Gender and the National Democratic Revolution

A perspective on the occasion of the 62nd Anniversary of the 1956 Women's March

In his input, Collected Works, Volume 22, Russian Marxist Vladimir Lenin wrote; “So one army lines up in one place and says ‘we are for socialism’ and another, somewhere else says, ‘we are for imperialism’, and that will be a social revolution! … Whoever expects a “pure” social revolution will never live to see it. Such a person pays lip-service to revolution without understanding what revolution is”.

In this narrative, Lenin attempted to show that there is nothing like a pure revolution, at least in Marxist terms. The South African oppression, in historical and current terms, consists of three major questions, namely: 1) gender; 2) race; and 3) class. Through the National Democratic Revolution (NDR), the revolutionary alliance, led by the ANC, seeks to deal with the clashes and interactions of race, gender and class.

The goal of the NDR is therefore to eliminate the gender, class and gender contradictions, and proceeds towards a “united state of people’s power”, and the total obliteration of “exploitation of man by man”.

Like Lenin warned, the revolutionary alliance is aware that there shall be no pure revolution to deal with those contradictions. In this revolution, there shall be no army of white South Africans lining against an army of black South Africans, in a quest to deal with the race question.

Regarding the gender question, there shall not be an army of women lining against another army of men, preparing to confront each other in some “pure revolution”. Equally, there shall not be an army of capitalists lining against an army of the working class, in a tough class revolution.

The only way to properly understand the nature of our revolution, is to appreciate the dialectical forces at play between these different questions of our struggle. A politically conscious activist will attempt to acknowledge the class content of the gender question, the gender content of the class question, the class content of the race question, the race content of the gender question, etcetera.

By making an enquiry of the inter-relationships and interactions between these questions of the revolution, an activist will better appreciate that this is not a simple struggle between Blacks and Whites or women and men. It is a complex struggle towards a society whose content and form is superior to this one.

When one listens to some narrations made by some leaders of the women formations, one realises that a scientific appreciation of the gender struggle, the National Democratic Revolution, and the dialectical relations between gender, class and race, has escaped some of our leaders.

On this occasion of the 62nd anniversary of the 1965 Women’s March, one feels that some leaders are convinced that the gender struggle must be reduced to a futile confrontation between women and men. It shall not form part of a narrow struggle that seeks to isolate whites because of the colour of their skins, or men because they were born differently from women.

Sixty-two years ago, women organised under the banner of the Federation of South African Women, took to the street, to fight against an unjust system, with full appreciation of the relationship between their oppression as women, oppression of Africans in particular and Blacks in general, as well as the repressive regime which enslaved their men in the mines and industries (class question).

I honour the women of 1956 for their bravery and commitment to the struggle for freedom and democracy. Rather than isolate the men, black and white, who were also faced with different forms of oppression, these women became an intrinsic part of the broader revolution.

Today, we are free because of the roles played by these women, and all those who lent a hand towards the revolution. I call on all sections of society, young women in particular, to emulate the women of 1956, and lead the revolution. As the Basotho people say; Basadi ke tau di mesana, or women are lions wearing dresses, further emphasising the important role of women in society.

Like true mothers, women must carry all of us, in their kangaroo pouches and advance towards the next phase of the revolution. Happy Women’s Day to all Women of the World. Let the revolution continue! Victory is certain!

Makhele is an African Marxist and a member of the ANC in Mangaung Region, Free State. He writes in his personal capacity

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