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Mary Davis, Women and Class, 2008

Mary Davis , Women and Class (third edition), Communist Party of Britain , 2008, ii + 38 pages.
There is a fourth edition : Davis 2020.

About the author

Mary Davis is Professor of Labour History at London Metropolitan University, a member of the University and College Union national executive and the TUC women’s committee. She is also a member of the Communist Party of Britain’s executive committee and the party’s national women’s organiser. Her books include Comrade or Brother? A History of the British Labour Movement 1789-1951 (1993), Sylvia Pankurst: A Life in Radical Politics (1999) and Fashioning a New World: A History of the Woodcraft Folk (2000). Previous editions of Women and Class were published in 1990 and 1999.

P. ii.
Disponible en PDF sur le site Women & Class de Mary Davis.
3 1 Origins of women’s oppression: the Marxist view

A great deal of theoretical and historical work on the woman question has focused on a search for the origins of the oppression of women. The existence in all known societies of a sexual division of labour has led many to assume that, at some point in pre-history, men acquired power over women. The why and how of this varies […].

All such theories are based on the assumption of an inherent competition and conflict between the sexes, and of a biologically determined male aggression and/or female vulnerability. All the evidence, however, points to the opposite. Early human social organisation was highly co-operative and egalitarian. The success of human beings as a species lay in their ability to work and in the co-operative nature of social organisation. Sexual divisions of labour did exist and would certainly have been strongly influenced by the demands and constraints of child rearing.

However, these divisions are not antagonistic. It took a qualitative change in the productive forces (ie., the possibility of the production and accumulation of a surplus) for the social relations to become ones of domination and subordination.

This pamphlet is not concerned with attempting to make a definitive statement about the pre-historical origins of the sexual division of labour, which necessarily involves a fair amount of speculation. It is our view that the oppression of women emerged at the same time as class society; that both class exploitation and female oppression have their origins in the emergence of property relations based on private accumulation of wealth and the appropriation of labour.

P. 3, 1re colonne.

Elle conteste qu’il puisse y avoir une détermination biologique d’un conflit entre les sexes, mais elle admet l’instant d’après une division « certainly […] strongly influenced by the demands and constraints of child rearing ». Elle va y revenir lourdement dans la colonne de droite.

Elle souligne à bon droit l’avantage évolutif d’une organisation sociale coopérative, mais elle vient de faire la confusion entre le caractère éminement social de la production et une société égalitaire. Le capitalisme mondialisé est un exemple d’école d’une production hautement socialisée : il en résulte que le monde est un village ; le moindre produit peut avoir impliqué des millions de travailleurs. Ce n’a pourtant rien de tellement égalitaire.

Elle ne va pas faire de « definitive statement about the pre-historical origins of the sexual division of labour », mais déjà dans la phrase d’après, elle annonce cependant la position dogmatique qu’elle va adopter.

Elle a préjugé d’une préhistoire égalitaire qui se termine avec l’accumulation et l’appropriation de travail. Quand dans la colonne de droite, elle continue avec « a feature common to all known societies », il s’agit sans doute de toutes les sociétés après ce tournant, puisqu’avant, on est supposé être dans l’égalité pour l’essentiel. Là, les femmes font l’expérience d’une « general subordination to their male peers ». Avant, il pouvait y avoir division du travail entre les sexes, mais sans hiérarchisation. Le progrès de la production aurait pu diminuer cette division du travail, mais avec les classes elle augmente au contraire.

The motor of history is the interaction between the productive forces and the relations of production. Within a particular mode of production, as productive forces develop they come into conflict with the production relations to which they originally corresponded. In the course of development, the outmoded production relations inhibit the further development of the productive forces. In the tension which develops, class conflict is heightened with the possibility of social revolution and a qualitative change to a new mode of production.

P. 4, 1re colonne.

J’ai parlé de dogmatisme à propos de ses affirmations sur la préhistoire, qu’elle ne connaît pas. Quand elle est sur un terrain sûr, ses formulations me semblent souvent bonnes. Chez d’autres, on rencontre souvent une formulation mécaniste (dans une conception idéaliste de la contradiction) où la contradiction entre forces productives et relations de production produirait d’elle-même le changement. Ici, elle dit très justement que le changement, possible, vient des acteurs sociaux.