First Published: Workers Viewpoint, Vol. 5, No. 9, March 15, 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Robert Mugabe and the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) won 63% of the vote and 57 seats out of 80 in the recent British-supervised election in Zimbabwe–a landslide victory. ZANU won once and for all the right to organize the government and represent the Zimbabwean people. The election victory brings Zimbabwe a big step closer to final liberation and independence. While Zimbabweans dance in the streets celebrating this historic occasion and mountains of congratulations pile up in ZANU offices. ZANU is gearing up for the far more complicated and challenging tasks ahead.
What lessons does ZANU’s victory and the obstacles they will face on the road ahead have for the U.S. revolution?
After Mugabe and ZANU’s sweeping rout of imperialist-backed-Muzorewa regime (Muzorewa won only three seats), the U.S. had to recognize the new government. At the same time the imperialists claim in a recent New York Times article that ZANU’s victory “proves” Mugabe’s Marxist-Leninist belief in the necessity of armed insurrection is wrong since “The oppressed black majority won their liberation through ’free and peaceful’ ’elections.”
This ignores the fact that it took seven years of armed struggle, countless sacrifices by the liberation fighters and the Zimbabwean people to even bring the British and the puppet Muzorewa regime to the bargaining table. And only after the Patriotic Front had already liberated most of the country.
Nor was the election process so “peaceful and free.” ZANU had to wage a fierce fight to maintain its independence and initiative while the imperialists tried every trick to prevent the election from representing the will of the people. Britain and Muzorewa first tried to disarm ZANU and the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (both members of the Patriotic Front) by insisting that they report to assembly points guarded by Commonwealth forces. Meanwhile, British colonial governor Soames (in charge of the election process) let Muzorewa’s mercenary forces and South African troops roam free, intimidating the masses–a violation of the cease-fire agreement. ZANU kept most of its soldiers in the countryside and concentrated its troops only in the assembly centers where the mercenaries and South Africans were relatively weak. Mugabe ordered his men not to give up their arms, and repeatedly warned the imperialists that if Muzorewa and South African soldiers weren’t leashed ZANU would resume the armed struggle.
During the election process there were at least two attempts to assassinate Mugabe. In addition, Soames threatened to block the election in areas where ZANU had the strongest mass support. Despite all this, ZANU took on their enemy on the parliamentary front (a stronghold of the imperialists and a front where ZANU had little experience), maintained their independence and initiative and won. The resounding success in the elections was a fruit of ZANU’s sharp and flexible tactics and seven years of sacrifice during the armed struggle.
The situation is excellent for ZANU. Even if ZANU were to be forced out of power by a right-wing coup backed by the imperialists, the Zimbabwean people have demonstrated to the people of the world that ZANU is their true representative.
With state power, ZANU can now mobilize a lot more resources for its cause such as the right to organize and control the army, the police, the courts, and prisons, the power to tax and issue currency, access to TV, radio and transportation, control over natural resources like chrome, and so on. This can now be utilized to fight for the political and economic independence of Zimbabwe and the liberation of the black majority instead of oppressing the black masses as the racist Smith regime used it.
With state power, ZANU can now use the diplomatic front fully to fight the British imperialists, the South African regime, as well as the two superpowers – the U.S. and the Soviet Union. ZANU can now provide more active leadership in the Organization of African Unity, the movement of non-aligned countries and the United Nations.
ZANU and the Zimbabwean people will need all these resources to carry out the more complicated and challenging tasks ahead. ZANU has to fight not mainly on the military front as it did in the past, but on all fronts–parliamentary, economic, military, diplomatic, as well as the cultural front. Only victory, step by step, on all these fronts can insure a politically and economically independent Zimbabwe and bring final liberation for the people.
One of the most difficult fights will be to build an independent Zimbabwean economy. Zimbabwe is a poor, underdeveloped third world country. For Zimbabwe, because of years of imperialist robbery and domination, it will be a big fight just to be able to feed her people, not to mention building roads, factories and so on. Seven years of armed struggle against the racist regime and the imperialists has brought tremendous destruction and hardship. And the biggest loss has been the lives of the best sons and daughters of the Zimbabwean people in the fight against their oppressors.
Frontline states like Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique have not solved the problem of building an independent economy and are susceptible to imperialist domination again through new forms of colonialism (neo-colonialism – where the imperialists don’t rule directly like the British once ruled the American colonies, but instead rule indirectly by controlling a country’s economy). Neither Cuba nor Vietnam were able to solve this problem. It is possible for third world countries to become economically independent. For example, China, under Mao’s leadership, was on the right path and achieved self-sufficiency in food, then failed to accomplish it. (That’s a factor why there was a restoration of capitalism in China after Mao died and the revisionists –those who distort Marxism – stole state power.)
The British and U.S. imperialists are hitting this front, pressuring for an “open economy” (The Economist, March 8, 1980, meaning complete freedom for the imperialists to invest in Zimbabwe and once again dominate the country).
Mugabe has made sharp tactical decisions to help consolidate Zimbabwe’s independence. For example, he has asked General Wells, the present head of the Rhodesian army, to be head of the new Zimbabwean army and integrate his and ZANU’s troops together. Right now there are 25,000 soldiers in Muzorewa’s private army, 4,000 South African troops, the Rhodesian army, as well as 18,000 ZANU and 9,000 ZAPU (Zimbabwean African People’s Union) forces in the country. If the Rhodesian army is not integrated into the official forces, they would be a potential pool of troops for a coup backed by South Africa and the imperialists. The chances of winning over the bulk of the black soldiers in the Rhodesian army is good since their morale is low. In addition, Mugabe has appointed a ZANU officer to serve as General Wells’ deputy.
Mugabe has also tried to tactically neutralize South Africa. “South Africa is a geographical reality for us; it’s also a historical reality. We cannot get them away even if we wanted to. The reality is that we have to co-exist with them and co-exist on the basis of mutual recognition of the differences that exist between us. In other words, we should pledge ourselves, if South Africa does so on its part, to non-interference in South African affairs and they to non-interference in our affairs,” he said.
Is Mugabe wavering on his support of the Azanian (South African) people’s struggle against the racist regime? Shouldn’t he let Zimbabwe be used for guerrilla bases for the Azanian people’s armed struggle?
Right now, there is a real threat of a right-wing military coup by the white minority still in Zimbabwe, backed by South Africa. Unable to stomach ZANU’s victory, right after the election the South African regime threatened, “Any neighbor which allows its territory to be used for attacks on or the undermining of South Africa and its security will have to face the full force of the Republic’s strength.” Mugabe made a tactical decision to demand noninterference on both sides to buy time to build up his country. He knows that a strong, independent Zimbabwe is itself a great threat on the continued rule of the white minority regime in South Africa.
The principle of peaceful co-existence does not apply to illegal settler states like South Africa or Israel. This means that other countries can provide military aid to the Azanian people in S. Africa and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, and it is correct for them not to have diplomatic relations with countries like S. Africa and Israel. This was China’s policy under under Mao. However, tactically ZANU can’t fight in all directions recklessly. Mugabe is correct to mainly concentrate on the domestic front to consolidate Zimbabwe’s independence and not give South Africa an excuse to militarily intervene right now (although South Africa will definitely use political and economic means to topple the ZANU government). This is the same tactical principle Mao applied in China after the communist victory in 1949, (although he was talking about internal policies toward different class forces) when he said, “It is undesirable to hit out in all directions and cause nation-wide tension. We must definitely not make too many enemies, we must make concessions and relax the tension a little in some quarters and concentrate our attack in one direction.” (Selected Works, Vol. 5)
On the one hand, the imperialists are hoping that Mugabe and ZANU will trip up and give them an opening to get back in the country. They are speculating on the so-called “two Mugabes”–the “Marxist terrorist” and the “new pragmatic prime minister”. They, can’t understand how Mugabe could be firm on Marxist principles while being flexible in tactics. On the other hand, the Trotskyites like the “Revolutionary Communist” Party (RCP) said the cease-fire agreement was a “sellout” (see WV, Feb. 16, 1980). Now the RCP is calling the election victory an “illusion.” They pit armed struggle against parliamentary/diplomatic struggle, as well as the fight to build an independent Zimbabwean economy. This poverty of tactics comes from the fact that the RCP sees liberation as a pure and straight road without twists and turns. To them seizing state power means the end of class struggle. They would have ZANU stay in the jungle instead of move on to more difficult challenges. By attacking Mugabe and ZANU, they are giving the imperialists a helping hand.
Whether one supports the ZANU-led national front government of Zimbabwe or attacks it is the watershed between genuine communists and the imperialists, revisionists and Trotskyites. We have confidence that Mugabe and ZANU will be able to overcome this problem. Mugabe is a Marxist-Leninist and ZANU has been trained through years of struggle and building base areas. Zimbabwe is also the second most populated country and richest in resources in Africa.