Last week Johanna Oksala asked is capitalism good for women? And if it is not, are there reforms that can make capitalism good for women? Rather than rehearse her complex and fascinating answers to these questions, let me rather interrogate the assumptions that underlie them. One, of course, is that we know what capitalism is, but I won’t go into that just yet. Another is that we can consider women as a social and historical totality — a “gender” — that is oppressed as a whole, and that can seek remediation as a whole. Of course, there are differences among women — rich and poor, gay and straight, young and old and so forth. Nonetheless, women as a whole are oppressed and can seek remedies that apply to all women.
There is no question that the fact that Benjamin Netanyahu will form the next Israeli government is a disaster for Israel and the world. Israel is a state that was formed in 1948 by the United Nations in response to worldwide public opinion. It is a state whose legitimacy was questionable from the first because of the failure to found Palestinian state at the same time. While Israel has now had a long history of its own, the truth is that its only friendly neighbors are dictators and that it is increasingly a pariah state. Its racist internal policies as well as the occupation are essentially unique holdovers from an earlier, colonial epoch and will not survive. Given that context one has to ask what were the Israelis thinking when they cast a vote for Netanyahu?
Sanjay Ruparella’s lucid and compelling talk on the global South can help us to clarify what we mean by capitalism. If the “global South” implies a global capitalist system or project, what was that project? We can think of it as unfolding in two waves: the first began with the discovery of America in 1492 and took the form of the great trading empires; the second began with industrial capitalism in the nineteenth century and continues today. In the first wave, specialization, the division of labor and trade are crucial; in the second, the capital labor relation per se. To be sure, we can think of the two waves as continuous, building on one another. In both cases, capitalism implies increased productivity and growth, as well as increasing inequality.