Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Revolution in Tunisia: Three Left Perspectives

Tunisia Breaks Free
Solidarity Webzine
by Jase
January 27, 2011

The events unfolding in Tunisia before our very eyes constitute a sharp break in world events, albeit a break that has emerged from years of grinding contradictions that have now come to a head. These events represent a break from US-backed “color revolutions,” feigned revolutionary upsurges by reactionary Islamists masquerading as harbingers of progress, and forms of reformist and guerilla-style revolutionary elitism. Popular self-organization from below has scored a victory that—although limited in nature—has had profound effects in transforming the consciousness of people around the Arab world and indeed globally.

The revolt in the streets of Tunis had their origins in the rural southern regions of the country, specifically in the town of Sidi Bouzidi. There, mostly rural workers took to the streets in December “with a rock in one hand and a cell-phone in the other” (according to Rochdi Horchani, a relative of Mohamed Bouazizi—the 26 year old street vendor whose self-immolation sparked the current round of resistance) to challenge the regime of Ben-Ali.

The challenge came after three decades of ruthless repression at the hands of Ben-Ali's Mukhabarat (secret police). The US and French support for the regime went very far as Tunisia was upheld as an exemplar of behavior considered acceptable to the interests of the American and French ruling classes. Tunisia was to be a place of robber-baron dictatorship (Wikileaks cables reveal that something like 50% of the economy was in one way or another under the control of Ben-Ali's family and 6 other clans). All of the repression occurred with the blessing of Washington and Paris, for as long as the people were docile and timid before their oppressors, no complaints about human rights abuses seemed to matter.

Unlike similar demonstrations against the regime that had broken out in the spring, the people of Sidi Bouzidi made a huge effort to get the news of their demonstrations out to a broader public. They succeeded dramatically. Images from the south were seen via the internet and pirated satellite television.

Then came more eruptions across the country—and the entry of thousands of urban working-class citizens into the battle. The explosion was more than the police could handle and so Ben-Ali called on the military to enter the mix with guns drawn: and the orders were refused.

We do not know exactly what transpired in the halls of power, but the ruling RCD party maneuvered for its own survival following the military refusal by pressing Ben-Ali to flee—and flee he did. First he tried to touch down in Paris, but the shrewd Sarkozy government refused him asylum, recognizing that inflaming anti-imperialist tensions was probably an unwise decision at this given juncture. Ben-Ali has taken refuge in Saudi Arabia now—though the new (second) interim government is trying to have him brought into custody.

Unlike recent “color” revolutions in Eastern Europe or Central Asia, millions of dollars of George Soros' “democracy promotion” aid did not contribute to the effort and no liberal opposition parties were significant participants. The dissension from the regime by the largest trade union confederation (which had previously been the handmaiden of the regime) turned the struggle from one isolated among youth and rural workers to a general uprising against the regime.

read the full article on the Solidarity Webzine...

Tunisia’s Revolution in Danger
A Bolshevik Policy is Needed to Guide the Workers and Poor People to Power!

A Joint Statement by the League for the Revolutionary Party (U.S.) and the Internationalist Socialist League (Israel/Occupied Palestine)
January 28, 2011

The sight of Tunisia’s long-time dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali fleeing in the face of workers’ general strikes and mass demonstrations is inspiring an upsurge of struggle throughout the Middle East. The idea is spreading among the Arab world’s workers and youth that they could rise up and send the rest of the region’s imperialism-backed dictators packing as well.

But in Tunisia itself the struggle is far from over. The dictator is gone, but the political party that he led and which ran the dictatorship, the RCD, still dominates the government. The hated police have been driven away or underground in many places, but the state apparatus of courts, police and the army that was the dictatorship’s foundation remain in place in the country’s most important centers of power. Weeks of big demonstrations and mass strikes demanding that the RCD be ousted from the government have yielded little change, and Ben Ali’s crony Mohamed Ghannouchi continues to hold the position of Prime Minister.

Today, the forces of the old dictatorship are too weak to try to violently crush the masses’ struggles. But the workers and poor people do not see a leadership willing and able to lead them in finally driving the RCD from power. The current standoff between these forces cannot last forever.

The masses’ desire to rid themselves of the RCD is accompanied by a growing sense of the need for a strong government to get the economy moving again. Ghannouchi’s regime hopes that it can hold on to power while the masses grow tired from weeks of struggle without a breakthrough. But there are already signs that more violent means could be used to subjugate the masses: recent provocative demonstrations in Tunis expressing support for the government and condemning the unions and the left for spreading anarchy, combined with scattered violent attacks on union offices in different cities, warn of attempts to rally middle-class support for a more dictatorial crackdown.

The Role of the Army

The current balance of power between the Ghannouchi government and the masses is held by the army. Its ranks of soldiers, conscripted from the working class and poor, have been swept up in the masses’ revolutionary ferment. They broadly share the hope of seeing the RCD ousted from power and today guard government buildings and central streets with flowers in their gun barrels, symbols of their intention not to harm the masses.

The army’s top leader, General Rachid Ammar, was at least at first regarded as a hero for refusing Ben Ali’s orders to crush the masses’ protests. Indeed in the days after Ben Ali’s downfall, the army played an important role in apprehending bands of police engaged in wanton acts of murder.

But Ammar was hand-picked for his position by Ben Ali and has long been closely tied to U.S. imperialism and its military. Ammar may have prompted Ben Ali’s flight from power, but he did so with the aim of sacrificing the dictator in order to rescue the rest of the capitalist ruling class and save its state power to rule over the masses. When “Caravans of Liberation” arrived in Tunis from the country’s impoverished central region and threatened to lead demonstrators in toppling the government, Ammar stood before them with a megaphone and begged them to allow more time for reforms. “The army will protect the revolution,” he promised. What Ammar was literally doing, however, was saving the RCD from the revolution.

A Democratic, Not Socialist, Revolution?

Tunisia’s revolution did not begin with intellectuals in cosmopolitan Tunis protesting for free speech. Rather, it began with massive union-organized demonstrations in the impoverished center of the country. Rallying behind slogans like “Bread and Freedom – Not Ben Ali!” the masses of workers and poor people made clear from the outset that they were fighting to liberate themselves not just from political oppression but also from poverty and exploitation.

read the full statement here...

Statement on Tunisia
by the Socialist Party USA International Commission
January 31, 2011

Tunisia has become the latest hot spot in a global wave of popular rebellion against failed economic policies, corruption, and despotism. Ongoing protests throughout the country – called the Sidi Bouzid intifada by Tunisians in reference to the city where the protests began - were sparked by the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, a twenty-six year old street vendor. Like many, he suffered from underemployment and police violence. The rebellion went largely unnoticed by the international commercial media until the Tunisian dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, fled to Saudi Arabia on January 14th, ending 23 years of autocracy.

The International Commission of the Socialist Party USA salutes the people of Tunisia in this important step toward liberation. The ousting of Ben Ali shows that tyrants cannot rule over a population that refuses consent. In particular, we recognize the central role played by working people. While students and the middle class also went into the streets, it was workers, organized by the General Union of Tunisian Workers that gave the demonstrations structure and tipped the balance of power toward the protests. Through concerted mass action, the working class of Tunisia proved to have the power to overthrow a seemingly invincible authoritarian regime and make history. The revolt has inspired popular struggles throughout the region and the world. Already protests have rocked Algeria, Jordan, Egypt, Yemen and other Arab states.

The Tunisian struggle continues over the nature of a new government. Mobilizations in the street are continuing in protest against a proposed “unity government” which maintains many officials from the old ruling party. Protesters are demanding a new democratic constitution before elections. Removing the dictator is not enough; the entire dictatorship must go.

Behind the scenes, economic power brokers are working to preserve neo-liberal relations with foreign interests, and insulate themselves from democratic forces. Recent revelations from Wikileaks have exposed how French and U.S. diplomats were well aware of the corruption and human rights violations of the Ben Ali regime, yet maintained uncritical friendly relations. A truly democratic alternative for the people of Tunisia that is independent of economic and diplomatic imperialism will be served best by connecting to the international socialist movement.

The International Commission of the Socialist Party USA pledges to share Tunisia's story, and to pressure our government to respect Tunisian sovereignty. We extend our solidarity and seek greater ties with the movements in Tunisia of unionists, women, youth, and socialists. The liberation of Tunisia from Ben Ali's personal dictatorship brings us one step closer to ending the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, warding off aggression against Iran, and ending the occupation of Palestine.

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