The UPND Presidents’ remarks pertaining socialism and capitalism are shockingly naïve and shallow. Going by what he thinks and said, then the poor people of Zambia should brace for even harder times under a UPND run government.
What the UPND President is telling the toiling masses of Zambia is an out-dated “fairy-tale” repeatedly told over the past 500 years of capitalist exploitation – that the abject poverty of the masses will only improve after the capitalist bosses have accumulated billions of profits and then, thereafter, some form of charity will then be extended to them. He is oblivious to the fact that poverty is structural; it is born out of economic exploitation of the working masses and their exclusion in the social, cultural and political spheres of their countries. It is not a phenomenon that you eradicate through acts of charity or the so-called “social element”. It is only when the greatest majority of our people gain control and become masters over their economy, their natural resources, their socio-cultural capital and when they can bring an end to economic exploitation that their poverty will be dealt with decisively. Anything short of that will remain nothing but a fairly-tale.
The catchword the UPND President uses is “enterprise”. He should know better that the mercantile capitalists that opened up Africa to capitalist plunder (often using guns, coercion and fake treaties) were organised in enterprises. It was the same capitalist driven enterprises that for over 400 years caught and sold our brothers and sisters as slaves to the Americas. The British South African Company under Cecil Rhodes that colonised us and stole our land and wealth was in itself an enterprise. Similarly, contemporary Zambia is still exploited by no other than capitalist enterprises facilitated by our own successive neo-colonial governments. So what is this myth about capitalist enterprises? Has the poverty of Zambia improved now that we have had a free reign of capitalist enterprises since 1991? And by the way, who says the communist government of China does not run successful enterprises that are creating value for the Chinese economy? Who says Cuba does not have enterprises that continue to create value for the economy despite all odds and sanctions that this small island nation has had to endure for decades? Where would American, Japanese, German, Swedish, and all the smallholder agriculture of the developed capitalist countries be if they had not resorted to a socialist form of ownership, cooperatives, for the transformation of agriculture and poverty eradication?
Though the term “Enterprise” is supposed to be a nutural word; it’s real purpose is however determined by the prevailing economic order: A capitalist enterprise aims at maximising profits for the capitalists through exploitation of labour; whereas a socialist enterprise aims primarily at meeting the needs of the working masses. The future of the Zambian working masses does not lie in more exploitation by capitalist enterprises – that is then soothed by trickle-down acts of charity and social welfare handouts. Their future lies in building a society that accords their needs highest priority, that restores their lost dignity, that celebrates their social life and culture and that strictly upholds the fundamental rights of women and children. Under such a context, socialist enterprises will become mere platforms for achieving these ends.
The UPND President also alludes to the macro-economic instability in Zambia as inhibitive to socialism! What he forgot to mention is that Zambia’s macro-economic instability today has not been caused by socialism, but rather by a crisis of the global capitalist system itself as well as following misinformed neo-liberal capitalist policies – which are not different from the ones Mr. Hichilema is advocating! If you run a natural resource based economy at the periphery of capitalism, macro-economic stability must be a pre-requisite, a critical “hygiene factor” for all your economic policies and undertakings. But this economic logic appeals more to socialist than to neo-liberal capitalist governments. A socialist government would only ignore this principle at its own downfall. Once economic instability creeps in, the global vultures that are ready to descend and reverse any progress made by socialism will quickly land in that country and feast on all productive public assets that would have been created by the working masses. In other words, macro-economic instability is very bad for socialism and for the majority poor. That is the reason why the Rainbow Party’s Social and Economic Programme puts such a high premium on economic stability and has pushed the indicators and targets for economic stability to very high levels. Any serious capitalist enterprise that would want to invest in a socialist Zambia, on a “win-win” basis, would actually feel more protected under conditions of the highest levels of economic stability, zero tolerance to corruption, huge investments in social capital, an efficient and frugal state machinery, equitable distribution of national wealth and social peace.
It is also obvious that the UPND President’s understanding of the term socialism is limited to the distribution of national wealth. This is a narrow and highly misinformed notion of what socialism is. The allocative, production and distributive functions are integral aspects of any economic system – whether capitalist or socialist. Both systems need to resolve issues related to ownership of the means of production, they both need some form of planning, they both need to employ market mechanisms in making some economic decision to varying degrees, they need to technically organise production as well as distribute the wealth created thereof. Equating capitalism to value creation and socialism to the distributive function is completely erroneous.
Given Mr Hichilema’s great but naïve trust in the virtues of capitalist driven enterprises, his remarks about “equitable partnership” between labour and capital are actually patronizing and belittling to the workers of this country. Historically, we know of narratives from some so-called slave masters of “good-heart” who cunningly told their slaves that they were partners for a common purpose; even the medieval feudal lords could not resist the temptation of singing about the cooperation between them and their economically caged serfs. Our own colonial exploiters and oppressors also demanded to be shown gratitude for their “civilising mission”, and in the 21st Century we still have one of our high-profile Zambian political leader promising “equitable partnership” between the exploited masses and their exploiters! What an irony of history? Once again, in agreement with what the Catholic Pope Francis said; capitalism is evil. Trying to massage it with nice words does not make it less evil.