Zimbabwe: Mass mobilisation can defeat Mugabe

Below is abridged from an April 11 statement by the Zimbabwean International Socialist Organization (ISO). A much longer version can be read at http://links.org.au.

The March 29, 2008, elections have brought into sharp relief the escalating crisis in Zimbabwe. [At the time of writing] the government–appointed Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) has not announced the results of the presidential election, which the main opposition party, the main Movement for Democratic Change group led by former trade union leader Morgan Tsvangirai (MDC-T) claims to have won by a margin of more than 50%.

The results for the parliamentary election show that the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), led by Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, has lost its majority to the opposition for the first time since independence was won from Britain in 1980.

The ZEC National Command Centre, where the presidential results were to be announced, has reportedly been disbanded and several ZEC officials arrested for allegedly "defrauding" ZANU-PF candidates.

ZANU-PF insists that a run-off election between Tsvangirai and Mugabe is inevitable as no candidate has reached the requisite majority of 50% plus one. The ruling party has also demanded a complete recount of the presidential election.

In the midst of growing belligerent propaganda on state-run media, Mugabe re-appointed his cabinet, half of whom have lost their parliamentary seats, in a show of hardening resolve by the regime.

Contrary to previous promises, MDC-T went to court to force the ZEC to announce the election results, a process which on past experience will be drawn out and futile. The MDC-T has now announced that it is not going to participate in any run-off or re-count, as it won the election and wants to avoid bloodshed in a fraudulent re-run.

However, the MDC-T has not been clear on its alternatives, other than Tsvangirai calling for intervention from the UN and the "international community", and launching a regional "diplomatic offensive" to have Mugabe declared illegitimate.

The state-run media has reported that senior MDC-T officials approached justice minister P. Chinamasa and other ZANU-PF officials with proposals for the cancellation of the run-off and establishment of a government of national unity with Tsvangirai as one of the vice-presidents.

ZANU-PF says it has rejected the proposal and insisted that the run-off election be held. The MDC-T has so far been silent on the claims.


The background to these elections is that in 2008, the crisis in Zimbabwe has reached a crossroads after a decade of accumulating political and economic crises.

The previous assessment made by the ISO was that, because of the absence of a substantial radical united front of the [common people] and the depth of the crisis, the likely resolution of the crisis is an elitist compromise settlement involving a government of national unity between elites in the ZANU-PF and the MDC, around a Western supported neoliberal economic framework, sometime after the March election.

On the one hand, ZANU-PF elites now recognise that they have no solution to the economic crisis and want social peace in order to grow and launder the wealth acquired in the last decade, but can not do so in the context of a crisis ridden state under siege from the West.

The imperialists have reached the conclusion that the MDC-T does not have the capacity to defeat ZANU-PF. The MDC-T is dominated by a petty-bourgeois elite now eager to get into state power, even as junior partners to ZANU-PF, and start accumulating as a neocolonial dependent capitalist class.

However, the March election, on its own, would not be decisive in settling the Zimbabwean crisis — the climaxing economic crisis is the most important factor.

The importance of the elections lay in that they would be used by the elites to determine the composition and content of a possible government of national unity. This was especially so for Mugabe, who seeks to use them to legitimise ZANU-PF seniority in any coalition to safeguard him in eventual retirement.

In the elections, we assessed that a ZANU-PF victory was likely by hook or crook, due to factors like Mugabe's control of the rural vote, the absence of a democratic constitution and an even playing field, divisions in the opposition and the economic crisis.

Even if it lost the elections, the regime would not accept defeat, but, unless stopped by mass mobilisation, would likely follow the "Algerian route" — whereby Algeria's regime, facing certain defeat, annulled the announcement of election results and retained power.

'People's power' alternative

However, an elitist compromise is not automatic, given the dynamics of the succession question in ZANU-PF, intransigence of its hardliners and the pace of the crisis.

If the elites fail to reach a compromise, the imploding economic crisis could lead to other possibilities, such as a full-scale ZANU-PF military dictatorship with brutal repression of opposition forces, a "failed state" or an alternative resolution to the crisis from below via massive social and political struggles by working people.

However, the "people's power" route is only possible if there is the urgent establishment of a united and democratic front, including organised labour, residents, informal traders, youths, students, women, progressive civic groups, socialists and other radicals, including from the opposition parties. However, such a front must be autonomous of the MDC.

The People's Convention, which gathered nearly 4000 delegates from civic groups, trade unions, the Zimbabwe Social Forum and the left in mid-February, offered possible foundations for this.

Given the possibility of change from below, the way forward was to reject and mobilise against the fake March elections, demanding that any elections be held under a new democratic and people-driven constitution.

The regime was in a corner because of the massive crisis and could be defeated by mass action, and it was desperate for the opposition to participate in its fake elections to legitimise them and demobilise the masses. In any case, an opposition victory without mass action would lead to an elitist MDC government that would not be controllable by the masses, but by elites from business and the imperialists.

In the March election, the MDC-T performed much better than we had anticipated, maintaining its urban strongholds and defeating ZANU-PF in some of its previous strongholds. The combined opposition will control the House of Assembly, including appointing the speaker. If the two MDC factions had been united they would actually have won the election.

However, our analysis remains valid in so far as the results show the continuing support for ZANU-PF by the majority of rural voters. Unlike with other regimes that had implemented neoliberal programs and were subsequently virtually wiped out, ZANU-PF still remains a substantial party in Zimbabwe despite the unprecedented economic crisis.

Economic strangulation

Nonetheless the opposition did very well. First and foremost, this is due to the massive poverty induced by the escalating economic crisis, now extending to the rural poor, and the obvious inability of the state to address this.

The fundamental reason for this is the strangulation of the economy by the capitalists and the Western countries through direct and indirect sanctions. One consequence is with the reduction of aid, Zimbabwe now receives only one tenth the amount of aid per person affect by AIDS/HIV compared to the regional average.

While strangling the national economy and the capacity of the state to deliver welfare, the Western countries have poured significant amounts of money into food relief for peasants in most rural areas.

The peasants voted with their stomachs for the party they felt was closest to those who were feeding them (Western interests). This is the "soft rigging" ZANU-PF is now harping on about and will possibly use as justification for rejecting the results.

There is also continued working class and urban poor support for MDC-T, in the absence of viable left alternatives.

Mugabe paid the price for the failure of his regime to radicalise further in response to the economic siege. The regime's only probable alternative to deal with the current crisis and onslaught by business and the imperialists was to move towards expropriation of the main businesses that produce the necessities of life.

Instead, the business elites in the regime are successfully advocating free market policies. It is of course debatable whether under the current global political and economic environment, even a state capitalist model would have saved the regime from a determined onslaught by the forces of global capital.

The massive performance of MDC-T partly vindicates those who were arguing that something was happening in the electorate and therefore it was necessary to participate. However, our other basic position of the likelihood of an elitist and neoliberal deal around a government of national unity remains most likely.

Despite the massive vote for the removal of the ZANU-PF dictatorship by the masses, and for change, the elites who now dominate the MDC-T are likely to cut a deal with the regime. The number of businesspeople, bankers, top professionals and lawyers amongst the newly elected MDC parliamentary representatives is staggering, with no less than 14 senior lawyers!

Mass mobilisation needed

Instead of mobilising the masses who have overwhelmingly voted for it, the MDC-T has focused on calling for so-called "international community" intervention — code words for the Western countries. Most damning, it is pacifying its members and civic groups by calling for restraint and not doing anything to provoke the regime.

We welcome the position of the MDC-T, under pressure from its radicals and the masses, not to participate in the fake run-off or re-count. However, for a boycott to be effective, it must be followed by mass mobilisation and a campaign for civil disobedience — jambanja! (struggle!)

The key demands remain rejection of the fake elections and the demand for free and fair elections under a new democratic and people-driven constitution, together with the demand for a tax-free living wage for workers and other demands in the People's Charter.

The way forward is for action led by a democratic united front of opposition parties, civic society and labour, with every party agreeing not to make individual and separate deals with the regime.