The anger of Tunisian people runs deep. While the political elite has blatantly failed to even start to address their daily problems after over 14 months in power, the cold assassination of the Leftist leader, Chokri Belaid, on 6 February, was the straw that finally broke the camel’s back. It infuriated the country and pushed the hated Ennahdha-led government into a corner.
The country is passing now through its biggest political crisis since the fall of the former dictator Ben Ali. Prime Minister Jebali manoeuvred to form a so-called ‘technocratic’ government. He explicitly said it was aimed at “curbing popular anger” and at giving some room to manoeuvre to the seriously weakened ruling party. But last Tuesday, Jebali announced these attempts had failed. He subsequently resigned. But his party opposed giving up its key ministerial posts.
The party named its interior minister, Ali Larayedh, as the new head of government. This is widely seen as nothing less than a provocation. Ali Larayedh oversaw the ‘Ministry of terror’ for more than a year. He was in charge of systematic abuse and violence by the security forces. Trained under Ben Ali, they responded to the grievances and demands of the population with beatings, torture, tear gas and buckshot, as was seen during a local uprising in the southern region of Siliana, last December.
These maneuvres show that Ennahdha will not give up power easily. The party, which has patiently put in place its pawns in the state apparatus, the mass media and government administration, will not leave the scene without a relentless struggle from the street.
Events over recent weeks indicate what can be accomplished by mass mobilization. It needs to be sustained and armed with a clear strategy on how to remove the regime. Despite desperate attempts to portray the contrary, the roots of the current governmental crisis ultimately lies in the mass resistance that the Ennahdha-led government has faced for months from the organized labour movement, youth, women, urban poor, peasants, unemployed and small traders. This resistance culminated in the explosion of anger that shook the country on 8 February, when a general strike took place. More that one million people took to the streets in Tunis and other cities, to commemorate the death of Chokri Belaid.
The Ennahdha-led government has reproduced many of the factors that initially forced the Tunisian masses onto the road of revolution. When they rose up, two years ago, one of their main demands was: "Work is a right!”. Since then, over 200,000 people have been added to the long list of the unemployed, despite the claims of Ennahdha to create "half a million jobs".
Contrasting with all the empty promises, the South and Centre-West of the country continue to sink into dire social misery. In some areas, people lacking even the most basic infrastructure.
Continuous price rises (food items have registered a 8.4% rise in one year) are pushing the daily struggle to survive to its limits for many poor families. It is in these already extreme social conditions that the regime decided to increase the price of fuel, tobacco and electricity, rather than challenging the interests of big business and speculators who profit from widespread misery.
Many parents remain unaware of those responsible for the deaths of their children who were killed by the repressive Ben Ali regime. Many of those injured wait for medical treatment.
Under the Ennahdha-led government, democratic rights are systematically stifled and attacks on cultural rights and freedom of speech continue. Last year, courts applied repressive laws from the Ben Ali dictatorship years. The regime targets those making speeches considered harmful to “values, morality, or public order, or to defame the army.”
Violent, reactionary Salafist gangs carry out attacks against anything that is not considered to be compatible with their version of Islam. While direct collaboration with Ennahdha’s factions is denied, the regime benefits from the actions of Salafist militias, as well as from the actions of the notorious ‘Leagues of protection of the revolution’ - auxiliary troops for looming counter-revolution.
Clashes perpetrated by Ennahda’s armed militias against the UGTT (Tunisian General Labour Union – a national trade union centre) in Tunis, last December, resulted in the establishment of a ‘commission of inquiry’. However, like the commission set up following savage police repression of a demonstration in Tunis, last April, the latest commission has done nothing to bring the perpetrators of these acts to justice. On the contrary, the commission has essentially covered-up the actions of the militias.
Policy decisions regarding the fate of millions of people are channelled into the upper echelons of power, amongst a ruling circle based around Carthage, La Kasbah, Le Bardot and Montplaisir. These rulers are far from the men and women who carried out a revolution, whose heroic struggle was hijacked to put this corrupt and murderous clique where it is now.
All the essential objectives of the revolution remain not only unaddressed but are endangered by a new elite, which is aspiring to be a new dictatorship.
Ennahdha, like Nida Tounes (a political shelter for ex-supporters of the old regime), are both defending the bosses, the Western multinationals operating in Tunisia, and the international creditor institutions. They all aspire to reintroduce the economic "standards" of the past, which allowed a clique to enrich themselves by exploiting the Tunisian working class.
While the media focuses on disputes and manoeuvres within the political establishment, the IMF continues "negotiations" with Tunisian authorities over a loan worth US $1.78. As with all IMF loans, this will come with harsh conditions attached. It will mean the further drastic impoverishment of Tunisians, including wage cuts, layoffs from the public sector, new privatizations and the reduction of public subsidies on essential items.
Ennadha has failed...it must go!
The ruling party is increasingly discredited and its social basis erosed. Ironically, this is revealed by the outcome of demonstrations Ennadha organised recently. The latest one, organised one week after the general strike, was supposed to be Ennadha’s biggest show of strength, with some party leaders predicting a “one million march”. The party mobilised all its support base and networks, organising buses from every corner of the country, and spent several millions to make it a success, even trying to entice participants by distributing chocolate biscuits on the streets. But no more than 15,000 people turned up!
This is a sharp rebuke to all the cynical commentators who predicted, during the October 2011 elections, an “Islamist upsurge” closing a chapter of revolutionary hopes and plunging the country into a long, dark winter of religious fundamentalist reaction. While the danger of Islamist reaction is far gone, the street mobilisations since the death of Chokri Belaid made crystal clear on which side the balance of forces remain favoured. The revolution is far from over. The urgent task for working people and youth is to prepare for ‘round two’!
The tasks of the Left, the role of the Popular Front and the UGTT
The Tunisian working class and youth still have reserves of energy that have surprised more than once even the most alert commentators. This state of affairs, however, should not be taken for granted. The ability of the Left to seize opportunities will be under serious test and scrutiny in the next weeks and months. If not provided with a clear programme of revolutionary action, the energy of the masses could dissipate or be lost in localized and disorderly explosions of anger. The situation could change dramatically and a favourable balance of forces for working people could be lost for a historical period. Prevarication or passivity in this situation will aid the class enemy, giving it respite to reassemble its forces and to counter-attack.
The most downtrodden and desperate layers of the poor especially, seeing no serious and radical alternative from the trade union movement and the organised Left, could become a bigger prey for reactionary demagogues of the Salafist-type or others. These forces will not stop to break the neck of the revolution. The descent into a downward spiral of violence, with civil war-type aspects, could begin to dominate if the revolutionary struggle to transform society is not carried on to its end. If attempts by the religious fundamentalists to carry out crimes against the Left and so called “miscreants” must be challenged by a mass and united struggle of the workers, the youth and the poor.
The tremendous strength of the Tunisian trade union movement, in particular, must be used to its full potential to impose its stamp on the situation. To do this, a path radically different from what has been offered until now by the national leadership of the UGTT is urgently required. Trying to avoid a confrontation between the working masses and the ruling power does not stop conflict and means it takes place in much more unfavourable conditions for the revolutionary camp.
The UGTT has failed to present a plan of action that develops and strengthens the powerful general strike on 8 February. The UGTT’s main demands – a rejection of violence and for the dissolution of the “parallel militias” – (which were made during the aborted general strike last December), reveal the limitations of their demands and are fall well short of what the situation demands. In fact, the fate of the revolution is tied up with the popular demand for "freedom, jobs and dignity".
The effective dismantling of the militias will not come from administrative measures from the top but from sustained mass struggles, coupled with the organization and coordination of self-defence. These forces should be made up of trade unionists, young revolutionaries and all the living forces of the revolution, so that violent reaction can be combated.
Many workers and young people look towards ‘Popular Front’ left coalition. However, since the 8 February strike the leadership of the Front has not come up with any real rallying slogans. Its repeated vague calls for governmental and institutional formulas are barely understandable to many workers and youth (“government of national competence”, “Congress of national dialogue”, etc.). They do not provide clear ideas on how to continue the movement and leave the masses in a state of limbo. Calling for a new general strike, for example, would give the masses a clear next goal, following the success of the 8 Friday industrial action. To build confidence amongst the masses, the Popular Front should show that it is prepared to take the struggle forward to its logical conclusion in a confrontation with the rotten regime and economic system.
A huge gap exists between the majority of Tunisians and the current political establishment. If the Popular Front does not make urgent proposals of mass action to prepare and to build a mass struggle from below, in this new, crucial chapter of the revolution, it and the working class may pay a high price.
For a new revolution! Build a mass struggle for a revolutionary government of workers and youth!
Probably never since the fall of Ben Ali has the crisis facing the ruling power been so clearly exposed for all to see. That the biggest demonstration against the regime since Jebali’s resignation was taken at the initiative of independent activists via social networks, attests to a lack of Left initiatives and also the determination of large sections of the Tunisian people. Dynamic and bold youth, in particular, are not prepared to ‘give up the street’.
In effect, most of the Left organisations in Tunisia, apart from the League of the Workers’ Left (LGO), put forward a ‘stageist’ view of the revolution. Under this false perspectives Tunisia would first become a developed, liberal democratic capitalist country, free from imperialist interference before a later struggle for socialism and workers’ power. However, such a gradualist perspective comes into conflict with living reality, whereby democratic and economic issues are organically intertwined.
The experience of the last two years has clearly demonstrated that lasting, genuine democracy and social development will not come as long as capital rules over the economy. The perpetuation of a system based on private profit and the exploitation of the working class goes hand-in-hand with the need to oppress workers, with irresistible moves towards the restoration of economic and political dictatorship, under one form or another.
In Tunisia, as around the world, capitalism equals mass poverty, economic crisis and major and generalised austerity. In Tunisia, this is coupled with a major offensive to roll back the wheel of history on social and cultural issues, which is used by the ruling elite as an instrument of diversion and domination. The rights and liberties of women, young people, artists, intellectuals and of the workers’ movement are in the firing line of the ruling reactionaries and their police and militias.
In such a situation, the only possible way to obtain sustainable and substantive measures to alleviate the suffering of the masses is to transform today’s defensive struggles into a revolutionary offensive to take economic and political power from the hands of the ruling elite and the big bosses that back them. On the basis of an economic plan managed democratically by the working class and the wider population, society can be reorganized according to the needs of the mass of Tunisian people.
This struggle needs to link up with the rising struggles of the workers’ movement internationally, to bring down capitalism and to establish a free and democratic socialist society, based on cooperation, solidarity and the rational, planned use of the immense resources and technique of the planet, for the benefit of all.
Supporters of the CWI in Tunisia, who are active in the League of the Workers’ Left (which is a component of the Popular Front) fight for the following demands:
-Down with the current regime, its violent militias and its big business backers!
-Ennahdha out! For mass civil disobedience until the fall of the Nahdhaoui regime and its allies! For the immediate call of a new 24 hours general strike, renewable until the fall of the current government!
-For the convening of general assemblies in the neighbourhoods, the universities, the schools and the workplaces, to prepare collective resistance against the regime!
-For the formation of committees of defense by the workers, the youth and the poor, to protect all the mobilizations against assaults and attacks from the counter-revolution!
-For the end of the state of emergency and the repression! Defend the rights to protest and assembly, and all democratic freedoms!
-No to prices’ rises! For an immediate increase in wages! For the formation of popular bodies of price controls!
-Proper work for all! For the collective sharing of working time! For decent jobless benefits for all the unemployed! For an ambitious public investment plan in poor areas!
-No to the anti-social plans of the IMF! Refuse to pay the debt of Ben Ali!
-No to privatisations! For the immediate requisition, under workers’ control, of plants that are sacking workers!
-For the nationalisation, under democratic workers’ management and control, of the commanding sectors of the economy – the big banks, insurance companies, industries, mines, transport, big retailing companies etc!