Women’s Oppression and Resistance Against Capitalist Violence

Neoliberal capitalism has reproduced and deepened women’s oppression, exploitation and inequality in South Africa. The recently released Living Conditions Survey and Poverty Trends in South Africa report by Statistics South Africa (StatsSA) details the ongoing capitalist violence meted out against women and children.  According to the Poverty Trends report approximately “five out of ten poor South Africans were women (52.7%), while 66.8% of children below the ages of 17 were living in poverty. Households led by black women, as well as people living in the rural areas were the most vulnerable to poverty” (The Daily Vox, 23 August 2017). If we add the everyday violence at a household, community and societal level working class women bear the brunt of gender based violence, exploitation, inequality and oppression.  Injustice is fundamental to capitalist accumulation shaped by the exploitative wage relations. The manifest injustice and barbarism was exemplified recently when seven female workers, one pregnant, of the retail giant Shoprite were reportedly arrested for accepting tips from customers. As one of the arrested women who earns R20, 40 per hour and works on average between 32 and 35 hour a week, attested: “I am the only one working [in the family] so by Thursday my money is up and if a customer gives me a R50, I am going to take it” (The Daily Vox, 16 August 2017).  The selfsame Shoprite that makes billions of rands per annum off the backs of these workers paid its former CEO more than R100 million in salary and bonuses with shares worth R1, 8 billion. Capitalism is a system that produces and reproduces the most inhuman conditions of existence in particular for working class women.

Working class women are not only the most oppressed/exploited social group within society but are also a revolutionary force that is integral to and at the forefront of resistance against the brutality of neoliberal capitalism. Whilst often written out of history, women played a central role during the monumental Marikana mineworkers strike, the farm workers strike, resistance against tribal chieftaincy and mining capital in rural areas as well as in the myriad of service delivery protests.

These struggles in South Africa and beyond are not just against the old exploitative system but they represent a clamouring for a fundamental reorganisation of society. In Rojava, situated in the northern parts of Syria women are the backbone of the Kurdish militia engaged in a war of liberation against the brutal violence of the reactionary “Islamist fascists” in the region. Whatever our disagreements or the limitations we see in this libertarian project that working class women  are the ones who are carrying the torch of emancipation where feminism is at the heart of their liberation struggle. All these different examples point to a long tradition of working class women struggling against patriarchy, gender based violence and capitalism, calling for fundamental change.

A hundred years ago, as a Marxist feminist contends, it was women workers that sparked the 1917 Russian revolution. On 8 March 1917, on International Women’s Day, women workers downed tools and staged a walkout that culminated in a mass strike in Petrograd, forcing Tsar Nicholas II to abdicate.

It is to the most oppressed and exploited layers of society – women workers  and landless peasants – to whom we have to turn if we are serious about the struggle for revolutionary change and the fundamental reorganisation of society. This requires an emancipatory political praxis within the organisations of the oppressed that often, like conveyor belts, carry the existing oppressive social relations within society into their own organisations.

    The Interests of The Women Workers and Landless Peasants Shall Be Paramount!

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