The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was founded in 1999 out of Zimbabwe’s trade union movement. It emerged from a mass struggle against the neoliberal policies of the World Bank.
It was led by Morgan Tsvangirai, a former trade union leader, who in the MDC’s early years once said, “Don’t forget where we come from – our base is the workers, peasants and the poor.”
Just 16 months after being formed – and despite repression from president Robert Mugabe’s forces – the MDC won 57 of 120 seats in Zimbabwe’s 2000 election.
Since then the MDC has retained its working class base, but has been increasingly influenced by various NGOs, academics, businessmen and lawyers with their own ideas about the direction the party should take.
The party has always been contradictory. One side comes from labour forums and the streets. It hates privatisation, anti-union laws and the power of big business.
But the other side is dominated by the middle class and sections of big business that hope to co-opt the opposition movement.
The MDC’s leaders wanted to combine a mass base with the support of business, multinationals and Western governments.
Rich whites such as farmer Roy Bennett and industrialist Eddie Cross came into the leadership of the MDC.
By the 2002 election the party was arguing against land redistribution and openly siding with white commercial farmers.
This allowed Mugabe to present himself as the saviour of the poor. Before long he had outmanoeuvred the opposition in his Zanu-PF party and won most of the regime behind his new “left wing” stance.
He marketed himself as a leader of the fight against imperialism and globalisation, attacking “Western racism”. This in turn prompted Western governments to increase their support for the right wing of the opposition.
Mugabe also partially retreated from his previous neoliberal economic policies in a move designed to undercut popular resistance and working class struggle.
For all its many contradictions, the MDC remains the repository of hope for the majority of Zimbabweans, who see the party as the only way of ridding the country of Mugabe.
But real liberation for Zimbabwe’s workers and peasants will not come from the authoritarian neoliberalism of Mugabe, or from the MDC.
Nor will they come from the policies of George Bush and Gordon Brown, both of whom claim to support democracy in Zimbabwe while doing nothing to help its people.