Nathaniel Manheru THE OTHER SIDE—
One question many of my readers pose and even criticise me for is taking contrary thoughts too seriously. I fully understand where my readers are coming from. We have become a virtual community of opinion, creating that sense of becoming an extended patient whenever there is injury to any one party.
I also feel the same when hostile posts abuse my readers. Especially nowadays when we seem to face an “explosion” of “trolls”. I refer to those barren, hired serial provocateurs whose role is to attack anything irrationally and impertinently whenever they can, or to drag a brisk and compelling debate away from its essential premise and thrust, where they cannot.
The idea is to defend party positions, to block or trash embarrassing exposures, compelling perspectives, and/or inescapable conclusions. As always, the motive is political. I always wring a good laugh when these hired trolls abortively opt out of a tough proposition through vain attempts to “execute” the writer. You are unwell; you are ARV-dependent, or simply you must be smoking something! Kikiki! But for me it’s no sweat; that comes with the territory.
Dirty moments in ideas struggles
Let it not be forgotten that one way of measuring cogency and soundness of an argument is the sharpness it elicits from those threatened by, from those afraid of it. I am not referring to those who stand opposed to a good argument; these will always give you good, rational counter-arguments to challenge your premise, all in the spirit of gainful public debate. Of course another measurement is a seemingly dismissive yet lengthy and verbose response which makes it to the front page of captive media. Not making it there by merit, but by pecuniary blandishments or some such blackmail. But for me, all these subterfuges and much more, pass for back-handed tribute, something which a columnist of stamina must be able to take in his stride. For, as in all other domains of human struggle, ideological struggles do have dirty moments, dirty players, dirtier hands.
The key is to remain cool, dignified and balanced, while pressing on with a clear head. More important, it is always to recall you write for a positive and genuine reader who deserves nothing short of your untrammelled attention and service: those men and women who need to engage either for greater clarity or for knowledge. To that reader-type you stand and should always stand beholden. Trust them to see and cut through inane labels, spiteful responses and all ill-will, all to reach the kernel of honest thought, honest opinion and logical argument.
National book drought
In any case this is not new in the history of rational disputations. What may be new is how each disputant reacts to, or deals with, such wiles. I want to share with you a key intervention from an Italian Marxist I always enjoy reading, one Antonio Gramsci. For ease of reference, I draw from the third volume of his “Prison Notebooks”. Check it out if you can. Not many in the country will be able to do so; we are poorly served by our booksellers. You just cannot get good “reads” in what they stock nowadays.
They have created a real book drought, a serious national knowledge deficit. But I warn that Gramsci is not an easy read; he is remarkably opaque, and asks for your full mental presence if you are to follow his intricate and often crowded arguments, his finely wrought lexicography, and to cut through his heavy style. But the piece I draw from is fairly accessible, yet profound in guiding those interested in serious or thoughtful argumentation. I seek your indulgence as I will quote Gramsci to quite some length.
No desert around yourself
Addressing the issue of methodology in thought presentation, contestation and circulation, Gramsci said: “. . . it is not very ‘scientific,’ or it is simply not ‘very serious,’ to choose from among all one’s adversaries the most stupid and mediocre ones, or to choose the least essential and the most occasional of their opinions, and then presume to have destroyed the enemy ‘completely’ just because one has destroyed a secondary and occasional opinion of his — or to presume to have destroyed an ideology or a doctrine with a demonstration of the theoretical deficiencies of its third- or fourth-rate proponents. Furthermore, one must be fair to one’s enemies, in the sense that one must make an effort to understand what they really meant to say and not dwell on the superficial immediate meaning of their expressions.
It has to be so, if the proposed goal is to raise the tone and intellectual level of one’s followers, as opposed to the immediate goal of using every means possible to create a desert around oneself. The approach that must be adopted is this: one’s follower has to be able to discuss and uphold his position when faced with capable and intelligent adversaries and not just with unsophisticated and unprepared people who are convinced ‘by authority’ or by ‘emotion’. The possibility of error must be declared and accepted without thereby compromising one’s position. What matters is not the position from Tom, Dick, and Harry but the ensemble of opinions that have become collective and a powerful factor in society.
It is these collective opinions that must be refuted by confronting their most representative theoretical exponents — those most worthy of respect for the high calibre of their thought and for their ‘disinterestedness’ in immediacy.” Gramsci proceeds to warn against being overly optimistic even when all of the above is achieved. For the goal and measure of argumentation need not be that of destroying a thought or the social group animated by that thought in society. Rather, the key contribution is dual: “maintaining the spirit of cleavage and differentiation among one’s own ranks; and, creating the ground for one’s own side to absorb and activate an original doctrine of its own, corresponding to its conditions of life.”
To put Gramsci in perspective, I need to mention that he is dealing with the challenge of broad national social change in circumstances of a lag in ideas, whether this is sponsored by those benefiting from an unsound status quo, or simply from die-hard thought-traditions which linger on after conditions have ripened for social change.
This, argues Gramsci, creates ideological confusion in the ranks of those who must play change agent in society, whether as vanguard, or as the masses. Among such change agents are intellectuals on whom he places the burden of “educating” society so it overcomes the ponderous inertia of an unsound material status quo, or ideas legitimating it. He knew the hazards. Often, these “educators of society” would themselves frame things and employ convoluted terminology whose effect was “to fill empty heads with fantasies”. And evidence of such damage inhered in people who “mistake words for facts”, in the end believing that from mere sweet and high-sounding words, the world would have changed.
These “windbags” can forge sugar-candy kingdoms painted by ornate words and styles. Gentle reader, you see a lot of that nowadays in this sonorous talk around “grand coalitions” or, the obverse, around claims of a dying Zanu-PF, when in fact neither has, or is about to, happen. Or in words accompanying fencing gladiators in Zanu-PF, better known as factions and factional leaders, in reality nothing more or better than little men hobbled by giant illusions.
These use words and headlines to draw delectable newspaper scenarios in which they are unconditional winners, while others are inevitable losers in a game of power which neither comprehend. Yes, intellectuals do feed empty heads with fantasies. Says Gramsci: “The difficulty of adapting literary expression to conceptual content and of confusing lexical questions with questions of substance, and vice versa, is typical of philosophical dilettantism, of a lack of a historical sense capable of grasping the different moments of a process of cultural development and therefore of the development of history as a whole; in other words, it is typical of an anti-dialectical, dogmatic way of thinking, prisoner of the abstract schemes of formal logic.”
First-rate statesman intuits
Real knowledge in Gramsci’s sense — and Gramsci often uses the word “culture” to refer to knowledge or consciousness — must “correspond to what the productive forces need in order to develop”. Again Gramsci descends into amazing opaqueness, but one which we need to plough through to reach the drift of his ideas.
I beg your pardon for yet another lengthy quote. He writes: “Ideas are great to the degree that they are feasible. Great ideas, in other words, make a relation that is immanent in the situation clear, and they do so to the extent that they show concretely the course of action by means of which an organised collective brings that relation into the open (creates it) or, having brought it into the open, destroys it by replacing it. Windbags with grand schemes are incapable of perceiving the relation between the “great idea” that is put forward and concrete reality; they are unable to establish a concrete course of action for the realisation of the idea.
The first-rate statesman intuits both the idea and the concrete process of its realisation simultaneously: he draws up the project together with the “regulations” for carrying it out. The windbag grand schemer proceeds along the lines of “try and try again”; his is the kind of activity about which it is said, “doing and undoing is a job in itself.”’
Rules of praxis
I warned that Gramsci uses his own kind of lexicon. Watch this: “What does it mean that in the “idea” the project must be linked to regulations? That the project [read as social transformation programme] has to be understood by every active element in such a way that everyone can see what his role is in the carrying out of the project and bringing it to fruition; that in suggesting an action, the project also enables one to foresee the positive and negative consequences of endorsing it and of reacting against it, and the project contains in it the response to these endorsements and reactions and thus provides the basis of organisation.
This is an aspect of the unity of theory and practice.” From this, Gramsci affirms that “every great politician is also bound to be a great administrator; every great strategist a great tactician; every great theorist a great organiser.” And Gramsci makes it a criterion for judging and evaluating leaders: “. . . the theorist, the author of plans, is to be judged by his skills as an administrator. To administer means to foresee which actions and operations — even the “molecular” (and of course the most complex) ones — are needed to realise the plan. Naturally, the opposite is also true: one must be able to trace a necessary action back to its corresponding principle. From a critical point of view, this process is of the utmost importance . . . it is the regulations or, rather, their application . . . that reveal the true political and juridical structure of a country and a state.”
The Gambian example
Kikiki, admit, gentle reader, that you are in a swoon. I don’t pity you! The title for this week is about the role and power of ideas — or lack of them, what Gramsci terms “windbags” — in social transformation. I don’t like the word “change” for obvious reasons. It falls within the lexicon of well-known “windbags full of grand schemes” who have used it to fill us with mere fantasies. This week’s piece deals with the knowledge of knowledge, addresses epistemology for short, which is why it reads complex and even theoretical. Yet it is neither. After all, we are about to make a choice as a Nation, and that means placing our vote — hopefully — where our mind and vision is.
True, elections may be about past record; but they are always about promises, about ideas, which is why untried oppositions with no governing record end up winning elections, where they deserve to. But this is where the zone of treachery begins. This week I read somewhere that the loose opposition coalition which catapulted the new Gambian president into power has crumbled. That is what happens when society, once under a giant seizure of anger and frustration against incumbency, recklessly throws its weight behind anything that promises to be the opposite. We almost did that in 2008, if MDC-T’s abysmal role in the Inclusive Government is anything to go by; indeed if Joice’s continuing dismal show in present politics is meant to grant us a glimpse into the state we would have been should her late husband’s Mavambo project have succeeded. And Gambia is quite key to lessons on political change on the African continent.
For starters, organised opposition here finds inspirational succour in the Gambian model, which is why there was quite some traffic of political transaction between opposition in Harare and activists in Gambia before and well after Jammeh’s departure. Indeed why there was all this excitement about Biometric Voter Registration and UNDP involvement in the administration of national elections. Yes, why there is this frenetic thrust to mobilise the hitherto supposedly recumbent vote of the youths and women which is thought to have caused an upset in Gambia. We do follow these things closely.
The bane of political been-tos
More important, the Gambian experience as summarised and encapsulated in the figure of its once emigre candidate and now president, Barrow, bears down heavily on our own political experience here. He emerged from the shadows of the Metropolis, and that is significant. If I had not chosen to dedicate this week to the debate on ideas, I would have been discussing this obtrusively clear trend of political “been-tos” from our own country who have now joined the race for leadership ahead of 2018. Let’s count them together: Mawarire, Manyika, Nkosana Moyo, Banana, the-what’s-name-nurse-based-in-Canada, etc, etc. And if you believe in rumours, you can add Masiyiwa. Also if you believe in secession, you can include Mthwakazi and other such fringes based in South Africa and England. Even local politicians — Joice Mujuru especially — think king/queen-makers are located in the Metropolis, with the decisive vote coming from the diaspora.
There is even a prophesy to say the next leader for this land will come from outside! Taking after what America did to Castro’s Cuba, since 2000, we have witnessed a trend towards “Floridisation” of Zimbabwean politics, which is to say an attempt to encourage an outbound movement of Zimbabwean nationals in the hope of creating a critical voting mass that can be relied upon to capture the Zimbabwean State, Hamid Karzai-style. And in place of America’s offshore propaganda Radio Marti, those behind this effort are hoping for social media magic. All this talk about a grand coalition stem from that hope — vain in my view – to bring about a Gambia-like coalescence and convergence of parties, individuals and social media personas. Of course Zimbabwe is another country with a mind of its own. Of that let little be said. As we say in Shona, you do not frighten or alert the womb-bearer when you still need children!
The bane of stalking dissent
I could also add that the Gambian example has its own admirers in the ruling Zanu-PF, something that would seem paradoxical, that is if you naively take politics at face value. The affliction of the illusion of social media bites princes as well! Again, about this one, let little be said for now, for we have many reading days ahead. All that said, there is a way in which Zimbabwe is going through a key social transformation process which many people are unable to interpret or even relate to. Including many in Zanu-PF, never mind that they politically associate with the authors of the big ideas behind the transformation.
That is not unusual; it is not even a failure of leadership on the part of those at the helm. That is the nature and reality of social processes which are upsetting. In any case the cure is knowledge-building. My real concern are those sub-groups both within and without Zanu-PF who know and correctly interpret the content and direction of this social process, but stand opposed to it. And because they are cowardly inside, or given to bluffing to uphold a poise of diligent opposition, they hide behind “philosophical dilettantism” in the case of the former, or hide behind false models or catch-phrases steeped in pseudo-ethics.
Some pimpy’s paradise?
In respect of the latter, the fad often used is that of doing the needful to attract FDI, Foreign Direct Investment, which is touted as the panacea to all our alleged woes and overstated challenges. Don’t get me wrong or use this to make easy points against me. I am all for FDI, that is, if we can have or attract it. But I get bemused when the lexical import of FDI equates with “western investments” only. Laid bare, these Gramscian “windbags” use FDI as a shorthand for exclusive Western business interests who must turn Zimbabwe into some “pimpy’s paradise”. And when they ask us to do our utmost to “normalise” our relations with the West and to make us attractive to FDI, they in effect recommend capitulation to the West.
They very well know that nothing short of a complete overthrow of our liberation politics will appease the West. And if one widens the meaning of FDI to encompass other nationalities, say the Chinese, the Russian, the Indian or Africans, they are ready to draw their revolvers! They do not welcome any other foreign direct investment; rather they welcome western foreign direct investments only.
Outside the freemasonry sect
Much worse, they deride local effort by excluding it from the “freemasonry” sect of these so-called investors. Locals don’t invest; they steal. Locals are either corrupt or beneficiaries of sinecurism from a predatory “kleptocracy”. It goes deeper. Unless they see a high-tech industrial plant full of equipment “made in Germany”, then there is no FDI.
By that logic, what some little, obscure farmer somewhere from Mashonaland Central does on his farm by way of mechanising it or equipping it with irrigation capacity, does not pass for investment. Worse, even if he enlarges his workforce, he does not qualify to be called an employer, which is why this school of thought glibly talks of 98 percent unemployment rate in the country, while admitting to a mere handful of people on State-sponsored handouts. Surely the consumption curve only drifts to zero or into the negative territory for those who lie in the cemetery? Unless they see old Rhodesian factories working, employing, then Zimbabwe is dying, a mantra they take to the voter over and over again, but undeterred by the same negative result.
Centurions for pennies
I am against corruption, wholly against it. I have tried to live above, beyond it, much as its mud has reached my otherwise impeccable escutcheon. That hurts, still does. But let’s face it, and also debate matters within proper scale and perspective. Even assuming the three-to-four comma something billion-dollar budget which Government announces, plus the ripples of that budget in all sectors were to be frittered away through abuse, misuse and maladministration, the economic story of Zimbabwe would not change much, let alone get fully told. The wealth of this country runs into trillions, and we know it.
The paltry monies — not wealth — which civil servants take home, which civil servants are alleged to steal, comes nowhere close to a dime of the value of our total wealth as a Nation. In fact our wealth is not in Government coffers. Only revenues. On a good day, our wealth lies beneath our earth, untapped. Or, on a bad day, it daily gets carted away in raw form to some far-away destination beyond our borders, all in the name of FDI. All this we know, even though it never informs our self-serving debates.
For goodness’ sake, our little budget is what big corporates are paying sheikhs in the Middle East for one poor oil well. And all this because the sheikhs know where their value is, know what their worth is. Here we don’t, which is why pennies in Zimdef is such a big story. We head-butt each other for striving to be less poor, or better still to be equal in poverty, while leaving the gates to our value ajar or flung open. Exquisite and diligent centurions of pence, who are but pound foolish!
Thin end of the wedge
In sharp contrast, the Europeans do not hesitate to give you €88 million for Agriculture or even for Health, when their real objective is to legitimise €6million which they reckon as the cost price of regime change here through their political NGOs, in order to turn Zimbabwe into a perfect, ballot-mediated neo-colony. The majority of us do not see these key weaknesses and developments which those in leadership are exercised about, and which constitutes a broad, strategic planning base.
We don’t even see that the onslaught against us has not relented, even in the light of the new politics represented by Donald Trump. Is it not strange to us that Trump’s America whose reigning mantra is a belated parody of Mugabe’s “Zimbabwe-for-Zimbabweans”, still finds no peace with President Mugabe and Zimbabwe, themselves well-springs of the renewed resource nationalism political rhetoric in the 21st Century? Why hasn’t ZDERA been scrapped, now that Mugabe and Trump are kindred spirits politically, ideologically? Why isn’t American FDI pouring into Zimbabwe now that Zimbabwe’s politics no longer pose “ an unusual and extraordinary threat to the foreign policy of the United States”, Trump’s America? Why did Obama rush to renew the executive order that extended ZDERA before his time in the White House was out? Does this not prove to us that what it takes to regain or put us back into the good graces of America or the West is much more than the so-called liberalisation of our system? Yet we continue to spout FDI, FDI, FDI, like some unthinking parrots!
We remain an agrarian nation
The question to ask then is, just what is the concrete reality of our situation which the current lexical clutter obscures? Well, the concrete reality is that we remain an agrarian nation for now, never mind our aspiration to be an industrial nation soon and sooner. The concrete reality, too, is that what we have as glimmers of our becoming an industrial nation are but little interstices, all of them foreign owned. The mines; the factories. Simply, we don’t control the commanding heights of industry, mining and manufacturing. And where we offend the owners of these interests in order to meet the wishes of our people, these foreigners have no compunction to close them down, as has happened in our country.
Put bluntly, as an industrial proposition, we are a perfect neo-colony. Much worse, all this talk about liberalising the economy and reforming the public sector is about completing our capitulation to foreign capital whose present status is one of near-dominance anyway. I mean how does a State whose only dominance is largely control of a civil service and a couple of dysfunctional parastatals ever get to wield powers for the further liberalisation of an economy it neither owns nor runs? Except to admit that all this talk about IMF conditionalities and reforms amounts to being told by the controlling West that we must govern our poor million efficiently so they do not levy any costs on “eating” foreign chiefs. Or cause a break-down of law and order near the table where food for the same foreign chiefs is being cooked or served.
and Mugabe’s great idea
Seen that way, one begins to appreciate the importance of President Robert Mugabe’s great Land Reform idea. Not only does the “great idea” situate us within our concrete reality as an agrarian nation; it also appreciates and addresses the concrete reality and challenges arising from a settler economy whose basis was the inequitable access to the land resource.
And to the extent that the Rhodesian economy was agro-based, it means the strategy for feasibly regaining commanding heights of the national economy must have land as its re-entry point. So, by getting the land back, Mugabe not only identified a great idea which is “feasible”; he also proceeded to concretely “show the course of action by means of which an organised collective” creates a new normal by concretising that great idea in our lives as black people. And to the extent that the Land Reform Programme was successfully accomplished, it means President Mugabe is a great politician who is also a great administrator, nay, a great strategist who is a great tactician; yes, a great theorist who is a great organiser.
Please don’t mind them
And to the extent that his cognitive map went beyond land reclamation to encompass agrarian reforms, he has exhibited an extraordinary grasp of complex processes from which to situate and execute broad revolutionary praxis. The highly successful “command agriculture” which is set to restore food self-sufficiency to Zimbabwe is the acme of this strategic calculation, underpinned by a complex web of tactical moves. After all it takes a great thinker to successfully confront the West over the control of a key asset on which settler colonialism was based without suffering Nkrumah’s unhappy fate.
For all we know, Mugabe could have been overthrown; and indeed countless efforts in that direction were deployed from the days of Tony Blair. Yet he still stands this day, even against spirited domestic political rearguard action. How to relentlessly pursue a strategic goal, while tactically keeping the popular-national active and mobilised for the defence of the realm: that, in my view, reveals the man’s political genius. And now, having to nudge his people towards greater agricultural productivity in the name of command agriculture, but without triggering class ruptures or conflict over land, perfects his whole act as the political grandmaster.
With the new emphasis on STEM, it is clear, Mugabe is already preparing a manpower basis for Zimbabwe’s evolution as an industrial nation. Command agriculture, coupled with little tactical interventions like SI 64 banning needless imports, should enable right-thinking people to pry into this great mind. Which is why one gets irritated by noises against command agriculture by some little “smart” Alecs who read succession politics in the whole initiative. The truth of the matter is that Command Agriculture is a Mugabe big idea, which is why traducing or clouding it is to play opposition from within. Indeed which is why the globalisation of the command ethic to the rest of the economy is a threat to the opposition. But for you, for me and for this column, the key thing is not to mind the opinion of Tom, Dick and Harry — the convoluted opinions of those who seek to create a desert around themselves — but to mind “the ensemble of opinions that have become collective and a powerful factor in society.” Indeed to mind and shepherd ideas that transform society.