Open violent struggle has erupted in several African and Arab nations, inspired largely by the massive uprising of workers and students in Tunisia. That revolt has driven out President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali who has fled to Saudi Arabia, reportedly with over a ton of stolen gold.
Workers are bolding fighting their bosses. In company after company — airlines, insurance, petrochemical — workers are seizing management headquarters and demanding, with some success, that the bosses be fired. Workers are conducting regional and city-wide strikes nation-wide. In the cities of Sfax and Sidi Bouzid, mass workers’ organizations have actually seized political power, running out the mayor and city council and establishing direct organizational control over all city agencies.
These workers’ councils could develop a national network and seize power from the decrepit National Unity Government (NUG). But they don’t yet advocate expropriating the capitalists’ property and building a collectively-run communist egalitarian society. Without bold communist leadership, they would probably fall victim to the illusion of “fair-play capitalism.” But revolutionary potential remains.
The sustained worker-student struggle continues to confront the remaining ministers from Ben Ali’s regime, including prime minister and self-proclaimed leader of a “National Unity” government Mohamed Ghannouchi. Continued protests are demanding that all ministers of the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RDC) party be kicked out as simply being “Ben Ali light” who would maintain the same corrupt capitalist clique in power.
Embarrassed by the sustained mass, militant worker-student opposition to the phony NUG, both Ghannouchi and the interim president; the representatives of the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT) (trying to maintain their mis-leadership of the workers; the minister from the bourgeois Democratic Forum for Labour and Liberty; and the Progressive Democratic Party ministers are all abandoning the National Unity government, leaving it as an isolated rump. But no worker has been fooled by their transparent effort at deception.
Workers’ Example Rapidly Spreads
Reflecting the explosive quality of the Tunisian rebellion, oppressed workers throughout North Africa and the Middle East are emulating these bold actions, with the major demonstrations against corruption, repression, mass unemployment and exploitation in Egypt, Algeria, Yemen, and Jordan. Saudi and Kuwaiti bosses are also quaking with fear.
Kuwait’s Mohammad al-Sabah recently told a foreign ministers’ meeting, “The Arab world is witnessing…unprecedented political developments and real challenges in…Arab national security….Countries disintegrate, people conduct uprisings…and the Arab citizen asks: Can the current Arab regime meet these challenges dynamically?”
In response to these workers’ rebellions, Egypt’s foreign investors are leaving in droves. According to Bloomberg News, “Overseas investors are reducing their positions because of the increased political risk stemming from what we saw in Tunisia,” said an executive of Cairo-based Acumen Securities.
THE TUNISIAN REVOLT
Motivated by massive youth unemployment, as high as 50%, poor prospects for the future, anger about the blatant corruption of the Ben Ali clique (and triggered by the desperate political suicide of a student without hope), a mass worker/student uprising challenged the Tunisian government. Ben-Ali’s offer of reforms and compromises sere rejected by angry masses of workers.
Demonstrations, regional general strikes, occupations of government offices by angry workers and students continued and grew until Ben Ali could only flee. Ghannouchi, Ben Ali’s crony and prime minister over the past 20 years, took over but has also been rejected by the masses. The National Unity government is unlikely to remain. Desperate to save their skins, many of Tunisia’s leading figures, both traditional and reformist, have suddenly become the greatest “critics” of Ben Ali, despite having fed at Ben Ali’s family trough for decades. (Over half of Tunisia’s economic activity has been tied to Ben Ali’s family for years). Workers are having none of this.
Meanwhile, the police and army have become less reliable for the bosses because of rank-and-file soldiers’ sympathy for the uprising. Some soldiers were seen saluting demonstrators in a show of support. In the rebellion’s earliest days, Ben Ali actually fired the head of the military because he refused to order the troops to shoot down demonstrators.
The military leadership, using its newly-found credibility, is calling on students and workers not to occupy certain ministries or take “extreme actions.” Although rank-and-file soldier insurgency seems to be continuing in some places, the police and the military leadership have begun to clash with the most radical rebels. Youth throughout Tunisia are organizing “Liberation Caravans” to converge on Tunis, the country’s largest city and capitol, in order to take power. The police have attacked some caravans.
The forces of reaction are gradually trying to reverse the rebellion. Some reformists are calling for the ouster of the current government, replacing it with “reliable” leaders not implicated in the violence and corruption of the Ben Ali regime. These forces are attempting to mislead workers with the promise of “clean” — but still capitalist — government.
The working class’s potential power has been on full display in Tunisia, but the reformists, especially in the union federation, as always are deliberately holding back the struggle. Previously, rank-and-file workers have often occupied the union headquarters to force them to support strikes!
While a general strike to bring down the rump National Unity government and replace it with a workers’ government would be logical, that is not in the cards. Initially the UGTT tried to be part of the National Unity government rather than destroy it. Their role is similar to the AFL-CIO leadership in the U.S.: argue weakly for workers’ interests while promoting patriotism and “national unity.”
The Role of Phony ‘Leftists’
The Communist Party of the Workers of Tunisia (CPWT), whose leader Hamma Hammami was arrested early in the rebellion and subsequently released, has been immersed in the street battles and ministry occupations. The CPWT, however, is squandering this opportunity, calling for “democracy,” not workers’ power and communism.
Specifically, its January 15th nine-point program states, “The democratic change, with its political, economic, social and cultural dimensions, requires the real end of the repressive regime,…forming a provisional government…[with] executive powers,…organizing free elections for a Constitutional Assembly which would establish the basis of a real democratic republic…[consisting of] freedom, social equality and national dignity.”
Towards Communist Revolution and An International Party
The PLP supports the bold militant actions of Tunisia’s workers and students there and will support this rebellion internationally as concretely as possible. The sharp actions of Tunisia’s working class and its allies demonstrate conclusively that capitalism, with its exploitation, racism, corruption and wars, must be eliminated everywhere on the basis of workers’ internationalism and replaced by a communist, egalitarian society.
We don’t need bosses, and we shouldn’t be deceived by those who want to maintain a “cleaned-up” version of capitalism, markets, wage labor and money. We call on our brothers and sisters in Tunisia to consider our vision that so perfectly reflects their aspirations in the current struggle and build PLP there as well as worldwide!
U.S. and Tunisia’s Rulers: Partners in Terrorism
Ben Ali’s Tunisian police state has been an important U.S. ally in its imperialist wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. A UN report lists Tunisia as having secret detention facilities where prisoners are held without International Red Cross access. Tunisian Intelligence Services has cooperated with the U.S. efforts in the “War on Terror” and have participated in interrogating prisoners at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan and in Tunisia. The U.S. State Department boasts about the active support the Tunisian security forces receive from the U.S. in spite of the Ben Ali’s government record of serious human rights violations. According to the Department’s website:
“The United States and Tunisia have an active schedule of joint military exercises. U.S. security assistance historically has played an important role in cementing relations. The U.S.-Tunisian Joint Military Commission meets annually to discuss military cooperation, Tunisia’s defense modernization program, and other security matters.” [Background Note: Tunisia, U.S. State Department, 13 October 2010: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/5439.htm#relations
The U.S. has signed $349 million in military sales agreements with Ben Ali’s government. Last year the Obama administration asked Congress to approve a $282 million sale to Tunisia of 12 “excess” Sikorsky military helicopters, with war-maker GE engines.