REVOLUTIONS IN NORTH AFRICA AND THE MIDDLE EAST:
THE PERMANENT REVOLUTION UNFOLDS!
The National Revolution revives
This statement was originally written during the early days of the Tunisian revolt and does not attempt to deal in detail with the quick moving escalation of revolutionary uprisings in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East occurring today.
Two and a half years since the onset of the world imperialist crisis, we are seeing a revolutionary development in the Arab world that resembles the generalized revolutionary upsurge that accompanied and followed the final days of WWI. These uprisings are developing in many countries in the North Africa and the Middle East. In Egypt we see the toilers climb on the tanks hug the soldiers, carry them on their shoulders and ask them for their participation in the revolution. We saw similar fraternization in Tunisia.
We are not surprised that revolutionary uprisings in which the workers and the impoverished toilers throw themselves bravely against the batons, shields and armored vehicles of the police, are not happening in Europe but rather in North Africa where American and European imperialism has driven down the masses livelihood to nothing; and has, for decades, crushed the inspiration to fight imperialism and the Zionists via the brutal services of the most vicious puppet dictators. Now the masses flow by the tens of thousands into the streets fighting to overthrow the dictatorships installed, armed and defended by imperialism.
The goal of overthrowing these dictators and the class of comprador capitalists with them, expresses the democratic nature of this re-opening of the national democratic revolution. The masses of North Africa and the Middle East despite their de-colonization struggles have never gone through the experience of bourgeois democracy and its associated illusions (that democratically administered capitalism can provide the greatest good for the most people). Naturally many of the people in the streets believe that by overthrowing the dictatorships and creating a democracy, under the control of the masses, or with the support of the army, their basic needs will be met. Yet, this “democratic” re-opening of the national revolution will be crushed if it aims only at the creation of a parliamentary democracy and does not develop over into a workers’ revolution spreading across the Arab world and ultimately Europe.
The national and the democratic character of the revolution are combined and cannot be separated. Imperialism divided the Arab world into many countries in order to divide and control the masses. The national question in the Arab world cannot be fully answered unless the revolution becomes international and creates one Arab nation. This was understood by different left Bonapartist dictators in the region who tried several times to create one unified Arab nation. The most famous of which was Nasser’s project with the Ba’athist regime in Syria to create an Arab nation from north to south. The betrayal of this pan-Arab nationalist project of Nasser and the Ba’athists by the national bourgeois lackey’s of imperialism and the Stalinist parties contributed to decades of defeats in the Arab countries and passivity of the masses.
Now the democratic and the national question are back on the agenda. This time the masses are the sole driving force behind it. The events, in Egypt and Tunisia showed that the nationalist pan-Arab unification is not yet a serious concern of the masses. Their focus today is the economic question. Like in the Russian revolution the demands today are for bread, jobs and the end of the dictatorships who have failed to provide them. However these economic and democratic aspirations of the masses cannot be resolved by ignoring the national question, since without defeating imperialism these neo-colonies cannot win true national independence.
Therefore in order to succeed, the revolution must be unified across borders and this can be done only if the masses struggle to complete the democratic tasks of the national revolution carries over to the socialist revolution; to defeat the imperialists and to overthrow their agents, not only the dictatorships but the national bourgeoisies in all these countries creating a federated socialist Republic of North Africa and the Middle East. This is the only progressive way to resolve the national question.
Yet since the masses emphasize the question of democracy and their economic conditions, the national question, at the moment, is important only insofar as it encourages the spread of the revolution across borders to make it permanent and socialist. The economic yoke of imperialism has enriched a small comprador bourgeoisie at the expense of the masses who are now wary of solutions that maintain these elites in power.
Imperialism will seek to resolve this crisis by imposing a democratic façade, either coalitions or ‘patriotic’ popular front governments of ‘national salvation’, with or without Constituent Assemblies to protect the rights of capitalist property. In the interim, left Bonapartist officers coups may arise to manage the transition to ‘democracy’. But ultimately these cannot meet the masses needs and imperialism will, if it is necessary, conspire with the military high command to unleash counter-revolutionary coups to crush the masses as we have seen recently in Honduras. If local “democratic” solutions or home grown military solutions are not sufficient to contain the masses, then imperialism will not hesitate to send NATO or Zionists dogs to crush the revolutions. That is why it is critical for the Palestinians, Syrians, Jordanians, Yemenis, Iraqis etc to join the North African uprisings and unite with the masses to drive imperialism and Zionism out of the Middle East.
The Tunisian Revolution
It’s clear that the Tunisian uprising has sparked off a re-opening of the Arab national democratic revolution. There are now demonstrations going from Algeria to Jordan and the West Bank and Yemen. The massive revolutions erupting throughout the Arab world express the fundamental character and contradictions of the following revolutionary aims: The struggle for national independence, agricultural reform, control of foreign trade, control of national resources, expansion of workers and lower-peasants wages and rights (relative to those enjoyed under imperialism and neo-colonial dictatorial rule); these are all goals which can be achieved only by the leadership of the working class pushing the struggle on to the formation of workers’ state.
These lessons from which the theory of permanent revolution was derived have been played out over and again in countries across the colonial world where the working class has been prevented from taking power into their own hands. During the post colonial period, in wars and struggles for liberation, a weak comprador bourgeoisie subservient to imperialism came to hold the reins of power, often using revolutionary rhetoric but ultimately acting in the interests of imperialist finance capital and a small homegrown crony capitalist class. Without the rapid emergence of a revolutionary workers’ party capable of leading the masses to create democratic organs of worker’s power, the consolidation of power in the hands of the counter-revolutionary comprador bourgeois will strangle the revolution.
Today the Tunisian, the Maghreb and North African working class is faced with the necessity of accomplishing the national and democratic tasks of the bourgeois revolution, which today, can only be done through the formation a workers’ and farmers’ state. The bourgeoisie of Tunisia has proven too weak and too corrupt to carry the revolution against the dictatorship through to full independence from imperialism, neither can they advance and sustain democracy nor overcome the structural constraints imposed by French and US imperialism through the IMF over the decades. The largest sector of the elite is a crony class in the worst sense. Researcher Juan Cole reports that 50% of the financial elite are tied to the Ben-Ali family’s financial empire. The petty bourgeois layer of lawyers and civil servants have taken to the streets, joining the most oppressed who have no faith in the oligarchy or the Ghannouchi interim government. The inability of the local capitalists to liberate the nation places those tasks squarely in the hands of the proletariat, which will come to see its own economic liberation as tied to the unfinished tasks of the national revolution of the whole region – the defeat of imperialism and its national bourgeois lackeys.
The driving force in the revolution so far has been the working class, the youth and the unemployed. Any governmental solution short of a workers’ state will perpetuate the economic crisis because the bourgeoisie has no choice but to maintain subservience to imperialism. The class character of the uprising and revolutionary process is therefore proletarian. However, for lack of a revolutionary leadership, mass organizations of workers, unemployed councils, and neighborhood committees have, to the extent they have begun forming, not become true organs of workers power or generalized as of yet. Therefore, true dual power, which is a necessary stage to complete the proletarian revolution, has not yet developed. In this vacuum the grave danger is that the formation of a popular front, coalition bourgeois government, or left Bonapartist ‘officers’ coup’, would be a setback for the revolutionary process and would set Tunisia up for a solution to the crisis much like Haitian masses received following the ouster of “Baby Doc” Duvalier.
Only the working class can lead
Immense pressure from the spontaneous outrage of the masses has already resulted in the release of many Tunisian political prisoners, and a relaxation of the curfew. The revolution requires the end of all restrictions on assembly and the freedom of all political and economic prisoners. Pitched battles between the military and the counter-revolutionary militias followed the ouster of Ben-Ali. The violence of the counter-revolution has been met with by the formation of neighborhood committees and to a large extent has been rooted out (for now). Reports of battles with the police mix with reports of some police coming over to join the demonstrators creating cracks in the state power structure.
The neighborhood defense committees are not controlled by any left or other organizations. They are truly spontaneous controlled by the workers in their areas. We don't know what's going on inside them or if they are trying to connect nationwide. This is the task of the vanguard to build the councils, spread their influence and coordination. According to a few sources the committees so far have no ideology or direction, representing ‘anarchism’ or ‘chaos’. But this is not true. The street protesters are part of the rising defense committees across the country that wants to overthrow the "coalition" government and in particular all those forces linked to the dictatorship seeking to maneuver a foothold in the new administration. This populist anger has already forced the prime-minister and president to distance themselves from the hated (former) ruling Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD). It has also pressured representatives of the UGTT to withdraw from the first attempt at a popular front. But this has not stopped these treacherous labor bureaucrats from endorsing the second proposed cabinet. The UGTT has long associated itself with the regime and the rabidly anti-communist International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. During the build up of the movement the UGTT did not take a leading role. Rather they appealed for calm, at first tried to distance the organization from the uprising with a call for a council for a national dialogue. As the masses ran out in front of the UGTT they tried to catch up calling a two-hour strike on January 14th, all the while hoping the masses would forget its treacherous role over the decades and in the first stages of the uprising. Find a crowd and jump in front of it an old technique but one the masses would not stand for. As noted when the UGTT maneuvered into the first attempted coalition government with the RCD they felt the heat of the uprising and backed out. The masses have nothing to expect but conciliation from the UGTT leaders who would be happy to participate in a popular front to stop the revolution. The UGTT will maneuver to create a popular front ‘unity’ government that includes ‘progressive’ bourgeois parties but with sufficient trade union Ministers to ‘push the popular front left’.
The revolution must go around, over or through this obstacle to democratic workers’ mobilizations and self organization. Members of UGTT must oust the leadership which is tainted with this collaborationist history and build rank and file democratic organizations in defense of the revolution. Today the UGTT threatens strikes in defense of the revolution but we can see this is only hot air as they have not dared to call for indefinite General Strike until all the demands are met and the old guard of the government is driven out.
Liberals are returning to Tunisia and without a doubt will try to either convince the masses to accept a "reformed" version of the coalition or call for a bourgeois government without the elements of the corrupt regime. None of this is acceptable to advance democracy or the revolutionary process.
Vanguard workers need to counter-pose the power of the spontaneous organizations of workers, unemployed youth, and students who organized the revolutionary uprising as the bread the butter protest developed; these organizations need to link with the street defense committees to form an incipient workers councils.
These forces should be linked to newly formed rank-and-file action committees within a revitalized UGTT, the factories and the army. Thus such workers councils will rise as a challenge to the capitalist regime in a dual power situation. We have already seen the soldiers (who are mostly short term conscripts with close ties to the working class) hesitate in suppressing the masses; the short next step to opening the armories to incipient workers militias must have imperialism and its local lackeys sweating. If North Africa falls to armed workers’ revolution, the workers and youth of Southern Europe will take the struggle into the heart of Imperialist Europe.
The Madagascar experience from 2009, of soldiers arming the workers must be popularized in the workers discussions in the coming weeks. Workers’ militias are needed to defend the revolutionary process and to unite the workers with the neighborhood committees and the soldiers who break rank and come over to the revolution. Soldiers must be pressed to open the armories to the workers to defend the revolution through the formation of a popular worker’s militia.
To defeat imperialism this revolution must spread
Defense of the revolution by necessity is a confrontation with imperialist forces and that confrontation has begun. Imperialism will first try to undermine the revolution from within. If their coalition governments and popular fronts, or military putsches, are not successful we can expect to see US, French, Zionist, NATO or UN imperialist troops arrive to ‘restore order’. Internationalist workers and anti-imperialist fighters must take action to demand:
No to Imperialist or Zionist intervention! Prepare to stop shipments of troops and supplies! Internationalist dock workers prepare to tie up the docks! French and US workers: build general strikes to stop imperialist intervention!
The forces arrayed against the Tunisian working class far outweigh its own isolated power necessitating an internationalist perspective in order to advance the revolution and drive out imperialism. Already this uprising has the imperialist overlords and bourgeoisie of the Maghreb and the entire Arab Middle East trembling, as the masses realize the dictators are paper tigers and the forces of theocratic control (militant Islam) cannot be counted on to contain the masses. But imperialism has too much to at stake knowing full well the internationalist implications of a victorious revolution. For the Tunisian revolution to be victorious it must spread past boarders and reignite the Arab workers revolution. Today we see Egypt in flames, the masses are taking to the streets in all the major cities. Jordan, Yemen, Lebanon, Syria and even Albania are all feeling the ripple effect. The occupied masses of Palestine and Iraq are lifting their eyes in hope towards these events. A wave of revolutionary fervor is awakening the oppressed masses. For the Tunisian revolution to be successful it must spread and break out of its national and regional isolation.
We have seen the terrible consequences of the isolation of the revolutionary process to one country. First, with the USSR which through isolation had its revolution overturned by the Stalinists who made their peace with imperialism, selling out world revolution, engaging in pacts with Hitler and later at Yalta with Churchill and Roosevelt. Isolated, invaded and outspent militarily the revolution was destroyed from within. Now in Cuba the PCC rapidly restores capitalism as socialism on one island could not survive without the advance of socialism in the Americas. Tunisia’s revolution will either be corrupted and reintegrated into imperialism’s structures or will be the spark that ignites revolutions that initiate and sustain the world revolution.
Events are moving fast yesterday the call was to free political prisoners today many are free and the demand to free all remaining political prisoners must not be forgotten.
In the next days and weeks we say
January 29, 2011
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