Identity and entity
The reduction of current struggles in Lebanon and Syria in particular, and across the Middle East in general, to purely abstract nationalistic, sectarian and “identitarian” dimensions is one of the dominating features of the analytical and methodical logic of the Arab nationalist and Stalinist left.1 Their analysis fails to consider the social structures involved and their contradictions, the ideological engines powering such national or sectarian identities. Nor does it take into account the crises that they experience, in particular those imposed by the revolutionary process; a process that is ongoing despite its fluctuations and fractures.
The methodology of the Arab nationalist and Stalinist left sees the situation in the Middle East and in the Lebanese and Syrian region in particular, through the lens of antagonistic binaries and approaches society and its contradictions through a set of predetermined cultural and national/religious identities. Therefore we hear of “Sunni-Shia strife”, the Oriental culture, Arabs, the West, Orientalism, identity crisis, sectarian rule, Christians, Muslims, etc. According to such characterisations, these identities are treated as independent structures and established entities that interact among themselves in a relationship of convergence, divergence and struggle on the local, regional and international theatres of the shifting balance of power.
The movements of the masses are therefore evaluated according to their closeness to a particular regional or international alliance and their distance from another. The “resistance” axis is said to include Iran and Syria, and is supported by Russia. An opposing “American-Zionist-Takfiri”2 axis is viewed as being backed by the US and includes regimes like Saudi Arabia and Qatar. A mass movement is subsequently legitimised or de-legitimised according to where it stands in the struggle between these axes. The ongoing struggle is pictured as a struggle between identities that are legitimised by the political language used to describe them, regardless of how genuine these entities themselves are, particularly in the face of the revolutionary transformations that govern the situation today.
The Stalinist and Arab nationalist left have never seen beyond the milestone of national struggle and national liberation to which, in spite of their importance and necessity, the revolution cannot be restricted. This perspective on the revolution is invoked by the language used to describe it. Herein lies the essential problem: are we seeing the revolutionary process, on the one hand, through its actual reality, in other words through the context that gave birth to it and the contradictions characterising that context; or, on the other hand, evaluating it based on a theoretical assumption that has never been able to concede that the Arab or non-Arab individual in this region cannot be exclusively reduced to his or her national identity?
“National entity” and national identity remain the main pillars of Stalinist and Arab nationalist leftist thought and language, through which some are classified as “patriots” and others as “traitors” or “clients”. Systematically accusing others of treason is not only a moral failing on the part of some individuals, but is a natural consequence of nationalist thought, whenever compelled to defend its position in the dominant ideological structure. Of course, this does not imply that there are no traitors or political forces that are clients of imperialism; however, it means that the systematic accusation of treason often becomes the dominant language of the nationalist rhetoric, whenever nationalism is in crisis or in a position of having to defend its hegemony over the dominant political language in society.
We can observe this nowadays because of the revolutionary process that is sweeping the region. The first assumption put forward by many in the Stalinist and Arab nationalist currents, in their approach to the events of early 2011, was that the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia were caused by the relations between the regimes there and US imperialism. However, this assumption was quickly rebuffed by the rise of the mass movement in Syria, whose regime is considered by the Stalinists and Arab nationalists to be a “resistance” regime—a “citadel of resistance” to Zionism and imperialism.
Since the beginning of the Syrian Revolution the advocates of Arab nationalism and Stalinism have been trying to rethink the hierarchy of the struggle in such a way as to distinguish between two struggles, the national liberation struggle and the social liberation struggle. The second is subordinated to the first, by virtue of the commitment to the fundamental national entity. While the national liberation struggle becomes an existential battle, the social struggle is treated as a mere case of reformist struggle within the boundaries of “keeping one’s house in order”. That is what Samah Idriss3 insinuated on 4 December 2013:
Our issue with the Arab regimes is an issue with oppression, criminality, corruption and clientelism. Our problem with Israel is a problem with the entity itself, its regime, its state, its army, its institutions, its economy, its culture, its tourism, its industry, its agriculture, its right, its left and its centre.4
Idriss is right to state that the issue with Israel is one with the entity itself; however, he does not address the following problematic: Can the struggle against the Zionist entity be resolved and won within the context of the current entities of the Arab regimes? Or even through the very notion of national entities? Or is it actually only solvable through a drastic reconfiguration of these entities?
That is what history has shown before, with the path of the Palestinian Revolution that has imposed transformations and contradictions on the reality of the established Arab entities, from Syria to Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and others. In its rise, the Palestinian Revolution clashed objectively, not only with the Zionist entity, but also with the national structure of the whole of the Arab regimes. Perhaps one of the major examples of that clash with, for instance, the “Syrian national interest”—ie the interests of a “final” Syrian entity—is the events of “Black September” in 1970, when then Syrian defence minister Hafez al-Assad:
opposed Syrian military support for the Palestinians, for fear that Syria would be drawn into an all-out war with Israel. He refused to provide air cover to the Syrian tanks when they came under Jordanian attack, forcing the brigade to withdraw. This left the Palestinians isolated, and thousands were massacred by Hussein’s forces in pogroms that became known as “Black September”.5
This clash (between the Palestinian Revolution and the Arab entities) was not restricted to Syria and Jordan; it also naturally led to a clash with the structure of the Lebanese entity, as could be seen during the Lebanese Civil War and the resulting ideological struggles over the identity and “finality” of the entity. This was proven by the Taif agreement6 where the “patriotic” bourgeoisie re-emphasised the finality of the Lebanese entity, with an Arab face, and Syrian-Saudi sponsorship.
This pattern of the finality or inevitability of entities can be applied to all Arab regimes, be they “resistant” or not. In Egypt, for instance, “the Camp David agreement was the political indicator of the changes in Egyptian reality, and watchwords like ‘disengagement’ and ‘Arab isolation’ contained the implicit and explicit announcement of the shift of the Egyptian regime towards a market economy”.7 Arab isolation, disengagement and other expressions, like “Egypt first”, “Jordan first” or “Lebanon first”, are nothing but the implicit and explicit expression of the politics of the finality of Arab national entities, meaning, in effect, a commitment to the divisions brought about by European colonial powers at the beginning of the 20th century.
There can be no formal distinction between the nationalist rhetoric of the Arab regimes and their politics, on one side, and the nationalist rhetoric that is dominant today among the traditional left on the other, even if they differ in their details. Both categorically insist on the centrality of national entities and identities as the bases for political and social mobilisation, even if this struggle cannot possibly be undertaken without the alignment of these entities with one or another of the dominant axes on the regional and international theatres. In truth, these policies and their underlying logic are nothing but the repetition of Cold War rhetoric, from which the Arab nationalist and Stalinist left have assumed the necessity of alignment to one side against another. It represents the complete abandonment of any attempt to exit the duality of that imperialist antagonism and head towards a genuinely revolutionary mass movement that would not base its strategy on advocating one imperialism against another. Naturally these policies are always presented under the cover of national identity or national liberation.
That is what As’ad AbuKhalil8 says in an article for the Al–Akhbar journal on 16 October 2013 under the title “A Call for the Return to the Lebanese Civil War” where AbuKhalil summarises the underlying latent conflict in Lebanon—which is yet to be resolved—in the following problematics: “1. The identity of Lebanon. 2. The Lebanese foreign policy and the government’s position on the regional conflict. 3. The position on the Palestinian cause. 4. The disagreement on social justice. 5. The issue of sectarian injustice. 6. The type of ruling regime.” He then goes on to describe the different Lebanese religious sects:
No single sect has had a fixed political position in Lebanon—in spite of those who promote the theory of a moral superiority of one sect against another—because the sects, by virtue of the sectarian system, are akin to the tribes of Afghanistan and Iraq: up for grabs, moving from one position to another, by virtue of the prevailing conditions. That makes Walid Jumblatt9 the true representative of narrow sectarianism.10
In this view, AbuKhalil emphasises two points: the first is that the problematic of the Lebanese question is concerned with resolving the “Lebanese identity” issue. The second is that resolving said issue is the task of Lebanon’s established sectarian entities—that are, according to AbuKhalil, like “the tribes of Afghanistan and Iraq”. The rhetoric, adopted by Idriss and AbuKhalil, is not far from that of the allies of the Syrian regime in Lebanon, from Hizbollah to the Free Patriotic Movement to the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and others, even if Idriss and AbuKhalil distinguish themselves from those parties by criticising, from time to time, the “resistance” regimes. However, they remain part of these cleavages, within the general rhetoric of the politics of conflicting axes, without tackling the ideological and intellectual fabric of those politics or making any attempt to fracture that rhetoric.
The secretary general of Hizbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, made the following declaration in a televised speech on 30 April 2013: “Syria has, in the region and the world, genuine friends who will not allow it to fall into the hands of the United States or Israel or the Takfiri groups”;11 and in June 2013: “the issue is not one of [Hizbollah’s] intervention in Syria…the Syrian Arab Army is fighting on various parts of Syrian territory, and we are assuming part of the responsibilities in facing this worldwide project that wants to precipitate the downfall of the region, not only Syria, that is the American-Israeli-Takfiri project”.12
From this speech, it is clear that Nasrallah is genuinely convinced of the veracity of the conflict of axes thesis, in which Hizbollah has sided with the Syrian regime and its regional and international allies against the “American-Israeli-Takfiri project”. The correlation between Hizbollah’s position and that of the Arab nationalists and the traditional left is no coincidence. Their argument is an application, perhaps even a literal one, of the stageist Stalinist vision, which calls for a historical and strategic alliance with the national bourgeoisie to attain democratic national rule as a first stage, before proceeding to the building of a strong regime and state apparatus that would contribute to developing the means of production and allow, at a further stage, for a revolution that would pave the way for socialism.
We have seen not so long ago where this recipe has taken us. The alliance of the “National Movement”13 with the “nationalist/Muslim” bourgeoisie in opposition to the “isolationist/reactionary/Christian” bourgeoisie, on the eve of and during the Lebanese Civil War ended in the confirmation of sectarian rule in Lebanon and the punishment of the Palestinians for their “spoiling of Lebanon”. We can also extend this vision to the outcome of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). The PLO’s commitment to the project of the “state”, in other words the commitment to the finality of the Palestinian national entity, which restricted the Palestinian cause, from an Arab and worldwide popular movement unbound with identities, to the bourgeois, bureaucratic and “nationalist” template, whose “achievement” will include the emergence of Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) and his entourage.14
This very strategy is still upheld by the Stalinist left in general, as the Egyptian Communist Party declares in its political programme:
The party believes that the 25 January  Revolution is the most important episode in the national democratic revolution, and that it is in essence a popular and democratic revolution with national and social prospects, and has risen to eradicate tyranny and corruption, achieve political and economical independence, put an end to clientelism, achieve self-sustained independent development, rebuild the state apparatus on popular democratic bases, put an end to monopolies, build the national industry, conduct profound changes in the agricultural sector, achieve political and social democracy, and respect the rights and dignity of the Egyptian individual as well as public liberties.15
From this stance, the Egyptian traditional left justifies voting in favour of the military’s constitution and considering the Muslim Brotherhood to be the greatest danger to the revolution—with no mention of the military—as well as its alignment with the “Syrian regime and the Syrian Arab Army” in opposition to the imperialist plan against the Arab region and particularly against Syria.
Using the same approach, albeit with a different twist, Nahed Hattar16 and his lackeys adopt their own take on nationalism that can euphemistically be described as a reincarnation of neo-fascist Syrian nationalist thought but, with a “new” cover making it easier to digest for the old left.
On the Syrian question, Hattar says:
We have stood, clearly, with the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad against Gulf and Wahhabi barbarism, Qatari and Saudi, as well as against neo-Ottomanism. We are not merely “sympathetic” to the Syrian regime, as [Hazem] Saghieh puts it, but we are, in the nationalist war, fighting in the same trench. And we believe that we have chosen the right trench. We have, of course, our own methodical and critical analysis of that regime, and we have our own declared programme of struggle inside Syria to build a nationalist, resistance and developmentalist state. However that is a Syrian, Levantine, internal political struggle that does not affect the unity of the forces that are repulsing the external aggression, the Western, Zionist, Wahhabi and Ottoman aggression.17
At the end of the day, the vision that all of these people share is that national liberation, or the building of the national state, in any form, requires at first the nation’s liberation. National liberation determines what is external and what is internal to the state, and through which the issues of that interior—issues around Arab, Levantine, Syrian, Lebanese or other identitarian formations—can be debated. This is confirmed by Khalid Hadadi18 in his latest article in Nida’a19 where he argues that, as the sectarian nature of the Lebanese regime makes the regional contradictions a part of internal Lebanese politics, that reality can only be changed through “building the civil, secular, democratic resistance state”.20 He says that:
conditions for a deeper solution related to the refoundation of the Lebanese state must be met, in a way that surpasses its war-provoking, division and clientelism-encouraging nature, towards a salvation conference that would lay the foundations to build that civil, secular, democratic and resistant state.
This proposition does not, of course, address the class nature of that state. From here we can see how this ideological current, from its far-right to its far-left, in its ultranationalist or its national-popular incarnation, has never gone beyond the central issue of the dominance of the bourgeois national state, ie a state with the capacity to form a class alliance that would provide a bourgeois-proletarian conciliation while at the same time ensuring national unity, through which the external dangers can be confronted, or the relations of competition and convergence with that exterior can be set.
Imperialism, capitalism and the national state
The national bourgeois state is one of the essential structures established by Western colonialism as a condition of capitalist expansion in the colonies, in its economic, social and political aspects. The bourgeois state constituted a rupture or fracture with the prevailing semi-feudal system. It would be illusory to consider nationalist thought as being in contradiction with capitalism; the emergence of the state is conditional to the development of capitalist economic and social structures, and the divergence from and ultimate destruction of pre-capitalist structures. From thereon in, the notions of “entity” and “national identity”, the finality of a certain entity and its relation to other entities are concepts that cannot come into being without the centralised establishment of a bourgeois state apparatus that governs society under the cover of a “national identity”, be it Arab, Levantine, Lebanese, Syrian, Islamic, Christian or other. All constitute an ideological cover for the dominating bourgeois regime itself.
And it is not peculiar that those sections of the left that identify with one national ideology or another put the issue of the national cover for that bourgeois domination at the top of their political agenda. Their policies are not so much in contradiction with the established bourgeois regime as in accordance with it, since their starting point is the ideological structure of the very same bourgeois regime.
As Mahdi Amel puts it in his book Theoretical Introductions to the Study of the Effect of Socialist Thought on National Liberation Movements:
And by this thought structure we mean the ideological field in which the individual’s ideology is determined, built and developed, ie this one soil from which multiple ideas can sprout, the differences between which can reach the point of contradiction; however, their roots are set in the same soil that determines the nature of their emergence and their field of development. The existence of contradictions between these ideas does not negate, but affirms the fact that they are situated in one ideological soil.21
Therefore, the ideological premises from which nationalist thought stems to confront the dependency on imperialism are in no fundamental contradiction with imperialism. They share the same thought structure, that is, the bourgeois governance system, with which they identify. For this reason, we see that the Arab nationalist regimes that emerged in the last decades of the 20th century, and that were considered back then—and still today—as progressive regimes by large chunks of the traditional and national left, have proven over time that they were no different from the bourgeois “client” regimes, as they are called. Indeed, the Arab nationalist regimes have renewed their relation to and identification with the interests of imperialism, even if the degree to which they identify with those interests might differ. That differentiation, like the one between Saudi Arabia and Syria for instance, is a proof of the continuation of this pattern of relations, and a negation of the independence of these regimes or their liberation from imperialist domination.
We go back to Mahdi Amel, and his analysis of “progressive regimes” that transform the dominant petty bourgeoisie into a renewed colonial bourgeoisie:
We notice, for instance, that the change in dominant class in the so-called “progressive regimes”, like those of Egypt and Syria, has always taken place in the context of an ectopic form of class struggle. This helps us to understand the special nature of the political practice of the petty bourgeoisie… The petty bourgeoisie is necessarily urged to renew these relations of production, to permanently reproduce those relations in the political practice of its class struggle against the colonial bourgeoisie itself, because the renewal of the relations of production is a necessary and absolute condition for its continuation as a dominant class. However, the necessity to become the dominant class in the context of the existing relations of production will push the petty bourgeoisie to assimilate into the dominant class that it has replaced and against which it is engaged in a class struggle, and therefore to identify with it and not diverge from it… The existence of a state sector does not change the class nature of the relations of production.22
For this reason, the national task cannot be effectively accomplished, and this reality is presented as the expression of a crisis of identity or a crisis of nationalism, taking us back to the issue of entity and identity without getting to grips with the capitalist class structure and its uneven development which result in the creation of relations of dependency on imperialism. That is the essential problem with the strategic perspectives of the traditional left and the nationalist currents in general. It is clear that the best that can be achieved with the stance they have adopted is an improvement in the conditions of capitalist and nationalist competition between the established entities, without defying the structure that not only allows that competition to exist, but opens the door to foreign and regional interference, or regional or international dominance over a given country.
This is why national liberation is not a stage that precedes social liberation and class struggle, but it is in reality part and parcel of the one and only social class struggle. National liberation doesn’t precede social revolution, but it is produced by it, as one of its processes, because it is impossible to achieve independence within the system of capitalist dependence, dominance and competition that rules the world. True independence or national liberation cannot be achieved in the current conditions without being included in the process of socialist revolution itself.
Therefore national liberation movements, by fighting the national liberation struggle from outside the class struggle, are heading towards assimilation with the dominant bourgeoisie and becoming players in the convergence and competition within the dominant bourgeois capitalist axes. This phenomenon can be observed in the PLO, Hamas and Hizbollah with the latter’s recent and ongoing shifts in its socio-economic and organisational structure as well as its local and regional positioning, a point I will return to later.
It is not the sectarian regime per se that establishes dependency, and the connection between the inside and the outside; rather it is merely an ideological cover for capitalist dependency. That dependency cannot be broken from within the capitalist structure itself because the bourgeois state is not only an internal system of class domination, but is also at the same time an apparatus for national, regional and international capitalist competition. What follows is that the national cover for the bourgeois state is nothing but a fitting and refitting of the axes of that capitalist competition, its terrain of dominance, and its capacity to contain the struggles that arise within its societies from the structural contradictions of the capitalist system.
The structural crisis of nationalist thought, from its left to its right, lies in the fact that it lives on those contradictions that characterise the capitalist system, and cannot part with them. It is itself an articulation of the attempt by that bourgeois ideological structure to conceive new identities in order to maintain its ideological dominance in renewed ideological clothing. This point is confirmed by the emergence of a crisis of identity every time the bourgeois ruling class itself is in crisis, or sees cracks in the ideological domination through which it justifies its class rule.
The crisis of bourgeois rule and the new crisis of capitalism
We cannot understand those shifts, and the identitarian struggle and the concurrent re-emergence of historic identities—be they religious, national, regional or sectarian—outside the context of capitalist structure, its shifts and contradictions; the struggles over identity are an expression of the crisis of capitalism itself. Frederick Engels said:
According to the materialist conception of history, the ultimately determining element in history is the production and reproduction of real life. Other than this neither Marx nor I have ever asserted. Hence if somebody twists this into saying that the economic element is the only determining one, he transforms that proposition into a meaningless, abstract, senseless phrase. The economic situation is the basis, but the various elements of the superstructure—political forms of the class struggle and its results, to wit: constitutions established by the victorious class after a successful battle, etc, juridical forms, and even the reflexes of all these actual struggles in the brains of the participants, political, juristic, philosophical theories, religious views and their further development into systems of dogmas—also exercise their influence upon the course of the historical struggles and in many cases preponderate in determining their form.23
There is a clear correlation between the dominant ideology, the dominant class structure, and the absence of the issue of class relations in the rhetorical identitarian and geostrategic debate dominant in the nationalist current and its left; it is nothing but an attempt to escape a confrontation with the exploding class contradictions in their current, international, regional and local realities. This attempt to revamp those contradictions or postpone their explosion aims to preserve the existing class hegemony, in any possible way, be it sectarian or national or other.
The shifts and transformations happening throughout the world, and taking a thoroughly confrontational form in the Arab world, are in contradiction, not only with the liberal thought structure, but also with the worldview of the Arab nationalist and traditional left. For what is characteristic of both liberal thought and nationalist thought is that they compete with each other, rather than contradict one another, within the dominant structure of bourgeois thought. They form, at least in the Arab world, the most obvious incarnation of that theatre of competitive interactions between two poles, whether one attempts to assert domination over another or they form an alliance to confront mutual threats. These threats are in truth the contradictions, fractures and struggles that are happening within the established system of capitalist hegemony, ie that very same national bourgeois state, whichever cover it happens to adopt—liberal, nationalist or other.
These relations are confirmed daily through, for instance, the US-Syrian agreement on the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons. The US-Iranian agreement on the Iranian nuclear programme, which was followed by an Iranian-Saudi convergence, materialised with, among other things, apologies to the Bahraini regime by the Manar TV and Noor radio channels, both of which belong to Hizbollah, for their coverage of the events in Bahrain—that is, the Bahraini Revolution that began in 2011.
Such agreements are not only indicators of decreasing US hegemony over the region due to shifts in internal US affairs. They are also aimed at giving the dominant Arab and regional regimes greater leeway to put their own imploding houses in order. These agreements are building up to an attempt by those regimes to contain and tackle the Arab and non-Arab mass movements in the region, from Egypt to Syria and Bahrain, Iran and others while simultaneously isolating the Palestinian people, and the Palestinian cause altogether, from the revolutionary masses that surround them.
Going back to Idriss’s depiction of the struggle against Israel as an existential one, in contrast to the struggles with the Arab regimes, with the latter reduced to a mere struggle against tyranny, and other internal affairs, we ask, how can Palestine be liberated? How can a project of resistance be sustained through the existing structures of the Arab regimes? Or through the national bourgeois apparatus, in the context of the shifts and alliances that are sprouting on the regional and international political theatres? The answer to this question can, in reality, only come from a process that neither the nationalist nor the Stalinist left will recognise, that is, the revolution: not as an entity’s revolution, or a national revolution, but a permanent revolution that arises from the structural contradictions in Arab societies. By its class nature, this revolution cannot but be in fundamental contradiction with the established system of class dominance, and with the systems of regional and international dependency. The social, economic and political problems that arise on the political level cannot be solved by any bourgeois refurbishment of the established regimes in their own national space. They can only be solved by the overthrow of the system of bourgeois rule and by defying the system of class dominance in general. The watchword that no one on the revolutionary left must shy away from proclaiming today is socialism! It is not as a historical leap by the masses towards another regime, but as the process through which the dominant ideology can be destroyed, through which the class contradictions that support the bourgeois regimes can be exposed, in order to overcome this apparatus towards its antithesis: revolutionary workers’ power, through which it is really possible to overcome religious sectarianism, persecution, exploitation, injustice and oppression, and what is more, to fracture the cycle of capitalist and imperialist dependence.
I will not address the evidence for the class nature of the Arab revolutions, for many have written on the subject in the Permanent Revolution journal and elsewhere. The question we must address is that of the interconnectivity of the revolutionary struggle, the fact that it is spreading from one country to another, and its capacity to defy the established balance of forces at the local and regional scales. The revolutionary struggle is defying the finality of the national entities that were imposed on the peoples of the region by colonial divisions and later by the dominant bourgeoisie and bureaucracy, in agreement and in convergence with imperialism.
The revolutions rocking our region are not the expressions of a crisis of identity, as pictured by some, but they are, first and foremost, the expressions of the crisis of the bourgeois national state and the dominant capitalist system. It is therefore impossible to address the issues of resistance and liberation from imperialism from outside that context. On the contrary, resistance and liberation must identify with the perspectives of the ongoing revolutions, not be imposed on them from above in a pre-packaged nationalist ideology, which is itself going through crisis as an expression of the same bourgeois regime.
Hizbollah, resistance and revolution
It is from this vantage point that we must approach the issue of Hizbollah and those of resistance and national liberation. Can Hizbollah, with its established structure and its sectarian and bourgeois nature, put an end to occupation or achieve national liberation?
The nationalist and Stalinist left entertain many illusions when it comes to Hizbollah. In addition to the sacred character that Hizbollah ascribes to itself, that left also considers it sacred, describing it as a resistance movement which is not governed by reality or by the class structure in which we live. Naturally, because of the centrality of national identity and the national question which overpowers any other consideration, Hizbollah’s role as an apparatus of resistance is granted, by the traditional left, with an existence in abstraction from its class position in society or even given a proletarian gloss, regardless of reality. Therefore, the traditional left supports Hizbollah blindly, not only from the viewpoint of national liberation, but also from the viewpoint of social struggle. The oppression of South Beirut and South Lebanon,24 which many leftist activists harp on about, becomes in these circumstances, another attempt to excuse sectarian bias using the language of class. Sectarian parties in Lebanon use class language (Shia deprivation, Christian injustice, etc) to legitimise their sectarian rhetoric.
The nationalist and Stalinist left, who are wholly allied to Hizbollah and to the Syrian regime’s allies in Lebanon, utilise the same sectarian rhetoric and give it a class dimension, transforming, for instance, Ashoura’25 into a symbol of confronting oppression, or the Dahiyeh area of South Beirut26 into a symbol of resistance and dynamism.
These expressions do not differ from sectarian rhetoric, but legitimise it and reinforce feelings of sectarian pride, which was always a defining element of the dominant sectarian discourse. Just as the Phalangists promoted, in their period of dominance,27 a discourse of Christian sectarian pride under the cover of Lebanese nationalism, Hizbollah nowadays promotes “Shia” sectarian culture and identifies it with Lebanese national culture. Therefore, patriotism is put in a distinctively sectarian mould. This logic can easily reach extremes among people, making a client or a traitor of every Sunni, while making every Shia a resister of imperialism or a patriot.
Lately a rampage of racism towards Syrian refugees has been seen among proponents of the idea that Syria is a resistant regime. The refugees are described as traitors. Some say: “Wouldn’t it be better to give money to the resistance fighters in Qalamoun?”28 or “How can we sympathise with a child or a woman who was left here in a tent by her husband or brother, so he can go murder women and children in his own country?” This discourse aids the propaganda and denigration campaigns the national current and its left have adopted since the beginning of the Syrian Revolution. While, when it comes to the Egyptian Revolution, they are capable of distinguishing between the Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood, the nationalists, the liberals, the leftists, the military and the revolutionaries, they are absolutely incapable of applying a similar demarcation in the case of Syria. Thus anyone who supported the Syrian Revolution becomes a “Daeshi”,29 and the revolution becomes a mere “upheaval”, until the conflict is painted as one between the regime and the Takfiris.
Our goal here is not to deny the existence of the Takfiris or their relationship with Gulf regimes, but to expose the similarities between the respective discourses of the Stalinist and nationalist left on one side and the Takfiris on the other. In the Takfiri discourse there are believers and infidels; in the nationalist left’s discourse there are patriots and traitors. This stems from the fact that this “left” does not share the ideology of the revolutionary left, but that of nationalism itself, in leftist cloth. In other words it has become part of the dominant bourgeois discourse itself, and not its antithesis; that left does not see in itself an antithesis to the bourgeoisie; rather it identifies with the bourgeoisie, and becomes its apologist by directly distorting the reality. This is what people like As’ad AbuKhalil do. In another of his articles in the Al–Akhbar newspaper, on “The Theory of Dialectics and the Renewal of the Arab Left”, he says: “There are plenty of advocates of capitalism in our region, and they themselves are the enemies of the resistance in Lebanon.” The first thing AbuKhalil does is clear “the resistance” (understand, Hizbollah) from the “charge” of being capitalists, before adding later in his article:
But the capacity to do that stems from the categorical rejection of the principles of capitalism (Abdel Karim Mrouwwe now believes that the capitalist state can protect us from capitalism), and its whole superstructure which, supported by the oil and gas Gulf states, determines our taste in poetry, art, culture, journalism, dance and aesthetics.
AbuKhalil sees only one of the competing axes on the regional theatre—the Gulf axis—as capitalist, but does not mention the capitalist structure of, say, the Iranian regime or their allies in Lebanon and Syria. Through this blatant distortion of reality, he reduces the anti-capitalist struggle to a struggle against the Gulf regimes and their helpers, as if the resistance, Hizbollah and Iran, were part of an international proletarian alliance!
There is no need to prove the bourgeois nature of Hizbollah or the Syrian regime, as many have written on this subject before; their bourgeois nature is irrefutably proven by their economic role, and in the case of Hizbollah, by the social and economic policies that they have adopted in the past few years. Hassan Nasrallah’s famous “We will not stand behind bread”,30 or Hizbollah’s support for privatisation, its opposition to the demands of the trade union Coordinating Committee31 and the agreement it made with the Amal Movement and the Free Patriotic Movement to stop the state electricity company workers winning their demands, are all proof of Hizbollah’s bourgeois nature. Other indicators are the extensive sums Hizbollah invests in the real estate sector, which made the Southern suburbs of Beirut (a pro-Hizbollah stronghold) one of the most expensive neighbourhoods in greater Beirut. There is no need to mention the tuition fees of Hizbollah-run schools, which have become schools for the Shia middle classes rather than the poor, or the substantial amounts of money Hizbollah amasses through its healthcare institutions such as the Great Prophet Hospital in South Beirut. All of this proves that Hizbollah is the party of the Shia middle classes and bourgeoisie, the hegemony over whom it shares with the Amal Movement, and not, as many on the nationalist and Stalinist left picture it, the party of the poor and deprived.
Owing to its capitalist nature, Hizbollah has clearly entered a phase of bureaucratic bourgeois growth, particularly since the Israeli war on Lebanon in July 2006. This is evidenced by the way its cadre and members display their wealth and the privileges they enjoy such as social, economic, educational and health services. This will naturally cause a split between this arriviste bureaucracy and the large masses that Hizbollah relies on to assert its political legitimacy during elections or popular rallies. This is sometimes shown by the latent complaints of common Hizbollah supporters, who have expressed their resentment over that flaunting of wealth, and the bullying influence that members of this bureaucratic clique often exert on other people in the neighbourhoods where they operate.32
This divergence between the class nature of Hizbollah’s supporters—and
part of its membership—and its cadre, particularly at mid and senior level, is the main contradiction that Hizbollah will face in the current and future periods. This is indicated by the fact that Hizbollah is increasingly providing a Jihadi religious cover for their policies, by building mosques, depicting their intervention in Syria as a religious duty, or through the provocative sectarian slogan “Zeynab shall not be captured twice”.33 Hizbollah’s increased use of religious messages compared to previous years indicates the necessity for them to contain their base, through an ideological and religious discipline that is bound to become more and more necessary in a context of class crisis, on a local and regional scale. Perhaps—although we cannot be certain in this case—the latest Al-Manar affair (the Hizbollah TV station had apologised to the Bahraini government for its coverage of the revolution there, after which Hizbollah sacked the TV station’s director) can be seen as an indicator of the influence of that class crisis on the party’s bureaucratic discipline; it has shown a contradiction between the party’s political and media apparatus.
The nationalist and Stalinist left do not grasp the fact that the conditions that gave birth to revolutions in the region are the same conditions that govern the resistance to occupation and imperialism. The continuation and success of that resistance are not only dependent on the degree of enthusiasm about arms; it is also necessary to see if the arms-bearing side can escape the balance of interests that controls those arms and makes them available, and if it will escape, with its bourgeois alignment, from the ongoing implosions in the class structures of regional and Arab societies.
The issue of the revolution gives the resistance another dimension, and poses an essential problematic on the current “resistance cases”, like Hizbollah and Hamas: Can the Zionist entity collapse? Can US, EU or Russian interference be stopped without a radical break with the bourgeois structure that legitimises foreign interference and dominance? Will the “Arab” bourgeoisie relinquish their common interests with the American or Israeli bourgeoisie in order to liberate Palestine? Will the Iranian regime, for instance, give up the necessity to integrate into the world oil market? Will the Syrian regime give up its economic relations with Western regimes? Or will the Syrian moguls give up their relations with other tycoons from the West, China or Russia in the name of Arab higher interests? Naturally the answer is no, because we live in a highly interlaced world economy, the myth of self-sufficiency is nothing but a myth. All the attempts at self-sufficiency have shown that its proponents will align themselves, sooner or later, with one of the great capitalist poles. This is not caused by a degeneration of values among the bourgeoisie; it is a natural consequence of the interlacement of interests between the regional and foreign bourgeoisies, particularly when the former is placed in the position of defending its hegemony against the rise of class struggle. That interlacement is part of the global capitalist fabric in which we live and which is still in a position of dominance, even if it is clearly faltering.
Therefore we cannot but see liberation from imperialism and occupation as part of the process of social liberation. It enters the process of class struggle, not only from the realm of economics, but also from its social, ideological and cultural perspective. Liberation and emancipation are not two distinct phases in a successive programme, but two sides of the same struggle, the struggle for the organisation of the working class in the region on an independent, revolutionary basis. This is not only needed to develop the purely economic and trade unionist struggle, but also as a step towards the achievement of real liberation, and the fracture of the system on which imperialism subsists and through which it controls the region, that is, the capitalist system that governs all of our lives.
Mass resistance is no longer the hypothetical issue it used to be, one that was rebuffed by many for its irrelevance; it has become a historical necessity for the emancipation of the people of the Middle East, not only from occupation and imperialism, but also from dictatorship, oppression, tyranny and exploitation. Without mass resistance, human salvation will remain a mere dream, not an actual serious project waiting for the conditions of its fulfilment.
Being realist today does not mean depending on a structure that emerged not so long ago out of the destruction of existing resistance organisations,34 but it is by building structures of a radically different class nature from the ones that were built for past defeats. Hizbollah has ended the Israeli occupation of south Lebanon, but will not, because of its very bourgeois nature, be capable of putting an end to the “Israeli threat” or “imperialist hegemony”. Therefore, all those who consider themselves revolutionaries must answer this essential question: How do we really emancipate ourselves from imperialism? And how can Palestine really be free, not only through delusional hopes resting on regimes that will abandon any project that clashes with their bourgeois hegemonic interests, as they have done in the past?
For all these reasons, the support for revolutions in our region and the whole world is not only an ethical issue, but an essentially realist position. For it is only through revolution that it is possible to break dependency, clientelism, occupation, oppression, tyranny and exploitation, and their resulting culture. It cannot be done through delusions based on the hope that some bourgeois apparatus (Arab or otherwise) might carry us to a better tomorrow. We know in advance that this will never happen, as any improved social situation will clash with bourgeois dominance and bourgeois interests. Change will only be made by the revolutionary masses, for it is in their core interest.
1: Translated by Haytham Cero. Thanks to Wassim Wagdy, Anne Alexander and Camilla Royle for comments on the draft.
2: Translator’s note: Takfiri refers to Islamist movements, such as ISIS, who declare that their Muslim opponents are apostates, rather than simply misguided.
3: Translator’s note: Samah Idriss is editor-in-chief of the Al-Adab, politics/arts/culture magazine in Beirut. He often writes for Al-Akhbar and is an organiser in the boycott and anti-normalisation (of Israel) movement in Lebanon.
4: On his Facebook page, 4 December 2013.
5: Shaoul and Marsden, 2000.
6: Translator’s note: The Taif Agreement was signed in 1989 to put an end to the Lebanese civil war.
7: Noor, 2013.
9: Translator’s note: Walid Jumblatt is the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, which draws most of its membership from the Druze community in Lebanon.
10: AbuKhalil, 2013.
11: Nasrallah, 2013a.
12: Nasrallah, 2013b.
13: Translator’s note: The Lebanese National Movement in Lebanon was led by Kamal Jumblatt of the Progressive Socialist Party (Walid Jumblatt’s father) and brought together the nationalist and Stalinist left in an alliance against the Lebanese government in the early stages of the Lebanese civil war in the 1970s.
14: See Philip Marfleet’s article in this issue.
16: Translator’s note: Jordanian writer and journalist who writes regularly for Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar.
17: Hattar, 2013.
18: Translator’s note: Secretary General of the Lebanese Communist Party.
19: Translator’s note: the LCP journal.
20: Hadadi, 2013.
21: Amel, 1980. Translator’s note: Mahdi Amel was a Lebanese Marxist theoretician and academic. Member of the Central Committee of the Lebanese Communist Party, he formulated a Marxist critique of Arab nationalist thought and Arab bourgeois culture in general. He was assassinated by gunmen, widely believed to be connected with Hizbollah, in Beirut on 18 May 1987.
22: Amel, 1980.
23: Engels, 1890b. See also Engels, 1890a and c and Engels, 1893.
24: Translator’s note: The South of Lebanon and the southern suburbs of Beirut have a largely Shia population and were historically relatively impoverished and politically marginalised compared to other areas of the country.
25: Translator’s note: The Shia festival of Ashoura’ commemorates the martyrdom of Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, in battle near Karbala’ in 680 CE.
26: Translator’s note: The Dahiyeh area is where Hizbollah is headquartered.
27: Translator’s note: The Phalangist movement was a sectarian militia inspired by European fascist movements and founded by Pierre Gemayel in 1936, which played a key role in the Lebanese Civil War and carried out the massacre of Palestinians in Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in 1982.
28: Translator’s note: Mountains in Syria where Hizbollah is fighting, close to the border with Lebanon.
29: Translator’s note: A denigrating term for supporters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) known also by its Arabic acronym Da’ash.
30: Translator’s note: ie Hizbollah will not subsidise basic food needs.
31: Translator’s note: The Coordinating Committee has played a key role in organising recent public sector strikes in Lebanon.
32: For more details on Hizbollah’s dive into sectarianism, see Assaf, 2013.
33: Translator’s note: a reference to the Sayyidah Zeynab mosque in Damascus, the supposed burial place of the prophet Muhammad’s granddaughter Zeynab, and considered a holy shrine in Shia tradition. It has been guarded by Hizbollah fighters as well as various Iraqi Shia militias since the beginning of the war in Syria.
34: Translator’s note: The Lebanese National Resistance Front was composed mainly of LCP and Palestinian militants and emerged in 1982 after Israeli invasion. It carried out guerrilla attacks against Israel and the SLA (the South Lebanon Army which was allied to Israel), but was hit by assassinations of leftist activists in the mid to late 1980s, which were attributed to Hizbollah and other Islamist movements. Hizbollah emerged as the dominant resistance faction after LNRF’s decay in the late 1980s.
AbuKhalil, As’ad, 2013, “A Call for the Return of the Lebanese Civil War”, Al–Akhbar(16 November).
Amel, Mahdi, 1980, Theoretical Introductions to the Study of the Effect of Socialist Thought on National Liberation Movements (Dar-al-Farabi).
Assaf, Simon, 2013, “Hezbollah’s Sectarian Turn”, Socialist Review (July/August), http://socialistreview.org.uk/382/hezbollahs-sectarian-turn.
Engels, Frederick, 1890a, “Letter to Conrad Schmidt of 5 August”, www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1890/letters/90_08_05.htm
Engels, Frederick, 1890b, “Letter to Joseph Bloch of 21 September”, www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1890/letters/90_09_21.htm
Engels, Frederick, 1890c, “Letter to Conrad Schmidt of 27 October”, www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1890/letters/90_10_27.htm
Engels, Frederick, 1893, “Letter to Franz Mehring of 14 July”, www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1893/letters/93_07_14.htm
Hadadi, Khalid, 2013, “The Iranian-Western agreement… the beginning of ‘bargaining wars’?”, Nida’a magazine, issue 226 (December).
Hattar, Nahed, 2013, “Orientalism… as seen by a Nusra Front Liberal!”, Al–Akhbar(19 November).
Nasrallah, Hassan, 2013a, “Syria’s Friends will Not Allow it to Fall”, Al–Akhbar (1 May), www.al-akhbar.com/node/182379
Nasrallah, Hassan, 2013b, “We will be where we need to be and we are the Last of the Interveners in Syria”, Al-Akhbar (25 June).
Ahmad Noor, 2013, “Egypt: Diaries of a Revolution”, Permanent Revolution, issue 3 (March), http://permanentrevolution-journal.org/ar/issue3/diaries-of-a-revolution
Shaoul, Jean and Chris Marsden, 2000, “The Bitter Legacy of Syria’s Hafez Al-Assad”, World Socialist Web Site (16 June), www.wsws.org/en/articles/2000/06/assa-j16.html