Backing the working class

The stakes are being raised almost by the hour in Zimbabwe. As the March presidential elections draw near, Robert Mugabe will clearly stop at nothing to cling to power. While his Zanu-PF thugs rampage, beating up opposition politicians and intimidating thousands of ordinary Zimbabweans in the townships and countryside, in recent weeks Mugabe has shown that he has another string to his bow. Already able to push through legal changes using his presidential powers, he is attempting to force even more draconian measures onto the statute book. The combined effect of the various bills that have been or are being put before parliament will be to outlaw all effective opposition. Of course it is primarily the Movement for Democratic Change and its presidential candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, who are the targets. But also caught in the net will be the trade union and workers' movement. Mugabe intends to ban strikes, suppress all 'unauthorised' meetings, gatherings and demonstrations, close down independent newspapers and jail those who insist on asserting their rights. Not surprisingly, an important section of Zanu-PF itself is bitterly opposed to Mugabe's assumption of dictatorial powers. After all, the party has its origins in a genuine liberation struggle against the white minority government of Ian Smith's Rhodesia. Backed by the Soviet Union, Zanu-PF adopted some of the language of Marxism and in its first decade or so of government began to implement 'socialist' - ie, state capitalist - policies. To this day Zanu-PF members address each other as 'comrade'. Of course by the early 1990s, with the collapse of bureaucratic socialism and the disappearance of a power centre in the shape of the USSR to rival imperialism, 'Marxist' regimes like Mugabe's were soon brought to book. Zimbabwe was forced to adopt neo-liberal policies of privatisation and 'structural adjustment'. The living standards of the masses plummeted, while Mugabe's cronies, along with many sections of capital, continued to enrich themselves. Nevertheless, for many honest veterans of the liberation struggle the Zanu-PF leadership's latest moves are a step too far. One MP, who understandably did not wish to be named, said: "We are sick and tired of being used to pass repressive laws aimed at entrenching Mugabe's hold on power while the masses are suffering. We would rather spend time campaigning for Mugabe in our constituencies so that he wins a free and fair election, instead of being used to rubber-stamp laws that violate constitutional rights" (quoted in The Independent January 23). The names of other Zanu-PF oppositionists are public knowledge. For example, Eddison Zvobgo, formerly a close colleague of Mugabe and a founder of the party, is head of the parliamentary legal committee, whose role is to vet all legislation to ensure compliance with the constitution. Zvobgo has insisted on changes to the Labour Bill and the Public Order and Security Bill and caused the administration to postpone the adoption of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Bill. Other leading figures, such as finance minister Simba Makoni, have absented themselves from parliament during crucial debates. The MDC was born on the back of the wave of working class militancy that hit Zimbabwe in the late 1990s. Many of its leaders were trade unionists - Tsvangirai himself was the president of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions. Although the party still enjoys mass working class support - in contrast to Zanu-PF, whose roots remain in the countryside - it has now been almost completely taken over by the right wing, backed by white farmers and the black middle class. Imperialism also views the MDC as the best bet for returning Zimbabwe to "good governance" - ie, a stable regime that allows the efficient extraction of surplus value. But the MDC also has its left wing - epitomised in the person of Munyaradzi Gwisai, the MP for Highfield, Harare. Comrade Gwisai is a leader of the International Socialist Organisation, sister organisation of the Socialist Workers Party and the first ever MP of the International Socialist Tendency. He was elected two years ago on a revolutionary platform and has been able to use his position to campaign consistently for the class that put him into parliament. Strangely, however, comrade Gwisai has not exactly featured strongly in the pages of the SWP paper. Last week's Socialist Worker, for instance, carried an article by Alex Callinicos, which outlines the recent power struggle in Zimbabwe but does not even mention the ISO or its MP (January 19). By contrast the Weekly Worker has carried regular reports of the work of the ISO - including our criticisms, where we consider them appropriate. This has drawn one or two adverse comments from comrades from the IST tradition. One IST dissident wrote of the Weekly Worker: "What a disgrace that a paper which lacks even the most elementary grasp of a coherent Marxist politics can provide better coverage of the ISO Zimbabwe than Socialist Worker" (IS-SWP Democracy e-list, January 19). Leaving aside the question of our own alleged shortcomings in relation to "coherent Marxist politics", the absence of visible support and solidarity for the ISO - not only from the SWP, but from the rest of the left - is something that ought to be put right. Comrade Tafadzwa Choto, the ISO's national coordinator, in her interview in last week's issue, said: ""¦ we would certainly welcome fundraising, especially at this time. We have had to put some of our plans on hold because of lack of cash, so we definitely need money in order to produce leaflets, posters and our newspaper" (Weekly Worker January 17). The left in Britain must respond. The ISO is practically alone in putting forward revolutionary, working class politics in Zimbabwe and the Socialist Alliance must show practical solidarity. Unfortunately, however, it seems that not every SA component will react positively. A leading member of Workers Power, for example, when asked by a CPGB comrade if WP would back our proposal for an SA-sponsored collection, did not see why he should help the ISO "Cliffites". Comrade, we are talking about aiding the struggle of the Zimbabwe working class, which can surely best be done by extending support to its most advanced elements. The ISO previously had a policy of offering to support Tsvangirai only if he agreed to back a raft of pro-working class demands. However, in view of Mugabe's lurch towards dictatorship the group, meeting in Harare last weekend, has now decided to call for a vote for Tsvangirai "with no illusions". While the ISO will not campaign for the MDC candidate, his victory, comrade Choto told me, would "allow us the space to operate". I am not convinced by this tactic. Both Zanu-PF and the MDC have their left wings, as well as those who say they are against Mugabe's authoritarian measures. The way to take advantage of these divisions would be to demand that Tsvangirai, the trade union leader, commits himself not only to bourgeois democratic rights, but to a minimum wage, price control and the repeal of Mugabe's anti-working class labour laws. A vote for him should also be conditional on a commitment to resist the IMF's structural adjustment programmes. Such a stand would not only blow apart Tsvangirai's reputation as the worker's friend, but would pull the ground from under the feet of the 'anti-imperialist' Zanu-PF. After all, as comrade Choto told me, the re-election of Mugabe would not be a "tragedy" (the word used by Alex Callinicos to describe such an outcome). As she says, workers will have to fight, whoever wins. Irrespective of the election result, workers' combativity will, sooner rather than later, make a reappearance. Peter Manson Related articles and sites * Movement for Democractic Change * Zimbabwe 'anti-imperialism': interview with Tafadzwa Choto of the ISO * No to dictatorship! No to neo-liberalism!: International Socialist Organisation statement