Women and Class frames women’s oppression as central to the struggle against capitalism and oppression. It is essential reading for all communists and feminists alike.
In this article, Professor Mary Davis introduces the latest edition of her book, Women and Class. Buy your copy here.
The aim of this book is to assert and consolidate communist revolutionary theory and practice in understanding and combatting women’s oppression.
Now, more than ever before, in the wake of post-modern identity politics, we need an approach to the ‘woman question’ which recognises that female oppression is indissolubly linked to the operation and maintenance of the capitalist system; that the fight to end women’s oppression is no mere optional extra, but is an intrinsic and essential part of the struggle for fundamental political, social and economic change.
Communists, building on the rich heritage of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Zetkin and others recognise there can be no question of personal choice, predilection or prejudice in the degree of attention accorded to women’s issues. Communists recognise that all class societies are characterised by the subordination of women. The inequality of women has its roots in the inequalities and antagonisms of all class societies.
To understand the nature of women’s oppression under capitalism and its relation to other forms of oppression, we have to begin at the level of the relations of production with the fact of the economic exploitation of the working class by the ruling class. Specific forms of oppression, most
notably those of women and people of colour, serve to maximise the conditions for that exploitation by dividing and weakening the working class. The problem is that the subjugation of women (and black people) has been historically connected with class society for so long that it has become the accepted natural order of things. The oppressive ideologies sustaining subservience are so culturally rooted that they have passed beyond naked statements of class rule and entered into the very fabric of our lives including language itself. As such the ideologies of both sexism and racism have become universalised and hence disembodied from their class origins. They have thus fulfilled the ultimate goal of ideology – namely to represent the interests of the dominant class as the interests of society as a whole. How else are we to explain the permeation of racist and sexist ideas within the working class and even within the socialist movement? Racism and sexism as material and ideological facts are central to the maintenance of capitalist and pre-capitalist class relations. However this is not to put a narrow economistic interpretation on their force. These are not simply mechanisms for keeping black and women workers in a subordinate position since, as oppressive ideologies, they cut across class boundaries and depend as all ideologies do on their universalism. Hence they impinge on the lives of all black people and women regardless of class and determine society’s perception of race and gender. They operate historically in varying degrees and forms through both the coercive and ideological apparatuses of the state.
The relationship between the economic ‘base’ and the forms of oppression conditioned by it, is not linear or mechanical. ‘Women & Class’ is concerned primarily with women — black and white. The key to understanding the situation of women under capitalism lies in the complex and dynamic
relationship between exploitation and oppression. A full understanding of the relationship between women, exploitation and oppression is vital if we are to rescue the woman question from interest group politics.
The super-exploitation of women as workers and their oppression as women is a fundamental prerequisite for the operation of capitalism – economically, politically and ideologically. In this respect the assertion that the theory of class struggle is outmoded, is as nonsensical as the current ‘non binary’ claim that women are not a biological sex. The mistaken conflation between the ideological construct of gender and the biological fact of sex is inimical to the Marxist analysis of women’s oppression which is the central to the argument of this book.
The question of the status of half the human race is not a matter to be left to the political whim of the moment, it must be rescued from such a fate and placed where it belongs, at the forefront of the struggle for socialism.