Zimbabwe and socialism

Internationalist or transnationalist? Andrew Cutting responds to Ian Donovan's criticism

First let me clear up a misunderstanding which is no doubt partly my own fault. I do not support Zanu-PF or Mugabe's clique within that party, or for that matter Mugabe himself. This is a point I should have made clear. It would be the height of irresponsibility to start playing 'lesser evilism' in terms of who to support, especially in the current circumstances. Proletarian independence is a prerequisite for action. My chief concern regarding Zanu-PF is the character of the criticism we level at it.

I suppose that progress has been made regarding the characterisation of the Zimbabwean squatters. Ian Donovan no longer whitewashes them as "Mugabe's thugs": they are now "confused landless peasants" along with some "war veterans". As an aside, many of them are unemployed youths (maybe they are confused as well). The point is, is that there is nothing inherently reactionary in the occupations. Comrade Donovan describes the land seizures as "Mugabe's movement" and so ascribes a timeless, fatalist characterisation of a large section of the Zimbabwean population. The last dying gasps of an old dinosaur are presented as an almost mystical, all-powerful evil. I'll ask again. What prevents collectivisation? Whose class interests prevent it? How do these interests manifest themselves?

Now, for Leninists in a country with a burning land question, it is vital to forge an alliance between the workers and the peasantry. The tragedy in Zimbabwe is that the peasantry and rural poor are being pitted against the urban and plantation workers. Inasmuch as it is possible to blame a single person for this, then, yes, it is Mugabe's fault. In reality it is not single rulers who determine the course of history but class forces. All the manoeuvrings of the parties of capital (including the Movement for Democratic Change) are in no way aimed at seeing the antagonisms between the squatters and the plantation workers overcome. Instead they wish to crush one so as to crush the other.

This brings us to the MDC. This is a party formed by the Zimbabwean trade union bureaucracy, modelling itself on Tony Blair's New Labour. It is crucial to understand the nature of reformist trade unionism in the context of globalisation before we can understand the MDC. The high mobility of capital in the form of direct foreign investment means that transnational corporations can maximise their advantages among different national jurisdictions. Workers thus cannot raise reformist demands without jobs being threatened. The limited union militancy of the 80s dissolved in the 90s with the collapse of the USSR. Free markets - which see unions and the welfare state as inherently protectionist ('new protectionism') - reign. Everywhere the class struggle on a national basis is displaced into the international arena. The political expression of unions in the form of social democracy and Labourism take highly rightwing, class-collaborationist forms.

It is worth looking at Zambia whose trade union leader, Frederick Chiluba, became president of the country. Chiluba pushed through a dramatic privatisation programme managed by the Zambian Privatisation Agency (ZPA) which saw the Zambian Congress of Trade Unions sit down with Zambian Confederation of Commerce and Industry, the Zambia Federation of Employers and the Bankers Association of Zambia among others. This was all in favour of attracting the maximum amount of investment at the expense of workers' job security and wages and public services such as the Zambian Bus Company. The ZPA not only manages privatisation, but is granted legal powers which make it beyond any political control. Even though it is a fairly 'open' and 'inclusive' organisation, it has very little democratic accountability. Overall the programme has been successful in its objectives and could well be repeated across Africa. This will force each African nation to compete economically with all the others. All the gains of the working class will be eroded - not by direct fascist dictatorship, but by the market place itself. Imperialism is not simply an unpleasant policy: it is the very essence of capitalism.

Now the briefest glance at the MDC programme demonstrates that it hopes for Zimbabwe to go the same way as Zambia. It talks about fiscal austerity, privatisation, workers' flexibility and carrying out IMF structural reforms - that is, all the trade marks of neo-liberalism. Indeed many trade union militants were against the formation of the MDC, preferring that their unions were not tied to some bourgeois political party.

More to the point, the MDC is exceedingly vague on land reform. Agriculture is a cornerstone of the Zimbabwean economy and obviously critical to Zimbabwean politics at present. An MDC government will come under intense imperialist pressure - pressure that it shows no signs of wishing to resist - to violently crush the occupations. There is no reason to think that a military junta will not seize power so as to force through reforms in the present political instability. There is no reason to think that British troops will not be sent in to crush resistance - the British media have already been going berserk. This is the situation that we face.

This is why I can only despair at the Weekly Worker reporting of the events in Zimbabwe. Just what possesses Ian Donovan to start talking about blacks ethnically cleansing whites? The white population of Zimbabwe is a small, privileged elite and holds considerable influence over not only the economic life of the nation but also all major political parties including the MDC and Zanu-PF. They are interested in maintaining power over the black masses. Yet Ian talks about promising the whites a special position in a soviet Zimbabwe ("making use of technical skills")! Yet why is there going to be any ethnic cleansing? Ian's only answer is that Zimbabwe is in Africa and therefore makes it similar to Rwanda! Even then, if there was going to be a campaign of mass extermination, most whites are well connected enough to get out of the country.

With all this hysteria we might expect something like a civil war in Zimbabwe. Instead there has been remarkably little violence, given the demagogic nature of the campaign. Only around 20 people or so have been killed and, considering that there have been around 60,000 squatters, this has hardly been a campaign of orchestrated mass violence. It is rather a chaotic mass movement whose sporadic violence is carried out by an organised minority.

If we are going to fight any sort of anti-imperialist campaign, we will have to combat imperialist propaganda - not repeat it. It is no good having a formal 'defeat imperialism' slogan if the rest of our propaganda work is to focus on criticising other tendencies for not sharing our imperialist myths. Formal adherence to Lenin in no way prevents repeating all the crimes of social-chauvinism - especially when imperialism has a very different content to what it did in Lenin's day.

The overall Weekly Worker critique of the Zanu-PF regime rests on two points. Firstly that it capitulated to the free market. Secondly it has an overall thuggish character. These are perfectly valid criticisms. The problem is when a positive alternative is put forward. We have:

"All this points to the necessity and possibility of a revolutionary alternative, based on a perspective of fighting for international socialism, where the productive forces of more advanced nations (in this context, particularly South Africa) can be employed and expanded to systematically improve the living standards and lives of the peoples of countries such as Zimbabwe" (Ian Donovan Weekly Worker May 18).

So we fight for international socialism by employing and expanding the productive forces of the more advanced nations. However, does this revolutionary expansion of the productive forces rest on the private property of transnational corporations being defended? If we look at the CPGB draft programme we have:

"From the point of view of world revolution, programmes for wholesale nationalisation are today objectively reactionary. The historic task of the working class is to fully socialise the giant transnational corporations, not break them up into inefficient national units. Our starting point is the most advanced achievements of capitalism. Globalised production needs global social control."

It is difficult to see where this 'international socialism' starts. Should a less advanced nation like Zimbabwe attempt to nationalise foreign capital and set up a monopoly on foreign trade? According to the CPGB, this would be "objectively reactionary", not to mention nationalist and protectionist.

Empowering the nation-state over transnationals does not equate with breaking them up into national units. It simply forces the corporation to internalise its own supply chains so as to avoid capital controls, thus socialising and increasing the contradictions of capital by driving capital to an even more intense globalist extreme. This is the exact opposite to the kind of 'socialism in one country' advocated by Bukharin and Stalin in the late 1920s, where the productive forces are developed in each country individually.

So for the CPGB, Zimbabwe should sit tight and wait for the rest of the world to become revolutionary. In the meantime the MDC - who, if not actively supported by the CPGB, are not criticised at all - can rule over a "pre-revolutionary situation". I compared this to the third periodist 'first Hitler, then us' for very good reason - imperialism in all its forms seeks to crush working class opposition. A section of the class will find relatively secure well paid jobs, while the bulk are impoverished with no effective immediate defence. It is, however, wrong to describe the CPGB as ultra-left third periodists - the Menshevik forming of 'an extreme left opposition' to bourgeois liberalism is a more correct analogy.

What should revolutionaries do now? Well according to comrade Donovan they should adopt "transnational forms of organisation". Now this is vague, to say the least. If Ian is talking about forming a communist international then he is using some quite strange language. If Ian is talking about trade union organisational forms then workers already do adopt transnational forms of organisation: classical examples are the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America and the International Metalworkers Federation. These organisations are quite limited in their strategies. The transnational corporation will have sophisticated and centralised information and decision systems which the union in the host country is simply unable to deal with. Instead unions increasingly look towards the state to exercise control over transnationals via quotas and tariffs, especially when the unions are organised on a centralised national level rather than at a company level. At a reformist level protectionism may have national chauvinist content, but a revolutionary workers' state (or a socialist state, if you prefer) is by its very nature protectionist. Indeed transnational organisation tends towards sectoral labour aristocracies, whereas national organisation tends towards more militant forms of struggle of which the Seattle demonstration was an excellent example.

Comrade Donovan counterpoises internationalism to nationalism, when instead he is really counterpoising transnationalism to nationalism. Transnational socialism sees all nations as equals, just as Proudhon saw all men as equals. For the CPGB all nations are either imperialist or proto-imperialist (in reality imperialism in one country is as absurd as socialism in one country), while at the same time comrade Donovan (rightly) dismisses the prospect of inter-imperialist war. Imperialism can thus resolve its contradictions as it achieves its Hegelian ideal of equality by granting the right of nations to self-determine and so removing political oppression. Only then will the final battle between communism and capitalism be fought out. Kautsky's ultra-imperialism is revisited.

This transnational socialism is for all intents and purposes exactly the same as Mugabe's national socialism. 'Objective' advances in one country naturally rely on the world economy: hence Mugabe's cringing before international capital. Nationalism and transnationalism are identical. By contrast, communist internationalism must be proletarian in content. Integration, equality and democracy must be on our terms.

Comrade Donovan describes Zanu-PF as "100% capitalism", but proceeds to prescribe more of the same. Now I am not sure what "100% capitalism" is, but there are still some national gains worth preserving in Zimbabwe, such as healthcare, education, manufacturing industry and infrastructure - all of which have been advanced considerably over the last 20 years. Yes, even a nation's infrastructure is under attack from imperialism as we saw in Iraq and Yugoslavia. There is also an important international advance (which the Weekly Worker is silent on even while emphasising 'international perspective'), and that is the repercussions in South Africa and Kenya. It looks as though peasants and rural poor will take a cue from Zimbabwe's lead in these countries. The land question could be fought out under reactionary demagogues, but it could also be fought under a genuine revolutionary leadership.

Strategically these advances should be fought for by resisting the transnational onslaught. There is no reason to expect the Mugabe regime to be able or willing to defend these gains and this is how our criticism should be framed. However, the biggest immediate danger is an MDC victory in the coming elections. It amounts to the difference between being knifed in the back or being strangled. Strangling does not immediately cripple and allows a chance to fight back. It is therefore our first duty to warn militants about the nature of the MDC.