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Powers of Desire: The Politics of Sexuality

Sex and Socialism

While later generations of Marxian scientific socialists saw sex as secondary, derivative of the real relationships of production, many of the earliest socialist theorists and movements took sexual matters very seriously. Thus, in many ways, the advent of Marxian socialism represented something of a step backward in the development of a radical sexual politics. However, in the twentieth century, old divisions on the sex question within the left soon reappeared. | more…

A Woman's Work Is Never Done

Liberating Women from “Political Economy”

Margaret Benston's Marxism and a Social-Reproduction Approach to Gender Oppression

There is an unresolved tension at the heart of Marxist explanations for women’s oppression under capitalism. Although there is general agreement that the bourgeois family, as the dominant kinship unit, has something to do with generating and reproducing that oppression, the exact role of the family varies among Marxists. In this respect, Margaret Benston’s proposal to situate domestic labor within capitalist production was truly pioneering. Rather than record and describe domestic work, Benston theorized this labor and laid the basis for later feminists to apprehend the production of commodities and the reproduction of labor power within a unitary framework. | more…

Monthly Review Volume 71, Number 4 (September 2019)

September 2019 (Volume 71, Number 4)

This special issue of Monthly Review honors the fiftieth anniversary this month of Margaret Benston’s landmark “The Political Economy of Women’s Liberation.” The essay sparked a revolution in Marxian thought, the full implications of which are only now being perceived in contemporary social reproduction theory. We have reprinted Benson’s pieces together with contributions by Silvia Federici, Martha E. Gimenez, Selma James (interviewed by Ron Augustin), Leith Mullings, Marge Piercy, and Lise Vogel, all of whom have played leading roles since the 1970s in the development of feminist historical materialism. | more…

The Political Economy of Women’s Liberation

In sheer quantity, household labor, including child care, constitutes a huge amount of socially necessary production. Nevertheless, in a society based on commodity production, it is not usually considered “real work” since it is outside of trade and the market place. This assignment of household work as the function of a special category women means that this group does stand in a different relation to production than the group men. Except for the very rich, who can hire someone to do it, there is for most women, an irreducible minimum of necessary labor involved in caring for home, husband, and children. Household work remains a matter of private production. | more…

Capitalism also Depends on Domestic Labour

“She Was My Kind of Scientist”

Margaret Benston and the Political Economy of Women's Liberation

In the late 1960s, the North American women’s liberation movement was reaching a highpoint of activity, its militancy complemented by a flourishing literature. This was the environment into which Margaret Benston’s 1969 Monthly Review essay, “The Political Economy of Women’s Liberation,” struck like a lightning bolt. At the time, many in the movement were describing women’s situation in terms of sociological roles, functions, and structures—reproduction, socialization, psychology, sexuality, and the like. In contrast, Benston proposed an analysis in Marxist terms of women’s unpaid labor in the family household. In this way, she definitively shifted the framework for discussion of women’s oppression onto the terrain of Marxist political economy. | more…

What Is Intersectional Feminism?

Women, Class, and Identity Politics

Reflections on Feminism and Its Future

The question of the oppression of women, the critique of which constituted feminism as an academic and political pursuit, has been feminism’s enduring source of strength and appeal, yielding numerous critical theories and perspectives. This has produced continual conceptual shifts defining an evolving feminism, such as the shift from women to gender and from inequality to difference. It has also involved shifts from theorizing the general conditions of women’s experience—oppressed at home and in the workplace, while juggling the conflicting demands of both—to theorizing the implications of the claim that, while gender may be the main source of oppression for white, heterosexual, middle-class women, women with different characteristics and experiences are affected by other forms of oppression as well. A possible way for Marxist feminism to remain a distinctive theoretical and politically relevant perspective might be to return to class, in the Marxist sense, theoretically reexamining the relationship between class and oppression, particularly the oppression of working-class women, within capitalist social formations. | more…

A Wages for Housework march in 1977

On Margaret Benston

The Political Economy of Women's Liberation

Margaret Benston’s “The Political Economy of Women’s Liberation” appears as both a return to the past and, at the same time, if not a “watershed,” as described by Peter Custers, certainly a new turn. On the one hand, she reiterated the classic Marxist-Leninist argument concerning the precapitalist, premarket character of domestic work. On the other, she so strongly insisted on the importance of this work for the stability and perpetuation of the capitalist system that she not only anticipated some of the theses later argued by theorists in the Wages for Housework Campaign, but often fell into apparent contradictions. | more…

Kathleen Cleaver, Black Panther Party Headquarters 1969

Mapping Gender in African-American Political Strategies

Gender is not just about women; it is about the social relationship between men and women and the dialectical, reciprocal, and cultural construction of femininity and masculinity. Recognition of a unique historical experience concerning gender informs the perspectives of African Americans of various political persuasions. This history incorporates a land of origin with certain common principles about gender and family. It also encompasses the African-American experience in the United States where the denial of many “protections” offered by gender roles and indeed sometimes inversion of such roles was a means of maintaining control. Hence asserting the right to assume gender-based roles of husband, father, wife, and mother paradoxically was an act of resistance. The manner in which African-American people have envisioned relationships of gender in light of that history has expressed itself in markedly different forms. | more…

Selma James in July 2012

Beyond Boundaries

In 1952, Selma James wrote the classic pamphlet A Woman’s Place and, in 1972, she and Mariarosa Dalla Costa published their groundbreaking The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community, which discussed how women’s unpaid housework and care work is crucial to the production of the working class and, thus, the economy as a whole, launching the domestic labor debate inside the women’s movement. That same year, the International Wages for Housework Campaign was formed. In an interview with Ron Augustin at her home in London, James spoke of her political activities and years with C. L. R. James, whom she was with for more than twenty-five years, each with their own political activities but also sharing important struggles. | more…

Abolitionist Socialist Feminism: Radicalizing the Next Revolution by Zillah Eisenstein

Abolitionist Socialist Feminism: Radicalizing the Next Revolution

The world is burning, flooding, and politically exploding, to the point where it’s become abundantly clear that neoliberal feminism—the kind that aims to elect The First Woman President—will never be enough. In her vibrant, politically personal essay, Zillah Eisenstein asks us to consider what it would mean to thread “socialism” to feminism; then, what it would mean to thread “abolitionism” to socialist feminism. Finally, she asks all of us, especially white women, to consider what it would mean to risk everything to abolish white supremacy, to uproot the structural knot of sex, race, gender, and class growing from that imperial whiteness. | more…

Navigating the Zeitgeist: A Story of the Cold War, the New Left, Irish Republicanism, and International Communism

Why would an American girl-child, born into a good, Irish-Catholic family in the thick of the McCarthy era—a girl who, when she came of age, entered a convent—morph into an atheist, feminist, and Marxist? The answer is in Helena Sheehan’s fascinating account of her journey from her 1940s and 1950s beginnings, into the turbulent 1960s, when the Vietnam War, black power, and women’s liberation rocked her bedrock assumptions and prompted a volley of life-upending questions—questions shared by millions of young people of her generation. But, for Helena Sheehan, the increasingly radicalized answers deepened through the following decades. | more…

Capitalist Patriarchy and the Case for Socialist Feminism

Fourteen provocative papers on the oppression of women in capitalist countries, along with three articles on the subordinate position of women in two communist countries, Cuba and China. These important, often path-breaking articles are arranged in five basic sections, the titles of which indicate the broad range of issues being considered: Introduction; motherhood, reproduction, and male supremacy; socialist feminist historical analysis; patriarchy in revolutionary society; socialist feminism in the United States. The underlying thrust of the book is toward integrating the central ideas of radical feminist thought with those pivotal for Marxist or socialist class analysis. | more…

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