International Socialist Organization

Confidence grows

As class tensions heighten in Zimbabwe after this month?s 48-hour stayaway and in the run-up to next year?s presidential elections, the International Socialist Organisation is going onto the offensive.

The ISO, sister organisation of the Socialist Workers Party in Britain, has grown in influence and aided the process of independent working class organisation through its participation in the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. The MDC, set up by prominent members of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, in particular MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, pulls in most of its support from the urban working class. In the general election held exactly a year ago it swept the board in the main towns, although Robert Mugabe?s Zanu-PF held on to power, thanks to the peasant support it retained in the countryside.

Despite its trade union roots and working class backing, the MDC was soon viewed by bourgeois liberals and imperialism alike as the most likely vehicle for deposing Mugabe, and gradually its leadership came under the domination of capitalists, white farmers and middle class elements. But the battle within the party is far from over.

True, its transformation into a genuine tool of the working class is no longer possible, but a split along class lines most certainly is. The ISO was absolutely correct to enter the MDC in order to fight for working class independence. As comrade John Bomba, an ISO national coordinator, told me, ?There was a danger that little groups would be swept into oblivion or crushed?, as Mugabe stepped up his offensive against working class conditions and their trade unions. ?Not only has the ISO survived. It is now firmly established nationally,? said comrade Bomba.

This is borne out by reports in Socialist Worker (Zimbabwe version), with industrial disputes highlighted in motors, textiles, tobacco and packaging industries - all bearing the stamp of ISO influence. Its three Harare branches, in addition to those springing up in every major urban centre, testify both to the intensifying class conflict and to the effect that the election of comrade Munyaradzi Gwisai as an MDC MP, acting as a tribune of the people, has had on workers? confidence and combativity.

Yet several left groups have noted the whole-hearted support of imperialism and reactionary white farmers for the MDC (alongside that of the black middle class and the mass of workers) and condemned it as ?a reactionary grouping? pure and simple. (Revolutionary Socialist, paper of the International Socialist Movement, South Africa, February-March). According to the ISM, itself a split from the SWP?s International Socialist Tendency, ?To bury themselves within ? the MDC smacks of short-sighted opportunism.?

The paper declares: ?? revolutionary socialists should have been out in the open presenting a clear alternative; they could have stood for parliament under a socialist banner if they thought it was the correct tactic for the time.? But that was precisely what the ISO did. They were the only ones to stand for parliament under the MDC umbrella on a specifically working class, revolutionary platform. While we would have criticisms of its economism, the comrades cannot be accused of hiding their politics.

As a result, their cadre have not only been on the receiving end of Mugabe?s Zanu-PF thuggery. The Tsvangirai leadership has moved to bureaucratically suppress the pro-ISO ?enemy? within the MDC. The Highfield district of the party (comrade Gwisai?s constituency) has been dissolved and comrade Gwisai himself indefinitely suspended by the Harare province.

In its ?Statement of reaffirmation of ISO positions? sent to the MDC leadership, the group gives a clear exposition of its ?short-sighted opportunism?: ?? we have participated in the MDC project right from the word go, including in the stayaways, demonstrations and labour forums that gave rise to the founding convention in early 1999, despite innumerable and misdirected efforts by some elements in the service of the propertied classes of bosses to stop us. Our agenda has always been open and transparent: namely the struggle for the construction of a working people?s party to destroy the Zanu-PF dictatorship and the propertied classes of bosses, in whose service the Zanu-PF dictatorship ultimately operates.

?On that basis we have consistently argued that as a ?working people?s party? the MDC is an ideologically partisan political organisation: namely that it is there for the interests of workers, students, peasants and the poor in general against those of the Zanu-PF dictatorship, the employers, the commercial farmers and the capitalists in general. And that in such a struggle the working people are entitled to use all the means at their disposal and in particular their key power of withdrawal of labour, stayaways, riots and mass action without regard to such nebulous and class-partisan concepts like the rule of law .?

?We argued and still argue that the only consistent and reliable forces for change in our society are the downtrodden and trampled working people, in urban and rural areas - and that the way forward for our party can only be guaranteed when our party champions the interests of these classes, using mass action against both the government, the employers and the farmers - and that, given the depth of the crisis in our society, this must inevitably mean conflict and confrontation with these anti-working people forces.?

Far from retreating before the onslaught of the MDC leadership, the ISO has gone onto the attack against ?the rightwing bourgeois elements, especially the beneficiaries of colonialism, who sneaked into positions of authority and influence in the party?. In my view the stress on the MDC?s working class roots, throwing accusations of disloyalty back in the face of Tsvangirai, is absolutely the right tactic. A whole section of the MDC?s working class base can be won to a revolutionary programme on this basis:

?? throughout we have fought for and retained complete freedom of expression in order to expose the betrayals, indecisions and halfway spirit of the reformist leadership of the MDC. For that reason any sort of organisational agreement which restricts our freedom of criticism and agitation is completely unacceptable to us. Hence we have been prepared to make a complete break with the MDC should such conditions become imposed on us? (Socialist Worker July-August).

The ISO calls for a united front of workers, trade unionists, students and peasants, which must ?come up with a minimum programme of demands to be presented to the MDC as a condition for support in the presidential elections: demands like a new constitution and labour bill, land for peasants without compensation to the farmers but to farmworkers, living allowances for students, reversal of privatisation and nationalisation of key industries and services and subsidies? (ibid).

Excellent! What a pity that the ISO?s comrades in Britain did not adopt a similar tactic for the Socialist Alliance in relation to Labour Party candidates in the general election. Note also that the first demand on the ISO?s list is for a ?new constitution? - raising workers? sights far beyond wages, hours and workplace conditions - vital though they are, not least in backward, crisis-wracked Zimbabwe. The struggle to elevate politics above the economistic morass of the IST tradition has not yet been won, but there are definite signs that progress is being made.

The ISO, in my opinion, needs to flesh out its call for a new constitution. Clearly the abolition of the dictatorial presidential system, the demand for annual parliaments, for recallability of MPs and other such democratic demands can strike an immediate chord in view of the endemic corruption of the Zanu-PF regime. In addition the nationalisation of land under the control of those who work it and the right to bear arms are entirely pertinent in view of the land crisis and the need for workers and peasants to protect themselves from Zanu-PF henchmen and the so-called ?war veterans?.

The situation in Zimbabwe is reaching boiling point. The desperation of the Mugabe regime, the economic shambles, the hunger for land, the divisions within the ruling class, the interference of imperialism - all point to a crisis of huge proportions. The small, but steadily growing influence of revolutionaries will be key in resolving it positivelyl

Peter Manson