If one is asked about the best thing coming out of the current Zimbabwean question, one can confidently say it is the growing space for contestation of political ideas. Barely a day passes without one coming across a pointed comment on Facebook or Twitter alluding support for one of the various economic, political and social ideas being forwarded by certain individuals, institutions, social movement organisations like #Tajamuka, #ThisFlag, civil society, politicians, economists, activists and even by the public and ruling party characters.
Some progressive commentators in Zimbabwe are taking debates beyond social media and embarking on the further energetic step of penning opinion pieces and articles in support of their ideas. Contestation of ideas is dominant in alternative media platforms such as blogs and diaspora media websites. In just this past week, one encountered thought-provoking writings from people like Takura Zhangazha, Miles Tendi, Munyaradzi Gwisai, Tamuka Chirimambowa and others.
The exchange of radical and reactionary ideas is almost a reminder of the stories and pictures we have seen in history books about the political cafes that dominated revolutionary France in the 18th and 19th century.
The place for theory
Any serious movement for economic, social and/or political reforms should be backed by progressive ideas/theories otherwise the result would be senseless anarchy or fatal defeat. The Arab Spring remains a living reminder of the futility of movements that lacked clear ideological foundations.
In the words of Vladimir Lenin, the Russian revolutionary leader, theorist and historical figure in his 1902 political pamphlet entitled What is To Be Done? Burning Questions of our Movement:
“Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement. This idea cannot be insisted upon too strongly at a time when the fashionable preaching of opportunism goes hand in hand with an infatuation for the narrowest forms of practical activity… the role of vanguard fighter can be fulfilled only by a party that is guided by the most advanced theory”.
Lenin is a man whose books, theories and tactics delivered the great October socialist revolution where for the first time the working class overthrew a tsar and took over the running of a society. It is such ideas that should be revisited in the Zimbabwean context where all leading formations are trying hard to capture the eternally relevant and potentially revolutionary urban and rural working class.
When people are focused on political debates, a small segment even argue for otherwise hidden ideas such as Marxist theories. Hence is encouraging for people like this writer who in other times barely comes across encouraging progressive content in the media. So it was highly interesting to read about classes once again in a recent article by Takura Zhangazha. it is a pity though that he identifies himself as a social democrat. He would make a good communist.
The good and the bad of political debate
The contestation of ideas is both healthy and bad. The good thing is that the environment opens up for debate and progressive ideas and even gives voice to some people who under ordinary circumstances prefer to be silent. The focus on ideas eventually leads people to seek opinions and writings in non-traditional mediums and this is a worthwhile pursuit.
The bad thing with political debates is when some cadres take things personal. For instance, there is a rising culture among some activists that says certain characters should not be criticised. These say we have reached a stage where some people should be regarded as sacrosanct in order to avoid the struggle being compromised. To them, criticism is unwelcome. Unfortunately, such sentiments are the bedrocks of a totalitarian society. One of the features of a totalitarian society has been defined as “centralisation of power and values in the hands of the leader. This centralisation of power allows the decisions of the leader to reach and influence the people without checks or mediation from other institutions with their own political agenda or values.” These sentiments should not be a feature of the current wave of pro-democracy movement-building in Zimbabwe. Every idea and every person should stand the test of criticism and democratic debate.
In a nutshell, the future of viable political ideas contestation in Zimbabwe should involve unfettered debate, even when such involves the criticism of some people’s heroes. There must be debate on social media and on the ground. Discussion forums initiated by residents’ movements, students’ unions, civil society and other groups have never been more necessary. There is need for this society to allow free debate and the testing of alternative theories, political ideas and ideological questions. Such debate and robust contestation of ideas can never be adequately exhausted on social media, moreover on Twitter with its 140-characters-per-tweet limitations.
Everyone, led by the intelligentsia, needs to effectively strengthen, initiate and participate in the current discourse on Zimbabwe’s economic, political and social future. That is genuine freedom of expression.