National Sections of the L5I:

Zimbabwean workers: break from the MDC

Printer-friendly versionPDF version

As Zimbabwe approaches the March presidential elections the beleaguered regime of Robert Mugabe has been adding to its arsenal of repression. In the past year hundreds of his opponents have been beaten up detained and mistreated or killed. Savage anti-union laws have been passed. The most recent violation of democratic rights is a new press law which gags the non-government media.

This has led to ferocious a campaign by Britain for international sanctions against Zimbabwe. Is this a disinterested defence of democratic principles? Hardly. Jack Straw and Peter Hain until quite recently were sending asylum seekers from Zimbabwe back home. Mugabe’s repression is not new. As long as it overwhelmingly targeted Africans it drew little comment from Britain.
Mugabe was long a favourite of Britain. The violence during the elections of 1980, 1990 and 1995, the terrorising of Matabeleland during 1983-6, the repression meted out to workers and peasants during the uprisings against the effects of the IMF structural adjustment programme in 1996-8- all drew hardly a murmur from Whitehall.
Their real concern now is the rough handling that Mugabe’s regime has handed out to the white landowners over the past two years.
For eighteen years after independence Zanu-PF was in an alliance with the white farmers and businessmen of Zimbabwe. As long as he shared out the proceeds of corruption and large scale privatisation and the sell-off of land with the international club of capitalists Britain did not give a damn about Mugabe’s authoritarianism.
But today Zimbabwe is facing famine because of the fall in farm prices and industrial production, the hoarding of grain and maize. Inflation is running at more than 100 per cent and unemployment is around 60 per cent. The scourge of Aids is killing thousands a year. Above all the IMF austerity programmes have devastated the country.

The roots of economic crisis
Zimbabwe is a country created by British imperialism. First, the robber baron Cecil Rhodes took the land from the Shona and the Ndebele peoples and then Britain took it from Cecil Rhodes. Since the end of the 19th century black people have either been the workers on large white owned farms or eked out an existence on small plots of land.
The white farmer settlers under the white supremacist Ian Smith declared “independence” from Britain in order to hang on to their power and wealth. With the collusion of the British Tories they held on for over twenty years.
Finally they succumbed to the national liberation struggle and to pressure from imperialism. The latter saw that it could best preserve its interests even under the “Marxist-Leninist” Robert Mugabe. And how right they were.
Unlike South Africa, where the struggle for emancipation took place in the cities and shanty towns, the liberation forces in Zimbabwe were, in the main, made up of Africans from families who had lost their land to rich white farmers. Redistributing land was a key demand in building the liberation movement and its ultimate victory.
At the time of independence in 1979, white people were less than one per cent of Zimbabwe’s population of 12 million but owned a third of the arable land- the very best. Of the rest of the 11 million plus population more than 70 per cent still lived on the land. Presently, 4 000 large-scale white commercial farmers still own 11.2 million hectares of the most fertile land in the country, while one million black families are crowded into the remaining 16.3 million hectares of largely communal lands.
Expectations were high after 1980 that black rule would ensure a redistribution of land to the black rural population. But the agreement brokered by Britain and accepted by Zanu-PF, led by Robert Mugabe, ensured that the constitution ruled out any land seizures.
Even the political privileges of the whites were preserved. For the first seven years a separate electoral roll for 700,000 whites directly elected 20 MPs whilst the 11 million black population elected 100 MPs. The murderous racist Smith still sat in parliament.
In the first 10 years, 70,000 families were resettled with about 120 acres a family. There were plans to resettle another 100,000 families. But at the beginning of the 1990s the resettlement plan ran into the buffers of the IMF.
The 1991 Economic Structural Adjustment Programme-agreed between Mugabe and the IMF- offered foreign debt relief in return for cuts in welfare spending and the introduction of free market reforms. This meant strengthening the grip of white capitalists in farming and industry though sections of the Zanu-PF leadership also benefited from privatisation and corruption became rife within the ruling party and the state machine.
When a further Land Redistribution Act was enacted in 1992 much of the land redistributed went straight to Zanu-PF leaders and the growing black bourgeoisie. By the mid-1990s, black families had been settled on about 900 farms: slow progress after 15 years of Zanu-PF rule.
It wasn’t until the struggles of 1996-8 against unemployment and poverty that Mugabe started to play with the land question.
During these years, when the majority of the population was suffering the effects of structural adjustment, workers took to the streets to protest and peasants occupied farms. They were led by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU).
The ZCTU, under the pressure of rank and file union militants and socialists, eventually made a call for the creation of a workers’ party. According to the Zimbabwe International Socialists (ISO) - affiliated to the International Socialist Tendency (IST), led by the British SWP:
"From that time onwards, the party started to be built in the townships. The ISO played a major role in building what became MDC structures. Unfortunately, when the MDC was officially launched in September 1999, most of those who were appointed to the interim leadership were middle class. The workers who were involved in building the structures, and the regional chairpersons of the ZCTU who were also central, were hardly to be seen."
The result was that it was not a workers’ party but the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). The MDC had at its head the top ZCTU leader Morgan Tsvangirai, but it was a popular front drawing in middle class elements. At this point the MDC supported land redistribution too.
The war veterans also came onto the political stage during this phase. Originally, they campaigned for better pensions (not land), a demand initially refused by Mugabe. He ordered the tear gassing of veterans who were occupying the President’s residence in 1997. He later conceded the pension increase but imposed a tax on workers to pay for it - leading to more strikes and demonstrations.
The veterans became better organised, their leaders rose in the ranks of Zanu-PF. Then- under pressure- Mugabe took up the question of land redistribution. It was a cynical manoeuvre on his part- a means to rally the rural poor and use them as a battering ram against the rural and urban working class.
It was also a desperate bid to hang on to power. Given the rapidly deteriorating economic conditions he was facing a humiliating defeat at the polls. He had to revive his “left” credentials, tarnished after seventeen years of swindling the masses out of the fruits of victory over the white racists.
Mugabe declared in late 1997 that the government was going to seize the land of 1,500 white farmers. But international pressure, and a run on the Zimbabwean dollar, led to Mugabe backtracking and bringing the target down to around 1,000 farms. Still, the white farmers and British imperialism set up a hullabaloo about the threat to private property and “democracy".
But who would get the land under Mugabe’s schemes? Farm workers alone number around 350,000 and account for a quarter of Zimbabwe’s workforce and there are many more peasants with their small holdings. So for many land is key to both survival and for work
The General Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe estimates that in the past redistributions only three out of 500 people given land were farm workers. Less than 1,000 farm workers’ families out of 122,000 families were given land.
The Commercial Farmers’ Union puts the figure nearer 10 per cent for land seized recently. Even accounting for land going to war veterans and families of people robbed many years ago, there is a large amount of land going to Zanu-PF bureaucrats and black capitalists.
In this situation, any serious opposition movement-claiming to represent the workers and the poor- would propose a democratic land redistribution. It would argue for land for the veterans, certainly, but above all for the farm workers and the peasants. If that opposition movement were a revolutionary socialist one it would not condemn land seizures. Quite the opposite it would support and help organise them.
It would urge the forming of democratic land councils by the whole rural population to expropriate the white farmers and- for that matter- the Zanu-PF bureaucrats who corruptly acquired land. These councils could debate and decide on the best way to organise ownership and agricultural production so as to ensure a good standard of living, health care and education for the rural population and how to feed the cities.
Democratic co-operatives would allow maximum involvement of the rural poor with the retention of modern machinery and large scale organisation. But this could not and should not be imposed on the masses.
A party which proclaimed the need for such an agrarian revolution would be able isolate Mugabe and the Zanu-PF thugs. To a general strike in the towns and cities it would add a genuine struggle for land in the countryside which would rapidly disintegrate the social base of Mugabe and his cronies.
But, the opposition MDC has carried out a directly opposite policy. It has failed to offer a really progressive alternative to Mugabe.
Article Three: The failure of the MDC
At its foundation the MDC was overwhelmingly dominated by workers and led by trade union leaders. It arose out of militant opposition to the IMF measures carried out by Mugabe.
But instead of forming a workers’ party the union bureaucrats encouraged the NGOs and middle and small scale black bosses, to enter the MDC. There was a rapid evolution of the MDC into a popular front party where bourgeois politicians could politically exploit the workers’ votes and activists to get into power and carry out a neo-liberal policy.
Since the elections of 2000, the MDC actively sought and received support from the Commercial Farmers Union (CFU), which is the main representative of the mainly white big farmers and from British imperialism. Despite being born out of strikes and land occupations in 1998-99, the MDC in 2000 was saying that “land seizures should stop and a commission be set up".
It has also agreed to carry on with the IMF’s structural adjustment programme. This was a betrayal of the interests of the workers and the rural poor and allowed Mugabe and Zanu-PF to label the MDC as a creature of western imperialism.
Whilst it is vital that the international workers’ movement defends the democratic rights of the popular opposition to Mugabe in Zimbabwe - specifically the labour movement and the youth - it should not join in the calls for imperialist sanctions as Morgan Tsvangirai repeatedly does.
In Zimbabwe, the ISO- though it criticises the MDC leadership continues to call for a workers’ party and has been threatened with expulsion-has in practice adopted a stage-ist strategy. First elect the MDC as it is: then the workers will be disillusioned and turn to class socialist politics. Thus in an interview in Green Left Weekly, paper of the Australian Democratic Socialists a spokesperson of the ISO is reported as saying that:
” -the ISO would prefer to remain in the MDC until workers have had the opportunity to experience it in office. The ISO will urge a vote for the MDC in the 2002 presidential election so that workers can gain ’some bourgeois democracy’, such as the right to strike."
This “stages theory” represents an enormous error- similar to voting for the ANC in South Africa. The alternative is to hold fast to the revolutionary strategy of permanent revolution-to fight for a workers’ government, allied to a peasant agrarian revolution. Only victory for the workers and the rural and urban poor will assure democracy in Zimbabwe.
At the ballot box as well as in propaganda socialists should consistently fight for class independence. Any other course will strengthen not only the MDC capitalists but Mugabe as well.
Socialists in the ZCTU and the working class base units of the MDC should call for the immediate severing of the block with the IMF, British imperialism and the white farmers. They should call for the expulsion of the middle class leaders. They should not support a vote for or the installation of a neo-liberal MDC government.
They should fight to get the working class trade union base to place demands on all the MDC candidates and support only those who break from the pro-imperialist line and call for land seizures by the masses and the take-over 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.
A party 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 of Mugabe’s dictatorial methods then this is understandable.
Understandable but wrong. When workers find this out from bitter experience they will have a 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.