Bob Gould, 2008

South African labour movement’s support for the Zimbabwe opposition
Industrial action bans weapons shipment

Source: Ozleft, April 22, 2008
Proofreading, editing, mark-up: Steve Painter

Norm Dixon on the Green Left Weekly discussion list has done us all a service by pointing to the South African Communist Party’s analysis of the degeneration of the national movement led by Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. (Despite the fact that Dixon is one of the leading figures of the DSP majority, which is grinding on with a process that must inevitably lead to the expulsion of the DSP minority, his knowledge of southern Africa is considerable.)

The South African CP’s analysis is of considerable political significance. It is pervaded, obviously, by that party’s stageist view of the struggle in South Africa, with which I strongly disagree, but nevertheless it’s a concrete analysis of the degeneration of the Zimbabwe national movement.

The development in Zimbabwe is clearly related, at least in part, to the degeneration of the national movement in South Africa, and it’s no secret that the CP and Cosatu, the trade union federation, were a major factor in the election of Jacob Zuma, instead of Thabo Mbeki, as president of the African National Congress.

The South African CP is an organisation with a long history of struggle, so its opinion on these matters is no small thing.

A very important influence on the situation is that there are nearly four million Zimbabweans working in South Africa, drawn largely from the poorest elements in Zimbabwe. They are working in manual jobs, such as the waterfront. The reality of the situation in Zimbabwe, and Mugabe’s oppression of the masses, is physically apparent to the South African masses.

Some people on left discussion lists tend to pontificate about world affairs on the basis of a sort of personal, rather crazy conspiratorial evaluation of global politics, which leads them frequently to support dictatorships against the working class and the peasants and they sometimes draw on statements by Hugo Chavez, the Cuban government, or even the Chinese government, to buttress their position.

Public statements of governments such as those of Cuba, Venezuela and China are often dictated by diplomatic needs. I have the greatest respect for Chavez and the Cuban government. Globally, they are progressive forces, as is the South African CP.

Diplomatic considerations are one dimension, but a far more important dimension is the interests of the working class, and of real social and national movements, which from time to time collide with diplomacy.

At the end of the day, I favour working class struggles and national movements and put global diplomatic considerations to one side. Basic democratic rights and the rights of nationalities in most situations are far more important than diplomatic considerations.

As I understand it, that was generally Lenin’s attitude, too, and exceptions were only acceptable in the context of very serious threats to the survival of the new Soviet state. The overthrow of Menshevik rule in the Caucasus, for example, was very much the exception rather than the rule in Lenin’s outlook on those matters.

In the conditions of Zimbabwe today it’s quite clear that the corrupt elite around Mugabe is trying to rule without any serious social program for the masses and against the great hostility of the masses.

The grotesque picture of the Mugabe government conducting endless electoral recounts at gunpoint and trying to terrify the masses should be repugnant to anyone in the socialist tradition.

In Australia, many on the left know people who were active in the national movement to overthrow the Smith regime in Zimbabwe because many Zimbabweans were exiled to Australia. Many of these exiles returned to Zimbabwe after liberation, and they are to a person part of one or another strand of the opposition.

The grotesque image of the feisty and courageous long-standing liberation activist Sekai Holland beaten almost to death by Mugabe’s thugs had an electrifying effect in these parts on socialists of my generation, who knew her in Australia.

In addition, the activists in the ISO current in Australia have several times toured leading members of the Zimbabwe ISO, which is part of the opposition, and they appear to be courageous members of the younger generation of socialist activists in southern Africa.

It’s all very well for Bob Gould to say these things, but the last word just been said by the wharfies of Durban, organised through Cosatu and presumably led by the South African CP. They’ve banned a Chinese ship carrying arms for Mugabe. The government of Mozambique says it doesn’t want the ship either, and it has been forced to go around the Cape, heading for Angola in the hope that the guns can be taken to Zimbabwe through that country.

It’s a comparatively modest industrial action to ban a Chinese ship in Durban carrying guns, and perhaps the action was spearheaded by Zimbabwean refugees working on the waterfront, but it’s highly symbolic.

The working class appears to be developing rapidly as a social force in both South Africa and Zimbabwe, which are inevitably intertwined economically.

I trust the judgment of the South African and Zimbabwean masses on whether or not they prefer bourgeois democracy for the moment to the corrupt dictatorship of Mugabe, and they’re beginning to have their say.

These developments in southern African seem to be a small model of many situations developing around the world.

Global psuedo-anti-imperialist rhetoric and conspiracy theories are little use when dealing with the realities of class politics.