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.