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?

In an article posted at, and subsequently reposted at MRZine, Bond urges readers to look to the “independent” left to find out what’s really going on in Zimbabwe.

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)
3. Ibid.
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,
6. Globe and Mail (March 26, 2005)

4 thoughts on “Grassroots Lieutenants of Imperialism?

  1. article in the guardian, dated april 6

    “US reveals its efforts to topple Mugabe regime”,,2051354,00.html


    The US admitted openly for the first time yesterday that it was actively working to undermine Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe.

    Although officially Washington does not support regime change, a US state department report published yesterday acknowledged that it was supporting opposition politicians in the country and others critical of Mr Mugabe.

    The state department also admitted sponsoring events aimed at “discrediting” statements made by Mr Mugabe’s government.


  2. Stephen,thanks for the important and seriously ‘left’ suppressed info., Here’s more revealing info. on role of NGOs, “Strategic Non-Violemce” & George Soros–and more on my blog


    Between 1989 and 1994, private foundations spent $450 million in Eastern Europe. Among the recipients were important officials and advisers in various countries. By 1995, there were 29,000 NGOs in the Czech Republic, 20,000 in Poland, and similar numbers in other countries. “They were almost entirely supported by foreign corporations, foundations, governments, political parties and international institutions such as the European Union and the World Bank.”

    George Soros is perhaps the single most significant private funder to the region. Soros foundations can be found in 34 countries around the globe, 26 of them in Eastern Europe and the former USSR. The recent ‘revolution’ in Georgia was backed among others by Soros (see Jacob Levich, “When NGOs Attack: Implications of the Coup in Georgia”,, 6/12/03). Soros, the NED and other western funding agencies have a hand in the current crisis in Ukraine (see “US campaign behind the turmoil in Kiev”, Ian Traynor, 26/11/04, The Guardian; “Western aggression: How the US and Britain are intervening in Ukraine’s elections”, John Laughland, The Spectator, 5/11/04,; “IMF Sponsored ‘Democracy’ in The Ukraine”, Michel Chossudovsky, 28/11/04,

    When NGOs Attack: Implications of the Coup in Georgia
    By Jacob Levich
    Nongovernmental organizations–the notionally independent, reputedly
    humanitarian groups known as NGOs–are now being openly integrated into
    Washington’s overall strategy for consolidating global supremacy.
    Events surrounding last month’s coup in post-Soviet Georgia, read in light
    of recent State Department documents, suggest that seemingly innocuous NGOs
    now play a central role in the policy of US-engineered “regime change” set
    forth in the notorious National Security Strategy of the United States.
    The November 24 Wall Street Journal explicitly credited the toppling of
    Eduard Shevardnadze’s regime to the operations of “a raft of
    non-governmental organizations . . . supported by American and other
    Western foundations.” These NGOs, said the Journal, had “spawned a class of
    young, English-speaking intellectuals hungry for pro-Western reforms” who
    were instrumental laying the groundwork for a bloodless coup.
    Astute commentators have correctly noted connections between these
    provocateur NGOs and mega-philanthropist George Soros, but the billionaire
    speculator did not act independently. Georgia’s so-called “Velvet
    Revolution” appears to have been a textbook case of regime change by
    stealth, carefully planned and centrally coordinated by the US government.

    Freedom House is led by… Zbigniew Brzezinski, Richard Mellon Scaife, James Woolsey, Dan Quayle, Tony Lake and Jeanne Kirkpatrick.

    Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are fronts for George Soros. The so-called Human Rights Watch is a pro-intervention group stocked with members of the Council on Foreign Relations and other elites.

    …The new techniques of warfare include the use of both lethal (violent)
    and nonlethal (nonviolent) tactics. Both ways are conducted using the same
    philosophy, infrastructure, and modus operandi…

    MILITARY AGGRESSION: an excerpt:

    …The new techniques of warfare include the use of both lethal (violent)
    and nonlethal (nonviolent) tactics. Both ways are conducted using the same
    philosophy, infrastructure, and modus operandi…

    International Center on Nonviolent Conflicts

    The International Center on Nonviolent Conflicts has been heavily involved
    in the new Postmodern Coups, especially through its top figures, Dr. Peter
    Ackerman and Jack DuVall.

    According to its website, the center “develops and encourages the use of
    civilian-based, nonmilitary strategies to establish and defend democracy and
    human rights worldwide.” It “provides assistance in the training and
    deployment of field advisors, to deepen the conceptual knowledge and
    practical skills of applying nonviolent strategies in conflicts throughout
    the world where progress toward democracy and human rights is possible.”

    The most significant nonviolent conflicts in the world today, which may lead
    to “regime changes,” it reports, are occurring in Myanmar, Zimbabwe, Chinese
    Tibet, Belarus, Ukraine [now nearing completion], Palestine, Iran, and

    Part 1 The new Gladio in action: Ukrainian postmodern coup completes testing of new template
    By Jonathan Mowat
    Online Journal Contributing Writer

    “Gene Sharp started out the seminar by saying ‘Strategic nonviolent struggle
    is all about political power.’ And I thought, ‘Boy is this guy speaking my
    language,’ that is what armed struggle is about.”—Col. Robert Helvey

  3. Let me try to sum up this debate.

    Position of Gowans (who Bond calls a “pro-Mugger.”)

    Empirical statements:

    1. Imperialist powers have always acted, where they can, to overthrow communist, socialist and economically nationalist governments.
    2. In recent years, imperialist powers have sought to build civil society, NGOs and “pro-democracy” activist groups to depose communist, socialist and economically nationalist governments.
    3. The Zanu-PF government is economically nationalist.
    4. The US and Britain have enlisted (and have largely created) the formal political opposition, civil society and “grassroots” groups in Zimbabwe to bring down the economically nationalist government of Zanu-PF and to replace it with a government that will promote the interests of Western banks, corporations and investors.

    Normative statements:

    (1) Foreign powers should not seek to dominate other countries politically to exploit them economically.
    (2) Governments, movements and resistance organizations that resist foreign domination are perfectly within their rights to do so and deserve the support of anti-imperialists.
    (3) The Zanu-PF government’s economically nationalist program, while not socialist, is preferable to neo-colonialism.
    (4) A socialist Zimbabwe is preferable to an economically nationalist Zimbabwe. However, we do not make history just as we please and the “independent left” Bond bids us to consult is neither left nor independent but is part of the US and British foreign policy apparatus.

    Position of Bond (who Gowans calls the self-appointed docent of the left on matters related to southern Africa.)

    1. First argument: Appeal to authority based on proximity to Zimbabwe. I sit across the Limpopo river. Gowans lives in a snow-bound hell hole half a million miles away from Zimbabwe. Who are you going to believe?
    2. There is no land reform in Zimbabwe (citing Moeletsi Mbeki, Thabo Mbeki’s brother.)
    3. Those whose instincts are left and who are genuinely concerned about Zimbabwe’s future would do better to consult websites like…
    4. In response to an article that reveals Sokwanele, whose members include “A conservative white businessman expressing a passion for freedom, tradition, polite manners and the British Royals,” to be funded by the same foreign governments that are trying to depose the Zanu-PF government: “I’m not saying I’ve got a good handle on the complicated politics of the progressive resistance of Zimbabwe.”
    5. The main point is whether imperialism really needs regime change in Zimbabwe.
    6. The Zim counter-example, is, frankly, a useful one for imperialism to keep alive.

    Gowans’ reply:

    Bond’s argument that imperialism doesn’t need regime change in Zimbabwe, is, to borrow his own rhetoric, “such a long way away (from reality) as to lose any connection to what’s up on the ground.” The main point is that imperialism is seeking regime change in Zimbabwe.

    Equally remote from what’s happening on the ground is the argument that “the Zim counter-example, is, frankly, a useful one for imperialism to keep alive.” The point is that imperialism isn’t trying to keep the Zim counter-example alive; it’s trying to kill it, and it’s using the very same misnamed “independent left” Bond celebrates, but now seems to say he may have misjudged, to do so.

    According to Bond’s formulation, the US State Department and British Foreign Office are staffed by dopes who can’t see that keeping Mugabe in power is in their interests (maybe they should move closer to the Limpopo river), or they’re not trying to have Mugabe deposed, appearances aside, and, on the contrary, are trying to keep him around for as long as possible.

    If Bond believes the former, then the discussion is properly one for a graduate seminar on historical what ifs, but has little relevance to “what’s up on the ground” today, which is something he seems to think he has a pretty good handle on, though his apparent blindness to the true nature of groups like Sokwanele, and now his fixation on academic questions to the exclusion of what’s up on the ground, suggest otherwise. That Bond proclaims Sokwanele to represent the independent left proves he knows nothing whatever about what’s up on the ground, and that his home address – as anyone immune to silly debating tricks will have already figured out – endows him with no special insights. (Do I know more about what’s going in the US on the ground because I can gaze across the Canadian/US border?)

    On the other hand, Bond may believe that Washington and London are keeping Mugabe in power (because, says Bond, he’s useful to imperialism.) If so, he’s just elaborated a conspiracy theory that would make the most ardent 9/11 skeptic bow deeply in reverent awe.

    If the point of all this is to say that Mugabe is not pursuing a socialist program and that socialists should only support governments that do, I’ll happily concede the first part, but disagree with the second.

    If the point is to say socialists should back the independent left, it’s incumbent on Bond to say who the independent left is (something, so far, he’s failed to do.)

    And finally, if the point is to justify the heaping of abuse on Mugabe to justify US and British regime change operations, count me out. I’d rather be a pro-Mugger than a social-imperialist.

  4. Stephen,

    Like the other recent article, this is an analysis from such a long way away as to lose any connections with what’s up on the ground. I’m not saying I’ve got a good handle on the complicated politics of the progressive resistance to Zimbabwe, but I did coauthor something along these lines that your googling should probably have picked up, and which in any case I sent you offlist after your counterpunch screed:

    The main point to pick up in debate, if that’s possible, is whether imperialism really *needs* regime change in Zim (given the lack of petroleum and the difficulty of extracting platinum). Mugabe is, after all, a useful idiot for neoliberalism, as should be clear from where you read that “Zimbabwe proves many of [FT writer Martin] Wolf’s points: Mugabe is doing pretty much the opposite of everything that Wolf recommends — but the point is how easily Mugabe was able to do it.”

    Or try this from a former Clinton administration official citing The Economist, “greater efficiency leads to greater wealth, and vice versa, as Zimbabwe so harrowingly shows. Nowhere has withdrawn so swiftly from the global economy, nor seen such a thorough reversal of neo-liberal policies. The results—an economy that has contracted by 35% in five years, and half the population in need of food aid—are hard to paper over.”

    The Zim counter-example is, frankly, a useful one for imperialism to keep alive. It’s certainly used here in SA that way, by the ANC’s neoliberal elite, as a way to tell poor and working people that if social spending increases, Zim-style degradation will inevitably follow. (I have a long rebuttal to this line of thinking, soon to be published at, which I can send anyone who might want, if you contact me at

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