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Zimbabwe socialists: `No to a government of national unity! Only united mass action will defeat Mugabe!

By the International Socialist Organisation of Zimbabwe

* * *

June 23, 2008 -- After the publication of the original article (see below), Movement for Democratic Change presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai held a press conference at which he issued a statement to the effect that the MDC is pulling out of the presidential run-off election because conditions for a free and fair election do not exist, [due to the] the massive violence against his party and civic society. The press conference followed the disruption of his final rally in Harare by ZANU-PF vigilantes on June 22. Tsvangirai stated that the MDC was to carry out further consultations and would announce the details of the way forward.

We welcome the position taken by the MDC, and initial reports indicate that this position has been accepted by MDC and civic society activists and supporters.

However, this decision needs to be followed by quick and concrete steps on the way forward, based on a united-front and mass-action strategy, as indicated [in the earlier article below]. We are [aware] that sections of the bourgeoisie, the Rhodesian right wing and the imperialist West will not be happy with this decision, seeing it as a premature surrender and may even put pressure on the MDC to rescind the decision.

Taking advantage of the USA’s presidency of the UN Security Council this month, they might want to see a few more bodies in the streets ahead of the election to justify their likely escalation of siege of the Mugabe regime. But the MDC must resist this. Its activists and supporters, as well as those in civic society, desperately need breathing space to retreat in order, reorganise and begin the fightback. To wait for a sure defeat come June 27 will make it that much more difficult to mobilise the necessary program of civil disobedience, mass action and delegitimisation of the regime. Indeed, the economic situation in the coming few weeks is going to see us descend to the parameters of hell as the West and big business escalate pressure on the regime, economically and politically, to force it into a neoliberal power-sharing government of national unity (GNU) deal with the opposition.

This has put the regime in a quagmire but it is likely to continue with its sham election to gain legitimacy. Legally, it may invoke provisions of the electoral laws which stipulate that withdrawal can be no later than 21 days before the election and that in any case standing in the run-off is by law for the top two contesting candidates. The key therefore is to launch an immediate political program of delegitimisation of the run-off election, locally, regionally and internationally.

Regroupment of civic groups and the establishment of the united front of resistance of the opposition and civic society has therefore now assumed paramount importance. This is more so because of the massive likely pressure on the MDC to now enter negotiations for a government of national unity from South African president Thabo Mbeki, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the UN and the capitalist and imperialist forces. This is no solution for working people and must be resolutely rejected.

But given the MDC’s history of prevarication and the strong influence of capitalist elites within its leadership, it may not surprise if it ends up capitulating again. The lessons from Kenya are that united, resolute and autonomous activities and mobilisation by a united front of civic society can stop this and embolden the more radical sections of the opposition to fight rather than capitulate to the regime.

* * *

Precarious security situation – reign of terror

June 20, 2008 -- As the nation gears up for the presidential run-off election on June 27, the regime of Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe has unleashed a reign of terror across the country. The level of violence and political intimidation now far exceeds that of before the 2000 elections. The economic collapse is severe and unprecedented. Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Gideon Gono’s floating of the Zimbabwe dollar has led to its collapse to ZW$6 billion to US$1, and inflation now at more that 2 million per cent, with prices going up twice a week. The Zimbabwe people are truly suffering.

Since May 1 there have been arbitrary arrests of civic leaders, starting with the two-week detention of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Union’s president and secretary general. Fourteen WOZA [Women of Zimbabwe Arise] leaders were detained for nearly a month for protesting the delay in releasing the election results. Two of their leaders, Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu, remain detained in Chikurubi Prison. Also arrested and harassed are church, student and NGO leaders and teachers.

NGOs and social movements have effectively been closed down by the regime, despite assertions to the contrary. Over the past week, state agents have moved door to door at NGO offices, forcing them to close or confiscating computers and files. [There have been raids] on the offices of ZimRights, the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), Zimbabwe national Students’ Union (ZINASU), Padare/Enkundleni/Men’s Forum on Gender (Padare), Bulawayo Agenda, the Crisis Coalition, the Combined Harare Residents’ Association (CHRA) and the International Socialist Organisation (ISO). Humanitarian NGOs providing food relief, medicines and support to HIV-AIDS patients have been particularly hit.

ZANU-PF bases have been set up in townships where MDC and civic groups activists are being forced to attend night vigils and/or assaulted. Several of our ISO members from Mbare, Sunningdale, Epworth and Chitungwiza have had their houses raided, forcing them to flee while others have been brutally assaulted. Tec Bara, the ISO Harare gender coordinator and Zimbabwe Social Forum national deputy convenor for gender, is currently hospitalised after being brutally assaulted at her home. Three of our Mutare comrades were also assaulted and brutalised. A Women Coalition’s hostel in Kambuzuma housing fleeing women and their children was raided and people forced to flee. In Budiriro, the national deputy leader of the ``war veterans’’, Joseph Chinotimba has turned an HIV-AIDS clinic into a war chamber.

The MDC is receiving the brunt of the attacks. Tsvangirai has been repeatedly arrested, his rallies banned and campaign buses and vehicles impounded. The MDC is totally blacked-out from the state-controlled daily newspapers, radio stations and TV, while under Operation Dzikisai Madhishi, people are being forced to remove satellite dishes from their homes. Detained MDC secretary general Tendai Biti faces treason charges, carrying the death penalty. This past week in Harare, the wife of the MDC mayor-elect of Harare was abducted and killed, houses in townships fire-bombed with four people killed, and 20 houses in the Chipinge rural village of NCA chairperson Lovemore Madhuku were torched. The attorney general has said no bail will be granted to those facing ``political violence’’ charges (virtually all from the opposition), while Patrick Chinamasa, the minister of legal and parliamentary affairs, said he will be declaring a general amnesty for all petty criminals to create room for political prisoners.

Operation MakaVhoterapi

ZANU-PF has virtually closed off the rural areas from the opposition under Operation MakaVhoterapi (`Operation Where Did You Vote’). As presidential spokesperson, G. Charamba put it:

``Fundamentally, MDC cannot win the runoff; will not win it… Unlike in March, rural Zimbabwe is now another country for MDC … and Tsvangirai will be lucky to find even election agents. In towns, yes, but nowhere else. From end of 1976, l saw war and the making of structures that nourish it. There are many in Tsvangirai’s camp old enough to interpret the times for him. I am sure they have seen what is happening in the country side, watched and correctly read the furrowed foreheads of those who will take the necessary decisions should and when that becomes necessary. Enough hints have been dropped regarding what will wash and will not wash come the morning after June 27. A mere twiddle by a blunt pen cannot return this country to bondage

There are three basic objectives behind the regime’s crackdown. First, so ZANU-PF can win the crucial presidential elections by any means necessary. As we previously argued in September 2007: ``the chances of an opposition victory are slim… as in 2002 and 2005, the opposition is deluding itself. The playing field is so stacked against them and they have very little counter measures to these, as ZANU-PF itself for instance had in 1980. The entire state machinery, including the media, is being mobilised to ensure a ZANU-PF victory by hook or crook… war veterans and chiefs are being mobilised to make the rural areas a no-go area for the opposition.’’

Will ZANU-PF’s strategy work?

Increasingly, over the last few weeks, an election that MDC was clearly poised to win has turned and a Mugabe ``victory’’ is now the most likely result as the MDC structures are decimated and the rural population bludgeoned and starved into submission. Peasants are correctly aware that the ward-based system of voting will make it easy for ZANU-PF to identify villages that vote against them and exert revenge.

Various reports indicate the game plan. Known MDC activists will be forced to plead illiteracy and be accompanied by senior ZANU-PF village leaders, who will ``assist’’ them in voting. The day after elections, all villagers [will be] ordered to assemble near counting stations and await results so that it can be confirmed that they have truly repented. This is exactly what Charamba means, when he says the structures of war have now been resuscitated in the countryside. The crackdown is also designed to neutralise any potential centres of resistance to a Mugabe ``victory’’, which this time will be quickly announced.

The MDC and civic society are paying a heavy price for failing to heed warnings not to take the election route as their principal strategy for achieving change rather than a central strategy of mass action centred around a fighting united front of the opposition, civic society and the labour movement demanding a new democratic constitution before any elections.

The ZAPU [Zimbabwe African People’s Union] was only able to withstand Gukurahundi because of structures rooted in a committed core of cadres and not protest voters. [Mugabe launched a brutal war of terror on the Ndebele people, who were assumed to be ZAPU supporters and therefore dissidents. In what became known as Gukurahundi, between 1983 and 1985, up to 20,000 people died in the Matabeleland and Midlands regions.].

At best, elections should only have been used as a secondary tactic to mobilise people for the central strategy of mass action. Capitalist elites who have used their money to commodify our struggles and worm their way into leadership positions in the opposition and civic society stopped this and built false illusions around the elections and marginalised the activists who built the party and are today sorely needed.

Even if ZANU-PF loses, Mugabe has declared that he will not hand over power to the MDC but rather go to war -- Hatingaregi nyika yakauya neropa ichitorwa ne penzura, tinoda kuona kuti chakasimba chii gidi kana penzura (``We cannot let go a country that we won through the barrel of a gun by a simple vote – we will see which is stronger – the gun or a pencil.’’) A radio report on Power FM quoted Mugabe declaring at a rally -- ``If you thought Hitler is gone, then you are mistaken, because Hitler is not only back but back here in Zimbabwe.’’

The second objective is to recapture the parliamentary majority for ZANU-PF by convicting MDC-elect MPs or forcing them to flee. As Charamba says: ``They are on the run, but will not run much longer. That may mean several by-elections which (Tsvangirai) knows he will not win.’’

Indeed it is likely that by the time parliament convenes, enough opposition MPs will either be in detention or have fled to give ZANU-PF the majority to elect both the speaker of the House of Assembly and president of Senate despite being the minority party.

The third objective is preparation for a ZANU-PF-dominated but neoliberal and pro-business government of national unity with the MDC after the elections. In our September 2007 perspective we stated that because of the imploding economic crisis and ``despite his rhetoric, Mugabe is now ready to capitulate and enter into an elitist compromise deal with the MDC, the West and business. But only after the 2008 elections, which he hopes to use to legitimise his party’s claim to being the senior player in such alliance, deal with his party’s succession problem as well as protect his legacy, person and family besides his little burial plot at Heroes Acre.’’

Many of his top officials have indeed been quoted suggesting the GNU is an indispensable option to deal with the Zimbabwean crisis. The crackdown is designed to force the MDC into such a GNU and preempt any potential resistance from its radicals or civic society. This is worsened by power struggles in the opposition ahead of its congress next year. Today many of the cowardly elites who have wormed their way to the top in the opposition will, as we have been warning for over two years, gladly accept the GNU, with the support of business, Mbeki, SADC and most of the West, fearful of the further radicalisation of the Zimbabwean crisis.

ZANU-PF tactics are thus working. Already the MDC is now totally silent, even in its urban township strongholds, as ZANU-PF holds sway. As one comrade said, “ve MDC tapeta miswe” (the MDC has put its tail behind its legs). Even civic groups that have not been raided are now stampeding to close down their offices. Fear stalks the nation one week before the election.

Way forward : Mobilise for united front for democracy and mass action

The first and most important thing is to confront the veil of fear that threatens to suffocate us. The defiance of the closure of offices by several NGOs is correct. Even if the regime closes our offices, we must not allow it to close down our movements -- underground alternatives must be urgently built. But no one group can withstand this pressure alone. We need a united collective response. This is why for the last three years and at the People’s Convention we were calling for the need to build a radical united front of civic groups, the labour movement and the anti-capitalist movement, autonomous of the MDC, even if working with it. One capable of initiating united front-based mass actions without necessarily being subordinated to the MDC. And one based on a pro-working people and anti-neoliberal/capitalist ideology.

At the Convention we unfortunately allowed our tactical differences on whether to support or boycott the March elections to divide us and stop us from the bigger project of building such united front. Today we all pay a heavy price. But it is not too late to regroup, reorganise and offer leadership in action along with the MDC. Even under this crackdown we can regroup, initially on a defensive program of solidarity for those under attack and in self-defence and counter-attacks where necessary.

Most urgently we call for a summit of leaders of the opposition and civic society to set up a united front of resistance. We believe that such united front must be totally rooted in and organise around the bread and butter concerns of working people, including peasants and the unemployed, as opposed to the wealthy capitalist elites in business, locally and internationally.

Indeed the very origins of the MDC (and similar movements in the global South) lie in the massive protests of the late 1990s against poverty induced by the Mugabe regime’s neoliberal capitalist program of ESAP (structural adjustment). A new and powerful aspect of the MDC’s campaign in the March elections was an emphasis on such bread and butter issues of the ordinary people. Any struggle against the regime that fails to do this will be outflanked on its left by this crafty regime, which has shown, most powerfully around the land question, a strong capacity to cynically manipulate the poor’s concerns to remain in power and demonise the opposition as a stooge of the West and the business class. Without such a united front and a pro-poor, pro-working people and anti-capitalist ideology we shall not prevail against this regime. The Peoples Charter of the People’s Convention offers a powerful starting point.

One of the first things to do is to convene a massive united front rally for democracy in the centre of Harare a few days before the election or the week after, to be convened by the opposition-led by the MDC, civic groups, trade unions and the churches. If possible the unions must call for all workers in Harare not to go to work but to attend the rally. The purpose of the rally is first to fight the veil of fear and rebuild confidence in our movements. Second to send a message to the dictatorship that we will not be cowered; that we demand an immediate cessation of the reign of terror, compensation of all victims, immediate release of all political prisoners. It would send a warning to the regime that the people will not accept its June 27 circus and that the struggle will only accelerate after June 27 to include general strikes, stayaways, class boycotts and civil disobedience.

On the election, our preferred position as the ISO has been to boycott any fake elections without a new constitution and deny the regime’s elections any legitimacy. The alternative is for a regrouped united front of civic society and the opposition to launch a serious and determined program of civil disobedience and mass action, supported by regional and international solidarity from working peoples and progressive movements. Indeed over the next week the MDC leadership has a huge decision to make about whether to continue participating in a sham election designed to clothe a dictatorship in legitimacy, or withdraw, regroup and lead a fightback of mass action and civil disobedience. However, if the MDC still decides to continue running. The ISO, in view of MDC’s massive performance in the March parliamentary and presidential elections and the desire of many Zimbabweans to vote, has now modified its position to call for unconditional but fraternally critical support to Tsvangirai.

Our criticism is what we perceive as the increasing domination of the party leadership by capitalist and Western elites and the marginalisation of workers and radicals. This will lead to its likely pursing a neoliberal capitalist agenda if it assumes power, to the detriment of working people. And secondly its disastrous strategy of relying on the electoral route rather than mass action. But the Mugabe regime is driving us into hell and the people need some breathing space in order to reorganise and resume our battle for real democracy and against the capitalist and imperialist bloodsuckers.

We therefore urge all our members, supporters, allies and working people in general to defy the regime’ intimidation and go out and vote in the election for Tsvangirai. However voting must only be seen as a tactic to keep the flames of the movement alive and to use the space to organise and mobilise for all out people’s mass action before and after June 27, and not as the central strategy for change. The defeat of ZANU-PF in March shows how much the masses now want change. Even today in the midst of the onslaught, opposition activists at the local level have organised themselves and are fighting back in places like Epworth, Bikita, Zaka and Chimanimani. But these are isolated actions, easily crushed unless more central leadership is offered. The spirit to fight in civic society is still there. Indeed, when an ISO delegation visited the imprisoned WOZA leaders this week, we were impressed by their high spirits despite the very harsh conditions, including being denied jerseys [jumpers] in this biting winter. Or the many maimed and displaced MDC activists who are vowing that despite all they are still going to vote against the regime come June 27.

At the same time under no circumstances must we agree to the GNU sell-out idea. There can be no marriage with such a murderous regime -- we must consign it to its true destiny -- the dustbin of history. The GNU is a project for the dictatorship to perpetuate itself and for the capitalist and the imperialist elites to ensure that the poverty that the capitalist ZANU-PF government started with its ESAP is perpetuated forever, but now buttressed by a working-people supported MDC. It’s time we allow the ordinary people to take charge of the struggle that is rightfully theirs and ensure an outcome that achieves real democracy, economically and politically, for the majority and not just the political and capitalist elites as we have seen so many times in recent history in the region and internationally -- in Zambia, Malawi, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Eastern Europe. As our brothers and sisters in Latin America are pushing ahead we say no to capitalism and yes to international socialism as the way forward for humanity.

Finally, ISO wishes to express our utmost gratitude to all those who have sent solidarity messages and donations to us and other organisations and still make a further urgent appeal for assistance. To send solidarity messages, receive updates or make a donation please email us at iso.zim@gmail.com

Shinga Murombo! Jambanja Ndizvo! Smash the dictatorship! Viva socialism!

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