Aiming for alternative media – The revolutionary newspaper

Al-Yasari August 2003

In the past few weeks there has been much talk about “alternative media” as a notion and practice. The issue here further than some specifications we can set and then we can say that this media outlet is alternative or not. Alternative by the English explanation is mainly something different from what is existent but as for Marxist Leninist, international socialists, social democrats, the new tendency “evolutionaries”; and us leftist there should be a common understanding on what alternative media is.

Alternative media first of all requires and alternative reading of society and the interactions and the events inside of it. This reading was clarified quite specifically by Marx, many years ago that “history is made by the actions of the millions not that of generals and kings”.

The mainstream and corporate media present events from the ruling class perspective, hiding by terminologies such as “professionalism”, “objectivity” and so on. Being other than mainstream media is not the objective, it is one of the requirements, but the objective is establishing an alternative reading of society, being on the side of the people not the ruling elite. Mainstream media would state that the US gave 30 billion USD to a country “A”, but they wouldn’t say that these 30 billion came at the price of taking out the country’s resources, establishing a new government, more oppression, a high rate of unemployment, privatisation plans and so on…

The alternative media, however, should be explaining the crisis, finding it’s causes, not only the direct causes, but all its manifestations; it should establish a theoretical and ideological headquarters for the movement, and here I quote from a poster I once saw “I give money to the poor, they say I’m a saint; I ask why are the poor hungry they say that I’m a communist”. Alternative media should be dealing with the causes and explaining the crisis, not only dealing with its symptoms.

An alternative paper should be a tool for the movement and not stand outside of it, it should run on the same pace of the movement and sometimes push it forward tackling issues which are somehow sensitive and undiscussed, it encourages activists, it gives a clearer view of the achievements and the mistakes made, without being an intellectual elite, people who are writing in the newspaper or the website should be involved directly in the current discussions, actions, and decisions, and should write about them.

What kind of newspaper do we need?

The left in Lebanon is now in the process of building and realignment, it is establishing the basic grounds for a new movement, and which has shown its will and dedication through the No War No Dictatorship campaign. This process of building requires the proper theoretical and analytical backbone to establish a strong coalition that is connected by a vivid and vital space of thoughts and ideas; this struggle of ideas is crucial for the movement, as it cannot go forward without it.

In a movement we need to know our objectives and our strategies, everyone in the movement also has to know theory and analysis as everyone should have the ability to convince discuss and fight for their beliefs. And here I am not speaking about general purposes, like we need “equal rights between men and women” we have to move forward with ideas and we need to know why we need equal rights, why is equality crucially important for us, why is it beneficial for us to have such equality. All these questions have to be answered and it is the duty of the movement as a whole to provide these answers for each individual within the movement.

“The role of a newspaper, however, is not limited solely to the dissemination of ideas, to political education, and to the enlistment of political allies. A newspaper is not only a collective propagandist and a collective agitator, it is also a collective organiser” (Vladimir Lenin). An Alternative or what we seek to be a revolutionary newspaper aims to help erect the scaffolding of a revolutionary movement. A revolutionary newspaper prepares the ground for the creation of the revolutionary movement, both ideologically and organisationally, and it educated a whole generation of professional revolutionaries. The revolutionary paper combines propaganda with the development of theory.

There is uneven consciousness within society and the working class, thus a newspaper aims to raise the levels of consciousness within society thus more people would be aware of the threats and the consequences of capitalism, and gradually would try to exile indifference within society for the sake of building a much larger movement. The newspaper is an educator and an organizer for the movement; it promotes consciousness and provides revolutionary education.

The role of a newspaper here is crucial, as I have described through the paragraphs above, the revolutionary newspaper is the ground base of the movement, and we have to see the movement as the university for activists and what is special within this university is that everyone is an instructor and a student at the same time, it is an permanent interaction of thoughts and ideas and experiences, it is an organic body of continuous manifestations of actions, thoughts and ideas.

A revolutionary newspaper is the one that takes these manifestations and experiences and archives them and concretize them and make them affordable to all the people. The role of the paper goes more to be the holder and the translator of these experiences into a more acceptable format to let other activists know about them and also trying to let people from outside the movement to know about our beliefs and thoughts, thus it works somehow as a tool for recruitment. And from here we need to know that an alternative paper should at all times be subjective and take sides. Hereto I say that the subjectivity of an alternative newspaper is a crucial requirement of the newspaper to be alternative, it has to take sides: no question about it.

The layout

The layout always reflects the democratic structure and the ideas of the staff within the newspaper. If we take [liberal British daily newspaper] the Guardian as an example, you can see the hierarchy within the layout and formation of the newspaper. The blocks arranged in a refined hierarchy reflect the so-called professionalism: the order of the text, the categorization, the separator lines that define importance, (etc.) and also the excessive conformity of the layout. What you choose for layout reflects the orientation of the newspaper and its tendency.

An alternative newspaper should reflect the openness and the direct democracy that this newspaper has within its staff and it’s direct relation to the struggle, it should be a propaganda unit for the struggle and the movement. Here I am not talking about another Baath and Teshrin newspapers. These are the state’s propaganda, it isn’t the people’s nor the movement’s newspaper.

Internal democracy and decision-making

Democracy inside of an alternative newspaper is a key issue for the newspaper to be alternative, and when speaking about democracy, I don’t mean consensus, as for me consensus is anti-democratic as sometimes the minority could block a decision, and thus it would be the rule of the minority. We wouldn’t need democracy if we have a system than can perfectly reflect the wishes of everyone. Democracy is on-going battlefield of ideas and proposals and it’s crucially important to have a democratic procedure within a paper to have an alternative paper. A newspaper is an interactive ground for political currents and views and readings: this vital space of battling ideas. A newspaper is a place for discussion, ideology and analysis. An alternative newspaper is the carrier of the goals and aims and the identity of the movement.

An alternative newspaper is the backbone of the building process of the movement. Thus the internal organisation of the newspaper should reflect the internal organisational structure of the movement itself. Internal democracy is an on-going process of building, not a fixed system. This process is built by experience by trial and error in the purpose in fitting the needs of the group and the group’s perspective of democracy.


Lebanese Communist Party & revolutionary practice

Al-Manshour October 2010

“The real link between the struggle of the masses and the breeding of party cadres has a single course that leads to the building of the revolutionary party by linking theory with revolutionary practice. The first condition for building revolutionary leadership and cadres is to abandon superstitious practices, arrogance, and consumer theory claims far from revolutionary education.”

“The theory remains an orphan theory, if not connected to the real class struggle, and the ability of its holder to transform the class consciousness of the working classes into a revolutionary class consciousness that leads to the desired socialist goal.”[16].

I expected when I began to read in Comrade Diab’s article that there might be some part of the article or even the number of the appeal in which one of the leaders of the Communist Party tries to prove that “communist options” are actually “right” or are actually aimed at socialist construction.

If we look at most of the publications and articles written by the communist leadership in the previous period, we find nothing that tries to approximate revolutionary theory and current party practice. Rather, we find rhetorical attitudes that define general goals similar to the goals of a democratic movement than those of a revolutionary labour party.

What is the revolutionary struggle?

Marx defines the class struggle as revolutionary: “The emancipation of the working class is the product of the working class itself.” But this does not mean that this liberation is automatic emancipation, but rather a part of the struggle within the working class in the effort to unify it against the dominant class, the bourgeoisie. This was the beginning of the above-mentioned Marxian maxim: “The ideas within the working class are the ideas of the ruling class”.

Hence, the revolutionary path is determined by class struggle (economic and political) and the balance of class forces that determine the reality of the conflict in which we live. So the right options are not right unless they can actually intervene and influence the conflict, and most importantly fuel it and raise it to a revolutionary level. It is also correct if it can move the movement of the spontaneous masses into a conscious movement of its political and economic power, that is, a movement that transcends class consciousness (economic) to revolutionary class-consciousness.

But the process of building revolutionary public consciousness is not only self-will; it is a compromise between objective and subjective conditions. The objective conditions are the result of the embryonic and direct economic class-consciousness, but this awareness does not automatically turn into a revolutionary consciousness. Rather, there are political factors, and a fundamental role for the revolutionary forces in transforming it from its direct economic reality into a consciousness that looks at the historic goals and tasks of the working class and the revolutionary transition to socialism.

But how true is this dialectic in the political practice of the Lebanese Communist Party? To this day, there are no statements or positions calling for revolution in any of its official and public speeches, but most of its leaders call for either political reform, radical change, or national “rescue” plans.

Revolution without revolutionary powers!

The first question here is how do we speak of a revolutionary language that is not aimed at producing a revolution? How can there be a revolutionary process while the goal is democratic reformism and far from advocating that the working class be the revolutionary alternative to the current bourgeois rule?

For example, in an article in Al-Akhbar newspaper, Sa’adallah Mazarani said, “Where are we from the revolutionary moment?”…“The second aspect of the crisis of the forces of the revolutionary alternative lies in the inability of these forces to unite behind a rescue program. Simple and clear: to save the Lebanese people from sectarian and sectarian division and order … and also to understand minimum economic and administrative reforms.”

Maurice Nahra also speaks in an article in Al-Nahar under the title “Reforming the condition of nation-building and open democratic development”. He says: “Removing Lebanon from the mercury situation that it is shaking, and to break the internal unity and make the concept of the homeland absent, without serious reform begins with the laws of municipal and parliamentary elections, and the application of administrative decentralization and development, and the formation of the national body with the active participation of secular forces, to discuss the agenda for the abolition of sectarianism and adoption, and to adopt an alternative social economic policy.”

In a speech at a dinner party for the party in Damour on 8 August 2010, Khalid Haddadah (Party Secretary) called for “a comprehensive national project in which the enemy will be confronted with the process of building a democratic state.”

None of these prominent leaders ever thought of speaking for a moment about a role for the working class; it was missing from the changing equation of the party leadership. It is clear that for them the process of change is a process of “extricating” or “lifting” the working class and the people exploited by the clutches of the bourgeoisie and the regime until they reach the call of the ruling class to the mercy of the workers and the people through the adoption of policies that lift the injustice of citizens.

In his article, Diab explained his (if not the party’s) vision of party education, which must be reconciled between revolutionary practice and actual class struggle, abandonment of superstitious practices, and arrogance. My question here is, are not the rescue projects of the people and the nation actually superfluous practices that implicitly imply the inability of the people and the workers to produce change themselves, but they need to be saved, recovered and freed?

The political discourse of the Communist Party is a populist discourse, but it is not directed at the working class, it is directed at the bourgeois class, trying to convince it or to find its possible ally within it to fight or carry out its national democratic project. What the party hopes is nothing but an attempt to ask the people to delegate it to defend its interests, that is, it wants to replace the party’s working class with a clear belief that these people are incapable of implementing the desired change.

Therefore, it must be assigned a device that seeks to change the reality, which directly contradicts what Marxism calls for, or the revolutionary labour experiences around the world, that true revolutionary change is only the product of the working class itself. Here we can only say that the party leadership of the communist is not committed to revolutionary theory and practice, or that the claim that the Communist Party is a revolutionary party is a false claim.

Is the legacy and history of struggle enough to produce a revolutionary party?

Some may say that this is a bid on the site and history of the revolutionary and revolutionary party, but, as far as I know, history alone does not produce the revolution and the heritage alone does not produce consciousness, but rather the words of Comrade Diab: “To transform mass and labour movements into a materialistic act of change … in the sense that we, as a supposed revolutionary party with all its implications, and far from bureaucracy and the narrow interests of a privileged partisan faction, have nothing to do with the independent activity of the masses, the pain of the working class.”

Therefore, revolutionary heritage does not make revolutionary practice; it is the revolutionary practice that creates the revolutionary legacy. For a moment the party stops this practice. The legacy becomes a weapon to defend the party and to maintain a certain bureaucratic dominance that is incompatible with the necessity of struggle. This is precisely what is happening today. In several attempts, the party leadership has published an ideological speech in which it tries to control the party and its base, as it failed to serve as an example of this rule in the struggle. Instead of reviewing its mistakes and working to absorb this serious and sincere rule in its militant commitment, it has further removed it from the actual conflict and limited its mobilization in conferences and party celebrations.

Instead of political and intellectual discourse and political practice being the main motivator of partisan commitment, party affiliation is determined through class mobilization, placing the communist base against the rest of the left rather than seeking to push the communist base to play an active role in activating the leftist situation in general in Lebanon.

Where is the Communist Party of revolutionary practice?

Instead of being the main players in pushing the street forward, we see them absent in many important movements and stations in the recent period. We enumerate some of them: In the sit-in outside the Egyptian embassy to lift the siege on Gaza on 23 January 2010, the Communist Party leadership did not seek to incite or even invite its organisations to participate in the sit-in of about 200 participants, where the Communists constituted a minority.

In a letter sent by one of the leaders of the party to the parties participating in the left-wing consultative meeting organized for the sit-in, he said: “The lack of preparation is related to the behaviour of the Communist Party, leadership and organisations in preparing for the move. The party organisations were not invited to participate and were not symbolic, and none of them was asked to prepare or even participate, even in a symbolic number of its members, at least in the areas in which I was directly aware of their status.”

This situation is not limited to the aforementioned movement, but we see this tendency or orientation in many other movements, the most important of which: the demonstration in front of the US Embassy on June 6, 2010, which was invited by leftist organisations. Only about 150 demonstrators attended the demonstration. There was disagreement during the demonstration between the young party cadres and the leadership. The latter wanted to prevent demonstrators from facing the barbed wire. There was a public disagreement between the two about the mechanism of preparation for the demonstration and the size of the crowd.

Another demonstration at the local political level was the demonstration of the civil rights of the Palestinian people, which took place on 27 June 2010, which included thousands. The first demonstration was held for civil rights, which was based on the progressive solidarity of the Lebanese with the Palestinian refugees. The Communist Party’s participation was virtually non-existent, with many activists likening it to paper participation.

The situation does not depend on this, but the logic of the leadership of the party transcends this shell to the logic of “boycott” political sectarian and cheap. For example, the Communist Party refused to participate in a seminar organized by the Socialist Forum entitled “Towards a Left Fighting for a Revolutionary Democratic Program for Change” on the grounds that it would not come if the seminar was presented by a member of the leftist Rally for Change.

I will not defend the position of the assembly. The reality is very clear, especially since the Communist Party base does not lack political awareness until it is manipulated and incited against its leadership. In particular, there is clear resentment against the party leadership, which was evident on more than one occasion. Not least of the Communists either in the press or publicly in many of the frameworks and seminars.

The question arises again: where is this revolutionary practice and its connection to the real conflict, and how are the Communists a pillar of building revolutionary awareness if they are absent from most of the movements that have taken place in the political arena recently. Where are they from the intellectual and political debate that spans the leftist and cultural seminars? Where are the Communists to advance the leftist situation in Lebanon? Even if the Communist Party is the largest and oldest left-wing arena, this can not do the left-wing situation and the construction of a revolutionary movement if the objective is not associated with partisan exercise away from the factional and progressive and bold in pushing the moves forward and not to evade movements and the reluctance to participate in the invitation cards and data Journalist.

But this is exactly what happened again, and not long ago, in a press conference in solidarity with the sit-in of the Future Pipe Factory Workers (see article 4). The party participated in the call to the conference and then was absent from the audience, although this is not just a passing demonstration. A trade union movement, with distinction, takes place in Akkar against one of Lebanon’s most powerful people (the Makhzoumi family), and even one of the party’s leaders did not visit the sit-in. Where is the working class party, then? Unless the working class is confined to the concept of the party exclusively by communist workers.

The time has come for the party leadership to stand firmly in front of its base and for the left in general, and tell it clearly what its strategy is. Is it a continuation of ubordination to the poles of the “national” bourgeoisie to seek a parliamentary seat?, to run for municipal seats ?, or to sing for the glories of the past and memories. Or do they really want to build a “revolutionary consciousness?” Diab says in his article.

No one on the left wants to destroy the Communist Party. Criticism to push the party for greater involvement in the political movement and conflicts of class and trade union is not aimed at the abolition of the party, but quite the contrary, is demanding a wider mobility of the largest and the role of the communists in the political movement, a demanding engagement party in the process of revolutionary to build a revolutionary change of Capricorn, is to combine theoretical work and not to turn the theory into a tool to suppress the practice, and that party commitment does not become a tool for the dissemination of the class on the left, but be a catalyst for the construction of the revolutionary party, which can influence the community and incite the working class to the revolution,

The core of Marxist theory is based on the ability of the working class to liberate itself, in its awareness of its own power and historical functions, not the demand, the elation and the subjugation of the ruling class for “reform.” Reform is the result of the decline of the ruling class to the progress of the working class and does not come from the influence of the bourgeoisie on workers’ pain.

The hard work, the direct confrontation with the regime, the call for a socialist revolution, and the serious effort to build bridges between the working class in Lebanon is what sets the foundations of revolutionary practice and discourse. The revolution does not come through cheering, but comes through engagement in direct conflicts of the day and the process of accumulation and construction. If the Communist Party wants to be a revolutionary party, it must first demand the revolution and not repudiate it.


Electricity workers in Lebanon strike back

Socialist Review July 2012

Some 2,300 electricity workers in Lebanon have been on strike for the past 79 days. They are demanding permanent contracts from Électricité du Liban (EdL), the state department that manages electricity in the country. The electricity workers are currently employed through casual or daily contracts. They do not receive any social security, pensions or benefits. They are banned from striking or forming unions. And thousands of other state workers in Lebanon are in a similar situation.

The strike has been entirely self-organised. Workers have formed committees to represent them, bypassing the structures of official politics – and bypassing the sectarian political climate that dominates in Lebanon. One reflection of that organisation is a sit-in by striking electricity workers inside EdL’s headquarters. Shifts are organised every day with delegates reporting back to a general assembly.

These assemblies take decisions regarding the sit-in and its organisation. They also include daily reports on EdL’s accounts and losses to demonstrate the economic strength of the strike. The state has responded to the strike with extreme hostility. Power minister Gebran Bassil refused to even shake hands with strikers’ delegates.

Bassil is affiliated to the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), a Christian party allied to Hezbollah. He has pressured other Lebanese political parties to take a stand against the strike. On Monday he mobilised FPM thugs to try and kick the workers out of the EdL headquarters. The arguments used by Bassil against the strike are fundamentally sectarian in nature. He says giving the casual workers fixed contracts would destabilise the Christian-Muslim balance in state employment. The majority of the casual labourers are Muslim. The workers’ response to Bassil’s arguments has been forthright. They insist that permanent contracts and benefits are a right and not a sectarian deal to be manipulated by politicians.

Three workers were injured on Monday when FPM thugs, including former special forces members, threw bricks at them and attacked them with knives. The three workers’ names were Omar, Ali and Edgar — one Sunni, one Shia and one Christian, symbolising workers’ solidarity across the sectarian divide. The strikers issued a statement after the attack that declared, “We are neither Christian nor Muslims — we are workers who have rights, and we won’t step back until we get them.”

Another attempted mob attack on the sit-in was foiled on Thursday. Socialists and activists gathered in support of the workers and stood their ground until the thugs had sloped off. Political leaders in Lebanon fear the electricity workers could trigger a wave of strikes across the public sector. Civil service workers have already held a one-day general strike. This took place on Tuesday and received strong support across the country.

Successive Lebanese governments have promoted the casualisation of labour under the guidance of the World Trade Organisation and World Bank. These attacks on workers’ rights go hand in hand with the privatisations that have been driven through over the past couple of decades. The ruling class is also worried that the mutinous spirit could spread to the private sector. Private companies have been encouraged by the state to adopt similar employment practices, taking on workers on daily contracts with no benefits.

The EdL workers strike has radicalised a new generation of workers in Lebanon and inspired them to fight back against casualisation. And their solidarity has demonstrated the central role of the working class in overcoming sectarian politics in Lebanon. For all of these reasons we urge trade unions and socialists across the world to send solidarity messages to the striking workers of Lebanon – and to support their battle against sectarianism, privatisation and casualisation.