Norm replies re: Zimbabwe: ISO and popular frontism

Green Left Parramatta glparramatta at
Fri Mar 9 03:33:40 MST 2001

Philip Ferguson wrote:

> It's interesting that Norm calls the MDC a "fledgling labour party" and yet
> in the next paragraph notes that rich white farmers occupy influential
> positions in the party.
> This must indeed be a peculiar form of "fledging labour party".

Dear Philip,

No, it is not a ``peculiar'' form of Labour Party. All the Labor Parties I am
familiar with -- the ALP, the NZLP, the British Labour Party and the European
Social Democrats, and the ANC in South Africa -- are capitalist parties. The
difference between Zimbabwe (and South Africa -- but to an ever decreasing
degree) of course is that in Australia, New Zealand and Britain, a significant
number of advanced workers have experienced the reality of the capitalist
nature of the social democrats and are prepared to consider a more radical
alternative (although the revolutionary left is considerably weaker).

Whether revolutionaries participate in such trade union-based capitalist
parties is determined by the level of illusions that workers hold in those
parties and the relative strength of the revolutionary forces. Participation
within these parties is a purely tactical question that must be determined by
revolutionaries on the ground. The goal is to boost the revolutionary forces,
whether by building radical alternatives outside the labour parties and/or,
when large numbers of radical workers have illusions in them, like in Zim,
building a militant pole of attraction within that can form the nucleas of --
or join forces with revolutionaries outside-- that alternative later.

In general, revolutionaries give critical ``support'' to such parties because
their rule helps expose the Laborites' fundamentally capitalist nature (it
breaks illusions and encourages advanced workers to seek alternatives), not
because they are workers parties (Phil, as you now the links that these parties
often maintain with the trade union bureaucracy often allow them to impose
greater attacks on the working class than their blue-blooded rivals).

That has always been the Leninist approach to what Lenin called the Bourgeois
Labour parties --  Support them ``like the rope that supports the hanging man''
and all that. That ``support'' can take external or internal forms -- again
depending on the conciousness of the most militant workers and their levels of
illusions with the social democratic leaderships.

> Gwisai's criticisms of the MDC leadership, criticisms endorsed by Norm, are
> quite funny.  He is basically whinging that the leaders of a capitalist
> party are behaving like. . . the leaders of a capitalist party.

In Zimbabwe, workers have huge illusions in the MDC because it was born amidst
mass working class upheavals led by the ZCTU leadership, who then took the step
to form the MDC. The masses believe it to be more radical than it is. There is
no short-cut around this but for the masses to experience the reality of an MDC

A small but well-organised party like the ISOZ could stand on the sidelines and
spout rhetoric or it could involve itself -- without hiding its views and
attitudes, or signing away its independence -- and continue to organise and
educate the advanced Zim workers.

That seems to be what Gwisai is doing, and doing it well. The MDC right does
not like Gwisai, but he and the ISO are prepared to fight the right openly, and
mobilise the growing numbers of supporters being gained through the tactic, to
build a effective left pole of  attraction that, if they are expelled or decide
to split, can continue to build.

> And it shows, yet again, the unwillingness of sections of the revolutionary
> left to operate under their own steam and win support in their own right.

There are more than one tactic to do this. So far, Gwisai and the ISO are
clearly operating ``under their own steam'' and the winning support ``in their
own right''. That is obvious from my article -- if you don't believe the
tainted views of a dreaded DSP member then go to and search for
``Gwisai'' and ecide for yourself.

> In another post, Phil adds:

> It is also kind of curious to see the Australian DSP, which has been so
> highly critical of the ANC and this kind of politics in South Africa,
> supporting the Zimbabwean ISO and pretending the MDC is a 'fledgling labour
> party'.  (Still, the DSP think imperialist armies are anti-imperialist
> armies, so. . . )
> Still, perhaps the DSP know the MDC is a popular front but they just want
> to get close to a few IST sections to pick them up when the *big* IST
> fall-out takes place.

It seems that Phil cannot see anything other than through the prism of his
sectarian world. Well, we want to *collaborate* and *cooperate* with any
revolutionary party that is serious about overthrowing capitalism and is trying
to do it. We are not too concerned about what part of the Communist movement
they originated from or their past mistakes, but are most interested in what
they are *doing* today. And that includes the sections of the IST, CWI or
anybody else prepared to avoid narrow sectarianism and work together with us
and other parties (see Links magazine

(Hell, when it comes down to it, in the long run in would be preferable for the
Australian ISO and the DSP to be in a single party. Our differences are not
*that* fundamental. Neither party is going to be swallowed by the other, or
magically fall off the face of the Earth. If socialism is going to happen here,
in one way or another we'll have to work together.)

We have strong comradely relations with diverse revolutionary parties such as
the PRD in Indonesia, the Timorese Socialist Party, the Labour Party Pakistan,
the CPIML in India, the Scottish Socialist Party, the French LCR, the Portugese
PSR, Lalitt in Mauritaus, the Socialist Party of Labour in the Philippines and
an excellent array of radicals in South Africa, Russia, Britain and list goes
on. We have *no interest* in the toy internationals so beloved by the
Trotskyists and Maoists (see (DSP documents page) for an
outline of our international ``agenda''). We have our differences and we debate
them in a comradely and constructive manner. But on the fundamentals we tend to
see the same things.

I have consistently attempted to reveal the capitalist nature of the ANC (not
too difficult) in the face of many Western leftists who want to pretend that
the ANC is ``revolutionary'' or progressive.  I have also sought to keep the
Australian left informed as to the activities of the best elements of the SA
left (and now the Zim left).

Unlike the many self-appointed experts on revolutionary strategy and tactics, I
have not argued that revolutionaries should *as a principle* not work inside
the ANC or for that matter the SACP. Nor is it a *principle* that
revolutionaries must *only* operate inside the ANC or SACP. Given the still
vast illusions among the masses that it was the ANC that liberated them from
racial apartheid and that the SACP and COSATU still hold the support of a large
number SA socialists -- the countervailing exposure of the ANC/SACP among
grassroots activists -- such ``principles'' would be dumb.

But what I have tried to bang away at is that the SA left has to build an
*organised* revolutionary alternative to the ANC and SACP. Tactics to achieve
that can include working inside the ANC and SACP, *and* working outside.

But the left within the ANC and SACP *has* to openly *fight* the capitalist
policies of those parties' leaders, organise independently that fight out,
refuse to deny or make apologies for those policies, link up with all opponents
outside to struggle against those policies and is ready to take a big chunk out
of the ANC/SACP's members and supporters if the time comes that they are thrown
out or choose to split. The tragedy of the SA left is that, in general, the
revolutionary alternative is not being conciously built -- inside or out.

Gwisai and the ISOZ are one good example (but not a one that should be
robotically copied) of how such alternative may be built. Gwisai seems to have
not accepted the capitalist course of the MDC and is fighting openly to win the
support of the most militant Zim workers *in the face of * opposition from the
MDC leaders.

Phil, let's at least attempt to learn what is going on there, study what Gwisai
and the ISOZ are actually doing, and offer our solidarity rather than shoot
first, ask questions later in the typically knee-jerk sectarian manner that
infects most of the far-left.

Revolutionary regards,


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