28 January 2011

3CCI gets it wrong

No Woman, No Revolution, Part 3

3CCI gets it wrong

The Third Congress of the Communist International (3CCI), 22 June to 12 July 1921, seems to have had a peculiar flavour to it, if the documents on women from that congress (linked below) are anything to go by.

Whereas the 2CCI of the previous year had shown its awareness of the necessity of democratisation, so as to create a collective “Subject of History” out of the unorganised masses, in 1921 the situation was practically the reverse, at least as far as the women were concerned.

“The III Congress of the Communist International is firmly opposed to any kind of separate women’s associations in the Parties and trade unions, or special women’s organisations.”

Instead, women’s “departments” were to be formed within the communist parties to carry out various prescribed tasks in relation to women, which appeared to consist mainly of telling the women what to do.

It starts with “educating the broad mass of working women in Communist ideas”. This sounds like indoctrination (or “inculcation”) more than educating.

In these theses on work among women, there is a lot that is more general, for example: “The working class must adhere firmly and without hesitation to the tactics outlined by the III International.”

These comrades had become bold on the back of the October Revolution of 1917. They felt entitled, or even duty-bound, to take charge and to send out categorical and detailed orders to the women of the world that must be obeyed strictly and without hesitation.

“It is in the interests of the working class that women are drawn in to the organised ranks of the proletariat as it fights for Communism.”

These comrades had no sense of anything else than “fight”, followed by communism. They had no sense of contradiction between their own prescriptive, dictatorial, unashamedly “top-down” hierarchy of power, and the withering away of the state envisaged by Lenin in The State and Revolution just four years earlier, meaning un-coerced self-management of and by the masses.

The democratic formation of the collective mass Subject of History was not a problem to the delegates of the 3CCI. They would supply the necessary will-power. If that meant the reconstitution of the State, so be it, they thought.

Thus it came to pass that the 3CCI decreed: “…that a special apparatus for conducting work among women is necessary. This apparatus must consist of departments or commissions for work among women, attached to every Party committee at all levels, from the CC of the Party right down to the urban, district or local Party committee. This decision is binding on all Parties in the Communist International.”

Consequently, the document is extremely detailed about what these “departments” are supposed to do.

What we have here is a mirror image of the feared bourgeois-feminist domination of the working women, which is the reason why generalised women’s organisations were not approved of and were effectively banned for communists by the 3CCI.

According to all this, the women will be bossed, one way or another: either by the bourgeois feminists, or by the 3CCI’s “departments”. Nothing in these 3CCI documents speaks of free-willing democratic mass organisation of and for women.

It is clear why and how the women could be left out of the National Democratic Revolutions. A separate study might reveal that the democratic vitality of the soviets as organs of popular power was already waning in the Soviet Union in 1921, and that the independence of trade unions was already under attack (but still being defended by Lenin). The New Economic Policy was coming into being. Contradictory movements were in action at one and the same time.

Can we have a movement for the "Working Women of Africa" today, comrades? Is such a thing possible in the midst of so many contradictions?


[Picture: women workers in the USA]

Please download and read this text via the following link:

21 January 2011

Socialism impossible without the women

No Woman, No Revolution, Part 2

Socialism impossible without the women

If we do not draw women into public activity, into the militia, into political life; if we do not tear women away from the deadening atmosphere of household and kitchen; then it is impossible to secure real freedom, it is impossible even to build democracy, let alone socialism.

The above quote from Lenin [pictured, speaking in the open air in the revolutionary year of 1917] expresses as clearly as can be the full meaning of our series title: “No Woman, No Revolution”.

Yet it was not democracy “in general” of which Lenin wrote. Democracy is an instrument of class struggle, and can never be a substitute for class struggle.

The following words were written by Lenin for the second anniversary of the Great October Revolution (and are included in the downloadable document linked below):

“Let the liars and hypocrites, the dull-witted and blind, the bourgeois and their supporters hoodwink the people with talk about freedom in general, about equality in general, about democracy in general.

“We say to the workers and peasants: Tear the masks from the faces of these liars, open the eyes of these blind ones. Ask them:

“Equality between what sex and what other sex?

“Between what nation and what other nation?

“Between what class and what other class?

“Freedom from what yoke, or from the yoke of what class? Freedom for what class?”

“Down with the liars who are talking of freedom and equality for all, while there is an oppressed sex, while there are oppressor classes, while there is private ownership of capital, of shares, while there are the well-fed with their surplus of bread who keep the hungry in bondage. Not freedom for all, not equality for all, but a fight against the oppressors and exploiters, the abolition of every possibility of oppression and exploitation-that is our slogan!

“Freedom and equality for the oppressed sex!

“Freedom and equality for the workers, for the toiling peasants!

“A fight against the oppressors, a fight against the capitalists, a fight against the profiteering kulaks!

“That is our fighting slogan, that is our proletarian truth, the truth of the struggle against capital, the truth which we flung in the face of the world of capital with its honeyed, hypocritical, pompous phrases about freedom and equality in general, about freedom and equality for all.

Lenin, Soviet Power and the Status of Women, November 1919

In the document linked below you will also find that in September of that year (1919) there was already a “Fourth Moscow City Conference Of Non-Party Working Women”, that was addressed by Lenin (and also by Trotsky).

When Lenin wrote in 1917 - between the two revolutions of that year, and before he had returned to Russia - that “it is impossible even to build democracy, let alone socialism” without the women, he also prefigured the National Democratic Revolution altogether, with the clear implication that democratic class struggle is a prerequisite of socialism.

In the last line of the text for this session, Lenin repeats the “No Woman, No Revolution” message:

The proletariat cannot achieve complete freedom, unless it achieves complete freedom for women.
Lenin, To the Working Women, February 1920

Please download and read this text via the following link:
Lenin on Women, 1919 - 1920 (4097 words, 6 pages)

17 January 2011

No Woman Question? - 2

No Woman, No Revolution, Part 1a

No Woman Question? - 2

Having thus strongly made her case, Kollontai proceeds to discuss “Marriage and the Problem of the Family”. This is where, as Frederick Engels had noted a quarter of a century before Kollontai in his “Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State”, capitalism corresponds to the oppression of women, arising from the ancient history of property, still continuing in the present time.

Engels demonstrated that the form of marriage in any society had always coincided with the relations of production. Kollontai, discussing the work of the bourgeois feminist Ellen Key, comes to the point of asking, in the second of the two following paragraphs: “Does the family wither away?

“Ellen Key’s devotion to the obligations of maternity and the family forces her to give an assurance that the, isolated family unit will continue to exist even in a society transformed along socialist lines. The only change, as she sees it, will be that all the attendant elements of convenience or of material gain will be excluded from the marriage union, which will be concluded according to mutual inclinations, without rituals or formalities — love and marriage will be truly synonymous. But the isolated family unit is the result of the modem individualistic world, with its rat-race, its pressures, its loneliness; the family is a product of the monstrous capitalist system. And yet Key hopes to bequeath the family to socialist society! Blood and kinship ties at present often serve, it is true, as the only support in life, as the only refuge in times of hardship and misfortune. But will they be morally or socially necessary in the future? Key does not answer this question. She has too loving a regard for the “ideal family”, this egoistic unit of the middle bourgeoisie to which the devotees of the bourgeois structure of society look with such reverence.

“But it is not only the talented though erratic Ellen Key who loses her way in the social contradictions. There is probably no other question about which socialists themselves are so little in agreement as the question of marriage and the family. Were we to try and organise a survey among socialists, the results would most probably be very curious. Does the family wither away? or are there grounds for believing that the family disorders of the present are only a transitory crisis? Will the present form of the family be preserved in the future society, or will it be buried with the modem capitalist system? These are questions which might well receive very different answers. ...”

Kollontai answers her own questions, thus:

“…the social influences are so complex and their interactions so diverse that it is impossible to foretell what the relationships of the future, when the whole system has fundamentally been changed, will be like.

“…ritual marriage and the compulsive isolated family are doomed to disappear.

To finish, Kollontai returns to the class question and the conflict of interest between the proletarian and the bourgeois feminists.

Please download and read this text via the following link:

15 January 2011

No Woman Question?

No Woman, No Revolution, Part 1

No Woman Question?

Feminism, particularly in the field of politics, has often worked to the advantage of the bourgeoisie. Examples would be the elevation to leadership of Helen Zille, Margaret Thatcher, Condoleezza Rice, Madeleine Albright and Hilary Clinton.

Agitation identifies a correct requirement that more women be promoted to leadership. But then, at the crucial moment, no female candidate appears, other than the well-prepared female candidate of the reactionaries. A result of that kind is a catastrophe for all, and especially for the women. Part of the remedy is to prepare more young working-class women for leadership, and we are doing so.

In the Umsebenzi Online of 6 August 2009 the SACP General Secretary, Dr Blade Nzimande, also the Minister of Higher Education and Training, wrote that the majority of the membership of the Young Communist League by then was young black women.

This remarkable achievement ranks alongside of the achievement of the 2007 52nd National Conference of the African National Congress (Polokwane), which elected a National Executive Committee that consists of 50% women and 50% men.

There is now a stream of South African women cadres moving forward at an equivalent scale to the men, and their placement in leadership is happening. These achievements are the result of consistent work and determination over many years. They are not regarded as extra, or simply “nice-to-have”. They are necessary building blocks of Socialism.

The proletarian revolution is inconceivable without the involvement of the more than 50% of the population which is female. That is the general circumstance.

The particular situation is that the working-class movement and its allies must continue to be able to find winning female candidates at all levels and must never again be put in the position of seeing a reactionary being elected because she is a woman, only because there is no working-class woman candidate. Feminism alone is not enough.

Alexandra Kollontai understood the limits of feminism very well. In 1908 she wrote: The [bourgeois] feminists seek equality in the framework of the existing class society, in no way do they attack the basis of this society.” (The full document download is linked below). 

“Where, then, is that general ‘woman question’? Where is that unity of tasks and aspirations about which the feminists have so much to say? A sober glance at reality shows that such unity does not and cannot exist,” wrote Kollontai.

“The feminists declare themselves to be on the side of social reform, and some of them even say they are in favour of socialism — in the far distant future, of course — but they are not intending to struggle in the ranks of the working class for the realisation of these aims. The best of them believe, with a naive sincerity, that once the deputies’ seats are within their reach they will be able to cure the social sores which have in their view developed because men, with their inherent egoism, have been masters of the situation. However good the intentions of individual groups of feminists towards the proletariat, whenever the question of class struggle has been posed they have left the battlefield in a fright. They find that they do not wish to interfere in alien causes, and prefer to retire to their bourgeois liberalism which is so comfortably familiar,” says Kollontai.

Kollontai was writing at the dawn of modern feminism, at the time of the “Suffragette” campaigns for votes for women in capitalist countries, which hardly existed at the time. Kollontai published her pamphlet “The Social Basis of the Woman Question” (download linked below) in 1909.

Kollontai saw two camps. In one camp were the feminists, who to Kollontai were bourgeois feminists by definition. In the other camp were women who were proletarian, or partisans of the proletariat. She distinguished between these two camps as follows:

“However apparently radical the demands of the feminists, one must not lose sight of the fact that the feminists cannot, on account of their class position, fight for that fundamental transformation of the contemporary economic and social structure of society without which the liberation of women cannot be complete.

“If in certain circumstances the short-term tasks of women of all classes coincide, the final aims of the two camps, which in the long term determine the direction of the movement and the tactics to be used, differ sharply. While for the feminists the achievement of equal rights with men in the framework of the contemporary capitalist world represents a sufficiently concrete end in itself, equal rights at the present time are, for the proletarian women, only a means of advancing the struggle against the economic slavery of the working class. The feminists see men as the main enemy, for men have unjustly seized all rights and privileges for themselves, leaving women only chains and duties. For them a victory is won when a prerogative previously enjoyed exclusively by the male sex is conceded to the ‘fair sex’.

“Proletarian women have a different attitude. They do not see men as the enemy and the oppressor; on the contrary, they think of men as their comrades, who share with them the drudgery of the daily round and fight with them for a better future. The woman and her male comrade are enslaved by the same social conditions; the same hated chains of capitalism oppress their will and deprive them of the joys and charms of life. It is true that several specific aspects of the contemporary system lie with double weight upon women, as it is also true that the conditions of hired labour sometimes turn working women into competitors and rivals to men. But in these unfavourable situations, the working class knows who is guilty.”

“The working woman is first and foremost a member of the working class.”

Please download and read this text via the following link:

12 January 2011

Introduction to “No Woman, No Revolution”

No Woman, No Revolution, Part 0

Introduction to “No Woman, No Revolution”

1st-Quarter SADTU Political Education Forum Course

International Woman’s Day (8th of March each year) was proposed by Clara Zetkin [pictured above], a contemporary and comrade of Alexandra Kollontai, at the Second International Women's Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1910. The first International Women’s day was observed in 1911. The centenary of that event will take place during this course of ours.

Feminism had a considerable history by that time. In 1910 the campaign for votes for women was at its height in some countries. But the bourgeois feminism of those days was challenged by the revolutionaries, as it still is today. Our new ten-week Political Education series for SADTU is motivated by revolutionary considerations like those of Zetkin and Kollontai, and it is called “No Woman, No Revolution”.

A successful revolution that mobilised only half of the available support would be inconceivable. The half of the population that is female must be as fully involved in any revolution as the men are, or there will be no revolution. Our new series is designed to problematise the question of women as a force in South Africa’s revolution, in the specific conditions pertaining in this year of 2011. It will focus on the necessity of organising women as a mass.

The series follows a roughly chronological sequence, beginning with Alexandra Kollontai in 1909, followed by Lenin, and then Third Comintern Congress (a set-back for women). From there it jumps to the 1950s, the high point of women’s organisation in South Africa; and then to the post-1994 South African situation, with comment on the ANCWL and the Progressive Women’s Movement (PWM).

The series then doubles back to pick up some theoretical reflection from Angela Davis and Evelyn Reed, and a compilation of Umsebenzi Online articles on women between 2006 and 2009.

The argument that runs through this course is that to bring the women into line with the revolutionary cause, the revolutionaries need the same kinds of mass structures that have been organised by and for the working class, such as trade unions.

But the women of South Africa have been influenced by those who have been selling the idea that formal organisation is odiously masculine or patriarchal in nature. This mistake was not made, for example, by great leaders such as Evelyn Reed or Ray Alexander, but it has somehow become influential. Certain women have been able to demobilise their sisters using this mistaken idea. We will follow up on this question.

There is not a great deal of suitable Political Education material about women. In this series of ten, we will mostly have just one text to read for each session. The available narrative in relation to South African women’s organisations (and relative lack of organisations) is not very clear, especially since 1990. One finds that the academic work on women in general that could have been done has not actually been done in most cases.

An exception to this lack of academic work is Meera Nanda’s Postmodernism, Hindu nationalism, and Vedic science (2004). Although it is not about South Africa, this fine essay does cover matters that are crucial to the understanding of South African politics in general and to the question of women in South Africa in particular. It is particularly helpful in respect of the philosophical reversal that happened in India and in South Africa whereby humanism was sometimes abandoned and irrational post-modernism took its place. It is because of this kind of reversal of reason and science that it is possible to conceive of something so peculiarly irrational that it can be called “organic – not a formal structure”.

We will return to this question towards the end of the course. The specific introduction for the first session will follow before 16 January 2011. The text will be Alexandra Kollontai’s “The Social Basis of the Woman Question”.

Three courses running at any one time

SADTU Political Education Forum has a corresponding blog at http://sadtu-pol-ed.blogspot.com/, where these posts can be read by any member of the public, and commented upon there.

Two sister forums are running simultaneous courses. You are welcome to partake, or recommend these courses to friends.

One is the Communist University, with its blog at http://domza.blogspot.com/. The course running there during the first quarter of the year will be “Development, Rural and Urban”.

The other is “CU-Africa”, which has a blog at http://cuafrica.blogspot.com/. The course running there during this quarter will be “Basics”.

Please share these links with friends and comrades.

The regular e-mail postings of this course will roll out from 16 January 2011. A provisional version of the full year’s programme can be accessed here.