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Zimbabwe: Only mass mobilisation can defeat the Mugabe dictatorship

By the International Socialist Organization (Zimbabwe)

April 11, 2008 -- The March 29, 2008, elections have brought into sharp relief the escalating crisis in Zimbabwe. [At the time of writing] the government–appointed Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) has not announced the results of the presidential election, which the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change led by former trade union leader Morgan Tsvangirai -- MDC(T) [a marginal faction of the MDC led by Arthur Mutambara, also stood] claims to have won by a margin of more than 50%. The results for the parliamentary election show that the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), led by Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, has lost its majority to the opposition for the first time since independence.

The ZEC National Command Centre, where the presidential results were to be announced, has reportedly been disbanded and several ZEC officials arrested for allegedly ``defrauding'' the ZANU-PF candidate. ZANU-PF insists that a run-off election between Tsvangirai and Mugabe is inevitable as no candidate has reached the requisite majority of 50% plus one. The ruling party has also demanded a complete recount of the presidential election. In the midst of growing belligerent propaganda on state-run media, Mugabe re-appointed his cabinet, half of whom lost have their parliamentary seats, in a show of hardening resolve by the regime.


MDC supporters


Contrary to previous promises, MDC(T) went to court to force the ZEC to announce the election results, a process which on past experience will be drawn out and futile. The MDC(T) has now announced that it is not going to participate in any run-off or re-count, as it won the election and wants to avoid bloodshed in a fraudulent re-run.

However, the MDC(T) has not been clear on its alternatives, other than Tsvangirai calling for intervention from the UN and the ``international community'', and launching a regional ``diplomatic offensive'' to have Mugabe declared illegitimate ahead of an emergency regional meeting of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in Zambia on April 12.

The state-run media has reported that senior MDC(T) officials have approached justice minister P. Chinamasa and other ZANU-PF officials with proposals for the cancellation of the run-off and establishment of a government of national unity with Tsvangirai as one of the vice-presidents. ZANU-PF says it has rejected the proposal and insisted that the run-off election be held. The MDC(T) has so far been silent on the claims.

What then do we make of the Zimbabwean crisis at this stage, in the context of [the International Socialist Organization (Zimbabwe)'s] past perspectives? What is the way forward?

Summary of past ISOZ positions

In the last two or so years, the ISO has set certain perspectives on the crisis and on the way forward, which we believe remain substantially correct as a guide to working people.[1] These may be summarised as:

  1. In 2008 the crisis in Zimbabwe has reached a crossroads after a decade of accumulating political and economic crises. Because of the absence of a substantial radical united front of the [common people] and the depth of the crisis, the likely resolution of the crisis is an elitist compromise settlement involving a government of national unity between elites in the ZANU-PF and the MDC, around a Western supported neoliberal economic framework, sometime after the March election. That on the one hand, ZANU-PF elites now recognise that they have no solution to the economic crisis and want ``the peace to grow and launder the wealth acquired in the last decade but could not do so in the context of a crisis ridden state under siege from the West''. The imperialists have reached the conclusion that the MDC does not have the capacity to defeat ZANU-PF, while the MDC is dominated by a petite-bourgeois elite now eager to get into state power, even as junior partners to ZANU-PF and start accumulating as a neocolonial dependent capitalist class.
  2. That the March election, on its own, would not be decisive in settling the Zimbabwean crisis, but that the ``climaxing economic crisis is the most important factor...'' The importance of the elections lay in that they would be used by the elites to determine the composition and content of a possible government of national unity. This was especially so for Mugabe, who seeks to use them to legitimise ZANU-PF seniority in any coalition to safeguard him in eventual retirement.
  3. That in the March elections, a ZANU-PF victory was likely by hook or crook, especially after Kenya, and factors like Mugabe's control of the rural vote, the absence of a democratic constitution and an even playing field, divisions in the opposition, and urban emigration and disillusionment due to Operation Murambatsvina [Mugabe's 2005 campaign of repression to drive out and make homeless large sections of the urban poor] and the economic crisis. That even in the unlikely event of losing the election, the ZANU-PF regime would not accept defeat, but, unless stopped by mass mobilisation, would likely follow the ``Algerian route'', whereby Algeria's regime, facing certain defeat by the Islamist parties, annulled the announcement of election results, and retained power.
  4. That an elitist compromise is not automatic, given the dynamics of the succession question in ZANU-PF, intransigence of its hardliners and the pace of the crisis. That if the elites fail to reach a compromise, the imploding economic crisis could lead to other possibilities, such as a full-scale ZANU-PF–military dictatorship with brutal repression of opposition forces, a failed state or ``an alternative resolution to the Zimbabwean a crisis from below (via) massive social and political struggles by working people...''
  5. That the people's power route is only possible if there is ``the urgent establishment of a united and democratic front of the commons and democrats, including organised labour, residents, informal traders, youths, students, women, progressive civic groups, socialists and other radicals, including from the opposition parties ...(but) such a front must be autonomous of the MDC''. That the People's Convention (see [a gathering of nearly 4000 delegates from civic groups, trade unions, the Zimbabwe Social Forum and the left, which met in mid-February] offered possible foundations for this.
  6. Given this possibility of change from below, the way forward was ``rejecting and mobilising against the fake March 2008 elections and demanding that any elections be held under a new democratic and people-driven constitution''. That the regime was now in a corner because of the massive crisis and could be defeated by mass action, and that it was desperate for the opposition to participate in its fake elections to legitimise them and demobilise the masses. That in any case an opposition victory without mass action, would lead to an elitist MDC government that would not be controllable by the masses but by elites from business and the imperialists.

Analysis of March 29 election

In the March election, the MDC(T) performed much better than we had anticipated, maintaining its urban strongholds and defeating ZANU-PF in some of its previous strongholds in particular in Manicaland and Masvingo.[2] The combined opposition will control the House of Assembly, including appointing the speaker. And contrary to our projections, if the two MDC factions had been united they would actually have won the election. However, our analysis remains valid in so far as the results show the continuing support for ZANU-PF by the majority of rural voters.

Thus unlike what happened to other regimes that had implemented neoliberal programs and were subsequently virtually wiped out, such as the UNIP in Zambia, KANU in Kenya and the MCP in Malawi, ZANU-PF still remains a substantial party in Zimbabwe despite the unprecedented economic crisis. Indeed the presidential result is going be decisive, for whichever party wins, will also control the legislature as the president will not only enjoy executive powers but also directly appoint 15 senators and influence the 18 chiefly senators.

Nonetheless the opposition did very well. What factors explain the above? First and foremost is the massive poverty induced by the escalating economic crisis, now extending to the rural poor, and the obvious inability of the state to address this. While factors like corruption, inefficiency and agricultural decline partially explain the economic crisis, the fundamental reason is the strangulation of the economy by the capitalists and the Western countries through direct and indirect sanctions. These include denial of access to international credit to the Zimbabwean state and companies under laws like the US Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act; travel warnings to tourists; massive reduction in investment and aid with for instance Zimbabwe now receiving less than US$10 for every person affected by AIDS/HIV when the regional comparison is over US$100.

Whilst strangling the national economy and capacity of the state to deliver welfare, the Western countries have poured significant amounts of money into food relief for peasants in most rural areas through the World Food Program and international NGOs. Faced with another disastrous agricultural season, the peasants, especially in the drought-prone provinces, voted with their stomachs for the party they felt was closest to those who were feeding them. This is the ``soft rigging'' ZANU-PF is now harping on about and will possibly use as justification for rejecting the results.

Second and related to the above is the continued working-class and urban poor support for MDC(T), in the absence of viable left alternatives. Further many workers retrenched as a result of the crisis and those displaced by Operation Murambatsvina provided the critical mass around which MDC(T) was able to campaign in the rural areas. This was especially so in the context of probably the most peaceful electoral environment since 1980..., a sleek, deceitful and massively funded MDC(T) campaign, which for the first time since 2000 emphasised on the bread-and-butter issues affecting the masses, such as education, health and food.

Finally, there were the immense divisions within ZANU-PF [triggered] by the succession question, which saw unpopular candidates imposed from the top.

Mugabe also paid the price the failure of his regime to radicalise further in response to the economic siege. The regime's only probable alternative to deal with the current crisis and onslaught by business and the imperialists was to move towards expropriation of the main businesses that produce the necessities of life, in other words a state capitalist model similar to Cuba or North Korea. Instead the business elites in the regime, led by Reserve Bank governor G. Gono, successfully fought the June 2007 price freeze measures advocating free market policies and bribes for the electorate through tractors, ploughs etc. Without the economic wherewithal, the ZANU-PF state remains weak and unable to meet the basic needs of the population. It is of course debatable whether under the current global political and economic environment, even a state capitalist model, would have saved the regime from a determined onslaught by the forces of global capital, as we see the retreats that regimes like Libya and North Korea are now making.

What now after the election?

The massive performance of MDC(T) partly vindicates those who were arguing that something was happening in the electorate and therefore it was necessary to participate in the elections. However, our central positions remain intact. If the MDC(T) is correct that it won the presidential election by an absolute majority, yet ZANU-PF is insisting that there will be a run-off, this confirms our basic argument that the regime would remain in power by hook or crook, unless otherwise compelled by mass mobilisation. Further our other basic position of the likelihood of an elitist and neoliberal deal around a government of national unity remains most likely. Despite the massive vote for the removal of the ZANU-PF dictatorship by the masses, and for change, the elites who now dominate the MDC(T) are likely to cut a deal with the regime.

The number of businesspeople, bankers and top professionals and lawyers amongst the newly elected MDC parliamentary representatives is staggering, with no less than 14 senior lawyers! At the same time the election has produced a hung parliament which gives disproportionate power to the similarly elite-dominated MDC(Mutambara) faction and that of former ZANU-PF cabinet minister Simba Makoni, whose 7–10% vote will be necessary to decide both the presidential run-off election and to pass laws and budgets in parliament. In ZANU-PF itself the best performing areas were in the Mashonaland provinces dominated by the pro-business Mujuru faction. These factors point to the strong likelihood of an elitist deal, under pressure from business and the imperialists, especially with the sword of Mugabe’s black indigenisation law hanging over their heads [a law that would make it mandatory that 51% of companies are owned by ``indigenous'' Zimbabweans]. As Justice minister Chinamasa points out, there is immense pressure for a government of national unity in international and regional circles, with threats of escalation of the sanctions if this fails to materialise.

This is why one cannot dismiss out of hand the claim by ZANU-PF that the MDC(T) has already made proposals for a cancellation of the presidential run-off election and for a government of national unity. As we earlier warned, the MDC elites are desperate to get into government at any cost. The MDC(T) officials that ZANU-PF claims have approached them are the same as those in Tsvangirai's infamous kitchen cabinet. We should also not forget that this is the same MDC that went into secret talks with ZANU-PF and signed Amendment 18 [under Constitutional Amendment 18, signed by both ZANU-PF and the MDC, the winner of the presidential election has to get an outright majority]. In any case Tsvangirai has made no secret his intention of creating a government of national unity ``with elements from ZANU-PF''.

Thus the MDC(T)'s new position of boycotting the run-off, after initially stating it would contest ``under protest'', would be commendable and consistent with our earlier argument of rejecting fake elections, but is suspect in the circumstances. Instead of mobilising the masses who have overwhelmingly voted for it, ... the MDC(T) has focused on calling for so-called ``international community'' intervention -– code words for the Western countries -- and sending its leaders on futile regional–international ``diplomatic offensives''. Most damning, it is pacifying its members and civic groups by calling for restraint and not doing anything to provoke the regime. The MDC(T) is again going to Mugabe's courts for relief, giving the regime cover to draw out the dispute and consolidate its positions.

The behaviour of the regime in refusing to announce the election results has more than vindicated the position of those who said that without a democratic constitution and mass mobilisation, the March election would not deliver change and that Mugabe was not joking when he warned Bulawayo residents: ``You can vote for them [MDC], but that will be a wasted vote. You will be cheating yourself as there is no way we can allow them to rule this country... The MDC will not rule this country. It will never, ever happen. Asisoze sivume [we will not yield].''

Now emboldened by the cowardice and opportunism of the elites who now dominate the opposition, ZANU-PF is arrogantly insisting on a run-off election that on every count it should lose, given that the combined opposition vote in the parliamentary elections was around 53% to ZANU-PF's 43%. ZANU-PF is likely to launch a vicious and brutal scorched earth campaign in the rural areas for the run-ff, but even this is unlikely to surpass the significant numerical advantage the opposition enjoys, unless ZANU-PF fiddles with the figures.

Although one can't discount the possibility of a deal being struck before the run-off, the more likely possibility is that of ZANU-PF still pushing for the run-off, ``winning'' it and establishing the legitimacy it yearns for and, after softening up the MDC, still entering into an elitist, Western-backed neoliberal deal with the opposition to deal with the economic crisis.

Tasks for revolutionaries

What should revolutionaries and radicals in civic society and organised labour do in the circumstances?

In the first place, we welcome the route that the MDC(T) has now taken, under pressure from its radicals and the masses, namely that the MDC(T) will not participate in the fake run-off or re-count, and calling for mass action. This stops the confusion and inconsistency that the MDC has been showing. If the MDC(T) is genuine in saying it won the rigged election, why participate in a second round, when it is likely to be rigged again, as we had earlier on warned?

However, it is not enough to merely boycott and do nothing, or try and rely on useless methods like regional or international talks etc., for the regime will only use the space to consolidate itself or the international community, with the support of the cowardly and opportunistic elites in the party, will force the MDC(T) into a sell-out government of national unity with the regime. For a boycott to be effective, it must be followed by mass mobilisation and a campaign for civil disobedience -– jambanja [struggle!]!

The MDC(T) has already lost valuable momentum immediately after the election, when it could have initiated mass action together with civic society in the full glare of the regional and international media. But the current situation, where the elites have become entangled in the election results issue, re-opens new possibilities for mobilisation of mass action. The real way forward then is to immediately plan and mobilize for mass resistance to the electoral fraud, as the brave women of WOZA [Women of Zimbabwe Arise] have shown.

This can be multifaceted, starting with less confrontational methods that build confidence, such as pressure on the ZEC members to resign, especially those seconded by the opposition, regular mass prayer meetings, cascading into stayaways and general strikes and demonstrations, if the regime refuses our deadlines, especially ahead of Independence Day on April 18. On the day of the general strike and demonstration, regional and international solidarity marches should be called for.

The key demands remain rejection of the fake elections and the demand for free and fair elections under a new democratic and people-driven constitution, together with the demand for a tax-free living wage for workers and other demands in the People's

Charter. This action cannot be left to the MDC(T) leadership alone, as the elites who now dominate the party do not have the capacity nor courage to do such a campaign. The way forward is for action led by a democratic united front of opposition parties, civic society and labour, with every party agreeing not to make individual and separate deals with the regime.

At all times radical civic society must keep its autonomy from the opposition parties. The groups around the Peoples Convention must urgently re-group and like their Kenyan counterparts start this process. For as we earlier warned, ``unlike previous alliances like the Broad Alliance and Save Zimbabwe, such a united front must be autonomous of MDC... The experiences from 2000 teach us that `any strategy of fighting the dictatorship based on a movement dominated or controlled by the MDC will remain prisoner to the glaring ideological and strategic confusion it has shown since 2000 and is bound to fail ... Even if it should engage in some action, its primary pre-occupation is towards reaching a sell-out settlement with the ZANU-PF dictatorship.''

Given the obvious chicanery around the current results, the isolation of the regime, the massive and still escalating economic crisis, and the massive courage and confidence shown by the working people in the March election, and the confusion around the election, the ground is more than fertile for mass resistance and action that can defeat the regime.

However, the dominance of business elites in the MDC(T) points to the fact that the party may still eventually enter the run-off, despite current contrary proclamations. If that happens then the radical forces will have to decide the advantages of an unconditional but critical vote for Tsvangirai as opposed to a boycott of the election in order not to legitimise it as we had earlier called for.

Contrary to our earlier position, we now believe that given the failure to build an autonomous united front of labour, radical civic groups and the revolutionary left, after most of those groups [backed] the MDC(T) in the election and in the absence of left radicalisation in ZANU-PF itself, the possibility of the people's power scenario is highly reduced. Unless there is an elitist deal, and in the context of an escalating economic crisis, the greater likelihood becomes of a full-scale ZANU-PF–military dictatorship or a failed state, both eventualities that would crush the democratic opposition and left forces given their current weaknesses.

In such circumstances, and in view of the massive support for the MDC(T) in the March election from working people, the way to go is to call for a vote for Tsvangirai without illusions about the regime going peacefully, but for the masses to use the period around the vote to remobilise for mass action, if as is likely the regime again steals, rigs or kills its way to victory. Further, even in the eventuality of an MDC victory, for the masses not to have illusions as to the nature of an MDC government but to be open and clear about what it would stand for -– full restoration of a brazenly corrupt neoliberal dictatorship over the poor including privatisation and significant reversal of the land reforms.

However, the call for Tsvangirai's victory is premised on the basis that such a regime would still offer greater democratic space for the working classes, anti-capitalist movements and the left than under a military dictatorship or failed state. It is also likely to stabilise the economic crisis in the short to medium term, as the sanctions are lifted and tourist inflows increase. It is highly likely that there will be a fairly significant degree of imperialist aid and investment, and balance of payment support, as they try and stabilise the new regime, to avoid the earlier fate of a similar regime in Palestine. Already the British government has promised a billion-dollar package as part of an overall package seen as one of the highest in recent years. Thus economic recovery, albeit on an elitist basis and premised on resumption of a full neoliberal program, is likely. This would still arrest the hemorrhage the masses are now suffering, including of activists and cadres.

As of now the masses are roasting on a fire, with a Mugabe victory sending them to hell, whereas an MDC government -- as previously in Zambia and Kenya -- is likely to remove them from the fire into a pan next to the fire! Again as in those countries, the effects of the MDC's neoliberal program are likely to be felt towards the end of the first term of the new regime. The key being that the left, organised labour and the anti-capitalist movement must continue their struggles right at the inception of an MDC government or government of national unity centred around anti-neoliberal bread-and-butter demands contained in the People's Charter and some promised by the MDC(T) in the election, as well as a new democratic constitution. They must use the intervening period to build their forces and cadres and establish an effective united front to lead the masses when they start revolting against the neoliberal regime that succeeds the Mugabe dictatorship. This is what did not happen in Zambia and Kenya and allowed elements of the same regimes to again hijack the people's movements.

Finally, it is clear that the hold that Tsvangirai and the MDC have on the urban poor and increasingly the majority of the working people can only be broken if the Mugabe dictatorship is broken and Tsvangirai ascends into power for his true character to be fully exposed. Without that, the illusions the masses have in Tsvangirai, derived from the leadership role he played in the initial round of revolt against neoliberalism and the dictatorship in 1997–99, and in the absence of a significant left united front alternative, will persist to the detriment of building a true mass anti-capitalist and revolutionary movement, especially in the context of the economic meltdown and unprecedented poverty we now face in Zimbabwe. He therefore must be given the long rope ... the sooner the better. But at this momentous stage in the history of Zimbabwe, as the conflicts amongst the elites open a window, it is paramount that the democratic opposition, progressive and revolutionary forces urgently come together around a program of mass action from below, the only real way to defeat the dictatorship and stop a neoliberal elitist deal.

[These articles appeared in a supplement to the March 2008 issue of Socialist Worker (Zimbabwe), the monthly newspaper of the International Socialist Organization (Zimbabwe). PO Box 6758, Harare.]


[1] The latest perspective is contained in the article, ``Crisis in Zimbabwe -– No to fake elections! Jambanja Ndizvo!'', in Socialist Worker (Zimbabwe), March 2007. See also Munyaradzi Gwisai, ``Revolutionaries, Resistance and Crisis in Zimbabwe''.

[2] The MDC(T) won 99 seats in the House of Assembly compared to 97 for ZANU-PF, 10 for MDC(Mutambara) and 1 independent (Jonathan Moyo); and in Senate MDC(T) won 24 seats, ZANU-PF 30 and MDC(Mutambara) 6. In terms of the popular vote for the House of Assembly, ZANU-PF won 45.9% of the total vote, MDC(T) 42.8%, MDC (Mutambara) 8.3% and independents 2.7%. Of the 10 provinces, ZANU-PF won in six provinces (five absolutely), compared to MDC(T)'s four (two absolutely). These results were mirrored in Senate where ZANU-PF won 45.4%of the popular vote, carrying six provinces, five absolutely, whilst MDC(T) won 43.5%, carrying four provinces, two absolutely.

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