Hundreds of thousands marched today in the streets of the main cities and towns of Tunisia against the Gannouchi government and demanding a Constituent Assembly. According to the revolutionary youth which has taken the initiative of these demonstrations, 250,000 marched in the capital Tunis alone, and another 100,000 in other cities (video of demonstration in Sfax). A police source in Tunis gave the figure for demonstrators in the capital at “over 100,000”. The Red Crescent said that this was “the largest demonstration since the fall of Ben Ali”.
The demonstrators marched through Bourghiba Avenue and to the Kasbah Esplanade, outside the offices of the Prime Minister. As a matter of fact, Gannouchi has had to move to the presidential Palace of Carthage, chased by the constant demonstrations of the revolutionary youth, the workers, the unemployed, etc. A massive banner presided the rally: “Sit-in until the dissolution of the government”. The main slogans shouted by the masses were “Gannouchi, dégage” (Gannouchi out), “RCD dégage”, “Enough farces”, “Shame on this government”. Revealing the internationalist character of the movement there were also shouts of “Thawra Tunis, Thawra Masr, thawra thawra hatta'l nasr” (“revolution in Tunis, revolution in Egypt, revolution until victory”) and in support of the Libyan revolution against Gaddafi. (video, picture gallery).
This is an extraordinary resurgence of the movement which shows that the enormous revolutionary upsurge which overthrew the hated Ben Ali on January 14, has not dissipated. Immediately after the revolutionary people had achieved that first victory, which cost the lives of many martyrs, the ruling class and the politicians of the old regime started to plot behind the scenes in order to make sure that although the dictator had gone, the regime would remain untouched.
In reality, the problem that the ruling class in Tunisia faced – and still faces – is that Ben Ali was not just a dictator, but his family clan completely dominated all aspects of life and particularly large parts of the economy. A thorough democratic cleansing of the old regime represents a threat to the whole of the capitalist system.
First of all they created a “new” government of national unity where all the key ministers were Ben Ali ministers, adding a few official “left” opposition parties, one blogger and a few trade union figures to give it some legitimacy. Showing a sharp revolutionary instinct the masses did not fall for this. Within 24 hours, pressure from below forced the UGTT trade union to withdraw from this farce of a government. A series of massive regional general strikes forced Gannouchi to remove the majority of RCD ministers from the government on January 27 and then announce the dissolution of the RCD itself.
The UGTT bureaucracy then accepted this government. Again, the masses did not fall for that. Gannouchi was still the Prime Minister but he was a prominent representative of the old regime. To add insult to injury, his government appointed new regional governors in order to wrest power away from the different revolutionary committees which had emerged during the revolution and which had in effect taken power in the regions. Of these 24 “new” governors 19 had links to the old regime! Mass demonstrations against them forced them to flee under Army protection.
These mobilisations were combined with a wave of strikes, wildcat walkouts, the physical removal of managers and directors linked to Ben Ali in state owned companies and ministries, etc. The removal of Ben Ali opened up the lid for all the pent up frustration which had accumulated for decades. The UGTT bureaucracy was unable to stop this wave of strikes, despite repeated public appeals by its general secretary Abdessalem Jerad, who had been a Ben Alí loyalist right until the end. He even went as far as to say that those calling the strikes were “agents of the RCD, intent on causing chaos” and threatened to take action against those trade union federations who did not follow the back-to-work instructions.
The Tunisian revolution started with a combination of democratic, social and economic slogans. The revolutionary youth which sparked the movement were fighting for jobs, bread, against repression and for dignity. The removal of Ben Ali was a first victory of the movement, but they now want solutions to their demands. Empty talk about a new constitution drafted by a panel of experts, rebuilding the country all together and so-called “committees for the protection of the revolution” will not give them jobs or bread. What makes them particularly angry is that all the symbols of the old regime are still in place, starting with the president Gannouchi who on February 20 declared that all demonstrations would be banned.
On February 20 there was a massive demonstration by tens of thousands which again marched to the Kasbah where a large number of youth decided to organise a new sit-in (video). Their demands are clear: a clean break with the old regime, the dismissal of the Gannouchi government and a Constituent Assembly elected by the people to decide the future of the country.
In order to try to divert, once again, the attention of the masses, the UGTT corrupt leaders together with “left” legal parties and “civil society” associations were putting the pressure on for the formation of a “Council for the Protection of the Revolution”. Despite its grand sounding name, which was designed to attempt to fool the masses, the aim of such a committee was clear: to "give the new government its legitimacy", according to the leader of the Democratic Forum for Labour and Liberties (FDTL – legal opposition under Ben Ali) Khalil Zaouia. The question that arises is, who is going to compose such a committee and who is going to elect its members. The idea of the UGTT and FDTL leaders was to exercise some sort of supervision over the Gannouchi government in order to make the masses think that their interests were being protected. Incredibly, the leaders of the January 14 Front went along with this idea (despite the fact that it included organisations which accept the Gannouchi government) and even accepted the inclusion of the Islamist right wing party Ennahdha in it.
Immediately, all government parties refused such an idea. There is already a government, they argued, why should there be another body above it or next to it to supervise its work. The main problem remains unsolved from the point of view of the ruling class: neither the government nor the Committee or Council have any legitimacy amongst the masses; particularly because they are completely unable to solve any of the urgent demands of the masses who carried out the revolution.
The January 14 Front, a coalition of left wing and left nationalist organisations, the main component of which is the Tunisian Communist Workers ‘Party (PCOT), has been unable to channel the growing anger against the Gannouchi government. Although the Front has an advanced programme, which demands the downfall of the government, a constituent assembly, the expropriation of the representatives of the old regime and a national revolutionary convention, it has failed to take any initiative to actually organise a movement to fight for these demands. The Front even had a massive rally on February 12, with 8,000 in attendance – very impressive and enthusiastic meeting, but it was just a rally, nothing was decided, nothing was proposed.
The January 14 Front has threatened to call a national convention in defence of the revolution. Such a body, if made up of elected representatives from the revolutionary committees in the different towns, regions, workplaces and schools, could lay the basis for a revolutionary government representing the real will of the people. However, the Front, and the PCOT as its strongest force, has just talked about it, rather than actually convening such a meeting. Alma Allende, who has been sending regular chronicles from the revolution, related the following incident. On February 20, when tens of thousands filled the Kasbah and started the new sit-in, two members of the Front arrived “to find out who had organised the occupation.” “Reality moves faster than us” admitted Front members. This is a sorry state of affairs. A genuine communist party must prove it is worthy of its name by providing leadership to the masses. Having the right slogans is an important part of leadership, but in a revolutionary situation, a communist organisation must also give practical leadership.
What is most amazing is that in this situation, faced with the attempts of all legal political parties to fool the masses through different tricks, and the failure of the anti-government left to offer any practical alternative, the revolutionary people have maintained such a level of mobilisation. This shows an extremely high level of consciousness on the part of the Tunisian workers and revolutionary youth.
Starting with the reoccupation of the Kasbah on February 20, a new wave of demonstrations has swept Tunisia. The participation of the youth has been key, especially high school students which have come out, day after day in their tens of thousands, providing the backbone of the movement. All this work of leafleting, postering, word of mouth, coordinated over facebook and twitter (with groups like Takriz playing a key role) has culminated in the massive demonstration today. The demonstrations have affected the whole country and during the week there have been almost daily protests in Gabés (February 21), Ben Guerden (February 21), Monastir (February 21), Sfax (February 22), Redeyef (February 22), Kairouan (February 23), Sousse (February 23), Djerba (video) and many others.
The mood against Gannouchi as a representative of the old regime is widespread and deep-rooted. An opinion poll on February 24 showed that 50.6% of the population were dissatisfied with the government (and only 33% had a favourable opinion). The same poll showed that 62% of the people put unemployment at the top of their list of worries. Even more revealing was the fact that more than 83% do not identify with any of the existing parties! This shows the extent of the discrediting of all the parties that were legal under Ben Ali, as people quite rightly identify them as part of his regime.
It is interesting to note that the Islamic party Ennahdha was only supported by 3.1% of the people in this poll, demolishing the idea promoted by bourgeois commentators that in these countries it was a case of supporting pro-Western dictators in order to prevent the rise of Islamic fundamentalism to power. On Saturday, February 19th there was also a large demonstration, with a strong presence of women, defending the secular character of Tunisian society.
The mobilisation today was impressive, but the question arises: what next? The overthrow of Ben Ali was not carried out just with mass demonstrations, but with massive strikes in every region. The same was the case when the revolutionary movement forced the removal of many of the RCD ministers. Mass demonstrations will probably not be enough to bring down Gannouchi. They need to be linked to regional strikes culminating in a national strike which brings to the fore the question of “who rules the country: the illegitimate government or the revolutionary people?”
The fact that the UGTT leadership accepted the second Gannouchi government should not fool us. Regional federations and national unions which represent a majority of the UGTT voted against the decision. It is the task of revolutionary trade union militants at all levels of the union to force a reversal of that decision and also to start the task of cleansing the UGTT itself of agents of the old regime, starting with Jerad himself.
Another important question that needs to be answered is: if the government falls what is going to replace it? The revolutionary committees which already exist need to be strengthened, spread to every neighbourhood, workplace, school and university, give themselves fully democratic structures and functioning, and linked up at local, regional and national level through elected and recallable representatives. In the current conditions, the convening of a national assembly of delegates from the revolutionary committees could be the basis for a provisional revolutionary council which could be tasked with convening a democratic and revolutionary constituent assembly. Such an assembly would be able to decide the future of the country in a fully democratic way, sweeping aside all structures of the old regime.
These revolutionary committees, as is already the case in many places, should be in charge of running everyday life and all public affairs (service delivery, public order, mobilisation, information, etc.). In other words, the committees, as the only legitimate representatives of the Tunisian people, need to take power and remove the illegitimate government of Gannouchi.
The task of the revolutionary reorganisation of Tunisian society should start with the confiscation of the wealth and property of the Trabelsi clan and the renationalisation of all the companies privatised by the Ben Ali regime. This wealth should be put under democratic workers' control and could provide the basis for a massive plan of public works, the building of hospitals, schools, roads and infrastructure, which would start to address the problems of unemployment and poverty.
The Tunisian revolution has already served as an inspiration for the revolutionary wave which is sweeping the whole of the Arab world. If it manages to remove not only the dictator but also the whole edifice of the capitalist system he served, then its example would be followed by the millions of workers and youth who are finally removing the chains of exploitation and oppression which have shackled them for decades and centuries.
- Down with Gannouchi!
- Down with the old regime!
- Revolutionary cleansing of the UGTT!
- General strike and mass demonstrations!
- For a national convention of the revolutionary committees to elect a provisional revolutionary council!
- A Revolutionary Constituent Assembly!
- All power to the revolutionary people!
The latest news from Tunisia is that after the massive demonstrations today, the Gannouchi government has announced that there will be elections "at the latest in mid-July". This is yet another attempt to defuse the movement of the revolutionary workers and youth. The current government has no legitimacy to call elections. Before there can be any genuine democratic elections all the institutions of the old regime must be brushed aside. The Tunisian workers and youth have the right to decide what kind of regime they want to give themselves, through a democratically elected revolutionary constituent assembly. While waving the elections carrot in one hand, the Gannouchi government has also used the stick, sending in the police (the same police force of Ben Ali) to fire tear gas canisters against the demonstrators outside the Ministry of Interior and the army to fire warning shots.