MDC-T’s shift from slogans to ideas

One of the most important characteristics of any group that is developing towards dominance is its struggle to assimilate and conquer ideologically the traditional intellectuals, but as this assimilation and conquest is made quicker and effectively, the more the group succeeds in simultaneously elaborating its own organic intellectuals and solid policy position.

Opinion by Pedzisayi Ruhanya

In The Ruling Class and the Ruling Ideas Marx and Engels argue that the prevailing ideas of a given historical epoch are formed by the ruling class and serve the ruling class. This is contrary to the apparent illusion that ideas and thoughts form and exist separately from the ruling class.

The class which has the means of material production at its disposal consequently controls the means of mental production so that the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are on the whole subject to it, postulate Marx and Engels.

In other words, it is difficult to be a ruling class without ideas to influence economic, cultural and political processes at any historical epoch of any given society.

My interpretation is that last weekend’s MDC-T policy conference was meant to show the party’s intellectual capacity, its ability to produce, reproduce, articulate and re-articulate policy issues associated with its broad social democratic political ideology.

The conference was also an indication that the coming elections would partly be a struggle for supremacy of ideas, quantitative and qualitative policies that address the economic, political, social and cultural problems citizens are grappling with and the national vision for Zimbabwe that captures bread and butter issues.

Most critically, it seems that the message the policy conference sought to drive home was that the coming elections would not be premised on the usual and now tired opposition “Mugabe must go!” mantra.

It would be a battle of ideas and policies that will seek to show a difference between the MDC-T and Zanu PF. The policy conference was an overhaul of the yesteryear mentality that being merely fed-up with an incumbent authoritarian regime will translate into votes for the opposition.

That is the message that the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) secretary-general Japhet Moyo failed to capture when he went on a tirade against MDC-T secretary-general Tendai Biti who, in my view, has been one of the most effective ministers in this coalition government, together with David Coltart in the Ministry of Education, Sports, Arts and Culture.

Instead of interrogating and bringing labour issues to influence relevant policy debates, Moyo decided, for reasons best known to him, to attack the person of Biti — who is also Finance minister — but not the ideas contained in the policy package. That is why for the first time the government-controlled media that have consistently attacked Moyo and his unions suddenly found a partner in him.

What is ironic is that both the labour and economic policies presented at the conference are pro-labour and seek to revitalise industries and create jobs that will make the ZCTU as viable as it was during the era of the late Gibson Sibanda and Morgan Tsvangirai.

The MDC-T labour policy respects the social contract which among issues recognises the freedom of workers to exercise their fundamental rights to organise and to collective bargaining.

It is critical for labour leaders not to go to bed with the government to protect their constituency, but that safeguard should be based on issue-articulation than unhelpful personal attacks that fail to give analytic contributions.

Contrary to Moyo’s ranting, the economic policy presented by Biti’s colleagues proposes to transform Zimbabwe’s economy from the “dual enclave” to one that is democratised, in which every citizen fully participates and achieves their full potential.

This will be achieved through strengthening and sustaining macro-economic stability, leveraging on the country’s potential in order to attain efficient, inclusive and pro-poor growth that is capable of generating jobs and uplifting the standards of living for the people.
The economic policy embraces both commercialisation and democratisation.

There are no value contradictions as espoused by Zanu PF which seeks to advance liberal market economy policies through state and political party structures governed autocratically.

These contradictions within and around Zanu PF will not assist the country in a world that is moving towards both liberal economic policies and democracy.

Economic growth on its own does not ensure human development and poverty reduction unless it is accompanied by rapid growth of productive and remunerative employment. It is not just the size and pace of economic growth that only matter, but also the quality and pattern of that growth as the MDC-T blueprint argues.

The MDC-T says it will ensure that the economy accommodates every citizen, enabling them to participate as an active player whether in the rural, urban or informal sector. This will be made possible by creating value and reaping the benefits of shared growth for a better life.

A social democratic state pursues democratic developmental that gives all economic players the opportunity to engage in their individual choices while ensuring the maximisation of the public good.

The central idea is that wealth creation should come before distribution, something in sharp contrast with Zanu PF’s indigenisation policy.

Realising that Zimbabwe has more than 80% unemployment rate, the MDC-T says if elected to form the next government, it will adopt labour market and job creation policies that are aimed at rapidly reducing unemployment. In this regard, it will target to create one million jobs in the first five years. The key growth drivers for employment creation among other things will be entrepreneurship.

This sounds very romantic, and that is why delivery on these promises will be the ultimate test.

Policies as ideas or positions ought to gain traction starting at the level of everyday experience and only then drawing from more formally structured statements of principle.

It has been argued that a century’s worth of scholarship in the sociology of knowledge suggests a few principles for understanding the place of ideas in social life. First, ideas do not exist as isolated bits that can be picked up and discarded separately. Rather, they live and die insofar as they are sustained by their place in broad patterns of thought, in paradigms, systems of value and in belief.

The policy positions by the MDC-T are an indication that the party has recruited thinkers and technocrats involved in the production of knowledge that speaks to the party’s ideology.

In the coming elections, the citizens, through a vibrant, investigative, robust and independent media, will have an opportunity to interrogate these policies, put them to public scrutiny and allow citizens to have a comparative analysis of different political party policies before they make a choice on the best party to lead them.

What cannot be dismissed about the MDC-T’s policy conference and its policy papers, never mind contestations on their content, is that the party has managed to create a counter hegemonic strategic policy package to compete with its political rivals at the level of ideas.

It has set the agenda for contestation of ideas rather than the usual name-calling, intimidation, violence and propaganda programmes where others have distorted history on a daily basis in order to hoodwink the public into voting for certain political parties despite evidence of clear policy bankruptcy and failure.

Over the centuries of its expansion and consolidation, capitalism maintained and organised its leadership through agencies of information and culture such as schools and universities, churches, literature, philosophy, media and corporate ideologies.

By having a policy conference to discuss how a state is governed, especially in the context of the coming elections, the MDC-T seems to be sending a clear message that ideas run the world and that intellectuals who were involved in crafting these policy position papers have a critical role in the future of state politics in Zimbabwe. It also shows that the party is mounting a future bureaucracy to run the state.

Historically, intellectuals have created the ideologies that have molded societies; each class creates one or more groups of intellectuals. Thus, if the democratic contingent wants to succeed in becoming influential, it must also create its own intellectuals to develop a new ideology that resonates with subaltern and oppressed groups in Zimbabwe. A state cannot be run without an organised and coherent ideological or policy framework.

Ruhanya is director for Zimbabwe Democracy Institute.

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