Monday, 30 June 2008


Professor and Preacher Michael Eric Dyson on Hip Hop & Politics, Don Imus, the "N"-word, and Bill Cosby

Democracy Now
From war and violence to the civil rights movement and hip hop, from Hurricane Katrina to race politics, Professor Michael Eric Dyson takes it all on. Over the past fourteen years he has written fourteen bestselling books including “Come Hell or High Water” and “Debating Race.” Ebony magazine has named him as one of the 100 Most Influential African Americans. His latest book is titled “Know What I Mean? Reflections on Hip Hop.” [includes rush transcript]

AMY GOODMAN: From war and violence to the Civil Rights Movement to hip-hop, from Hurricane Katrina to race politics, Professor Michael Eric Dyson takes it all on. Over the past fourteen years he has written fourteen bestselling books, including Come Hell or High Water and Debating Race. Ebony magazine has named him as one of 100 most influential African Americans. His latest book, just out now, is called Know What I Mean? Reflections on Hip Hop. Professor Dyson is an ordained Baptist minister, was just named University Professor at Georgetown where he teaches English, Theology and African American Studies. Michael Eric Dyson joins us now in our firehouse studio with the rain pouring down outside. Welcome to Democracy Now!

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Thank you so much. It’s always great to be here with you.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to have you with us. As we were listening to Tupac, we heard that N-word. Last week in Detroit, I think it was—


AMY GOODMAN:—you have the NAACP holding a funeral for the N-word, burying it. What do you think?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Yeah, I think—and Detroit is my hometown, so I’m from Detroit, and I appreciate the historical legacy of the NAACP. Some people think, well, can you get rid of the “colored” in the NAACP first before you jump on the N-word? I think, maybe—I’m an ordained Baptist preacher—maybe like Jesus, if you bury the N-word, it will rise again on the third day. I think the Holy Ghost of rhetorical fire will insist that the N-word not be buried. I don’t think you can bury words. I think the more you try to dismiss them, the more power you give to them, the more circulation they have. I think that there are many more issues that the NAACP should be focused on: structural inequality, social injustice, this war in Iraq, the imperial presidency, which has subverted the democracy of the country.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let me get your response to what Julian Bond said, the chair of the board of the NAACP.

JULIAN BOND: I think the Don Imus controversy gave all of us a heightened awareness of how harmful the spoken word can be. And while we are great respecters of the First Amendment—had there not been a First amendment, this organization would not exist—but we don’t believe it’s a violation of the First Amendment to say to somebody, ‘You ought not to talk that way. You ought not denigrate women. You ought not condemn people because of the color of their skin.’ So this, we hope, is sending a message to the world—the country, in particular—the world, that there are certain words that ought not be spoken, and the N-word is one of them."

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Julian Bond. Michael Eric Dyson?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: I respect Julian Bond, and I think that non-black people should respect that rule. But I think when you have African American people who are employing that term—Martin Luther King, Jr., the night he was murdered, before that, when Andrew Young came in, after him being missing in action all day, King said, “Little ‘N,’ where have you been?” The point is that Martin Luther King, Jr. was undeniably in defense of African American people, but there are ways in which nuances, in which complex uses of that term that don’t signify hate and vitriol.

And I don’t think Don Imus can blame hip-hop for his problems. First of all, the demonization of black women is much older than Snoop Dogg. This is a history in America that is racist, that sees black women as oversexed, because they had to deal with the oversexed organs of their black men. But there’s no question that hip-hop must bear responsibility, I’m not denying that. I think that the vitriol directed against women has to be taken on head on. But the NAACP, Rainbow/PUSH, National Action Network, let’s look at their sexual politics. Let’s look at the history of the Civil Rights Movement and its own tortured gender politics. No, you’re not using the B-word or the H-word, but if you go to a black church, 75% to 80% of the women who are there are giving their tithes, supporting a patriarchal order, where they can cook, clean and sew, but cannot pastor a church they numerically dominate. I’ll tell you, that’s misogyny at its worst.

AMY GOODMAN: You have a chapter, a “track,” as you put it, in your book, “Cover Your Eyes as I Describe a Scene So Violent.”

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Right, right. Dealing with the reality of violence and homophobia and the assault upon women and the kind of vicious attack, black-on-black so-called crime in Black America that’s being glorified and glamorized. So, again, I sympathize and empathize with Mr. Bond in regard to saying, “Look, we’ve got to do something about it.”

I just don’t think the attempt to restrict the use of the word itself among African American people—to not make a distinction between Don Imus and Snoop Dogg is rather ludicrous. I think that there is a great deal of resentment in some white pockets and communities: “Why can’t we use that word?” Well, first of all, you invented the term, alright? That’s not a black term. So it’s not like white folk didn’t have their chance, right. They invented the term. And then when black people took it over—“You know what? I’m not going to allow you to define me that way. I’m going to take a term you use as hateful and use it as a term of endearment”—in part, I know it’s more complex than that. Then, now the people who invented it are going, “Well, dabgummit, how come we can’t use it?” ‘Cause we took the term from you. “We” being collective, and I know I’m being over-large here.

My point is simply this: words have histories, they do track into material effects, but they also have the ability to allow us to resist them. If women use the B-word among themselves, that’s different than a man using it. If gay and lesbian people use “queer” among themselves, that’s different than us using it on the outside. So I think there are inside and outside discourses, and it does get messy in a global economy, where now a CD can be put out in Africa somewhere or even Japan, people who don’t speak English can say the N-word among themselves, not understanding that history. I get that. But Snoop Dogg is not W.E.B. DuBois, and white kids cannot be educated by rappers. We have other intellectuals that you don’t teach them to listen to who can inform them about that.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think Imus should have been thrown off the air? Actually, now word is he’s coming back.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Yeah, he’s coming back. You know, look, I think at the point, at that time, Imus was an unfortunate or fortunate scapegoat and an example at the same time. Welcome to the black world, brother. So that’s the world we live in. And he’s a rich, rich guy. He ain’t going to hurt for a while. I think he was part of a flashpoint along a bigger trajectory of contest over what can be said and not said. It’s not simply about political incorrectness, because Imus was jumping on vulnerable populations, along with, you know, very powerful people. So I think the fact that he got away with that for so long, and people who are on local network television and national network television were getting a free pass. They knew Imus was making racist jokes. They knew he was saying some horrible things, and his sidekicks, but not until, ironically enough, he assaulted these poor black women, and guess what? Most of them have straightened hair, so they weren’t even “nappy-headed.”

The reality is, his bias obscured his ophthalmological perception. His optic nerve somehow got contorted, because these women had straight hair. There were only a couple, quote, “nappy-headed” women. So he was signifying something deeper: dark-skinned women are not seen as beautiful, lighter-skinned women are seen as beautiful. That’s what he tapped into. I saw no conversation, hardly, on television about that, because these are deep, internal debates in Black America. So yeah, I think at that point, he should have been kicked off, but I’m glad to have him back. I’ll see—let’s just see if he’s changed, as he said he is. Let’s just see if he’s actually been informed the way he said he was.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Michael Eric Dyson, a professor now at Georgetown. Well, this is new.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: It is. It just happened July 1. You know, I went to G-town to become a Hoya.

AMY GOODMAN: I just have to say, if people hear the noise in the background, it’s not a truck going by, it is rain that is falling hard on a hundred-year-old firehouse, where we broadcast from in New York. I mean, it is storming outside.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: It is storming outside. And that’s a metaphor for what’s going on in this country now, the hailing down of resistance and rebellion against an imperial presidency, the vicious fascism of a Dick Cheney and a Condoleezza Rice. I tell you, let it rain and cleanse us.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, talking about war, the Senate had one of these rare overnights, where the senators got together, had pizza, had their cots outside, and they talked about the war, about possibly pulling troops out by next April, a vote that they say will not pass today.


AMY GOODMAN: What about the war in Iraq?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Well, it’s horrible. I mean, the fact is that we have to make a dramatic show, a theatrical show, of solidarity with the masses of people. I mean, you look at a woman like Cindy Sheehan who was saying, “Look, I’m going to hold you Democrats as equally responsible as these Republicans,” and now people are pushing back on her. The reality is that we have to hold all of us accountable. And our political representatives, the neoliberal politics that have ceded the legitimacy of the war initially, now seeing that the tide of the country has turned back against them. I think the Senate has to be responsible, and I think we, as an American people, have to speak out against this war, which is costing us, you know, billions of dollars a month in a day we could be helping not only so many people here, we could actually be rebuilding the infrastructure that we have devastated. And we know hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in this vicious war on the other side, but we never hear any reporting about that. I think it’s time for us as an American people to stand up and rise up and say enough is enough.

AMY GOODMAN: You’ve talked a lot, Michael Eric Dyson, about the prisons of this country. We’ve heard a lot about what happened at Abu Ghraib, what’s happening at Guantanamo, at Bagram. Abu Ghraib was set up by heads of departments of corrections in this country who had been thrown out of their positions for abuse here at home.


AMY GOODMAN: Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Connecticut. The heads of these departments, disgraced, often sued, go to Abu Ghraib, and they set it up. What about this issue of what’s happening here at home in the prisons of this country?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Yeah, that’s a very good point you raise, and that’s a bit of history that a lot of people are not familiar with, except on your tremendous Democracy Now! But it is reprehensible that these people, cast out from their own native land in regard to the prison system, now create these situations of horror elsewhere. But it also shows how horrible they were on the indigenous side, on the native side. Black and Latino people disproportionately being incarcerated, over-incarcerated, poor white men and women increasingly without adequate representation, and I think that it suggests that we have an unequal and unfair justice system that continues to target vulnerable populations.

And the over-incarceration of black and brown youth is ridiculous. Amnesty International did a report about five, six years ago, saying the same offense that little white kids are rapped on their knuckles for—“Don’t do that again, Johnny!”—black and brown kids are sent to detention and then on to jail and then on warehouse for prison. And on the backs of black and Latino people, we’re building an entire industry that allows working-class and lower-middle-class white Americans to enjoy a decent wage, unfortunately at the expense of these people. And that’s a horrible situation to be in, and we got to stop it.

AMY GOODMAN: Speaking of that, I wanted to turn to the case of the Jena Six, the six African American high school students in Louisiana who are charged with attempted murder for a schoolyard fight with a white student. The fight took place amidst mounting racial tension after a black student dared to sit under a tree in the schoolyard where only white students sat. The next day, three nooses were hanging from the tree, it was reported, in the school colors. The first of the Jena Six, Mychal Bell, was recently convicted of aggravated battery and conspiracy charges for the fight. He now faces twenty-two years in prison. He’ll be sentenced on July 31st. This is what his father, Marcus Jones, had to say about his son’s ordeal.

MARCUS JONES: One of the best lessons that my son could learn that’s one of the best lessons: to know what it is to be black now. You know, if this don’t teach him what it is to be black now, I don’t know what will. But he’s seventeen now. You know, he’s got a lot of life left ahead of him. And the day he set foot out of jail, I’m going to tell him, I’m going to tell him again, “You know what it is to be black now. Here it is.”

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Marcus Jones speaking in Jena in Louisiana. Special thanks to Jacquie Soohen of Big Noise Films, who went down, and we ran the piece on this. So his son Mychal faces twenty-two years in prison. The other five face up to a hundred years in prison each.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: This is just totally reprehensible. And it’s even tragic to hear the comments of the father. I understand him as a black man in a place that is, you know, anachronistic. It’s lost in time. It’s as if the ‘60s and ’70s never happened. But what’s tragic here is that he doesn’t have to—you know, white kids learn lessons, and they go on to become president of the United States. His kid learns a lesson, and he goes to jail possibly for ten, fifteen years and gets out and learns what it means to be black. That’s tragic in its own right.

But more especially, we have to say, let’s keep your son from going to jail. Let’s organize and be activists and raise our voices for the Jena Six, because this white tree, as they called it, where the nooses were found, the white kids got involved in a fisticuffs, and now being charged with attempted murder is an extraordinary indictment of a justice system or an injustice system, itself, that would dare consign these kids, relegate them to prison for the better part of their adult lives, or at least as they enter adulthood. And this is something, again, that we think exists in some other country. Louisiana is already in another time warp because of Hurricane Katrina. Now we see that the justice system is just as wretched and failing the people of Louisiana, as, indeed, the federal government did when the hurricane came.

AMY GOODMAN: What about that? I mean, you wrote the book—you were on Democracy Now! after it was published—Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster.


AMY GOODMAN: Where we are today, the US supposedly can’t afford to really reconstruct New Orleans.


AMY GOODMAN: And yet, Iraq, Afghanistan.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: And yet, we’re spending, you know, billions of dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I was just there recently for the Essence Music Festival and did a keynote down there and visited the Ninth Ward, along with Susan Taylor, as we call her, the Queen of Black America. And the tragedy—

AMY GOODMAN: Of Essence magazine.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Of Essence magazine, absolutely. And the tragedy is, as you know, Amy, it looks like nothing has ever been done, because mostly that’s true. The Ninth Ward is suffering. Gentilly is suffering. The entire city, except for the business district, has been nearly unmolested by enlightenment or resource. And I think that that’s a tragedy in America that people have to hear that nothing has been done.

So we’re organizing to go down there on 8/29, just like 9/11, 8/29, to say in the second anniversary, “We will not take this.” We’re calling it a day of presence. We care, and we act. We listen, and we care, and we act. So it’s very important for to us go down to New Orleans and to write your congress people, to send letters and emails, to flood them. If a grassroots organization can, you know, get a horrible thing done for illegal immigration and get the Senate bill stalled by sending a million faxes, then those of us who are progressive and left-leaning or leftist and liberal and who are good Americans should do the same, and no less, when it comes to the people of New Orleans, because this is a litmus test not only for New Orleans, but what happens when many other vulnerable populations are left to their own resources without the help of the federal government.

AMY GOODMAN: Kanye West, the President doesn’t like black people, making that statement live, national television—

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Right, right, doesn’t care about black people, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Doesn’t care about black people. Talk about hip-hop, how Hurricane Katrina affected it, how it talked, how hip-hop artists dealt with it.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Right, right. Well, that’s a great point. Lil’ Wayne, who’s a, you know, New Orleans rapper, spoke out about it in a very powerful way against Mr. Bush. Kanye West made his statement.

AMY GOODMAN: What did you think that day?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: I think it was absolutely accurate. I write about this in my book. Look, he didn’t say, “hate black people. "He said, "doesn’t care.” And how do you measure—he didn’t mean personally. He said the—he’s talking about George Bush, not individually. He doesn’t have dinner with him. He’s talking about George Bush, the face of the government, George Bush, the representative of the American way of life and democratic institutions. This man, as our representative, failed to show up until five days later, so he doesn’t care. How do you measure care in political terms? The development and delivery of critical resources during a critical time to vulnerable populations. He obviously doesn’t care, institutionally, about these people. Whether he likes us individually, of course, I’m sure that’s the case. But the institutional effect of his disregard is what was devastating.

Jay-Z made an incredible—I think the best—hip-hop song, in regard, in response to Hurricane Katrina. It’s called, “Minority Report” on his latest album. Check that out. And when he talks about President Bush and the refusal to recognize and acknowledge the humanity of these people. Mos Def, “Katrina Clap,” made an incredible song. So hip-hop at its best responded to this lyrically, they gave their resources. David Banner from Mississippi, Kevin Powell, the activist, who is part of the hip-hop generation and many other hip-hop artists organized especially around this issue, and it was quite admirable.

AMY GOODMAN: And what effect does it have?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Well, I think it at least raises the consciousness of people, number one. And one of the rappers said, look, we rap all about the bling and the diamonds and we act like we’re so rich. Well, then, don’t tell me anything about that, and if you can’t show up down here during this crisis and help people—the question is, does it have a long-term effect. Most of us, you know, have ADD, nationally speaking, right? So there’s no drug to remedy that, except a memory and a recall. We have to have dangerous memories to recall what happened there. Many people have moved on. They’ve forgotten. They’ve got Katrina fatigue and compassion fatigue, and they moved on. That’s why we’ve got to keep hammering this home. And the rappers, like many other entertainers and artists, have largely moved on, but we have to recall their attention, and we have to stage these dramatic public displays of empathy and political sympathy for those who are most vulnerable still.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Eric Dyson, talk about conscious rap.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Well, conscious rap is a very important subgenre within hip-hop. So-called young people who are conscious of the political limitations of the culture and who are conscientious about speaking out against them, a guy like Mos Def—“You can laugh and criticize Michael Jackson if you wanna / Woody Allen molested and married his step-daughter / Same press kicking dirt on Michael’s name / shows Woody and Soon-Yi at the playoff game.” Or a guy like Talib Kweli: “These cats drink champagne, toast death and pain / like slaves on a ship bragging about who got the flyest chain.” Or a guy like Common, who’s incredibly important, wrote a song about Assata Shakur on his album Like Water for Chocolate. So these are—or Lauryn Hill,: “Even after all my logic and my theory, I add a cussword so you ignorant people hear me.” So these are rappers who understand the political definition historically communicated in African American culture about who we are as a people, and more broadly, progressive America and try bring that to bear on their rap art form.

AMY GOODMAN: Last October here in New York, hundreds of people gathered for a town hall meeting on the future of diversity in the nation’s media. Speakers included a number of artists and activists from the hip hop community. One of them was M-1 of dead prez. This is some of what he had to say.

M-1: We’re sick and tired of not having voices that reflect exactly our reality in our community. We’re are sick and tired of that. And we’re also sick and tired of being bombarded with senseless and useless and meaningless messages that don’t do anything but drive forward this capitalist machine and get us to spend more and more. That’s not what we want to hear. That’s not what we want to hear.

I work for the people. The streets is my office. I put my ear to the ground, and I hear our movement. That’s not being reported on the radio. It’s not what’s being seen on the TV. That’s what I do, you know, as a social animal. And right now, I’m here to say that the word for today is “self-determination.” That’s what we need: self-determination. That’s what—inside this meeting, outside this meeting, over our lives, and it’s being reflected in what’s happening to our brains.

What would Huey say? On the 40th anniversary of the Black Panther Party, what would Huey P. Newton say? “Community control.” Just like my partner here said. If we ain’t talking about complete community control, if we’re not about the people being able to govern the voices that’s coming into our community—our elders, our ancestors, our leaders. Like we say in hip-hop, let the poppers pop and the breakers break. In other words, let the leaders lead, and let that be the filter for what’s being heard in our community, the real that need to be heard in our community.

AMY GOODMAN: M-1 of dead prez.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Yeah, a highly articulate, incredibly insightful young man, and he’s right. A lot—what dead prez does, “Mind Sex,” “Revolutionary But Gangsta,” some of their hits and songs, this group has not been nearly accorded the level of respect that it should have for being politically conscientious or, you know, on the frontline, on the cutting edge, trying to tell the truth. And that’s not a popular truth.

You know, the white record executives, and increasingly the black ones, who control rap music are not trying to hear self-critical, self-conscious, political rap, as opposed to belligerent behinds and bouncing bosoms. They’d rather have that kind of stuff—the bling, the broad, the booze—as opposed to the serious political rebellion and activity. As he says, “The streets is my office, I keep my ear to the ground, and that’s not been reported.” Most black radio and broader radio doesn’t play the kind of progressive hip-hop we hear from him or the Coup, a Bay Area group, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Who determines what’s heard?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Well, the people who play the music, the payola. You know, there’s still payola We can call that an anachronistic term, but people who pay the dough to get the top twenty hits played. We hear the same thing mindlessly repeated. Record labels collude with some of the radio stations, and the radio stations have their play lists, dependent upon what they call the, quote, “hits.” What’s commercially viable gets recycled, endlessly repeated, and as a result of that, the progressive music can’t break in. And some of the best artists who are commercially viable, some of their best work can’t even get heard. So we might hear, “Show Me What You Got” from Jay-Z, but we won’t hear “Minority Report,” as well, and he’s making that kind of brilliant music. So if a guy like that who’s making commercially viable music can’t get the other stuff played, then much less can a guy like M-1 or a Talib Kweli get heard.

AMY GOODMAN: M-1 came to our studios, oh, a few years ago, when we were in the garret of this old firehouse. This is his rap:

M-1: She wanna pop the lock,
but prison ain’t nothing but a private stock.
And she be dreaming ’bout his date of release.
She hate the police,
but loved by her grandma
who hugs and kisses her.
Her father’s a political prisoner.
Free Fred!
Son of a Panther that the government shot dead
back on 12/4, 1969,
Four o’clock in the morning.
It’s terrible, but it’s fine.
’Cause Fred Hampton, Jr. looks just like him,
walks just like him, talks just like him,
and it might be frightening the feds and the snitches
to see him organize the gang brothers and sisters.
So he had to be framed, yo.
You know how the game go:
eighteen years, because the 5-0 said so.
They said he set a fire to a Korean store,
but he ignited the minds of the young black and poor.
Behind enemy lines, my niggers are cellmates.
Most of the youth never escape the jail fate.
Super-maximum cans will advance their game plan
to keep us in the hands of the man, locked up.

For Tupac.
They try to make us think we crazy,
but I know what they doin’,
they tryin’ to put us back in slavery.
Check it, to get on welfare, you got to give your finger prints.
Soon you got to do eye scans to get your benefits.
Now they got them cards to swipe. Ain’t no more food stamps.
Should have seen it coming. It’s too late to get amped.
And everything got a bar code,
so they know what you got when you got it
and what you still owe.

This is for Mumia and Sundiata, Herman Bell, we gotcha.
Mutulu Shakur, we want you free with Assata.
And, Giuliani, yo, you could swim with the lobsters.
I hope your mobsters lose your livers to the vodka.
Somebody need to get took hostage.
This is preposterous.
Got a whole nation up in bondage.
It might sound rash, but, brothers, we ’bout to crash.
We’re in a race for life. You’re thinkin’ it’s for cash flow.
I’m going to be the asshole coming in the party to harass you.
Or should I say f-—it and just dance to,
But we don’t dance no more, unless it’s capoiera.
We the new rap era of natural born guerrillas.
’Cause anything can happen if you make it so.
I’m like George Jackson, 45 in my afro.
I’m like Marcus Garvey coming with money to blow.
Saying I want an army of boats full of brothers that led revolts.
On that note, I’m sick of these scared rap millionaires

AMY GOODMAN: That is M-1 in the firehouse studio.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Yeah, you know, spitting it. He’s spitting it raw. M-1 from dead prez, my man. You know, the two brilliant rappers from the Coup. When you think about Immortal Technique, these are some—people go, “Who are they?” These are some of the most brilliant political, radical rappers. You see the intelligence he’s spitting. You see the common sense he’s spitting. You see the progressive sentiments he’s spitting. That’s not something that people want to hear. And they claim it’s not in Black America. Where is it? But when we spit it like this, when the truth is told like this, Black America can embrace it more broadly, and we know the broader mainstream America doesn’t do it as well. But we need voices like that. And maybe ten years from now, fifteen years from now, when we look back on this era, we’ll say, “Because a guy like that lived.” And I was just on a panel with him a couple weeks ago in New Orleans, a brilliant, articulate, soulful artist. And we need to hear more of them.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Eric Dyson, we’re going to go to break, come back, also hear Mumia Abu-Jamal talking about hip-hop. And I want to ask you about how you traverse these worlds, as you go from the Ivy League, from the University of Pennsylvania to Georgetown to, well, where you came from in Detroit. We’re talking to Michael Eric Dyson, professor now at Georgetown University, has a new book out. It’s called Know What I Mean? Reflections on Hip Hop. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Our guest, professor and preacher Michael Eric Dyson. He’s written many books, among them, well, Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster, Debating Race with Michael Eric Dyson. His latest book is Know What I Mean? Reflections on Hip Hop. Nas, talk about him.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: He’s an incredible genius. In fact, Jay-Z wrote the introduction to my latest book, and Nas wrote the outro. Nas is one of the great rhetorical geniuses that this art form has produced. “It’s only right that I was born to use mics / and the stuff that I write is even tougher than dice. / I’m taking rap into a new plateau / through rap slow. / my rhyming is a vitamin, hell, without a capsule.” An incredibly fertile artist, a man who has been obsessed with trying to join political sensibility with street-thug truth and not celebrating it, but try to interrogate it, trying to ask questions.

At their best, these rappers are like ethnographers, you know, searching anthropologists trying to figure out the folk ways and the mores of the culture that they emerge from. And they’re spitting truth for those, witnessing for those who are left behind. And I think Nas is one of the greatest ever to do so and has written such a powerful music that has been balanced between high cerebral art and the kind of street vitality that it takes to make that music viable.

AMY GOODMAN: Jay-Z—he wrote the introduction to your book—says, “Michael Eric Dyson came up on the tough streets of Detroit, didn’t grow up with silver spoons at the family table. The family didn’t have fine china. His path from then to now wasn’t clear of trouble and strife. He came up through the church in the world of academia in spite of his experience.”

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Yes, ma’am. It was very kind of him to say. Another great genius, one of the great geniuses in this art form, and Nas, of course, is acknowledged for his rhetorical power and depth and the way in which he’s able to reach back to these traditions of black revolution and protest. Jay-Z is seen as a commercially viable rapper selling, you know, some of the best tracks and records in the history of hip-hop. But sometimes people sleep on. They think, well, he’s clever, but his cleverness sometimes obscures the kind of genius that he possesses that speaks to some of these political situations, you know. “All my teachers couldn’t reach me, / and my mama couldn’t beat me / hard enough to match the pain of my pops not seeing me. / So with that disdain in my membrane, / I got on my pimp game, / f-—the world, my defense came.” That’s an explanation for what happens when fatherless-ness besieges a young black man and leaves him psychically vulnerable. So, Jay-Z is an incredible artist, who, yes, is commercially viable, but if you listen to the b-sides, " I’m from the place where the churches are the flakiest, / the people been praying to God so long they’re atheist." He really has an intelligence that you have to listen to.

AMY GOODMAN: And the contradictions of hip-hop, I mean, for example, with Jay-Z, videos of women in degrading positions.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Sure. Well, you know, hip-hop at large certainly has to answer and account for the way in which women have been degraded, the vicious assault upon women, to use B and H as the common parlance in reference to women. And it’s an interesting irony, maybe even a cruel paradox, in hip-hop. They love their mamas, but hate their baby mamas, love the women who produce them, but hate and loathe the women with whom they produce children. That’s not a good recipe or an equation for something healthy and productive.

Now, to its credit, at least we can understand where they’re coming from. When you see the misogyny of hip-hop, it’s so horrible, it’s so putrid, it’s so, you know, odious, that we know, we smell, we see it. The misogyny that is reified, that is reinforced, that is subtly reproduced in corporate America or in church life or in synagogues and temples and the like, is sometimes more subtly dealt with. I’m not trying to say therefore we should get rid of both of them. But we should be honest in the fact that the misogyny reflected in hip-hop is a reflection of the deep and profound misogyny in the culture at large. But they should be held accountable, and they should be challenged.

AMY GOODMAN: What about women hip-hop artists?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Yeah, well, you know what? Many of them are reduced to either being the kind of reverse-Lothario or a woman who’s like sexually promiscuous and shows that I can hang with the guys. Or when you have a person like a Lauryn Hill, a Bahamadia, a Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, a tremendous rhetorical flow and enormous gift, they’re often marginalized—or Eve—within the context of hip-hop culture. There’s not much room for women, when you think about it, pound for pound, as there are for men who possess this gift and this talent. It’s seen as a man’s world. And, unfortunately, what that means is that the viewpoints and perspectives of progressive feminist women are not as largely circulated or broadly amplified.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you see hip-hop playing a role in the next election?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Well, potentially if hip-hoppers, like any other citizen, any group of citizens, get together, come out, organize their base and say enough is enough. You know, all of us have to come together here, hip-hoppers, backpackers, you know, green, environmentalist activists, progressive folk, the millions of people who listen to Democracy Now!, and those of us who are out here on the frontline trying to do the right thing. We’ve got to organize our dissent in concrete and logical ways that appear to be reasonable to a constituency beyond our own leftist circles to allow this country to be shaped and shaken.

That’s why, you know, a guy like Barack Obama, who brings a breath of fresh air—even if you disagree with his politics or think they’re neoliberal and middle of the road, but the fact is he is a result of the judgment against the lethargic politics of American culture, or a Hillary Clinton, who’s running again as not only as a woman, but as a woman who at least is making an argument for her spot and space in the culture. But if you take a guy like a Barack Obama, who’s raised millions of dollars from the most donors in the history of this nation, it suggests that there’s a deep and profound hunger for a new politics to come forth. And a guy like him has been able to mobilize that and to reach certain parts of the hip-hop generation. I mean, Ludacris wrote a big check to Barack Obama. That’s an interesting combination, you know? When I move, you move, just like that, along with the audacity of hope. That’s a hell of a combination.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think of how Barack Obama is being covered?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Well, it’s an interesting thing. It’s a difficult position to be in. After all, he’s a highly articulate, as Joe Biden reminded us, and clean and fresh guy. Who knew that when we talked about the influence of hip-hop, we’d be speaking about Joe Biden listening to Outkast? “You’re so fresh and so clean.” I think, you know, Barack Obama is very hard. You read on the cover of Newsweek magazine about race. Is he raceless? He’s biracial. “Is he black enough?” black people saying. He’s got a black wife. He lives on the South Side with two black girls he puts to bed every night, and he’s subject to the vulnerabilities of black masculinity. Yeah, he’s a pretty black guy right there, right.

The question is how black are his politics? Well, look at the progressive character of what he’s trying to put forth. Then you begin to say, Wait a minute. This guy has the potential to make a difference." Now, it doesn’t mean we can’t hold other people accountable or hold him accountable. But I think that how he’s being covered is a reflection of the obsession with race and the avoidance of race at the same time. It will be interesting to see how that continues to be negotiated around the coverage of him in the coming election.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to play a clip of Mumia Abu-Jamal, on death row in the state you’re leaving, Pennsylvania.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Exactly, exactly.

AMY GOODMAN: Just—his case was just in court. This is Mumia Abu-Jamal, who speaks frequently about the importance of hip-hop. A prison radio commentary from Mumia Abu-Jamal last year.

MUMIA ABU-JAMAL: Hip-hop all over the world. When the term “hip-hop” is mentioned, it often evokes images of jewel-encrusted rappers, their mouths blazing with glitter and gold, bumping and grinding to a heavy bass beat. That’s part of it, but it’s a small part.

Through the power of the US media and the international forces which fuel radio, hip-hop is now a world music with borders that can no longer be marked. To most of us, it’s a black American thing and perhaps a Puerto Rican thing with roots in the gritty South Bronx. Those days may reflect the birth of that art form, expressed in rap, in dance and in street art styles, but hip-hop echoes abroad today with adherents and fans as far field as Hawaii, the Middle East, Nigeria, India, Germany, France, Cuba, Samoa, South Africa, Tanzania and beyond. It is almost dizzying when one considers the various forms hip-hop and rap takes when it crosses the seas.

In many places, even though it began with perhaps rather poor imitations of African American rappers, they inevitably adapt their own forms, heavily influenced, yes, by African American rap, but quickly and cleverly becoming something that reflects the recurrent power of the indigenous. In Hilo, Hawaii, the group Sudden Rush has indigenized hip-hop by using the Hawaiian language in their work and also openly opposing the US annexation of the island and the imprisonment and dethronement of the Hawaiian Royal House. One of their biggest hits was entitled “Ku’e,” Hawaiian for “resist” or “stand up.” They speak about Uncle Sam’s grand larceny in stealing Hawaii from the native people there.

In Britain, hip-hop often takes a more Asian flavor than an African one, as seen in the group Kaliphz, which features folks from Pakistani, Sikh and South Asian families. Interestingly, one of their biggest influences has been the Wu-Tang Clan, a black rap group that uses Asian imagery and language about the Asiatic black man, a reference born in the Nation of Islam’s teachings. In the UK, black is commonly used to refer to Africans, Asians and Caribbeans, in fact anyone who isn’t white. With a group like the Kaliphz, a line from one of Wu-Tang’s biggest hits, “Proteck Ya Neck” from the album Enter the 36th Chamber, has an interesting meaning when they rap that they want to terrorize the jam like troops from Pakistan. As the Kaliphz demonstrate, blackness has many faces and many forms.

As many art forms have spread out of Black America, once it leaves, it changes and becomes a tool of other people struggling against their own internal communal problems. Around the world, the art form embraces social transformation and has become a voice of many languages against racism, exclusion, poverty, political exploitation and imperial domination. Those that began the art form probably never saw its possibilities. But there it is. It is a world music, just like jazz or rock ‘n’ roll.

From death row, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal.

AMY GOODMAN: Mumia Abu-Jamal. Actually, a panel of judges, three-judge panel, heard oral arguments to decide whether he gets a new trial. We’re waiting to hear on that, but he’s talking about the global impact of hip-hop.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Yeah, as brilliant as he always is, and we hope and pray that justice will be done in his case and that he will soon be free. There’s no question that he is absolutely right about the global impact of hip-hop and the way in which an art form that was indigenous to black people in the South Bronx could travel the world over. I mean, think about it. The partition that came down late ‘80s in Poland, you know, they’re playing “F* tha Police”—in the ‘90s, you know, “F* tha Police.” You know, they’ve never been to Compton, and yet that music traveled so far their speaking out against the repressive state through police brutality now becomes a universal symbol of arguing in defense of dissent against a state that would repress that. So hip-hop has a global influence that actually needs to be acknowledged.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill Cosby, you wrote the book Is Bill Cosby Right or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind? He’s just turned seventy. We’re hearing a lot more from him now.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Yeah, just turned seventy years old. Yeah, we’re still hearing a lot more from Bill Cosby, and look, God bless Mr. Crosby’s heart. He obviously has the right to say what he says. The reason I wrote that book is to argue against the demonization of poor people. My Bible tells me that to whom much is given much is required, and if you’re going to start beating up on black people who have failed, you can’t start with the poor. They have been failed. Now, of course, they have flaws like anybody else. But it’s the black bourgeoisie, it’s the upper middle class, it’s the rich black people who have sold their consciences at the price of silence in the face of denial of opportunity for their lesser-well-off brothers and sisters, and yet they would take the media spotlight that is hugely focused upon them to beat up on vulnerable black people.

There is nothing brave about demonizing poor black women. And if you talk about hip-hop’s demonization of black women, listen to Bill Cosby’s speech and tell me you can tell the difference. “These people and women having sex with the people coming through.” That’s gangsta rap against and vicious vitriol against poor black women. “The people have one daddy and two daddies, and so pretty soon you’re going to have to have a DNA card in the ghetto to determine if you’re making love to your grandmother?” That’s pretty vicious.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there, Michael Eric Dyson. Thank you so much for being with us. His latest book is Know What I Mean? Reflections on Hip Hop." Now at Georgetown University, where he teaches Theology, English and African American Studies.

Thursday, 26 June 2008


Zimbabwe At War

June 24, 2008

By Stephen Gowans

With Western media coverage on Zimbabwe monopolized by the views of the neo-liberal MDC, the US and British governments, and “independent” election monitors and human rights groups funded by the US Congress and State Department, the British government’s Westminster Foundation for Democracy, George Soros’ Open Society Institute, and the CIA and Council on Foreign Relations-linked Freedom House, one might think it would be possible to find a measure of relief from the uniformity of ruling class dominated opinion on a socialist web site. Just a tiny break.

Instead, the Socialist Project serves up an article on Zimbabwe, “Death Spiral in Zimbabwe: Mediation, Violence and the GNU”, by Grace Kwinjeh, a founding member of Zimbabwe’s neo-liberal MDC party. The article, not surprisingly, re-iterates a view that is friendly to the party the author is a principal member of.

In your defense, Kwinjeh has a habit of disguising her background, one that’s hardly irrelevant to the subject she’s writing on, by presenting herself as simply an independent journalist living in South Africa –kind of like John McCain submitting analyses on Obama’s politics calling himself an independent journalist living in Arizona. Kwinjeh, a regular on the US propaganda arm Voice of America’ Studio 7, traveled to Washington not too long ago on George Soros’s tab to testify to the regime changers in Washington. She is neither independent, particularly interested in national self-determination, or an opponent of neo-liberalism. You can learn more about Kwinjeh here and here

One might expect the Socialist Project to offer a view from the other side, especially given its support for “the national self-determination of the many peoples of the world” and its implacable opposition to neo-liberalism.

As a corrective, I offer the article below.

Let me make a full disclosure. Unlike Kwinjeh, I am sympathetic to Zimbabwe’s project of national self-determination, I am implacably opposed to neo-liberalism, and while many of my articles have been published in Zimbabwe’s state-owned newspaper, The Herald, (none of which I submitted or was paid for) I have no membership in any political party in Zimbabwe, disguised or otherwise, much less a relationship as a founding member. I would think the article below is much closer to the aims and sympathies of the Socialist Project than Kwinjeh’s.

Zimbabwe At War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overthrowing the Revolution

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

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

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

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

The MDC and Land Reform

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

Civil Society

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

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

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

Regime Change Agenda

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

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

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

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

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

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

Threat to US Foreign policy

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

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

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

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

The Comprador Party

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

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

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

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

What Brown is really saying is that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Distorting Lens of the Western Media

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Safeguarding the Revolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Opposition’s Failed Attempts at Insurrection

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

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

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

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

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

Making the Economy Scream

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

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

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

Harare’s Options

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

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

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

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

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

Guns Trump “Xs”

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

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