31 October 2012

Patriarchy

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No Woman, No Revolution, Part 8


Patriarchy

In South Africa, in 2012, “Patriarchy” theory is orthodox. It is politically correct, and government ministers and trade union leaders feel free to denounce patriarchy without fear of contradiction.

Patriarchy doctrine says that men have an innate prejudice against women that causes them to treat women badly. This contradicts the other principal orthodoxy related to women, which is Gender theory.

To say that men have an innate prejudice is to attribute to men a characteristic that is not biological. Hence, patriarchy doctrine is prejudice. It is gender bias. Patriarchy doctrine is sexism.

Lindsey German is a renowned leader of the peace movement in Britain. She is the convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, an alliance that involves the Communist Party of Britain as well as Lindsey German’s former organisation (she has now resigned from it), the Socialist Workers’ Party.

Lindsey German rejected the theory of patriarchy more than 30 years ago.

The article attached and linked below is from 1981 but it is not out of date. It will not offend all supporters of patriarchy-theory, because, as German points out, there are many different definitions of the word. But it will upset some, if they read it.

German focuses on the kind of patriarchy-theory that holds that all men benefit from the oppression of all women, where this is taken as a natural, or given, state of affairs.

Lindsey German sets quotations from Karl Marx against these ideas to show that they are not compatible with history.

She shows how the modern conditions of women were not inevitable but arose in the circumstances of capitalism.

“I would argue therefore that not only do men not benefit from women’s work in the family (rather the capitalist system as a whole benefits), but also that it is not true that men and capital are conspiring to stop women having access to economic production,” says German.

“The question the theorists of patriarchy have to answer is this – if capital and men are indeed in alliance why are women not being thrown out of work and replaced by unemployed miners, steelworkers and dockers?” asks German.

German concludes... : “Theories of patriarchy are not in fact theories of women’s liberation. Instead of starting with an assessment of the material position of women in capitalist society, they start with crude biological assessments of the positions of men and women. They point no way forward for women’s liberation.”

...and asks: “Why then have they become so popular?”

She points out that patriarchy-theory “demands theoretical correctness from the few while accepting inaction by the many.” This is exactly the situation in South Africa today, more than 30 years after German wrote her essay.

In the end, only the abolition of class division can do away with the oppression of and discrimination against women.

Those women who would rather not think about class, are the ones who make patriarchy-theory popular.




28 October 2012

The Little Red Book

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No Woman, No Revolution, Part 7a


The Little Red Book

This is about the little book with the red plastic cover, which is not central to this course. But it is part of the history of ideas. According to Wikipedia, it was published in a total printing of 1,055,498,000 copies, in many different languages.

That’s more than a billion.

Chapter 31 is on Women. Among other things it says:

“Unite and take part in production and political activity to improve the economic and political status of women.”

None of Mao’s statements are “gendered”.

Mao correctly places the question of male authority within a class and economic (political economy) context.

Mao’s form of propaganda is reminiscent of the kind that Clara Zetkin advocated: Well-produced, but short, and capable of being read by everybody.




26 October 2012

Gender

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No Woman, No Revolution, Part 7


Gender

Men and women are biologically different, but socially equal.

Any differences that are attributed to men or to women that are not biological are called “Gender”.

Discrimination between people on grounds of gender is wrong.

Opposition to gender-discrimination is not the entirety of women’s concerns. Opposition to gender-discrimination is a “human rights” matter that may be dealt with by law.

Women’s concerns as women go beyond opposition to gender-discrimination. Women should organise as women so as to become a free-willing collective subject that can act positively, and so do more than merely restore prescribed human rights.

Women organised democratically as women, and especially as working women, can be a revolutionary force. It is this revolutionary force of women that the communists need to bring into being.

The establishment of “gender desks” is not sufficient for revolutionary purposes. “Gender desks” can partially, but not completely, restore equal (bourgeois) rights to bourgeois women, but will not succeed in the task of mobilising proletarian women for the overthrow of capitalism, which is the only full emancipation available to them.




21 October 2012

Progressive Women?

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No Woman, No Revolution, Part 6c


Progressive Women?

In relation to the previous text we asked: Is the Progressive Women’s Movement (PWM) supposed to be a subsidiary of the ANC Women’s League, and therefore a junior partner of the ANC? Or is the PWM a wider movement, open to all women, of which the ANCWL is only one part among many? To what extent have the problems and tensions of the FEDSAW period in the 1950s been solved? Or, have those problems not been solved?

The linked download is one document compiled of three documents. They are the PWM Base Document, the PWM Founding Document, and the PWM Declaration of 8 August 2006, from the founding gathering in Mangaung. All three documents were previously downloaded by the CU from a PWM page at the ANCWL web site, where the PWM logo, rather similar to that of the ANCWL, was displayed.

There was, in 2011, a separate PWM web site, at http://pwmsa.org/. On this new PWM web site, it says, among other things:

“The Progressive Women's Movement of South Africa (PWMSA) is a Not-for­Profit Organisation registration number 051-728-NPO, launched in Bloemfontein on the 8th August 2006 to coincide with the 50th Anniversary of the 1956 march of 20 000 South African Women to the Union Buildings to protest against apartheid.

“After extensive discussions, as the ANCWL and Alliance partners we have agreed that a Women's Movement is a broad front of women's organisations, grassroots organisations of all kinds, feminist oriented groups, researchers, faith based organisations, traditional healers, women involved in policy formulation and programmes.

“The Movement was launched to create a broad front for development for the women of South Africa -one that would enable women to speak with one voice to address their concerns using a single platform of action irrespective of race, class, religion, political and social standing.

“To date, membership of the movement comprises more than thirty-five national organisations and institutions that represent civil society, labour, faith-based, political parties, business, arts and culture and professional bodies, non-governmental organisations, political parties, professional bodies and faith based organisations.”

A search of the new site did not reveal the list of the “more than thirty-five national organisations”. Perhaps this vital information will be coming later.

In a previous edition of this course “No Woman, No Revolution”, which has been run a number of times by the Communist University since 2006, we noted that on Thursday, 20 August 2009, the Progressive Women’s Movement’s third-anniversary banquet was featured on the SABC glamour-and-fashion programme, Top Billing. It was a high-society occasion. The President of the Republic was a guest. Our picture is of Jacob Zuma being interviewed by Top Billing during that PWM banquet. We noted that it was not clear who was the leader of the PWM on that occasion.

Now, on the new web site, the names of the Working Committee are given, and a physical address is given at 77 Fox Street, Johannesburg, with other contact details.

The working committee members are: Ms. Baleka Mbete (National Convener; Former Deputy President); Ms. Aziwe Magida; Ms. Gertrude Mtshweni; Dr. Gwen Ramokgopa (Deputy Minister, DoH); Ms. Lulama Nare; Ms. Maria Ntuli (Deputy Minister, DSD); Ms. Sylvia Stephens-Maziya; Ms. Zukiswa Ncitha.

The PWM Base Document says, among other things:

“The ANC and the ANC WL… have held a view that there is a need for some kind of an organic structure that will take up broader issues of women in the South African Society.

“In October 2005 during one of its meetings the National Executive Committee of the Women's League decided it would be ideal if South African women to formalize a Progressive Women's Movement in 2006.

“After extensive discussions, as the ANCWL and Alliance partners we have agreed that a Women's Movement is a broad front of women's organisations, grassroots organisations of all kinds, feminist oriented groups, researchers, faith based organisations, traditional healers, women involved in policy formulation and programmes.

Character of the PWM: Organic - not a formal structure.

Objectives: Unite the women of South Africa in diversity; strengthen the relationship between the government and women's organisations.”

The Base Document therefore confirms that the PWM is an ANC initiative, that it is a combination of women’s organisations, not individuals, that it shall be “organic” and “not a formal structure”, and that it its purpose is to bind the women to the government.

The PWM Foundation Document says, among other things:

“Regular membership of the movement shall be open to any progressive South African women's organisation and formations that work with women that share the values and principles of the PWMSA.

National Steering Committee, Selection and Tenure: National Conference shall identify sectors for representation to the steering committee. After the Conference of the PWMSA the previous committee in conjunction with the newly seconded members will convene a handing over meeting within a period of a month.”

[Steering Committee members are “identified” and “seconded”. This formula is repeated at Provincial level. The word “elect”, or “election”, is never used. Terms are five years (National) and three years (Provincial).]

Powers and Duties of the National Steering Committee: The Steering Committee shall elect a Convenor and assign portfolios and responsibilities to the members of the Steering Committee; They shall carry out and monitor the decisions of the National Conference; They shall coordinate the establishment of Provincial Steering Committees”

Committees: There shall be such other Committee(s) and ad hoc committees, as the Steering Committee may from time to time deem necessary; Each Committee shall have a Coordinator.

“At any National Conference the only business that shall be discussed shall be that which has been specified in the written request lodged by the members concerned, unless the Steering Committee in her discretion otherwise permits.

“The Steering Committee shall have the power to authorise expenditure on behalf of the Movement from time to time for the purposes of furthering the objectives of the Movement in accordance with such terms and conditions as the Member Organisation of the Steering Committee may direct. The monies of the Movement shall be deposited and disbursed in accordance with any Banking Resolution passed by the Steering Committee. Each member shall, on an annual basis pay dues for every five years.”

It appears that in order to be organic and not a formal structure”, the PWM was to be at least as tightly structured as a normal, constitutionally organised democratic body. The requirement to be “not a formal structure” is only attempted in this very formal document to the extent that although there is a Convenor and there are Co-ordinators, there are no Presidents, Chairpersons or Secretaries; that the basis of delegate status at conferences is not spelled out; and that there is selection, and secondment, but there are no elections.

Like FEDSAW in the 1950s, the PWM is not allowed to have a mass individual membership. It only has corporate members. Who they all are, is not yet public information.

There is a desire in some women, and men, to flee from the mass-democratic organisational forms that are normal to the labour movement, of the kind that were championed by other women like the late, great Ray Alexander, for example. The desire to shun such democratic forms of mass organisation has a basis in the conflicted philosophy of feminism. It is related to the contradiction noted by Alexandra Kollontai a century ago, between bourgeois feminism, and working-class politics.




20 October 2012

The Women's National Coalition

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No Woman, No Revolution, Part 6b



The Women's National Coalition

and

The “Women's Charter for Effective Equality”

In the history of women’s organisations in South Africa there have been many attempts to create enduring structures. The table below, compiled from searches on the Internet, lists some 15 of the principal ones.

Another source is a book. Twenty-four years after Cheryl Walker’s 1982 book “Women and Resistance in South Africa”, Shireen Hassim in 2006 produced “Women's Organizations and Democracy in South Africa: Contesting Authority”, published by University of Wisconsin Press. Useful parts of this book can be read through Google Books.

Hassim’s book contains a lot of detail on the way that these and other women’s organisations came about, who was involved, and those relationships and problems that motivated their formation, and those that led to their demise.

FEDTRAW Calendar, 1987

Hassim notes that Walker’s book was well known to important actors during the UDF period, when problems arose that were similar to those that Walker described as existing between the FSAW and the ANC Women’s League in the 1950s.

The table lists six different organisations that were formed between 1981 and 1991, not including the FSAW (Fedsaw), which was also the subject of an attempted revival. These seven attempts, which were not the only ones, corresponded in time with the rise and fall of the United Democratic Front, the UDF.

In addition, the ANC and the SACP were legalised in February, 1990, and the ANC Women’s League was quick to return to the country and to re-establish itself.

Of all these, total eight, organisations, established or re-established in the country between 1981 and 1991, the only one that survives in 2012 is the ANC Women’s League. None of the others survived beyond the early 1990s.

Year
Organisation
Leaders
1918
Bantu Women's League (BWL)
Founded by Charlotte Maxeke
1933
National Council of African Women (NCAW)
First President: Charlotte Maxeke
1943
The ANC officially admits women members
President, A B Xuma
1948
ANC Women's League (ANCWL)
Ida Mtwana, President
1954
Federation of South African Women (FSAW)
Ray Alexander, Dora Tamana, Josie Mphama
1955
Black Sash (Women's Defence of the Constitution League)
Jean Sinclair, Ruth Foley and others
1975
Black Women's Federation
Fatima Meer, Winnie Mandela
1981
The United Women's Organisation (UWO)
Dora Tamana, Mildred Lesia, Amy Thornton
1983
Natal Organisation of Women (NOW)
Phumzile Mlambo, Nozizwe Madlala, Victoria Mxenge
1984
Federation of Transvaal Women (FEDTRAW)
Sister Bernard Ncube, Jessie Duarte
1986
United Women's Congress (UWCO)
From UWO
1987
Federation of South African Women (Fedsaw) re-launch
Cheryl Carolus, Secretary-General
1987
The UDF Women’s Congress
Frances Baard
1991
Women's National Coalition (WNCSA)
Frene Ginwala, Anne Letsepe, convenors
2006
Progressive Women’s Movement (PWMSA)
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Mummy Japhta


The organisation that the attached and linked document relates to is the “Women’s National Coalition”. It was a vehicle for intervention in the CODESA talks and for the creation of a set of demands or suggestions that were used to lobby the ANC prior to the 1994 elections, and then after the elections, as an input to the Constitution-writing process that followed.

The creation of the Women’s National Coalition was driven by Frene Ginwala, who became Speaker of Parliament after the elections, and later by the academic Sheila Meintjes. The structure was more like an NGO (funded from Canada) than a democracy, and the method of collecting a mandate, described in the document as “focus groups”, was a difficulty and a source of acrimonious internal strife, according to Hassim.

The document includes a description found on the Internet, and the Women’s National Coalition’s “Women's Charter for Effective Equality”, taken from the ANC web site. As noted in the document, there is no reference to the original Women’s Charter of 1954, or to the Federation of South African Women that created it, and which organised the women’s march to the Union Buildings in Pretoria on the 9th of August 1956. This conspicuous omission has continued.

In between the mid-1990s when the Women’s National Coalition faded, and 2006, there was no claimant to the status of a national South African women’s organisation.  In 2006 the Progressive Women’s Movement was launched, claiming to fulfil the requirement. Whether it does so, or not, is the matter that is set out for examination in the next item of this part of the course.




19 October 2012

ANC Women’s League

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No Woman, No Revolution, Part 6a


ANC Women’s League

“[The ANC’s] main fear was that, if the FSAW were constituted on the basis of an individual membership, it would compete against the ANCWL to the detriment of the latter. In taking this position, the ANC revealed a degree of ambivalence towards the FSAW that it would never entirely overcome.”

With these words of Cheryl Walker’s, we left the matter of the Federation of South African Women (FSAW or FEDSAW). Now we look at the ANC and its Women’s League, founded in 1948. Women had been admitted to ANC membership for the first time five years earlier, in 1943.

The Short History of the ANCWL on its web site recalls the formation of FEDSAW as the major turning point for the League:

“Organisationally, the Federation of South African Women, formed in 1954 as an umbrella body, helped the ANCWL's activities to spread. It was the first indication that the ANCWL wanted to be involved in improving the lot of women nationally, and not only within their own organisation. Federation brought together [women] from the ANCWL, Coloured People's Organisation, Transvaal and Natal Indian Congress of Democrats.

From the writer’s point of view, the ANC Women’s League’s sense of ownership, verging on entitlement of monopoly, is benign and not problematic. The formation of FEDSAW was a stepping-stone, and FEDSAW’s disappearance was not a problem, if the ANC WL’s rise was a consequence of FEDSAW’s demise, according to this view.

“The impact of women's activities led the male leadership to recognise the potential of the women's struggle. Thus started the integration of women into ANC structures. In 1956 ANCWL President Lilian Ngoyi was elected the first women to join the ANC NEC.”

Lilian Ngoyi was President of both the League and the Federation at that time.

Women had been members of the ANC since 1943. Now, the male leadership “recognised the potential of the women's struggle,” but for what? Did it recognise the potential of FEDSAW to organise something that could be as powerful as the ANC but independent from the ANC? And did they therefore seek to subordinate FEDSAW to the ANC, thereby killing FEDSAW?

Or, did it recognise and exploit the potential of women as a conservative force within the ANC?

Or, did it recognise women as a revolutionary force, and if so, what did the ANC do to maximise the revolutionary potential of the women?

See the document linked below for more of this history, and for relevant points from the current (2003) ANCWL constitution. Here are some of them:

  • The Women's League is based on the policies and principles of the African National Congress.
  • [Members must] Combat propaganda detrimental to the interests of the ANC and defend the policy and programmes of the ANCWL and the ANC;
  • The Women's League is an integral part of the African National Congress and is part of its mobilising machinery.
  • The ANCWL shall receive an annual budget, together with the supplementary grants for specific projects and tasks from the office of the Treasurer General of the ANC.

It is very clear from the above that the ANC WL is intended by the drafters of this constitution to be a handmaiden of the ANC, without autonomy.

In the next session, we will look at the Progressive Women’s Movement (PWM) and ask: Is the PWM supposed to be a subsidiary, or junior partner, of the ANCWL, and therefore of the ANC? Or is it a wider movement, open to all women, of which the ANCWL is only one part? To what extent have the problems and tensions of the FEDSAW period been solved, or have they not been solved? To what extent have those problems re-appeared, in fact, and with greater virulence than before?




18 October 2012

Organised as Working Women

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No Woman, No Revolution, Part 6


Organised as Working Women

We have seen, by working through the readings of Zetkin, Kollontai, Luxemburg, Lenin, the Comintern and the Women’s Charter of the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW; otherwise FSAW), that the class context, and also the South African liberation-movement context, makes the clear understanding of women’s mass organisation very critical. Women’s mass organisation is necessary, but it is not easy. The difficulties come mainly from within the movement.

To sum up: Women are not a separate class, which can be organised against men. Women are not exempt from class struggle, but are as divided by class as men are, and divided into the same classes as men are. Yet women, and working women in particular, do have a common basis for organisation as a distinct and self-conscious mass.

Today’s text (see attached and the link below) is an excerpt from Cheryl Walker’s 1982 book “Women and Resistance in South Africa”. It concerns the position of FEDSAW in relation to the apartheid regime, and also in relation to the African National Congress Women’s League (ANCWL), in the period following FEDSAW’s founding in 1954.

The ANCWL had been founded in 1948; and the ANC was an Africans-only organisation until the 1969 National Conference of the ANC in Morogoro, Tanzania. There was therefore an objective need to organise women on a wider basis than that of the ANCWL. They could have been organised separately, on racial lines, but in fact they chose to organise on non-racial lines.

Among the leaders were Ray Alexander, Dora Tamana, and Josie Mphama.

As we noted, the 1954 formation of FEDSAW, intended as a non-racial women’s movement in South Africa, and the simultaneous adoption of the Women’s Charter, prefigured the Congress of the People and the adoption of the Freedom Charter which happened in the following year, 1955.

All of that was to the good, but it is also clear from Walker’s account that the relationship between FEDSAW and the ANCWL was problematic in the 1950s. It is equally clear that very similar problems continue, more than half a century later, to arise between, for example, the ANCWL and the Progressive Women’s Movement (PWM) that was launched in August 2006. In the 1950s, and again in the 2000s, the question of whether to have individual membership, or not, was at issue. Here is some of what Walker has to say about this:

“There were two alternatives. Either the FSAW could seek its own mass membership or it could base itself on a federal form, acquiring its members indirectly through each of its affiliated member organisations. The matter was not settled at the inaugural conference. A draft constitution proposing the first alternative – a mass, individual membership – was circulated but failed to win overall approval. Ray Alexander, and later the NEC based in Cape Town, supported this constitution, but Ida Mtwana and, it would seem, the ANCWL in the Transvaal, wanted a federal structure.

“In opposing Alexander, Mtwana spoke on behalf of the Transvaal ANCWL, acting, apparently, on the instructions of the provincial ANC. Their main fear was that, if the FSAW were constituted on the basis of an individual membership, it would compete against the ANCWL to the detriment of the latter. In taking this position, the ANC revealed a degree of ambivalence towards the FSAW that it would never entirely overcome. While supporting and welcoming the entry of women into the national liberation movement, it was anxious to retain control over their activities – a control it could exercise effectively over the Women’s League but not so successfully over an independent FSAW.

“At the heart of the debate between these two alternatives there thus lay a matter of central importance – the relationship between the FSAW and ANC; the relationship between the women’s movement and the senior partner in the national liberation movement. The ANC was adamant on the issue and finally, reluctantly, the individual membership group yielded towards the end of 1954. They conceded not because they had been convinced by the other group’s arguments but because they realised that without the support of the ANC, the women’s movement would be isolated from the Congress Alliance.”




14 October 2012

A Constitution

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No Woman, No Revolution, Part 5b


A Constitution

Any mass democratic organisation must have its Constitution. In this course, we are advocating for mass organisation of women, either as women in general or as working women. Such an organisation will have to have a constitution.

Rather than enumerate what a Constitution needs to contain, we here once again follow the rule of the Communist University, which is to use a real book rather than use a “text book”.

In this case we use the South African Communist Party’s Constitution. It is short, and it is complete with sufficient parts which, if suitably adapted, could serve as the model constitution of many different kinds of organisation, including mass organisations. It is exemplary in that way.

We can also note that in the SACP one of the guiding Principles (clause 4.3) is:

“Organise, educate and lead women within the working class, the poor and rural communities in pursuit of the aims of the SACP; and to raise the consciousness of the working class and its allies around the integral and oppressive nature of gender relations within South African capitalism.”

And also that one-third of the Central Committee is supposed to be women.




12 October 2012

To be Ungendered

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No Woman, No Revolution, Part 5a

Wal Hannington

To be Ungendered

The title of the attached document, taken from a 1950 book by Wal Hannington on organisation, is a first-class example of the genderisation of a topic by careless or unconscious use of language.

“Mr Chairman” would seem to be a male. Of course, there is nothing in the book that explicitly states that a Chairperson has to be male.

Game, set and match! Wal Hannington can be found posthumously guilty in the court of Gender, and all his works can be condemned, along with those of countless other writers, especially in the English language, which is, or has in the past been “gendered” in a way that is quite resilient and difficult to avoid. Avoiding “gendered” references of this kind takes a will, and constant effort.

It would be a mistake to throw out Wal Hannington’s work, because in practice it is quite essentially “gender-sensitive”. The book is dedicated to making it possible for anyone to attend meetings without feeling left out, put down, or patronised. It strongly opposes the use of the chair in a patronising way towards the members of the meeting.

The book provides the weapons by which the ordinary members of a meeting are able to intervene and assert themselves in all necessary ways, so as to guide the chairperson, as much as to be guided by the chairperson.

The Chairperson is the main servant of the meeting, and not the boss of the meeting, says Hannington.

One of the common complaints of feminists who would flee from structure, is that formal meetings are oppressive. They can be, but the remedy is not structurelessness. The remedy is to see how the structure can work, and is well designed to work, in a way that promotes fairness and democracy.

What is oppressive about meetings arises from ignorance of the procedure and of the rules of debate. Wal Hannington (who was a major communist leader in his lifetime) made time to create this work so as to help do away with oppressive and submissive behaviour during meetings.

The attached document is a redaction off the most crucial parts of Hannington’s book, as they relate to the most common types of meetings such as Branch meetings of mass democratic organisations.




11 October 2012

Tyranny of Structurelessness

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No Woman, No Revolution, Part 5

Structurelessness: Heterotopic house designed by Alvar Aalto

Tyranny of Structurelessness

As she tells us at the beginning of the attached document, the first version of Jo Freeman’s “Tyranny of Structurelessness” was given as a talk more than 40 years ago, in 1970.

Part of its instant appeal is that it states “the obvious” – things that those of us with even a small amount of experience know very well to be true. For example:

“...there is no such thing as a structureless group.”

Not only is this obvious, but it is also part of scientific knowledge of human society. Humans are social creatures, and live their lives in relation with each other. These relationships always have structure, although the structure of the relationships is constantly changing.

If, as Spinoza and Engels thought, freedom is “the recognition of necessity”, then freedom of relationships, and within relationships, will be greater if their structure is acknowledged, and not denied.

If, as Gramsci thought, all social groups contain their “organic intellectuals”, then some of these may be good and others bad. But the remedy for bad intellectuals is not to pretend that there are no intellectuals. They are there, whether people are conscious of them, or not.

What Jo Freeman shows is that “structurelessness”, as applied in the Women’s Movement, became a screen behind which women who had advantages of class privilege, derived from the generally class-divided society outside, where able to manipulate the other, poorer and working-class women, so as to preserve their hegemony or dictatorship within these feminist circles.

“For everyone to have the opportunity to be involved in a given group and to participate in its activities the structure must be explicit, not implicit,” says Freeman.

Explicit structure means open Rules of Debate, Procedure of Meetings (“Standing Orders”) including notice of meetings, a Constitution, listed membership, minutes, book-keeping, and election of leadership on a periodical basis.

In South Africa, a “Progressive Women’s Movement” (PWM) exists which has no formal structure. Its “Base Document” (not a constitution) says that it is “Organic – not a formal structure”. In practice this means that its decisions are taken by its sponsors, who fund its principal gatherings (so far two in six years) and who maintain it from outside itself, which is done by the ANC Women’s League.

The first, three-paragraph section of Jo Freeman’s essay, called “Formal and Informal Structures”, is the best of the four sections. It “says it all”. The nest three sections are more experiential and discursive. The final section gives some advice on organisation, and one may have different views about the details.

The main thing that organisation is essential for the working-class women, and for the working class in general. Organise or starve! is a good slogan.

In South Africa, the great age of organisation was from the beginning of the 20th century and especially from the founding of the ANC in 1912, up until 1990.

The organisations that still flourish were founded then. Of them, the ANC and the SACP continue to grow, but COSATU is not growing at the same rate, if at all.

In 2003 COSATU adopted its “2015 Plan”, which called for four million members by the time of the 10th COSATU Congress, held in 2009. In fact, the membership at that time had barely reached 2 million, and it was very little changed by the time of the 11th COSATU Congress, which took place three years later in September, 2012.

On the other hand, since 1990, a large number of NGOs have been established, which, calling themselves “civil society”, or “social movements”, hold themselves out as the new representatives of the masses. Whereas they only represent their bourgeois funders and sponsors.

Internationally, the “Occupy” movement is not the first to shoot up on the stony ground of “structurelessness”, only to die away even faster.

What Jo Freeman said, addressing the Women’s Movement forty years or more ago, today remains applicable to all of our activities, and not just to the Women’s Movement.

Conversely, it is clear that much (but not all) of the ideology of the Women’s Movement is only masquerading as feminism, whereas it is actually imported from, and is no different from, the prevailing bourgeois ideology of capitalist society. This is certainly the case with “structurelessness”.

“Structurelessness” has nothing to do with feminism, and everything to do with degenerate “post-modern”, anti-humanist bourgeois philosophy in the service of Imperialism.




5 October 2012

Freedom Charter

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No Woman, No Revolution, Part 4a


Freedom Charter

The Freedom Charter was adopted by five organisations in the Congress of the People on June 26th 1966, one and a half years after the adoption of the Women’s Charter, seven years after the formation of the ANC Women’s League, and twelve years after the admission of women to membership of the ANC in 1943.

Without the prior admission of women to the ANC, the Freedom Charter would have been unimaginable, or else would rightly have been taken as a fraud.

Without mass organisation of the women in the ANC Women’s League and in the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW), the Freedom Charter would hardly have been possible.

The five Freedom Charter signatories were: SACOD, SAIC, SACPO, SACTU and the ANC.

All of them were racially-defined except SACTU, the South African Congress of Trade Unions, which was a federation of trade unions, and non-racial, like . Clearly, and in the light of the content of the Freedom Charter, the entire exercise amounted to a movement away from separation and towards non-racialism.

What does the Freedom Charter say about women in particular?

  • that only a democratic state, based on the will of all the people, can secure to all their birthright without distinction of colour, race, sex or belief;

  • Every man and woman shall have the right to vote for and to stand as a candidate for all bodies which make laws;

  • The rights of the people shall be the same, regardless of race, colour or sex;

  • Men and women of all races shall receive equal pay for equal work;

The Freedom Charter does not:

  • mention Gender

  • mention Patriarchy

  • advocate Structurelessness

The Women’s Charter of 1954 also does not mention these things.

All of the signatories of the Freedom Charter were men. Does this invalidate the Freedom Charter? No, it does not.





4 October 2012

Women’s Charter

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No Woman, No Revolution, Part 4


Women’s Charter

On 17 April 1954, fourteen months before the Freedom Charter was adopted in Kliptown on 16 June 1955, the Federation of South African Women adopted the Women’s Charter (attached, and linked below).

Following on from what we have read in the last three weeks (from Zetkin, Kollontai, Luxemburg, Lenin, and the Comintern), we can see the same thread re-emerging several decades later here in South Africa, as for example in this short passage from the Women’s Charter:

“We women do not form a society separate from the men. There is only one society, and it is made up of both women and men. As women we share the problems and anxieties of our men, and join hands with them to remove social evils and obstacles to progress.”

The Women’s Charter was not directed against men; nor did it hold out women as a separate class of people as compared to the men. It opposed such a separation.

Thus it placed the question of women in the mainstream, and then it went on to say:

“It is our intention to carry out a nation-wide programme of education that will bring home to the men and women of all national groups the realisation that freedom cannot be won for any one section or for the people as a whole as long as we women are kept in bondage.”

It is very sad to read the following, from the women of 55 years ago, knowing that it is still as true today as it was then:

“We know what it is to keep family life going in pondokkies and shanties, or in overcrowded one-room apartments. We know the bitterness of children taken to lawless ways, of daughters becoming unmarried mothers whilst still at school, of boys and girls growing up without education, training or jobs at a living wage.”

On the question of forms of organisation of women, a matter to which the CU will return tomorrow, the Women’s Charter as such has little to say, except for the following items from the list of demands:

  • For the removal of all laws that restrict free movement, that prevent or hinder the right of free association and activity in democratic organisations, and the right to participate in the work of these organisations.
  • To build and strengthen women's sections in the National Liberatory movements, the organisation of women in trade unions, and through the peoples' varied organisation.
  • To co-operate with all other organisations that have similar aims in South Africa as well as throughout the world.

The 1954 Women’s Charter was non-committal on the question of women’s organisation. This was perhaps a sign that the matter was already controversial within the liberation movement. The ANC Women’s League had been founded in 1948; we will see in later sessions that the ANC WL had its way in the 1950s and again in the 1990s and in the 2000s, obstructing the growth of a general women’s democratic mass movement.

The Women’s Charter of 1954 stands as a monument to South African women’s determination to organise independently as women, but this is an aspiration that has yet to be realised.

[The image above is of a 1987 FEDSAW Western Cape poster]



  • A PDF file of the reading text is attached