FORMER Soviet Union ideologue and demagogue Vladimir Lenin once rhetorically said: “If the congress was a struggle between the Iskra-ist and the anti-Iskra-ist elements, were there no intermediate, unstable elements who vacillated between the two? Anyone at all familiar with our party and with the picture generally presented by the congresses of every kind will be inclined to answer the question in the affirmative.”
In the paper, One Step Forward, Two Steps Back (The Crisis in Our Party): Significance of the Various Groupings at the Congress, Lenin added:
“What was the principal task of the congress? To create a real party on the basis of the principles and organisational ideas that had been advanced and elaborated by Iskra (In December 1900, at the age of 30, Lenin established Iskra, one of the most important projects of his political life. Iskra laid the groundwork for a centralised organisation of Russian Marxism which, until then, was fragmented into small isolated groups across Russia and in exile in Europe. The first issue of Iskra (The Spark) was published in December 1900. Its motto was “a single spark can start a prairie fire”. Iskra helped organise and train a new generation of worker and intellectual cadres that would go on to form the vanguard of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. The initial editorial board of Iskra was composed of six members: Vladimir Lenin, Georgi Plekhanov, Pavel Axelrod, Vera Zasulich, Aleksandr Potresov and Julius Martov. In practice, Lenin was the director of the newspaper. He worked relentlessly writing letters to editors, making criticisms, and suggesting ideas for new articles.
“That this was the direction in which the congress had to work was predetermined by the three years’ activities of Iskra and by the recognition of the latter by the majority of the committees.
Iskra’s programme and trend were to become the programme and trend of the party; Iskra’s organisational plans were to be embodied in the rules of organisation of the party. But it goes without saying that this could not be achieved without a struggle: since the congress was so highly representative, the participants included organisations which had vigorously fought Iskra (the Bund and Rabocheye Dyelo ) and organisations which, while verbally recognising Iskra as the leading organ, actually pursued plans of their own and were unstable in matters of principle (the Yuzhny Rabochy group and delegates from some of the committees who were closely associated with it).
“Under these circumstances, the congress could not but become an arena of struggle for the victory of the ‘Iskra’ trend. That it did become such an arena will at once be apparent to all who peruse its minutes with any degree of attention. Our task now is to trace in detail the principal groupings revealed at the congress on various issues and to reconstruct, on the basis of the precise data of the minutes, the political complexion of each of the main groups. What precisely were these groups, trends and shades which, at the congress, were to unite under the guidance of Iskra into a single party? — that is what we must show by analysing the debates and the voting. The elucidation of this is of cardinal importance both for a study of what our Social Democrats really are and for an understanding of the causes of the divergence among them. That is why, in my speech at the League Congress and in my letter to the editors of the new Iskra, I gave prime place to an analysis of the various groupings. My opponents of the “minority” (headed by Martov) utterly failed to grasp the substance of the question. At the League Congress they confined themselves to corrections of detail, trying to “vindicate” themselves from the charge of having swung towards opportunism, but not even attempting to counter my picture of the groupings at the congress by drawing any different one. Now Martov tries in Iskra (No. 56) to represent every attempt clearly to delimit the various political groups at the congress as mere “circle politics”. Strong language, Comrade Martov! But the strong language of the new Iskra has this peculiar quality: one has only to reproduce all the stages of our divergence, from the congress onwards, for all this strong language to turn completely and primarily against the present editorial board. Take a look at yourselves, you so-called party editors who talk about circle politics!”
Under the leadership of Lenin, Iskra was key in the political struggle against the economist opposition within Russian social democracy – the so-called “legal Marxists.”
The Iskra experience provided the basis of the party newspaper that Lenin had in mind, guided by the idea crystallised in this excerpt from What is to Be Done?:
The mission of the newspaper is not limited, however, to disseminating ideas, providing political training and attracting political allies. The newspaper is not only a collective propagandist and a collective agitator, but also a collective organiser.
Iskra debated the role of congress among the social democrats on Russia.
Over the past few days, Zimbabweans, mainly through the local media, have been debating and a crescendo of dissenting voices among a certain vocal group of Zimbabweans advocating for the newly-formed Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) to convene an inaugural elective congress by any means necessary has been witnessed.
Conversely, there has also been considerable pushback from other sections of Zimbabwean society against the idea of frog-marching and commandeering the CCC to plunge headlong into a congress.
This controversial and divisive issue of congress has unwittingly created two deeply polarised and diametrically opposed camps, that is the pro-congress faction and the anti-congress group. Thus, senior political figures across the political spectrum such as the exiled former government ministers Jonathan Moyo and Walter Mzembi, together with CCC senior leaders like Gift Ostallos Siziba, Chalton Hwende and Fadzai Mahere, among others, have also been drawn into this explosive and divisive issue, offering competing, contradictory and polarising perspectives and opinions on the matter.
This issue needs to be deconstructed to contextualise congress within our political and electoral politics and also conduct a comparative analysis deploying domestic and regional examples of inaugural Iskra congresses.
That is, analysing the timing, context and circumstances under which the inaugural congresses were held. In as much as the congress and any other elective system might be necessary for the CCC, a pragmatic and realistic approach needs to be adopted which must take into consideration the timing, financial constraints and the logistics challenges facing the party. That is, any decision on holding the congress must not be a knee-jerk reaction, but a clearly thought out and sound approach undergirded by the party constitution and balanced against the impending 2023 general elections and the autocratic nature of our political landscape.
The CCC was formed on 24 January 2022; it is a political party that was formed from the ashes of the now virtually defunct MDC-Alliance once led by Nelson Chamisa. Therefore, it is quintessentially a three-month-old political party, that is politically and electorally teething.
Thus, it is a political movement that is learning to crawl notwithstanding the fact that some of its senior functionaries and lieutenants have been in opposition trenches for a considerable period of time under the MDC.
However, the political profile and electoral clout of the CCC were tested and boosted by its robust and sound performance in the 26 March 2022 by-elections in which it managed to win 19 parliamentary seats out of 28 and claimed 61% of the vote in the urban and rural local government by-elections.
Consequently, it was this impressive electoral performance that has recast the spotlight on the CCC from its supporters and the opponents alike. This, subsequently, has unwittingly made the CCC, the centre of huge stormy focus, despite the fact that Zanu PF has a long overdue impending elective congresses as mandated by their party constitutions.
The irony of it is that the pro-congress camp which has been forcefully arguing its case has no compelling justification for the CCC to hold congress as a matter of urgency, or that the CCC is legally and constitutionally bound to hold a congress before the 2023 elections. This is largely due to the fact that so far there has been neither constitutional document, founding document, charter nor roadmap that could potentially provide useful information and signposts regarding how, when and where the CCC can or should hold a congress.
This is coupled with the fact that neither the Zimbabwean constitution nor the Electoral Act has express nor implied provisions that demand political parties to hold congress. This also further explains why there has been no floodgate of litigation opened against the CCC over its reluctance to expeditiously hold a congress.
Thus, the usual proverbial tortoise perched on the lamppost have been conspicuous by its absence. Accordingly, political parties by their very nature are voluntary organisations and quasi-private organisations, and as such it is the prerogative of the members and the leadership how they would want to organise, constitute and legitimise themselves.
Hence, other fly-by-night or briefcase political parties such as the National Constitutional Assembly led by Lovemore Madhuku (a constitutional law expert) and APA of Dr Nkosana Moyo have never held a congress nor a classroom-size elective leadership workshop, yet they have never been held to account for the pro-congress campaigners.
Furthermore, Siziba poured cold water on the smouldering smoke of congress by unequivocally arguing that they do not wish to organise and institutionalise their leadership selection and election procedure through the mechanisms of a congress. Therefore, the matter of holding a congress is purely an academic matter for the CCC.
It is also quite instructive to take a historical detour and conduct a comparative analysis on the matters of holding of the congresses by the other former newly-established local and regional political parties vis-à-vis the CCC congress or lack thereof.
Zanu PF was formed in August 1963 and held its inaugural congress 10 months later in Gweru on 24 May 1964. If the pro-congress campaigners were to apply this same yardstick to the CCC, it means it still has seven more months to plan for congress.
However, it then took Zanu PF another 13 years before it could hold another congress in 1977 in Chimoio, Mozambique, despite the fact that there were internal party contradictions and contestations that would have required the party to hold an elective congress. Some of the internal contradictions and contestations manifested themselves in the form of the Nhari rebellion of November 1974, coupled with the intra-party factional and tribal conflict that led to the assassination of Herbert Chitepo in March 1975.
This was in addition to the Vashandi rebellion of November 1976. Needless to say the Chimoio congress came about as a result of accident rather than by design. It was necessitated after an intra-party coup against the leadership of the Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole in jail. In post-independent Zimbabwe, Zanu PF held its first congress in 1984, a good four years after Independence and seven years after the Chimoio congress.
Of course, the context, time and circumstances of the liberation struggle matter in the period before Independence.
The pro-congress faction has further argued that it would be unprecedented, foolhardy and politically senseless for the CCC to contest the 2023 general elections without holding a congress.
However, ironically it is the same political constituency that has never missed the slightest chance to compare the CCC and Chamisa with the Economic Freedom Fighters led by Julius Malema in South Africa.
Yet they ignore the fact that the EFF was formed on 26 July 2013. It then participated in the South African general elections on 7 May 2014 where it garnered 25 seats, but then held its inaugural congress on 14 December 2014, a good 16 months after its formation. These examples illustrate the fact that there is no one-size-fits-all political formula and prescription as to the circumstances and conditions a political party should hold its congress.
The CCC, as a three-month-old political baby, needs to choose its battles wisely. It has to get its priorities right in light of the last two years of political and parliamentary developments that facilitated the demise of its predecessor the MDC-Alliance.
At this early stage, the CCC needs to devote its attention to crafting and developing a watertight and progressive party constitution that must reflect and show that it has learnt from its constitutional missteps and pitfalls of the past which allowed devious characters and political opportunists to exploit those constitutional problems to the overall detriment of the democratic movement.
It must have clear constitutional provisions accommodating three vice-presidents if they decide to keep the present structure. Additionally, they must set out clear and unambiguous provisions regarding the structure and leadership succession mechanisms they want to adopt and institutionalise since their deputy spokesperson has signalled that they will not be using a congress structure currently being used by Zanu PF and the practically defunct MDC-T.
The secretary-general of the CCC, Hwende, tweeted on 26 April 2022 that the party is financially crippled and does not have a huge war chest to simultaneously hold a congress and then contest the 2023 general elections within 12 months. He argued that a congress will require a minimum of US$3 million to prepare and host. This was rather an honest admission by Hwende about the financial woes of the party, which presently relies on kind donations and fundraising activities from its ordinary members.
Needless to say that political parties in Zimbabwe are deeply factional, hence there is a history of splits and counter-splits within the opposition. Therefore, a rushed, poorly thought out and a knee-jerk approach to convening a congress 12 months before the 2023 elections may not be the best political approach for a fledgling political party like the CCC that ironically was born out of the ashes of state and Zanu PF Machiavellian counter-intelligence infiltration and dirty tactics in the former MDC-Alliance and MDC-T.
The state counter-intelligence machinery would have considerable vested interests in the convening of the congress by the CCC before the 2023 polls and would try to exploit divisions in the party, factionalise and fracture the movement. Consequently, it would be strategic and prudent for CCC to channel its attention and mobilise its over-stretched human, financial and material resources towards building a robust war chest for the elections and not waste its meagre resources on congress.
While the leadership and its members are preoccupied with the institution-building of the party through crafting and designing a constitution and organisation structures, in the meantime they need to design and craft either a skeletal interim constitution or a founding charter or roadmap of the party. This will remove any room for speculation and ambiguities, thus enable the party and its members to be on the same wavelength.
Although the CCC has been on the political and electoral landscape for nearly three months, it has come under severe scrutiny from both its detractors and supporters, with each respective constituency placing various demands and expectations on its leadership.
Consequently, the issue of the congress has widened the fault lines between two opposing camps. The leadership of the CCC will have to walk a tightrope and make strategic decisions as it charts its new political and electoral course ahead of the 2023 elections.
As Lenin said, the purpose of congress must be to create a real party on the basis of principles and organisational ideas that had been advanced and elaborated by the people, not to become a theatre for factional struggles.
About the writer: Taona Denhere is a human rights and international development lawyer based in the United Kingdom.