Infantile ‘Radicalism’, Domestic Labour Debate & Anti-Rape Movement: A Leninist Critique of Marxism-Feminism

October 1, 2013

By Maya John

Reacting to a debate on the issue of rape and on the question of strategy required to combat the oppression of women, Bhumika Chauhan, Ankit Sharma and Paresh Chandra released their formulation of what the appropriate working-class intervention should be on the ‘women’s question’. While they have expressed their agreement on some basic points raised by me in the recent debate, they have also articulated certain differences of opinion. Guided by ideas and what I identify as misconceptions floated by ‘Marxist-feminists’, they have criticized me for failing to take the “right” step in the formulation of the “politico-strategic wisdom” required to address the problem of women’s oppression, and for indulging in particular oversights on the commonality of oppression faced by middle-class and working-class women. Since their response represents continuity in the position taken by the editorial team of Radical Notes, I have made it a point to respond not only to this more recent article, but also to an earlier editorial piece posted by Pothik Ghosh. I respond in order to make the necessary clarifications, to further discuss the relevance and nuances of the Marxist position on the women’s question and to show how my supposed oversights reflect nothing but my unwillingness to pass over to the side of Paresh and Co.

This intervention has become necessary as the editorial team at Radical Notes has wrongly and unnecessarily shifted the entire focus of the debate from the issues and questions that actually expose the compromised nature of the anti-rape movement. The hodgepodge of non-Marxist and post-Marxist views introduced by them has frustratingly allowed them to elide over the issue of rape altogether, i.e. the issue on which this debate evolved. They have instead digressed to the debate surrounding women’s domestic labour in their desperate effort to prove that middle-class women not only share a commonality of oppression with working-class women but also constitute the working-class position itself. In the process of making this bizarre intervention they have presented an extremely problematic view of women’s domestic labour. Apart from this they have come to propagate the need for, what they call a “feminist moment” in the proletarian struggle, by which they imply the intensification of struggle between the male and female segment of each class as the necessary form of class struggle. I am, as a result, compelled to respond at length on the Marxist position on domestic labour and its class dimensions in order to prove how inadequate intra-class male–female equality (a la feminist project) is for the emancipation of the majority of men and women.

Although ridden with inconsistencies, taken together Radical Notes’ overall position represents a quasi feminist view of women’s oppression that I have critiqued throughout this debate. Reflecting nothing but an eclectic reconfiguration of feminist formulations on women’s oppression, their intervention has consciously avoided the question of how capitalism inculcates both vulnerability and culpability, and how complicity stemming from a privileged class position removes all possibility of a homogenous category of women or a common class condition of women to even exist. In line with the feminist position, their formulations also reduce class to something that should be accounted for merely to explain the burden borne by working-class women in addition to their gender identity. By doing so the editorial team at Radical Notes has conveniently abstained from using class to explain the varied inequalities stemming from it and the complicit role played by upper-class women in maintaining these inequalities. For them the identity ‘woman’ is a homogenous category because it is simply a sub-set of the working class.

In sharp contrast to what Paresh and Co and the editorial team of Radical Notes would have us all believe, Marxism represents the summation of different experiences of the working class in its conflict with capital. Accordingly, rather than arguing that all the different identities are simply sub-sets of the working class or momentary congealment of the working-class position, Marxism argues that the working-class position is just one of the class positions within any given identity. In this way, it understands identities as multi-class entities which can be pulled in different directions by the varied class positions within them. Having said this, Marxism is conscious of the fact that different identities have different ontological depths – something which makes no two identities the same. By extracting the varied experiences emanating from different sites of struggle, i.e. from different identities, Marxism actively unites the working-class experience spread across separate identities. Its intervention or effort in this regard is crucial since it is ultimately through the position of the working class that the different (oppressed) identities can be united and radicalized into a wider, anti-systemic struggle which goes beyond the form in which society exists. The possibility of such a struggle exists since apart from being the direct object of the most fundamental and determinative form of oppression and exploitation within capitalism, the working class (spread over different identities) is the revolutionary class whose interests do not rest on the oppression of other classes. In fact, because the objective interest of the working class for its own emancipation is the destruction of class it can create conditions for the liberation of all human beings in the struggle to liberate itself. In this way, Marxism stands for a synthesized articulation of the concrete universalism of the working class.

The ideological position of individuals who are uprooted from mass activities and have thereby lost confidence in the actual tradition of Marxism-Leninism is such that the deflection to (ever expanding) positions like Marxism-Dalitism/Ambedkarism, Marxism-nationalism, Marxism-feminism, Marxism- X or Yism has become possible and attractive. These unhappy alliances between Marxist politics/ideology and various, particularized (class-eliding) ideologies signify Marxism’s entrapment in different moments in the development of capital, which means the opportunistic use of Marxism by competing fractions of the capitalist class (and the upward mobile middle-class sections) that exist within different (oppressed) identities. This entrapment, of course, comes at the cost of an assertion of universalism, i.e. the concrete synthesized articulation of different particularities in their march towards universal emancipation.

Such positions that promote particularized ideologies in the name of Marxism are to be rigorously critiqued because of the confusion they spread under the garb of ‘radicalism’, and because of the disservice they do to Marxist class analysis by playing with non-Marxist and post-Marxist arguments. Furthermore, these positions are highly questionable as they lead to a class-collaborationist line that creates ample space for middle-class hegemony over mass movements. Importantly, unlike our ‘radicals’ of today, women communist leaders like Clara Zetkin, Alexandria Kollantai and others were extremely critical of the ideology and politics of feminism because of the particularism it promoted in the name of emancipating women. This particularism that communists referred to and questioned included the tendency of feminism to the project the discontent of upper-class women as in the general interest of women and to particularize male–female equality by basing such an aspiration on the parcelization of society between men and women.

Aware of this inherent weakness of feminism, many ‘radicals’ like Pothik Ghosh and Paresh and Co have taken recourse to an eclecticism which allows them to blend ‘class analysis’ with the feminist analysis of inequality. My criticism of Radical Notes’ use of class emerges from two points in particular. First, I engage with the pseudo vitalist optimism of Pothik Ghosh whose efforts to project “impossible demands” as the means to wrest power from the state fails to engage with the actual (bourgeois) form of the anti-rape movement. Ignoring the hegemonic control of the dominant section of society on the anti-rape movement, Ghosh has not only produced an inadequate critique of the anti-rape movement, but has also wrongly assumed that, in its given form but with new slogans, moments in the anti-rape movement can transcend into anti-capitalist mobilizations. The second point of my criticism of Radical Notes’ position is their propagation of the reformist and unapologetically reactionary demand of wages for housework. I thus begin with their engagement with the anti-rape movement and then proceed to their understanding of the determining factors behind women’s oppression, and their misconceptions about the Marxist understanding of the women’s question.


Critique of Legalism or Infantile ‘Radicalism’

In an extremely factionalist vein, Paresh and Co while engaging with Kavita Krishnan’s position on rape and other related issues, tried to critique the tendency of legalism imbued in her position. I respond to their critique of legalism not only because it is highly inadequate, but also because what emerges from their analysis is not a critique of legalism per se (i.e. of the form taken by bourgeois law), but a critique of any and all legal demands, i.e. the law’s content. Here it is worth noting that much of their critique of legalism draws on an article written by Pothik Ghosh. Paresh and Co, in fact, press for the continuity of the position taken by Ghosh in his editorial article, ‘Delhi Gang Rape and the Feminism of Proletarian Militancy’. In this article, Ghosh argued for “steering clear of juridical-legal demands” such as “improving the abysmally low rate of conviction in rape cases, making rape investigations less patriarchal and strengthening our frail and ineffectual anti-rape laws” because such demand-raising “presuppose[s] that the current [capitalist] system is capable of delivering on them”.[1] Clearly, Ghosh took this position since he believes that sexual violence and other forms of patriarchal oppression are embodiments of class domination,[2] which are “enshrined in and as the systemic rule of law”, and so “…our struggle against any immediate domination [such as rape] must in the same instance also articulate a struggle against the generalised hegemony [of capital and its history]”. Hence, rather than “extending the remit of the legal”, Ghosh (and now Paresh and Co have) advocated that gender oppression such as rape is best fought through “abolition of the law”.

In many ways this critique of any and all legal demands does not assist working-class politics in its addressal of the women’s question. This is because such an approach fails to historicize and contextualize the form and content of many demands that have emerged from existing campaigns and struggles of women’s organizations.[3] As a consequence, Paresh and Co do not see how the contradiction between the content and the form of bourgeois law appears only with the historical unfolding of the process in which more and more discontent can be seen as propelled by and also lying unaddressed due to the persistence of the existing legal form. In this context of a growing contradiction, intermediate demands play a crucial role in providing an organized, anti-systemic form to prevailing discontent. However, Paresh and Co’s “politico-strategic wisdom” is doomed to ignore the relevance of any legal demands at a conjuncture where a large section of women are materially positioned in ways that allow for their exploitation and oppression on a daily basis, and in a context where enthusiastic but inactive ‘radicals’ have created no ground for an insurrectionary occupation which can replace the adjudicating powers of the bourgeois state.[4]

When delineating the Marxist/communist position vis-à-vis the feminist and social-democratic position, I argued that the Marxist position recognizes that equality between the two sexes is insufficient for the emancipation of womankind, especially working-class women whose exploitation and oppression cannot be resolved within the system of capitalism. I thus argued that over and above male–female equality, it was the liberation from prevailing class divisions and resulting inequalities that would create the possibilities for the complete emancipation of all women. It was in the light of this discussion that I spoke of the necessity of intermediate demands, many of which were legal ones that worked towards providing immediate relief to women victims in the most debilitating conditions.

The specific reasons for highlighting the importance of these intermediate demands included the following: (i) to expose how legal demands that emerge from within the bourgeois sphere of rights are a creation of the gradual historical transformation of society within capitalism, and hence are demands that often predate the women’s movement, and (ii) how the demands for certain pending legal reform represent important efforts that press forth the generalization of bourgeois legality, or basically, the further unfolding of the bourgeois legal form so as to incorporate a larger and more varied (dis)content.[5] By engaging with the historical relevance of these demands, my paper refused to divest certain legal demands of the radical potential that they could have in exposing the bourgeois state’s unwillingness to curb various forms of women’s oppression. Of course while doing so, I moved on to explain how the prevailing (dis)content or women’s oppression cannot be fully resolved within the existing form of bourgeois law and realization of legal rights. In this regard, I have argued that the mere existence of a legal paradigm cannot resolve the problem of rape as long as the material conditions on which men–women relationships are based are not transformed. And so, intermediate demands must connect with a politics that is informed by the ultimate vision of liberating both men and women’s sexuality, and thus works towards overthrowing capitalism.

This brings me back to the position taken by Pothik Ghosh, who advocated that a “mass upsurge” in response to heinous sexual assaults like that of 16 December 2012 should be oriented towards “impossible demands” rather than juridical-legal demands that “the system can possibly deliver”. What I’d like to highlight here is that the issue is not about what is possible or not possible in the given system, but what the masses (i.e. different classes) articulate as part of their immediate demands. Of course, the demands of the middle class and working class may differ, which means that the more important question is whose or which class’ demands are being accepted as the “popular subjectivity of the mass movement”. Simply put, the determination of whether by positing certain demands before the bourgeois state, we weaken the command of the state or end up being more commanded by it depends on the kind of demands raised. If the demands posited before the state stem from the working-class perspective, they are sure to effect the consolidation of the disparate masses under working-class leadership – an outcome much desired compared to the working-class movement’s isolation or its domination by middle-class slogans and leadership.

However, in the process of identifying “impossible demands” and the need for insurrectionary “people’s militias that wrest Delhi and its streets from all oppressors…for popular vigilance and control”, Pothik Ghosh advocates yet another form of middle-class hegemony over mass discontent. This is best reflected when he attempts to establish the relevance and “insurrectionary” potential congealed in a nascent form within ongoing ‘reclaim the night’ campaigns. He writes: “The carnivalesque spontaneity of this reclamation campaign posits – of course, in a rather nascent form – the possibility of an insurrectionary sociality of people’s militias…”[6] According to Pothik Ghosh, a “people’s militia” in its nascent form has only to “recognise its objectively incipient working-class character so that it can be generalised”. Once ‘’orientate[d]” and the middle class has seen its working-class character, it will go on to “demand the impossible of the system”.[7] For Ghosh it is such demand-raising that propels “the popular subjectivity of the mass movement’’ into developing “solidarity networks” which eventually unfold into “uninterrupted insurrections”.[8] Ghosh also argues that “politics based on demanding the impossible” is important because the “system is structurally incapable of ridding itself of gender-inequality”. Nevertheless, in the same line he concedes that the current system can possibly deliver on certain fronts, and thereby tends to co-opt some people. Of course, as I have argued, in the context of women’s oppression those some (co-optable) people include upper-class women. This means that there is no incipient working-class character to the mass upsurges being analysed. Instead, these mass upsurges represent middle class if not multi-class movements that are controlled by the dominant section of society.  Riding the wave of mass discontent the dominant section of society and their women seek to win certain ‘concessions’ from the system while relegating the voice of the working class to the margins.

In this regard, can the middle class generalize its struggle beyond the “student-youth axis” when the majority of protesting students/youth are from the upper classes? Pothik Ghosh seems to think it can. However, one is compelled to ask whether it is not a blatant assumption that middle-class discontent and demands have a unifying character that invariably convert momentary equivalence in discontent into political alignments which can take the struggle beyond its contemporary horizon, thereby outgrowing into a revolution. After all, what if the upper classes can be co-opted and their ‘women’s question’ conforms to the particularist bourgeois resolution – a point which I have argued when delineating how male–female equality within a certain class defined form is possible in capitalism.

So, if we overemphasize the tendency of protest forms (no matter how narrowly initiated or socially based) to express a kind of social discontent that is capable of awakening the elements of social revolution from dormancy or of raising them to new levels, we have surely failed to understand the need for autonomy and independence of will and action of the working class. If the working class is not being organized independently on the basis of its specific discontent and its energies are simply misdirected within multi-class movements that are hegemonized by the protesting middle class, then can the working class through its political party provide leadership to other oppressed sections and classes? The answer is a definite no, but it seems as if Pothik Ghosh thinks otherwise.

In many ways Ghosh’s position stands to overrule the necessity of a vanguard party that can organize the working-class and other oppressed classes. I say this because of the ease with which Ghosh speaks of insurrection in isolation, thus hinting that the class can attain its liberation by itself. Writing in a context where a country-wide revolutionary communist party no longer exists and only small revolutionary Left groups are to be found, it is perhaps easy for Ghosh and the likes to evade the question of how no revolutionary insurrectionary moment or “uninterrupted insurrections” can ever exist without years of cadre and organization-building within the masses. After all, the question is about asserting and establishing the revolutionary leadership of the working class over the “solidarity networks” that seek to be drawn across classes in order to fight the capitalist structure and the gender oppression it breeds. For such working-class leadership to be possible, years of ground level work in organizing the working class and strengthening the revolutionary party is essential. To quote Engels on the question:

insurrection is an art quite as much as war or any other, and subject to certain rules of proceeding, which, when neglected, will produce the ruin of the party neglecting them….never play with insurrection unless you are fully prepared to face the consequences of your play. Insurrection is a calculus with very indefinite magnitudes, the value of which may change every day; the forces opposed to you have all the advantage of organization, discipline, and habitual authority: unless you bring strong odds against them you are defeated and ruined …[9] [emphasis added]

Considering the organized force of the structure we wish to expose and fight as well as the complex nature of class relations nurtured by capitalism, revolutionary organizations and radicals will have to engage in a more rooted manner with the prevailing discontent against women’s oppression and be more critical of the various (class) forms in which this discontent expresses itself. In this way, a more nuanced approach to certain long-standing legal demands tends to prevent Left organizations from falling prey to right wing deviation, i.e. a situation in which by merely raising popular slogans, we fall prey to petty-bourgeois [10] (hegemonic) views, lose our critical tinge as well as our independent proletarian will and action to go beyond capitalism. It is then important to draw a distinction between concrete intermediate demands for greater state accountability and the clamour surrounding the immediate, more popular, media savvy slogans that are nothing but manifestations of the hegemonic views of the dominant section of society – views that conceal the depth of the problem confronting us, especially in terms of the role played by class inequalities in the oppression of women and the complicit role played by upper-class women in this oppression.[11]

Of course, this pulling back effect of middle-class women, especially their complicit role has left Paresh and Co very perturbed. Driven by this discomfort they have alleged that because I have failed to engage with the materiality of middle-class women’s oppression, I have wrongly established their complicit role in furthering women’s oppression, whereas, according to them none exists. Not surprisingly, their response has shifted the entire focus away from the material basis on which the complicity of (especially) new middle-class women evolves. They have, instead, tried to highlight the material basis of middle-class women’s vulnerability, i.e. their (house)working class position which  stems from the domestic labour performed by them and which (supposedly) makes them part of the working class. In the process, Paresh and Co have simply harped back to the domestic labour debate and to demands like wages for housework that Marxist-Leninists discarded more than thirty years ago. They have replaced the Marxist-Leninist position on the women’s question in general and household work in particular with Marxism-feminism. Hence, in sharp contrast to the Marxist-Leninist position, Paresh and Co have refused to refer to the category of middle class as an identifiable strata and have instead adamantly asserted that it is only a “subjective position” which attempts to protect privilege. Quite naturally, my attempt to locate feminism within a tangible (new) middle-class position was lost on them, and since my efforts were geared towards identifying the middle class as a coherent group and not a subjective position, I was unhesitatingly accused of resorting to a “sociological” use of class.


The Ahistorical Perspective: Denying Change in the Composition of Household Work and Neglecting Class

Annoyingly, for all their claims of going beyond sociology,[12] Paresh and Co actually fail to provide any definitive meaning of the term, which is why I am forced to do the needful and define the sociological approach as one in which: (i) the social position is seen or identified as contra the process unfolding, which means that rather than seeing class as an unfolding process, its immediate expression at a given moment of time is hypostasized and understood as class; (ii) class is seen as a non-relational position that simply (and in a mechanical way) bears certain functions and (iii) class is reduced to a mere empiric rather than seen as the expression of collective interest. Ironically, these descriptions of the sociological use of class show how Paresh and Co, who reduce the middle-class position to mere subjectivity instead of seeing it as an expression of a collective class interest, can be accused of the same. This compels me to evaluate the ways in which they play with the concept of class when analysing the role of (unpaid) domestic labour in the subjugation of women. In the process, I attempt to illustrate the marked difference in my understanding of class and how incorrect it is of Paresh and Co to label my effort to identify the middle class as a group with a collective interest as a “sociological” use of class.

To begin with, Paresh and Co’s analysis allows them to eternalize and homogenize household work, i.e. to project it as an ever-present and unchanging form of labour performed by women-as-wives within capitalism.[13] Their understanding of domestic labour stems from their uncritical adoption of (in fact, repeating verbatim) certain theories formulated by feminists in the 1970s–80s. In the attempt to forge an (unhappy) marriage between feminism and Marxism, these feminists conveniently drew on Marxist concepts (like mode of production, relations of production, labour power, exchange value, etc.) to explain women’s subordinate position in the home. Projecting the home as the ‘social factory’ of capital, Selma James, Dalla Costa (and now Paresh and Co) have argued that: (i) the cost of labour power, which the capitalist has to pay to men who work, diminishes with the exclusion of the cost of women’s labour power; (ii) a woman’s domestic labour does not just create her husband’s labour power but cheap labour power as her labour provides for certain goods and services that the worker would otherwise need to purchase off the market and for which he would claim higher wages; (iii) women’s domestic labour in the confinement of the home creates surplus value; (iv) all women are slaves of domestic labour and so exist as a caste in themselves [14] and (v) in this process of subordinating women into domestic roles, both capital and the male segment of each class emerge as the common enemy of women.

Clearly, such an approach fails to take into account the changing nature of household work in a context where women are increasingly stepping out for jobs, single male workers are functioning without a household structure, and the bourgeois state and capitalist market are providing certain services and subsistence goods (respectively) that were earlier specifically sanctioned to women as part of their domestic duties. Paresh and Co’s approach also overrides the fact that the magnitude and nature of housework performed by upper-class women is markedly different from that performed by working-class women. And so to begin with, their assessment of domestic labour is erroneous because they assume housework to be a static entity which exists equally across varied class positions.

Here when we examine their use of class it is obvious that contrary to their claim of going beyond the horizon of sociology, Paresh and Co actually reproduce a (mechanical) understanding of class whereby, anyone who labours becomes a member of the working class – an approach that brings them dangerously close to certain feminist positions which work with a notion of women as a class based on the assumption that all women-as-wives perform the same tasks and so share a common oppression/material exploitation rooted in production for the household. In other words, according to Paresh and Co the marriage contract becomes the basis of the common class condition of women. What is assumed here is that through marriage women lose the right to their own labour, and that their husbands win control on their labour. In the process, men come to exploit women’s labour, and so constitute their class oppressors.

When Paresh and Co identify husbands as “agents” of capital who invariably “accumulate the wife’s unpaid (sexual and non-sexual) labour” they are projecting the prevalence of an autonomous form of exploitation – namely, patriarchal exploitation which constitutes women as a distinct class, united by their common oppression by men, and irrespective of theirs or their husbands’ class position. Quite obviously, this smacks of the dual systems theory, for what emerges out of Paresh and Co’ analysis is simply this, that women inhabit a dual class position. So while they share the same class position of their husband/family, they simultaneously inhabit a (house)working-class position – the latter being one which unites all women into a common class condition. It is precisely due to this understanding that they attribute to the middle-class woman a working-class position and come to assert that the middle-class-ness of middle-class women is merely a “subjective position…attempt[ed] to protect privilege”. Quite naturally, Paresh and Co refuse to account for the fact that based on her privileged class position – which is a product of hers and/or her husband’s incomes – a middle-class woman can actually change the form and content of her domestic work.

An approach which assumes middle-class women as reproducing middle-class status but inhabiting a working class position reflects nothing but discomfort with identifying the actual class interests embodied in these women. It is in the same vein as the class-eliding politics of feminism that Paresh and Co propagate cross-class alliances based on the conflation of two contradictory class positions, and hence support wages for housework. Their imprudent formulation that “the middle-class woman too is, in material fact, a worker” means that for them the identity ‘woman’ is nothing but a sub-set of the working class, i.e. it is an identity which represents the momentary congealment of the working-class position rather than existing as a multi-class entity. The problem with such a non-Marxist understanding of the ontological configuration of identities is an issue that I have discussed at length in my paper titled ‘Critiquing Intersectionality, Populism and Gender Disembodied of Class’.[15] I am compelled to reassert these objections, but this is an issue to which I will return later.

Before I delve further into their problematic understanding of what constitutes the working-class position, I consider it important to discuss in detail some of the problems associated with their theoretical and political conclusions regarding the role of domestic labour in the oppression of women. The first problem I wish to draw attention to is the presumptuousness with which they accuse me of denying the existence of gender segmentation within the working class. In their haste to prove how my analysis tends to “side-step the question of man–woman equality”, Paresh and Co have conveniently forgotten to do their research, let alone read my original paper carefully. Here I would like to point out to them that in sections of the paper I have traced how the working-class woman was subjugated within the family due to historical transformations (unleashed by capitalism) in the household structure and larger economy.[16] I have highlighted how women’s segmented status within the household stemmed from the privatization of household work/family life.

Nevertheless, while tracing the role of women’s domestic labour in the capitalist economy, I showed how it is just one of the factors (and certainly not the only factor) which contributes to lowering the value of labour power. Although this contribution of women’s domestic labour can explain to some extent why capitalism has a stake in maintaining women in a subordinate position within the home, I do recognize (unlike my critics) that there is no invariant relationship between domestic labour and the value of labour power. Indeed, the value of labour power is subject to historical and cultural variations, and so it stands to vary across different categories of labour (skilled/unskilled, male/female, upper/lower-caste), and according to particular circumstances which affect the bargaining position of labour at a given conjuncture (like the level of class struggle achieved, the general rate of accumulation, the levels of profits accrued in a given enterprise/sector, political instability in country, etc.).

In this context of multiple determining factors, it is categorically wrong on the part of Paresh and Co to claim that women’s domestic work plays a crucial role in establishing the value (in particular, depressing the value) of labour power. As a consequence, it is erroneous of them to presuppose that the (subordinate) position of women in the home is attributable to a supposedly axiomatic connection between domestic labour and labour power. To best explain how no self-evident connection exists between housework performed by women and the value of labour power, it is worth considering certain important facts.

For one, any Marxist analysis of women’s domestic labour must take into account the fact that capitalists appear relatively unconcerned as to who are the agents who perform domestic work. After all, domestic work is performed not only by women, but also by single males, children, etc. In connection to this is the second important fact about domestic labour in capitalism, which is that it is precisely where the input of domestic labour is minimal that the value of labour power is the lowest. We know for a fact that it is the labour power of single-male migrant workers which is most devalued, resulting in them being paid the lowest wages in the labour market. These single-male workers usually reproduce their labour power on a daily basis without drawing on female domestic labour, and it is in fact because of their below average wages that most of them are unmarried and residing in shanties, hostels, sweat-shops, under-construction buildings, footpaths, etc. Devoid of a ‘hearth’ or a household structure, these single-male workers survive on food and services obtained through the market or by attending to domestic chores themselves. The simple truth which emerges is that the home (and hence the ability to draw on women’s domestic labour) is itself contingent on a worker enjoying a higher value of labour power. With capitalists increasingly paying wage-rates that are just about equivalent in value to the bundle of commodities required for the reproduction of the wage earner’s labour power, many male workers are unable to start families, or to bring their families with them to the cities where they find work. With substantial numbers of workers being denied a ‘family wage’ the capitalist system is itself eroding the (material) basis on which the working-class man can draw on the domestic labour of his wife and subsequently “exploit” her.

The employment of working-class children in middle-class homes, sweatshops, scrap yards, eateries, etc. reflects yet another important fact that a significant section of working-class children are already part of the workforce and are reproducing not only their own labour power but are contributing to the reproduction of their other family members’ labour power (by sending money back home, etc.). Simply put, inter-generational reproduction of labour power through the household (i.e. dependence on the parent’s wage for the reproduction of a future worker) is non-existent in many cases since working-class children have already stepped into the labour market to contribute to the reproduction of the working-class family’s labour power and have come to sustain themselves outside a household structure.

Furthermore, the change in the composition of housework and its relevance for capitalism is also reflected in the fact that both the bourgeois state and capitalist market have intervened to provide some of the services and goods that were formerly products of housework. Again, by providing certain services and goods at a relatively low cost, the capitalist system has ensured that single-male workers, who do not reside in household-like structures and so depend on the market for food and other essential services, are the ones who are paid below average wages. Indeed, within the capitalist system the bourgeois state assumes the responsibility of providing certain subsistence goods and services since individual capitalists are unwilling to cover the costs of these via wages. The assumption of this responsibility by the state stems from the fact that these goods and services are important for the reproduction of labour power, which is why their cost is ultimately borne by social/collective capital (embodied in the state). Of course, the provision of these goods and services is dependent on a host of factors, particularly on the level of class struggle and the rate of capitalist accumulation attained. At present, for example, there has been a gradual shift from the ‘welfarist’ stance of the bourgeois state to a ‘neo-liberal’ one. For the working class this withdrawal has spelt much ruination as it has led to working-class women and children spending more time in arduous tasks like fetching water, obtaining and preparing food, looking after the sick and elderly, etc. It is then important to note that whatever the limited and fluctuating intervention of the state, such intervention has affected and continues to affect the domestic realm radically.[17]

Undeniably then, changes within the mode of production have clearly affected domestic labour. With the resulting change in the composition of housework, it seems highly unlikely that in its interest, capitalism maintains the realm of women’s domestic labour in the same form. In fact, certain changes brought on by the capitalist accumulation process as well as the intensification of class struggle have been eliciting the opposite effect; thus making the dependency of capitalism on housework more varied and complex.


Domestic Labour and Its Class Dimensions

To further elucidate the changing nature of domestic labour it is essential that I demonstrate how domestic labour differs from class to class, especially in the context of historically evolving class relations. In today’s day and age, for instance, it is obvious that bourgeois women or the female kin of capitalists do not indulge in day-to-day housework. The domestic labour of the bourgeois woman is undertaken not so much by her but by an army of servants and a host of the most expensive household appliances. Even if these women take to certain housework, this is done to assert a style statement rather than reproduce (cheaply!) the ‘labour power’ of the capitalist husband and capitalist babies. Of course, these women have an active biological reproductive role to play.[18] But if we must account for the fact that “labour power and capital are not things but social relations”, which Paresh and Co rattle on about but fail to apply its logic, we must recognize the fact that bourgeois women reproduce their class (and not just babies as things) in the process of procreation. And since their reproductive roles do not erase their socio-economic positioning in society via some biological (apocalyptic) moment, bourgeois mothers enjoy the freedom to sub-let the entire process of child-rearing to nannies, and later, to expensive boarding schools. Divested of the burden of domestic labour and belonging to a class that has witnessed an exponential growth in its class power (both economically and politically) in the last few decades, it is difficult to attribute a subjugated position to bourgeois women. With sizeable shares in firms and companies, the economic independence to annul marital relations and ‘domestic helps’ to do the needful, the bourgeois woman sticks out like a sore thumb in Paresh and Co’s formulation of women’s subordination across class. Evidently, it is within the structure of capitalism that these women have come to resolve the issue of their segmented status and have as a result overcome their subordination within the class.

There are then no class unifying attributes to women’s domestic labour. In fact, the sharp contradiction in interests stemming from class hierarchy is very much present in the realm of domestic labour. Once we honestly engage with this class hierarchy it becomes impossible to relegate the term middle class to a mere “subjective position” like Paresh and Co do. To qualify my arguments and to remove the space for any ambiguity on this point, I wish to specify certain facts about the materiality of this class position. The first fact I wish to draw attention to is that the middle class is constitutive of that section of people which exists in-between the two basic classes present in capitalism, i.e. the working class and capitalist class. Second, it is an extremely heterogeneous category consisting of shop-keepers, high-salaried employees, self-employed professionals, rentiers, etc. Third, the common characteristic shared by these heterogeneous elements is that they do not necessarily own property (many times they simply own high skill as a property form) but still share (with the capitalist class) a portion of the surplus value created by the working class. The next essential fact to note about the middle-class is the course of its evolution in India. Riding the wave of liberalization of the Indian economy – a development that greatly benefitted a certain segment of middle-class households – an entire second and third generation has emerged within middle-class families which has come to associate salaried work with prestige, thereby creating further scope for middle-class women to pursue careers and sub-let domestic work to the paid ‘help’.

We have seen the emergence in our big cities of a new middle-class in sharp contrast to the old middle-class where an entire generation of women were discouraged from pursuing a career. At the most, women from older middle-class families have been/are in the position to complete a basic education, which has led them into very limited kinds of jobs like school teaching, running boutiques/parlours, home-based businesses like pickling, etc. – all of which are occupations that provide ‘ample’ time for these women to return home (or to work from home) and attend to the bulk of housework. These women from (old) middle-class families have and continue to attend to housework themselves since the concept of paid ‘help’ was/is frowned upon. As of now these older middle-class families are either being proletarianised due to changes in the capitalist accumulation process, or are gradually embarking on the journey to become a part of the new middle class. In the case of the latter, it is typically the younger generation of middle-class men and women who move to big cities in search of jobs and higher education. However, in the intense competition to ‘make it big’ and with limited resources in hand, many of these youth simply end up aping the new middle class settled in big cities. Often frustrated with the lack of opportunities, they have become prone to conservatism and have the tendency to be co-opted by fascist forces.[19] Of course, a sizeable portion of migrating middle-class youth from small cities are able to overcome the limitations of their position and become part of the new middle class. This is precisely why we are witness to inter-generational differences in lifestyles, ideology, culture, etc. within many middle-class families.

It is interesting to note that in contrast to the generation of their mothers and grandmothers, women from the younger generations of middle-class families are consciously steering clear of being ‘just housewives’ and are competing for better educational and employment opportunities outside the home.[20] We are increasingly seeing this tendency unfold in our big cities, which have become the most sought after centres for education and employment. Most of the younger generation of middle-class men and women, or youth of the new middle class are oriented towards matching their ambitious career aspirations with aspirations to ‘marry well’. What this means is that the new middle-class youth, which is settling down in our big cities, is consciously seeking partners who have stable careers and can help sustain or improve their existing lifestyle and status.[21] Hence, we see the growing tendency amongst new middle-class youth to reject or rebel against marriage proposals where suitors are less educated/qualified than them.

With the sizeable growth in ‘double income-earning’ couples the dependency on paid domestic ‘help’ is on the rise. In fact, (new) middle-class women have increasingly retained salaried work (post marriage and post pregnancies) in the pressure to maintain the particular status and standard of living typical of their class. It goes without saying that like their husbands/partners, they too tend to join the high income-earning segment of the labour force. As a result, middle-class women can afford to hire paid ‘help’, i.e. maids to take care of their housework. Higher incomes also ensure that middle-class homes are well equipped with several household appliances, and that they can afford to regularly purchase a number of other utility services and subsistence goods offered by the capitalist consumer market. Even when some of these middle-class women are not part of the labour force, a significant portion of their domestic work is still sub-let to the domestic ‘help’ as well as fulfilled through the use of household appliances, etc. And so, we find two broad patterns of hiring domestic ‘help’; one in which middle-class couples hire full-time maids/children who even reside with the middle-class family in their homes, and the other in which middle-class couples hire a maid who generally comes in once or twice in the day to attend to the family’s washing, cleaning and cooking. This means that based on their husbands’ incomes middle-class women have been able to negotiate and change the content of the domestic labour expected of them.

It is the very same middle-class woman whose subordination through domestic labour is reified by Paresh and Co, who typically employs an under-age tribal girl to look after her endless household chores. We have all witnessed, for instance, middle-class couples coming to dine or shop in public places, trailed by, of course, a young tribal girl (often a child herself) who fusses around the couples’ toddlers, carries the baby’s bags and is often made to eat at a separate table. It is again in many middle-class households that young working-class boys are employed as domestic ‘helps’. Of course, these young working-class children are far from ‘gainfully employed’ since many of them are paid a pittance (and sometimes nothing) for their laborious work. They are consequently rarely in the position to free themselves from such ‘employment’.

Even in the case of adult working-class women employed in middle-class homes, the story of blatant exploitation is indisputable. While not all individual middle-class women unleash a reign of terror on their working-class maids, the fact is that many do and that the average middle-class woman does not pay a family wage to her domestic ‘help’ – a reason why most of these working-class women are compelled to perform this back-breaking work not just for one but several middle-class homes. In this light, I find it essential to point out to Paresh and Co that the ‘Marxist’-feminist ideologues whose positions they have so uncritically accepted have been known to argue that there is a possibility of a collaboration between employers (the Madam) and employees (the Maid) based on ‘proper’ remuneration. For instance, Dalla Costa in her article ‘Women’s Autonomy and Remuneration for Care Work in the New Emergencies’ even suggests that paid care-work could be an acceptable job option for women, considering the existing economic conditions and other alternatives currently available to women!

However, the simple fact is that when a working-class woman steps into the shoes of an upper-class woman to perform her domestic work, she is subject to exploitation no matter what kind of wage-relation her madam imposes on her. Unlike Dalla Costa and many other proclaimed Marxist-feminists, I wish to call a spade a spade and to stop justifying paid care-work in paternalistic tones. For communists, paid care-work performed for upper-class households is not the kind of employment women should be recruited for. The fact that a large number of working-class women are employed in such jobs reflects the need for working-class organizations to fight for more productive and greater employment of working-class women, and to unionize existing paid ‘care-workers’. This stands in sharp contrast to the let-each-of-us-treat-our-maids-with-respect-and-better-pay-kind of approach promoted by Dalla Costa and others. I hope Paresh and Co see the point and realize that in many ways the ‘humanization’ of the middle-class couple [22] in terms of having ‘quality time’ to spend with each other, etc. is based on the dehumanization of the overworked working-class woman (as the ‘bai’) and her relationship with her man and children.[23]

Moving on, even if we consider the reproductive roles of new middle-class women, it is obvious that with the employment of domestic servants and the mushrooming of play schools, crèches, etc., child rearing is no longer the sole responsibility of these women. Overall, Paresh and Co’s argument about the woman being denied “personal autonomy…which forces her to sublimate her energies into housework or…into the production of labour-power” seems far-fetched in the case of new middle-class women. This is not just because most of their housework is performed by working-class women, but also because of the kind of lifestyle new middle-class women have come to inculcate. Freed from most domestic duties and extremely conscious of their class position, these women are nurturing social networks and a culture that reproduces their class status.[24]

By pointing out these essential facts my purpose is not to project that just as in the case of bourgeoisie women, middle-class women too are in the position to completely resolve the question of their discontent within the framework of the capitalist mode of production. Instead, my emphasis has always been on how middle-class women’s complicity in maintaining class inequalities is preventing them from resolving the question of women’s oppression from the perspective of the working-class woman, and hence, in their own long-term interest. [25] Rarely affected by poverty, most new middle-class women and feminists can really be conscious only of inequality that hits them directly, i.e. unequal relations within their homes and workplaces, between them and men of their class. This is precisely why we find that the tendency to project patriarchy as an overarching, independent system of oppression finds most adherence within the upper echelons of society where women are materially positioned in better terms, like men of their class. Not surprisingly, unlike their working-class sisters who are burdened by pauperization, women from the new middle class are less likely to comprehend and organize against the material basis on which women’s oppression stands. They are, instead, more prone to organize and speak out against ‘gendered mentalities’, ‘sexist culture’, etc. Unfortunately, by limiting the question of women’s oppression to the issue of patriarchal mindsets, aggressive masculinity, lack of sensitive laws, etc., new middle-class women have not only succeeded in particularizing women’s oppression but have also artificially separated it from the question of prevailing class inequalities.[26]

Having said this, when I state that middle-class women address the problem of women’s subordination in a particularist and restrictive fashion it does not mean that their segmented status is a mere product of ideology, and that they have already achieved a state of emancipation due to their privileged class position. No doubt middle-class women embody a segmented status within their class – a status which allows for their oppression at the hands of their male partners and male kin. Rather than being mere expressions of patriarchal ideology, there is something more tangible to the domestic violence, bad sex, sexual harassment and rape that middle-class women are subjected to. [27] Precisely because this segmentation is real (though not absolute), the larger image of women’s vulnerability and subjugation – nurtured by the oppressed and exploited condition of working-class women – can find the space to express itself in middle-class homes and high-end offices/universities. Importantly, unlike Paresh and Co, I recognize that the role played by the larger (subjugated) position of women is a significant factor to reckon with when analysing the oppression faced by middle-class women. This is because the image of women’s vulnerability is overdetermined not so much by the individual class position of the middle-class woman, but by the larger social structure.

Middle-class women are not just victims of gender segmentation within their class (a division/gap which has the tendency to narrow down with time), but are also victims of an exploitable, vulnerable image that is not directly reduce-able to their class position. This means that despite the consistent efforts of new middle-class women to attain gender equality with men of their class, the possibilities of their oppression shall persist due to the lack of change in the position of the majority of women in our society, i.e. working-class women. It is only with the eradication of gender segmentation within their class as well as of prevailing class divisions that middle-class women can enjoy an emancipated position. Unfortunately, the necessity of challenging class hierarchy and resulting (social, economic and sexual) inequalities is lost on middle-class women, and their focus and energies tend to gravitate (at the most) towards the particularist agenda of feminism, i.e. a politics in which male–female inequality is wrongly projected as the major fault-line of bourgeois society, which results in gender equality being isolated from the question of prevailing class inequalities.[28]

The problem then is that despite their segmented status and the burden imposed by the image of female vulnerability, middle-class women are not providing any anti-systemic form to their discontent. They are instead compromising with men of their class and with temporary solutions thrown up by capital in order to gain/maintain access to the same class privileges. To elucidate this fact, I would like to point out two significant trends that reflect the complicit role played by upper-class women. The first is a trend that I have discussed at length in my earlier papers, which is the indulgence in hyper-femme dressing and behaviour by upper-class women – a practice which is used by them to attract partners from within their own class or from a higher status. Indeed, it is by resorting to patriarchal feminity and its concomitant forms of hypergamy that many women gain/maintain access to (upper) class privileges, or come to aspire for privileges akin to the upper classes. In this way, skin-tight jeans, miniskirts and other articles of hyper-femme dressing are metaphoric expressions of an obviously class-informed notion of beauty. However, apart from representing an act coloured by class, such indulgences represent a distinct problem, which is the ‘double-bind’ in which new middle-class women in particular are trapped. This double-bind is constitutive of the middle-class woman’s vulnerability on the one hand, and her complicity on the other. This means that while she tries to draw on all her class privileges, the new middle-class woman is simultaneously faced with the tremendous pressure to fit into prescribed competitive notions of ‘beauty’ and feminine behaviour.

In the process of trying to outbid other women and inculcating all the expected mannerisms which appeal to men who are likely to be their partners, middle-class women are actually confronted with a form of oppression that paves the way for a never-ending process of compromises. After all, it’s not just what these women end up doing to their own bodies in order to ‘stay young’, ‘feel beautiful’, ‘catch his attention’, etc., but what they end up allowing men to do to their bodies. This double-bind of vulnerability-cum-complicity in which middle-class women are trapped ensures that they are often in no position to confront the inherent dilemma of their oppression, and are therefore, incapable of resolving such oppression, i.e. by opting out of the situation. It is precisely this double-bind which: (i) makes them identify the problem as simply stemming from the prevalence of an aggressive male mentality, and (ii) prevents them from also questioning the kind of life-style, sexual codes, etc. assigned to them as women of a particular class.

Moving on, the second example which reflects the compromised nature in which middle-class women respond to oppression is one that relates to the behaviour of women professionals. As part of the labour market, women professionals, for example in universities, have consciously fought for the constitution of women development cells (WDCs) in their educational institutions. These institutionalized bodies have become platforms for expressing and giving shape to young educated women’s concerns with respect to gender discrimination (within the home or in public spaces). That university spaces – which employ not just women professionals but also a sizeable number of women workers (as cleaners, mess attendants, clerks, security guards, etc.) – are equipped with WDCs but not with crèche facilities is indicative of how women professionals tend to combat gender discrimination at workplaces only on their terms. As they can afford play schools, can employ maids and avail of childcare leave, they have obviously not felt the need to push for something as crucial as subsidized childcare centres within the space of the university/workplace – a demand which can cater to the needs of women workers and working-class women students who are juggling the burden of familial responsibilities without any external support.

Evidently, working-class women stand in sharp contrast to middle-class women, for they exercise tremendous potential of raising anti-systemic demands and struggles. This is because the materiality of their exploited and oppressed conditions is un-concealable and inseparable from their class position. For example, working-class women – whether employed or not – are completely burdened with household work. This is because neither the ‘family wage’ of working-class husbands, nor the ‘supplementary’ wages of working-class women are sufficient to equip working-class homes with essential household appliances. Not surprisingly, considering theirs and their husbands’ meagre earnings, these working-class women are in no condition to employ maids to share the burden of their housework. As a result, they come to bear the burden of both domestic work and waged labour. Caught between the pull and push of waged labour as well as the complete burden of housework, the participation of working-class women in the labour market has been reduced to a constant state of flux. They are hence easily pushed into the least rewarded and ‘protected’ category of waged labour – a situation which contributes to their vulnerability within the household, especially in terms of being dependent on their husbands’ wages.

It is then apparent that by stressing the materiality of women’s ‘common’ oppression, Paresh and Co dangerously assimilate more and more privileged women on the same platform as working-class women, i.e. irrespective of stark differences in their class position. Such assimilation has been possible by side-stepping the fact that women from the privileged classes can sub-let their domestic labour to working-class women, and that the manual/physical labour performed by working-class women as part of their housework is inequitable to the kind and magnitude of domestic labour performed by upper-class women. Overlooking the aforementioned facts, and hence ridden with a static conception of housework, Paresh and Co end up delinking domestic labour from the actual process of capitalist accumulation. For all their claims of connecting women’s domestic labour to the logic of capitalist exploitation, they still fail to account for the fact that women’s domestic labour in relation to capital has come to mean different things to different classes of women.

Trapped in this misconception they have quite easily projected that the future of class struggle lies in greater valuation of domestic labour. In arguing so, they support their claims with certain theoretical formulations like women’s domestic labour “produces labour power” and “surplus value”, and should hence be remunerated. By this very (economistic) logic, the tyranny of capital (and its timely co-option of male workers as husbands) is best combatted by waging/intensifying class struggle along the lines of the Wages for Housework movement. Hence, for them the “reconstitution of the working class into a class-for-itself” is only possible when the working-class struggle attains a “feminist moment” by providing women-as-wives wages for their housework. However, contrary to what Paresh and Co project as the Marxist (i.e. the working-class) position, the household has never been conceived as the locus of the production of labour power. Instead, Marxists who have intervened in the domestic labour debate have always emphasized that women’s domestic labour produces various use values in the form of goods and services which are needed for the reproduction of the labour force.[29] As argued by Himmelweit and others, “Domestic labour is necessary in order that the labourer lives; but it does not produce the commodity labour-power, which is just an attribute of the living individual”.[30] More importantly, even though this work of reproduction is essential, its locus is not always the family, for such tasks are even undertaken by agencies like the state and the market. By not taking these important facts of reproduction into consideration, Paresh and Co’s Marxist-feminist approach has failed to explain the actual source of women’s oppression and exploitation and its relevance for capital. As a result, their “politico-strategic wisdom” comes to legitimize and propagate one of the most reactionary demands thrown up by the feminist movement, that is, wages for housework.

If we assume like Paresh and Co that wages for housework allows the working-class movement to resolve the women’s question, then we must also assume that domestic labour can be quantified and averaged across the board, as in the case of any other commodity. It is, after all, only through the operation of the law of value that the labour-time necessary for the production of any particular commodity can be established. It is based on this socially necessary labour time that a price/wage can be assigned for such labour. By this logic, the wage payable to the working-class woman is what will be generalized for women across the board – unless, of course, we expect the valuation process to work in a discriminatory manner that would assign women wages according to their respective class position. What is important to note is that even if all domestic labour (performed by different classes of women) is assigned the same value, some women – namely, those from the privileged classes – would still be in the position to purchase such labour off the market and hence would not perform domestic labour at all.

Lastly, even if women came to be paid for their domestic work, the male–female segmentation within classes would persist and would, in fact, be further legitimized with women being associated with household work. This is because women in the household (even when paid a wage) will be ghettoized, or simply relegated to a segmented status marked by the ‘feminization of work’. This feminization of work represents the attribution of domestic labour to women as part of a ‘natural’ sexual division of labour. There is, of course, nothing natural in this process as most of this labour can be socialized, which leads to the question how exactly will wages for housework emancipate working-class women from the drudgery and sole responsibility of domestic labour? Are they not being pushed further into a segmented position that is based on their enslavement to a form of labour that can and should otherwise be socialized?

I understand that it is important for us to engage with and comprehend the significance of women’s domestic labour; but I believe that the subsumption of such efforts within slogans of wages for housework does the issue much injustice. I say this for several reasons, including the fact that we must learn to contextualize domestic labour amidst all the tendencies unleashed by capital to change or to maintain it. If we fail to do so, we will end up with Paresh and Co’s-kind of economistic approach to domestic labour based on a flat ontology of women’s variegated class positions. One must realize how their kind of approach prevents us from fully comprehending the nature of women’s economic and non-economic activities within capitalism. The entire discussion above indicates that the performance or non-performance of domestic labour is itself not the cause for women’s subordination. With women stepping into waged/salaried work to substantiate family incomes, it is factors that lie outside the realm of the household which seem to have a greater determining significance. To better comprehend the grave limitations of their assessments it is best to explore some (if not all) the nitty-gritty’s pertaining to women’s position within the organization of production under capitalism.


The Marxist-Leninist Position on Women’s Domestic Labour

As argued in my original paper on rape [31] the organization of production under capitalism (i.e. the separation of the means of production from the class of producers) and the process of proletarianization eliminated the corporate aspects of kin-group functioning. Increasingly, people came to face the state as individuals; the socialization of labour came to be accompanied by the privatization of personal (i.e. family) life; productive labour came to be separated from kin relations; and the family unit increasingly became just a unit of social reproduction (reducing in size steadily) and of consumption (as basic necessities like food, clothing, etc. came to be produced by the market, and family labour was, consequently, no longer expended like it was when households were spheres of production). It was by creating a ‘non-economic’ private sphere in opposition to an ‘economic’ public sphere that capitalism came to unleash new levels and a new form of oppression on women. However, the story does not end here, for the historical development of capitalist accumulation as well as the trajectory of working-class struggles has unleashed several contradictory tendencies which, in turn, have affected both the value of women’s labour power in the labour market and women’s dependent position within the family.

We have, for example, the tendency of capitalism to lead to the pauperization of working-class families and of a certain segment of middle-class families. As a consequence of the pressure unleashed on household budgets, capitalist accumulation can compel even the most patriarchal of men to allow their wives/daughters to enter waged work. And so, capitalism exercises the ability to draw women out of their homes for waged work under particular kinds of occupations and also during certain circumstances that create a shortage of labour supply. Clearly, the reality eats into the primacy attributed to patriarchy in the (feminist) explanation of women’s oppression.

In the process of the capitalist market drawing working-class women out of their homes for waged labour, the bourgeois state (representative of the collective interests of capital) tends to play a crucial role. For instance, even though individual capitalists resist protective labour legislations pushed forth by working-class struggles, certain ‘welfarist’ labour laws – especially pertaining to women – as well as other social welfare legislations have been formulated and enforced by the state over a period of time. Hence, we have state investment in education and health, as well as legislations like equal remuneration, etc. The logic behind such state intervention is that over-exploitation of labour by individual capitalists is bound to fuel a large-scale mobilization of the working class that goes beyond factory-level workers’ struggles. From the point of view of the general interest of capital over-exploitation by individual capitalists is also considered undesirable as it most certainly affects the reproduction of labour as well as the consumption of the largest segment of society, namely, the working class. Having said this, it is important to note that the bourgeois state’s intervention in labour and social welfare is far from unilateral or pro-working class.[32]

Considering the contradictory tendencies unleashed by capital (often in its struggle with labour), it is highly inappropriate to raise a demand that further traps women in the realm of unproductive labour and fails to improve the overall condition of the working-class family. [33] Let us consider the instance of women being paid for their domestic labour, i.e. either through a share of their husbands’ salaries, or via a special allowance paid by the state. Unlike what Paresh and Co would have us all believe, neither does such a payment substantially raise family incomes, nor does it work towards the redeployment/redistribution of national income to meet the needs of the working class. Indeed, payment for housework is a demand which is most likely to be co-opted by the bourgeois state in terms of a trade-off of family allowance against tax – a measure that reflects the simple fact that the family wage would not necessarily rise even if the method of payment was reorganized.[34] Furthermore, by pressing forth with wages for housework Paresh and Co end up taking a position which creates the scope for further privatization of family life and greater isolation of women within the structure of the family. In contrast to propagators of wages for housework, the progressive women’s movement and the working-class movement have quite rightly focused on greater employment for women as it offers them the opportunity to step out of the isolation in which they perform their domestic tasks at their individual kitchen hearths.

Tied to the burden of their housework, working-class wives have little scope of building unity amongst each other and are more often than not embroiled in petty struggles amongst themselves. As long as working-class women are unemployed and/or forced into the least rewarding and most insecure jobs there is little chance of organizing them effectively. Bound to their homes, working-class women can at best be represented by local level activists, or momentarily brought together on certain issues affecting the larger community (like inflation, slum demolition, neighbourhood violence, etc.). Such issue-based forms of mobilization are in the long run unproductive, for working-class women end up withdrawing into the space of their homes as soon as the issues die down or when such mobilizations face intense state repression.

It is then important that this vulnerable section of women are freed from their individual kitchen hearths and brought into the realm of the public through gainful and permanent employment. In their workplaces, working-class women are in a better position to organize and unite with other women. Once outside the home in large numbers, they have entered a position through which they can fight against gender segmentation nurtured in waged work. Their mass participation in waged work is also the initial step towards establishing their economic freedom outside the household structure. What has then been identified by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Clara Zetkin as the essential stride towards the liberation of working-class women is waged labour outside the home. This means that communists must fight to create (new) spaces of working-class struggles that can become platforms for launching the larger struggle which undermines the existence of capitalism itself. By this logic, rather than desperately trying to fit the main locus of working-class politics into less productive moulds/spaces/axes (such the family, male–female inequality), communists must push for greater participation of the oppressed in spaces/axes of struggle that can sustain the larger movement against the tyranny of capital. Importantly, productive employment of all women outside their homes is one such axis because by its very nature greater employment of women is contrary to the logic of capital, which sustains its accumulation process by creating a reserve army of labour. It is then only anti-systemic demands of such nature that deserve support. In this regard, Paresh and Co’s slogan of wages for housework stands in sharp contrast to the Marxist tradition, and hence to the demands that have emerged from within the socialist movement.

Clearly, unlike Paresh and Co who attribute women’s segmented status simply to domestic labour, the experiences of working-class struggles have taught Marxists to understand the relation between women’s subordination and the reproduction of the capitalist mode of production in a more complex manner.[35] Seeing this relation as an outcome of the combination of several determinations, a truly Marxist analysis would also take women’s present conditions in the labour market into account when envisaging appropriate strategies to combat women’s oppression. it is, after all, not just the burden of domestic duties, but also the lack of good (and equal) pay for waged work that prevents/dissuades women from working outside the home. Thus the labour market itself reinforces women’s subordinate position within the home by restricting their employment, by hiring them last and firing them first, by denying them maternity leave/benefits and consciously depressing their wages by drawing a link between their position in the domestic sphere and their extra domestic presence – all of which amount to practices that reduce the presence of women in the workforce to a constant state of flux, and hence create huge possibilities for women to be pushed back into the domestic sphere.

With this undeniable role that the labour market plays in facilitating women’s subordination within the household, it is incorrect to conceive women’s position in society as determined exclusively by their position within the home. In this light, more than wages for housework, it is the demand for greater employment of women, secure work contracts, equal wages, safe and conducive work conditions, provision of crèche facilities at workplaces, etc. that can help to weaken (and eventually destroy) the structures of oppression within the home (in particular, women’s dependency on the privileged/higher male wage) as well as to remove (through concerted workplace-related struggles, unionization, etc.) the discriminatory barriers outside the home. In the same vein, it is the demand for the provision of heavily subsidized household appliances and the demand for greater socialization of housework (and not the right to continue performing traditional domestic work, albeit with pay) which pave the way for confronting the sexual division of labour, in addition to creating greater leisure time for the working-class family.

Thus in contrast to Paresh and Co whose propagation of wages for housework would simply institutionalize housework as the major role of women, the working-class demands that actually address the issue of sexual division of labour include greater employment of women, equal wage for equal work, greater socialization of housework (in terms of free laundries, free schooling, free nurseries, etc.) and reorganization of work hours and shortening of the work week. The last demand is crucial from the working-class perspective for two particular reasons: (i) that it goes a long way in providing both men and women greater time for nurturing their relationships and to be in a (better) position to share the load of domestic labour, and (ii) that shorter working hours translate into greater employment of the currently unemployed (of whom a large percentage are women). Quite obviously then our task as communists “does not consist of striving for justice in the division of labour between the sexes…our task is to free both [emphasis added] men and women from petty household labour”.[36]

I support the aforementioned views by drawing on certain observations made by Marx and Engels on the issue of domestic labour and the question of emancipating women. While it may be true that Marx relegated the performance of domestic labour “to the labourer’s instinct of self-preservation and of propagation”, he did at the same time qualify his assessment by linking the issue of reproduction of the working class to the particular functioning of the specific historic mode of production, i.e. capitalism. [37] Of course, the question is not whether Marx and Engels were right or wrong in emphasizing the destruction of the (old form of) family with the advent of capitalism. Instead, what is important to note is whether their study of the role of the family (and thus women’s subordinate position within the household) led them to the right conclusion. Here it is worth noting that Marx argued the following:

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 economical foundation for a higher form of the family and of the relations between the sexes…[38]

While arguing that capitalism paved the way for a new and higher form of family, Marx and Engels also emphasized the need to develop upon certain opportunities provided by the capitalist system (like the employment of women outside the household) in order to destroy the family structure altogether – a development which, according to them, would facilitate greater emancipation of women. In German Ideology, for example, Marx argued that capitalism was the first system to create the possibility of transferring housework from the private to the public sphere.[39] In tune with this line of argument, both Marx and Engels identified that the initial and essential step towards the weakening of the exploitative form of the family structure was greater participation of women outside the home, i.e. as part of the economy. Lenin too, in this regard, argued that “petty housework crushes” and “degrades” a woman by making her “…waste her labour on barbarously unproductive, petty, nerve-wracking and stultifying and crushing drudgery”.[40] He thus emphasized that “the real emancipation of women” must include “the wholesale transformation” of household work into socialized labour.

In this light, Selma James and Dalla Costa’s claim that “those who advocate that the liberation of the working-class woman lies in her getting a job outside the home are part of the problem, not the solution”, [41] stands not only in sharp contrast to the working-class position but is also an expression of an unsubstantiated value judgement which presumes that working-class leaders have been/are simply gender-blind and have perpetuated women’s oppression through empty slogans.[42] Typically, feminists like Dalla Costa like to project women’s waged labour as the burdensome ‘second job’ that results in the lengthening of the woman’s workday. However, while Marxists are sensitive to the pressures brought on by waged work in addition to domestic labour, they have refused to deny the necessity of waged work for women’s emancipation. This is why in sharp contrast to the aforementioned feminist position, Marxists argue for greater employment of women outside the home along with greater socialization of domestic labour. In fact, Marxists project that with greater and more long-term employment of women outside the home, the ability of women to challenge the sexual division of labour within the home will be much higher.

Ironically, Paresh and Co, in an extremely snobbish vein, come to mock the very idea of socialization of housework when they approvingly quote Dalla Costa and Selma James. They suggest that by employing women outside the home and pressing for socialization of housework we simply create the “possibility at lunchtime of eating shit collectively in the canteen”.[43] By quoting Costa and James verbatim they show tremendous hostility towards the demand and efforts to socialize women’s domestic labour. In a position to sub-let their housework to the paid domestic ‘help’ or perhaps under the impression that they represent sufficiently ‘sensitive’ partners who readily share the burden of housework, such snobbery and the haste to undermine the liberating outcome of socialization of domestic work is expected.  

It is unfortunate that by moving away from the actual tradition of Marxism and convinced that Marxism is itself incapable of theorizing the political economy of women,[44] Paresh and Co have turned to Marxism-feminism in order to explain women’s oppression and the way forward. It goes without saying, that the Marxist-feminist position is premised on the logic of the dual systems theory – a fact reflected in its very nomenclature. It represents an unholy alliance of two contradictory ideologies, in which Marxism is used to explain certain dynamics connected to a given issue, and feminism is used to explain what Marxism ‘fails’ to explicate. Moreover, Marxist-feminists propagate the vague notion of a dual struggle in which the working-class woman must fight against capitalism on the one hand, and on the other, against the male segment of her class that has allegedly become an agent of capital. By asserting this Paresh and Co come to ally with anti-Marxist arguments made by Heidi Hartmann [45] and others who have written extensively on what they consider as the inability of Marxism to theorize patriarchy. According to Hartmann (and now Paresh & Co), male workers in alliance with capital have come to ensure that women are excluded from economically productive resources and have also come to control their sexuality. The ability of men to do so stems from their control over women’s labour. In more specific terms such an argument presumes that men workers are intrinsically driven by a patriarchal mentality to unite with employers and the bourgeois state in order to keep women out of waged work and hence preserve their male power/dominance. However, such claims stand unsubstantiated, as reflected in an insightful response to Hartmann’s assumptions by Jane Humphries, [46] who closely studied the behaviour of male miners in Britain around the time when the 1842 Mines Regulation Act was enforced. Interestingly, Humphries showed how male miners preferred to recruit their own wives and children to work alongside them as this ensured that the wage paid to them did not have to be shared with anyone outside the family.

Clearly, Hartmann-like claims completely overlook the role of class and the fact that there is a convergence of (women and men’s) interests into what can be identified as common class interests. When asserting that male workers would do anything to preserve male/patriarchal power, such positions fail to contend with the fact that often the interests of class prevail over patriarchal desires to subjugate one’s wives, daughters, etc. For example, for a working-class man the employment of his daughter would be preferred any day to the employment of someone else’s son. Hence, it is important for Paresh and Co to realize that women come to share the benefits and the agonies of being in a class, and it is this membership to a class which determines the form and content of their segmented status within their class.

To elucidate this point, let us engage with the segmented status of a capitalist’s wife. It is a known fact that this class of women was initially denied the right to property and the right to vote – an issue around which the feminist movement first took root. The purpose behind denying them equal access to certain forms of capitalist wealth despite their membership to the class was not so much to keep intact patriarchal control on these women. Instead, in the context of the early stages of capitalism when the most valued form of property existed mostly in land or immovable assets, the denial of property rights to female kin allowed the individual capitalist to keep his land/property from fragmenting, and hence from becoming less productive. In a patrilocal society in which women became part of separate family structures, it was not feasible for bourgeois families to transfer property rights in land over large geographical spaces – something which would have resulted in intense competitive claims over such immovable forms of property. Of course, with gradual changes in the property form, property rights also came to be transferred to female kin of bourgeois families. It was only when the need for direct control on property diminished (especially with the separation of management from ownership, greater financialization, and the opening up of several avenues for diversification of capital) that property rights for women became viable and desirable for the capitalist class as a whole. So, with certain historical developments within capitalist relations, social relations within the capitalist class have undergone visible change – a process that has allowed bourgeois women to rise above their segmented status within the class.

This means that women’s segmented status is neither static, nor is their segmented status devoid of or delinked from the class positions they inhabit. Recognizing this fact, Marxism or working-class politics has always argued that gender equality means different things for different classes. By extension this means that there is no general women’s question, and each class has its own women’s question. In contrast to Marxist-feminists and Paresh and Co, the actual Marxist tradition has taught activists to engage with the fact that the form and content of the working-class woman’s segmented status is co-relational to her working-class position. Since the working-class woman’s position prevents her from escaping the burden of domestic work, her emancipation lies in solutions (like mass employment, eradication of segmentation in the existing labour market, a shorter work day, socialization of housework, etc.) that transcend the very logic of capital and its structuring of society. Since the emancipation of working-class women offers more than just stop-gap solutions, the interests of middle-class women ultimately coincide with the proletarian resolution to the women’s question. For example, from the very moment that the transition period, marked by greater employment of working-class women outside the home takes off, both existing women professionals and women workers will immediately enjoy a stronger bargaining position to negotiate for better work conditions, permanent work contracts, greater socialization of the domestic realm through active state intervention, etc.


The Masked Discomfort with Class Analysis

It is evident that Paresh and Co have missed the whole point and resorted to an unnecessary diversion that fails to advance the ensuing debate. In the process of focusing merely on the segmented status of women (within their respective classes), they have resorted to typical Negrian analysis according to which all identities (in this case women) are equally subordinated to the rule of capital. Lost in this scheme of things is the simple fact that identities such as gender, nationality, caste, etc. are multi-class entities which cannot be assumed to axiomatically constitute the working-class position, and hence to be equally subordinated to the rule of capital.[47]

As any given identity is infiltrated by different class positions it is fallacious to assume that an identity such as woman is a working-class position in itself. If we make such a fallacious assumption we will also lose sight of the fact that not all women are exploitable merely on the basis of their gender identity. So by reducing women’s domestic labour to a static entity that is unaffected by the laws of capitalist accumulation, Paresh and Co wrongly project that working-class and middle-class women are equally subordinated to domestic work. In this way, like most feminists, they too have drained gender segmentation of its class dynamics. They have succeeded in doing so by narrowly concentrating on the categories of housework and housewives; thereby, side-lining an entire ensemble of women’s economic and non-economic activities and the wider relations within which these are rooted.

This is best reflected in their repetitive assertions that it is the “feminist moment” in class struggle which can actually resolve the question of the working-class woman’s segmented status within the class. What this means that the average working-class struggle (untouched by feminism) does not by itself raise the issue of such segmentation, and so does not elicit a process of greater gender equality as it unfolds. Disconnected from class in this manner, gender becomes a social position on which a separate, “autonomous” struggle must be waged – an autonomous struggle in which male–female equality takes precedence over the eradication of class-based inequalities when it comes to women’s oppression. Ironically, the historical trajectory of the progressive women’s movement and the international working-class movement has contested this notion of an autonomous struggle time and time again.[48]

It goes without saying that more than the interests of working-class women such calls for autonomous struggles represent the interests of upper-class women. As members of a more privileged class, upper-class women tend to attribute theirs and the oppression of working-class women simply to their gender. The oppression unleashed by the material conditions of inequality stemming from the working-class position is lost on upper-class women. In this light, the demand raised by a few middle-class ‘radicals’, academicians and NGOs for remunerating housework becomes an avenue through which an opportunistic alliance between upper-class and working-class women is sought to be forged while projecting a commonality of class position based on gender roles. Considering that the majority of upper-class women are in the position to sub-let most of their domestic duties to maids, the call for intensification of class struggle by working-class women via wages for housework campaigns restricts the solution to domestic slavery within the very structure of capitalism.

I argue this because the efforts of Dalla Costa, Selma James and other Marxist-feminists to project women as a class has allowed them to misrepresent spaces or spheres of resistance and struggle, like relations between employer–employee, client and service-provider, etc. as negotiated spaces which can be used to build cooperation between antagonistically positioned persons. By this logic since a maidservant and her mistress supposedly share a commonality of oppression, their employer–employee relationship can be lubricated and negotiated into a non-exploitative one. [49] A change of heart, individual good will, generosity, etc. expressed by middle-class women replaces the need for more gainful employment of working-class women. Thus by playing down class antagonism, the Marxist-feminists idolized by Paresh and Co have legitimized withdrawal from several long-standing working-class demands. They have made a virtue out of the little scope of liberation offered by capitalism; thereby sidelining the need to raise demands and campaigns that actually create the necessary preconditions for greater and more lasting organization of women, and hence the foundation for a revolutionary movement against capitalism. A piecemeal approach that never really prepares the ground for future transformation of society cannot be the cornerstone of working-class strategy to fight gender segmentation. This is all the more when we consider how Selma James and Dalla Costa, whom Paresh and Co quote extensively, responded to their critics by claiming that their demand of wages for housework was merely part of a “consciousness-raising” exercise and not something they sought the implementation of![50]

The problem with Selma James and Costa’s demands-that-are-not-actual-demands as well as Pothik Ghosh’s impossible demands and Paresh and Co’s reactionary demand is the artificial divide they create between the masses and intellectuals/activists. This division is created because their strategy, which emanates from an upper-class world-view, fails to galvanize the masses that articulate their aspirations in the form of immediate demands – about which Paresh and Co have nothing substantial to add. Failing to address the immediate concerns of the masses and to link these to intermediate demands, the aforementioned ‘radicals’ – by raising unconnected ‘demands’ – make a strategic miscalculation which ultimately results in the co-option of the masses by right wing forces or by the bourgeois state that makes timely concessions to pacify burgeoning discontent. In sharp contrast to such a misplaced strategy is the communist one which seeks to galvanize the discontented masses on intermediate demands that represent our claims to remould the given society, and are thus conducive for paving the way for revolutionary conditions where the fulfilment of ultimate demands becomes possible. That in this exercise of raising intermediate demands communists win over the masses rather than appearing as absurd ultra-radicals who offer no viable alternatives is extremely significant since communism has never and can never propagate its transformative politics in isolation. Of course, at certain conjunctures intermediate demands may be met by the bourgeois state in its bid to win back the support of the masses. However, by their very nature intermediate demands help unleash a higher level of class struggle by facilitating greater cadre-building within the masses, establishing popular influence, etc.; hence creating the space for communist organizations to guide the masses beyond the state’s bids of co-option.

This brings me back to the fundamental flaw in Paresh and Co’s approach, which is its undeniable proximity to the feminist position on women’s oppression – something that prevents them from comprehending the complexities of the relationship between capitalism and women’s oppression. It is exactly due to their quasi-feminist approach to domestic labour that they have failed to account for the phenomenon of single male migrant workers, many of whom are residing in cities without a household structure. Surviving in dehumanizing conditions that create no opportunity for them to nurture human relationships, a number of these male workers are increasingly turning to individuated, apolitical and sexist forms of expressing the frustration stemming from their exploited (class) position. Their culpability in acts of crime like rape is clearly attributable to the (social, economic and sexual) inequalities bred by capitalism. However, Paresh and Co do not even engage with this issue of culpability that is bred by the class divisions prevalent in our capitalist society. For them the sexist behaviour of working-class men is simply attributable to their unholy (patriarchal) pact/alliance with capital, which implies that the culpability of men is nothing but a product of the intersection of patriarchal mindsets and colluding capital that seeks to “reproduce the capital relation and forms of segmentation”. The narrowness and inadequacy of such an approach is best reflected in its inability to explain the rape of children (little boys included) by adult men. One wonders what gender segmentation or gender power is sought to be asserted when little boys and girls are brutalized. As this is an issue I have already addressed in my original paper and in my reply to Krishnan, I will avoid repeating my arguments here.

Evidently, Paresh and Co’s arguments represent yet another intersectionalist position which I have critiqued earlier.[51]Their deployment of the safety valve theory that positions women as a “passive receptacle for the frustrations and desires of the working class man” is a mere repetition of platitudes about bad sex in capitalism that are well known to us. The lack of mutually gratifying sexual relationships has a lot to do, as I have pointed out in my original paper, with the lack of time brought on by long work hours. In a scenario when men and women are working 12 to 14 hours a day, there is little time for fulfilling sex and romantic love to develop between them. When sex becomes a quick five minute affair which is desperately fitted into the daily routine of going to bed on time so that one may wake up early next morning for work it can remain little else but a channel to give vent to pent-up frustrations. This is actually one more reason why there is a case of convergence of interests of both working-class men and women against capital, i.e. in terms of demanding shorter working hours and the right to lead lives which may be considered human. However by way of solution, instead of taking recourse to the time tested communist solution of fighting for a shorter work day, Paresh and Co seem to suggest that women should prioritize the struggle against men within the family structure. In contrast to their position, the appropriate stand to take is that the struggle for good sex should be waged by working-class men and women together against capital that appropriates the hours which could have been used for romantic love and sex.

As argued by me earlier, the typical feminist position that Paresh and Co espouse is extremely wary of class analysis, which is why even when feminists accept the role of class in the creation of vulnerability and institutional bias, they adamantly deny that class simultaneously affects the formation of rapists, and hence contributes towards culpability in a large section of men, i.e. working-class men who have little time/capacity/life-conditions to maintain a fulfilling sexual life. For feminists, rape and other forms of women’s oppression is simply an expression of brute (male) power and control. They see ‘male power’ or patriarchy as a sufficient explanation for sexual assaults committed by men across the board, even if sexual offenders belong to the most marginalized sections of our patriarchal society. Likewise for radicals like Paresh and Co, working-class men – as “agents” of capital – enjoy a patriarchal dividend which they can draw on to oppress and exploit working-class women. However, in the process of asserting this collusion of working-class men with capital, Paresh and Co never explain how patriarchal behaviour is itself shaped and reproduced by capitalism.

Unlike Paresh and Co, I endeavoured to explain the sexist behaviour of individual working-class men by steering clear of formulations like working-class men enjoy access to a patriarchal dividend that intersects with the interests of capital which seek to divide the working class and reduce the cost of labour power, and so on and so forth. In fact, in the entire debate my efforts have been to demonstrate how a large number of working-class men tend to become perpetrators of sexual crimes or to act in sexist ways due to the manner in which capitalism generates social, economic and sexual inequalities across classes.[52] Thus, rather than reducing working-class men to “agents” of capital, I have engaged with how working-class male sexuality is imprisoned and dehumanized by capital, which is why the interests of working-class men are ultimately antithetical to the interests of capital. To prove this point, my original paper explained at length how the sexuality of working-class men, especially of those employed in the most menial jobs, is actually shackled by capital which is resulting in the development of an aggressive male sexuality in them.


In Lieu of a Conclusion: From Unfolding of the Bourgeois Revolution to the Creation of Conditions for a Socialist/Sexual Revolution

Instead of seeing the issue of culpability and vulnerability in the context of capitalism entrenching itself within all spheres of life, some individuals have responded to the development of an aggressive male sexuality in male workers and to incidents of rape involving working-class men by emphasizing the tendency of lumpenization, especially in countries that have not seen, what they consider, a full-fledged capitalist development due to imperialism. As a result, working class men are seen as recluses who are still stranded in their village mentalities. Rapes by them are then seen as a “perversion” that is representative of the clash between remnants of pre-capitalist forms of society and the new order of society which creates new kinds of inequalities. While I recognize that such theories attempt to go beyond the hegemonic (feminist) explanations for rape that are becoming popular amongst the upward mobile, new middle class and that reduce everything to a patriarchal gaze and male power, I also feel that such theories wrongly assume rape to be a perverse act indulged in by lumpen elements. This can be proved if we look more closely at assumptions on which theories of lumpenization are based.

First, most of these arguments attributing sexual violence to lumpen elements tend to project such violence as a persistent problem in erstwhile colonized countries that are ‘still’ reeling under the pressures of pre-capitalist forms of oppression; presuming therefore that such countries have not yet witnessed the emergence of advanced capitalism. In the case of India, such a position is hard to accept considering the trajectory taken by the country’s political economy, especially over the last three to four decades, wherein the Indian capitalist class has come to dominate the Indian economy. Indeed, since 1947 or the ‘transfer of power’, the Indian bourgeoisie has come on its own after successfully hegemonizing the Indian national liberation movement. It has since then succeeded in removing the dominance of foreign capital in the basic sectors by using public savings and investment by the state.

If we closely trace the development of the Indian bourgeoisie’s class power, we find that it grew steadily since the late colonial period with the indigenous merchant class raking in substantial profits due to its alliance with imperialist capital, and with the emergence and consolidation of a rich peasant class in India’s villages. Importantly, this rich peasant class became the roots from which the regional bourgeoisie emerged post-Independence. This transformation was fuelled by the introduction of truncated land reforms after 1947 that gradually eliminated the stratum of big zamindars. The gradual elimination of the zamindar class facilitated the upward mobility of a stratum of better-off tenant peasants, who began diversifying their capital (i.e. profits accrued through agriculture) in secondary and tertiary sectors like transport, construction, liquor production, real estate, etc. With time the ambitions of the regional bourgeoisie resulted in a series of conflict with the big/all-India bourgeoisie. In the outbreak of tensions within these two factions of the capitalist class (as seen in the tumultuous 1960 and 1970s), the regional bourgeoisie was able to draw on much support from state governments due to the existence of the federal form of governance. However, a section of the regional bourgeoisie later joined the ranks of the all-India bourgeoisie. With the end of what has been identified as ‘license-quota-permit-raj’ there has been a reduction in the veto and regulatory power of the central government. By 1998 only seven industries needed licensing with wide-ranging consultation from regional governments. The items reserved for public sector were reduced from seventy items in 1956 to three items in 1993. This made it increasingly possible for regional bourgeoisie to diversify their capital into new industries. The intense conflict between the regional bourgeoisie and all-India bourgeoisie of the 1960s and 1970s has clearly given way to more collaboration and interdependence.

In this way, the collective interests of capital have come to outgrow intra-class conflicts, which is why India has witnessed the growing reassertion of unity within the capitalist class (as reflected in their general support for neo-liberal reforms, which can be seen as initiated in the Rajiv Gandhi era but was consolidated only post 1991 as a major macroeconomic policy-level change; thereby diminishing the public sector’s role in basic economic production and services). The more recent phase of these historical developments has brought with it a phenomenal increase in the class power of the Indian bourgeoisie, resulting in mammoth overseas acquisition of capital as well as alliances with international capital – alliances that are together plundering our country’s natural and human resources.[53]

Clearly, despite having borne the yoke of colonialism, a country like ours has long been witnessing the development of a relatively advanced stage of capitalism compared to some other erstwhile colonial countries. Whatever then the impact of imperialism on the socio-economic fabric of erstwhile colonized countries like India, it cannot itself explain the trajectory of human sexuality’s development within late capitalism – be it in imperialist nations or in backward countries. This is because even in advanced capitalist nations where the course of capitalist development has created a more ‘advanced’ working-class and tangible counter-culture, rape statistics are soaring.[54]Thus it is wrong to assume that greater development of capitalism invariably creates the condition for the growth of a more progressive, egalitarian culture.

This brings me to the second objection vis-à-vis arguments about greater prevalence of gender inequality in erstwhile colonized countries, which is that pre-capitalist structures of domination are kept alive due to the persistence of pre-capitalist modes of production alongside capitalism. Typically, such a perspective explains rape and patriarchal oppression as remnants of an older form of society. The point to note here is that such an explanation at best explains only some of the rapes which are occurring in our society; namely, those occurring in our villages in which upper-caste men sexually assault Dalit women in the bid to assert their dominance over village common land, etc. Nevertheless, even in the case of these rural rapes it is necessary that we unpack such violent backlash in the present context of rural class relations. Far from being static, class relations in our villages have undergone a change in terms of the composition of the dominant castes that are oppressing Dalits, [54]and also show that traditional customs which run parallel to institutionalized, bourgeois law of the state are being increasingly challenged. Thus the prevalence of sexual violence in our villages must be located within the changing dynamics of class relations rather than being merely equated with a residue of pre-capitalist structures of domination.

The need to do so arises all the more when we consider the growing phenomenon of ‘urban rapes’ (a term I am compelled to use in lieu of any better one) involving working-class men. According to some, urban rapes are simply an extension of the rural mentality which informs the conscience of majority of men who migrate to the cities. However, such assessments fail to explain the specificities of urban rapes of the kind that occurred on 16 December 2012, thereby downplaying the depth of the sexual crisis prevailing in our society and concealing the limitation of the existing form of the anti-rape movement. As argued in my original paper, the growth of urban rapes involving impoverished male workers is far from indicative of a continuation of a rural mentality. Devoid of any class privilege, these men’s culpability is wrongly seen as influenced by feudal (rural) dominance, or as solely determined by patriarchy. [56] After all, many of these male workers are neither from dominant castes nor in the position to continue reaping the benefits of belonging to an upper caste once they have joined the ranks of the urban poor. Urban rapes are the outcome of more complex factors than the mere continuation of a semi-feudal past or the prevalence of ‘male power’ that always seeks to subjugate female sexuality. Instead, these rapes are locatable within the class divided structure created by capitalism. It is then the peculiar class conditions and resulting inequalities created by capitalism that constitute the specificities of urban rapes, i.e. in terms of nurturing culpability within a large section of men, or basically, those men who are from the working class.

Structurally excluded from all those things which enable men to inculcate a fulfilling sexual life, working-class men are bound to develop an aggressive male sexuality. Distanced from higher education, intellectual/cultural activities and pursuits, in addition to being overworked, underpaid and devalued despite their skilled labour, a large section of working-class men are falling prey to a bodily-based, aggressive masculinity that overemphasizes their biological maleness. Add to this the creation of sexed-up forms of sexual desire and sexual expressions by capital through its beauty, fashion, porn and larger entertainment and media industry, as well the hedonistic lifestyle of the new middle class. Bombarded by this, otherwise, artificially created sexual desire, yet materially positioned in a way that prevents them from indulging in concomitant forms of sexual activity, working-class men are imbued with a strong sense of being denied equal sexual access/enjoyment. Evidently, when such (artificially created) masculinity, conditioned by the hyper-sexualized milieu, confronts female sexuality it creates the scope for unequal and exploitative sexual encounters as well as an overall sexist/patriarchal behaviour.

Hence, we must come to terms with the fact that there is something intrinsic to the class divisions and resulting inequalities created by capitalism as the­ dominant mode of production, which creates the scope for an increased rate of sexual crimes. Having said this, I realize that protagonists of certain theories have and continue to argue that such kinds of oppression are products of the persistence of semi-feudalism as a dominant mode of production. According to such positions, no further legal reforms are possible within bourgeois society due to the lack of development of full-fledged capitalism, or because capitalism has entered a reactionary phase. However, the societal trends that are so easily identified as contrary to the capitalist mode of production are actually intrinsic to it. As a dominant mode of production, capitalism has been compelled to shape society and the political economy in ways that we now see them only because of its interests in creating and/or maintaining a particular rate of accumulation. And so, more than just allowing older structures of domination and inequality to persist in their traditional form, capitalism has changed their very contours by providing them a new lease of life within its circuit of accumulation. It is in this process of appropriating older structures of inequality within newer forms of oppression created by it, as well as in the process of creating new kinds of inequality, that capitalism throws up conditions for sexual violence and other forms of women’s oppression.

In reality, the bourgeois revolution (in its classical or ‘passive’ form) has never really been democratic in the sense that it has created formal equality from the moment of its occurrence. In reality the uneven development of the capitalist socio-economic structure has merely created the scope for democratization, which is only actualized through further struggles by the discontented masses. One has only to turn to the iconic 17th, 18th and 19th century bourgeois revolutions to ascertain this fact. The most classic of such revolutions, i.e. the French Revolution of 1789-90, did not proceed to create truly representative bodies or democratic governance – a fact reflected in the rise of Napoleon, the constant outbreak of mass discontent (as in 1830, 1848, 1871, etc.), the reversal of anti-slavery regulations passed by the Jacobins and the denial of adult male franchise right into 1875. That French society had to further wait till 1944 for the enfranchisement of adult women is further proof of the chequered, halting and restraining course taken by the bourgeois revolution. A similar trajectory of bourgeois revolutions is to be seen in England where the era of revolution from 1642–51 to 1688 merely paved the way for Restoration, and finally, constitutional monarchy, wherein the English monarch was denied the power to rule without the Parliament’s consent. Again in 19th century England, despite a series of Chartist strikes against property qualifications for enfranchisement, adult male franchise was granted only in 1918, while adult female enfranchisement had to wait till 1928. In case of India, even with the formal handover of power to the Indian capitalist class by the colonial state in 1947, formalization of democratic rights like the abolition of feudal property ownership; granting of greater rights to property, divorce, etc. to women as well as the introduction of laws protecting the sexual rights of women were granted only subsequent to intense and organized struggles that have characterized the post-Independence era.

What this means is that bourgeois revolutions are merely geared towards curbing/limiting the power of monarchical structures, or (in cases where monarchy has been eliminated) towards compelling the feudal elites to observe the new rule of law. The immediate target of bourgeois revolutions has been the protection of the capitalist accumulation process from arbitrary (feudal) bids at rent-seeking. Furthermore, though far from a linear and uncomplicated development, bourgeois revolutions tend to further the process whereby the individual legal subject position can be consolidated in order to constitute new forms of property rights and labour relations that challenge the system of traditional rights based on birth. By weaning away the individual from community control and obligations, bourgeois law initiated a process which increasingly made it difficult for the individual to shelter in the anonymity of his community and escape individual responsibility for contractual or other legal obligations. Of course, in its efforts to create ‘free’ contracting individuals or workers who can be exploited in the interests of capitalist accumulation, bourgeois law continued to be ridden with inconsistencies.

Angered by the inconsistencies in bourgeois law and the local feudal elites’ continued circumvention of the rule of law (i.e. in order to protect their status and privileges), the oppressed masses, and sometimes even factions of the capitalist class, turned to rebellion. However, since these upsurges have tendentially moved towards the ‘centre of gravity’ or rule of law established by bourgeois rule, the adjudication of conflict by the bourgeois state, and hence perpetuation of capitalism has been possible. In this way most mass upsurges have amounted to further unfolding of the bourgeois revolution in accordance, of course, with the changing needs of capitalist accumulation – a point I have elucidated above when explaining the necessity that drove the capitalist class to grant (bourgeois) women the right to property. This has been all the more possible because working-class discontent and struggles against capitalism have been subsumed within multi-class movements that have kept intact the hegemony of the dominant section of society. In the process we find that struggles against capitalism end up being reduced to farcical repetitions of struggles between different fractions or sections of the capitalist class, or between the capitalist class and middle class (which tends to use prevailing discontent to wrest certain opportunities of upward mobility that can empower it to join the ranks of the bourgeoisie).

It is my contention that the feminist-inspired women’s movement is an excellent example of struggles that are restricted to the bourgeois form of politics. I have argued that bourgeois and new middle-class women tend to use general discontent to put forward their own (particularist) claims for a greater share in the class privileges equal to their men, and in the process restrict the scope and slogans of the women’s movement in ways that keep their class privileges intact and their complicit role out of the question. Feminism as an embodiment of the discontent of upper-class women typically tries to project a temporary equivalence in discontent across women of different classes and so creates a populism of sorts so as to appeal to the larger mass of women. By drawing on feminism and making it the hegemonic view of the women’s movement, upper-class women tend to relegate to the sidelines the concerns of working-class men and women on the issue of women’s oppression. Even at moments when the feminist-inspired women’s movement picks up issues that have a substantial working-class content, it does so in a manner which keeps these issues within a bourgeois form of addressal/solution-building. Thus even if it is fuelled by working-class discontent and participation yet as it lacks the independent working-class position within it and is divested of working-class leadership, such a movement is in no way going to outgrow the given capitalist socio-economic structure or bring substantial relief to the majority of women (i.e. working-class women and a large section of middle-class women).

Considering the magnitude of the problem of sexual violence and also the fact that women are part of all classes, the incident of 16 December did evoke a widespread response. As the whole movement was heavily dominated by the new middle class, the issue of consent and bodily autonomy was raised only from the point of view of this class. By doing this the new middle class was not breaking any new ground but only seeking fuller generalization of the bourgeois-democratic form of law; the basis of which has already been produced by capitalism. The dominant thrust within the anti-rape movement was, in fact, centered on better implementation of laws and good governance. It should be recognized that consent as a prerequisite for establishing claims of rape emerged not as a product of the women’s movement but as the product of the historical transformations which established the rights and status of the individual over the community.[57] Furthermore, the issue of rape as the violation of the individual right over one’s own body, no matter how universalist it may appear, definitely had its class overtones and ultimately worked against the general interest of both working-class men and women. This is a fact I have discussed and elaborated at length in my original paper and in my reply to Kavita Krishnan and so will not repeat here.[58]

By bringing back the question of class to the debate on the strategies required to fight women’s oppression my intervention has sought to reassert how the working-class resolution to the women’s question can alone emancipate working-class and middle-class women. I have explained how the complex role played by class divisions in sexual violence and the oppression of women is lost on middle-class women since for they are soaked in (middle-class) ideology. Nonetheless, it is important to note that this ideology is false not in the sense that it misrepresents the reality. Instead, this ideology is false because it is based on the reification of reality, i.e. the complex whole is reduced simply to the narrow middle-class experience. The ideology encapsulated by the average middle-class woman is (along with other constituent factors), constitutive of what she thinks. Considering their privileged class position, women from the upper classes are less likely to comprehend and organize against the material basis on which women’s oppression stands. And so, when it comes to the issue of her subjugation, upper-class women are geared towards identifying this subjugation as a product of a patriarchal mentality that stems from her unequal position within her class. The coherence of this ideology is based on the exclusion of the larger structuring reality, which is that despite her segmented status within her class, the new middle-class woman – due to her privileged class position – plays a complicit role in her own oppression and in the oppression of working-class women. The exclusion of class (both in terms of concealing the complicity exercised by upper-class women and in terms of downplaying the fact that class divisions breed gender inequality across and within different classes), is what actually constitutes the crux of this middle-class ideology. In other words, it is the absent cause which, if injected, would completely destroy the coherence of such middle-class ideology.

In such a context, revolutionary politics can hardly afford to emphasize what new middle-class women already know, i.e. that they are vulnerable due to their segmented status within their class. Informed of this consciousness, new middle-class women are already raising certain demands that press the state to reduce the gender discrimination faced by them. Due to this consciousness they are also in the position – again due to their privileged class position – to seek respite in certain (temporary) solutions, like resorting to private transport instead of struggling for more (and therefore less crowded) public transport, employing maids to share the burden of household work instead of pressing for socialization of domestic work, or sanitizing spaces that they frequent from ‘deviants’ instead of fighting for a real sexual revolution. Of course, it is the same new middle-class woman whose indulgence, for example, in patriarchal feminity/hyper-femme dressing and behaviour contributes to the conditions that nurture sexual violence.[59]  It is precisely this complicit role which leads to their premature withdrawal from the long-term struggle and from the challenging journey that strives for complete transformation of society, and hence for a real sexual revolution. Considering this, the challenge before revolutionary politics is to emphasize how middle-class women fail to comprehend the depth of theirs and working-class women’s oppression due to their stake in the current scheme of things.

It is then essential for revolutionary politics to press middle-class women to come to terms with their complicit role in maintaining class hierarchy and the gender oppression which such hierarchy unleashes on womankind. By doing this alone, working-class politics can prove that it is only by aligning with the working class (i.e. both working-class men and women) that middle-class women stand to liberate themselves and can do the things which entail the emancipation of all. It is only by doing so that working-class politics can prevent the unnecessary dilution of the independent working-class perspective on women’s oppression – an independent position which will allow it to march towards universal emancipation rather than middle-class (feminist) particularism.


Maya John is associated with Centre for Struggling Women (CSW) and is a researcher working on labour laws at Delhi University

1. Here one is reminded of the Leninist dialectical approach to legality which recognizes the importance of pressing for legal demands wherever possible in order to show the contradiction inherent in the bourgeois legal form. See, Evgeny Pashukanis (1925), Lenin and the Problems of Law,, accessed on 6 March 2012.

2. It seems Pothik Ghosh assumes that when a man from the most inferior rung of the class hierarchy rapes a woman from an upper class he is simply acting as an agent of capital, i.e. to keep all women subjugated to all men – a position I have critiqued in my original paper. Specially see the section ‘Going Beyond Feminist Contentions: Is Rape Simply About Exercising Power’ in Class Societies and Sexual Violence: Towards a Marxist Understanding of Rape, understanding-of-rape/, 8 May 2013.

3. See the section ‘Bourgeois Law, Rape and the Importance of Intermediate Demands’, in Class Societies and Sexual Violence: Towards a Marxist Understanding of Rape, op. cit., endnote 2. Here I have provided a more convincing critique of the bourgeois legal form by assessing its contradiction with the emerging (dis)content in society.

4. If Paresh and Co were to have their way, an important demand like effective police action against violence on women (i.e. compulsory and immediate filing of complaints at police stations, people’s control of local police stations through citizens’ committees, surveillance of police stations through CCTV cameras, better policing of streets, time-bound police investigations, swift action on distress calls, etc.) may not come across as the need of the hour for such “legalist measures in the name of generating a safe city…allow the state to intrude and monitor the everyday life…” What Paresh and Co fail to contend with is the fact that when the police force tends to discriminate between the rich and the poor in its day-to-day functioning, the demand for effective police action offers the scope for exposing the class-biased and anti-women stance of the state, as well as the scope for rescuing victims of sexual crimes (an operation these anti-legalists can hardly undertake themselves). By side-lining the importance of such a demand, Paresh and Co appear to be creating legitimate space for conservative forces like the Aam Aadmi Party that are notorious for opportunistically playing on the emotions of the distressed masses by staging timely protests at police stations which have compromised investigations and mistreated complainants.

5. A more nuanced critique of legalism requires proper engagement with the historical development of laws, of legal categories like individual subject-hood, and of the contradictions within the form of the law that necessitates its further unfolding. An engagement of this kind allows us to comprehend how interventions, like that of the progressive women’s movement, are historically significant and essential. For greater elucidation of this point see the section on bourgeois law in my paper, op cit., endnote 2.

6. It is worth noting that such ‘reclaim the night’ campaigns have little or no participation of the working class, especially because they do not envision the kind of equality which has any meaning for working-class men and women – a point explained by me in my reply to Kavita Krishnan, ‘Critiquing Intersectionality, Populism and Gender Disembodied of Class’,,10 June 2013. Hence to say (as Pothik Ghosh does) that these typically middle-class protest gatherings have an “incipient working-class character” is to assume that somewhere the middle-class position is akin/orientate-able to the working-class position – an assumption that I will critically evaluate shortly.

7. Interestingly, Ghosh’s position is one which is echoed by the newly formed Workers’ Socialist Party (WSP), a Trotsky-ite organization. Writing on the anti-rape movement, Rajesh Tyagi from WSP claimed that the anti-capitalist revolution, which his generation had not yet seen, was knocking at the door of Raisina Hill. He argued that the masses were on the verge of uprooting the capitalist state and that the real revolution had already begun. In this light, he argued that with the masses at the verge of revolution, the call for reforms would only work towards strengthening the class rule of the elites. While many Indian activists saw middle-class presence and dominance at protest venues, Tyagi projected mass mobilization of the working class in a movement that had arisen against the “concentrated expression of ‘capital’” and against the “shackles of old, inert, bureaucratic mass organizations” of reformists, Maoists and Stalinists. This exaggerated account (obviously aimed at an international audience unaware of WSP’s fringe presence in the anti-rape movement or any movement for that matter), did not end here as Tyagi went on to claim that WSP’s proposed program of “disbanding the corrupt and brute police and organization of youth militias…drew immense support from the youth and students”. See, Rajesh Tyagi (2012), ‘The Lessons of December Uprising and Our Tasks’, 27 December.

8. Ghosh’s piece on the Delhi gang-rape revolves around an implicit deployment of Trotsky’s line of permanent revolution. This position is actually redundant in today’s social context as the capitalist mode of production is dominant and the Indian bourgeoisie is far from weak, and so is able to influence the model of development in the country. Permanent revolution has never been considered relevant by the majority of communist revolutionaries because it unnecessarily collapses the distinction between the bourgeois and socialist revolutions by assuming that prevailing discontent and its concomitant forms of mobilization around democratic demands invariably unfold into a series of revolutions that culminate in the proletariat accomplishing its final task. By arguing for the need to make a distinction between  bourgeois-democratic movements and socialist-influenced mass upsurges, I do not lend support to the view of a formulistic, stage-wise transition from the bourgeois to the socialist revolution. In fact, the distinction between the two cannot be seen as locked into two distinct historical phases as if a Chinese Wall existed between them. This distinction is not particularly chronological but logical. The transition to the socialist revolution actually depends on the working class successfully asserting its hegemony over mass upsurges created in the process of further unfolding of the bourgeois revolution. In other words, the transition from the bourgeois to the socialist revolution is a product of the alignment of different classes, and is an outcome of the working class’ ability to become the leading force in such alignments and to make not just an autonomous intervention but one which facilitates a new beginning for all. For Radical Notes’ avowal of the otherwise discredited Trostky-ite line, also see Bhumika Chauhan (2011), ‘A Review of ‘The Politics of Combined and Uneven Development: The Theory of Permanent Revolution’ on Radical Notes. Also see Georg Lukács, (1970), Lenin: A Study in the Unity of His Thought (London: New Left Books). Here Lukács discusses how Marx’s assertion of a distinction between the bourgeois and socialist revolution is one of his greatest theoretical contributions. According to Marx, the distinction between the bourgeois and socialist revolution is essential for politically differentiating between the socialist revolution that goes beyond capitalism, and what can be seen as a struggle within capitalism against feudal remnants or can be seen as a competitive struggle to gain benefits within the system. For Marx’s position, see Karl Marx (1977) [1848], ‘The Bourgeoisie and the Counter-Revolution’, in Karl Marx and Friedrick Engels, Collected Works, vol. 8 (Moscow: Progress Publishers).

9. Frederick Engels (1979) [1851-52], Revolution and Counter Revolution in Germany, in Collected Works, vol. 11 (Moscow: Progress Publishers), p. 85-86.

10. In the ensuing debate on rape and women’s oppression, I have used the term middle class and petty bourgeoisie interchangeably.

11. A typical right wing deviation includes the uncritical absorption of a petty-bourgeois inspired slogan like ‘reclaim the night’, which apart from its vagueness is extremely problematic for the hedonism it legitimizes in the name of ‘freedom’ – a concern I have detailed in my paper ‘Critiquing Intersectionality, Populism and Gender Disembodied of Class’, op. cit. endnote 6. In contrast to such vague demands for the ‘freedom to be reckless’ are certain concrete (legal) demands for greater accountability of the bourgeois state.

12. For a general critique of (mainstream) sociology from the Marxist point of view, see Göran Therborn (1976), Science, Class and Sociology: On the Formation of Sociology and Historical Materialism (London: New Left Books).

13. The problem with Paresh and Co’s approach to domestic labour (and even to gender) as category of analysis is their tendency to reduce it to redundancy. Unlike Marxism that is conscious of the fact that the categories we use to know about the reality are dynamic and changing, Paresh and Co fail to engage with constant state of flux in which the social reality exists, and hence do not come to use the category of household work critically, i.e. in its dynamic form. Importantly, Marx in many of his writings and correspondences argued that, “…categories are no more eternal than the relations they express. They are historical and transitory”. See Marx’s Letter to Annenkov, 28 December 1846, Appendix to The Poverty of Philosophy (Moscow: Progress Publishers).

14. See, Mariarosa Dalla Costa (1972), ‘Women and the Subversion of the Community’, reprinted in “Care Work” and the Commons, edited by Camille Barbagallo and Silvia Federici (New Delhi: Phoneme, 2012), p. 24.

15. ‘Critiquing Intersectionality, Populism and Gender Disembodied of Class’, op. cit. endnote 6.

16. I have also directly addressed the question of  women’s domestic labour and its role in capitalist exploitation both in a short article that appeared in The Hindu on 1 October 2012, and in a televised panel discussion that was organized on the issue of women being paid an ‘honorarium’ by for the domestic work they performed. See, Programme name: Gender Discourse, Theme: ‘Should Homemakers Get Salary?’, Anchor: Lotty Alaric, Channel: Lok Sabha TV (LSTV), September 2012.

17. With greater liberalization of the economy, the state has been withdrawing from its duty of providing certain social services and subsistence goods at subsidized costs. An apt illustration of this withdrawal is the crumbling state of government-run schools and hospitals, the steady dismantling of the public distribution system (through which cheap grain and subsistence goods are provided to economically weaker sections of society), the privatization of water and electricity processing and supply, the withdrawal of subsidies on essential items like cooking gas, etc. Moreover, even under the banner of numerous ‘well-meaning’ schemes the state continues to shirk the responsibility of providing essential services like adequate government-run childcare centres, more schools and a larger number of hospitals across the country. Ironically, many such ‘welfare’ schemes amount to nothing but informalization of essential social services. For instance, from the time of the sixth plan (1980-85) we can see mention of the fact that the central government was to explicitly use NGOs or rather GONGO, i.e. government organized non-governmental organizations, instead of government agencies, for providing social services to the masses. This sub-letting of state responsibility is based on sheer exploitation of the work force employed as ‘volunteers’ – a practice which has severely affected the quality of the services provided. For example, with informalization of healthcare work, underpaid anganwadi workers (who are supposed to regulate the nutrition and health of children in slums, etc.,) and accredited social health activists/ASHA workers (who are supposed to assist in rural health) have been brought in as stop-gap solutions to address the problem of deteriorating health conditions – in particular, falling nutrition levels in women and children –  which has been brought on by the crumbling state of primary healthcare, the lack of well-equipped hospitals and full-time doctors, among other factors. This informalization of healthcare work and its steady privatization translates into the intense burdening of a large section of women, i.e. in terms of shifting the entire burden of childcare and maintenance of family health on them.

18. If willing, some bourgeois women can even bypass their reproductive role by opting for surrogacy. The growing presence of surrogacy in its unregulated form in India is a source of much worry. Most surrogate mothers are from weak economic backgrounds, are the single earning member of their families (often working as domestic ‘helps’ for rich families) and so come to depend greatly on the maintenance provided by affluent couples who wish to start families. See Himanshi Dhawan (2013), ‘Unregulated surrogacy industry worth over $2bn thrives without legal framework’,, accessed on 19 July 2013.

19. For an exposition of the relationship between an assertive, new urban middle class and recent movements (infested by the fascist form of politics) on the issue of corruption and governance, see Maya John (2011), “Corruption And Class Discontent: The Contours Of Bourgeois Political Forms And State-Formation”,

20. Anne Waldrop (2012), ‘Grandmother, Mother and Daughter: Changing Agency of Indian, Middle-Class Women, 1908-2008’, Modern Asian Studies, vol. 46 (3): 601–38.

21. In the process of asserting their individual choice, many middle-class women so as to sustain an existing lifestyle or to access a better one are practicing hypergamy, i.e. marrying into a higher social status. They are now, particularly in urban areas, progressively opting for marriages outside their communities. Inter-caste marriages are indicative of this trend. However, this practice of hypergamy has put women under tremendous pressure to not simply look attractive, but to look ‘better than the rest’. The graver problem with this particular form of oppression is that it paves the way for a never-ending process of compromises. In order to keep things going so many women end up compromising on various fronts: careers, fulfilling sex, self-respect, etc. It is in this process of maintaining ‘respectable’ matches/relationships that so many middle-class women have come to tolerate bossy boyfriends, domestic violence, unfaithful husbands, etc. See the section ‘Internalizing the Male Gaze and Co-option of Feminism’ in the original paper, op. cit., endnote 2.

22. Interestingly, if the paid domestic ‘help’ was to withdraw her services, even the appearance of happiness, love and respect that middle-class couples parade for each other in public will be impossible to sustain; thus exposing the fragility of their relationships and of the temporary solutions sought by middle-class women when addressing their segmented status.

23. As I have shown earlier, Kavita Krishnan draws an equivalence in discontent, and thereby merely adds to the list of victims in order to account for the difference in the degree of oppression faced – a maneuver which allows her to erase the issue of how capitalism breeds complicity in upper-class women to maintain class hierarchy. Likewise, Paresh and Co also slip into the same quasi-feminist formulation and continue to work with the notion of equivalence in discontent – though oblivious of this slippage. Paresh and Co should check whether their analysis adequately explains the power relations that constitute/contribute to the aforementioned difference in the degree and kind of oppression faced.

24. The kitty-party culture is an appropriate example that comes to mind. Interestingly, it is through kitty parties that many middle-class ‘housewives’ gain access to opportunities both for saving and for making (influential/well-connected) friends and acquaintances, without stepping far outside the boundaries of ‘proper’ female middle-class behaviour. Couple kitties as a recent phenomenon have also become a way in which middle-class couples forge larger networks and contacts through which better employment opportunities, desirable intra-class (and often intra-caste) marriages, admission of the kids into good schools, acculturation of good taste by the family, etc. are consciously pursued. This sharing of contacts, information and money between middle-class women and their families is nothing but status generation and maintenance of middle-class stature.

25. I have in my earlier two papers highlighted the complicit role played by middle-class women in the general oppression of women; be it in terms of exploiting working-class women and children as domestic servants, or in terms of legitimizing patriarchal feminity through uncritical absorption of hyper-femme behaviour and dressing.

26. As a consequence of downplaying the role of class, middle-class women have restricted the resolution to the women’s question within the structure of capitalism. And like it or not, this entire process manifests itself in the growth and espousal of feminism. The characteristic feature of feminism has increasingly become its dis-identification with class. In the west (where this distancing first started aggressively), post World War II witnessed a disturbing convergence of some of the feminist movement’s ideals with the demands of an emerging new form of capitalism—post-Fordist, ‘disorganized’ and transnational. Nancy Fraser in her article on second-wave feminism argues this in extremely compelling terms. She begins with delineating the defining features of second-wave feminism and then goes onto expose the co-option of the movement by new forms of capitalism. Fraser argues that with the growth of neo-liberalism came the transformation of political culture, i.e. claims for justice became increasingly claims for the recognition of identity and difference rather than for redistribution. With this “shift ‘from redistribution to recognition’ came powerful pressures to transform second-wave feminism into a variant of identity politics” (p. 108). See Nancy Fraser (2009), ‘Feminism, Capitalism and the Cunning Of History’, New Left Review, vol. 56 (March-April 2009): 97-117.

27. The tangible material inequalities that nurture the segmented status of middle-class women includes the discriminatory treatment of women professionals in the labour market, the lack of employment, the lack of permanent and secure work contracts – all of which compel a significant number of middle-class women to compromise with the family structure in order to maintain themselves and to secure the future of their dependent children. The role of these external (outside the home) factors is a point I will further discuss in the paper.

28. For elucidation of this particularism of feminism, see the section ‘Class and Its Discontent’ in Class Societies and Sexual Violence: Towards a Marxist Understanding of Rape, op. cit. endnote 2.

29. Use value at a very general level is the usefulness of an item created through purposive labour. In this sense use value is an inalienable property of any useful thing, regardless of the social form of production. However, use value of an item changes with the change in the mode of production. For instance, in commodity production, i.e. production for exchange, use value is the bearer of exchange value that conceals value. In capitalist production, use value is of interest to capitalists only as the bearer of value and surplus value, since the immediate aim of capitalist production consists in extracting profit rather than in satisfying human need. In this particular sense, a commodity appears as a union of two different aspects – use value and exchange value. In its exchange value the commodity commands certain quantities of other commodities in exchange. Women’s domestic labour creates items which husbands consume, along with, of course, other items produced by the market, and this consumption can be seen as sustaining the labour power of husbands rather than creating it partly or entirely. Importantly, capitalists do not pay a husband a wage to be exchanged with the subsistence the husband provides for his wife in lieu of her domestic labour to sustain his labour power. So, it is not an exchange between the wage and labour power producing ‘labour power’. Moreover, the process of exchange creates an equivalence, but no such equivalence can be seen forming between concrete labour performed by women-as-wives in the domestic sphere and similar work that’s performed by a worker in capitalist production. Since different women-as-wives performing different concrete labour and similar work performed in capitalist production is not subject to general equalization of labour, the socially necessary labour time required to do any work is not applicable to women-as-wives performing domestic labour.

30. Susan Himmelweit & Simon Mohun (1977), ‘Domestic Labour and Capital’, Cambridge Journal of Economics, no. 1: 15–31.

31. Op. cit. endnote 2.

32. The problem with protective labour legislations is not they are subject to continuous change (i.e. amendment) and are rarely implemented, but that they are selectively enforced to protect a small segment of workers who constitute the better-paid and more organized force amidst the working class. To elucidate, Chapter VB (section 25K to 25Q) of the Industrial Disputes Act, which prohibits lay-off, retrenchment of workers and closure of an establishment without permission from the appropriate government or such authority, applies only to enterprises which employ 100 or more workers. Workers who have not been employed for a stipulated number of months before the employer’s decision of lay-off, or, are employed as daily-wage labour, do not gain protection under the said clauses of the ID Act. Hence, by granting protection to a certain segment of workers during strikes, unionization, ‘rationalization’ drives and day-to-day functioning of an industrial establishment, the law curbs the possibilities of workers uniting across the shop-floor, and across different establishments on the basis of common discontent. Indeed, through stringent laws for the registration of trade unions – something which ultimately eats into capacity of workers to organize – and also by leaving an entire sea of workers outside the ambit of protective legislation, the bourgeois state creates ample space for the non-implementation of existing labour laws even on workers who otherwise fall within the protected category specified in the law. In this context, protective labour legislation – whether implemented or not – can be seen as pacifying the higher segments of workers in the labour force while severely affecting the most vulnerable segments in the labour market, i.e. contract workers – most of whom are unorganized and of whom a large component are women.

33. According to Marx, the categories of productive and unproductive labour relate to wage-labour alone, and so such categories are irrelevant in the analysis of domestic labour. See Karl Marx (1963), Theories of Surplus Value, vol.1 (Moscow: Progress Publishers), p.152. While I am aware of this fact, I continue to use the term ‘unproductive’ labour for household work, since I wish to imply that a worker’s labour power can be reproduced independently of such domestic labour. Due to the fact that no such intrinsic link exists so as to make the reproduction of labour power dependent on the performance of domestic labour, women’s domestic work should in this sense be seen as unproductive labour.

34. Recently, under the influence of lobbying by domestic and international NGOs, the Ministry and Women and Child Development considered formulating a bill that would make it mandatory for husbands to pay part of their salary as an honorarium to wives for the household work they performed. For more on this, see op. cit. endnote 15.

35. Several comments by Marx and Engels in their correspondences as well as in The Communist Manifesto and other writings show that the Marxian dialectical method paid keen attention to the gender dimension of modern emancipation. How the early Marxist movement consciously engaged with the women’s question is apparent in the writings of important leaders like August Bebel who wrote Women and Socialism (1879) and Engels who provided a more definitive assessment of women’s oppression in Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (1884). Interestingly, apart from international working-class leaders of the Atlantic countries and America, the early Marxist labour movement of Central and Eastern Europe also produced a unique number of women leaders who provided important insights on the women’s question: Angelica Balabanoff, Kata Dalström, Alexandria Kollontai, Anna Kuliscioff, Rosa Luxemburg, Henriette Roland-Holst, Vera Zasulich, Clara Zetkin, E.O. Kabo, Nadezhda Krupskaya, to name a few. It is also worth noting that Marxist social democracy was also the first so-called male political movement to campaign for women’s right to vote.

36. See, E. Preobrazhenskii (1920), ‘Put’k Raskreposheniiu Zhenshchiny’, Kommunistka, vol. 7, p. 19. Quoted in Wendy Z. Goldman (1993), Women, the State and Revolution: Soviet Family Policy and Social Life, 1917-1936 (Cambridge: CUP), p. 6.

37. Karl Marx (1986), Capital, vol. I, part VII, Chapter 23 (Moscow: Progress Publishers), p. 537.

38. Ibid., Part IV, Chapter 15, Section 9: 460

39. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels (1976) [1845-46], The German Ideology, in Collected Works, vol. 5 (Moscow: Progress Publishers), p. 75-76.

40. V.I. Lenin (1966), The Emancipation of Women: From the Writings of V.I. Lenin (New York: International Publishers).

41. See Costa (1972), p. 45, op. cit. endnote 13. On the contrary, see Bina Agarwal’s very dense empirical work where she has shown how by acquiring an independent income outside the home, women’s position within the household changes,, accessed on 27 June 2013.

42. Interestingly Pothik Ghosh has articulated the same assumption when he writes: “the working-class movement would, therefore, do well to realize that the paradigmatic blindness of its dominant tendencies [emphasis added] to this [gendered] dimension of our political-economic reality has yielded a conception of working-class unity that is nothing but the instrumentalization of the everydayness of working-class women by the politics of the male proletariat. That has rendered the latter [emphasis added] the oppressive intermediaries of capital and dominant petty-bourgeois agencies of property-forms vis-à-vis the former”. That actual working-class or Marxist politics (in contrast to economistic, workerist and feminist politics) has produced some of the most convincing expositions of the political economy of women is a fact that ‘radicals’ must learn to retrieve from the labyrinth of working-class experiences rather than merely succumbing to popular misconceptions and vulgar Marxism consciously pumped up by the autonomous women’s movement.

43. Bhumika Chauhan, Ankit Sharma and Paresh Chandra (2013), ‘Anti-Rape Movement: A Horizon beyond Legalism and Sociology’,, accessed on 13 June 2013.

44. In an earlier instance, Paresh Chandra in a pamphlet expressed his doubts about the theoretical understanding and credentials of the founders of the communist movement. He opined “When Marx says ‘working-class’, does he mean only the ‘male, white, industrial proletariat?…” Quoted from ‘More on what continues to ail University Democrats and the Likes!’,

45. Heidi Hartmann (1981), ‘The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism: Towards a More Progressive Union’ in Women and Revolution: The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism, edited by Lydia Sargent (London: Pluto Press). For an exposition of an extreme feminist position, see Christine Delphy (1976), The Main Enemy (Women’s Research and Resource Centre). She considers, like Paresh and Co, that the relations of production are derivative of the relations between the sexes, and in that sense the fight against patriarchy becomes more important and it is by fighting patriarchy we fight capitalism. According to Delphy, the Marxist identification of classes from their places in the production process fails to account for the “specific relations of women to (non-capitalist) production in the home”. It is this “mode of exploitation” arising on the basis of housework that constitutes women as a separate class from men, irrespective of their occupation or their husbands’ class position. In an unequivocal manner she calls for the autonomous mobilization of women against men – the main enemy. Paresh and Co, instead of calling women a separate class, consider all women – irrespective of their occupation, their husbands’ class position and difference in domestic labour performed, call all women part of the working class. Such a formulation comes quite close to Delphy’s paradigm.

46. Jane Humphries (1981), ‘Protective Legislation, the Capitalist State and Working Class Men: The Case of the 1842 Mines Regulation Act’, Feminist Review, vol. 7. Also see, Sara Horrell and Jane Humphries (1992), ‘Old Questions, New Data, and Alternative Perspectives: Families’ Living Standards in the Industrial Revolution’, The Journal of Economic History, vol. 52 (4).

47. For elucidation of this point, see Krantikari Yuva Sangathan’s (KYS) scathing critique of Paresh Chandra’s position in the UCD debate. See section 3: How Marxism Identifies the Position of the Working Class vis-à-vis Identities in the paper “More on what continues to ail University Democrats and the Likes!”, op. cit. endnote 40. In his article which was criticized by KYS, Chandra wrote “The problem of identities is the way it exists in the current conjuncture…all equally [emphasis added] subordinated to the rule of capital”.

48. In an interesting article on the origins of feminism in America, Karen Sacks argues that the industrial working-class women’s movement for economic improvement and equality, the black women’s movement, the white middle-class women’s movement for legal equality, as well as the class tensions between these movements, went into the making of the feminism. Clearly, according to Sacks, although these separate movements seemed to have a specifically “women” orientation (in terms of their reference point, their major political constituency, the immediate beneficiary of their demands, etc.), or (as in the case of working class struggles) a large number of women participants/leaders, they were deeply rooted in class politics and had an unmistakable class content. Sacks, therefore, reveals that while women emerge as a distinct object or agent in the unfolding historical process, this very emergence is attributable to concealed dynamics of class.

49. See, Massimod Angeles, “Preface”, “Care Work” and the Commons, edited by Camille Barbagallo and Silvia Federici (New Delhi: Phoneme, 2012), p. IX. Also see p. 365 for the Interview with Priscilla Gonzalez, conducted by Silvia Federici.

50. Quoted in p. 37 of Eva Kaluzynska (1980), “Wiping the Floor with Theory: A Survey of Writings on Housework”, Feminist Review, vol. 6: 27–54.Kaluzynska is a very sympathetic espouser of the wages for housework campaign.

51. Op. cit. endnote 6.

52. See, Julia and Herman Schwendinger (1983), Rape and Inequality (London: SAGE). In a similar vein, they also argue that more than an expression of a patriarchal dividend, rape conducted by the marginalized section of men is a manifestation of entrenched class inequalities nurtured by capital. Also see James Messerschmidt (1997), Crime as Structured Action: Gender, Race, Class and Crime in the Making (New Delhi: SAGE).

53. Some prominent examples that come to mind include Tata’s acquisition of Corus, Jaguar and Land Rover; Hindalco’s purchase of Novelis; UB Group’s acquisition of the Scottish whisky-maker, Whyte and Mackay; overseas ventures of ONGC Videsh; Nagarjuna Construction Company’s successful bids at tender auctions for reconstruction projects in war-torn countries like Afghanistan and Iraq; and mining ventures – supported aggressively by the Indian state – of several Indian companies in different African countries. It is important to note that the Indian state to buttress Indian capitalist ventures is spending hugely in developmental assistance to various African nations and countries in South-east Asia.

54. See ‘National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS), a 2010 survey by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in USA. It was reported that in America, rape was more common than smoking.

55. More than the traditional upper castes of the zamindar class leading casteist backlash on landless Dalits in villages, it is now middle castes which, having acquired a dominant stature due to their rich peasant status, are perpetrating atrocities on Dalit men and women.

56. The history of anti-rape agitations in our country’s smaller towns and villages have always been against not just a callous, conniving state, but also against the power of dominant castes who are usually the perpetrators of such sexual violence. In sharp contrast, when rapes involving men from the lower classes have occurred in cities, new middle-class women who were, for example, at the forefront of the recent anti-rape movement, have agitated against such sexual violence as if ‘male power’/patriarchy is the lone determinant behind such crimes. So for the first time in the history of anti-rape agitations in this country, the feminist argument of male–female inequality as the sole cause behind sexual violence has received widespread acceptance amongst the new middle class. For details, see section ‘The 16 December Gang-rape: Understanding the Specificities of Urban Rapes’ in the original paper, op. cit. endnote 2.

57. In my original paper I have discussed at length the nature of bourgeois law and the question of rape. See the section ‘Bourgeois Law, Rape and the Importance of Intermediate Demands’, op. cit. endnote 2. My basic contention is that many features of bourgeois law like the individual subject position and individual consent developed well before the women’s movement took root. However, since the given form of bourgeois law, i.e. the complete realization of the individual subject position is yet to fully unfold itself and spread out evenly so as to diminish its internal inconsistencies, the demand of the women’s movement for greater legal reform has emerged as a possibility. In this way, the women’s movement has played an important role in the further unfolding of the bourgeois-democratic revolution. That the women’s movement – hegemonized as it is by the dominant (upper class) section of society – has restricted itself to this role by making legal demands the final demands is, of course, a serious limitation. Moreover, even while certain important reforms like punishment for marital rape, etc. are increasingly being considered by the legal fraternity, the fact remains that despite such laws coming into force in the near future, for many women the freedom from marital rape and unfulfilling sex will remain a mirage due to the absence of economic independence.

58. See the section ‘Internalizing the Male Gaze and Co-option of Feminism’ in the original paper, op. cit., endnote 2 and the paper ‘Critiquing Intersectionality, Populism and Gender Disembodied of Class: A Marxist Reassertion’, op. cit. endnote 6.

59. See the section ‘Internalizing the Male Gaze and the Co-option of Feminism’ in the original paper, op. cit. endnote 2.

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