Grassroots Lieutenants of Imperialism?
By Stephen Gowans
Patrick Bond would probably never balk at being accused of contributing to the barrage of negative publicity against the Mugabe government. Bond appears to hate Mugabe with a passion.
Nor, I suspect, would he object to anyone pointing out that, where he can, he acts to alienate left support for Mugabe’s government by portraying Mugabe as a reactionary who dishonestly exploits anti-imperialist rhetoric to cling to power at any cost.
Bond doesn’t believe Mugabe is engaged in an anti-neo-colonial struggle. He sees Mugabe as nothing more than a corrupt demagogue who has become so addicted to the perks of power that he’ll never give them up willingly.
Bond’s argument resonates with some progressives because it gives them an easy way out of the dilemma of feeling obliged to support a beleaguered leader everyone says is a brutal dictator who steals elections and mismanages the economy. No one wants to be known as a thug-hugger. When Bond reinforces the crudest CNN and BBC propaganda, and tells progressives that Mugabe is a phony, he signals it’s okay to join in the two minutes hate.
While there may be an emotional appeal to what Bond has to say, his argument, examined dispassionately, is weak. If Mugabe is the crypto reactionary, pro-imperialist Bond says he is, why are the openly reactionary, imperialists in London and Washington so agitated about Mugabe and his policies?
Bond doesn’t say what the “independent” left is independent of. What’s clear, however, is that it isn’t independent of the governments and foundations that want to replace Mugabe’s economic and land reform policies with a neo-liberal tyranny and return to a glacial pace of land reform. Indeed, Bond’s “independent” left appears to be as much a part of the US and British foreign policy apparatus as the Foreign Office, the Voice of America and the National Endowment for Democracy.
Consider, for example, Sokwanele, one of the groups Bond urges progressives to check out to find out what’s really going on in Zimbabwe.
Sokwanele is an offspring of Otpor, the underground movement that was established, funded, trained and organized by the US State Department, USAID, and the US Congress-funded National Endowment for Democracy (which is said to do overtly what the CIA used to do covertly) to bring down the Milosevic government in 2000.
Here’s how it worked: The West ordered the formal political opposition to unite under a single banner, and to select a name that emphasized the word “democracy,” to invest the united party with moral gravitas. In Serbia, the anti-Milosevic opposition became known as the Democratic Opposition of Serbia. (In Zimbabwe, the opposition, following the same game plan, calls itself the Movement for Democratic Change.) The opposition’s anointing itself as the champion of democracy serves the additional function of calling the government’s commitment to democracy into question. If the opposition is “the democratic opposition” then what must the government be? The answer, of course, is undemocratic.
The plan called for the opposition to accuse the government of electoral fraud to justify a transition from electoral to insurrectionary politics. The accusations built and built as the day of the vote approached, until, by sheer repetition, they were accepted as a matter of indisputable truth. The failure of the opposition candidate, Kostunica, to win the election on the first ballot, provided the pretext for people to take to the streets to force the government to step down. Otpor was central to organizing the planned “spontaneous” demonstrations.
Wherever Washington is engaged in regime change operations, known now as color revolutions, the same plan is put into play. And where Washington is interfering in a country’s internal politics to oust governments it doesn’t like, you’ll also find Sokwanele’s sister organizations: Zubr in Belarus, Khmara in Georgia, Pora in the Ukraine. All translate into the same English phrase: enough is enough.
Zvakwana, “an underground movement that aims to …. undermine” the Mugabe government, is another Optor offspring. (Sokwanele, “specialize(s) in anonymous acts of civil disobedience.”) (1) Both groups receive generous financing from Western sources. (2) While the original, Otpor, was largely a youth-oriented anarchist-leaning movement, at least one member of Sokwanele is “A conservative white businessman expressing a passion for freedom, tradition, polite manners and the British Royals.” (3) That, in Bond’s view, counts as the independent left.
Not surprisingly, the Bond-recommended Sokwanele Web site links to Zvakwana’s Web site. Members of Zvakwana say their movement is homegrown and free of foreign control (4), but free from foreign control doesn’t mean free from foreign funding. The US Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, signed into law by US President George W. Bush in December 2001, empowers the president under the US Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to “support democratic institutions, the free press and independent media” in Zimbabwe – which is to say, groups like Sokwanele and Zvakwana.
Movements, political parties and media elsewhere have knowingly accepted funding from Western governments, their agencies and pro-imperialist foundations, while proclaiming their complete independence. (5) Members of these groups may genuinely believe they remain aloof from their backer’s aims (and in the West it is often the very groups that claim not to take sides that are the favored recipients of this lucre), but self-deception is an insidious thing – and the promise of oodles of cash is hard to resist.
There’s no doubt Sokwanele and Zvakwana are well-financed. Their Web sites alone betray a level of funding and organization that goes well beyond what the meager self-financing of truly independent grassroots movements — even in the far more affluent West – are able to scrape together.
If Zvakwana denies its links to the US, other elements of the Western-backed anti-Mugabe apparatus are less secretive. Studio 7, an anti-ZANU-PF radio program carries programming by the Voice of America, an agency whose existence can hardly be said to be left-oriented or independent. Studio 7 is carried on SW Radio Africa, a shortwave radio station operating from the UK, also endorsed by the Bond-recommended Sokwanele. The station is funded by “international pro-democracy groups” (6) (i.e., US ruling class foundations and Western governments.)
Groups like Sokwanele, Zvakwane and SW Radio Africa – and the arguments of individuals like Bond who promote them as the independent left – should be examined with a fair degree of skepticism. Are they really “independent”? If not, and they’re bound up with the foreign policy apparatus of imperialist countries, are they really left, or do they simply talk left, to hide a fundamentally pro-imperialist orientation?
1. “Grass-Roots Effort Aims to Upend Mugabe in Zimbabwe,” The New York Times, (March 28, 2005)
2. Los Angeles Times (July 8, 2005)
4. New York Times (March 27, 2005)
5. See Frances Stonor Saunders, “The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters,” New Press, April 2000; and “The Economics and Politics or the World Social Forum,” Aspects of India’s Economy, No. 35, September 2003, http://www.rupe-india.org/35/contents.html
6. Globe and Mail (March 26, 2005)