Maya Gonzalez and the Global Failure of Twentieth Century Socialism

by Jehu

Let me say that I am reluctant to speak on the issues of gender. It is not that I am unfamiliar with the issues; rather, it is no more my place to state my opinion on the question of gender than it is the place of a white person to define white supremacy or a colonizer to tell the colonized what they are fighting for.

Nevertheless, here is an interesting formulation of communization from Maya Andrea Gonzalez, taken from her essay, Communization and the Abolition of Gender, in Clever Monkey’s anthology, Communization and its Discontents:

Communization describes a set of measures that we must take in the course of the class struggle if there is to be a revolution at all. Communization abolishes the capitalist mode of production, including wage-labor, exchange, the value form, the state, the division of labor and private property.

This set of measures, we are told, are not a revolutionary position, a state of society to be established after the revolution, a strategy, a tactic, an organization or a plan. It is the form the revolution itself must take owing to the nature of the class struggle today.

If I understand Gonzales, based on the peculiar characteristics of the class struggle today, the revolution must immediately put an end to the capitalist mode of production, including wage labor, exchange, money, the state, the division of labor and property. To this, Gonzalez adds gender and all divisions within social life. We cannot wait until after the revolution to accomplish all of this: presently, this is the revolution – the complete eradication of all existing social relations.

Frankly, this is a rather tall order that makes me wonder if communizers are actually serious about communization.

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I ask this question because it is not clear to me that there is any consensus within the communization movement on a set of measures that can at once put an end to wage labor, money, the state and gender differences. And from Gonzalez we learn that there is not even consensus within communization theory on how gender relates to the capitalist mode of production.

To give some examples of my problem: are the measures necessary to abolish wage labor the same as those required to abolish gender differences? As a matter of fact, are the measures necessary to end the state, the same as those required to put an end to, say, money or property? Do each of these specific social relations — wage labor, money, the state, the division of labor, gender — require specific measures.

And if the abolition of each of these social relations requires a specific measure, shouldn’t we put together a list of some sort of all the measures we intend to implement in the course of our revolution? You know: a program or something like that.

Then we would need to show why our revolution, communization, will succeed where the programs of all previous proletarian revolutions, i.e., 20th century socialism, failed, because, to be quite honest, everything promised by communization were previously promised by 20th century socialism. The revolution in Russia promised, for instance, to put an end to the capitalist mode of production, including wage-labor, exchange, the value form, the state, the division of labor, private property and gender differences. The only difference that I can see is that the revolution in Russia proposed to accomplish this abolition after the seizure of state power, while communization proposes that this abolition is the revolution.

If 20th century socialism had succeeded, we would not be having these discussions about communization.

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While I do not completely disagree with Gonzalez, I think I have to object to her statement here:

The workers’ movement promised to reconcile women and workers beyond, or at least behind the back of, the market. After all, the founding texts of German Social Democracy, in addition to Marx’s Capital, were Engels’ Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State, and Bebel’s Woman and Socialism. Through struggle, the workers’ movement promised to bring women out of the home and into the workforce, where they would finally become the true equals of men. In order to achieve this real equality, the workers movement would socialize women’s reproductive work ‘after the revolution’. Both housework and childcare would be performed collectively by men and women together. As it became clear to the most extreme elements of the Radical Feminist movement in the 1970s, these measures would never suffice to actually ensure ‘real equality’ between men and women workers. The only possibility of achieving an equality of workers, at the intersecting limit of both gender and labor, would be if babies were born in test-tubes, finally having nothing to do with women at all.

My objection is two-fold:

First, it is not as if the revolution in Russia abolished wage labor but left gender difference intact. And it is not as if the revolution in Russia put an end to exchange, the value form, the state, the division of labor and private property, but neglected to abolish either wage labor or gender differences. The revolution in Russia was a global failure that never put an end to wage-labor, exchange, the value form, the state, the division of labor, property or gender differences.

The failure here was global in another sense of that term as well: not a single 20th century socialist revolution managed to abolish wage-labor, exchange, the value form, the state, the division of labor, property or gender differences. The problem here is not simply the failure to rid society of wage labor or gender differences, nor was it simply a failure to get rid of all existing relations in one revolution or another. Every revolution, everywhere, without exception, failed to abolish the capitalist mode of production.

This should have been a big tip off for Gonzales that likely we are not dealing with a problem related to gender and other social differences as such, but something more fundamental: a basic inability to understand what it means to abolish capital.

Second, I think it is revealing that Gonzalez offers a sci-fi level technological fix for the problem of gender. To abolish the limit imposed by value production  and class reproduction, says Gonzalez (tongue in cheek, perhaps?), we may be forced to automate the reproduction of labor power. This idea perfectly accords with the argument of a certain section of the radical left who think wage slavery can only be abolished by the complete automation of production. With either the employment of labor power in production rendered superfluous by machines or the reproduction of labor power automated by machines, the contradiction between gender and labor would be abolished.

This somewhat fantastical thought exercise suggests that the abolition of wage labor and the abolition of gender are intimately connected. I find it odd that given the choice between abolishing wage labor and abolishing sexual reproduction, Gonzalez chose the latter.

Is the abolition of wage labor really that unthinkable?

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Indeed, the global failure of 20th century socialism to abolish wage-labor, exchange, the value form, the state, the division of labor, private property and gender differences actually simplifies things for communization theory in two ways.

First it demonstrates the global character of the failed attempt. Twentieth century socialism did not just fail on one or two things; its failure was complete with regards to the eradication of all capitalist social relations. Twentieth century socialism left the whole of the capitalist mode of production unscathed — not just wage labor, or gender, or money or the state — everything.

Second, and likely more significant, the revolution in Russia, for example, was not undertaken to immediately put an end to the state, the division of labor, property and gender differences. Communists in Russia knew, or had reasons to know, that abolition of these categories of capitalist society was not immediately feasible. Instead, the revolution was immediately undertaken to put an end to wage labor (and, perhaps also, exchange and money). Yet we find thirty-three years later that wage labor continued without interruption despite the avowed aim of the revolution.

The failure of 20th century socialism to put an end to wage labor, exchange and money should cause us to wonder if the global failure of 20th century socialism on all counts does not have a common explanation. It is not as if we can argue that 20th century socialism emancipated society from wage labor but left gender differences intact. Whatever its other results, 20th century socialism failed to emancipate society from both wage labor and gender differences.