Lenin: Class still matters

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Tue Aug 15 23:22:07 MDT 2000

Capitalism and Female Labour

       Written: April 27, 1913
       First Published: Pravda No. 102, May 5, 1913
       Source: The Emancipation of Women: From the Writings of V.I.
       Publisher: International Publishers
       Transcribed and HTML Markup: Sally Ryan

Modern capitalist society is the hiding place of numerous cases of
poverty and oppression that are not immediately visible. The scattered
families of middle class people, artisans, factory workers, clerks and
the lower civil servants, are indescribably poor and barely make ends
meet in the best of times. Millions and millions of women in such
families live (or rather drag out an existence) as household slaves,
striving with a desperate daily effort to feed and clothe their families
on a few coppers, economising in everything except their own labour.

It is from among these women that the capitalists are most eager to
engage workers who work at home and who are prepared for a monstrously
low wage to "earn" an extra crust of bread for themselves and their
families. It is from among them that the capitalists of all countries
(like the slave owners of antiquity and the feudal lords of the Middle
Ages) choose any number of concubines at the most "favourable" price. No
"moral indignation" (hypocritical in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred)
about prostitution can do anything to prevent this commerce in women's
bodies; as long as wage slavery exists, prostitution must inevitably
continue. Throughout the history of society all the oppressed and
exploited classes have always been compelled (their exploitation
consists in this) to hand over to the oppressors, first, their unpaid
labour and, secondly, their women to be the concubines of the "masters".

Slavery, feudalism and capitalism are alike in this respect. Only the
form of the exploitation changes, the exploitation remains.

In Paris, the world capital, the centre of civilisation, an exhibition
is now being held of the work of "exploited women workers employed in
their homes".

Every exhibit bears a ticket showing how much the woman working at home
received for making it and how much she could earn per day and per hour.

How does this work out? A woman working at home cannot earn more than
one and a quarter francs, i.e., 50 kopeks, on any article. Most of the
jobs pay wages that are immeasurably lower. Take lampshades, for
instance-four kopeks a dozen. Or paper bags at 15 kopeks a thousand
giving a wage of six kopeks an hour.

And then there are little toys with ribbons, etc.-two and a half kopeks
an hour; artificial flowers that bring in two or three kopeks an hour;
and men's and women's underclothes--from two to six kopeks an hour. And
so on ad infinitum.

Our workers' associations and trade unions should organise a similar
"exhibition". It will not produce the tremendous profits obtained by
bourgeois-organised exhibitions. An exhibition of proletarian women's
poverty and want mill bring benefits of another kind--it will help wage
slaves, both men and women, to realise their condition, to take a look
at their own "lives" and think about how to deliver themselves from this
eternal oppression of poverty, want, prostitution and other humiliations
suffered by the poor.

Women and Marxism - Lenin Index | Lenin Works Archive


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