May Day 2011: Revolution in the Middle East and Mahgreb – workers’ struggle around the globe

Fighting to end capitalism and its crisis, the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) sends warm May Day greetings to workers, youth and the oppressed around the globe.

May Day, the traditional day for celebrating the international struggle of the workers’ movement, this year takes place against the background of the revolutionary wave in the Middle East and Maghreb countries. This has shown the mighty strength of the working class starting to put its stamp on these developments. But also other countries, the US with the tremendous developments in Wisconsin and the mass movements for example in Greece and Portugal, show that the new wave of cutbacks is being met with growing resistance.

The revolution in the Maghreb and the Middle East is still spreading from one country to another. The uprising against the regime in Syria continues. The regime there desperately clings to power using bloody repression, shooting demonstrators and jailing opposition activists. But the unrest in the region over state repression and social misery has dramatically changed both the area and international relations – and continues to do so. Demonstrators in Egypt have started a second wave of protest to achieve the objectives of their struggle: democracy and fundamental social change.

Even the regime in China – in many ways less affected by the global crisis – is trembling in fear of the Tunisian contagion. Dictators from Sri Lanka to Kazakhstan fear the effects of these revolutionary upheavals.

Defend the revolution! No to imperialist intervention!

Trying to use the international support for the Libyan people, the US, accompanied by European imperialist powers, started their armed intervention in Libya. Their objectives in the war, in which they are getting more and more involved, are to try to regain control over developments, to regain a grip on the whole region and for regime change in their interests.

They have no qualms about backing the brutal regime in Saudi Arabia and its intervention against the movement in Bahrain. The interests of the imperialist powers are not the interests of the working masses and the fighters for democracy and social change in Libya.

The solidarity of working people around the globe is needed on the side of those struggling against the brutal regime of Gaddafi but also against the imperialist intervention and war.

Stop the destruction of the planet!

On this May Day, our solidarity is also with all those workers in Japan fighting against a nuclear catastrophe and with all the people affected by the earthquake, tsunami and the following nuclear disaster. The Fukushima reactor crisis makes clear again that capitalist governments put profits before the need for even a minimum of security for the mass of the population. The earnings of companies like Tepco, the owner of the Fukushima reactors, General Electric (GE), Toshiba, Hitachi – the latter three all involved in the construction and design of this nuclear power station – were more important than the interests of hundreds of thousands or more people now affected by the ongoing nuclear accident.

Given the record of lies and the inability of the energy companies to guarantee anything other than profits for a few, the whole industry should be nationalised under democratic control and management by working people. The immediate need to organise an end of nuclear energy generation cannot be used as an excuse for not meeting the targets for ending carbon emissions to halt global warming. A socialist energy plan is needed, based on international cooperation, to bring to an end the age of nuclear power and fossil fuels.

Without a mass struggle this will not be achievable. Only a socialist transformation can ensure an end to the constant destruction of the vital components of our very existence.

Ongoing crisis

With the events in North Africa and the Middle East, this May Day sees the first wave of revolutions in the aftermath of the economic crisis that started in 2008. As it unfolded, it revealed the inability of capitalism to offer jobs, security and a decent life for the working masses.

In many countries, the answer of the capitalist governments to the deepest crisis since the 1930s is now an intensification of their policy of austerity and privatisation. Even in those countries with some kind of recovery, the accepted practice is to put the burden of the bailout for the bankers on the shoulders of the working masses in as short a time as possible.

However, the rebellion against this new wave of attacks has seen an impressive first round of battle in the USA. A mass movement sprang into action in Madison, Wisconsin to defend trade union rights and the conditions of public-sector workers. As Michael Moore put it, the Tea Party Republican Governor Scott declared “class war” and “aroused a sleeping giant”, the working people. In this small state of less than 6 million inhabitants, demonstrations of up to 200,000 showed the anger and determination that exists to defend trade union rights.

Unfortunately, the trade union leadership was more interested in rotten compromises than concretely defending working-class people. There was widespread support, both inside and outside the trade unions, for the call for a one-day general strike. Socialist Alternative, the CWI section in the USA, advocated concrete measures to make that next step a reality.

We have seen this in a lot of countries where many trade union leaders make verbal protests and, sometimes, organise mass protests and strikes simply as a way of letting off steam, not as mobilising measures for a serious struggle. The CWI fights for democratic and fighting trade unions. Wherever necessary, we have to re-build the unions to defend working-class people.

Stop the cuts – defend the public sector

Cushioned by the economic effects of China’s boom, some countries in Latin America and Africa hope to avoid being dragged into the European and North American quagmire. But the price they are already paying is the re-colonisation of their economies, returning them to the age of dependency on the export of raw materials.

The economic basis has therefore been prepared for future eruptions and new waves of resistance.

Most acute at present is the situation in Europe. Instead of fundamentally solving the crisis, the hopes of the capitalists and their governments are now concentrated on plans to avoid, or even just to cope with, a default on the part of Greece or Portugal. Their only objective is to avoid further contagion – but this is becoming less successful. The banking crisis is not solved and the sovereign debt crisis is increasing.

However, the policies of cuts have provoked a response in the form of mass resistance. In Greece, the regime of austerity has been met by eight general strikes. A general strike with ten million on the streets brought Spain to a halt. Hundreds of thousands protested in Portugal. In Britain where the trade union leadership postponed the protest against cuts for months, the final result was a show of accumulated anger with 700,000 marching on 26 March in London.

No government in Europe is stable or immune to the growing discontent. While much confusion in the consciousness of working people is still inherited from the past decades of neo-liberal offensive, the growing attacks of the capitalists and their states are forcing workers into action and into a new and developing debate about an alternative to the profit driven system.

So far these protests have not yet fundamentally blocked the attacks on living standards. Therefore, a clear plan of action to stop the immediate assault and to argue for an alternative to the crisis-ridden capitalist system is needed. This is why we argue for the nationalisation of all banks and the commanding heights of industry under workers’ control and management.

As Joe Higgins, together with Clare Daly recently elected to the Dáil (Irish Parliament) for the Socialist Party (CWI Ireland), put it: “There is a huge vacuum on the left. There is a need for a new movement to represent the working class in its widest sense”.

In many ways the workers’ movement has to be re-built to defend working class people, to fight capitalism and to struggle for an international socialist transformation of society.

The CWI in Pakistan – Socialist Movement Pakistan – was in the forefront of building a new independent trade union confederation. On this May Day, the SMP and the Progressive Workers’ Federation Pakistan are involved in the organisation of May Day celebrations all across the country.

In Kazakhstan the CWI helped to form a new trade union federation. As May Day is also the day to remember the martyrs of the workers’ movement, we have to honour all those fighters for democracy and socialism who – for example in Kazakhstan – have been imprisoned and, in many cases, tortured.

The ruling capitalist party in Sri Lanka is trying to hijack May Day by calling for demonstrations against the recent UN report which accuses them of war crimes on a mass scale. The United Socialist Party (CWI Sri Lanka) defends May Day as the day of the workers’ movement and links it to the struggle against Rajapakse’s dictatorship.

In many countries the CWI is involved in new political formations to build new mass parties of working class people.

In rebuilding the workers’ movement the CWI seeks to help to develop the best way to fight back, to organise resistance and to spread Marxist ideas within these new formations – the ideas of the CWI to end capitalism and the dictatorship of the markets.

Fighting for socialism

The struggle in North Africa and the Middle East poses the question of how to achieve a government in the interests of the working class and the poor, breaking with the framework of cuts and austerity, nationalising the banks and major multinationals which dominate the economy. Based on mass movements, such governments could open the way to democracy and socialism on an international level. This has nothing to do with the dictatorship of a privileged bureaucratic elite as was seen in the Stalinist former USSR and Eastern Europe.

In 1871, 140 years ago, when the people of Paris took power in the Commune, the working class showed its potential to lead a social struggle to change society. The workers of Paris established a model of workers’ democracy, based on elected representatives subject to recall and on a workers’ wage. It abolished the armed forces of the capitalist state and replaced them with the armed working class. The whole bureaucracy of the old state was superseded by democratic structures at all levels. “It was essentially a working-class government, the product of the struggle of the producing against the appropriating class, the political form at last discovered under which to work out the economical emancipation of labour.” (Karl Marx, The Civil War in France)

Given the inability of capitalism to develop the productive forces to satisfy the needs of the majority, the imperialists are relying again and again on rotten dictatorships and puppet regimes to control the masses. In the struggle for democracy and social improvement, the revolution in the Maghreb and the Middle East is pushed further towards the spontaneous conclusions of the Commune.

But the task is – as it would have been 140 years ago in Paris – to completely fulfil the revolutionary tasks by the taking of power into the hands of the working class.

In 1871, a mass socialist party was missing to give the militant fighters a lead in this struggle. Our task today is still to build such a force able to offer a way of transforming society on a world scale. This is the task the CWI has set as its objective to help to develop on an international level. With its members and sections in over 40 countries around the globe, the CWI invites all those interested in socialist ideas to take part in the struggle to overcome capitalism, imperialism, war and poverty.

The capitalist crisis since 2008 has pushed working people into a new era of sharpened attacks from above. However, it is also a new era of mass movements which are increasingly challenging the ruling classes and capitalism itself. Let us build on these forces to achieve a socialist society.

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April 2011