Zimbabwe and the International Socialist Organisation

Arm for the future

The election of a revolutionary MP in last month's general election in Zimbabwe represents a valuable boost for the working class - not only in that country, but worldwide.

Comrade Munyaradzi Gwisai, a member of the International Socialist Organisation (sister organisation of the Socialist Workers Party), was the overwhelming victor in Harare's Highfield constituency, winning 73% of the vote. He was standing as the candidate of the Movement for Democratic Change, whose leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, was formerly general secretary of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions. The MDC is the main opposition to Robert Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party, and gained 57 out of the 120 parliamentary seats up for election.

As comrade Gwisai pointed out in his interview with Peter Manson last week, despite the fact that the MDC was founded by trade union activists, today its leadership is dominated by bourgeois and petty bourgeois elements whose programme is oriented towards international capital (see Weekly Worker July 6). Nevertheless its main support comes from the urban working class, many of whom believe they are exercising a vote for their class when they back the MDC. In the main cities of Harare and Bulawayo it won every one of the 27 seats, usually picking up 70%-80% of the vote - irrespective of whether the candidate was a white businessman, a black academic, a former trade union leader or, in comrade Gwisai's case, a revolutionary socialist.

In Highfield the ISO led the MDC campaign, putting out its own anti-capitalist, pro-worker, pro-peasant platform. It was the duty of all revolutionaries to back comrade Gwisai and to give critical support to the other working class MDC candidates. Clearly the strategic aim must be to split the MDC in order to establish, in comrade Gwisai's words, "the imperative of building a revolutionary alternative".

While the ISO platform, as expounded by the comrade in the Weekly Worker, was evidently influenced by SWP-type economism, there is no doubt that the Harare-based group is very much to the left of its British mentors. For example, the ISO calls openly for workers' militias, following the example of Russia 1905: "The urgent task facing the Zimbabwean working class today is to form their own Red Guards in factories and townships that would lead the fight against Zanu-PF terror and working class struggle against the bosses" (Socialist Worker - Zimbabwean version, May).

The article points out that the MDC's "security arrangements are wholly inadequate". Its "untrained and enthusiastic youths, in spite of all their good intentions, are no match for an armed and trained guerrilla - even one who is old enough to be their grandfather". The ISO is quite clear about what sort of workers' militia is required: "Red Guards would not be formed out of just any workers or youth, but would be drawn from the most politically advanced workers. In particular, issues like drunkenness and corruption would not be tolerated amongst the Red Guards."

This is excellent. But a big weakness in the ISO's armoury is the narrow concentration of its propaganda on the economic interests of workers and peasants, when their sights need to be raised much higher - if they are to form themselves into a new, ruling class. The ISO quite correctly demands "a national minimum wage linked to the inflation rate", "the right to strike", "maternity rights on full pay", "state funding for education and health", etc (Weekly Worker July 6). But in order to ensure that such gains can not only be won, but maintained and extended, workers need to focus their main attention on the issue of the state itself.

They must be won to take up the big political questions of how they are ruled. Just as communists in Britain call on workers to seek to topple the UK state's constitutional monarchy system in order to be able to champion their own, alternative, working class rule, in Zimbabwe the question of democracy is just as pressing. The enormous powers of the largely unaccountable president mean that in effect Zimbabwe is ruled by decree. The president appoints the government and has full control of the executive.

Before last month's election Mugabe's parliament had been almost entirely composed of his own henchmen, but even after Zanu-PF's huge electoral losses reduced its presence to 62 elected representatives, his right to nominate 30 additional MPs in theory guarantees that he will still be able to push through legislative changes. (True, even with this back-up he no longer has the two-thirds majority necessary to amend the constitution.)

In addition Mugabe has proposed the establishment of a second chamber. It could be that some of the pro-western, liberal MDC MPs will view this as an advance, providing a Westminster-style system of 'checks and balances' against parliamentary 'excesses'. In reality it would produce checks and balances against democracy and must be vigorously opposed. Socialists must demand the abolition of the presidential system and a single-chamber assembly with full powers, consisting of fully elected, recallable representatives.

Of course one central issue that the ISO has taken up is the key question of land. The Weekly Worker had previously criticised the economistic left's tailing of Mugabe and his Zanu-PF war veterans. Thankfully, the ISO does not echo the absurd position of so-called 'orthodox' Trotskyists, who think that the international working class should be "with Mugabe, as long as he takes measures against imperialism" (Gerry Downing, Letters, June 29). According to such comrades, it was our duty "to support Milosevic against imperialism in Kosovo". Apparently, "No political support to bourgeois or petty bourgeois national regimes is applied in such a stance." Which makes you wonder just what kind of "support" they are advocating: the sending of armed detachments perhaps? Nothing "political" about that of course.

However, returning back to earth, comrade Gwisai's response contains either a misunderstanding of what we are saying or a glaring contradiction. He says: "Once the land seizures started, it was imperative for the working class to support the struggle of the peasants" (Weekly Worker July 6). Comrade Gwisai continues: "The peasants should distribute the land in an orderly way - and farmworkers should also get a share of the land. We support the establishment of farmworkers' cooperatives, including peasants who desire to be there. Democratically run state farms are also a possibility." He further states: "Despite the rhetoric, Mugabe is only going for about 40% of the commercial farm land - four million hectares out of about 11 million. He is going to leave the core of white farming intact."

Supporting the struggle of the peasants is one thing. Obviously peasants who are seeking to benefit from a more equitable use of the land have a material interest in distributing the land "in an orderly way". But that was not the issue at dispute in our polemic against the ISO (Weekly Worker May 18). It was rather the failure to draw a sharp distinction between real movements of the peasants on the one hand, and the cynical and destructive actions of Mugabe's state-backed thugs on the other. Such actions as the burning and looting of farms, including physical (sometimes murderous) attacks upon farmworkers and the destruction of their homes, were hardly examples of an "orderly" redistribution of land.

The ISO states: "... the only way the homeless and landless can move forward is by their own action, taking land by force, as this is the only language bosses and farmers understand, just like when we go on strike at our workplaces" (Socialist Worker May). Again this is quite correct. But the question is, to what extent are the farm occupations the "own actions" of the landless peasants? The same issue reports that workers without houses in Harare townships have taken over outlying farms, and adds: "Workers of the state railway company, NRZ, have also joined in, taking NRZ land and sub-dividing it into stands for themselves."

Clearly such actions must be defended. But the article reveals that these examples are not typical. It calls on those without land or houses to "join in", but adds: "Refuse to sing Zanu-PF slogans or to buy their cards before being given land, for the land does not belong to Zanu-PF or the commercial farmers. It's yours!" That is easier said than done, comrades. Clearly in most cases it is a question of 'do as Zanu-PF demands or do without'. The article further advises the occupiers: "Form defence committees to prepare for resisting any future evictions by this government." But surely farmworkers and peasants need to defend themselves right now - against the government's terror in the shape of the 'war veterans'.

What is the main characteristic of the occupations? The ISO readily admitted that, "Zanu-PF people are leading this current invasion for cheap electioneering purposes" (Socialist Worker May). But comrade Gwisai now believes that "the momentum has gone far beyond [Mugabe's] subjective control" (Weekly Worker July 6). However, the situation is far from clear. It is reported, for example, that Calgary Farm, 20 kilometres north of Harare, is occupied by "serving army and police officers" who are covering up their uniforms with long coats and are ferried to and fro in official Land Rovers or vehicles with army number plates (The Daily Telegraph July 8).

The same paper gives conflicting reports of the attitude of the civilian squatters. Some say, for instance: "We do not know ourselves what to expect. We are waiting for someone in authority to tell us" (June 29). Others, however, insist they are there to stay, whatever instructions they might be given.

Comrade Gwisai is right to say: "In order to win peasant support for the working class base of the MDC, the party must call for land distribution." One concrete way of doing this is to call for the nationalisation of the land itself (which is not, it should be said, automatically the same thing as nationalising everything that resides on the land), and the establishment of worker/peasant control of the large productive farms. But in order to do this, it is obviously necessary to clearly counterpose this to the destructive actions of the Zanu-PF terror squads who were burning farms and attacking the rural proletariat. Such a clear distinction would help the establishment of the worker-peasant alliance that the ISO is correctly calling for in Zimbabwe.

It is not part of the communist programme to call for the land to be parcelled out into tiny, individual strips - exactly what has happened under previous minor redistribution schemes in the few cases when land has been given to peasants (as opposed to being taken over by Mugabe's own cronies). The new owners have been left to fend for themselves, without the ability or resources to properly cultivate what they have acquired. The result has been, at the very best, subsistence farming.

But the ISO writes: "Don't accept the racist nonsense that white farmers are better farmers - throughout Africa and Asia small-scale farmers are the mainstay of agriculture." We have already commented that this is hardly a vision of the future (Weekly Worker May 18). It is not "racist" to state the simple and obvious truth that poor peasants do not have the expertise of big capitalist farmers and their agents. Until we do have such expertise, we must be prepared, if need be, to cajole, intimidate or bribe our class foes into continuing to provide it. We want proletarian control over large, productive enterprises, not minuscule, inefficient units.

The ISO comrades ought to look at the example of the Bolsheviks - their programme was for land nationalisation and state farms alongside the modernisation and transformation of peasant agriculture through organising them on a voluntary basis into well financed cooperatives. True, in 1917 they adopted the agrarian programme of the Socialist Revolutionaries, who had in practice discarded their demand for the parcelisation of land. As in Zimbabwe, the key was the worker-peasant alliance - vital for the success of the revolution.

The revolution could only be achieved through peasant uprisings - that is, land seizures and redistribution from below, by the peasantry themselves - not redistribution initiated from above by reactionary state forces. Hence, if Mugabe were to abandon his land programme or halt it due to expediency, it would be perfectly correct to support the beleaguered peasants and, given the prospects for revolution, steal Mugabe's programme. However, in the meantime, Zimbabwe needs a Bolshevik agrarian programme which at the end of the day is designed to proletarianise the peasantry, not perpetuate peasant insularity and backwardness.

Either way, the ISO is to be congratulated on its initiative and enthusiastic work around the MDC. It has been rewarded with the election of comrade Gwisai. His role as a tribune of the worker-peasant alliance will be crucial in building the revolutionary future.

Jim Blackstock and Ian Donovan