This summer and autumn 2013 saw the Maghreb and the Middle-East emerge front and center: chaos in Egypt and the removal of Mohammed Morsi; violence and turmoil in Tunisia, diplomatic agitation and the threat of air and missile strikes in the midst of the civil war in Syria. How are we to understand these events? Are they all linked, and what meaning does IP see in them? This article is a contribution to an understanding of what has occurred, though it’s neither the last word on what is still unfolding or the analysis that represents the agreed upon position of IP. The position that is articulated here is that the issues at stake in these events are linked to a more general question: the perspectives arising from the clash between the two fundamental social classes in capitalist society. In effect, the struggle of the proletariat is opposed to the growing social and economic misery, and seeks to create a radically different mode of social existence. The actions of the ruling class only increase the chaos and level of violence, which is further increased by the global economic crisis. So, whether in Tunisia, in Egypt, or in Syria, the movements of the « Arab Spring, » though in a confused fashion, expressed an aspiration for less exploitation, and better living conditions, and their recuperation has given way to the unleashing of the only perspective left to the ruling class in the midst of a world economic crisis: more austerity, more violence and more war.
On the economic level, the worsening of the crisis has led to a reorganization of priorities in the Middle East around oil resources, intensifying inter-imperialist oppositions on a global level, as well as confrontations between religious factions (Sunni/Shiite), and between religious and secular factions, on a regional level. To defend its various interests, the ruling class will have constant recourse to cynicism, violence, and barbarism of every sort.
Let’s go back to an important turning point: the movements designated as the “Arab Spring” were a part of a dynamic that challenged the miserable and oppressive conditions of life in that part of the world. Those movements quickly spread throughout the Maghreb, the Middle-East, and beyond in Asia. They were animated by a melange of proletarian and bourgeois elements, at the same time making proletarian demands and demands for bourgeois political and economic reforms. We know the outcome of these movements: for the most part they were canalized into the electoral process, which brought Islamist factions to power. That was the case in Tunisia and Egypt. Libya had a similar outcome with respect to its ruler, but was much more confused with respect to establishing a new political regime – a process involving military strikes by European powers and by the U.S. Now it is the turn of Syria, where the same stakes are at issue, and to which we will return below.
The very start of these movements posed the question of class perspective : on the one hand, these countries saw workers struggling against exploitation and for an improvement in their deplorable living and working conditions (these countries had seen and are still seeing strike movements), on the other hand, factions of the ruling class aspiring to power and to political reform, affirmed a nationalist perspective that rejected alliances with the economically dominant countries (the U.S. and Europe) in favor of local capitalist interests. To direct these social upheavals onto “democratic” reforms and elections was a way for the ruling class to canalize and to break the will of the proletariat, which was indicative of the weakness of the local proletariat, sunk in a heterogeneity of movements and demands. Today, we see these struggles continuing in these countries; protest movements and strikes continue to break out, both against the growing misery, but also against the bourgeois factions – including Islamists – which have come to power. These movements demonstrate both the will to fight of the world proletariat, as well as its actual difficulties in affirming itself as a class. The dynamic begun by the “indignados,” by Occupy, and the Arab Spring, spread like wild fire, but the links between these different movements did not produce a dynamic based on conscious and organized connections.
The Islamist factions that came to power were clearly factions of the bourgeoisie; factions representing the national identity as opposed to that of the old colonizers, presenting themselves as less corrupt than the old rulers. Nor can we ignore the “social” role often played by Islamist groups in having provided social services where those of the local state had been lacking. The Islamists, then, had a certain social base and popularity within the population.
However, once in power, the Islamists necessarily revealed themselves to be no less tyrannical than their predecessors, and popular movements arose against the absence of any improvement in the economic situation, and against Islamist oppression imposed on civil society. For despite the confused character of the demands of the movements of the “Arab Spring,” they did contain a deep-seated aspiration for more freedom and less exploitation, and those aspirations remained alive. Again, to try to contain the renewal of social upheavals, the ruling class tried to present its alternative: negotiations by the Islamist government in Tunisia, blocking the rise to power of Islamism effected by the military in Egypt. We have seen how easily the ruling class can change its outward forms: It let out of prison the same Mubarak it had put there, and jailed its disgraced champion, Morsi, demonstrating at each turn that its goal remains to preserve capitalist society and its state intact, whatever the reforms granted or the political faction that it supported. As the British prime minister, Henry John Temple (1850-1860) said: “England has no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests.” It is the same for the U.S., which very pragmatically has supported all the factions of the ruling class in Egypt that have put themselves forward as alternatives: Mubarak, the Muslim Brothers, the new social movements in Tahrir Square, and the military. Each has been fine, so long as American interests are protected. For example, Egypt is an important economic partner, especially in the arms trade. Here too, we can paraphrase that British prime minister: America has no friends or enemies, it just has political, economic, and strategic interests to defend, on which it puts a heavy price.
In the wake of the “Arab Spring,” a social movement threatened Syria and the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Beginning in 2011, protest movements broke out against poverty, unemployment, and austerity measures. Coordination Committees arose in several cities. Even today, demonstrations continue both to denounce the Assad regime, as well as the Islamists. But those struggles have been obscured by other struggles: under the impact of the global economic crisis, competition over the control and flow of oil has exacerbated regional and inter-imperialist antagonisms in countries that are strategically located. In this region, China and Russia oppose the US; regionally, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Gulf Emirates oppose Islamist factions supported by Iran, Turkey, and Qatar.
The threat of American missile and air strikes were front and center at the end of August and the beginning of September. Its goal was the reaffirmation of the global supremacy of the US, and surely not any defense of the local population – this latter being only an ideological pretext to justify going war. But aside from the need to pound on the table to show who is boss, Obama does face several obstacles: on the one hand, the opposition of a majority of his own population, which does not want to see its soldiers die in far off lands; Iraq and Afghanistan were enough. On the other hand, the American ruling class is probably divided over which strategy to pursue. Overturning the Assad regime might risk destabilizing the whole Middle-East. Meanwhile Russia, allied to Iran and Syria, has viewed this conflict as an opportunity to enhance its position on the imperialist chess board. The European countries, confront the opposition of their own populations with respect to military engagement. The Iraq war has had its effects there too. A supplementary factor is that Russia, India, and China all face the growth of Islamist factions that are provoking agitation: Tatarstan and the Caucasus for Russia, Kashmir for India, and Xinjiang for China. The ruling class has also drawn the lessons from its intervention in Libya. The removal of Muammar Gaddafi gave way to a confused political situation, and it’s by no means certain that Western and American commercial interests are better served than under the reign of Gaddafi. To risk such an adventure in Syria is certainly not the objective of the world powers. Those we call the “rebels” are a mosaic composed of deserters from Assad’s army, fighters coming from other countries (perhaps 10% of them) moderate Islamists, and radical Islamists linked to al-Qaeda – not a combination that could represent an alternative to the Assad regime.
At the present time, The UN has agreed on the destruction of the Assad regime’s chemical weapons. It is still too soon to see all the full meaning and implications of that decision. The Assad regime stands to lose a part of its military power, but to what extent? Is it a measure to win some time (it will take several months to destroy the chemical weapons)? Is it way to weaken Assad without removing him, or the beginning of the end of his reign? Can it be understood as an American victory or a sign of the inability of the US to undertake another military campaign? Time is needed to give an answer.
The chaos and violence that have agitated Tunisia, Egypt, and have been ripping apart Syria for the past two years, are further illustrations of the conflict between the two great social classes.
The perspective of the proletariat is on the side of life: the hope for a community without exploitation, without social and human misery; the perspective of the bourgeoisie is on the side of destruction: to maintain its domination, it is ready for any war, the deaths that results being seen as the necessary “collateral damage.” So, the present situation is, once again, the reflection of the fundamental antagonism between the two social classes that shape capitalist economic, political, and social relations. Putting an end to war, famine, every kind of exploitation, will not occur simply as a result of violence, but rather through a radical change of society. And that change, at its roots, in its social bases, can only be brought about by the social class whose perspective is life.
|Home||Issues of IP||Texts||Discussion||IP's French site||Links|