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Heather Brown

Heather Brown



Marx on Gender and the Family: A Critical Study
By Heather A. Brown
Haymarket Books, 2013
232 pp.

Review by Barry Healy

September 1, 2014 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal –

For the most part the Marxist movement has a had a troubled relationship with the women’s liberation movement. While some Marxists (such as those organised in Australia’s Socialist Alliance) have no problem with feminism, others have choked on the thought of a rebellious movement that does not fit neatly into their paradigm of a workers-led revolution.

It was not always so. Between 1917 and 1927, the heyday of the Russian Revolution, the Soviet government passed many laws to give equality between men and women. For example, abortion became free and legal and anti-homosexual laws were repealed.

After the degeneration of the revolution into Stalinism things became very different. As Leon Trotsky put it, the bureaucracy “began singing panegyrics to the family supper and the family laundry, that is, the household slavery of women”.

Capital punishment was restored for abortion, thus, Trotsky said, “returning women to the status of pack animals”.

In lock-step, the world’s self-described communist parties, the most powerful left segments of the working class, advanced reactionary ideas about women’s place in the world and the revolutionary movement. Women were to be auxiliaries to male revolutionaries, they said, and bountiful mothers within happy families.

Stalinism promised a sort of “trickle down” socialism. First the (male) workers would benefit, then others. Unfortunately, some Trotskyists, in their anxiety to be more “pro-worker” than the Stalinists adapted versions of that approach.

Was Marx a class determinist?

Given all that, various feminist thinkers have had an, at best, ambiguous relationship with Marxism. Some have woven elements of Marxism together with, say, psychoanalytical theory to overcome what they see as Karl Marx’s, at best, gender blindness. They erected an alternative theory of patriarchy, which stands timelessly above society, dictating the unfolding of history.

To what extent can this conflict be attributed to Karl Marx himself? Was his a dour vision of human liberation where stalwart, proletarian men would achieve socialism and, under their paternal gaze, women and others would then step forward to take control of their own destinies?

US socialist Heather Brown has performed a great service in this short, yet detailed survey of all of Marx’s writings on women and gender – including some that have never before been published in any language. Marx did not just analyse economics and history, she demonstrates, he interrogated all forms of literature (even police files) to tease out the threads of social oppression.

She asks if there is “the possibility of a Marxist feminism that does not lapse into economic determinism or privilege class over gender in analysing contemporary capitalist society?” She compares and contrasts Marx with a wide range of feminist writers, and says that there is enough in Marx indicating “the interdependent relationship between class and gender without fundamentally privileging either in his analysis”.

While Marx was a product of his Victorian times and never developed an explicitly unified theory on women’s liberation, she shows that throughout his life he thought about the matter. Based on this, Brown argues that “there are a number of potential starting points for a less deterministic and less gender-blind form of Marxism”.

The diverse — and surprising — nuggets that Brown has unearthed reveal that Marx’s thoughts have a refreshingly modern feel. She demonstrates that as he evolved as a thinker his insights became more penetrating. Moreover, he incorporated his ideas into his political activity.

Early writings

Marx was contemporary with other socialists who thought that women are naturally inferior to men. However, from his earliest writings, Marx dismissed the entire notion that “nature” is static. In his 1844 Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts he pointed out that nature and culture are dialectically linked and mutually condition each other.

More than that, the Manuscripts say that the position of women can be used as a measure of the development of a given society. He was not calling for men to liberate women, he was arguing that in going beyond capitalism our society will have to develop new relations that transcend alienation.

That the family form is not a “natural” social arrangement is further elucidated in The German Ideology (co-authored with Engels). The implication is that women’s oppression can be ended as society changes and women can enter more into the world of work.

Following another line of thought in The Holy Family, Marx criticises a novel by French writer Eugene Sue called Les Mysteres de Paris. Sue created a character called Fleur de Marie who is saved from her life of prostitution by a prince and enters a convent, where she dies shortly afterward.

Marx reacted sharply to Sue’s Catholic moralising about prostitution and sexuality in general. “Despite her situation”, Brown writes, “Marx does not see her a merely a powerless victim, but as possessing agency”.

Marx saw Fleur de Marie as an example of the yearning to be fully human and he slams the paternalistic prince for failing “to grasp the general condition of women in modern society as an inhuman one”.

As part of his journalism Marx translated into German writings by Jacques Peuchet on suicide. Peuchet was the French police archivist and his writings on unusual cases were very popular (inspiring, among other things, Alexander Dumas to write The Count of Monte Cristo).

Marx chose parts of Peuchet dealing with the suicide of middle-class women. Marx’s personal leanings come through via the parts he chose to delete and in subtle additions of his own comments.

These show Marx as far removed from a doctrinaire, class-bound theorist. Michel Lovy also reviews these writings in the March 2002 Monthly Review where he says Marx demonstrates an “understanding of the evils of modern bourgeois society, of the suffering that its patriarchal family structure inflicts on women, and of the broad and universal scope of socialism”.

Lovy points out that the most interesting part of this writing is that Marx focuses on women “driven to desperation and suicide by bourgeois society”. Peuchet’s accounts demonstrated to Marx that even members of the bourgeoisie are alienated.

Brown says Marx argues in these writings for total social transformation, because “economic levelling or redistribution are not enough to create a better society, so long as capitalist social relations remain in place”.

The family and its discontents

The alienation that drives some to suicide is to be found in the family sphere as well as the public, Marx says. But more than just pointing to the social causes of individual despair, Marx goes so far as to see suicide as a form of resistance in an oppressive society!

He was not recommending suicide, rather he was reading into it the signs of resistance as much as it was a symptom of misery.

Most tellingly, Marx writes that the French Revolution did not topple all tyrannies. “The evil which one blames on arbitrary forces exists in families, where it causes crises, analogous to those of revolutions”. He does not state it, but that analysis extends out into the future socialist revolution, contra Stalinism.

The bourgeois family is famously lambasted in The Communist Manifesto, where Marx and Frederick Engels mock bourgeois pretentions and argue that the very conditions that had produced the bourgeois family were disappearing among proletarians. Accordingly, the father’s role and power was diminished, opening up the opportunity for a different form of the family.

Brown points to a number of references to women in Capital, Marx’s magnum opus and in his earlier draft material for Capital. In particular, Marx discusses the way that capitalists delighted in drawing women and children into factories because, as specially oppressed people, they could be paid less.

However, Marx saw the dialectical aspects of this process. As women became proletarians they gained power in their private lives and moved out of the control of their fathers and male relatives. This process can be observed today, for example, in the international call centres that have been established in India.

Marx recognised all the pain and tribulations in this. The long hours and shift work undermined traditional family structures and many people suffered. However, women’s economic power led towards an egalitarian form of the family with men.

While not delving deeply into it, in Capital Marx critiques the notion of productive and unproductive labour under capitalism. For the bourgeoisie, only labour that gives them profit through the creation of surplus value is productive. But Marx says that is one-sided as the production of use values is important as well.

That opens up the question of women’s labour in the home, which is essential to the very existence of labour. Marx never took up the question of wages for housework but his ideas regarding women’s independence showed an evolution over time.

Development of Marx’s thinking

When writing about the Preston strikes in 1853-54, Marx was uncritical of the strikers’ demand for a family wage, which implies women as dependent appendages of men. By the 1860s however, he was arguing for equal status for women within the structures of the First International.

This reflected his general thinking about the equality of women. “From the beginning of the First International to the end of his life”, Brown writes, “Marx supported incorporating women in the workforce as equals”.

In 1858, Marx returned to the oppression of women in bourgeois families when he wrote about the case of an English aristocrat, Lady Bulwer-Lytton, who, following the breakdown of her marriage, was declared insane at the instigation of her estranged husband. As in his earlier ruminations about suicide, Marx is clearly describing the bourgeois family as a site of oppression of women.

Those pieces, which were written for the New York Herald Tribune, also contain traces of a critique of the use of labelling mental illness as a tool of social control.

After the heroic spirit shown by women in the Paris Commune Marx demonstrated a keener appreciation of the demands of women. In France the paternalistic ideas of Proudhon were still in evidence in the labour movement. But, in opposition, Marx wrote in 1880 that “the emancipation of the productive class is that of all human beings without distinction of sex or race”.

Marx’s notebooks from the final years of his life contain some of the most interesting developments of his thought. He was reading about the development of many societies, including Indonesia, native American groups, Russia, ancient Greece and India. In these notes are scattered thoughts about the role of women in the historical process.

After Marx’s death Engels discovered these notes, especially those on Henry Morgan’s Ancient Society, the pioneering work of anthropology. Using these, Engels produced The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, in which he argues that men and women had lived in equality in pre-class society. Engels, taking Morgan at face value and going further, describes the rise of class society as bringing about the “world historic defeat of the female sex”.

Brown, however, finds a more nuanced appraisal of Morgan in Marx. Marx did not accept Morgan uncritically, he compared and contrasted him with other writers. Also, his underlining and emphasises show that he was far less condescending towards women than Morgan.

Brown says that Engels “provides a deterministic assessment of the beginning of class and gender-conflict”. Engels emphasises the role of men’s need to transfer property rights to their children as central to the oppression of women, whereas, Brown says, for Marx women’s oppression involves far more than that.

Brown highlights Marx’s dialectical method in being vital in understanding gender and the family. She says that Marx did not apply ahistorical philosophical categories to reality, he empirically analysed the world and utilised categories that he discovered there.

“While Marx’s theory remains underdeveloped in terms of providing as account that includes gender as important to understanding capitalism”, Brown says, “his categories, nonetheless, lead in the direction of a systematic critique of patriarchy as it manifest itself in capitalism since he is able to separate out the historically-specific elements of patriarchy from a general form of women’s oppression, as it has existed throughout much of human history”.

This short, comprehensive handbook will no doubt provide the basis for a new wave of feminist engagement with Marxism and is a clarion call for all those who regard themselves as Marxists to re-evaluate their ideological conceptions.

Heather Brown allows us all to read Marx with new eyes.


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World Crisis

World Crisis


How Capitalism Survives
Eleventh Annual Historical Materialism London Conference
6-9 November 2014
Vernon Square, Central London*

This year marks the first of a series of centennial commemorations and anniversaries, starting with that of the first worldwide inter-imperialist conflict. Centuries of colonialism and imperialism served as a preparatory phase for the catastrophe. Indeed, while the main parties of the Second International trampled the revolutionary socialist tradition in trench-mud, the First World War destroyed the illusion that imperialist violence could be wreaked on the colonies while leaving Europe untouched. If capital came into the world ‘dripping from head to toe, from every pore, with blood and dirt’, Marx’s analysis of ‘primitive accumulation’ has certainly not been confined to a pre-history of capital.

And yet, contrary to all expectations, despite these tremors and shocks, despite the terrifying glances into the abyss of destruction, capitalism has survived. Not only has capital muddled through; it has mutated, adapted and, by some criteria, emerged stronger than before. At the same time, however, new contradictions and crises have appeared, expanding the spaces of critique to the ecological and the ideological terrains and opening up new possibilities of revolutionary breakthrough.

In recent years, the crisis and the movements emerging in response have re-opened an opportunity to envision, and fight for, substantive alternatives. But these movements have remained fragmented and have faced increasing state repression and imperialist aggression. And the on-going crisis is now raising the stakes. It is clear that this crisis is indeed global, leading to deepening austerity in the North and undermining the conditions for sustained growth in the South. If, in the North, the ‘war on terror’ manifests itself in intensified state racism and Islamophobia, the crisis is also intensifying and bringing to the surface underlying international rivalries. The winds of war from the South are reaching Europe once again. But from the South, movements worldwide also bear witness to countless examples of struggle and resistance.

At this year’s conference, we want to explore capital’s capacity to survive in order to explore, first and foremost, how it can be overcome. We are interested in investigating contemporary geographical reconfigurations of accumulation and interrogating theories of imperialism, hegemonic succession, and capital’s tendencies towards increasing inter-state rivalries. On the other hand, we want to delve into theories and practices of class struggles, social movements and resistance which create possible alternatives to neoliberalism, crisis and war by constantly challenging the smooth reproduction of capitalism in its gendered, social, economic, political, racial, ecological, cultural and ideological dimensions. In doing so, we also want to enrich our understanding of a Marxian analysis of ‘core’ and ‘periphery’ with an analysis of current developments of Marxism in the South in general and in the BRICS economies in particular. We also hope to continue the theme on Race and Capital inaugurated last year.

We welcome abstract proposals of 200 words on these themes or any others, in all disciplines, from all continents and from all perspectives within Marxism. The deadline for proposals is 15th May 2014.

Please register your abstracts here:

Separate calls go out for the following streams: Marxism and Feminism, and Ecology and Climate Change.

* Please note that this year the conference will not be taking place at the main SOAS buildings at Thornhaugh Square.

International Conference on Critical Education

International Conference on Critical Education






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Raya Dunayevskaya


Marxism and Feminism, Past and Present: On Helen Macfarlane, Rosa Luxemburg and Raya Dunayevskaya

London Public Meeting

Thursday 8 November 2012

7.30 pm at The Lucas Arms, 245a Grays Inn Road, King’s Cross, London, WC1X 8QZ (5 mins. Kings Cross Tube)



Heather Brown, author of Marx on Gender and the Family: A Critical Study

Sandra Rein, author of Reading Dunayevskaya: Engaging the Emergence of Marxist Humanism, 1930-1955

David Black, author of Helen Macfarlane: A Feminist, Revolutionary Journalist and Philosopher in Mid-19th Century England; and co-author (with Chris Ford) of 1839: The Chartist Insurrection

Meeting sponsored by the International Marxist-Humanist Organization.





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Karl Marx


Call for Papers: New Cultures of the Left

First South Asian Historical Materialism Conference (New Delhi, 3-4 April 2013)

The Delhi HM Conference ‘New Cultures of the Left’, the first South Asian Historical Materialism Conference, will be held at the Conference Centre, Delhi University, on 3-4 April 2013. The conference occurs against several backgrounds that make the revival of the left and the reemergence of Marxist and other forms of radical theory and politics imperative. These ‘backgrounds’ include the massive convulsions in the world economy from the financial crash of 2008 onwards; the great uprisings in the Arab world that dominated the whole of 2011 with their remarkable mass-based struggles for democracy; the emergence in the West of spontaneous forms of resistance to Austerity politics and its fierce attacks on the lives of millions of people both in and out of employment.

The background to the Conference also includes the consolidation of powerful capitalist interests in countries likeIndia where big business now shapes public policy without the shackles of ‘socialism’, and government and business have jointly undermined the unions, massively casualised labour markets and accelerated the dispossession of whole communities. The consolidation, likewise, of deeply authoritarian tendencies, both secular and religious, that stand for the eradication of existing constitutional democracies and the rights they offer to the mass of citizens in favour of stronger, more repressive states or states reconstructed on non-secular ‘fundamentalist’ lines. And last but not least, the deep crisis of the Party-controlled left and its inability to debate issues in open, democratic and politically creative ways, much less to attract a new generation of workers and youth to the cause of a radical left politics and culture.

The conference is seen as both South Asian and internationalist in a wider sense. We invite papers (20 minute presentations) or panel proposals (for sessions of 1 hr 45 mins) under any of the broad themes below:

1) The legacies of Marx (Marxism as a theoretical/philosophical tradition);

2) Perspectives for socialism in the twenty-first century;

3) The Left, religion, caste & cultural politics today;

4) Violence, war and modernity (including papers on fascism, both historical & contemporary);

5) New debates on sexual politics, and Marxism and Feminism;

6) The return of immiseration: workers, work, land and communities;

7) The crisis and finance capital today;

8) Red & Green: an integration of perspectives;

9) Struggles for democracy;

10) Capitalism and contemporary media cultures;

11) Culture on the Left (Literature, art, film);

12) Histories of the Left and Marxism in South Asia and internationally;

13) New developments in Marxist philosophy;

14) The contemporary relevance of Marx’s Capital.

Paper abstracts and panel proposals submissions should try and stay within 300 words, and be sent in to: by 1st September 2012.

See: and




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Marxism and Culture



Monday, June 20

Spencer Leonard: Marx’s Critique of Political Economy: Proletarian Socialism Continuing the Bourgeois Revolution?
Pamela Nogales: Marx on the U.S. Civil War as the 2nd American Revolution
Jeremy Cohan: Lukács on Marx’s Hegelianism and the Dialectic of Marxism

Pat Keeton: “Class, War, and Class War: Changing Ideology in American Films from Vietnam to Post-9/11
Peter Scheckner: “End of Empire: How American Cinema since Vietnam Narrates the Erosion of American Global Power.


Eric Vazquez: Counterinsurgency’s Suppositions
Joel Nickels: From Spontaneity to Self-government: Imagining Self-Organization in the Twentieth Century and Beyond
Gino Signoracci: Marxism and Eastern Thought: Toward a Philosophy of Perpetual Revolution?

3:15-4:45: COMMODITIES
Ariane Pasternak: Commodity Fetishism and the Feminized Sphere of Non-Value
Ericka Beckman: Seeing the World System: The Latin American “Commodity Novel”
Sina Rahmani: Einwaggonieren: Containerization, Displacement, and the “Forbidden Commodities”
Max Haiven: Abject Finance: Wal-Mart and the Unbankables


Tuesday, June 21

Eldon Birthwright: Caribbean Literature and the Sanitizing of History
Sheshalatha Reddy: Bodies in Bondage, Bodies in Labor: Class Consciousness and the “Oppressed Natives” in the Morant Bay Uprising
Aisha Karim: Literature and Revolution

Julie Fiorelli: Recurrent Revolutions? Arna Bontemps’s Conception of Time and African American Race-War Novels of the Late 1960s
LaRose Parris: The African Diasporic Proletariat
Henry Schwarz: Marxism and Postcolonial Studies

Led by Jaafar Aksikas

Kanishka Chowdhury: Revolution and the “Hidden Abode of Production”
Barbara Foley: Event, Non-Event, and “Arrested Dialectic”: The Aftermath of 1919.
Neil Larsen: Revolution as Event and the Temporality of Crisis

Laura Martin: Colonial Servitude in the Transition to Capitalism.
Joe Ramsey: Learning from Failures, and from Afar: The Problem of Revolutionary Subjectivity in the US of A, Today

Oded Nir: Waltz With Bashir: Mediating Class In and Out of Globalized Israeli Culture
Niamh Mulcahy: Class Struggle and the Possibility of a Science of Aleatory History
Andrew Culp: Three Theses for Marxist Politics Today
Joshua Kurz, respondent

Wednesday, June 22

Vin Adiutori: Appearance and Phantasm: Reconfiguring Misrecognition
Anthony Squiers: Rethinking Brecht’s Split Character: Dialectics, Social Ontology and Literary Technique
Eleanor Kaufman: Revolution and the Question of Party in Sartre, Brecht, and Badiou

Joe Hughes: Ethico-Aesthetics and the Politics of the Cliché
Christian Haines: “It is you who give the life”: On Walt Whitman, Cultural Revolution, and Biopolitics
Hyeryung Hwang: “I prefer not to”: Embodied Subjectivity as the Site of Resistance

Led by Ann Mattis and Susan Comfort)

Chris Cutrone: Vladmir Lenin
Greg Gabrellas: Rosa Luxemburg
Ian Morrison: Leon Trotsky
Spencer Leonard, respondent

4:15-5:30:  END TIMES
Mathias Nilges: The Tenses of Form or, Literature at the End of Time
Brent Bellamy: Foreclosing Revolution, or the Apocalyptic Contradiction of Late Capitalism
Eui Kang: Apocalyptic Marx


Thursday, June 23

9:00-10:15: HISTORY I
Lucas Johnson: Measuring History in the Post-National
Jackson Petsche: Marxism, Posthumanism, and the Future of Animal Liberation
Nathaniel Boyd: Re-thinking the Contingent Political Sequence of Revolutionary Class Struggle

10:30-11:45: HISTORY II
Grover Furr: Why Is It Vital To All of Us To Get the Stalin Period Right?
Ryan Culpepper: 5 Years After the 1929 Economic Collapse
Justin Sully: Population Decline and the Historical Lateness of Capitalism

Led by Joel Woller

Jefferson Agostini Mello: Desiring the World: A New Brazilian Culture?
Maria Elisa Cevasco: Misplaced Ideas: What We Can Learn from How Ideas Fare in Brazil



Friday, June 24

8:45-10:15: LITERATURE I
Emilio Sauri: Cognitive Mapping, Then and Now
David Aitchison: Literature and Revolution: Radical Politics and the Novel in the U.S.A.
Jen Hammond: The Lyric Moment and Revolution
Madeleine Monson-Rosen: The Structure of Media Revolution: Thomas Pynchon and the Politics of Paradigm Shift

10:30-12:00: LITERATURE II
Jonathan Poore: John Steinbeck and the Proletarian Aesthetic
Carolyn Lesjak: Realism and Revolution
Peter Gardner: The Political Unconscious of A Farewell to Arms
Kristin Bergen: Gertrude Stein and the Relation of Political Periodization to Aesthetic Form

Led by Joe Ramsey and Rich Daniels

2:45-4:00: GUY DEBORD
Sarah Hamblin: Repetition as a Revolutionary Aesthetic in the Cinema of Guy Debord
Jane Winston: Revolution in Debord
Vanessa R. S. Cavalcanti and Antonio Carlos Silva: The Society of the Spectacle to the Beat of the Capital: a Contribution to the Criticism of Modernity’s Ritual


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Call for Papers:

‘Gender, Sexuality and Political Economy’ 
An  interdisciplinary workshop at Manchester Metropolitan University, UK
24th-25th May, 2011

Confirmed Keynote Speakers:

Professor Floya Anthias (Roehampton University, UK)
Professor Rosemary Hennessy (Rice University, USA)
Professor Sylvia Walby (University of Lancaster, UK)
Dr. Jon Binnie (Manchester Metropolitan University, UK)
Dr. Encarnación Gutiérrez Rodríguez (University of Manchester, UK)

Workshop Themes:

This workshop aims to explore politics and cultures of gender, feminism(s) and sexuality from the angle of political economy. We see a divide between approaches which emphasise human action and agency and those focussing on persistent or ‘structural’ inequalities. While gender inequalities are more commonly theorised from within structuralist or materialist frameworks, less work has been undertaken exploring  power relations around sexuality in  connection with questions of political economy. This has implications concerning how to theorise strategies for change. We consider gender and sexuality as distinct yet closely connected categories. Yet in many sociological approaches they still appear as separate, with attempts to explain gender inequalities often marginalising heteronormativity, and work on sexualities having little to say about subordination of women.  In this workshop, we would like to bring work on gender and sexuality in dialogue. We hope the workshop will explore possible complementarities and overlaps (or incommensurabilities) between approaches within feminism(s), women’s studies, transgender studies, lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer studies. Our aim is to strengthen understanding of the current conditions for collaborative agency and coalitional struggles. The current socio-economic crisis of course provides an urgent context for discussion of such questions and for renewed interest in ‘older’ sociological questions and preoccupations.

The focus on the political economy could be regional (in any part of the world) or global. We would like to create a space for, among other, a debate of cuts in state expenditure, neoliberal programmes and policies, growth in class and socio-economically-based inequalities, resource wars and conflicts.

Please send an abstract of not more than 300 words to:
Susie Jacobs ( and Christian Klesse (

The deadline for submission of abstracts is Monday, 14th March, 2011.

The workshop will run for 1 1/2 days on 24th and 25th May at Manchester Metropolitan University, All Saints Campus.  The conference fee is £ 40 (£ 15 for postgraduate students), which includes coffees/teas and lunch on the second day.

We look forward to hearing from you

Susie Jacobs and Christian Klesse
Department of Sociology
Manchester Metropolitan University

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An international workshop hosted by the Kent Centre for Law, Gender, and Sexuality and Kent Law School

Wednesday 23 March 2011
Kent Law School
Canterbury, UK*

With presentations by:

Rosemary Coombe (York University, Canada)
Radhika Desai (University of Manitoba, Canada)
Denise Ferreira da Silva (Queen Mary, UK)
Nina Power (Roehampton, UK)

Discussed by:

Donatella Alessandrini (Kent, UK)
Brenna Bhandar (Kent, UK)

The day will consist of two sessions, broken up with a light lunch (provided) and followed by dinner (not provided). Please join us for part or all of the day. More information about the theme of the workshop can be found below.

The event is free but spaces are limited. To book a spot please register by emailing Stacy Douglas at: before 1 March 2011.

*There are some funds available for postgraduate students who wish to travel to Kent for the workshop. If you are interested please email Stacy Douglas at with a brief case for support as well as an estimated cost for your train travel. Information about traveling to Kent can be found here.



Garrett Hardin’s now infamous essay “Tragedy of the Commons” (1968) stands as a Hobbesian analogy for what he claims are the inherent destructive capacities of human beings that perpetually stand in the way of realizing a free community of individuals with shared resources. Hardin’s essay suggests that, when faced with the responsibility of sharing the commons, individual human self-interest – or fear of it – will win out over practices of collectivity, sharing, and mutual aid.

More recently, there has been a resurgence in political theory and political philosophy in addressing the concept of “the commons”. Some of the most popularly cited references to the idea can be found in the work of Slavoj Žižek (2009) and Hardt and Negri (2009). This work has further been expounded upon in international conferences devoted to the “Idea of Communism” in London (2009) and Berlin (2010).  Steeped in the philosophy of Spinoza, Hardt and Negri use a notion of the common that “…does not position humanity separate from nature, as either its exploiter or its custodian, but focuses rather on the practices of interaction, care, and cohabitation in a common world, promoting the beneficial and limiting and detrimental forms of the common” (2009). For Žižek, the commons is comprised of culture (“primarily language, our means of communication and education, but also shared infrastructure such as public transport, electricity, post, etc…”), external nature (“from oil to forests and the natural habitat itself”), and internal nature (“the biogenetic inheritance of humanity”), and are all increasingly enclosed by the forces of global capital. It is the process of our exclusion from these commons (“our own substance”) that Žižek argues should effectively proletarianize us into fighting for something more than capitalist liberal democracy – a system whose laissez-faire violence is justified through the empty gesture of “universal inclusion” without any material bite. Žižek’s answer to this political conundrum is a call for communism.

And yet, the past century has seen vast and varied critical feminist engagements with historically changing concepts of communism and “the commons”. Struggles for universal suffrage, critiques of universality, denouncements of the hollowing out of the welfare state as a result of neoliberalisation, and challenges to the concept of the human, are all examples of a rich and diverse feminist tradition of engagement with the concept of “the commons”. Given the popular return to the idea of the commons, what more does feminist analysis have to give to this conversation? Does the concept still have potential for future feminist projects? If so, what is this potential and what do these projects look like? How do they resonate – or not – with those of the past? Further, given the broader theme of the workshop series, what role – if any – does the “the state” play in these imaginings?

The Kent Centre for Law, Gender, and Sexuality (KCLGS) and Kent Law School invite you to participate in a workshop exploring the contemporary feminist work of Rosemary CoombeRadhika DesaiDenise Ferreira da Silva, and Nina Power as it resonates or clashes with these questions. For more information or to register, email or visit

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Karl Marx


New Proposals: Journal of Marxism and Interdisciplinary Inquiry has just published its latest issue at We invite you to review the Table of Contents here and then visit our web site to review articles and items of interest.

We encourage you to consider submitting an article, comment, photo essay for consideration. The types of engaged progressive research that we publish extends across the many disciplines of social science and humanities research. Upcoming issues include an anthropological analysis of neo-liberal social movements, a reassessment of the relationship between feminism and Marxism, and the publication of a new revised edition of a great introductory anthropology collection, Anthropology for a Small Planet.

Thanks for the continuing interest in our work
Charles R. Menzies
University of British Columbia

New Proposals: Journal of Marxism and Interdisciplinary Inquiry
Vol. 4, No. 1 (2010)
Table of Contents

Retrospection and Hope in a Democratic Socialist Alternative (5-6)
Charles R. Menzies

Feature Article
Social Movements and Counter-Hegemony: Lessons from the Field (7-22)
William K. Carroll, R. S. Ratner

Comments and Arguments
Base, Superstructure, Aesthetic Level: notes on a theory (23-28)
Gary Tedman

Learning a lesson: An anarchist’s defence of Marxism based socialism
Arpad Kovacs

Sports Commentators and Late Monopoly Capitalist Indoctrination in the United States (35-47)
Kirk Packwood

Lohas and The Indigo Dollar: Growing The Spiritual Economy (48-60)
Joseph Gelfer

Complete Printable Version
Complete Printable Version (1-60)
NP Editorial Collective

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