The revolutionary potential of the Lebanese masses

On Sunday up to two million people came out onto the streets in the largest demonstration in the history of this small country. The protest was aimed against the Siniora government, which now stands exposed as a government with no support among the population. The people of Lebanon want genuine change, but who is going to offer it to them?

Sunday was an historical day in Lebanon. Up to two million people, from all the ethnic groups came out in the largest demonstration in the history of this small country. This means about half the population came out! "Siniora out", "Beirut is free," the demonstrators chanted. It represents an escalation of the protest against the Siniora government, representing the landlords, bankers and the rich merchants backed by the imperialists. The demonstration was the tenth day of continuing protest against the Siniora government.

The Israeli state that waged a war this summer against Lebanon in support of the Siniora government and the victory of Hezbollah while the Lebanese army stood to one side and did not defend even itself, has led to this revolutionary crisis.

The masses did not come out simply because they oppose the Siniora government for the role it played during the last war. They also came out mainly because of the savage attacks and destruction of their livelihood.

The official figures indicate that the unemployment rate is now 18%, while 28 % of the population lives below the poverty line. While the rich, like the Hariri family, are making a fortune the masses are living on the edge of an economic catastrophe. Before he was murdered, Hariri had accumulated over $3.8 billion in 2003 with large business interests in several Middle Eastern countries. At the same time the public debt is 180% of the GDP.

A general strike in October 2003 paralysed Lebanon, as workers demanded an end to the effective freeze on the minimum wage that had been in place since 1996. It was also against higher taxes and job cuts, and called for increased social spending. A demonstration in central Beirut made up mainly of young workers chanted, "stop the waste and the plundering, give bread to the poor".

In May 2004, after spontaneous protests had taken place the previous month, the army shot dead five workers as they took part in a one-day general strike called by the CGT, in the very poor Shia Muslim suburb of Beirut, Hay-al-Sellom. This brutal repression led to widespread protests. On the very eve of the latest war in Lebanon a general strike had been declared and this could very well be one of the main reasons for the war.

But it is not only the workers who are opposed to this government. The middle class farmers are also in opposition. The desperate farmers have been begging the government to help them recover from a devastating war that the United Nations estimates has cost the Lebanese agriculture industry some US$280 million and left them facing a downward spiral of debt and poverty.

"I personally lost over 50 million Lebanese pounds [$35,000]," Mohammed Mokahhal, a farmer from the eastern Bekaa Valley, told a Reuters reporter, describing his losses in the month-long summer war.

"I couldn't harvest my potatoes or tend to vegetables like lettuces and peas which I had planted a week before the Israeli attacks began," said the father of two. "And even when I managed to pick some I couldn't transport them to the market because of the threatening situation."

With the loss of income from harvests and lost animal produce, many farmers have become heavily indebted as they usually repay their debts during the harvest period [May-October] to secure credit for the following planting/production season," said the November report, prepared in conjunction with the Agriculture Ministry. (December 10.)

The growing protests are leading to increasing voices calling for the resignation of Siniora. Michel Aoun, the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, called for Siniora to step down on Saturday. He said: "Mr prime minister go home, it's better for you because you cannot captain the ship" He also repeated opposition accusations that Siniora was a puppet of the US.

Clearly a situation of dual power has emerged today in Lebanon. On the one hand the majority of people want to force the Siniora government out and they desire a real change in their socio-economic conditions and who at the moment only trust Hassan Nasrallah and on the other hand there is the rich minority that controls the parliament and the government.

Media reports indicated that more protests were expected throughout this week. On Sunday the Ad-Diyar newspaper wrote that from Monday, the masses would begin strikes that would lead to a campaign of civil disobedience to force the government out. On Sunday in his speech Nasrallah called for the strikes to begin.

There is a sharp polarisation in the situation. A crowd, estimated by the organisers to be "hundreds of thousands", rallied on Sunday in the mainly Sunni Muslim coastal city of Tripoli, in northern Lebanon, in solidarity with the Siniora government. However, even if we accept the official figures of the organisers, this demonstration was at best only one tenth the size of the huge demo of the opposition in Beirut.

In everyone's mind is the key question: "will the masses overthrow the capitalist government?" While the masses are demanding an end to this government, in the palace on the hill, as Megan K. Stack, a Los Angeles Times Staff Writer tells us that:

"Inside the Grand Serail, what remains of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's government toils away, trying to ignore the thousands upon thousands of people massed at its gate. The people outside describe the government leaders as unwanted and illegitimate, pawns of U.S. interests.

" ‘We hear their voices, but we feel no compassion for them,' said Fouad Saad, a lawmaker and former Cabinet minister who, in his neat suit, lingered between meetings under the glittering chandeliers of a cavernous reception room. ‘These people have received orders from Syria and Iran... They are trying to drag us backward many years.' " (December 10, 2006)

The situation in Lebanon is frightening not only the imperialists, including the rulers of Israel, but also the reactionary ruling circles of the Arab states. A Sudanese envoy on Monday was holding talks with Lebanese leaders on an Arab League proposal to resolve Lebanon's political crisis. The fact that the rulers of Sudan are helping the western powers must be somewhat of a surprise for those who portrayed the bloody conflict in Sudan as" a clash between civilizations", on the one hand the "bad" Moslems and on the other hand the "civilised" pro-western rebels, hiding the fact that the conflict in Sudan is essentially about oil and the imperialist control of rich Africa while its people are dying. Sudan is the third largest oil producer in the world. This is not the first time the Sudanese fundamentalists have collaborated with the imperialists. During the "Cold War, they supported the West against Libya that was considered an ally of the Soviet Union.

Sudanese presidential adviser Mustafa Osman Ismail told Arabiya television from Damascus that all parties in Lebanon had agreed to Arab League mediation. He said talks would resume on a package deal to include demands from both sides. He said the proposal covers a unity government, passage of a UN-proposed international tribunal to try suspects in last year's killing of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, early presidential and parliamentary elections. Ismail also said that Hassan Nasrallah told him that he does not want to topple the government and he is ready to form a unity government headed by Siniora himself. The proposed government would include a government composed of 30 members, 10 of them of the opposition and one who would be "neutral".

According to the Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star:

"Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has accepted an Arab League plan to resolve the political crisis in Lebanon, an Arab official said on Sunday. Mustafa Ismail, an envoy from the Sudanese president, ‘was informed in Damascus today of the Hizbullah leader's acceptance of the proposals submitted to him,' Ismail told AFP in Riyadh on Sunday.

"Ismail told pan-Arab television station Al-Arabiyya that Nasrallah ‘has agreed in principle to the proposal.' He did not detail the plan, saying only that ‘it has seven points.'

"Hizbullah MP Hassan Fadlallah announced late Sunday that Nasrallah had in fact told Ismail that ‘Hizbullah will deal in a positive way with any initiative that ensures a national unity government which secures a blocking minority.'

" ‘But in the end, our position will be decided after we hold discussions among opposition leaders,' he added.

"A source close to Prime Minister Fouad Siniora told The Daily Star late Sunday that Ismail had in fact met with Hizbullah representatives and Speaker Nabih Berri when he was in Beirut last week.

" ‘Ismail is coming back to Beirut Monday. Siniora called him today and things look positive,' the source said."


Such a deal would snatch victory from the hands of the masses. The situation is favourable for the workers and poor of Lebanon: the right wing is presently too small to open up a new civil war that would be advantageous to it, the army is in crisis, the imperialists are paralysed as they are already too bogged down elsewhere.

The only factor that is missing is a genuine revolutionary leadership capable of uniting all the downtrodden layers of Lebanese society around the working class and its organisations. In this vacuum Hezbollah finds room to manoeuvre. It is a populist organization, based on a poor section of society, but its leadership while espousing "reform" within the capitalist system, does not challenge the essence of the capitalist system. In fact its leaders desire to be part of it. Thus they are in capable of offering a revolutionary way out.

If indeed Hezbollah should agree to a rotten deal, in the short term this could lead to demoralisation among the masses. At the same time, however, it would open up the road for the masses to understand the need for a genuine revolutionary leadership. Situations like the one in Lebanon put all political tendencies to the test in a very sharp manner. What is needed is for the message of Marxism, of genuine revolutionary socialism, to be brought to the toiling masses of Lebanon.

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