Prepared by the Nagpur Section of the Organising Committee for Sevagram- New Delhi discussion series on working class politics
We do not need deep analytical tools to understand that worldwide women’s situation today is, at best, those of second class citizens and at worst chattel for male rapists. Everywhere, social division of labour between men and women is at the core of women’s subordinate condition and manifests itself in the society through sexual violence, segregation and ideological legitimations of imposed gender roles.
Regarding democratic rights, both in the public and private sphere, women widely remain under rules framed by men. It is difficult for women to escape from the prison house of marriage and prostitution because of their historically subordinated role in the labour force and unwaged position within the ‘family’ or the domestic /reproductive sphere. In a way Capitalism in fact has, in a double movement, widened women’s oppression as well as improved their situation while putting them in the modern factories and other workplaces outside home, enlarging the proletariat and thus the material basis of women’s struggle within ‘family’ and against Capital. At the same time it has been reacting violently to women’s own efforts and struggles towards emancipation since these struggles are an attempt to break the split between productive and reproductive spheres. The Capitalist Mode of Production (CMP) has proven to be able to transform, that is to say, destroy in a negative way the ‘family’, with a higher cost for the women who are left alone with their children.
In advanced capitalist societies (i.e., at the centre of Capital), women have largely been integrated in the wage labour while some partial (and reversible) socialization and small mechanization of domestic labour have been realized and women’s struggles have been pushed towards more “freedom” and “equality” within the CMP – allowing for example working class women not to get married (despite high levels of poverty amongst them) or giving bourgeois women opportunities to run big companies. As workers, women are employed in inferior positions with average wages lower at least by 20% than their male colleagues. As women, a vast majority of women still have to carry the burden of domestic work as well as taking care of children – which means a double day of work for them. Women in capitalist society still have to conform to the male objectification of their body, sexuality and mind. They still face everyday violence inside ‘family’ and outside, in the workplaces and in society in general.
In small towns and in the rural areas (i.e.in the peripheries of capital) women pay a heavy price, both as workers and as women. They are more under the social pressure and economic necessity of getting married – too often with a man they have not chosen – and therefore they are under constant pressure to preserve so-called chastity and family “honour”. They often do not have choice in matters of having children, taking contraceptives or abortion. On a world scale, they are routinely beaten up physically or even murdered on a massive scale – sometimes as soon as they are born. They have less access to education and their financial autonomy is far from being realized.
Women’s subordination already existed in pre-capitalist societies. In fact it has existed from the very beginning of human species, since the first division of labour between men and women anchored itself in the reproduction of the species – and then got consolidated in the “family’.
Within the CMP, women’s exploitation as workers and oppression as women take specific forms. We thus need to give a detailed look at the situation of women at workplaces (education/training, sectors of activity, wages-levels, hierarchies etc.) and in the family (marriage, sexuality, procreation/contraception, domestic work, bringing up children etc.), and also to the phenomenon of interaction between the production and the reproduction in order to fully grasp women’s situation under capitalism. And considering that CMP has not already unified women’s conditions everywhere, a detailed study of the conditions of women in different countries must be undertaken to understand the specific forms of women’s oppression, like in India for instance, where existence of caste adds another dimension to women’s oppression
From a communist perspective, we believe that freedom for women (and for all human beings) won’t be accomplished within the CMP, despite some “positive” changes we may have achieved within this mode of production. We may even say with Inessa Armand:”If women’s liberation is unthinkable without communism, then communism is unthinkable without women’s liberation.” But the solution will not automatically come from Communist revolution because women’s oppression existed even before capitalism. Women, as an oppressed community will have to take up that struggle upon their shoulders in co-operation with their male comrades, and sometimes against them, since men have a tendency to take advantage of women’s subordination. Freedom for women should lead to the emancipation of all.
We invite you in this workshop to discuss the following points:
Day 1: Historical and theoretical background of women’s oppression
– Going back to Marx and Engels’ works, how do we analyze and understand the origins of women’s oppression in the context of “primitive communism” and given the emergence of class societies, with a specific focus on the sexual and social division of labour?
– What are the specificities of the capitalist mode of production regarding women’s oppression and exploitation? Based on Marxist economical categories, what has capitalism done and is still doing to women’s condition in the workplace and in the family structure? What is the relationship between the reproduction of labour-power and the capitalist production of value and surplus-value? In other words, how does the CMP use women workforce (for example as labour in “excess” with an impact on wage levels) and how is the CMP benefited by a ‘separate domestic sphere’ where the reproduction of the labour power is furnished “for free”?
Day 2: Women’s oppression in India and struggles against it
-What is the situation of women in the workplaces and in the family in India? What are the differences and maybe the common experiences between working class, bourgeois and of upper caste women? What is the role of the State in the regulation of the reproductive sphere and maintaining women in an oppressed and exploited condition through legal and economical means? Also, how is CMP benefited by violence against women and how is the State responding to that issue?
-Can we characterize the massive anti-rape movement in India which emerged in 2012 (and still exist sporadically), as a radical democratic movement? If so, what are the opportunities and also the limits of such movements regarding women’s oppression and notably in pressurising the State to take action? Finally, what is to be done in order to end women’s oppression and how can we support women to self-organize on an autonomous and on a class basis?
We invite all activists (men and women) working for women’s liberation and working class emancipation to participate in the discussion at this two-day workshop at Sevagram on 15-16 November, 2014. The discussions will be held at Yatri Nivas, Gandhi Ashram, Sevagram, beginning from 10 am on 15th November and will conclude by 5 pm on 16th November. Those who wish to present papers on the different points of the discussion mentioned above are requested to send them by 15th October 2014.The expenses incurred during the workshop will be shared by all participants like we did in our previous workshops at Sevagram.