Review of The Politics of Everybody: Feminism, Queer Theory, and Marxism at the Intersection by Holly Lewis

As the title suggests, Holly Lewis’ The Politics of Everybody falls squarely within an interdisciplinary move. Contrarily though, her book eschews that politics of intersectionality which is centred on the model of individuals criss-crossed by different oppressions. Instead, she bridges the distance between Marxism, Feminism and Queer theory to expand on the politics of a queer Marxism, arguing for a fundamental solidarity between these movements. Her interjection decisively upends the poststructuralist orientation of much Anglophone queer theory as it simultaneously highlights the need to reconcile Marxist politics and gender theory.

The book is divided into three large chapters, wherein the discussion on the tensions between Marxism, Feminism and Queer theory make axiomatic a queer Marxist politics as a concluding alternative to queering culture, resisting normativity or focusing on patriarchies instead of tackling their material conditions.

In the first chapter, Lewis outlines a Marxist critique of political economy in order to re-orient queer theory towards recognising the fundamental material structures behind norms. By focusing on the “least contentious elements of Marx’s thought among Marxists,” (35) Lewis attempts to make Marxism accessible to queer, trans and feminist politics in order to clarify the relationship between gender and economy. Lewis deplores the severed ties between economics, sociology and philosophy that emerged from “’Marx Avoidance’ in academia” (46). This schism forms the core motivation behind Lewis’ inquiry, asserting that “[s]uch thinking reaffirms Cartesian dualism . . . queer theory and other poststructuralist disciplines partake in this split by avoiding economic analysis” (47). However, by tracing queer theory’s Marxist influence she argues that they are “bound together through both real-world political activities and the history of philosophy” (ibid). Finally, Lewis ends the discussion by examining the contributions of major poststructuralist theorists including Derrida, Foucault and Lyotard in the “poststructuralist erasure of [the materialist] dialectic” (88).

The next chapter “investigate[s] how the mode of production actually affects real social phenomena and events” (emphasis original) (94). In keeping with this agenda Lewis cuts to the heart of the problem with queer theory and both second and third-wave feminism by emphasising that: “. . . it is the lack of understanding of political economy that gets in [their] way” (102). Lewis does this by asking painful yet pertinent questions about why academic discourse alienates the working class, those on the margins of society. Yet Lewis, does not stop at pointing out this deficiency in poststructuralist theorising but goes on to also push economic thinking beyond analysis of commodity consumption.  Proposing a “queer, trans-inclusive reading of Marxist-feminist social reproduction theory” as “an anti-capitalist critique that goes beyond simply criticizing the consumption habits of the gay middle class[es]” (103). To this effect, this chapter, makes a powerful intervention into the critique of heteronormativity, by refocusing attention on economics as “the origin of the ‘normativity’ within heteronormativity” (182). Lewis is unequivocally committed to critiquing the “awareness campaign” (108) tactics of gender politics for its failure to bring about action or a change in the material circumstances of societies. Instead, alongside the recent turn to gender and sexuality in Marxist political activity and scholarship, Lewis advocates for a new approach called queer Marxism – the focus on economic factors in queer and trans oppression (186).

The third and concluding chapters focus on queer Marxism to develop a politics of class which, Lewis highlights, begins with the fundamental “. . . understanding that the world is organised in such a way that a subset of people extract a surplus from others, that they purchase influence from the state with that surplus, that they devise fictitious investment schemes and own and maintain systems of social control to maintain their dominance, and then they create a situation of dependence upon the goods and services they hire other people to develop” (203). This chapter focuses on the relationship between not just ideology – as the “’distillation of experience; that continues through and is normalized by the repetition of day-to-day experience of social relations” (197) – and gender, but a Butlerian argument of socially constructed sex in service of a systematic mechanism for the extraction of profit. Through this paradigm, Lewis offers a lucid understanding of the predicament that much contemporary queer theory finds itself in – poised perpetually as avant-garde, embattled against capitalism, even as it reels from concession after concession, highlighting therefore, the need for a “. . .bold new approach: the old, unfashionable approach of Marx’s materialism, complete with the even more unfashionable call to reinvest in the centrality of working-class organising in order to begin a revolutionary transformation of social relations” (91).

The concluding chapter stands out as this call to action. It makes clear the need to stand for something and highlights the predicament of liberal pluralism that is left “mutter[ing] banal catechisms about the unity of mankind” (259). In that call to stand for something, Lewis decries the mundaneness of empty posturing without the footfall at the forefront of change. In a move reminiscent of Segwick, but very different, Lewis ends with “[t]en axioms towards a queer Marxist future” (270) that outline the possibilities towards a politics of everybody.

Bio – J. Daniel Luther

  1. Daniel Luther is completing their fully funded doctoral research at SOAS, University of London (fourth year) and is one of the co-founders of the international platform called ‘Queer’ Asia. Their doctoral research examines the history of normativity in India through cultural texts including South Asian literature and film. They completed their MA at the National University of Singapore in Literary Studies following a BA in Literature at the University of Delhi. They have published an article titled ‘Queer Theory’ in an OUP journal, The Year’s Work in Critical and Cultural Theory, and have a forthcoming chapter with CENGAGE Learning for the Global Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer History.