Why is the Marxist Labour Theory of Value Inadequate for Feminist Goals?

The world of work, the relationship between capital and labour, and the nature of exploitation has interested feminists for a long time. They have been concerned with the idea that labour is seen as central to the value of a commodity. This is mainly because of the fact that different types of the labour performed by women have not been given value.


Marxism has its own complex terminology for the analysis of capitalism and labour's critical place within it.  Feminism has both engaged with it and provided its own vocabulary such as the sexual division of labour, social reproduction and more recently notions of the care economy. Feminists have questioned Marxism for:


  • its narrow focus on only particular forms of labour as being the major forms of productive labour. This is especially true of industrial labour and agricultural labour.
  • concentrating on forms of labour for which a wage is paid and which therefore involve a labour market transaction.


Much of the labour performed by women is either considered unproductive or without value because it does not result in the production of commodities for a wage in a market. Feminists have argued that there is an even more hidden mode of production, namely the reproduction of the family.


Mary E John in her article “The Woman Question: Reflections on Feminism and Marxism,” published on 16 December 2017 in the EPW, how Marxist feminism stands in relation to some of the major contemporary challenges in India such as identity politics, caste, sex work and the current phase of exclusionary development.



How is the labour theory of value inadequate for feminist goals? In this feature, we attempt to answer this question using the pointers highlighted by John in her article.


To understand the shortcomings of the labour theory of value, let us break the phrase down to its constituent words: Labour, Theory, and Value.


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What This Means


When we consider the labour theory of value in India, we find that apart from inadequacy in the conceptual definitions of unpaid labour, there is also a lack of consideration for the empirical reality of the Indian market. The author also asserts the need to bring in a feminist lens and the dimension of caste (through practices of untouchability and untouchable labour) when the domestic sphere is under consideration.


Read the article by Mary E John here.

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