Middle East: Regional talks and conflicts reflect new impasse

Independent workers’ organisation a necessity

Around 14 August, the day the 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon ended, Hezbollah will hold anniversary rallies with an escalated tone in reply to the Israeli government’s continuous threats of a new attack. These threats have been increasing since Barak directed accusations at the Lebanese government as being responsible for the continuous arming by Hezbollah. These escalations are taking place in a period of talks between regional powers and are being used as maneuvering cards in the formation of the new Lebanese government.

Lebanon – three years since the last Israeli war

14 August will be the 3rd anniversary of Hezbollah’s so-called “Victory over the 2006 Israeli aggression on Lebanon”. The aim of those attacks, as Olmert later admitted, was to crush or weaken Hezbollah and to isolate the armed Islamic resistance in an already divided country. But Shiite dominant Hezbollah ended up leading an opposition with the Christian dominant populist Free Patriotic Movement, grew militarily stronger, gained mass support across Lebanon as a result, and is now seen as an undefeatable resistance force in the face of an occupying western-backed superpower in the region.

Moreover, at a time when the Lebanese government is being formed, the Druze-dominated Progressive Socialist Party leader, Jumblatt, has announced that he is leaving the Hariri block, and expressed great support for Hezbollah. This has boosted the opposition and tipped over the balance of power in Lebanon after the elections, Jumblatt has made a U-turn and has complained that the Hariri block only pushed him further to the right, and is now talking about resistance, the Left and class struggle.

Despite leading his father’s party, traditionally seen as left wing, Jumblatt is no socialist and is far from a working class leader. He is semi-feudalist sectarian leader of the Druze community in Lebanon and has a history as a warlord. Nevertheless, this move echoes the opportunistic stand by his members of parliament, and is rooted in a fear existing today among sections of the elite, that deals struck between regional powers leaving minority leaders out, in a period of economic recession could lead to the masses moving into independent struggle.

But most importantly, this move now means that the Saudi-backed Hariri block (14 March) has, as a result of this split, become a minority against the Hezbollah-led opposition, annulling the recent election results and leading to the end of the 14th March block. If Hariri does not resign as a result, he will now have to rely on the Sunni majority vote and the unpopular Christian far right.

Mass Polarisation in Lebanese Society

For the last three years, Hezbollah has been leading a populist opposition made up of parties in conflict to western imperialism in the region; politically but even economically to a certain extent. This is mostly the case in terms of the role the opposition has played in blocking policies of privatisation for the last 3 years. But as seen in the last elections, with a clear Sunni-Shiite division in the country, Hezbollah has been unable to appeal to all sections of the working class to create a united movement of workers and the poor against war and poverty. This is because Hezbollah, despite being a mass organisation, is not a working class organization, but is led by a reactionary Shiite Islamist elite, with strong links to the reactionary populist regime of Ahmadinejad in Iran. Nevertheless, it has wide support among most Lebanese Shiites and many others, and is seen as the only force standing up to Israeli and US imperialism.

Of course the Israeli far-right is not against another attack on Hezbollah which is a threat to their “Greater Israel” aims. But even though Hezbollah is, most importantly, a threat to Israeli capitalism’s prestige in the region and its economic interests, especially regarding the water reserves in the South of Lebanon and Syria, the Israeli government is only waging a psychological war at this stage. This is aimed putting on pressure at a time of talks between regional powers – Saudi Arabia, Egypt with Syria.

Calm but unstable times

For the first time in many years, a US president is planning a visit to Syria, when Barak Obama accepted Assad’s invitation a few weeks ago. US-backed Saudi Arabia & Iran-backed Syria are trying to negotiate a deal while the Lebanese government is being formed. This also happens to coincide with the period following the post-election mass movement in Iran, which the Ahmadinejad regime has emerged from weakened and in crisis.

But although the so-called new Obama era means negotiations with the aim of forming new coalitions in the Middle East, it is possible that a new conflict will be created as a result of the likely failure of the regional powers to reach an agreement. A renewed conflict of interest between regional powers would be an outcome, with attention re-diverted once again towards national questions and foreign policies, especially in divided societies like Lebanon, Palestine and Iran. These are the countries facing the widest mass polarisation in society, which can lead to mass protests like those seen in Lebanon soon after the 2006 war. In the absence of a workers’ alternative to war and poverty, other forces, using populist slogans, could exploit such movements. In Lebanon these mass protests, which have a basis in economic and national questions, were divided along sectarian lines, and have increased the Sunni – Shiite divide.

However, with the international economy in recession, the US and the oligarchs need stability, especially in Iraq, during and after the “pull-out” of US troops. The Democrats are wishing to be leaving behind them a stable Iraq, with an emerging oil industry, with Bush having laid the ground work already by bringing big corporations into the oil and other industries. But with the instability of the region, and with no investments yet bringing profits to the greedy and monstrous corporations, Obama is trying to play the peace card, thus the “official” pull-out of troops from Iraqi cities, the Kurdish elections, the opening of a dialogue with Syria, and the current silence around Iran’s nuclear weapons and political movement which shook the Ahmadinejad regime. Surely, this same regime, weakened today by an internal threat with the masses having moved into action against it, and with fears of a Sunni-Shiite conflict on it borders with Iraq during the US pull-out, could well go into new attempts at negotiating with the US.

These negotiations could come out of an interest by the capitalist classes regionally and internationally to unite to secure the US pull-out, but also to guarantee that Iran, the regional Shiite power has some influence in some of the Shiite-led provinces of Iraq.

The US government is also now aiming to strike deals with other resistance forces in the region, with the only force rejecting its negotiations at this stage being Hezbollah. There have been calls to the Syrian regime by Israeli defence minister Barak to end its direct support to Hezbollah in return for the Golan Heights. Although it is unlikely that Israel would surrender the Golan heights in this way, this is a reminder of the fact that Syrian capitalism has its own interests in the region

There have been fears expressed by the opposition in Lebanon that the Western backed parties are accepting the western and Israeli-backed plan of Palestinian refugees in the region being resettled and denied the right to return. Obama has tried to get closer to Hamas, who are now open to talks as a result of the continuous sanctions and their failure to organise and liberate the Palestinian masses in Gaza. Obama has openly, but ineffectively, opposed some of Netanyahu’s policies towards Palestinians, like the continuous expansion of Jewish settlements on Palestinian territories.

Currently, the Palestinian parties are weakened and have split into many factions, with regular clashes within the territories and the camps in Lebanon. Such divisions among Palestinians, and Lebanese, are strong indicators of the risk of civil wars breaking out across the region.

Class and Sectarian Divisions

This also shows the weakness of the sectarian parties, despite some of them sometimes proclaiming an anti-imperialist stand, to really challenge imperialism. This has been especially revealed in the current world economic crisis as none of them have any alternative to the chaotic and brutal capitalist system.

In Lebanon, there is a mood of great discontent among all sections of the working class, and a feeling that if the politicians who are in talks now do make agreements, it will mean uniting against the poor, as they are all unwilling to take up the immediate economic issues.

Living costs are still going up in Lebanon, especially fuel and food prices. The government says this price hike is an increase in VAT to help pay back the still mounting US$55 billion national debt. And while the opposition is blocking policies of privatisation in sections of the public sector, it is not opposed to privatisation in general, but only to those reforms put forward by the western backed neo-liberal Hariri block, with plans of further sell-offs to multi-national corporations.

The parties leading the opposition, not the least the Christian-populist Free Patriotic Movement, are no fighters of the working class. For many years now, industrial workers and teachers have been facing the widest wave of attacks. But all while the parties in the opposition have been using these class issues simply for their own interests. These attacks have only been the beginning of a brutal neo-liberal programme which means the dissolving of workers rights, creating a system of contractual teachers, and attracting big international companies to buy starved out state companies, such as the state owned but completely run down water and electricity companies, for cheap prices.

Industrial action has taken place independently and often spontaneously, although at this stage lacking a serious leadership and an alternative fighting programme. There is no party of the workers and poor putting forward an alternative economic plan to deal with the class issues such as unemployment passing 35% of the workforce. And while the masses across all sectarian divisions are desperate for a leadership that will provide a way out of this despair, and looking for an alternative to wars and poverty, there are less illusions now in both sections of the Lebanese elite. Obama’s useless efforts to reach a deal between the regional ruling classes do not give the impoverished and repressed masses of the Middles East even a hope that things will change for them. The US Democrats and the mainstream parties of the Arab world are all only interested in serving the interests of big business and the wealthy in the region.

The Need for Socialism

This huge vacuum in working class political representation has meant, in the absence of a workers movement and class struggles, that workers have turned towards their sectarian leaders in the face of sectarian tensions and unemployment. But with the economic crisis on our doorsteps and with the working class being made to pay the price for the failure of capitalism, as clearly seen in Egypt and Iran, the masses will look to freshly organise themselves independently if the traditional left and trade unions are not prepared to stand up and fight back. In Egypt, the working class has shown the way forward and workers there have begun to prepare for future struggles through independent organisation.

The CWI has always stressed that the only force interested in and capable of forming a society to meet the aspirations of the masses in the region, is the working class and the poor across all religions, ethnicities and nationalities. We call for a socialist movement in Lebanon and across the Middle East, where the rich oil, gas and water resources – the region’s wealth – can be nationalised, and the economy can be democratically planned, to build an alternative to the continuing crises, wars and poverty.

While living conditions are deteriorating and hundreds of millions are living in deep poverty across the Middle East, working class movements will emerge even if the regimes are repressive – as seen in Iran – and new class leaders will come through and draw socialist conclusions. New trade unions could even be formed if the old ones are unwilling to represent the organised working class. Experience will help prepare the way for the creation of independent workers’ political organizations. Such steps could be the foundation for building new mass workers parties, developing international solidarity among workers, for the building of socialist movements all across the Middle East. Socialism is a necessity for the liberation of the masses through the building of a new, classless society, which could begin to look towards reaching the ever increasing potential of humanity.

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