Historicism, Modernism and the Left: Part 4 - Problems of Left Modernism

In this section we are going to look at a few examples, case studies if you will, of how a critique of historicist-modernist ontologies can help us understand and, hopefully, start the process of overcoming some of the theoretical problems the class struggle left has in its encounter and engagement with actually existing social struggles.

Modernism and Gender

Flora Tristan, early feminist and socialist

One of the historical ironies of the socialist movement was that its theoretical and organisational beginnings were from an organic unity of feminist and socialist thought and action, but that for most of its history it has perceived feminism as a mostly external, even hostile, political tendency. To this day, a substantial tendency within the broad socialist movement (socialist, communist, anarchist) continues to view the class conflict as the primary contradiction of capitalism and gender oppression as a “secondary contradiction”. And while nominally supporting equality for women, and accepting at least in theory, that no proletarian counter-power can be constructed without them, continues to view any form of feminism suspected of being less than enthusiastic in supporting the ontological primacy of class over gender, as “liberal” and anti-socialist.

In a seminal 1979 text¹, Heidi Hartmann posed the problem bluntly:

The ‘marriage’ of marxism and feminism has been like the marriage of husband and wife depicted in English common law: marxism and feminism are one, and that one is marxism. Recent attempts to integrate marxism and feminism are unsatisfactory to us as feminists because they subsume the feminist struggle into the ‘larger’ struggle against capital. To continue our simile further, either we need a healthier marriage or we need a divorce.

The inequalities in this marriage, like most social phenomena, are no accident. Many marxists typically argue that feminism is at best less important than class conflict and at worst divisive of the working class. This political stance produces an analysis that absorbs feminism into the class struggle.

The fact that this division between socialist and feminist thinking and politics persists over a half-century since the powerful challenge raised to it in the post-WW2 period by second wave feminism, is evidence of underlying theoretical and political problems beyond simple prejudice or organisational and institutional inertia. Much work has been done to uncover these underlying problems in an attempt to find a resolution by a great many feminist and socialist activists and theorists since the “unhappy marriage of Marxism and feminism” was first problematized.

For the sake of convenience, our way into this debate is a series of articles collected in 2014 by Viewpoint magazine as a dossier, entitled ‘Gender and Capitalism: Debating Cinzia Arruzza’s “Remarks on Gender”’². As the title suggests, the dossier leads off with a piece by Arruzza on theorising the relation between patriarchy and capitalism. Critiques of Arruza’s original piece follow, from feminist scholars Johanna Oksala, Sara R. Farris and FTC Manning, and the collection is rounded off by a reply by Arruza to her critics.

Although her three interlocutors each provide different criticisms, Arruzza’s reply addresses a commonality between all three, namely her response to a 1988 piece by Ellen Meiksins Wood in the New Left Review³. Before looking at Arruzza’s debate with her critics, we will first look at arguments put forward by Meiksins Wood in that article, “Capital and Human Emancipation”:

if our starting point is capitalism, then we need to know exactly what kind of starting point this is. What limits are imposed, and what possibilities created, by the capitalist regime, by its material order and its configuration of social power? What kinds of oppression does capitalism require, and what kinds of emancipation can it tolerate?

The first point about capitalism is that it is uniquely indifferent to the social identities of the people it exploits. This is a classic case of good news and bad news. First, the good news — more or less. Unlike previous modes of production, capitalist exploitation is not inextricably linked with extra-economic, juridical or political identities, inequalities or differences. The extraction of surplus value from wage-labourers takes place in a relationship between formally free and equal individuals and does not presuppose differences in juridical or political status. In fact, there is a positive tendency in capitalism to undermine such differences, and even to dilute identities like gender or race, as capital strives to absorb people into the labour market and to reduce them to interchangeable units of labour abstracted from any specific identity. On the other hand, capitalism is very flexible in its ability to make use of, as well as to discard, particular social oppressions. Part of the bad news is that capitalism is likely to co-opt whatever extra-economic oppressions are historically and culturally available in any given setting. Such cultural legacies can, for example, promote the ideological hegemony of capitalism by disguising its inherent tendency to create under-classes. When the least privileged sectors of the working class coincide with extra-economic identities like gender or race, as they so often do, it may appear that the blame for the existence of these sectors lies with causes other than the necessary logic of the capitalist system. It is not, of course, a matter of some capitalist conspiracy to pull the wool over people’s eyes. For one thing, racism and sexism function so well in capitalist society partly because they can actually work to the advantage of certain sectors of the working class in the competitive conditions of the labour market. The point, though, is that if capital derives advantages from racism or sexism, it is not because of any structural tendency in capitalism toward racial inequality or gender oppression, but on the contrary because they disguise the structural realities of the capitalist system and because they divide the working class. At any rate, capitalist exploitation can in principle be conducted without any consideration for colour, race, creed, gender, any dependence upon extra-economic inequality or difference; and more than that, the development of capitalism has created ideological pressures against such inequalities and differences to a degree with no precedent in pre-capitalist societies.

It’s a common convention to talk about capitalism’s emergent dynamics by the shorthand of talking of it as an entity with directional agency. So it’s disingenuous to jump on examples of such a common discursive trope with accusations of reification or anthropomorphisation. However, the assertion that capital “strives to […] reduce [people] to interchangeable units of labour abstracted from any particular identity” goes well beyond reasonable allowances for narrative convention. Particularly as she goes on to accept that the actual behaviour of really-existing capitalist employers is generally the complete opposite.

Meiksins Wood asserts that underneath the surface appearance of actual behaviour, there must be some systemic tendency to transform the logical construct of abstract labour, analysed by Marx, into an actual process of stripping individuals entering the labour market, of all particularities. No argument is presented here other than an implicit appeal to the logic of the analytical category of abstract labour producing this historical tendency, through the pure force of its own inner logic. This in turn relies on the historicist presumption that all existing significant structural categories, no matter at what level of analytical abstraction they are constructed, form part of an integrated totality, within which each component’s logic reflects the functionality of the whole. And therefore, if abstract labour is a logically indispensable component of analysing the law of value, then capitalism’s historical development must be towards a labour market that progressively dispenses with any differentiation in a way that makes that abstraction concrete, in a direct and unmediated fashion.

Meiksins Wood asserts that even if the observable tendencies of really-existing capitalism to exploit and derive benefit from existing oppressions is real enough, “…it is not because of any structural tendency in capitalism toward racial inequality or gender oppression”. This is then backed up by the statement that follows that “capitalist exploitation can in principle be conducted without any consideration for colour, race, creed, gender, any dependence upon extra-economic inequality or difference;”

Here we have the clear implication that because the logical structure of capital’s dynamics laid out in Marx’s Capital does not logically depend on racial inequality, then the historical importance of the North Atlantic slave trade (for e.g.) on the actual historical emergence of capitalism, is irrelevant. As a historian with a focus on the ‘transition debate’ of how capitalism emerged from pre-capitalist societies, Meiksins Wood does not necessarily dismiss the historical relevance of slavery to the transition, rather the assumption is that once that transition is completed and we are “within” capitalism proper, then the only structural tendencies that matter are those of capitalism itself. That is any structure operating within capitalism is either an essential structure of capitalism, or (mutually-exclusively), a contingent leftover ‘residual’ (Althusser’s “survivals”), one of those “extra-economic […] cultural legacies” bequeathed us by the past, from now-extinct pre-capitalist modes of production. Gender oppression or patriarchy (a term Meiksins Wood refuses to countenance) is a non-essential component of the existing social order, despite as she admits that it “… can actually work to the advantage of certain sectors of the working class” (a.k.a “men” for short).

For anyone working from a materialist or Marxist framework the proposition that an oppression in which one half of the working class has a material interest in defending it against the other half⁴ is a ‘secondary issue’, requires a robust argument. The point here is not whether or not such an argument could potentially be found, but rather that Meiksins Wood does not feel it necessary to make one, assuming an appeal to logico-historical necessity to be sufficient.

But here too there is a paradoxical combination of structural indifference to, indeed pressure against, this extra-economic inequality, and a kind of systemic opportunism which allows capitalism to make use of it. Typically, capitalism in advanced Western capitalist countries uses gender oppression in two kinds of ways: the first it shares with other extra-economic identities, like race or even age, and it is to some extent interchangeable with them as a means of constituting under-classes and providing ideological cover; the second use is specific to gender: it serves as a way of organizing social reproduction in what is thought (maybe incorrectly) to be the least expensive way.[…] but the point is that in this respect it is no more incapable of tolerating gender equality than of accepting the National Health Service or social security.

Although capitalism can and does make ideological and economic use of gender oppression, then, this oppression has no privileged position in the structure of capitalism. Capitalism could survive the eradication of all oppressions specific to women as women — while it would not, by definition, survive the eradication of class exploitation. This does not mean that capitalism has made the liberation of women necessary or inevitable. But it does mean that there is no specific structural necessity for, nor even a strong systemic disposition to, gender oppression in capitalism.

The strategic implications are that struggles conceived in purely extra-economic terms — as purely against racism or gender oppression, for example — are not in themselves fatally dangerous to capitalism, that they could succeed without dismantling the capitalist system, but that at the same time, they are probably unlikely to succeed if they remain detached from an anti-capitalist struggle.

Again the unexamined presumption of logical necessity substituting for and subsuming historical necessity is clear. The question of whether capitalism can “…survive the eradication of all oppressions specific to women as women” — in practice — is assumed to be rendered moot by the presumption that it can do so — in theory. That is, the limits of practicable social change are delineated not by any pragmatics of power and social agency, but can be read directly from the logical structure of capitalism, as analysed in Marx’s Capital. Althusser’s critique of the “logico-historical” misreading of Capital, is precisely to refute the notion that the dynamics of human evolution can be read one-sidedly from the logical structure of an analytical model in this “self-evident” way.

There is one more point to be made in relation to Meiksins-Wood’s use of the term “extra-economic identities” in reference to gender, race, etc. Which is the suggestion that class, by contrast, is implicitly an ‘economic identity’. In fact Meiksins-Wood never uses that formulation explicitly, and with very good reason. Indeed her essay concludes with a lamentation that certain facile arguments, by some, that capitalism exposes and clarifies the economic category of class, and makes its dynamics explicit, are entirely missguided. That the opposite reality that the relative separation between economic factors and “extra-economic” factors in social identities shaped by capitalism leads to mystification of the real economic relations and that “extra-economic identities” are part of this mystification. And yet nowhere in her treatment of class — in this essay — is the necessity confronted of a passage from class as a bare economic category — class-in-itself — to a transformation into a social agency, a collective force — class-for-itself — capable of struggling for the socialist alternative she appeals for at the conclusion of her essay. Which is a peculiar silence in a text by an author that in other contexts is known for her considered treatment of this very in-itself/for-itself ‘class identity’ problematic⁵.

This Derrida-esque ‘silence’ on the problematic relation between class and identity in this essay, is the most glaring weakness in the argument, other than the central logico-historical problem we are focusing on here. In a way the two are linked, because it would not be possible to rely on the appeal to logico-historical determinism to avoid the question of overcoming the previously-mentioned problem of the material interests (of men in protecting their labour market privilege) in any narrative that centres on the class formation process, i.e. the becoming-counterpower of class-for-itself (or “political recomposition” in operaist terminology). The two gambits appear in many ways to be mutually exclusive, which is perhaps the answer to the mystery of this uncharacteristic ‘silence’ in this particular text.

Moving on to Arruza’s initial remarks on gender, her initial article reviews three different solutions put forward to the structural relationship between patriarchy and capitalism. Two which she ultimately rejects and a third that encompasses her own position. The first two are the so-called “dual systems” and what Aruzza terms the “indifferent capitalism” approaches. The dual (or triple or more) systems approach is, for e.g., the one put forward in the Heidi Hartmann essay already mentioned. Aruzza chooses Meiksins Wood’s position in the essay discussed above. The third “unitary theses” possibility is clearly distinct from “dual systems”, by definition, but has to distinguish itself from the “indifferent capitalism” approach, which is also a ‘single system’ approach, in order to justify its validity. Aruzza’s three interlocutors do not concentrate so much on defending the dual systems approach as on criticising her deconstruction of Meiksins Wood’s position, as a necessary precursor to any unitary ontology that doesn’t relegate feminism to the role of “secondary contradiction”.

The conflation between the logical structure of capitalism and its historical dimensions, that Arruzza deftly diagnoses at the root of Meiksins Wood’s position, is none other than the historicist presumption of what Althusser labels the “contemporaneity of time”. That is, if the oppression of women and the capitalist totality are not “in an immediate relationship with one another, a relationship that immediately expresses their internal essence” then, ipso facto, gender inequality is merely a historically contingent “survival” that could be eradicated without significantly threatening the existence of the capitalist system. Significantly, it is also at the core of the three critics, Oksala, Farris and Manning, who accuse Aruzza of conceding to Meiksins Wood the necessary terrain to distinguish a 3rd “single system” approach:

From altogether different perspectives, Oksala, Farris, and Manning share a similar objection to my critique of Ellen Meiksins Wood’s 1988 New Left Review article, “Capitalism and Human Emancipation.” All three observe that I have conceded to Meiksins Wood both the distinction between the logical and historical dimensions of capitalism, and her claim that gender and racial oppression cannot be shown to be necessary to capitalism in a logical sense. Crucially, all three conclude that these concessions vitiate any compelling basis for distinguishing my account of the unitary theory from what I have called an “indifferent capitalism” approach. Thus, all three authors assume that the failure to show that gender oppression is a logical precondition for capitalism entails that the relationship between capitalism and gender oppression is merely contingent and opportunistic.

The premise that unless the oppression of women is in an immediate relationship with capitalism as a ”logical precondition”, then it is residual and contingent, is once again entirely reliant on the historicist presupposition that underpins it. As Aruzza makes clear:

In articulating my argument again, I will also answer some of Oksala’s objections by restating the necessity to think of capitalist societies as moving totalities; in contrast to expressive totalities in which each part reflects and corresponds to the others, or where each part is “functional” to the whole, this moving totality is a set of social practices, relationships, and institutions which are all subject to the determining constraints and pressures posed by the logic of capitalist accumulation⁶.

Aruzza’s “expressive totality” here clearly maps onto Althusser’s ‘essential section’ and what he calls a “Leibnizian spiritual whole”. By naming her contrasting model of societies as “moving totalities” she implicitly references the fatal contradiction of the ideological “expressive totalities”, namely that their implicitly closed self-reproducing structural-functionalism, makes the reality of change and movement untheorisable (without recourse to the deus ex machina of external teleology)

But if the distinction between “expressive” and “moving” totalities incorporates one key aspect of Althusser’s critique of historicism and logico-historical ontology, the insistence that we are still, for all that, in a unitary space within which the different elements of the set of “social practices, relations, and institutions” are, like Althusser’s “levels” — that is the fact that they are “[…] relatively autonomous does not make them so many domains which are independent of the whole”.

Manning and Farris conclude that we must demonstrate the logical necessity of gender oppression and of racial oppression for capitalism. Conversely, Oksala reaches the opposite conclusion, that we should be wary of totalities and epistemic certainties and fully endorse historical configurations as contingent, variable and opportunistic combinations of distinct fragments. While their conclusions pull me in opposite directions, this dilemma is based on a shared presupposition: all three seem to presuppose that there is nothing between logical necessity and arbitrary contingency; that one either demonstrates the first or fully endorses the second; and that gender oppression and racial oppression are either logical preconditions for capitalism or that their relationship to it is opportunistic, highly variable and, ultimately, dispensable. In other words, all three accept the presupposition of a theory of “indifferent capitalism” endorsed by Meiksins Woods and other Marxists. It is precisely this presupposition that I reject and that I tried to question in my piece.

Aruzza goes on to caution against the epistemological overreach in the presupposition behind logico-historical ontologies, i.e. the notion that we can so perfectly conceptualise models of social reality at high levels of abstraction, that we can then read the limits of political struggle directly from the innate logic of the model, without any pragmatic input from the rest of our experience and historical knowledge.

To make this point clearer, the concrete history of capitalism involves several practical constraints. For example, given the origin and development of capitalism in the United States, I think that we can make a plausible case that racial oppression, in varying and historically specific forms, not only is but will likely remain a constitutive part of American capitalism and American society. It is likely that this practical constraint cannot be formalized in the same way that the extraction of surplus-value can. Nonetheless, it is a necessitating constraint that significantly qualifies possibilities according to degrees of probability. We may, of course, conceive of a version of American capitalism without racism, as such a possibility does not contradict either a given definition of capitalism or its formalized laws of motion. However, this scenario is historically implausible. Practical plausibility is what should really matter for political concerns, because we do not do politics, or at least we should not do it, by means of mere thought experiments whose only rule is logical coherence. To sum up, the unmediated jump between different forms of possibility is a mistake; we should reject this mistake rather than taking it as the guiding premise of our theoretical efforts.

Aruzza does not claim to have found the definitive answer the the long-standing theoretical stand-off between Marxism and feminism, and our review here, is necessarily summary⁷. Nonetheless, I think the utility of Althusser’s critique of historicism to untangling some of the debate can be seen clearly. That Althusser was no feminist and this use of his critique is entirely outside of his original motive and intent for his project, is a validation of the position that theory has the potential to exceed the limited standpoint and perspective of the theorist as a socially constructed being.

We will return to a reconsideration of how a critique of the historicist-modernist perspective can inform our understandings of the interrelation of class, race and gender at the end of this section, but I want to look at one further area of left political interest and controversy that relates to our theme. The question of internationalism and specifically of international solidarity between propertyless peoples across boundaries of culture and economic and social development.

Zapatista women at International Gathering for Women in Struggle, Chiapas, March, 2018

Historicist-Modernist “Internationalism”

One of the initial inspirations for this extended text was a long debate over the appropriate attitude for Western leftists towards the Kurdish Freedom Movement⁸ sparked by the siege of Kobane, in Northern Syria, at the end of 2014. In many ways this debate was prefigured by a similar one twenty years in relation to the Zapatista uprising of 1994, in Mexico.

In both cases the debate polarised between two sides, one of which saw the insurgents as representing a new, positive development, and the other expressing (often extreme) scepticism towards them as insufficiently revolutionary or terminally reformist. The practical import of these debates was more or less insignificant, given the capacity of the “supporters” to provide any substantial material and/or political aid, and the potential capacity of the “critics” to do likewise, had they chosen to do so, was arguably even less. Reviewing the merits of the arguments and counter-arguments made during the debate, is also possibly not even of academic interest, at this stage.

However, the question of how historicist-modernist ideological prejudices contort the perspective of the Western left is a significant question in a period when the social relations of capital have transcended the colonial stage of formal subsumption and have increasingly invested the social and historical development of the whole world, encompassing a global proletariat and propertyless masses, that are overwhelmingly non-Western. Numerically speaking, at the very least, the ideological blinkers of eurocentrist modernism are fatal to any project for human emancipation from globalised capitalism in the 21st century.

At first sight, very little connects the Zapatistas and the Kurdish Freedom Movement. Half a world away from each other, from entirely unconnected cultures and faiths, the most superficially obvious common factor was that neither of them was composed by the kind of industrial proletarian workers seen as the central agents of class struggle and revolutionary action in the Western socialist tradition. Both were also seen as being from pre-capitalist, marginalised cultures, who had been marked for cultural assimilation/extinction by the modernising programmes of their respective states⁹. Both include as their main demographic, dispossessed peasant or (semi-)nomadic tribal peoples subject to not only the existential threat of capitalist modernisation enclosing their traditional territory, but also a martial patriarchal-tribalist system aggravating the internalisation of violence common to all marginalised communities with the addition of clan blood feuds, forced marriage and so on. One final thing they shared was the common attitude of a certain type of Western leftist to their very existence, never mind struggles. As typified by the following passage from a group in the ultra-left milieu — admittedly a fairly niche political market, but eloquently expressing the views of a much wider spectrum of the Marxist left.

A vast cloud of “movements” — armed and unarmed, and oscillating between social banditry and organized guerrilla activity — act in the most wretched zones of the global capitalist junkyard, presenting traits similar to those of the current PKK. In one way or another, they attempt to resist the destruction of already marginal subsistence economies, the plundering of natural resources or local mining, or the imposition of capitalist landed property that limits or prevents access and/or use. By way of example, we can randomly cite cases of piracy in the seas of Somalia, MEND in Nigeria, the Naxalites in India, the Mapuche in Chile. Though the discourses and forms of struggle adopted by these movements are not mere epiphenomena, it is essential to grasp the content they have in common: self-defense.[…] Whether we like it or not, we can not forget that these movements are often situated not in a presumed but non-existent space outside of the production and circulation of value, but actually at its margins, and sometimes in defense of small ancient worlds (ancestral customs, etc.) that capitalist social relations are demolishing or have long since remodeled. But one cannot simultaneously be for the communist revolution and for the conservation of small ancient worlds; because if it is true that capitalism destabilizes them, its revolutionary destruction could certainly not do otherwise. At the same time it makes no sense to side with their capitalist destruction: we think that these movements will have to be incorporated and / or reabsorbed (not without conflict) by the practical movement of the destruction of capital, and that this can be done neither by way of political maneuvering (Leninist or democratic alliances) nor by intermediate measures aimed at deepening the same forced proletarianization that capital pursues. However, this process can only emanate from the heart of the mode of production (which does not necessarily mean “the West”), and not from its margins.¹⁰

It is very tempting to truncate the above quote after the sentence “But one cannot simultaneously be for the communist revolution and for the conservation of small ancient worlds; because if it is true that capitalism destabilizes them, its revolutionary destruction could certainly not do otherwise”, to make its internalisation of modernization’s command to ‘assimilate or die!’ even clearer. However that would be unfairly selective, considering that the authors immediately attempt to mitigate their death sentence with a couple of mollifying caveats — “it makes no sense to side with their capitalist destruction […] nor [to adopt] intermediate measures aimed at deepening the same forced proletarianization that capital pursues”. Still even in their attempt to extend an olive branch, they insist that these miserable marginals with their doomed attempts to defend their “small ancient worlds” — that communist modernisation must inevitably annihilate — can only be “reabsorbed” by the communist movement from within the “heart of the mode of production” in a one-way, ‘my way or the highway’ dictated process, even one “not without conflict”. Even the olive branch is being wielded as a stick¹¹ to beat the backwards barbarians into accepting the historical necessity of surrendering to their own cultural genocide, under the vanguard leadership of the capitalist “heartland” proletariat. It may stretch credulity to believe that some benighted sections of the ultra-left consider this to be “internationalism”, but there it is.

Sakine Cansız and comrades

Less intemperate pieces from the likes of Gilles Dauvé¹² manages to avoid the language of overt cultural genocide, but again his discussion of the “feminist question” in relation to the Rojava Kurdish Freedom Movement’s struggle, is reduced to making rather trite and somewhat obvious criticisms of the Western media’s image fetishisation of photogenic YPJ comrades with AKs and RPGs¹³.

The subversive nature of a movement or organization cannot be measured by the number of armed women — nor its feminist character either. Since the 1960s, across all continents, most guerrillas have included or include numerous female combatants — for example in Colombia. This is even truer amongst Maoist-inspired guerrillas (Nepal, Peru, Philippines, etc.) using the strategy of “People’s War”: male/female equality should contribute to the tearing down of traditional structures, feudal or tribal (always patriarchal). It is in the Maoist origins of the PKK-PYD that one finds the source of what specialists call “martial feminism”.

But why do armed women pass for a symbol of emancipation? Why do we see here so easily an image of freedom, even going so far as to forget what they are fighting for?

If a woman armed with a rocket launcher can appear on the cover of Le Parisien-Magazine or a militant newspaper, it is because it is a classic figure. The monopoly of the use of arms is a traditional male privilege; its overturning must prove the radicality and exceptionality of a particular battle or a war. Hence the pictures of beautiful Spanish militia women. The revolution is at the end of the Kalashnikov… held by a woman. To this vision is sometimes added a more “feminist” one, of the armed woman vindicated, gunning down the bad guys, the rapists, etc.

…and that’s literally all Dauvé has to say about the matter. Of the rest of the feminist content of the work of TEV-DEM, the councils, and women’s self-defence forces in resisting and undermining the structural sexist violence underpinning tribal authority, etc, Dauvé has as much to say, as he does in relation to the movement’s repeated slogan of resisting capitalist modernity — nothing at all. In relation to the first silence, the issue isn’t that Dauvé knows nothing of Kurdish social institutions and structures, like the Ashiret¹⁴, the issue is that he doesn’t consider it of any importance to the validity of his critique that he understands nothing of the concrete social context. Good modernist Marxist that he is, he is secure in his knowledge of the abstract logic of the capitalist system, at its highest level of generality, means that he can dismiss any concrete differences between his native France and Northern Syria, as irrelevant “residuals” as a matter of course. As to being able to react the Kurdish Freedom Movement’s declaration of revolt against capitalist modernity, having the good sense to avoid Il Lato Cattivo’s promise that communism will ‘finish the job’ of destroying small ancient worlds and the backwards ‘historyless people’¹⁵ that inhabit them, as a good modernist, he is left with nothing to say.

To be continued…

[As mentioned in the introduction to this series, I thought there might be a possibility that the conclusion to this section would end up having be published in an additional fifth section, this has now turned into reality. Hopefully the gap between this and the final section will not be as long as the one between the previous three and this. PB]


  1. Heidi I. Hartmann, “The Unhappy Marriage Of Marxism And Feminism Towards A More Progressive Union”, Capital and Class, 1979.
  2. Cinzia Aruzza et al, “‘Gender and Capitalism: Debating Cinzia Arruzza’s ‘Remarks on Gender’” https://www.viewpointmag.com/2015/05/04/gender-and-capitalism-debating-cinzia-arruzzas-remarks-on-gender/
  3. Ellen Meiksins Wood, “Capital and Human Emancipation”, New Left Review, 1988, I-167.
  4. Approximately, (with relevant apologies to non-binary, inter-sex, etc folks)
  5. For e.g. her 1982 essay, 6 years before Capitalism and Human Emancipation, on “The Politics of Theory and the Concept of Class: E.P. Thompson and His Critics”, Studies in Political Economy.
  6. Cinzia Arruzza, “Logic or History? The Political Stakes of Marxist-Feminist Theory”, Viewpoint Magazine, 2015 https://www.viewpointmag.com/2015/06/23/logic-or-history-the-political-stakes-of-marxist-feminist-theory/
  7. It goes without saying that the full Viewpoint dossier referenced in note 2 is recommended reading, as is the Meiksins Wood and Hartmann pieces from notes 3 and 1, respectively.
  8. The Kurdish Freedom Movement title avoids two common misleading formulations used in the media to refer to the PYD party in Northern Syria and its YPG/YPJ militias — on the one hand the common lazy Western ethnonym of “the Kurds”, and on the other, the Turkish state propaganda line reducing any Kurdish issue to “PKK terrorists”. The former error ignores political diversity amongst Kurdish people, ranging from the traditional tribalist politics of the KDP and PUK, Turkish Kurds politically aligned to left groups hostile to KFM, or to Erdogan’s AKP, or more radical islamists, ISIS included. On the other, despite the totemic role of Ocalan as chief ideologue and leader, the movement is made up a large diversity of groups, organisations and individuals, most of whom have never been members of the PKK.
  9. Although the non-diasporic Kurdish population was divided between four regional states in the aftermath of WW1, the birth of the Kurdish Freedom Movement has its historical origins in that part of the Kurdish homeland within the Republic of Turkey (Bakur Kurdistan).
  10. Il Lato Cattivo, “The ‘Kurdish Question’, ISIS, USA, ETC”, Endnotes, 2014, https://endnotes.org.uk/articles/26
  11. Contextual disclaimer: this passage was written long before Turkey’s invasion of Afrin. The contemporary anachronistic resonance is accidental
  12. Gilles Dauvé, “Kurdistan?”, libcom.org, 2015, https://libcom.org/news/kurdistan-gilles-dauv%C3%A9-17022015
  13. If Dauvé’s treatment is trite, the issue is not. See Dilar Dirik’s earlier “Western fascination with ‘badass’ Kurdish women”, Al Jazeera, 2014, for a more informed and considered treatment of this non-trivial issue. https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/10/western-fascination-with-badas-2014102112410527736.html
  14. An Arabic loan-word, usually translated as “tribe” or “tribal confederation”. In fact the English term “tribalism” regarding this extensive structure of social relations amongst not only Kurdish, but also Arab, Afghan and other societies, leaves a false impression that because the anglophone world has a word for it, we consequently understand what’s being referred to. Nothing could be further from the truth, but further discussion is out of scope here.
  15. The term “historyless people” was Hegel’s, taken up by Engels in the latter’s distinction between historic nations and non-historic nations. The latter category doomed by insufficient size, native bourgeoisie or general industrial development — in a word “backwardness” — to be swallowed up by their surrounding (or occupying) “historic nation” neighbours.