Zimbabwe ISO on ‘yes’ vote for new constitution: ‘Build on the seeds sown, working-class radicals must not demobilise!’

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe votes yes to the new constitution.

[For more on Zimbabwe, click HERE. For more on the ISOZ, click HERE.]

By the International Socialist Organisation Zimbabwe

March 24, 2013 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal

1. Despite the boasting of the “Yes” group that at 93% or 3,079,966 votes they scored a landslide victory [in the March 16-17, 2013, constitution referendum], the 5.4% or 179,489 scored by “No” is a very significant minority. In most urban areas the no vote was over 7% of the vote, scoring more than 1000 votes in constituencies. The voter turn-out, at 3.3 million or 55% of registered voters or slightly less than 50% if one considers all eligible voters, was not overwhelming.

2. Although we had aimed for a better performance, the 5.4% of the no vote is still commendable for several reasons, including that the referendum was not free and fair:

a. The no vote came up against a combined and unprecedented unity and mighty of the ruling classes. Reflective of how the COPAC [Constitution Parliamentary Committee draft] constitution is an elite capitalist peace charter, there was an unprecedented coming together of elites, local and international, in support of “yes”. This included the three biggest bosses’ parties [ZANU-PF, MDC-Tsvangirai, MDC]; key state organs including the judiciary and police; all the main church and religious leaders; big business; the state and private media; most NGOs, donors and the Western imperialist governments. With such support the “Yes” group had huge resources, including the millions in public funds unconstitutionally deployed by COPAC. It enjoyed a virtual media monopoly with the private media demanding exorbitant payments and the public broadcasters, ZBC/ZTV blacking out the no case excerpt for a few isolated appearances at the end. A compliant judiciary played its role by dismissing on technicalities challenges brought against the blatant violations of basic democratic norms, such as inadequate time to campaign and fair media coverage. On the contrary, the No campaign literally ran this campaign on a few thousand dollars largely made up of contributions by a few participating trade unions, organisations and individuals.

b. The referendum was ambushed. The three weeks to campaign was grossly inadequate. The No campaigners worsened their situation by failing to come up early with a united-front approach to the campaign, with some organisations preferring a looser arrangement of each organisation running its campaign. The possible impact of a united-front approach was shown in the last three days before the referendum, when the resuscitated united front was able to put up posters and leaflets in six towns and adverts in two dailies.

c. The trickery of the politicians of conflating the referendum with the general elections, meant many people saw the referendum merely as a means to get to the elections. With only 70,000 constitutions allegedly printed, most people did not even see the draft. Many people are tired after a decade and half of political and economic crisis, and are desperate for things to get better. As one person said, “Tangoita kuti zvipfure”.

3. Finally, the unusual high voter turn-out in rural areas, indicates that the spectre of the June 2008 presidential election run-off is still with us. Various reports confirmed that villagers were systematically forced to go and vote and record their voting with [President Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front] ZANU-PF structures.

4. Thus there were two key factors behind the overwhelming victory of the Yes group. First, the dominance of ruling-class ideas which was facilitated by the current low levels of consciousness in the working classes. In current circumstances of low working-class struggles, few strikes, huge unemployment and weak and divided trade unions, it is easy for ruling-class ideas to dominate, especially where there was unprecedented ruling-class unity. Unlike in the 2000 referendum, where working-class militancy was high after the 1997-99 wave of strikes and demonstrations and the ruling class was divided, this time around intra-ruling class unity was high.

This started with the Government of National Unity and has been cemented by Mugabe’s abject surrender of any remaining radical nationalist economic agenda in the COPAC constitution through a neoliberal property clause which potentially reverses the 51% indigenisation and empowerment agenda, full compensation of foreign Western farmers and restoration of market relations in agriculture with resettled land now convertible to title deeds. As Karl Marx said, the dominant ideas in society are generally those of the dominant economic group. Second was the unfair electoral environment and fear and intimidation orchestrated by the ZANU-PF regime for whom the referendum provided an ideal opportunity to reactivate its June 2008 strategy of coerced rural voter turn-out as a dress rehearsal of the coming general elections.

No vote significant but ZANU-PF regime must go!

5. A national vote of 7% or more than 200,000 people, if one includes a portion of the spoilt votes, rejecting such an overwhelming display of ruling-class power is significant. By comparison is the 0.6% or 73 out of 12,000 voters who supported the ISO in the 2003 Highfields by-elections, which represented the pioneering attempt by radicals to fight ruling-class domination and hijacking of working people’s movements. For many among the no voters, this is still just initially an expression of disgust at the blatant disregard of basic democratic norms by elites in the referendum. For a certain core though, as represented by some radical unions in Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (Concerned Affiliates), a layer of students and radical middle classes as reflected in the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), it reflects a breaking away from the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) hegemony, a fact that has stifled the emergence of a radical, anti-capitalist alternative in the Zimbabwean crisis. What was particularly striking was the vote in Harare. In the five provinces with over 20 constituencies each, the no vote got 1000 or more votes in only four to six constituencies and in the remaining four smaller provinces “No” got a 1000 or more votes in only one to three constituencies. But in Harare/Chitungwiz, of the total 29 constituencies, 26 of the constituencies had 1000-plus no votes. While in eight provinces, the no vote had less than three constituencies per province with a voter percentage of 7% plus (usually urban centres, with only Bulawayo scoring five constituencies out of 12), the Harare figure was even more striking. In 28 of the 29 constituencies, the no vote had 7% or more. This is roughly the margin that made the difference between Mugabe and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai in the 2008 presidential elections, and denied Tsvangirai an outright victory.

6. This potential significance of the small no vote was not lost on Mugabe’s spokesperson, George Charamba, who writing [under the name Nathaniel Manheru] in his column in the [state-run] Herald of March 23, observed,

The votes NCA attracted may have been too small to dent the “Yes” vote. But they were numerically big enough to launch a movement, a party … Numerically bigger when you consider two points. While the two main parties got loyalty votes, [Lovemore Madhuku, leader of the National Constitutional Assembly] got the thinking vote. Potentially that makes his numbers very many, magnified. He commanded a leadership stratum, actual and potential and that augments the quality of his numbers. I said potentially because the same strength is also the same weakness. It is easy to become another Enoch Dumbutshena and his elitist Forum party (or another Makoni)… You looked at the geographic spread of the NCA vote, and you were struck by the national spread, of course with an indicative concentration in Manicaland, Madhuku’s province… But Madhuku has some following in cities, themselves locales for politics of the future.

7. Thus by staking their positions now, radicals have created a reference point for future actions when class conflict in our society is likely to rise as the crisis of neoliberalism and capitalism gets worse, especially with the austerity neoliberal offensive likely to be launched after the elections. Contrary to Charamba’s preferred option of a petite bourgeois-led third force opposition party, the radical pole that played a crucial role behind the no vote in Harare/Chitungwiza has the potential to become the cornerstone of a future anti-capitalist working-class movement against both the neoliberal agenda and autocracy. This may open avenues for struggles of revolutionary socialist transformation of society as we have seen in Latin America.

8. Radicals in the working-class and student movements must not be tempted by the idea being mooted by some and fanned by regime ideologues like Charamba of the vote no groups forming an opposition party. Such party is premature. Let the ruling-class politicians finish their business in the coming elections and get on with their real agenda, an austerity offensive, under whichever party wins, but more likely under another ZANU-PF dominated GNU. The latter increasingly looks the likely election outcome given both the treacherous and corrupt conduct of the MDC in government and the still uneven electoral landscape including the now obvious fact that the ZANU-PF terror machinery is still intact and that the same election officials, generals, judges, police chiefs who ran June 2008 election remain in charge. And young people are unlikely to be voting. When MDC officials asked 500 university students called to help in the referendum how many were registered voters, only six said they were! Register-General T. Mudede will certainly not be helping them to register. The MDC has massively blundered by happily going along in a referendum characterised by a lopsided and un-free electoral environment, and with the raid on Tsvangirai’s offices and arrest of top lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa, the real game has just started.

9. However, contrary to the lies peddled by the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) that ISO’s Munyaradzi Gwisai labeled Tsvangirai a sell-out who should be booted out inthe coming elections, that is not our position. To expose the treacherous and naive character of the neoliberal Tsvangirai leadership of the MDC and that, as their JUICE [Jobs, Upliftment, Investment, Capital and Environment] plan shows, they will definitely accelerate neoliberal and austerity attacks against the poor should they get into power is not the same as ISO saying there is no difference between the MDC and the ZANU-PF dictatorship.

The latter is a tried and tested dictatorship, developed over decades and whose hands are dripping with the blood of thousands of genocide victims. Despite its nationalist economic rhetoric, the regime, complicit with Western capitalists, imposed ESAP [Economic and Structural Adjustment Program], the far-most far-reaching attack on workers, the rural farmers and the poor in general, and does so today under cover of the GNU. Its dictatorial and patronage tentacles are so invidiously spread across all sections of society from the state itself to paramilitary groups like Chipangano, that it completely stifles even the slightest modicum of bourgeois democracy. We in the ISO, along with countless others, have suffered much from such dictatorial actions including in the treason trial.

The ISO therefore disagrees with NCA chairperson Professor Madhuku’s characterisation that the coming elections are merely a competition between two dictators and it doesn’t matter which one wins. For the working class, there is no question about it, as the still overwhelming “yes” vote in the urban areas shows: Mugabe and ZANU-PF have to go. And no progressive organisation worth its name can sit still and celebrate the escalating regime violence against the MDC and other opposition groups, such as the incarceration of Beatrice Mtetwa and the Glen View 5 [see http://allafrica.com/stories/201302201253.html], just because Tsvangirai and co. blundered in the referendum. The truth is that a Tsvangirai state will be much weaker than the current Mugabe regime, and thus easier for the working classes to confront. Moreover, having removed such an entrenched dictatorship, the working classes will be much more confident of taking on the much less sophisticated, blundering and less credible Tsvangirai regime.

Despite the commendable performance of the no vote, the overwhelming yes vote in the referendum shows that the overwhelming majority of workers and urban poor still have faith and illusions in Tsvangirai and the MDC. This is not surprising after decades of ZANU-PF brutality, poverty and one-man rule, and Tsvangirai’s important leadership of the 1997-1999 inspiring struggles. Therefore for the majority of the working classes, Tsvangirai and the MDC’s true character as abject servants of the rich, employers and imperialists, can only be exposed by lived experience, when Tsvangirai and his neoliberal hounds led by Tendai Biti and Eddie Cross are given real power. To push the trade unions, students or social movements who have supported the no vote not to take a position in the coming election will be seen just as good as supporting the Mugabe regime, and most of their members will not accept this because they still support Tsvangirai and MDC. This will be an infantile ultra-leftist position that will lead to a dangerous isolation of radical unions and movements from the rest of the working class and also the potential weakening and splitting of movements and unions that could form the basis of an anti-capitalist united front and in fact play the decisive role in the post-election period against whichever government emerges. For the same reasons the Bolsheviks had to support the bourgeois Kerensky regime against the right-wing Kornilov coup attempt in 1917.

A new party is premature

10. To rush into forming a new party on the basis of the disparate no vote, and one led by the middle classes, even if formed after the elections, will not take working people far. Its ideological character as well as un-democratic DNA will be no different from the MDC. It will merely be a popular front in which radical trade unions, activists, students and socialists will be used to build another broad church, which will eventually be dominated by capitalists and their middle class lackeys. Working people need to look hard and learn the hard lessons from how the MDC was hijacked by the rich. Rushing to form a political party from the disparate groups that made up the vote no groups would inevitably lead to another MDC disaster. Yes, its true that the working classes may enter into tactical and temporary alliances with other classes and groups, and this is something we are currently debating in the ISO. But what is absolutely clear is that what the working classes need for real emancipation is a radical, revolutionary anti-capitalist party that is completely ideologically clear about the fact that capitalism offers no way forward for working people and that only socialism is the alternative. A movement built on the self-activity of the working class and their unions and organisations on a regional and international basis. A movement built from the bottom to the top and run on truly democratic basis and working-class control. That is the kind of party we must strive to build.

11. That kind of movement is not formed overnight in a hotel conference room or an NGO board room. It can only be formed in real concrete struggles in which the true colours of activists, leaders and organisations are revealed, tried and tested. Such concrete class struggles of the unions, of vendors, students, rural farmers etc. are the real universities of the working class in which invaluable class lessons and strategies will be learnt.

12. The agenda of the ruling classes is clear. As publicly admitted by the likes of MDC’s Eric Matinenga and Mugabe’s George Charamba, another elite GNU beckons post-election, with elections only useful for determining the share-out of power. The COPAC constitution already accommodates this: a neoliberal property regime and an accommodating political framework, with two vice presidents, an unlimited size of cabinet and bloated parliament to give enough positions to the leaders of all parties.

13. With the ideological differences between the political elites now paper thin what remains for the politicians is the agenda post-general election and the launch of the austerity offensive against the working class and the poor, as hinted in the golden handshakes of houses, $30 000 each and three cars to the outgoing ministers, the new planned luxurious parliament and the MDC’s JUICE. Such an austerity program will start with civil servants who have been denied the right to real collective bargaining or political citizenship rights. It will also include attacks on parastatals [public enterprises] whose employees are deemed to earn too much and set a bad example for the rest of the work force, through the acceleration of the privatisation agenda … The firing of Zimbabwe Eenergy Workers Union president Angeline Chitambo is the opening shot in a battle sure to come. But also to be expected are general attacks on the poor, including the informal sector and rural farmers, as already is being done by the current GNU through the removal of support and subsidies for rural farmers. The experience of the cotton farmers and the starvation producer prices that have been imposed on them are indicative. Continued attacks on students in the tertiary education sector are to be expected, with the removal of state support for working-class children through the cadet program likely to be fully scrapped, for now only having been partially done so for first-year students. Dictatorship on campuses will intensify as shown by recent re-appointments of hard regime figures in colleges and universities. The local elites have no solution to the global crisis of capitalism, and given their abject subordination to international capital, whether of the Chinese-Asian type or the traditional Western type, will mean continued massive de-industrialisation as globalised productive forces pulverise the little nation-state based industry of Zimbabwe. Joblessness can only therefore accelerate. The raising of petrol and diesel prices opens up a massive attack on the poor that is likely to lead to the raising of costs of everything from transport to food. The fuel increases, show the route the elites will take: gravy train and golden handshakes for ministers and let the poor pay for the crisis created by the rich.

14. In view of the above, the way forward for workers, students, vendors, ordinary women, the youth and rural farmers is not rushing into building another half-baked middle-class dominated political party, nor to take a disastrous sectarian approach in the coming general election. Rather it is to use the momentum gained in the referendum campaign to up the struggle for their bread and butter demands and do so in a united-front manner that brings our different organisations in solidarity.

The referendum has revealed which are the real serious and radical unions, organisations and movements. It is these that need to come together and continue working together, not as a political party but as a radical anti-capitalist united front of struggle, to continue the fight against both poverty and dictatorship. The way forward is not to rest back or demobilise post-referendum, but transfer the energy gained so far into accelerated united bread and butter struggles and crucially to deepen radical working-class political and ideological consciousness among activists. These are the real urgent tasks of the day.