Wednesday, February 09, 2005

So much for 'solidarity' with the workers

One of the commonly misunderstood or misrepresented realities about authoritarianism is this: left-wing dictatorships are dictatorships first and left-wing second. Regimes will quickly shed any pretense to left-wing ideals in order to preserve their hold on absolute political power.

Since the late 70s, China has opened itself up to foreign investment and many aspects of capitalism in a way that would surely have Mao rolling in his grave. But one thing remains: absolute control by the Chinese Communist Party over the country's political space.

During the 1980s, the main opposition to Poland's communist government was the Solidarity. trade union During the liberation struggle against white minority rule, guerrilla leader Robert Mugabe was a strong proponent of Marxist rhetoric, something which he jettisonned for a while but re-adopted with a fervor a few years ago. The main opposition to Mugabe's regime comes from the Movement for Democratic Change led by former labor leader Morgan Tsvangarai. Zimbabwean trade unions are also strong opponents of the regime. How is it that the main opposition to these 'workers' paradises' can come from... the workers?

The answer is very simple: left-wing dictatorships are dictatorships first and left-wing second. The reason the regimes in Soviet Poland and Mugabe's Zimbabwe were so opposed to workers' trade unions is because they represented something far more dangerous to an authoritarian regime than even right-wing 'counterrevolutionaries.' They represented an alternative power structure.

While most of the world has been strongly critical of Robert Mugabe's dictatorship, prominent African leaders (with the notable exception of Senegal's president Abdoulaye Wade) have been largely concerned with appeasing Mugabe.

The African point man on the Zimbabwe crisis has been South African president Thabo Mbeki of the African National Congress (ANC) party. Mbeki has been reticent to criticize Mugabe for two main reasons. First, the ANC and Mugabe's ZANU-PF party (just ZANU until 1987) are ideological cousins as they are both left-wing movements that fought against white minority rule. As a result, Mugabe was a big supporter of the ANC during the latter's struggle against apartheid. It is also a fact that Mugabe's paranoid, anti-imperialist rantings have some sympathy in Africa and just enough of the occasional shred of truth to maintain that sympathy.

Though ZANU-PF and the ANC are both left-wing movements that fought against white minority rule, South Africa became a democracy and Zimbabwe did not. The ANC was a movement that was able to transcend its charismatic icon (Nelson Mandela) while ZANU-PF didn't. Though the South African poiltical system is imperfect and has some problems which I'll address in the near future, it's clear that South Africa respects the basic principles of democracy and rule of law while Zimbabwe does not.

The ANC, the South African Communist Party and COSATU, the main South African trade union grouping that is closely allied to the ANC, have jointly announced that conditions in Zimbabwe are not "conducive" to holding "free and fair elections." Parliamentary elections are scheduled for 31 March.

This is criticism Mugabe could easily write off if it came from the UN or George W. Bush or his favorite scapegoat Tony Blair, the British prime minister. But coming from folks Mugabe thought were his allies has to be a bitter pill for the bitter old man to swallow.

It will be interesting to see if how great the rift is between President Mbeki and his party and how they will try to paper over it.

But as always, Mugabe didn't take this snub lying down. A COSATU fact finding mission was refused entry to Zimbabwe. Typically, the regime accused the mission of backing the main opposition MDC (which itself was founded by trade unionists).

"If it is really levelling the playing field and conforming to SADC [Southern African regional grouping] norms, how can they feel threatened by people carrying pens and notebooks," said the general secretary of COSATU.

Authoritarian regimes often feel threatened by people carrying pens and notebooks.

The Zimbabwean goverment obfuscated by claiming the delegation needed to apply for a permit through the South African labour minister.

"[The delegation was] charged with (Section) 18A of the Immigration Act which relates to prohibited immigrants. They are being put on the next plane back to South Africa," explained the general secretary of the Zimbabwean Congress of Trade Unions, which organized the visit.

Not only has "Marxist" Mugabe oppressed his own country's trade unions, but now he's attacking South Africa's. So much for 'solidarity' with the workers.


At 11:49 AM, Blogger Kenya A. Hudson said...

I have to disagree with you on a few points. First, during the apartheid struggle, Zimbabwe leaned toward the PAC, not the ANC. I was at Fort Hare in 1998, when Mugabe, Mandela and Nyerere were there for graduation. In informal discussions with Zimbabweans at the campus, he was critical of the ANC. Mugabe was viewed as less supportive of ANC than other regional leaders by members of the ANC who were there. Second, I would be hard-pressed to say that the ANC governs as a left-wing party. It tries to lean on left-wing rhetoric, but its economic and social policies especially during Mbeki's presidency have been neoliberal hoping for gradual development of a mass black political class. Third, and for this I might get pilloried, Mugabe's regime was in the mid- and late 1990s, a much more prominent respecter of rule and law and a more competitive political system than many others that today (and then) passed for democracies. In fact, it was a little too competitive for Mugabe's tastes leading to much greater authoritarianism, restrictions on civil liberties and greater political fear.

At 11:56 AM, Blogger Brian said...

Fair enough. I agree that Mugabe's regime WAS more open than many in the mid-90s. I think it did so because it felt it could afford to be. It was so dominant that it felt invulernable. Once the MDC lead the charge that defeated ZANU-PF's constitutional manipulations, that's when the crackdown began. However, if the ANC owes no debt of gratitude to Mugabe for the anti-apartheid struggle, then how do you explain Mbeki's kowtowing to a regime that is antithetical to the principles he himself espouses? As a man with pan-African leadership ambitions, surely Zim is a source of embarassment to him.

At 2:58 PM, Blogger Kenya A. Hudson said...

I agree with you on Mugabe and ZANU-PF. The real test of democracies is their willingness to peacefully transfer power to the opposition. That's where most fail. Huntington, whatever his other problems, proposed a two-turnover test, i.e. peaceful changes in power twice, to determine whether a country is a democracy. By that criterion, Botswana, South Africa and many other democracies just have haven't been tested yet.

On Mbeki, he is something of an enigma. He was supposed to be a technocrat and his government's economic policies reflect that at least. However, if you look at his mediation on the continent, I think you'll notice that he rarely criticizes African leaders publicly. He seems unwilling to use force or the threat of it unlike the Mandela government that intervened in Lesotho with the blessing of other regional leaders. So his Zimbabwe policy does not strike me as remarkably different. It is more glaring because Zim's problems are so obvious, it is so close and people tend to assume that problems in one's own neighborhood or easier to solve than those outside of it. I know this is not an entirely satisfactory answer (or at least it isn't for me). I'll have to think about it some more and write a post about it.

On Mbeki, let me start by saying that he is a bit of an enigma. When he was running for office, I never would have predicted that he would be so thin-skinned (should have seen that coming), question links between HIV and AIDS or so silent on the epidemic of rape (especially child rape). However, if you look at Mbeki's mediation in Cote D'Ivoire specifically, but also elsewhere, you'll notice that he is hardly ever publicly harsh with any African government. I can't imagine Mbeki authorizing the military into Lesotho the way Mandela's government did. Most of the regional governments know that they can't or won't go into Zimbabwe. They also are unwilling to impose what would surely be crippling (and perhaps unconscionable) regional sanctions on it.


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