Zimbabwe: Government and opposition are both against the working class

Printer-friendly version

The EU observer mission sent to watch the election in Zimbabwe were not happy about the "climate of fear" and that the "Zanu-PF leaders seemed to sanction the use of violence and intimidation". However, as the Movement for Democratic Change, lead by Morgan Tsvangirai, won 57 seats, despite being only able to safely campaign in 25 of the 120 at stake, political parties in Europe declared their satisfaction. In Britain, Labour, Tory and Liberal Democrat all appreciated the work of Tsvangirai, a leading trade unionist often called a ‘British puppet’ by Zanu-PF. Such accusations are based on the reality that he was in constant contact with the British government throughout the campaign, and all British coverage of the Zimbabwe election campaign was devoted to the denunciation of violence and the demonisation of Mugabe.

Looked at from the point of view of the working class revolutionaries have three essential points to make.

1. Zanu-PF has always been a force for capitalism and against the working class. Back in the early 80s, when everyone from Thatcher to the SWP was praising Mugabe, the ICC showed that Mugabe and the Zanu-PF government was installed with the backing of all the major imperialisms as a force for capitalist stability. The reason that Britain, the old colonial power, has turned against Mugabe is not because of the Zimbabwean state’s massacres of the 1980s, but because of Zimbabwe’s slide into chaos and the potential dangers it poses in the region. Mugabe’s favourite slogan was "Zimbabwe will never be a colony again". In practice, in a country like Zimbabwe, the big powers, using all the means at their disposal, not least the IMF, will do their best to ensure that the local state fits in with their imperialist needs.

Zanu-PF has tried to mobilise the black population outside the cities against white farmers. But, ultimately, whether the land is controlled by the state or divided into peasant small-holdings, it will not mean any improvement in the conditions of life in rural Zimbabwe.

2. Multi-party democracy in Zimbabwe expresses the dictatorship of capital just as much as the one-party state. All commentators, from right to left, have been overjoyed at the prospect of a more democratic Zimbabwe. In the words of the ANC: "the election process has underscored the fact that democracy is taking root not only in Zimbabwe but in the sub-region and, indeed, in the whole of Africa." It is appropriate that the ANC should make such remarks, because the democratic South African state has kept the working class in the same conditions, and opposed workers’ struggles just as much as its predecessor, the apartheid regime. All that has changed are some of the faces in parliament. In Zimbabwe, as in South Africa, the needs of capital remain the sole concern of the state. Democracy is used to disarm the working class, to try and make it identify with the very state which enforces capitalist exploitation.

The democratic campaign shows no sign of ending with the counting of votes. Various issues will be taken up: the MPs appointed directly by the President; the challenge to results in seats where there was a great deal of intimidation; the question of the ‘escape route’ for white farmers.

3. The MDC is a faction of the Zimbabwean ruling class, currently favoured by British imperialism. While criticising Zanu-PF, and the state of the economy it has presided over, the MDC has some modest proposals for Zimbabwean capitalism. "The MDC would cut the budget deficit and withdraw from the Congo war, creating a new economic climate and delivering new jobs" (Guardian 12/6/00). The withdrawal from the Congo is proposed on basic economic grounds: it costs the equivalent of $1m a day. The budget deficit at £2bn is some 15% of GDP and growing, debt servicing takes up half of national income, unemployment is at 55%, inflation is expected to reach 85% by the end of the year, and fuel and electricity rationing is imminent. And the problems facing Zimbabwe are not just ‘economic’. People in the country have one of the lowest rates of life expectancy in the world. Among the many health problems is the prevalence of HIV: a quarter of the population affected, 200 die every day of AIDS, current expenditure $1m a month.

The economic policy undertaken by any future government will be dependent on IMF or British assistance, and the conditions that go with it - much as Mugabe was until recently, when IMF aid was suspended. The MDC, backed by British imperialism, wants to persuade foreign governments that Zimbabwe can be a viable proposition for capital investment.

As a footnote, it is interesting to discover that a member of Socialist Worker’s sister organisation in Zimbabwe, Munyaradzi Gwisai, has become an MP after standing as an MDC candidate. With calls for nationalisations, price controls, subsidies on basic goods etc, there is the usual leftist appeal for the intervention of the capitalist state. Also wheeled out were slogans such as "Tax the rich to fund the poor" and "Forward to socialism" to give the illusion of defending working class interests. In reality the new MP shows complete loyalty to the capitalist state and its democracy.

The working class in Zimbabwe has shown its capacity for struggle, for example in the struggles in the public sector in 1996 and in January 1998 when troops were sent into Harare to crush the discontent (see WR 234). However, its inability to resist the recent orgy of bourgeois democracy, is a setback from which it can only re-emerge through independent class struggle.

Kelly 28/06/00


General and theoretical questions: 

Recent and ongoing: