Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Popular Revolt & Civil War

Civil War is often a consequence of popular revolt. The English Civil War, was initially a popular revolt. The Peasant War in Germany was a popular revolt that became deepened into a Civil War. The French Revolution was a popular revolt that also turned into a Civil War. The Russian Revolution was a popular revolt that ended in Civil War.
But, likewise, there can be Popular Revolts that do not end in Civil War, just as there are Civil Wars that have nothing to do with Popular Revolt. The opposition to the Poll Tax was a Popular Revolt, that ended in the abandonment of the Tax, but no Civil War. The Civil War in Rwanda had nothing to do with a Popular Revolt.

Coming on the back of Popular revolts in Tunisia, and Egypt, and the apparent spread of such revolts to Bahrain, Oman, Yemen, and also some protests in Jordan, Lebanon etc. it was not surprising that the revolt against Gaddafi in Libya, should be seen to be part of a growing movement of Arab revolt. However, as I pointed out in my blog, Has Gaddafi Gone?, lumping all of these events into the same boat was a mistake.

“Care needs to be taken in lumping all of these protests together, however. In Bahrain, for example, the struggle could be complicated by the fact that the ruling group are Sunni, and the majority of the protesters are Shia.
In addition, it is clear that, in Egypt, for example, the recent economic development has created a sizeable Middle Class, and large numbers of workers. These both form the basis of the establishment of bourgeois democracy, and the latter provide the basis of effective organisation and mobilisation, particularly given their economic muscle, and potential for armed resistance. It is not clear that in a number of the other economies that this is the case, as they continue to be highly reliant on Oil, rather than having extensive economic development.”

The last week has seen the correctness of that approach. Firstly, in relation to Libya. As I pointed out in my blog The Politics Of Pontius Pilate, when the AWL write,

“We should support the people of Libya - and especially any democratic or working-class forces in the anti-Qaddafi movement. We should distrust the US government, but not let kneejerk "no to the USA" reactions dominate our thought”,

they simply reflect the crude, subjectivist nature of their politics. For them Gaddafi is bad, and so anyone opposing him is good. In the same vein, others in the “anti-imperialist” Camp see “Imperialism” as “bad”, and so anyone opposing it is “good”, which has caused them some significant problems with Gaddafi, who for years was one of their standard bearers of anti-imperialism.
Now few, other than the WRP, are prepared to stick with him, whilst the other “anti-imperialists” have had to scramble to show why really he had already gone over the the dark side, and was just as much in the “imperialist” camp as Mubarak and co.

But, in Libya, as much as in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere, what was missing from any of these analyses was any consideration of CLASS, which should be the starting point for a Marxist. That is because those like the AWL are merely a mirror image of the “idiot anti-imperialists” they spend much of their time arguing against. Neither side of this coin, really concerns itself with developing a strategy for the working-class to develop its own forces – outside a debilitating and limited Economism – because neither actually believe that the working-class IS capable of fulfilling its historic mission. So they look to larger social forces – which inevitably means looking to alternative class forces – as the champion for their world vision, with the workers reduced to nothing more than walk on actors.

Compare the AWL's position, stated above, with their position in respect of Iraq, for instance. In Iraq, they did not argue for support for the people of Iraq, as they now call for support for the people of Libya. On the contrary, they opposed the formulation of such a response, precisely because a large proportion of the people of Iraq were hostile to the US/UK presence in the country.
Even for an organisation as prepared to perform the political contortions to justify its positions as the AWL, it would have been difficult to argue for support of the people of Iraq, and their opposition to the Occupation, at the same time as arguing against calls for the Occupation to be thrown out!

Of course, the AWL were right to oppose those “anti-imperialists” who were so blinded by their “anti-imperialism”, that they forgot about being socialists, forgot about the need to build the working-class as an independent force separate from those other “anti-imperialist” forces in Iraq, who were just as much the enemies of Iraqi workers as were the US/UK Occupiers.
But, having given up, in practice, on the historic role of the workers, the AWL were then left with no option but to oppose those demands which could have built the working class, and helped it take the lead in the anti-imperialist struggle, because those demands, and that strategy, meant opposing the AWL's own champion within this process – “Democratic Imperialism”.

But, the question in relation to Libya is what does it mean to call for support for the “people of Libya”, even if it is limply qualified with the phrase, “especially any democratic or working-class forces in the anti-Qaddafi movement”. Does this mean that in Libya, for instance, that the AWL are prepared to support the same class forces, the same clerical-fascist forces that they opposed in Iraq, just so long as they are, in this case, part of the “anti-Qaddafi Movement”? After all their qualification is only “especially any democratic or working-class forces”. If so, they should explain why that is the case, in this instance.

And the reality is that we do not know who the “anti-Gaddafi forces” are. Some of them, are ex-members of the Gaddafi regime, for example. And, as I said recently elsewhere, on a Channel 4 News broadcast last week, asked who their commanding officer was, some rebel forces replied, “Allah.”
That sends warning signals to my mind, about the political nature of at least some of these forces. And, as I said then, there has to be questions about the extent to which what we see in Libya is a Popular Revolt of the kind we have seen in Tunisia and Egypt. In both those cases, their nature, as Popular Revolts, was demonstrated by the fact, that their epicentre was in the main population centres, in the Capital Cities. But, we have not seen that in Libya. Even after large parts of the country had fallen to rebel forces, there was no large-scale rebellion in Tripoli where the majority of the population live. Nor can that be put down to the response of the Gaddafi regime. In fact, as my blog set out, at the time it was written, Gaddafi was clearly on the back foot, there were, indeed rumours that he had fled the country. Everyone believed his days were literally numbered, and his regime was fracturing visibly. Those are precisely the conditions where you would have expected to see a Popular Revolt break out in the Capital City, and if it had, it is likely that we would have seen the military, which has not been particularly favoured by Gaddafi, fracture, which would have dealt immediately with the question of air-power, and prevented the kind of counter-attack that is now under way. It seems clear to me that what we have in Libya is something more complicated than a Popular Revolt.

Part of the explanation for that is probably to be found in the continued role of tribal allegiances in Libya. In fact, we see something similar developing elsewhere, and a number of factors inter-relating with each other. As I'd pointed out above, one part of the situation in Bahrain, for example, that had to be taken into consideration, was the division between the Sunni rulers, and the Shia majority, who were discriminated against. The importance of that has been revealed in the last few days. The Shia majority have begun to become increasingly radicalised, no longer happy to settle for some kind of Constitutional Monarchy, but demanding an end to the Monarchy, and establishment of a Democratic Republic. Now, the Sunni rulers have called upon their brethren in Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf States, to come to their support. Saudi Arabia has sent 1,000 troops to bolster the Bahraini regime, with police and other forces coming from other Gulf States. The Shia in Bahrain, facing a clampdown and physical attacks from these forces, are now understandably declaring this an act of war. Given the tensions between the Gulf States, and the Shia regime in Iran, the consequences of this are obvious. In the meantime, although, the US and EU called on the Egyptian Generals to get rid of Mubarak, which they did, and although they told the Bahraini regime to take its troops off the streets, which they did, we are not seeing a repetition of those calls, we are not seeing overt pressure being put on these regimes to stop their attacks on their people, that we are seeing in relation to the attacks of Gaddafi's regime on its people, even taking into consideration the difference in ferocity – for now – of those attacks. As I said in my blog Egypt What Is To Be Done

“If Mubarak continues to hold on to power, and if no quick, effective move is made against him, then it is inevitable that one of two courses will develop. In one course, the movement will run out of steam, and be dissipated, to be met by an equally inevitable clamp down, arrest of protest leaders, and period of reaction to prevent the possibility of any repeat for a long time.

Those western governments who are now giving warm words to the protesters will wring their hands, proclaim their most profound indignation, and then continue to deal with Mubarak or his chosen successor.

The situation in Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia, and probably in Libya, is not the same as the situation in Egypt or Tunisia. The latter two states have over recent years developed economically, and that development is at root the material basis of the revolts that have been seen. Although, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states have experienced considerable economic growth, based upon the rising price of oil, their economies remain largely rent based, relying on oil revenues, rather than having expanded into other manufacturing as has happened in Egypt.
The same is true, in large part for Libya. Political Sociologists talk about “cross-cutting cleavages” within societies. By this they mean that societies are stratified horizontally according to class and status, but, in addition, they are divided vertically along other lines such as sex, ethicity, religion, sexual orientation etc. In other words, there are people in every social class and status group who are men as well as some who are women, and so on. The extent to which these vertical divisions are important, depends upon the nature of the society, its history, and current relations. In general the more homogenous a society the less these other factors will play a significant role, and the more the horizontal divisions of class will be determinant. As Engels puts it in his letter to Bloch,

“According to the materialist conception of history, the ultimately determining element in history is the production and reproduction of real life. Other than this neither Marx nor I have ever asserted. Hence if somebody twists this into saying that the economic element is the only determining one, he transforms that proposition into a meaningless, abstract, senseless phrase. The economic situation is the basis, but the various elements of the superstructure — political forms of the class struggle and its results, to wit: constitutions established by the victorious class after a successful battle, etc., juridical forms, and even the reflexes of all these actual struggles in the brains of the participants, political, juristic, philosophical theories, religious views and their further development into systems of dogmas — also exercise their influence upon the course of the historical struggles and in many cases preponderate in determining their form.
There is an interaction of all these elements in which, amid all the endless host of accidents (that is, of things and events whose inner interconnection is so remote or so impossible of proof that we can regard it as non-existent, as negligible), the economic movement finally asserts itself as necessary. Otherwise the application of the theory to any period of history would be easier than the solution of a simple equation of the first degree.

We make our history ourselves, but, in the first place, under very definite assumptions and conditions. Among these the economic ones are ultimately decisive. But the political ones, etc., and indeed even the traditions which haunt human minds also play a part, although not the decisive one. The Prussian state also arose and developed from historical, ultimately economic, causes. But it could scarcely be maintained without pedantry that among the many small states of North Germany, Brandenburg was specifically determined by economic necessity to become the great power embodying the economic, linguistic and, after the Reformation, also the religious difference between North and South, and not by other elements as well (above all by its entanglement with Poland, owing to the possession of Prussia, and hence with international political relations — which were indeed also decisive in the formation of the Austrian dynastic power). Without making oneself ridiculous it would be a difficult thing to explain in terms of economics the existence of every small state in Germany, past and present, or the origin of the High German consonant permutations, which widened the geographic partition wall formed by the mountains from the Sudetic range to the Taunus to form a regular fissure across all Germany.

In the second place, however, history is made in such a way that the final result always arises from conflicts between many individual wills, of which each in turn has been made what it is by a host of particular conditions of life. Thus there are innumerable intersecting forces, an infinite series of parallelograms of forces which give rise to one resultant — the historical event. This may again itself be viewed as the product of a power which works as a whole unconsciously and without volition. For what each individual wills is obstructed by everyone else, and what emerges is something that no one willed.

Of course, as Engels points out, there is a relation between these things. The fact that Catholics were divided from Protestants in the North of Ireland, was not solely a question of a vertical cleavage along the lines of religion. The division also rested upon a material foundation of the unequal treatment of Catholics, economically and politically within the society, and these real material divisions also act to harden the ideological/religious differences too. Something similar can be seen in relation to the situation of Shia in Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia. If we were to dig enough in Libya, we might find some similar division, which provides a material basis for the opposition to Gaddafi in the East of the country, and his relative support in Tripoli.

It is, as Engels makes clear above, a crude determinist version of Marxism, which seeks to reduce everything down to a matter of economics, or economic class divisions, and it is frequently these other divisions, which can have powerful ideological and motivational force, which often explain the eruption of Civil Wars, and also inter state wars, that do not represent what would normally be termed popular revolts in that they do not represent a clear class based uprising across all segments of the oppressed masses. It should be clear that in these instances, Marxists have no responsibility for choosing sides within such disputes outside the basic requirement to oppose oppression of minority groups. Our task is not to pick sides, but to present a solution to the oppression of the Minority on the basis of building working-class unity across those divisions.

The one thing that does apply across all of these societies from Libya to Egypt, to Saudi Arabia is the need for Marxists to focus their activity on building up the working-class within, and across these societies, and pushing forward its class interests as primary within any of the struggles taking place.
In fact, what we have seen in the last week shows the importance of that. In the same way that the revolt in Tunisia, acted to spur on the revolt in Egypt, and so on, we appear now to be seeing the same thing in reverse. Gaddafi, has used the resources available to him, and the support he still appeared able to mobilise in Tripoli, to bring to a halt the rebellion based largely in the East. Having done that, he now seems to be in the process of rolling up the revolt, only part of which can be attributed to his access to air power. Seeing his ability to do that, without the US or EU intervening to stop him, it appears that the feudal and Bonapartist regimes elsewhere have learned from him. First Saudi Arabia launched attacks on Shia protesters the day before its proposed “Day of Rage”, and used its media, the religious clerics etc. to warn any potential protesters of what would befall them if they came on to the streets. Having achieved that, and having seen that the Shia in Bahrain were becoming more radical, it has also moved to roll-up the opposition in Bahrain too. We are likely to see a similar development in relation to Egypt and Tunisia, unless the Egyptian masses, and in particular the Egyptian workers continue to develop their organisation, and to build their own defence to quickly remove the Egyptian Bonapartists. At the time of the downfall of Mubarak, I pointed out that this move should be seen as a Military Coup, by those General, not a decisive victory of the protests. In Military Coup As Egyptian Workers Appear On The Stage, I argued,

“The celebrations in Tahir Square are understandable as the events of the day are seen in the positive light of Mubarak standing down, but in reality the Military that have now pushed him aside, possibly on the back of heavy prompting from the US, are the same Military top brass from which Mubarak himself came, and which supported Sadat before him, and which supported Nasser before him. In reality Egypt has merely swapped the political regime of a Bonapartist leader resting on a military-bureaucratic elite, for the open rule of that same military-bureaucratic elite.”

So long as the political regime remains in the grip of these military/bureaucratic elements, or in the hands of feudal rulers such as those in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, any gains made by the workers or the middle classes will be extremely fragile. More than ever, we need to build the strength of the working class on all fronts.

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