'A last stubborn outpost of a past epoch': The Communist Party of Great Britain, national liberation in Zimbabwe and anti-imperialist solidarity

Spring 2020

The Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) had been involved in anti-colonial and anti-imperialist campaigns since the 1920s and in the late 1950s, its members were instrumental in the founding of the Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM). In the 1960s and 1970s, this extended to support for the national liberation movement in Rhodesia/ Zimbabwe. From the early 1960s to the mid-1970s, the CPGB threw its support behind the Soviet-backed Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU), instead of their rival, the Chinese-backed Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU). When both groups entered into a short-term military and political alliance in 1976, the Patriotic Front, this posed a possible problem for the Communist Party and the AAM, but publicly these British organisations proclaimed solidarity with newly created PF. However this expression of solidarity and internationalist links quickly untangled after the 1980 elections, which were convincingly won by ZANU-PF and left the CPGB’s traditional allies, ZAPU, with a small share of seats in the national parliament. This article explores the contours of the relationship between the CPGB, the broader anti-apartheid movement in Britain and its links with the organisations in Zimbabwe during the war of national liberation, examining the opportunities and limits presented by this campaign of anti-imperial solidarity.

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