The following article was originally published in Spanish in Correspondencia Internacional, Issue 30, May /August 2011.
By Miguel Sorans
The Arab revolution began in Tunisia. It was the spark that triggered the rest. It took a step forward with the colossal Egyptian revolution that toppled Mubarak. U.S. Imperialism lost his key Arab ally, deepening its crisis of domination. Bin Laden’s murder is a desperate gamble by Obama that does not change the status of imperialist debacle. The Arab rebellion makes a favorable impact on the world’s masses. What is the nature of the triumphant revolutions and which are their main tasks?
Led by small Tunisia and afterward by the powerful Egypt, Arab people have set in motion a revolutionary process in the entire region.
Revolution is underway in its various incarnations. As in places were it won like in Tunisia and Egypt ─ overthrowing two dictators ─ it continues since people have not fulfilled their social and political aspirations. These revolutions which are objectively anti-capitalist are combined with those that are confronting their respective dictatorships like in Libya,Syria,Yemen and elsewhere in the Arab world.
The process will mark a before and after in the world situation. First, in the Arab countries and in the troubled Middle East nothing will ever be the same. U.S. Imperialism and Israel emerge weaker and Arab and world masses strengthened.
U.S. imperialism’s military defeat in Iraq and the capitalist economic crisis frames the revolution.
The Arab revolution did not occur like lighting in a quiet sky. Its outburst is explained by the combination of two key factors: the defeat of imperialism in Iraq and the global economic crisis and its effects on the people.
We are witnessing the effect that the military defeat ofU.S.imperialism in Iraq has had on the people of the Arab world. This is a key element of the present world situation. In fact, our political current was one of the first to point out thatIraqwas anotherVietnamfor theUnited States. After the attack on the twin towers theU.S.launched a military counter-offensive by invading Afghanistan in 2001 and then Iraq in 2003 to show a demonstration of force to the people of the world. But that plan failed completely. Although some troops remain in Iraq, the U.S.was defeated. Then Israel was defeated when it invaded Lebanon. In Afghanistan also, it is clear that theU.S.is stuck.
The defeat inIraq, an Arab country, did more than rouse the neighboring peoples who were the ones who mobilized en masse to repudiate the invasion. In Egypt, for example, for years the youth and people channeled their hatred against Mubarak, mobilizing in support of both the Palestinian and the Iraqi people. Meanwhile, Mubarak was still holding together his pact with Israel and theUS; in other words, the Arab masses had been fighting the imperialist agenda for many years.
Since 2007, the new US military defeat has combine with the world capitalist economic crisis. The combination of these two issues has resulted in what we define as a crisis of US imperialist politic, economic and military domination. This crisis is one that has been expressed in the outbreak of the Arab revolution. Additionally,US imperialism was unable to act to save their allies since it was overwhelmed by a new turn of events and it was caught by surprise which, at the end, favored the victory of the masses inTunisia andEgypt.
The other factor that encouraged the mobilization of the Arab peoples has been the result of the global economic crisis in North Africa and the Maghreb. The Arab masses rebelled against the growing poverty, unemployment, huge social inequality, corruption (Mubarak and Gaddafi’s fortunes are estimated at billions of dollars) and the dictatorships that have been implementing these adjustments plans at the service of multinationals.
The Arab masses rose against the dictatorships demanding freedom, but their revolts also had a great emphasis on the social demands for wages and unemployment. This in turn might explain why Islamic religious slogans have not had much of a presence.
The global impact of the Arab revolution
Like finals in a football (soccer) tournament, millions around the world followed by television and the internet the development and outcome of the Egyptian revolution.
The Egyptian masses showed the peoples of the world the power inherent in revolutionary mobilization. Additionally, they showed that when the masses mobilized they have the strength to achieve victories that seemed impossible the day before. For example, with their uprising they succeeded in defeating the police and subsequently, paralyzing one of the strongest armies in the world. And to end a dictatorial regime that seemed unshakable. All governments of the world trembled at the event fearing that such an example of people’s power spread due to the effects that their economic adjustment plans provoke.
Fearing the contagious effect of the revolution, many governments around the world did not express support to the mobilization of the Egyptian people. All of them remained silent: from the so-called “anti-imperialist” presidents such as Chavez, Evo Morales, the Castro brothers to the governments ofIranand the PLO. Even Hamas banned marches of the Palestinians from the Gaza Strip in solidarity with the Egyptian people. Only after Mubarak fled, these governments and leaders came out to “greet” the Egyptian people. Then Fidel Castro and Chavez supported Gaddafi and the Syrian dictator.
The reality is that the Arab revolution occurs in the middle of a world capitalist economic crisis (the economic crisis erupted inIreland and Portugal, for example) and the growth of workers’ strikes against capitalist adjustments in Europe,Latin America and around the world.
The political, economic and social consequences of the Arab revolution which is still in its developing stages are already affecting U.S. imperialism –the revolution is calling into question political regimes that are direct agents of U.S. imperialism making them to collapse — and will continue to affect in tandem with the next chapters of the revolutionary process.
What is certain is that the Arab revolution invigorates the struggles of the people of the world to continue fighting against their local governments and capitalist austerity measures.
The crisis of imperialist domination deepens
The loss of allies like Mubarak or Ben Ali (Tunisia) has meant a new political blow for Obama, aggravating the crisis of global domination. Mubarak’s fall has been the biggest blow since he was a key player in the Middle East with his historic pact withIsrael. We must bear in mind that Egypt is the largest Arab country with 80 million inhabitants. Along with Jordan, these are the only two countries that recognize Israel.
It is clear the imperialists are trying to take advantage ofLibya’s civil war to intervene militarily to see if they can recover some lost ground. So far they have failed because the conflict has not been defined and the rebels continue fighting Gaddafi heroically.
But even in this area crisis is being reflected. TheU.S. did not dare to intervene directly. “In theU.S., where unemployment continues to affect sectors of the middle and lower middle class, Barack Obama begins to try to clear the way for re-election in November 2012 and he knows that that forces him to reduce any hindrance. A poll Tuesday found an unstoppable growing rejection of U.S. intervention in the conflict “(Clarín newspaper,Argentina, April 9). The U.S. only gave support to NATO which has not been able to launch –for the time being –ground troops.
The killing of Bin Laden is a desperate move by Obama to show a “victory” amid the massive defeat being inflicted by the Arab Revolt.
The initial revolutionary triumphs and the spread of the revolution inSyria,Yemen,Bahrain as well as the transformation of the Libyan revolution into a civil war only serve to deepen the crisis ofU.S. imperialism and the loss of its solid ground in the region. In the meantime,Israel is becoming increasingly isolated, strengthening the Palestinian people in the process. Another expression of the political changes that brought the Arab revolutionary process is the PLO-Hamas accord.
The character of the revolutions underway
The triumphs in Tunisia and Egypt opened a debate on the left on the character of these revolutions and the tasks they raised after the fall of these dictators. There are different sectors that argue that these are just democratic revolutions and that the central task is to fight for “Radical Democracy” and achieve a Constituent Assembly. In Brazilone of the currents inside the PSOL, the MES (a group related to Marea Socialista ─ that is part of the PSUV ─ and to the MST of Argentina) clearly summarizes this position in a document signed by Israel Dutra and Pedro Fuentes. To them the Arab revolution only can reach “Radical Democracy with pan-Arab and nationalists components. Thus, a Constituent Assembly is the way forward”. According to their document, “since these are democratic revolutions those who raise the banner of socialism are out of context” (see website PSOL-Secretary of International Relations).
Our international current UIT-CI agrees that in Tunisia and Egypt have triumphed massive democratic revolutions. But we disagree that these revolutions are only democratic revolutions and, therefore, their tasks are only democratic. In the case of Egyptwe pointed out that: In Egypt, a powerful revolution has triumphed that in its early stages has achieved fundamental democratic gains such as pushing Mubarak out and ending his dictatorial regime as well as winning freedom to mobilize and organize. However, the revolution is still on and the masses aspire to much more including massive job creation, living wages, union and greater political freedoms, national sovereignty and so on. All these aspirations are in contradiction with imperialist policies, the leadership of the army and both bourgeois and Islamic opposition who are pretending and making the best effort to ensure that the revolution does not extend beyond the democratic demands and that way, the revolution will not move towards a working class and socialist perspective. The Egyptian people did not only demand to seek democratic freedoms, but they also mobilized against mass unemployment and starvation wages in private enterprises, banks and public sector jobs. These social ills are caused by the financial domination of the multinationals associated with the local bourgeoisie and corrupt rulers at their service. To solve that, it is necessary to expropriate the multinational companies, the property of the rulers and the property owned by military and their families; who represent most of the local bourgeoisie. In other words, it is necessary to take anti-capitalist and socialist measures to meet social justice demands. For revolutionary socialists, the revolutionary process must continue because now more than ever, it is on the agenda that the remaining democratic, anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist tasks can only reach its end with a government of the workers and the people formed by those from the 6th of April Movement and trade unions and popular organizations which played a role in overthrowing Mubarak. (The new tasks of the Arab revolution, 3 / 18 Statement at www.uit-ci.org).
In that sense socialist tasks are not “out of context”. Of course, revolutions are not made by socialist slogans but the solution to the demands of the masses can only be fully achieved with a transitional program carried out by a popular and worker power that is taking steps toward socialism. The Russian Revolution of 1917 based itself on three main slogans: Bread, Peace and Land but only with the victory of socialist revolution the masses were able to achieve their aims. We reject the by stages vision put forward by MES- PSOL which in the twenty-first century brings to mind the concept of revolution by stages of Stalinism. It is true: most revolutions remain in their democratic stage but that is because of the nefarious bourgeois, reformist and bourgeois nationalist leaderships put a brake to keep them within the framework of capitalism.
In this stage of imperialism, revolutions are objectively anti-capitalist due to the enemies they face which are non feudal counter-revolutionary regimes and due to the social forces that make the revolution that are not the bourgeoisie but the masses, workers, youth and impoverished middle class sectors.
So the new task is not only a constituent assembly, but to call to mobilize for a program that includes provides wages, work, health and education for all and measures of expropriation of the multinationals and the assets of the former rulers, military and their families who represent most of the local bourgeoisie in the prospect of a new worker and popular power.
The role of workers and the youth
Concrete reality has demonstrated that the revolution has not stopped where it triumphed. By contrast, the Tunisian and Egyptian masses keep mobilizing. In Tunisia, for example, demonstrations and strikes toppled two governments that emerged from the revolution. In Egypt, union strikes grew due to their demands. On April 9, thousands returned toTahrir Squareto mobilize demanding the resignation of Hussein Tantwi, the head of the military junta that people had applauded before Mubarak fell. In Cairo, students went out to the streets to demand reforms to the education system.
The protagonists of the revolution have been young Arab, the popular sectors and also the workers. The popular character of the Arab revolution is evident. In particular, the youth played a role of utmost importance in Egypt (April 6 Movement), supported by social networks. But it is clear that in both Tunisia and Egypt the role of the working class was on the rise in both revolutions. As a matter of fact, labor strikes contributed to the fall of these dictatorships. In the case of Tunisia, the labor movement, organized in the UGTT, was accumulating experience over the past ten year’s struggles. It was no accident, for example, in the city of Redeyef, the headquarters of the local UGTT became the government palace.
But it is clear that after the victory there has been quantitative rise with the growth of trade union strikes and the formation of new independent trade unions. In Egypt, the fall of Mubarak led to a wave of strikes and occupations of workplaces in specific sectors and strikes and marches of police demanding better wages and unionization.
This is a key foothold for the development and triumph of the revolution.
The actual tasks
The Arab revolution is still present, combining different revolutionary processes within it. In Libya,Syria,Yemen,Barheim,Morocco, etc, the fight to topple the current dictators continue. In Egypt and Tunisia workers and people are facing the new capitalist governments that want to interrupt the revolutionary process.
Precisely, the one positive factor of the revolution is the power of mass mobilizations and the masses’ forcefulness and determination to sustain the permanent mobilization. In the case of Libya, the people have decided to take up arms to confront the murderer Gaddafi. The serious problems facing the Arab revolution are the counter-revolutionary leadership and the absence of a revolutionary leadership. From different positions, varied governments as those representing imperialism, capitalism and so-called “progressive” or “anti-imperialists” like Chavez, Ortega, Castro, Morales and Ahmadinejad do not want the Arab masses to succeed. In the case of Libya there is directly a de facto alliance to let unarmed rebel fighters inLibya bleed to death. Thus, one the major tasks of the Arab revolution –along with expressing support for the mobilization of the people– is the struggle to build a working class and socialist leadership.
Actually, it is the revolutionary mobilization of the masses that is helping to create better conditions to overcome the crisis of revolutionary leadership. So a central task is to strengthen and develop the new organs of struggle that the revolution is creating. Additionally, all forms of self-organization such as the revolutionary committees and people’s militia of Libya, the new independent trade unions like in Egypt and Tunisia as well as the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution like those in Tunisia and the April 6 Movement, the youth organization from Egypt must be developed. A key to the success and progress of the revolutionary process in the perspective of a popular and workers’ power is the strengthening of those organizations.
In this way, revolutionary socialists continue to call the workers and the people of the world to express solidarity with the Arab revolution. In particular, to mobilize against imperialist intervention in Libya, in support of the heroic rebellious Libyan people fighting Gaddafi and the people of Syria, Yemen and other people in struggle to end the genocidal dictatorships that they live under.
Democratic revolution and socialist revolution
“The serious conflict that occurs after the democratic triumph[in a revolution] is that it in fact is a popular and working class revolutionary triumph that is monopolized at the government level by the bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeoisie who consider that with their rise to power, the revolutionary process is over. For us, it is the opposite. The revolutionary process is extended since this basic contradiction becomes in a motor engine driving very serious conflicts that have no solution in the open stage of the revolution takeover but only if the working class takes power. Argentina’s democratic revolution shows that this analysis, that of the permanent revolution, is real and concrete. “
(Nahuel Moreno, 1983, Unpublished writings on revolution in Argentina, pag. 173).