In 1972, Selma James set out a new political perspective. Her starting point was the millions of unwaged women who, working in the home and on the land, were not seen as “workers”. Based on her political training with her late husband C.L.R. James, on movement experience South and North, and on a respectful reading of Marx, she redefined the working class to include sectors previously dismissed as “marginal.”
For James, we face a conflict between the reproduction and survival of the human race, and the domination of the market with its exploitation, wars, and ecological devastation. She sums up her strategy for change as “Invest in Caring not Killing.”
This selection, spanning almost six decades, traces the development of this perspective in the course of building an international campaigning network. It includes the classic The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community which launched the “domestic labor debate,” the groundbreaking Sex, Race and Class and Marx and Feminism, the exciting Hookers in the House of the Lord about a church occupation by sex workers, an evaluation of the UN Decade for Women, a reappraisal of the novels of Jean Rhys and of Julius Nyerere’s Tanzania. Her account of CLR James’s organisation the Johnson-Forest Tendency—published here for the first time, together with some of the Woman’s Place columns she wrote at the time—reveals a different CLR from the intellectual popular among academics: an imaginative anti-capitalist organiser. Her writings and speeches are steeped in the grassroots movement and the class split in feminism—from Haiti, Venezuela, Egypt and Palestine to SlutWalk and Global Occupy.
The writing is lucid and without jargon. The ideas, never abstract, spring from the experience of organising, from trying to make sense of the successes and the setbacks, and from the need to find a way forward.
Other publications by Selma James: A Woman’s Place (1952), Women, the Unions and Work, or what is not to be done (1972), Sex, Race and Class (1974), Wageless of the World (1974),The Rapist Who Pays the Rent (1982 co-author), The Ladies and the Mammies—Jane Austen and Jean Rhys (1983), Marx and Feminism (1983), Hookers in the House of the Lord (1983), Strangers & Sisters: Women, Race and Immigration (1985 ed. & Introduction), The Global Kitchen: The Case for Counting Unwaged work (1985 and 1995),The Milk of Human Kindness: Defending Breastfeeding from the AIDS Industry and the Global Market (co-author, 2002).