Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Syria ...
The mass mobilizations can bring down governments, but capitalist domination can only be really threatened by the proletarian class struggle, independent and internationalist
(«Proletarian»;Nr. 7; Summer 2011)
The wave of social upheavals that has swept over the countries of North Africa and the Middle East since last December has shaken the government palaces in Tunis, Cairo and Algiers or Saana; its effects are far from finished in the rest of the vast Arab world while its repercusions are dreaded in the chanceries of the major imperialist countries, in Washington, London, Paris, Rome ...
The economic crisis that hit the major capitalist countries from 2008 and continues to have far-reaching implications there, could not but be felt even more forcefully on the countries of the imperialist periphery: rising unemployment, increasing impoverishment of the petit-bourgeois layers(small farmers, artisans, shopkeepers, etc.). And the immediate periphery of the European imperialist countries is formed by the countries bordering the Mediterranean.
In the preceding decades masses of proletarians driven by poverty, unemployment, and repression, left the southern shore of the Mediterranean; in groups of tens or hundreds of people, this veritable army of migrant proletarians reached the shores of Greece, Spain and Italy, then to gain France, Germany, Belgium, Great Britain by various improvised means. From the start, the very civilized European countries, whose constitutions promoting “republican” ideals are filled with solemn words about the “rights of man”, the “right to work”, the right to the life and dignity, have treated immigrant workers like animals: designated as potential criminals, subjected to police harassment, overexploited and underpaid but also essential to economic growth in opulent Europe, provided they remain subjected to the discriminatory rules by which the European bourgeoisies administrate the migratory flux.
Class brothers, proletarians without a country, members of a class which is everywhere exploited by capital, whether they are employed in a more or less temporary way in the “working world” or rejoin the mass of unemployed, thus increasing the pressure on the wages of the employed workers, whether they are native to the region or immigrants, today proletarians in Egypt, in Tunisia, in Algeria, no longer flee poverty, but filled with anger and determination, make it explode in the streets of the principal cities of their countries. And tomorrow it will in turn hit the streets of the European cities, in a united struggle of the proletarians of all nationalities against the class enemy, the bourgeoisie which dominates on both sides of the Mediterranean.
But the assaults launched by the proletarians and the poor Arab masses against the governmental palaces has implications still more distant, reaching as far as the United States. The most powerful imperialist bourgeoisie in the world has a hand on the reins of power in the largest countries in the region, Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, with which very strong relations of alliance and mutual interest were woven, and any threat to the stability of these countries is a threat to U.S. interests in the region which is of prime importance for them, if only for the oil from the Middle East. This is why the riots in recent months, beyond the immediate objectives that the protesters were given (overthrow of thieving and corrupt governments, end of police regimes, work and bread for all), carry with them the even more serious dangers for the local ruling classes and those of the imperialist countries implicated in the region.
In Tunisia, the anger was such that it drove tens of thousands of protesters to confront the murderers from Ben Ali’s police and special services openly and with bare hands. The revolt of the proletarian masses and peasants precipitated into poverty, in its immediate and secular spontaneity, not recuperated by Islam, was of such importance because despite bestial repression, it managed to provoke the flight of the Tunisian “Rai”. This result has come at the cost of hundreds of dead and wounded, but the economic and political system which was based on the power of the Ben Ali clan has not disappeared – quite to the contrary. The movement of revolt against a group of leaders who fled with their hands full, demanded democracy and bread! But to call for democracy in a system that normally uses bourgeois democracy to better regulate its own business and promote its class interests cannot change the fundamental situation of millions of workers and peasants who are fed-up with their situation. History has also shown that a movement that unites the proletariat and the petit-bourgeoisie of the cities, the peasants, the intellectual strata and the liberal professions, and finds an improvised ally in certain sections of the ruling class, can undoubtedly result in a palace coup, but cannot really revolutionize society, because it does not have the class force.
More democracy means new elections, greater freedom of association and political organization, some social reforms finally realized after having long been promised, but nothing more. The economic system does not change and therefore the causes of exploitation of wage labor, the increasing impoverishment, unemployment, and hunger do not disappear; class antagonisms between bourgeoisie and proletariat remain unchanged as remain unchanged the confrontations between bourgeois fractions and states caused by the economic and political competition between the centers of capitalist accumulation which rule over the planet.
The causes that led to the economic crisis of 2008-2010 are still present, although the most devastating effects of this crisis can be amortized in the richest capitalist countries, they will continue to provoke new, even more violent crises until eventually they plunge the world into a third world war. This is not a prophecy based on the suggestions of the moment, but a conclusion of Marxism, the scientific theory of revolutionary communism which has affirmed since the capitalist crisis of 1847 in Britain (and therefore the rest of the world) and 1848 revolutions in Europe:
“For many a decade past the history of industry and commerce is but the history of the revolt of modern productive forces against modern conditions of production, against the property relations that are the conditions for the existence of the bourgeois and of its rule [capitalism, Ed]. It is enough to mention the commercial crises that by their periodical return put the existence of the entire bourgeois society on its trial, each time more threateningly.(...)
And how does the bourgeoisie get over these crises? On the one hand by enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces; on the other, by the conquest of new markets, and by the more thorough exploitation of the old ones. That is to say, by paving the way for more extensive and more destructive crises, and by diminishing the means whereby crises are prevented” (The Communist Manifesto, 1848; MIA).
Behind the demand for democracy expressed by the demonstrators, there is simultaneously a demonstration that the bourgeois system, if it is democratic in economic terms cannot satisfy the social malaise, which at a certain point leads to a revolt; it is the proof that the bourgeois political system; in the absence of a proletarian class movement standing on its own terrain and under his own direction, leading all the discontented; has succeeded in duping the social protest movement by offering one of the countless versions of democracy which it has produced throughout history. When discontent turns into a social revolt, the bourgeois power habitually responds with police repression, but follows sooner or later with the offer of democratic prospects which were up to that point refused. This is the dirty game that the bourgeoisie repeats whenever the working masses come into rebellion: if the repression is not enough to quell the revolt, then the defenders of “true democracy”, of “freedom”, of “equality”, of the “homeland”, and of the “common interests of the nation” come into contention .
Things would be much different if we were dealing with a movement of the proletarian class. The former colonies have become fully capitalist, even if industrial development is still relative, the ruling class is the bourgeoisie, there are no longer the economic and political vestiges of the feudal type which would put a bourgeois-democratic revolution on the agenda. The proletariat has long existed in these countries, alongside the masses of small peasants and the layers of petit-bourgeois shopkeepers and artisans occupying the spaces of production and distribution not covered by industrialization. But this does not mean that there is an independent proletarian movement; the proletarians of these countries participated in the struggles for national independence, but they have not had the possibility of conquering their class independence, as for example the Russian proletariat did in its struggle against Tsarism, then the capitalist factory owners and the bourgeoisie when it took the place of Tsarism.
The responsibility of the Stalinist counter-revolution; which beheaded the international communist movement and transformed the communist parties into social-imperialist organizations; is overwhelming. Not only was the European proletariat unable to confront capitalism counting on the strong leadership of the International and its national parties, but the young proletariat of the colonial and semi-colonial countries from the beginning has been oriented towards the impasse of “national-communism”. It is impossible for the workers of the former colonial countries to immediately find the path of class struggle and get rid of the trappings of bourgeois democracy also imported with them by post-fascist (ie semi-fascist) democratic imperialist forces, while the European proletarians, infected to the marrow by collaborationist democracy, are not yet able to rediscover the classist methods and means of struggle for immediate defense. The European proletarians have a historical advantage in relation to other proletarians, they were the first to fight alongside of the bourgeoisie, and then almost always in the place of the bourgeoisie, to eliminate feudalism, kings and overthrow the tyrants and the first to pay in blood the price for their illusions in bourgeois democracy in the revolutions of 1848-50 and the first to launch “the assault on heaven” during the Paris Commune before being crushed by the counter-revolution and the first to have established the dictatorship of the proletariat in the Russian revolution, formed themselves into the international communist party called the Communist International (CI), and to have launched an assault on all the bourgeoisies of the world. The experience of this long series of revolutionary class struggles, summarized in the Theses of the first congress of the CI. and the positions of the Communist Left in Italy, is a great proletarian heritage on which on the future renaissance of the international communist movement must be based . The proletarians of the former colonialized countries with a younger capitalism have an advantage over the European and American proletariat: they have a hundred years less democratic intoxication weighing on them than their class brothers in those countries and they have within themselves a class vigor that the others have lost; the cause of which Marx explains briefly but clearly in “The Class Struggles in France”:
“Just as the period of crisis began later on the Continent than in England, so also did prosperity. The process originated in England, which is the demiurge of the bourgeois cosmos. On the Continent the various phases of the cycle repeatedly experienced by bourgeois society assume a secondary and tertiary form. First, the Continent exports to England disproportionately more than to any other country. This export to England, however, depends on the latter’s position, especially in regard to the overseas market. England exports disproportionately more to overseas countries than to the whole Continent, so that the quantity of continental exports to those countries is always dependent on England’s foreign trade.
Hence when crises on the Continent produce revolutions there first, the bases for them are always laid in England. Violent outbreaks naturally erupt sooner at the extremities of the bourgeois body than in its heart, because in the latter the possibilities of accommodation are greater than in the former” (1).
The most developed capitalist countries have more resources at their disposal, not only because their industries are more technically advanced, but also because they exploit the weaker countries, drawing enormous supplementary profits that allow them to cushion the impact of the crisis on their own proletariat (England was at the time the most developed capitalist country compared to Western Europe – the “Continent”– including France). Marx speaks of revolutions because at this time social movements led to true insurrections where the proletariat struggled in a violent manner to overthrow the existing regimes, but the analysis also applies to the large mass movements and social unrest occurring at this moment on the other side of the Mediterranean: these are the type of violent explosions that he evokes.
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The Tunisian conflagration was first extended to Algeria provoking a wave of riots that first hit the capital, Algiers – including the emblematic Bab el-Oued district, before reaching Egypt, the other “extremity of the bourgeois organism, “ and then Libya. With more “expertise” in revolts the Algerian authorities have so far managed to contain the movement without resorting to violence as savage as in Tunisia (all the same, there were 5 deaths in a few days!), with emergency measures to counter the white-hot anger at the soaring prices of food and staples. The fear of the social explosion which they experience can be noted by the massive police presence deployed to prevent the demonstration of the 12 opposition parties: they are well aware they are sitting on a powder keg. The promises of Bouteflika to remove the state of emergency in force since 1992 should not thus not create any illusions.
But it was in Egypt where the impact of the Tunisian events triggered a gigantic mobilization of the proletarian and petit-bourgeois masses. Egypt is the most populous country in the Middle East (over 80 million inhabitants). Its economy is still largely agricultural, although it must import about half of the wheat needed for domestic consumption, but in recent decades it has experienced some industrialization, especially in the textile industry which employs by some estimates almost half of the workforce. However, the main resources of the country are tourism, income from the Suez Canal and ... external financing. In fact Egypt is the second biggest recipient of U.S. aid after Israel (2 billion per year on average, over a billion in military aid). Egypt is also one of the linchpins of the U.S. imperialist policy in the region. During his thirty years in power Hosni Mubarak has guaranteed a stable alliance with the U.S. and regime change in Cairo under the pressure of the street is something they fear. The Movement of Tahrir Square is candidly democratic, but it is sufficiently determined to cause fears that it will lead to more violent uncontrollable confrontations: opposition parties tolerated by the regime, including the Muslim Brotherhood, appear to have only a marginal influence on the masses in motion.
Order! This is the categorical imperative of any bourgeoisie, in Tunisia as in Egypt, the United States as in Europe and everywhere; the Egyptian army has finally made it clear to Mubarak that he should withdraw so that order is maintained. The Egyptian “beautiful revolution” where the various classes, from proletarians to enlightened bourgeois were fraternally united to expel the tyrant and restore national pride has led to the power of “Supreme Council of the Armed Forces”. “The army and the people are one!” the demonstrators chanted, while opposition politicians, relieved, declared that since the army had taken the reins (2), Egypt would not go over into chaos and the Muslim Brotherhood in a statement hailed the army “which has kept its promises”. The army has assured that it would transmit power to civilians and that it would restore democracy. In reality all this demonstrates once more is what Marxism asserts: the State, the particular organization of bourgeois power, rests ultimately on special detachments of armed men, it is the organization of violence to subdue the exploited class.
The post-Mubarak period will undoubtedly involve a facade of democratization and social reform, but it cannot change the conditions of poverty and exploitation of the great Egyptian masses. Bourgeois democracy is never anything other than the veil of the dictatorship of the ruling class; in the poorest capitalist countries such as Egypt, the veil is reduced to almost nothing because capitalism needs an authoritarian regime to prevent the explosion of social tensions that it has no ability to “accommodate”.
The only historical perspective that the proletariat and the masses have is that of the anti-capitalist revolution to overthrow the political and social domination of the bourgeoisie.
But the proletarian revolution is possible only when the proletariat, organized and led by its class party and leading behind it all the oppressed, rises with arms in hand against the apparatus of organized violence of the bourgeois state. It is also the culmination of a process of class struggle that leads to confrontation with the political and military institutions that defend private property and the capitalist mode of production, whatever the form of government: dictatorship, monarchy or republic. The roots and consequences of this confrontation are international, because capitalism is international, because the economic, political, diplomatic and military relations between states are international; even if each bourgeoisie defends its national interests against others; because the proletariat is an international class that has nothing to defend in the nation where it is exploited, suppressed and massacred.
The current social revolts are not the premise of the proletarian revolution, nor even an anticipation of the resumption of class struggle, even if they signal a deep and widespread discontent. In the absence of a class force organized in economic defense associations and into a political party, it is inevitable that they express democratic – that is to say bourgeois – objectives in their behavior and political demands, but it is as inevitable that the interclassist fraternity will give way to the reality of class oppositions: the worker will remain a wage slave, the poor peasant will continue to be despoiled by the usurer, while remaining committed to his little plot of land, the urban petit-bourgeois will continue to vacillate between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat and the bourgeoisie will continue to dominate, while holding out the possibility of a peaceful capitalism with a “human face”.
The proletarian revolution may seem like a mirage, as the proletariat is still far from being the protagonist of the social rebellion that has shaken the current Arab regimes, but this revolt despite its confusion demonstrates the acuteness of the contradictions facing capitalism and its increasing difficulties to maintain its order.
From an economic perspective, society is more than ripe to put an end to capitalism, the productive forces regularly come into conflict with the bourgeois forms of production (3), but it still lacks the action of the proletariat. Revolutions do not arrive on command, but it is widespread economic crises which usually accelerate the maturation of objective factors of the proletarian struggle, allowing the proletariat to return to the path of class struggle and bring to the forefront the need for the formation of the revolutionary party.
With this in mind we welcome the social explosions of the other side of the Mediterranean, not for their claims of democracy, but because the anger and determination they express are the basis for development of future revolutionary class struggle of their young proletariat.
(1) See K. Marx, “Class Struggles in France”, Chapter IV (MIA)
(2) Statement of Abdel Sabry, leader of the opposition Wafd Party, 12/2/11.
(3) A revolution is possible only when “the modern productive forces and the bourgeois forms of production come into conflict “, K. Marx, ibid.
International Communist Party