Zimbabwe in the Grip of Imperialism

The mainspring of capitalist development has been the accumulation of the means of production (tools, material, technology and labour) in the hands of private producers (capitalists).

The capitalists use the means of production to produce goods which they sell for their own profit. They employ workers to produce goods but they do not pay them the full value of their labour. The unpaid labour of the working class is taken by the capitalists. Part of this wealth is squandered; part is invested in more and better means of production.

This, historically, is the basis on which capitalism developed when it was still a rising system. In the first countries where capitalism took root, small-scale workshops gradually developed into big factories. Capitalist governments were formed after the bourgeois (capitalist) revolutions in England, France and other countries. These early capitalist countries developed into mighty powers on the basis of modern industry.

Growing ever larger, big factories swallowed up smaller factories and developed into monopolies within the borders of their own states. The monopolies became integrated with banking (finance) capital. Unlike the factory owners, the financiers are not tied to any particular industry or country. They can shift their money (investment) around, exploiting any opportunity for making bigger profits.

The rise of monopoly and finance capital created what Lenin called “the highest stage of capitalism”: imperialism. The monopolies increasingly expanded their operations beyond their national boundaries, becoming transformed into “multinationals”. The capitalist states of Europe, dominated by the monopolies, embarked on the conquest of colonies — not only to seize raw materials and markets, but also to open up new areas of investment on the basis of cheap labour. In this process Africa was carved up between the imperialist powers.


The power of the multinationals

Today, 95 per cent of the multinational corporations which dominate world trade are based in the seven main imperialist states.

The multinationals have far greater resources at their disposal than most third-world countries. In 1985, for example, the sales of the tobacco giant Philip Morris were more than three times the entire Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Kenya! In 1986, Anglo-American Corporation’s turnover was double Zimbabwe’s GDP!

When Coca-Cola withdrew from India it cost the company 0.2 per cent of its world turnover. For India it meant the closure of 22 factories and the loss of 6,000 jobs.

The multinational financiers can pick and choose where they invest. They will look at where they can make the biggest profits at the lowest cost and risk. They are interested in how much wealth they can suck from the labour of the workers and peasants, not in ploughing that wealth back into the development of society.

This was shown even in the 1950s and 1960s, when the multinationals’ investment in the colonial world was high compared with today. Between 1950 and 1967 the US capitalist class in-vested $3.9 billion in Latin America — and took $12.8 billion back to the US!

“Investment” of this kind cannot meet the development needs of the poor nations. It only perpetuates their slavery.


The colonial revolution

But, as Marx explained, capitalism always creates its own “grave-digger” in the form of a working class driven by exploitation to fight for the overthrow of the system. Imperialist conquest had the effect of extending the class struggle on a world scale — drawing the masses of the colonial countries under the direct rule of capitalism, and throwing them into conflict with the ruling classes of the imperialist countries.

Revolutionary struggle spread to Asia, Latin America and Africa in the course of the 20th century, forcing the imperialists to abandon direct rule over one colony after another.

But political independence in itself could not abolish poverty and imperialist domination. In many former colonies, governments elected by the peasants and workers came to power. But where could the resources be found to feed, clothe, house and educate the people? How could the necessary investment be generated to develop industry, create jobs and meet society’s needs?

On the basis of capitalism, investment and production only take place where profit can be made. In other words, markets must exist where products can profitably be sold.

The major imperialist powers dominate the entire capitalist world. The 20th century has seen endless competition and struggle to divide and redivide the world market among themselves. In 1914-1918 and again in 1939-45 world wars were fought, at a cost of tens of millions of lives, in the life-and-death battle for supremacy between the imperialist powers.

The struggle over world markets among the imperialist giants has left very little room for the ex-colonial countries to develop their economies. The capitalist classes in these countries were too small and weak to conquer markets for themselves from the mighty imperialist powers. This has left them unable to build up a basis for industrialisation as in the USA, Western Europe or Japan.

As a result, the former colonial countries which failed to break with capitalism have remained neo-colonies of the imperialist countries: providing the advanced industrial economies with certain raw materials, while buying or producing a very limited range of manufactured goods for internal consumption. On this basis Africa is sliding into terrible economic decline: African exports have dropped from US$52bn to only US$30bn between 1970 and 1985.

Governments, elected on programmes of national liberation, could not carry out these programmes while basing themselves on capitalism. In the end they resort to one-party dictatorships to repress their peoples and manage their economies on the harsh terms dictated by the imperialist powers. Even partially ‘democratic regimes in Africa have been short-lived because capitalism cannot afford lasting democratic rights.

Thus, precisely as Marx had explained long ago, the growing wealth of the capitalist class is accompanied by the growing impoverishment of the mass of working people. In the age of imperialism, however, this process takes place not just within national boundaries but on a world scale.

Between 1965 and 1987, for example, average gross national product per head of population in the so-called “low-income” countries rose from US$140 to US$270; in the industrialised countries the increase over the same period was from US$8,820 to US$14,550.

But even these figures hide the full extent of mass impoverishment in the ex-colonial countries. Most of the growth in production ends up in the hands of the ruling elites, while the majority of people get poorer.

In Zaire, for example, the dictator Mobutu has stolen an estimated US$6,000 million from the people and keeps it in banks overseas — while the masses are plunged into a nightmare of oppression, suffering and disease.

Heroic struggles have been waged in many countries to break free from imperialist domination. In a number of countries — for example, China and Cuba — capitalism has been overthrown and big reforms became possible on the basis of the state-owned and planned economies.

But the iron grip of imperialism on the world markets has remained, giving the multinational bosses powers of life and death over millions in the former colonial world. This is shown most starkly in a country such as Mozambique, reduced to ruin by the economic stranglehold and military intervention of South African imperialism.

For the peoples of the Third World, therefore, the struggle for national and social liberation cannot be separated from the struggle to overthrow capitalism on a world scale.

Zimbabwe’s independence

Zimbabwe’s entire history has been bound up with struggle against imperialist domination. Capitalism did not develop within Zimbabwe; it was forcibly imposed through imperialist conquest.

Indeed, Rhodesia was created as the private property of a multinational company, the British South Africa Company (whose remaining property in land and mineral rights was taken over by Anglo-American Corporation in 1965). The whole country remained company property until 1923.

As in South Africa, the land was torn from the possession of the black people. The peasantry was impoverished and increasingly transformed into a cruelly exploited working class. Agricultural production was increasingly dominated by big capitalist companies — many of them South African and British-based multinationals.

Unlike South Africa, Zimbabwe possessed no fabulous mineral wealth to serve as a launch-pad for industrialisation. White settlement was limited to handfuls. But, as in South Africa, British imperialism relied on white minority rule to enforce its interests. In 1923 it gave self-government to the 30,000 whites in the colony.

By means of brutal repression the settlers turned Rhodesia into a “paradise” for themselves. To enjoy their luxurious lifestyle they kept the blacks in chains; and as long as the blacks were enslaved, imperialism could continue to exploit Zimbabwe’s wealth.

On this basis, from an estimated £60 million in 1939, total private capital increased to over £2,000 million at the time of independence. Zimbabwe’s white capitalists — the descendants of the settler farmers; immigrants opening small businesses, etc. — did not have the resources to finance development on this scale. The vast bulk of investment came from multinationals in South Africa and Britain in particular.

Of the estimated Z$2,750 million invested in Zimbabwe at the time of independence, Z$2,000 million belonged to foreign capitalists. Of this foreign investment, approximately Z$815 million was owned by British capitalists and Z$583 million by South African capitalists.

Most of the local capitalists were small-time operators, serving as junior partners of the imperialist giants. There was no room for the development of a black capitalist class. In any case, because they relied on white racist rule, the “liberal” imperialists did not really need a black elite to help them keep the black masses under control.

The multinationals dominate the most capital-intensive and productive sectors of the economy where large-scale investment and foreign markets are most essential.

Of roughly 7,500 registered companies in Zimbabwe at the time of independence, fewer than 300 (4 per cent) were foreign-owned — 184 British, 62 American and 43 South African. Yet these foreign-owned companies controlled no less than 60 per cent of capacity in the productive sector and –because of their greater productivity — an estimated 70 per cent of output!

Their activities ranged from the manufacture of aluminium doors to the manufacture of zip fasteners, from refining sugar to exporting tobacco, from drilling bore-holes to running computer services — in all, over 1,000 types of economic enterprise.

It is this wealth that the white settlers were “employed” to defend in return for their swimming pools and comfortable lifestyle. Despite tactical differences during the UDI period, the Western powers were content to let Smith get on with the job as long as possible.

But by the late 1970s white minority rule had outlived its usefulness. The liberation war, based on the peasantry, had become unstoppable and majority rule inevitable. The Smith regime was exhausted, and the South African regime itself was under growing pressure from the mass movement of workers and youth.

The longer the war continued, the more inevitable became the prospect of mass uprisings in the cities, the overthrow of the regime and the collapse of capitalism. This would have detonated revolutionary explosions in South Africa, the key country of the region.

The main concern of the imperialists was to force Smith to hand over power to a black pro-capitalist government before the developing liberation struggle destabilised the whole sub-continent.

But on independence the masses of Zimbabwe decisively rejected the capitalist stooge, Muzorewa, and voted for Zanu(PF) and Zapu — the parties which had fought the liberation war. To the shock of the bosses, Zanu’s banner of “Marxism” and “socialism” aroused overwhelming enthusiasm.

This, as one reader wrote in a letter to the Herald (20 July 1988), was “a very important breakthrough which the capitalists hate”.

In the end, capitalism in Zimbabwe was saved only by the leaders of Zanu(PF) and Zapu. They hoped for an inflow of the investment promised by imperialism and thought they could slowly change the system they had inherited. That is why they bowed to the pressure of the imperialists and the USSR and agreed to base themselves on the capitalist economy built up and ruled by imperialism.

Looking for foreign investment

Since independence the government’s whole strategy has been based on looking to the capitalist class for investment to develop the economy.

And yet the government insists that it remains committed to “socialism” — not now, however, but “in the future”! To the masses it proclaims: “Let us now struggle heroically to build a new society free from the exploitation of man by man… Let us all step up the struggle for economic independence on all fronts to avoid neo-colonialism.” (Heroes’ Day Manifesto by Zanu(PF), Harare Province, 1987)

And yet the government “struggles” to pull more foreign capital into Zimbabwe! How does this give us “independence” from the foreign multinational bosses? Does it not throw open the door to neo-colonial exploitation?

Chidzero says: “There is no inherent contradiction between socialism and market forces.”

This is nonsense. Capitalism means the naked operation of “market forces”: exploitation, cuts in spending on health and education, domination of the Third World by imperialism (imposed in Southern Africa through the nightmare of racist domination).

Socialism, on the other hand, would arise from a democratically planned economy under public ownership, with production organised to meet the needs of the masses — to satisfy the working people instead of the banks. There is most certainly an “inherent contradiction” between these two things!

What Chidzero really means is that the “socialism” he stands for will not get in the capitalists’ way — in other words, it is no socialism at all!

No-one in the Zanu(PF) leadership has criticised his statement.

The government seems to believe that the limited restrictions placed on the capitalist class in Zimbabwe have discouraged them from investing. Easing these restrictions, they hope, will open the door for investment to come pouring in.


The debt trap

The former colonial countries based on capitalism are caught in a vicious circle. They cannot break out of their poverty through industrial development. The prices of their products are forced down by the imperialist buyers who control the markets. They are impoverished by the “normal” functioning of the world capitalist market.

Desperate for funds, they apply to the imperialists for loans — i.e., to borrow back the wealth that was stolen from the working class and peasants!

Organisations like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, created by the imperialist powers as their collective moneylenders, dictate harsh economic policies to the states which borrow from them. They demand austerity for the masses less spending on social welfare so that more money is available for debt repayments and capitalist profit.

As a result, impoverished borrower states are further impoverished by repayments which their ruined economies cannot afford.

By 1988 US$1.24 trillion ($1,240,000,000,000) was owed by the poor countries to the imperialist moneylenders, and service payments came to $130 billion.

Africa’s debt rose from $218 billion at the end of 1987 to $230 billion at the end of 1988. Of this Zimbabwe owed about $2.5 billion.

We have already seen that the export earnings of the ex-colonial countries, based on the sale of raw materials, are not enough to pay for the imports of machinery and manufactured goods which are needed for economic development.

Now, on top of this robbery by means of the “terms of trade”, comes robbery by means of debt repayments.

Each year since 1983 the total debt repayments by the poor countries has been more than the total of new loans, with the difference getting bigger and bigger. Between 1985 and 1987 $74 billion was “donated” by the poor countries to the rich countries in this way; in 1988 another $45 billion was transferred.

At a recent conference in Germany, African participants pleaded for the German capitalists “not to forget us” in the rush to invest in Eastern Europe. The frank and brutal response from a top civil servant was, “We cannot promise Africa anything”. (Financial Gazette, 1 June 1990)

Zimbabwe pays a quarter of export earnings straight back to the imperialists in the form of debt repayments. Thus in 1988, of the precious foreign exchange earned through the labour of workers and peasants, only 73 per cent remained to pay for imports.

Of the budget for-1989/90, with spending on social need drastically cut (see page 6), no less than 15 per cent was set aside for debt repayments.

No wonder massive movements of protest have exploded in Zambia, Tunisia, Sudan, Algeria and many other countries against the rape of the third world by the IMF and World Bank!


Stalinism seeks peace with imperialism

In Zimbabwe, as in other ex-colonial countries, the Soviet Union and China gave political and military support to the nationalist leadership of the independence struggle. At the same time, because of their rivalry with each other, they exploited and deepened the split between the nationalist leaders in the 1960s.

Then, when victory in the liberation struggle began to draw in sight, they backed the Lancaster House settlement which guaranteed the position of the monopolies.

To understand these policies it is necessary to look at the development of the regimes in the USSR, China and other “socialist’ countries.

A workers’ state was established in backward Russia by the revolution of October 1917. Lenin and Trotsky, the leaders of the revolution, understood that socialism could only be established on the basis of modern industry — in other words, through the conquest of power by the working class in the advanced capitalist countries.

But in 1918-23 the revolution in Western Europe was defeated. The small Soviet working class, exhausted by poverty and counter-revolutionary attack, could not keep control over society.

Power was increasingly stolen by the state bureaucracy, who developed police-state methods to protect their privileged position.


Deformed workers’ state

Under the brutal leadership of Stalin the regime of the bureaucracy became entrenched and the Soviet Union became what Trotsky termed a “deformed workers’ state”. That is why the word “Stalinist” is used to describe regimes of this character (bureaucratic dictatorships based on state-owned economies) and their policies.

Despite the bureaucracy, the system of planned production has proved vastly superior to capitalism as a basis for social development. On the basis of central planning backward Russia became a superpower with the most advanced working class in the world — but at the cost of growing mismanagement, corruption and political repression by the bureaucracy.

Gorbachev is the present leader of the bureaucracy. The pressure of the masses, caused by the crisis of bureaucratic misrule, bra forced him to make reforms.

But no genuine democratic power has been extended to the workers. If this happened, the bureaucracy’s rule would quickly be ended!

The foreign policy of the bureaucracy is aimed at strengthening their position in the USSR. They have long ago given up Lenin’s policy of struggling for the overthrow of capitalism internationally.

They seek “peaceful coexistence” with imperialism, hoping to boost the Soviet economy through trade deals and agreements with the West.

However, imperialism remains deeply hostile to the USSR’s state-owned economic system.

While struggling to hold down the Soviet working class, the Stalinist regime has manoeuvred for international support against the Western powers. In the colonial world, in the past, it has linked itself to national liberation movements in order to put pressure on the imperialist states.

But it has always opposed the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, fearing the political shock waves that would result.

Nevertheless, over the past 40 years mass struggles —sometimes sparked by military coups — have led to the collapse of capitalism and land-lord rule in some of the least developed countries such as China, Cuba, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Angola, Mozambique and others.

Despite “peaceful coexistence”, despite the efforts of the nationalist leaders to cooperate with the capitalist class, the capitalists in these countries were too weak to survive. It was left to the state to take control of the economy.

Revolutionary regimes came into existence — based on state-owned economies, carrying out important reforms, but with power in the hands of a military or bureaucratic elite.

This was what imperialism wanted to avoid in Zimbabwe. The USSR wanted no confrontation with the West over Southern Africa, which it accepts as a “Western sphere of influence”.

The USSR and other Stalinist regimes supported the Lancaster House agreement as a guarantee for the protection of capitalism under majority rule. Now Stalinist journalists go even further. A recent article in Moscow News which supports Gorbachev (quoted in the Financial Gazette, 18 Allay 1990) says Zimbabwe depends on those it condemns: the white farmers and South Africa. It criticises government policy for choking “natural business relations”!

The writer even praises British colonialism in Zimbabwe for opening a public library and a museum. White racism, and the capitalist exploitation of the impoverished African people of Zimbabwe and South Africa, are invisible to these people.


Continue to Chapter Three