1970s >> 1971 >> no-799-march-1971

Party News: Meetings on South Africa and Womens Liberation

Two meetings of particular interest were held at Westminster Branch recently.

The first on 20 January was a discussion on apartheid opened by Scrape Ntshona, a representative of the Unity Movement of South Africa. The Unity Movement was established in 1943. It adopted a ten-point programme that was mainly designed to win support for the establishment of a non-racial democratic republic in South Africa, and included demands such as universal franchise, freedom of speech and freedom to organise politically and industrially (which are demands a socialist group in South Africa might have to advocate whilst maintaining its separate identity and its opposition to all other parties). Ntshona went on to claim that the “leadership” of the Unity Movement had longer-term objectives including “public ownership of industry”, “redistribution of land” and “democratic control in industry”.

It is clear that a small group within the Unity Movement recognise that some change in economic and social relations is necessary, as well as a change in the mode of government, before the problems of workers can begin to be solved. The change they seek, however, turns out to be little different from the failed national state capitalism of Russia and its successors in China and Cuba. In view of the many similarities in the foreign policies of both America and Russia with regard to Africa which the Unity Movement itself draws attention to, it is surprising that they have not recognised the basic similarity in the economic structure of the two countries.

Ntshona’s views on the vote were rather confused since, while he considered that it was something to be fought for by “non-european” workers in South Africa, he did not (unlike ourselves) see it as a potentially useful weapon in the struggle for the establishment of Socialism. Despite these criticisms it is true that the Unity Movement has made some contribution towards an understanding of the nature of apartheid and perhaps also to the development of some kind of independent working class activity amongst “non-european” workers in South Africa who after all make up the majority of the working class there.

The second discussion on 3 February was opened by two members of the Women’s Liberation Workshop. There was general agreement between them and us on the distorting effect that capitalist society has on the relationship between men and women; and on the particular forms of discrimination against women: the supporting role they are trained to play and accept as wives and mistresses or as nurses, teachers and cleaners and their partial exclusion from other tasks designated as suitable for men; the concentration of working women in lower-paid jobs; the portrayal of women as sexual objects of men in advertising.

Disagreement arose mainly on the questions of whether a separate women-only organisation was necessary and whether Women’s Liberation was in itself a revolutionary force. Our members pointed out that the stated long-term objectives of Women’s Liberation — a full and free relationship between the sexes on the basis of social equality — could only be realised in Socialism, but their immediate demands such as “equal wages” and “free abortion” were more likely to attract support and so make of Women’s Liberation another reformist movement.

To the extent that these immediate demands could be achieved within capitalism — and of course they could be — Women’s Liberation would become a movement for “making women as free as men aren’t”. The speakers explained that their movement, being only two years old, was still at a very formative stage and that few of its members had yet developed any clear idea of the form of society they wish to see established.

M. Ballard