Washington — The quick judgment of some commentators is that Rhodesia, soon to be known as Zimbabwe, has chosen the first democratically elected Marxist state in Africa. This is no more than half true, but there is enough truth in it to raise serious uncertainties about Rhodesia's future.
What makes it partly untrue is that this new nation's black voters, who went to the polls in a higher percentage than in the United States or Western Europe, did not consciously vote for a Marxist government. Approval or disapproval of Marxism-Leninism was not at issue in the campaign, was never discussed by the candidates.
But what remains has sufficient substance to leave it open whether the new prime minister, the guerrilla leader Robert Mugabe, will move in the direction of his Marxist convictions, begin to install a communist-oriented economy, and align his regime behind Soviet purposes.
His actions thus far suggest that he has no wish to ruch into Marxist economic policies.
He has created a coalition cabinet which indicates that he wants a government of national consensus.
He has appointed his more conservative colleague of the Patriotic Front, Joshua Nkomo, to the powerful post of home affairs minister which is responsible for security.
He appointed two distinguished whites as minister of commerce and industry and minister of agriculture to signal a conservative approach to fiscal stability and his intention not to nationalize privately held farmland.
These are all meaningful assurances but they are not conclusive as to where Prime Minister Mugabe may be headed. They simply demonstrate that he intends to honor his pledge not to make "rapid changes" in the economy despite his Marxist ideology.
Since Mr. Mugabe during his political career has never concealed his devotion to Marxism, I would count him a sincere and convinced Marxist not likely to turn away from his convictions if he can achieve them. He describes himself as a "pragmatic Marxist," but Marxism does not offer itself as pragmatic; it offers itself as the only, the scientific way to organize society, not as one alternative among many.
At this stage the United States and other friends of Rhodesia have every reason to aid its new government and to encourage Mr. Mugabe to stay on the course he has lately outlined.
The observer team of election specialists from Freedom House, a nonpartisan American human rights organization, found the voting to be "free" but "not entirely fair" because of the extent of intimidation which prevailed. Their report expressed these concerns:
"The open or implicit threat by the formerly externally based parties [Mugabe and Nkomo] that they would renew the insurgency should they not win represented an important indirect form of intimidation.
"Threats by black and white African states of nonrecognition or intervention in the event of particular electoral outcomes were an external form of intimidation."
The intimidation was sufficiently many- sided so that it did not likely alter the outcome.
As to future elections, the Freedom House observers made this reservation:
"Some political parties use democratic means to attain power without committing themselves to maintain free institutions. Unfortunately, the commitment of the major Rhodesian parties to maintaining the openness and pluralism attained in the last year of struggle has not been established."
Since as a Marxist Mr. Mugabe cannot believe in free elections except as a tactic, his earliest assurance that he will stand or fall in a future free election will be welcome. It has yet to come.
At its best Zimbabwe can offer a clear demonstration that a multiracial, economically viable state can be created that places democracy and individual freedom above all else, including black rule. Without democracy first, black governments can exploit both black and white.