From Workers Vanguard No. 973, 4 February 2011
For Permanent Revolution Across North Africa!
Tunisia: Dictator Flees, Protests Continue
For Revolutionary Workers Parties!
The following article was written by our comrades of the Ligue Trotskyste de France, section of the International Communist League.
After 23 years in power, Tunisian dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali ignominiously fled the country on January 14. His exit to Saudi Arabia followed several weeks of protests, initially from layers of youth demanding jobs and to be treated with some dignity by the state. Starting in the town of Sidi Bouzid in Central Tunisia, the protests rapidly spread to the whole of the country, encompassing broad layers of Tunisian society, including the working class, and were met with brutal police repression. Even official sources state that over 100 people have been killed in the course of the five weeks of social struggle, the great majority shot down by police fire.
In the hours following Ben Ali’s flight, Mohamed Ghannouchi, Ben Ali’s prime minister for over eleven years, declared himself president. Faced with further protests, which are increasingly being met with police repression, most of Ben Ali’s loyal servants have been fired from their ministerial positions in the latest attempt to put a lid on the protests while keeping in place the core of the governing apparatus. For now, Ghannouchi is once again prime minister. The Tunisian teachers union held a two-day strike over January 24-25, and other strikes including in public transport have been taking place to drive out the detested Ben Ali bosses, who in recent years have imposed ever more draconian working conditions. Pictures of workers chasing out the president of the country’s largest insurance firm, Star, which is partly owned by a French group, have made the rounds of the Web.
Fed up with unemployment, rising food prices, the widespread corruption of Ben Ali and his family and cronies, as well as police-state repression, Tunisians have heroically braved Ben Ali’s cops and thugs to fight for the most elementary democratic rights. Under Ben Ali, who since 1987 has been re-elected in grotesquely fraudulent elections, political opponents were generally co-opted or smashed. Now the bourgeoisie and its imperialist sponsors are regretting that their deposed despot left no ground for an opposition with “clean hands” to jump into the saddle, thus prolonging instability in Tunisia and beyond.
The masses’ democratic aspirations continue to be a powerful spark for struggle. What is vital is for the proletariat, the one class with the social power and historic interest to overthrow the capitalist system, to emerge out of these struggles as the leader of the country’s unemployed youth, urban poor, peasants, women and other oppressed sectors aspiring to emancipation.
The tumultuous events in Tunisia provide an extraordinary opening for popularizing the Marxist program of socialist revolution, which alone can address the masses’ demands. The upheaval has been marked by an outpouring of all social classes other than the upper echelons of the Tunisian bourgeoisie, a good many of them cronies of Ben Ali. Tunisian flags have been everywhere. This reflects a nationalist consciousness that is also expressed in widespread illusions in the army, whose chief reportedly refused to fire on civilian demonstrators and is rumored to have orchestrated the ouster of Ben Ali. Such illusions are a deadly danger to the working people and the oppressed.
Amid the political vacuum created by Ben Ali’s departure and the jostling for political influence by various forces in the country, what is needed is a Marxist working-class vanguard putting forward the program of permanent revolution: the seizure of power by the working class, fighting to extend its revolutionary victory to the centers of world imperialism—the only way to break the fetters of political despotism and economic and social backwardness.
For a Workers and Peasants Government!
In Tunisia, as in other countries of belated capitalist development, historic gains—such as political democracy and national emancipation—associated with the great bourgeois revolutions of the 17th and 18th century in Britain and France cannot be realized so long as bourgeois rule remains. Tunisia is a neocolonial country whose bourgeoisie is tied by a million strings to world imperialism, particularly France, the former colonial ruler, which benefits from the deep oppression of Tunisia’s masses and served as the main prop for the Ben Ali regime.
French foreign minister Michele Alliot-Marie even offered to send security forces to help crush the uprising. (A cargo plane full of tear gas canisters was stopped from heading to Tunisia only after news came out that Ben Ali had left the country.) Over a thousand French companies are active in Tunisia, owning the bulk of the financial sector and employing over 100,000 people. U.S. imperialism was also key in propping up the Ben Ali regime. One of the documents recently released by WikiLeaks quotes a July 2009 cable by the U.S. ambassador to Tunisia: “The United States needs help in this region to promote our values and policies. Tunisia is one place where, in time, we might find it.”
The subordination of Tunisia to imperialism serves to ensure the brutal exploitation and oppression of its people. Authentic national and social liberation requires mobilizing the proletariat in a frontal attack against the imperialists and the domestic bourgeoisie, which is the deadly enemy of Tunisia’s workers and oppressed. Indeed, amid continuing protests, there is a real danger of the military carrying out a coup to stabilize the bourgeois order. Addressing protesters on January 24, General Rachid Ammar, the army chief of staff, ominously stressed that “the national army is the guarantor of the revolution” (Le Monde, 26 January). For its part, the right-wing Le Figaro (18 January), a French government mouthpiece, openly and threateningly mooted a military coup as the next stage to save bourgeois order and imperialist domination in Tunisia: “Except for accepting this government of national unity [with Ben Ali cronies] to organize upcoming democratic elections, the Tunisians have no plan B to re-establish civilian peace, except resorting to the military to occupy power.”
In Tunisia today, even a small Marxist propaganda group putting forward a series of transitional demands that link the democratic aspirations of the masses to the struggle for proletarian power could have a great impact on unfolding events. This would lay the basis for the building of a revolutionary party that can lead the proletariat in the fight for a workers and peasants government that expropriates the bourgeoisie. Such a party must be forged not only against Ben Ali’s cronies but also against all manner of bourgeois “reformers” as well as the reactionary Islamic fundamentalists.
A proletarian victory in Tunisia would have an electrifying impact throughout North Africa and the Near East and would serve as a bridge to socialist revolution in the advanced capitalist countries, especially France, where some 700,000 Tunisians reside. Summarizing his theory of permanent revolution, Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky underlined in The Permanent Revolution (1930):
“With regard to countries with a belated bourgeois development, especially the colonial and semi-colonial countries, the theory of the permanent revolution signifies that the complete and genuine solution of their tasks of achieving democracy and national emancipation is conceivable only through the dictatorship of the proletariat as the leader of the subjugated nation, above all of its peasant masses
“The dictatorship of the proletariat which has risen to power as the leader of the democratic revolution is inevitably and very quickly confronted with tasks, the fulfillment of which is bound up with deep inroads into the rights of bourgeois property. The democratic revolution grows over directly into the socialist revolution and thereby becomes a permanent revolution
“In a country where the proletariat has power in its hands as the result of the democratic revolution, the subsequent fate of the dictatorship and socialism depends in the last analysis not only and not so much upon the national productive forces as upon the development of the international socialist revolution.”
The Bankruptcy of Tunisian Nationalism
Tunisia has long been touted by its rulers, including by the late Habib Bourguiba, the country’s first president after it received independence from France in 1956, as well as by the imperialists and international bourgeois press as an exception in North Africa for its development, high level of education and supposed equal opportunities for women. However, the case of Mohamed Bouazizi, whose self-immolation sparked the revolt that led to the toppling of Ben Ali, encapsulates the grim reality of life in Tunisia today.
After becoming the main provider for his family at the age of ten, selling fresh produce at the local market, he gave up on his plans to study and left high school at 19 without graduating in order to support his family and give his younger siblings the chance to stay in school. Those who knew Bouazizi spoke of years of abuse and harassment by local police who would confiscate his wares and fine him, ostensibly for not having a permit to sell. On December 17, the police took his scales, tossed aside his cart and beat him. Less than an hour later, after local officials refused to hear his complaint, he set himself alight. Outraged by the events, the city of Sidi Bouzid erupted in protests. Mohamed Bouazizi died on January 4.
Untold numbers of Tunisians and other North Africans, mainly youth, have died in venturing the dangerous boat trip to reach Italy and the rest of Europe to look for work—only to then be subjected to backbreaking exploitation and racist oppression, living under constant danger of deportation. And even that route has become increasingly closed as the European imperialists clamp down on immigration. According to Sami Aouadi, a leader of the Tunisian UGTT trade-union federation, there are today at least 200,000 people with a college degree who are unemployed in Tunisia—that is, 27 percent of all the unemployed in a country numbering about ten million people.
The Tunisian economy is based on agriculture and related processing industries, some oil extraction, phosphate mining in the Gafsa area, tourism and some industry. Textiles, with its heavily female workforce, makes up nearly half of the manufacturing sector. Manufacturing, including French-owned spare parts factories for the auto and aeronautical industries, constitutes about one-fifth of Tunisia’s GDP. There is also an increasingly important service industry with a number of foreign companies, particularly French telecommunications operators, having outsourced call centers to Tunisia. Tunisian workers earn one-eighth of West European wages.
While Tunisia is hardly a heavily industrialized country, it does have a significant trade-union movement, with the UGTT claiming to represent some 600,000 blue-collar workers. The UGTT has a unique history in North Africa of not being completely subservient to the bourgeois-nationalist ruling government. It has engaged in both class struggle and deep class collaboration with the nationalists in power. Ben Ali seemed to have finally brought the UGTT to heel after many years of repression, and in recent years the top leaders of the union federation were also members of the leadership of Ben Ali’s Democratic-Constitutional Rally (RCD) party. The UGTT tops called for a vote to Ben Ali in 1999, 2004 and again in 2009, at a time when the population was sarcastically changing the “Ben Ali 2009” campaign posters to “Ben Ali 2080” and “Ben Ali 2500.”
On December 28, the UGTT demanded the release of those imprisoned following the protests in Sidi Bouzid and elsewhere. However, it insisted that its demands were made “with the aim of contributing to devising constructive solutions in order to appease the situation in that area and contain its fallout.” Under pressure from its ranks, and as protests swelled, it made statements increasingly hostile to the government and finally allowed its regional chapters to call for local general strikes on January 14, the very day that Ben Ali fled.
The UGTT leadership then jumped into the “new” government, the key posts of which, including the police, remained manned by Ben Ali associates. Again, it was only under the pressure of mass protests against the sham “transitional government” that the UGTT ministers resigned from their posts, saying they were still willing to participate in the capitalist government provided that prime minister Ghannouchi was the only Ben Ali crony in it. As Jilani Hammami, a UGTT leader, delicately put it, the trade-union federation “was subjected to heated debates, counterposing the leadership, with its links to the regime, to the federal and regional chapters, which supported the popular uprising.” More recently, the UGTT has endorsed the reshuffled “interim government” in a (so far futile) attempt to quell protests.
The 2008 Gafsa Revolt: a Precursor
The contradictory role played by the trade unions, as well as the divisions between the base and the tops of these unions, was also seen in the 2008 revolt in Gafsa. This revolt was a precursor to the current social upheaval and had previously been the most significant protest Tunisia had seen since the Bread Revolt in 1984, which erupted after Bourguiba instituted an IMF-dictated 100 percent hike in the price of bread.
A phosphate mining area, the Gafsa region has been hit particularly hard by mass unemployment. Over the past three decades, the government-controlled CPG (Company of Gafsa Phosphates), the region’s main employer, has reduced its payroll from 14,000 workers to little more than 5,000. A popular upheaval broke out in January 2008 when the mining company produced a list of people to be hired that favored individuals loyal to the government and to the UGTT regional leaders. Since the company had a policy of not replacing its retirees, this was its first hiring opportunity in six years; hopes were thus particularly high.
For months, workers, women and unemployed youth in the mining region protested. Their banners declared, “Work, Freedom and National Dignity,” “We Want Jobs, No to Promises and Illusions” and “No to Corruption and Opportunism.” In June 2008, the government cracked down. Two people were killed, in addition to one the month before, while dozens were injured and many more were imprisoned. In November 2009, most prisoners were released under a presidential pardon by an increasingly unstable Ben Ali regime, but with the sentences remaining in place and the individuals subject to regular police controls. However, Fahem Boukadous, a journalist who covered the Gafsa revolt, was sentenced last year to four years in prison and released only on January 19. The workers movement in Tunisia and internationally must demand: Freedom now for all the heroic fighters of the Gafsa upheaval and all other victims of bonapartist repression!
Local UGTT activists played a key role in the Gafsa struggle, particularly in the town of Redeyef. However, the central and regional leadership denounced the protests and even suspended one of the trade unionists leading the protests—Adnane Hajji, a teacher who was subsequently sentenced to more than ten years in jail. While on paper the UGTT is opposed to temporary jobs, local UGTT honcho Amara Abbassi, a member of the RCD central committee and of parliament, set up a company of labor brokers to supply the mines with temporary workers. He also set up other labor broker companies to supply maintenance workers, enriching himself and his family on the backs of the superexploited workers. As part of the struggle to forge a Marxist workers party in Tunisia, it is vital to fight to replace the reformist leadership of the UGTT with a class-struggle leadership dedicated to the independence of the trade unions from the bourgeoisie and its state.
For a Revolutionary Constituent Assembly!
In fighting for working-class power, it would be impossible for a Marxist party in Tunisia merely to reject the bourgeois-democratic program. Rather, as Trotsky put it in the 1938 Transitional Program, the founding document of the Fourth International, “it is imperative that in the struggle the masses outgrow it.” The Tunisian working masses are today saddled with a “transitional government” headed by a Ben Ali crony with elections suspended for six months, aiming for the emerging bourgeois regime to consolidate its power.
Thus, against the maneuverings of Tunisia’s bourgeois rulers and their UGTT lackeys, we raise the call for immediate elections to convoke a revolutionary constituent assembly, which could give free expression to the will of the population after decades of silence under the heel of Bourguiba and Ben Ali. This basic democratic demand will not be realized through parliamentary bargaining but only through a victorious popular insurrection.
Our call for a revolutionary constituent assembly is counterposed to calls for a constituent assembly raised by the reformists, who in fact envision parliamentary bargaining with the bourgeois authorities with the (illusory) aim of securing a democratic form of bourgeois rule. The Workers Communist Party of Tunisia (PCOT), a group with a Stalinist background that played a militant role in the Gafsa uprising, stands out for having straightforwardly denounced the governmental combinations formed after Ben Ali fled. Its spokesman Hamma Hammami told l’Humanite (17 January), newspaper of the French Communist Party, that the purpose of the provisional government was “to abort the democratic and popular movement,” insisting: “We don’t demand anything impossible, only the institution of a transitional government to form a constituent assembly in order to elaborate a constitution guaranteeing fundamental civil rights, freedom of expression, of association and of the press.” Speaking plainly, PCOT simply wants, including through its call for a constituent assembly, a capitalist government but without those who have a history of collaboration with Ben Ali.
We raise the call for a revolutionary constituent assembly as a bridge between the current, legitimate democratic aspirations of the masses and the need for the dictatorship of the proletariat, which would be based on soviets (workers councils)—i.e., proletarian democracy, a higher form of democracy than a bourgeois-democratic constituent assembly. As Trotsky underlined in the Transitional Program, “Democratic slogans, transitional demands, and the problems of the socialist revolution are not divided into separate historical epochs in this struggle, but stem directly from one another.” He added:
“At a certain stage in the mobilization of the masses under the slogans of revolutionary democracy, soviets can and should arise. Their historical role in each given period, particularly their relation to the national assembly, will be determined by the political level of the proletariat, the bond between them and the peasantry, and the character of the proletarian party policies. Sooner or later, the soviets should overthrow bourgeois democracy. Only they are capable of bringing the democratic revolution to a conclusion and likewise opening an era of socialist revolution.”
The Working Class Needs Its Own Organs of Power
In periods of acute class struggle, the trade unions, which typically organize the top layers of the proletariat, become too narrow to draw in the broad layers of masses in revolt, including unorganized workers. At the same time, the unions’ bureaucratic misleaders strive to keep on top of the situation in order to derail the struggle. A Marxist party in Tunisia today would put forward a perspective of building organizations that embrace the whole fighting mass: strike committees, factory committees and, finally, soviets.
As Trotsky emphasized, soviets can only arise at the time when the mass movement enters into an openly revolutionary stage. Soviets originally arose amid the 1905 Russian Revolution as workers strike committees. When the soviets arose again during the course of the 1917 Russian Revolution, they embraced not only the workers but also soldiers and the peasantry, becoming organs of dual power. Under the leadership of the Bolshevik Party, the working class took power in Russia, with the soviets emerging as the organs of working-class rule.
Following Ben Ali’s departure, local militias sprang up to defend neighborhoods against the rampages of cops and thugs allied with Ben Ali. What is necessary is for the working class to take the lead. This means organizing factory committees, organs of dual power at the point of production, and from there setting up workers militias, drawing in the urban poor and unemployed, for self-defense against the state’s thugs. The workplace committees must, among their elementary demands, fight for jobs for the unemployed and an end to the intimidation and harassment of women workers, fighting for equal wages and benefits for women. Marxists must also fight for the workers to take charge of food distribution and control food prices in the face of shortages and black market corruption. In the Transitional Program, Trotsky underlined how the tasks and demands of such organs of dual power—i.e., proletarian-centered bodies that vie with the bourgeoisie for control of the country—run up against the very nature of the capitalist order:
“These new organs and centers, however, will soon begin to feel their lack of cohesion and their insufficiency. Not one of the transitional demands can be fully met under the conditions of preserving the bourgeois regime. At the same time, the deepening of the social crisis will increase not only the sufferings of the masses but also their impatience, persistence, and pressure. Ever new layers of the oppressed will raise their heads and come forward with their demands. Millions of toilworn ‘little men,’ to whom the reformist leaders never gave a thought, will begin to pound insistently on the doors of the workers’ organizations. The unemployed will join the movement. The agricultural workers, the ruined and semiruined farmers, the oppressed of the cities, the women workers, housewives, proletarianized layers of the intelligentsia—all of these will seek unity and leadership.
“How are the different demands and forms of struggle to be harmonized, even if only within the limits of one city? History has already answered this question: through soviets.”
Stalinist “Two-Stage Revolution” Means Betrayal
Faced with decades of class-collaborationist betrayal by the Stalinist Communist Party (now called Ettajdid, meaning “Renewal”) and other reformist parties, Tunisia’s working and oppressed masses today do not identify their struggles with the fight for socialism. After decades of brutal dictatorship, there are deepgoing illusions in bourgeois democracy and nationalism.
Tunisian left groups have shown that they have learned nothing from their past betrayals, when many of them supported General Ben Ali’s 1987 ascent to power as he deposed the then “president for life” Habib Bourguiba. We wrote at the time: “The Tunisian so-called left is giving the benefit of the doubt, if not their support, to the new Bonaparte, General Ben Ali, hoping for the liberalization of the regime” (Le Bolchévik No. 79, January 1988). Today, these left groups continue to bow before the ruling apparatus. Ettajdid leader Ahmed Ibrahim greeted Ben Ali’s conciliatory speech on the day before his flight, declaring, “It is a good start to turn the page of authoritarianism” (Le Monde, 15 January). Ettajdid went so far as to participate in the government that was formed after the dictator’s ousting.
Historically, Stalinists in the Third World advocated “two-stage revolution,” with a first, democratic stage to be carried out in alliance with a mythical “progressive” and “democratic” wing of the bourgeoisie, which would then be followed in an indeterminate future by a second stage of socialist revolution. Time and again, these pipe dreams have ended with drowning the workers in blood; the second stage never comes. Once the capitalists have stabilized their power with the help of the Stalinists, they unleash a massacre of the Communists and working-class militants, as they did, for example, with the Iraqi revolution of 1958 (see “Near East, 1950s: Permanent Revolution vs. Bourgeois Nationalism,” WV Nos. 740 and 741, 25 August and 8 September 2000).
Today, however, groups like PCOT do not even go beyond mentioning the first stage of achieving “democracy”—i.e., reformed bourgeois rule. Most recently, PCOT has joined a class-collaborationist bloc called the “January 14 Front”—named after the day Ben Ali left the country—with a number of small bourgeois formations, including Nasserist and Ba’athist nationalists. The Front’s program is thoroughly bourgeois, including the demand for “a new policy of security based on respect for human rights and the superiority of the law.”
Far from instilling the basic Marxist understanding that the military is part of the capitalist state, PCOT contributes to illusions in the army. In a statement dated January 15, PCOT wrote: “The armed forces, which consists in the main of the sons and daughters of the people, are required to provide safety for the people and the motherland and respect people’s aspirations toward freedom, social justice and national dignity.”
If the officer corps did oust Ben Ali, it was because they realized he was a losing proposition for Tunisian capitalism. In fact, the army was involved in the bloody repression of the Gafsa upheaval in 2008 and it will play a similar role in the future, all the more so as illusions still continue to run deep in its supposed role as the “defender of the people.” On January 20, the army fired live rounds into the air, scattering protesters who had converged on the headquarters of the RCD in Tunis. The military, cops, judges and prison guards constitute the core of the capitalist state, an organ of class oppression to maintain bourgeois rule through violence. As the workers fight for their own state power, they will have to smash the bourgeois state apparatus, including by splitting the army along class lines—the conscripts versus the bourgeois officer corps.
Even at their most radical, the left groups in Tunisia at best demand a “democratic republic.” They have abandoned any pretense of fighting for socialist revolution, reflecting the dramatic retrogression in consciousness that followed the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet degenerated workers state in 1991-92, a catastrophic defeat for the international working class.
Islamic Fundamentalism and the Fight for Women’s Liberation
The political bankruptcy of Tunisia’s left groups could give an opening to the Islamic fundamentalists. This is a deadly threat to the working class and particularly to women. The Islamic fundamentalists played no visible role in the ousting of Ben Ali, unlike the many women who participated. Most demonstrators have vehemently stressed that they are not for Islamic rule. The mosques were indeed tightly controlled by the regime and supported Ben Ali.
The bourgeoisie internationally, especially in France, had for years supported the bloody Ben Ali regime as a rampart in the “war on terror” and as a vanguard in the fight for “secularism.” In the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the U.S. and other imperialists went on to launch or participate in wars of depredation in Afghanistan and Iraq and to increase repression domestically, particularly against minorities with Muslim backgrounds. In France, the former popular-front government of Socialist Party prime minister Lionel Jospin, which included the Communist Party, reinforced the Vigipirate plan of police/army patrols of public transport, which has remained on “red alert” levels since 2005. The Jospin government also passed the “Daily Security Law” that strengthened police powers, which were further increased when Nicolas Sarkozy was interior minister and again now that he is president.
While the imperialists have used the “war on terror” to prop up “secular” leaders like Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt, in reality the imperialists long fostered the growth of Islamic fundamentalism as a bulwark against Communism and even left bourgeois nationalism. This is no less true of the Arab rulers, who brutally repress the fundamentalists with one hand while promoting them with the other. In a 1994 interview, Ben Ali himself stated that “to some extent fundamentalism was of our own making, and was at one time encouraged in order to combat the threat of communism. Such groups were fostered in the universities and elsewhere at that time in order to offset the communists and to strike a balance” (quoted in Political Islam: Essays from Middle East Report, edited by Joel Beinin and Joe Stork ).
Tunisian society is relatively secular compared with other countries in North Africa and the Near East. Many women do not wear the veil, abortion has been liberalized, contraception is available and polygamy is banned; “repudiation” (where a man can divorce his wife simply by uttering the phrase, “I divorce you”) was replaced by civil divorce. These rights were mostly obtained under President Bourguiba in the early years after independence and in good part because Tunisia had a workers movement that was relatively independent of the state. However, as we wrote more than 20 years ago in Le Bolchévik No. 79, after Ben Ali seized power, Tunisia’s Code of Personal Status is profoundly inspired by Islamic law, forcing women to be subordinate to their fathers and husbands:
“Unmarried women remain under the authority of their father who must ‘provide for them until marriage.’ The husband must pay a dowry ‘of a substantial amount’ for his future wife, before the marriage is ‘consummated.’... After marriage, women must obey their husbands. Sexual inequality in inheritance has been maintained: a woman inherits half the share of a man. The Tunisian Code of Personal Status, its constitution and legislation were designed as an awkward, fragile and reversible compromise between Islamic law and bourgeois ‘modernity’.”
After 23 years of Ben Ali’s rule, very little has changed in this respect, except that obeying your husband is no longer an obligation enshrined in law. However, importantly, the proportion of women in the workforce has increased to nearly 30 percent from just 5.5 percent in the mid 1960s, underlining their increasing role as a vital component of the proletariat.
Fundamentally, women’s oppression is rooted in the institution of the family and in class society. It can be eradicated only after a revolutionary workers state has collectivized the economy and laid the material basis for replacing the family through the socialization of child rearing and education (see “The Russian Revolution and the Emancipation of Women,” Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 59, Spring 2006). The reforms gained under Bourguiba and Ben Ali—that is about as far as it can go for women under capitalism in such a neocolonial country. The fight for women’s emancipation will play a vital role in the struggle for socialist revolution in Tunisia.
French Imperialism’s Loyal Social Democrats
In response to the Tunisian upheaval, the social-democratic left in France has sowed illusions in French imperialism. Of course, they all criticized the French foreign minister’s offer to send security forces to help prop up Ben Ali. At bottom, these social democrats have been furious that the Sarkozy government’s grotesque support to the Ben Ali regime is going to weaken the position of French imperialism in a post-Ben Ali Tunisia. This is felt in particular with regard to French imperialism’s U.S. rivals, who had been privately critical of the Ben Ali regime and reportedly gave the green light to General Ammar to order Ben Ali to leave the country. With U.S. imperialism hypocritically offering to help organize “free elections” in Tunisia, French Socialist Party honcho Jean-Marc Ayrault lamented that the French government took “positions that disqualify France in the eyes of the world and Tunisians.”
So now the social-democratic left is calling on the same Sarkozy government to be a force for good in Tunisia. The Left Party of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who from 2000 to 2002 was a minister in Jospin’s bourgeois government, distributed a statement in Paris on January 13, the day before Ben Ali’s flight, demanding that “the government of M. Sarkozy as well as the European Union use the many forms of pressure available to them to force Ben Ali to listen to the popular demands and engage without delay in the deep democratic reforms that are essential in the country.” Similarly, the Communist Party demanded that Sarkozy and other EU leaders “condemn the repression and take political, economic and financial sanctions against the Ben Ali regime” (l’Humanite, 14 January). This was printed on the very day that the French government was getting a planeload of tear gas ready for Tunisia! This should be no surprise: The social democrats and Stalinists have steadfastly defended French imperialist interests, from the war against Algerian independence waged by the Socialist Guy Mollet government, with the Communist Party’s support, in the 1950s to the defense of present-day French interests in Africa.
The New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) of Olivier Besancenot has been slightly more sophisticated in its attempts to pressure the government. While calling on France to give up its “little neocolonial arrangements” in its former colonies of Tunisia and Algeria, the NPA, in a Paris leaflet distributed on January 13, condemned the “French government’s quasi silence” on the Tunisian uprising as “intolerable.” At home the NPA works to subordinate the working class to the bourgeoisie through class collaboration; similarly in regard to Tunisia it uncritically promotes the “January 14 Front” that includes PCOT and a number of small bourgeois parties.
For Permanent Revolution!
The impact of the Tunisian uprising has already reverberated across North Africa and the Near East (see accompanying article on Egypt). Amid the international economic crisis, the masses in countries like Egypt have been reeling from major increases in basic food and fuel prices, fostered by runaway speculation by international capitalist financiers (see “Imperialism Starves World’s Poor,” WV Nos. 919 and 920, 29 August and 12 September 2008, on the previous speculation-fed food crisis). Egypt is exploding. In Algeria, protests have spread throughout the country against the government of the ailing Abdelaziz Bouteflika, a figurehead for the military, which has dominated Algeria since independence.
A workers revolution in Tunisia would have tremendous impact throughout North Africa and the Near East. Workers uprisings could sweep away all these rotting regimes and begin to address the fundamental demands of the masses for jobs, freedom and justice. Imperialist France, the neocolonial overlord of the whole Maghreb region of North Africa, would be profoundly shaken, especially given the strategic position in the French proletariat of millions of workers of North African origin. What is essential is the forging of revolutionary workers parties like the Bolshevik Party that led the working class of Russia to power in the 1917 October Revolution—parties committed to the program of permanent revolution, addressing the burning needs of the masses and unalterably leading them to one final conclusion: the conquest of power by the proletariat. This is the program of the International Communist League. For a socialist federation of North Africa!