Uprising in Maghreb - Solidarity with the proletarians in struggle

A New Stirring in the Arab World

As we go to press the Tunisian uprising against the dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali was going into its third week. The spark of the unrest, came when a 26-year old unemployed university graduate, Mohammed Buazizi, set himself ablaze in the central town of Sidi Buzeid to protest at the police confiscation of his fruits and vegetables cart. Buazizi had resorted to street hawking to provide for his family in the absence of alternative jobs. His desperation is shared by thousands of Tunisians and the situation is not much different in other Arab states. The authorities response in Tunisia has followed a pattern seen before. Sidi Buzeid was surrounded by the forces of the state and demonstrators shot. But the usual tactic did not work as the rising spread quickly to other towns particularly Kasserine where it is believed that most of the dead are to be found. The Ben Ali regime has not much to rely on except brute force (although it does have the support of the EU - for his cooperation in preventing Tunisians seeking work in Europe, and Ghadaffi has opened the Libyan border to let Tunisians in to help out his “Arab brother”). In trying to hiode the scale of murder taking place Ben Ali has shutdown Al Jazeera and other news stations as well as arresting bloggers and twitters and anyone else using electronic media to reach the outside world. One blogger wrote: “They are clamping down on the Internet too blocking some sites and Facebook accounts. I might not be able to post any longer. If I disappear suddenly, please pray for me”.

It has not worked. Already demonstrations of solidarity have been held in several Arab countries including Mauretania, Morocco, Algeria (which had its own riots over food price rises since withdrawn) Egypt, and Syria. The Syrian one even compared Ben Ali to their own ruler Bashar Assad. Riots and demonstrations alone won’t change anything but they can begin a process, a new awakening. There are times when the material burden of deprivation suddenly becomes too much and what has been accepted with resignation before is no longer bearable. Once started these processes then take on a new life with unpredictable consequences. That is certainly our hope.

We are printing below the initial statement of the Internationalist Communist Tendency on the situation in Tunisia which will be followed by others. As usual we invite comments and criticisms from our readers.

January 11 2011

As usual, the figures are disputed. The demonstrators say there are at least fifty dead, the government estimate is fourteen. One fact is certain: these spontaneous, resolute and violent struggles have brought about an even more determined and violent repression. The background to the growing conflict in Tunisia is the international crisis which doesn't spare anyone, least of all in the economically weakest countries. The same thing is happening in Algeria, while in Egypt and Morocco the situation is just as bad, if not worse, even if it hasn't yet exploded.

More specifically, the anger which has provoked the street demonstrations is vented against the dictatorial power of Ben Ali, against the corruption which he is up to the neck in and against the power-hungry gang of thieves who gravitate round the figure of the president. At bottom, however, the protests have been triggered by the twin factors of unemployment and the high cost of living. According to official statistics the first of these stands at 14%. The real figure is almost double and youth unemployment has reached 35-40%. The second factor - the increased cost of living - means that the family wage of both private and state employees won't even last to the middle of the month. From an already low standard of life workers now face outright poverty. Hope for the future has evaporated. Reality consists of hunger and mounting desperation. Proletarians who have a job are unable to support their families while those who have fallen into the circle of the damned have little chance of getting out of it. Even the middle class is seeing its standard of living crumble. The public sector, which until a few years ago provided secure long-term jobs, is now drastically reorganising its pay-roll. Public sector employees, lawyers, young diplomats and graduates of all descriptions are on the street competing with the rest of the unemployed for whatever job they can get. The pruning of the public sector (with the same sort of measures that have been taken or announced for Britain, France, Spain, Ireland and Italy), proletarianisation of the middle class, coupled with more intense exploitation in key branches of the economy (such as energy), are all the tangible sign of the grip of the crisis and the reason for the revolt.

The struggles have broken out spontaneously, that is with no political direction nor a tactical programme. The unions (UGTT) were taken by surprise and have had to run to catch up with the situation, first deploring the excess violence of the police then in the same breath decrying the "excesses" of the spontaneous demonstrations, calling for calm and trust in the president's promise of 300,000 jobs. Before this tragic turn of events they weren't concerned about anything except their usual job of pouring water on any smouldering fires of resistance.

The clampdown has been brutal, with the police opening fire on the demonstrators. There was no hesitation about shooting to kill because that was the order. The Tunisian government couldn't allow itself the luxury of permitting demonstrations which could set the country in flames, even if this sort of calculation does not always work and sometimes has the opposite effect. As always, but above all at a time of economic crisis, the imperative is to safeguard capital at all cost by building a bulwark round the necessity for its survival and convincing the workers by whatever means possible that there is no alternative to sacrifices. Take it or leave it. Otherwise the axe of repression will be brought down heavily without saving anyone. The fifty dead are a dramatic verification of this.

Not only that, the Tunisian government has employed a strategy of criminalising the struggle. Those who take to the streets, who demonstrate, who carry out acts of violence against things and against the general interests of society - of its laws: of its capital - is a terrorist in the pay of whatever foreign country is interested in destabilising Tunisia. Even those who send critical messages and photos via Twitter or other media are being rounded up and shut up. It is a classic bourgeois tactic, always effective, already adopted in Europe in the past and in a special way in Italy. It is now coming to new latitudes but with the same aim; to block any form of opposition identifying it with an “evil” turn which as such must be fought by every means including violence.

Instead the struggle must continue to connect all sectors. It must lead to the creation of strike and struggle committees to be an example to the working class and the unemployed of the whole of the Arab world, from Morocco to Syria and to ask these workers for their solidarity. All this is certainly difficult if not highly unlikely given the political desert of the current reality, even if this political desertification has reached the old capitalist countries like Europe and the USA as well. It is for this reason that it is the time to concentrate our efforts on the creation of a political vanguard which can begin to act as a reference point for these struggles, in order that they don’t exhaust themselves in demoralisation or repression without a trace. Now is the time for the international working class wherever it has been hard hit, from Greece to Tunisia, from Spain to Algeria, from the UK to the US to set out on the road towards the revival of class struggle, a road which they have to travel with their revolutionary vanguard, without which any effort, any desire to revolt, will remain stuck in the capitalist orbit, repressed or reabsorbed by the system depending on the line taken by the body that defends class interests, i.e. the capitalist state. That is what Ben Ali is teaching.

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