The War over South Ossetia

By Stephen Gowans

On August 4, 2008, Russia’s deputy foreign minister Grigory Karasin phoned US assistant secretary of state Daniel Fried to complain about the build-up of Georgian troops in the vicinity of South Ossetia. [1] Two days later, South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity, having evidence that Georgia planned a military strike before the month was out, told Denis Keefe, Britain’s ambassador to Georgia, that a Georgian invasion was imminent. [2]

Georgia had increased its military budget from $30 million to $1 billion per year, under its US-aligned president, Mikhail Saakashvili, relying on deep infusions of aid from Washington. [3] A country of only 8 million, Georgia had sent 2,000 troops to help US forces occupy Iraq, the third largest occupation force in the oil-rich country, after the US and Britain. Tbilisi “considered participation in Iraq as a sure way to prepare the Georgian military for ‘national reunification’ – the local euphemism of choice for restoring Abkhazia and South Ossetia to Georgian control.” [4]

Georgia’s attack was emboldened by three US moves: the sending of “advisers to build up the Georgian military, including an exercise” in July “with more than 1,000 American troops”; Washington’s “pressing hard to bring Georgia into the NATO orbit;” and the US “loudly proclaiming its support for Georgia’s territorial integrity in the battle with Russia over Georgia’s separatist enclaves.” [5]

On the eve of the war, Russia convoked an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, presenting a resolution that called on both sides to renounce the use of force. [6] The US, Britain and France refused to back the resolution, arguing that it was unbalanced. Only South Ossetia and Russia should be called upon to renounce the use of force, they said. Georgia should be allowed to defend herself. [7]

The above shows that far from restraining the Georgian hand, the US was facilitating, even encouraging, an attack; that the South Ossetians and Russians anticipated an attack and that the Russians used their position at the United Nations to try to stop it; and that the West was setting the stage to blame the attack on the victims.

The war was swift, and for the Georgians, ignominious. Georgian forces were rapidly pushed back, their positions easily over-run and much of their equipment captured or destroyed. In the end, Saakashvili would rail against Russian aggression, and wonder histrionically who was next.

The Russians did not strike first, as Georgian officials now claim. The New York Times cited evidence from an extensive set of witnesses that Georgia’s military began to pound South Ossetia’s capital, Tskhinvali, with heavy barrages of rocket and artillery fire, after Saakashvili gave the order and before Russian troops entered Georgia. The result was hundreds of civilian deaths. Among the targets of the Georgian assault was a Russian peacekeeping base. There “has been no independent evidence, beyond Georgia’s insistence that its version is true, that Russian forces were attacking before the Georgian barrages,” reported The New York Times. [8] Moreover, an unnamed senior US official told the newspaper that Russia’s response didn’t look “premeditated, with a massive staging of equipment,” adding that “until the night before the fighting, Russia seemed to be playing a constructive role.” [9]

On August 26, Moscow recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent. Meanwhile, Saakashvili vowed to rebuild his army to try again at a later date. [10]

Origin of Tensions

Ossetians have their own language and, in recognition of this, enjoyed autonomy within Soviet Georgia. Abkhazia, too, was an autonomous region. When the Soviet Union dissolved, Georgia declared the autonomous status of both regions to be void, and attempted to integrate them. This sparked fighting between the Georgians on one side, and the South Ossetians and Abkhaz on the other. The two regions “settled into a tenuous peace monitored by Russian peacekeepers,” in which both enjoyed a de facto independence. But “frictions with Georgia increased sharply in 2004,” when Saakashvili was elected,“ pledging “to restore Tbilisi’s rule over South Ossetia and Abkhazia.” [11]

Pipelines

There are two overland routes for pumping petroleum resources from the oil- and gas-rich Caspian basin to markets in Europe: through Russia, and alternatively, through Western-built pipelines that run through Georgia. Washington would like Caspian oil and gas to be delivered to European markets through the pipelines Western oil companies control in Georgia; Moscow would like Europe to continue to rely on pipelines that transit Russia. [12]

Two Western pipelines run through Georgia: “the 1,000-mile Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan line, which can deliver up to one million barrels of crude a day from the Azerbaijani coast on the Caspian Sea, through Georgia and Turkey to the port of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean Sea”; and the BP-operated Western Route Export pipeline, capable of carrying up to “160,000 barrels of oil a day from Baku on the Caspian Sea in Azerbaijan to the Georgian Black Sea port of Supsa.” [13]

For Washington, the routes through Georgia represent a way of checking “Russia’s control over pipelines and energy resources.” Pipeline projects through Georgia are valued owing to their potential “to loosen Russia’s grip over European energy supplies”, and to fatten the bottom lines of US oil companies. [14]

From Moscow’s perspective, control of Georgia and its pipelines puts it in a position to establish an “energy chokehold on Europe.” [15]

Georgia, then, is of strategic importance to Washington because Western oil companies can transport “oil, and soon also gas, that lies not only in Azerbaijan, but beyond it in the Caspian Sea, and beyond it in Central Asia” to European markets, through Georgia, thereby cutting the Russians out of the action and giving Washington control over Europe’s energy resources. [16] Equally, Georgia is of strategic importance to Moscow for the same reasons.

Encircling Russia

When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, the United States found itself in a unique position. As the lone remaining superpower, it had the potential to dominate the world for the foreseeable future. To maintain its primacy, it would have to prevent potential rivals from growing strong enough to challenge US pre-eminence. The route to remaining top dog lay in unchallenged military supremacy, and the determination to use military force to eclipse the rise of potential competitors.

The Pentagon set out its strategy in the Defense Planning Guide, a 16-page Pentagon policy statement leaked to The New York Times, on March 18, 1992.

“Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival…First, the U.S. must show the leadership necessary to establish and protect a new order that holds the promise of convincing potential competitors that they need not aspire to a greater role or pursue a more aggressive posture to protect their legitimate interests.
We must account sufficiently for the interests of the advanced industrial nations to discourage them from challenging our leadership or seeking to overturn the established political and economic order. Finally, we must maintain the mechanism for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role.” [17]

In 2000, a group of US ruling class activists established The Project for a New American Century, a think-tank whose aim was to press the Clinton administration to more closely follow the 1992 Defense Planning Guide’s blueprint for US primacy. Members of the group — investment bankers and CEOs who had circulated between top jobs in Washington and corporate America — furnished the personnel for key positions in the Bush administration and would soon become the principal architects of the war on Iraq. They urged the Pentagon to eclipse the rise of new greater power competitors, and to adopt this as its main 21st century mission. [18]

Russia was, and remains, of particular concern to the US ruling class. While weak compared to the Soviet Union, it remains the country most able to challenge the US. To preserve US military pre-eminence, Washington seeks to build a ring around Russia, integrating countries on Russia’s periphery into the Nato military alliance. Despite promises that it would not expand toward Russia’s borders, Nato’s policy since the demise of the Soviet Union has been to aggressively expand, dismissing the alarm raised by Russian leaders as paranoia. Expansion serves the purpose of hemming Russia in militarily and expands markets for US arms manufacturers who supply the standardized military equipment Nato countries buy as part of the alliance’s equipment interoperability requirement.

A continuing strategy

While it seems as if Washington’s encirclement strategy is new, dating from the early aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse, it is, on the contrary, an extension of a Western policy pursued since the beginning of the Cold War.

The Cold War, remarked R. Palme Dutt in 1962, was “directed against the Soviet Union” since it, and the countries it liberated in WWII “remained…completely independent of American domination and control. The aims of American world domination required the overthrow of this independent power.” [19] The new Cold War is no less directed at Russia, and is no less perpetrated by the US, than the old one (or the continuing one) was.

These “ultimate major aims,” Dutt continued, “required as their presupposition and first step the building up of a coalition of governments and armed forces under American control.” The “long-term strategic plan required the preliminary conquest of (the Soviet Union’s) periphery, and establishment of a chain of bases and hinterland territories from which to launch the offensive.” [20]

Thus, it has been US policy since the beginning of the Cold War to encircle Russia with a chain of bases and armies under US domination. The strategy was not born in 1992 and cannot be said to be the brainchild of neo-conservatives of either the Bush I or Bush II administrations. Its origins stretch back to the 1940s.

In the West, the spat between Georgia and the Ossetians appears to be rooted in longstanding ethnic animosity, but in Russia, it is seen quite differently. Russians understand that the United States is gradually encircling their country, and that Georgia is an important link in the chain. [21] Russian president Dmitri Medvedev complains of “being surrounded by bases on all sides” and of the “growing number of states…being drawn into the North Atlantic bloc.” [22] He and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin protest vehemently against US plans to site antimissile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, on Russia’s doorstep. They fear, justifiably, that the missile shield is aimed at Russia, and provides the US with a new offensive capability.

Saakashvili and the Rose Revolution

Mikhail Saakashvili is typical of local rulers Washington brings to power to act as its proxy on the ground. He is US-educated, fanatically pro-American, and implicitly shares the imperialist values of his backers in Washington. It is not by chance that the Saakashvili government enthusiastically pledged troops to the occupation of Iraq, and named a street in honor of George W. Bush.

With aid from the US National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and billionaire financier George Soros’ Open Society Institute, Saakashvili was carried to power by the so-called Rose Revolution of 2004, a US ruling class-financed overthrow movement that forced Georgia’s then president Eduard Shevardnadze, to step down. Soros’ intimate connection to Saakashvili’s rise to power is evidenced in his helping finance the Georgian government once Saakashvili was installed in the president’s office, and in Georgia’s designation as Sorositan by critics of the financier’s meddling. [23]

Washington was happy to partner with Soros to rid Georgia of Shevardnadze, a former Soviet foreign minister who was too close to Russia and not close enough to Washington. Intent on extending its ring of armies and military bases around its potential great power competitor, the US finagled Shevardnadze’s ouster and replaced him with the biddable puppet, Saakashvili.

The name for our profits is democracy

While the official propaganda holds Saakashvili to be a champion of democracy, the real story is quite different. The Georgian president is in reality a champion of Western investment interests who is prepared to suspend political and civil liberties to crush opposition to his pro-US economic policies.

The World Bank recognizes Saakashvili’s Georgia to be “the number one economic reformer in the world,” having climbed to 18th place from a shameful 112th under Shevardnadze, by creating “a friendly business environment.” Saakashvili earned the bank’s high praise by replacing Georgia’s progressive income tax system with a regressive flat tax; [24] privatizing publicly-owned assets; and gutting the civil service. The latter action sparked huge street protests last autumn, which Saakashvili put down with riot police, rubber bullets and truncheons, charging that the protesters were planning to stage a coup, with Russia’s collusion. [25] Ruling with an iron fist, he had no qualms about dispatching masked police officers to ransack an opposition television station, forcing it off the air. [26] Soon after, he declared a state of emergency, suspending advocacy rights and freedom of assembly – an action which, had it been done by his predecessor Shevardnadze, would have called forth howls of outrage and new infusions of aid for pro-democracy activists from Western governments, imperialist foundations and billionaires. On Saakashvili’s watch, by contrast, abridgments of civil and political liberties are met with fond reminiscences of the Rose Revolution and paeans to Saakashvili’s pro-American leanings and supposed democratic credentials.

Saakashvili won snap elections held two months after he cracked down on protestors, but his victory was secured under a cloud of accusations of blackmail and vote-buying. The government accused two opposition leaders of treason, charging they were conspiring with Russia to overthrow Saakashvili. [27] Having himself come to power with the aid of outside forces, Saakashvili more than anyone else knew the danger of foreign-directed overthrow movements, and perhaps knew better than others, how to defeat them.

Post Rose Revolution

Once Saakashvili had been installed as president, Washington scaled back funding to the civil society organizations that had been instrumental in destabilizing Shevardnadze’s rule, shifting aid instead to building up the central government, now under Saakashvili’s control. [28] Achieving the policy aim of installing a local proxy quite naturally led Washington to channel funding away from the manipulated “pro-democracy” civil society groups on the ground who paved the way for Saakashvili’s rise to power, to the government forces that would secure the friendly economic and military environment Washington desired. In other words, once civil society served its purpose, it was cut free.

Today, Rose Revolution true-believers are embittered. “Georgia is a semi-democracy. We have traded one kind of semi-democratic system for another,” laments Lincoln Mitchell, who worked for the Rose Revolution-funding Democratic Party-arm of the NED in Georgia from 2002 to 2004. “There is a real need to understand that what happened is another one-party government emerged.” [29]

Naïve do-gooders who thought money pitch-forked into the coffers of civil society groups by wealthy individuals and the US government would create democracy in Georgia now complain that Georgia under Saakashvili is no better, and probably worse, than it was under Shevardnadze.

Mitchel, for example, points out that under Shevardnadze, there was freedom of assembly and the press, the government was too weak to crack down on dissent, and the parliament could lay a restraining hand on the president. Under Saakashvili, the media have far fewer freedoms, civil society has been weakened, the government is strong enough to crack down on dissent with ease, and the parliament is less able to restrain the president. As regards elections, they’re run no better under Saakashvili. [30]

Exporting color revolutions

The Los Angeles Times of September 2, 2008 ran a story on Nini Gogiberidze, a Georgian who “is deployed abroad to teach democracy activists how to agitate for change against their autocratic governments, going everywhere from Eastern Europe to train Belarusians to Turkey to coach Iranians.” She is not, predictably, deployed within her own semi-democratic country, working to bring down the liberal democracy-disdaining Saakashvili.

Gogiberidze’s salary is paid by the Soros-linked Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies, funded by the Republican Party arm of the US Congress’s National Endowment for Democracy, headed by John McCain, a friend of Saakashvili. Freedom House, a US ruling class organization that is interlocked with the CIA and is headed by former Michael Milken right-hand man Peter Ackerman, also chips in.

Gogiberidze is hardly the kind of grassroots, left-leaning, radical democracy activist one is led to believe make up the officer corps of the Soros-funded international army against autocracy. Like one of her Zimbabwean colleagues, who is a white conservative businessman with a penchant for good manners and the British royals (who we’re to believe is working underground to overthrow the Mugabe government because he’s keenly interested in democracy), Gogiberidze sounds more like a conservative interested in promoting Western economic interests on behalf of Uncle Sam. She studied at the London School of Economics and is married to an investment banker. She’s also on the payroll of US ruling class foundations. Moscow “views the so-called color revolutions as US sponsored plots using local dupes to overthrow governments” Washington is unfriendly to “and install American vassals.” [31] Is it any wonder?

The Los Angeles Times reporter who brought the Gogiberidze story to light, mocks Moscow’s assessment of the color revolutions, while at the same time documenting the manifold connections Gogiberidze and her fellow color revolutionaries have to US ruling class organizations. The only way to square this circle – to explain how color revolutionaries can be on the regime changer’s payroll while mocking the idea that color revolutions are US-sponsored plots to overthrow governments Washington has targeted for regime change – is to believe billionaire financiers, CIA pass through organizations, and foundations dominated by US investment bankers and CEO’s, are really concerned with promoting democracy.

Conclusion

US ruling class activists and George Soros, sponsored dupes in Georgia to overthrow the Shevardnadze government to bring the ardently pro-US, pro-foreign investment, pro-imperialist Mikhael Saakashvili to power. Since ascending to the presidency, Saakashvili has gone on a neo-liberal binge, privatizing formerly publically-owned assets, replacing the country’s progressive income tax system with a regressive flat tax, and firing civil servants in heaps. While this has earned him the admiration of the World Bank, it has created unrest at home, which Saakashvili has put down with truncheons, rubber bullets, police attacks on opposition media, and abridgements of political and civil liberties.

At the same time, Saakashvili has acted to further his US-sponsor’s military designs, deploying 2,000 Georgian troops to Iraq, bulking up his military, clamoring to join Nato, and keeping Russia off kilter with incessant threats to annex South Ossetia and Abkhazia militarily, now acted upon.

The great democrat, in the eyes of color revolution hagiographers, is hardly a democrat. Leaders who deploy troops to occupy conquered countries, who attempt to integrate regions that don’t want to be integrated, and who limit political and civil liberties when they threaten to derail the building of a business friendly environment, are not democrats, no matter how many dollars their supporters receive from Freedom House, George Soros and the National Endowment for Democracy.

The US seeks to expand its sphere of influence to hem Russia in militarily in order to preserve US pre-eminence; to draw new countries into the Nato alliance to expand markets for US arms manufacturers; and to secure new markets and investment opportunities for US investors and corporations in countries whose economic ties have historically been oriented toward Russia. Russia seeks to resist the encroachment, to hang on to as much as the former Soviet sphere of influence as possible.

To expand its influence into the former Soviet domain, Washington deploys a number of tactics. In Belarus, it sponsors a civil society-based overthrow movement to destablize the Russia-aligned government of Alexander Lukashenko. In Ukraine, it sponsored the Orange Revolution to force the Russian-aligned leader Viktor Yanukovich to yield power to the US-oriented Viktor Yushchenko. Washington is very likely to have sponsored, encouraged and aided the secessionist movement in Chechnya, with the aim of breaking the territory away from Russia.

To maintain, or in an attempt to restore, its influence in these regions, Moscow backs Lukashenko in Belarus and Yanukovich in Ukraine, facilitates Abkhazia’s and South Ossetia’s remaining independent of Georgia, and militarily crushed the Chechen secessionists.

The struggle to expand spheres of influence (the US) and to maintain or restore them (Russia) inevitably leads powers to take hypocritical positions: the US insists on Georgia’s territorial integrity (South Ossetia and Abkhazia) but denies that of Serbia (Kosovo); Russia insists on its own territorial integrity (Chechnya) but denies that of Georgia.

There is no doubt that the US is the more aggressive party in this clash, but it can be, because it is by far the stronger of the two. The jingoist depiction in the Western media of Russia as provoking a new Cold War and seeking to expand militarily into neighboring countries is without foundation and is an inversion of reality. The US pursuit of a Cold War against Russia has been carried on without interruption since the 1940s. It is not Russia that is aggressively acting to expand its sphere of influence, it is the US. And yet this reality is so infirmly grasped that it is possible for the leader of a country whose scores of thousands of troops occupy conquered Iraq and Afghanistan to lecture Russia that countries don’t invade other countries in the 21st century.

The Rose Revolution was not a people power-driven rebellion against autocracy but a movement of dupes sponsored and manipulated by Washington whose purpose was to pave the way for the rise to power of a US-educated lawyer with connections to Washington and Wall Street.

Saakashvili is not a hero of democratic reform, but a representative of US ruling class interests who is prepared to suspend civil and political liberties, tinker with elections, and commit war crimes if that’s what it takes to secure his patron’s economic and military objectives.

Russia did not initiate an attack on Georgia. Georgia launched an artillery and rocket barrage on the capital of South Ossetia and on Russian peacekeepers before Russia entered Georgia.

The US did not try to defuse tensions in the region; it has actively moved to inflame them.

Russia has not provoked a new Cold War; the US has allowed the Cold War is had pursued against Russia since the 1940s to heat up, using its puppet, Saakashvili to fan the embers.

1. RIA Novosti, August 4, 2008.
2. RIA Novosti, August 6, 2008.
3. Russia Today, August 8, 2008. US assistance to Georgia is about to increase significantly, with Washington announcing on September 3 that it is hiking economic aid to Georgia to $1 billion per year from $63 million in 2007, placing the country among the top recipients of US aid, along with Israel, Egypt, Turkey and Colombia: The Guardian (UK), September 3, 2008.
4. New York Times, August 10. 2008.
5. New York Times, August 13, 2008.
6. Independent (UK), August 8, 2008.
7. New York Times, August 10, 2008.
8. New York Times, September 3, 2008.
9. New York Times, August 10, 2008.
10. New York Times, August 26, 2008.
11. New York Times, August 10, 2008.
12. Los Angeles Times, August 13, 2008.
13. Ibid.
14. Ibid.
15. Ibid.
16. Zbginiew Brzinski, quoted in Serge Halimi, “The Return of Russia,” MRZine, August 28, 2008,
http://www.monthlyreview.org/mrzine/halimi280808.html .
17. Nato in the Balkans, International Action Center, New York, 19998. p. 4.
18. http://www.newamericancentury.org/RebuildingAmericasDefenses.pdf
19. R. Palme Dutt, “Problem of Contemporary history,” International Publishers, New York, 1962.
20. Ibid.
21. View of Russia’s representative to NATO, New York Times, August 28, 2008.
22. New York Times, August 28, 2008.
23. Los Angeles Times, September 2, 2008.
24. “The political realities of ‘democratic’ Georgia,” World Socialist Website, August 18, 2008. http://www.wsws.org/articles/2008/aug2008/saak-a18.shtml
25. New York Times, August 12, 2008.
26. New York Times, August 14, 2008.
27. “The political realities of “democratic” Georgia,” World Socialist Website, August 18, 2008. http://www.wsws.org/articles/2008/aug2008/saak-a18.shtml
28. Glenn Kessler, “Georgian Democracy A Complex Evolution,” The Washington Post, August 24, 2008. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/08/23/AR2008082301817_pf.html
29. Ibid.
30. Ibid.
31. Los Angeles Times, September 2, 2008.

Defending the Indefensible: Sham Democracy Promoter Defends Imperialist Ties

By Stephen Gowans

Stephen Zunes, an advisor to the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict, an organization founded by former Michael Milken right-hand man Peter Ackerman, continues to defend “non-violent pro-democracy” activists involved in promoting overthrow movements abroad.

In a June 27, 2008 article in Foreign Policy in Focus, Zunes springs to the defense of Gene Sharp, the founder of the Albert Einstein Institution, who has been exposed in Eva Golinger’s “Bush vs. Chavez: Washington’s War on Venezuela” as “a self-titled expert of what he calls ‘non-violent defense’, though better termed regime change” who has provided “aid to Venezuela’s opposition in finding new and inventive ways to overthrow Chavez.” Sharp has been variously connected to Western-backed overthrow movements in Myanmar, Tibet, Belarus, Serbia and Zimbabwe – countries the US ruling class is acting to bring under its heel.

Zunes’ defense of Sharp, which amounts mostly to declaring Golinger’s and others’ exposure of the AEI founder to be “fabricated allegations,” rests on his demolishing a straw man. Sharp is not, he argues, part of a Bush administration conspiracy to overthrow foreign governments. This is probably true. But I’m not aware of anyone who has ever directly linked Sharp to either the Bush administration or a conspiracy. Someone may have done so somewhere, but for the most part, Sharp has been criticized for accepting funding from and acting (whether intentionally or not) on behalf of US ruling class forces. These forces, of course, are much broader than the Bush administration.

Peter Ackerman, the head of the ICNC, which Zunes belongs to in an advisory capacity, is not, as far as I’m aware, connected to the Bush administration, but has taken on a leadership role on behalf of the US ruling class. He has celebrated the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic by forces Gene Sharp had a key role in training, and Western governments had a key role in bankrolling and establishing the conditions for the success of. Ackerman’s ruling class credentials are impeccable – a Wall Street investment banker, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and head of Freedom House, which is interlocked with the CIA and a “virtual propaganda arm of the (US) government and international right wing,” according to Noam Chomsky’s and Edward Herman’s Manufacturing Consent. This is the company Sharp, Zunes and their left-wing regime change promoters keep. Ackerman’s wife, Joanne Leedom-Ackerman, is a former director of the AEI. She is also currently a director of the US foreign policy establishment-dominated Human Rights Watch, which promotes the view that the US should use its “moral authority” to promote human rights around the world, and the US Congress-funded International Center for journalists.

After two pages of telling us there is no truth to the charges against Sharp, Zunes reinforces the case Sharp’s critics have been making, when he reveals that the AEI:

• Is funded by corporate foundations.
• Is open to accepting funding from organizations that have received funding from government sources (i.e., accepts government funding passed through intermediary organizations.)
• Has received grants from the US Congress’s National Endowment for Democracy (an organization that does overtly what the CIA used to do covertly.)
• Has advised members of the Venezuelan opposition.

Not disclosed in Zunes’ article, but revealing nonetheless, is that the NED paid for the AEI to provide advice to Zimbabwe’s Western-backed neo-liberal opposition party, the MDC.

I’m never sure whether Zunes is unsophisticated, sophistical, or both. He declares Sharp to be innocent of all charges, and then adduces evidence that backs up the allegations of Sharp’s critics. In doing so, he sets out a defense that amounts to the following:

1. It’s all right for left activists to take money from corporate foundations.
2. It’s all right to take money from governments, just so long as they’re not Republican ones and was done years ago.
3. It’s all right to take money from Republican governments today, just so long as it comes through pass through organizations. (The CIA, it should be noted, has a long history of using intermediaries to fund organizations like the ICNC, Freedom House and the AEI.)
4. Even if foreign overthrow movements have been bankrolled by the US, Britain and other Western governments, the effect of the funding on the success of these movements is immaterial; governments can’t be brought down unless they lose popular support.

Zunes’ last point is true, but the pressure Western governments exert on foreign policy targets through threats of war, bombing campaigns, sanctions, and propaganda, go a long way toward alienating target governments of popular support, and thereby preparing the ground for Sharp- and Zunes-trained overthrow movements to go to work.

Serbia, whose once social- and publicly-owned enterprises have been sold off to Western investors, is a model of what overthrow movements Zunes celebrates and assists produce.

As ever, Zunes would like us to believe that nonviolent pro-democracy groups are not influenced by the corporations and wealthy individuals who fund them. This may be true, but useful idiots don’t need to be bribed. This is succinctly illustrated in a David Horowitz quotation, cited by Michael Barker in a forthcoming Swans article. “In the control of scholarship by wealth, it is neither necessary nor desirable that professors hold a certain orientation because they receive a grant. The important thing is that they receive a grant because they hold the orientation.”

Frances Stonor Saunders in her “Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters”, points out that the NCL, the non-communist left, has long been the favored funding recipients of foundations and the CIA. The idea, from their point of view, is to channel leftist sentiment and thinking in pro-imperialist directions by amplifying the voice of the pro-imperialist NCL, thereby drowning out and marginalizing the voice of the communist left. While the NCL is often opposed to Western military intervention, and on this basis professes to be anti-imperialist, it promotes and legitimizes imperialist interventions in other ways. It encourages overthrow movements, celebrating them as pro-democracy people’s forces, offers them assistance, training and legitimacy, and mimics the rhetorical assaults by imperialist governments on target governments, thereby promoting the view that Western governments must act, even if not militarily.

A commitment to peace and low-level democracy is not equivalent to anti-imperialism, and as Sharp demonstrates, is a leftist version of a pro-imperialist program. What Zunes leaves out or does not understand is than non-violent pro-democracy movements are often powerless without imperialist governments first threatening or deploying military interventions, imposing sanctions and blockades and broadcasting anti-government propaganda, thereby turning the population of targeted countries against their governments. In other words, the bad guys Zunes can rail against to establish his leftist credentials do the dirty work while his people’s forces come in at the end to effect the coup de grace. The result is never democracy, in the original sense of the word, but improved trade and investment conditions for Western economic elites – the same elites Sharp and Zunes are taking foundation lucre from.

Zunes would also like to bamboozle us into believing that the assistance and funding overthrow movements receive from Western imperialist governments makes little difference in the grand scheme of things (which means, by implication, that the foundations which dole out funding are managed by morons who are squandering money on ineffectual programs.)

As always, Zunes does his part in promoting US foreign policy goals, aping US government descriptions of regime change targets, vilifying them as “autocratic regimes,” which presumably deserve to brought down by handsomely funded overthrow movements trained by Zunes, Sharp and the left “non-violent democracy promotion” apparatus. It comes as no surprise that while Zunes refers to the target governments of Belarus and Zimbabwe as regimes (as the US State Department does), he refers to the current US executive as the Bush “administration.”

Zunes has put together a public statement in defense of Sharp, which has been signed by NCL luminaries Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn. Zunes hopes their endorsement will lay to rest legitimate questions about the role played by Sharp and other nonviolent pro-democracy activists, including Zunes himself, in promoting US imperialism under the guise of advancing democracy. But endorsements by Chomsky or Zinn don’t change the facts; they only raise questions about the endorsers and Zunes’ stooping to reliance of appeal to authority. Apparently, he has judged his argument too weak to stand on its own. Calling in NCL luminaries is the political equivalent of calling out the sheep herders to bring the flock back into line. But is the authority of Chomsky and Zinn deserved?

Joan Roelofs reveals in her “Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism” that The Progressive, the magazine for which Zinn writes a regular column, had advisory board members on the Council of Foreign Relations and receives grants from the Ford Foundation. Zunes will reply that I’m making accusations of guilt by association, but the point is that the ruling class funds the NCL and the NCL gladly accepts ruling class lucre. Zunes can dismiss the connection as irrelevant and of no consequence, but this is sheer sophistry.

Sharp and Zunes may be genuinely interested in the pursuit of democracy, but it’s a low-intensity democracy subordinate to US imperial interests they’re promoting. Foreign governments on the US ruling class regime change hit list – and anti-imperialists in the West — have a legitimate reason to be wary of Sharp, Zunes and other leftist members of the US regime change apparatus. They are ruling class operatives who align with ruling class figures to facilitate the pursuit of overseas profits through the elimination of nationalist and socialist governments which stand in the way. Their promotion of democracy, revealed in the neo-liberal, privatized tyrannies which are the invariable outcomes of their work, is as much a sham as the democracy promotion of the imperialist governments they’re tied to through pass through funding and interlocks with ruling class foundations and activists.

Look for Michael Barker’s forthcoming article on Zunes’ defense of Sharp in Swans.

Zimbabwe at War

By Stephen Gowans

This is a war between revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries; between nationalists and quislings; between Zimbabwean patriots and the US and Britain.

Should an election be carried out when a country is under sanctions and it is has been made clear to the electorate that the sanctions will be lifted only if the opposition party is elected? Should a political party which is the creation of, and is funded by, hostile foreign forces, and whose program is to unlatch the door from within to provide free entry to foreign powers to establish a neo-colonial rule, be allowed to freely operate? Should the leaders of an opposition movement that takes money from hostile foreign powers and who have made plain their intention to unseat the government by any means available, be charged with treason? These are the questions that now face (have long faced) the embattled government of Zimbabwe, and which it has answered in its own way, and which other governments, at other times, and have answered in theirs.

The American revolutionaries, Thomas Jefferson among them, answered similar questions through harsh repression of the monarchists who threatened to reverse the gains of the American Revolution. There were 600,000 to 700,000 Tories, loyal to the king and hostile to the revolutionaries, who stood as a threat to the revolution. To neutralize the threat, the new government denied the Tories any platform from which to organize a counter-revolution. They were forbidden to own a press, to teach, to mount a pulpit. The professions were closed to them. They were denied the right to vote and hold political office. The property of wealthy Tories was confiscated. Many loyalists were beaten, others jailed without trial. Some were summarily executed. And 100,000 were driven into exile. Hundreds of thousands of people were denied advocacy rights, rights to property, and suffrage rights, in order to enlarge the liberties of a larger number of people who had been oppressed. [1]

Zimbabwe, too, is a revolutionary society. Through armed struggle, Zimbabweans, like Americans before them, had thrown off the yoke of British colonialism. Rhodesian apartheid was smashed. Patterns of land ownership were democratized. Over 300,000 previously landless families were given land once owned by a mere 4,000 farmers, mainly of British stock, mostly descendents of settlers who had taken the land by force. In other African countries, land reform has been promised, but little has been achieved. In Namibia, the government began expropriating a handful of white owned farms in 2004 under pressure from landless peasants, but progress has been glacially slow. In South Africa, blacks own just four percent of the farmland. The ANC government promised that almost one-third of arable land would be redistributed by 2000, but the target has been pushed back to 2015, and no one believes it will be reached. The problem is, African countries, impoverished by colonialism, and held down by neo-colonialism, haven’t the money to buy the land needed for redistribution. And the European countries that once colonized Africa, are unwilling to help out, except on terms that will see democratization of land ownership pushed off into a misty future, and only on terms that will guarantee the continued domination of Africa by the West. Britain promised to fund Zimbabwe’s land redistribution program, if liberation fighters laid down their arms and accepted a political settlement. Britain, under Tony Blair, reneged, finding excuses to wriggle out of commitments made by the Thatcher government. And so Zimbabwe’s government acted to reverse the legacy of colonialism, expropriating land without compensation (but for improvements made by the former owner.) Compensation, Zimbabwe’s government declared with unassailable justification, would have to be paid by Britain.

In recent years, the government has taken steps to democratize the country further. Legislation has been formulated to mandate that majority ownership of the country’s mines and enterprises be placed in the hands of the indigenous black majority. The goal is to have Zimbabweans achieve real independence, not simply the independence of having their own flag, but of owning their land and resources. As a Canadian prime minister once said of his own country, once you lose control of the economic levers, you lose sovereignty. Zimbabwe isn’t trying to hang onto control of its economic levers, but to gain control of them for the first time. Jabulani Sibanda, the leader of the association of former guerrillas who fought for the country’s liberation, explains:

“Our country was taken away in 1890. We fought a protracted struggle to recover it and the process is still on. We gained political independence in 1980, got our land after 2000, but we have not yet reclaimed our minerals and natural resources. The fight for freedom is still on until everything is recovered for the people.” [2]

The revolutionary government’s program has met with fierce opposition – from the tiny elite of land owners who had monopolized the country’s best land; from former colonial oppressor Britain, whose capitalists largely controlled the economy; from the United States, whose demand that it be granted an open door everywhere has been defied by Zimbabwe’s tariff restrictions, investment performance requirements, government ownership of business enterprises and economic indigenization policies; and from countries that don’t want Zimbabwe’s land democratization serving as an inspiration to oppressed indigenous peoples under their control. The tiny former land-owning elite wants its former privileges restored; British capital wants its investments in Zimbabwe protected; US capital wants Zimbabwe’s doors flung open to investment and exports; and Germany seeks to torpedo Zimbabwe’s land reforms to guard against inspiring “other states in Southern Africa, including Namibia, where the heirs of German colonialists would be affected.” [3]

The Mugabe government’s rejecting the IMF’s program of neo-liberal restructuring in the late 1990s, after complying initially and discovering the economy was being ruined; its dispatch of troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo to help the young government of Laurent Kabila defend itself against a US and British-backed invasion by Uganda and Rwanda; and its refusal to safeguard property rights in its pursuit of land democratization and economic independence, have made it anathema to the former Rhodesian agrarian elite, and in the West, to the corporate lawyers, investment bankers and hereditary capitalist families who dominate the foreign policies of the US, Britain and their allies. Mugabe’s status as persona non grata in the West (and anti-imperialist hero in Africa) can be understood in an anecdote. When Mugabe became prime minister in 1980, former leader of the Rhodesian state, Ian Smith, offered to help the tyro leader. “Mugabe was delighted to accept his help and the two men worked happily together for some time, until one day Mugabe announced plans for sweeping nationalization.” From that point forward, Smith never talked to Mugabe. [4]

Overthrowing the Revolution

The British, the US and the former Rhodesians have used two instruments to try to overthrow Zimbabwe’s revolution: The opposition party Movement for Democratic Change, and civil society. The MDC was founded in September 1999 in response to Harare announcing it would expropriate Rhodesian farms for redistribution to landless black families. The party was initially bankrolled by the British government’s Westminster Foundation for Democracy and other European governments, including Germany, through the Social Democratic Party’s Friedrich Ebert Foundation (Ebert having been the party leader who conspired with German police officials to have Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht murdered, to smother an emerging socialist revolution in Germany in 1918.) Party leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who had been elevated from his position as secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions to champion the West’s counter-revolutionary agenda within Zimbabwe, acknowledged in February 2002 that the MDC was financed by European governments and corporations, which funneled money through British political consultants, BSMG. [5] Today, the government of Zimbabwe charges NGOs with acting as conduits through which Western governments pass money to the opposition party.

The MDC’s orientation is decidedly toward people and forces of European origin. South African-based journalist Peta Thornycroft, hardly a Mugabe supporter, lamented in an interview on Western government-sponsored short wave radio SW Africa that:

‘When the MDC started in 2000, what a pity that they were addressing people in Sandton, mostly white people in Sandton north of Johannesburg instead of being in Dar es Salaam or Ghana or Abuja. They failed to make contact with Africa for so long. They were in London, we’ve just seen it again, Morgan Tsvangirai’s just been in America. Why isn’t he in Cairo? Maybe he needs financial support and he can’t get it outside of America or the UK and the same would go for (leader of an alternative MDC faction, Arthur) Mutambara. They have not done enough in Africa. [6]

A look at the MDC’s program quickly reveals why the party’s leaders spend most of their time traipsing to Western capitals calling for sanctions and gathering advice on how to overthrow the Mugabe government. First, the MDC is opposed to Zimbabwe’s land democratization program. Defeating the government’s plans to expropriate the land of the former Rhodesian elite was one of the main impetuses for the party’s formation. Right through to the 2002 election campaign the party insisted on returning farms to the expropriated Rhodesian settlers. [7]

The MDC and Land Reform

These days Tsvangirai equivocates on land reform, recognizing that speaking too openly about reversing the land democratization program, or taxing black Zimbabweans to compensate expropriated Rhodesian settlers for land the Rhodesians and other British settlers took by force, is detrimental to his party’s success. But there’s no mistaking that the land redistribution program’s life would be cut short by a MDC victory. “The government of Zimbabwe,” wrote Tsvangirai, in a March 23, 2008 Wall Street Journal editorial, “must be committed to protecting persons and property rights.” This means “compensation for those who lost their possessions in an unjust way,” i.e., compensation for the expropriated Rhodesians. Zimbabwe’s program of expropriating land without compensation, he concluded, is just not on: it “scares away investors, domestic and international.” [8] This is the same reasoning the main backer of Tsvangirai’s party, the British government, used to justify backing out of its commitment to fund land redistribution. The British government was reneging on its earlier promise, said then secretary of state for international development Claire Short in a letter to Zimbabwe’s minister of agriculture and lands, Kumbirai Kangai, because of the damage Zimbabwe’s fast-track land reform proposals would do to investor confidence. Lurking none too deftly behind Tsvangirai’s and London’s solicitude over impaired investor confidence are the interests of foreign investors themselves. The Mugabe government’s program is to wrest control of the country’s land, resources and economy from the hands of foreign investors and Rhodesian settlers; the program of the MDC and its backers is to put it back. That’s no surprise, considering the MDC was founded by Europe, backed by the Rhodesians, and bankrolled by capitalist governments and enterprises that have an interest in protecting their existing investments in the country and opening up opportunities for new ones.

Civil Society

There is a countless number of Western NGOs that either operate in Zimbabwe or operate outside the country with a focus on Zimbabwe. While the Western media invariably refer to them as independent, they are anything but. Almost all are funded by Western governments, wealthy individuals, and corporations. Some NGOs say that while they take money from Western sources, they’re not influenced by them. This is probably true, to a point. Funders don’t dangle funding as a bribe, so much as select organizations that can be counted on to behave in useful ways of their own volition. Of course, it may be true that some organizations recognize that handsome grants are available for organizations with certain orientations, and adapt accordingly. But for the most part, civil society groups that advance the overseas agendas of Western governments and corporations, whether they know it or not, and not necessarily in a direct fashion, find that funding finds them.

Western governments fund dozens of NGOs to discredit the government in Harare, alienate it of popular support, and mobilize mass resistance under the guise of promoting democracy and human rights. Their real purpose is to bring down the government and its nationalist policies. The idea that Britain, which, as colonial oppressor, denied blacks suffrage and dispossessed them of their land, is promoting rights and democracy in Zimbabwe is laughable. The same can be said of Canada. The Canadian government doles out grants to NGOs through an organization called Rights and Democracy. Rights and Democracy is currently funding the anti-Zanu-PF Media Institute of Southern Africa, along with the US government and a CIA-linked right wing US think tank. While sanctimoniously parading about on the world stage as a champion of rights and democracy, Canada denied its own aboriginal people suffrage up to 1960. For a century, it enforced an assimilation policy that tore 150,000 aboriginal children from their homes and placed them in residential schools where their language and culture were banned. Canadian citizens like to think their own country is a model of moral rectitude, but are blind to the country’s deplorable record in the treatment of its own aboriginal people; it’s denial of the liberty and property rights of Canadian citizens of Japanese heritage during WWII; and in recent years, its complicity in overthrowing the Haitian government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide and participation in the occupation of Afghanistan. As for the United States, its violations of the rights of people throughout the world have become so frequent and far-reaching that only the deaf, dumb or insane would believe the US government has the slightest interest in promoting democracy and human rights anywhere.

Consider, then, the record of the West’s self-proclaimed promoters of democracy and human rights against this: the reason there’s universal suffrage in Zimbabwe and equality rights for blacks, is because the same forces that are being routinely decried by Western governments and their NGO extensions fought for, bled for, and died for the principle of universal suffrage. “We taught them the principle of one man, one vote which did not exist” under the British, Zimbabwe’s president points out. “Democracy,” he adds, “also means self-rule, not rule by outsiders.” [9]

Regime Change Agenda

The charge that the West is supporting civil society groups in Zimbabwe to bring down the government isn’t paranoid speculation or the demagogic raving of a government trying to cling to power by mobilizing anti-imperialist sentiment. It’s a matter of public record. The US government has admitted that “it wants to see President Robert Mugabe removed from power and that it is working with the Zimbabwean opposition…trade unions, pro-democracy groups and human rights organizations…to bring about a change of administration.” [10] Additionally, in an April 5, 2007 report, the US Department of State revealed that it had:

• “Sponsored public events that presented economic and social analyses discrediting the government’s excuse for its failed policies” (i.e, absolving US and EU sanctions for undermining the country’s economy);

• “Sponsored…and supported…several township newspapers” and worked to expand the listener base of Voice of America’s Studio 7 radio station. (The State Department had been distributing short-wave radios to Zimbabweans to facilitate the project of Zimbabwean public opinion being shaped from abroad by Washington’s propagandists).

Last year, the US State Department set aside US$30 million for these activities. [11] Earlier this year, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that the UK had increased its funding for civil society organizations operating in Zimbabwe from US$5 million to US$6.5 million. [12] Dozens of other governments, corporations and capitalist foundations shower civil society groups with money, training and support to set up and run “independent” media to attack the government, “independent” election monitoring groups to discredit the outcome of elections Zanu-PF wins, and underground groups which seek to make the country ungovernable through civil disobedience campaigns. One such group is Zvakwana, “an underground movement that aims to resist – and eventually undermine” the Zanu-PF government. “With a second, closely related group called Sokwanele, Zvakwana’s members specialize in anonymous acts of civil disobedience.” [13] Both groups, along with Zubr in Belarus and Ukraine’s Pora, whose names, in English, mean ‘enough’, “take their inspiration from Otpor, the movement that played a major role in ousting Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia.” [14] One Sokwanele member is “a white conservative businessman expressing a passion for freedom, tradition, polite manners and the British royals,” [15] hardly a black-clad anarchist motivated by a philosophical opposition to “authoritarian rule,” but revealing of what lies beneath the thin veneer of radicalism that characterizes so many civil society opposition groups in Zimbabwe. In the aforementioned April 5, 2007 US State Department report, Washington revealed that it had “supported workshops to develop youth leadership skills necessary to confront social injustice through non-violent strategies,” the kinds of skills members of Zvakwana and Sokwanele are equipped with to destabilize Zimbabwe.

In addition to funding received from the US and Britain, Zimbabwe’s civil society groups also receive money from the German, Australian and Canadian governments, the Ford Foundation, Freedom House, the Albert Einstein Institution, the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict, Liberal International, the Mott Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers, South African Breweries, and billionaire financier George Soros’ Open Society Institute. All of these funding sources, including the governments, are dominated by Western capitalist ruling classes. It would be truly naïve to believe, for example, that the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict and Freedom House, both headed by Peter Ackerman, member of the US ruling class Council on Foreign Relations, a New York investment banker and former right hand man to Michael Milken of junk bond fame, is lavishing money and training on civil society groups in Zimbabwe out of humanitarian concern. According to Noam Chomksy and Edward Herman, Freedom House has ties to the CIA, “and has long served as a virtual propaganda arm of the (US) government and international right wing.” [16]

Political lucre doesn’t come from Western sources alone. The Mo Ibrahim Foundation awards a prize yearly for “achievement in African leadership” to a sub-Saharan African leader who has left office in the previous three years. The prize is worth $500,000 per year for the first 10 years and $200,000 per year thereafter – in other words, cash for life. Ibrahim, a Sudanese billionaire who founded Celtel International, a cellphone service that operates in 15 African countries, established the award to “encourage African leaders to govern well,” something, apparently, Ibrahim believes African leaders don’t do now and need to be encouraged to do. What Ibrahim means by govern well is clear in who was selected as the first (and so far only) winner: Mozambique’s former president Joaquim Chissano. He received the prize for overseeing Mozambique’s “transition from Marxism to a free market economy.” [17] While there may seem to be nothing particularly amiss in this, imagine billionaire speculator George Soros establishing a foundation to bribe US and British politicians with cash for life to “govern well.” It wouldn’t elude many of us that Soros’ definition of “govern well” would almost certainly align to a tee with his own interests, and that any politician eager to live a comfortable life after politics would be keen to keep Soros’ interests in mind. Under these conditions there would be no question of democracy prevailing; we would be living in a plutocracy, in which those with great wealth could dangle the carrot of a cash award for life to get their way. As it happens, this kind of thing is happening now in Western democracies (that is, plutocracies.) Handsomely paid positions as corporate lobbyists, corporate executives and members of corporate boards await Western politicians who play their cards right. There are Mo Ibrahims all over, who go by the names Ford, GM, Exxon, General Electric, Lockheed-Martin, Microsoft, IBM and so on.

Threat to US Foreign policy

Why does the government of the US consider Zimbabwe to pose “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the foreign policy of the United States”? The answer says as much about the foreign policy of the United States as it does about Zimbabwe. The goal of US foreign policy is to provide profit-making opportunities to US investors and corporations. This is accomplished by pressuring, cajoling, bribing, blackmailing, threatening, subverting, destabilizing and where possible, using violence, to get foreign countries to lower or remove tariff barriers, lift restrictions on foreign investment, deny preferential treatment to domestic investors, allow repatriation of profits, and provide the US military access to the country. The right of the US military to operate on foreign soil is necessary to provide Washington with local muscle to protect US investments, ensure unimpeded access to strategic raw materials (oil, importantly), and to keep doors open to continued US economic penetration. It is also necessary to have forward operating bases from which to threaten countries whose governments aren’t open to US exports and investments.

The Zanu-PF government’s policies have run afoul of US foreign policy goals in a number of ways. In 1998, “Zimbabwe – along with Angola and Namibia – was mandated by the (Southern African Development Community, a regional grouping of countries) to intervene in Congo to save a fellow SADC member country from an invasion by Uganda and Rwanda,” which were acting as proxies of the United States and Britain. [18] Both countries wanted to bring down the young government of Laurent Kabila, fearing Kabila was turning into another Patrice Lumumba, the nationalist Congolese leader whose assassination the CIA had arranged in the 1960s. Zimbabwe’s intervention, as part of the SADC contingent, foiled the Anglo-American’s plans, and earned Mugabe the enmity of ruling circles in the West.

The Zanu-PF government’s record with the IMF also threatened US foreign policy goals. From 1991 to 1995, Mugabe’s government implemented a program of structural adjustment prescribed by the IMF as a condition of receiving balance of payment support and the restructuring of its international loans. The program required the government to cut its spending deeply, fire tens of thousands of civil servants, and slash social programs. Zimbabwe’s efforts to nurture infant industries were to be abandoned. Instead, the country’s doors were to be opened to foreign investment. Harare would radically reduce taxes and forbear from any measure designed to give domestic investors a leg up on foreign competitors. The US, Germany, Japan and South Korea had become capitalist powerhouses by adopting the protectionist and import substitution policies the IMF was forbidding. The effect of the IMF program was devastating. Manufacturing employment tumbled nine percent between 1991 and 1996, while wages dropped 26 percent. Public sector employment plunged 23 percent and public sector wages plummeted 40 percent. [19] In contrast to the frequent news stories today on Zimbabwe’s fragile economy, attributed disingenuously to “Mugabe’s disastrous land policies”, the Western press barely noticed the devastation the IMF’s disastrous economic policies brought to Zimbabwe in the 1990s. By 1996, the Mugabe government was starting to back away from the IMF prescriptions. By 1998, it was in open revolt, imposing new tariffs to protect infant industries and providing incentives to black Zimbabwean investors as part of an affirmative action program to encourage African ownership of the economy. These policies were diametrically opposed, not only to the IMF’s program of structural adjustment, but to the goals of US foreign policy. By 1999, the break was complete. The IMF refused to extend loans to Zimbabwe. By February, 2001, Zimbabwe was in arrears to the Bretton Woods institution. Ten months later, the US introduced the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery, a dagger through the heart of Zimbabwe’s economy. “Zimbabwe,” says Mugabe, “is not a friend of the IMF and is unlikely to be its friend in the future.” [20]

Zanu-PF’s willingness to ignore the hallowed status of private property by expropriating the land of the former Rhodesians to democratize the country’s pattern of land ownership also ran afoul of US foreign policy goals. Because US foreign policy seeks to protect US ownership abroad, any program that promotes expropriation as a means of advancing democratic goals must be considered hostile. Kenyan author Mukoma Wa Nguyi invites us to think of Zimbabwe “as Africa’s Cuba. Like Cuba, Zimbabwe is not a… military threat to the US and Britain. Like Cuba, in Latin America, Zimbabwe’s crime is leading by example to show that land can be redistributed – an independence with content. If Zimbabwe succeeds, it becomes an example to African people that indeed freedom and independence can have the content of national liberation. Like Cuba, Zimbabwe is to be isolated, and if possible, a new government that is friendly to the agenda of the West is to be installed.” [21]

The Comprador Party

If Zanu-PF is willing to offend Western corporate and Rhodesian settler interests to advance the welfare of the majority of Zimbabweans, the MDC is its perfect foil. Rather than offending Western interests, the MDC seeks to accommodate them, treating the interests of foreign investors and imperialist governments as synonymous with those of the Zimbabwean majority. A MDC government would never tolerate the pursuit in Zimbabwe of the protectionist and nationalist economic programs the US used to build its own industry. The MDC’s goals, in the words of its leader, are to “encourage foreign investment” and “bring (Zimbabwe’s) abundant farmland back into health.” [22] “It is up to each of us,” Tsvangirai told a gathering of newly elected MDC parliamentarians, “to say Zimbabwe is open for business.” [23]

Encouraging foreign investment means going along with Western demands for neo-liberal restructuring. “The key to turning around Zimbabwe’s economy…is the political will needed to implement the market reforms, the IMF and others, including the United States, have been recommending for the past few years,” lectured the former US ambassador to Zimbabwe, Christopher Dell. This means “a free-market economy and security of property to investment and economic growth.” [24]

Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown has developed an economic program for Zimbabwe to be rolled out if Western regime change efforts succeed. Brown says his recovery package will include measures to:

(1) help Zimbabwe restart and stabilize its economy;
(2) restructure and reduce its debt;
(3) support fair land reform. [25]

What Brown is really saying is that:

(1) Sanctions will be lifted, and the resultant economic recovery will be attributed to the MDC’s neo-liberal policies.
(2) Zimbabwe will resume the structural adjustment program Mugabe’s government rejected in the late 90s.
(3) Either land reform will be reversed or black Zimbabweans will be forced to compensate white farmers whose land was expropriated.

The reality that Brown has developed an economic program for Zimbabwe speaks volumes about who will be in charge if the MDC comes to power — not Zimbabweans, not the MDC, and not Tsvangirai, but London and Washington.

Not surprisingly, MDC economic policy is perfectly simpatico with the prescriptions of its masters. Eddie Cross, formerly vice-chairman of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries, who became a MDC spokesman, explained the party’s economic plans for Zimbabwe, in advance of 2000 elections.

“We are going to fast track privatization. All 50 government parastatals will be privatized within a two-year time-frame, but we are going to go beyond that. We are going to privatize many of the functions of government. We are going to privatize the central statistical office. We are going to privatize virtually the entire school delivery system. And you know, we have looked at the numbers and we think we can get government employment down from about 300,000 at the present time to about 75,000 in five years.” [26]

Of course, the intended beneficiaries of such a program aren’t Zimbabweans, but foreign investors.

The MDC’s role as agent of Western influence in Zimbabwe doesn’t stop at promoting economic policies that cater to foreign investors. The MDC has also been active in turning the screws on Zimbabwe to undermine the economy and create disaffection and misery in order to alienate Zanu-PF of its popular support. Arguing that foreign firms are propping up the government, the MDC has actively discouraged investment. For example, Tsvangirai tried to discourage a deal between Chinese investors and the South African company Implats, that would see a US$100 million platinum refinery set up in Zimbabwe, warning that a MDC government might not honor the deal. [27] The MDC leader, true to form, was following in the footsteps of his political masters in Washington. The United States has pressed China and other countries to refrain from investing in Zimbabwe “at a time when the international community (is) trying to isolate the African state.” [28] Washington complains that “China’s growing political and commercial influence in resource-rich African nations” [29] is sabotaging its efforts to ruin Zimbabwe’s economy. More damning is the MDC’s participation in the drafting of the principal piece of US legislation aimed at torpedoing the Zimbabwean economy: The Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act. Passed in 2001, the act instructs “the United States executive director to each international financial institution to oppose and vote against–

(1) any extension by the respective institution of any loan, credit, or guarantee to the Government of Zimbabwe; or

(2) any cancellation or reduction of indebtedness owed by the Government of Zimbabwe to the United States or any international financial institution.” [30]

The effect of the act is to cut off all development assistance to Zimbabwe, disable lines of credit, and prevent the World Bank and International Monetary Fund from providing development assistance and balance of payment support. [31] Any African country subjected to this punishment would very soon find itself in straitened circumstances. When the legislation was ratified, US president George W. Bush said, “I hope the provisions of this important legislation will support the people of Zimbabwe in their struggle to effect peaceful democratic change, achieve economic growth, and restore the rule of law.” [32] Since effecting peaceful democratic change means, in Washington’s parlance, ousting the Zanu-PF government, and since restoring the rule of law equates, in Washingtonian terms, to forbidding the expropriation of white farm land without compensation, what Bush was really saying was that he hoped the legislation would help overthrow the government and put an end to fast-track land reform. The legislation “was co-drafted by one of the opposition MDC’s white parliamentarians in Zimbabwe, which was then introduced as a Bill in the US Congress on 8 March 2001 by the Republican senator, William Frist. The Bill was co-sponsored by the Republican rightwing senator, Jesse Helms, and the Democratic senators Hilary Clinton, Joseph Biden and Russell Feingold.” Helms, a notorious racist, had a penchant for legislation aimed at undermining countries seeking to achieve substantive democracy. “He co-authored the Helms-Burton Act of 1996, which tightened the blockade on Cuba.” [33]

The Distorting Lens of the Western Media

Western reporting on Zimbabwe occurs within a framework of implicit assumptions. The assumptions act as a lens through which facts are organized, understood and distorted. Columnist and associate editor for the British newspaper The Guardian, Seamus Milne, points out that British journalists see Zimbabwe through a lens that casts the president as a barbarous despot. “The British media,” he writes, “have long since largely abandoned any attempt at impartiality in its reporting of Zimbabwe, the common assumption being that Mugabe is a murderous dictator at the head of a uniquely wicked regime.” [34] If you began with these assumptions, ordinary events are interpreted within the framework the assumptions define. An egregious example is offered in how a perfectly legitimate exercise was construed and presented by Western reporters as a diabolical exercise. Zanu-PF held campaign workshops to explain what the government had achieved since independence and what it was doing to address the country’s economic crisis. The intention, according to Zimbabwe’s Information and Publicity Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, was to “educate the people on the illegal sanctions as some of them were duped to vote for the MDC in the March elections.” [35] But that’s not how the British newspaper, The Independent, saw it. “The Zimbabwean army and police,” its reporter wrote, “have been accused of setting up torture camps and organizing ‘re-education meetings’ involving unspeakable cruelty where voters are beaten and mutilated in the hope of achieving victory for President Robert Mugabe in the second round of the presidential election.” [36] Begin with the assumption that Mugabe is a murderous dictator at the head of a uniquely wicked regime and campaign workshops become re-education meetings and torture camps. Note that The Independent’s reporter relied on an accusation, not on corroborated facts, and that the identity of the accuser was never revealed. The story has absolute no evidentiary value, but considerable propaganda value. The chances of many people reading the story with a skeptical eye and picking out its weaknesses are slim. What’s more likely to happen is that readers will regard the accusation as plausible because it fits with the preconceived model of Mugabe as a murderous dictator and his government as uniquely wicked. How do we know the accuser wasn’t a fellow journalist repeating gossip overheard on the street, or at MDC headquarters? How do we know the accusation wasn’t made by the US ambassador to Zimbabwe, James McGee, or any one of scores of representatives of Western-funded NGOs, whose role is to discredit the Zimbabwe government? McGee is a veritable treasure trove of half-truths, innuendo, and misinformation. And yet the Western media, particularly those based in the US, have a habit of treating McGee as an impeccable source, seemingly blind to the reality that the US government is hostile to Zimbabwe’s land democratization and economic indigenization programs, that it has an interest in spinning news to discredit Harare, and that its officials have an extensive track record in lying to justify the plunder of other people’s countries. To paraphrase Caesar Zvayi, if George Bush can lie hundreds of times about Iraq, what’s to stop him (or McGee or the NGOs on the US payroll) from lying about Zimbabwe? That the Western media pass on accusations made by interested parties without so much as revealing the interest can either be regarded as shocking naiveté or a sign of the propaganda role Western media play on behalf of the corporate class that owns them. If the US and British governments and Western media are against the democratization and economic indigenization programs of Zanu-PF, it’s because they’re dominated by a capitalist ruling class whose interests are against those of the Zimbabwean majority.

It is typical of Western reporting to attribute the actions of the Zanu-PF government to the personal characteristics of its leader: his alleged hunger for power for power’s-sake; demagogy; incompetence in matters related to economic management; and brutality. The government’s actions, by contrast, are never attributed to the circumstances, the conditions in which the government is forced to maneuver, or to the demands of survival in the face of the West’s predatory pressures. This isn’t unique to Zimbabwe; every leader the West wants to overthrow is vilified as a “strongman,” “dictator,” “thug,” “war criminal,” “murderer,” or “warlord” and sometimes all of these things. All of the leader’s actions are to be understood as originating in the leader’s deeply flawed character. If Iran is building a uranium enrichment capability, it’s not because it seeks an independent source of fuel for a budding civilian nuclear energy program, but because the country’s president is to be understood as a raving anti-Semite who seeks to acquire nuclear weapons to carry out Hitler’s final solution by wiping Israel off the face of the map. The same reduction of international affairs to a moral struggle between the West and what always turns out to be a nationalist, socialist or communist country headed by a leader whose actions are invariably traced by Western reporters to the leader’s evil psychology applies equally to Zimbabwe. If the Mugabe government has banned political rallies, it is not because the rallies have been used by the opposition as an occasion to firebomb police stations, but because the president has an unquenchable thirst for power and will brook no opposition. If opposition activists have been arrested, it’s not because they’ve committed crimes, but because the leader is repressive and dictatorial. If Morgan Tsvangirai is beaten by police, it’s not because he tried to break through police lines, but because the leader is a brutal dictator and ordered Tsvangirai’s beating because that’s what brutal dictators do. If an opposition leader is arrested and charged with treason, it’s not because there is evidence of treason, but because the president is gagging the opposition to cling to power because it is in the nature of dictators to do so. If the economy falls into crisis, it’s not because the West has cut off the country’s access to credit, but because of the leader’s incompetence. If agricultural production drops, it’s not due to the drought, electricity shortages and rising fuel costs that have bedeviled other countries in the region, but because the leader is too stupid to recognize his land reform policies are disastrous.

A New York Times story published three days before the March 29 elections shows how Western governments and mass media cooperate with civil society agents on the ground to shape public opinion. The aim of the March 26, 2008 article, titled “Hope and Fear for Zimbabwe Vote,” was to discredit the elections that Zanu-PF seemed at the time likely to win.

Harare had barred election monitors from the US and EU, but allowed observers from Russia, China, Iran, Venezuela, South Africa and the SADC to monitor the vote. The Western media pointed to the decision to bar Western observers as indirect evidence of vote rigging. After all, if Zimbabwe had nothing to hide, why wouldn’t it admit observers from Europe and the US? At the same time, Western reporters suggested that Zimbabwe was only allowing observers from friendly countries because they could be counted on to bless the election results. By the same logic, one would have expected that a negative evaluation from observers representing unfriendly countries would be just as automatic and foreordained, especially considering the official policy of the US and EU is to replace the current government with one friendly to Western business interests. Indeed, it is this fear that had led Harare to ban Western monitors.

With Western observers unable to monitor the elections directly, governments in North America and Europe found themselves on the horns of a dilemma. How could they declare the vote fraudulent, if they hadn’t observed it? To get around this difficulty, the US, Britain and other Western countries provided grants to Zimbabweans on the ground to monitor the vote. These Zimbabweans, part of civil society, declared themselves to be independent “non-governmental” observers, and prepared to render a foreordained verdict that the election was rigged. Cooperating in the deception, the Western media amplified their voices as “independent” experts on the ground. The US Congress’s National Endowment for Democracy — an organization that does overtly what the CIA used to do covertly — provided grants to the Zimbabwe Election Support Network “to train and organize 240 long-term elections observers throughout Zimbabwe.” The NED is also connected to the Media Monitoring Project through the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, which it funds, and the Media Institute of Southern Africa, which is funded by Britain’s NED equivalent, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and Canada’s Rights and Democracy. The Media Monitoring Project calls itself independent, but is connected to the US and British governments, and to billionaire speculator George Soros’ Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa.

When the New York Times needed Zimbabweans to comment on the upcoming election, its reporters turned to representatives of these two NGOs. Noel Kututwa, the chairman of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, told the newspaper that his group would be using “sampling techniques to assess the accuracy of the results announced nationally.” Yet, Mr. Kututwa also told the newspaper that, “We will not have a free and fair election.” If Kututwa had already decided the election would be unfair and coerced, why was he bothering to assess its accuracy? Andrew Moyse, a regular commentator on Studio 7, an anti-Mugabe radio station sponsored by the US government’s propaganda arm, Voice of America, was quoted in the same article. “Even if Mugabe only gets one vote,” Mr. Moyse opined, “the tabulated results are in the box and he has won.”

Moyse, on top of acting as a US mouthpiece on Voice of America, heads up the Media Monitoring Project. While part of the NGO election observer team the US and EU were relying on to ostensibly assess the fairness of the vote, he had already decided the vote was rigged. Kutatwa and Moyse were the only experts the New York Times cited in its story on the upcoming elections. Yet both represented NGOs funded by hostile governments whose official policy is to replace Robert Mugabe and his government’s land reform and economic indigenization policies. Both presented themselves as independent, though they could hardly be independent of their sources of foreign government and foundation funding. Both declared in advance of the election that the vote would be coerced and unfair and that the tabulated results were already in the box. Their foreordained conclusions – which turned out to be wildly inaccurate — happened to be the same conclusions their sponsors in the US and Britain were looking for, to obtain the consent of a confused public to intervene vigorously in Zimbabwe’s affairs. This is emblematic of the symbiotic collaboration of media, Western governments, and NGOs on the ground. Western governments, corporations and wealthy individuals fund NGOs to discredit the Zanu-PF government, and the Western media present the same NGOs as independent actors, and provide them a platform to present their views. Meanwhile, the Western media marginalize the Zanu-PF government and its supporters on the ground, denying them a platform to present their side. To publics in the West, the only story heard is the story told by the MDC and its civil society allies, who reinforce, as a matter of strategy, the view that Mugabe is a murderous dictator at the head of a uniquely wicked regime. The MDC, civil society, the Western media, the British and US governments, and imperialist think tanks and foundations, are all interlocked. All of these sources, then, tell the same story.

Safeguarding the Revolution

After the revolutionary war, would the Americans who led and carried out the revolution have allowed loyalists to band together to seek public office in elections with a program of restoring the monarchy? We’ve already seen that the answer is no. When the Nazis were ousted in Germany, was the Nazi party allowed to reconstitute itself to seek the return of the Third Reich through electoral means? No. Countries that have gone through revolutionary change are careful, if the revolution is to survive, to deny those who have been overthrown an opportunity to recover their privileged positions. That often means denying former exploiters and their partisans opportunities to band together to contest elections, or constitutionally prescribing a desired form of government and prohibiting a return to the old. The US revolutionaries did both; they repressed the loyalists and declared a republic, which, as a corollary, forbade a return to monarchy. Even if every American voter decided that George Bush should become king, the US constitution forbids it, no matter what the majority wants. The gun (that is, the violence employed by the American revolutionaries to free themselves from the oppression of the British crown) is more powerful than the pen (Americans can’t vote the monarchy back in.)

In Zimbabwe, the former colonial oppressor, Britain, has been working with its allies to restore its former privileges through civil society and the MDC. Britain doesn’t seek a return to an overt colonialism, complete with a British viceroy and British troops garrisoned throughout the country, but to a neo-colonialism, in which the local government acts in the place of a viceroy, safeguarding and nurturing British investments and looking after Western interests under the rubric of managing the economy soundly. Britain, then, wants the MDC, for the MDC is British rule by proxy. Many Zimbabweans, however, are vehemently opposed to selling out their revolution to a party that was founded and is financed by a country to which they were once enslaved.

Western media propaganda presents Zimbabwe as a pyramidal society, in which an elite at the apex, comprising Mugabe, his ministers and the heads of the security services, brutally rule over the vast majority of Zimbabweans at the base who long for the MDC to deliver them from a dictatorship. A fairer description is that Zimbabwe is a society in which both sides command considerable popular support, but where Zanu-PF has an edge. This may sound incredible to anyone looking at Zimbabwe through the distorting lens of the Western media, but let Munyaradzi Gwisai, leader of the International Socialist Organization in Zimbabwe, a fierce opponent of the Mugabe government, set matters straight.

“There is no doubt about it – the regime is rooted among the population with a solid social base. Despite the catastrophic economic collapse, Zanu-PF still won more popular votes in parliament than the MDC in the March 29 parliamentary elections. Mugabe might have lost on the streets, but if you count the actual votes, his party won more than the MDC in elections to the House of Assembly and Senate. Zanu-PF won an absolute majority of votes in five of the country’s 10 provinces, plus a simple majority in another province. By contrast, the MDC won two provinces with an absolute majority and two with a simple majority. But because we use first past the post, not proportional representation, Zanu-PF’s votes were not translated into a majority in parliament. It was only Mugabe himself, in the presidential election, who did worse in terms of the popular vote.” [37]

Those in the thrall of Western propaganda will dismiss strong support for Zanu-PF in the March 29 elections as a consequence of electoral fraud, not genuine popular backing. But it would be a very inept government that rigged the election and lost control of the assembly and had to face a run-off in the presidential race. No, Mugabe’s support runs deep.

“According to a poll of 1,200 Zimbabweans published in August (2004) by South African and American researchers, the level of public trust in Mr. Mugabe’s leadership” more than doubled from 1999, “to 46 percent – even as the economy” was severely weakened by Western sanctions. [38] Significantly, it was over this period that the government launched its fast track land reform program. Notwithstanding Western news reports that Mugabe’s supporters are limited to his “cronies”, Zimbabweans participated in a million man and woman march last December, where marchers “proclaimed that Washington, Downing Street and Wall Street (had) no right to remove Mugabe.” [39]

Elsewhere in Africa, Zimbabwe’s president is enormously popular. As recently as August 2004, Mugabe was voted at number three in the New Africa magazine’s poll of 100 Greatest Africans, behind Nelson Mandela and Kwame Nkrumah. [40] The Los Angeles Times, no fan of the Zimbabwean president, acknowledges that “Mugabe is so popular on the continent…that he is feted and cheered wherever he goes.” [41] That was evident last summer when, much to the chagrin of Western reporters, who had been assuring their readers that Mugabe was being called to a meeting of SADC to be dressed down, that “Mr. Mugabe arrived at the meeting to a fusillade of cheers and applause from attendees that…overwhelmed the polite welcomes of the other heads of states.” [42] A European Union-African Union summit planned for 2003 was aborted after African leaders refused to show up in solidarity with a Mugabe who had been banned by the Europeans for promoting the interests of Zimbabweans, not Europeans. The summit went ahead in 2007, but only after African leaders threatened once again to boycott the meeting if Mugabe was barred. With China doing deals with African countries, the Europeans were reluctant to sacrifice trade and investment opportunities, and laid aside their misgivings about attending a meeting at which Mugabe would be present. That is, all except British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. He stayed home in protest. German leader Angela Merkel did attend, but thought it necessary to scold Mugabe to distance herself from him. Senegal’s president Abdoulaye Wade sprang to Mugabe’s defense, dismissing Merkel’s vituperative comments as untrue and accusing the German leader of being misinformed. [43]

Opposition’s Failed Attempts at Insurrection

Mugabe’s popularity, and that of the movement for Zimbabwean empowerment he leads, explains Zanu-PF’s strong showing in elections and why the opposition’s numerous efforts at seizing power by general strike and insurrection have failed. Civil society organizations and MDC leaders have called for insurrectionary activity many times. In 2000, Morgan Tsvangirai called on Mugabe to step down peacefully or face violence. “If you don’t want to go peacefully,” the new opposition leader warned, “we will remove you violently.” [44] Arthur Mutambara, a robotics professor and former consultant with McKinsey & Company and leader of an alternative wing of the MDC, declared in 2006 that he was “going to remove Robert Mugabe, I promise you, with every tool at my disposal.” Asked to clarify what he meant, he replied, “We’re not going to rule out or in anything – the sky’s the limit.” [45] Three days before the March 29 elections, Tendai Biti, secretary general of Tsvangirai’s MDC faction, warned of Kenya-style post electoral violence if Mugabe won. [46] In the US, where United States Code, Section 2385, “prohibits anyone from advocating abetting, advising, or teaching the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing or destroying the government of the United States by force or violence,” opposition leaders like Tsvangirai, Mutambara and Biti would be charged with treason (Biti has been.)

Leaders of civil society organizations which receive Western funding have been no less diffident about threatening to overthrow the government violently. Last summer, the then Archbishop of Bulawayo, Pius Ncube, said he thought it was “justified for Britain to raid Zimbabwe and remove Mugabe. We should do it ourselves but there’s too much fear. I’m ready to lead the people, guns blazing, but the people are not ready.” [47] Ncube complained bitterly that Zimbabweans were cowards, unwilling to take up arms against the government. This was a strange complaint to make against a people who waged a guerilla war for over a decade to achieve independence. Zimbabweans’ unwillingness to follow Ncube, guns blazing, had nothing to do with cowardice, and everything to do with the absence of popular support for Ncube’s position.

Recently, the International Socialist Organization, one of the founding members of the MDC along with the British government, argued in its newspaper that “the crisis was not going to be resolved through elections, but through mass action.” ISO – Zimbabwe leader Munyaradzi Gwisai “said that the way forward for the Movement for Democratic Change and civil society was to create a united front and mobilize against the regime.” [48] The ISO makes the curious argument that Zimbabweans should take to the streets to bring the MDC to power, recognizing the MDC to be a comprador party (one the ISO helped found). A comprador party, in the febrile reasoning of the ISO, is preferable to Zanu-PF. Gwisai’s offices were visited by the police, touching off howls of outrage over Mugabe’s “repressions” from the ISO’s Trotskyite brethren around the world. Followers of Trotsky are forever siding with reactionaries against revolutionaries, the revolutionaries invariably failing to live up to a Trotskyite ideal. If they can’t have their ideal, they’ll settle for imperialism. While Gwisai wasn’t arrested, Wellington Chibebe, general secretary of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, was. He too had urged Zimbabweans to take to the streets to bring down the government.

Some opponents of Mugabe’s government go further. An organization called the Zimbabwe Resistance Movement promises to take up arms against the Zanu-PF government if “the poodles who run the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission,” fail to declare Tsvangirai the victor of the presidential run-off election. [49] The Western media have been silent on this form of oppositional intimidation and threats of violence.

The opposition has also tried other means to clear the way for its rise to power. In April, 2007 it called a general strike, as part of the Save Zimbabwe Campaign. The strike fizzled, accomplishing nothing more than showing the opposition’s program of seizing power extra-constitutionally had no popular support. The campaign “was a joint effort of the opposition, church groups and civil society… As a body…it (did) not…have widespread grassroots support,” reported the Toronto newspaper, The Globe and Mail. [50] While depicted in the Western media as a peaceful campaign of prayer meetings, the campaign was predicated on violence. MDC activists carried out a series of fire bombings of buses and police stations, events the Western press was slow to acknowledge. A May 2 2007 Human Rights Watch report finally acknowledged that there had been a series of gasoline bombings, but questioned whether the MDC was really responsible. By this point, as far as Western publics knew, peaceful protests had been brutally suppressed by a uniquely wicked government. To keep matters under control, the government banned political gatherings. The opposition defied the ban, calling their rallies “prayer meetings.” It was a result of this defiance that Arthur Mutambara was arrested, and Morgan Tsvangirai roughed up by police when he tried to force his way through police lines to demand Mutambara’s release. The MDC took full advantage of the event to play up to the Western media, claiming Tsvangirai had been beaten up as part of a program of political repression, rather than as a response to his tussling with the police. As the Cuban ambassador to Zimbabwe explained, “What happened in Zimbabwe of course is similar to what groups based in Florida have done in Cuba. They put many bombs in some hotels in Cuba. They were trying to…generate political instability in Cuba, so I see the same pattern in Zimbabwe.” [51]

Making the Economy Scream

While quislings work from within the country to make it ungovernable, pressure is applied from without. Western governments say they’ve imposed only targeted sanctions aimed at key members of the government, nothing to undermine the economy and hurt ordinary Zimbabweans, but as we’ve already seen, the US Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act has far-reaching economic implications. On top of this, other, informal, sanctions do their part to make the economy scream. As Robert Mugabe explains:

The British and their allies “influence other countries to cut their economic ties with us…the soft loans, grants and investments that were coming our way, started decreasing and in some cases practically petering out. Then the signals to the rest of the world that Zimbabwe is under sanctions, that rings bells and countries that would want to invest in Zimbabwe are being very cautious. And we are being dragged through the mud every day on CNN, BBC, Sky News, and they are saying to these potential investors ‘your investments will not be safe in Zimbabwe, the British farmers have lost their land, and your investments will go the same way.’” [52]

In March 2002, Canada withdrew all direct funding to the government of Zimbabwe. [53] In 2005, the IT department at Zimbabwe’s Africa University discovered that Microsoft had been instructed by the US Treasury Department to refrain from doing business with the university. [54] Western companies refuse to supply spare parts to Zimbabwe’s national railway company, even though there are no official trade sanctions in place. [55] Britain and its allies are now planning to escalate the pressure. Plans have been made to press South Africa to cut off electricity to Zimbabwe if the MDC doesn’t come to power. Pressure will also be applied on countries surrounding Zimbabwe to mount an economic blockade. [56] The point of sanctions is to starve the people of Zimbabwe into revolting against the government to clear the way for the rise of the MDC and control, by proxy, from London and Washington. Apply enough pressure and eventually the people will cry uncle (or so goes the theory.) You can’t say Zanu-PF wasn’t forewarned. Stanley Mudenge, the former foreign minister of Zimbabwe, said Robin Cook, then British foreign secretary, once pulled him aside at a meeting and said: “Stan, you must get rid of Bob (Mugabe)…If you don’t get rid of Bob, what will hit you will make your people stone you in the streets.” [57]

Harare’s Options

Those who condemn the actions of the Zanu-PF government in defending their revolution have an obligation to say what they would do. Usually, they skirt the issue, saying there is no revolution, or that there was one once, but that it was long ago corrupted by cronyism. Their simple answer is to dump Mugabe, and start over again – a course of action that would inevitably see a return to the neo-liberal restructuring of the 1990s, a dismantling of land reforms, and a neo-colonial tyranny. Not surprisingly, people who make this argument find favor with imperialist governments and ruling class foundations and are often rewarded by them for appearing to be radical while actually serving imperialist goals.

Throughout history, reformers and revolutionaries have been accused of being self-aggrandizing demagogues manipulating their followers with populist rhetoric to cling to power to enjoy its many perks. [58] But as one writer in the British anti-imperialist journal Lalkar pointed out, “The government of Zimbabwe could very easily abandon its militant policies aimed at protecting Zimbabwe’s independence and building its collective wealth – no doubt its ministers would be rewarded amply by the likes of the World Bank and the IMF.” [59] If Mugabe is really using all means at his disposable to hang on to power simply to enjoy its perks, he has chosen the least certain and most difficult way of going about it. Lay this argument aside as the specious drivel of those who want to bury their heads in the sand to avoid confronting tough questions. What would you do in these circumstances?

In retaliation for democratizing patterns of land ownership, distributing land previously owned by 4,000 farmers, mainly of British stock, to 300,000 previously landless families, Britain has “mobilized her friends and allies in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand to impose illegal economic sanctions against Zimbabwe. They have cut off all development assistance, disabled lines of credit, prevented the Bretton Woods institutions from providing financial assistance, and ordered private companies in the United States not to do business with Zimbabwe.” [60] They have done this to cripple Zimbabwe’s economy to alienate the revolutionary government of its popular support. For years, they have done this. Soni Rajan, employed by the British government to investigate land reform in Zimbabwe, told author Heidi Holland:

“It was absolutely clear…that Labour’s strategy was to accelerate Mugabe’s unpopularity by failing to provide him with funding for land redistribution. They thought if they didn’t give him the money for land reform, his people in the rural areas would start to turn against him. That was their position; they want him out and they were going to do whatever they could to hasten his demise.” [61]

The main political opposition party, the MDC, is the creation of the Rhodesian Commercial Farmers’ Union, the British government and the Zimbabwe Democracy Trust, whose patrons are former British foreign secretaries Douglas Hurd, Geoffrey Howe, Malcolm Rifkind and whose chair is Lord Renwick of Clifton, who has collected a string of board memberships in southern African corporations. The party’s funding comes from European governments and corporations, and its raison d’etre is to reverse every measure the Zanu-PF government has taken to invest Zimbabwean independence with real meaning. Civil society organizations are funded by governments whose official policy is one of regime change in Zimbabwe. The US, Britain and the Netherlands finance pirate radio stations and newspapers, which the Western media disingenuously call “independent”, to poison public opinion against the Mugabe government and its land democratization and economic indigenization programs. It’s impossible to hold free and fair elections, because the interference by Western powers is massive, a point acknowledge by Mugabe opponent Munyaradzi Gwisai. [62]

Guns Trump “Xs”

Zimbabweans who fought for the country’s independence and democratization of land ownership are not prepared to give up the gains of their revolution simply because a majority of Zimbabweans marked an “X” for a party of quislings. There are two reasons for their steadfastness in defense of their revolution: First, Americans can’t vote the monarchy back in, or return, through the ballot box, to the status quo ante of British colonial domination. The US revolutionaries recognized that some gains are senior to others, freedom from foreign domination being one of them. Americans would never allow a majority vote to place the country once again under British rule. Nor will Zimbabwe’s patriots allow the same to happen to their country. Second, no election in Zimbabwe can be free and fair, so long as the country is under sanctions and the main opposition party and civil society organizations are agents of hostile foreign governments. The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Justice has called on the government “to consider the possibility of declaring a state of emergency,” pointing out correctly that “Zimbabwe is at war with foreign elements using local puppets.” [63] Western governments would do – and have done – no less under similar circumstances. Patriots writing to the state-owned newspaper, The Herald, urge the government to take a stronger line. “The electoral environment is heavily tilted in favour of the (MDC) because of the economic sanctions,” wrote one Herald reader. “If it was up to me there should be no elections until the sanctions are scrapped. If we don’t defend our independence and sovereignty, then we are doomed to become hewers of wood and drawers of water. I stand ready to take up arms to defend my sovereignty if need be.” [64] The heads of the police and army have let it be known that they won’t “salute sell-outs and agents of the West” [65] – and nor should they. And veterans of the war for national liberation have told Mugabe that they can never accept that their country, won through the barrel of the gun, should be taken merely by an ‘X’ made by a ballpoint pen.” [66] Mugabe recounted that the war veterans had told him “if this country goes back into white hands just because we have used a pen, we will return to the bush to fight.” The former guerilla leader added, “I’m even prepared to join the fight. We can’t allow the British to dominate us through their puppets.” [67] Zimbabwe, as patriots have said many times, will never be a colony again. Even if it means returning to arms.

1. Herbert Aptheker, “The Nature of Democracy, Freedom and Revolution,” International Publishers, New York, 2001.
2. Herald (Zimbabwe) April 2, 2008.
3. “No Better Opportunity,” German Foreign Policy.Com, March 26, 2007. http://www.german-foreign-policy.com/en/fulltext/56059
4. Times (London), November 25, 2007.
5. Rob Gowland, “Zimbabwe: The struggle for land, the struggle for independence,” Communist Party of Australia. http://www.cpa.org.au/booklets/zimbabwe.pdf
6. Herald (Zimbabwe) May 29, 2008.
7. Guardian (UK), March 3, 2008.
8. Wall Street Journal, quoted in Herald (Zimbabwe) March 23, 2008.
9. Talkzimbabwe.com, June 19, 2008.
10. Guardian (UK), August 22, 2002.
11. Herald (Zimbabwe) May 29, 2008.
12. Herald (Zimbabwe), February 22, 2008.
13. New York Times, March 27, 2005.
14. Ibid.
15. Los Angeles Times, July 8, 2005.
16. Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman, “Manufacturing Consent,” Pantheon Books, 1988, p. 28.
17. The Independent (UK), October 22, 2007; New York Times, October 23, 3007.
18. New African, June 2008.
19. Antonia Juhasz, “The Tragic Tale of the IMF in Zimbabwe,” Daily Mirror of Zimbabwe, March 7, 2004.
20. Herald (Zimbabwe) September 13, 2005.
21. Herald (Zimbabwe) August 12, 2005.
22. Morgan Tsvangirai, “Zimbabwe’s Razor Edge,” Guardian (UK) April 7, 2008.
23. Globe and Mail (Toronto), May 31, 2008.
24. Response to Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Monetary Policy Statement,” Ambassador Christopher Dell, February 7, 2007.
25. The Independent (UK), September 20, 2007.
26. John Wright, “Victims of the West,” Morning Star (UK), December 18, 2007.
27. Herald (Zimbabwe), July 6, 2005.
28. AFP, July 29, 2005.
29 Ibid.
30. US Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001.
31. Herald (Zimbabwe) June 4, 2008.
32. “President Signs Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, December 21, 2001. http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/12/200111221-15.html
33. http://www.pslweb.org, October 17, 2006.
34. Guardian (UK), April 17, 2008. Milne is also clear on who’s responsible for the conflict in Zimbabwe. In an April 17, 2008 column in The Guardian, he wrote, “Britain refused to act against a white racist coup, triggering a bloody 15-year liberation war, and then imposed racial parliamentary quotas and a 10-year moratorium on land reform at independence. The subsequent failure by Britain and the US to finance land buyouts as expected, along with the impact of IMF programs, laid the ground for the current impasse.”
35. Herald (Zimbabwe), June 11, 2008.
36. The Independent (UK), June 9, 2008.
37. Weekly Worker, 726, June 19, 2008 http://www.cpgb.org.uk/worker/726/forced.html.
38. New York Times, December 24, 2004.
39. Workers World (US), December 12, 2007.
40. Proletarian (UK) April-May 2007.
41. Los Angeles Times, December 15, 2007.
42. New York Times, August 17, 2007.
43. New York Times, December 9, 2007.
44. BBC, September 30, 2000.
45. Times Online, March 5, 2006.
46. Herald (Zimbabwe), March 27, 2008.
47. Sunday Times (UK), July 1, 2007.
48. Weekly Worker, 726, June 19, 2008 http://www.cpgb.org.uk/worker/726/forced.html
49. The Zimbabwe Times, May 31, 2008.
50. Globe and Mail (Toronto) March 22, 2007.
51. Herald (Zimbabwe) April 15, 2007.
52. New African, May 2008.
53. Herald (Zimbabwe), October 18, 2007.
54. Herald (Zimbabwe), January 28, 2008.
55. Herald (Zimbabwe), January 11, 2008.
56. Guardian (UK), June 16, 2008.
57. New African, May 2008.
58. See, for example, Michael Parenti, “The Assassination of Julius Caesar: A People’s History Ancient Rome,” The New Press, 2003.
59. Lalkar, May-June, 2008. http://www.lalkar.org/issues/contents/may2008/zim.php
60. Address of Robert Mugabe to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization, June 3, 2008.
61. New African, May 2008.
62. Weekly Worker, 726, June 19, 2008 http://www.cpgb.org.uk/worker/726/forced.html
63. TalkZimbabwe.com, May 15, 2008.
64. Letter to the Herald (Zimbabwe), May 6, 2008.
65. Guardian (UK), March 15, 2008.
66. Herald (Zimbabwe), June 20, 2008.
67. The Independent (UK), June 14, 2008.

Zimbabwe’s political opposition deploys its own WMD claim

By Stephen Gowans

Zimbabwe’s political opposition and its Western-sponsored civil society allies are concocting stories of an impending genocide to call for Western intervention to oust the economic nationalist Zanu-PF government of Robert Mugabe. Yet they themselves have used threats of violence to destabilize the country to pursue an agenda shaped by and conducive to the interests of Western corporations and investors and the white settler community.

The opposition had planned to use the March 29 elections to follow the color revolution script written in Washington to springboard to power. That script called on the opposition to declare victory in elections before the first vote was cast, and then to denounce any outcome other than a clear opposition victory as evidence of electoral fraud. If the opposition failed to prevail at the polls, its supporters were to be mobilized to take to the streets to bring down the government, in a repeat of previous Western-engineered color revolutions in Serbia, Georgia and Ukraine.

On the eve of the election, Ian Makoni, director of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s campaign, explained that the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) would avoid the failures of the past.

“The lesson from (the election of) 2002 is we didn’t plan for after the vote. Everyone stayed at home and said we will go to the courts. What happened in Kenya was they knew there would be fraud and they were ready. We will be out in the streets celebrating when the polls close. It can turn into a protest easily. Zimbabweans are angry; they are desperate; they are ready to protest. It’s the tipping point we are planning for.” [1]

But when the opposition’s charges of vote rigging fell flat as election results showed the governing Zanu-PF party losing its majority in the assembly and the party’s presidential candidate Robert Mugabe trailing Tsvangirai in the presidential contest, the edifice on which the MDC’s color revolution plan was predicated collapsed. If the vote had been rigged, Mugabe’s party would have sailed to victory. Instead, Zanu-PF trailed. The margin separating the two parties, however, was slim, revealing the opposition’s support to be limited. With Tsvangirai unable to command overwhelming support, despite massive Western intervention in the election against Mugabe, the opposition needed a way to grab power without having to rely on the uncertainties of a run-off election. It decided to take a leaf from the book of its US and British patrons, inventing a pretext for military intervention on par with the WMD fiction used as the basis for US-British intervention in Iraq. Outside forces, preferably those of the former colonizer Britain, whose corporations still have a large stake in the country, would be called upon to intervene militarily to avert an impending genocide and in the process, install the MDC as the new government.

Over a month ago, MDC secretary-general Tendai Biti appealed to his “brothers and sisters across” Africa not to “wait for dead bodies in the streets of Harare.” “Intervene now,” he demanded. [2] Twelve days later, with no sign of an impending genocide, Morgan Tsvangirai called on the West to launch a humanitarian intervention. [3] The next day, church clerics weighed in with their own warning: “If nothing is done to help the people of Zimbabwe from their predicament, we shall soon be witnessing genocide similar to that experienced in Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi and other hot spots in Africa and elsewhere.” [4] Two days later, MDC-T (the faction of the party led by Morgan Tsvangirai) spokesman Nelson Chamisa warned that “If something isn’t done in a few days, this country is going to be converted into a genocide zone.” [5] That was more than three weeks ago. A half a month later and with still no looming genocide in sight, Biti sounded the genocide alarm once again, calling on Zimbabwe’s neighbors to ease Mugabe from power “before rivers of dead people start to flow, as they did in Rwanda.” [6]

It is true that there has been politically-motivated violence in Zimbabwe, but it has occurred on both sides, is political, not ethnic, and has led to nowhere near the number of deaths that would even remotely qualify as genocide.

The stakes in the election aftermath are high. Violence has erupted on the part of some Zanu-PF supporters because they fear the loss of what they gained through their revolutionary struggles, and there’s no doubt that an MDC government would set back the project of investing national liberation with real content. That the elections were neither free nor fair has only made Zanu-PF supporters more embittered by Zanu-PF’s poor showing in the elections. Jabulami Sibanda, chairman of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans’ Association, has criticized the vote for being held “when people were being pushed by hunger and illegal sanctions to conduct themselves in a way that could have been different.” [7] And Zanu-PF itself has challenged the fairness of the elections, pointing out that:

o NGOs distributing food threatened to cut off food aid if Zanu-PF won the election.

o The sanctions, which will be removed if Zanu-PF is ousted, amount to Western blackmail.

o The campaigns of the MDC-T and former Zanu-PF member Simba Makoni were financed by foreign governments and corporations.

o Western-financed anti-Zanu-PF radio stations, including Radio SW Africa (financed by the US State Department) and the Voice of America’s Studio 7 stepped up their broadcasts during the election period.

o MDC activists doubled as vote educators working for the US government-financed Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network and used their position to promote the opposition under the guise of explaining electoral procedures. [8]

There’s no question there has been massive Western interference in the elections. During the election campaign British Prime Minister Gordon Brown informed the British Law Society that his government’s funding to civil society organizations in Zimbabwe opposing the Mugabe government had been stepped up. [9] On May 14, 2007 Australia announced it would spend $18 million backing critics of Mugabe, two-thirds of which was slated to be spent in the run-up to the elections. [10] And this doesn’t include the much more extensive funding Mugabe’s opponents have received from the United States, other Western governments, corporate foundations, and wealthy individuals.

Western interference has made the post-election period one aptly described by Sibanda as “a battle between revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries: Zimbabwean people represented by President Mugabe and foreign interests (represented by) the MDC.” [11] Under these conditions, and especially considering that MDC youth activists have a history of using violence to provoke the police, and then to use the police response to paint the government as authoritarian and repressive, some degree of political violence is inevitable. But is it out of hand? And is it one-sided?

The documentation of violence against MDC supporters has been gathered by the US Embassy in Harare, which is hardly neutral and has an interest in discrediting Zanu-PF to bring its favored vehicle, the MDC, to power. Human Rights Watch (HRW), which is dominated by former members of the US foreign policy establishment, has also been involved. But even HRW acknowledges the violence isn’t exclusive to supporters of Zanu-PF. “Eyewitnesses told Human Rights Watch that…MDC supporters had burned homes of known Zanu-PF supporters and officials.” [12] Louise Arbour, the UN’s top human rights official, who, in previous jobs has invariably sided with the US and Britain, notes that the information she has “received suggests an emerging pattern of political violence” that is not exclusively inflicted by supporters of Zanu-PF. [13] Kingsley Mamabolo, a senior South African official who led the region’s observer team for the March 29 elections agrees that violence is “taking place on both sides,” as do human rights and doctors groups in Harare, most of which have Western sources of funding. [14] Paul Themba Nyathi, a civil rights lawyer and MDC member, says that “Tsvangirai’s followers seem to be saying to themselves that they can win elections by beating people and by using the crudest methods of intimidation.” This has largely escaped the attention of the media, he adds, “because the big prize is still to rid the country of Mugabe.” [15] Police arrested 58 opposition activists on May 9 on suspicion of setting fire to the homes of Zanu-PF members. On May 14, they arrested 50 Zanu-PF activists.

While Mugabe is often portrayed as a monster egging on thugs to beat opposition supporters (whereas we’ll see below, it is opposition leaders who have egged on their followers to use violence), he has spoken out against violence. On May 17, he told the country that “Such violence is needless and must stop forthwith.” He added that “support comes from persuasion, not from pugilism. Genuine support for the party cannot come through coercion or violence.” [16] At the same time, Zanu-PF has proposed a joint Zanu-PF-MDC committee to investigate political violence. Zanu-PF representative Patrick Chinamasa invited the MDC-T to form a joint team “to investigate violence so that we do not end up with false allegations.” MDC-T spokesman Nelson Chamisa voiced no objection, “as long as there was commitment among the parties.” [17]

Despite these developments, it’s unlikely the opposition’s calls for military intervention will cease. Last summer, then Archbishop Pius Ncube called on Britain to invade. “I think it is justified for Britain to raid Zimbabwe and remove Mugabe,” he said. “We should do it ourselves but there’s too much fear. I’m ready to lead the people, guns blazing, but the people are not ready.” [18]

Former head of the British military General Lord Charles Guthrie revealed that the British government had pressed him to consider invading Zimbabwe on a number of occasions. Guthrie says he advised against an invasion, warning military intervention would backfire. [19] But that hasn’t stopped the politicos from pressing for a military assault. Tony Blair’s chief of staff for 10 years, Jonathan Powell, argued in a Guardian article in November for British military intervention in Zimbabwe on humanitarian grounds. In the article, Powell defends interventions in Yugoslavia and Iraq and argues for a British invasion of Zimbabwe. “Are we really saying we just have to wait while (Mugabe’s) people suffer?” [20] If Powell were genuinely concerned about the suffering of Zimbabwe’s people, he would press for the removal of sanctions, the principal cause of Zimbabweans’ suffering.

Basildon Peta, an opposition journalist, also makes the case for Western intervention. “The philosophy that African states should take the lead in Zimbabwe is bankrupt,” he argues. “Most of these entities would not survive without Western subsidies. We Zimbabweans have reconciled ourselves to the fact that our fellow Africans will do nothing for us in our hour of need. In desperation we have to look to our former colonizers for help.” [21]

The MDC claims to be the party of democratic change, founded on the non-violent principles of Ghandi and King, but its behaviour belies its claims. No sooner had the party been born, with Britain acting as mother, father and midwife, than it was threatening political violence. “What we would like to tell Mugabe is please go peacefully,” said leader Morgan Tsvangirai. “If you don’t want to go peacefully, we will remove you violently.” [22]

When Tsvangirai lost an internal vote on whether to boycott or participate in Senate elections, he claimed that the leader of the party was not bound by the majority’s decision. What ensued showed the party’s non-violent credentials to be as bogus as its democratic principles. An internecine war flared between the two factions, featuring beatings, hijackings, posters stripped from street polls, and the party’s director of security thrown down a stairwell. [23]

Leader of the alternative MDC faction, Arthur Mutambara, is equally prepared to use violence to achieve political goals. “I’m going to remove Robert Mugabe, I promise you, with every tool at my disposal,” he told supporters. “We’re going to use every tool we can get to dislodge this regime. We’re not going to rule out or in anything – the sky’s the limit.” [24] Were Mutambara the leader of an opposition group opposed to a British or US ally, he would find himself on the US and EU official lists of terrorists.

Neither is the Roman Catholic Church averse to violence, as already seen in former Archbishop Pius Ncube’s desire to lead the people, guns blazing. “In an Easter (2007) message pinned to church bulletin boards around the country, Zimbabwe’s Roman Catholic Church bishops called on President Robert G. Mugabe to leave office or face ‘open revolt.’” [25]

Ncube contemns Zimbabweans as cowards. “The idea of dying for your country was something valuable in Western countries. We haven’t grasped the idea of laying down your life. The people are cowards. I was hoping the politicians would do it but it seems that don’t have any convictions. We must torment and harass the government. Zimbabweans are a bit lethargic and we find ourselves caught with our pants down.” [26] Zimbabweans are hardly cowards. Many fought in the war to liberate Zimbabwe from British colonial rule and Rhodesian apartheid. They are understandably uninterested in rallying behind Ncube and others who are leading the charge to restore Britain to its former dominant position in Zimbabwe.

Finally, it should be noted that MDC-T spokesman Nelson Chamisa, whose colleague Tendai Biti was crying wolf over an impending genocide a little over one week later, warned three days before the elections that if Zanu-PF won, Kenya would look like a picnic. [27]

Zimbabwe’s government has been far more lax in its tolerance of violent dissent than Western governments would ever be. In the US or Britain, a political leader who threatened to use violence to oust the government, appealed for foreign military intervention and economic warfare, and accepted funding from hostile foreign powers, would be branded a terrorist and traitor and locked up. Not surprisingly, there are some in Zimbabwe urging the government to take a harder line. Zimbabwe Lawyers for Justice has importuned the government to declare a state of emergency. “Zimbabwe is at war with foreign elements using local puppets,” says the organization’s chief advocate Martin Dinha. “Western countries are known to fuel violence, civil war and strife.” The government, Dinha says, should “consider the possibility of declaring a state of emergency to quell the disturbances.” [28]

Clearly, the opposition, with the massive backing of Western governments, corporate foundations and wealthy individuals, intent on coming to power to reverse Zanu-PF’s economically nationalist policies, has no qualms about using violence, nor deception, to carry out its Quisling aims. Tsvangirai, Biti, Chamisa and their civil society allies are prepared to use a lie as great as the WMD deception of their British and US patrons for the same end: to justify military intervention in order to put the West firmly in charge. Where Zanu-PF has used violence, has been in the struggle against oppression. Where the opposition has threatened and carried out violence has been in the pursuit of an agenda shaped by and conducing to the interests of Western economic elites. There is no looming genocide in Zimbabwe, only the threat of Western military intervention whose justification is a lie concocted by fifth columnists doing their masters’ bidding.

1. The Guardian (UK), March 28, 2008.
2. The Independent (UK), April 9, 2008.
3. The Times (London), in The Ottawa Citizen, April 22, 2008.
4. Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishop’s Conference and the Zimbabwe Council of Churches. The Independent (UK), April 23, 2008.
5. The New York Times, April 26, 2008.
6. The Washington Post, May 16, 2008.
7. TalkZimbabwe.com, April 4, 2008.
8. The Herald (Zimbabwe) May 3, 2008.
9. The New African, April 2008.
10. Reuters May 14, 2007.
11. The Herald (Zimbabwe) April, 2, 2008.
12. Human Rights Watch, April 25, 2008.
13. The New York Times, April 28, 2008.
14. The New York Times, May 10, 2008.
15. TalkZimbabwe.com, April 28, 2008.
16. Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe), May 18, 2008.
17. The Herald (Zimbabwe), May 20, 2008.
18. The Sunday Times (UK), July 1, 2007.
19. AFP, November 21, 2007.
20. The Guardian (UK), November 18, 2007.
21. The Independent (UK), September 20, 2008.
22. BBC, September 30, 2000.
23. The New York Times, May 5, 2007.
24. Times Online, March 5, 2006.
25. The New York Times, April 9, 2007.
26. The Guardian (UK), April 2, 2007.
27. The Herald (Zimbabwe), March 27, 2008.
28. TalkZimbabwe.com, May 15, 2008.

Expressions of imperialism within Zimbabwe

By Stephen Gowans

Zimbabwe’s Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Patrick Chinamasa on Friday denounced the US and Britain for their interference in Zimbabwe’s elections. At the same time, he decried the Morgan Tsvangirai faction of the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T), and its civil society partner, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), as being part of a US and British program to reverse the gains of Zimbabwe’s national liberation struggle.

“It is no secret that the US and the British have poured in large sums of money behind the MDC-T’s sustained demonization campaign,” Chinamasa said. (1)

“Sanctions against Zimbabwe (were intensified) just before the elections,” while “large sums of money” were poured into Zimbabwe “by the British and Americans to bribe people to vote against President Mugabe.” (2)

The goal, Chinamasa continued, is to “render the country ungovernable in order to justify external intervention to reverse the gains of the land reform program.” (3)

The justice minister went on to describe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and his MDC “for what they are — an Anglo-American project designed to defeat and reverse the gains of Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle, to undermine the will of the Zimbabwean electorate and to return the nation to the dark days of white domination.” (4)

The minister also described the ZESN as “an American-sponsored civil society appendage of the MDC-T.” (5)

Were they reported in the West, it would be fashionable to sneer at Chinamasa’s accusations as lies told to justify a crackdown on the opposition. But, predictably, they haven’t been. For anyone who’s following closely, however, the minister’s charges hardly ring false.

The ZESN is funded by the US Congress and US State Department though the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Its board is comprised of a phalanx of US and British-backed fifth columnists. (6)

Board member Reginald Matchaba Hove won the NED democracy award in 2006. Described by its first director as doing overtly what the CIA used to do covertly, the NED – and by extension the NGOs it funds — are not politically neutral organizations. They have an agenda, and it is to promote US interests under the guise of promoting democratization. Hove is also director of the Southern Africa division of billionaire financier George Soros’ Open Society Institute, which has been involved in funding overthrow movements in Yugoslavia, Georgia, Ukraine and elsewhere. Soros also has an agenda: to open societies to Western profit making. Indeed, the board members of the ZESN comprise an A-list of overthrow activists, with multiple interlocking connections to imperialist governments and corporate foundations.

It doesn’t take long to connect Hove to left scholar Patrick Bond (of Her Majesty’s NGOs) and his Center for Civil Society. The Center is a program partner with the Southern Africa Trust, one of whose trustees is ZESN board member Reginald Matchaba Hove. The Center for Policy Studies, whose mission is to prepare civil society in Zimbabwe for political change (that is, to prepare it to overthrow the Zanu-PF government), is funded by the Southern Africa Trust, a partner of Bond’s Center for Civil Society. Other sponsors include the Soros, Ford, Mott, Heinrich Boll (German Green party), and Friedrich Ebert (German Social Democrats) foundations, the Rockefeller Brothers, the NED, South African Breweries and a fund established by the chairman of mining and natural resources company, Anglo-American. Significantly, Zimbabwe is rich in minerals. Zanu-PF’s program is to put control of the country’s mineral resources, as well as its land, in the hands of the black majority, depriving transnational mining companies, like Anglo-American, of control and profits. Everjoice Win, the former spokesperson for the ZESN, is on the advisory board of Bond’s center. The Center supports the Freedom of Expression Institute (FEI), which is funded by George Soros and the British government’s Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD). The FEI is a partner of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (also funded by the British government), whose director Rashweat Mukundu is a board member of the ZESN.

Bond co-authored a report with Tapera Kapuya, a fellow of ZESN sponsor, the NED. He also contributed to a report titled Zimbabwe’s Turmoil, along with John Makumbe and Brian Kagoro. The report was sponsored by the Institute for Security Studies, which is financed by the governments of the United States, Britain, France and Canada, the Rockefeller Brothers, and of course, the ubiquitous George Soros and Ford foundations. Makumbe has published in the NED’s Journal of Democracy, and is a former director of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (funded, not surprisingly, by the NED). The Coalition, like the Center for Policy Studies, is devoted to ousting the Mugabe government under the guise of promoting democracy, but in reality promotes the profits of firms like Anglo-American and the interests of US and British investors. Kagoro is a former coordinator of the Coalition. Significantly, the Coalition is a partner of the ZESN.

Add to this Bond’s celebrating the Western-trained and financed underground movements Zvakwana and Sokwanele as an “independent left” (7) and his co-authoring a Z-Net article on Zimbabwe with MDC founding member Grace Kwinjeh [8] (MDC leader Tsvangirai admitted in a February 2002 SBS Dateline program that his party is financed by European governments and corporations (9)), and it’s clear that Bond links up with the spider web of American and British-sponsored civil society appendages of the MDC-T.

Chinamasa’s clarification of the connections between the US and Britain and Zimbabwe’s civil society and opposition fifth columnists is a welcome relief from Western newspapers’ attempts to cover them up. The ZESN, despite being generously funded by the US through Congress and the State Department, is described by the Western media as “independent” while ZESN partner, the National Democratic Institute (NDI), is called “an international pro-democracy organization” (10) and “a Washington-based group.” (11) What it really is, is the foreign arm of the Democratic Party. The NDI receives funding from the US Congress (as well as from USAID and corporate foundations), which it then doles out to fifth columnists in US-designated “outposts of tyranny.” Only in the service of propaganda would the Democratic Party be called “a Washington-based group.” One wonders how Americans would have reacted to the British monarchy parading about post-revolutionary Washington as a “London-based” group – an “international good government” organization bankrolling an American NGO to monitor US elections? Would anyone be surprised if the leaders of the British-financed NGO were dragged off to jail, especially were its backers openly working to oust the government in Washington to restore the rule of the British monarchy? In Zimbabwe, the only surprise is that the Zanu-PF government hasn’t reacted with as much force as the Americans would have done under the same circumstances. That Zimbabwe’s government has tried to preserve space for the exercise of political and civil liberties in the face of massive hostile foreign interference is to be commended.

Washington is quite open in its intentions to overthrow the Mugabe government. Under the 2001 US Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act “the President is authorized to provide assistance” to “support an independent and free press and electronic media in Zimbabwe” and “provide for democracy and governance programs in Zimbabwe.” (12) This translates into the president financing anti-Zanu-PF radio stations and newspapers and bankrolling groups opposed to Zimbabwe’s national liberation movement to inveigle Zimbabweans to vote against Mugabe.

“The United States government has said it wants to see President Robert Mugabe removed from power and that it is working with the Zimbabwean opposition…trade unions, pro-democracy groups and human rights organizations…to bring about a change of administration.” (13)

Last year, the US State Department acknowledged once again that it supports “the efforts of the political opposition, the media and civil society” in Zimbabwe through training, assistance and financing. (14) And the 2006 US National Security Strategy declares that “it is the policy of the US to seek and support democratic movements and institutions in every nation…with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in…” North Korea, Iran, Syria, Cuba, Belarus and Zimbabwe. (15)

The goal of the overthrow agenda is to reverse the land reform and economic indigenization policies of the Zanu-PF government — policies that are against the interests of the ruling class foundations that fund the fifth columnists’ activities. The chairman of Anglo-American finances Zimbabwe’s anti-Mugabe civil society because bringing Tsvangirai’s MDC to power is good for Anglo-American’s bottom line. Likewise, the numerous Southern African corporations that Lord Renwick of Clifton sits on the boards of stand to profit from the MDC unseating Zimbabwe’s national liberation agenda. Lord Renwick is head of an outfit called the Zimbabwe Democracy Trust (ZDT), also part of the interlocked community of imperialist governments, wealthy individuals, corporate foundations, and NGOs working to reverse Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle. The ZDT is a major backer of the MDC. (16)

Police raids on the offices of the ZESN and Harvest House, the headquarters of the MDC, seem deplorable to those in the West who are accustomed to elections in which the contestants all pretty much agree on major policies, with only trivial differences among them. But in Zimbabwe, the differences are acute – a choice between losing much of what the 14-year long national liberation war was fought for and settling for nominal independence (that is crying uncle, so the West will relieve the pressure of its economic warfare) or moving forward to bring the program of national liberation to its logical conclusion: ownership of the country’s land, resources and enterprises, not just its flag, by the black majority. In this, there is an unavoidable conflict between “a government which is spearheaded by a revolutionary party, which spearheaded the armed struggle against British imperialism” and “a party that was the creation of the imperialists themselves (that) has been financed the imperialists themselves.” (17)

It’s impossible to achieve independence from foreign control and domination without turmoil, disruption and fighting – not when the opposition and civil society are directed from abroad to serve foreign interests. Can Zimbabwe’s elections honestly be described as free and fair when the economy has been sabotaged by the West’s denying Harare credit and debt relief [18] and where respite from the attendant miseries is promised in the election of the opposition? Are elections legitimate when media are controlled by outside forces (19), and civil society and the opposition have been controlled by foreign powers?

Chinamasa’s complaints, far from being demagoguery, are real and justified. Zanu-PF’s decision to fight, rather than capitulate, ought be applauded, not condemned. Imperialism cannot be opposed without opposing the MDC and its civil society partners, for they too are imperialism.

1. Herald (Zimbabwe) April 26, 2008.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.
6. Michael Barker, “Zimbabwe and the Power of Propaganda: Ousting a President via Civil Society,” Global Research.ca, April 16, 2006. http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=8675
See also http://www.ned.org/dbtw-wpd/textbase/projects-search.htm and http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Zimbabwe_Election_Support_Network
7. Stephen Gowans, “The Politics of Demons and Angels,” April 15, 2007, https://gowans.wordpress.com/2007/04/15/zimbabwe-and-the-politics-of-demons-and-angels/
8. Stephen Gowans, “The Company Patrick Bond Keeps,” March 24, 2008, https://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/03/24/the-company-patrick-bond-keeps/
9. Rob Gowland, “Zimbabwe: The struggle for land, the struggle for independence,” Communist Party of Australia, http://www.cpa.org.au/booklets/zimbabwe.pdf . The MDC is also financed by the British government’s Westminster Foundation for Democracy and the Zimbabwe Democracy Trust, whose patrons include former British foreign secretaries and is headed by Lord Renwick of Chilton, vice-chair of investment banking at JPMorgan (Europe.)
10. The Globe and Mail (Toronto), April 26, 2008.
11. The Washington Post, April 26, 2008.
12. http://www.govtrack.us/congress/billtext.xpd?bill=s107-494
13. The Guardian (UK), August 22, 2002.
14. US Department of State, April 5, 2007.
15. http://www.whitehouse.gov/nsc/nss/2006/
16. “Zimbabwe ambassador: Self-determination is at the root of the conflict,” FinalCall.Com News, April 22, 2008. http://www.finalcall.com/artman/publish/article_4611.shtml
17. Ibid.
18. Under the US Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001, “the Secretary of the Treasury shall instruct the United States executive director to each international financial institution to oppose and vote against–

(1) any extension by the respective institution of any loan, credit, or guarantee to the Government of Zimbabwe; or

(2) any cancellation or reduction of indebtedness owed by the Government of Zimbabwe to the United States or any international financial institution.”

See http://www.govtrack.us/congress/billtext.xpd?bill=s107-494

19. The same question can be asked of elections in Western liberal democracies, where the media are controlled by an interlocked community of hereditary capitalist families and corporate board members who share common economic interests inimical to those of the majority.

Doing overtly what the CIA used to do covertly

By Stephen Gowans

Stephen Zunes continues to complain about what he calls unfair attacks from critics who, he says, lie about him and the work of the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict, headed up by Wall Street investment banker, Council on Foreign Relations member, and Freedom House supremo, Peter Ackerman.

Zunes doesn’t respond to all attacks – only those that offer him room to exercise his talents for diversion, demolition of straw men, forensic sleight of hand, appeal to authority, invoking of honorific titles (it’s Dr. Ackerman by the way), red herrings and the trotting out of his progressive credentials. In marketing it’s called blowing smoke.

Zunes writes a lot in reply to critics but steers clear of the main criticisms. When challenged to talk about what he’s doing today, he talks about what he did yesterday. When criticized for his current links to ruling class regime change organizations, he tells us he opposed apartheid and Nato’s bombing of Yugoslavia. In all of this, what he doesn’t say directly is that he has no trouble with US regime change efforts – he just doesn’t always agree with the methods.

Zunes isn’t only a target of criticism; he doles out his fair share, too. Those who say nonviolent democracy activists are agents of imperialism, simply because they’re funded by imperialist governments, corporate foundations and wealthy individuals, are wrong. They’re promoting a conspiracy theory, he says. Foreign-funded “grassroots” activist groups have arisen spontaneously, and would have arisen in the absence of foreign funding. Besides, the funding they receive is too insignificant to make much of a difference. Those who try to discredit these groups by pointing to the groups’ sources of foreign funding are either misguided or lying.

If this is true, Zunes ought to lead a delegation to Washington to ask the NED, USAID, and USIA to stop giving money to regime change groups and media abroad. If the money makes little difference anyway and only brings these groups into disrepute and hands the local government an excuse to crackdown, surely the wisest course is to use the money for something truly progressive – like helping the victims of New Orleans, building decent inner city schools and funding a public health-care program, rather than squandering it abroad where it’s not needed. After that, he might set up meetings with Peter Ackerman, George Soros, Britain’s Westminster Foundation for Democracy, Canada’s Rights and Democracy, and Germany’s Heinrich Boll and Friedrich Ebert Foundations, to explain that the money they’re spending on regime change operations has little effect.

Zunes rails against the democracy promotion hypocrisy of Washington and says he works of behalf of democracy, whether it’s in Washington’s interests or not. But he fails to come to grips with the reality that nonviolent democracy promotion’s successes have come in countries where the local government is resisting being pulled into the US imperial orbit, never where it is already doing Washington’s budding. Were he to do so he would have to acknowledge that no matter what his intentions or positions on apartheid, Nato’s bombing of Yugoslavia and the US invasion of Iraq are, the effects of his actions are decidedly pro-imperialist.

Another thing. Someone ought to explain to Zunes that overthrowing a government nonviolently to impose foreign domination is as imperialist as doing the same with tanks, guns and cruise missiles. What’s at issue isn’t how the struggle is carried out, but why it’s carried out, who’s directing it, and who benefits.

Zunes travels aboard to train non-violent democracy activists. Does he use his own money to finance these trips? Do the groups he brings his missionary zeal to pass around a tattered hat to raise the funds to avail themselves of his expertise? Or is the tab picked up by the same wealthy individuals, corporate foundations and imperialist governments Zunes says are an unavoidable reality of capitalist society, that realists, like himself, have learned to compromise with?

As to his expertise, does he have a track record at home that qualifies him to train people abroad? Where are the homegrown nonviolent democracy activists he’s trained who have accomplished anything of significance? Have they made even the slightest dent in the vast US war machine, slowed, even for the briefest moment, the juggernaut of US imperialism, or advanced, even one iota, the project of ending the exploitation of man by man? Given that the challenges loom so large at home, and that, in his view, pro-democracy regime change groups are popping up spontaneously all over the world, and don’t need US funding and expertise to be successful, you would think Zunes would be busily working at home, rather than jetting off to someone else’s country to do missionary work for his corporate patrons.

Why does Zunes travel abroad anyway? Are foreigners incapable of organizing their own nonviolent opposition, in the same way, according to Washington, Iraqis, Palestinians, Afghans, Haitians and on and on are incapable of organizing their own police, military, elections and political system? How is it that in so many countries the talent to undertake basic political functions is absent, residing, it seems, exclusively in the US, Britain and other countries of the Anglo-American orbit? The dispatching of experts (the new missionaries) to organize political life in other countries is as much a part of imperialism as dispatching troops to topple governments. Zunes might reply that the ignorant of foreign lands, thirsty for democracy, asked for his expertise, but so too does Washington say Iraqis and Afghans, thirsty for democracy, asked to be occupied.

Zunes is no anti-imperialist. If the NED does overtly what the CIA used to do covertly, Zunes does overtly what CIA agents used to do covertly. But it’s not too late. If Zunes wants to become a true anti-imperialist, he should:

(i) resign his position as chair of the board of academic advisors to the ICNC and abjure all current and future connections to corporate and imperialist government-funded regime change organizations;
(ii) stay at home. Contrary to the paternalistic ideology that pervades the larger part of the progressive community, foreigners are indeed capable of organizing their own political affairs;
(iii) devote his energies, not to working with wealthy individuals, corporate foundations and imperialistic governments, but to working to change the system of which wealthy individuals, corporations and imperialistic governments are the masters and beneficiaries. This would truly do something to promote substantive democracy, not the hollow corporate brand Zunes does missionary work on behalf of today, as his CIA predecessors once did covertly not so long ago.

In Zimbabwe, Opposition Follows Washington’s Plan

By Stephen Gowans

The color revolution in Zimbabwe (yet to be given a color) unfolds as other US- and British-government and foundation-directed color revolutions have unfolded in Yugoslavia, Georgia and Ukraine.

The revolution is what, in business circles, is called a turn-key solution. All you do is turn a key, and follow the plan.

The plan was developed by the US State Department, based on advice from “peace” and civil society scholars, and is cheered on by the same scholars who contributed to its development.

Here’s how the plan unfolds:

1. Elected officials in countries that won’t do Washington’s bidding are denounced a dictators. That the officials in these countries have won free and fair elections doesn’t matter. Doubt is raised about the legitimacy of the elections or the leaders are said to govern in an anti-democratic manner (Chavez) or both. This provides the US with the justification for step 2.

One of the most persistent critics of “anti-democratic” leaders abroad is US Vice-President Dick Cheney, whose commitment to democracy hasn’t dissuaded him from explaining that it doesn’t matter what the US public thinks of the war on Iraq – the administration does what it wants, not what’s popular. While the next administration will doubtlessly dismiss what’s popular in precisely the same way, there’s no movement afoot to get rid of the dictatorship where it’s needed most.

2. The US, Britain, and other Western countries provide financial support, expertise and other assistance to “civil society, the media, and opposition parties” to remove the “dictator.”

3. An election campaign is used as the setting to force the government to step down. The apparent inconsistency of a dictator holding elections is explained away as a hollow sham used by the dictator to claim legitimacy. (If the leadership is really dictatorial, and the elections really lack legitimacy in the eyes of voters, why are real dictators holding elections at all? Hitler, Mussolini and Franco didn’t. Why would real dictators do so now?)

4. The Western-supported media, civil society and opposition parties declare in advance, consistent with the dictator narrative, that the vote will be rigged. Western media dutifully trumpet this prediction.

5. Before the official vote is announced, the opposition and “independent” election monitors announce an opposition victory.

6. If the official vote tally contradicts the opposition’s claim of victory, the vote is denounced as fraudulent, and people are encouraged to move the battle to the streets.

Ian Makoni, election director for Zimbabwe’s main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai explained two days before the vote:

“The lesson from 2002 (when the last presidential election was held) is we didn’t plan for after the vote. Everyone stayed at home and said we will go to the courts. What happened in Kenya was they knew there would be fraud and they were ready. We will be out on the streets celebrating when the polls close.”

Note that Makoni had already declared an opposition victory before the vote had even been held. It’s one thing to say the vote will be rigged – quite another to declare in advance of the poll that you’ve won.

Makoni continued: “It can turn into a protest easily. Zimbabweans are angry, they are desperate, they are ready to protest. It’s the turning point we are planning for.”

Opposition spokesman Nelson Chamisa said that if the opposition isn’t declared the winner, Kenya will look like a picnic.

7. Public opinion is mobilized in the West by the media’s single-minded focus on the opposition and its civil society allies, completely excluding the government’s point of view.

Every major Western newspaper has based its reporting of Zimbabwe’s election in the last week exclusively on the point of view of the opposition and the civil society groups who share the same Western sources of funding. It’s as if in an election held in the United States, the media only covered the Republican candidates.

Reply to Zunes on 10 Rules for Understanding Civil Society Imperialism

Stephen Zunes has written a brief reply to my last article, 10 Rules for Understanding Civil Society Imperialism, which you can read here. The following is my response.

Stephen,

Let me address your points one by one.

1.You say: “I do not and have never singled out leftist governments for criticism.”

I guess that depends on what you consider a leftist government to be. I would surmise that your definition is different from mine. If I said, “You criticized government x,” you would reply, “But government x isn’t leftist.” You’re using a difference of opinion about what a leftist government is, to construct a straw man.

2. You say: “I have supported anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist movements around the world.”

I’m sure you have supported some anti-imperialist and some anti-capitalist movements around the world, but who says you haven’t? My comments concerned anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist governments, not movements. I suspect you haven’t supported anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist movements that take up arms, but that’s another matter.

3. You say: “I have opposed the agenda of ‘wealthy individuals, corporations, capitalist foundations and imperialist governments’”.

I’ve never said you haven’t, but some would say you certainly haven’t opposed the agenda of Peter Ackerman as it relates to the ICNC and you certainly didn’t oppose USIP when you accepted a USIP research fellowship (i). These are good points, but they’re not my points and they’re hardly necessary points. Churchill opposed the agenda of the Soviet Union, but that didn’t stop him from working with it.

The issues, here, are: (1) Are you willing to take money from one or more of: wealthy individuals, corporations, capitalist foundations and imperialist governments? And (2): Are wealthy individuals, corporations, capitalist foundations and imperialist governments willing to give you money to oppose their interests? The answer to the first question, judging by your comments on an earlier article of mine, is yes (ii); the second question can only be answered in the affirmative by the deluded or naïve.

4.You say: “I have never implied that (wealthy individuals, corporations…) were in any way a “wellspring of hope.”

Who said you had? The “wellsprings of hope” reference was to civil society (and Patrick Bond’s and Grace Kwinjeh’s description of it), not to the funders of civil society.

5. You say: “I have never ‘followed State Department’ narratives.”

I guess it depends on what you mean by “followed.” Maybe we should call it a case of simultaneous multiple invention. You can be Wallace to the State Department’s Darwin. The State Department talks about “democracy” and “freedom” in the abstract. You talk about “democracy” and “freedom” in the abstract. The State Department talks about Belarus as a dictatorship. You talk about Belarus as a dictatorship. The State Department talks about Zimbabwe as a dictatorship. You talk about Zimbabwe as a dictatorship. And so on. (iii)

But maybe I’m being too charitable. I’ve assumed you’ve aped the State Department narrative on places like Zimbabwe, Belarus and Iran because it’s easy to do. Perhaps I should be complaining about your false allegations and total fabrications about these governments.

6. You say: “I have never defended the practices of the NED, the USAID or other government agencies.”

Who says you have? Patrick Bond is wont to celebrate groups that receive NED funding as an “independent” left. I’m not sure whether that counts as defending the practices of the NED, but I have no information on your attitude toward these organizations. Accordingly, I have nothing to say about it. Claiming I have is (to use your language) a total fabrication.

7. You say: “I only wish I could be criticized about the things I’ve really said.”

If I said all the things you say I’ve said about you, I too would say they were total fabrications. But alas I haven’t said these things. You’re either misreading what I’ve written or you’re raising the straw man to an art form.

Stephen Gowans

(i) See point 11of your “A Reply to Stephen Gowans’ False Allegations Against Stephen Zunes” http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/16613 .

(ii) Ibid. You write: “The unfortunate reality in capitalist societies is that most non-profit organizations — from universities to social justice organizations to art galleries to peace groups (and ICNC as well) — depend at least in part on donations from wealthy individuals and from foundations which get their money from wealthy individuals.”

(iii) You write, “The best hope for advancing freedom and democracy in the world’s remaining autocratic states comes from civil society” and “Similar claims heard today that the United States is somehow a major force behind contemporary popular movements against dictatorships in Burma, Iran, Zimbabwe, and Belarus or that the United States was somehow responsible for the successes of previous movements in Serbia, Georgia or Ukraine are equally ludicrous.” “Nonviolent action and pro-democracy struggles,” http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/16538 .

10 Rules for Understanding Civil Society Imperialism

By Stephen Gowans

Stephen Zunes, chair of the board of academic advisors to the US ruling class International Center for Nonviolent Conflict, and Patrick Bond, director of the Centre for Civil Society at Durban, are regular contributors to Z-Net, Counterpunch and other left media. There’s nothing particularly new, interesting or exciting about their writing. When it comes to foreign governments that pursue a traditional leftist agenda of independent economic development outside the domination of imperialist powers they can be counted on to ape the New York Times and Washington Post, and by extension, the White House and Department of State.

Reading Zunes’ write about Belarus, Zimbabwe, Myanmar and Iran, is like reading State Department press releases. “The best hope for advancing freedom and democracy in the world’s remaining autocratic states,” says Zunes, “comes from civil society” (1). In its reference to freedom and democracy in the abstract, Zunes’ language is evocative of the propagandistic bilge that gushes in rivers from White House and State Department speechwriters trying to shape public opinion. Bond, who claims an expertise on Zimbabwe based on proximity to the country (he runs a civil society center on the other side of the Limpopo River) is hardly better. Both mimic State Department charges against the West’s leftist and national liberation foreign policy betes noire, and, like the State Department, both celebrate civil society. Bond has gone so far as to naively dub activist groups in Zimbabwe that receive Western funding as “the main wellspring of hope for a Zimbabwean recovery” (2). It would be more apt to say civil society is the West’s main wellspring of hope to return Zimbabwe to a colonial past.

Bond and Zunes are formulaic writers. They cleave to a basic set of rules to guide their analyses of governments that have disrupted property relations that once favored Western investors, banks and corporations. Once you know the rules, you can predict what either Zunes or Bond are going to write with astonishing accuracy.

Rule #1. All governments are bad, especially those that pursue traditional leftist agendas of placing control of a country’s resources and productive property in the hands of its public, its government, or its domestic business class. The leaders of these governments deceptively employ socialist, anti-colonial and anti-imperialist rhetoric to win and then to hang on to power. They enjoy enormous privileges secured and defended by corruption and abuse of authority. Governments, by nature, are corrupt, authoritarian and thoroughly rotten, particularly those that call themselves leftist and anti-imperialist. There has never been a truly leftist, anti-colonial or anti-imperialist government, and can never be one. All revolutions are betrayals and no one should expect that anything good can ever come from left and anti-imperialist forces taking power. The only good revolution is the one that has never happened, or the ones that have been financed by wealthy individuals and the US government.

Rule #2. Civil society is the main wellspring of hope. Non-governmental organizations funded by the US Congress’s National Endowment for Democracy, the US State Department’s USAID, Britain’s Westminster Foundation for Democracy, Germany’s Friedrich Ebert Foundation, and other Western “democracy promotion” agencies, are independent organizations that are working to build a better world. Leftists should look to these groups to understand what’s going on in countries led by nominally anti-colonial, anti-imperialist and socialist governments. Zimbabwe’s Lawyers for Human Rights, for example, represents one of the main wellsprings of hope for Zimbabwe. Never mind that it is funded by the US National Endowment for Democracy (3) – an organization that does overtly what the CIA used to do covertly. Plenty of civil society organizations take money from wealthy individuals, corporations, capitalist foundations and imperialist governments. Does that mean they’re not independent?

Rule #3. Decentralized, participatory democracy is good. It is the absolute good.

Rule #4. Process is more important than outcome. Zimbabweans becoming owners of their own land and natural resources is only half as important as the British parliamentary tradition in Zimbabwe being upheld; only a tenth as important as the freedom and democracy Zunes’ celebrates in the abstract; only a hundredth as important as civil society having room to operate to peacefully change the government. It’s not helpful to mention that peaceful regime change is often preceded by economic warfare and threats of military intervention and that non-violent activism and civil society are only part of a larger whole of regime change operations.

Rule #5. Governments that call themselves anti-imperialist or socialist or both are neither of these things and are as deplorable as imperialists and neo-liberals. Civil society, though drawing its funding from wealthy individuals, corporations, capitalist foundations and imperialist governments, is the main wellspring of hope.

Rule #6. When writing about governments that pursue traditional leftist agendas, it is important to follow State Department narratives. This is equivalent to doing what the New York Times, CNN and other major media did when they amplified Washington’s lies about Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction – an inconvenient reality, but skip over it. Charges made against leftist, anti-colonial and anti-imperialist governments of corruption, human rights abuses, and betrayal will resonate with a left population primed for cynicism. Accordingly, it takes little effort to make the charges stick. Don’t bother to cite evidence. You don’t need to. Tap into what everyone knows is true, because everyone says it’s true, because the media say it’s true, because the State Department and White House say it’s true. Who will ask for evidence? Insist that the other side present evidence. If you don’t like the evidence, say it’s not from a credible source.

Rule #7. Never shy away from basing your argument on appeal to authority. If you live close to the country civil society is to promote democracy in, or have visited it, claim authority based on geography. “I’ve been (or live close) to Zimbabwe.” This, however, might backfire. Opponents can reply: “If geography is so important, I’ll accept as a higher authority the analysis of the leaders of the government you denounce, since they are long-time residents of their country, and not merely tourists and residents of a neighboring country.”

Rule #8. Make definitive statements. For example, assert with certitude that Bob Helvey has never been to Venezuela to train civil society to bring down the Chavez government. When you’re shown evidence that Bob Helvey has indeed been to Venezuela, say “I only found about it last week.” Never let ignorance get in the way of self-appointed authority.

Rule #9. Defend civil society’s receiving its funding from wealthy individuals, corporations, capitalist foundations and imperialist governments by saying, “A people’s revolution cannot happen by generous funding alone.” This sounds compelling. Of course, if this were true, we could also say, “Acceptance of a ruling class ideology cannot happen by the ruling class virtually monopolizing the media and schools” or “George Bush won his first run at the presidency through a groundswell of popular support that had little to do with his connections to wealthy supporters and the king’s ransom spent on his campaign.”

Rule #10. Some say civil society should not take money from wealthy individuals, corporations, capitalist foundations and imperialist governments. Others say the reality that wealthy individuals, corporations, capitalist foundations and imperialist governments shower many civil society groups with money tells you everything you need to know about these groups. These people are not helpful.

1. Stephen Zunes, “Nonviolent action and pro-democracy struggles,” February 17, 2008, http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/16538

2. Patrick Bond and Grace Kwinjeh, “Zimbabwe’s political roller-coaster hits another deep dip,” March 11, 2008, http://www.zmag.org/sustainers/content/2008-03/11bond-kwinjeh.cfm

3. Michael Barker, “Nonviolent Imperialism: A Major Revision,” March 10, 2008, http://fanonite.org/2008/03/10/nonviolent-imperialism-major-revision/