Are Marxian categories adequate to understand "Gender" and "Caste" questions?





Are Marxian categories adequate to understand "gender" and "caste" questions?

My answer to this question is an emphatic "YES"!

My answer will be in two parts. In the first part, I will introduce the main categories of Marxism and explain how they enable us to understand and propose solutions to the questions of "Gender" and "Caste". In the second part, I will respond to some points of criticism that Feminists and Dalitists raise against Marxism.

Marxian Categories 

Briefly speaking, the fundamental conceptual category in Marxism is "Production Relations" or "Property Relations". In other words, "Labour Relations". We may elaborate this category as follows: 

For their existence, human beings need products that are obtained by expending different kinds of labour on the substances available in Nature. The fundamental difference between animals and human beings is "performance of labour". Human beings make use of the land that exists in nature and produce substances and articles that they need for subsistence. In the course of this activity of performing "labour", human beings enter into Production relations (or Labour relations). If all persons perform labour then the Labour relations will acquire the character of "equality". If only some persons perform labour and others do not perform any labour, the Labour relations will acquire the character of "inequality", that is the character of exploitation of labour. Owing to exploitation of labour, one class does not perform labour while another performs labour. The class that does not perform labour occupies land and all other means of labour as its Private property. That class becomes the owner of that property. The property-less class becomes the "Labouring class".  The very first classes in history were slaves and slave masters.

Class struggle began since the days of slaves and slave masters. The class struggle alone liberated slaves from slavery. But that class struggle has not yet liberated workers from the exploitation of labour. The present classes are Workers and Capitalists. We may also find sections like feudal lords and feudal peasants.

The class of exploiters lives on three kinds of income, which they get not from their own labour but from the rents on land and profits and interest on capital. The labouring class loses a large part of its labour to the class of owners.

Owing to the problem of exploitation of labour, distinction (inequality) of master and servants arises between human beings. The exploiting class gets riches and wealth and the labouring class faces poverty. This means, riches and poverty, masterhood and servitude are the consequences of the exploitation of labour. The solution for this problem is to abolish the rights of private property and the exploitation of labour and make the class of masters live on their own labour by means of class struggle.

In order to appreciate the explanatory adequacy of Marxism with reference to questions of Gender and Caste, one has to understand several aspects concerning "Labour", namely, Production Relations, Property Relations, Division of Labour, Distribution Relations, Value, Money, Surplus Value, Manual Labour, Mental Labour, Wages, Land Rent, Interest, Profit, Productive Labour, Unproductive Labour, Independent Labour, Family Labour, etc.

All human beings (men and women) in society enter into Labour relations. People who work at places of production, domestic workers, women confined to housework, people staying in prisons, orphanages and religious institutions; rowdies, prostitute and beggars¾all people enter into Labour relations. We need to know all these things in order to understand Marxism. We can analyze any problem in any country in the world with the help of Marxian categories. Not only can we understand and explain the problems but we can also propose scientific solutions.

In the course of his investigation into the nature of modern capitalist society, Marx proposed these conceptual categories based on a critical analysis of economists and philosophers that preceded him.

Marxism on the "Gender" question:

As all the human beings in the primitive times were "equal", men and women too were "equal". "Male domination" began due to the "exploitative property system" (We cannot examine the entire history here). In the exploitative society, "patriarchy" (rule of the father) got established. In the family, man is the master and official over women and children. This means, the relation between wife and husband is the relation between the "master" and the "servant". There are no conditions of equality between men and women in the capitalist society. There are no equal rights in many matters. Except, as the wife of a particular man there is no scope to recognize woman as an independent person in many countries.  The mother will not have equal rights over the children along with the father in many countries.  

The same is the case with men and women of the two classes. Men and women are not directly "classes". Here there is no such division as "women are one class" and "men are another class". "Class" is the relation that exists between the owners who give "work" and the labourers who do the "work".  This means, it is a relation of the "exploitation of labour". 

The relation between men and women is not such a "class" relation. It is a social relation, which is not a class relation. Or, it is a family relation. This "unequal relation", however, is a consequence of the "emergence of classes" in the society. (This is also one of the many results). Hence, elimination of inequality between men and women is linked with the elimination of exploitative relations. 

The beginning stage for the abolition of this "inequality" is that all women should engage in outside (wage) labour. In addition to women who are already engaged in outside labour, women who are "dedicated" to the home should also go into outside labour. When the private right over means of production is abolished, when lands are distributed among the agricultural population and only when new jobs are created in the factories, only then it is possible for all the women to go into the outside labour. As a result, women will begin to get incomes and attain the capacity for "self-maintenance". They will be free from the condition of dependence on men for maintenance. Even for those women who live on "prostitution" due to dire poverty, employment itself will be the beginning stage of their liberation.

Just as men of the capitalist class enter into labour, women of their class also enter. We need not specifically focus on this.

If women also participate in wage labour outside of the home, social organizations—especially those that take care of children—should emerge.

The next stage involves the change of old divisions of labour between men and women. Women should have equal opportunities to participate in any job that men do in the production processes. At home, all the household chores should be the "responsibilities" of both men and women. They should discharge with equal responsibility all such household duties as cooking, childcare, care of the aged, house cleaning etc. Words like "woman's work" "man's work" should disappear both at home and outside. They should have equal rights and duties in law.

One of the aspects of the equal rights of men and women is an equal right in respect to "identifying" children. We "identify" a person through a name that includes two aspects, namely, the "given name" and the "surname". In the exploitative societies, children get their name through their father. This means, a child is identified through its father only! The mother will not have a place in this regard. Since both mother and father are responsible for the birth of a child, we have to bring in their identities into the names of the child in such a way that both the mother and father find a place. We have to follow a consistent path for equality.  Thus we have to change all the features, which the exploitative society has created in man-woman relationships.

When both men and women attain the capacity for self-maintenance and to maintain their children, their "co-habitation" will no longer be similar to the "co-habitation" of the old times. It will become cohabitation based on equal labour relationships. It will be the cohabitation of men and women who are independent and equal. It will change the old character of the institution of the family. This means, the "family" will exist in the society firmly but its character will become just and equal.  Along with it, the entire terminology connected with the old life style of men and women also changes.

In this "transition stage", however, men will cooperate with some of these changes only. The working class male, who wants equality with the "master" will be averse to giving up his "masterhood" in the family. He will act obstinately against completely giving up his male-domination for the sake of equality with his wife.  Men who quickly realise the features of the New Society will open their eyes quickly. They will quickly leave the throne of domination. But those who cannot do so will go on clinging and clinging to its edges.

Just as a great deal of struggle is necessary to drag the non-labouring class into labour, and as much struggle is necessary to drag the class of mental labourers into manual labour, similarly so much struggle is also necessary to drag men into the "work of women" and to get rid of their male domination.

Women will be emancipated completely only when they learn self-respect to fight against male domination, wherever and whenever it appears.

Just as many wrong solutions arise for any problem, so also various kinds of wrong solutions have arisen for the problem of "male domination". All of these have been bourgeois solutions. One "solution" for the sake of women who dedicated their life to their "home" argues thus: "As a wife does all the household chores, the husband should pay "wages" to his wife. He has to calculate and pay wages for cooking, childcare and all other work. Or, the Government should pay wages to the housewives". These are solutions that the bourgeois feminists discovered.

Both wife and husband are responsible for the family. Out of the work that women do for the "family", half of it is anyway the responsibility of women. Further, it is the full responsibility of a woman to maintain herself and half of her responsibility to maintain children. When women cannot discharge their responsibility, men must undertake it. This means the expenditure connected with the maintenance of the woman and the expenditure, which the mother has to share in respect to the children come from the income of the "man". (Man does that "labour" outside). If men undertake the responsibility which women are expected to do in respect to maintenance, women are then obliged to undertake the responsibility that men are expected to do in respect to "housework". This is a division of labour, which says, "housework for women, outside work for men". The solution for this problem is: "housework for both! Outside work for both!" Then both will discharge the responsibility of maintenance as well as housework.

If both men and women have conditions of equality whereby both of them receive education and learn labour-power, right from the beginning, women too would attain the capacity to "maintain herself" like men.

Whatever is the solution between two men, the same is the solution between men and women. Such a solution does not appear to the bourgeois view because the solution of "equality" between two men also does not appear to it.

To say "wages for the housewife" means "to confine women to housework only". It means to save men from doing the housework! This means that a housewife remains a housewife. For women, always housework! For men, always outside work!  Both will never become equal! This is the struggle of the bourgeois feminist fighters for "equality".  

Marxism on the "Caste" question:

The "lower" castes do not possess the means of production. Only the "upper" castes possess them. Even among these, only few people possess them.

The majority of people in the lower castes do the low-level manual labour including various kinds of unclean jobs: less unclean and more unclean. The majority of people in the upper castes who do labour are engaged in the high-level manual labour and mental labour.

Hence, the problem of "castes" in this kind of society should be solved by such changes as: abolition of the private right of the upper castes over the means of production and changes in the old division of labour.  As a result of the abolition of private right over the means of production, the conditions whereby upper caste people stand as masters over low caste people will be abolished. The non-labouring upper caste population too will enter into labour.

Later, owing to the abolition of the old division of labour, upper castes will come into manual labour and lower castes will come into mental labour. Which means, the division of labour must be changed in such a way that every individual does perform certain kinds of mental labour and certain kinds of manual labour (including unclean jobs: both less unclean and more unclean) that are necessary for the existence of society. Superstructural changes like intercaste marriages are also part of this change. But intercaste marriage cannot become a generalized phenomenon unless property relations and the existing division of labour are radically transformed.

Take any of these changes, it is a class struggle.

To say that landless lower castes require land is a class struggle.

To say that lower castes, which always do manual labour, should come into mental labour is also a class struggle.

The basis for caste distinction is class distinction.

Therefore, the disappearance of castes depends on the class struggle only.

If we do not grasp the class struggle, there would not be any programme that can eliminate castes. If class struggle is absent, the lower castes will always have to remain as servants of the "masters" who possess means of production and will have to remain in manual labour.  

Response to the criticism against Marxism

On the connection of the Gender question with the Base and Superstructure:

Gender relations are connected with the "Superstructure".  Labour relations alone constitute the "Base". First, we have to recognize that society is divided into two classes: the class that performs labour and the class that exploits labour. The class that performs labour receives only some portion of its labour as "wages", loses a large part as "Surplus Value", and lives a life of dire poverty. The class that exploits labour, while sharing and consuming surplus value in the form of profit, interest, rent, merchant commission etc., lives in comfort, luxury and leisure without doing labour. It is the working class that performs the labour necessary for both classes.

Sections of labourers who perform various kinds of manual labour, mental labour, productive labour, unproductive labour¾all of them together constitute the "working class". Women and children too perform labour and are part of the "working class". Relations that exist at the place where labour is performed constitute relations between the class that performs labour and the class that exploits labour. We find men and women in the working class as well as the exploiting class. The nature of gender relations in every class is identical. We find male domination as well as subordination of women in both of the classes. However, they exist in various forms depending upon the conditions of those classes.

Gender relations are not relations that constitute the Base. They are Superstructural relations that arise in accordance with the nature of the Base. If any change in any aspect of the Superstructure has to take place, it will invariably be connected with the changes that take place in the Base. This does not mean that we must first change the Base completely and only then initiate the changes in the Superstructural aspects. Anybody can respond anywhere to any problem and struggle for its solution. But we cannot locate the root cause and the solution to the problem if we cannot understand the connection between the Base and Superstructure. The struggle will not proceed along the right path. It won't yield a desirable result even temporarily.  

On the distinction and interaction between the Base and Superstructure:

The Base consists of "labour (production) relations" while the Superstructure includes politics, art, literature, education, religion, philosophy, culture, ideology, social consciousness etc. It is necessary to explain Superstructural relations in accordance with the Base relations. Suppose there is no distinction between the Base and Superstructure in society. Let us assume that all aspects (labour relations as well as Superstructural aspects) of society stand side by side and influence each other to the same degree.

To see the consequence of such a situation, let us consider only two aspects of society, namely, A and B. These are able to influence one another in an equal measure. This means, if A could influence B 100%, B too could influence A 100%. What will happen then? If B transforms into A due to the influence of A, A transforms into B due to the influence of B. The two interchange. They remain as before after changing their names. This means, when the influences of two things are in the same measure, it amounts to the non-existence of any influence. Even when we assume the level of their influence to be less than 100%, it amounts to the non-existence of any influence if we take their influence in equal measures. It follows that the two things are standing side by side wholly as two different things. But if we understand the materialist principles in a proper manner, phenomena of either nature or society do not exist in isolation and without interrelationships.

Those who talk of mutual influence and interaction too acknowledge this fact. But even among the materialists, we find the following argument: "We too acknowledge the fact that there exist mutual connection, influence and interaction among phenomena of society. We don't agree with the assumption that one is Base and the other is Superstructure. We further disagree with your assumption that Base alone influences Superstructure".

But, when one accepts the fact that there exists "mutual influence", the issue does not end there. One has to arrive at a correct understanding on the question of whether the mutual influences would be in equal measure or vary. What would be the result if we combine the two facts: (1) Phenomena influence one another. (2) The influences will not be in equal measure but vary?

The primary aspect would be the one that influences most (whatever be that phenomenon). The rest will inevitably become secondary phenomena that are subsumed under the primary phenomenon. Although all the secondary phenomena too have their own influence, although each of the secondary phenomena shows its influence on the primary phenomenon and although these mutual influences travel in both directions, the ultimate result of the totality of these interactions is that all the secondary phenomena will be subsumed under the primary phenomenon.

If we apply this to society, we have to arrive at the conclusion that one particular aspect of society constitutes the Base and the rest of the aspects constitute the Superstructure. In case we assume that there is not one but several Bases for society, even then we find the same result which we have already seen. Of all those several Bases, one particular aspect that influences the most becomes the primary Base and the rest of them become secondary Bases in varying degrees. According to Marx, "Labour relations" constitute the "real foundation". What is the nature of that "foundation" is a different question. Whatever be its nature, it is the Base.

Labour relations alone would constitute the Base even when the exploitation of labour ceases to exist. The influence of the Base on various components of the Superstructure is necessarily a logical process and not a mechanical process. Those who do not accept the Base of "labour relations" which Marx assumes should also posit some other Base in its place. This means, they have to posit some primary aspect that could influence all other aspects. If they say that "there exists no Base and all the phenomena exist in equal measure", it means that they don't stick to a proper logic. 

On the argument that Marxism is not adequate to eliminate oppression of women since it does not consider "Patriarchy" as the root cause:

Patriarchy is the immediate cause of the oppression of women. Well, then, what is the basis of patriarchy? Private property! The basis for private property is exploitation of labour. The present-day exploitation of labour is taking place in the form of profit, interest and rent. Marxism has caught hold of this exploitation of labour. We can eliminate private property only when we change its basis.

Man (the male person) is able to exist as a master over the family because of his ownership of property. As the ruling class is the class that possesses property, the propertyless working class too has to follow the laws and traditions of the ruling class. Therefore, in order to eliminate oppression of women, it is not enough if we utter the term "patriarchy", "patriarchy" and "patriarchy"! We need a path that eliminates patriarchy. Do Feminists have any path for this? There isn't anything.

We find that path only in Marxism. It attacks the property relations that give men the right over property. No one can do any thing to patriarchy without attacking property relations.

Marxism does not stop at patriarchy only. It showers its fury on the property relations, that is, on the exploitation of labour.

If women too exist as workers, both women and men will be free from exploitation by means of the same path. In the case of women who are confined to the home, their entry into social labour and men's participation in housework will be the solution. Marxism shows this path clearly.

Man's hold over property ownership/control will be shaken by the abolition of relations of private property. With a change in the Division of Labour between men and women both at home and outside, the privileges of men will completely vanish. What will all these changes achieve? They achieve equality.

Women too are human beings.  If any one says that the path which eliminates exploitation and make humans equal is useless, it amounts to saying that exploitation is useful and human beings need not live as equals. It means that they are defending the man's ownership and control over property and family and are arguing that men and women should live as Unequals as before.

Those who ignore the basis that gives men power cannot do any good to women simply by shouting "Patriarchy"! "Patriarchy"! Moreover they do good to men only.  

On the existence of so-called "Sex-Classes" and the existence of antagonistic contradictions between men and women:

One cannot identify men and women as two different classes (Sex Classes) since classes are based on the exploitation of labour. All men as a class do not exploit the labour of all women just as Capitalists as a class exploit the labour of workers. However one can use the term "Sex Class" loosely to highlight the fact that exploitative society created an antagonistic (enemy) relation between men and women.

Private property and right of inheritance to the male offspring arose on the foundation of the exploitation of labour. This resulted in male domination and female subordination. In the exploiting class, man alone is the owner of the property. He alone is the "master" of all women in his family. The working class too has to adopt the same laws and traditions that the ruling class follows. Thus even in the propertyless working class, man is the master of his family.

If we examine man-woman relations both in the exploiting class and the working class as well, we find their character akin to that of master-slave relations. Men have many special rights, which women do not have in law or in social traditions. Man alone is the "master" of the entire family. Society recognizes women and children only through that master. If we find, in any relation, masterhood on the one side and servitude on the other, such a relation¾wherever we find it¾is a relation involving "antagonistic (enemy) contradictions". When we speak of "antagonistic contradictions", we do not mean that wives and husbands cut each others" throats. Antagonistic contradiction means the existence of mutually contradictory conditions.

When we speak of the elimination of Sex Classes, we mean the elimination of the conditions of domination by men and conditions of subordination of women. It does not mean that all men should perish and only women should remain. The division of men and women into distinct "Sex Classes" would be correct if and only if the division had nothing to do with the exploitation of labour, and was only a question of the masterhood of man in the family and subordination of women to men.

The relations of domination and subordination between men and women, however, are connected with production relations. Gender relations are based on the production relations that constitute the "Base". Therefore, the struggle to change gender relations will proceed along the right path only if the struggle to change production relations proceeds along the right path. We cannot accomplish the task of changing gender relations without reference to the class struggle that changes the production relations.

The working class men, too, exercise domination over the working class women. Against this domination, some women keep fighting at a personal level. Such women are able to improve their conditions to some extent. Similarly some men give up many of their rights which society gave them to dominate women. When men and women who cherish "equality" become husband and wife, the antagonistic contradiction at the level of family disappears and friendship and harmony flourish. But antagonistic contradictions at the level of society still remain as before. To change them, we have to wage struggles to change the social foundation.

The working class men will realize the unjust nature of their domination over women when they realize the unjust nature of the domination of exploiters over them as well as the entire working class that includes not only male workers but also female workers. The men and women of the working class, who fight with class consciousness in order to get rid of the domination of their masters, will realize the relation of domination and subordination that exist between them. Here, we will find women waging a struggle of self-respect to get rid of their subordination. We will find demands in accordance with the goals of their struggle. On the other hand, we will also find men waging a struggle of self-criticism to get rid of their domination over women.

In the course of that struggle, we will find weakness, vagueness, ignorance and defeat in both of the parties. Both of the parties have to strive to make themselves eligible for "equality". It is not men alone who have to change; women too have to change. Women will acquire class consciousness to fight for their rights and equality in proportion to the level of class consciousness with which the class struggle proceeds to eliminate relations of exploitation. Accordingly men too cooperate with the struggle of women and change themselves so that women's struggles need not continue for a longer time.

The disappearance of Sex Classes is a programme that is intertwined with the abolition of economic classes. Based on this understanding, if someone refers to men and women as "Sex Classes" and speaks of the antagonistic contradictions between them, there is nothing wrong in it except that it uses the term "class" loosely. When changes take place in such a way that the contradictions are eliminated, then the classes themselves will vanish. Then we will find relations of equality. When seen in terms of nature, they are men and women; when seen in terms of society, all will live in the same conditions. The conditions that divide men and women into classes will disappear.  

On the assumption that the "reproduction of human beings" is also a production activity like the production of goods: 

This assumption is totally false. The two are not identical. The reproduction of human beings is natural while the production of goods is social. The latter involves labour and the exploitation of labour. No sane person can talk of reproduction of human beings in terms of production activity. One need not know any science to understand this point. But, male domination operates in the sphere of the reproduction of human beings since men dominate women in the family. People have a belittling attitude towards female children. They want the birth of male children only. The husband will be ready for a second marriage if the wife does not give birth to children in general or male children in particular. But the wife cannot think of a second marriage when there is a defect in the reproductive functions of her husband. One morality for the husband and another for the wife. Everywhere things happen in favour of men. While the situation within the family is so, the over-all politics of the ruling class that governs society declares theories of population that facilitate exploitation. For example, the modern capitalist system based on production by large-scale machinery does not need a working class population in large numbers. The capitalist class, however, needs some unemployed persons because it gets workers for low wages if there is constant competition among workers. The population exceeding this need is a "surplus population" in the view of the capitalist class.  

The population of the "exploiting class", however large it may be, will not become a surplus. Only members of the working class can become a redundant population. When over-population of the working class becomes a headache to the capitalist class, it raises a huge cry about the increasing population. Theories that prevent the reproduction of human beings begin. However, when the working class population is less in numbers in some capitalist countries, then they begin to offer incentives to those who give birth to many children. Thus, all the rights concerning human reproduction are vested directly or indirectly in the hands of the exploiting class at the societal level and in the hands of men at the family level. Thus there is a connection between a society based on exploitation and human reproduction, which is an important aspect of the woman's life. 

On the criticism that "Marx includes the expenditure connected with the maintenance of the wife in the value of the labour power of a male worker and this implies that Marxism projects the male worker as the breadwinner of the family and woman as dependent on him":   

Marx takes the male worker as an example in his discussion and as a representative of the working class. Likewise, he takes a manual labourer instead of a mental labourer.  Marx's observation that the value of the labour power of a worker includes his wife's maintenance refers to the period that precedes modern large-scale industry. Marx himself notes that women and children entered in large numbers into wage-labour outside of the family since the days of large-scale industry based on modern machinery. Well, the question is whether men took care of the maintenance of women in the working class families before modern industry. (It is needless to say that the same situation still exists in the majority of the so-called "middle class" families). Even if we consider present day working class families, the fact is that the number of female workers is not equal to that of male workers in any given country. If we consider the same point during the period of manufacture, the number of women workers was much less. If we go back further in time, the number of female workers would be much less than that of male workers. It is possible to say that a woman maintains herself only when she is able to earn the cost of her own maintenance as well as half of the cost of maintaining children. Only when this situation exists, can we say that women share half of the responsibility of family maintenance. 

Did this situation, which is absent today, exist in the past? Has the number of female workers been equal to that of male workers since the past? Although women too performed some kinds of labour, weren't the annual earnings of female workers less than those of male workers? Owing to this fact Marx took the male worker as a general example. This is not a decision that Marx took according to his own wishes. He did not decide that men should take care of women's maintenance. He is simply depicted a fact concerning the earnings of individuals in society. He is not arguing in favour of the status quo. He is not defending it. 

Even in cases in which wife and husband are wage earners who work for a master, each of their wages consists of only the value of labour-power. Each wage gives the master surplus value. A working class family, which receives two wages, will be able to use more products than the family that receives only one wage.  

Marx depicted the situation of both men and women since the time of modern industry. When women too participate in various kinds of labour like men, they too will become either productive or unproductive labourers. If they are confined to the home, they become people who do "family labour". Or, they become "independent producers" or "independent traders" depending upon the specific situation. All aspects of labour apply to women in the same way as they apply to men. 

Marxism is a theory that teaches human equality. If women are also human beings like men, then human equality is also equality between men and women. When the general "Division of Labour" in society changes, the particular division of labour between men and women will also change. Nowhere does Marx defend the slavery of women and children in the family. One can cite many instances from Marx's writings. Let us see two quotations:  

" private property of every type the slavery of the members of the family at least is always implicit since they are made use of and exploited by the head of family." (Capital, Vol.1, Penguin edition, 1083).


"However terrible and disgusting the dissolution, under the capitalist system, of the old family ties may appear, nevertheless, modern industry, by assigning as it does an important part in the process of production, outside the domestic sphere to women, to young persons, and to children of both sexes, creates a new economic foundation for a higher form of the family and of the relations between the sexes…. Moreover, it is obvious that the fact of the collective working group being composed of individuals of both sexes and all ages, must necessarily, under suitable conditions, become a source of humane development; although in its spontaneously developed, brutal, capitalistic form, where the labourer exists for the process of production, and not the process of production for the labourer, that fact is a pestiferous source of corruption and slavery." (Capital, Vol.1, Moscow 1974, 460).


On the criticism that Marxism does not consider the value that women create in the form of housework:


Marxism has provided conceptual categories to understand all kinds of relations and labour that exist in society. If it did not have such an understanding, it wouldn't have become a science. The only answer to such criticism is, to use a Telugu idiom, "bend your body", and read Marx's Capital


Although the housework done by women in the family represents a substantial amount of labour, it does not take place in a relation where its value is calculated in terms of money and a wage is paid or received. A wife is obliged to perform half of the housework for herself. She is compelled to perform the second half, which in fact the husband ought to do, because the husband is giving her the expenditure which she ought to spend on her own maintenance as well as her share in the maintenance of the children. Hence the entire responsibility of housework falls on the woman. The solution for this problem is outside work for both men and women and housework for both men and women. Then both husband and wife will be able to share equally the household responsibilities and do housework equally. 


Confining women to housework, calculating value for every aspect of housework and demanding wages from the husband is a vulgar argument and no one except modern bourgeois women, who view every problem in terms of money, can make such an argument.  


No man is confined to the house and housework. He does not receive wages from his wife. By confining herself to housework and receiving wages from her husband, the husband becomes a master who gives employment and pays wages to his wife and the wife becomes a wage labourer for her husband. Once this payment of wages in return for a wife's housework is introduced, the relationship of wife and husband and children and parents will vanish and a relationship of wages begins. Even then, the wife will be confined to the house. Her situation won't change and she won't have a life outside of the domestic sphere. 


There are two perspectives from which to understand any problem: the perspective of "use-value" and the perspective of "exchange-value". The former is natural and the latter is unnatural. This is the first lesson in Marxism. Those who oppose Marxism too have to learn it. If they learn this, they will acquire some common sense so that they won't make such vulgar arguments. 


On the class position of women: 


What will be the answer to the question "to which class do men belong?" We should know whether those men are doing "labour" or profit from the labour of others.  If they do labour they are the class of labourers.  If they are not doing labour they are the exploiting class.  Class is determined only by "labour".  Which means, all men do not constitute the same class.  


The same is the case with women also. If someone asks "to which class do women belong?" we cannot answer it. We should know whether those women are doing labour or not.  All the women do not constitute the same class. The class is deter­mined by the relation to labour. But not according to whether they are men or women.  


Every aspect that applies to men "who do labour" also applies to women who do labour. Similarly, all the aspects that apply to men who don't do labour also apply to women who don't do labour.


Women who do "labour", either in governmental institutions or private institutions or at the houses of government officials or at the houses of the private capitalists or any other place and earn a "wage" will, like men of the same type, become either "productive labourers" or "unproductive labourers".  That means, they would belong to the "class of labourers". 


Women who produce and sell the products independently will become "independent producers".


Women who don't do any labour like men of the same type would belong to the "exploiting class". Most of these women don't even do "family labour".  The unproductive labourers alone will do all kinds of labours for them.  


Some of the women belonging to the "exploiting class" also do outside jobs.  Those jobs are invariably connected with "mental labour".


Women who don't do outside labour and who are confined only to "household labour" belong to the classes of those individuals from whom they receive the articles of subsistence. 


If the husband of a woman who is confined only to "household labour" is a labourer, that woman also belongs to the "Class of labourers". Or, if the husband of that woman is an exploiter who earns interests or profits, then that woman also belongs to the "exploiting class".


The answer to the question, "to which class and which section of the class does a person belong" depends on such things as these: whether the person-- man or woman-- is doing "outside labour" or not?  In case that person is not doing outside labour, what sort of income is it by means of which he or she subsists?  


On the relationship of housework with "Social Labour":  


If we understand social labour to be that labour which is required for society, then housework will also be a part of social labour.  Or, by contrast, if we interpret social labour as that labour which converts into value, then housework will not become a part of social labour.  


Such forms of work as cooking, house cleaning, childcare are natural labours which society always needs. Society can never dispense with these labours. What would happen if part of this labour was simply shifted outside of the home?  That is, if a certain part of the total "cooking work" is done in the home, and certain portions are carried out at common kitchens and in canteens at work places? This only means dividing the place where cooking is done but not dispensing with the work itself.  The total cooking work that is necessary for the whole society would be done somewhere or the other in the whole society. 


It is the same case with regard to other labour concerning the family. Those kinds of labour too will be divided but will never be dispensed with.


If we take either one day or one year and see the total labour performed during this period, all kinds of labour per­formed in the house will add to that total. But, if we see what is the total value produced during this period, then no labour done in houses would add to that total.   


Does it, however, mean that all the labour that does not convert into "value" is going to waste? No. It means that it is being spent as "use value". That is, if we see the situation from the perspec­tive of "use value", all of the household chores are also part of social labour.  If we see it from the perspective of "value", none of these chores are part of social labour.  


Under capitalism, only that labour which converts into value is social labour. That is, "productive labour" alone is "social labour".  


The unproductive labour does not produce any value. But as it also converts into money, to an ordinary viewer who sees things superficially, unproductive labour also appears as labour that produces "value" (as if it is also productive labour), that is, it appears as if there is no difference between the kinds of labour in producing value.  


Amidst this confusion, it becomes more difficult to understand "family labour".     

Hence, the distinctions between the productive, unproductive, Independent and family labour should be understood properly.


Productive Labour: It produces "value". It converts into "money". A portion of that "money" goes to the person who performed the labour and the remaining portion to the master.  


Unproductive Labour: It does not produce "value". It would not convert into "money". But the person who performed that labour gets his "wage" in the form of money.    


Independent Labour: It produces "value". It converts into "money". The person who performs that labour alone receives that money. Here, the productive and unproductive distinction does not apply.  


Family Labour: It doesn't produce "value". It doesn't convert into "money". The person doing this labour would not get money.  This labour gives only "use value".  


Thus we can understand the relationship between human beings only if we see the relationship in which the labour exists and not by seeing "labour" in isolation.  


On the notion that Marx's work does not discuss the phenomenon of Caste:


Though there is no special treatise of Marx on caste, his observations on caste are consistent and are backed by sound conceptual categories.


Chronologically speaking, Marx, along with Engels, for the first time made observations on the caste system in The German Ideology (1845-46). The last reference to caste was made in Capital, Volume 1(1867).  


While criticising the inconsistency of the Idealist conception of history in general and of German post-Hegelian philosophy in particular, Marx and Engels observed that the crude form of the division of labour found among the Indians called forth the caste system in their state and religion. They criticised the idealist belief that the caste system produced the crude form of the division of labour. Thus, for Marx, the caste regime was also a particular division of labour. In other words, the division of labour created castes. However, that division of labour is "hereditary" in nature.


According to Marx, the tendency of earlier societies was to make trades hereditary either to "petrify" them into castes (as in India) or to "ossify" them into exclusive guilds (as in Egypt). Marx observes that the division of labour under the caste system was according to "fixed rules". These rules were not "established" by a legislator. He further observes that these rules were originally born of the conditions of material production and were raised to the status of laws only much later. Legislation allocates labour as a hereditary privilege and consolidates it into a caste system. The heredity of castes, according to Marx, is ordained as a law of society only when a certain degree of development has been reached.


Marx observed that the caste distinctions "contaminated" the Indian society by standing as "decisive impediments to Indian progress and Indian power".


On the criticism that the Marxian category of "Division of Labour" is inadequate and Ambedkar's category of "Division of LabourERS" is necessary to explain the phenomenon of caste:


Here we need to understand first the questions: what is division of labour? What is division of labourers? 


"Division of labour" means the performance of different kinds of labour by different individuals.  


"Division of labourers", according to Ambedkar, is a hierarchy in which labourers are graded one above the other. That is, existence of labourers in terms of "castes".  


Now, we have to understand the meaning of the expression that the "caste system is not merely a division of labour but also a division of labourers". Ambedkar, while acknowledging the fact of division of labour, is observing further that "there is another aspect namely division of labourers". This means, Ambedkar is not saying that the "caste system has nothing to do with division of labour". Moreover, he is acknowledging the relationship between the two. This means, even according to Ambedkar, the division of labour alone is the basis for the caste system.


Here there are three aspects, namely, caste system, division of labour and division of labourers. What is the connection between these three aspects? How should we understand these relations?


Though 3 aspects appear here, there are only 2 aspects in reality.


The first one is the division of labour. The second one, division of labourers is due to the division of labour (castes). These two are the same. We have seen that the division of labour means the "performance of different kinds of labour by different persons". This we find at any place, in any region and in any country.  


Division of labourers, even according to Ambedkar, means "hierarchy in which labourers are graded one above the other. This is also found in any country. But, these hierarchical gradations took the form of castes in India. No one has given a correct answer as to why the hierarchy of workers assumed the form of castes. Nor has Ambedkar. What we have to understand here is that even where there are no castes, labourers are graded one above the other. Nowhere do we find all workers as a single category without involving hierarchical differences. One can investigate this issue if necessary. Labourers in all the countries are graded one above the other in a hierarchy. It is because the values of the labour—which the labourers perform—are graded one above the other in a hierarchical manner.


If we consider a "place of work", it requires both manual and mental labours. (In some work places only manual labours are required and not mental labours). If we consider one kind of manual labour and one kind of mental labour in the same measure of time, the value of mental labour will invariably be more than the value of manual labour. Or, if the two are mental labours and if they stand at a different place from one another, their values too differ. Similarly, values of different kinds of manual labour also differ.  


If we take the "lowest" manual labour (e.g., toilet cleaning) and the "highest" kind of mental labour (e.g., the work of a doctor), there will be a vast difference between their values. All this is correct according to the law of value.  


If a person always performs a manual labour and another person always performs mental labour, the education, training and the labour-power that they have to acquire will be different. The values of the labours that they perform will be graded one above the other. Which means, the income of one person will be higher and the income of another person will be lower. Though both persons are labourers, they will be unequal rather than equal persons. This means, they form different categories. Hence, the traditional division of labour should change in such a way that every person would do certain kinds of manual labour and certain kinds of mental labour. Only when this happens will the categories disappear. That is a different discussion.  


What we have to understand for the present is that the values of different kinds of labour will be different since the levels of labour are different. To the naturally formed differences between values, some unnatural factors in exploitative societies are added and those differences will further increase manifold.


It is natural that there exists some difference between the value of labour of a toilet cleaner and that of a doctor. No one can remove that difference. But it is not necessary that the difference is as wide as it exists in a society based on exploitation. However, these two kinds of labourers cannot become equals even if we consider their difference as natural because that naturally existing difference is also a difference. Hence they constitute two different categories. This is the basis for the division of labourers into different categories. 


Further, in any work place, there will be employees (these people are also labourers) who perform the labour of control over other labourers. This labour of control is necessary due to relations of exploitation. This situation too results in "hierarchical difference" among labourers. In this manner too, labourers will be graded one above the other.  


If we consider these conditions of hierarchy as a "division of labourers", this exists not only in India but also in all the countries. There will be hierarchical differences among labourers even where there are no castes. We should not assume that these hierarchical differences are present only in India.  

(Translated from the Telugu by B.R. Bapuji)

THE RED CRITIQUE 2 (January/February 2002)