Zimbabwe: Cliffites’ Poisoned ‘Victory’

‘No Greater Crime’

“There can be no greater crime than coalition with the bourgeoisie in a period of socialist revolution.”
—Leon Trotsky, 15 July 1939

Events in Zimbabwe appear to be moving toward a head as pressure mounts on populist demagogue Robert Mugabe’s beleaguered Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) government. Mugabe, who spent a decade in prison during the 1960s and early 70s for his role in the 15-year guerrilla struggle against Ian Smith’s white minority regime, easily won election in 1980 as Zimbabwe’s first president. He has remained president ever since.

Two decades ago Mugabe was praised by the Western media as a great statesman. The U.S. and Britain accorded considerable importance to Zimbabwe’s integration into the “free world” as a means of containing Soviet influence in a strategically important region. Mugabe’s officially “Marxist-Leninist” regime carefully honored the terms of the imperialist-brokered 1979 “Lancaster House Agreement” with Smith’s rogue regime. These included safeguarding the lives and property of the white settlers and even agreeing to repay the debts run up by the white supremacists in waging their racist war. Mugabe’s patrons in London and Washington were less scrupulous—a £750 million World Bank “Zimbabwe Development Fund” which was promised to rebuild the country never materialized.

Many things have changed in Zimbabwe since 1979. Mugabe, like Saddam Hussein, lost much of his value to the imperialists with the end of the Cold War. While brutal dictatorships were once prized as champions of the “free world,” they are now regarded as costly and inefficient anachronisms. In the post-Soviet era imperial control can be exercised more flexibly and cheaply through elections in which various sectors of the local elite compete for the job of implementing the requirements of the metropolitan transnationals.

Mugabe’s corrupt and discredited regime succeeded in “Africanizing” the neo-colonial state, but now appears to have run out its string. Zimbabwe’s economy is expected to shrink by ten percent this year. Fifty-five percent of the workforce is unemployed and inflation is over 60 percent and rising as the government desperately attempts to cover shortfalls by printing money. During the past several years popular opposition to ZANU has mushroomed. It is spearheaded by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), an unnatural alliance of black trade unionists and white capitalists actively backed by Britain and the U.S.

‘Eternal Suffering for African People’

Mugabe is still spouting anti-imperialist rhetoric and is one of the International Monetary Fund’s most virulent Third World critics, despite his record of routinely bowing to its dictates at home. In 1991 ZANU accepted an IMF Economic Structural Adjustment Program (ESAP—popularly dubbed “Eternal Suffering for African People”). Advertised as a sure path to economic development and rising living standards, the IMF’s prescriptions are in reality designed to integrate the economies of the neo-colonies into a global division of labor on terms favorable to the banks and multi-national corporations of the “developed” world.

Zimbabwe’s IMF restructuring involved privatization of state-owned enterprises (“parastatals”), lowering corporate and luxury taxes, slashing social spending and removing tariff protection for local manufacturers in order to reorient the economy to the production of a narrow range of export goods. This represented a particularly significant turn for Zimbabwe’s relatively advanced manufacturing sector which, when faced with international sanctions in the mid-1960s:

“suddenly produced its own breakfast cereals, cube sugar, high quality furniture, lollipop sticks, canned asparagus, bird seed, fifteen varieties of hair shampoo, ten different hand cleaners, five lipsticks, seven varieties of swimming pool paints, and ten varieties of pet foods....the number of different products increased from 1,059 in 1967 to 3,837 in 1970....By 1971 it was said that the homes of even high-income whites could be entirely furnished with Rhodesian-made goods.”
Uneven Zimbabwe, Patrick Bond

In Zimbabwe, as in every other neo-colony the IMF has “restructured,” increasing the supply of a few export commodities has tended to depress their prices, while simultaneously deepening the country’s dependency on imperialist finance, increasing social inequality and reducing living standards for the majority. Under ESAP the volume of manufacturing output dropped 40 percent between 1991 and 1995 as real wages also fell:

“The major factors in lowering real wages were soaring inflation and rising unemployment. Inflation ravaged workers, with the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions reporting in 1996 that their members found themselves on average 38% poorer than in 1980 and 40% poorer than in 1990....Adding this to the falling ‘social wage’—thanks largely to new cost recovery policies for health, education and many other social services, as well as the unprecedented interest rates on consumer credit—workers and poor people faced an unprecedented financial crisis during the early 1990s.

“But dramatically lower wages did not, as orthodox theory would suggest, translate into more jobs. Unemployment remained rampant....”

Tax cuts for the wealthy reduced government revenues which produced a rapid rise in the national debt. Mugabe attempted to counter this by slashing public sector spending, which sharply reduced access to healthcare and education (two areas that ZANU had expanded considerably in the early 1980s). Healthcare spending per capita fell 37 percent between 1990 and 1994 while the proportion of the population infected with HIV has soared from 10 percent in 1990 to 25 percent today.

John Peck provided the following summary of the effects of ESAP:

“Having swallowed all these recommended ‘free market’ remedies, Zimbabwe’s situation still deteriorated as its terms of trade plummeted and domestic growth stagnated. Worse yet there was a 20 percent drop in elementary school attendance for girls, 27 percent decline in public visits to hospitals and clinics, 45 percent interest rates for peasant farmers and small entrepreneurs, 50 percent unemployment for high school graduates, 60 percent decline in real wage income over 1980 levels, etc. Due to World Bank/IMF-imposed cutbacks...over 260 rangers [were fired] in 1993, triggering a poaching ‘free-for-all’ of Zimbabwe’s already endangered black rhino population. Land reform has been effectively stalled as the western superpowers and their multilateral loan sharks threaten to hold future credit hostage if private property rights are not respected in Zimbabwe. Political backtracking on revolutionary promises and full blown corruption within the inner circles of President Robert Mugabe’s administration have only exacerbated the situation.”
ZMagazine, September 1998

The powerful Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), previously tightly linked to ZANU, emerged as a major political factor in the mid-1990s when the national leadership lost control of their base as waves of increasingly militant strikes swept the country, culminating in a five-day “stayaway” (general strike) in 1998. The regime initially reacted with brutal police repression, but failed to reestablish control. Faced with growing broad-based popular opposition, Mugabe tacked to the left, imposing price controls on basic food items, raising taxes on luxury imports and forcing businesses to convert their foreign exchange holdings into Zimbabwean dollars. This enraged the IMF, and in November 1999, it sought to destabilize the regime by abruptly suspending all credits, a move soon followed by all the big international banks.

Mugabe had also offended the imperialist godfathers by intervening in the Congo to back Laurent-Désiré Kabila’s regime against rebel insurgents. In exchange for this support (which to date has cost Zimbabwe an estimated US$200 million and involved a third of its armed forces) Kabila gave valuable diamond mining concessions to several companies controlled by ZANU ministers and senior military officers (Africa-Confidential, 26 May 2000).

Mugabe Plays the Land Card

In February 2000, Mugabe attempted to strengthen his grip on power with a referendum on a constitutional “reform” package that included measures to extend his presidency by a decade, allow him to dissolve parliament and ban strikes, and guarantee that members of his entourage would have immunity from future legal prosecution. When it became clear that he was headed toward defeat, Mugabe added a provision for distributing white farmland to landless blacks.

Prior to the British conquest, the indigenous black tribes had over half a million acres under cultivation. In 1890 Cecil Rhodes organized the invasion of the territory now known as Zimbabwe by the British South Africa Company, and by 1902, after crushing native resistance, three-quarters of the best agricultural land had been “legally” expropriated by whites. Today their descendants employ 250,000 black workers on 4,000-odd commercial farms whose produce (chiefly tobacco) accounts for 40 percent of Zimbabwe’s annual export earnings. The millions of land-hungry blacks whose ancestors were driven onto tiny plots in the least fertile and driest regions of the country are left to try to eke out a miserable existence as subsistence farmers.

The issue of access to land remains of vital concern to millions of rural blacks, but Mugabe’s ploy failed because his record of repeatedly breaking similar promises in the past had sapped his credibility with his traditional peasant base. They were well aware that almost all the good land “redistributed” by ZANU in its 20 years in power had gone to Mugabe’s cronies. The referendum results were a humiliating defeat for the government and a huge boost to the opposition.

To regain its base in the countryside ZANU sponsored a series of invasions of white-owned commercial farms. Within weeks of the referendum 1,000 estates were occupied by squatters led by members of the National Liberation War Veterans’ Association and ZANU’s youth brigade. The Movement for Democratic Change immediately condemned these actions and pledged to “respect the rule of law and respect private property.” This provided Mugabe with the issue he needed to regain enough support to win a narrow victory in June’s parliamentary elections. The MDC swept the cities, but ZANU held onto the countryside and retained its majority in parliament.

Mugabe’s threats to expropriate the lands of the white colons (whose grandparents stole it in the first place) were entirely motivated by political expediency. But this did not make them any less alarming for imperialist strategists in London and Washington, who fear that expropriations in Zimbabwe could touch off a similar movement in South Africa (where polls showed support for the land invasions to be higher than in Zimbabwe itself). The reappropriation of land could soon spread to mines and other capitalist property throughout the region.

Rise of the MDC

Perhaps the single most important development in Zimbabwean politics in the past several years has been the white bourgeoisie’s success in controlling the groundswell of popular opposition to the regime touched off by the wave of union struggles in the mid-1990s. Munyaradzi Gwisai, a leading member of Zimbabwe’s International Socialist Organisation (ISO—affiliated with the late Tony Cliff’s Socialist Workers’ Party in Britain [SWP/B]), described how this occurred. In reviewing the rise of mass struggles in the 1990s, he explained that the MDC was created as an alternative to a workers’ party:

“In the labour forums being held in Harare and Bulawayo a minority of workers would call for a party, and the standard response would be, ‘The ZCTU represents all workers from all parties.’ But there were the stayaways of 1998—including the five-day stayaway that was stopped—and the formation of the National Constitutional Assembly [NCA], and also the crisis in the economy. It was then that those around [head of the ZCTU, Morgan] Tsvangirai began to think about it. There was the pressure from below from the workers, but also, and in many ways as a consequence of this, from the post-independence professionals, and this gave confidence to Tsvangirai.”
Socialist Review, September 2000

Gwisai described the role of the petty-bourgeois NCA as the core of what was to become the MDC:

“The NCA was centred around the constitutional question. This brought together the radical students of the late 1980s who were now holding professional jobs—NGO people, lawyers, economists and so forth....I think it was felt that there was a danger of radicalisation of the working class, particularly with [the strike wave of] 1997, and this is how Morgan [Tsvangirai] was then brought in as the figurehead leader of the NCA (without anybody else from the ZCTU). He lent credibility to the NCA, which was very well funded, run by young professionals with a lot of energy. The NCA played a role in delaying, and ultimately in preventing, the formation of a labour party. It became a real force, the other half of the MDC.”

The ISO was banned from the February 1999 “Working People’s Convention” held to organize the developing national political opposition:

“The delegates came from provinces, mainly drawn from ZCTU activists in the regions. But the leadership—in terms of delivering papers, chairing sessions and writing the manifesto—was dominated by the NCA people, liberal and left-liberal academics from the university and one or two business people. Already by then Morgan was pushing for what he called a broad-based party....

“There was a loose leadership from the convention, with each organisation given one representative. But how do you equate the ZCTU with the Zimbabwe Human Rights Lawyers’ Association? This is how middle class control arose. Still, until the official launch of the party in September [1999], the MDC structures were built in the various towns, and these were based on the ZCTU structures. To start with, there were even factory branches. The petty bourgeoisie were non-existent on the ground, especially outside Harare. The entire leadership of the regions was worker-led.”

Yet, when the MDC was launched in September 1999, the working-class activists were pushed aside:

“The regional leaders were assuming that, on the basis of having built the movement since February, they would be in the national leadership. Then, at the rally, a list of people was just announced.”

By the time of its founding congress in January 2000, the MDC claimed a million members—almost ten percent of Zimbabwe’s population. While the MDC membership is overwhelmingly black and working class, its leadership is effectively controlled by white commercial farmers and business people. Tsvangirai is the MDC’s president, while a former ISO leader, Tendai Biti, is the official MDC spokesperson on the land question. It is his job to put a “progressive” spin on the defense of the privileges of the white landowners.

Eddie Cross of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries, the MDC’s Secretary of Economic Affairs, gets credit for the “MDC Privatisation & Outsourcing Policy for Zimbabwe,” which spells out how an MDC government would, “ensure completion of the restructuring and privatisation of parastatals within 24 months.” While promising “new opportunities for Zimbabwean entrepreneurs” the statement also makes it clear that, “foreign strategic investors will be encouraged to bid for a majority stake in the enterprises being privatised.” As a sop to the ZCTU brass, a proposal is also floated to help “trade unions to buy stakes in privatised companies.”

CPGB: Reinventing Menshevism

Gwisai ran on the MDC ticket in Highfield, a working-class suburb of Harare (Zimbabwe’s capital) and a traditional stronghold for radical black nationalist sentiment. He won 73 percent of the vote (a figure matched by many other MDC candidates in Harare). Gwisai is the first member of the International Socialist tendency to be elected to national office anywhere. Yet, in an implicit acknowledgement that the “victory” was badly tainted, the ISO’s mentors in the SWP/B were remarkably reserved about their comrade’s spectacular electoral success.

Others on the left were less circumspect. The penny-ante popular frontists of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), for example, who are currently snuggling up to the British Cliffites in the Socialist Alliance electoral bloc, proclaimed:

“the election of a revolutionary MP [i.e., Gwisai] in last month’s general election in Zimbabwe represents a valuable boost for the working class—not only in that country but worldwide.”
Weekly Worker, 13 July 2000

While conceding that the MDC’s program is “oriented towards international capital,” the CPGB tailists nonetheless insist:

“It was the duty of all revolutionaries to back comrade Gwisai and to give critical support to the other working class MDC candidates.”

Readers of Weekly Worker disturbed by the thought of politically backing the party of the white bourgeoisie won’t find much solace in the CPGB’s “critical” figleaf. A vote is a vote and, for the moment, Zimbabwe’s white elite welcomes the support of any and all “revolutionary” muddleheads.

In the extremely volatile and potentially revolutionary situation existing today in Zimbabwe, the Little England reformists of the CPGB are inordinately concerned with tinkering with the constitutional mechanisms of neo-colonial rule:

“Socialists must demand the abolition of the presidential system and a single-chamber assembly with full powers, consisting of fully elected, recallable representatives.”

The CPGB’s chief propagandist on the question went so far as to explicitly oppose demands for expropriating bourgeois property in Zimbabwe, arguing:

“There are many cases where it is not so simple, where key productive forces in a given industry depend on elements that are physically located outside the country, or are certain to disappear abroad if an attempt is made to simply expropriate them.”
Weekly Worker, 22 June 2000

The “key productive forces” in every capitalist country depend, to one extent or another, on international inputs. British industry, for example, is entirely dependent “on elements that are physically located outside the country.” And British capitalists would certainly make every effort to remove their assets if they feared expropriation. What conclusions does the CPGB draw from that?

To the Leninist program of expropriation, the CPGB cretins counterpose a social-democratic fantasy in which Zimbabwe’s embattled workers somehow obtain lasting “control” of capitalist production:

“The key to all this is workers’ control...as a potential weapon of the working class in countries where the dictatorship of the proletariat has not yet been established....Simple expropriation in such circumstances, on the other hand, on the principle of national autarchy, would simply lead to economic decline, and a decline of the influence of the workers’ state on the workers of the capitalist states concerned.”

The Mensheviks issued similar warnings to the Russian workers in 1917, explaining that if they followed the wicked Bolsheviks and expropriated the capitalists, the result would be economic catastrophe.

Horses and Riders

Leon Trotsky once compared a bloc between workers and capitalists to that between a horse and rider. There is certainly no question about who is riding whom in the MDC. The white capitalists are happy to participate in a party fronted by black trade-union officials, with the “revolutionaries” of the ISO tagging along behind, because they want to use the power of black labor as a battering ram to bring down Mugabe. Once ZANU is out of the way and the bourgeoisie and their allies have secured their grip on the army and police, they will then be in a position to crush the unions at will.

The presence of the top trade-union bureaucrats in the leadership of the MDC helps reassure the rank and file that its blatantly Thatcherite class program will somehow work to their advantage. The “revolutionary” ISO, in turn, provides left cover for the ZCTU bureaucrats, who can point to the presence of “Marxists” on the MDC ticket as evidence that it cannot be so right-wing after all.

Initially the Cliffites tried to skirt the issue of the MDC’s class character by talking vaguely of it as a “movement” of “anti-Mugabe activists” based on the unions:

“Mass opposition has grown steadily during the last four years. Last year anti-Mugabe activists came together to found the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). The MDC is based on the trade union leaders....”
Socialist Worker (Britain), 26 February 2000

To keep a bit of political distance from this “mass opposition,” Socialist Worker included a few observations by a Zimbabwean ISO member:

“Many people hoped this [the MDC] was going to be a workers’ party. It was a step forward which we welcomed. We wanted to push the movement leftwards and make it a forum for left wing ideas. But there are now very serious questions being asked about what the MDC offers. It has worked to attract the support of those capitalists who have not prospered under Mugabe, and has recruited sections of the wealthy white population.”

An accompanying article entitled “Which way for Zimbabwe’s working class?” maintained the same studied naiveté toward the MDC:

“Any serious change requires as a minimum the seizure of land from the big farmers (mostly whites)...and nationalisation of key industries. But the Movement for Democratic Change proposes nothing like this. The MDC would be nothing without the courage of the workers and peasants. But it is not leading them towards real liberation.”

In fact it is leading them toward a crushing defeat, something Socialist Worker deliberately seeks to obscure. Alex Callinicos, who runs much of the SWP/B’s international work, published an article a few days prior to the June election which entirely ignored Gwisai’s candidacy and characterized the MDC as, “a coalition that cuts across the lines of both class and race—from white bosses and farmers...to the trade unionists of ZCTU.” He observed that the MDC had “promised to implement an IMF dictated emergency programme,” and noted the “devastating effect” of earlier IMF reforms, but nevertheless concluded that, “the best outcome this weekend would be an MDC victory” (Socialist Worker, 24 June 2000).

In its post-election analysis, Socialist Worker blandly observed that the MDC’s economic policy “favoured the bosses,” and suggested:

“The MDC could have called for the land occupations to be extended and could have attacked Mugabe for taking 20 years to begin any sort of land reform. Instead it called for ‘law and order’ to be restored and backed the white farmers.”
Socialist Worker, 1 July 2000

If pigs could fly! Socialist Worker also marvelled that:

“The movement’s contradictory nature means its MPs include Munyaradzi Gwisai, on the one side, and Eddie Cross, a former chairman of the industrial employers’ association on the other.”

The MDC is entirely bourgeois, a reality that Gwisai and the MDC’s various other leftist publicists studiously ignore. Instead they imagine (or pretend to imagine) that this capitalist political machine may someday, somehow, turn itself into a vehicle for socialism. The bourgeoisie cannot be tricked, pressured or talked into acting against their own class interests, as the Cliffites well know. In fact the ISO and their mentors in the SWP/B leadership suffer from a different, but related, illusion—the belief that they “have major opportunities to use the MDC,” as Gwisai explained in an interview with the Weekly Worker. Joining the MDC, he said, would enable the ISO:

“to be closer to the working class in the key towns. The danger had been that we would remain on the sidelines.

“Our main reason for working in the MDC was to stay relevant and grow from there. We are a small group, but we hope to influence events where we are organised.”
Weekly Worker, 6 July 2000

The ISO’s activity will indeed “influence events,” but not as they imagine. By helping to channel the anger of Zimbabwe’s black workers at Mugabe into support for the white colons, the ISO is paving the way for reaction. The glib renunciation of the first principle of socialism—the necessity for the political independence of the working class—in order to “stay relevant and grow” demonstrates once again the abyss that separates the International Socialist tendency from the Trotskyist tradition they claim.

From KMT to MDC: Class-Collaboration Means Defeat

The ISO’s participation in the MDC is a replay of the Chinese Communist Party’s disastrous entry in the bourgeois Kuomintang (KMT) in the 1920s, a critical issue in the struggle led by Leon Trotsky against the Stalinist corruption of the Communist International. Trotsky’s description of the “bloc” of the Chinese Communists with the bourgeois Kuomintang at the Eighth Plenum of the Comintern Executive (ECCI) in May 1927 is entirely applicable to the ISO’s dalliance with the MDC:

“If the bourgeoisie leads the oppressed masses of the people under the bourgeois banner, and takes hold of the state power through its leadership, then this is no bloc but the political exploitation of the oppressed masses by the bourgeoisie.”
—"First Speech on the Chinese Question"

While Alex Callinicos et al, following Stalin, imagine that class-collaborationism offers a shortcut to mass influence, Trotsky described it as literally suicidal:

“Such ‘blocs’ abound in the revolutionary as well as the parliamentary history of bourgeois countries: the big bourgeoisie leads the petty bourgeois democrats, the phrasemongers of the national united front, behind it, and the latter, in turn, confuse the workers and drag them along behind the bourgeoisie. When the proletarian ‘tail,’ despite the efforts of the petty bourgeois phrasemongers, begins to stir too violently, the bourgeoisie orders its generals to stamp on it. Then the opportunists observe with an air of profundity that the bourgeoisie has ‘betrayed’ the national cause.”
—"The Chinese Revolution and the Theses of Comrade Stalin," 17 May 1927

Gwisai explained the ISO’s reason for running on the MDC slate:

“After we joined the MDC we felt that we would be able to use the [election] campaign—and then possibly, if we won—as a platform for building a revolutionary alternative.”
Socialist Review, September 2000

Trotsky categorically rejected such notions:

“Communists in a bourgeois government become impotent hostages, if not a direct mask for the preparation of a new blow against the working masses.”
—"Second Speech on the Chinese Question" delivered at the Eighth Plenum of the ECCI

Instead of liquidating into the bourgeois KMT, Trotsky called for a complete break with it and a program of hard class struggle:

“build up your workers’ Soviets, ally them with the peasant Soviets, arm yourselves through the Soviets, draw soldiers’ representatives into the Soviets, shoot the generals who do not recognize the Soviets, shoot the bureaucrats and bourgeois liberals who will organize uprisings against the Soviets. Only through peasants’ and soldiers’ Soviets will you win over the majority of Chiang Kai-Shek’s soldiers to your side.”

The ISO talks about eventually building a “revolutionary alternative” to the MDC, but clearly intends to go along for the ride as long as possible. Gwisai told the Weekly Worker: “Workers feel good about the elections, but the MDC did not win and so the pressure to deliver will not be so high.” He also speculated: “There will be presidential elections in 2002, which will tend to hold the party [i.e., the MDC] together.”

The ISO recognizes that sooner or later the MDC must break apart, and when it inevitably does, they will doubtless claim to have anticipated such a development. But their practical activity is not oriented toward a break with the bourgeoisie, but rather celebrates the breadth of the “anti-Mugabe movement.” In this it is exactly counterposed to:

“The Bolshevik way...[which] consists of an unconditional political and organizational demarcation from the bourgeoisie, of a relentless exposure of the bourgeoisie from the very first steps of the revolution, of a destruction of all petty bourgeois illusions about the united front with the bourgeoisie, of tireless struggle with the bourgeoisie for leadership of the masses....”
—"The Chinese Revolution and the Theses of Comrade Stalin," 17 May 1927

The Cliffites’ orientation to the MDC derives from an entirely different tradition:

“The Menshevik policy in foreseeing the so-called departure of the bourgeoisie is directed towards postponing this moment as long as possible, while the independence of policy and organization of the proletariat is sacrificed to this aim, the workers are instilled with confidence in the progressive rôle of the bourgeoisie and the necessity of political self-restraint is preached.”
—"First Speech on the Chinese Question" delivered at the Eighth Plenum of the ECCI

But the strategy of political adaptation to the “progressive” wing of the capitalists is fatal for the working class:

“Yes, the moment of the departure of the bourgeoisie can thereby be postponed. But this postponement is utilized by the bourgeoisie against the proletariat: It seizes hold of the leadership thanks to its great social advantages, it arms its loyal troops, it prevents the arming of the proletariat, political as well as military, and after it has acquired the upper hand it organizes the counter-revolutionary massacre at the first serious collision.”

In truth the Cliffites’ current policy in Zimbabwe is in many senses worse than Stalin’s in China in the 1920s. For one thing, the KMT stood quantitatively to the left of the imperialist-backed warlords, while the MDC is clearly positioned to the right of ZANU. In China, the working class, while strategically important, constituted only a tiny percentage of the population; but in Zimbabwe today the working class has immensely more social weight, and almost half the population lives in urban areas. Finally, events in China were historically unprecedented. It was only on the basis of this historical experience that Trotsky concluded:

“the general trend of revolutionary development in all backward countries can be determined by the formula of the permanent revolution in the sense definitely imparted to it by the three revolutions in Russia (1905, February 1917, October 1917).”
Transitional Program

The Road to Victory

Both ZANU and the MDC are enemies of Zimbabwe’s embattled workers and peasants. The cynicism of Mugabe’s leftist posturing is clearly exposed by the record of his two decades in power, while the MDC, for its part, is eager to assume the role of taskmaster for the IMF. For Zimbabwe’s poor and working people—both urban and rural—the only chance for a decent life lies through the expropriation of the capitalist parasites.

A key objective for revolutionaries must be to break workers’ illusions in the nationalist demagogy of ZANU and the “democratic” austerity preached by the bourgeois MDC. Only a revolutionary workers’ party committed to a program of uprooting the whole system of neo-colonialism and capitalist exploitation can open a road forward. A key element in this strategy must be to break Mugabe’s grip on his plebeian base by championing the interests of rural proletarians, poor peasants and the unemployed.

Victory cannot be guaranteed, but defeat is certain with the ISO’s policy of class-collaboration. While claiming the mantle of Lenin and Trotsky, the ISO, in fact, stands in the tradition of the “socialism” of the right wing of the Second International—the French “possibilists,” Millerand and Bernstein. Like their opportunist forbearers, the Cliffites are hypnotized by the “reality” of a movement with hundreds of thousands of members, a big apparatus and deputies in parliament. They fear that making any serious criticism of the MDC risks “alienating” the masses who follow it. So the ISO opts for a policy of passive adaptation to the illusions of the workers, covered by paeans to the beauties of the glorious socialist future and declarations of abstract fidelity to a revolutionary tradition they clearly do not consider to be of any practical value.

In Zimbabwe today, as in China three-quarters of a century ago, genuine Marxists are distinguished by their irreconcilable hostility to all wings of the capitalist class:

“The deepening of the agrarian revolution, the immediate seizure of the land by the peasants, will weaken Chiang Kai-Shek on the spot, bring confusion into the ranks of his soldiers, and set the peasant hinterland in motion. There is no other road to victory and there can be none.”
—"The Chinese Revolution and the Theses of Comrade Stalin," 17 May 1927

The policy of political subordination to the MDC is exactly counterposed to this. Whatever the subjective intent of the ISO cadres, the path they have chosen can only deepen the division between rural and urban workers, shore up Mugabe’s grip on the land-hungry peasantry and set up the unions for destruction. Trotsky’s critique of the Stalinized Chinese Communist Party of the late 1920s is fully applicable to the International Socialist Tendency today:

“Chinese Bolshevism can arise only under a merciless self-criticism by the best elements of the Communist party....The attempt to cover up the mistakes of the past by artificially curbing a discussion of them, will cause enormous harm....If we do not help it to purge itself, in the shortest period, from Menshevism and the Mensheviks, it will enter a prolonged crisis, with splits, desertions, and an embittered struggle of various groups.”

The possibility of an outbreak of revolutionary struggle has been acutely posed in Zimbabwe for several years now. The precipitous fall in living standards has deeply discredited both the IMF/MDC austerity programs and the demagogic “anti-imperialism” of the Mugabe regime. Millions of working people have learned, through participating in mass struggles, that collectively they can wield immense social power. A revolutionary explosion in Zimbabwe could immediately spread to South Africa and reverberate around the world.

Every precondition for a revolutionary breakthrough is present, save one—the existence of a nucleus of cadres committed to directing the anger of the masses toward the expropriation of their oppressors. Such a leadership can only be created through hard political struggle against all those who advocate the “tactic” of helping the white planters slip a noose around the neck of the black proletariat.

1917 no.23: February 2001