A History of Oppression and Resistance
Part 1: From Slavery to Civil War
Black people did not “come to this country seeking a better life.” They were kidnapped from their homes in
Africa, dragged in chains and loaded onto slave ships–treated not like human beings but like things, commodities
to be traded and used to enrich others. Tens of millions of enslaved Africans died before even reaching America,
so terrible were the conditions on the slave ships. Those who survived the trip and were then sold to plantation
owners were treated like pieces of machinery. Slave owners commonly referred to the slaves as “talking tools.”
That is how Black people were treated for the first 250 years of their experience in America.
The “founding fathers” of the USA defended slavery and upheld the interests of the slave owners against the
slaves. This is true of “the father of his country,” George Washington, who was himself a slave owner, and it is
true of the men who wrote the Declaration of Independence and The Constitution of the United States –men like
Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
African peoples, and the native peoples in North America, were treated as something less than human–as though
they were “beasts” or “savages” who never had reached and never could reach the “high level of civilization” of
the Europeans. The fact that, both in Africa and in North America, there were highly developed societies and
cultures long before Europeans came to dominate these places–this basic truth was denied and “written out of
history” by the European conquerors and enslavers.
Black people’s own major and heroic role in fighting against slavery is denied or downgraded by the “official
histories.” The facts are that there were over 200 slave revolts, including the more famous ones led by Nat Turner
in Virginia and Denmark Vesey in South Carolina, as well as other revolts that were covered up and written out
of history by the slave masters.
What about the Civil War that finally ended slavery? Once they were allowed to, masses of Black people flooded
into the northern (Union) army in that war and fought courageously and with great sacrifice on the front lines–
even though they were still subjected to segregation and discrimination, even down to the level where their pay as
soldiers was only about half that of the white soldiers! Nearly 200,000 Blacks fought in the Union army and one
out of every five (almost 40,000) gave their lives in this fight.
The Civil War came about because of the clash between two different economic and social systems–slavery,
based on plantation farming in the South; and capitalism, based on factory and other wage-labor centered in the
North. Things had gotten to the point where these two systems could no longer peacefully coexist within the
The slave owners and the capitalists were battling each other for control of the country, they were battling each
other as the USA expanded westward. This expansion was carried out by slaughtering the native peoples and
grabbing their lands and waging a war to steal a huge chunk of land from Mexico.
Anyone who is serious and honest knows that the enslavement and exploitation of Black people has been a big
part of building up the wealth and power that the rulers of this country have in their hands–wealth and power that
these suckers use to further exploit and oppress people here and all over the world. And anyone who is honest
and serious knows that for revolution to have a chance in this country–a revolution to do away with all this
oppression and exploitation and to change society from bottom to top–Black people must play and will play a big
part in this revolution.
The text in this centerfold is from “Cold Truth, Liberating Truth: How This System Has Always Oppressed Black
People, and How All Oppression Can Finally Be Ended,” which can be found online at revcom.us/coldtruth/.
The oppression of black people in the USA today
Thu, 02/10/2008 – 11:03
The systematic oppression of black Americans is deeply embedded in the fabric of US society. In a nation made
up of immigrants, blacks were the ones brought there forcibly and kept as slaves for 150 years. Although racism
afflicts many ethnic groups, racism against black people is “justified” by a racist ideology derived from slavery
and the hundred year old apartheid system of Jim Crow, which insists on their inferiority to whites. Though
officially hidden today, it underpins the horrific inequality in education, employment, housing, healthcare, and
levels of poverty dividing black and white Americans. A 2008 report by the National Urban League (Annual
Report on Socio-economic Conditions in Black America), which investigates the realities faced by black citizens,
has uncovered some brutal facts. It finds that there is still indisputable evidence that the criminal justice system is
pitted against young black men, and systematically criminalises them.
For example, blacks who are arrested are seven times more likely to be imprisoned than whites; they are
sentenced to death four times more often than whites, and the average prison sentence is 10 months longer for
black men than for white men. In addition 98 per cent of District Attorneys, those responsible for initiating
prosecutions, are white and black jurors are challenged far more than whites.
Black Americans make up 12.2 per cent of the American population, but black men under 25 years of age are 15
times more likely to die by murder than white men. Black men make up 48 per cent of those on death row. Of the
two million people imprisoned in the US, one million are black. Yet blacks are still 20 times more likely than
whites to be a victim of hate crime.The US legal system uses systematic racist techniques to convict and sentence
blacks. The death penalty is racist. An in-depth study by researchers, ‘Prison Nation: the Warehousing of
America’s Poor’, found that whether someone is given the death penalty is down to the quality of legal defence,
not the facts of the crime. Most of those on death row could not afford their own lawyer. So the death penalty is
also a class issue – there are no rich people on death row.The National Urban League also finds:
• More than 80,000 Black Americans die every year due to lack of health insurance
• Black people are less likely to own their own home than any other ethnic group
• Black women are five to six times more likely to receive sub prime mortgages than white males
• Blacks people are three times more likely to receive higher rate mortgage loans (54.7 per cent of blacks
compared to 17.2 per cent of whites)
• 25 percent of the black population live below the poverty line, and of those under the ages of 18, 33.5 per cent
live in poverty.
These are just some examples of the horrific inequality black people face in the USA, not to mention the racism
that also works on unconscious levels, racism which exists in the workplace, in social relations, and in the
As the whole world saw in 2006, when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, in the richest country on earth the
black and poor inhabitants were left to save themselves or drown. Hungry survivors were shot at when they took
food from abandoned shops.
And two whole years after Katrina, tens of thousands of its victims are still awaiting permanent housing (UN
Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination). New housing projects which were promised by the
government simply are not being built. Public housing for low-income families is being demolished to make way
for new private housing, and rents on existing homes are being raised.On average Black male fulltime workers
earn only 72 per cent of the earnings of their white class brothers. For women, the comparable ratio is 85 percent.
In boom and recession alike, black unemployment is double the white rate. In the 40 years since Martin Luther
King was assassinated, the income disparity between blacks and whites has narrowed by only three cents in the
dollar. In a country with very little public housing, black homeownership is only 47 per cent compared with 75
per cent for whites. In 2005 the median per capita income was $16,629 for blacks and $28,946 for whites. At this
rate it would take another 537 years to reach income equality. But if Democrats and Republicans keep on
demolishing welfare programmes, this snail’s pace improvement will go into reverse. (All figures from: Race and
Extreme Inequality by Dedrick Muhammad in The Nation, June 11, 2008)
It’s not surprising that Barack Obama declared in March this year that “race is an issue that I believe this nation
cannot afford to ignore” and spoke of the racial divide between black and white which he hoped to overcome. But
what is he actually promising to do for African-Americans?
Obama’s manifesto, Blueprint for Change, contains some positive measures such as providing support for ex-
offenders including mental health counselling, job training, and re-integration. Non-violent offenders on drugs
charges will be sent to rehabilitation centres instead of to prisons. However these measures are really only
sticking plasters on the gaping wounds of racism. There is in Obama’s programme nothing like a strategy to lift
black people out of poverty, find equally paid jobs for the unemployed and stop police and legal harassment.It
will take more than the election of a black president to do this. Indeed the candidate of a capitalist and imperialist
party like the Democrats is bound to fail to meet the hopes of African Americans.Socialists want to address this
burning question. We must overcome the divisions between white, Latino and black workers and weld them into
an organised force, a party which puts to the forefront of its struggle the ending of black oppression and
exploitation. In general white Americans of all classes are privileged in relation to black people. Nevertheless
white workers, especially the poorer majority, are much less privileged than the middle class. Poor whites are
also sidelined and exploited, patronised and abused, which can lead to a clear need for solidarity between poorer
black and white workers. Especially in the present period, when the failure of capitalism is being brought home
painfully to the great majority of Americans, a revolutionary socialist party can unite the fragmented working
class and raise once more the banner of a socialist America, free from poverty, oppression, inequality and racism.
Theses on the Middle East and North Africa
International Executive Committee Tue, 19/08/2014 – 10:25
Middle East and North Africa Theses: revolution and counter-revolution in the Arab Spring. Adopted by
International Executive Committee, June 29th, 2014
A. Revolution and counter-revolution in the Arab world
- The third anniversary of the outbreak of the Arab Revolutions provided little cause for celebrations. Events in
Egypt, Syria and Libya indicated the advance in various forms of a counterrevolution that has crushed most of the
hopes and achievements of 2011
- In Egypt, after the coup against elected President Mohamed Morsi, led by army commander Abdel Fattah el-
Sisi on July 3, 2013, a campaign of bloody reprisals was launched against the Muslim Brotherhood. In August,
hundreds were killed by the army in clearing the protest camps in Rabaa Al-Adawiya and al-Nahda squares.
- On the third anniversary of the revolution, the police and the military killed over 50 MB supporters. Supporters
of the youth organisations that sparked the revolution were beaten and pepper sprayed off the streets to prevent
them reaching Tahrir Square. This potent symbol of popular power was reserved for those calling for el-Sisi to
stand for President. The activists who led the January 25 Revolution, like Ahmed Maher Ahmed Douma and
Mohamed Adel of the 6 April, have been arrested and jailed for organising demonstrations without police
- Thousands have been detained and there are reports of widespread torture and illegal killings. A court has
sentenced 528 Morsi supporters to death; with over 700 similar trials in the pipeline. Even where these sentences
are commuted, they mark an intensity of repression that former dictator Hosni Mubarak did not dare attempt. The
fact of el-Sisi’s election as President only emphasises the profoundly counterrevolutionary character of the events
since the July coup. That coup was due, in no small measure, to the support not only of bourgeois liberals like
Mohamed El Baradei and Hamdeen Sabbahi, but also from many of the confused revolutionaries of 2011.
- In Syria, the regime of Bashar Al-Assad and its Russian, Iranian and Lebanese backers have transformed
revolution into a bloody civil war. Estimates of the dead range from 100,000 to 150,000. Two million refugees
have fled the country, two thirds of them women and children. In addition, 4 million people are internally
displaced. In a country of 22.5 million people, one quarter have been driven from their homes.
- Russian imperialism’s veto in the Security Council and its supply of weapons and other logistical support to
Assad, plus the intervention of battle hardened Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon and Revolutionary Guards from
Iran, have been crucial to the successes of this counterrevolution. To date, this remains the primary imperialist
intervention in Syria, not the verbal posturing of Obama, Cameron or Hollande.
- They have rendered the anti-Assad rebellion very little material support. Indeed, their fear of inadvertently
arming “Al Qaeda”, that is, any radical Islamist fighters, has prevented them arming anybody. What support there
has been has come from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey who, in this respect, are far from being mere puppets of
the White House as testified to by the fact that their aid has gone to the various strands of Islamists that stand
closest to them and which the US fear more than they fear the Assad regime.
- However, the large numbers of Sunni jihadis, indigenous and foreign, such as the Al-Nusra Front and the even
more vicious Sunni-sectarian ISIS, whether or not they are fighting Assad, act as a “counterrevolution within the
revolution”, committing communalist atrocities and attacking the Free Syrian Army and the local revolutionary
committees. They, too, indicate the powerful reactionary reflux afflicting the revolutions of the Arab Spring. The
present ISIS offensive in Iraq has no progressive content whatsoever. Rather, it has the character of an all out
sectarian civil war, although revolutionaries must condemn and oppose any intervention by the US and its allies,
or by Iran, to prop up the no less reactionary Maliki regime.
- In Bahrain, the activists of 2011 still languish in jail, most famously the Bahrain Thirteen. In Libya, Islamist
and tribal forces fight over the spoils of the revolution and in the other Arab countries a deadly silence reigns.
- Only in Tunisia are the forces of the trade unions, the youth and the left, successfully fighting off the attacks
both of the Feloul (remnants of the old regime) and Islamist counterrevolutionaries. Even here, however, they
have run an enormous political danger by supporting an interim government that is pledged to carry out IMF
“reforms”. Without political class independence and anti-capitalism, the strength of the Tunisian workers could
also be sapped by the Islamist demagogy of more radical salafist movements like Ansar al-Sharia, active amongst
the unemployed and the poor.
- In the Huffington Post, Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst, Marwan Bishara, recently observed, “The terrible
setbacks in both of these important Arab nations have largely dimmed the excitement over the revolution and
undermined the promise of change, when change has brought even more instability, violence and despair.” Many
prominent activists, especially those in Egypt who have been imprisoned for protesting against the repression that
has followed el-Sisis’s July 3 coup, have voiced their desperation at events that seem to have overturned their
- Ahmed Maher, founder of the April 6 movement has written that “Everything collapsed”. Addressing a future
generation of youth activists, he wrote, “And instead of your generation reaping the fruits of January 25, it is now
up to you to start anew after January 25 was exterminated.”
- Indeed, there is no use closing one’s eyes to the advance of the forces of counterrevolution. Aided by the
errors or crimes of both the Liberal and Islamist forces that were able briefly to usurp the revolutions, regimes
very similar to those of pre-2011 are re-forming. What happens in Egypt in the first year or so of el-Sisi’s
presidency will be crucial.
- The economic problems of the country could rapidly alienate sections of his mass base but that does not
guarantee the development of an effective opposition to his rule. The opportunist and erratic policies of the
independent trade unions and the left mean that there is an acute absence of any principled leadership able to
elaborate a strategy of resistance to el-Sisi. Such a strategy would have to include a political direction for trade
unionists, a united front with the Islamists in defence of democratic rights and against repression whilst
maintaining complete political independence of them.
- The confusion of the far left and the workers’ movement is enormous. For example, the Revolutionary
Socialists, having supported Morsi in 2012 to stop Ahmed Shafiq, “the candidate of the feloul”, supported el
Sisi’s ousting of Morsi a year later. Then, in the presidential elections of 2014, after they became victims of his
brutal repression themselves, they gave support to Hamdeen Sabahi, the tame oppositionist candidate who
supported el-Sissi’s repression of the Muslim Brotherhood. Likewise, the independent union leader, Kamal Abu-
Eita, supported el-Sisi’s coup and even entered his first administration as minister of labour.
- In the other principal states of the Arab Spring, various degrees of stalemate, retreat or defeat of the genuinely
revolutionary forces are equally undeniable. The democratic youth and the workers who initiated the
revolutionary movements have been thrust into the background, or suffered martyrdom on a shocking scale.
- The idea that access to the internet and satellite TV, or the use of social media, could provide the key to an
irreversible democratic transformation has received a cruel refutation. Likewise, the illusion that spontaneous
peaceful revolutions, without programmes or the leadership of political parties, could transform these countries,
has also been refuted by events. Old bureaucratic institutions, the army, the Islamist parties, even murderous
communalist terrorist groups, have been able to usurp the great mass upheavals prepared and initiated by the
- It is equally wide of the mark to blame all these defeats solely on a conspiracy by US imperialism and its
allies. In fact, the actions of the western powers, while totally counterrevolutionary in their goals, have proved
singularly inept and ineffective. Those leftists who think that imperialism exists only in the singular can hardly
understand what is going on.
- The forces of counterrevolution have powerful support from Russian and Chinese imperialisms and their
Iranian and, to some extent, Iraqi, clients. Moreover, the old allies of the US; Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Gulf
states like Qatar, plus Israel, are often pursuing policies which run counter to the wishes of the US. Though often
supporting opposed sides, all of these forces are seeking to impose a counterrevolution that will advance their
own interests while putting an end to the Arab revolutions.
- Yet, despite bloody reverses and political confusion and paralysis, the motive forces that began the
revolutions in 2010-11 are not yet completely exhausted and the forces of counter-revolution are neither
omnipotent nor firmly in control. In the year ahead, they will face the same problems as the previous regimes
experienced; the difficulty of meeting the urgent economic and social needs of the broad masses. In Syria, the
very reliance of Assad on Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah fighters and his resort to fomenting sectarian
massacres, indicate that his forces remain at full stretch.
- In Egypt, Abdel Fattah el Sisi has only established himself thanks to an unholy and unstable alliance of the
feloul and the Liberals who, unable to generate a social base of their own, went “for a ride on the tiger” of the
military high command. As the masses become undeceived by the actions of the government, its attacks on the
trade unions and strikes and its continued repression of the left, larger and larger numbers will realise that they
have installed not a new Nasser but a new Mubarak.
- Even if counterrevolution triumphs in Syria and Egypt, or in Tunisia, and a fraudulent capitalist “democracy”
is institutionalised in a form far from the dreams of the young revolutionaries of three ago, these great “people’s
revolutions” (Lenin’s term) will leave an indelible imprint on the region and prepare the way for greater events to
come. Just as the Russian Revolution of 1905 proved, albeit twelve years later, the dress rehearsal for a far
- The task of revolutionary socialists in the Middle East and North Africa and worldwide is to analyse the rich
experience and learn the lessons of the past three years. Key issues include; the relationship of the youth to the
working class and the other oppressed and exploited layers of the population; their capacity to help build
revolutionary organisations; the role of trade unions, old and new, in a revolution; the role of the general strike;
the attitude to the army and the contradiction between its high command and officer caste and the rank and file
soldiers; Islamist political parties and their liberal pro-capitalist enemies and how not to be used/abused by either;
the role of potential bonapartes from the diplomatic and even entertainment worlds; above all, the need for a mass
revolutionary working class party that can pose, and answer, the questions of government, of power for the youth
and the working class in order to achieve social justice and political freedom.
- It is also necessary to examine the decisions made by the revolutionary forces at critical conjunctures; both
those that were correct and courageous, and the serious mistakes, such as the support for Morsi and el-Sisi cited
above. Different, even conflicting, forces of counterrevolution, foreign and domestic, have taken advantage of
such errors. The task is to fight for fidelity to fundamental principles and the strategic and tactical answers that
are still possible and could turn the counter-revolutionary tide if the masses adopted them. Even if the events of
2013-2014 prove to have brought an end to the revolutionary period, opening up a period of counter-
revolutionary reaction, the need to learn the lessons of the Arab Spring will be critical for the inevitable next
wave of revolution in the region.
B. The revolutionary character of the Arab Spring
- Lenin’s well-known analysis of the conditions that give rise to revolutions applies fully to the Arab
Revolutions of 2011. They occur, he said, when the exploited and oppressed classes “do not want to live in the
old way”, and when, in addition to this, the upper classes are unable “to rule and govern in the old way”; when “it
is impossible for the ruling classes to maintain their rule without any change”, leading to “a crisis in the policy of
the ruling class”, which creates “a fissure through which the discontent and indignation of the oppressed classes
- This applies with full force to the situation in the Arab countries in the years, indeed the decade, immediately
preceding the explosion of the winter/spring of 2010-11. In many Arab countries, especially in Egypt, whose
regime’s complicity with Israel and the USA was all too obvious, there were student and unemployed youth
demonstrations in solidarity with the young fighters of the second Palestinian intifada in 2000-2002.
- The high period of globalisation placed many Arab states in crippling financial dependence on the imperialist
centres through private FDI and IMF/WB and US-EU loans. The conditions for these loans obliged them to open
up their economies even further, privatise industries and services and run down the very limited welfare systems,
price controls, food and fuel subsidies etc. that had been introduced by the nationalist regimes between the 1950s
- Then, the feverish boom of 2005-07 that ended this phase, generated enormous food and fuel costs inflation,
with no corresponding increase in wages or job opportunities for the young. This led to riots and strikes over
rising prices, especially in Egypt. As Adam Hanieh states (Lineages of Revolt) “Often working a twelve hour day
and having to do two jobs, Egyptian workers earn 81 percent less than workers in Turkey, 65 percent less than
workers in Tunisia, 40 percent less than in India and even 15 per cent less than in Pakistan.” Between 2004 and
2009, more than 1,900 protests involved 1.7 million workers in strike action.
- The dry tinder for revolt existed in plenty as did an activist vanguard of young students and workers, steeled by
the repression of the regimes but still able to work semi-legally and semi-clandestinely, in countries like Egypt
- A profound lesson can be learnt from Lenin’s State and Revolution. Here he refers to “Marx’s extremely
profound remark that the destruction of the bureaucratic-military state machine is ‘the precondition for every real
people’s revolution’.” Lenin observes that Marx’s reference to a people’s revolution seemed strange (perhaps a slip
of the pen) to those Marxists brought up on the Mensheviks’ lifeless “antithesis between bourgeois revolution and
proletarian revolution”. He defines a people’s revolution as one in which (a) “the mass of the people, their
majority, the very lowest social groups, crushed by oppression and exploitation, rose independently and stamped
on the entire course of the revolution the imprint of their own demands, their attempt to build in their own way a
new society in place of the old society that was being destroyed.”
- To this he adds (b) a “people’s” revolution, one actually sweeping the majority into its stream, could be such
only if it embraced both the proletariat and the peasants. These two classes then constituted the “people”. Such a
people’s revolution, providing it smashed the bureaucratic-military state machine, could be the basis of “a free
alliance of the poor peasants and the proletarians, whereas without such an alliance, democracy is unstable and
socialist transformation is impossible.”
- Lenin adds that not all bourgeois revolutions are people’s revolutions, he cites the Young Turk officers’
revolution in the Ottoman Empire, and not all people’s revolutions succeed in this “smashing” and therefore fail,
here he cites the 1905 revolution in Russia. It should also be underlined that Lenin emphasises that without the
breaking up of the old apparatus of repression not only is an advance to socialism impossible but also the
attainment of what he calls a stable democracy, that is, one ensured against counter-revolutionary overthrow.
- The social causes of the masses’ discontent were exacerbated by the global economic crisis. The years
following 2008 opened the region to the blast of a world crisis unprecedented since 1945, pushing up already
high real levels of unemployment especially amongst the young. This set the objective conditions for a regional
revolutionary earthquake. The initial protesters raised demands attacking hunger, unemployment and inflation,
but were quickly joined by trade unionists, students, teachers and lawyers, raising political demands around
corruption, freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and police brutality.
- The Tunisian demand for “dignity”, a word that would later be repeated in the slogans of protesters in Syria,
Egypt and elsewhere, expressed the decades-long, pent-up frustration of “ordinary” citizens with their daily
humiliation by officials who routinely demanded bribes and police officers who harassed, arrested, beat up, and
sometimes murdered, young people without cause and with impunity.
- Most visible of all was the alienation of a generation of youth that had received a university education from a
society in which there was no prospect of their ever being able to make use of it. Thanks to an increased access to
media outside the control of their own regimes, these young people were aware of a world where people like
themselves were not humiliated in this way.
- The demands that brought “the whole people”, or at least a substantial proportion of it, into the streets, were
demands classically associated with the establishment of modern bourgeois democratic systems: for genuine
political pluralism, the accountability of the state to its citizens in free elections, freedom from arbitrary arrest
and harassment by the state’s repressive organs, that is, the “rule of law”.
- Even so, and crucially, it was the action of the urban working class that proved decisive in provoking
divisions within the state apparatus and in forcing Ben Ali’s flight from Tunisia. In Egypt, too, it was the threat
that the square occupations and the bloody clashes in Alexandria and Suez would be joined by a tidal wave of
workers’ strikes that finally convinced the military to abandon Mubarak.
- The Arab revolutions of 2011 directly involved at least five “republican” dictatorships (Tunisia, Egypt, Libya,
Syria and Yemen) and one semi-absolutist monarchy (Bahrain). The countries where outbreaks were rapidly
subdued, or remained minority affairs, were often those where invasions, occupations and civil wars had already
exhausted the combustible material for rebellion; Algeria, Sudan, Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, etc.
Nevertheless, the Arab Spring proved to be the greatest wave of revolutions since the collapse of the Soviet
Union and the “actually existing socialisms” of Eastern Europe in 1989-91.
- The particular course of each revolution or uprising was the result of certain common features combining
with nationally specific features. These included not just the differing political regimes, such as traditional
dynastic monarchies or military bonapartist republics, but also the different socio-economic factors underpinning
oil-rentier states like Saudi Arabia, the Gulf and Libya or the more industrialised and trading economies like
Egypt, Tunisia and Syria, with Iraq having features of both.
C. False revolutions but genuine counter-revolutions
- Gene Sharp, often seen as the world’s leading proponent of the concept of peaceful non-ideological
revolutions, argues that it is possible to replace governments by mass mobilisations of “people power” without
any revolution, in the accepted sense of the word, at all. Such “revolutions”, even when they are not just
conspiracies of the US and EU secret services and western “democratic and human rights” foundations” and
laughably misnamed Non-Governmental Organisations, are easily co-opted by the “democratic imperialisms”.
The colour/flower nomenclature helps to avoid any political precision as to their objectives.
- This strategic model, supposedly confirmed by whole series of changes of government such as the “Rose
Revolution” in Georgia, “Orange Revolution” in the Ukraine, “Tulip (or Pink) Revolution” in Kyrgyzstan,
“Cedar Revolution” in Lebanon, and “Green Revolution” in Iran, met its match with the reality of Tunis and
Cairo where the attempts to dub them the “Jasmine Revolution” and the “Lotus Revolution” signally failed. The
Egyptian Revolution, in which over 800 died, was in no sense a Gene Sharp “revolution”. Undaunted, the
imperialist strategists set out to mimic the Occupy movement and Tahrir Square with their bogus “Maidan
Revolution” which US governments financed to the tune of $5bn.
- In Egypt, an amorphous movement, with the simple and negative slogan “the people demand the downfall of
the regime”, was indeed able to “bring down” two presidents in succession, but it did not destroy the military
regime behind the political facade of the presidency, the parliament, the Supreme Court etc. The army has three
times shown that it knows how to transfer political office in order to avoid power falling into the hands of the
- First it transferred power from Mubarak to Field Marshall Tantawi; then (grudgingly and deceitfully) it
transferred power from Tantawi to Morsi. This “power” turned out to be a deadly trap for the Brotherhood.
Taking advantage of a partly genuine, partly fomented, mass uprising against Morsi, once again it transferred
power, this time from Morsi to Al-Sisi. Moreover, with the aid of the liberals, a section of the revolutionary youth
(in Tamerod) and a media induced cult of the personality around Al Sisi, it succeeded in installing a new military
bonapartist dictatorship, which was subsequently legitimised in a plebiscitary election.
- Thus, the counter-revolutionary character of the Liberal bourgeoisie, confirmed in every revolution for a
century and a half, is currently being demonstrated in Egypt. It shows that it falls to the proletariat, as the only
consistently revolutionary class created by capitalism itself, to assume the role, played in the “classical”
bourgeois revolutions by the bourgeoisie or its agents, of leading and completing the democratic revolution and
of making its achievements permanent. This, in turn, requires it to achieve for itself political independence as a
- While the proletariat is, therefore, called upon by historic conditions to lead all the various other oppressed
classes behind it, it cannot take on this leading role without satisfying its own demands, which will necessitate
“despotic inroads on the rights of property” (Communist Manifesto) and, inevitably, the overthrow of capitalism
itself. To achieve this, however, requires that it become the subjective, that is, conscious, agent of social
- In order to avoid its own ultimate defeat, the democratic revolution has to advance from the completion of
democratic tasks to addressing socialist tasks. This is impossible without the smashing of the old apparatus of
repression; the paramilitary police, the secret police, the spying and surveillance machinery. This “smashing”
requires, above all, the liberation of the rank and file of the armed forces from the control of their high command
and officer corps. Then, and only then, can “the army and the people (be) one hand.”
- At the same time, the basis of a new democratic and proletarian order requires the democratisation of the army
by soldiers’ committees or councils and, parallel to this, the creation of a popular militia recruited from workers,
peasants and urban poor. These must be under under the control of soldiers’ and workers’ committees, with the
regular election of officers etc. Only thus will it be possible to prevent militias falling under the sway of tribal,
Islamist, or plain criminal, elements, as we have seen in the civil wars in Libya and Syria.
- This transformation cannot be left to a spontaneous or inevitable “process”. It must be fought for consciously,
first of all by a minority within the proletariat’s own ranks who, in the words of the Communist Manifesto,
understand clearly “the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian
movement”, in short, a revolutionary workers’ party.
D. The semi-colonial army-state: the product of a weak bourgeoisie
- Colonial occupation and economic exploitation of the most populous Arab countries followed, post-1945, by
semi-colonial exploitation by the US imperialist superpower, prevented the growth of a “national bourgeoisie” in
Egypt, Syria or Iraq. Although military-bonapartist regimes were able to promote some state capitalist
development between the 1950s and the 1980s, they failed utterly to complete the fundamental task of achieving
national independence. There has been no Arab equivalent of Italy’s Piedmont or Germany’s Prussia, able to
expel the foreign intruders or unite the Arab world.
- One of the most striking features of the weakness of the national bourgeoisie in the Arab states is its own
abject prostration in front of a dictatorial state machine that consumes such a large part of the national income,
and that defends its privileges and its political power partly at the expense of the bourgeoisie itself. This is the
problem of Bonapartism, from which few, if any, Arab states (perhaps only Lebanon) have escaped.
- Even when the “Bonapartes” who headed these regimes were sincere Arab nationalists, like Nasser or the
young Gaddafi, strong on anti-imperialist and anti-Zionist rhetoric and wildly popular with the masses, the core
of their regimes has always been the military caste, with democratic liberties (especially for independent unions
or the parties of the left) virtually non-existent. Moreover, they all rapidly outgrew their radical “revolutionary”
origins, turning into corrupt, parasitic and stiflingly repressive regimes, often effecting a transition from an anti-
US to pro-US stance in the process. Civil society, even its bourgeois élite, has remained weak and incapable of
ousting these egregious “praetorian guards”.
- In Mubarak’s or el-Sisi’s Egypt, neither of the two major wings of the bourgeoisie, the Islamists and the
“secular liberals”, have proved capable of standing up to the power of the military. The army, boosted by US
military and economic aid as its reward for maintaining a reactionary peace treaty with Israel, is an economic
power in its own right, controlling a vast empire of enterprises that are estimated to represent up to 40 per cent of
the country’s economy.
- Similarly, in Assad’s Syria, a bloated military and security apparatus, ostensibly there to defend the country
against Israel, and recruited partly on the basis of kinship and sectarian affiliation, stands violently and
menacingly “above” society as a whole. The difference is that it relied on funds and arms initially from the Soviet
Union and, later, from a newly imperialist Russia under Putin.
- In both cases, the upper ranks of the state apparatus are partly incorporated into the bourgeoisie, either
“legally” or through various forms of corruption. They use the state apparatus as a network for distributing
patronage to a wider base of support located in the more plebeian classes. This gives this “army-state
bourgeoisie” the ability to dominate the bourgeoisie as a whole, unproductively extracting rents from it while
blackmailing it with the threat of social chaos in the event that the “private” bourgeoisie tries to clip its wings or
curb its excesses.
E. The semi-colonial system and the role of imperialist powers
- Such regimes are not just the product of internal dynamics, but of these countries’ positions within the global
system. The world markets are dominated by the bourgeoisies of the imperialist countries who use international
institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to manipulate
these markets in their favour. This ensures that the “private” bourgeoisie cannot simply “trade its way out” of its
semi-colonial subordination to them, even when, as in the case of the oil-rich Arab Gulf states, it is in possession
of a strategic global commodity.
- Unable to develop strong national markets for themselves, the bourgeoisies are obliged to concede this part of
their historic role to the state apparatus, which fulfils it by the creation of national monopolies. This then forms
the material basis for an ideology, promoted through such channels as the mass media and the education system,
in which the army itself is the “representative of the people”, and therefore a source of political legitimacy in its
own right. A bellicose but empty “nationalism” forms a key part of this ideology, even though the army’s actual
record in defending the country’s national independence often contains very little to boast about.
- Moreover, the pre-2011 Arab dictatorships collectively formed part of a regional system that was shaped by its
place in the global imperialist order. Within this, Israel played the role of US imperialism’s watchdog and
enforcer, using its military power to punish any Arab regime that transgressed its permitted boundaries, and
cutting down to size any state that threatened to break Israel’s monopoly as the dominant regional power.
- Turkey, as a NATO member and as an Israeli military ally, helped to contain “nationalist” Arab regimes like
Syria and Iraq, while Saudi Arabia’s oil wealth was used to fund reactionary movements, not all of them
“Islamic”, across the Arab world, and to prop up dictatorships like those of Mubarak and Ben Ali.
- The oil-rich Arab Gulf states as a whole acted as a regional social “safety valve”, taking in migrant workers
and otherwise under-employed professionals from the poorer and more populous Arab states, and beyond. This
“safety valve” could be turned on and off, rewarding friendly regimes and punishing others, as with Saudi
Arabia’s expulsion of Yemeni nationals in response to their country’s support for Saddam’s Iraq in the 1991 Gulf
War over Kuwait.
This regional system came into existence during the Cold War, and included a role for Soviet-backed
“nationalist” regimes in Egypt (until Sadat’s turn to the US) Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Algeria. Although
Egypt’s military subsequently received billions in military aid annually to maintain the 1978 Camp David
Accords that marked the official end of Egypt’s 30-year state of war with Israel, a series of events weakened and
undermined this entire system.
First, the 1979 Iranian revolution overthrew the Shah, US imperialism’s other great pillar of regional stability.
This prompted the US to encourage Saddam Hussein’s 1980 invasion of Iran, in the hope that Iran and Iraq would
exhaust each other in the destructive eight years of war that followed. Then, the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq
disrupted it even further, unintentionally strengthening Iran’s position as a regional power by making the US
dependent on pro-Iranian Shia politicians to ensure Iraq’s pacification. In addition, since the election of Turkey’s
Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) in November 2002, Turkey has moved away from Israel and
developed regional ambitions of its own, clashing publicly with Israel over the attack on the “Gaza Freedom
Flotilla” in May 2010.
F. The Arab Spring’s strategic weakness – failing to smash the military bonapartist state
- The failure of the initial uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia to decisively break up the state apparatus by winning
over the rank and file soldiers to the people and breaking the hold of the High Command and the officer corps,
necessarily allowed the core of the old regimes, to remain in existence. The “feloul” took the opportunity to
regroup, ensuring their own preservation partly by assuming the legitimacy of the revolutions that overthrew the
tyrants that they themselves had previously served.
- Most importantly, this enabled the military regimes to survive intact with all their economic assets and quasi-
judicial and prison systems. Their only cost was the purging of the geriatric old guard in favour of a slightly
young layer. As a result, large numbers of militants were held and even tortured in military prisons, and then tried
and sentenced by military courts. This can be seen most clearly in Egypt where first Tantawi and then el Sisi have
been able to preserve the army’s immense power and riches without the slightest inroads being made into them,
directing all the opprobrium onto the heads of the Muslim Brotherhood.
One reason for this was that the revolutionary movement limited itself to the “peaceful” tactic of square
occupations, and the agitation around the slogan “the army and the people are one hand”. The youthful
revolutionaries picked up this combination of pacifism, illusions in the Army, lack of a clear strategy for power,
and a paucity of concrete demands, from their liberal, and libertarian, mentors in the US and Europe.
Of course, a rapidly escalating revolution with a mass character cannot adopt complicated and detailed
programmes, but a revolutionary leadership can, and should, focus the movement around key demands and
slogans that not only express the needs of the masses but are also aimed at the regime’s weak points. That was the
importance of the Bolsheviks’ tireless agitation around “Bread, Peace, Land!”, “All Power to the Soviets!”,
“Convene the Constituent Assembly Now!”, “Workers’ Control of Production!”.
- A slogan like “the army and the people are one hand” might have been a basis for fraternising with rank and
file soldiers but, as long as they remained under the control of the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces, it
expressed a huge self-deception and one that became critical in the days following July 30, 2013, when it was
consciously used by the High Command to camouflage a counter-revolutionary coup.
- The older revolutionary models, especially Bolshevism, which are ignored or scorned by the likes of Gene
Sharpe, give far better advice: if the rank and file of the soldiers cannot be broken from the control of the officer
caste and the High Command, then the “regime” whose downfall the people wished would survive the retirement
of its ruling figurehead and his family. Events in Egypt and, to some extent in Tunisia and Yemen, have
- In Syria, by contrast, the totalitarian state’s repressive apparatus did not eject its figurehead in the interests of
its own self-preservation. Instead, it merely haemorrhaged, as a flood of individual defectors from the country’s
conscript army began to form the core of an amorphous and poorly-equipped “armed opposition” to the Ba’athist
regime, loosely grouped together in the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
- The domestic bourgeoisie, itself partly dependent for its wealth on its maintenance of a corrupt relationship
with the state, remained solidly behind the Assad regime, thereby reinforcing its own subjection to it. Its
“oppositional” cousins in exile have tried to compensate for their own weakness and inability to influence events
on the ground by appealing to the Western imperialist powers for support, vainly pleading with them to intervene
militarily on their behalf.
- They were cowed not just by the Assad regime’s almost unlimited capacity for violence against its own people,
but also by the fear that the masses, having armed themselves in self-defence, would prove unwilling to return to
“normal” conditions in the event that they overthrew the Assad regime by their own efforts.
G. Nationalism and Internationalism
- Against the background of a common cultural inheritance and language, the rise of nationalism in the 20th
century naturally generated an aspiration towards a single Arab nation, pan-Arab nationalism. This strategic goal
was also adopted by the early Communist parties and maintained through the period of their Stalinisation. Pan-
Arab nationalism was also utilised by the imperialist powers, most particularly Britain and France, in their
manoeuvres against the collapsing Ottoman Empire. However, as soon as victory was achieved, these powers
immediately betrayed their Arab allies and divided up the region under the guise of League of Nations Mandates.
- The reality of the Balkanisation of the region ensured the crystallisation of ruling classes and military elites in
the “artificial” states whose borders, drawn up by bureaucrats in Europe, ignored the cultural and ethnic identities
of the populations of the entire region. Nonetheless, pan-Arab nationalism survived as an aspiration amongst the
popular classes, giving rise, even today, to a spontaneous identification with, and sympathy for, the struggles of
the oppressed across the region.
- In the aftermath of the Second World War, the region became a key interface between the western imperialist
powers, led by the USA, and the “Soviet Bloc”. Although both sides had their sphere of influence and key allies
among the ruling classes, the lynchpin of the system was the creation of Israel and its principal victims were the
Palestinians. Inevitably, as the balance of power in the world changed over the decades, so this “system”
underwent sometimes radical re-alignments, as with Egypt’s re-orientation away from the Soviet Union towards
the USA. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, however, presaged a more fundamental shift.
- The Arab revolutions have thrown up new challenges to this regional system. Oil-rich Qatar, the most
apparently “stable” Gulf autocracy, allowed its pet television station Al Jazeera to act as the “voice” of the Arab
revolutions, loudly cheering the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings, and playing a key role in agitating for NATO’s
intervention into the civil war that took place in Libya between the February 2011 Benghazi uprising and
Gaddafi’s overthrow six months later.
- Qatar is now effectively competing with Saudi Arabia for the role of chief political and financial sponsor of the
pro-Western Arab regimes. In place of Saudi Arabia’s preference for preserving apparently strong, but now
visibly brittle, dictatorships, Qatar hopes to become godfather to somewhat more flexible and durable pro-
Western pseudo-democracies. This Saudi-Qatari rivalry is at its most visible in Egypt, where the Saudis
supported the overthrow of Morsi and el-Sisi’s dictatorship closed down Al Jazeera’s local affiliates.
- All the same, Qatar did not oppose, and indeed took part in, the March 2011 Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)
intervention in support of Bahrain’s monarchy, as its quid pro quo for NATO’s intervention in Libya.
The rapid spread of the Arab uprisings and the mutual sympathy between the various countries where they took
place has to be understood against this background. It also highlights a fundamentally important issue; the need
for the revolutionaries of the region to learn from one another’s struggles, their mistakes and disasters as well as
They will only maximise the advantages to be gained from this if they can create a powerful organisational unity
among themselves and, indeed, with revolutionaries around the world. This would allow the creation of national
parties and programmes independent of local developments. Periods of repression and exile could be used as
fruitfully as they were by the Russian revolutionary exiles before 1917. In other words, the workers and socialists
of the Middle East need not just politically independent working class revolutionary parties but a new
H. Inter-imperialist rivalries sow confusion
- The restoration of capitalism in both Russia and China, and their emergence as “Great Powers”, that is,
imperialist powers, has produced widespread confusion on the international Left. Not recognising the
significance of the transformation of the class character of these states has meant that many continue to view
international confrontations and conflicts through the prism of the Cold War, with a “socialist camp” on one side
and the imperialist “West”, primarily the USA, on the other.
- When applied to the convulsions of the “Arab Spring”, this template led many to derive their attitudes towards
the different forces involved from those forces’ relationship to the Cold War camps, rather than from their class
content and programme.
- In Libya, for example, when the revolutionary movement against Gaddafi’s regime proved unable to remove
him, the USA, despite the fact that Gaddafi had long ago made his peace with the West and abandoned even the
rhetoric of anti-imperialism, decide to intervene to ensure his overthrow. In this, Washington was learning from
its mistakes in Egypt and Tunisia where it initially backed Mubarak and Ben Ali against unstoppable
- That error had severely restricted the US ability to influence the outcome of the revolutions. In Libya, the very
clear intention was to back those elements of the anti-Gaddafi movement who could be expected to become
compliant “allies” and thus thwart any further radicalisation. In response to this, some on the Left concluded that
Gaddafi continued to represent “anti-imperialism” because, in their world view, there was only one imperialism,
the USA and its allies. This then led them to characterise the whole of the anti-Gaddafi movement as “pro-
Others, seduced by the idea that, in the 21st century, revolutions consisted of mass mobilisations that could
peacefully overthrow tyrants, concluded that the revolutionary potential of the anti-Gaddafi movement had been
exhausted when it developed into revolutionary civil war. They, therefore, characterised that war as some kind of
“tribal war” in which sides could not be taken.
- To complete this picture of international confusion, yet others, recognising the continued democratic impulse
of the revolution, opted to drop their principled opposition to NATO. Echoing the “social imperialism” of a
century earlier, they believed that intervention by the “democratic imperialisms” was the only way to ensure the
victory of the anti-Gaddafi forces.
- The same errors would be repeated on an even bigger scale in Syria, this time without even the excuse of any
direct Western intervention, and it was in Syria that the decline of US power, and the counter-revolutionary role
of the rising Russian and Chinese imperialisms, became visible. Putin’s humiliation of Obama at the UN, when he
blocked the Security Council from sanctioning US intervention in Syria, was a very clear indicator of the erosion
of the unchallenged hegemony that Washington had enjoyed since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
- Leaving aside the heightened inter-imperialist rivalry expressed in the Ukrainian conflict and mounting
tensions between China and its neighbours in the Far East, in the Middle East, the unravelling of US strategy
continues in the aftermath of its effective defeats in Afghanistan and Iraq. In the latter, the desperate attempt to
secure control through the installation of a Shia communalist regime under Nouri al-Maliki has produced the
ISIS-led Sunni uprising which threatens to tear the country apart altogether in a vicious sectarian civil war. This
prospect has even obliged the Americans to look to their erstwhile Enemy Number One, Iran, for “boots on the
ground”. Could anything more clearly illustrate the decline of US power?
- “Declining power” should not, however, be read as “loss of all power”. The USA remains by far the most
powerful state both economically and militarily and, as the advance of NATO across Eastern and Central Europe
to the very borders of the Russian Federation shows, it is guaranteed that every effort will be made to restore
absolute supremacy.It is equally guaranteed that Russia and China, whether in concert or singly, will have to
challenge the US on every front, fighting, in effect, to redivide the world, which, as Lenin explained nearly 100
years ago, is in the nature of the imperialist epoch.
- For all imperialists, one tactic to advance that redivision is to support their rivals’ “internal” enemies, whether
in the imperialist heartlands themselves or, more easily, in the semi-colonial countries through which they control
the globe. It is therefore inevitable that each will attempt to suborn revolutionary movements in various countries
all over the world. Revolutionaries in those countries will have to take advantage of these contradictions amongst
the imperialist powers, just as the Bolsheviks did in 1917-18. After all, there is no revolutionary workers’ state
extant to hand over weapons “without strings” to democratic and socialist revolutionaries.
- The point is to cut the strings the imperialists attach and to avoid at all costs subordinating themselves to them
and their strategy. With the development of new imperialisms, it is vital not to entertain illusions that one is better
than another; the USA or EU because they are “democratic”, Russia or China because they are “anti-imperialist”
(let alone “socialist” or “communist”). Absolute political class independence is the only guarantee of not being
used and then discarded by any of these world robbers. Given the unavoidable national pressures on all
revolutionary movements, the creation of a new revolutionary international party, a Fifth International, is the
essential pre-requisite for the development and maintenance of the independent worldview of the international
J. Defending, resuming and completing the revolutions
- The serious advance of the counterrevolution in the Middle East and North Africa in 2013-14 is a result of the
failure of the genuine revolutionary forces to complete the revolutions in 2011 and 2012; “A revolution which
stops halfway digs its own grave.”
- Today, revolutionaries have to defend their gains against a ferocious counter-attack by the resurgent forces of
the old regimes. They have the right to expect the solidarity, material and moral, of revolutionaries from outside
the region. This includes aid to the ongoing struggles, like Syria, the fight for the right of asylum for those fleeing
brutal repression and aid to create organising, publishing and communications centres abroad from which to
organise underground work where this is needed. It means exposure of the crimes of the counterrevolution and
also international political debate and discussion of the issues of the struggle.
- Learning the lessons of defeats as well as victories is critical to turn the former into the latter. Without
smashing the apparatus of repression, above all by spreading democracy to the barracks and taking the armed
forces out of the hands of the reactionary high command inherited from the old regimes, counter-coups were, and
- The ordinary conscript soldiers must have full democratic rights including the right to gather and discuss in
mass assemblies in the barracks, to submit their officers to election and to elect rank and file soldiers’ committees
or councils. Only this could ensure that the armed forces will never again be used as blind tools to make coups
and defend dictatorships.
- In the next resurgence of the revolution, the surviving or restored military dictatorships and the absolute and
“constitutional” monarchies must be dissolved and their plunder, accumulated over decades, must be confiscated
and used to meet the needs of the people. All the top officials of the regimes must be publicly brought to trial for
their exploitation and repression of the people. All political prisoners must be released and all exiles given the
right to return; the crimes against them must be publicised and the perpetrators brought to justice.
- The police chiefs and torturers responsible for repression must be arrested and their crimes exposed. The
Mukhabarat/military intelligence (secret police) and all the regimes’ paramilitary squads, plus the gangs of
baltageya (hatchet men) must be disarmed, disbanded and punished for their crimes.
- Instead of the corrupted police forces that prey on the people, a militia of workers, youth and women,
including people from the ethnic and religious minorities must be built. They will keep order on the streets and in
the local communities, combating assaults, theft, rape etc, as well as counter-revolutionary and fascistic forces.
They must, however, act under the democratic supervision of local delegate councils, not under the influence of
tribal, religious or criminal gangs.
- There must be complete freedom to form political parties, to demonstrate, to meet, to have unfettered access to
the broadcast media and to publish newspapers. Above all, there must be access to the media by the workers and
youth who took the lead in the uprisings.
- There must be an immediate rise in wages, a minimum wage that can support a family and a sliding scale of
wages and income for the unemployed, to combat inflation. There must be an immediate mass distribution of
food, fuel for cooking and heating, clothes and other life essentials to the poor.
- The rights of women must be established; full equality before the law, equal entry into all educational
professions, an end to compulsory dress codes, and separation of the sexes in public places and institutions,
severe punishment of harassment, assault and rape. The provision of childcare (nurseries, crèches, including in
factories offices etc.) is essential to remove all barriers to entry into the workforce. Vital, too, is the legal and
actual implementation of equal pay. The abolition of patriarchal control over women is an especially
revolutionary task. The right to access free and safe contraception and abortion is vital to enable women to have
control over whether and when to have children. Women must control this, not husbands, fathers or the clergy.
- The unemployed, especially the huge numbers of educated but under utilised youth of both sexes, must be
enrolled in programmes of socially valuable public works to replace the slums with decent housing, schools,
Elections must take place, under the control and protection of workers’ and popular committees and their militias,
to a sovereign and revolutionary Constituent Assembly. Vital as it is, a fundamental law which protects the
democratic rights of all citizens is not the central task of such an assembly. Rather, it must debate before the
whole nation (via TV, radio, live internet streaming, social media etc) exactly what should be the social
foundation, the property relations, of the new republic.
- Concretely, the masses must be directly engaged in a debate, via mass assemblies, over what should happen
to the lands of the rich landowners, the vast property of the army chiefs, the factories and retail outlets. In short,
this debate should focus on the issue of whether the revolution should establish not just democracy but also
- As Trotsky foretold, and as the social counterrevolutions in Eastern Europe, Russia and China have
demonstrated, socialism cannot be built in a single country. The revolution must become permanent, not only in
the sense that it must advance resolutely from democratic rights to socialist tasks, but that it must spread to other
countries in a regional and world revolution.
- For this reason, even before the triumph of the revolution, there must be active support for popular uprisings
and revolutions against the ruling tyrants in all the countries of North Africa and the Middle East; practical aid
and solidarity with the Palestinians and against the blockade of Gaza.
- To really complete the Arab revolutions, it is necessary for the working class and the unions to launch all out
general strikes to force out any and every capitalist government, whether monarchy or republic, dissolving any
fake do-nothing parliaments, replacing the feloul judges and electing new ones democratically, under the
protection of the workers and revolutionary youth.
- Revolutionary workers’ and peasants’ governments are the essential outcome of such a revolution. Their
priority must be to address the burning material needs of the people with programmes of public works on urgent,
socially necessary projects, funded by taxing or expropriating the rich as well as European and US big business
- The Arab revolutions, which began as democratic revolutions in January-February 2011, must be completed
by uprooting all the repressive machinery of the dictatorships and monarchies and fulfilling all the democratic
aspirations of workers, women and youth. To meet the burning needs of the people for jobs, food, land, health
and education services and women’s rights, a social revolution against capital is completely unavoidable. Without
it, the democratic and anti-imperialist revolution will retreat and fail.
- Only a socialist revolution, which overthrows the capitalist class, foreign and native, and builds a system
based on workers’ councils can solve the problems of the underpaid workers, the unemployed youth and the
poverty stricken population of the towns and the countryside and unite the whole Middle East and North African
- The spreading of the revolution must lead to the creation of a socialist federation of the entire Middle East
and North Africa, to unite the forces of all against imperialism, to organise the maximum sharing of natural
resources, the optimum development of the forces of production including, crucially, human labour, and to plan
the elimination of poverty.
Political turmoil in Pakistan and the crisis of bourgeois rule
Hassan Raza Tue, 26/08/2014 – 18:06
Pakistan has reached another political impasse. On August 15, hundreds of thousands demonstrated in Islamabad
as two massive mobilisations and marches from Lahore reached the city with high hopes of “change” and even
“revolution”. Since their arrival, the demonstrators have been occupying central sites in the capital city.
Although they are coordinating their actions, the two marches are politically and organisationally separate. One is
the Azaadi March (Independence March), led by Imran Khan, a former captain of the national cricket team and
winner of the World Cup, and the founder of the bourgeois populist Pakistan Justice Party, PTI (Pakistan
Tehreek-i-Insaf). The other is the Inqlabi March (Revolutionary March), led by the sufist cleric Tahirul Qadri,
himself the leader of the Pakistan People’s Movement PAT (Pakistan Awami Tehrik).
The Azaadi March focuses on fighting against the rigged elections in 2013 and for democratic demands. Its social
base is the middle class, including some of its upper layers. While the Sharif family has done very well from the
premiership of Nawaz Sharif and has 82 of its members in federal or provincial government posts, many
capitalists feel they have been denied the influence on government to which they think they are entitled.
Whilst rigged elections are common in Pakistan, Khan’s critique focuses on the fact that the election commission
itself has effectively been under the control of the Pakistan Muslim League, PML-N, the party of the prime
minister, Nawaz Sharif.
On the other hand, the Inqlabi March is fighting for a series of social and political reforms. Its social base is the
lower middle class and the deprived sections of society. It has put forward demands, such as greater autonomy for
local governments, that would give these layers a bigger role in the current political system. Although the content
of his programme is petit-bourgeois reformism, Qadri and his supporters have given it a more radical edge by
references to revolution and pointing to the experience of the Russian, French and Chinese revolutions.
Imran Khan has tried to dramatise the situation by threatening to storm Prime Minister House, the seat of
government, if Nawaz Sharif does not resign. Qadri has publicly accused both the prime minister and his brother,
Shabaz Sharif, the Chief Minister of Punjab province, of responsibility for the killing of 14 PAT supporters by
police in Lahore’s “Model Town” area on June 17. He has not only called for their resignations but demanded the
death penalty for both of them. On the other hand, he has also denied that the protestors have any intention of
storming parliament or Prime Minister House.
Government in crisis
The Government is desperate to bring the situation under control. At first, it tried to establish order by banning
the marches and blocking all entrances to Lahore and Islamabad with shipping containers, backed up by a huge
police deployment. The PML-N also tried to organise counter mobilisations, and even physical attacks on the
Azaadi March in Gujranwara, but failed miserably to deter the marchers. On their way to Islamabad, they were
greeted by thousands of people in every city on their route. There have also been solidarity sit-ins in other cities,
including Lahore and Karachi.
Just 15 months after its victory in the May 2013 election, the government of Nawaz Sharif is facing its worst
crisis and struggling to remain in power. Its credibility has collapsed as it failed to make good any of its
promises. There has been no progress in overcoming the shortage of energy. Power cuts remain as long, and as
frequent, as ever.
Poverty and unemployment are still high. The government has even stepped up attacks on the working class and
poor at the same time as prices of electricity, gas and petrol have risen. In addition, Nawaz is also planning
another massive privatisation programme on the orders of the IMF and World Bank.
The crisis in the ruling class is a reflection of these social and economic conditions. Pakistan is once again in
deep instability and turmoil and the situation is set to get worse. The semi-colonial position of Pakistan and its
domination by imperialism have meant the imposition of neo-liberal policies since the early 80’s and these have
devastated its economy.
Wholesale privatisations, deregulation, job cuts and the cutting of social services have increased the gulf between
the haves and the have nots to really dangerous proportions. Coupled with the aftermath of the 2008 global
financial crisis, the frustration of the different sections of the middle class, workers and poor have reached a
critical point, just as they did in 2011 in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Yemen and Greece.
This is the background to the rapid growth of the PTI and PAT. They are filling a vacuum created by the failure
of the current government and the reformist politics of the mainstream left, who have sided with the established
system on all the important questions of the class struggle.
Government summoning its forces
The government and all the main bourgeois parties have opposed the protest movement by presenting it as an
attack on democracy. They published a statement supported by 11 of the 12 parties in parliament, condemning
the “undemocratic character” of the protest movement. The leaders of the PTI and PAT have been summoned by
the Supreme Court, which may outlaw their blockade of “Constitution Avenue”, the main road of the
parliamentary and government district in Islamabad.
Unsurprisingly, the US embassy had already given its backing to Nawaz Sharif and his “democracy”. The
government is, therefore, assured of support from its main imperialist masters.
After the entry of the march into the “red zone” around parliament, there were rumours that the military might
take advantage of a situation that was getting out of hand for the government. A number of negotiations had been
held, with the High Command in Rawalpindi demanding a greater say in foreign policy, including relations with
India and in the “war on terror”, which it is waging on behalf of the US not only in Afghanistan, but also in
Waziristan in Pakistan. No doubt Nawaz Sharif had to give some concessions to the military, which, on the other
hand, then assured the prime minister of its loyalty.
Whilst a violent clash between the protestors and the authorities could always be used by the military to present
itself as a force “above” the contending parties, it is much more likely that it will now back the current
government after the latest concessions and because of the backing of the US. In addition, Imran Khan, certainly
a rather “adventurist” bourgeois politician, is seen as an unreliable figure not only by the other bourgeois parties,
but also by the military leaders.
The accusation by the government, the judiciary and the lawyers’ organisations that are linked to the main
bourgeois parties, the PML-N and the Pakistan People’s Party, PPP, that Khan and Qadri are agents of the
military, should be seen as attempts to win the bourgeois public and the media to their side. The current
government itself has a shameful record of “ordinary” rigging of elections, widespread corruption and repression
of national minorities and war, not to mention its repeated attacks on working class attempts to defend jobs and
Therefore, it is rather bizarre that it now presents itself as “defending democracy” against a mass protest and sit-
in of up to 200,000 people, amongst them many women and children. As if blocking “Constitution Avenue” was
the greatest threat to “democracy” in Pakistan. True to form, the government’s way of “defending democracy” is
to order not only even more police into Islamabad, but also the 111 Brigade of the Pakistani army in order to
“assist” the police and, if need be, clear the streets of the protestors.
Whilst it is no surprise that the government wants to present itself as “defending” democracy, it is shameful that
most of the left have also sided with it, against the protestors, in the name of democracy. They may argue that the
whole movement is a conspiracy by the army, but what really concerns them is that, within the established
system, they can find a role for themselves.
In reality, the fact that the “oppositional” bourgeois and petit-bourgeois populist forces have been able to take the
initiative in mobilising the widespread anger of the middle strata and poor in society is a condemnation of the
left. Their backing for the government has allowed Khan and Qadri to present themselves as the “popular”
alternative to the current government, the military and even their imperialist masters. That is why the masses,
particularly in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, placed such hopes in the current movement. Sadly, as we can
see from the PTI government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where it has essentially continued the previous
government’s policies and accepted loans, with strings, from the IMF and World Bank, this hope itself is illusory
By contrast, the left has failed to mobilise the working class independently against the current government. It has
not been in the forefront of the struggles for democratic rights, the fight against inflation, the cutting of subsidies
or the privatisation projects. Neither has it opposed the military operations in Baluchistan and North Waziristan.
The left, including the Awami Workers’ Party, urgently needs to make a radical political turn towards
mobilisation and taking up all the key issues with vigour. It has to clearly oppose all attacks by the government
and police on the protestors and their right to demonstrate in Islamabad, just as it would have to mobilise all its
forces against any attempt by the military to increase their power.
Most importantly, it has to become the force taking up all social, economic and political issues and to be in the
forefront of the struggle, based on a revolutionary, socialist programme. Only in such a way can it become a
rallying point for the working class, all impoverished and oppressed sections of society and even sections of the
petit-bourgeoisie. Only in such a way, can it make use of the growing crisis and divisions within the bourgeois