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Bond / Gowans debate on Zimbabwe

Bond Responds to "Grassroots Lieutenants of Imperialism", Gowans Replies

Posted: April 04, 2007
Stephen Gowans's Blog

Patrick Bond Says:
April 4th, 2007 at 6:38 am


Like the other recent article, this is an analysis from such a long way away as to lose any connections with what's up on the ground. I'm not saying I've got a good handle on the complicated politics of the progressive resistance to Zimbabwe, but I did coauthor something along these lines that your googling should probably have picked up, and which in any case I sent you offlist after your counterpunch screed:

The main point to pick up in debate, if that's possible, is whether imperialism really *needs* regime change in Zim (given the lack of petroleum and the difficulty of extracting platinum). Mugabe is, after all, a useful idiot for neoliberalism, as should be clear from where you read that "Zimbabwe proves many of [FT writer Martin] Wolf's points: Mugabe is doing pretty much the opposite of everything that Wolf recommends — but the point is how easily Mugabe was able to do it."

Or try this from a former Clinton administration official citing The Economist, "greater efficiency leads to greater wealth, and vice versa, as Zimbabwe so harrowingly shows. Nowhere has withdrawn so swiftly from the global economy, nor seen such a thorough reversal of neo-liberal policies. The results—an economy that has contracted by 35% in five years, and half the population in need of food aid—are hard to paper over."

The Zim counter-example is, frankly, a useful one for imperialism to keep alive. It's certainly used here in SA that way, by the ANC's neoliberal elite, as a way to tell poor and working people that if social spending increases, Zim-style degradation will inevitably follow. (I have a long rebuttal to this line of thinking, soon to be published at, which I can send anyone who might want, if you contact me at
Stephen Gowans Responds:
April 4th, 2007 at 10:23 pm
Let me try to sum up this debate.

Position of Gowans (who Bond calls a "pro-Mugger.")

Empirical statements:

  1. Imperialist powers have always acted, where they can, to overthrow communist, socialist and economically nationalist governments.
  2. In recent years, imperialist powers have sought to build civil society, NGOs and "pro-democracy" activist groups to depose communist, socialist and economically nationalist governments.
  3. The Zanu-PF government is economically nationalist.
  4. The US and Britain have enlisted (and have largely created) the formal political opposition, civil society and "grassroots" groups in Zimbabwe to bring down the economically nationalist government of Zanu-PF and to replace it with a government that will promote the interests of Western banks, corporations and investors.
Normative statements:
  1. Foreign powers should not seek to dominate other countries politically to exploit them economically.
  2. Governments, movements and resistance organizations that resist foreign domination are perfectly within their rights to do so and deserve the support of anti-imperialists.
  3. The Zanu-PF government's economically nationalist program, while not socialist, is preferable to neo-colonialism.
  4. A socialist Zimbabwe is preferable to an economically nationalist Zimbabwe. However, we do not make history just as we please and the "independent left" Bond bids us to consult is neither left nor independent but is part of the US and British foreign policy apparatus.
Position of Bond (who Gowans calls the self-appointed doyen of the left on matters related to southern Africa.)
  1. First argument: Appeal to authority based on proximity to Zimbabwe. I sit across the Limpopo river. Gowans lives in a snow-bound hell hole half a million miles away from Zimbabwe. Who are you going to believe?
  2. There is no land reform in Zimbabwe (citing Moeletsi Mbeki, Thabo Mbeki's brother.)
  3. Those whose instincts are left and who are genuinely concerned about Zimbabwe's future would do better to consult websites like...
  4. In response to an article that reveals Sokwanele, whose members include "A conservative white businessman expressing a passion for freedom, tradition, polite manners and the British Royals," to be funded by the same foreign governments that are trying to depose the Zanu-PF government: "I'm not saying I've got a good handle on the complicated politics of the progressive resistance of Zimbabwe."
  5. The main point is whether imperialism really needs regime change in Zimbabwe.
  6. The Zim counter-example, is, frankly, a useful one for imperialism to keep alive.
Gowans' reply:

Bond's argument that imperialism doesn't need regime change in Zimbabwe, is, to borrow his own rhetoric, "such a long way away (from reality) as to lose any connection to what's up on the ground." The main point is that imperialism is seeking regime change in Zimbabwe.

Equally remote from what's happening on the ground is the argument that "the Zim counter-example, is, frankly, a useful one for imperialism to keep alive." The point is that imperialism isn't trying to keep the Zim counter-example alive; it's trying to kill it, and it's using the very same misnamed "independent left" Bond celebrates, but now seems to say he may have misjudged, to do so.

According to Bond's formulation, the US State Department and British Foreign Office are staffed by dopes who can't see that keeping Mugabe in power is in their interests (maybe they should move closer to the Limpopo river), or they're not trying to have Mugabe deposed, appearances aside, and, on the contrary, are trying to keep him around for as long as possible.

If Bond believes the former, then the discussion is properly one for a graduate seminar on historical what ifs, but has little relevance to "what's up on the ground" today, which is something he seems to think he has a pretty good handle on, though his apparent blindness to the true nature of groups like Sokwanele, and now his fixation on academic questions to the exclusion of what's up on the ground, suggest otherwise. That Bond proclaims Sokwanele to represent the independent left proves he knows nothing whatever about what's up on the ground, and that his home address – as anyone immune to silly debating tricks will have already figured out – endows him with no special insights. (Do I know more about what's going in the US on the ground because I can gaze across the Canadian/US border?)

On the other hand, Bond may believe that Washington and London are keeping Mugabe in power (because, says Bond, he's useful to imperialism.) If so, he's just elaborated a conspiracy theory that would make the most ardent 9/11 skeptic bow deeply in reverent awe.

If the point of all this is to say that Mugabe is not pursuing a socialist program and that socialists should only support governments that do, I'll happily concede the first part, but disagree with the second.

If the point is to say socialists should back the independent left, it's incumbent on Bond to say who the independent left is (something, so far, he's failed to do.)

And finally, if the point is to justify the heaping of abuse on Mugabe to justify US and British regime change operations, count me out. I'd rather be a pro-Mugger than a social-imperialist.

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