Saturday, July 04, 2009

Zimbabwe: The revolution betrayed - drawing the lessons

The mistakes made by the International Socialist Organization-Zimbabwe (ISOZ) can be traced back to the reformist politics of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) of Britain. The SWP and the trend of the International Socialists (IS) all distort Trotsky’s position on entrism into a Labour Party. This semi-permanent entrism into not only Labour parties but also bourgeois nationalist parties, has at its centre the watering down of the revolutionary programme, with the resultant opportunist politics. The opportunist politics of the ISOZ in Zimbabwe has played a major role, if not the major role, in the betrayal of the revolution in Zimbabwe. We place the responsibility for the betrayal at the feet of the British SWP and the IS trend, as at all times the ISOZ looked to them for political leadership and guidance.

On the so-called dual nature of reformism

The SWP justify their entry into capitalist reformist parties by the following: “We in the IS Tendency understand that reformism is a contradictory formation that both expresses and contains working class struggle. Relating to it means knowing how to work with and against people to our right- with them when they want to fight against the bosses and the regime, against them when they hold the struggle back.”(letter from Alex Callinicos to ISOZ, responding to a request for advice on how and when the split with of ISOZ with the MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) should take place : May-June 2002 Socialist Worker-Zimbabwe).

But, working together with reformists in a united front and entering a capitalist reformist party are 2 completely different things. A United Front is a temporary front for a specific purpose in which all the participants maintain their separate identity and discipline, while we ‘strike together’ against a common enemy. We can break from it at any time. To enter a capitalist reformist party means subjecting yourself to the discipline and programme of capitalism. This creates illusions in such a party and undermines the fundamental principle of working class independence.

Such entrism is thus generally permitted into a Labour/workers’ party only when such party is in the process of formation before its programme is fully established; it is also normally of short duration as the clash of programmes (revolutionary versus reformist) would lead to a split; it is also possible in the case of a reformist labour party in the process of formation, that the revolutionary group wins the day, resulting in a mass revolutionary party. The MDC was never a labour/workers’ party as from the beginning it had capitalist representatives. It had been initiated and funded by imperialism from the beginning.

It is not a question of being ‘with the reformists when they fight the bosses and the regime’, but a question of exposing at all times in the eyes of the working class that the reformists cannot be depended upon to wage a fight against the bosses and the regime to its end.

In fact at times of revolutionary upsurge of the masses, the capitalists class are forced to put reformist leaderships forward to head off or side track the masses from the revolutionary path. This is the central reason why the capitalist class needs a Popular Front at a time that its traditional capitalist parties have been discredited in the eyes of the masses. Thus the question of maintaining working class independence at all times, and especially not forming part of Popular Fronts, is so crucial. How else will the masses see the importance of independent working class action, if false hope is placed on reformists to act against ‘the bosses and the regime’ and in this case, of putting hope of reformists in a capitalist party to act against ‘the bosses and the regime’.

The masses also need to learn about the capitalist nature of Popular Fronts. Popular Fronts are in essence reformist capitalist parties that base themselves on support from the trade unions, either directly forming part of them (through ex-trade union leaders forming part of their leadership and/or in alliance with the current leadership of the trade unions). The masses need to learn about the nature of the middle class and about the middle class nature of the leadership of the MDC, Zanu-PF and other pro-capitalist parties. To support the reformists when they appear to act against the bosses and their regime is to help contain the masses.

In the heat of the fire of the 1917 Russian revolution, when the threat of counter-revolutionary military coup by General Kornilov against the interim government led by Kerensky, was raised, the Bolsheviks led the fight to put down Kornilov. The Bolsheviks used the opportunity to openly arm the masses, in other words, to advance their own programme, not to ease for one second any criticism of the Kerensky government that they had; they correctly analysed the class nature of Kerensky, that he and the Social Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, were not consistent fighters against Kornilov and were, behind the scenes and sometimes openly, cutting deals with the counter-revolution (Trotsky: History of the Russian Revolution see Chapters on Kornilov insurrection and Bourgeoisie measures strength with the Democracy).

The SWP would have supported Kerensky, by even joining his party, against Kornilov, as they have supported a vote for Zuma in the April South Africa elections (just because of the promise of free education). Bolsheviks support the masses against Kornilov and for the struggle for free education while warning the masses about the Kerensky’s and Zuma’s of the world. The SWP supports Tshivangerai against Mugabe, instead of the masses against the Zimbabwe state, instead of at the same time exposing the middle class nature of Tshivangerai. The SWP policy of duality of the reformists acts as a containment, a brake on the revolution of the working class. It is not for nothing that Trotsky said that the experience of entrism into the British labour party had yielded more negatives than any gains.

Watering down of the programme

The entrism supported by the SWP, is not only based on watering down of the revolutionary programme under the guise of being close to the masses, but leads directly to opportunism and tailing the consciousness of the masses: In 2002 Callinicos asks the ISOZ: “How much has changed since you joined the MDC? Crucially, are the most advanced workers and activists in the process of breaking from it?” The ISOZ in their letter to the MDC (8 April 2009) point out that the MDC Bridge programme was in fact a structural adjustment programme of the IMF, yet Callinicos, having seen this letter, still asks: ‘How much has really changed?’ Thus for the SWP, the programme of the MDC does not matter; all that really matters is where the so-called advanced workers are. The ISOZ points out that scope for criticism in the MDC has all but vanished and all the SWP is concerned about is that the fact that the ISOZ has a parliamentarian in the name of the MDC, makes the timing of the withdrawal ‘critical’.

The SWP sees it as ‘odd’ for the ISOZ to depart even though the MDC has adopted the programme of the IMF! Trotsky in his 1932 discussions on the Labour Party question in America was clear: We cannot stand before the masses with 2 banners, one cheaper ticket and a first class ticket. At all times we have to have one banner and one programme. The SWP has no problem for the ISOZ members to be associated with the IMF programme and at the same time with a ‘revolutionary’ programme. The ISOZ, under the guidance of the SWP presented a second class ticket (a watered-down programme) and a third class ticket (the capitalist programme of the MDC) to the masses.

But the political mistakes do not start in 2002 when the ISOZ, to their credit, initiated a break from the MDC. They start in 1999 when the MDC was formed.

The revolution starts in Zimbabwe; SWP betrays

The 1980 transfer of power to Zanu-PF meant that Mugabe became the favoured agent for imperialism in Zimbabwe. Although minor aspects of the economy were nationalized, the bulk remained in the hands of imperialism. The 1980’s were characterized by heroic fights by the world working class but these ended in defeats of the working class by Thatcherism and Reaganism; on local soil the uprising of the peasants for land in Matabeleland was brutally put down in 1983-4 resulting in the death of about 20 000 peasants and their families. The protection of the rule of imperialism-capitalism was perpetrated by the armed forces of the Zanu-PF and supported by North Korean troops. The support of US imperialism for the massacres was also implied by the fact that they gave open military support to Mugabe right up to 2001.

The stagnation of the world capitalist economy resulted in imperialism-capitalism creating various mechanisms to shift their crisis onto the working classes of the world; structural adjustment programmes were forced onto the Soviet bloc of countries as they were in Africa and elsewhere; the cutbacks on social expenses contributed to the uprisings of the working class in the Soviet bloc countries which resulted in the restoration of capitalism there although the Stalinist world apparatus was shattered- a new market for imperialist exploitation was opened.

Even this was not enough to bring imperialism out of their crisis. Everywhere the cutbacks on social expenses and privatization of the means of production were being resisted by the working class. In Africa country by country was forced to adopt structural adjustment programmes, and here too resistance by the working class limited the plans of imperialism. In Zambia the resistance of the masses was so great that imperialism created the MMD (Movement for Multi-Party Democracy) led by former trade union general secretary, Chiluba, to head off the uprising and direct it into parliamentary channels.

In Zimbabwe the Structural Adjustment programme was formally adopted in 1991, although cutbacks on social expenses has started before this. The cutbacks on social expenditure went hand in hand with the collapse of the local agriculture as self-sufficiency in food production was replaced by single crop commodity-for-export production. The imperialists forced the creation of new markets for their processed food and other products on the bones of the peasantry, the workers and the unemployed. From 2002 to 2007 the food monopolies exported US$ 400 million in ‘aid’ to Zimbabwe, on the back of the deliberate collapse of local agriculture.

The old bureaucracy (aligned to the Zanu-PF) in the ZCTU (Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions) were overthrown in 1988 when the stagnation of the economy had already taken serious proportions. In 1994 there was a general strike against the effects of structural adjustment; by August 1996 revolt from the masses burst into open rebellion; a form of workers’ councils, labour forums, became widespread and these meetings of rank and file worker delegates called and ran the strikes over the head of the trade union bureaucracy.

The open revolt of the Zimbabwean working class at the same time of world economic crisis in 1997 posed an international danger for imperialism- they had to head off the revolt by any means necessary. The danger was that this revolt may spread to South Africa and any other part of the world. The new trade union bureaucrats placed themselves at the head of the strike wave and turned it into a wave of 5 day stayaways instead of 5 day factory occupations, thus actively discouraging factory seizures. The trade unions offered no solution, while the working class demanded a united fight against the state and their system.

In the absence of a deep tradition of a Communist Party, in the context of the restoration of capitalism in the East bloc countries and with the ISOZ being only a handful of activists, the formation of a Labour Party was placed on the agenda.

The ISOZ correctly, under these circumstances, called for the formation of a workers’ party and attempted to provide a left pole around which the working class could rally. The WIVL condemned the MDC as a reactionary organization, created by imperialism to head off the revolution. While this was true, WIVL’s call should have been linked with the call for a workers’ party and this critique (of the MDC) taken into movement leading up to the formation of the MDC as a party. The centre of this critique should have been to break the working class from the capitalist party, the MDC, and to call for an independent labour/workers’ party. In this sense that the WIVL was not for the ISOZ to call for a labour party within the labour forums and making propaganda for this (counter-posing the workers’ party to the MDC) among the base of workers discussions that were debating the ‘people’s convention’ (the fore-runner of the MDC), our position was sectarian.

The ISOZ entered the MDC, creating illusions that it was a workers’ party when in fact it was a capitalist party. To its credit when the MDC had adopted the economic programme of the IMF, the ISOZ initiated a split from it in 2002. The ISOZ leaders also acknowledged that the MDC had already isolated them as far back as 2001. Thus even in this split from the MDC, the ISOZ were tailing developments. The MDC is not a United Front but a Popular front as it had capitalist representatives in them from the beginning (such as Eddie Cross of the Zimbabwe Chamber of Industries). Despite the failure of the WIVL to call for a workers’ party in Zimbabwe at that time, that the SWP directed the ISOZ to not to pose certain critical transitional demands, to not openly warn the masses of the treacherous nature of Tshivagerai and to stay join and stay in the MDC and build the Popular Front, means that WIVL was to the left of both SWP and ISOZ. While the WIVL position was sectarian initially, the SWP position was opportunist through and through (‘Entrism requires patience’ wrote Callinicos, as he argued in 2002 for the ISOZ to remain even longer in the MDC).

After 2 failed attempts to build reformist parties in Zimbabwe, imperialism finally realized they needed the support of the trade union bureaucracy as they had in the case of Zambia. In order to head off the revolt, imperialism funded the calling of a people’s convention in 1998-9, leading to the MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) to be formed in September 1999. The British Tories funded the formation of the MDC while the imperialist Frederich Ebert Foundation funded the formation of the NCA (National Constitutional Assembly) and actively promoted Tshivangerai as its leader. The NCA was a major player in the calling of the ‘People’s Convention’, and thus in the formation of the MDC. The SWP failed to warn the working class of the counter-revolutionary aims of those who were leading the setting up of the MDC, instead they merely referred to it then as an ‘enigma’ (mystery). They failed to direct the ISOZ to expose this from the very beginning. Clearly, at this stage, the SWP gave support to Tshivagerai, instead of supporting the working class and warning them about him.

Further, no call was made to set up soviets or workers’ councils as the main basis to unite the struggles and to make attempts to win over the army. The call for soviets would have created a basis to counter-pose this workers’ assembly to the ‘people’s’ assembly being led by the capitalists.

Further, the ISOZ programme at the initial stages of the formation of the MDC, before its programme and structure had been finalized, was defective in a number of ways:

1. There was no call for the expulsion of all capitalist representatives from the ‘People’s Convention’ and thus from any efforts to form a worker’s party; this fight would have helped to expose the true capitalist nature of the MDC and facilitated the development of a workers’ party in opposition to it - a successful battle on this front would have meant the setting up of a labour party- not a guarantee of a revolutionary party, but the first step to take independent political organization of the working class forward; in the absence of even raising this demand, the SWP, through the ISOZ created, if not supported the illusion that the MDC was a labour party and not a Popular Front;

2. There was no call for the formation of soviets or the transformation of the labour forums into soviets;

3. There was no call for the formation of a workers’ militia (which Trotsky in the 1938 discussions on the Labour party emphasized as an essential part of a set of transitional demands to be presented by Fourth International groups entering labour parties);

4. There was no demand for an end to unemployment and a sliding scale of hours;

5. there was no call for a workers’ and peasants government, ie a workers’ government which has the support of the poor peasants;

6. while there was a call for nationalization – this was not linked to expropriation of imperialist assets without compensation, under workers control of production.

In short the programme of the ISOZ was a left bourgeois programme, a minimum programme. This shortcoming is to be blamed on the SWP and the IS tendency, who have access to all the writings of Trotsky and Lenin, and should have given direction to the ISOZ.

Trotsky warned in 1938 that the formation of a labour party shows that the class conflict is sharpening and that the capitalist class would prepare a fascist option if necessary. He went further to warn that the programme that we present should be transitional and not a minimum programme. Trotsky said in the 1938 discussions on the labour party: “we also have the possibility of spreading the slogans of our transitional program and see the reaction of the masses. We will see what slogans should be selected, what slogans abandoned, but if we give up our slogans before the experience, before seeing the reaction of the masses, then we can never advance.”

Further he said: “These demands are transitory because they lead from the capitalist society to the proletarian revolution, a consequence insofar as they become the demands of the masses as the proletarian government. We can’t stop only with the day-to-day demands of the proletariat. We must give to the most backward workers some concrete slogan that corresponds to their needs and that leads dialectically to the conquest of power.”

Thus the posing of a minimum programme by the SWP for the entry of ISOZ into the MDC, not only disarmed the Zimbawean working class but also the ISOZ itself. This meant that the ISOZ presented 2 reformist programmes to the working class, the ultra-cheap MDC ticket and the 2nd class ISOZ one. This resulted in confusion in the minds of the working class. If a transitional programme had been presented by the ISOZ in the beginning stages of the formation of the MDC to help expose it, this would have drawn the class line between the ISOZ and the MDC. This might have led to a quicker expulsion from the discussions of the ranks of the People’s Convention but at least the working class would have seen the revolutionary programme that the ISOZ stood for and the masses would know which door to come knocking on when the analysis of the ISOZ became reality. But a more positive outcome could have developed, namely that the ISOZ could have grown as a revolutionary pole for the creation of a labour party as opposed to the MDC, with a possible development into a mass revolutionary party- this would have placed the ISOZ in a world historic leading role in the struggle for Socialism.

Of course, analysis is always easier with hindsight but the importance of this analysis is to draw the lessons for the world proletariat so as to clarify our tactics and strategies for the present and future.

The degeneration of the ISOZ

In the March 2000 elections, the ISOZ put up a candidate (Gwisai) in one of the working class neighbourhoods, Highfield, in Harare. He had been scheduled to stand in central Harare where there were capitalist factories in the constituency. Due to pressure from the capitalist elements the ISOZ then shifted the candidacy to Highfield. With an approach of forming soviets and a workers’ militia, and considering the militant mood among the masses at the time, they should have contested the central Harare constituency. But even in the Highfield constituency, no attempts were made to form workers’ councils or even the beginnings of a workers’ militia. This was part of the ongoing opportunist adaptation by the ISOZ (under guidance of the SWP) to the capitalist order.

From 2000 up until the present date, the fascist crackdown against the working class by capitalism imperialism, through Mugabe, has intensified. While the selected land invasions by Mugabe’s rich peasant base took place, his troops stood guard over commercial farms, factories, shops and mines owned by imperialism. The response of the National Co-ordinating Committee of the ISOZ to the fascist crackdown was to place faith in the church: “we could start with prayers at designated local churches followed by marches and protests from the churches led by the pastors and leadership of the movement” (NCC statement 11.06.05, Harare).

In the run-up to the June 2008 presidential elections a pre-revolutionary situation existed in Zimbabwe, the masses had voted earlier in the year, despite huge intimidation by Mugabe’s fascist gangs, for the MDC; at a point one of the military heads of Zanu-PF fled to South Africa citing that 75% of the armed forces were against Mugabe; when the masses started to turn even against Tshivagerai, who did nothing to mobilize the masses to arm themselves in self defence, the ISOZ was still mobilizing support for the MDC: “we are demanding a constitution that enshrines basic socio-economic rights and labour rights and ensures their enforceability centrally through a constitutionally guaranteed budgetary system as illustrated by the Venezuelan constitution.” Whereas the ISOZ initially opposed a government of national unity they now called for “ speedy finalization of the current ongoing talks for a government of national unity”. (Fortune Rera ISOZ NCC 20 Nov 2008- letter to WIVL).

On the 23rd Sept 2008 Gwisai presented his analysis of the current situation: “we are cognizant that in the short term the possibility of massive mass action is slim…..we welcome the position taken by the ZCTU and NCA for a continued demand of a genuine people driven constitution and the holding of free and fair elections thereafter……it is imperative that there be the urgent regroupment in a united front of the radical, anti-neo-liberal and left forces, including organized labour. We are hoping the coming Zimbabwe Social Forum in October provides a further platform for the remobilization of radical forces….a united front struggle ……immediately means….a new people’s driven constitution…”

Although the ISOZ has now split into 2 fractions around Rera and Gwisai respectively, the above positions show that their position in essence the same: namely promoting faith in a bourgeois constituent assembly, instead of exposing at every step of the way that such processes, irrespective if they are worker driven, would not result in the demands of the masses being met. While the masses were in the streets and soldiers even left their barracks for the streets in support of the masses, neither fraction of ISOZ made any attempt at calling for workers councils and workers’ militia. But then how could the ISOZ do this while they were still ‘patiently’ implementing the SWP position of support for the MDC, although supposedly ‘critically’! Yet another example of the SWP marching with the reformists instead of with the masses.

The ISOZ and SWP support Chavez, who is cracking down on the Venezuelan working class and safeguarding capitalism there. They support the World Social Forum whose main aim is to divert the working class masses from revolution against capitalism.

Was it sheer coincidence that the wave of so-called xenophobic violence, against Zimbabweans and other black Africans, was swept up in South Africa at the same time that there was a pre-revolutionary situation in Zimbabwe? Did the imperialists utilize the nationalist sentiments in the petty bourgeois layers of the ANC and the desperation of the lumpen proletariat, to their advantage by creating fascistic gangs to destabilise the Zimbabwean masses and to divert attention of the rising masses away from the taking of power?

The mass attacks against black foreigners in South Africa took place in May 2008, weeks before the June Presidential elections in Zimbabwe. At the time there were over 1 million Zimbabwean refugees in South Africa (by far the largest group of refugees). The capitalist media fanned the flames of violence by openly showing front page pictures of a foreign worker burning while the police were laughing and doing nothing. This handed a blank cheque to the fascist gangs to opportunistically act and sweep many workers along with them.

The aim of the fascistic violence against black African refugees was 3-fold: Firstly to destabilize the Zimbabwean working class from launching a mass revolutionary uprising against the imperialist-backed Zimbabwean state; secondly, such an uprising could have had serious spill-over into South Africa, one of the key bastions of imperialism in Africa- the masses protests against the state and capital in South Africa could have intensified and opened the road to mass uprising in South Africa; thirdly, it could have provided a beacon to the rest of the working class in the world in the current global attacks by capitalism-imperialism.

The massive devaluation of the Zim dollar since 2002 was not due to ‘farm invasions’ but were a deliberate ploy by imperialism to starve the Zimbabwean working class, to break its spirit of resistance. The masses may be tired but the events of 2008 show that the Zimbabwean masses can never be written off, the masses will rise again. The dollarisation of the Zimbabwean economy is another mechanism to shift the burden of the crisis of capitalism onto the masses in Zimbabwe. It was a vicious attempt by imperialism to break the fighting spirit of the Zimbabwean masses. This comes at a time when the value of the US dollar is less than the Zimbabwean dollar in real terms but the violence of world imperialism imposes an artificial value to the US dollar- one of the chief means of super-exploiting the masses of the world and a means to extract surplus value from the workers of the world.

The way forward

The first step for the members of ISOZ is to break decisively with the opportunist politics of the SWP and IS tendency and to make a public self-criticism available to the Zimbabwean working class. If this means breaking from the ISOZ or refounding it or forming a new revolutionary working class formation, it is not for us to prescribe to you.

Secondly, we invite you and the heroic Zimbabwean working class to join in discussions with the WIVL and the FLT (Leninist Trotskyist Fraction) to form an International Leninist Trotskyist Fraction as part of the process of co-ordinating the fight against capitalism imperialism from here onwards.

Thirdly, a programme of transitional demands needs to be developed for Zimbabwe for the current situation and we invite you to give the lead in developing such proposals. It is this programme that should be counter-posed to the Constitutional referendum, not calling for a no or yes vote for questions that may be manipulated to give no choice to the working class in any case. The cornerstone of such a programme has been confirmed by the negative experience of the MDC, namely that to achieve the full democratic demands, can only be realized through the working class taking power in Zimbabwe, through the application of the permanent revolution. Such a programme can be the only way that an independent revolutionary working class party can develop in Zimbabwe, as part of the rebuilding/refounding a revolutionary International; we believe this to be the Fourth International. Shinga Mushandi Shinga! Qina Msebenzi Qina!

Workers International Vanguard League - South Africa. 24.05.09

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2. Leon Trotsky, 1938, On the Labour Party Question in the United States- 3 discussions in Mexico City with James P. Cannon, Vincent R. Dunne and Max Shachtman.
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4. Alex Callinicos, undated, Entrism needs patience (May-June 2002 Socialist Worker).
5. Oscar Simbi,undated, Revolutionaries can’t remain in a hegemonic right wing popular front (May-June 2002 Socialist Worker).
6. NCC ISOZ, 2002, Build an alternative to MDC & Zanu PF neo-liberalism.
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14. Mahmood Mamdani, 4 Dec 2008, Lessons Of Zimbabwe. London Review of Books.
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16. NCC ISOZ, 11 June 2005, Operation Povo Yaramba: ‘Great Stir in the air’ …We must continue the struggle!
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18. WIVL, 2 July 2008, MDC diverts the working class in Zimbabwe from seizing power.
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28. Workers International News, dec 2001, Article on Trotsky on the Labour party (with commentary on the MDC)

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