Socialist Party 2021 presidential candidate, Dr Fred M’membe discusses the brutal closure of The Post by Edgar Lungu’s regime and the future of the struggle for socialism in Zambia and world over. In an interview with Zoe, a journalist with People’s Dispatch last week on the sidelines of the third Pan African Today conference held in Winneba, Ghana, Dr M’membe says it is difficult to stop the socialist revolutionary wave that is sweeping the African continent.
Zoe: Lets go back a little in time. Can we talk about The Post in Zambia, the project and its status.
FM: The Post was started in 1991, not necessarily as a socialist platform but as a progressive publication to help broaden the bourgeois democratic space, which was needed for us because at that time we were just coming out of a one party state. It meant that even if you had a socialist project you could not implement it.
With the broadening of the bourgois democratic space, we hoped we could be able to set up our own socialist organisations. We ran The Post for two and half decades and what we realised in the end was that the bourgeois democratic space we started to broaden was narrowing and political organisations were needed to stop that trend and hence the formation of the Socialist Party and other organisations we have formed.
Zoe: Can you talk a little bit about the closure of The Post.
FM: The regime was vicious on The Post because the newspaper took a more progressive stance on many issues: on corruption, on misgovernance, on infringement of civil liberties and on the plight of the working class. So, the regime made up its mind that The Post had to be closed, come what may. And we had been receiving information to that effect for over a year. When it happened we were not surprised. What shocked us was the brutality with which they did it, the brazenness with which they did it, disobeying of court orders to keep the publication open – they just ignored all the court orders we received.
We did not have state powers, so we could not stop them. They controlled state power. We have moved on, they are remaining behind with blood in their hands and also guarding the grave of The Post that is haunting them. They are so scared of the resurrection of The Post in terms of the issues that The Post stood for.
Yes, they have buried The Post but the issues have resurrected in a new way and in a new time.
Zoe: And you, yourself you are victim of that repression?
FM: Yes, I led The Post and it could not be attacked without me being attacked. That’s part of the struggle. In any struggle that we engage in if it is called a struggle, they will be such sacrifices, they will be such pains to endure.
Zoe: Why was the party created and the work that preceded its formation?
FM: We have been on this project for a very long time. The project appears to be new but we are not new and the ideas are not new. I grew up in the South African Communist Party; Cosmas Musumali grew up in the Communist Party of West Germany. We have more than 40 years of socialist experience – both theory and practice.
Zoe: So, you were both living outside Zambia?
FM: In and out – because of our commitment to the socialist cause.
Zoe: Why now, why was the party launched now?
FM: It is the right time. I don’t see any other better time. All the other options that were there have been exhausted and the only sensible thing left was to launch the party. And also both the subjective and objective factors were favourable for the launch of the party.
Zoe: What ideological agenda do you have for the party?
FM: Firstly, the party, as its name goes, is a socialist party; it’s a communist party with a socialist programme and that socialist programme entails fighting on the front for justice, fighting on the front for equity, fighting on the front for peace. Justice in terms of local issues and on the global level. Issues of equity locally, in terms of access to education, access to health services, access to nutrition, access to decent housing and all the services required in an organised society. We have issues of peace locally and also on the global level. Capitalism cannot do without violence; capitalism cannot do without wars, without conflict. As long as capitalism exists, violence, wars and conflict will be there and we have a duty to struggle for a more peaceful, more just and more humane world.
Zoe: What are the challenges within the Zambian context?
A: The bourgois democratic space is narrowing by the day. This is a regime that doesn’t respect its own laws, its own Constitution – they violate it every day. So, the operating space is very narrow. Even where your actions are legal, they are made to be illegal. The police is being used to brutalise the opposition.
Zoe: How are you mobilising the party in the midst of the brutality?
FM: The party is operating in terms of mobilisation and educating its cadres – its more less operating underground, they do not know what the party is doing because immediately they know what the party is doing they come to disrupt those activities. They did this some time back in April. I was holding a training session in one of the townships in Lusaka and they sent a truckload of police officers to come and disrupt the training programme. People had to scumper and some were arrested, spent nights in police cells. At the end of the day they were released without any charge because they had not committed any offence.
Zoe: What was the police justification for the attack?
FM: They never told us. This is armed police coming up to beat people – they were just short of firing shots.
Zoe: What’s the response to the party of the Zambian society, how do they respond to the party?
FM: It’s extremely good, the working class have no problems with socialism; its instant coffee for the working class. You are talking about their daily lives, their daily lives. You are not talking about that which is utopian to them or something that is very far away from them. Socialism answers to all their daily problems – explains their daily problems, struggles and provides solutions to them. It gives them hope.
Zoe: What are the kind of expectations? How are you going to be able to do the camapigns …. with police brutality?
FM: We also don’t know comrade, but we will do it. The first task we have is to establish the structures of the party. We are a new party and there is no need to pretend that we are not a new party. We are a new party without structures on the ground. So, our first task is to create those structures and we are moving very quickly. We are spending every day in the townships training people for those structures. And we are doing quite well. The job is tedious but we have to do it the right way, without pause and improvisation.
Zoe: How do you think the State will accept your party?
FM: They can’t accept it. The first time it was announced, they acted – the first casualty was Cuban ambassador in Lusaka who came to attend the launch of our party where those decisions were announced. They expelled him from the country for simply attending that meeting and offering a word or two of solidarity. He is still expelled!
Zoe: What is giving you hope in the midst of all these challenges?
FM: Our programme is the programme of the people, by the people for the people. We are dealing with humblest of the Zambian people and for them, there is no other alternative to socialism. There is no other alternative to the Socialist Party right now if they have to habour any hope of survival or progress in their lives.
Zoe: How important is international solidarity to the Socialist Party?
FM: International solidarity is not only for the Socialist Party, it’s for everyone. Everyone of us needs international solidarity. Even the socialist parties in government need our solidarity. We all need each other. These are not isolated struggles or projects – they are connected struggles, projects – success in one, means success in the other, defeat in one it’s a defeat for all. The struggles going on in Venezuela are our struggles; they are not for Venezuelans alone, they are all our struggles.
The attack on Cuba, embargo against Cuba is an embargo against all of us. The easing of the burden on Cuba removes the burden on all of us. The challenges the Venezuelan people are facing today are all our challenges. Without those challenges the work becomes much easier for us. So, we don’t look at those challenges in Venezuela, in Cuba or elsewhere as not being ours. The struggles in Brazil are all our struggles! The struggles in the USA today are all our struggles. The struggles of the working class in USA are our struggles. And we have to join hands with all those struggling for a better world. Sometimes, even if they are not socialists we have to join hands with them. A better world is not only for socialists, it’s for all humanity in all its diversities and complexities.
Zoe: What are your hopes and expectations for this conference and what will come out of this conference?
FM: The most important is what Nkrumah himself was seeking under the pan African movement – unity, unity of all the progressive forces, whatever their inclinations. If you look at this conference, its not only a conference of people who are committed to socialism; it’s for all peoples who are struggling for improving the conditions of the working class in various forms. We need that unity; we need unity of all those who are advancing the interests of the working class in one way or the other. We also need unity of all those struggling for socialism and that’s why the Venezuelans are here, the Cubans are here and all who support those struggles. The Brazilians are here – these are joint struggles.
Zoe: Do you have anything else to say?
A: Like we said yesterday (at the Founder’s Day celebrating Nkrumah’s birthday in Winneba, Ghana), the new wave is here with us, the progressive socialist wave is with us. We have had almost 4- 5 decades of reactionary politics on the African continent. To mention socialism was a difficult thing. Today socialism is increasingly becoming fashionable and there is no fear or shame in mentioning the word socialism, we are socialists, we are communists without hesitation. And we are proud to be so and our people receive us as such. We are not trying to lie to our people that we have another programme when we have a socialist programme. We are telling them we are socialists and our people are receiving us as such and want to be socialists. And we are making them socialists because by class they are socialists – each class has its own ideology. Slavery was the ideology of the slave owners, it had no benefits for the slaves. Feudalism was the ideology of the feudal lords – it was not the ideology of the peasants, it benefited the peasants in no way. Capitalism is the ideology of the capitalists and classes that serve their interests, which are the petty bourgeoisie and comprador bourgeoisie – its not an ideology of the working class. Socialism is the ideology of the working class and its not at the service of capitalists and their agents and whoever embraces capitalism.