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Umsebenzi Online

Volume 8, No. 13, 6 August 2009

In this Issue:


Red Alert

Use Women's Month to intensify the struggle against patriarchy and all forms of chauvinism

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Dear Readers

Due to technical difficulties and fault experienced by our server we where not able to bring you this edition of Umsebenzi On Line yesterday. We sincerely apologise for the late delivery of you favorite on line journal.


Blade Nzimande, General Secretary

This last weekend the SACP celebrated its 88th anniversary of a principled struggle for national liberation and socialism. In our anniversary statement the SACP, amongst other things, reminded the workers and the poor of our country, and indeed all South Africans, about the contribution of the SACP in the struggle against racism and all other forms of oppression and exploitation. In our anniversary statement we, amongst other things, said

"It was Communists in SA, guided initially by our core Marxist principle of internationalist solidarity, who pioneered the traditions of non-racialism which are now a cornerstone of our new democracy... (F)rom its earliest years, the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) actively practised non-racial policies AND non-racial membership. Indeed, for many decades the Communist Party was the ONLY political party in SA that was non-racial in its membership.

"From the earliest years, South African communists also clearly understood that principled non-racialism was not just a question of "liberal" rhetoric about equality - genuine non-racialism in South African conditions required active affirmative action measures - including the consolidation of a black leadership cadre and the empowerment of racially oppressed workers and peasants. These active de-racialisation measures included".

The theory and practice of South Africa's national democratic and socialist revolution

We made this statement in the wake of a (partial, if not tired) resuscitation of an otherwise important debate in the media between Andile Mgxatana and Devan Pillay, on whether it is race or class that is the primary contradiction and main form of social stratification in contemporary South African society. Predictably, Mgxatana argues that race, to the total exclusion of class, is the primary social and political fault-line in South African society today. In his reply Pillay conflates race and class, by projecting them as of equal importance. Both Mgxitana and Pillay are wrong!

Mgxitana consistently approaches the very important issue of the national question in South Africa purely from the standpoint of race - a reflection of the consistent failure by South Africa's black consciousness movement to understand the totality of, and inter-relationship amongst, the main social contradictions in South African society, both in the past and present.

Pillay, in a rather defensive manner, essentially argues that class is as equally important as race in understanding South African society today.

The SACP has for decades now advanced a proper understanding of race and class in South Africa - a perspective that not only remains relevant, but is the only correct way of understanding the totality of social contradictions and challenges facing South African society today. For the SACP it is not whether race or class is the primary contradiction, but it is by understanding the deep interrelationship between these two contradictions that best reveals the social contradictions and political challenges facing South African society.

The SACP has correctly understood that our task is to properly grasp both the class content of race and racism, and the racial (or national) content of the class struggle in South Africa. At the same time, much as the SACP has understood the deep interrelationship between these two contradictions in South African society, the two are not identical. The racial contradiction has been (and still is) the primary (most immediate) contradiction in South Africa, whilst the class contradiction represents the fundamental (determinant) contradiction. It is on the terrain of class analysis that the racial contradiction in South Africa is best understood.

The above understanding and approach to the principal contradictions of South African society did not emerge from an apriori theoretical analysis of the South African revolution, but came through practical and concrete struggles for national liberation and socialism in South African conditions. It has also been the decades of mutual influences between the SACP and the ANC - through concrete struggles against national oppression and class exploitation - that has further enriched our understanding of the South African revolution. In fact it can be argued that without the influence of the SACP's principled non-racial and class perspectives, the ANC could have gone the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) route of a doomed narrow and chauvinistic African nationalism or racial one-sidedness of the black consciousness movement, which have led to the political decimation of both these movements.

Similarly, without the influence of the ANC's progressive nationalist perspectives, the SACP could have easily gone the route of narrow, (race-reductionistic) class struggles similar to those organizations like the Non-European Unity Movement (NEUM) and its contemporary variants, the small and ineffectual ultra-left, highly sectarian movements.

The SACP's approach to women's emancipation and gender equality

We have sought to reflect on the above issues, primarily as an entry point to understand the critical challenges facing the struggle for women's emancipation and gender equality, as we once more, celebrate August as South Africa's women's month.

With the mass struggles of the 1970s and 80s, especially the growth of a working-class women's movement at the time, the SACP's perspectives and struggles began to broaden to concretely incorporate gender inequality as the third key contradiction in South African society. The SACP, and indeed our entire liberation movement, has come to understand the national democratic revolution as the struggle to address and overcome the national, class and gender contradictions in their inter-relationship.

The above means that the struggle for women's emancipation cannot be understood outside of its relationship to the national and class struggles. A one-sided emphasis on gender without understanding the national content (whose principal feature is primarily, but not exclusively, race) of these gender struggles is bound to lose sight of the vast differences and opportunities between black and white women. Similarly an exclusive focus on gender at the expense of its class content is likely to privilege the interests of elite black women at the direct expense, if not on the back of, poor working class black women. In other words, whilst the struggle for gender equality seeks to liberate all women from the yoke of patriarchal oppression, we must not lose sight of the racial and class stratification amongst women themselves. This means that we need to constantly build the capacity of African working class women as part of the leading motive forces in the struggle for the emancipation of women as a whole.

Incidentally, yet very important, it is absolutely essential that as we fight for women's emancipation and against all forms of patriarchy, we must also fight against all forms of chauvinism, including African chauvinism and narrow African nationalism. This struggle must be waged both within the progressive women's movement, within our own broader liberation movement and in South African society as a whole.

It is also important to understand that the relationship between these three contradictions is not static, but changes in different historical periods. Post 1994, whilst there has been a slight narrowing of class differentiation between blacks and whites, there has been a widening of the class gulf within the black communities. There also has been a widening class gap amongst black women, brought about by the simultaneous advancement of black women into senior positions AND the impact of retrenchments and casualisation amongst black working class women.

Communist women to the front: Concrete women's struggles under concrete conditions

The SACP's specific contribution to this year's women's month and beyond must be guided by our current struggles to mitigate the impact of the current global capitalist economic crisis, as black working class women constitute the most vulnerable layer of South African society. It is black working class women who are first to be retrenched, casualised and outsourced as the recession bites.

Through our red forums that are currently underway, it is of utmost importance that the struggles of black working class women are placed at the fore, and to ensure that we deepen black working class women organization as the primary platform for waging the struggle for women's emancipation and gender equality.

The tasks of the SACP therefore is to ensure that all our cadres, especially women communist cadres, need to continue to play a prominent and leading role in current women's struggles, as the only guarantor that the interests of black working class women are at the forefront of consolidating and deepening the struggle against partriarchy.

A key challenge is that of organising women where they are, around the daily things that they do, as casualised labour, as domestic workers, as members of school governing bodies, as church-goers, etc. This requires the strengthening of old platforms of struggle as well as new ones. The SACP also needs to build on the advances made by the YCL the majority of whose membership is young black women.

The SACP also has to intensify its engagement with the government's gender machinery, especially the task of its revitalisation with the establishment of new Women's Ministry. This year's women's month come in the wake of a serious meltdown of the Commission for Gender Equality, and the proposal to merge it with the Human Rights Commission. This requires an active engagement with such incorporation in order to ensure that gender issues are simply not buried in a larger commission. At the same time the SACP must actively engage with the emerging perspectives, programmes and priorities from the Women's Ministry.

It is for the above reason that the SACP's Politbureau has tasked the Central Committee's Gender and Social Transformation Commission to urgently engage with the challenges, new realities and opportunities provided by the establishment of a women's ministry.