism rather than finds little accommodating spaces within it. So I think that consensus is building and the strikes, both the women’s strikes as well as the teachers’ strikes and so on, are helping in that, but I think we still have a long way to go before this becomes a generalized class instinct.
DD: And one reason your book is so important is that debates on the left are also plagued by this divide between class and identity politics.
TB: Yes. This is a particular bugbear of mine, particularly, as you can imagine, as a woman of color and a Marxist and revolutionary socialist. So we are given two choices. One is that we reject that oppression exists and we just start from the premise that all of us are equal, at least in the left movement. All of us are equal. And we claim this loudly in meetings which are dominated by men. So men get up constantly in meetings and say, in lots of fancy ways, that we are all equal. The women are not that vocal. This is one choice, that we accept equality as the premise, as if it already exists, and the other is that we reject it altogether. And we say that everything is on the basis of class and all identities are false. So the left discourse is not that identities are false, but we say “in the socialist movement, we are all equal,” while the particular class reductionist argument is “identities are bad altogether, because it comes in the way of equality.” For us, I think if we start from the premise that all differences are invalid, then we actually cannot create a universal ground for solidarity. The universalism we talk about is not a given, but has to be built towards. And it is a dangerous move to move towards that notion of a universality in the making, as we call it, if we deny differences. Because the differences that exist within our class are for very historical reasons and have had very unequal and violent consequences. And so our premise should be to acknowledge those differences in the first place and then build common ground through struggle, rather than assume that common ground already exists, because that assumption, I think, is particularly harmful within the socialist movement as well as the union movement.
DD: In other words, it’s racism and sexism under capitalism that divide us, not anti-racist politics or feminist politics.
TB: That’s correct. So that’s definitely the argument, that if we have to have a multiracial, multigendered unity of the working class, then it has to be first assumed that this unity does not exist yet and we work towards it. And the best way to work towards it is through solidarity in struggle. One of the things we say in the manifesto is, “struggle is a school, it teaches.” And so through struggle, we build this process of building this universality, rather than taking it for granted.
DD: And you argue that struggle is the way to build a coalition that wins over “the working-class factions of the two dominant pro-capitalist political blocs: progressive neoliberalism on the one hand and reactionary right-wing populism on the other.”
TB: Correct. A lot of working-class people, I think, voted for Hillary Clinton––as well as working-class people voted for Trump. Now, I do not hold to the idea that some mythical white working class elected Trump, because actually it has been proved now, beyond doubt, that it was mostly petty bourgeois support and small business owners that were the basis of Trump’s victory. But this is not to deny that many working-class people voted for Hillary and Trump. And this is because a vast section of the working class actually bought that divide that has been taught to them for years…one was the Democrats, represented by Hillary Clinton, was going to fight for progressive gains, while the other part believed that Trump was going to bring jobs back to the Midwest. That was the the false choice offered to them. And I think our job is not to condemn these working-class people for having made that choice, because that’s like condemning working-class people for having any kind of capitalist idea, which we all hold. Instead, our job should be to make it clear that these are not the two choices and to draw working-class people into the socialist struggle, into the struggle for feminism for the 99 percent. So that should be the project, rather than snide remarks or supercilious understanding of why working-class people make those voting choices.
DD: We’ve discussed the relationship between liberal feminism and neoliberalism in some depth. But what about liberal feminism’s relationship to patriarchy? Can liberal feminism even be described as feminism, given that it bolsters a capitalist system that itself fundamentally relies on sexism, and for that matter, on racism and other forms of oppression as well?
TB: That’s a great question and I think it’s difficult to answer, because I would be inclined to say that this is not the real feminist project at all because it’s not about emancipation. It is about empowering the 1 percent women. However, it is also true that Hillary Clinton was being attacked for being a woman, which is what a lot of the Trump camp was doing, or even non-Trump camp. That’s where I think we should defend that, because I always say that there are so many better reasons to attack Hillary Clinton than from being a woman. I will give you a list! But because sexism exists, I think Hillary Clinton will always be, under capitalism, attacked as a woman. And similarly, Barack Obama will always be attacked for being Black, although there are so many reasons to attack Obama which are nothing to do with his race at all. And so under these conditions, I think for Hillary Clinton to claim that she represents feminism, there is, I would say, a partial truth to it––a very partial truth. It’s a truth embedded in capitalist social relations, which is why I don’t say that it has any solution to that oppression. But I think we have to acknowledge that even Hillary Clinton is affected by the existence of sexism in society. And that’s why I say it’s a difficult answer. The best way I think I can put it is yes, she fights sexism as long as it affects her class. So that’s why I think calling it liberal feminism gives it the right content in the sense that she does fight for women’s rights, but only for women’s rights as it applies to her class.
DD: Another thing that I think is really important about the argument you all make in this manifesto is that this division between reproductive and productive labor is then divided along racial lines, and a big part of that is a system that allows elite women to “lean in” by leaning on working-class migrant women for childcare and housework. Explain what global care chains are, the role they play within the domestic political economy, and also, the broader global political-economic order and how they relate to your broader argument that, “generalized misogyny and control over all women’s bodies fundamentally depends upon racism, imperialism, and ethnonationalism.”
TB: Okay, so let’s look at the very phenomenon of migration. Migration happens now…of displaced people from the Global South to the Global North. So why are they migrating? I mean, if we have any sense of what home means to all of us, we can understand that people don’t migrate because they just want to you get up one morning and go have Coca-Cola in a homeless shelter in New York. People migrate because of things done to them. This is something I want to emphasize, that poverty and displacement did not happen to people. That’s a passive voice question. These things were done to these people. Poverty and displacement were imposed on these people, rather than them existing as if it’s a part of nature. So if we look at the vast majority of migration into Europe, it is from the Middle East. And who created the conditions of instability in the Middle East? It is Western powers: NATO, leading the European and American alliance. If we look at Latin America, what is causing all the migrant women to come into the United States? It’s because of policies by the World Bank, the IMF, all backed by Global North capital, and the policies of installing dictatorships on behalf of America that have created these conditions of absolute desperation and instability in these countries to force women to come look for livelihood as best as they can in order to care for their families. So what happens to these women when they end up in in the Global North? And I want to emphasize that migrant women workers do not just end up in the care circuit. They form the vast majority of cleaners, for instance, in hotels. They form the vast majority of agricultural workers in the strawberry fields of California. So this is a very, very common phenomenon. But they also form a huge majority of care work in this country as nannies and house workers and domestic help, which then allows their mistresses in the house to actually go out and have a job. So that’s the phenomenon we are referring to. But I think we have to emphasize here the right of migrant women within the context of migration itself. Big capital is actually not hostile to migration. For instance, a lot of the section of capital is actually opposed to Trump’s border wall––that if migration stops entirely, then who are they going to use to do their dirty jobs and pay less and hence create more profit? Big capital is often not hostile to migration. What they’re hostile to is equal rights for migrant workers, because it is the condition of migrancy that is most valuable for capital, right, where you can be a worker but actually have no rights within that system to fight any injustice done to you, either in the workplace in the form of low wages, or in the field, when the manager threatens rape, which is one mode of control of migrant workers everywhere. And similarly, in the home, when the master of the house is sexually violent towards you, you have no recourse in that sense. So if we are going to talk about migrant women and the kind of jobs they perform in countries of the Global North, we cannot not tackle the question of open borders at all. We have to talk about open borders and equal rights for every worker within a nationally-bounded entity or a nation state––equal rights for all workers, irrespective of their citizenship status, because that is the only way to actually tackle the absolutely rampant gender violence towards migrant women and also to counter this unequal division within women’s work, where the work of the many allows the work of the few women to continue.
DD: My last question is a “where do we go from here” question. You argue that we don’t just need to seize the means of production and whatnot, but to also dramatically transform the relationship between production and reproduction. What would that look like and how do we do it?
TB: The main thinking behind that comment is this: that right now, the relations of social reproduction are subsumed or lessened or are put second to the relation of commodity production. So social reproduction is allowed to exist, or promoted, to the extent that it does not disrupt profit-making. Of course, capitalists are not willing to pay benefits and so on because those are the things that cut into profit-making. That’s kind of the capitalist arrangement, where social reproduction is subordinated to production. We want to change that. And this is the demand for social movements worldwide: people before profit. That’s a very social reproduction demand, that we want to put the needs of people before the greed of profit. That’s why these kinds of things, like public schools, public hospitals, public transport, etc. are seen as arenas of expenditure by the state. We need to absolutely change that economic thinking, where these things are actually severed from this traditional finance mechanism, which means a restructuring of the finance structure in the short run, but in the long run, to actually transform all social relationships by putting the needs of people before capitalist needs. That’s kind of our thinking behind what is needed, which is promoting the relations of social and production over the relations of commodity production. So that’s what’s needed. How do we get there? Obviously, challenging capitalism in both arenas of social reproduction and production is the only way forward. The collective struggle on the basis of working class solidarity, the building of a mass working class, multigendered, multiracial movement is the solution to this process––and the only tool we have to upturn that relationship between social reproduction and capitalism. However, I want to say two things. One, I think we have some really important history to learn from working-class struggle. And I think many, many projects are happening right now which are trying to popularize and remind us of working-class histories, of histories of both victory and defeat of our side. Learning that history is very important towards our final goal. But I also think we have to be careful, because we have to treat our context in which, despite the devastation and the imperialist and racist history of this country, we actually have a rising mass socialist consciousness right now. The struggles around Bernie Sanders, the teachers’ strikes, the nurses’ strikes––all this speaks of a so-far inchoate, but absolutely happening, rising class consciousness. All lessons from history will not map very neatly onto our social present. So while we need to be very open about the past, we also have to forge certain new tools and new histories for our current moment in order to anticipate the future, because no past movement where socialism became a mass force had the climate crisis as an urgent reminder to the end of life as we know it. This is our generation’s new time clock. We have the clock ticking, while previous socialist moments did not in this particular sense. Well they did, but they didn’t realize they did. And so for us, certain things will be different. And I think we have to be open to thinking anew, rather than using block quotes from Marx. So that’s my way of kind of combining the theoretical lessons from social reproduction theory and ecofeminism and so on with the organizational experiments that we need to make to actually apply the method of that theory to our current moment. But I want to finish with one marvelous comment from people that I consider the foremothers of feminism for the 99 percent, and this was in 1908 in Russia, at the All-Russian Women’s Congress, and this was an All-Russian Women’s Congress mainly framed by liberal feminists who were arguing for suffrage, but nothing beyond suffrage. So Alexandra Kollontai organized working class and peasant women to basically gate crash the conference. And while that debate was on, that suffrage is great but suffrage is not enough, one of the working-class women actually yelled these words onto the bourgeois feminists on the podium. She said, “what do you know of our lives, bowling along in your carriages while we get splashed with mud?” That, I think, encapsulates what we are trying to say with feminism for the 99 percent, and it is a source of great joy to me to read quotes such as this from the past to know that we have foremothers in this struggle. But it is also very sobering for me to then apply the spirit of past struggles to our current moment.
DD: Tithi Bhattacharya, thank you very much.
TB: Thank you, Daniel, for having me.