No to Blair's boycott

It seems that New Labour has suddenly remembered that Zimbabwe is on imperialism's list of 'rogue states' and that, in the build-up to an attack on Iraq, it would be useful to at least maintain an air of consistency in demonising those who, for their own reasons, adopt an anti-western stance. After all, the name of Robert Mugabe might suddenly move up imperialism's list of priorities for 'regime change' candidates somewhere along the line. It was not until this month that the government, egged on by the Tories, whose only aim is to embarrass Blair somehow, urged the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) to withdraw from England's match against Zimbabwe in Harare on February 13. This is one of five matches to be played either in Harare or Bulawayo as part of the cricket World Cup, the remaining 49 being held in South Africa. The draw for the competition was made in October 2001, and the fixtures can be found in the 2002 Wisden Cricketers' Almanack, published last April. The reasons given for the proposed boycott are that Zimbabwe's president - who also happens to be the honorary president of the country's cricket association - would take succour and make political capital from such a prestigious event, at a time when his Zanu-PF regime ought to be consigned to the wilderness by all right-thinking members of the 'international community'. Justification for this stance is claimed as a result of the undoubted vote-rigging in last year's presidential elections, along with curbs on the opposition, the press and democratic rights in general - not to mention the wild allegations from some quarters involving nothing short of genocidal ethnic cleansing. And of course the seizing without compensation of white-owned farms is regarded as an unacceptable assault on bourgeois property rights. The Weekly Worker has been outspoken in its attacks on Mugabe's regime. We have highlighted Zanu-PF's corruption and its attacks on democracy, not least those aimed at workers and their organisations (an aspect which Mugabe's imperialist detractors conveniently choose to generally ignore). We have supported those in Zimbabwe - in particular the comrades from the International Socialist Organisation - who have attempted to build a working class alternative to both Zanu-PF and the neoliberal-led Movement for Democratic Change. However, unlike Blair and co, we are consistent democrats. We do not pick and choose when it comes to which abuses of democracy we oppose. For example, Pakistan was until recently a military dictatorship. Unlike Zimbabwe, parliament was closed and elections were delayed until the military had put in place sufficient 'checks and balances' to ensure the 'right' result. Yet no calls for a sporting boycott were heard from New Labour, the Tories or anyone else in the establishment. Perhaps this is because the Musharaf regime in Pakistan suddenly became a vital ally in the US-UK war on terrorism: ie, overthrowing the Taliban in Afghanistan. The ECB was, to use a cricketing analogy, put on the back foot by New Labour's newly adopted position. Of course, there is no doubting the sympathy held by most of the cricket establishment for their evicted tobacco-growing 'kith and kin' in Zimbabwe and their distaste for the likes of Mugabe. But, in the absence of government compensation, a withdrawal now would mean the loss of millions of pounds, including an anticipated £1 million fine, resulting from the failure to meet contractual obligations and the repercussions for future tours. And - horror of horrors - England's hopes of reaching the next stage of the competition would be hit for six if they had to concede the match against Zimbabwe. So it was no surprise when a meeting of the ECB management board at Lords on January 14 voted unanimously to reject the government's advice and go ahead with the fixture. "No other body or company has been asked to take the decision we have," whined ECB chief executive Tim Lamb. Almost 400 British companies do business in Zimbabwe and there are no calls for them to pull out, he went on - after all, cricket is itself just as much a business as it is a sport. The British government's hypocritical call for a boycott of the match was made entirely in pursuit of its own 'new world order' objectives. Blair has shown that he has no thoughts for the workers and peasants of Zimbabwe: his first, last and only aim is to serve the interests of British capital and the global system of exploitation. As communists, however much we oppose Mugabe's unstable, corrupt and oppressive regime, we do not fall in behind ruling class campaigns to unseat him. We look to the Zimbabwe workers and peasants, in alliance with the international proletariat, to carry out that task. That is why we were not standing alongside those, such as Outrage and Peter Tatchell, who demonstrated outside Lords urging the ECB to accede to Blair's wishes. Justified hatred for Mugabe's homophobia has got in the way of the bigger picture and in this case played into the hands of the government. While the organisations of the working class should always be exceptionally wary of ever lending their support to imperialist-sponsored campaigns, that does not mean we should reject the boycott tactic itself. For example, if in Zimbabwe there was a real movement from below - as opposed to the isolated calls from the pro-imperialist leadership of the MDC - mobilising against the playing of a cricket match in Harare, as part of a working class-led series of actions, then of course that would be something we would enthusiastically support. However, the boycott tactic should be employed only under certain specific circumstances. In general we are in favour of the greatest possible international exchange, trade and other contacts, in that this lays the basis for our own, proletarian internationalism and the strengthening of working class unity across borders. So we do not back calls, made by some muddled sections of the left, to boycott US or Israeli-produced goods (why not British?) - even though the crimes of imperialism dwarf those of minnows like Mugabe. It is the task of the working masses of Zimbabwe, with the support of the international working class movement, to get rid of the rotten Zanu-PF regime. Mary Godwin