Zimbabwe: Elite deal does not resolve underlying crisis -- Aluta continua!

By Munyaradzi Gwisai, International Socialist Organisation of Zimbabwe

September 23, 2008 -- In our last update, in the July issue of Socialist Worker, we reaffirmed our long-held position of the likelihood“ of an elite political settlement between the ruling party and opposition around a Western-supported full neoliberal economic program”, given the domination of all the political parties by bourgeois elites who are fearful of political implosions from the collapsing economy and the rank opportunism of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leadership. The deal signed by the leaderships of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and the MDC in September substantially confirmed our fears. We look at the deal and what it means for working people.

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Despite gains MDC remains junior partner

The main elements of the deal include that MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, becomes the new prime minister who shares executive authority with the president and cabinet. In addition he will chair a Council of Ministers that will oversee the implementation of government policies, although Robert Mugabe will continue to chair cabinet. The opposition has a majority of 16 to 15 in cabinet. The two ZANU-PF deputy presidents remain, with two deputy prime ministers reserved for the opposition. Mugabe remains the head of state and government, although required to consult Tsvangirai before making most appointments. The deal will last for up to five years although subject to review after the first eighteen months. The deal mandates a constitutional reform process that will lead to a referendum and new constitution in eighteen months’ time, overseen by a parliamentary select committee.
The deal has received mixed reactions, with many ordinary people and some civic groups cautiously welcoming it in the hope that it will bring an end to their suffering, as well as the beginning of the end of the Mugabe dictatorship. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU) have endorsed it. Western countries, led by Britain and the USA, have only cautiously welcomed it, with the feeling that it still leaves too much power with Mugabe. On the other hand, it has been opposed by a number of major civic groups, including the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) and the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), which have denounced it as an unprincipled capitulation to the dictatorship. The deal does not surprise us. Three years ago we argued:

The perspective of a government of national unity between the opposition and ZANU-PF is shared by the elites now dominant in the ruling party, in the two main opposition parties, and by local and international capitalists. Their main efforts, despite current disagreements, are driven towards achieving such a goal, as an instrument in pre-empting social revolution in an important periphery capitalist state sent into mortal crisis by the failure of neoliberal capitalism…”

As for MDC we argued that:

“its primary preoccupation is towards reaching a sell-out agreement with the ZANU-PF dictatorship that will not benefit the poor and working people … the opposition is dominated by the petite-bourgeois elite, who long ago prostrated themselves before Western neoliberal forces and are now eager to get into state power, even as junior partners, and accumulate as a neo-colonial dependent capitalist class.”

And for ZANU-PF:

ZANU-PF elites now want the peace to grow and launder the wealth acquired in the last decade but cannot do so in the context of a crisis-ridden state under siege from the West… (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 partner…”

Whilst for the West, we argued:

``To ensure that ZANU-PF elites do not relapse as they did in 1997, the forces of global neoliberalism demand a political guarantee in the form of co-option in government of their trusted agents in Zimbabwe, the MDC.”

The mixed reaction to the deal, including the cautious welcome by ordinary people, lies not only in their desperate economic condition but also that the deal itself is a mixed bag. It is not exactly a replica of Joshua Nkomo’s 1987 Patriotic Front unity deal. Tsvangirai is more than a ceremonial prime minister if one takes into account his control of the House of Assembly and urban municipalities, the opposition majority in cabinet, the right of the MDC to opt out of the deal and that the MDC remains a separate political entity unlike Nkomo’s Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (ZAPU) [was in 1987] and that the MDC remains the relative gatekeeper of Western economic support. Tsvangirai indeed enjoys at least on paper more power than his friend Odinga in Kenya or Nkomo in 1987, whilst the economic collapse and divisions facing ZANU-PF make the latter a much weaker opponent than it was then.

This is why many bourgeois analysts pushed Tsvangirai to sign, arguing the MDC’s realistic objectives in the talks could not be full power now, but to get a strategic toe hold in the state, neutralising the most vicious attacks on his party by the regime and thus be better prepared for the next elections, which Mugabe is unlikely to contest. Without defeating Mugabe in the streets, like the Patriotic Front in 1979, this was the best achievable result under the circumstances, they argued.

But the comparison with 1979 is misplaced. The Patriotic Front elites conducted negotiations even as they accelerated the war. And even then they were forced to make major concessions, accepting a deal that left the white settlers with legislative veto power, control of the civil service and judiciary and the land, for at least 10 years after independence. But they had a fall-back position on a mobilised peasantry and armed cadreship whilst they retained substantial control of the armed forces and national treasury.  

On the other hand Tsvangirai, supported by a dupliticious and largely cowardly civic society, actively undermined any attempt at serious mass action solely relying on Western sanctions. Not surprising the MDC has been forced into a deal which gives a desperate dictatorship breathing space to renew itself, whilst laying the foundations for massive long-term assaults on the living conditions of working people. Make no mistake, despite the above concessions, the MDC is the definite junior [partner] in this deal with very unclear chances of success whilst the future of the deal itself is very uncertain.

The subordination of the MDC was painfully evident in Tsvangirai’s face as he cringed and covered his eyes when Mugabe was lambasting the West and opposition at the signing moment! Whilst “humiliating” in form, the deal as Mugabe himself has said, in substance, leaves ZANU-PF “in the driving seat”:

a)       First, contrary to the MDC’s earlier demands, Mugabe remains with most executive authority. He remains the head of state and government with authority to appoint ministers, chair cabinet, dissolve parliament, declare war, enter into international treaties, assent to legislation and appoint or dismiss key state officials like the service chiefs, judges, Reserve Bank governor, ambassadors and permanent secretaries. All he is required to do, in exercise of some and not all of these powers, is to consult the prime minister or parliament, but not necessarily agree with them. This is made worse by the fact that the MDC signed a deal without even an agreement on what ministries it would get. The humiliation for Mugabe is the need to consult a person he has long derided as a stooge of the West, but he signed because he still retains the basic power, as he is now showing by insisting on holding most of the key ministries. The opposition’s slight majority in cabinet does not amount to much because its decisions will be made by consensus, giving ZANU-PF veto power. Tsvangirai’s much vaunted Council of Ministers is little more than the administrative and implementing sub-committee of cabinet, as no executive authority vests in it.

b)       Second, the deal affirms ZANU-PF’s position that the land reform program is irreversible and any compensation paid to the white farmers will be from Britain. This allows ZANU-PF to protect its crucial rural base ahead of future elections whilst hoping that economic recovery will minimise the opposition’s protest vote. For ZANU-PF the land issue is non-negotiable -- its entire life and future depends it.

c)       Third, unlike the Patriotic Front, the MDC has no real fall-back position if the deal collapses. Its only guarantor is a mediator who has now been ousted. Having consistently neutralised the mass action route, the MDC has solely relied on the Western sanctions. But the MDC is not in full control of this. Locked in a hotel room and virtually coerced by then-South African President Thabo Mbeki and Mugabe to sign there and then or risk immediate collapse of the negotiations, Tsvangirai seems to have signed a deal that does not meet the full approval of his Western allies.

The West has only partially endorsed the deal, because whilst supporting an elitist negotiated settlement they do not want one that leaves Mugabe in substantial power and his dignity and land reform program intact. They need to humiliate Mugabe to make him an example to other Third World nationalist leaders who have imposed neoliberalism, especially in South Africa, that they cannot try to retain power by appeasing rebelling masses by retreating from such programs, or attacking private property, especially of a globally connected white minority, or attacking the Western imperialists at global forums, as Mugabe has done.  

Tsvangirai took the gamble that the West would eventually side with him, even if not fully happy with the deal. This seems to be happening now, but only partially, as the West is still maintaining the sanctions to ensure that the new regime complies with its political and economic demands, but many of which the regime will not accept. These include paring down Mugabe’s powers, modification of the land reform program, the MDC receiving key economic ministries and removal of Mugabe’s key state officials like Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono and the service chiefs, as well as an all-out free market economic program including acceleration of Gono’s dollarisation of the economy. The West will continue humanitarian aid, which it uses on the one hand to disguise its savage economic siege and at the same time to undermine Mugabe’s support in his key rural hinterlands. In any case the current global financial meltdown imposes limits on the West’s capacity to dole out large aid sums.

With the economic siege continuing, especially in an environment of global economic crisis and a still stubborn and dominant regime, the deal looks very fragile and may unravel sooner rather than later. Popular acceptance of such an expensive and over-bloated government, proportionately the biggest in the world in a country with the world’s highest inflation, is likely to wane rapidly if the promised economic recovery fails to take place, with the draft national constitution a possible flashpoint. At such a stage Mugabe’s continued control of the security apparatus, the state and treasury will be decisive and the opposition’s nakedness and foolishness in signing such deal exposed.

Despite the deal , prepare for more poverty and repression

Even if the deal holds, one of its fundamental problems is that its success lies on a Western-supported economic neoliberal program, whose efficacy is today being dramatically challenged by the financial meltdown in the USA and globally. Today neoliberal capitalism faces the abyss of the worst economic crisis since the 1930s and one that has only been avoided so far by the pouring of hundreds of billions of dollars of public money into the money markets by the Western governments.

Yet it is such an economic paradigm of austerity for the working people and the Third World and subsidies for the rich that is being pushed by the West as a necessary precondition for any support of the deal. In their election manifestos both the MDC and ZANU-PF have indicated their willingness to comply. So despite the deal, employers, businesses and capitalists will continue paying workers starvation wages, imposing inhuman price increases on basic goods and services indexed to the US dollar and an acceleration of privatisation of water, electricity and education.

So the respite that many expect from the deal is highly unlikely. Poverty, deprivation and suffering for the ordinary people is likely to continue, and with it repression as the now united political elites seek to deal with hungry and increasingly angry working people. The looting of state resources by politicians, now both from ZANU-PF and the MDC will reach unprecedented levels. This is why we urge working people to reject this elitist deal and continue the fight for a better future.

Aluta continua! The regime can be defeated

We are cognizant that in the short term the possibility of massive mass action is slim. This is because people are exhausted, hungry and weighed down by the long-running crisis, as well as the misleadership, duplicity and opportunism of the opposition and civic elites. The deal sows further false illusions in appeasement with the dictator. We saw it with how many supposedly radical civic leaders in the Peoples Convention suddenly lined up behind the MDC as the deal neared signing. This scuttled the days of mass action in Zimbabwe and South Africa [set for] August 13 and 16, as agreed by regional trade unions and civic groups. Civic leaders like Takura Zhangazha of MISA, virtually abandoned the Peoples Convention to become technical assistants to the MDC negotiation team, whilst others snubbed the August 10 meeting convened by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) in Johannesburg to spearhead the regional mass action.

However, given the fragility of the deal and the worsening global economic situation, we are convinced that the deal is unlikely to deliver economic or democratic salvation for the ordinary people. Continued poverty will likely continue to trigger small to significant revolts around bread and butter issues, such as we see with the teachers’ and doctors’ strikes. The challenge will be to generalise and link such different small actions into broader and bigger campaigns supported by all the various forces still ready to fight including the newly established regional solidarity campaign led by COSATU. And in doing so always deepening the ideological basis of our struggles and movements to clearly expose the root cause of poverty and dictatorship as capitalism.

At the same time working people and their organisations must continue the struggle against the de facto continued rule of the illegitimate ZANU-PF regime including an all-out resistance to the attempt at imposing an elitist constitution driven and controlled by politicians in their so-called select committee of parliament. We therefore welcome the positions taken by the the ZCTU and the NCA to continue to demand a genuine people-driven constitution and the holding of free and fair elections thereafter. With Mugabe’s ally in South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, ousted there will be further scope for expanding regional mobilisation especially involving COSATU, the SACP and social movements in South Africa, which have all rejected the deal as well.

United front

But to ensure progress it is imperative that there be the urgent regroupment in a united front of the radical, anti-neoliberal and left forces, including organised labour. To avoid the treachery we experienced in the People’s Convention, from the imperialist-funded and -controlled groups that dominated, hence watering down the anti-neoliberal and anti-imperialist character of the People’s Charter and sabotaged the resolutions on mass action, it is essential that there be a serious shakeout and split of civic society between the militant, serious and pro-working-people anti-neoliberal movements and the opportunistic, cowardly and imperialist-funded and -controlled ones. We hope the coming Zimbabwe Social Forum in October provides a further platform for remobilisation of the radical forces.

Whilst, in the short term, the regime might have bought itself some time with this sell-out deal and through continued repression, it cannot last in the medium term because it has no solution to the escalating economic crisis, it is  alienated from its capitalist class base and hated by the masses, whilst it suffers massive serious internal divisions around the unresolved succession question. This is why the regime made significant concessions to the MDC and was so desperate for Tsvangirai’s signature.

In the medium term therefore there remains a possibility of a people-centred resolution of the Zimbabwean crisis that smashes both the dictatorship and elitist plans to replace it with a regime that perpetuates the neoliberal capitalist agenda. But its removal is not automatic and will require concerted united front struggle on a regional and anti-neoliberal basis.

Such a solution immediately means: a new people-driven constitution prioritising economic rights of working people, free and fair elections and democratic rights; land redistribution and support to the peasants; nationalisation of the major sectors of the economy and the general subordination of private property to satisfy society’s needs such as education, health, transport, housing and food. The People’s Charter is the most suitable starting point but with need for serious modifications.

But as history has taught us, such reforms cannot be sustained in the long term unless the very system of capitalism which breeds poverty and dictatorship in the first place is uprooted, locally, regionally and internationally, and replaced by collective and democratic ownership and control of the economy and the state by working people, i.e. socialism.