A story I read in Tuesday’s Guardian has been bugging me. Obviously, a lot of what runs in The Guardian these days annoys me, but this article I found, well, disconcerting.
This is how it starts:
Dozens of Zimbabwean soldiers rioted in Harare yesterday, attacking banks after they were unable to withdraw their near worthless pay, in a further sign that Robert Mugabe may be losing control over the forces that have kept him in power.
The unarmed soldiers also looted shops and were backed by some civilians as they clashed with riot police who fired teargas to break up the protest. The drastic cash shortages are caused by the country’s 231m percent inflation rate, which has led the government to restrict people to withdrawing the equivalent of just 18p a day – not enough to buy a loaf of bread.
I had an immediate sense of déjà vu, the origin of which slowly dawned on me. Yes, if you prefaced the article with “In 25 years time…” this might have run word-for-word in a grubby screed called The Aida Parker Newsletter – as far-right racist rag edited by the eponymous Ms Parker. Actually, I say tatty, but it was actually, if memory serves, quite well laid out and printed on glossy paper. In other words, well funded. Ms Parker was a known associate of people like Clive Derby-Lewis, a white supremacist politician who spent time in jail for his part in planning the assassination of Chris Hani. Anyhow, this ‘newsletter’ used to appear as if by magic on university campuses around the country, among other places. It consisted chiefly of articles explaining the swartgevaar and the rooigevaar (or the ‘black danger’ and the ‘red danger’), was thick on conspiracy theories involving Jewish bankers and the Illuminati, and – which is why I remembered it yesterday – stories warning what would happen to South Africa ‘if the Blacks took over’ and what was happening in ‘Rhodesia’ now that ‘the Blacks’ had ‘taken over’.
Indeed, if the writer of yesterday’s article, Chris McGreal, had submitted that article as a prediction a quarter of a century ago, the same paper that gave him a byline yesterday would have denounced him as a racist hysteric.
Yes, Zimbwe today is teetering on the brink of being a failed state, it’s people having suffered appalingly. The danger, of course, is the temptation I’m sure many feel, to throw up their hands and say “oh, the right-wingers were right all along”.
They were right but for the wrong reason, and we liberals and lefties, were wrong for all the right reasons. Of course, that is no use. But worse than useless, we continue to make the same mistakes today. Okay, all this left-right-wrong-right is confusing, so let me unpack it slowly and see where this goes…
There’s not much to the racist position on the right to decode. It’s pretty clear: Black Africans are incapable of self-government because they’re genetically inferior, uncivilised, and – to white society -they represent the barbarians at the gate. They are thus incapable of self-government and any state that is unlucky enough to be governed by them will be a corrupt, violent hellhole which will ultimately fail and shower misery on the people.
For them, ‘blackness’ itself is the cause of disaster. It is the same errant nonsense that lighting strikes are the wrath of God. That someone lies dead on ground is not changed by the fact that we know lightening is random static discharge in the atmosphere. Often ‘effect’ is so powerful that argument over ’cause’ are overwhelmed and seem merely academic.
Of course, while the fear-filled rank and file who fall for these scare-stories might genuinely believe all this, but more often than not the motivation of those who peddle this line is to protect their racially-based privileges.
The trouble is, their scare stories too often turn out to be right. What’s worse, I think we on the liberal-left help fulfil these prophesies through our own idiotic actions. Here’s why.
Our position has always been that injustice is wrong and must be brought down as soon as possible. In this we are as right as the right is wrong. But if we are right, where do things go wrong?
I think the answer is this: We get fixated on the idea of change because we know change is necessary. But too often we pay too little attention to the agents of change – the actors, if you will, we hope will bring that change about.
I’m too young to know what people were thinking at the time, but it should have been quite obvious that Robert Mugabe was a violent thug who, ultimately – to quote his own words – would “not surrender to the ballot what had been taken by the bullet”. Did anyone stop to ask him his vision for a post-Rhodesian state? I suspect that for most, it was sufficient that he was anti the status quo. In supporting and bolstering Mugabe’s ZANU movement, did this unintentionally block any alternative movements for change from developing or taking root? In supporting – rightly – the need for change, should we have not paid more attention to what the nature of that change was likely to be? Were liberals and leftists afraid that they might appear to be supporting the illegitimate government of Ian Smith if they were too rigorous in their scrutiny of Robert Mugabe?
Do many liberals and leftists not make the same mistake today? Should Hamas triumph, for example, what sort of state could we expect to replace Israel and the Palestinian territories? How many would risk their anti-Zionist credentials to even ask? I suspect many don’t even care.
What kind of society does Hezbollah want? The Maoists of Nepal? Any other movement currently a cause celebre in Left circles?
This lack of foresight – or concern for the consequences – pervades the thinking of many on the Left. End the war in Afghanistan? Sure, wars are horrible. No one likes them. People die. Civilians die. Everyone suffers. But what’s the alternative? A return of the Taliban? People executed in the market place? Women driven out of jobs, girls out of schools? Everyone under the yoke of theocratic terror?
Actually that reminds me of something. I’ll scan it. Here:
That’s an extract from Marjane Satrapi’s ‘Persepolis’ – a graphic novel about life in Iran with the 1979 revolution in the centre. In this panel, the author’s father and uncle discuss political priorities. Because we know what happened next, the effect is so chilling – and the warning so dire – that this book should be the ‘1984’ of this generation.
Often we are told that our support for ‘liberation movements’ should be unconditional. This is a revolting dereliction of duty. If 20th century history has taught us anything, it is that this support should be very conditional indeed. Too often – to develop my original metaphor – the Left throws all its efforts into casting the actors before knowing what the play is, or indeed what script anyone is reading from.
We have to stop helping the Right appear right by colluding in the fulfillment of their dark prophesies. Was there anything the previous generation on the liberal-left could have done 30 years ago to prevent Aida Parker’s doomsday predictions from becoming The Guardian’s news today?