In the face of daily furious protests on the streets, one by one, Lebanon’s government ministers resigned, until the whole cabinet resigned on Monday 10 August, knowing it had no authority to continue. The government only lasted seven months, after the previous administration was also brought down by a massive protest movement.
This current round of struggle is spurred on by an enormous additional reason to pursue the goal of fundamental change – the devastating explosion on 4 August that brought a terrible loss of life, widespread injuries, and significant damage to around half of Beirut.
It was reported that there was little celebration at the fall of the government, as Lebanon’s working people know that in itself it will not t change anything. Many of the same ministers remain in place in a ‘caretaker’ capacity. The same political elite – part and parcel of the ruling class – remains in place pulling the strings over and above the government.
The protesters see that situation clearly and therefore demand “all must go – that means all”, including the president, Michel Aoun, and the Speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri, both octogenarians who were among the sectarian leaders in the 1975-90 civil war.
Documents have been revealed since the explosion which shows they both received warnings about the danger of the explosive material being stored in the port. It has been reported that an initial investigation into the explosion is to be spearheaded by a judge who is a relative of Berri – endemic corruption, nepotism and attempts at self-preservation just continue at the top.
The prime minister who resigned, Hassan Diab, placed the blame for the explosion and the economic crisis, on corruption. He admitted corruption is “is rooted in every part of the state” and he accused the ‘political class’ above him of trying to make scapegoats of his cabinet. No doubt, Hassan Diab and his colleagues have, in part, been pawns of the elite. They were put in place as a ‘technocratic’ government in an attempt to cover up the blatant corruption and self-interest of those above them in power. Diab was a university professor before being shunted into the political arena. Nevertheless, they have been complicit with the ruling class in upholding what is a completely rotten, degenerating capitalist system.
The parliament reconvened on Thursday 13 August – its first session since the explosion – to carry out the legal requirement of ratifying a two-week state of emergency that had been imposed. No one believes that this drastic law is about dealing with the emergency of the immense damage caused by the blast, not least because it has mainly been volunteers from among ordinary people who have engaged in the clean-up process, not the authorities.
Rather it is aimed at giving increased, special powers to the military to use against the outraged protesters – powers to use curfews, ban public gatherings, censor the media and place civilians in front of military tribunals, among other draconian measures.
That legislation indicates the extreme weakness at the top, not any strength. The authority of the political representatives of the ruling class has crumbled and they are immersed in chaos, with no agreement on how to govern. Some propose early elections, others fiercely oppose them. Aoun has the power to simply appoint a new cabinet without elections taking place.
Others tout the idea of a ‘national unity’ government of all the parties or some kind of emergency transition government. There could be another attempt to create a government of hands that appear to be ‘clean’ – of technocrats rather than people directly from the completely discredited political parties. But the Lebanese people have already experienced that kind of rule over the last seven months. Aware of this, capitalist strategists have, in desperation, even mooted the idea of bringing back the former prime minister, Saad Hariri, who was ousted by last autumn’s movement.
Neither the ruling class, as a whole, nor any of its competing factions, can produce a replacement government that could possibly deliver what the population is crying out for; an end to the economic crisis, poverty and hunger; and now also for those responsible for the port explosion to face trial and justice.
Establishment figureheads will no doubt use the dire state of the economy as a stick to try to ward the movement off from turning on the capitalist system itself. They will argue that new loans will not be obtained unless a new pro-capitalist government is installed. But loans from the international financial institutions will come in tandem with an insistence on more austerity measures for working people – that is being made clear. Saving capitalism with loans, as one of the aims, would only be for the benefit of the super-rich, not everyone else.
In an editorial, the Financial Times (London) gave a warning to the Lebanese capitalists: “The ruling elites must finally realise their own futures are at stake. As the country edges ever closer to being a failed state, Lebanese hopelessness is exploding into rage” (12.8.20). The editorial’s appeal for “discussions on political and electoral reform” is an attempt both to prevent revolution and to restore a new version of the ‘old’ Lebanon which once was a relatively stable base for imperialism in an Arab Middle Eastern country.
Also fearing that working people in Lebanon will take matters into their own hands, the spokespeople of western capitalist powers have been hypocritically chorusing for an end to the corruption that is deep-rooted in the Lebanese regime.
Meanwhile, ambassadors from the US and France have arrived in Beirut to try to influence how friendly the next government will be towards western imperialist interests. They are no more capable of formulating a path that could satisfy the protest movement than are Lebanon’s elite. The above-mentioned Financial Times editorial summed up their paralysis: “The sectarian-based political system designed to keep the peace between the country’s myriad sects and religions has over decades institutionalised the powers of warlords and political dynasties while embedding a culture of cronyism and corruption. Ultimately, that system requires a complete overhaul, if Lebanon’s ills are to be addressed. That is a vastly complex – and nearly impossible – task. It would be unrealistic at this stage to expect powerful political factions to simply step aside, or for Hezbollah, the militant group that supported the outgoing government, to give up its arms”.
It is true that the “powerful political factions” will not simply step aside. They will have to be removed. Carrying out that task can be done by a mass, united working-class based movement, but only if it is well organised and prepared for it, and only if it is armed politically with an alternative way of organising society. The only alternative is socialism. This would involve taking power out of the hands of the elite minority and placing it in the hands of the majority, to create a society in the interests of the majority. This is because the very essence of socialism is public ownership and workers’ control and management of all the main sectors of the economy, together with democratically-decided planning of all the resources in society.
Under Lebanese capitalism, the incredibly wealthy ruling elite use the confessional system imposed at the end of the civil war to profit by having their own spheres of influence. The 1942 constitution, agreed under French rule, set the rules that the prime minister has to be a Sunni Muslim, the president a Christian, the speaker of parliament a Shia Muslim (and there are many more sectarian-based rules and criteria).
If a capitalist-controlled constituent assembly is placed on the agenda, with the idea of rewriting the country’s constitution, the sectarian leaders from the different religious and ethnic blocs would try to maintain a carve-up of power between themselves. This could lead to another terrible outbreak of war if they, at some stage, decide to continue a conflict of interests by military means. Given its geographical location, Lebanon is immediately affected by events in Syria and Israel and regional rivalries. This includes the currently growing tensions in the eastern Mediterranean between Turkey and a developing Greek-French alliance.
In any case, there is no distribution of power between the confessional based parties that could end the corrupt, inept rule of the ruling layer. The underlying, central problem is capitalism itself – a system that causes division, racism and conflict, in the interests of capital accumulation for those at the top.
As long as it exists, minority groups – of which there are many in Lebanon – will fear being discriminated against. All subsections of the population, however large, will fear that, because crisis-ridden capitalism cannot offer decent living standards to either the working class or the middle layers – professional workers, small business owners, etc – they can be discriminated against.
So it is essential that non-sectarian, grassroots unity, which has been a feature of the protest movement, so far, is continued and built on. The movement has made clear that it has no confidence in any of the capitalist politicians in the sectarian parties that make up the present governing system.
There is no shortage of determination and courage among the protesters – once again, battling daily against heavy repression, including tear gas, and attempting to storm state institutions. The level of anger is seen in the effigies and invocations of the political representatives of the elite hanging from gallows. “Prepare the gallows because our anger doesn’t end in one day”, has been one of the messages doing rounds on social media.
As outlined in the previous article posted on socialistworld.net (‘Revolutionary mood in Lebanon following horrific explosion’) for a successful transformation of power to the majority, the organisation by the working class of its own non-sectarian political party is needed. This would be able to discuss-out and arm itself with a political programme in its own interests as a class.
The election of action committees in workplaces and local communities across Beirut to organise basic aid and support for people following the explosion would be a start to developing democratic workers’ organising, acting independently of pro-capitalist bodies. They would be able to link together on a city-wide basis, to form a democratically-organised form of workers’ council in Beirut, which could be repeated in other towns and cities across the country.
And rather than any kind of capitalist constituent assembly, a revolutionary constituent assembly must be demanded and fought for. This would see working-class delegates democratically decide to remove the present political and economic system and create a new government of workers’ representatives, fully accountable to those who elect them.
The Lebanese people are suffering terribly from the effects of multiple crises. The end to this situation lies in their own hands; and it is only a matter of time before they move to begin carrying out the revolutionary actions they so urgently need, supported by workers internationally.