An letter to Against the Current

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Thu May 17 13:09:25 MDT 2001

>Every time someone attacks Imperial policy - e.g., in Zimbabwe, or
>Philippines, Timor or Yugoslavia - we are told: if you are right how come
>the local lefties are backing (whoever is the choice of the Imperialists.)

The left should not set itself up to be cheerleaders. The MDC in Zimbabwe
is deeply flawed by reformist elements. But we should have no illusions
about Mugabe:


The Guardian (London), April 22, 1988

Mugabe comes to terms with capitalism


When Zimbabwe became independent under Robert Mugabe eight years ago,
socialist aspirations seemed high on the agenda, despite the terms of the
Lancaster House Agreement, but those hopes have been scaled down - for the

>From 1980, the removal of sanctions and a good rainy season produced two
years of economic growth above 10 per cent. There was an apparently
miraculous reconciliation between whites and blacks who had just fought a
war resulting in about 30,000 deaths. A government publication proclaimed
Growth and Equity - Zimbabwe it seemed could have its cake and eat it, both
higher growth and social justice, greater equality without driving out the
skilled whites.

But after the gain from the end of sanctions, with the world entering a
slump, and the start of three years of drought, the realities became
apparant. Lancaster House had not put in writing the promises to fund the
buying out of the 5,000 white farmers who owned two-thirds of the good
land; instead it had protected them through provisions guaranteeing
property rights.

Both South Africa and the IMF exerted leverage against too independent a
policy. A choice had to be made, but only one course seemed safe: to hold
on inside the status quo until things improved.

This meant that there could be no attack on the extreme inequality of
wealth - almost all of it, whether good farmland, mines, factories or
residential property owned by the 2 per cent white minority. The only way
in for aspiring blacks was through corruption. But this has gone little
further than weekend farms for officials and complicity in the transfer
pricing by mining companies.

Zimbabwe's first year saw the introduction of minimum wages which produced
a real gain for most of the million employed. And high guaranteed maize
prices for the first time produced significant cash income for almost a
million peasant families.

But professional salaries remained 20 times higher than the minimum wage.
Although higher tax rates for the rich made some impact, the gap widened
again in the slump, as minimum wages rose slower than inflation. In 1981
the minimum industrial wage was 66 per cent of the poverty line; in 1988 it
was 57 per cent.

As President Mugabe sees it, the existing reality of capitalism has to be
recognised, whatever the long-term socialist aspsirations He envisages a
two-stage process involving a consolidation of the National Democratic
Revolution. In practice this means some Africanisation in the private
sector and some nationalisation, but without challenging pervasive
capitalist relations, internal or external.

A number of foreign firms (mainly South African) have been bought by the
Government. A new Labour Relations Act has guaranteed some workers' rights,
but made legal strikes effectively impossible and undermined collective

Foreign capital and national capital (which is still almost entirely
white-owned in the still dominant private sector) are protected by a
surprisingly efficient structure of import controls. Through the rationing
of foreign exchange, this amounts to an effective planning mechanism, to
the despair of the World Bank, which continues to press for
'liberalisation' as a supposed answer to foreign exchange shortages.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe may be finding its own answer through selective export
promotion - last year light manufactured exports grew by almost two-thirds.

Zimbabwe is in fact a modest success in African terms, with an average
growth rate since independence of almost 5 per cent per year, although
barely half that since 1982, With the population growing by over 3 per cent
a year, this means that average incomes are now static or declining.
Prospects for economic transformation along the lines of the current
five-year plan are consequently poor, but even so there are few African
countries (including South Africa) that can boast even the recent middling

Nevertheless, there is increasing advice on how to grow faster, much of it
from ideological Western 'experts.' Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, and
Zambia, in desperate straits because of mismanagement and worsening
external relations, may have no option but to follow World Bank advice and
trust to market solutions. But the reason that Zimbabwe is not another
'basket case' amy be that its successful anti-market policies have reduced
its vulnerability to the economic storms that have wrecked more fragile

So the medicine that may purge them of inefficient bureaucracy may kill off
the infant industries on which Zimbabwe's chance of continued growth depends.

In the hostile regional and world climate it is equally hard to argue that
there is available a socialist medicine to dynamise the economy.
Persistence of the appalling income inequalities seems to be part of the
price to be paid for keeping South Africa (and the World Bank) at bay.

Zimbabwe's prospects are not claimed to be rosy. But what else could be
expected for a tiny landlocked country - only eight million people - right
next to South Africa, in the present world climate? Perhaps in present
circumstances only a holding operation is realistic.

Louis Proyect
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