Social Scientist. v 13, no. 149-50 (Oct-Nov 1985) p. 95.


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U. KALPAGAM*

Women and the Industrial Reserve Army—A Reappraisal

THE ROLE of the industrial reserve army for capitalist accumulation under the capitalist mode of production is by now well known.' In this note we shall examine the role of women in the industrial reserve army in the context of a labour surplus2 multistructural system3 with a variety of production forms differentiated on the basis of the extent of capitalist development. It is clear that such an examination implies that we emphasise the secular role of the 'industrial reserve army'. Most studies of women's role in the industrial reserve army concern only the cyclical aspect.4 An understanding of the secular role of women in the industrial reserve army is essentially an understanding of the process of female proletarianisation.

Marx and Engel's vision. The following passages from the writtings of Marx and Engels provide us a glimpse of their ideas on female proletarianisation. ^^^^r

In The condition of the working class in England, Engels noted, "....this report testifies to the gradual but sure introduction of the factory system into all branches of industry, recognisable especially by the employment of women and children.... In all directions machinery is being introduced and the last trace of the working-man's independence thus destroyed. In all directions the family is being dissolved by the labour of wife and children, or inverted by the husband's being thrown out of employment and made dependent upon them for bread; everywhere inevitable machinery bestows upon the great capitalist command of the workers with it" (pg 497).

Marx noted in Capital volume 1 that, "In so far as Machinery dispenses with muscular power, it becomes a means of employing labourers of slight muscular strength, and those whose bodily development is incomplete but whose limbs are all the more supple. The labour of women and children, was, therefore, the first thing sought for by capitalists who used machinery. That might substitute for labour and labourers was forthwith changed into a means for increasing the number of wage-labourers by enrolling, under the direct sway of capital, every member of the workman's family, without distinction of age or sex". . . . "Machinery by throwing every member of that family on to the labour market spreads the value of the man's labour power

* Madras Institute of Development Studies, Madras



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