Sunday, December 07, 2008
The 'new Zimbabwe'? posted by Richard SeymourHere is an instance of convoluted hypocrisy for you: the fabled "international community", many of its constituents both benefiting from and deeply involved in the genocidal mass murder in the Congo, decided to apply sanctions on Zimbabwe for its role in the war. From the US Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, 2001, to the EU's 2002 sanctions, the justification in both cases was to a large extent Zimbabwe's participation in 'The Second Congo War'. No such sanctions were applied to Rwanda, whose rulers have been cherished local allies of the US and UK. One result of such sanctions was to intensify the economic crisis which has accelerated the decline of Zimbabwe's infrastructure and created massive suffering. The agents of those sanctions are now using their effects to further cordon off the ZANU-PF regime, and threaten intervention. Obviously, sanctions are far less important to this crisis than a) the ruling regime's mode of control and b) the strategies of accumulation that Zimbabwe's capitalist class have pursued. And the attempt by Mugabe to blame EU sanctions for the cholera outbreak is ridiculous. Nonetheless, the triple-crown hypocrisy is as apparent as it is wearily familiar.
The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, (who at least agrees with Mugabe on the issue of homosexuality), is today demanding some unspecified kind of intervention by the "international community", echoing Gordon Brown's remarks yesterday. The vagueness of his appeal, padded out as it is with lovely pieties, can only inspire a yawn. Sentamu will have to do more than chop up his dog collar this time if he wants to have an impact. Nonetheless, one thing that Sentamu is probably right about is that any idea of power-sharing between the MDC and Zanu-PF is dead. Mugabe has taken the opportunity to delay action on the part of his opponents while they wasted their time trying to get a workable deal from the South African Development Community. Now, the army is crushing protests. But then it was always a mistake for the opportunistic Tsvangirai to try and lead a trade union based movement into coalition with what is, essentially, the party of the Zimbabwean ruling class. It would be, as Sam Kebele acidly says of the current regime, a 'government of national impunity'. But this reflects Tsvangirai's tendency to try and win the support of a powerful constituency, although he has occasionally signalled a willingness to rely on the militancy from below that brought the MDC into existence in the first place. Previously, he had tended to make concessions to Western business interests and flatter overseas politicians. Recently, he has acquiesced to those in his party who want to win over disaffected segments of the Zanu-PF, who pointed to the integration of the faction led by Gibson Sibanda and Welshman Ncube into the Senate. After Tzvangirai clearly won the popular vote in the March 2008 presidential elections (despite extensive official rigging), and boycotted the second round because of a surge of violence against MDC supporters, elements of the MDC leadership obviously decided that they had to reach a compromise with the existing structure - this despite the fact that the vote clearly reflected the resiliency of the mass movements that brought the MDC into being. Now, Tzvangirai may once more swing the other way, as Western politicians express an interest in trying to prise open the Mugabe regime and hopefully coopt any subsequent administration.
Critics rightly point out that the MDC has all too often supported the neoliberal policies that contributed to Zimbabwe's plunge in the first place. This was a tragedy, since the optimistic labour movements and agrarian struggles that arose in the 1990s were first and foremost a reaction to the effects of those policies. The MDC arose in 1999, at the apex of a period of struggle during which landless agricultural workers (who comprise a large part of the workforce in the countryside) as well as organised labour in the country's biggest cities had landed blow after blow on Mugabe. It was almost enough to win the MDC the 2000 election. The trouble was that although forces to the Left wanted the MDC to be a Labour Party, the coalition embraced middle class elements who wanted to get rid of the corrupt and increasingly ineffectual rulers while not abandoning its basic policy orientations. In February 2000, the party appointed Eddie Cross, a rich white industrialist and official in the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries, as its economic secretary. Cross threatened to privatize 'parastatals' (partially or wholly state-owned enterprises) and the education system within five years. Its response to the issue of land redistribution was to defend white commercial farmers rather than press for the interests of agrarian workers whose support it relies upon. The result has been that the MDC has habitually disappointed its supporters. It doesn't do to be overly simplistic about this, of course. There have been challenges from the left of the party, and these have sometimes borne fruit. After all, an immediate result of Cross' privatization agenda was a revolt on the left of the party that forced the leadership to accept a more social democratic agenda. It is by no means inevitable that a post-Zanu PF regime would continue or intensify its neoliberal policies - it depends on whether the transition is effected by mass resistance, or by a shoddy elite compromise.
Mugabe now speaks in the lingua franca of anti-imperialist nationalism, but it is a hollow lie. The Zanu-PF movement took power on the basis of an agreement with the former colonial masters at Lancaster House, namely that white property would remain untouched outside of some very limited provisions. Even as up to twenty thousand African dissidents were slaughtered in Matabeleland, the white owners were left alone. It wasn't until Mugabe felt threatened in the run up to the June 2000 elections that there was even a hint of opposition to the grotesquely unfair distribution of land and resources, a direct legacy of colonialism, from the now supposedly anti-imperialist government. In fact, Mugabe was quite content to use the repressive apparatus left behind by the old colonial state to bash strikers and opposition movements and also to benefit from US military cooperation in the 1990s. His response to economic stagnation at the end of the 1980s was to appeal to the World Bank and IMF, and in 1991, he accepted the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme. The measures included de-regulation of trade, devaluation of the Zimbabwe dollar, the abolition of price controls, and the reduction of consumer subsidies and social spending. Such measures necessarily reduce the scope of the nation-state to act. Patrick Bond and Masimba Manyanya quote Keynes on this topic: "In my view the whole management of the domestic economy depends upon being free to have the appropriate interest rate without reference to the rates prevailing in the rest of the world. Capital controls is a corollary to this." Moreover, in order to do all this, Mugabe had to take on substantial layers of his support, namely veterans of the liberation war whose power was substantially reduced by the abolition of whole swathes of the state apparatus. Mugabe had consistently acted as an agent of reducing Zimbabwean sovereignty, not increasing it.
It was the decision to utilise the issue of land reform to preserve his control that decisively alienated Mugabe from his UK backers, and this became the basis for the reactionary press to start getting dewy-eyed about the wisened old white supremacist Ian Smith. But there should be no illusions about the nature of the land grabs. They have not been carried out in such a way as to engender substantial improvements in social justice. The process has been largely determined by local and national political agendas, and has predictably led to the enrichment of Zanu-PF loyalists. In fact, Mugabe had made a rapprochement with veterans by allowing them to lead the process of 'redistribution'. Even while doing this, Mugabe has continued to push through privatization and cuts to social expenditure, while resuming payments to the IMF. By a combination of deft dodges, realignments, the occasional vociferation of 'left' rhetoric, and the use of the repressive apparatus to attack opponents, Mugabe has consistently outwitted the MDC and thus far prevented his regime from imploding at several points where it seemed as if the end was imminent. But as traumatised as Zimbabwean society is by economic crisis, hyperinflation, the breakdown of basic social services and infrastructure, and the violent lashing out of a state on its last lease of life, the basis of any post-Zanu PF regime is still going to have to come from below. You can't just import the model of colour-coded revolutions, in which the masses congregate at rock concerts and passively spectate. Apart from anything else, Mugabe et al won't fuck around: they army will kick the shit out of anyone who tries to stage that kind of thing, while cops will drag a few hundred people off to be tortured in one of the old jailhouses left over by Smith. And the idea that troops operating under an AU or UN mandate could possibly put a stop this suffering is absurd. The most likely result of any military intervention would be to galvanise a layer of people around Mugabe who would fight to defend him. (As Mahmood Mamdani has pointed out, Mugabe hasn't stayed in power without retaining a measure of support from significant layers of the population.) That would be the basis not of liberation but of absolute social catastrophe. Yet, of course, this is exactly what is being proposed in op eds throughout the West. The Washington Post wants neighbouring states to get stuck in, and the Kenyan Prime Minister is explicitly supporting such an idea. Paddy Ashdown, the former colonial High Commissioner to Bosnia, auguring a Rwandan-style genocide, has said he wants to see Britain get involved. Irene Petras, executive director of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (whom Condi declared the winner of the first annual Freedom Defenders Award in 2007) has invoked the doctrine of a "responsibility to protect", urging some form of international intervention. At the moment, thankfully, military intervention looks unlikely. But the head of steam being built up around this idea ought to be regarded with deep suspicion, especially as it is progenerated in the main by those who are co-responsible for Zimbabwe's dire calamity.