Tunisia: A highly politicised World Social Forum

About 70,000 activists from around the world gathered at the WSF in Tunis, 26-30 March.

Tunisia was an appropriate choice because the revolutionary process the country is passing through led to a highly politicised atmosphere.

Tunisian activists were present en masse. The UGTT (General Union of Tunisian Workers) had about 1,000 of its activists present.

The coming to power of the conservative Islamist party Ennahda has not resolved any of the problems that were at the root of the revolutionary uprising.

The CWI was present in Tunis, with activists from six different countries, and our revolutionary Marxist ideas got a wide and enthusiastic echo.

The WSF organisers had doubted the feasibility of this meeting. Since the forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, the forums have had limited attendance. This fear was partially confirmed in Tunis by the limited participation from Asia and Latin America.

Other concerns stemmed from the political instability in Tunisia, especially since the political assassination of Chokri Belaïd, the famous left opponent.

But the strong participation in the forum from North Africa, is an indication that the revolutionary process in Tunisia and in the wider region is still alive. It continues to capture the imagination of many left activists and many others.

Unfortunately, some decisions of the organisers had a negative effect, leading to tensions with Tunisian activists. For example, students from the university campuses had to leave their student housing for WSF participants, without much notice!

The revolutionary process is far from over

The dominant feeling among Tunisian activists is that the revolution is still to be completed. The revolutionary process is still developing and is visible through the sharp political polarisation in the country.

The vast majority of the population identifies with the revolution. But two years after the fall of Ben Ali, daily life is marked by numerous problems. The unemployment rate is monumental and a whole generation of young people has no future. For those who have a job, they often work in very poor conditions for low wages, often below the official minimum wage of 200 dinars (€100) per month.

The coalition government is led by the reactionary Islamist Ennahda party. Since coming to power, Ennahda has applied similar policies to that which prevailed during the reign of the ousted dictator – devastating neoliberal policies.

The government recently signed a loan of around €1.35 billion with the International Monetary Fund. In return it promised to abolish state subsidies for food and gasoline, while food prices have already risen sharply recently. Meanwhile, many companies are engaged in an offensive against wages and working conditions.

The ‘democratic’ façade of the government is collapsing because of its inability to meet the social expectations and demands of the population. The class struggle is developing, and the response of the authorities is to resort to increasingly brutal law enforcement, including using the so-called ‘Leagues of the Protection of the Revolution’. These are reactionary Islamist militias acting as mercenaries for Ennahda .

After the assassination of Chrokri Belaid, the labor movement flocked to attend his funeral and there was a 24-hour general strike across the country. But the UGTT union federation unfortunately limited itself to the condemnation of political violence. The strike could have been used to develop an action plan aimed towards bringing down the government.

Such a plan would be met with broad support in society. A young activist expressed his feelings to us by stating that: “We will not let them steal our revolution.” This sentiment is widely shared, and is partly reflected in the high performance in the polls of the Popular Front, an alliance of left parties and organisations. It has scored 20% in some opinion polls.

But the UGTT and the Popular Front have no clear strategy to move the revolution forward. So many young activists are looking for ways to accelerate the revolutionary process and prevent the reactionary ruling clique taking the upper hand.

The thirst for revolutionary ideas

This quest for ideas to strengthen and accelerate the revolutionary process – including the question of controlling the means of production and democratic socialism – was illustrated by the interest in our leaflets and political material at the forum. After the first day, almost all of our newspapers, books and pamphlets had disappeared.

Our leaflets on the situation in Tunisia and on the CWI and our analysis of the international situation, both available in Arabic, French and English, were met with enthusiasm.

People came to our stall throughout the WSF. People came back to discuss with us after reading our political material. These discussions were often at a high political level.

There was real interest in the idea of a wave of successive general strikes until the fall of the government, and its replacement by a government of workers, youth and poor people. Most of our discussion focused on the strategy to break with the capitalist system and how to move towards the establishment of a democratic socialist society.

It was not just a question of overthrowing this rotten government, but also of building a fundamentally different economic and social system.

This created a dynamic and lively atmosphere at our stall, with spontaneous meetings involving small groups of bystanders around one or two of our activists. Our meeting devoted to the international struggle against capitalism had 80 people there, despite the difficulty of finding the room. This meeting was also broadcast live on the WSF website, and 1,200 people ‘attended’ it that way.

The CWI will make every effort to increase its presence in the region. We will help to build a revolutionary movement armed with a socialist program capable of fulfilling the revolutionary aspirations which came onto the scene a bit more than two years ago.

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