Working-class independence is a principle

Submitted by AWL on 6 June, 2008 - 11:32 Author: Sacha Ismail

The last issue of Solidarity carried a statement from the International Socialist Organisation of Zimbabwe, a group linked to the SWP ( This statement reiterated the position of critical electoral support for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change which ISO comrade Mike Sambo outlined in an interview in Solidarity 1/131:

"The driving force behind our critical support to the MDC remains unchanged: run-away inflation, caused by the ever-declining economy, caused by Mugabe's dictatorship — and affecting working people the worst. That alone necessitates all concerned organisations and political parties working together to help fight the dictatorship.

"What we are saying is that we can only remove Mugabe by mass mobilization — but if it all ends in a run off, as looks likely, let people come out in big numbers and vote for the MDC.

"At the same time, we do not advise the MDC to participate in the run off. And we critically support the MDC, but without creating any illusions in the party."

Although we sympathise with its motivation, this position, in so far as we are in a position to judge, is a mistake.

When we are dealing with a working-class political formation — eg the pre-Blair/Brown Labour Party, the Brazilian Workers' Party, or another "bourgeois workers' party" — the question of how to relate to it is one of tactics, not principle. The ideal is to stand our own revolutionary candidates, but where that is not possible (where the far left is too weak, or in a second-round run off, for instance), advocating a critical vote for a bourgeois workers' party is not unprincipled. This is a version of the united front tactic, through which revolutionaries can hope to expand their influence among reformist workers and activists by struggling alongside them.

Voting for a straightforwardly bourgeois party, on the other hand, is wrong in principle, signifying not a united front, but a popular front in which the working-class movement is tied to bourgeois forces. Whether the labour movement is a mass, revolutionary force, merely embryonic, or something in between, this means subordinating the class struggle to unity with a political faction of the ruling class.

To be honest, we do not know enough about the MDC to confidently judge its character for ourselves. The Zimbabwean labour movement, through the ZCTU, certainly played a central role in its founding; presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai is a former leader of the federation. However, there seems to be little to indicate that today's MDC is a workers' party in any meaningful sense. Support from the unions and wide layers of the working class are clearly not decisive in this regard.

In any case, the ISO is not claiming that the MDC is any kind of workers' party. The comrades previously did entry work in the organisation, even succeeding in getting Munyaradzi Gwisai elected as an MCD MP. However, the ISO was subsequently driven out and, declaring that the party had been "hijacked by capital", opposed electoral support for it. The recent shift of position, apparently encouraged by the SWP, is not based on a new assessment of the class character of the MDC, but on the idea that Zimbabwean workers should vote for it despite its bourgeois nature, alongside "all concerned organisations and political parties working together to help fight the dictatorship". The idea of working-class political independence is completely lost.

As the ISO itself has vividly described, the MCD has no effective strategy for the overthrow of Mugabe. This is conditioned by its class character: it looks to the courts and imperialist diplomacy, and not to mass action by the workers and people of Zimbabwe to smash the regime from below.

In any case, as the ISO statement cited above put it: "there is real struggle waiting against the twin enemies of Mugabe's dictatorship and neoliberal capitalism." Even if the MDC does force Mugabe out, Zimbabwean workers will need to fight the government it creates when it comes to power. If it was a bourgeois workers' party, this fight might involve critical electoral support until revolutionaries were strong enough to organise a party of their own. Given that it is not such a tactic makes no sense.

The example of neighbouring South Africa is instructive. Thanks to the South African "Communist" Party, the ANC was able to maintain its hegemony over the labour movement, despite strong challenges from the revolutionary left in the late 1980s. The absence of an independent working-class party allowed the ANC leaders to come to a deal with the apartheid regime, admitting the black bourgeoisie to parliament and the board rooms while keeping the exploitation of the black working class and poor intact.

If the SACP had been committed to the fight for working-class independence, post-apartheid South Africa would have looked very different - even if the workers had not been strong enough to take power immediately.

It is easy for socialists who are not in the thick of the struggle to criticise; nonetheless, we believe it is our responsibility. We offer these comments in a spirit of loyal and comradely advice, and hope that the ISO will respond.

Comrade Farooq Tariq of the Labour Party Pakistan, in his speech to this year's AWL conference, noted our criticism of his organisation's decision to join the "All Parties Democratic Movement", and replied: "We have taken part in an alliance which has included religious parties, but it is not a religious alliance. It is not for Islamic revolution. It is an alliance to launch a movement against dictatorship and to make the [electoral] boycott strategy effective."

Although we have noted the presence of the Islamist Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) in the coalition, that is not the fundamental basis of our disagreement. We do not believe that working-class organisations should join political alliances with any bourgeois party. Such alliances can only set back both the immediate aim of the struggle and the long goal of working-class power. The MMA's ultra-reactionary politics merely add insult to injury - and a certain irony, since the LPP's record on opposing Islamism has been exemplary.

• For a discussion of the principle of working-class independence in relation to the US presidential elections, see

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