Historical roots of confessionalism
The confessional communitarianism in Lebanon emerged in the context, on one side, of the Ottoman reforms in the nineteenth century Mount Lebanon and, on the other, the development and expansion of European capitalism in the Middle East. Confessionalism cannot be extracted from this historical context because it is the foundation of the system of governance and a trend of capitalist expansion. Ussama Makdisi’s book, The Culture of Sectarianism perfectly explains its development in Lebanese culture and dates its appearance as follows:
“When the former regime of Mount Lebanon, which was dominated by a hierarchy in which the secular rank rather than religious affiliation defined politics, was discredited in the mid-nineteenth century. These changes were a reflection of social transformations, more specifically related to the development of the silk industry, concentrated in the Maronite villages of Mount Lebanon, which began in the eighteenth century.”
Feudal structures and its relations of production were slowly disappearing, while a nascent bourgeoisie, whose wealth was derived from sericulture and commerce, gained greater control over the economic resources of Mount Lebanon challenging the hitherto dominant feudal production system.
The early nineteenth century witnessed several peasant revolutions that were brutally suppressed by the feudal lords. However, these revolutionary conditions did not result purely from class divisions.
Indeed, here, Leon Trotsky’s theory of ‘unequal and combined development of capital’ is useful in understanding the reason for the mutation of a class antagonism into a conflict between religious communities. The development of capitalism in Mount Lebanon was uneven between the various communities of the region (Maronites and Druze) and, within each of these communities. This heterogeneous development was not the simple product of a local context. The capitalism of Mount Lebanon at this stage of its history was mainly dependent on the colonial economic investment from Europe.
The conceptions of the European bourgeois elite led it to understand the conditions of modernity in Mount Lebanon as an intra-religious dynamic. For them, the conditions of nationalism and modernity existed within a religion or tribe, or, as the European intellectuals of Mount Lebanon described it: through the “Druze and Maronite nations”. Such an interpretation of history led the European capitalist investment in Lebanon to focus on the Maronites, the community they considered to be the closest to Europe through its cultural and religious traditions. (The Maronites were recognised as Catholics by Pope Hormisdas in 518 CE.)
A modern history, not a product of tradition
European investments were concentrated in the silk industry. In 1852 French capital owned five of the nine silk factories, while British capital had two. These investments helped to develop wealth and shape the nature of a nascent local bourgeoisie. Between 1873 and1902 silk production in Lebanon and Syria increased by more than 350 percent, due entirely to the increase in foreign demand (mainly from France). Moreover, the tonnage of silk products exported from the port of Beirut doubled in the 1890s. Production in Lebanon and Syria grew more rapidly between 1873 to 1915 when dependence on France became almost total: in 1873 some 40 percent of silk exports were sent to France, this reached 99 percent by 1914. On the eve the First World War silk production comprised 73 percent of the added value in agriculture and industry and 36 percent of gross national product in Mount Lebanon. (See: Gates, Carolyn: The Merchant Republic Of Lebanon: Rise Of An Open Economy)
Since European investments were concentrated in the Maronite community, it was within the latter that economic developments were important, while the Druze remained organised in feudal structures. Thus, economic power became increasingly concentrated by the nascent Christian bourgeoisie (composed of Greek Orthodox and Maronites) while the feudal lords were mainly Druze. Such contradictions in the socio-economic structures of Mount Lebanon resulted in revolts of the Maronite peasantry against their feudal lords in 1860. The peasant revolt could have created an alliance between Druze and Maronite peasants had the Druze feudal lords, who were armed to the teeth, not reacted so quickly by breaking the revolt and preventing it from spreading to the Druze peasantry.
The events of those years were the main marker of the new consensus that was forged between the European powers and the Ottoman Empire. It was this consensus that allowed the formation of the denominational system of governance whose members were appointed by the leaders and clerics of the religious denominations (based on the eleventh chapter of the 1861 protocol of Mount Lebanon.) This was amended in 1864 to allow the election of these officials while preserving denominational distribution, with the introduction of seventeen other confessions following the construction of Greater Lebanon. Such a system of governance remains in place.
Understanding these historical developments allows us to see that confessionalism is not a tribal or religious identity, but instead the deployment of religious heritage as the first marker of modern political identity. It is important to distinguish confessionalism from the religious conflicts that took place in the medieval world and at the dawn of the modern era (such as between the Huguenots and the Catholics in France). Confessionalism in Lebanon is a reflection of modernity; it is a contemporary history. It is neither a profound identity nor a tradition; it is a reflection of the contradictions within capitalism and fundamentally, a distorted expression of the class struggle.
The impact of the Civil War
Such distorted class contradictions were still present at the beginning of the Civil War in 1975 when, for example, 40 percent of the highest government officials were Maronites, and 27 percent were Sunni Muslims, whereas only 3.2 percent were Shia Muslims.
This was not an independent political and administrative feature:, but a reflection of the economic power within Lebanese society. To grasp this is essential to understand both the Civil War and the post-war period, as well as the nature of the political forces that run the Lebanese society. Some of them predate the war, while others, which have more influence today, are mainly the products of the Civil War (its impact on the economy and politics) and the inequalities of wealth within all communities. There is no need to see the Civil War in Lebanon as a denominational or sectarian conflict. As in 1860, it was both the expression of a distorted class antagonism and the synthesis of the contradictions stemming from a destabilisation of the region (as a result of the expansion of international and regional imperialist powers in Middle East).
Before the war, the government and the ruling elite were challenged by a secular nationalist movement, Al-Hakarat al-Wataniyah. The movement was mainly composed of communist and far-left parties, alongside Arab nationalist parties allied with sections of the bourgeoisie, such as Kamal Jumblatt. These forces were influenced politically by the Arab nationalist movement, especially the Palestinian revolution and the Nasserite movement in Egypt. However, whether in power or allied with the left, the bourgeoisie did not hesitate to use the confessionalism as the main weapon to counter any class demands, and shield itself from the threat posed by workers in struggle. Throughout the civil war, the regional imperialist powers (Syria, Israel) and international powers (United States, France) came to the aid of the Lebanese ruling class: for the imperialists the decisive question was to destroy the resistance movements (especially Palestinian and Lebanese) rather than bail out the local ruling classes in its struggle against the workers’ movement.
This war destroyed the country’s economy. It was replaced by the so-called ‘militia economy’, that is based on the sequestration of resources by militias, the submission of economic objectives to their particular interests, and the collection ‘protection taxes’ (a system for collecting money from families in each zone controlled by a militia). The militias maintained permanent trade relations among themselves, as none of them could achieve economic independence in the areas under their control. This militia eceonomy could only survive through international financial and military assistance. During the final years of the civil war (the 1980s), a militia war against the population replaced inter-community violence.
This greatly reduced the popularity of the militias while driving large sections of the population into poverty and emigration. Following the 1982 Israeli invasion new political forces emmerged, aong them Hezbollah, the Aouniste movement (linked to Michel Aoun), the Amal movement (linked to the Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri) and the Lebanese Forces (originally called the Phalangists) launched by Bashir Gemayel in 1976. Only the last two were included in the Taif Agreement which led to the end of the conflict in 1990.
Distorted Class struggle
In general, the Civil War replaced the heterogeneity of wealth and political power between the different faiths with a more balanced representation in parliament and in the administrative structures of the state. At the same time, it allowed the bourgeoisies of the different faiths to use the state as a means of financing their power. By using the country’s economic resources for their own community, they succeeded in creating a relationship of economic dependence between the workers and the bourgeois leaders within each denomination. But, subjecting the population (especially the working class) to a total economic dependence its denominational leadership is not an easy task. The growth of the population and the dynamic of urbanisation (the majority of the population has migrated to cities) is eroding this relationship. Moreover, since the turn neoliberalism in the 1990s, large sections of the working class of different faiths are mixing in workplaces and in the suburbs. Normalizing life together has revealed common class interests.
Thus, class antagonism is more and more displacing interfaith hostility. Between 2000 and 2005 witnessed a steady decline in confessionalism and a stronger adherence to union struggles. This popular feeling is expressed in common phrases such as “the problem is politicians” or “when leaders disagree they use us in their wars and when they agree, they agree to make war on us”. More recently a popular song expresses this sentiment with the line, “the leaders have left the country, now we can live in peace”.
While it is always important to take into account the inequality in the distribution of wealth between communities and the respective economic dependencies, it is necessary to look at the overall picture of class antagonisms in Lebanese society outside of denominational affiliations. Many confessionalism propagandists present the May 2008 conflict between Shia and Sunni Muslims of as a reflection of community hatreds interlaced by political conflict between Hezbollah and the ruling coalition dominated by Saad Hariri. However, these people are unable to explain why many Sunnis in the southern town of Saida supported Hezbollah over Hariri.
To understand this we must observe the economic dependencies that exists within the Sunni community. Hariri, as head of the richest capitalist family in Lebanon, has succeeded in creating important relations of economic dependence of Sunni workers to his businesses and economic investments. He achieved this by primarily employing poor Sunnis that creates a relationship of confessional dependency for their basic livelihood. Through this system Hariri nurtures popular political support for his own interests. Although these conditions exist on a large scale in Beirut and northern Lebanon, they are less marked in Saida.
If these relationships of dependency exist in each of the communities in Lebanon, they do not have the same weight. The Shia bourgeoisie is mainly established in the sectors such as property and trade which provide few if any opportunities for employment. Shia workers therefore have to find work in areas dominated by the Christian or Sunni bourgeoisie. At the same time, the falling birthrate (that begins in the 1860s with urbanisation) has resulted in Christian community becoming a demographic minority. As a result, the oldest and most established Christian bourgeoisie began to employ workers from the Shia community, especially in Beirut (tourism and the food industry) and in the Bekaa (agriculture and power generation). Although not all Christian industries are confessionaly mixed, the proportion is much greater than in the Sunni-controlled sectors.
At the same time, political parties have established a certain degree of social and political dependence for themselves. Hezbollah, for example, has built a major network of social solidarity inside the Shia community (both in the southern suburbs of Beirut and in southern Lebanon) during the 1980s and 1990s. While the nature of these structures have changed in recent years (now mainly servicing the middle classes), it remains true that this social network, as well as the effectiveness of the resistance that Hezbollah built against Israeli aggression in southern Lebanon (which is mostly Shia), have increased popular support for its policies.
Partial community economic integration and the development of class antagonisms associated with declining purchasing power for the majority of the population (more than 30 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and 60 percent of Lebanese families do not have enough income to to see out the month) brought back to the fore the contradictions of class.
Class and Confessionalism
Class antagonism between the ruling class and the workers results in concrete struggles within the working class. That’s why many analysts are confused about Lebanon: They describe this distorted class struggle as a civil conflict based on community hatred when in reality unequal class contradictions are the main engine of the the clashes.
If the Lebanese society was simply characterised by denominational division then union struggles should not exist since, even in the Lebanese context, these are secular and economic in nature. Moreover, the elite strongly insist that trade unions and politics should not be linked. Indeed, they are afraid that the non-denominational aspect of this fight will spread to the political arena and threaten their control over society.
The Lebanese political reality is dominated by an incessant conflict between a direct class struggle (trade unions, revolutionary organisations and the Communist Party) and a distorted class struggle characterised by confessionalism (championed by the ruling class).
Here are several examples of this conflict. In 2004 a general strike was called by the trade unions and popular demonstrations spread throughout the country. Christian and Muslim workers marched side by side to protest against rising cost of living. The country was paralysed: demonstrations took place almost everywhere. The major parties declared their support for the strike in an attempt to take control over it and prevent it from spreading. After a while the union bureaucracy, under the pressure of the elite, wanted to stop the strike. But workers (especially in the transport sector) called for further action. The union branches withdrew from the strike, thus allowing the army to intervene.
The strikers gathered in the Hay-El Sellom, one of the poorest Shia neighborhoods in the southern suburbs of Beirut. The Army opened fire on the demonstrators killing five workers and injuring dozens. Quickly the media began to portray the strike as a “barbaric attempt by Shia Muslims to attack the army.” The main parties (including Shia parties such as Amal and Hezbollah) supported the army decalring: “The army is the red line”. The combination of the overwhelming propaganda machine and the retreat of progressive forces (unions and Communist Party) led to the deviation of class politics into confessional rhetoric.
In May 2006, the teachers’ union called for a protest against the precariousness of work. A quarter of a million workers and poor people mobilised forcing the government to backdown, at the same time the ruling class began attacking the movement, claiming it was mostly Shias and that infiltrated by “Syrian workers! (There is significant numbers of poor Syrians who work in Lebanon which allows sections of the ruling class to conflate into anti-Syrian racism with criticism of the Syrian regime’s interference in Lebanon.) They claimed that the protest was not a demonstration of workers but an attempt at a coup d’état planned by the Shia Muslims. In reality the workers present at the event came from different sectors. Christians and Muslims marched side by side, because they were opposed to the precariousness of the work and hated the government. Numerous banners declared, “We are neither Christians nor Muslims, we are poor” or “the piece of bread has no religion”. In this event it was felt that denominational divisions were false propaganda and that ordinary people were not afraid to show their unity in the struggle. This made it possible to see that the ratio of forces is not sectarian but of a class nature.
Hezbollah, class and resistance
In January 2007, a few months after the Israeli aggression of July 2006, Hezbollah and its allies (such as the Aounistes, the dominant Christian party) called for a general strike. What began as a bureaucratic strike, quickly turned into a popular uprising. A Hezbollah official, overwhelmed by the events, said: “What was planned as a normal strike, became an Intifada”. Hezbollah and its allies quickly called for the end of the strike, lest the street movement be oriented according to its own interests. Ironically, the pretext given to stop the strike was that it “created sectarian tensions”!
This clearly shows that although Hezbollah is the force of opposition to occupation and the most influential and strongest opposition to imperialism, it retreats before any class struggle for fear of losing its control over the Shia community. In response to the trade union demonstrations of March and April 2008, Hassan Nasrallah declared: “We will not hide behind a piece of bread”, echoing his organisation’s refusal to respond to the economic demands of the population.
Another example of the contradictions within Hezbollah’s policy were exposed by the riots against blackouts in the southern suburbs of Beirut. These were violently suppressed by the army that killed at least fifteen people and wounded hundreds. Hezbollah’s response was to call for a halt to the fight and ship in private generators. Basically, Hezbollah administered a shot of morphine to calm the masses.
In May 2008, Hezbollah inflicted a defeat on government militias in West Beirut in what can be characterised as a surgical security operation. However, this operation prevented the mass demonstration planned by the Trade Union Confederation from taking place, substituting the action of masses with that of armed groups. Although it inflicted a setback for the government, as well as destroying some of the ambitions US imperialism had for Lebanon at the time, it also curtailed the mass movement by forcing everyone to stay at home.
These contradictions are growing within Hezbollah all the more quickly as it has become the largest political party in the country and also because, especially since 2005, Hezbollah’s leadership is struggling to find a place among the ruling class. The contradictions are developing among the combatants, because it is the same workers who are confronted with economic policies (approved by the Hezbollah leadership) who are fighting the Israeli army in southern Lebanon. Nasrallah called the July War “a victory of God.” But in reality it was a victory achieved by ordinary people, workers and students, those who took up arms against the Israeli tanks and who brought aid to the displaced families.
This is the real face of resistance in Lebanon: that of workers and students fighting against imperialism and, at the same time, taking strike action and demonstrating for better pay and better living conditions. As Marx wrote in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte:
“Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.”
The fight against confessionalism in Lebanon is not one that takes place essentially at the level of ideas. It is not a struggle for a more tolerant society. It is a class struggle, both a fight against the dominant ideas and a struggle of the oppressed against the oppressors. This struggle cannot be waged by the bourgeoisie, on the contrary, it can only be waged in opposition to the bourgeoisie. This is where the centrality of the working class is no longer simply a theoretical question.
Indeed, the only line of defense of the Lebanese people against sectarian divisions and the brutal attacks of the ruling class is the unity of our class. We know that ideas survive in history beyond the material conditions that gave birth to them, and although some of the material conditions that gave rise to the confessionalism have disappeared, it continues to be an obstacle to emancipation. The class struggle is at the heart of our fight: It is the only way to destroy the confessionalism in Lebanon.
Class Struggle is the Basis of Change
Al-Yasari, November 2007
Whenever we talk about change, someone always steps up to defend “the reality” of our current predicament, beginning with explanations, presentations and analysis. “The truth is that we cannot reform or change the society in which we live”, they say. Then they express their anger and discontent with “the people”, because they are only interested in “minor” matters and do not care about their interests or the interests of “the country.”
To hear this talk among many leftists and communists is exhausting in itself, but at the same time they use it to justify their submission and defeat. One leftist veteran told an international conference recently, “People only want bread and salt and forget the basic issues.” But I always thought that the issue is bread and salt? Is not this the demand of the workers and peoples of the world who want a better life and a better future?
The two sides of the same coin
It is strange that the left in these times is known as either an appendage to power or as an adjunct to the system. Both the Democratic Left and the Lebanese Communist Party are clearly seeking a process of change through the system, one joining the forces of power and the other waiting to enter power in some way. What is clear is that the Lebanese left has lost hope in the street and the working class, and has decided to achieve social justice and democracy through the system itself, that is, through a direct and ideological alliance with the ruling class.
When it comes to their views on the process of change, the Communist Party and the Democratic Left are two sides of the same coin. Both see change as the imposition of a new and better life through the current system. They either openly or implicitly agree that the street has lost its ability to change or is unable to realise its interests, so they have to play this role on its behalf. For both parties, elections are the direct means for achieving legitimate change. The revolution becomes both in content and form a law-abiding process that adheres to the regime and its structure. If one wanted to prove this approach, one only has to read the statements or listen to the speeches.
Ziad Majed, former deputy secretary of the Democratic Left, summerized the attitude of the party thus:
“Even if we can not achieve a secular state, there are goals we can pursue, we can achieve a non-sectarian parliament, we can work to establish standards to ensure the independence of the judiciary, we can work on decentralisation.”
While the Communist Party announced:
“Our party calls on all Lebanese youth, all its workers, cadres, intellectuals and artists to engage in activities that press the government to accelerate its departure. The opposition must correct its program in two complementary directions: In the region and Lebanon, and to formulate a program for democratic reform that will save the Lebanese people from crises and threats.”(Statement on 26 January 2007)
The Democratic Left highlights the importance of building the state and restoring its right to monopolize violence and impose order. The Communist Party continues to call for a “democratic national” rule, a system of a national bourgeoisie and a democracy at the same time, that is a parliamentary system, but one that requires the bourgeoisie to be non-sectarian. Both parties view the process of change as an administrative path within the system itself. The former sees the possibility of a gradual process of democratic reform, starting with as little as possible. The latter contends that the opposition must take over the government after the overthrow of the current government and then implement a “democratic reform project”.
Neither sees any role for the working class that imposes its demands, but rather as a proponent of one bourgeois party over another, the party whose interests “intersect” with that of the working class. This is clearly reflected in the political discourse. The Communist Party highlights the concept of “saving the people,” while the Democratic Left seeks appeasement with the ruling regime.
The problem is that both hinder the building of a movement of the working class. They view the Lebanese capitalist system as a “distorted” form of capitalism that must be “corrected”. The role of the left is relegated helping to raise awareness among the national bourgeoisie about the importance of abolishing the sectarian system so that the left can then develop the class struggle which, as we know, aims to destroy the bourgeoisie!
The limits of modernity
Here lies the basis of the error in this approach, the belief that modernity and the concept of a modern state necessitate the abolition of the sectarian system. They contend that class struggle can only become feasible after the modern state has been built, because this state requires that everyone to be citizens without sectarian discrimination.
In the words of Ziad Majid about Samir Kassir (one of the intellectuals of the Democratic Left), Majid says:
“He was concerned with the issue of the renaissance in the Arab world with two ideas … the rejection of tyranny in the quest to reconcile our societies with modernity, and the establishment freedom, citizenship, diversity, secularisation and the enlightenment of the French Revolution.”
The Communist Party’s Karim Marwa writes:
“It is the objective need to ensure social order, but on the condition that it is fully transformed into a modern democratic state, a state of institutions and laws.” (Marwa, Karim, The Eve Of The Fall Of The Empire, Questions About Our Position In The World Of Tomorrow, Dar Al-Farabi, Beirut, Lebanon, First Edition, 2003, p. 44)
But the sectarian regimes such as Lebanon, Ireland, Palestine and Iraq were not created in the pre-modern era, but the result of the expansion of the modernist trend in its colonial and imperial form. In Ireland the example is clear, sectarianism is the result of direct policies of British imperialist control and the systematic division of Catholics and Protestants. The British Empire imposed a Protestant state on northern Ireland. The sectarian strife arose as a direct response to the attempt to impose a unified identity on a society with multiple identities. As Irish socialist Eamonn McCann explains, “The sectarian state of Ireland was founded by the imposition of modernity and capitalism on society”.
Palestine is a living example of this. The British and Americans imposed the “modern Israeli state” on the Palestinians, which produced the racist regime. The effects of this “modernisation” is the cruel reality for millions of Palestinians. In Iraq, the first actor in the creation of the Iraqi state was the Soviet Union, in the form of the modern one-party state. This was followed by the Americans, in the form the modern sectarian state.
If the goal of the left is the creation of “modernity”, then all should remain as it is. Today we live in an age of modernity, we do not lag behind it. The abolition of racial and sectarian discrimination cannot be achieved through the bourgeois class, because these divisions serves its interests. As Tony Cliff explains in Marxism in the New Millennium:
Inequality, exploitation and repression remain as long as there is a minority that controls wealth, and without the common ownership of means of production, there will be a gap between the poor and the rich, and because of competition for work, housing and education, there will remain inequality in the working class itself, fertile conditions the rise of racism and sectarian and sexual discrimination.
It is impossible to build a society that represents the interests of the working class without this class being the one who adopts it and imposes it through its direct struggle against the bourgeoisie. This has been proven time and again in history. Any attempt to assign or “liberate” the working class through the bourgeois class or the imposition of the modern state delays the crystallization of the class struggle. Marx was clear on this when he wrote, “The emancipation of the working class is the act of the working class.”
Any process of change must begin by amplifying the class struggle to drown out those that preach discrimination. This process begins with the recognition that we are divided by class inside a capitalist system. Therefore, the class struggle exists, and sectarianism, racism and sexual discrimination are at the heart of the capitalist system and among the characteristics of the modern state, it is not a mistake in its formation that can be corrected.
You cannot get rid of the pain without getting rid of the disease. Class struggle is the basis of any process of change, not appeasing the national bourgeoisie or building of a modern state, and the attempt to reform modernity or achieve a reconciliation with it will keep things as they are. Reform is a means of weakening the regime and imposing laws that are not in line with its interests. At any subsequent opportunity, the regime will abolish these reforms, as is happening today in industrialised countries. Reforms are granted by the bourgeoisie when forced to, not because they have pity on the working class.
Leftists, socialists, and Communists see reform as a means of fuelling class struggle and building the working class movement against capitalism and the bourgeois state in their quest to build a socialist system. Reform is not a bridge to socialism, it is not a precondition for class struggle, but a consequence of it.
The working class rises
The bourgeoisie in Lebanon, as in all the Arab region and neighbouring countries, cannot and will not be the pioneers of change, and it is unable to suppress the class struggle for much longer. According to the International Labour Organisation, “At 13.2 per cent the Middle East and North Africa region remains the region with the highest unemployment rate in the world.”
The voice of the class struggle is rising daily in all the countries of the region, and it is seriously present. And the media and the politicians are absent, we hear it in the voices of local workers and immigrants in the Arabian Peninsula, which demands the increase of salaries and other matters (the class struggle is a reality that is crystallized by the increasing labour movement, Heba Abani No. 8), labour strikes in Egypt and protests in Iran …
“Over six months, the number of workers who have been unemployed has raised demands and managed to implement more than 200,000 workers, a huge figure in a country governed by the Emergency Law for more than a quarter of a century. The labour law restricts the right to strike, (Mustafa al-Bassiouni, Workers’ Strikes in Egypt: A New Phase of the Labour Movement, No. 9).
All this indicates the rise of the class struggle in the general political arena in the region, especially in the case of rising prices, increasing rates of poverty and unemployment, and the rates of exploitation and the obvious lack of purchasing power. The intensity of the class struggle will accelerate, and its political form will be either in riots, as happened in France in 2006 and in Lebanon in 2004 in the neighbourhood of Salm and 2006 in Tabaris. Or in an orderly manner depends on the existence of labour and trade union movement. It is the absence of movement that causes riots to emerge as the only outlet for the expression of class struggle.
Today we live in Lebanon, a state of silence before the storm, and on the left to build itself to keep pace with the upcoming battles. It must keep the pulse of the class struggle vigilant, illuminate the current class contradictions, and win the trust of the working class again. It must cope with the organized and unregulated trade union struggle in order to be able to meet it. It should be concentrated within the movement of the working class and not as its guardian. It must provide the means that the working class needs to express its interests, from publications, sit-ins and statements. This role is not a technical role, it is a direct involvement in class struggle, a process of building the movement from within the working class and not from outside.
Today, the picture may seem bleak, but at precisely these times we have to build and organize wherever we are, in the workplace, in universities, in trade unions. We must establish a political and trade union discourse for the coming period through the daily details of the class struggle (high prices, racial discrimination, police state …), common trade union issues (raising the minimum wage, employment contract, privatization …) General about system change.
This process is the way to destroy the sectarian system, racist laws and laws that call for sexual discrimination. The issue here is to break down the sectarian order and abolish it, not to appease it or to wait for its “decay.” The regime is not going to leap into the abyss, we have to push it.
Towards a revolutionary labour movement
Al-Yasari, February 2008
“We are not going to hide behind the loaf of bread, these things belong to the unions.” (Secretary General of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah in a speech on the tenth day of Ashura on 19 January 2008)
They will not “hide behind the loaf of bread”. There are more important things to do. The loaf is secondary to ministerial portfolios and to the formation of the next government, the loaf is secondary to the presidential vacuum. Perhaps Mr Hassan Nasrallah should listen to the warning isuued by one of the bourgeois members of the Egyptian People’s Assembly in 1942:
We have stood on this podium before and warned the government of the danger of hunger, and it has been ratified by those who said that hunger is an infidel who knows no compromise and has no refinement. History teaches us that hunger was the cause of many revolutions, history tells us that the revolutionary people in one of Europe’s largest provinces cried out one day from the heart, “We want bread.” We heard similar cries in the same tone before the end of Eid al-Adwa in the streets of Cairo, issued from the mouths of the hungry as they attack bread carts in order to get food. (Egyptian Gazette January 6, 1942).
As the Egyptian spokesman said, “hunger is an infidel” and will not distinguish between a presidential chair and a ministerial portfolio and will not distinguish between political rights and the desire to participate in the government. The Lebanese opposition has long imagined that the popular majority is loyal to hem. Today it fails to represent the interests and concerns of the people, hiding instead behind the “vacuum” and the political crisis. It paints hunger in bright colours, soften it and pose it as a casual question, and sacrifice it to the “most important” questions about the homeland and partnership in government!
The opposition is too important to look at the lives of the majority of the people, it matters more than the cries of a hungry child; more important than looking in the eyes of a woman who has lost all her family in order to liberate the country. The opposition wants a partnership with those who carry out American policy in Lebanon, with those who have dined with Condoleezza Rice while American and Israeli planes were bombing and killing thousands. They want a partnership with His Highness the Great Satan!
Without going into too detailed a discussion, if the opposition proclaims that pro-government forces are puppets of the United States, why would they want a partnership with them? Why does the resistance want to work hand-in-hand with the US client? The reason is simple, because it does not want to face the people when the people are angry. It understands that a ruling class must unite in the face of popular anger, and not stand divided in front of it. The coming days may be difficult for both sides. Both are losing control of the street, and the protests of the southern suburbs against power outages are the first signs of what is to come.
In any case they all want “national unity” and a “strong state” with “strong security” and to participate in government! I hear these slogans, and the thunderclouds gather over my head. Why do they not share their riches with us? Why is popular participation in politics limited, and why does the this very idea vanish when it comes to earning a living? Why do they divide the street between opposition and loyalists, and not between rich and poor, exploiter and exploited? Are not we entitled to live? Or is this country built for them alone. Are we not entitled to a share? When Mr Hassan addressed these words to the masses, was he hungry?
The opposition says that the presidential vacuum and the political crisis are the reason for the deterioration of society and the economy. But they still have jobs, they have enough money to see out the month without having to beg. They stay at the Phoenicia Hotel for $320 a night, equivalent to 160 percent of the monthly minimum wage, while a week’s stay is the equivalent of one worker’s income for the year. One-third of the Lebanese people earn less than $200 a month. Twenty deputies, who live in Venice [upmarket area of Beirut], pay the equivalent of the monthly income of 56 families. This is if we assume they did not rent the royal suite.
The crisis is not the political and constitutional vacuum, but with the few people who control the lives of millions. Capitalism deprives us of our right to a decent life.When the cries of pain turn into painful blows, and we only have stones left in our hands, will we throw them at each other or at the robbers, looters and murderers who threaten our lives?
The question is simple, and must be answered today. If we are Christians, Muslims, or any sect for that matter, it is a certain fact that we all suffer. We are all vengeful on a reality that transcends the limits of tolerance and patience. Today, only the bourgeois leaders differentiate us. The main difference in the country is between them and us, they are the owners of palaces and luxury cars and we are the owners of empty pockets. The “vacume” can be filled with our struggle for a better life, with demonstrations, movements and strikes and the struggle against poverty and injustice. It can become permanent through the triumph of the working class over the system of exploitation.
Many people say that this will not work, and justify it by arguing that the working class is incapable of confrontation and is disunited, and that workers are not aware of their ability to make changes. But the working class achieves and builds its own power and self-awareness through the struggle. As Marx wrote, “The emancipation of the working class is the act of the working class”.
In addition, the projects that worked on the creation of the national [patriotic] bourgeoisie all ended up beating, destroying and dividing the working class. Is not it time to turn to the working class, which today comprises about 70 percent of the people while the bourgeois class comprises only 5 percent of the Lebanese? In comparison with the 1970s, the working class comprised 63 percent of the people and the bourgeois class about 8 percent; we see clearly that class dissonance is increasing and that national capital is being concentrated more and more in the hands of a few people.
Today, after the July War and rising prices, we must conclude that there will be a decline in the middle class, a class that is slowly dissolving, and so doing increase class contradictions. Let us not repeat many of the statistics you will find in newspapers, as well as in previous issues, and in this issue of Al-Yasari.
The growing class distinctions foreshadow material conditions for revolution, and we can only revolt or triumph over bourgeois reaction or enter into civil violence or riots. A retreat here is a defeat that will crush us. If we leave it to this bourgeois class, it will lead us to the abyss.
The situation in Lebanon is not far from the situation in the region as a whole. We can clearly see the reality of other Arab bourgeoisies and their contradiction with the realities of the peoples of the region. From Egypt and Saudi Arabia to Jordan, Iraq and Iran, to Lebanon, Palestine and Syria, we see the similar behaviour of the national bourgeoisie. All of them seek to build alliances with imperialism or carry out all imperialist orders to appease them.
From Mahmoud Abbas, the spoiled child of the White House and the European Union, Hosni Mubarak the stubborn policeman of US policies and the Jordanian king, who is almost the official spokesman for imperialism. This census may be sufficient, but under the pretext of fairness, everyone must be mentioned; the Saudi king is the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques; he is the servant of the American killing machine; the Iraqi authority is built on the remains of innocent people and destroyed homes.
As for the countries that comprise the arc of resistance, what do we find? They crush freedoms and the chance of a decent life. Bashar al-Assad devours the pockets of the poor and builds his glory on their oppression. In Iran, the ruling power is the “resistance” that beat and suppress workers and student when they hold demonstrations.
As we know well, all of them are the owners of money and property, no one is ignorant of the expenses of the Saudi royal family. The family’s wealth is estimated at about $1 trillion, distributed among no more than 7,000 family members, while 30 percent of Saudis are unemployed. In Egypt, more than 43 percent of people live below the poverty line, while Mubarak owns many palaces. The situation is repeated throughout the region. But popular uprisings have begun, in Egypt, the Gulf, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Day after day, the number of strikes are growing in protest against the bitter reality of life. But this uprising needs support, and has to build itself as a movement for change across the region.
Here the revolutionary left has an important role in fuelling this revolutionary movement and immersing itself into the local and regional political scene. This movement will not come running to the left, but the revolutionary left must build the confidence of the working class through conflict and confrontation.
The Communist parties in the region have been, and are still adhering to their policies that protect and defend the bourgeois class. For example, a few days ago, one of the Communists spoke about the socioeconomic situation by declaring: “We have to wait until we have a strong state.” On the basis of this approach, the secretary-general of the Lebanese Communist Party, Khaled Haddadah, demands the formation of “a government of national salvation.” In the face of division within the national bourgeois class (between opposition and loyalists), the Lebanese Communist Party views the solution as the unification of the national bourgeoisie. But let’s not hurt the party too much. It has already gone through the socio-economic situation and put forward a solution: The establishment of the “Economic and Social Council”.
The solution to the growing class strife in Lebanon lies in rethinking the role of the state in governing the relations between workers and employers. For the Communist Party the state is not an instrument of bourgeois power, but rather a neutral party standing above the process of class struggle. This approach is not new to the party, it is the same Stalinist approach the party adopted since the 1940s. As long as there is an imperial threat, the first national duty is national unity while class interests are reduced to secondary role.
Some may think that the criticism of the Communist Party is premature or that it falls within the framework of distinguishing the essential elements of a movement for change in Lebanon. However, the establishment and building of a movement requires first that there be a conviction of our ability to change. But the Communist Party is failing every time the test of initiative and escalation in the class struggle. It begins by giving advice to the bourgeois class on how to manage the country and bury the class contradictions.
But the conditions life today does not allow us to compromise with the ruling class or to beg for it. The authority’s response to the demand for an increase in the minimum wage was that it is “impossible” as it would scare away investments. They are ready to make us work as slaves, but only to increase foreign capital, so that they can exploit us to the maximum degree and produce the highest rates of profits.
Who said that the state serves the people? The state is no more than a tool for the bourgeois class to impose its control over the working class. Today, it has been armed and equipped by imperialism with the latest weapons in order to defend itself. To shield this class from taxes and price rises so that it can remain indifferent to the conditions of the people. Today the first word is spoken by the street, not in the context of bargaining or humility, but in the context of confrontation and struggle. This must be the beginning of a serious and direct labour struggle against government policies and against this bourgeoisie that has been on our shoulders for decades.
If we retreat today, they could use the “political solution” as a tool for repression, and that the opposition and loyalists agree to silence us all, or use us as tools to settle their accounts. The national bourgeoisie has never, and will never lead, a liberation project for the popular good, it will continue with the same economic and political approach that seeks to weaken us. It would have been better for Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement to support the protest movements on the question of electricity, and raise the issue in the other suburbs of Beirut. But they are afraid the movement will slip out of their control, and the street give rise to leaders that represent the people instead.
We must provide full support and engage in labour movements, and work through them to organise a movement that seeks to change and impose itself on the political scene, not go begging to the bourgeoisie. It is wrong to paper over the class divide, it must be highlighted more and more in order to subject the political conflict to the interest of people.
Towards a united front of the left
Al-Yasari, January 2007
Many see the basis of the crisis in Lebanon as the division between the forces of power and the opposition, traditionally classified in a simplified way as ‘sectarian division and the struggle for power’. The dilemma is not that these divisions exist, but why do they lead to a crisis? This crisis is not a disagreement over how the country is managed, but rather a crisis of the system itself created by its inability to manage the political conflict, never mind absorbing the political, social and economic changes that are taking place in the country.
The Lebanese regime, or to be accurate, the sectarian system, is a vicious circle that generates only crises. The existing system is incapable, either through successive election laws or through dialogue, to produce a political majority that can lead the country. It is governed by sectarianism that requires either consensus or crisis.
Every democratic system must be based on objective conditions, not on immediate, unstable realities. Sectarian divisions and sectarian demographics are changing rapidly. In Lebanon, instead of ensuring that the political system has options on how to manage itself, we see it fall for choices and dynamics that are not commensurate with the social, political and economic realities, so its effectiveness is limited.
We live in the contradiction between the existing sectarian order and the current socio-political reality. We have a historic opportunity to rid ourselves of this regime forever and to replace it with a genuine democratic system that suits the needs of society and the requirements for a better life. Reality has changed, and this system has become a major obstacle to the development of society.
What has changed at the social, economic and political level?
Before the Civil War, there was a “political Maronism”, that is the Maronite community had the monopoly of the country’s political leadership and with it a protectionist economic system. The state was particularly supportive of this set-up. But the war destroyed the structural foundations of that regime. Militias and armed gangs became established as the main force in the management of society. The economy and its productive sectors suffered a painful blow that forced it to reorganise itself after the war.
Today the majority of Maronites, Sunnis, and Shias belong to the working class. The situation is consistent with the classical Marxist definition: “the capitalist system produces its own grave digger”, that is to say, it produces a working class with a clear majority in society, regardless of its sectarian division, whose interests are in conflict with the interests of the system itself and the ruling class it represents.
This change necessitates that the historical and economic foundations of the sectarian system are over. The fundamental division is one of class and politics. Although this is not what some of the leftists or Marxists say, it is the analysis accepted by the institutions of global capitalism.
The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) reported in 2002 that 39 percent of the population owned 13.4 percent of GDP, while 14 percent control 43 percent of GDP. Less than 1 percent account holders (762 people) in the banking sector control 50.5 percent of wealth, estimated at $16 billion, while 47 percent of the population share 2.3 percent of the total wealth. This proves that Lebanon does not need financial resources but a fair distribution of wealth and a distribution of productive capabilities.
According to Marianne El Khoury of the World Bank, “Lebanon is characterized by extremely low levels of social mobility (similar to the levels of the most unequal Latin American countries) and that there are substantial differences in social mobility across income and religious groups.” It notes that social mobility is higher among the Shia and Maronite communities, and lowest among Sunni Muslims (excluding Palestinian refugees). The report adds: “The low social mobility of the Muslim Sunni group is mostly explained by the behaviour of the middle and upper class of this group.” 
The differences between wealth are much greater than the differences in income, which means that the class struggle in Lebanon is blatantly present. In a report on poverty in Lebanon, the World Bank says that the purchasing power of the nuclear family in Lebanon at the end of the last decade has fallen by about 30 percent, meaning that the average Lebanese family earns enough money to survive the first three weeks of the month. Another study found that 80 percent of the wealthiest people in Lebanon do not work at all, but live on the benefit of their accumulated wealth. They are the masters of the sectarian system, but they evade their social and economic consequences.
What are the roots of the current division?
In light of this, we can see that the division in the Lebanese street goes beyond the dispute between the government and the opposition. The main fuel for this conflict is class, but it is distorted by the sectarian system and the inability of the conflicting parties to steer the conflict away from socio-economic questions.
The present division has not yet turned the sects against each other. We see a division within each sect as a political one -— they belong to either the opposition or the government. The populist discourse of the opposition attracts the majority of Maronites and Shias, which is the result of the relatively high proportion of social mobility (as we mentioned earlier), compared to the low mobility among the Sunni community. Social mobility is a fundamental sign of the ability to measure the socio-economic reality as well as the aspiration for a better life.
The fuel of the current division is the product of a class struggle that shifts from a clash within the ruling class to a social and economic conflict against government policies. But the opposition is reducing the problem as if it were an administrative one, and considers the current government as not competent in delivering economic reform. This is evident in Aoun’s speech, but it is clear with Hezbollah as well. Their problem with the current authority is that it monopolises the government and does not share it. They view the crisis as administrative, not one of the system, the economy or society.
The governing parties are still searching for Syrian-Iranian conspiracies, while the main concern in the street is how to make a living and improve the economic conditions of the people. The March 14 Forces, unable to cope with the daily developments of the street and society, lost control, allowing the opposition to become the main conduit for popular discontent.
What are the aims of the opposition coalition and is it a real movement for change?
We must begin with the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and Hezbollah, and perhaps it is the basis for the emergence of the current opposition. This understanding is more responsive to current reality, not a voluntary political choice that imposes itself. It is an alliance between two relatively new parties on the Lebanese scene, both in the organisational and political aspects, both mass parties with a huge base and with their constituents, compared to the March 14 Forces, which small parties dependent on the leader’s patronage. While the Free Patriotic Movement and Hezbollah, although they have some “leadership”, do not rely on leadership as a basis for the political line.
The material conditions of the political conflict in Lebanon produced two forms of political organisation, one old or traditional, the other more renewed. This does not mean that the style of Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement is progressive, but more progressive than the dominant political forces.
The opposition clashes with the fact that the SPLM it produces is faster, on the ground, than the political discourse it is committed to. We see this clearly, especially in the period between the first days of the open sit-in in the centre of the Ballad [central Beirut] and the general strike, where the opposition supporters called on its leaders to move quickly to overthrow the government and get rid of “the enemy of the people Fouad Siniora,” at the same time as the leadership called for the formation of a national unity government without specifying any alternative economic plan. On the contrary, the opposition leaders agree with the government’s economic policies. Even in this period, there are many among the opposition cadres expressing frustration with the lack of urgency and seriousness in the confrontation with the forces of power.
What next after the general strike?
The general strike came, and the perception of the leaders of the opposition was to pressure the position of Siniora in Paris III and not to withdraw from the conference. But they were surprised by the force of the strike and its extensive spread across the country. They were also surprised by the escalation in which the street was heading in terms of direct conflict.
This proves again that the street is more advanced in the conflict than its leaders, and this threatens the opposition leadership if the street escapes their control. So we see the intensity of the organisation to control the SPLM. But the movement has proved more and more that it is the more powerful than the leaders themselves. What began as a general blow to the congestion almost turned into a popular uprising that may produce self-regulatory ability that is difficult for the opposition to control.
Here is the contradiction that we have talked about in the previous issues of the publication about the Progressive Alliance, itself, between Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement and the political leadership of this alliance, which contrasts with the reality produced by such an alliance or convergences.
Who is responsible for the recent confrontations?
Both the opposition and the Authority have demonstrated their inability to manage the current political conflict, thus emptying the arena of their political content and turning more and more to sectarian strife.
The survival of the political conflict in its political framework depends on the existence of the popular centre, that is, there is an audience swayed by a political speech, not because of its commitment to organize the party, but because it raises questions that the political parties need to answer. When the battle is confined to factional charges beyond the political conflict, the conflict between the parties itself is limited and the centre is marginalised, that is, the mass majority capable of making any change and bringing a party to the leadership without the other parties.
At this stage there is a marked intervention by the religious institutions, imposing “public morals” and threats of isolation within the political conflict, putting the sectarian mould in the middle of the arena and further pushing the marginalization of the political conflict into a class struggle or extinguishing it.
Who bears responsibility for the recent clashes? Here I am not talking about tactical responsibilities in who carried weapons and who did not carry them, but what brought us to this point. Here the opposition has a responsibility not to seize the opportunities for change.
The first opportunity was lost at the beginning of the open sit-in and did not escalate to bring down the government. The second missed opportunity was not to continue the general strike in order to overthrow the government and bring down Paris 3. The delay here means a direct political conflict towards class fighting. Hezbollah’s own organizational structure in its regions has led its followers and opponents to comply in the same way to fight it. Hence, we see the development of the pattern of sectarian purity within the regions.
However, the Authority bears the greatest responsibility for its failure to comply with the public opinion calling for its overthrow. That is, under the pressure of a popular majority it fell into disobedience to direct democracy. How can it maintain public security or its legitimacy in imposing its authority? It tends to impose its authority as a minority in Lebanese society. The issue here is not in numbers, but in the voice of the highest. It was clear that the opponents’ pulse and voice were louder than those of loyalists.
Also, there is the militia style followed by the power parties, which extends back to the organizational form of the civil war. To convince the Authority that it is in the midst of a civil war has encouraged its leaders to comply with forms of gang and militia organization to fight political opponents. This is the most prominent of Geagea, Hariri and Jumblatt.
Historical responsibility is borne by the ruling class and its sectarian system and its pillars of religious institutions that undermine the conflict, from its political status to its class and regional status. We see the Grand Mufti of the Republic threatening everyone who approaches Beirut and declares it to be a Sunni region. On the other hand, the Patriarch demands that “everyone loves each other” and that they preserve the “unity of the Christians”. As if the tendency to avoid the crisis is to preserve the sectarian purity of each sect.
The direct responsibility is borne by the left. With such a split in the ruling class, the left could not afford to get the support of a popular change movement that represented the interests of the underprivileged and the working class in particular. Especially as the discourse on the street is heading towards a more “class” conflict point, that is, determined by living demands.
The problem goes beyond what he did, or has not done, the left in recent days. The street has lost its confidence in the forces of the left for its constant reluctance to take the steps of confrontation in the historical path, and its tendency towards tactical steps that are meant to rid themselves of sectarian reality rather than to confront this reality. Perhaps the most striking sign of this is the failure of the Communist Party to take any escalating steps to inflame class struggle. That is, class struggle is the loudest. If not directly concocted, but it would express a general displeasure and resentment from an economic reality that increases the poor and the rich.
Instead of starting the day-to-day escalation from March 14 until the open sit-in of the opposition and then the general strike pushing the conflict into class struggle, the party resorted more to taking the ethical stance of the sectarian and economic systems. He saw no historical opportunity for the people to produce a better future that would begin to confront the existing regime. Structural and socio-economic.
The Communist Party may say that it has faced this, but the issue is not confrontation for confrontation. It is not a matter of confronting the reality in its entirety in principle. Historical materialism and “Marxist concepts” require us to face reality from its place in the general historical path.
This calls for abandoning the idea of Stalinism and the Leninist style of organization and movement. The production of a movement that responds to reality with its direct political questions and strategic historical questions: what we must do today and what we must build to face tomorrow. Our criticism of the Communist Party is not for the sake of gossip, but for our belief that it is the most prominent leftist force that can make a change in the current political arena and establish a strategic change movement that is starting to influence today.
What do we have to do today?
On the left to organize itself in the framework of a unified front, tolerates the internal intellectual conflict and faces in the general political conflict, but is moving towards transforming the current conflict from the form of the class and the emptiness of political content to the production of class struggle that draws the opposition from the leadership to go to a direct conflict with the existing system.
This does not mean that we have to be in direct conflict against the opposition leaders. We will meet with them, but with their public in a battle to topple the government, and here we must overcome the opposition’s speech towards direct attack on the regime and the elimination of its sectarian structure and its starvation economic path. It protects the rights of people and the rights of workers. We must strive to build a movement that sees it in the interest of society to produce a democratic organizational framework commensurate with its needs, not with ethical needs imposed by religious and sectarian institutions.
On the left today to build itself quickly and produce a network of communication between the public and organizational and start confrontation, not procrastination, because confrontation is the building of people’s confidence in it, not media manoeuvres to justify its position.
The structural division in society today is a class split with a distinction that is distorted by sectarianism and class conflicts. The left has the most prominent role in defining this conflict and pushing it to be the main conflict in the country.
The limits of the opposition are the state, the left’s borders are in the interest of the people and a better future, although this means getting rid of the current state and producing a better organizational framework. It is the fear of sectarian war that leads to war, not the confrontation of the sectarian system that establishes sectarian war.
After the failure of the national project the working class will lead the liberation movement
May Day 2008
The interdependence between what is “local” and “regional or global” is not, as some preach, a political option that can be adopted by a state or a political group. The reality of the intervention in our daily lives as individuals and societies defines the boundries of our economic, social and political reality. The world today is a set of points intertwined in different forms of relations and interests, affected by itself, affecting the form of relations and interests that bind them together, and affected by the change in the form of these relations and interests.
We see this clearly in the simplest of things, in the cost of a loaf of bread, in gasoline price, in the political space and in the impact of funding on social and cultural programs, of migration and housing, the number of jobs, and the determination of the cost and value of labour. Our reality is the result of interaction between the local, regional and global, any separation of these is to deny reality and change nothing. Acknowledging the interconnectedness is the starting point for producing a movement that can influence and change the reality here.
For example, we cannot view the occupation and ethnic cleansing of Palestine as an internal Palestinian matter, because the crimes are the result of the protection enjoyed by the Israel from the international community and their accomplices in the Arab regimes. Nor can we speak of a solution in Iraq as long as the US occupation continues to enjoy the strength and political support of the international community and regimes in the region. Nor can we talk about stability in Lebanon, while is their remains instability across the globe. Some may consider such an analysis as “initiating and encouraging chaos”. But has not chaos today become a reality at all levels? The world system is chaotic par excellence: a system that encourages conflict and competition, rather than building quality of life and equality. We cannot talk about peace, poverty and exploitation if our lives continue to be dominated by relationships that encourage exploitation and war.
If you want to work, you have to compete with thousands of others; if you want to rise in social status, you have to take advantage of many people and workers. We cannot build a better future under the current system that destroys, kills, displaces and impoverishes millions of people to satisfy the needs of capital and its investments. “Raising the minimum wage would frighten off foreign investments,” the government declares, before making proclamations on sovereignty and independence!
The Arab bourgeoisie has always been intertwined with imperialism and cannot separate its domestic ambitions from the interests of regional and global powers. It is not possible to speak of a national liberation process through, or alongside, the national bourgeoisie. The process of liberation from occupation and imperialism is intertwined with the struggle against the national bourgeoisie, which is the handmaiden of imperialism. It functions as imperialism’s local police. Therefore, the struggle for liberation necessitates agiant both.
From this point of view, we cannot consider the workers’ movements in the region as simply actors confined to local stage. Rather, it is driving the growth of direct and popular resistance. The bread crisis in Egypt will cross over to Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, among others. Our response is not to limit the resistance to the national level, but see it as an historic opportunity to build a global movement against capitalism and imperialism. This does not mean abandoning the specifics of the local conflict, but rather strengthening it by makinf common cause with the struggles taking place across the world. This is cannot be done by a national alliance with the bourgeoisie, but through class solidarity that binds all workers in their struggle for liberation.
Those who resist are not the owners of capital sitting in their palaces. They are the ordinary people, the workers, the students and the farmers. They are the ones who built the resistance and are still building it, while facing rising prices and poverty. They march and take strike action and take up arms for the resistance. The demarcation of the bourgeoisie as a natural command of the movement of its core and the majority of its workers and industrious classes is like giving blank ammunition to those who face the occupation.
The reliance on the European experience in building the state as the best means of liberation and freedom is a dependence that has nothing to do with our reality. The European experience itself today is unable to answer many of the questions raised in Europe, the Arab world or across the globe. And the defenders of this experience are waging wars and committing atrocities in the world in the name of democracy and nation building.
Capitalism is the reality of our daily lives, although its forms have changed from place to place. But the core of capitalist relations is the same everywhere, and the re-fabrication of capitalism is nothing more than an attempt to explain that water is water, in other words to reinforce an existing reality. Change begins first by acknowledging reality, and by acknowledging that the bourgeois formulas used to this day are an extension of the system itself. The bourgeoisie and the middle class are indeed a hindrance to peoples’ progress and advancement. The interests of these two classes entrench/stymie the progress of any possible movement for change.
It is the direct and historical interest of the working class to build the movement for change, and the leadership of this movement must be the product of the movement itself, that is leadership of the workers so that democracy becomes popular in everyday practice, and not exclusive to the middle class and the bourgeoisie. Some may want to interpret democratic change as a change that adheres to parliamentary rules, that is, a process that complies with bourgeois laws in order to bring about an anti-bourgeois change. How can this be achieved if the entire parliamentary democratic system is based on the protection of the interests of the ruling bourgeoisie, as in the Lebanese electoral system, where the electoral districts are divided and tailored to fit the interests of the ruling parties. And then debate the concepts and philosophy of democracy!
The working class today pays for wars, resists invaders, defends the living, and who works and produces. Why are workers not entitled to represent themselves in their own right? This does reside in parliamentary elections, but by building a revolutionary labour movement that seeks real representation. Some may argue that the working class does not have enough class consciousness to do so, but consciousness does not reveal itself to the working class like the Holy Spirit or Divine Revelation, but through the process of struggle and conflict. The separation of class consciousness from class struggle is a logic that lacks class consciousness itself.
Changes in the economic, political, social and military necessitate the emergence of popular resistance situations originating in their surroundings and places of existence. First, we must connect, defend and build these movements and alongside them produce a movement that can meet all levels of the struggle. The struggle is the first step in the process of building such a movement, and to wait is to place a barrier in front of it. All indicators show that there is a crisis rising at the local, regional and global levels, and we must be present in every battle, controversy and conflict.
Today, the workers of the Mahalla Spinning at the employers are beating and clinging to this system, which is pounding on the stick and cracking the price of the loaf on the other hand. One police force, the same government, Mubarak himself is mixing exploits with truncheons, high prices, prisons and closing the border to the Palestinians trapped in Gaza. In Lebanon, both the government and the opposition are either beaten or covered by beatings against citizens; whether they are Nahr al-Bared people or demonstrators in Mar Mikhael or farmers from Zahle. The government refuses to raise the minimum wage in defence of investments and the right of the market to exploit. They meet with the US ambassador and conspire with those who kill and destroy, such as Condoleezza Rice, or defend a despotic dictatorship such as the Baathist regime.
The enemy is clinging to its ranks under the banner of Arab unity and under the banner of initiatives, plans and summits. How can we face such a conglomeration of batons and rotten regimes that enjoy international protection by the imperialist forces and the “international community” if we are still scattered and do not cooperate with each other? The onslaught on the people has not stopped, but is continuing, with tanks and with batons sometimes, with exaggeration, exploitation and expulsion, and in most cases these coincide at the same time and place. The Mahalla workers began to struggle, and the time has come for the infection to spread to Lebanon and to the countries of the region as a whole. We may note that in the last few years we witnessed the rise of successive movements of the working class that reject racism, oppression and exploitation, such as the labour movements in Lebanon (2004), as well as the labour uprising in Egypt (2006). All these movements provide clear evidence that class consciousness has become a reality, and there is s nucleus out of which a broader revolutionary movement can grow.
In Lebanon, economic policies threaten to cripple people’s ability to live, threaten many with hunger, and the regime refuses to raise the minimum wage, or protect the price of basic commodities. It seeks through its policies to increase the exploitation and collect more profits for those own companies, the funds and the land, which is the ruling authorities.
Hunger is an infidel, it does not abide by public morals or respect private property, and the cry that has begun to rise must be the only and unequivocal indicator that a confrontation must begin. The First of May should not pass as a memory or a holiday, but must be on the street,in the home, and on television. The First of May must turn into an uprising against exploitation, destitution, hunger and poverty. We must tip the scales of conflict from the struggle over the ministerial seats to a struggle for a better life.
The First and Fourth of May (the day of labour solidarity with the workers of the Mahalla in Egypt) must be points of solidarity between the workers of Lebanon and Egypt, and workers of the region and the world. May 1st is a day when we will build the conflict in its local specificity and in its area of solidarity among all workers. The success of the labour struggle in Egypt is a success for the labour movement in Lebanon, and the rise of the movement in Lebanon gives a strong push for the movement in Egypt. The rule here is not exclusive to the two countries but is pushing for a broader, more inclusive and more influential labour movement at the regional and global levels. The fall of the Mubarak regime will be a severe blow to the Arab bourgeoisie and imperialism. It will be a turning point for the resistance in all its forms in the region and the world. Putting to an end the policies of starvation and impoverishment in Lebanon is a victory for the movement in Egypt.
As factory workers, office workers, hotel workers, restaurants, construction workers, teachers and nurses, we have to go down the street together to confront the enemy itself. Waiting is retreat, and progress begins with the struggle. The truce must end today! Enough of the disregard to our lives, and enough violation of our rights. No to high prices, no to impoverishment and starvation, yes to raising the minimum wage to minimum 960,000 pounds!
1. The Cedar Revolution (thawrat al-arz) were a series of mass demonstrations (14 February – 27 April 2005) triggered by the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister. The key demands of the movement were the withdrawal of Syrian troops; uniting Lebanese in their fight for freedom and independence; ousting the Pro-Syrian government; dismissing the Lebanese commanders of the nation’s main security services along with the State Prosecutor; The complete withdrawal of the Syrian troops and their security services from Lebanon; Unmasking the killers of former Rafiq Hariri; Running free and democratic parliament elections in spring 2005 free from Syrian interference. Syrian troops withdrew from Lebanon, on 27 April 2005, in a victory of the anti-Syrian alliance.
2. 19th revolts in Lebanon
3. Khater Akram F., Inventing Home -Emigration, Gender, and the Middle Class in Lebanon, 1870-1920
4. Cliff, Tony State Capitalism in Russia
5. The March 14 Alliance (taḥāluf 14 adhār) was an anti-Syrian coalition of political parties and independents formed in 2005. It was led by Saad Hariri, son of Rafiq Hariri, as well as other prominent figures. The alliance was composed of Hariri’s Future Movement, conservative Sunni Muslims; right wing Maronite parties, the Lebanese Forces, Kataeb Party and the National Liberal party. The Democratic Left Movement, which split from the Communist Party, was also part of the alliance.
6. M Hassan Abdullah Hamdan, commonly known by his pseudonym Mahdi Amel (from Jabal Amel, a predominantly Shia dominated mountainous region in southern Lebanon) was a Marxist thinker and revolutionary active from the 1960s until his assassination in Beirut in 1987. He was a professor of philosophy at the Lebanese University in Beirut and a prominent member of the Lebanese Communist Party and the Union of Lebanese Writers. Among his major theories was that the Lebanese sectarian system created a working class that was predominantly Shia Muslim.
7. Hugo Bannisa and Marian El Khoury, Social Mobility and Religion: Evidence from Lebanon, Social Research Network website, http://ssrn.com/abstract=293012
9. http://www.marxists.org/subject/utopian/index.htm )
. Ussama Makdisi, The Culture of Sectarianism. Community, History, and Violence in Nineteenth-Century Ottoman Lebanon, Berkeley, University of California Press, 2000
. ‘Trotsky’s original formulation of the theory of UCD describes the coming together and reciprocal interaction of different modes of production. Archaic and modern forms of economic activity and organisation are drawn together and fuse, transforming social formations into more than a mere sum of their parts. The engine of this process is competition. Because less developed countries suffer geopolitical and economic competition from the core capitalist states, they are forced to introduce the latest achievements in technological and industrial terms in an attempt to ‘catch up’ with the more developed ones. The leaps that result from this mean that the transformation of the poorer countries doesn’t reflect any linear model of development.’ Del Panta, Gianni, International Socialism journal http://isj.org.uk/roots-of-algerias-crisis. Leon Trotsky’s original formlation can be found at: http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1931/tpr/index.htm
. Gates , Carolyn. Merchant Republic of Lebanon, Centre for Lebanese Studies, p. 13
. The Peasant Revolt began in Mount Lebanon as a rebellion of Maronite peasants against their Christian overlords. As it spread to the south of the country the rebellion degenerated into a sectarianism, with Druze peasents turning on the Maronites. The revolt culminated in the 1860 civil war that spilled over into Syria. The war was halted by French and Ottoman military intervention. See Fawaz, L.T. An Occasion for War: Civil Conflict in Lebanon and Damascus in 1860. (1994) University of California Press.
. The Ottomans and European powers agreed the “Règlement Organique” (1861-1864), creating the Mount Lebanon Mutasarrifate which seperated Mount Lebanon from Syria.
. The French mandate over Lebanon formally ended on 24 October 1945
. Sandria B.Freitag, Collective Action and Community : Public arenas and the emergence of communalism in North India, Berkley – University of California Press, 1989, pp 6-18.
. The Lebanese Civil War (1975 -1990)
. The National Movementwas a coalition of leftist parties, pan-Arabist and Syrian nationalist organisations which supported the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). It was headed by Kamal Jumblatt, a prominent Druze leader of the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP).
. See Alexander, Anne, Nasser (Life & Times) Haus Publishing Limited and Marfleet, Philip, Revolution, Counter-Revolution and the Authoritarian State in Egypt, Edinburgh University Press.
. The Taif Agreement (National Reconciliation Accord) marked the end of the Civil War.
. Son of former prime Minister Rafik Hariri, assassinated in 2005. Saed Hariri is current leader of the current of the Future movment, the dominant Sunni bourgoies party.
 See Chapter X
. Enquête sur les conditions de vie, Ministère Des Affaires Sociales, Liban 2004
. In Zombie Capitalism Chris Harman notes: “The development of capitalism was not a simple smooth upward process that had its impact on the exploited class it created. There was unevenness over time, with the concentration of workers into centres of exploitation during booms and the expulsion of some from those centres during slump. There was geographic unevenness, with some centres arising in connection with national states before others, and then sometimes declining as new centres supplanted them. These forms of capitalist unevenness led to unevenness within the working class, with different levels of skill and payment arising, with competition for jobs and security of employment between different groups of workers, with sections of workers identifying with the particular state that controlled them because it seemed like a locus for achieving reforms of the system.” https://www.marxists.org/archive/harman/2009/zombiecap/14-overcome.html. For more on the question see See Harman, Chris.: Party and Class. http://www.marxists.org/archive/harman/1968/xx/partyclass.htm, Cliff, Tony: Lenin Vol 1. http://www.marxists.org/archive/cliff/works/1975/lenin1/
. The events Hay-El Sellom were captured in the documentary Leaded/Unleaded, 2004. vimeo.com/423367722
. There is significant numbers of poor Syrians who work in Lebanon which allows sections of the ruling class to conflate anto Syrian racism with criticism of the Syrian regime’s interference in Lebanon.
. See Chapter XX
. 2008 see XXXX
. The July War, 2006 See Chapter XXX
. Marx , Karl. The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852) http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1852/18th-brumaire/ch01.htm
. Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, (1859) http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1859/critique-pol-economy/index.htm
. Karl Marx, Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852) http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1852/18th-brumaire/
. Statement on 26 January 2007
. Marwa, Karim, The Eve Of The Fall Of The Empire, Questions About Our Position In The World Of Tomorrow, Dar Al-Farabi, Beirut, Lebanon, First Edition, 2003, p. 44
. Seminar on the sectarian system in Ireland, the centre of civil society, Beirut, 1 August 2007
. Global Employment Trends Brief, January 2006 http://www.ilo.org/empelm/pubs/WCMS_114294/lang–en/index.htm
. NOTE on the Vacume
. A reference to Saed Hariri’s pro US government.
. Electricity protests
. Secretary-General of the Lebanese Communist Party Khaled Haddadah (26 November 2007)
. Outline Stalinist stages theory
. The electricity riots were centred on poor Shia suburbs of Beirut, despite the crisis affecting all neighbourhoods.
. United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Strategic Planning For Social Protection In Lebanon (2002)
. UNDP Poverty, Growth and Income Distribution in Lebanon (2008) notes that “The bottom 20 per cent of the population accounts for only seven per cent of all consumption in Lebanon while the richest 20 per cent accounts for 43 per cent (over six times higher)”.
. Marianne El Khoury & Ugo Panizza, Social Mobility and Religion, Evidence from Lebanon (2001) https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=293012