Zimbabwe's new rise of class struggle

Mike Sambo, the national coordinator of Zimbabwe's International Socialist Organisation, explained to Green Left Weekly's Steve Marks on February 16 what lies behind the regeneration of class struggle in the country.

Inflation, officially running at 1600%, and the economic crisis are making people desperate. Transport is out of reach and we all now walk long distances to get to our places of work and study. Basic commodities can't be found in the shops and those sold on the parallel market are simply unaffordable. Companies go bust and thousands of workers are sacked each week. In schools and colleges, fees are now so high that education is almost unaffordable.

The students in Bulawayo who started to protest last month against the fees and the manoeuvres of President Robert Mugabe to stay in office for an extra two years have ignited a spark. This time police repression didn't deter them and they kept at it and other students have followed their example. Electricity workers and doctors in the public health sector have also started to press their demands and have gone on strike.

This week, more than 1000 Women of Zimbabwe Arise activists staged their annual Valentine's Day marches in Harare and Bulawayo. The police arrested hundreds of the women, including babies, as they distributed roses. Public servants, nurses and teachers are now threatening strikes as well

We last saw a rise of class struggle like this in 1997. The government only extricated itself then by a series of manoeuvres, including a partial shift to the left — such as implementing measures like price controls, land reform and food subsidies.

The time bought then has now run out and Mugabe is now besieged by both local and international capital and a hungry mass of people. In desperation he is reversing his state capitalist stabilisation strategies and eliminating the last of the welfarist measures.

The government has basically moved towards implementing a full neoliberal economic program. However, this is all backfiring. Deregulation has only fueled inflation: 5000 Zimbabwean dollars (in reality $5 million as they took three zeroes off the currency last year) is only worth one US dollar on the parallel market. It will now be almost impossible for Mugabe to fool people again. Not even the capitalists are really impressed by his policy-making on the run. No-one takes his talk of recovery seriously.

To avert a total economic implosion, Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono is trying, unsuccessfully, to convince the government to make a peace deal with the opposition and capital via some transitional arrangement. This would allow the official "opposition", the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), to join the government as a junior partner. However, this will mean intensified attacks on the workers and the poor in general.

The MDC has its own problems anyway. It is split down the middle, and one of the points of difference is whether it is best to aim to strike a deal with the ruling party, ZANU-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union — Patriotic Front), or try to ride the mass movement and oust Mugabe that way. However, both MDC factions are committed to a pro-capitalist solution to Zimbabwe's crisis.

Serious opposition organisations need to intervene and to advance the economic struggles and generalise them into political challenge to the state. We can take advantage of the fact that ZANU-PF is divided into three factions, each backing a different candidate to eventually succeed Mugabe. Even the state apparatus is at this juncture relatively weak. The police themselves are now among the least paid in the country. There is less hostility from the police to protests as there was in the past — that's something we certainly notice!

The sharp economic situation has pushed workers and students towards a desperate struggle for survival and their struggles for a living wage will certainly intensify in the coming weeks. The lightning announcing this thunder is already flashing.

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