Cynics refuse support

The national council of the Socialist Alliance, meeting for the first time in Birmingham on Saturday February 16, is likely to have a packed agenda. Nevertheless, let us hope that a CPGB motion on solidarity with the International Socialist Organisation of Zimbabwe will be discussed. We are calling on the SA to commit itself to raising funds for the ISO, the sister organisation of the Socialist Workers Party. This is in response to the "urgent appeal" made by the comrades for "financial assistance" in view of the viciously repressive legislation introduced by the Zanu-PF government of Robert Mugabe (Weekly Worker January 31). In a desperate bid to cling to power in next month's presidential elections, Mugabe has virtually outlawed effective opposition, making it a criminal offence to criticise the president, and banning strikes, stayaways and meetings that are not specifically approved by the police. All journalists must apply for accreditation - inevitably it would be refused to revolutionary socialists like the comrades from the ISO, who would certainly fall foul of another clause in the Public Order and Security Act prohibiting non-parliamentary political actions. Offenders face jail sentences of up to 20 years. Of course these draconian measures are aimed primarily at the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, whose leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, is pushing Mugabe hard in the presidential race. But the legislation will also affect the trade union, socialist and working class movement - just as union activists and the ISO have also been hit by the campaign of terror launched by Zanu-PF thugs. In an interview with the Weekly Worker, ISO national coordinator Tafadzwa Choto was clear that her organisation "would have to move to operating underground". She went on: ""¦ we would certainly welcome any 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" (January 17). Ironically, the edition of our paper that carried the ISO appeal also featured letters from two leading members of Workers Power, Stuart King and Mark Hoskisson, who made it clear they will not support any SA fundraising for the ISO "Cliffites" (the term used by comrade Hoskisson in a telephone conversation with a CPGB comrade to justify this stance). Comrade King, representing the ultra-sectarian wing of WP, informs us that raising money "is something revolutionary organisations do for parties when they are in political solidarity with their ideas and practice, where the policies and actions of that organisation will take the working class forward to political power" (Letters, January 31). On the Socialist Alliance discussion elist comrade King exposed his crass sect mentality for all to see. In response to a CPGBer who had posted the appeal - from "our comrades" in Zimbabwe - he asked: "Has the ISO of Zimbabwe split from the IST (the SWP's international tendency) and joined the CPGB's?" (February 3). In comrade King's world only those who share every last detail of your perspectives and programme are entitled to be called "our comrades". For his information the CPGB does not have an "international tendency", nor do we intend to try and form one. There are quite enough of these divisive, sect-based 'internationals' already - not least WP's very own League for a Revolutionary Communist International. Mark Hoskisson, however, prefers to couch his sectarianism in more diplomatic language. He even permits himself to use the word "comrades". He cites as an excuse for WP's unwillingness to back the appeal "the scale of our political differences with the comrades over strategy in Zimbabwe, especially with regard to their role in the MDC" (Letters, January 31). Comrade King elaborates: "The CPGB seems to think supporting a popular front run by a major section of the Zimbabwe bourgeoisie is a minor tactical error." He is referring to the ISO's decision to vote for Tsvangirai in view of Mugabe's intensified repression. Comrade Choto told us she was "in favour of a Tsvangirai win: at least we will be able to operate with bourgeois democracy". In fact the ISO had previously called for the drawing up of "a minimum programme of demands to be presented to the MDC as a condition for support in the presidential elections" (my emphasis Socialist Worker Zimbabwe version, July-August 2001). 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). It is certainly unfortunate that the comrades retreated from this principled position in the face of Mugabe's onslaught. They appear to have ended up opting for the 'lesser evil'. But is this really the gross betrayal that comrade King suggests, placing them beyond the pale? This is how the latest issue of Workers Power deals with the question: "A party [the MDC] that is in league with the white farmers and capitalists, with British imperialism and the IMF does not deserve the support of Zimbabwe's workers and peasants. If they make the mistake of voting for it out of justified hatred for Mugabe's dictatorial methods then this is understandable. Understandable but wrong. When workers find this out from bitter experience they will have the right to say to revolutionary socialists, 'Why did you advise us to vote for them?' To then reply, 'In order to be with you' will hardly be a cause for gratitude" (February). "Understandable but wrong" is accurate in my opinion. In other words, here we have a "tactical error" akin to, let us say, recommending an unconditional vote for Tony Blair's New Labour in the 1997 general election. If you recall, the WP comrades were so concerned to "be with" the working class that they called for a vote against socialist challengers and for Labour candidates of the left, centre and extreme right. The comparison is a valid one. After all Labour too is, and was then, "in league with "¦ capitalists, with British imperialism and the IMF". Yet WP voted for it on the grounds that it was a party with links to the organised working class, a party that was founded by the trade unions, gaining most of its support from the working class. The MDC is pretty similar. Tsvangirai is a former leader of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions who only three years ago committed himself to setting up a "working people's party". But comrade King goes even further in his letter to the Weekly Worker. Not only is it a monumental act of opportunism to recommend a vote for Tsvangirai, but the ISO should simply have abandoned its working class base in the MDC. Its MP, Munyaradzi Gwisai, should have turned his back on those who voted for him when he stood on a revolutionary programme in the 2000 general election: "A revolutionary organisation would have broken openly with the MDC as it adopted such rightwing policies," he writes. Here again comrade King is very much at odds with the anonymous author of the February Workers Power article: "At the ballot box as well as in propaganda, socialists should consistently fight for class independence "¦ Socialists in the ZCTU should call for the immediate severing of the bloc with the IMF, British imperialism and the white farmers. They should call for the expulsion of the middle class leaders "¦ "They should fight to get the working class trade union base to place demands on all MDC candidates and support only those who break from the pro-imperialist line and call for land seizures by the masses and the takeover of factories and businesses owned by imperialist corporations. "If ISO members are adopted as MDC candidates they ought to publicly announce that they will not accept the discipline of the leadership, but will - before, during and after the election - fight for agrarian revolution and a workers' uprising against the IMF policies of either Mugabe or Tsvangirai." No inept call for a break with the MDC here, then. Quite the opposite. In fact what strikes you about the Workers Power exhortations to Zimbabwe socialists is that the ISO has already carried them out (unfortunately it has now pulled back from its position of placing "demands on all MDC candidates"). For example, the ISO has condemned, in its 'Statement of reaffirmation of ISO positions' sent to the MDC leadership, "the rightwing bourgeois elements, especially the beneficiaries of colonialism, who sneaked into positions of authority and influence in the party". And on the demand that it refuse to "accept the discipline of the leadership, the ISO has stated: ""¦ 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 2001). Clearly the reason given by comrade King for refusal to stand in solidarity with the only active socialist grouping in Zimbabwe does not stand up to examination. But comrade Hoskisson comes up with another subterfuge: ""¦ we would of course support both solidarity and fundraising for the Zimbabwe left and labour movement in the context of a Mugabe crackdown (against, for example, the ZCTU, the ISO and others) and would be interested to know whether or not the CPGB has any proposals for such a broad campaign" (Letters, January 31). What does this mean? Can't the comrade recognise a "Mugabe crackdown" when he sees one? And why is it that "solidarity and fundraising" - impermissible for the ISO alone - is suddenly perfectly acceptable if it is extended to the ZCTU as well? The leaders of most Zimbabwe trade unions - already in receipt of funding to one degree or another from their western counterparts - are totally committed to Tsvangirai, and foster illusions in its rightwing leadership and neoliberal policies. For the comrades of Workers Power it is obviously a case of 'Decide not to do something first and dream up the reason afterwards'. What? Aid a sect other than your own? Impossible! But disguise this arrogance with meaningless talk of a "broad campaign". And, since it cannot itself contemplate acts of solidarity with comrades attached to a different tendency, WP must tar us with the same sectarian brush. So comrade King dismisses the CPGB initiative as "one of their manoeuvres against the SWP" (Letters, January 31). This really is the view of a hardened cynic, incapable of grasping what it is to behave as a principled communist. Comrade, we approached the SWP in order to seek its support for our motion to national council (see left) - support that has been forthcoming. The international alignment of the ISO is for us a secondary question - for you it is the be-all-and-end-all. What matters to us is the ISO's actions. We have been impressed not only by its courage and tenacity, but by its ability to think, to act not as a sect, but as a the potential core of a working class party. We will continue to criticise what we see as its mistakes, including its call to vote for Tsvangirai in the presidential election. But, unlike Workers Power, we will not use those criticisms to alibi a refusal to act in solidarity. Peter Manson Zimbabwe solidarity CPGB motion The national council of the Socialist Alliance notes with outrage the anti-democratic attacks on the political opponents of the Zanu-PF government in Zimbabwe in the lead-up to the presidential elections. In particular we condemn the attacks on working class and peasant activists and the stringent anti-democratic laws placed on journalists. The national council notes the campaigning work of the International Socialist Organisation of Zimbabwe for an independent socialist and working class voice. In particular, we salute the brave stand of the ISO member of parliament, Munyaradzi Gwisai. The national council of the Socialist Alliance notes the recent appeal for funds by the ISO Zimbabwe. We therefore encourage all local alliances to hold meetings on the situation in Zimbabwe and raise funds for the ISO.