28 March 2011

Women’s Power

No Woman, No Revolution, Part 10a

Women’s Power

This post goes with an additional text to the last of the ten parts of our CU Generic Course called “No Woman, No Revolution”. The main text of this part is the compilation of articles on women from Umsebenzi Online that was previously commented upon.

During this course we have looked at the “woman’s question” in a practical way. Especially we have said that it is a revolutionary necessity that the women should be organised en masse in order that they should become a collective “Subject of History”. But we have not closely examined this thing called “Subject of History” during this particular course.

Simply, being a “Subject of History” means having the power to act, as in the revolutionary slogan “Power to the People!” It means being free. It means having “agency”.

The item linked below is “Postmodernism and Hindu Nationalism” by Meera Nanda [pictured]. In this context this piece of writing can help readers to understand how, in a triple context of philosophy, national liberation and feminism, the crucial or pivotal point of struggle is usually exactly this question of agency. Meera Nanda is a secular rational humanist philosopher in general and an expert on Hindu nationalism, bourgeois feminism and anti-humanist postmodernism in particular.

Postmodernist philosophy, reactionary nationalism and mystical feminism all bear down upon the concept of freedom, attempting to crush it. All try to return the people in general and women in particular to the condition of inevitable bondage and victimhood of circumstances.

What is common to all of these aspects, whether in India or in South Africa, is the evacuation of popular agency and the refusal of the mass Subject of History following the liberation struggle, which in the case of both India and South Africa promised precisely this thing - freedom - above all other things.

In India the promise was “Swaraj and in South Africa, “Power to the People”. Independence and national sovereignty were supposed to be inseparable from mass popular agency, and vice versa.

In practice, political independence co-existed with bourgeois dictatorship and neo-colonialism, and these latter factors trumped and negated the mass popular power, including organised women’s power.

Revolutionary organs of people’s power were dismantled. Golden Calves were raised up in place of the slogans of popular power. These substitutes were the slogans of bourgeois nationalism, national mystique, women’s solidarity versus men, and the cult that holds inanimate things (the earth, the environment) to be more valuable than humanity.

In all cases the best remedy will be that of the SACP: Educate, Organise and Mobilise.

This ends the course “No Woman, No Revolution”.  The next post will commence the course on Philosophy and Religion.

Please download and read this text via the following link:

Additional Text:

25 March 2011

Umsebenzi Online on Women

No Woman, No Revolution, Part 10

Umsebenzi Online on Women

Umsebenzi Online is the South African Communist Party’s twice-monthly e-mail newsletter. The Umsebenzi Online archive is on the SACP web site. You can subscribe to it (free) from the Umsebenzi Online distribution-group web site, or by using the Umsebenzi Online promotion box near the top of the right-hand panel on the Communist University blog, or in the left-hand panel on the SACP web site.

You can use the same promotion box (or this one) to invite anybody to be on the Umsebenzi Online list. Just put an e-mail address in the box and click “Subscribe”. An e-mail will go to that address, inviting the person to click to confirm that the she or he wants to subscribe. It’s quick and convenient.

Umsebenzi Online is the SACP’s authentic voice. It usually carries an article by the elected SACP General Secretary, currently Dr Blade Nzimande.

To complete the picture of the women’s movement that the CU has tried to provide in our ten-part “No Woman, No Revolution” set, the last main document (linked below) consists of four articles published in Umsebenzi Online from the beginning of 2006 to the present.

2006 was the year when the CU did its first “No Woman, No Revolution” series, from February to May of that year, meeting at the Women’s Jail, Constitution Hill. August 2006 was when we saw the launch of the “Progressive Woman’s Movement”, something different and opposite in character from what the Communist University had imagined was needed.

The Communist University is not a constitutional structure of the SACP. It supports the SACP, the ANC, and COSATU. But for pedagogical reasons it must be allowed to speculate, without any prejudice to those organisations.

So here are some speculative theses on the question of women in South Africa:

  • Women, as such, have no interests that are antagonistic to those of men, but women have a common and particular felt experience among themselves, as women, of the oppression that capitalism has brought to their lives.
  • Therefore there is a basis for working women to organise as a mass, by which is meant a small or large number of people who feel a common disadvantage in society, and who in consequence organise themselves together for their collective good.
  • Women’s mass organisations have the same requirement as trade unions and political-vanguard organisations, to be both democratic and centralist. Therefore women’s organisations should have individual membership and branches, hold periodic national congresses, have corporate personality, and have a constitution to ensure democracy.
  • The SACP, as a vanguard political organisation of the working class, is designed to relate to such mass organisations, just as it relates to trade union organisations, and others.
  • As a matter of historical fact, the ANC, through the ANCWL, has on four successive occasions since its founding in 1948, acted to ensure that the above kind of democratic, mass, individual-membership general-purpose women’s movement could not flourish. The ANCWL, under pressure from the ANC, blighted FEDSAW, the UDF women’s structures, and the Women’s National Coalition, and it now blights the Progressive Women’s Movement.
  • The ANC adopted “non-sexism” in the 1980s, and the current South African Constitution is non-sexist, but in practice these provisions mean little as compared to the material non-existence of a mass women’s movement that has membership and democracy, and which is politically aligned to the working class and to the cause of socialism.
  • Very little of the above is discussed in the general public realm. What discussion there may be is often based on unexamined vulgar bourgeois-feminist, eclectic and post-modernist precepts. The situation is, on the face of it, much the same as it was five years ago in mid-2005, when the Communist University began to plan its first “No Woman, No Revolution” series.
  • Yet two very great gains have been made. The one was the election, in December 2007 at Polokwane, of an ANC National Executive Committee of 84 members of which 50% are women. The other was the announcement in 2009 by the SACP GS that the YCLSA has a membership that is more than 50% female.

Please download and read this text via the following link:

Additional Text:

11 March 2011

Origin of Family, Property and State

No Woman, No Revolution, Part 9a

The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State

Evelyn Reed’s 1970 essay “Women - Caste, Class or Oppressed Sex?” and her 1975 full-length book “Woman’s Evolution” built upon Frederick Engels’ work “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State” which had been published in 1884 in the year following the death of Karl Marx.

Our main discussion in this part of the series “No Woman, No Revolution” is around Reed’s essay. Today we follow up with look at Chapter 9 of Engels’ book (“Barbarism and Civilisation”). Both documents are linked below as MS-Word downloads.

Marx had already worked on source material, including Henry Morgan’s 1877 book called “Ancient Society”.  Engels found Marx’s working papers for this project after Marx’s death and at once started to prepare a book from them for publication. (By the time Engels died in 1895, twelve years after Marx, he had also edited and published Volumes 2 and 3 of Marx’s masterpiece, “Capital”, Volume 1 of which had been published by Marx in 1867.)

The particular contribution of “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State” is that it shows the common, interdependent origin of private property and the State, the fall of the women into the oppressive condition which they subsequently continued to suffer, and the institutions of money, writing and law. This revolutionary break was in fact the end of pre-history and the beginning of history, which as Marx and Engels had noted in 1848, was from that time on “a history of class struggles”.

The transition from prehistoric communism took place a long time ago in some parts of the world. In Egypt and Mesopotamia (Iraq) it may have happened more than five thousand years ago. In most other parts it was a much more recent phenomenon. The fall of the women may in some ways still not yet be complete in some places.

The simultaneous nature of the triple catastrophe (property, state and downfall of women) means that the remedy for all three will likewise have to be simultaneous. The urgent abolition or “withering away” of the State is a woman’s issue. The socialist project is a woman’s project.

Communism is a necessity for women. The reversal of the downfall of the women can only be achieved by the simultaneous abolition of property and the State. Likewise, the abolition of property and the State cannot be achieved without the conscious restoration of women to their proper place in human society. All three goals have to be achieved together. The three goals are actually the same goal, and the name of it is communism.

You can safely ignore the first three paragraphs of Chapter 9. These paragraphs are only there to link back to earlier chapters in the book.

From then onwards, what you will find is a virtual history of human society from its beginning right up to modern times.

Please download and read this text via the following link:

Further reading:

10 March 2011

Caste, Class or Sex?

No Woman, No Revolution, Part 9

N.B. This post is one day early. Part 9a will follow tomorrow. Part 10 is scheduled for 27 March 2011

Caste, Class or Sex?

Evelyn Reed is the author of the 1975 book “Woman’s Evolution”. Unfortunately it is not on the Internet. “Women - Caste, Class or Oppressed Sex” (1970), the essay linked below, contains some of the ideas that were included in the longer work. 

Our picture today is of Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, from the Soviet Union, on 16 June 1963.

Reed writes of “the downfall of women” as if it was a single historic event, which, from the point of view of the “metropolitan” or advanced capitalist countries, it appears to be. Of course Reed was aware, like Engels, that there were still contemporary societies existing on earth which had not experienced the full downfall of women. The downfall has in practice been a long cascade, which is not yet at an end.

The downfall of women is real. It corresponds exactly with the arrival of class-divided society, with its institutions of the patriarchal family, private property and state power. This is what Engels expressed so clearly in 1884, following on from the work of Henry Morgan and Karl Marx. Evelyn Reed does not contradict Engels, but her work opened up the story in more detail.

In “Woman’s Evolution” Reed shows how nearly all the productive technologies that humans still use today for basic survival, from horticulture and animal husbandry to pottery, weaving and leatherwork, and including building and the use of fire, originated in the sphere of the women, which was the human settlement itself.

In this short essay, Reed makes the basic case for the historical and materialist view of human life, from which proceeds an integrated understanding of the entire society of men and women together, and the consequent necessity for socialism. After that, she contrasts and compares with some of her contemporary opponents of forty years ago, whose arguments were similar to those of the bourgeois feminists of today in South Africa. Here are some excerpts from the essay:

“Under the clan system of the sisterhood of women and the brotherhood of men there was no more possibility for one sex to dominate the other than there was for one class to exploit another. Women occupied the most eminent position because they were the chief producers of the necessities of life as well as the procreators of new life.”

“Woman’s overthrow went hand in hand with the subjugation of the mass of toiling men to the master class of men.”

“Women, then, have been condemned to their oppressed status by the same social forces and relations which have brought about the oppression of one class by another, one race by another, and one nation by another. It is the capitalist system - the ultimate stage in the development of class society - which is the fundamental source of the degradation and oppression of women.”

“…to say that women form a separate caste or class must logically lead to extremely pessimistic conclusions with regard to the antagonism between the sexes in contrast with the revolutionary optimism of the Marxists. For, unless the two sexes are to be totally separated, or the men liquidated, it would seem that they will have to remain forever at war with each other. As Marxists we have a more realistic and hopeful message. We deny that women’s inferiority was predestined by her biological makeup or has always existed.”

Please download and read this text via the following link:

Further reading:

04 March 2011

Women, Race and Class

No Woman, No Revolution, Part 8

Angela Davis

Women, Race and Class

Angela Davis is well known but hard to summarise. She is certainly a scholar. She is also a holder of the Lenin Peace Prize from the Soviet Union, and she was twice a US Vice-Presidential candidate on behalf of the CPUSA.

This link takes you to an interview that Angela Davis did with Gary Younge of the Guardian (London) in 2007, during a trip which also took her to Johannesburg, as recorded by the CU here.

This link takes you to the Angela Davis page on Wikipedia, where as usual there are more links, including at the bottom of the page.

Chapter 13 from Angela Davis’s 1981 book, Women, Race and Class, linked below, is to a large extent a polemic against the Wages for Housework Movement of that time, led by Mariarosa Dalla Costa in Italy.

Davis tackles the matter of housework first, arguing for a communist solution to the drudgery of child care, domestic cleaning, food preparation, and laundry.

She shows that the current situation of women is historically recent in origin, and that the repression of women coincides in historical development of human society with the appearance of private property, quoting Engels’ “Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State”. Davis reports on her 1973 interaction with the Masai people of Tanzania, where there was still division of labour between the sexes that was “complementary as opposed to hierarchical,” according to Davis.

Davis recounts, in her own way, the nature of the capitalist wages system, where money is only paid for the survival or continued availability of labour power, and nothing at all is paid for the expropriated product of labour. Davis also records aspects of the South African apartheid system of exploitation, which was still in full force at that time.

In her concluding paragraph Davis says: “The only significant steps toward ending domestic slavery have in fact been taken in the existing socialist countries.” In other words, wages for housework is an ineffective gimmick; the real solution to women’s problems in society can only come from changing society.

The Communist University is suggesting that the democratic organisation of women in the same kind of way as workers are organised, so that their organisation is a component of democracy and is not outside of democracy, is the only way that women can form a collective purpose.

In the following session we will look at another past polemic between a partisan of the working class, Evelyn Reed, and the bourgeois anti-socialist feminists who stood opposed to her in the late 1960s.

Please download and read this text via the following link: