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Zimbabwe: the lesson isn't over.

Zimbabwe appears to have the unfortunate fate of providing a lesson for the socialist left in the West. In its scant three and a half years of independence, Zimbabwe has convinced Nathaniel Bobo "that at least in the short run, the kind of 'reconciliation' achieved in Zimbabwe primarily serves the interests of the national bourgeoisie and their transnational allies." (MR, September 1983, p. 40)

In fact, the highly regarded and popular policy of reconciliation is not discussed by Bobo, nor are its implications. Nor is it mentioned that so far the transnationals have shown a screaming lack of interest in investing in Zimbabwe. And what the national bourgeoisie has shown is a continual carping and complaining about the power and socialist ideals of the new government. Remarks of their representatives in public meetings make their concern and lack of dominance clear. Their raucous complaints about the necessity and difficulty of getting approval from the Ministry of Labor for firings and layoffs also make that clear. Their fear of and struggle with workers' committees shows that they are not prepared to accept the government's "most important task" of building new socioeconomic institutions "on a more democratic basis, including a greater degree of worker participation in management and decision-making in enterprises." (Transitional National Development Plan, I, p. 20). Finally, Bobo does not mention the development of important regional structures through the Southern African Development Coordination Conference linking Zimbabwe with its neighbors. (For a good discussion of this see Carol B. Thompson, "Toward Economic Liberation: Zimbabwe in Southern Africa Regional Development," Contemporary Marxism, No. 7, 1983.)

Bobo seems to have written off Zimbabwe. So the international solidarity that he speaks of in conclusion appears to be nothing more than best wishes for the next time rather than camaraderie in this "next round." There is much in Zimbabwe about which we can be pessimistic, particularly if we concentrate (as does Bobo) on the boasts of an American Embassy representative and the frustrations of foreign socialists who hoped for more. The frustrations are real, and they are even appropriate when seen as a response to the political and economic contradictions that are the obvious reality in Zimbabwe. Despite other differences of various degrees, Zimbabwe does not differ from its liberated neighbors in having to fight out the struggle between the socialist forces and the capitalist friends of neocolonialism. Zimbabwe is not a socialist country, as many in the West have naively hoped, but the transition to becoming a socialist country is still very much on the agenda.

When Prime Minister Mugabe spoke out against government ministers and other representatives buying up property because it was nonsocialist to do so (although not fully capitalist since it didn't involve means of production), the support by over half the university students in a long march and demonstration was indicative of the breadth of struggle. The development of farm and other producing cooperatives is indicative of the deep commitment to making important steps toward socialism. Some of the spontaneity of the concern is seen in the locally organized cooperation work of those who have been resettled according to the plan that establishes individual plots. There are so many ways in which Zimbabwe has made difficult but important steps toward growth with equity. The enormous increase in consumption of basic foods, the tripling of the number of children in school with the great increase in the number of schools (built through schemes of self-reliance), and the great strides forward in health care and preventive medicine are important and popular foundational programs. These are great strides forward despite the remnants of malnutrition, the lack of universal education (Bobo to the contrary), and the prevalence of serious diseases. Should Zimbabwe be expected to solve all those problems in three years and arrive at socialism too?

Still, one can have worries about the mass popular base for socialism and the clarity of a socialist program with firm socialist organizations. Of course this will always be true in any struggle for socialism no matter where it develops or what its historical roots may be. Although I share some of Bobo's concerns on these matters, his cynicism seems to me largely unfounded and misplaced. We know that the party structures (such as they are) give little clear direction. Socialism is frequently invoked but rarely elaborated on. It is at best patronizing, however, for Bobo to attribute resistance to it from the "traditional attitudes" of "the majority peasant population."

Bobo also depends on criticisms by Terence Ranger, for whom I have a lot of respect. I agree with Ranger's desire for a truly radical historiography, but I do think it is utopian of him to expect a people's history that meets his stringent, and laudable, ideals in three years. There are important socialist publications coming out of radical publishing houses, including an excellent radical history (Ranger to the contrary) for primary schools. Mutumbuka, the minister of education and culture, recognizes that his ministry has led a "quantitative revolution" in education, but he is now stressing that the country needs to pursue the much more difficult "qualitative revolution" through the curricula and the preparation of staff. Of course the importance of mass mobilization for this is not ignored.

There are other remarks by Bobo that I find misleading or wrong, such as his allusion to Christian Marxism, his suggestion that economic changes were made at the behest of the IMF, his lack of clarity on legal reform, his suggestion that ZAPU has stopped functioning, and his suggestion that there has been no change in the class structure of the schools. These are all issues that deserve elaboration, but I shall not try to pursue them here.

My main point is that international solidarity is called for with respect to the socialist projects on the agenda in Zimbabwe. The University of Zimbabwe appears to have received a gift of Monthly Review Press books. Important aid is going to the cooperative movement and to various projects to help the people achieve their economic independence. Probably most importantly, South African apartheid needs to be eliminated so that countries in the region such as Zimbabwe can safely and independently pursue their socialist objectives. Of course, the contradictions are not going to go away--even after five or ten years. The times are particularly difficult now, and those with socialist objectives (both within and outside the government) are working with a new urgency. Bobo does those comrades a disservice in suggesting that the lesson is finished and that there are celebrations in the capitalist boardrooms of Harare, Johannesburg, and New York. It is nothing like that. The struggle continues.
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Author:Ware, Robert
Publication:Monthly Review
Date:Jun 1, 1984
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