Saturday, June 28, 2008

On Zimbabwe: Where Are You, Comrades?

Consider the following scenario:

An international mining conglomerate is poised to honor a $400m deal which will bolster an African dictator currently visiting murderous violence upon his people. Said dictator is following through with a sham election which the opposition, as a result of grotesque intimidation, has been forced to pull out of. The conglomerate is headquartered in a democratic country governed by a party affiliated with the Socialist International; said government has urged companies not to conduct business with the dictator. But the mining conglomerate is defending its position by pointing to the economic benefits of the deal, neglecting to mention that, as a result of the dictator’s abuses, inflation is so off the charts that not even the IMF can track it anymore.

Now the question: what should the left do?

As most of you will have worked out, the above isn’t a hypothetical. The dictator is Robert Mugabe, the country is Zimbabwe, the conglomerate is Anglo-American and the left is…where, exactly?

The question is put by my comrade Ben Cohen.

Sensible answers are welcome. The usual evasions about "smearing the left" are unwelcome.

Stand up for our Zimbabwean brothers and sisters.


Blogger Graeme said...

Giesecke and Devrient print banknotes in Canada. Their contact information is as follows:

975 Gladstone Avenue
Ottawa, Ontario K1Y 4W5, Canada
Tel.: +1 613 728 5854
Fax: +1 613 728 7419

Write them, email them, and phone them to let them know that working with Mugabe's government is utterly unacceptable. More information about this can be found here.

2:25 PM  
Blogger Stephen K said...

Excellent question. Mugabe is a totalitarian brute as bad as any.

I'm going to make sure that my Amnesty International Business & Human Rights friends are onto this.

Times Online article on the investment:

2:34 PM  
Blogger The Contentious Centrist said...

According to Slavoj Zizek:

"...the point that I always like to repeat: don’t beat—don’t get caught into a fake discourse of humanitarian emergency. Remember that when somebody is telling you, “You’re doing your theory. You are dreaming. But people are starving out there and so on. Let’s do something,” this is the threat. This is the threat.

Today’s hegemonic ideology is this kind of state of emergency ideology. What we need is to withdraw—don’t be afraid to withdraw and think. You know, Marx thesis eleven: philosophers have only interpreted the world; the time is, we have now to change it. Maybe, as good Marxists, we should turn it around. Maybe we are trying to change it too much. It’s time to redraw and to interpret it again, because do we really know what is going on today?

What is going on today? There are old fashion theories, either Marxist or liberals who claim the same capitalism is going on. Then there is a whole set of fashionable terms like post-industrial society, post-whatever, information society, which I think don’t do the job. We even don’t have what my friend Fred Jameson likes to call “cognitive mapping,” you know, that you get an idea what’s going on. We need theory more than ever. Don’t be—don’t feel guilty for withdrawing from immediate engagement and for trying to understand what’s going on. "

Watch this discussion on Charlie Rose:

where it is alleged that people who oppose the regime in Zimbabwe are doused in petrol and set on fire. Wives of recalcitrant mayors are dragged from their homes and burned to their deaths.

Yet if we are to heed Zizek, this is exactly the moment when those he calls "we" (who are those "we" btw?) should draw back and begin to ponder: Is this a real emergency?

Well, is it? Is there a humanitarian emergency in Zimbabwe or is it just a chimera? I'd like to know, from those who understand about such stuff. What makes a humanitarian emergency a humanitarian emergency? Who decides? And who decides when, once the pondering is done, what to do about it? That is, aside from writing letters and emails, etc..

4:12 PM  
Blogger Graeme said...

"Is there a humanitarian emergency in Zimbabwe or is it just a chimera?"

Fuck right off.

4:24 PM  
Blogger The Contentious Centrist said...


5:51 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...


Being an admirer of both Graeme and the Centrist, I'm not happy to see them in a row; but If I took the Centrist's point the same way Graeme did, I might have harboured the same sentiment.

But after having read the Centrist's post, I should say there is more at work here than it might appear from those rhetorical (and difficult) questions.

I am a great admirer of Zizek; quite smitten, actually. But by a strange coincidence, the quotation the Centrist provides - I came upon it myelf some weeks ago - is one of the few instances in which I would happily tell Zizek to fuck off.

Sure, yes, let the philosphers reconsider and think and formulate and postulate, but no, not at the expense of taking revolutionary opportunities that present themselves, or moral actions that demand our engagement.

I'm for overthrowing Mugabe. I expect I would applaud his assassination, to be honest.

I'd settle for making whatever small demonstrations of effective solidarity with the Zimbabwean people that may arise.

Graeme proposes something useful, I see.

Let's start there.

6:28 PM  
Blogger The Contentious Centrist said...

Yes, well, I would have thought that such a comment would have been enough to discredit a Zizek once and for all. I admire your patience. What is it about him that smites you so? I'm genuinely curious.

BTW, I cannot understand how anyone could fail to see the ironical curl of the lip in my comment.

7:26 PM  
Blogger Wet Coaster said...

Where the Left?
Busy organizing boycotts against those Zionist Fascists" and protesting against Canada'a participation in "US Imperialistic" invasion of Afghanistan.....that's where!!

You won't find them in Darfur as well.

10:48 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

As far as Zizek is concerned, remember that he,as a Slovene academic, personally experienced the early stages of Yugoslavia's implosion, and that the entire war has a significant impact on his political writings. In 1995, he offered this astute summation of what happened: not primordial ethnic barbarism, but "the survival of the old power structure(the communist bureaucracy, the federal army) in Serbia and Montenegro: it succeeded in prolonging its domination by putting on nationalist clothes." (Zizek, "Caught in Another's Dream in Bosnia").

I am always wary of exact comparisons, but there is a recognisably similar and macabre rebranding ofm power going in Zimbabwe. Mugabe has been rotten for a long time - he was guilty of a genocide in the early 80s - and as time has moved on, so his contempt for legitimacy has grown.

It is this mutation of power - "l'état, c'est moi" - which lies at the heart of Zimbabwe's crisis. In many ways, this is why there is a doctrine of liberal interventionism. Whether or not Zizek identifies with it is, perhaps, besides the point: if solidarity is the defining value of the left, then this is something which needs to be front and centre.

2:52 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

BTW, just so there's full disclosure, I'm the Ben whose post Terry linked to.

2:53 PM  
Blogger Stephen K said...

I've been searching around on progressive sites like Common Dreams and Rabble, and it's really despairing to see Mugabe apologist perspectives so vigorously defended.

There aren't actually many of them, but the know that what they believe is right, they are relentless, and they are vocal. In some cases, I think they are simply trying to play devil's advocate (which I think is horribly misguided in this case), but some of them, especially Marxist- Leninists and probably Trotskyites, still see Mugabe as a hero of some kind.

As if "left-wing" strongmen can't be as evil as those of the right-wing persuasion. That is, if Mugabe's left credentials are even still in tact, which I would suggest they are not and have not been for a long time.

Of course, it doesn't help that there are some who say colonial rule should never have ended. That's not true either, and it just eggs the Mugabe apologists on. It would be nice if we could have discussions where we focus on what Zimbabwe needs right now.

6:22 PM  
Blogger Dan Hilborn said...

Former labour lawyer Brian Mulroney has done admirable work on this file, and deserves to be commended.

Unfortunately, it appears that the "progressives" of the 1980s, have been purged by the "Reformers" of the new millennium and, as a result, Canada has lost an important and historic voice for human rights.

If Harper wants to be taken on his word that human rights are important - and that is his argument for keeping the troops in Afghanistan - then he needs to step up in Zimbabwe.

Unfortunately, Canadians are more worried about the price of gas, than the cost of a life in Africa.

12:20 PM  
Blogger Graeme said...

Re: "left-wing" apologists for Mugabe:

Mbeki's younger brother, Moeletsi, 62, who worked for nine years in the 1980s as a journalist in Zimbabwe, says the alliance between the two men springs more from a political than a personal affinity: Both Mugabe and Mbeki view the trade union movement as a common threat.

Mugabe's nemesis, Tsvangirai, is a former trade union leader. And Thabo Mbeki, whose fiscally conservative economic policies alienated the powerful Congress of South African Trade Unions, lost the leadership of the African National Congress last year to Jacob Zuma, who had the unions' backing.

Thabo Mbeki and Mugabe are both British-educated politicians who feel they were trained to govern, Moeletsi Mbeki said, arguing that Mugabe sees Tsvangirai, who never attended college, as "the riffraff."

"It's a class thing," he said. "The same with my brother: master's from Sussex."

From here.

3:40 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

kootenay dan:

that link doesn't seem to work.

Stephen: "Of course, it doesn't help that there are some who say colonial rule should never have ended."

G'wan. Who says?

What's to like about Zizek?

His analysis of the contemporary left senility/paralysis strikes me as innovative and honest and insightful (almost the entire left is "Fukiyaman" without the honesty to admit it); he's wicked good and vicious on the pseudo-left; also his insistence that we give capitalism its rightful due, refreshing; he's a bit deranged, which makes him interesting, and perhaps the most interesting Marxist thinker around nowadays.

Can't for the life of me figure out how he squares his "don't be panicked into humanitarian intervention" line with everything else he has to say for himself.

Maybe Ben's onto something there.

7:51 PM  
Blogger Stephen K said...

Believe me Terry, I was surprised to see it as well, especially on a progressive site. I don't remember where, Common Dreams or Babble, both of which I spent some time surfing. I saw one which blatantly said that, but I'm guessing if I found one, there's a few. Right now, I'd much rather talk about Mugabe.

8:14 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...


I know Babble's a bit of a nuthouse, sort of a club chat room for pseudo-leftists given to Third-Worldist apologetics and excuse-making, but I wouldn't have expected to see outright pro-imperialist wanking as well.

I see Harper's got the Zim elections about right(nb - is this the first uncritical sentence I've written about Harper? Perhaps).

8:47 PM  
Blogger The Contentious Centrist said...

"A defiant Robert Mugabe has sailed unchallenged through the first test of his presidency by his peers.

Freshly sworn in after a single candidate election, he received a leader’s welcome when he strode into the African Union summit in Sharm el-Sheikh yesterday and emerged unfazed, his authority intact.

He dined at a lavish luncheon given by his Egyptian hosts, hugged heads of state and other diplomats in the corridors and stayed at the Peninsula Hotel, one of the most luxurious in this Red Sea town. “Mr Mugabe is staying there as a courtesy by the Egyptian Government,” a hotel spokesman said..."

(Via: )

6:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"He dined at a lavish luncheon given by his Egyptian hosts, hugged heads of state and other diplomats in the corridors and stayed at the Peninsula Hotel, one of the most luxurious in this Red Sea town."

Seems the Africans need to get their own house in order before they can be expected to be moved by any external motivations, righteous, imperialist or whatever, that the West has.

Why do they fete Mugabe ?

Where are the UN Human Rights toadies ?

7:15 AM  
Blogger The Contentious Centrist said...

"Why do they fete Mugabe ? "

My very crude assessment: They realize that the West is awfully worried about Zimbabwe, so this is a good opportunity to stick a finger in its eye.

Andre Glucksmann noted it in his article for Sign and Sight.

He speaks of Muslims but I think the same observation can be extended to Africans.

"On the scales of world opinion, some Muslim corpses are light as a feather, and others weigh tonnes. Two measures, two weights.... Why do the 200,000 slaughtered Muslims of Darfur not arouse even half a quarter of the fury caused by 200-times fewer dead in Lebanon? Must we deduce that Muslims killed by other Muslims don't count - whether in the eyes of Muslim authorities or viewed through the bad conscience of the west? "

11:11 AM  
Blogger Stuart Morris said...

To put my two cents toward the answer, the left should obviously condemn Mugabe.

I have to note, however, that a similar situation has been occurring in Equatorial Guinea for some time now.

I've seen little about it. Why is that, exactly?

2:35 PM  
Blogger Stuart Morris said...

Must we deduce that Muslims killed by other Muslims don't count - whether in the eyes of Muslim authorities or viewed through the bad conscience of the west?

Hmm. Odd, I've seen quite of media coverage and political action around Darfur. I'd have to wonder why Glucksmann has missed it.

2:38 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

"I'd have to wonder why Glucksmann has missed it."

I'd have to wonder why you would miss Glucksmann's point, and also why you want to change the subject to Equatorial Guinea. Reading the original post might help you stay on subject.

2:44 PM  
Blogger Stuart Morris said...

...and also why you want to change the subject to Equatorial Guinea.

As the situation is similar, but little-mentioned, I'd say it wasn't changing the subject. If one corrupt dictator is worthy of condemnation, why is not another?

Actually, never mind. Not worth it. Carry on.

7:17 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

Hold on a moment.

Speaking of Equatorial Guinea, "another shithole for humanity and that," here:

8:46 PM  
Blogger Dan Hilborn said...

Giesecke and Devrient have stoped printing notes for Zimbabwe.

6:48 PM  

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