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Want to Dismantle Capitalism? Abolish the Family

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Arguably the most infamous demand of The Communist Manifesto is the “abolition of the family.” The family, Marx and Engels noted, was where patriarchy and capitalism worked in tandem to produce willing, alienated workers, where women became little more than “instruments of production” for the men who lorded over them. Radical queer politics in the 1960s and ’70s added to their critique of the bourgeois family when activists challenged the heteronormativity of familial relations. That demand, however, has since almost completely vanished from the leftist imaginary.

Sophie Lewis, a feminist theorist and geographer, takes up this forgotten struggle in her work. Her new book, Full Surrogacy Now: Feminism Against Family (Verso, 2019) specifically links family abolition to a radical reconceptualization of pregnancy itself. The act of carrying a child to term, she insists, is work—labor that has long been exploited and overlooked by the academy—and so is mothering.

By thinking through the logic of commercial surrogacy arrangements, Lewis lays bare the ways motherhood has been weaponized as an ideological construct. She gives us an account of the material conditions—the biological and societal violence—that gestators, or people who are carrying fetuses, have to bear. Her book shows us that the ostensibly feminist objection to surrogacy arrangements underwrites the ossified and alienated familial relations that make capitalism possible. Last month I sat down with her over a cup of tea at The Nation’s offices and talked about why rethinking gestation is central to an emancipatory politics, how we can use surrogacy to subvert oppression, and what kinship beyond possession, beyond capitalism, beyond patriarchy could look like.

Our conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.

—Rosemarie Ho

Rosemarie ho: How did you get started on thinking about surrogacy as a kind of work?

Sophie Lewis: There’s a line in the famous Wages for Housework manifesto that goes, “Every miscarriage is a work accident.” The whole conversation in academia about surrogacy is focused on the reason why the practice exists in the first place, as if the labor that the gestators were doing were separate from the gestating that people do at home. I find it productive to put that question aside, and just look at the workplace. Certain feminists, I think, react to the realities of how babies are sometimes commodities, and how sex has become alienated and for sale, by blaming the people who are working in these industries when in fact the problem is capitalism.

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