Social bases changes — Beyond the Marxist-Leninist taxonomy


When ACR was removed from Marange, the diamond fields were swamped by multitudes of illegal miners.

ACCORDING to Marxist-Leninist theory, society is stratified into two simple classes, namely the bourgeoisie and the working class. The bourgeoisie are defined as owners of capital or means of production, whereas the working class owned nothing except their labour.

Production relations (social relations) between the two classes are antagonistic, with the bourgeoisie exploiting workers to earn super profits, hence there existed a fierce class struggle. In Tsarist Russia, politicians capitalised on the class struggle to whip revolutionary sentiments and radicalise workers. This strategy clearly worked during the October 1917 Bolshevik Revolution which toppled Tsar Nicholas 2.

The stratification of society into two classes was completely wrong, perhaps because Karl Marx himself wrote, but never practised Marxism. In reality, a typical society has a dozen or more social bases.

Take the example of Zimbabwe. We have a compradorial class which owns the means of production. This compradorial class is mainly dominated by multilateral companies or what used to be called white monopoly capital. They are dominant owners of mines and mineral resources.

The problem is that extractive industries contribute very little income to state coffers through royalties and taxes. They mine and ship minerals worth billions of dollars, leaving communities impoverished and the environment damaged. Paul Collier, a professor of economics at Oxford, calls this phenomenon “the natural resource curse”.

Zimbabwe bears testimony to this natural resources curse. Diamonds worth billions of dollars are unaccounted for.

Within the compradorial class, there is a category called petty bourgeoisie or the lumpen element, who practise primitive accumulation. A typical example would be your artisanal miners.

In Zimbabwe, interestingly, the artisanal miners now produce 60% of the gold that is delivered to Fidelity Printers. Mining is now the game changer in the growth of the economy through its contribution to exports, employment and foreign exchange earnings.

Throughout its 39 years in power, Zanu PF has failed to transform the mining sector because it is a lobbying sector. It was rather easy to transform the production relations in the agricultural sector than the mining sector.

Today, Zanu PF has created a new social base of artisanal miners who are now the new petty bourgeoisie of Zimbabwe.

Their number is now estimated at 500 000.

The other social base is the new farmers, both A1 and A2 farmers, who number about one million. Lenin called this group the kulaks or landed gentry. Unfornutately, in Zimbabwe this new social base decimated the once vibrant agricultural sector. They took over productive farms and ran them down. Before the land reform, Zimbabwe used to be the bread basket of Africa, contributing 60% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), 75% of exports and 70% of employment. Now agriculture contributes 30% of exports, 15% of employment and 25% to GDP.

Command agriculture is a disaster. A lot of resources were poured into command agriculture but, according to the Auditor-General’s report, US$3 billion could not be accounted for. The country needs to import 1,2 million metric tonnes of maize to avert starvation.

The informal sector is perhaps the biggest social base in Zimbabwe, as its GDP is now estimated at US$25 billion.

Yet this sector is not contributing much to official national revenue. The presumptive taxation system is weak and inadequate. This sector has the potential for high employment creation if its GDP is properly accounted for.

I now come to the working class, the subject of Marxism-Leninism. At its peak in 1996, formal employment in Zimbabwe stood at five million compared to 800 000 in 2019. The working class is grossly underpaid and impoverished. Workers have borne the brunt of the economic meltdown. An average worker earns a minimum wage that is equivalent to US$30 per month.

Steve Hanke, a professor at Johns Hopkins University in the United States, puts Zimbabwe’s inflation figure at 588% against a year-on-year official rate of 175% for June.

Zimbabwe has slipped back into a hyperinflationary state. Hyperinflation is defined as a rate of inflation above 50%. Due to wage erosion, workers’ morale is at its lowest since Independence in 1980. This has a negative impact on productivity and growth. The regime must increase civil servants’ pay without much further ado. Workers in Zimbabwe are now almost working like slaves, as they earn meagre wages. Austerity should not be implemented on the welfare of workers, whose pensions were stolen by fat cats at the National Social Security Authority.

The next social base is the tenderpreuneurial class. This a new corrupt class that thrives on their proximity to corridors of power. They have insider knowledge. This social base has captured the state and is very difficult to prosecute. The tenderpreneurial class has wreaked havoc in the fuel sector and has orchestrated serious asset stripping in Zimbabwe. This class benefitted during the 1:1 and 1:6 exchange rate regimes through arbitrage. Yet the country is still experiencing fuel shortages.

The rural peasants are a long-existing social base. They till the land for subsistence and rear livestock. The rural social base constitutes 60% of the population and they have contributed to food security in Zimbabwe over many years.

However, poverty has affected most rural communities. The Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVAC) report has identified these vulnerable rural communities numbering six million who are in need of food aid. Unfortunately, food aid continues to be distributed along partisan political party lines. During election time, Zanu PF simply invokes fear to get the rural vote.

Finally, the military has emerged as a new social base. In Zimbabwe, civil-military relations are characterised by suspicion. For a long time, the military has been an extension of Zanu PF through party/state/military conflation.

This has complicated democracy and elections in Zimbabwe. The 2008 and 2018 elections are testament to the subversion of the will of the people. The economy has been the biggest casualty of aborted elections, which have resulted in contested victories.

I reckon Marx, Friedrich Engels and Vladimir Lenin had no idea how societies would morph into so many classes or social bases beyond the dual classes they had identified in industrial Europe. I think this is precisely the reason why communism collapsed like a deck of cards, including the Soviet Union itself in 1991, followed by Romania (1992), Germany Democratic Republic (GDR) and prior to that the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Hungary, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Poland and many other communist regimes followed suit. There was a wind of change and ideological sneezing in Eastern Europe and many developing countries caught a cold. Examples are Cuba, Angola, Ethiopia, Tanzania and other countries that had adopted socialism or communism.

But before he died, Erich Honecker, the then leader of the GDR, said: “Communism will rise one day.”

The lesson to draw is that Zimbabwe is a new economy underpinned by many different social bases. Policymakers must therefore be sensitive to the divergent interests of these social bases in order to make sure that policies are balanced, and pro-people, inclusive, shared and sustainable. Therein lies the rub.

Neo-liberal austerity measures have not worked anywhere in developing countries and they will not work in Zimbabwe.

Austerity measures are capitalist policies without markets. Yet for capitalism to flourish, there must exist perfect and functional markets underpinned by competition and efficient allocation of resources. But with massive corruption and nugatory expenditure now entrenched — as revealed by the Auditor-General — public resources are being wasted.

What austerity will achieve is the infliction of misery and poverty on the working class and the poor. If the regime does not change course, it will go down in history as the most disastrous in post-Independence Zimbabwe.
Will communism rise one day?

Mashakada is an economist and MP for Hatfield. These weekly New Perspectives articles are co-ordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, immediate past-president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society — and mobile: +263 772 382 852.