Gender, Production, and the ‘the Transition to Capitalism’: Assessing the Historical Basis for a Unitary Materialist Theory
Keywords:Brenner debate, materialist feminism, political Marxism, primitive accumulation, social reproduction, socialist feminism, transition from feudalism to capitalism
AbstractAbstract: When socialist feminists discussed the potential and pitfalls of Marxism in the “domestic labour debate,” the specific relationship between patriarchy and capital emerged as a defining concern. While offering a trenchant critique of orthodox Marxism, the tenor of the debate was highly abstract and theoretical, and largely ignored the question of capitalism’s origins. Political Marxists, in contrast, have devoted fastidious attention to this question in their own attempt to renew historical materialism; but their dialogue has dedicated little attention to questions of gender, families, and social reproduction in the feminist sense. This paper makes an initial attempt at closing the analytical gap between these two historical materialist traditions. It departs from an unresolved theoretical impasse within the socialist feminist tradition: how to conceive of the imperatives of capital accumulation and class in a way that avoids both reductionism and dualism. I argue that this tension stems principally from an inadequate historicization of capitalism. A critical assessment of Wally Seccombe’s historical work illustrates how political Marxism can be deployed to correct this deficiency, while also revealing the extent to which these concepts must be rethought in light of materialist feminist concerns. A synthesis of the two traditions offers a more complete and effective account of the transition, while providing a basis for a unitary materialist theory.