Saturday, March 26, 2011

"Nobody has yet made a successful revolution without a revolutionary theory"

The rights of all people to live in freedom and dignity is inalienable, non-negotiable and not open to compromise. A freely and democratically endorsed social contract frames the limits of freedom. Society represented by an appropriate governing body strive to provide people's rights at the highest and most equitable level. These rights include fair and just access to food, employment, resources including land and water, a clean and pleasant environment, education, shelter, transport, clothing and others. The notion of freedom is tricky here. Let me just say that it is NOT the same "freedom" that comes on the back of US aircraft carriers, and NOT the one that comes accompanied with loads of oil money to be distributed during election, and NOT the one that is hammered into the heads of people with megaloads of media messages. True freedom cannot coexist with inequality, fear, need and discrimination, and it cannot be dissociated from education, awareness and equity. Thus the role of government is also to constantly readjust the balance of power in favor of the weakest. Wealth redistribution is part of this process.

These principles form the core of the Leftist thought I adhere to. They cannot coexist with dictatorial rule of any sort, be it the dictatorship of power or the dictatorship of money or the horrific chimera of neo-liberalism that is the mixture of both. Our moral, ethical and human duty is to oppose and confront these regimes and to support all comrades who are fighting their war of liberation.

We struggle not only to overthrow regimes, but also to build new states on the basis of the core principles enunciated above: equity, social justice, democracy with freedom, people's rights and balance of power. This is the essence of our struggle against Arab dictatorships and against the zionist colonial project in Palestine. The ultimate purpose is to construct a state, not just to destroy a regime. We should keep this in focus during the protests, uprisings, rebellions and revolutions we engage in. We should also strive to get widespread popular endorsement for these principles so that they become everyone's principles and not just those of a concerned elite.

I say this (obviously) because of what is going on in the Arab countries. In Tunisia and in Egypt, the people of the Tahreer squares were able to topple the heads of the regimes. They are now facing the challenge of constructing a new, just state. This is proving more difficult than expected, especially as the forces of reaction are fully and powerfully deployed and they won't let go that easily. Just look at Libya.

In Egypt, people have recently voted in what has been called the first ever clean referendum. The choice was between amending the constitution (or patching it up, as many have put it) or rejecting the amendments and designing a totally new constitution that would reflect the expectations of the Tahreer squares. There was a strong vote in favor of the amendments, which is what the two largest organized parties in the country wanted: the muslim brotherhood and, I am told, the remnants of the ancient regime.

I endorse the position of the Tahreer square revolutionaries, especially those belonging to the Left, who want to build a new Egyptian nation on strong grounds. The referendum may benefit from being read in light of Walden Bello's recent analysis of the Arab uprisings in which he says:

To many who participated in the popular democratic revolts that swept the Philippines and Latin America in the 1980s and Eastern Europe in 1989, the euphoria of people power was short-lived, giving way, as events unfolded, to concern, disappointment, then cynicism. The critical juncture occurred when the managers of the political transition transformed the raw power of direct democracy that overthrew dictatorships into representative electoral democracy to simplify the mechanics of democratic governance. 
Some of the classical theorists of democracy were troubled by this transition.  Rousseau distrusted representative democracy because he sensed it would replace the “General Interest” or “General Will” of the people with what he called the “Corporate Will” of their elected representatives. Marx and Engels were famously contemptuous of representative democracy because, in their view, it simply concealed the ruling economic interests of the bourgeoisie behind the fig leaf of parliamentary politics.  Perhaps most critical was the political sociologist Robert Michels, who saw elections evolve from being a method by which the people replaced their leaders to a mechanism through which leaders manipulated people to acquire permanent power.  Michels went on to assert that representative democracies could not escape the “iron law of oligarchy.”
I am not sure what could have been done earlier in Egypt, but it looks to me that regrouping behind the simple (and powerful) slogan of "bringing down the regime" just does not deliver sufficiently when the regime's head is removed but the regime itself remains in place, including, especially, its army, its security forces and its economic framework. The appointment of Essam Sharaf as Egyptian prime minister was hailed as a victory for Tahreer square. This is where he went to get his credentials. Among the first things he did was to reassure investors that Egypt will remain committed to "free" economy (and we all know what kind of freedom this is: the freedom to exploit people and accumulate wealth) and that gas export to Israel will resume soon. I cannot really call this a great revolutionary success. But I am not sure Charaf could have done much else given the cards he was handled. This is why we need to make sure we change the context. But this will come if we can work on building the unions and gathering our strengths and organizing ourselves.

It is of course to early to judge the outcomes of the Arab uprisings, but it is not too early to set the ideas wheel in motion. To build a new world, we need ideas. These ideas need to be explicated and disseminated and broadly endorsed by the people. The post-modernist approach of simple messages passed to individuals through internet networks and social media may be effective in mobilizing for mass protests. Its weakness shows when it is time to construct. I fully subscribe to Amilcar Cabral's words that: "every practice produces a theory, and that if it is true that a revolution can fail even though it be based on perfectly conceived theories, nobody has yet made a successful revolution without a revolutionary theory". And for action, nothing beats the Fabian approach: "Organize, Educate, Agitate". If ones start with agitation, then we may end up with motion and no progress.

A similar analysis could be drawn for Tunisia, I am sure, where there are reports of increasing class polarization, accompanied with statements such as "Ghannouchi (ex prime minister) was Jeffrey Feltman's appointee, and Essebsi (new PM) is Clinton's appointee".

Lebanon has been experiencing its own waves of protests that aim at "bringing down the sectarian regime". While not comparable in size with the manifestations of support for the sectarian leadership on both sides of the March divide, they are gathering impetus and have grown from hundreds to thousands to tens of thousands. Interestingly, some people who were seen at the sectarian demonstration of March 13, 2011, and others who are known supporters of the sectarian March 8 forces, have also been participating in these antisectarian demonstrations. Blame it on Lebanese schizophrenia.

I fully endorse the antisectarian demand and believe that the Lebanese sectarian system is a means of control and manipulation through fear, and that it runs against all the principles enunciated at the beginning of this post. I am unsure, however, that stand-alone antisectarianism is sufficient as a revolutionary theory for constructing a new, just, fair and equitable state in Lebanon. Neo-liberalism is essentially non sectarian, and here is where a big part of the problem lies. Neither does being non-sectarian really imply any position vis a vis the zionist colonial project, nor does it defend worker's rights. And so on and so forth. Anti sectarianism is essential, but this cannot be the only title of the struggle.

I have read some of the documentation sent to me by comrades who are in the "bringing down the sectarian regime" struggle. I endorse their views, and the documents I have received make mention (albeit a bit timidly) of the need for social justice. But I have also read interviews with other participants who shout loudly that this is NOT an ideological struggle, and that the aim is to live better, to be able to have civil marriage in Lebanon and not have to go to Cyprus for that, and other similar requests.

I understand the necessity of having a broad based concept in order to gather people around an activity, but isn't who you gather just as important and relevant? Down with sectarianism, of course. But down with plutocracies too. And down with the power of money. And down with the control of the rich. None of these are sectarian, the rich do not believe in sects: go to Faqra and see how they freely mingle and intermarry to keep the fortune well locked in. And what is the position of the antisectarian group on Palestine? Is our struggle against the zionist project negotiable? It is not for me, in the same way as the struggle against any other dictatorship is non-negotiable.

This brings us to the uprisings in Syria. The Syrian opposition is very varied and includes true revolutionaries and nationalists and social justice activists. But there are also elements that are corrupt. Angry Arab has it right here:

"Just like in the Iranian opposition, there are elements--elements, not all--in the Syrian opposition.  They operate through the criminal and corrupt Rif`at Asad (who in turn works for Saudi Arabia) and through the Muslim Brotherhood.  Note that Saudi propaganda claimed that there were members of Hizbullah involved in repression in Iran, just as they now claim that there are members of Hizbullah in Syria, as the repressive regimes require the assistance of few Hizbullah fighters.  This is a clear Saudi agenda, just as Israel claimed in the July Israeli war on Lebanon in 2006 that Iranian Revolutionary Guards were found dead in South Lebanon--and Saudi media of course "reported" that with zest.  Syrian opposition is very rich and varied, and it is important that Saudi Arabia does not hijack it as it did in Libya."
This does not detract from the fact that the Assad regime is a dictatorship where corruption is rampant, and which is moving increasingly towards a neo-liberal economy. We should thus offer full support to the true revolutionaries of Syria. Any other position will be in breach of our core principles.

Back to Lebanon, the position of some of the March 14 people and leadership on the protests in Syria is revealing. It can be summarized as follows:

"Once the Syrian regime falls (and note that they are unconcerned about the human costs or about what happens to Syria, there could be mayhem for all they care) the flow of weapons to the Lebanese Resistance will cease. Then Israel will attack Lebanon, and the Resistance would use all its stocks, and it will lose and be destroyed and this will be the end of the Resistance and of Hizbullah and we will be powerful again and we will make peace with Israel and live the life"

But what do you expect from those same people who are being exposed day after day by wikileaks for their racism and their support to the Israelis during the 2006 onslaught on Lebanon?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot for this, Rami