Revolts in the Arabic-Speaking World - A Capitalist World in Crisis

The Victory of Mass Struggle over Military Force

From Tunisia through Egypt to Libya, Bahrain and Yemen the Arabic-speaking world is in turmoil. It is too early to say where these mass revolts will end but one thing is certain - a new epoch is opening. Let’s leave Libya aside since a large expatriate working class and tribal divisions of the bourgeoisie have produced a civil war rather than a mass rising. For the rest, particularly in Tunisia and Egypt, the heartening lesson of the struggles is that mass resistance can overthrow seemingly all-powerful regimes. The struggles in North Africa show that with concerted action and continuous solidarity the masses can take down a hated government. It took unbelievable courage and persistence in the face of sustained violence which left hundreds if not thousands dead. By standing up to the armed might of the state at least part of the forces of repression were neutralised. In the end decades-old regimes came toppling down. These regimes, supported by Western money and a vicious secret police, were once considered impregnable. Arab people were supposed to be too passive and submissive to ever challenge them. Now they have proved that at a certain point anybody can snap and that the stored up resentment of decades can bring about a mass movement too powerful to be crushed by force alone. If this can happen in places like Egypt or Tunisia it can happen anywhere…

The Global Crisis

Our media try to portray the risings which have swept North Africa and the Middle East as simply the demand for “democracy”. It is true that there is great belief that democracy will bring solutions to the problems of everyday life but what has really provoked these revolts now is the global economic crisis. This has been grinding down workers throughout the world for decades but in countries outside the rich centres of the system it has become unbearable. The recent bursting of the speculative bubble based on property valuations in the West has led to another form of speculation. This is on food, fuel and raw materials. This has led to a spiralling cost of basic necessities all over the world. In Arab countries a relatively well-educated population was told for years that education would guarantee a good living in the face of mass chronic unemployment. In countries where there is no rotation of political rulers the role of the state is glaringly obvious. The economic crisis is harder to handle in a repressive state but the working class everywhere face the same issue. The world capitalist system is in danger and can only survive via draconian attacks on living standards of those already in poverty. All over the world from Wisconsin to Western Europe, from Ireland to Indonesia, workers have had enough of lower wages, higher prices and chronic unemployment. The question of the day however depends on how workers organise around their own agenda, their own programme. And this has not been much in evidence in the struggles in North Africa and the Middle East so far.

The Working Class Hold the Key

What we are seeing throughout the Arabic speaking world is a popular all-class revolt. It is not (yet) a revolution and certainly not a workers’ revolution. At the moment the remnants of the old state (in the form of the Army and civil service) are still running the show in both Tunisia and Egypt. This is largely because in both cases the struggle united a variety of classes (including workers) in getting rid of a hated dictator. There is no programme. The middle class youth in Egypt hope that “democracy” will immediately solve their economic problems. They thought that confiscating “our money” back from Mubarak and his cronies would be an instant solution!

Workers took part in the street demonstrations in large numbers but they only began to respond on their own terms near the end of the movement in Egypt. They began to demand that the minimum wage should be quadrupled and in Suez, Port Said and Mahalla they went on strike.

It was at this point that the Army Higher Council under Hussain Tantawi came off the fence and ditched Mubarak. They could tolerate a change of bosses but not threats to their property posed by striking workers. They announced the suspension of the Constitution, and the dissolution of Parliament. They wanted to make clear, with impeccable timing and in no uncertain terms, that no strike of any kind would be tolerated by virtue of the compelling need for the country’s economy to revive. Political institutions can be debated, dissent can be expressed, the young on the streets will be tolerated, but the working class must remain firmly in their place, continuing to produce for the benefit of capital on hunger wages and in the most precarious conditions for survival.

Workers have been promised higher wages in the future, they have won some minor concessions such as the sacking of hated managers but as yet they have no programme of their own. Many believe that replacing the corrupt state unions with “democratic” ones will solve their problems. At the moment there are few signs of workers organising themselves autonomously in assemblies, strike committees or neighbourhood groups.

However the situation is still fluid. Many are aware that the system has not changed and that the ruling class are simply looking for a new way to resume exploitation as usual. Most are not. They have yet to learn that “democracy” remains a mirage unless it is connected to the end of exploitation (and capitalist rule). Between a capitalist world and a communist vision there is no halfway house. Either they rule and exploit us or we create a society for the common good. Workers all over the world will have to take in that fact in the coming struggles. And they will have to build an international organisation with its own independent programme to lead the fight against a ruthless and powerful global enemy.

Aurora (en)

Aurora is the broadsheet of the ICT for the interventions amongst the working class. It is published and distributed in several countries and languages. So far it has been distributed in UK, France, Italy, Canada, USA, Colombia.