Before returning to our analysis of the document, let us illustrate how the line worked out in practice.
In September 1979 the Patriotic Front—taking no notice of Banda’s one condition—called off the armed struggle. Mugabe and Nkomo arrived in London to participate in talks at Lancaster House on a constitutional settlement of the national struggle in Zimbabwe. Rather than denouncing this reactionary charade and calling upon the Zimbabwean masses to repudiate the Lancaster House trap, the WRP immediately adjusted its political line to accommodate this right-wing shift in the policy of the Patriotic Front. During the next six months, the News Line was to function as a daily semi-official propaganda organ for the Patriotic Front, dispensing political bromides to ease the growing anxiety among British and Zimbabwean workers—including countless African students in London—over the bankruptcy of the nationalist leaders.
In its issue of September 10, 1979, in a front-page article headlined, “Nkomo Slams Bishop,” the News Line informed its readers: “Leaders of the Zimbabwe Patriotic Front, in London for the constitutional conference which opens in Lancaster House today, have made it clear they will not accept anything short of full majority rule.” Rather than exposing this shallow boast, the News Line proceeded to uncritically quote Nkomo at length. The only note of caution introduced by correspondent John Spencer in the course of the entire article was the comment, “There should be no illusions in the role of the Thatcher government, which is the arch-enemy of the liberation movements all over the world.” He conveniently failed to make the point that the Lancaster House talks were based on the collaboration of the Patriotic Front with this same British imperialism.
On September 22, 1979, in article entitled “Patriotic Front Sticks to Its Guns,” the News Line provided the following misleading reassurances:
“After two weeks of tough negotiations at Lancaster House, the Patriotic Front is clinging to its guns for an independent Zimbabwe based on full rights for all citizens.”
The article suggested that a major concession had been made by the “Salisbury puppets” in accepting Tory proposals for a new constitution—neatly forgetting that until two weeks before the WRP had supposedly made its support for the Patriotic Front conditional upon rejection of constitutional compromises. As it turned out, Ian Smith held out longer than Nkomo and Mugabe! Again, however, the News Line warned that obstacles stood in the way of a settlement: “But the Patriotic Front is still deeply unhappy about the British constitutional plan. Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe maintained that it still contains traces [!] of racism because it refers to white and black voting registers and specifically allocated white seats in Parliament.”
Within three days, the News Line was reporting that the Patriotic Front had overcome its unhappiness and accepted the 24 white seats demanded by British imperialism. The headline of the September 25th article noted that the “Move upsets Salisbury.” While just a few days before the Patriotic Front had been quoted as denouncing the assignment of white seats as racist, the News Line observed that “the present racist constitution is now a dead letter...”
On October 5, 1979, the News Line reported that Lord Carrington had submitted an ultimatum to the Patriotic Front, demanding that Mugabe and Nkomo accept the constitutional framework prepared by British imperialism or the talks would be dissolved.
On October 9, 1979, the News Line led the issue with the Patriotic Front’s “seven differences” with the constitution proposed by Carrington. None of these differences were of a fundamental character and established that the Patriotic Front had essentially capitulated to imperialist control over an “independent” Zimbabwe. But the News Line did not call upon the Patriotic Front to quit the talks or in any way criticize their stand. Instead, the News Line issued a meek protest on behalf of the Patriotic Front.
In its issue of October 15, 1979, in an article entitled “Land Question a Key in Zimbabwe Talks” correspondent John Spencer complained that Carrington’s proposal “amounts to a crude ultimatum aimed at smashing the talks if the Zimbabwe liberation movement refuses to be bullied into accepting the terms laid down by Westminster.
“Carrington is bringing the talks to the point of breakdown despite the Patriotic Front’s consistent willingness to continue negotiations and prevent the negotiations breaking down.
“The draft constitution which Carrington is trying to impose gives nothing like full independence and sovereignty to the people of Zimbabwe.
“It contains provisions which would be unacceptable and offensive to any other sovereign government throughout the world and even more important, its provisions run directly counter to the interests and requirements of the Zimbabwean people.”
By this point the News Line was functioning as a surrogate message service between the Patriotic Front and the British ruling class—not as a tribune of the working class and the oppressed masses of Zimbabwe. It was faithfully reporting the Patriotic Front’s discomfiture at the hard bargain being driven by Carrington and tactfully warning that it might be forced against its wishes to quit the talks. For this reason, the News Line—no doubt at the request of aides to Nkomo and Mugabe—reported criticisms of the talks made by the United Nations representative of the Patriotic Front.
However, in the course of the next 24 hours the Patriotic Front had decided to continue with the Lancaster House betrayal and the News Line was given the job of portraying this miserable capitulation as an audacious counter-blow to Carrington. Thus, a banner headline on the October 16, 1979 edition of the News Line proclaimed: “WE STAY! -Carrington Gets Answer From Nkomo.”
The first paragraph of John Spencer’s article read:
“Patriotic Front co-leader Joshua Nkomo said last night that the British government had no right to throw the liberation movement out of the Lancaster House talks on the future of Zimbabwe.”
In its on-going capacity as messenger service, the News Line quoted “one Patriotic Front cadre” as saying: “A deal between the British government and Muzorewa is worthless because they cannot deliver an end to the war”
One month later, when the Patriotic Front capitulated to the Carrington proposals, the news was buried on an inside page and the coverage suggested that significant concessions in wording had been made by the British government.
In the News Line of November 27, 1979, in order to create a bizarre diversion to distract attention from the shameful betrayal in progress, Alex Mitchell was called in to write a front-page “Zimbabwe talks sensation” which was headlined, “SINISTER PLOT EXPOSED - EXCLUSIVE”
According to “an impeccable source which must remain anonymous” Mitchell reported that “British intelligence has mounted the biggest electronic surveillance operation in its history against the Patriotic Front delegations at the Rhodesia talks in London...
“It has provided the Foreign Office—and therefore the regimes in South Africa and Salisbury—with the detailed thinking and tactics of the Patriotic Front led by Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe”—as if British imperialism needed bugs to anticipate the betrayal of its agents in Zimbabwe!
The article concluded with messenger-boy Mitchell delivering a petty threat to British imperialism: “Unless Carrington is prepared to completely withdraw his plan and unconditionally accept the Patriotic Front’s proposals then the Patriotic Front has every right to quit London and return to
the armed struggle until final victory.” One might ask why the News Line was not demanding that the Patriotic Front quit London and return to the armed struggle if final victory was possible? Indeed, this cynical statement proves that the Workers Revolutionary Party leadership was working consciously as agents of the colonial bourgeoisie to betray the Zimbabwean Revolution.
On December 5, 1979, the News Line played the last card of the Patriotic Front. A front-page article entitled “ZIMBABWE CHARGE: TORIES OPT FOR WAR” reported that Mugabe and Nkomo warned that “if Carrington ended the London Conference without an agreement with the Patriotic Front, then the liberation war would continue.”
On December 14, 1979, the News Line began preparing its readers for the capitulation of Nkomo and Mugabe. A front-page lead by Mitchell declared: “The Patriotic Front is being pressured from all sides to accept the Tory ceasefire proposals and lay down its arms in the struggle to liberate Zimbabwe.” He offered excuses for the Patriotic Front, claiming that it was “holding out alone” and that the “front line states have also deserted the liberation fighters”—creating a picture of hopelessness to justify political capitulation to Carrington and the abandonment of the armed struggle which it had just a few months earlier proclaimed as the basis of its support of the Patriotic Front.
Thus, on December 18, 1979, the News Line reported without any criticism that the “Patriotic Front sign dotted line.”
For three months, the Workers Revolutionary Party had faithfully supported every step backward taken by the Patriotic Front and accepted the dirty job of selling the deal to the working class in Britain and the fighters in Africa. It worked day-in and day-out to boost the authority of Mugabe and Nkomo in order to facilitate their betrayal. Not once during the entire proceedings at Lancaster House did the Workers Revolutionary Party present anything that remotely resembled a Marxist analysis of the policies of the bourgeois nationalists nor advance a revolutionary program to counter their betrayal. It must be stated that the Healy-Banda-Slaughter leadership played the role of adjutants of British imperialism through their reactionary collaboration with the Patriotic Front traitors.
Later, three months after the betrayal had been carried through, the News Line carried an article in its issue of March 3, 1980 entitled “Whatever happened to the Patriotic Front?,” which declared:
“The masses of Zimbabwe stand in the greatest danger from the intrigues of imperialism and the opportunism of their own leaders.” In a cynical and belated warning, the News Line reported that “Now, the Patriotic Front leaders are working hand-in-glove with General Sir John Ac land, Walls and Maclean in the integration of the ZIPRA and ZANLA armies into one centralized army.”
The new “critical” attitude did not last long. Two days later, the front page of the March 5, 1980 issue of the News Line carried the banner headline: “MUGABE VICTORY: GIANT BLOW AT THE TORIES.”
The article began: “The landslide victory for Robert Mugabe in the Zimbabwe elections is a tremendous affirmation of the revolutionary movement of the masses of Africa and the whole world.
“It continues the irrepressible march of the masses since the victory over imperialism in Vietnam and followed by Angola, Mozambique, Iran and Nicaragua.”
Maneuvering to ingratiate itself with Mugabe, the News Line denounced Nkomo, whose military forces were now described as “a conventionally trained force under the heavy grip of Soviet and East German advisers.”
But just one year earlier, in the document of the Fourth Congress, Banda was describing Nkomo’s forces as a vital component of the future “workers’ and peasants’ government” in Zimbabwe.
In the same issue, having declared its enthusiastic support for Mugabe’s electoral victory, which the WRP described as a blow to British imperialism, the News Line reported without comment the policies outlined by the new government: 1) “Nationalization with compensation”; 2) “Acceptance of the capitalist base of the Rhodesian economy with ‘modifications in a gradual way’ without seizure of private property or blanket nationalization”; 3) The establishment of Zimbabwe’s non-aligned status “with friends among both NATO and Warsaw Pact countries”; 4) Co-existence with South Africa.
The sum total of the WRP’s policies in southern Africa—for which Healy, Banda and Slaughter shared equal responsibility—was a political betrayal of historic magnitude.