Mostafa Saber: On revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, and Iran
1. The revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, and of course Iran in 2009, despite their differences and distinctions, have common historical and universal characteristics. To categorize these revolutions (in the context of recent opposition and revolutionary movements in Yemen, Algeria and Jordan) as developments of the “Islamic world,” the “Arab world,” as “regional” (Middle East and North Africa), etc., explains some aspects of these developments, but ignores their essential characteristics and determinants. These popular revolutions and movements are the standard-bearers of a new revolutionary and radical era in the global arena. This is another page of the history of class struggle in the age of globalized capital, and if it does not have broader impacts than the “end of the Cold War” or “September 11” on the world’s appearance, it will not have less than them either. The difference is that if “the fall of the Soviet Union” and the “War on Terror” display the struggle between different bourgeois poles, and serve as launching boards for reaction and retrogression, the recent revolutions stand against those reactionary developments and mark the beginning of a period of direct and broad participation of the working class and revolutionary people in the shaping of global social changes.
2. The above-mentioned revolutions and changes are first and foremost rooted in the economic and political situation of global capitalism at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, particularly in the past ten years. The most fundamental causes of these changes – the continuing technological revolution (starting from the 1970s onward), the rapid and unprecedented expansion of capitalism and the global market, and the degree to which billions of human beings all over the world share the same fate as wage slaves – are all expanding. On the one hand, there is a deepening of the global economic crisis, an exponential expansion of relative poverty, and an unprecedented explosion in the population of those who are jobless, starving, and lacking in rights. On the other, there is an expansion of accumulated legendary wealth, an oligarchy of banks and monetary institutions, and a handful of multi-billionaires, all of which are robbing human beings and plundering the natural environment.
The retrogressive political and cultural reaction that corresponds to these economic changes (dominance of the new right in the ’80s; emergence of the ideology of the new world order; post-modernist reaction in the 1990s; the war on terror; imposition of a police-state on the political atmosphere of the entire world; the expansion of corrupt, suppressive, deceptive governments; religious, ethnic and national reaction; and corrupt and servile journalism especially in the last decade) has cultivated a vast and fertile ground for worldwide dissent and radical protest against the status quo. The technological revolution – the expansion of internet, satellite, and mobile telephone in the past decade – has taken on colossal dimensions. At the same time, the possibilities for connecting, for exchanging ideas and learning, for forming a radical international culture, for rapidly and spontaneously organizing and demonstrating the presence of the masses, especially the young generations — these possibilities have soared. On these technological, economic, political, social and cultural bases, the world has entered a revolutionary period, one in which the involvement of broad swaths of society in each of these arenas, and the social changes thereby implied, are unprecedented in the history of humankind.
3. From the “anti-globalization” movement that announced itself to the world in Seattle, Washington in 1999 and expanded to the whole of Europe; to the millions worldwide that protested against the US invasion of Iraq in 2003; through until the recent workers strikes and youth protests in Greece, France, England and elsewhere against the increase in age of retirement, the increase in the burden of various fees, and other consequences of the economic crisis of 2009; from the “turning to the left” of America’s government under the pressure of public demands, to workers’ strikes and the dissatisfaction that increases day by day against the governmental capitalist dictatorship in China and the Russian mafia; from the Gaza Youth’s Manifesto for Change, which bashes Hamas and Israel equally, to hardened dissatisfaction and related changes in American society itself, which is challenging the traditional dominance of the two “Wall Street” parties — all of these, despite their differences and distinctions, have the same essence as those revolutions and revolutionary developments ongoing in North Africa and the Middle East, including what happened in Iran in 2009.
The common denominator among all these changes is the ascent of radical popular movements that aim to change the status quo, which, at the end of the day, is a reflection of the contemporary proletarian class struggle against slavery and global capitalist reaction. In other words, after almost 4 decades, the offensive of the new right — empowered by the descent and defeat of bourgeois socialism and communism (both “Eastern” state capitalism of the Russian type and the “Western” state capitalism of the welfare state) — continued without pause and pushed the world to an unprecedented state of reaction and degradation. Now it has been more than a decade since radical left demands for justice and freedom, and workers’ demands for equality, step by step, have been emerging here and there, trying — by making mistakes and then learning from them, and even sometimes by acting as pressure groups for other movements instead of representing itself — to declare its own clear and undiscounted presence, a declaration that cannot be anything other than putting an end to wage slavery and abolishing the capitalist system and all of its symptoms.
Lack of clear political objectives and identity; absence of leading political, communist, and workers’ parties and movements; non-existence of rooted and radical popular organizations ready to take the control of this energy, on the one hand, and the existence of deep, humane radicalism, enormous creative power, and mass organizational initiatives, carried over modern communications technologies that provide the opportunity to rapidly overcome the shortcomings inherited from the recent dark decades, on the other hand, are general characteristics of these revolutions and popular movements calling for deep and radical changes.
4. Revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia and Iran, despite their distinct characteristics, all demonstrate various aspects of the same general and universal reflection of the world, and in reality, are an eruption of a revolutionary volcano in those areas where the earth’s crust is thinnest under the feet of contemporary capitalism.
The Middle East specifically, for historical reasons — including the issue of Palestine and the Arab-Israeli dispute, and the rise of political Islam (which was supported by the west in its empowerment of Khomeini to suppress the 1979 popular revolution in order to support the “Afghan Mujahedin” in drawing a “green belt” around the Soviet Union during the cold war era. In the aftermath of the crash of the Soviet Union, political Islam grew to fill the resultant vacuum, and a world with two fronts [‘the West’ and ‘political Islam’] eventually emerged; after September 11, a global reactionary pole prevailed) — has been the point of confluence of the world’s tensest crises, dead ends and military disputes for the past two decades.
The power struggle between western militarism and Islamic terrorism in the past decade — (from the September 11 crime, the war on terror, the American and Western invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, the crimes of Israel against the people of Lebanon and Palestine, and the bombing of European cities by Islamists, to the emergence of groups like Hamas in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon) — has been the main source of retrogression and attacks against humanity in all its aspects, not only in the region but around the world. The Iranian peoples’ revolution in 2009, and now the revolutions of the people of Egypt and Tunisia (which undoubtedly are influenced by the 2009 Iranian revolution), are, from the political aspect, first and foremost against the “war on terror” and against the entirety of the reactionary atmosphere that the dispute between the bourgeois power centres have enforced on the world.
Neither did Iranian people, who rose in revolution against the regime of political Islam, intend or want to bring about another Western puppet dictator, nor did the people of Egypt and Tunisia, who were under the dominance of pro-Western dictatorships, have any intention of bringing political Islam to power. One common denominator of these revolutions, which has been noticed and supported by the people of the world, is precisely this freedom-embracing, secular quality, this valuing of human dignity and respect. As far as the conflict between political Islam and Western militaristic powers are concerned regarding the revolutions of Iran, Tunisia and Egypt: we can say that a giant and social third front is rising in front of these two [reactionary] fronts, and is shaping itself in the midst of the battleground between these two fronts, with the objective of putting an end to this prolonged reactionary war. Even if it is only for this common denominator of these [revolutionary] movements, we can say that a new era has emerged in the world’s politics: an era in which the West cannot suppress the opposition in the name of the fight against “Islamic terrorism.” An era in which Islamists and the most reactionary forces of the contemporary ages are not able, in the name of “the struggle against the West,” to drag humanity down to the burning depths of Islamic hell. Now, there is a third front in the field, one that is characterized by freedom, prosperity, respect, dignity, and equality of human beings and which has already had large impacts. A decisive political victory of this third power in a country like Iran or Egypt will change the political features of the entire world.
5. In a deeper level, these revolutions interrupt the entirety of the political equations in the Middle East and North Africa and, in this respect, the whole world. The various forms of governance in the region, whether they are pro-Western nationalist dictatorships or anti-West Islamic governments, are both unequivocally going to descend into deeper crisis due to peoples’ demands and participation. The influence of the West and the United States throughout the region, and the position of the Israeli government as the main ally and iron fist of the West, are going to be questioned and redefined. The Palestinian issue, which during the past decades had become a field where the dispute between political Islam reaction and Western militarism played out, is going to be redefined. These recent revolutions are going to send a shockwave of demands for justice and radicalism against Islamic reactionary movements and Palestinian nationalism, as well as against the crimes of the West, Israel, and right-wing movements in Israeli society.
The political balance, not only in Palestinian and Arab societies, but even inside Israel, is going to be altered. Already different parts of the Middle East and North Africa have started revolutions and popular revolutionary movements against poverty, misery, and absolute lack of rights, and for change of the status quo; these movements are going to spread in this [revolutionary] form or others. The position of women and the horrific reaction that exists [against women] in the Islamic-infested countries are going to change, and women’s liberation movements throughout the whole region will gain strength. Secularism and demands for freedom and equality are going to gain strength everywhere, and the working class is going to increase its political participation in different areas. All of these changes mean that the whole position of the Middle East and the reactionary balance that has been in place over the past decades are going to change fundamentally. This, in turn, is not only going to disrupt the global balance of power and international power equations between the bourgeois fronts, but between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie in every country.
6. In a more historical perspective, the objective meaning of the current changes and revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa is one of a revolutionary and popular initiative and attempt to completely transfer Arab-speaking and Islam-infested societies into the 21st century in all economic, social, cultural, and political dimensions. Based on these changes, the struggle between the two main social classes of the society — which is not only about how to integrate these societies into the 21st century, but is in its very essence about the definition of human societies in the 21st century — is going to intensify and take on new dimensions that expand beyond the region. The reality is that technological developments and unprecedented expansion of capitalism and global markets, which were explained above, not only resulted in an end to the main polarization of the Cold War era (i.e., the confrontation between the state capitalism of the East and free market capitalism of the west), but is going to end all hitherto bourgeois [divisions] or, redefine them according to the new balance of power and global capitalism’s needs. Thus, the division of the world between “industrial countries” and “the third world,” or other categories like “the Islamic world” or “the Arab world,” etc., will be put an end to. The world is moving inexorably towards a more homogenous culture and way of life. This historical inclination is primarily encouraged by capitalism in its own way, for more profitability, and therefore to equalize the status of the world’s proletariat. Capitalism naturally tends towards imposing ever-more arduous conditions on the entire world’s proletariat — in other words, the vast majority of contemporary human society. Politically speaking, this inevitably means pushing society towards retrogression and political reaction, towards police states, and towards attacking the rights and achievements that working and freedom-loving people have achieved thus far. This is a process the unfolding of which we have witnessed over the past 4 decades around the world. But history is not created by capitalism and bourgeoisie alone. To the contrary, and exactly against the political and economic tendencies of capitalism, the demands and tendencies of the proletariat — the vast human masses of our time who stand in defense of freedom and equality and prosperity and humanity — have found a global and common characteristic. Labor and social production have become global, as have peoples’ demands, from the level of wages and the degree of welfare, to political freedoms and individual and civil rights, to cultural preferences — all merge and unite and do so according to the highest global standards. This is a tendency that has, especially in the last decade, characterized various political movements, and we have witnessed their emergence throughout the world.
The Middle East, due to its complexities and intensive historical contradictions, is a place in which vast masses — from their own angle of interests, against the divisions of contemporary capitalism and its reactionary and anti-human satellites — have risen in revolution. But these battles, in order to triumph, ought to go to the roots. They ought to not only push back the powerful wave of political and ideological reaction of the capitalist class against communism, against the freedom-seeking nature of the working class, and against any demand for justice in the past few decades, but put an end to corruption, to the police state, and to religious and ethnic-nationalist states, along with their ideological excuses like “the end of history” and “triumph of democracy,” “cultural relativism,” “the war of cultures,” “Islamists,” etc. They should finally stand against the rule of capitalism and its global market, which is the root of all current poverty and misery, reaction and regression. The real answer to the immediate demands and desires of millions of people who have entered the field to determine their fate is nothing other than dispossession of all charlatans, generals, and billionaire mullahs; establishing socialism; and putting an end to capitalist barbarism.
In this historical context, the revolutions of Egypt, Tunisia, and Iran are standard-bearers of the working-class revolutions of the 21st century, with an aim of putting an end to 300 years of capitalist rule. The victory of these revolutions, more than anything else, will be due to the formation of leading radical and worker communist parties and political forces that aim clearly at the horizons of social revolution, at the emancipation of the entirety of humanity from the yoke of capitalism, and at organizing and leading the endeavors and efforts of the masses in this direction.
Achieving these objectives is undoubtedly more possible now than at any other time before the above-mentioned revolutions and developments in the Middle East and North Africa. The vast global support and appreciation of Iran’s 2009 revolution, and now of Egypt and Tunisia’s revolutions, and the passion and hope for emancipation among people of the world, are clear indications of the correctness of this evaluation. The crucial issue here is shaping this leadership and portraying the horizon of emancipation from the yoke of capitalism in the form of specific political choices in accordance with specific local situations. There is no need to emphasize that our party, in this regard, bears the heaviest burden.
Early February 2011
Worker-Communist Party of Iran
Translation: Ahmad Fatemi
Editing: Maria Rohaly