Robert Mugabe: The national liberation hero who was demonized for trying to make liberation meaningful

September 6, 2019

By Stephen Gowans

It seemed almost inevitable six years ago that on the day Western newspapers were filled with encomia to the recently deceased South African national liberation hero, Nelson Mandela, that another southern African hero of national liberation, Robert Mugabe, would be vilified. “Nearly 90, Mugabe still driving Zimbabwe’s economy into the ground,” complained one Western newspaper.

Mandela and Mugabe were key figures in the liberation of black southern Africa from white rule. So why did the West overflow with hosannas for Mandela and revile Mugabe? Why was Mandela the ‘good’ national liberation hero and Mugabe the ‘bad’?

A lot of it had to do with the extent to which the liberation projects in South Africa and Zimbabwe threatened or didn’t threaten white and Western economic interests—hardly at all in Mandela’s South Africa and considerably in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.

The media-propagated narrative was that Mandela was good because he was ‘democratic’ and Mugabe was bad because he was ‘autocratic.’ But scratch the surface and Western and white-elite economic interests burst forth.

Land ownership in South Africa continues to be dominated by the white minority, just as it was under apartheid. What land redistribution has occurred has proceeded at a glacial pace, at best. In Zimbabwe, in contrast, land was redistributed from white colonial settlers and their descendants to the black majority. South Africa’s economy is white- and Western-dominated. Under Mugabe, Zimbabwe was taking steps to indigenize its economy, placing majority control of the country’s natural wealth and productive assets in the hands of its indigenous people.

The centrality of economic interests in the Western demonization of Mugabe was revealed in complaints about his plan to indigenize Western-owned mining companies, a process which would force a few wealthy investors in the West to surrender a majority stake in the mining of Zimbabwe’s mineral wealth. To the Western media, an African government giving its people an ownership stake in their own economy was unthinkable.

Mandela, in contrast, rejected calls to nationalize South Africa’s mines, accepting Western and white domination of the country’s economy as a bedrock principle of sound economic management.

In 2013, The Financial Times celebrated the South African leader for acting as “a reliable steward of sub-Sahara Africa’s largest economy, embracing orthodox fiscal and monetary policies.” That is, Mandela made sure that the flow of profits from South African mines and agriculture into the coffers of foreign investors and the white business elite wasn’t interrupted by the implementation of the ANC’s economic justice program, which called for nationalizing the mines and redistributing land. Nationalization, and redistribution of land, would become the sole project of Mugabe.

But at one point, Mugabe too was a Western-approved liberation hero, in the days when he shared Mandela’s predilection for orthodox fiscal and monetary policy, that is, putting Western business interests ahead of those of the people he was supposed to represent.

But the West’s love affair with Mugabe came to an abrupt end when the Zimbabwean president changed course and embarked on a fast-track land reform program. The West’s disdain for him deepened when he launched an indigenization program to place majority control of the country’s mineral resources in the hands of indigenous Zimbabweans.

Hence, Mugabe’s transition from ‘good’ liberation hero to ‘bad’, from saint to demon, coincided with his transition from “reliable steward” of Zimbabwe’s economy (that is, reliable steward of foreign investor and white colonial settler interests) to promoter of indigenous economic interests. And as he moved to invest Zimbabwe’s liberation project with real meaning, giving Zimbabweans both political and economic sovereignty, the West responded with sanctions aimed at starving the country to force it to reverse course. “When a colonial and imperialist power is forced to give independence to a people,” remarked Frantz Fanon, the “imperialist power says: ‘you want independence? Then take it and die of hunger.’”

As the West’s campaign of economic warfare plunged Zimbabwe’s economy into chaos, Western journalists attributed the country’s economic difficulties to what they called Mugabe’s ‘mismanagement’, overlooking Washington’s Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, which blocked financial assistance to Harare from international lending institutions, a major impediment to the country’s economic development. It’s as if the Soviet Union’s crippled post-WWII economy had been blamed on socialism, rather than the destruction wrought by war and the Nazi invasion. In this, Western media followed their standard operating procedure in dealing with pro-independence Third World governments, attributing a sanctioned country’s economic difficulties to mismanagement and not the sanctions that caused them. The practice is evident today in connection with Venezuela, where the oil-rich country’s economic distress is discussed in Western media with a studious disregard of Washington’s detonation of an economic atom bomb in the middle of Caracas in the form of a program of economic warfare.

As to the democrat vs. autocrat dichotomy, it was a propaganda contrivance. It’s what Western governments and media use to legitimize leaders who protect and promote Western corporate interests and demonize leaders (from Castro to Kim Jong Un to Maduro to Xi Jinping to Mugabe) who protect and promote the interests and development needs of their own people.

We can argue about whether Mugabe failed to calibrate the pace of his land reform and economic indigenization programs to take account of the power of Western governments to counter them, but we can’t argue about whether he was a genuine hero of national liberation—one who recognized that a country whose economy is controlled by outsiders and a settler minority is independent in name alone.

Promoting Plutocracy: U.S.-Led Regime Change Operations and the Assault on Democracy

January 11, 2015

By Stephen Gowans

Chapter 1. What the West’s Position on Iran Reveals about its Foreign Policy
Chapter 2. Democracy
Chapter 3. Foreign Policy and Profits
Chapter 4. The State in Capitalist Society
Chapter 5. Concealing the Influence of the Corporate Elite on Foreign Policy
Chapter 6. Syria: Eradicating an Ideological Fixation on Socialism
Chapter 7. Ukraine: Improving the Investment Climate
Chapter 8. Kosovo: Privatizing the Economy
Chapter 9. Afghanistan: Investment Opportunities in Pipelines and Natural Resources
Chapter 10. The Military-Industrial Complex, Foreign Aid and Marionettes
Chapter 11. How Foreign Policy Hurts Workers
o Divide and Rule
o Socializing the Costs, Privatizing the Benefits
o The Assault on Substantive Democracy in Korea
o The Terrorism of the Weak
o Bulking Up the Police State
o Obviating the Terrorism of the Weak
Chapter 12. The West’s Foreign Policy Priorities

Good Liberation Hero-Bad Liberation Hero

By Stephen Gowans

It seemed almost inevitable that on the new day Western newspapers were filled with encomia to the recently deceased South African national liberation hero Nelson Mandela that another southern African hero of national liberation, Robert Mugabe, should be vilified. “Nearly 90, Mugabe still driving Zimbabwe’s economy into the ground,” complained Geoffrey York of Canada’s Globe and Mail.

Mandela and Mugabe are key figures in the liberation of black southern Africa from white rule. So why does the West overflow with hosannas for Mandela and continue to revile Mugabe? Why is Mandela the good national liberation leader and Mugabe the bad?

A lot of it has to do with the extent to which the liberation projects in South Africa and Zimbabwe have threatened white and Western economic interests—hardly at all in Mandela’s South Africa and considerably in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.

The media-propagated narrative is that Mandela is good because he was ‘democratic’ and Mugabe is bad because he is ‘autocratic.’ But scratch the surface and economic interests peek out.

Land ownership in South Africa continues to be dominated by the white minority, just as it was under apartheid. What land redistribution has occurred has been glacial at best. In Zimbabwe, land has been redistributed from white colonial settlers and their descendants to the black majority. South Africa’s economy is white- and Western-dominated. Zimbabwe is taking steps to indigenize its economy, placing majority control of the country’s natural wealth and productive assets in the hands of blacks.

The centrality of economic interests in the Western demonization of Mugabe are revealed in York’s complaint about Mugabe’s plan to indigenize Canadian-owned New Dawn Mining company, a process which would force a few wealthy Canadians to surrender a majority stake in the mining of Zimbabwe’s mineral wealth. In York’s view, an African government giving its people an ownership stake in their own economy is unthinkable, but many wealthy countries, including Canada, have done the same.

Mandela, in contrast, rejected calls to nationalize South Africa’s mines, accepting Western and white domination of the country’s economy as a bedrock principle of sound economic management.

And so it is that Mugabe, the redistribtor of land and mineral wealth away from the descendants of white colonial settlers and foreign owners to black Africans is seen as devil incarnate in a Canadian newspaper that concerns itself with reporting the news from the perspective Canadian corporate interests. Canadian business wants the world to be open to profit-taking, and doesn’t care for governments that stand in their way. York reflects that bias. And Mandela didn’t get in the way of it.

Recycling the usual myths that make up the anti-Mugabe demonology, the Globe and Mail propagandist writes that Zimbabwe’s economic difficulties are due to Mugabe’s mismanagement, not to Western sanctions, erroneously describing sanctions as limited to travel restrictions on Mugabe and his closest associates. This overlooks Washington’s Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, which has blocked financial assistance to Zimbabwe from international lending institutions, a major impediment to the country’s economic development. It’s as if York blamed the Soviet Union’s crippled post-WWII economy on communist mismanagement, eliding Operation Barbarossa and the Nazi invasion from history. In this, York follows the standard operating procedure of the Western propaganda system, attributing a country’s economic troubles to mismanagement and not the sanctions that cause them.

As to the democrat vs. autocrat dichotomy, it is a propaganda contrivance. It’s what Western governments and media use to legitimize leaders who protect Western corporate interests and demonize leaders who threaten them.

Class and Elections in Zimbabwe

By Stephen Gowans

Unless the major parties in a parliamentary democracy agree on which classes ought to hold the dominant position in society, the politics of the country will be unstable. Electoral contests will pivot on fundamental disagreements, and the parties will be disinclined to play by the rules of ‘normal politics,’ putting pursuit of fundamental class interests ahead of scrupulously observing liberal democratic principles. By contrast, in Western countries, mainstream political parties agree on the fundamental questions of which class rules, and elections, therefore, are never titanic struggles between contending classes, but largely placid affairs in which conflict between liberal democratic principle and pursuit of fundamental interests never arise. This is even true when socialist parties whose origins are found in challenge to the rule of dominant classes have considerable popular support. While these parties may represent popular interests, they champion those interests only insofar as they can be satisfied within a capitalist framework in which the class interests of financial titans and corporate grandees are primary. Since all major parties agree on the fundamentals, in Western democracies, elections are only ever about policies that are permissible under the accepted rule of a single class, not about which class should rule. Not so in Zimbabwe.

In Zimbabwe, the two dominant parliamentary parties, Zanu-PF and the MDC-T, disagree on the fundamental issue of which classes Zimbabwean society should be organized in the interests of. Zanu-PF represents the national bourgeoisie, including black farmers and wealthy black investors. The Zanu-PF agenda has been the redistribution of European settler farmland to black indigenous farmers and indigenization of industry by mandating a majority ownership stake in industry for black Zimbabweans.

The MDC-T, largely the tool of North American and Western European investor interests, represents foreign capital, and promotes a pro-foreign-investment agenda. MDC-T’s supporters on the ground (as distinct from the party’s foreign-based support in Western governments and Western-funded NGOs) tend, more than Zanu-PF supporters, to be urban-based (though, in a largely agrarian society, it’s still the case that most MDC-T supporters are based in rural areas, though less so than Zanu-PF’s.) To these Zimbabweans, the MDC-T’s appeal lies in its promise that foreign investment will engender new employment opportunities and a rising standard of living.

In the July 31 elections, Zanu-PF leader Robert Mugabe defeated the MDC-T’s Morgan Tsvangirai in the presidential race, capturing 61 percent of the vote to Tsvangirai’s 34 percent. Zanu-PF also won a sizable parliamentary majority, taking 160 seats to the MDC-T’s 49. Tsvangirai complained bitterly that the election was flawed, and his patrons in London and Washington also called the legitimacy of the election into question. Notwithstanding the (predictable) protestations of Tsvangirai and his metropolitan backers, there are reasons to believe the election fairly represented the will of Zimbabweans.

The Zimbabwe government allowed observers from the African Union and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to monitor the elections. Both bodies expressed some concerns, but released early reports endorsing the elections as largely free and fair. Nigeria’s former president, Olusegun Obasanho, who led the African Union observer mission, said: “From what I saw and from what has been reported so far from our observers who are out in the field the conduct of the election was peaceful, orderly, free and fair.” [1] The SADC observers encouraged the parties to accept the outcome of the election. It is fairly certain that Western observer missions would have impugned the integrity of any election the MDC-T did not win. For this reason, I suspect, they were not welcome in Zimbabwe, and shouldn’t have been.

Freedom House, an anti-Zanu-PF US-based think tank, which Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky described in their Manufacturing Consent as interlocked with the CIA, commissioned a summer 2012 public opinion poll in Zimbabwe. [2] The poll, a survey of 1,198 Zimbabweans, found that the MDC-T had “been suffering a decline in support, falling from 38 percent to 20 percent” between 2010 and 2012. “In contrast,” the survey pointed “to Zanu-PF having experienced a growth in popular support, moving from 17 percent to 31 percent in the same period.” While nearly half of the survey respondents did not declare a party preference, the researchers reported that “this undeclared category does not veil a systematic party orientation” and that “should these persons vote in the next election, their support is likely to be diffused across party categories.” A standard polling practice in these circumstances is to distribute the support of undeclared voters in proportion to that of declared voters. Following this practice, it would be expected that had the election been held last summer, Zanu-PF would have won 58 percent of the vote and the MDC-T 38 percent. Assuming voter preferences didn’t change radically over the year, there’s no reason to suspect that a robust Zanu-PF victory is indicative of a flawed election rather than an honest reflection of the political preferences of Zimbabweans.

The Freedom House poll revealed another, indirect reason, to view Zanu-PF’s electoral victory as probable. Both parties have more rural than urban supporters. This is largely inevitable. Roughly 60 percent of the country’s population is located in the countryside and two-thirds of the working population is employed in agriculture. But Zanu-PF supporters are more strongly rural-based (over three-quarters are) compared to MDC-T supporters (59 percent live in rural areas.) A party whose base more strongly skews to the rural population is likely to enjoy an electoral advantage in a largely agrarian society.

The Freedom House poll also points to class cleavages that separate Zanu-PF and MDC-T supporters. Zanu-PF supporters more strongly support land reform than do MDC-T supporters (who are less likely to be rural-based and therefore less likely to benefit from the program.) Zanu-PF supporters are also more strongly in favor of Zimbabweans having ownership stakes in Zimbabwe industry than are MDC-T supporters. The latter are more likely to think that “indigenization is only for elites who can buy or claim shares in foreign-owned companies”, and less likely to think that “indigenization will ensure economic benefits for all Zimbabweans.” This reflects the reality that urban proletarians are over-represented among MDC-T supporters, that they are not in a position to benefit from land reform, and that they are unlikely to be in a position to have accumulated sufficient wealth to acquire substantial equity shares in foreign-owned enterprises. Given that MDC-T supporters are less likely to directly benefit from Zanu-PF’s “masters in our own house” policies of land reform and indigenization, it’s no surprise that compared to Zanu-PF supporters, they’re less strongly against the interference of foreign governments in the affairs of Zimbabwe—an interference that would threaten policies whose benefit to them is indirect at best.

So long as Zimbabwe is ruled in the interests of the black rural petite bourgeoisie and wealthy local elite in the cities, and not in the interests of North American and Western European capital, the MDC-T will have no interest in a stable Zimbabwe. If the party agreed with Zanu-PF on the fundamentals of which classes Zimbabwean society should be organized on behalf of, it would be far more likely to accept its electoral defeats with equanimity. But as a tool for foreign investor interests, it has no remit to promote the smooth functioning of a society governed in the interests of indigenous farmers and local investors. It can, then, only benefit from contesting the legitimacy of every election it loses, in order to undermine the idea that Zanu-PF governs with the consent of the majority. From the MDC-T point of view, the only election in Zimbabwe that will ever be free and fair is the one it wins.

From the perspective of Zanu-PF, MDC-T is a threat to the “masters in our own house” policies on which the country has been built since achieving political independence, and hence is a threat to the idea that black farmers should own the country’s land and that a black urban elite should have majority control of the country’s industry. The alternation of Zanu-PF and the MDC-T in power would not be like Republicans and Democrats alternating power in the United States, or Conservatives and Labour doing the same in Britain. In these countries, the alternation of one party with another does not threaten the class basis of society. Whether a Republican or Democrat is in the White House, or Conservative or Labour PM resides at No. 10, the fundamental interests of bankers, wealthy investors, and major corporations dominate the policy decisions of the government. Labour in power hardly means that Britain is going to be governed in the interests of labor at capital’s expense, rather than the accustomed reverse. But in Zimbabwe, the MDC-T in power probably means a tectonic shift in class rule, with the interests of the rural petite bourgeoisie and black local urban elite yielding to those of North American and Western European investors.

The result of this is that it is in the interests of Zanu-PF, as tribune of black indigenous capitalism, to place its representatives in positions of power in the state and to use the state apparatus to perpetuate its rule and protect itself from the prospect of the MDC-T coming to power. Senior members of Zimbabwe’s security establishment have threatened not to “serve under the leadership of anyone who did not have liberation war credentials”, an obvious reference to Tsvangirai, who was not part of the liberation struggle. [3] It’s doubtful that they meant they would resign their posts if Tsvangirai became president. The state media is blatantly pro-Zanu-PF and fiercely anti-MDC-T and makes no effort to hide their partisan nature. By the same token, the private media, and Western-financed propaganda outlets that pose as ‘independent’ media, are blatantly pro-MDC and truculently anti-Zanu-PF.

There is reason to believe that if Zanu-PF lost an election to the MDC-T, that the black nationalist state would not yield power to the MDC-T or any other party that promoted the pro-foreign investment, open doors policies, favored in Western capitals. In the view of the security establishment, the MDC-T is a puppet of the West and Tsvangirai’s elevation to president would mean the reversal of the gains the black majority has made since it ousted the white minority settler state. They are resolved not to let this happen. In the 2008 election, Mugabe repeatedly warned that an MDC-T victory would not be tolerated. He told one crowd that, “You can vote for (the MDC), but that will be a wasted vote. You will be cheating yourself, as there is no way we can allow them to rule this country. We have a job to do and that is to protect our heritage. The MDC will not rule this country. It will never happen.” [4]

Admittedly, there was enough ambiguity in Mugabe’s words to wonder whether he was saying that the MDC-T would not be allowed to come to power, or that the electorate would not deliver Tsvangirai his coveted majority. However, one wonders whether the ambiguity was not deliberate.

Mugabe was not so opaque when he threatened civil war if Tsvangirai won the 2008 election. The Zanu-PF leader warned that liberation war veterans “said if this country goes back into white hands just because we have used a pen (delivered an electoral victory to the MDC-T—S.G.) we will return to the bush to fight. I’m even prepared to join the fight. We can’t allow the British to dominate us through their puppets.” [5]

Echoing the view that black majority economic rule is here to stay, no matter what the outcome of an election, Mugabe told supporters in June 2008 that:

We are the custodians of Zimbabwe’s legacy. We will only pass this on to those we know are fully aware of the party’s ideology; those who value the country’s legacy. We will pass on leadership to them, telling them to go forward. But as long as the British still want to come back here, I will not grow old; until we know we can longer have sellouts among us….If there are parties that go to the people promoting what they have to offer, that’s fine. But not those that are used by the Americans and British to reverse the revolution.” [6]

This could be read as an ultimatum. Zimbabwe is a state governed on behalf of the black rural majority and a black urban elite. If you accept this, fine, you’re free to participate in elections and we’ll respect the outcome of any election you should win. But if your intention is to champion the interests of North American and Western European capital at the expense of indigenous Zimbabweans owning Zimbabwe’s land and industry, the state will work against you. We will not allow you to come to power.

This may be shocking to anyone who has been inculcated with the view that liberal democracy is the highest political good. But Zanu-PF did not stand in the vanguard of a revolution to establish liberal democracy in Zimbabwe, but to make the indigenous population masters, both politically and economically, in its own house. What happens, then, when liberal democratic principles threaten the gains of revolution? It would be unrealistic to think that the revolutionaries will stoically accept the loss of their revolution in order to uphold liberal democracy.

Holding fundamental class interests above electoral principle is emblematic of ruling classes. Governments which have come to power through electoral means that have threatened, or were seen to threaten, the rule of the dominant class (even when they didn’t), have been routinely thwarted or undermined or overthrown by the state and its class allies abroad. Examples abound, but three are worthy of mention: Chile, 1973; Venezuela, 2002; and the most recent, Egypt, 2013 (where the elected Morsi government was deposed by the military, whose tightly-knit officer class owns a sizable part of Egypt’s economy. Christopher Hitchens once said that Egypt isn’t a country with a military, but a military with a country, an epigram which pithily identifies the class at the country’s apex.)

Like any ruling class, Zimbabwe’s black bourgeois elite and its rural petite bourgeoisie ally, use the state to defend its interests against contending classes, in this case, the propertyless at home, and the propertied aboard who seek to increase their holdings by securing access to Zimbabwe’s land, minerals, and labor.

Divisions among leftists in the West over whether to support or oppose Zanu-PF originate in the question of which struggle is regarded as more important: the local bourgeois elite’s fight to preserve Zimbabwe’s land, natural resources, and labor as a sphere of exploitation that they alone can exploit, free from competition from foreign interests; or the struggle of the urban working class against exploitation by local (or foreign) capital. What’s clear is that those who side with Zimbabwe’s black national bourgeoisie will favor Zanu-PF and oppose MDC-T. At the same time, those who lean toward identification with Zimbabwe’s propertyless laborers can neither support Zanu-PF (which represents local private property interests) or the MDC-T (which represents foreign private property interests), if they’re honest.

Honesty, however, has not always been a virtue of Mugabe’s opponents on the left. Some have subtly, and others not so subtly, backed the MDC-T, because it opposes Zanu-PF, which they condemn as authoritarian (yes it is—as is any party in power.) This, of course follows the rule: the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Despite following this rule, left MDC-T supporters hypocritically accuse leftists who back Zanu-PF of genuflecting to the same rule. Your support of Zanu-PF is based solely on the fact that Mugabe is reviled by the US and British governments, they contend. Other leftists, some of whom command an inexplicable respect that appears to be based more on posturing than substance, have even gone so far as to formulate whacky theories about Mugabe being an agent of Western imperialism. If so, they forgot to let the imperialists, who have been working overtly since 2000 to depose him, that they’re targeting the wrong man.

To sum up, Zanu-PF has built a substantial base in the countryside through its land redistribution program. This offers the party an electoral advantage since most Zimbabweans are rural-based. Polling by Freedom House contests the idea that an MDC-T victory in the July 31 elections was a foregone conclusion and that Zanu-PF’s victory was unexpected, unlikely and indicative of a flawed election. On the contrary, according to the Freedom House poll, support for the MDC had been waning to at least the summer of 2012 and was lower than support for Zanu-PF, which had been growing. What’s more, observer missions from the African Union and SADC declared the elections to be largely free and fair.

In Zimbabwe, struggle between the local bourgeoisie and Western investors is played out in multiple arenas, including the electoral one. Elections in Zimbabwe pit a black bourgeois elite and its rural petite bourgeois allies, who control the state and use it to their advantage in the electoral arena, against North American and Western European investors, who use the apparatus of their states to interfere in Zimbabwe’s affairs, press into service ‘independent’ NGOs which they fund against Zanu-PF, and look to the MDC-T to promote policies which will advance their interests in Zimbabwe. MDC-T’s appeal on the ground is to Zimbabweans who don’t benefit from land reform and haven’t sufficient accumulated wealth or indigenous status to take an equity position in a foreign enterprise under indigenization laws. They believe that the MDC-T’s pro-foreign investment policies will generate job opportunities and raise their standard of living.

Because the MDC-T’s coming to power would not be like the alternation of power between mainstream political parties in the West, which pose no threat to the continued rule of the dominant class, but would seriously threaten the position of the national bourgeoisie, it is unlikely that Zanu-PF and the state would meekly accept an MDC-T electoral victory. The gains of black majority economic rule are more important to Zanu-PF than commitment to liberal democracy. All the same, there is no compelling evidence that MDC-T’s failure to win the July 31 elections has anything to do with the state in Zimbabwe biasing the election in Zanu-PF’s favour, rather than the MDC-T failing to garner sufficient popular support.

1. Patrick McGroarty, “In Zimbabwe voting, complaints and praise”, The Wall Street Journal, July 31, 2013.
2. Susan Booysen, Change and ‘New’ Politics in Zimbabwe: Interim Report of a Nationwide Survey of Public Opinion in Zimbabwe: June-July 2012, August 18, 2012,
3. The Herald (Zimbabwe), June 23, 2011.
4. The Herald (Zimbabwe), March 24, 2008.
5. The Independent (UK), June 14, 2008.
6. The Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe), June 15, 2008.

US Ambassador Echoes Cecil Rhodes

By Stephen Gowans

When in 1916 Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin expounded what historian V.G. Kiernan would later call virtually the only serious theory of imperialism, despite its shortcomings (1), Lenin cited Cecil Rhodes as among the “leading British bourgeois politicians (who) fully appreciated the connection between what might be called the purely economic and the political-social roots of modern imperialism.” (2)

Rhodes, founder of the diamond company De Beers and of the eponymous Rhodesia, had made the following remarks, which Lenin quoted at length in his Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism.

I was in the East End of London yesterday and attended a meeting of the unemployed. I listened to the wild speeches, which were just a cry for ‘bread,’ ‘bread,’ ‘bread,’ and on my way home I pondered over the scene and I became more than ever convinced of the importance of imperialism … My cherished idea is a solution for the social problem, i.e., in order to save the 40,000,000 inhabitants of the United Kingdom from a bloody civil war, we colonial statesmen must acquire new lands to settle the surplus population, to provide new markets for the goods produced by them in factories and mines. The Empire, as I have always said, is a bread and butter question. If you want to avoid civil war, you must become imperialists. (3)

Skip ahead 95 years. Here’s US ambassador to Libya, Gene A. Cretz:

We know that oil is the jewel in the crown of Libyan natural resources, but even in Qaddafi’s time they were starting from A to Z in terms of building infrastructure and other things. If we can get American companies here on a fairly big scale, which we will try to do everything we can to do that, then this will redound to improve the situation in the United States with respect to our own jobs. (4)

New York Times’ reporter David D. Kirkpatrick noted that “Libya’s provisional government has already said it is eager to welcome Western businesses (and)…would even give its Western backers some ‘priority’ in access to Libyan business.” (5)

A bread and butter question. Also a profit-making one.

What Ahmadinejad really said at the UN

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s address to the 66th UN General Assembly meeting provided the Iranian president with the usual occasion to make the usual points and the Western media the usual occasion to misrepresent them.

Wall Street Journal reporter Jay Solomon wrote that Ahmadinejad “sought to stoke controversy by again questioning the Holocaust,” (6) reminding readers that Ahmadinejad had once called for Israel to be “wiped off the map”, a distortion that will live on in history through its mere retelling. (What the Iranian president really said was that Israel would dissolve as the Soviet Union had.)

I read the transcript of Ahmadinejad’s address, but found no questioning of the Nazi-engineered holocaust.

Here are his remarks on Zionism and the Holocaust.

They view Zionism as a sacred notion and ideology. Any question of its very foundation and history is condemned by them as an unforgivable sin.

Who imposed, through deceits and hypocrisy, the Zionism and over sixty years of war, homelessness, terror and mass murder on the Palestinian people and countries of the region?

If some European countries still use the Holocaust, after six decades, as the excuse to pay fine or ransom to the Zionists, should it not be an obligation upon the slave masters or colonial powers to pay reparations to the affected nations?

By using their imperialistic media network which is under the influence of colonialism they threaten anyone who questions the Holocaust and the September 11 events with sanctions and military action. (7)

It would have been more accurate for Solomon to have written that Ahmadinejad sought to stoke controversy by again questioning the legitimacy of Zionism and the manipulative use of the Nazi-perpetrated holocaust to justify it.

But these themes are unmentionable in the Western corporate media.

It is common practice to capitalize the Nazi-engineered effort to exterminate the Jews as the ‘Holocaust’, as if there had never been any other holocaust—or any at rate, any other worth mentioning. Even the transcript of Ahmadinjad’s address refers to ‘the Holocaust’ rather than ‘a holocaust.’

The Justice Process

It seems that the only argument US president Barack Obama could muster for why Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas shouldn’t seek recognition of a Palestinian state at the UN is that the ‘peace process’ would be derailed.

Let’s lay aside the obvious difficulty of Barak the Bomber caring about peace, and that the ‘peace process’ has been off the rails for some time. His objection missed the point. Recognition of a Palestinian state isn’t a question of the peace process but of the justice process, and hardly a very satisfying one at that. What justice is there in Palestinians settling for one fifth of their country? Which is what, in any practical sense, UN recognition of the Palestinian territories as a state would amount to.

But it’s better than the status quo and a starting point.

For Zionists, the peace process is a little more appealing, but is the opposite of the justice process. It means getting Palestinians to settle for even less than one-fifth of their country, and to acknowledge the theft of it as legitimate.

An aside: Over 30 countries do not recognize Israel, among them Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea, Iran and Syria.

Rational Ignoramuses?

Do those who promote what Keynes called the fallacy of thrift (or fallacy of austerity, to give it a contemporary spin) really believe what they preach: that cutting pensions, laying off public servants, raising taxes on the poor, and closing government programs, is the way to avert a deeper economic crisis for the bulk of us?

Do they even care about the bulk of us?

Or is austerity simply a way of bailing out bankers and bondholders by bleeding the rest of us dry?

British prime minister David Cameron, on a trip to Canada to compare notes with fellow deficit-hawk Stephen Harper, the Canadian PM, remarked that “Highly indebted households and governments simply cannot spend their way out of a debt crisis. The more they spend, the more debts will rise and the fundamental problem will grow.” (8)

This was reported with tacit nods of approval in Canada’s corporate press, as if Cameron’s utterings were incontrovertible, rather than the ravings of an economic illiterate (in the view of economists), or the words of a political con artist (in the view of class struggle literates.)

Highly indebted governments simply cannot cut their way out of an economic crisis. The more they cut, the more aggregate demand weakens and the worse it gets. Greece’s continued slide into economic ruin underscores the point. The United States’ inability to drag itself out of the depths of the Great Depression, until arms orders brought the economy back to life, strikes an historical cautionary note.

But recessions are not without benefits for corporate plutocrats. It’s easier to cut wages, salaries and benefits during downturns, and to enjoy bigger profits as a result. Small competitors can be driven out of business. Unions can be weakened. And governments have an excuse to slash social programs that have pushed the balance of power a little too far in labor’s direction. Indeed, all manner of sacrifices can be extracted from most of us if we’re persuaded that debt is the cause of the problem and that belt-tightening is the physic that will cure it.

My bet is that Cameron and his fellow water carriers for moneyed interests are no dummies — but they’re hoping the rest of us are.

Knowing Who Your Friends Are
Here is the widely reviled (by Western governments) Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe, at the 66th session of the UN General Assembly.

After over twenty thousand NATO bombing sorties that targeted Libyan towns, including Tripoli, there is now unbelievable and most disgraceful scramble by some NATO countries for Libyan oil, indicating thereby that the real motive for their aggression against Libya was to control and own its abundant fuel resources. What a shame!

Yesterday, it was Iraq and Bush and Blair were the liars and aggressors as they made unfounded allegations of possessions of weapons of mass destruction. This time it is the NATO countries the liars and aggressors as they make similarly unfounded allegations of destruction of civilian lives by Gaddafi.

We in Africa are also duly concerned about the activities of the International Criminal Court (ICC) which seems to exist only for alleged offenders of the developing world, the majority of them Africans. The leaders of the powerful Western States guilty of international crime, like Bush and Blair, are routinely given the blind eye. Such selective justice has eroded the credibility of the ICC on the African continent.

My country fully supports the right of the gallant people of Palestine to statehood and membership of this U.N. Organisation. The U.N. must become credible by welcoming into its bosom all those whose right to attain sovereign independence and freedom from occupation and colonialism is legitimate. (9)

It’s clear why he’s reviled by imperialists, but also by leftists?

If the Movement for Democratic Change’s Morgan Tsvangirai, favorite of the West, ever becomes president, expect a very different kind of address at future General Assembly meetings.

1. V.G. Kiernan, Marxism and Imperialism, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1974.

2. V. I. Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, International Publishers, New York. 1939. p 78.

3. Ibid. p 79.

4. David D. Kirkpatrick, “U.S. reopens its embassy in Libya”, The New York Times, September 22, 2011.

5. Ibid.

6. Jay Solomon, “Iran adds Palestine statehood wrinkle”, The Wall Street Journal, September 23, 2011.


8. Campbell Clark, “Cameron, Harper preach restraint in teeth of global ‘debt crisis’”, The Globe and Mail, September 22, 2011


US Senator comes clean on Zimbabwe sanctions

By Stephen Gowans

The received wisdom among Western governments, journalists and some concerned progressive scholars is that there have been no broad-based, economic sanctions imposed upon Zimbabwe. Instead, in their view, there are only targeted sanctions, with limited effects, aimed at punishing President Robert Mugabe and the top leadership of the Zanu-PF party. The sanctions issue, they say, is a red herring Mugabe and his supporters use to divert attention from the true cause of Zimbabwe’s economic meltdown: redistribution of land from white commercial farmers to hundreds of thousands of indigenous families, a program denigrated as “economic mismanagement”.

Yet, it has always been clear to anyone willing to do a little digging that there are indeed broad-based economic sanctions against Zimbabwe; that there have been since 2001, when US president George W. Bush signed them into law; that they were imposed in response to Zimbabwe’s land reform program; and that Zimbabwe’s economic meltdown happened after sanctions were imposed, not before.

US sanctions, implemented under the US Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, effectively block Zimbabwe’s access to debt relief and balance of payment support from international financial institutions. In addition, the EU and other Western countries have imposed their own sanctions.

On occasion, Mugabe’s detractors have been caught out in their deceptions about sanctions being targeted solely at a few highly placed members of Zanu-PF rather than the economy, and therefore Zimbabweans, as a whole. At those times, they have countered that while sanctions may exist, they have had little impact, and anyway, they play into Mugabe’s hands. As progressive scholar Horace Campbell put it: “The Zimbabwe government is very aware of the anti-imperialist and anti-racist sentiments among oppressed peoples and thus has deployed a range of propagandists inside and outside the country in a bid to link every problem in Zimbabwe to international sanctions by the EU and USA.”

Campbell turns reality on its head. The fact of the matter is that the US government has deployed a range of propagandists, both within and outside Zimbabwe, in a bid to link every problem in Zimbabwe to the alleged folly of redistributing land stolen by European settlers to the descendants of the original owners.

Campbell’s argument echoes similar sophistry used to excuse the US blockade on Cuba. Economic sanctions on Cuba, the Castros’ detractors argue, have had little impact on the island’s economy, and are used by the Cuban government to falsely link its economic difficulties to US economic warfare. The Castros, they say, stay in power by diverting attention from their own mismanagement and laying blame for their country’s economic problems at Washington’s doorstep. That this argument holds no water is evidenced by the reality that Washington could easily deprive the Cuban communists of their alleged diversionary tactics by lifting the sanctions, but choose not to.

The idea that power-hungry leaders exploit mild sanctions as a dishonest manoeuvre to disguise their failings is insupportable. Far from having little impact, economic sanctions devastate economies; that’s their purpose. Denying the role they play in ruining economies is tantamount to denying that dropping napalm on villages creates wastelands. John Mueller and Karl Mueller pointed out in a famous 1999 article titled “Sanctions of Mass Destruction” – it appeared in the May/June 1999 issue of the uber-establishment journal Foreign Affairs — that:

…the big countries have at their disposal a credible, inexpensive, and potent weapon for use against small and medium-sized foes. The dominant powers have shown that they can inflict enormous pain at remarkably little cost to themselves or the global economy. Indeed, in a matter of months or years whole economies can be devastated…

The improbable idea that sanctions have little impact invites the question: If they make little difference, why do Western governments deploy them so often? Supporters of the view that sanctions are minor inconveniences that punish a few powerful leaders, who then exploit them to draw attention away from their own economic management, expect us to believe that the leaders of major powers are simpletons who devise ineffective sanctions policies – and that they persist despite their sanctions playing into the hands of the sanctions’ targets.

If the sanctions supporters’ laughable logic and the reality that US sanction legislation is on the public record for all to see weren’t enough, legislation brought forward by US Senator Jim Inhofe ought to lay to rest the deception that sanctions haven’t torpedoed Zimbabwe’s economy.

The title of Inhofe’s bill, the Zimbabwe Sanctions Repeal Act of 2010, makes clear that sanctions have indeed been imposed on Zimbabwe and have had deleterious effects. According to the bill, now that the Western-backed Movement for Democratic Change holds senior positions in Zimbabwe’s power-sharing government, US sanctions against Zimbabwe need to be repealed “in order to restore fully the economy of Zimbabwe.” In other words, sanctions are preventing Zimbabwe’s economy from flourishing – the same point Mugabe has been making for years, cynically say his critics.

Yet, while the implication of Inhofe’s bill is that sanctions have undermined Zimbabwe’s economy (otherwise, why would economic recovery require their repeal?) Inhofe tries to disguise the role US sanctions originally played in creating an economic catastrophe in Zimbabwe, arguing that the sanctions were imposed only after Mugabe allegedly turned Zimbabwe into a basket case by democratizing patterns of land ownership. But it makes more sense to say that sanctions ruined the economy. After all, the purpose of economic sanctions is to wreak economic havoc. And what would be the point of trying to devastate Zimbabwe’s economy after Mugabe had allegedly already ruined it? Finally, in pressing for the repeal of sanctions to allow for economic recovery, Inhofe acknowledges that the sanctions do indeed have crippling consequences.

Inhofe may be able to argue (improbably) that the sanctions were imposed to punish Zimbabwe for Harare’s economic mismanagement (which would mean that Washington expected Zimbabweans to suffer an additional blow on top of the one already meted out by Harare’s alleged mismanagement — a pointless cruelty, if true); but he can’t argue that the sanctions didn’t undermine the country’s economy: his bill acknowledges this very point

Finally, the fact that Inhofe’s legislation seeks repeal of the sanctions because the MDC holds key positions in the Zimbabwean government, reveals that the MDC, as much as sanctions, is an instrument of US foreign policy. Sanctions were rolled out in response to land redistribution with the aim of crippling the economy so that the ensuing economic chaos could be attributed to land reform itself. With MDC members brought into a power-sharing government in key posts, it has become necessary in the view of Inhofe and others that sanctions be lifted to allow an economic recovery. If the bill is ratified and signed into law, the ensuing recovery will be attributed to the efforts of the MDC cabinet members, an attribution that that will be just as misleading as linking the destructive effects of sanctions to Zanu-PF’s efforts to fulfill the land redistribution aspirations of the national liberation struggle. The major part of Zimbabwe’s economic troubles – and a large part of the prospects for economic recovery – are sanctions-related.

It’s the regime change agenda all the time

The United States, Canada and Australia are abusing the Kimberly Process, an initiative to prevent the sale of “blood” diamonds, in order to frustrate Zimbabwe’s efforts to establish a multi-billion dollar annual revenue stream from its rich Marange diamond fields. The aim is to keep up economic pressure on the country to undermine popular support for Robert Mugabe and his land reform and economic indigenization programs.

By Stephen Gowans

Zimbabwe’s Marange diamond fields hold out the promise of billions of dollars per year in diamond sales [1], a bounty that could help the southern African country develop economically, and place it among the world’s top diamond producers.

But if the United States, Canada and Australia have their way, Zimbabwe will have to find a way to sell its diamonds without a seal of approval from the Kimberly Process, “a joint governments, industry and civil society initiative to stem the flow of conflict diamonds – rough diamonds used by rebel movements to finance wars against legitimate governments.” [2]

Abbey Chikane, a South African businessman appointed by the Kimberly Process to monitor the Marange fields, recommended that the diamonds be certified. He also recommended that Zimbabwe’s army, which has guarded the fields from the anarchy of illegal diamond diggers hoping to strike it rich, continues to do so until the police are in a position to maintain order. [3]

Most African countries — including Zimbabwe’s neighbors South Africa, Botswana, Angola and Tanzania — backed up Chikane’s recommendation, as did India, China and Russia, which together represent the bulk of humanity. But the United States, Canada and Australia blocked certification.

The three countries, among the world’s richest, point to claims made by two ostensibly independent nongovernmental organizations, Global Witness and Partnership Africa Canada, to justify their decision. They say the Zimbabwe military is committing human rights abuses at the Marange fields and running a smuggling operation. [4]

So why did the Kimberly Process auditor recommend certification, despite allegations of human rights abuses and smuggling? First, the Kimberly Process seeks to prevent the sale of rough diamonds to finance rebel wars, not to prevent human rights abuses and smuggling. Second, Kimberly Process chairman Bernard Esau says there is “no proof of alleged human rights violations at the Marange diamond fields.” [5]

The United States, Canada and Australia, along with Britain and the European Union, have been actively seeking to drive Robert Mugabe and Zanu-PF from power for the last decade. Their regime change efforts are dressed up as “democracy promotion”, but Washington’s own documents make clear that “democracy promotion” is nothing more that helping the Western-backed, -conceived and -funded Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which currently shares power with Zanu-PF, govern alone. The MDC would end, and possibly reverse, Zanu-PF’s policies of land redistribution and economic indigenization [6] — policies which are giving substantive meaning to the country’s hard fought for independence.

In order to undermine popular support for Zanu-PF and its policies, the United States, Canada and Australia, along with other Western countries, have imposed sanctions which have had a crippling effect on the economy. While they deny that the sanctions are anything other than targeted, and that they’re aimed only at top Zanu-PF leaders, the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, a US law passed in 2001, blocks Zimbabwe’s access to international lines of credit. Explicitly taking aim at Zimbabwe’s land redistribution program, the law has cruelly undercut economic development.

Zimbabwe’s land reform and economic indigenization programs remain an inspiration to poor and landless Africans of neighboring countries, who decades after liberation from European colonialism, apartheid and white settler rule, have yet to see any substantive change in their conditions. The economic indigenization program, which mirrors similar policies that South Korea, Japan, Venezuela, Canada and other countries have once used or currently use to promote domestic economic development, [7] requires that at least 51 percent of Zimbabwe’s economy be placed in the hands of Zimbabweans who were disadvantaged by colonial oppression and white minority rule.

While it’s true that Global Witness and Partnership Africa Canada are nongovernmental organizations, they are hardly independent of the Western governments that have worked for regime change in Zimbabwe. Global Witness is funded by the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Britain’s Department for International Development, the European Commission, Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs, the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Swedish International Development Co-operation Agency and Norad. [8] Partnership Africa Canada receives its funding from many of the same organizations, including a Canadian government department (Foreign Affairs and International Trade) and agency (the Canadian International Development Agency.) [9]

Many NGOs active in Africa create the illusion of being independent of the Western governments that have historically despoiled the continent, while relying on the same governments to provide their funding. It’s highly unlikely that organizations whose existences depend on the support they can get from Western governments stray far from their funders’ interests and foreign policy imperatives. The implication that NGOs are independent of governments is deliberately deceptive.

The Marange diamond fields, then, present a problem to Western governments that have been working to undermine popular support for Zanu-PF and its policies. How can sanctions work if they’re offset by billions of dollars per year in diamond sales?

The answer, of course, is that a rich flow of diamond revenues, and anything else that promises to make life better for Zimbabweans, counters the aims of the sanctions, and therefore, under the logic of Western foreign policy, must be blocked.

To frustrate Zimbabwe’s efforts to benefit from the Marange fields, the United States, Canada and Australia have abused the Kimberly Process. The initiative is intended to prevent rebel movements using rough diamonds to finance wars against legitimate governments. Is there any evidence this is happening in Zimbabwe? None at all.

But the flaw in the Kimberly Process is that it operates on the principle of consensus. That means that participants who seek to deny certification can, for their own mischievous political reasons, withhold their approval and therefore prevent consensus, invoking some unrelated humanitarian principle as justification.

“We want to be orderly, to do like what other countries in the region are doing,” said Mugabe last May, “but countries like the US, Britain, Australia and Canada want to take advantage of us by ensuring the process creates the same effect like sanctions on us; that we should not be allowed to sell our diamonds.”

“They have been heard saying what happens to our sanctions if Zimbabwe sells its diamonds? It is the regime change agenda all the time.” [10]

1. Celia W. Dugger, “Report on Zimbabwe diamond trade angers rights groups”, The New York Times, June 8, 2010.

Accessed June 25, 2010.

3. Celia W. Dugger, “Report on Zimbabwe diamond trade angers rights groups”, The New York Times, June 8, 2010.

4. Celia W. Dugger, “Zimbabwe diamonds fail to get conflict-free approval”, The New York Times, June 24, 2010.

5. “No proof of diamond fields human rights violations: KP,” The Herald (Zimbabwe), June 28, 2009.

6. Stephen Gowans, “US Government Report Undermines Zimbabwe Opposition’s Claim of Independence”, what’s left, October 4, 2008,

7. Ha-Joon Chang, Bad Samaritans: The Myths of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism, Bloomsbury Press, 2008. The author, a South Korean who teaches economics at the University of Cambridge, is hardly a favorite of the South Korean Ministry of National Defense. In July, 2008 the ministry banned from military barracks Bad Samaritans, along with 23 other books, labeled anti-capitalist, anti-American and pro-North Korean. Also included were books by Noam Chomsky. “Military expands book blacklist”, The Hankyoreh, July 31, 2008; Chose Sang-Hun, “Textbooks on Past Offend South Korea’s Conservatives,” The New York Times, November 18, 2008.

Accessed June 25, 2010.

Accessed June 25, 2010.

10. Takunda Maodza, “President slams KPCS”, The Herald (Zimbabwe), May 28, 2010.