The deeper the contradictions and the heavier the burden on women, the more it becomes apparent that these systems of exploitation hold no promise for women. In other words, these harsh conditions are bringing us closer to the limits of capital and patriarchy.

How should women’s labor be linked to their oppression? How to construct a holistic theory that will value women’s invisible labor in the household and make it part of social reproduction? Producing Life: Towards a Holistic Feminist Theory seeks answers to these two questions. On the one hand, Melda Yaman underlines the need to make use of Marxism to develop feminist theory, and on the other hand, she emphasizes that Marxism alone is not enough to answer feminist questions. In order to think about these issues in more detail, we had an interview with Melda Yaman about her new book, which is shaped around a few common questions based on her writings at different times.

The book is based on what you have been writing on this subject for the last five years and is an extremely important work that deals with the concept of social reproduction, which has its own integrity, both with its contributions to feminist theory and its limitations. First of all, on behalf of Çatlak Zemin, I would like to thank you for bringing the book to us. When I look at how your writings form a unity, I get the feeling that you have written different parts of a book that you planned from the beginning at different times, rather than putting together what you wrote at different times. As you also mention in the book, the fact that you have rewritten some of your writings to a great extent obviously plays a role in this. Nevertheless, what would you say if I asked you to explain a little bit about how your work over a long period of time evolved into such a whole?

Dear Elif, thank you very much to you and Çatlak Zemin. How well we started; while answering this question, let me try to answer the main purpose of each article in the book and the book as a whole, thank you. I can say that almost all of my recent writings have been shaped around a few questions that I think are fundamental to feminist theory and politics. The first of these questions goes back to the fundamental, long-running debate on how to link women’s labor to their oppression. Another related issue is how to construct a holistic theoretical approach that will make women’s labor activities in the household, which are not “valued” in any context, valuable and make them a part of social production. I see the problem here as twofold; on the one hand, making women’s labor activities a part of the whole, and on the other hand, building the social integrity by including women’s domestic labor process. We can benefit from two theoretical backgrounds when trying to answer these questions. One is the feminist approach of social reproduction that has come to the fore in recent years; this approach offers an important insight that tries to answer both questions. I have adopted this approach for quite some time, but I also think it has its limitations. The other is Marxism, especially as constructed by Marx and Engels. Undoubtedly, the relationship between Marxism and feminism is a complicated area that has been debated for decades. I would like to point out right away that the social reproduction approach also claims to be a Marxist approach. I have always maintained that we need the guidance of Marxist methodology, the materialist and dialectical method, to answer the questions I have mentioned above. This leads me to read the works of Marx and Engels from this -feminist- perspective as well. The essays in this book are written at different times, but address one aspect of this great issue. For this reason, each of them proposes to utilize Marxism to develop feminist theory, to bring Marxist method together with feminism. Thus, they aim to close the distance between feminism and Marxism to some extent. However, each of them also underlines that Marxism alone cannot be sufficient to answer feminist questions and that we need feminist arguments. To summarize, I can say that these articles had already been woven and shaped around a few common questions while they were still being written. While putting the articles together, I went through each of them, tried to develop many of them in this context and enrich them with current debates. I hope I have been able to produce a compilation of complementary articles.

In the book, you also include some of the debates that feminist theorists have been trying to explain to Marxists for years, but which have been insistently revived, and you respond to these debates based on what Marx himself wrote in his ethnological notebooks. One of the issues that often comes up in this regard is Engels’ argument in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (The Origin) that male domination emerged with the rise of private property in class society. Could you explain your views on this argument for the readers of this interview?

Engels’ The Origin remains a fundamental work for socialist feminists as well as for Marxist debates. In this work Engels goes back to the origins of the family; he addresses an important debate in the anthropological literature of his time, the history of the patriarchal family structure. In fact, he takes a critical step: he argues that the patriarchal monogamous family is not natural, that it is historical and “new”, that it was even established by the hands and will of men. He points out that monogamous marriage is by no means a compromise between men and women, but rather should be seen as the subjugation of women by men, a declaration of a conflict between the sexes. So far so good. However, it assumes a matriarchal period that precedes the patriarchal period; moreover, it explains the emergence of the patriarchal family with private property and class society. According to Engels, with the transition to animal husbandry and agricultural production, men began to take control over the surplus product -the ownership of herds- and became dominant in the family. Men wanted to pass on their inheritance to their sons. However, this was not possible under these -matriarchal- conditions, where lineage was organized according to the mother and women were dominant. Two major changes were necessary: on the one hand, to establish lineage through the father -the overthrow of matrilinealism- and on the other hand, to ensure that men’s inheritance could only be passed on to their sons -the overthrow of the matrilineal law of inheritance-. This meant the abolition of matriarchy. As a result, men invented the patriarchal monogamous family, a form of marriage that ensured descent through the male and the law of paternal inheritance. In short, Engels says, the transition to private property also created male domination.

This continues to be the view held in left-socialist circles around the world. It is said that if private property is the cause of male domination, then abolishing private property, i.e. abolishing capitalism, will automatically abolish male domination. On the one hand, this point of view, by assigning women’s liberation to the future, says that the present struggle, in fact the “feminist struggle” itself, is unnecessary. On the other hand, it glosses over the fact that it is mainly men who oppress women and that men have a vested interest in this.

However, Engels’ arguments are not supported by anthropological findings, and his reasoning has many problems, which feminist researchers point out. In particular, it should be noted that no evidence of a matriarchal period has been found so far. Furthermore, Engels seems to take for granted what needs to be explained, since in an egalitarian society, men would have to have already seized power in order to be able to capture wealth, especially wealth in agricultural production, which is women’s field of labor.

Finally, I would like to draw attention to the following point: In The Origin, Engels addresses many issues related to the oppression of women, such as the relationship of slavery within the family, masculine control over women’s sexuality, and men’s polygamy. Although his answers are incomplete/incorrect, he points out that men and the family enslave women, that women’s liberation requires their emancipation from family relations and household work, and he advocates free love/free sexuality for women. However, these issues do not seem to have attracted much attention among socialists/Marxists so far.

I know that you are very interested in anthropology and that you often make use of anthropological studies in your own writings. In the book, you talk about the reflections of anthropological studies of the period on Marx’s thought in the context of gender relations. You also explain that inequality in the relationship between men and women is a result of social struggle and that it begins to develop in communal societies. Could you explain this part a little bit?

In the last years of his life Marx focused on the major anthropological works of his time: Morgan, Phear, Lubbock, Maine, etc. He was greatly impressed by the societies described in these works in which men and women were in egalitarian relations. He was fascinated, for example, by the fact that in Iroquois, women’s freedom and participation in social life was far beyond that of women in any “civilized” society as told by Morgan. Thus, in his ethnological studies, Marx returned to the ideas of his early works, especially to the issue of the oppression of women. In the words of Christine Ward Gailey, this should be seen as a “dialectical turn”. Marx was now not only examining the oppression of women, but also expressing his thoughts on women’s emancipation. It is interesting in this respect that he refers again to the French utopian socialist Fourier, whom he had quoted in his early works. Moreover, Marx was now thinking about social transformations in terms of their impact on women and family relations.

One of the important debates of that period was the debate on the historical origin of the family. As I tried to summarize in the previous question, Engels had adopted the thesis that the first family form was the matriarchal family and argued that the patriarchal family was established with the transition to private property. However, Marx’s ethnological notebooks do not contain a clear statement about the matriarchal period. Moreover, Marx does not explain the emergence of male domination by private property alone; he tries to explain the transformation in communal societies by the internal contradictions of society itself. According to Marx, the origins of the oppression of women and male domination should not be sought in private property alone, but in the social contradictions that prepare the conditions for private property.

If the origin of patriarchy cannot be explained by private property, then the abolition of private property cannot automatically abolish patriarchy. In this case, the abolition of capitalism does not guarantee the emancipation of women. In other words, the abolition of capitalism is a necessary condition for women’s liberation, but it is not sufficient. This is why we say that women’s liberation requires a struggle not only against capitalism but also against patriarchy.

You recently translated Dunayevskaya’s book Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution into Turkish. On the occasion of this question, let us remind the readers the book and an interview you had about that book in Çatlak Zemin. In your book, referring to Dunayevskaya, you say that Marx’s interest in ethnology was about how holistic the uprooting of the existing society should be. What would you like to say about what Dunayesvkaya meant by this holism and what kind of understanding of revolution it corresponds to?

Dunayevskaya attaches great importance to Marx’s The Ethnological Notebooks. We can say that there are two main reasons for this. One is that Marx turned his attention to the earliest societies, and was interested in investigating the origins of inequality/social stratification; the other is that Dunayevska thinks that these notebooks “shed new light” on Marx’s historical-philosophical conception of men and women in his early works, especially in the 1844 Manuscripts.

The impact of his study of anthropology on Marx’s thought was that it provided a model of societies based on collective property and not on the pursuit of personal wealth. These societies provided a material basis not only for the temporariness of property in the form of private property, but also for the historical and temporary nature of the monogamous family and the state, which Marx discussed in early works such as the Communist Manifesto. In particular, Marx emphasized that Morgan’s work pointed to the seed of the socialist tendency in early communal societies.

We can say that Marx was trying to understand how these egalitarian relations evolved into unequal relations and the dialectics of this transformation. The formation of social ranks, the relationship of the chief to society, caste formation, patriarchal family structure and the dominance of men were all products of this process. Each was a facet, a component of social inequality. The construction of an egalitarian society, then, required the struggle against all these inequalities, the elimination of all these inequalities. It is this multifaceted, multilayered transformation that Dunayevskaya calls “the uprooting of existing society must be holistic”: In addition to capitalism and the bourgeois class, the state, the family, male domination, inequalities based on ethnicity, gender inequality … in other words, all forms of social inequality must be eliminated.

Uprooting the existing society also means building a new society, a new human being, new human relations. The critical issue here is that an egalitarian or communist/socialist society means a society in which all women, all men, all LGBTI+s can develop their human potential, have equal access to social resources and wealth, and establish egalitarian relations with each other that do not involve exploitation/ domination/ power relations.

You have many thought-provoking and striking arguments in the book. Of course, it is not possible to mention all of them in an interview, but I would still like to talk about some of them so that the reader’s curiosity is aroused for the rest. For example, in a chapter based on an article you wrote for the journal Marxism & Sciences, you discuss the origins of the social reproduction approach in Marx and Engels with reference to their concept of Verkehr and say that this concept is at the heart of the theory of social reproduction. Can you tell us a bit about the importance of this concept and its connection with social reproduction?

We see that the roots of the social reproduction approach can be traced back to the so-called The German Ideology, which Marx and Engels wrote in 1845-46 but never published. I can say that The German Ideology is one of the main sources throughout the book. In this work, Marx and Engels incorporated human production and reproduction into the social whole as a moment of history. They said that while producing necessities, people also produce themselves and each other. Marx and Engels emphasized that people carry out these production processes through their relations/interactions with each other (Verkehr) and under a certain division of labor. Verkehr, in general, means relationship/interaction. The word is used in German for trade, traffic, relationship, interaction. But here it refers to a wider richness of meaning. It should also be noted that this is a term/concept specific to The German Ideology; one could even say that it is a central notion of this work. However, this concept has never been discussed in Marxist/socialist feminist literature, as far as I can see. In Marxist literature, only a few researchers have referred to this term; however, these references are not in the context of social reproduction. However, “Verkehr” refers to a wide field of interaction, to the totality of social relations. Considering the context of The German Ideology, it should be said that the term refers to a broad conception of relations, including production and commercial relations, but also social and familial relations: the social division of labor, the gendered division of labor, collective labor processes, basic social relations related to reproduction processes such as childcare or elderly care.

The social reproduction approach does not limit social production to the production of commodities, but expands it to include the processes of production and reproduction of human beings. In this framework, women’s domestic labor, the household, the family, social ties, and gender relations come to the fore again as parts of the social whole. Similarly, with the concept of Verkehr, it becomes possible to address women’s social reproduction activities in a wider universe, including not only class relations but also gender relations and the family/household. Moreover, the term opens the way for the discussion of many patriarchal norms and bonds such as “motherhood”, “family”, “love/affection”, since women’s labor activities, that is, their reproductive activities -the activities that produce life- are carried out with these social bonds, within family/household relations, with feelings such as love/affection, with “duties” such as motherhood/wifehood. These ties and positions can be seen as the main means of imposing these tasks on women, and thus as mechanisms that reproduce male domination.

Therefore, I think that the universe of social relations defended by the social reproduction approach is contained in the concept of Verkehr; in other words, Verkehr is at the heart of the understanding of social reproduction.

You open the book by describing how the pandemic has deepened the unequal relationship between men and women and once again revealed that women are the producers of life. On the other hand, you point out that all these narratives are not only limited to describing the existing and deepening inequality, but also provide guidance on how to fight them in the book. Could you share your views on how women can get out of this deepening inequality imposed by the patriarchal order for the readers of Çatlak Zemin?

The pandemic has brought the peoples of the world very close to the border between life and death. These difficult days have reminded us of what we forget in the daily struggle for life, that the most precious thing is life itself. In these harsh conditions, we have also witnessed that the main burden of work and care has fallen on women. Not only the actual workload, but also the emotional burden on women’s shoulders has become considerably heavier. On the other hand, we also saw that capital has only one concern, only one motivation: profit. As the vaccine reveals, even in such a severe period, collective scientific research cannot be carried out worldwide, and the vaccine, which is the product of collective knowledge, cannot be transformed into a public good to meet the needs of people.

While the pandemic conditions had not completely disappeared, we found ourselves in a severe economic crisis. Of course, it is not only possible to talk about an economic crisis; we are going through a multiple crisis ranging from precarious work to low wages, from the problem of daycare to elderly care, from the dequalification of education to problems in the health system, from ecological problems to increasing violence against women and LGBTI+s, from authoritarian governments to conservative policies.

These conditions also confront us with all the contradictions of capital and male domination, with all forms of domination over women’s labor and bodies. The deeper the contradictions and the heavier the burden on women, the more it becomes apparent that these systems of exploitation hold no promise for women. In other words, these harsh conditions are bringing us closer to the limits of capital and patriarchy.

We all know that it is not that easy to get out of these conditions. But I think we all also believe in the power of women. With this power, we need to weave the struggle against both male domination and the domination of capital. For this we need the unity of theory and practice. I think we need to understand theory and practice not as separate processes, but as processes that pass through each other, as processes that condition each other, with a dialectical relationship between them.

I would also like to add that I think we all need an independent feminist organization today, perhaps more than ever.

Before ending the interview, I would like to ask you if this book will evolve into another work or if you have a new field of study in mind. Again, I would like to thank you for bringing this mind-opening book together with us and I wish that the book will have many readers.

What is expressed in this book is a product of feminist research, debates and feminist struggle, in other words, a product of the collective mind. I am happy to have been able to make a small contribution to the collective body of knowledge with this book. But there is no doubt that each title, each argument is incomplete, waiting to be developed and completed. It has been my greatest desire, my strongest motivation that the book can lead to new questions, new discussions and new research. I will continue to think about these issues; my belief that we can move forward by thinking together, having long-term discussions and walking together has never diminished, on the contrary, it is getting stronger.

I would like to thank you for this interview; with these stimulating questions, I had the opportunity to think about the book as a whole once again. Thank you very much.

For the original in Turkish / Yazının Türkçesi için


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