On January 21st, an estimated 2.9 million people participated in Women’s Marches around the U.S., setting a record for the largest one-day protest in the nation’s history. For many feminists, a public display of enthusiasm of this degree is inspiring, perhaps marking the resurgence of a mass movement against the politics of the right. But in order to take the widespread anti-Trump sentiment and turn it into a movement to end inequality and injustice around the world once and for all, we need to be able to name the primary system behind this evil mess. To understand exactly how these various oppressions, injustices, and terrible governmental leaders are produced and interrelated, we need to take a critical look at the bedrock of not only American society, but the world: the economic structure. Capitalism.
Not crony capitalism, or corporatism, or Republicanism. Just plain old capitalism, functioning as it should, and as it must. A market-based economy necessitates cutthroat competition for firms to survive. Because material costs for manufacturers are relatively inflexible, it is labour costs that must be pushed down. Walmart and McDonalds spend millions on lobbyists to have influence in the government while paying their employees, whose labour produces all their value and profit, next to nothing. Capitalism, from its early industrial development until now, is fundamentally premised on the few profiting off the backs of the many, on eliminating competition and using monopoly to drive up prices, on working with the capitalist state to pass laws to protect profits.
To boot, capitalism thrives off racial hatred and caste systems. These both prevent workers from unifying against the capitalists and devalue the labour and lives of non-white workers. In other words, racism creates cheaper labour. Racism serves to justify imperialism, which is what happens when capitalism’s need for infinite growth drives capital out of its home country to exploit resources and labour abroad. Imperialist wars to secure territory and resources for corporations back home have killed millions of people and displaced even more. Women and girls suffer especially hard in war-torn areas, and in areas destabilized by U.S. military intervention and left to conservative extremist militias. Imperialism is not caused by greed, or the evil personalities of the capitalists like Trump (although they may be nasty). It is necessarily how capitalism develops, and what it does in order to grow.
Like it devalues people of colour, capital devalues women and their labour. Capital profits off and exacerbates gender norms and roles. In capitalist patriarchy, we raise men to acquire technological, scientific, and managerial expertise, as well as domineering personalities, and we raise women to pursue specifically feminized, underpaid professions involving domestic and reproductive labour. Capitalist patriarchy perpetuates myths of natural femininity, labeling domestic and reproductive labour as “women’s work,” that they are born to do and should perform without (or with minimal) compensation. This creates the “double burden” of both paid work and housework upon working women, and often drives them into isolation inside individual homes (as workers or housewives) where they cannot unionize and bargain collectively against their employers or husbands.
Capital profits off of privatized healthcare and expensive medication. It profits off privatized schools, where the rich can buy their children a lucrative career and the poor are left without education or skills. It profits off a denial of birth control and abortion, because it impoverishes women and families. It profits off homophobia, by forcing men and women into heterosexual unions (without birth control) to produce more desperate workers. It profits off conservatism and cultural misogyny and racism. It profits off cutting welfare, because the state can waste less money caring for its abused citizens (workers), and spend more money funding imperialist wars for the expansion of capital. It profits off the unliveable minimum wage, which affects hundreds of thousands of women. It profits off of masses of impoverished people desperate for meager wages. It is always ready to replace the unskilled worker who was fired for attempting to organize and demand higher compensation. It profits off the ruthless destruction of the ecosystem to support the infinite economic growth. It profits off of free trade agreements that move jobs offshore to exploit lax labour and environmental regulations in developing countries. It profits off hundreds of thousands, if not millions of women and children labouring in sweatshops.
This is not cronyism, or mere greed. This is how efficient business works. Capitalists (i.e. corporations), to make a profit, skim as much profit as they can off of the labour of their workers. If the capitalist was kind and gave the profit back to his employees through higher wages, a mean capitalist down the street would not, and therefore ultimately beat him in free market competition. What we need is not more female capitalists, a Democrat (or even a Green) in the White House, or more “diversity” in the one per cent and ruling elite. To liberate non-white people, women, gays, and the poor — the masses of workers — we need to abolish capitalism altogether.
The power of the worker lies in her labour. Her labour — at home and at work — make the world go round. And when any group of people get together and strike against capital, and demand nothing short of revolution, that is when inequality begins to die. We need a world where economic exploitation is illegal, where housing, healthcare, childcare, food, and jobs are guaranteed to all people. A world where humans collectively produce to meet human needs, and not for profit.
A “welfare-state,” social democracy, or “mixed economy” will not work. Capitalism will always be ruthless, racist, sexist, and ecologically destructive, and it will always influence state policy to unleash itself into its full, trickle-down, eight-men-own-as-much-as-half-of-humanity, neoliberal form. It will always drive production costs down and prevent equitable distribution of goods and services to maximize profit. What we — as workers, as women — need is socialism.
Women are a diverse group, and they are oppressed in many ways. We have been oppressed by men and economic elites long before capitalism was developed. We are, however, always instrumental in ushering in revolutionary change. A revolutionary worker’s state is essential in implementing feminist policy and alleviating the injustices women face. The January 21st Women’s Marches are part of a continuing display of popular interest in a world to come. As long as capitalism exists, so will every other injustice.
American feminists, as citizens of the leading imperialist capitalist power in the world, must include a radical critique of capitalism in their politics. We masses of women, and every other wronged minority and exploited worker, must together transform our disgust at this blatantly misogynistic corporate takeover into a revolutionary feminist movement. Our protests must turn to rebellion: a general strike, our collective power aimed at overthrowing the unjust order we have always known.
Women have been at the forefront of every revolutionary struggle in history. Today’s feminism needs to abandon capitalism, and the liberal ideology that supports it. It needs to abandon the Democratic Party, corporate feminism, pro-capitalist politicians, the ideologies that reify masculine and feminine gender stereotypes, the horribly misogynistic sex trade, and the liberal politics of “individual choice.” Women are not for sale, and we are not for profit. As feminists, we need to take feminism back from its neoliberal cooptation, and refocus on organizing women and their labour. We need to start thinking critically about capitalism. We need Red Feminism.
Emily Eisner writes about feminism, Marxism, and Marxist critiques of postmodernism. She holds a BA from the University of Texas at Austin, and publishes occasionally at her blog, Red Feminism.