Lebanon: Masses take to the streets in opposition to crisis ridden government

Hizbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) have planned mass street demonstrations for this week in opposition to Prime Minister Siniora and his weakened, imperialist-supported, March 14th or Future movement government.

Hizbollah, originally an organisation with support only amongst the Shia but now with wider support and the Free Patriotic Movement, led by the populist Christian leader Aoun, are the two main organisations, leading opposition to the government. It is likely that this opposition coalition now has the support of the majority of the population in Lebanon. Of course if the opposition are unable to provide a way forward to the impoverished and war-weary Lebanese working class over time then this support will not last.

The leaders are also speaking of strikes, sit-ins and occupations demanding the resignation of government led by the Sunni Siniora. The resignation of all Shia ministers from the cabinet means that the government is seen as completely unrepresentative of this large part of the Lebanese population. This government is now hanging on by its fingertips and is threatened with mass protests this week by probably the majority of the Christians and Shiites, and significant proportions from the Sunni and Druze communities who were disgusted by the government’s dealing with the latest Israeli war.

Last Saturday, Lebanon’s Cabinet, led by the Future Movement, the so-called Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) led by the Druze leader Jumblatt and the far-right Christian Lebanese Forces led by Geagea, met and approved the UN statutes for the creation of an international court to investigate the assassination of former PM Rafik Hariri in 2005. The 14th March leaders have been pushing this issue much more since the assassination of Gemayel, on 21st November. Gemayel was one of the leading figures of the Christian based right-wing Phalange Party. The government called a mass funeral on the 23rd November and in order to sabotage the call by the opposition for mass protest demonstrations on that day. The organizers of the demonstration predicted that they would get over a million on the streets but 3-400 000 attended. They also used the latest assassination to divert the attention from the crisis facing their government and the real issues on the ground. Some, like Geagea, have even gone as far as claiming that if the opposition does not bring its ministers back to cabinet, then Hezbollah should be suspected of carrying out the assassination. The government went ahead with the meeting despite it being unconstitutional even by their own rules and regulations and passed the law setting up the international court.

In the past there were big suspicions that the Syrian regime had a hand in assassinations in Lebanon. But there is also skepticism that this was the case with the killing of Gemayel. Many people believe the setting up of an international court is important to the pro-imperialist Siniora because it wants to use it to put the spotlight on Hezbollah members who are portrayed as being pro-Syrian and even attempt get the organisation added to the US imperialism’s list of banned terrorist organisations. As a result the masses are not blind to the real interests of the government elite despite the existence of strong suspicions amongst some of the population that the Syrian regime might be behind the Gemayel assassination.

The latest developments have led to increased tensions between the opposition leaders and the majority in government but this has also been reflected on the streets with some clashes having already taken place. The assassination led to a rise in sectarian tensions and divisions amongst the working class as well as fears of a civil war. Assassinating politicians, even if they represent reactionary and divisive ideas, does not bring about real change either in politics or in the daily lives of the masses. These actions only mean that politicians are replaced by others who carry out the same repressive measures and these events are used by the elite to divert attention from the real issues facing workers.

In Lebanon, such assassinations are very common. The last time there were big protests against an assassination was after a car bomb killed the ex-Prime Minister of the time, Rafiq Hariri in February 2005. Hariri was a right-wing Sunni leader of the Future movement who implemented vicious neo-liberal policies in Lebanon. He was one of the richest capitalists in the world. As with many Lebanese politicians, he bought the support and votes of many by spending money on their education and by building their towns. Hariri, like the Druze Progressive Socialist Party leader Jumblatt, turned against the Syrian regime in 2005, and got full support from Saudi Arabia and US imperialism.

Hariri’s assassination and a number of others, killing left-wing figures like Georges Hawi, leader of the Democratic Left Movement, led to a demonstration of between 800 000 and one million on 14 March 2005 calling for an end to assassinations and for Syria and its intelligence services which had dominated politics in Lebanon for much of the previous 30 years, to pull out. This led to the movement at the time taking the name March 14th Movement. This formation included the Future Movement, The Progressive Socialist Party, the Lebanese Forces, and the Democratic Left Movement. However, the 14th March movement now does not have the same character as at the time of the mass protests of March last year. Many of the activists of this movement no longer identify with the actions of the politicians leading this formation. This is because they feel it has been hijacked by the pro-capitalist and sectarian leaders of the three main parties in government today and backed by the US imperialism.

Following the demonstration calling for Syria’s withdrawal a demo of the same size or even larger was organised by Shiite parties, including Hezbollah. This demo was to recognise the role played by the Syrian regime in opposing US imperialism and the Israeli occupation of Lebanon. Hezbollah was always portrayed in Lebanon as being the willing tool of the Syrian and Iranian regime. But Hezbollah is also seen by the majority as the resistance against Israel and which, given the incompetence of the Lebanese government, has been able to liberate and defend land in the south and played this role throughout the 17-year long brutal civil war. Hezbollah was seen to be the only effective resistance during this Summer’s Israeli invasion of Lebanon and in fact inflicted an important military defeat on the Israeli regime.

Workers are Paying the Price

While the Lebanese government is in huge crisis, Israeli war planes are still hovering in our skies and international armed forces are positioned in our Southern areas, and living conditions for employees and workers across the country are desperate. Many thousands of people are in desperate need for decent homes, food and work for a living wage. Civilian infrastructure still needs to be urgently rebuilt, including bombed schools and hospitals. Neither the 14th March majority in government, backed by major imperialist powers like the US who fully supported the Israeli Defense Force, nor the newly called opposition of the FPM and Hezbollah are interested in truly organizing an immediate massive emergency funding of public works under the democratic control and organisation of the Lebanese working class.

The immediate issues facing people on the ground – the question of affordable homes, well-funded state schools and hospitals to provide free quality education and health services, and cheap electricity and diesel supply – are still to the fore but more recently parliamentary politics have been a distraction in the name of ‘national questions’. This weak, divided, corrupt government dependent on foreign imperialist powers will not make the sort of huge investment needed to build civilian society and create jobs, with a living wage. To oppose imperialist interests in the region and stop the Syrian and Iranian regimes from using Lebanese land for combating Israel, as well as preventing sectarian clashes among the Lebanese people, another system is needed. Capitalism breeds war and poverty. To break the cycle, workers need to take control and organise society where the major industries in Lebanon are taken into public, democratic ownership, and a national economic plan can be carried out, for the benefit of all.

No to Imperialist Interference

US imperialism is interested in controlling this region as a whole due to its rich natural resources. Israel’s US backed war aims to smash Hezbollah and create an internal conflict failed during their brutal assault against the Lebanese people. However, after destroying the economy and infrastructure of big parts of Lebanon, they now, through the big imperialist powers, want to install a client Lebanese government. This is linked to the continuing oppression of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. US imperialism supports these aims of the Israeli capitalist regime, its main ally in the Middle East, to weaken and isolate Syria and Iran, as part of its policy of dominating the region. However, US imperialism’s is facing huge problems in its attempts to weaken Syria and Iran.

Southern Lebanon is now largely under UN control, the same body which stood back and watched while Israel bloodily pounded Lebanon. The CWI calls for the removal of all foreign forces from Lebanon, and for all the working people of Lebanon to decide their future, free of imperialist meddling.

For a united Workers’ Movement

Hezbollah fought for homes, land and livelihoods against a foreign aggressor and occupier and had the support of the local population for their struggle. However, being a Shiite party with much of its founding ideology based around the Islamic ideas of the Iranian religious cleric, Khomeini, can this sort of resistance really become a national movement against imperialism? Can this break the cycle of sectarianism in Lebanon politics? Despite the genuine intentions of many Hezbollah supporters, Hezbollah’s Shia ideology and Shia popular base, as well as its links to regimes in the region, means Hezbollah cannot win over the mass of non-Shia communities in Lebanon for a struggle to better the lives of the Lebanese over the long run. Since the war, sectarian tensions have come to the fore. Under conditions where politicians try to whip up propaganda against Hezbollah as the ’party of the Shias’, and Hezbollah sees its popularity beginning to fall, their leadership could bring its Shia Islamic ideology to the fore, leading to even greater polarisation. Only a workers’ programme for real socialist change is capable of uniting the working class.

Workers’ Unity & Socialism

Our recent history is full of demonstrations and strike actions taken by workers to save jobs and improve conditions, giving an indication of what is possible. This mass working class based opposition has repeatedly been undermined by sectarian leaders, right-wing parties and trade union leaders. However, if independently organised through a workers’ movement with socialist policies, these actions can overcome sectarianism and unite workers against the bosses. We need a mass struggle to end the social and economic conditions that create poverty, war and oppression; to fight for a socialist government and appeal to the rest of the region’s workers to overthrow their own corrupt dictatorial capitalist regimes. Only by utilising the rich resources and wealth of the Middle East, in the interests of the majority will it be possible to give an answer to all the problems and fears faced by the masses of the region. This can only be achieved through the struggle for a socialist confederation of the Middle East.

In the post-war conditions of 20% unemployment, low pay and poverty, the potential for a mass united struggle of the working class and poor undoubtedly exists. But to realise this potential a cross-community, working-class party is needed, which has a political programme to unite the poorest sections of the population. Such a party could only achieve this unity by putting forward demands which deal with the common daily problems. With mass, cross-community support, such a class unity could go beyond economic and democratic rights demands and end sectarian division which is part of the capitalist system. The bosses and right wing politicians use ’divide and rule’ tactics to remain in power. A democratic socialist society is necessary to overcome these divisions, once and for all.

  • For a Workers’ Government – Build a United Workers’ Movement
  • End all Imperialist intervention in the Middle East
  • An End to War and Capitalism
  • Homes, Public Services & Jobs for All
  • For a Socialist Struggle – for a Workers’ Alternative

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December 2006