THE ONGOING ARAB REVOLUTION
THE ONGOING ARAB REVOLUTION
By AJ. Dagga Tolar
Change seekers would naturally support the mass movements that have resulted in the collapse of the 23 years reign of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and 30 years rule of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and engulfed North Africa and the Middle East. These events have in no little way helped confirm the claim of Marxists that the world is long overdue for a revolutionary change.
The whole world has long been under the hammer of neo liberal capitalist regimes in one form or the other that have been running society with the blind logic of the capitalist market, which have only resulted into more hardship for the working masses while a very few privileged members of the ruling class enjoy the resources of society by converting the wealth of all into private property. To think that this would go on forever is to spit at the face of history, which holds dear that only change is constant. The revolutionary wave is coming on the heels of what has been referred to as the worst economic recession since World War II with its rippling effects still hanging on the whole world economy and the working masses bearing the full brunt.
North Africa and the Middle East combined, have the largest stock of world oil reserve and earn billions of dollars daily from sales of oil on the world market. But this is in no way reflected in the standard of living of the majority of the 350 million people that make up the 18 countries in this region. With 2\3rd of population under the age of 25, North Africa and the Middle East have the “highest level of youth unemployment in the world”. According to the World Bank, 100 million jobs are needed to accommodate those seeking job for the first time. The wealth of this region (particularly countries like Morocco, Jordan, Bahrain, Jordan and Saudi Arabia) is being used to serve the greed of a tiny ruling elites who have kept the whole of society in the grip of autocratic and monarchical family circles propped up by the imperialist ruling elites of the US and Europe. It is this contradiction and the need for change in the living conditions of the working masses that has spurred this revolutionary wave of struggle calling for an end to the rule of the Monarchs and dictators in the region.
The mass movement which started in Tunisia but rapidly spread to other countries in the region is once again a confirmation of some aspects of Leon Trotsky’s idea of permanent revolution. A successful revolution in anyone country would immediately inspire others to attempt to accomplish the same feat. In Yemen, Bahrain, Libya and Syria, youths and poor people in the movement were inspired to move against dictatorship by the courageous struggle of Tunisian and Egyptian masses for change.
But the question remains, why has the protest movement swept away from power Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak in Tunisia and Egypt respectively but has had to go on for months unendingly in Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, Libya resulting in the killings of hundreds by state forces opposed to the demands of the protesters for an end to the long rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, King Hammad bin Isa Al Khalifa, President Bashar al- Assad and Muammar Gaddafi respectively? What lessons need be drawn from the protest movement in Tunisia and Egypt, in relation to other countries (Yemen, Syria, Bahrain, Jordan and Saudi Arabia) whose struggle have now become long drawn, with a near civil war situation in Libya between rebels and Gaddafi’s military forces in Benghazi and Misrata where over 1000 persons have already been reported killed?
In Egypt as in the case of Tunisia, it was the method of mass movement that turned the scale against the hated regimes. The resolve of the protesters not to quit the street until the hated rulers stepped down helped to swell the ranks of the protesters day in day out drawing more and more supporters from other strata of society. The occupation of the street became in itself the signal indicating the rejection of the regime. The doggedness maintained by the protesters in spite of the resort to repression by the state, leading into deaths on the street, only infuriated the protest further with the Tahrir Square occupation inspiring a new wave of youths and workers joining the rank of the protesters. The slogan of “Mubarak Must Go” became a rallying call with which the protesters used in defying the regime and piling up the needed pressure to force Mubarak out of power.
As an evidence of the appetite of the mass for a clean change, the regimes in Morocco, Algeria and Jordan announced and promised democratic reforms but these promises in places like Yemen, and Syria have not assuaged the protesters who have continued to stage waves of protest demanding immediate end to the regimes. If anything, Saleh and Assad have learnt the wrong lesson from the successful ouster of Ben Ali and Mubarak in Tunisia and Egypt respectively as the failure on their part to use the necessary force to squash the protest. Thus snipers have been employed in Syria to shoot and kill peaceful protesters. However, rather than deter the movement, the funerals of victims of the killings have further strengthened the movements against Assad. In Yemen all compromises put forward by Saleh have been outright rejected, even his attempt to play the religious card by painting the free mingling of women and men at the protest as unislamic has largely been ignored.
In Libya, events took a more radical turn in the early stages of the movement and this cannot just be reduced to the fact that Libyan youths unmindful of their sex go through compulsorily military training, but more of the fact that Gaddafi and his sons also drew the wrong lessons from Tunisia and Egypt. The use of maximum force, with fighter jets shooting at protesters left the movement to oust Gaddafi with no choice than to also take up arms. But arms on their own do not guarantee the victory of any struggle especially one aimed at regime change, not when the regime can with its control of state machinery mobilize more weapons than the rebels can. Only a struggle conducted as an independent movement of the mass of oppressed Libyans for change and backed up by an insurrectionary army under the full control of the working masses and having as it aim the conquest of state power can guarantee victory. But rather than conducting the struggle in the manner outlined above, the rebels have turned their attention and appeal to the US regime and its European allies in NATO to provide it with arms and help dislodge Gaddafi. So far NATO has carried out aerial bombardment, with the aim of weakening the Gaddafi military apparatus, but this has not substantially enhanced the positions of the rebels, as every success outside of Benghazi has been subsequently won back by the Gaddafi Loyalists who still maintain full control of the capital Tripoli.
That the US and their European allies who have long hated the Gaddafi regime would latch on the present events to seek for regime change is not unexpected. Their interest to dislodge Ghadaffi is not the same as that of ordinary Libyans. For the US, Britain, France and others, their interest is to secure an unlimited access to Libya’s vast oil reserves and this can only be achieved by dislodging Ghadaffi and replacing him with a “democratic” government formed by elements who will be more compliant to the dictate of imperialism. If this happens, the Libyan people will be the worse for it as the limited social gains in living standards, infrastructures, education and health which was achieved under the undoubtedly despotic and corrupt regime of Ghadaffi will be destroyed through neo-liberal policies of privatization.
Socialists support the call for the Gaddafi regime to be brought to an end and for his arrest and trial by a revolutionary tribunal constituted by the working people of Libya. This however is a task solely for the working masses and other strata of poor people in Libya to accomplish. Accepting help from imperialism will derail the objective of the movement while giving Ghadaffi an opportunity to appeal to the masses in Tripoli and the other cities in the West with the blackmail that the rebels are agents of imperialism. Therefore for the movement to regain its independence and traction, it must place at its head the demands for immediate end to Ghadaffi’s regime, immediate democratic election, for a workers’ party with socialist programme, nationalization of the commanding heights of the economy and their management by elected committee of workers, halt to imperialist military and diplomatic intervention and a democratic workers and poor people’s government to run society. Such a programme, if not limited to rebels strongholds like Benghazi and Misrata but aimed at winning the support of the working masses in Tripoli and in all other parts of Libya can rapidly lead to the shrinking of Ghadaffi’s social base of support and guarantee the victory of the revolution in Libya. Most importantly, the rebel army must be democratized and placed under the control and direction of the people while side by side with armed insurrection, the method of strike actions and mass demonstrations must be employed to defeat the regime.
The movements in North Africa and Middle East hold vital lessons for the workers and youths fighting for change. The movements have shown that revolutionary change cannot be left to the blind dictation of a spontaneous mass movement; there must be a programme for the revolution to take political power. Even then the question needs to be asked, can a revolution be said to have been made once a regime change has been effected? For bourgeois apologists, the movements in Tunisia and Egypt have already achieved their aims? However a revolution is only successful if it solves the aspirations of the masses for both political and economic change. In Tunisia as much as in Egypt, democratic change was not the only issue that fueled the movement, also crucial in the minds of most Tunisians and Egyptians were issues of unemployment, wages etc. However, the inability of the working class organizations to provide leadership and direction for the movement by linking the demands for democratic reforms with the issues of jobs, wages, nationalization of the economy under working people’s control and building a workers’ party to take political power created a vacuum in the consciousness of the masses which allowed the ruling class to replace the deposed regime with a regime made up of essentially the same elements.
These regimes that have taken over in both countries cannot meet the demands of the people for genuine democratic reforms and improvement in living standards. Like their predecessors, these regimes defend neo-liberal policies that have condemned majority of people in North Africa and Middle East to grinding poverty and destitution. Now the task facing the working masses in both countries is to continue the revolution by organizing to defend political and economic rights through protests and demonstrations. Most importantly, a working class political party must be formed to mobilize the masses to take political power and form a democratic workers’ government that will nationalize the major sectors of the economy under workers democratic control and management, replace the standing army with the armed people, provide free education, health care and gainful employment to the mass of jobless youths and a decent living standard for all.
Despite the limitations, the courageous movement of the masses in North Africa and Middle East has become a source of inspiration for the working class and youth in the whole of Africa and the world. Nowhere is a safe haven for the bourgeois even in so-called democratic countries. Egypt and Tunisia have become a symbol of change among workers and youth around the world. In West Africa, the echo of these movements is starting to become obvious. If anything, the condition in sub Saharan Africa is worse off compared to North Africa and the Middle East. The existence of “democratic” governments in several countries in sub Saharan Africa does not invalidate the possibility of the same kind of revolutionary mass movement, that we have seen in North Africa and the Middle East, confronting government’s neo-liberal policies and aiming to overthrow the corrupt ruling elites. Indeed, the whole of the Africa literally cries out for a revolution.
And yet in no other country than in Nigeria is a revolution needed to develop the means of production, generate employment, grant access to public health care, education, housing etc. against the background of alarming indices of human existence, corruption is at an all time high, with less than 1 % of the 150 million population in control of 80% of the wealth and resources of the country, over 70% of the people are condemned to live daily on less than two dollar and yet Nigeria like any other oil producing countries is awash with oil money, especially with increasing price of crude oil on the world market which has meant that the country has earned in the past ten years more than it has earned since the independence in 1960.
The 2011 General election, on whose excuse apologists of the ruling elites have come out to state that a revolution cannot and is not necessary in Nigeria, is characterized by the same political parties who fundamentally do not differ on neo-liberal attacks on the working class and poor people. The victory of Jonathan in the presidential election is not therefore unconnected to the absence of a working people’s party to challenge the PDP and its neo liberal agenda by juxtaposing a socialist programme of using the resources of the country to develop the means of production and meet the needs of the working masses as opposed to meeting the profit interest of the few rich in society. The Jonathan Presidency would in no time shatter the illusions voters have placed in him when it commences a full implementation of its neo liberal agenda and this in turn will move the working masses into the arena of struggle.
Leon Trotsky had stated correctly that if the further development of the productive forces were possible within the framework of capitalism, then the very idea of a revolution would be impossible. However that an ongoing revolution in North Africa and the Middle East has not placed on the agenda the overthrow of capitalism says much about how the consciousness of the working masses has been in reverse in the past decades due to the collapse of Stalinism in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and the treachery of labour leaders. The challenge of this period is for Marxists to double the work of intervention in the day to day struggle of the working masses and youths for improvement in their lives and linking this with a programme for the building of a workers’ party to take political power from the capitalist ruling class and establish a workers and poor masses government that will use society’s resources to improve the lot of the working and toiling people.
At the core of the whole crisis plaguing North Africa and the Middle East and indeed the whole world is capitalism and its greedy quest to accumulate profit at the expense of the need of the working masses. As such for the working masses to better their lot, the unjust capitalist system must be overthrown in North Africa, the Middle East and indeed all over the world and replaced by a democratic socialist system, wherein the commanding sectors of the economy will be nationalized and placed under the democratic control and management of a workers and poor people government. A socialist world confederation of autonomous countries will be a real advance for humanity from the backwaters of capitalist “blind market forces” to one of rational planning of world resources to improve living standards, banish poverty and destitution, address the environmental problems through massive investment in alternative clean energy etc.
The need for a working people’s party becomes imperative and remains the only way forward in North Africa and the Middle East to ensure that the ongoing revolution and the sacrifices of the working masses and youth in sweat and blood is not a waste. Such a party armed with a socialist programme would provide the needed leadership for the whole of the working masses and all other strata of the oppressed people to wrest power from the capitalist ruling elite and commence the process of transforming society through the democratic management of the resources of society for the benefit of all. Such a victory would lay the foundation for the formation of a federation of workers states in the whole of the Middle East and inevitably in Africa.