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Brief remarks to the Networking Meeting for African Left Movements

Neo Simutanyi

Zambia: Current Situation, the Left and Way Forward

17 August 2008, Johannesburg

Having implemented a sustained neo-liberal structural adjustment programme for the last seventeen years Zambia is now being considered a success story, with domestic growth rates of over 5 percent in the last six years, low inflation and interest rates. Foreign direct investment has increased while there have been few new jobs created. Poverty and unemployment remain high at about 70 percent and 40 percent respectively. Social indicators have declined wiping out the gains achieved under Kaunda's one-party regime. The country has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, infant and child mortality rates which had declined significantly in the 1980s have risen due to malnutrition. Illiteracy is on the increase due to the scrapping of the policy of free education; while limited access to health care has led to deaths from curable diseases. People are so poor that even taking the sick to hospital has to be on bicycle, wheelbarrow or other's backs. HIV and AIDS incidence at 15 percent has declined slightly, but remains high by world standards. When considered in absolute numbers it afflicts 1.2 million of the population and claims approximately 900,000 deaths per year. In addition, are diseases such as malaria, TB that continue to ravage the population like a scouge.

The neoliberal policy paradigm dominates policy making and all major parties do not exhibit policy differences. They are all agreed to the promotion of capitalism, albeit in different ways. Political parties are nothing but electoral machines to propel ambitious members of the elite to power. Politics is nothing but an elite contest between different factions of the elite for a right to exploit and plunder the country's resources. The mode of organization is personalized and reliant on patronage.

A current discourse against neoliberal economic programme is either weak or absent. While indeed the left seized the political space created by multiparty democracy, by registering socialist parties or left-leaning political organisations they have not been successful. Left political parties have either dissolved or resigned themselves to failure. They are essentially not well linked with mass organizations, such as trade unions, student and youth organizations and play a little role in mass mobilization and mass struggles. Mass struggles of democracy, human rights and economic justice lack ideological content and are not located within a class perspective.

Thus progressive mass organizations, such as trade unions, women's and youth movements have engaged in popular struggles that are uncoordinated and without political direction. Left forces in the country are scattered all over the place, lacking cohesion and often compromised to the dictates of capital.

In the last two years efforts have been made to regroup left forces in the country. There is a general consensus that the left get organized, by establishing a political structure and move from informal meeting. There is a debate regarding the strategy to be adopted in realizing this objective. Whether to form a political party, a loose political movement or work through existing progressive organizations.

Organisations such as the Press Freedom Committee of the Post have provided a forum and established useful links with socialist formations in the region and the world. Following the visit by the South African Communist Party (SACP) led by Cde Blade Nzimande in 2006 there is a revival in interest in the country among progressive forces for a socialist political formation. However, there is still a debate on the form this political formation should take. Should it be a political party, a pressure group or a mass movement? Should it work within existing political organizations by radicalizing them be distinct? There are challenges of the stigma attached to socialism, national and international hostility and lack of force of arguments that project socialism as an economic alternative to socialism. These challenges will need to be tackled in solidarity with other left forces on the continent and the world.

Way forward

We in Zambia believe that a left discourse in Zambia is necessary and it has to be spearheaded by progressive left. But this can only be possible with organization and networking with like-minded groups. The left in Zambia is seriously working on building a left organization taking advantage of the available political space in the country. We also want to benefit from solidarity with established left movements on the continent and elsewhere, in gaining experience and capacities for mass mobilization. It is our view that the left should work closely with and radicalize mass organizations, such as trade unions, youth and women movements.

We are very much aware of the revolutionary potential of these organizations as motive forces in building socialism. We also call for the establishment of a regional network of left forces or organizations to provide solidarity to the SACP that operates openly as a socialist formation, but also encourage each other. We call for more sharing of experiences in the struggle against capitalism and building an alternative society based on socialism.

We are convinced that in Zambia conditions exist for a socialist political formation as the contradictions of the capitalist system have sharpened. Capitalism is undergoing a crisis in the centre exemplified by high prices of basic fuel and food and the collapse of financial institutions. Its relevance in developing countries is being contested as it has increased poverty and inequality and reduced, if not undermined the capacity of mass organization to resist. The growing pauperization of the population amidst plenty, the increase in the mineral prices without redistribution enriching only a few and the absence of a counter discourse to neoliberalism among our political parties dictate the necessity for a socialist option for our country.

The Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) is committed to a project of energizing the left forces in the country. CPD endeavours to network with left movements such as the SACP in the establishment of a regional left network. It will also take practical steps to help in the establishment of a left political organization in Zambia and ensure that it is linked to mass movements, such as trade unions, youth and women's organizations and other progressive social movements. We realize that the working class and youth through their organizations can be important motive forces for socialist transformation. We will adopt a strategy of working with and through mass organizations and radicalizing mass action against the neoliberal project and firmly putting socialism on the agenda.