Editorial: Mugabe – From ‘Marxist’ Guerrilla to Fat Cat Dictator
In the late 19th century, the major European powers came together at a conference in Berlin to ‘carve up’ the African territories amongst themselves as part of the ‘Scramble for Africa’. European capitalists looted the natural resources and ruthlessly exploited the working population of their African colonies. The racist ideology of white superiority was used to justify their rule. In response, national ‘liberation’ movements emerged, many of which claimed to be socialist. Robert Mugabe, who led the guerrilla war against the white minority regime in what was then known as Rhodesia in the 1970s, was a self-styled ‘Marxist Revolutionary’.
Some have said that socialists should support these liberation struggles. After all, it was argued, victory would bring freedom and dignity to the African people, and according to Lenin’s theory of imperialism, with the loss of their overseas colonies the Western Powers would be unable to buy off a section of their working class, thus hastening the workers’ revolution.
However, experience has not lived up to these expectations, and what emerged in the new states was not socialism, but the rule of emergent local capitalist elites, who, like their colonial predecessors, lived off the labour of the local population. Rival groups competing for power have led, in some cases, to civil war. Although the new local ruling classes did not employ the racist ideology of the European colonialists, they did, however, exploit the ethnic divisions within their own populations. And far from cutting into their ‘super profits’, Western states found, in many cases, that they could do business with the new regimes.
A case in point is Zimbabwe. After Robert Mugabe achieved power in 1980, he dropped any pretence of being a ‘Marxist’ and adopted openly capitalist measures, designed to attract foreign investment. Believing that he was a safe pair of hands, Western Powers poured in financial aid. Under his rule, a new local capitalist elite emerged who bought large mansions, expensive cars and sent their children to private schools. As for the majority working population, life was of grinding poverty and unemployment. Unrest in Matabeleland led to thousands, mainly from the minority Ndebele population, being killed in a state crackdown. As the Zimbabwean economy deteriorated and the living standards of the majority fell, Robert Mugabe’s rule became more autocratic and corrupt. In the 2000s, he gave support to seizures of white owned land by armed groups, which were given over mainly to Mugabe’s cronies. When he was forced to resign as President in the aftermath of a military takeover, working class Zimbabweans took to the streets and danced and cheered.
This is not to argue that Africans are unable to govern themselves and were better off under European colonial rule. The new African states, in the absence of a large socialist movement, could only develop capitalism and in the context of the undeveloped state that African economies were left in the wake of colonialism and slavery, and having to compete in a world capitalist market dominated by the western powers, would likely to be insecure, authoritarian and corrupt. For African workers to achieve real freedom, they will need to unite with workers in other countries to fight for Socialism.