Webinar Programme: Forward to Socialism/Socialist Futures (Panel 2)

Convenor: Janet Cherry  

Has the South African development trajectory over the past 30 years germinated the seeds for gender equality in the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) and the struggle for socialism? by Jenny Schreiner, SACP

The late 1980s/early 1990s changes in the socialist world and the unbanning and the negotiations process in South Africa prompted ideological reflection and learning within the South African Communist Party (SACP), as well as the opening of new fronts/sites of struggle in a changed and changing environment. The heightened gender and women’s struggle through the “decade of women” had re-surfaced discourse on the “emancipation of women” through socialist struggle. The experience of the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA)/SACP in organising women, particularly working class women into the SACP, the trade unions, the liberation movement and the mass-based women’s movement became a subject of study, albeit not in the mainstream.

In 1994-5, reflecting on some of the lessons to be learned from the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe and applied to the new opportunities in South Africa to undo patriarchal systems and transform gender relations, SACP gender activists argued that the achievement of socialism with equitable gender relations would be manifested in the care with which the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) was implemented in a gender sensitive way; that economic transformation for political empowerment of women, state policy, and addressing social problems were all key to the achievement of a gender sensitive path; that socialists in the struggle to take forward the NDR must be aware of class relations and within that context gender relations; that national liberation struggles offer a sense of direction in the integration of gender relations into development.

The adoption by the SACP of the “Socialism is the Future - Build It Now” in 1995, a shift from a stagist conceptualising of revolution which had critiqued by socialist gender activists as implying that women’s emancipation might then become the third stage to be waited for, provided a platform for placing the gender struggle as integral to the struggle for socialism.

This paper will reflect on the policy and posture of the African National Congress (ANC) and the government’s development paths, and the posture and organisational approach of the SACP over the past three decades with a view to understanding the impact for the struggle for a socialist future, with sustainable gender equality, national democracy and for building socialism now.

Biographical Sketch – Jenny Schreiner

Jenny Schreiner is a cadre of ANC, uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) and SACP since 1979 to date. She is currently a full time SACP Central Committee (CC) member and serves on the ANC’s Integrity Commission.

Gender activist in student politics, women’s organisations and SACP since early 1970s to date.

Researcher and analyst of theory and history of women’s struggles for social emancipation.

Public service senior manager in intelligence, correctional services, economic development, and women’s departments.

Non-Executive Director on Board of Broadband Infraco, and on Interim Board of Prasa 2018-2019.

Holds a Masters degrees in Sociology from the University of Cape Town (UCT) and Security Studies from the University of Pretoria (UP).

Mother of two young men

In search of a democratic eco-socialist working class politics by Devan Pillay

The South African Communist Party (SACP), has a rich history where it played a pivotal role in ushering a non-racial class politics, in a tension-ridden embrace with the African nationalism of the African National Congress (ANC).  Its "vanguard" role exposed its severe limitations during the post-apartheid era, as the ANC ran roughshod over all its pretensions to build a working-class leadership that would lead the way to an increasingly -ill-defined post-Soviet socialist future. Lacking in all its discourses and practices was any understanding of the ecological dimension to "fossil" capitalism, and the deep appreciation of patriarchy.

The search for a new Left counter-hegemony has to engage firmly with the eco-logic of capitalism, centred around the GDP growth principal. The 21st century has seen the rise of environmental movements, alongside non-class identity struggles, and the general decline of labour movements and their associated political parties.  As global and national inequality increases to unprecedented levels, and as climate change and other environmental threats threaten our very existence -- including new pathogens such as the covid-19 virus -- a new counter-hegemony has to break down the walls between these movements and struggles, and forge alliances across the divides.

The false dichotomies of ‘western’/modernist vs ‘non-western’/post-modern bodies of knowledge need to transcended, if a true counter-hegemonic coalition is to be built.  For example, some ‘decolonialists’, feminists and environmentalists tend to discard the trenchant insights of Marx into the inner logic of Capital, because it is allegedly a product of ‘western’ or patriarchal Enlightenment thinking.  This is just as misguided as those ‘20th century’ Marxist-Leninists who marginalise feminist thinking, or dismiss ancient and indigenous bodies of knowledge as being wholly pre-scientific and therefore value-less (if not harmful). New non-dualistic thinking asserts that all knowledge is produced globally, and symbiotically, and belong to the global community of humankind (even if some regions of the world were more scientifically advanced than others at different periods in history).  This paper will explore this thinking, with reference to concrete struggles around a Green New Deal, eco-feminist participatory-democratic politics and the wellbeing or happiness alternatives - embracing the "necessity of Utopian thinking" invoked by the late Rick Turner.


Devan Pillay is a former political prisoner, and obtained his PhD under the supervision of Harold Wolpe.  He has worked as a writer for the South African Labour Bulletin, an editor of Work in Progress, director of the Social Policy Programme at the University Durban-Westville (UDW – now University of KwaZulu-Natal - UKZN), Head of Research at National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), Director of Policy at Government Communication Information Systems (GCIS) and is currently in the Sociology Dept, Wits University.

The solidarity economy approach in resolving the land question by Mazibuko Jara

For land and agrarian reform to be decisively addressed (including the transformation of the food system), the core approach has to be fundamentally different, based on a transformative and emancipatory political economy logic. Such a framework has to depart fundamentally from the neo-liberalism that has dominated land reform to date. This will require a move away from the prevalent assumptions in the African National Congress (ANC) and government policy formulations that capitalist property relations should persist unchallenged even after widespread land redistribution. The required political economy foundation must inform and shape the detailed provisions of the technical and policy solutions/models required. In other words, the core questions above are primarily political and not technicist. A narrow, apparently “concrete”, technicist modelling approach may end up reinforcing the very same political economy that generated the very questions. It would probably also result in many academic articles and research projects without any concrete relevance to actual land redistribution and the required systemic transformation of society. In other words, a decisive resolution of these essentially political, social and economic questions in practice will not be possible without a transformative approach. In any case, it is not as if the agricultural sector is not facing systemic and structural crises which are often ignored in the public debate. This agrarian crisis requires radical solutions that go to the root of the problem.

 The proposed transformative approach must necessarily include building new institutional capacities in the state for effective land and agrarian reform, sectoral interventions in the agricultural value chain, a conducive macro-economic policy framework, and ensuring sufficient fiscal allocations. All this will require some significant encroachment into the inordinate power of private capital in particular the rolling back and transformation of the market in land and associated agricultural value chain. Further, even the combination of the strategic and the concrete will not be enough to ensure transformative land redistribution without breaking new ground with regards to the centrality of regenerated agency and power of the landless, transformative power and action from below so to speak. Thus, the main approach to land redistribution proposed in this paper combines these three dynamics: a transformative political economy framework, effective policy solutions and mass power. This approach is framed as the solidarity economy approach applied to land redistribution. This solidarity economy approach is about what Ntsholo (2018) describes as being about “the reconstruction of society, about rethinking power and how power is held, by whom and for whom, for what purposes” instead of reducing land redistribution to “a stale process concerned with technicalities around meaning of legal words, and technical possibilities such words grant to society” (Ntsholo, 2018). This paper will integrate the solidarity economy approach with land and agrarian reform.

Emancipatory scholarship and prefigurative strategies for building socialism today by Janet Cherry


This paper takes as a starting point the South African Communist Party (SACP) slogan “Socialism is the Future – Build it Now!” and examines the recent history and the future potential for prefigurative strategies of a communist party in the 21st century. It argues that the imperative of responding to climate change necessitates a rethinking of strategies for building socialism. Building on the legacy of communist intellectuals such as Ruth First, who engaged in emancipatory scholarship in Africa, it argues that the challenge for communist intellectuals is to engage in prefigurative strategies – what is termed in the South African Road to Socialism the ‘rolling back of capitalist relations of production’. The paper critically examines how this programme has been implemented since its adoption, relating the concept of ‘rolling back capitalist relations of production’ to different policies and spheres of society. The paper argues that changes in the forces of production allow for a fundamental and necessary change in social relations of production in an ecosocialist mode of production.

Brief bio

Janet Cherry is a South African socialist activist and academic. She is currently Professor of Development Studies at the Nelson Mandela University (NMU) in Port Elizabeth. She has a PhD in political sociology from Rhodes University (RU). Her main areas of research are sustainable development, political economy of development, democratic participation and social and political history. She has published two books as well as a number of articles and chapters in books on South African history, labour, women’s and social movements, transitional justice and sustainable development. 

“A Feminist-Ecosocialist Future” by Sidney Luckett

Within a ‘systems thinking’ framework and the vision of a participatory feminist-ecosocialist future, the essay will critique some long-held ‘holy cows’ of Marxist-Leninism (M-L) and argue for more relevant versions of these concepts.

I will argue that the following traditional concepts from classical M-L are in need of revision. The notion of class as conceptualised in the classical dialectic between the working and capitalist (bourgeoise) classes needs to be revisited in an era when capital itself is morphing into something which Marx and Lenin would not have recognised. That capital has morphed also renders the ‘Imperialism’ of Marx and Lenin an anachronism. There are contending alternatives to M-L’s imperialism thesis put forward by neo-Marxists; Hardt & Negri’s ‘Empire’ thesis, Amin & Wallerstein’s ‘World-system’ and post/de-coloniality theses.

Secondly, with regard to revolutions and uprisings the vanguardist notion needs to be replaced by a ground-up, mass-based, participatory approach.

Thirdly, an assumption that underlies these concepts, in practice as well as in theory, is the centrality of the state. It is clear that the state is currently ‘withering away’ (Lenin) but not in the way in which Lenin advocated – namely a global order led by the proletariat for the proletariat. The nation-state needs to be re-imagined, especially in the light of the damage done to ecosystems that transcend state boundaries and the growing global concern for ‘environmental justice’, often couched in the narrower, ‘climate justice’.

Revisions and proposals for constructing a feminist-ecosocialist future will be suggested by building on the foundations laid by the Jineolojî (Free Women) Committee of Europe, Sylvia Federici and Abdullah Öcalan as well as by the neo-Marxists Antonio Gramsci, Samir Amin, Partha Chatterjee, Hardt & Negri and Michael Löwy, together with the experiences of anarchists like David Graeber.

The essay concludes with an example of an anti-capitalist, social and political initiative in the Rojava region of Syria founded on three principles: freedom of women, ecological justice and grassroots democracy.


Sid Luckett is a social and environmental justice activist and researcher. During the 1980s he was a leader in the United Democratic Front (UDF) and a member of the James Calata cell of the ANC Western Cape uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) structure. After 1990 his focus turned to research on human/ecological systems (mainly in KwaZulu-Natal). In more recent years his involvement in global environmental and social justice issues found expression in the Kurdish Human Rights Action Group (based in Cape Town). This, together with a passion for documentary photography, has frequently taken him to Lebanon and the Kurdish region of Turkey.