Marx and Woman (was Re: Gender & Free Speech)

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Sun Mar 19 23:37:07 PST 2000


>>>>According to Marx of _The Grundrisse_, etc., human beings have historically
>>>>evolved, creating (pace the young-Hegelian Marx) _unanticipated_ new needs
>>>>and desires, and there is no room for nostalgic yearning for the Eden of
>>>>natural rights & natural relations between the sexes
>And as I've been thinking about such things recently, I wondered if this
>kind of argument doesn't wholly support suggestions that Marx relies on a
>biologically founded notion of sexual difference on to which society is
>laid -- and not just capitalist society either. The Eden of natural
>relations between the sexes seems to me a highly dubious concept, because
>Eden is origin as much as fantasy, and fantasy of desirable original
>untainted life at that. Nostalgia, though it's your word, also suggests
>something fantastic in relation to which the now should be denigrated. What
>do you think? It does seem to me Marx presumes a past in which some
>natural, desirable, original relations structed by dualist sexual
>difference take place; that there is a sense in which capitalism has
>corrupted not only somewhat naturalised ideals about 'man' and 'work' but
>fully naturalised ideals about 'woman', 'man' and 'work'.

In the passage you quoted, I was contrasting the late Marx (whose main problematic is history) with the early Marx (whose main problematic is Man). In the early Marx, there definitely is the idea that sexual relations are "natural" -- "natural" in the sense of being expressive of the original "essence" of Man (from which He became alienated through capitalism):

***** In the approach to _woman_ as the spoil and handmaid of communal lust is expressed the infinite degradation in which man exists for himself, for the secret of this approach has its _unambiguous_, decisive, _plain_ and undisguised expression in the relation of _man_ to _woman_ and in the manner in which the _direct_ and _natural_ procreative relationship is conceived. The direct, natural, and necessary relation of person to person is the _relation of man to woman_. In this _natural_ relationship of the sexes man's relation to nature is immediately his relation to man, just as his relation to man is immediately his relation to nature -- his own _natural_ function. In this relationship, therefore, is _sensuously manifested_, reduced to an observable _fact_, the extent to which the human essence has become nature to man, or to which nature has to him become the human essence to him. From this relationship one can therefore judge man's whole level of development. It follows from the character of this relationship how much _man_ as a _species being_, as _man_, has come to be himself and to comprehend himself; the relation of man to woman is _the most natural_ relation of human being. It therefore reveals the extent to which man's _natural_ behaviour has become _human_, or the extent to which the _human_ essence in him has become a _natural_ essence -- the extent to which his _human nature_ has come to be _nature_ to him. (Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844) *****

I think of this left-Hegelian conception of Man as not just idealistic but also very conservative. This is a problem endemic to all left-Hegelian dialectics, not just the young Marx's, in that left-Hegelian dialectics simply find an alienated expression of the originally good essence in existing categories such as Man, Woman, Human, etc. Left-Hegelians think that Man develops, through alienation, his original essence; they call this "history," but it is in fact merely a movement of logical categories (thesis, antithesis, synthesis), as the late Marx came to understand.

The Marx whom I find valuable, & who I think gives us clues about how to move beyond gender, beyond humanism, is the late Marx: the Marx of "Theses on Feuerbach," _The Grundrisse_, _Capital_, etc. The late Marx thinks of human beings as ensembles of social relations. We are our histories. Goodbye to "the human essence" as "abstraction inherent in each single individual" or as "'genus,' internal, dumb generality which merely _naturally_ unites the many individuals" ("Theses on Feuerbach"); hello to history.

>And what's the relation between natural rights and natural relations
>between the sexes? I agree those things have been very closely related to
>one another (Locke, Rousseau and so on), but in Marx...?

And goodbye to natural rights.


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