Point Zero. Militarism and Gender (part 3)

By Lynn Koh
Dec 31, 2012

This will be my last Militarism and Gender post for a while.  My next couple pieces will be about organizing in China and Hong Kong, and then I'll come back to this, hopefully with a review of 'What Kind of Liberation' and 'Sexual Decoys'.


Review of Revolution at Point Zero by Silvia Federici

Thinking about anti-capitalism, argues Silvia Federici, must begin with reproductive work.  Not just because reproductive work is the work that makes all other work possible[1], and therefore means organized action will have tremendous impact when undertaken by the women and men charged with supporting households and communities.  It is also because the work of cooking, cleaning, caring for and nurturing others is both subject to the discipline of the capitalist system while simultaneously -- in its capacity to materialize genuine human connection -- pointing beyond it.  The contradictions of capitalism, which continually upset and reshape the sphere of reproductive work, thus also generate potential explosions.

Federici traces this argument over the course of nearly four decades in Revolution at Point Zero, which is a collection of essays dating from 1975 to 2010.   The early essays present arguments for the global 'Wages for Housework' campaign, while the recent ones explore the possibilities of a feminist politics of the Commons.  This short review focuses primarily on the insights Federici has for antimilitarist organizers and thinkers. 

From this perspective, Revolution at Point Zero has several strengths.   First, Federici situates contemporary war within the overall context of neoliberalism and the particular destructions neoliberalism has brought to women around the globe.   Second, Federici -- mainly due to reasons of her personal biography -- focuses on developments in Africa, which is a continent too often ignored even by anti-imperialist organizers.  Finally, Federici crucially enlarges the meaning of 'reproductive work' to include issues of land-use and subsistence, which have particular significance for communities in Asia, Latin America, and Africa.   

War and neoliberalism[2] are the two heads of a single monster.   Neoliberalism generates the conditions of warfare, while war is waged in part to achieve the objectives of neoliberalism.  The package of reforms pushed by the IMF and World Bank in the years of the Washington Consensus destroyed local economies and constrained the capacities of governments, mainly in the post-colonial states.  In this context, factional strife within the ruling class -- whose cliques see state control as the primary means to personal wealth -- frequently turns violent; while, among the massive numbers of marginalized and impoverished human beings, so-called tribal or religious conflicts find fertile ground.

What are the material outcomes of neoliberal warfare?  First, it creates massive primitive accumulation -- displacing entire populations, often separating them from the land resources needed to sustain themselves.[3]  Second, it forecloses any possibility of resistance to profound restructuring of the economy among neoliberal lines.  In an analysis that I haven't seen elsewhere, Federici also argues that wartime 'food aid' is both a means to perpetuate conflict as well as a trojan horse for agribusiness, which destroys support for local food producers.

While statistics are difficult to assess for subsistence farming, Federici claims that the women that make up probably 80 percent of subsistence farmers suffer the brunt of neoliberal warfare.  These women "have been the main supporters of a noncapitalist use of natural resources (lands, waters, forests)... and therefore have stood in the way of both the full commercialization of 'nature' and the destruction of the last remaining commons" (86).

Federici connects this phenomenon to the more frequently-reported effects neoliberalism has had on women's lives:  the sweatshops that have both sprung up and disappeared in waves of industrialization and deindustrialization, the tidal wave of immigration which now carries mothers as well as fathers across borders (often to care for the children of the relatively privileged), the simultaneous commoditization and devaluing of every aspect of reproductive work in the countries of advanced capitalism, the economic distortions entire countries have been subjected to by the exigencies of export markets in the so-called third world, alongside the resurgence of atavisms like witch-hunts. 

These are the results of a more or less conscious decision by the capitalist class to disinvest in the reproduction of its workforce, because it realized that such investment was not profitable.  In Europe and North America, this has been the significance of the attack on the welfare state, while globally "it is a measure of the degree to which the reproduction of the workforce has been underdeveloped that worldwide, millions are facing untold hardships...in order to migrate" (103). 

Many of the essays in this collection are political interventions -- attempts to reorient or resituate the feminist movement based on the author's political analysis.  By viewing the changes in global capitalism through the optic of social reproduction, Federici is able to logically and consistently connect the demands for global economic justice, peace, and feminism.  These connections deserve to be revitalized in our work and thinking.

[1] The phrase is due to Domestic Workers United

[2] Federici's essays mainly originate before the term neoliberalism gained popular currency, so some of her precise formulations use other words.  i.e. "structural adjustment is war by other means."

[3] Federici's point here should be added to the discussion David Harvey undertakes in the New Imperialism, which appropriately calls this process 'accumulation by dispossession'

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the entire War Times project

Lynn Koh is a long-time activist in the anti-war movement, and is a labor organizer in the Bay Area.

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