SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Issue 166 March 2013

Tunisia: assassination, strike and resignation

THE ASSASSINATION of the left opposition leader, Chokri Belaïd, on 6 February represents a turning point in the process of revolution and counter-revolution which has unfolded in Tunisia in the last two years. It has opened a new chapter of confrontations in the ongoing battle between the mass of Tunisian workers, poor and young people and the largely discredited Ennahdha-led government. It has also exponentially escalated the political crisis at the top.

The upper echelons of the political establishment have been desperately searching, in behind-the-door talks, to try and form a government of so-called ‘national unity’. As has happened a number of times since the fall of Ben Ali, the ruling class, fearing the opening of the revolutionary floodgates, is seeking the setting up of a government which can ensure the ‘continuity’ of the state. By this they have in mind ‘their’ state: one which can maintain the toilers in check, repress the demands of the masses, and block their attempts to take things into their own hands. On 19 February, however, the Ennahdha prime minister, Hamadi Jebali, announced his resignation, blaming the failure to form a caretaker government.

Numerous commentators describe the recent events as a ‘secular upsurge against the Islamists’. Even if attempts by Ennahdha and other Islamist groups - in particular the firebrand Salafist gangs - to roll back the long-standing secular traditions prevailing in the country have played a role in fuelling the general anger, such a simplistic view poorly explains the situation. Indeed, mass unemployment, soaring prices, widespread social misery and marginalisation of the interior regions all constitute the background to the mass political anger directed at the present rulers. Their neoliberal economic policies have followed exactly the same disastrous road for the majority as those applied by the ex-ruling clique swept from power two years ago.

Since the assassination, the ruling party has been in the firing line of angry protesters across the country, demanding the fall of the regime and a new revolution. For days, clashes between protesters and police forces have taken place in many areas, especially in the militant regions of the interior of the country, such as Gafsa and Sidi Bouzid.

The one-day general strike on Friday 8 February was the first in the country since 1978. It completely paralysed the economy and was coupled with a historic mass mobilisation in the streets for the commemoration of Belaïd’s death. The slogan, ‘Chokri, you can rest, we will continue your fight!’ encapsulated the prevailing sentiments of many. This was indeed a very politically charged funeral procession, the mood in the streets being one of defiance and mass opposition to the regime. Hundreds of Tunisians protested again the following Monday outside the national assembly, demanding the government’s resignation.

The left and the trade union federation, the UGTT, need to keep their distance from the political manoeuvring. The coalition of the Popular Front should refuse any agreement with forces hostile to the workers and the revolution. The Popular Front has been proposing a ‘national congress of dialogue’, and calls for an ‘emergency’ or ‘crisis’ government.

Both the Workers’ Party and the Party of Democratic Patriots (Belaïd’s organisation), stand in favour of a government of ‘national competence’. To say the least, these are all very vague formulations which open the door to possible governmental arrangements between parts of the leadership of the workers’ movement and the left, with pro-capitalist elements. The idea of building so-called national unity presents the serious problem of not making clear who are the friends and who are the enemies of the revolution.

The CWI thinks that there is only one unity possible: the unity of the working class, the youth and the poor to continue their revolution. The goal must be the establishment of a government, carried out through their own mass struggle, and through the building of ad hoc organisations - strike committees, neighbourhood committees and the like – linked up regionally and nationally.

To make its case clear towards the broad masses, the Popular Front could argue that it would enter into a government only on the basis of a number of conditions. These would include the return of all privatised companies into public hands, the full cancellation of the debt, the launch of a massive plan of public investment in infrastructure and socially useful jobs, the imposition of a state monopoly on foreign trade, and the taking over of the commanding heights of the economy into workers’ hands, to be run democratically by their elected representatives. Practically, such a programme can only be implemented independently from the parties which defend capitalism, and which are only interested in negotiating ministerial positions in a future government composed of representatives and defenders of big business.

Also, important army units have been deployed in recent days in the capital, Tunis, and other cities. The state of emergency is ongoing, and the old police apparatus continues with the dirty work of repression and systematic abuse and violence against protesters. The masses should not leave the state forces to control the streets, but should reclaim them en masse. This must be done in conjunction with the building of mass revolutionary defence bodies, organised from below by ordinary people, to prevent the violence of the reaction, and to strike back. Appeals to rank-and-file soldiers should be encouraged for this purpose, to split the state along class lines and to counteract the menace of military plotters.

The Popular Front should articulate a clear plan of action aimed at strengthening the revolution and at defending it against attempts at forcing it back, whether by the military, the police or other reactionary militias. It should call for mass assemblies in workplaces and localities, in universities and public institutions, in schools and in neighbourhoods, etc, for the masses to discuss and determine, in the most democratic and collective way possible, what should be the next steps in their struggle and how to organise everywhere against the counter-revolution. A new general strike, after the success of Friday’s stoppage, could perhaps be prepared, to reaffirm the strength of the revolution and of the organised working class, and to finish off the present ruling clique whose legitimacy, in the eyes of the majority, ran out long ago.

In some areas, recent incidents have encouraged the masses instinctively to renew previous forms of organisation. Neighbourhood committees have sprung up again in some working-class boroughs of Tunis, Le Kef and a few other areas. These examples should be taken up and spread elsewhere, up to and including in the workplaces and factories, as a springboard towards establishing workers’ control and management over the economy.

The call for a ‘national congress’ would take on its full meaning if it addressed the revolutionary masses themselves. This proposal should be linked to the need for developing and coordinating committees of struggle on a local, regional and national level. These should elect accountable representatives directly from the revolution, from the active layers of the UGTT, the workers movement and the youth.

Such committees would prepare the working class and the poor for running society and rebuilding it on the basis of a democratically organised, socialist plan of production. Such a bold move, towards the establishment of a democratic and socialist Tunisia, would have an electrifying and inspiring impact for workers and youth in the region, and worldwide. It would link up with the revolutionary workers’ movement in Egypt and elsewhere in the region, engaging in the first steps towards the building of a free socialist federation of North Africa and the Middle East.

CWI reporters

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