Presidential candidate Dr. Fred M’membe on the struggle for socialism in Zambia
The Socialist Party of Zambia was launched in March 2018 amid a tense situation of repression. Eight of the invited international guests were barred from entering the country and following the event, the Cuban ambassador in Zambia, Nelson Pages Vilas, was expelled from the country. Not to mention the constant and brutal persecution of the members of the party and the repression of their activities of political education, literacy courses and other community gatherings.
Despite these constant challenges, the Socialist Party of Zambia is committed to organizing the working class and poor of the country and taking on the struggle for socialism. Zambia is a country with high levels of extreme poverty, illiteracy and has one of the lowest life expectancy rates in the world at 62.3 years. Leader of the party and presidential candidate for 2012 Dr. Fred M’membe, pointed out that for the Zambian people “there is no other alternative to socialism”.
Peoples Dispatch, along with the media team of the Socialist Party of Zambia, spoke to Dr. Fred M’membe about the struggle for socialism in Zambia, and across the African continent, as well as the attacks on the media by Edgar Lungu’s regime with the case of the brutal closure of the media organization, Post, in 2016.
Peoples Dispatch + Socialist Party of Zambia: Why was the party created and what work preceded its formation?
Fred M’membe: We have been working 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 in theory and practice.
PD + SPZ: 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 had 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.
PD + SPZ: 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 is in terms of local issues and on the global level. Issues of equity locally are in terms of access to education, access to health services, access to nutrition, access to decent housing and all the services required in an organized society. We have issues of peace locally and also at 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.
PD + SPZ: What are the specific challenges within the Zambian context?
FM: The bourgeois 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 brutalize the opposition.
PD + SPZ: How are you mobilising the party in the midst of the brutality?
FM: The party is operating in terms of mobilization and educating its cadres – it is more or less operating underground. They do not know what the party is doing but when they do come to know, they arrive 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 scatter and some were arrested and spent nights in police cells. At the end of the day, they were released without any charge because they had not committed any offence.
PD + SPZ: What was the police’s justification for the attack?
FM: They never told us. This is the armed police coming up to beat people – they were just short of firing shots.
PD + SPZ: What’s the response of the Zambian society to the party?
FM: It’s extremely good. The working class have no problems with socialism; it’s instant coffee for the working class. You are talking about 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 issues, struggles and provides solutions to them. It gives them hope.
PD + SPZ: What are the kind of expectations? How are you going to be able to carry out campaigns with the police brutality and repression?
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 otherwise. 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.
PD + SPZ: 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 the 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!
PD + SPZ: What is giving you hope in the midst of all these challenges?
FM: Our program is the program 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 harbor any hope of survival or progress in their lives.
PD + SPZ: 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 is 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, the 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.
PD + SPZ: Let’s go back a little in time. Could you talk a bit about The Post in Zambia?
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 being a one party state. It meant that even if you had a socialist project, you could not implement it.
With the broadening of the bourgeois democratic space, we hoped we could be able to set up our own socialist organizations. We ran The Post for two-and-a-half decades and what we realised in the end was that the bourgeois democratic space we started to broaden was narrowing and political organizations were needed to stop that trend and hence, the formation of the Socialist Party and other organisations we have formed.
PD + SPZ: And what about the closure of The Post?
FM: The regime was vicious with 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 court orders to keep the publication open – they just ignored all the court orders we received.
We did not have state power, 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.
PD + SPZ: And you, yourself were 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.
PD + SPZ: What are your hopes and expectations for the Pan-African movement, in the context of the Third Pan-African today conference, and the struggle for socialism across world?
FM: The most important thing Nkrumah himself was seeking under the Pan-African movement was unity – unity of all the progressive forces, whatever their inclinations. If you look at this conference, it is 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.
Like we said at 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 program when we have a socialist program. 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 – it is 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.