people on the Left have difficulty addressing the issue of torture.
Certainly when the torture is carried out by imperialists, there
is no problem condemning it. But what happens when torture is carried
out by organizations or governments that claim to be progressive,
anti-imperialist, or even on the Left? At that moment there is often
silence, sort of a freeze-frame.
recently I have found myself badgered by emails from an insulting
individual who happens to be a fanatic supporter of Zimbabwean President
Robert Mugabe. On one level, this is par for the course. Despite
my stand on countless issues, there exists a small collection of
individuals who believe that the sun rises and sets based on one’s
stand on President Mugabe. Thus, due to my criticisms of the Mugabe
clique, I have become el Diablo. So be it.
was interesting, however, was that in both this experience as well
as several others, when I have raised that I know people - not just
know OF, but know people - who have been tortured by the Mugabe
regime, there is complete silence. The statement is not even acknowledged.
Then the silence breaks and the polemics continue as if nothing
was ever mentioned.
general, the Left has four main responses to allegations of torture
carried out by progressive organizations and/or governments. These
Denial: It is all a lie; never happened.
Minimize: It is an aberration, committed by rogue elements.
Silence: let’s pretend that it will all go away.
Relativism: it may have happened, but it is not as bad
as what the capitalists do.
on the Left are so afraid that any acknowledgement of a crime committed
by a progressive or so-called progressive will give aid and comfort
to the enemy that we respond in such a way as to discredit ourselves
and our mission. I understand this. In the 1970s and early 1980s
I could not believe allegations that were made against the Khmer
Rouge in Kampuchea/Cambodia. I simply could not believe that a political
movement that had carried out such a heroic struggle against a US
puppet regime (Lon Nol’s) and united the country would descend into
such fanaticism. Yet they had and each time that criticisms were
raised and went unanswered by segments of the Left, our credibility
we have the case of the Mugabe regime. At this very moment there
is an attempt at a unity government between the Mugabe group and
the main opposition (Movement for a Democratic Change). Such an
effort should be supported, including by the dropping of sanctions
that have been instituted by the USA and other countries. This,
however, does not clean the slate. Torture, including rape-as-repression,
has been too widely documented to dismiss. While the people of Zimbabwe
will have to settle their own accounts in a manner that they deem
appropriate, that does not mean that those of us on the outside
can or should remain agnostic, and it certainly should not mean
that we live in a world of denial.
the Left is to hold the moral high ground it must mean that it is
prepared to engage in criticism, including constructive criticism,
when crimes are uncovered. Certainly every action must be put in
a context, and there is no doubt that actions are at times carried
out by or in political movements and governments that are not sanctioned
by the leadership. Yet when there is a pattern, any and every attempt
to dismiss it weakens our ability to insist on a practice of consistent
democracy. If torture is wrong when carried out by pro-capitalists,
for example, both because it is unreliable as well as immoral, how
then can we on the Left tolerate it under any circumstances? How
can we so quickly dismiss as ‘fabricated stories’ the reports of
rape-as-repression whether they emerge from Zimbabwe or from the
Sudan? The fact that these matters are reported by the mainstream
white, capitalist press does not mean that they can be rejected
out of hand. It should mean, instead, that we take investigation
seriously in order to uncover the truth and separate that from pro-imperialist
case for self-determination and sovereignty for Zimbabwe and against
any efforts by the USA, Britain or any other country to destabilize
the situation is not helped by denial of the often vicious repression
(including torture) that has been meted out against the opposition.
If anything, denial is met with an unanticipated consequence at
the mass level: democratic-minded people can often naively throw
their support for so-called “humanitarian interventions” by the
Executive Editor, Bill Fletcher, Jr., is a Senior Scholar with the
Institute for Policy Studies,
the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum and co-author of, Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path
toward Social Justice
(University of California Press), which examines the crisis of organized
labor in the USA. Click here
to contact Mr. Fletcher.