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Politically, the problem is how to foster class unity and class consciousness in a working class fragmented and weakened by the effects of economic and technological change, and by identity politics and cultural wars. At the level of analysis of the mode of production , most people, whatever their gender, race, ethnicity, and other individual characteristics may be, are working class, whether they are aware of this fact or not. They do not own the means of production, they depend on the sale of their labor power to survive, and their economic survival is always tenuous and subject to changes in the national and global capitalist economy, which, in turn, reflects the profit-seeking decisions of the capitalist classes.
At the level of analysis of social formations , common class location and objective commonality of interest are obscured and dampened by the effects of racial, ethnic, socioeconomic status, and other divisions. Because of class and socioeconomic status divisions, membership in oppressed groups does not entail commonality of political and economic interests. Though the proportion of women and members of racial and ethnic minorities in the capitalist class and the upper layers of the social, economic, and political system is very small, class contradictions and conflicts of interest do not disappear under the mantle of common identities.
For example, successful struggles for civil rights for all members of an oppressed group do not erase class contradictions and socioeconomic inequality within the group. At best, they foster the upward mobility of some individuals while leaving capitalism and all forms of economic and social inequality unchanged.
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Marxist feminist theory has illuminated the material conditions for the oppression of working-class women and needs to say so forcefully, overcoming the ideological control underlying the usual qualms about economic determinism and class reductionism that contributed to the retreat from class and rise of identity politics. The outcomes of class relations and class conflicts fall differentially upon women depending on their class location, socioeconomic status, and placement in the structures of oppression, regardless of their self-identification with one or several oppressed identities.
The ever-present material reality of class, however, is seldom acknowledged by the average person. Regardless of race, ethnicity, and other differences , capitalist women and women in the upper layers of the social stratification system are not affected by such policies, because they can afford to pay for contraception and abortion if their health insurance does not cover them or if they are banned or unavailable in their place of residence. In the context of insufficient wages, uncertain employment, inadequate housing, lack of health insurance, and other ills affecting working-class people, reactionary family policies can be best understood as a war on the working class.
The time has come to acknowledge the limits of identity-based theorizing and politics. The economic, social, and political successes of many individual women have not altered the fate of the majority. Perhaps this is one of the sources of the renewed interest in Marxism and feminism we see today, particularly in Europe, where three international conferences have recently taken place.
In order to become more than an academic exercise, Marxist feminism needs to return to its historical-materialist roots and to class, as the key material basis of the problems facing working-class women, whether employed or not. In the current economic and political environment, it is important to articulate a feminism that acknowledges that the majority of women are located in the working class and that the oppression and problems working women whatever their identity or identities may be face within social formations are significantly affected by their class position.
Working women are not only responsible for the reproduction of labor power, the economic survival of their families, and the working class: they are part of the working class. Therefore, it is time, when writing and speaking about issues that matter to women, to specify their class location, socioeconomic status, and any other relevant characteristics, such as whether they are working-class Latina women, capitalist white women, working-class Central-American immigrant women, middle-class women in terms of socioeconomic status , African-American women, and so on.
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