Capital and Patriarchy: Twins Separated at Birth?

There isn’t too much cooperation in the field of critical theory. Marxists accuse feminists of making unhistorical and unscientific observations about the state of the world. Similarly, feminists accuse Marxists of oversimplification and ignorance of non-economic factors. In fact, there are distinct similarities between the two schools of thought, in terms of their purpose and nature as critical theories, which they should recognise and act on. The critical field is too divided by particulars and passion; its members should unite on a theoretical front against their enemies, who are not as different as one may think.

Critical Theory

Marxism, here, is taken to mean the political and social theories of class relations and their manifestation in both national and international order. Marxist class analysis produces dominant and subordinate classes, predicting the eventual overthrow of the dominant by the subordinate, by means of revolution, to create a socialist utopia. There has been much critique of so-called ‘Academic Marxism’, which works on Marxist analytics but does not follow through the logic to predict such a revolution. These notes focus on pure Marxism, as the works of Karl Marx himself focused on the liberation of the proletariat from Bourgeoisie and the exploitative social relations apparent in the capitalist mode of production.

Feminism, in this sense, is thought of as the critical theory of underlying assumption and effective ‘language’ of human interactions – i.e. feminists would critique the paradigms and norms of the theoretical and material world, noting that they benefit not just ‘men’, as in the most popular strand of feminism, but that they provide bias for the hegemonic powers of the moment. As with Marxism, feminist theory has expanded beyond its origins, encompassing critique of thought and philosophy that is ignorant of not only gender but of social differentiation altogether. The aim of feminism is to create a system where the current paradigms do not exist, not creating an equal world as such, but an entirely new one without the lingering patriarchal language and norms.

Similarity and Unity

It seems that both Marxism and feminism have several common traits. They both describe systems of unequal social relations creating social struggle. They both describe subordinate and dominant groups of people created by these unequal social relations. And they both work towards the emancipation of the subordinate group and the creation of a ‘utopian’ society in which equality reigns. The only difference is the identification of the problem within both systems. In Marxism, the underlying problem is capital. In feminism, patriarchy.

There are, however, arguments which suggest that even these identifications are not as different as one might at first think: there are theories of connections between men and capital. Heidi Hartmann posits that men ally themselves with capital in order to exclude women from capitalist economic participation, relegate them to the home, and exercise social and sexual domination over them. While the imagery and syntax of this idea is perhaps coarse, as is the case with much Marxist scholarship, the notion aligns Marxism and feminism in a dual-critique of capital and patriarchy.


Hence, Marxism and feminism should shrug off their differences and embrace their similarities if they wish to put into action the ‘revolutionary’ motion that will bring about the utopia that they both strive for. They may even wish to enlist the help of post-colonialism, another critical theory with its own set of qualms. Until some unity and cohesion is felt amongst the mentioned schools, the exploitative/domineering groups, identified as their archenemies, will continue their reign of hegemony.


Bottomore, Tom (ed.), 1983. A Dictionary of Marxist Thought. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press

Cohn, Carol, 1987. ‘Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defence Intellectuals’. Signs (12:4)

German, Lindsay, 1981. ‘Theories of Patriarchy’. International Socialism (12)

Hartmann, Heidi, 1979. ‘The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism’. Capital and Class (8)


One thought on “Capital and Patriarchy: Twins Separated at Birth?

  1. This brainstorm was developed in response to a series of lectures given by Dr Mark Laffey on critical theory in International Relations during December 2012 and January 2013 at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. The School is known for its focus on critical theories. A discussion of literature on capital/patriarchy is to follow.

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