By Rachel Kushner
Best Books of 2013
A movement within the Autonomist movement, Italian feminism of the 1970s was both highly intellectual and earthy—a kind of feminism that, on account of its deep roots in philosophy, Marxism, and psychoanalysis, shared little to nothing with American second-wave fare. Among its iconic thinkers—Mariarosa Dalla Costa, Silvia Federici, Leopoldina Fortunati, Carla Lonzi, and Luisa Muraro—Federici in particular has become a crucial figure for young Marxists, political theorists, and a new generation of feminists. Author of Caliban and the Witch (2004), a groundbreaking work on gender and primitive accumulation, Federici is a true radical who has lived by her political commitments, not just to women but against all forms of exploitation. The essays in Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle (PM Press) span from 1975, when Federici penned the seminal text “Wages Against Housework,” to contemporary texts on elder care, globalization, land struggle, and new forms of enclosure. The essay “Wages Against Housework” was perhaps as popular this year among young Marxist feminists as it was when Federici wrote it. The concept, Federici clarifies, is not about getting paid to clean the kitchen, but about emphasizing what is already part of the marketplace. In any case, the wage, she reminds us, is no path to liberation, and in fact, “no matter what you do, you are still a ‘cunt.’” The struggle was about highlighting the ways in which women’s work, burdensome and invisible, has been naturalized as a primary structure of capitalism. To struggle for a wage is to struggle against this invisibility. “The actual relationship between gender and capitalist social relations remains an enigma,” Maya Andrea Gonzalez wrote in a recent issue of Viewpoint Magazine, bringing Federici’s wages argument into contemporary relevance—not just for feminists, but for Marxist theorists (who are predominantly male). “This is not simply because, as Marxists, we are reluctant to reproach the old man, but rather as a consequence of the fact that reproductive work—still performed primarily by those assigned the fate ‘woman’—is extremely difficult to comprehend in the terms provided by the critique of political economy . . . It should not be concluded that Marx’s critique was ‘wrong’; but he left women out of the story, and we need to find where he is hiding them.” The zero in Federici’s title is perhaps this absence—woman—as well as a fundamental starting point for a critique of contemporary capital.
Rachel Kushner is the author of the novel The Flamethrowers (Scribner, 2013).