Book: Chimurenga! The liberation struggle in Zimbabwe

A vital lesson in the importance of solidarity with anti-imperialist national-liberation struggles.

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Buy Chimurenga! The Liberation Struggle in Zimbabwe.


So pervasive are the prejudices that were built up around the African slave trade and the subsequent colonisation, pillage and looting of Africa – all done in the name of ‘civilising’ the ‘barbaric’ African – that the attitude of the average western European in 2005 towards Africa is, if not totally disdainful and patronising, almost completely ignorant.

Many continue to think that Africa is a single country, and would be deeply shocked to know that it is a continent comprising over 50 countries, with a breadth of genetic make-up wider than that of Eurasia. And a lot of people would be equally shocked to realise that Africa is far from ‘poor’; that it is in fact home to a huge mass of mineral wealth, unexploited oil reserves and fine agricultural land.

Furthermore, it is not even the driest continent (some areas are occasionally affected by droughts, but that could certainly be cured with suitable irrigation); Africa is by no means as dry as Australasia.

It is shameful to admit that this ignorance in relation to Africa extends to a good deal of the people who call themselves socialists and communists. A great disservice is done to our movement when we ignore the revolutionary anti-imperialist potential of over 700 million Africans, upon whose backs the whip of imperialism has cracked the hardest, whose land and resources have been raped the most brutally, whose people have been sold into slavery.

In spite of the extent of their oppression, Africans have a proud history of anti-imperialist resistance, which continues to this day and which will inevitably grow. The British working class must learn to unite with the rising African masses, as they must learn to unite with all the oppressed masses, to join as one in the fight against imperialism.

In this context, Chimurenga! The Liberation Struggle in Zimbabwe is an exceptionally valuable resource. Made up of articles that originally appeared in the solidarity journal Revolutionary Zimbabwe and the anti-imperialist paper Lalkar, accompanied by interviews with, and speeches by, top Zanu members (including Robert Mugabe), Chimurenga! documents in detail the struggle of the Zimbabwean people against imperialism, from the early 1970s to the present day, analysing it from the perspective of the working-class movement in Britain.

Relevance of the book

One might legitimately ask: why publish a book that is primarily concerned with events that took place over a quarter of a century ago? The preface offers some entirely reasonable answers to this question, which we will summarise here:

1. Much of the history of the Zimbabwean liberation struggle has been forgotten, and much has failed to be learnt by the younger generation, both in Zimbabwe and elsewhere.

As Harpal Brar points out: “The older generation of participants in the struggle are joined every year by thousands of young people who are desirous of helping with the task of continuing the revolutionary struggle, but who lack an adequate knowledge of the glorious revolutionary history of their country, and are therefore compelled to grope aimlessly and thus become an easy prey for the seductive propaganda of imperialism and its local reactionary agents.”

This was proved very much to be the case when, in 2000, egged on by the imperialist-sponsored Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the Zimbabwean electorate – especially the young – voted against the Zanu-proposed draft constitution, which would allow forcible takeover of white-owned farms.

2. The Zimbabwean liberation movement is one of the great battles in the history of the ongoing struggle of the workers and oppressed masses of the world against imperialism. As such, all workers should be versed in its history; we should consider it to be our history – a tool with direct relevance to our own struggle against imperialism.

3. As workers living in an imperialist country, especially as workers in the country that perpetrated over 80 years of colonial subjugation of Zimbabwe, it is our responsibility to demonstrate total solidarity with those who fought, and still fight, British imperialist influence in Zimbabwe.

4. The fight for Zimbabwe’s independence is not complete, and will not be complete, until such time as the imperialist powers stop attempting to interfere in Zimbabwe’s affairs (which will, no doubt, coincide with imperialism’s total overthrow!).

Every year, the bourgeois press finds a new ‘scandal’ to fan the flames of reaction in Zimbabwe. If President Mugabe and Zanu are not being accused of ‘oppressing’ a tiny minority of white commercial farmers by redistributing their land to the landless Zimbabwean peasantry, then they are alleged to be ‘criminally’ dismantling the illegal stalls that undermine the country’s economy, or ‘despicably’ re-housing the residents of shanty towns, or ‘obscenely’ refusing to allow their imperialist-agent parliamentary opposition to win elections.

The struggle for Zimbabwean independence continues, and we must do everything within our power to support it.

Organisation of the book

Chimurenga! starts with a brief chronology of major events in Zimbabwe from 1888 until the present. Then comes the preface which, as described above, offers an explanation for the book’s publication. The main part of the book is divided up as follows:

Section I: The fraud of detente and its aftermath
Section II: Geneva and its aftermath
Section III: British proposal for a settlement (September 1977)
Section IV: Internal settlement (March 1978)
Section V: Lancaster House and independence
Section VI: The struggle continues
Section VII: Opportunism in the working-class movement

Sections I to IV are extremely important, since not only do they give the reader an in-depth understanding of the extensive campaign of dirty tricks that was perpetrated by the British and their allies in order to subvert the Zimbabwean revolutionary struggle, they also give the reader a unique insight into the general history of Zimbabwe and its struggle for independence.

Section VI pulls together all the articles that have appeared in Lalkar over the last few years covering the question of land redistribution.

Section VII follows the trials of the Zimbabwean solidarity movement in Britain, exposing the imperialist-serving nature of many of those who claimed to be supporting the liberation struggle. This section, although it may seem obscure to the reader who is not versed in broad front politics, is highly instructive, and many comparisons can be drawn between the divisions in the Zimbabwe solidarity movement in the 1970s and the antiwar movement today.

Subservience of the fake left; the importance of revolutionary internationalism

Possibly the theme that asserts itself most consistently throughout the book is the idea that, in supporting the movements for liberation of the colonial masses from the yoke of imperialism, the working class in the imperialist countries is not merely engaged in an act of humanitarianism; rather, it is protecting its own interests.

As Marx pointed out, a working class that is bribed by imperialist profits will never be a true revolutionary force for the overthrow of its own ruling class.

Indeed, Marx, with reference to Ireland, wrote: “It is the special task … to awaken a consciousness in the English workers that for them the national emancipation of Ireland is no question of abstract justice or humanitarian sentiment, but the first condition of their own social emancipation.” (Letter to Sigfrid Meyer and August Vogt, 9 April 1870)

The British working class must make revolutionary internationalism its watchword, for the strength of the international forces against imperialism is inversely proportional to the strength of imperialism. Consequently, if it is our wish as British workers to overthrow imperialism, then we must support all movements that weaken it.

In this, the British working class has something to learn from the Zimbabweans, who have for a long time been clear on the question:

“Zanu’s foreign policy is determined by two cardinal principles: to fight against imperialism and to unite with all other progressive forces in the world.

“The enemies we fight against are both local and international. There would be no logic in fighting imperialist tentacles in southern Africa, then supporting or condoning them in the middle east, south-east Africa or Latin America.

“Progressive forces are engaged in a titanic global conflict with imperialism and capitalism. Zanu has thrown its weight on the side of progressive forces and has to confront the opposing forces everywhere.” (Zanu Programme, cited in Chimurenga!, p31)

There are many trade unionists in Britain who sympathise with the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) because it is, ostensibly, a trade union movement, growing out of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (albeit with the considerable assistance of the British and US states, and with cash poured in by various would-be neocolonists with more money than historical sense).

In fact, the MDC is nothing more than the old Rhodesian White Farmers’ Union, rebranded and with a few black faces to give it some credibility. Those who are fooled by this gambit have not yet learnt (or do not wish to learn) the lesson that not every organisation calling itself ‘working class’ actually acts in the interests of the working class (although you would have thought that the average member of a British trade union would have grasped that truth with the greatest ease, given his experience!)

Such people cannot see that a revolutionary nationalist movement such as Zanu (although it must be stated that Zanu has definite socialist tendencies) will play a more progressive role than an organisation that is ostensibly ‘working class’, but which is in reality a willing tool in the hands of monopoly capital.

It is not enough to take such organisations at their word – they must be judged on their deeds, and on which class benefits from those deeds.

The truth is that, in the international battle to weaken imperialism, nationalist movements may play a vital role, as the following passage from Foundations of Leninism by Josef Stalin emphasises:

“The revolutionary character of a national movement under the conditions of imperialist oppression does not necessarily presuppose the existence of proletarian elements in the movement, the existence of a revolutionary or a republican programme of the movement, the existence of a democratic basis of the movement.

“The struggle that the Emir of Afghanistan is waging for the independence of Afghanistan is objectively a revolutionary struggle, despite the monarchist views of the Emir and his associates, for it weakens, disintegrates and undermines imperialism; whereas the struggle waged by such ‘desperate’ democrats and ‘socialists’, ‘revolutionaries’ and republicans as, for example, Kerensky and Tsereteli, Renaudel and Scheidemann, Chernov and Dan, Henderson and Clynes, during the imperialist war was a reactionary struggle, for its result was the embellishment, the strengthening, the victory, of imperialism.

“For the same reasons, the struggle that the Egyptian merchants and bourgeois intellectuals are waging for the independence of Egypt is objectively a revolutionary struggle, despite the bourgeois origin and bourgeois title of the leaders of the Egyptian national movement, despite the fact that they are opposed to socialism; whereas the struggle that the British ‘Labour’ government is waging to preserve Egypt’s dependent position is for the same reasons a reactionary struggle, despite the proletarian origin and the proletarian title of the members of that government, despite the fact that they are ‘for’ socialism.” (1924, Chapter 6)

Land question, not a race question

Another very important point that is emphasised in Chimurenga! is that the struggle for the liberation of Zimbabwe was not, and is not, a struggle against white Zimbabweans. There is no question of racism being perpetrated against whites; rather, there is a question of inequality of ownership of Zimbabwe’s land.

As Comrade Mugabe points out: “The struggle in Zimbabwe and indeed in southern Africa as a whole has never been against the white man per se. It is not a struggle for exclusive African rights. On the contrary, our struggle is against an unjust system – a system of exploitation, oppression and racial discrimination. It is a struggle for human equality and dignity.

“The struggle, as we see it, is fundamentally between the exploiting class and the exploited class. The exploiters who control political, military and economic power are … wholly white … and the exploited and powerless are wholly Africans. Because of this racial division our struggle tends to be confused and often misinterpreted as a racial one.

“We do not accept this thesis. We believe that white racism is only the result of the irrationality of imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism. Imperialism, to us, has been the major source of economic and social conflict.” (Cited in Chimurenga! preface, p5)

In an interview conducted by CFRO radio in Vancouver, George Charamba, Zimbabwean minister of information and publicity explained:

“The fundamental issue facing the nation of Zimbabwe has to do with land ownership. If you consider that we are eleven million and out of that whole number a mere four thousand people who happen to come from one ethnic group, namely the whites, do own about one-half of the arable land, that is about 12.5 million hectares of land, while the rest of the population is crowded on 15.3 million hectares of land, then you realise that when we talk about the land question, we are really getting to the heart of the political question in Zimbabwe.” (The Third Chimurenga, Shunpiking magazine, 2004)

The pressing question of land ownership is the reason that the Zimbabwean war of independence was fought in the first place. It has finally been addressed by the recent programme of land redistribution, which in turn has led to the unremitting stream of vitriol that has been poured upon the Zanu administration by the imperialist press in the last few years.

In Chimurenga!, Comrade Brar demonstrates that it was precisely this question that was not adequately settled at the Lancaster House agreements in 1979 (which set the terms for free elections and independence), and that this has caused the majority of Zimbabwe’s problems since liberation.

A particularly dirty role was played by the present Labour administration in Britain, which, after coming to power, refused outright to honour itds responsibilities under the Lancaster House agreement – ie, it refused to make funds available for the purchase, on the basis of willing-seller-willing-buyer, of white farms by black Zimbabweans.

This promise had been honoured only to a slight extent by previous Tory governments, but Tony Blair‘s Labour government washed its hands of it entirely.

“The Blair government came in and said they didn’t recognise the obligations of the previous British government. Of course, the Zimbabwean government pointed out that the law of succession says that you take over the liabilities and assets of the preceding government. This agreement requires that the British government makes available money for the land. You can’t just abrogate it just like that.

“The Blair government was very adamant. They said they were not going to recognise that. Then the Zimbabwean government took the position that if you won’t make land money available then we will simply go and take our land. It is our land. It is in our own country, and it’s a simple question of getting that land and settling our people, which is what has actually happened.” (George Charamba, op cit)

Zimbabwe today

In addition to its analysis of the struggle of the 1970s, Chimurenga! also provides comprehensive coverage and analysis of recent events in Zimbabwe.

Pointing out the reasons for the continuing hysteria in the imperialist press against President Mugabe and Zanu (that is, firstly, and most importantly, the redistribution of land; secondly, Zimbabwe’s honourable and self-sacrificing intervention on the side of the forces of democracy in the Democratic Republic of Congo; and thirdly, Zimbabwe’s refusal to comply with the terms of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund), it goes on to describe the role of the so-called ‘Movement for Democratic Change’ – an organisation set up with the direct assistance of, and for the defence of, British and US capital.

Comrade Brar points out: “If you are defending the interests of imperialism in Africa then it is better to do it through black faces. This is done all over the world. Neocolonialism is a better master than the old-style colonialism.” (p231)

Brar also points out that, regardless of what the press says, and what the imperialists now do, the land question, which has been the principal source of misery for the Zimbabwean masses for over a century, has now, finally, been irreversibly solved:

“Whatever the results in future elections, whatever the fate of the Zanu(PF) government and President Mugabe, the land resettlement in Zimbabwe is irreversible. Imperialism and its stooges are going to have to live with this reality.

“It is to the undying credit of Zanu(PF), in particular to its undisputed leader, President Mugabe, that they have solved this, the most difficult problem of the Zimbabwean people. Theirs is the first non-communist government since the Great French Revolution of the late 18th century to have solved the land question in such a revolutionary way.

“Let imperialism and its stooges fulminate and heap abuse on Zanu(PF) and Robert Mugabe. The whole of progressive humanity has every reason to join the joyous masses of Zimbabwe on this historical occasion of their tumultuous return to their land – nay, to their country.” (p441)

‘The likes of which has never been published before’

For someone who is interested in the struggle against imperialism in Africa, this book is a must read. Its significance and value was described by Comrade Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, former Zimbabwean ambassador to Britain (recently recalled to Zimbabwe to take up the post of foreign minister).

Addressing a public meeting of the CPGB-ML in London in early 2005, he described Comrade Brar’s book as an excellent and comprehensive account of Zimbabwe’s struggle for independence, “the likes of which has never been published before”. At that meeting, he stated that the book was being read at the highest levels of Zimbabwean government and that he hoped it would be made available for Zimbabwean children to study in schools.

This is indeed a fitting tribute to this important work, which we strongly advise everyone to read. We are confident that the information contained within it will serve as an aid in the struggle against imperialism and for socialism. Moreover, we believe that readers will be inspired by its contents to join the fight against neocolonialist interference in Zimbabwe and to support the actions of the Zimbabwean people and government, who are fighting tooth and nail to maintain and extend their liberation.

“We will not compromise our principles of freedom and national sovereignty, no matter who gets upset. Zimbabwe is not for the convenience and pleasure of any country, less still of adventurous bloodthirsty and domineering neocolonialists.

Zimbabwe will never be a colony again! Never, never ever!” (Comrade Robert Mugabe, Speech at the National Sports Stadium, 18 April 2004, cited in Chimurenga!, p 443)


Chimurenga! The Liberation Struggle in Zimbabwe is available in the Communists’ bookshop.