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Tunisia and the strategy for revolution

The flight of Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on 14 January came as culmination of a month of street mobilisations, starting with young unemployed youth in the central Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid, spreading nationwide, drawing in industrial workers, teachers and lawyers. Demonstrations in Tunis calling for Ben Ali to go climaxed into a general strike called by the Tunisian General Labour Union (Union générale tunisienne du travail) or UGTT. With the threat to continue the strike, the dictator fled on 14 January- ultimately finding refuge in Saudi Arabia.

This was a genuine and popular revolution – the first mass uprising in the Arab world outside of Palestine for decades; one that sent an immediate seismic shock across the Arab world where similar corrupt and authoritarian regimes are abound. Within a week or so it had sparked a revolution in Egypt.

But Ben Ali and his wife’s departure (with vast sums of the people’s money) was also a maneuver by top figures of the old regime around Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi, to save the regime itself.

Demonstrations did not stop with the tyrant’s departure. Indeed the announcement of a cabinet stuffed with members of the ruling party, the Democratic Constitutional Rally (CRD) – saw workers and youth on the streets the next day. They kept up their demonstrations until Ghannouchi dropped the most obnoxious of these ministers, then quit the CRD himself, and last of all dissolved the party.

Ghannouchi’s room for such manoeuvres and the fact that he is still Prime Minister prove that it is much easier to get rid of a dictator than to dismantle a dictatorial regime. The fact that the army remains intact and in effective control of Tunisia is the reason for this: though certainly they have to allow unprecedented democratic rights to demonstrate, to meet and to organise. It is there to ensure that Tunisia’s rich are safeguarded and the interests of Tunisia’s western allies – especially the USA and France’s are preserved.

Yet – though the size of the demonstrations have decreased the protesters have not gone away, despite night curfews and a state of emergency. Popular committees sprung all over the country during the protests of local people from the CRD militias to organise the necessities of life.

Recently unemployed youth organised a caravan from central Tunisia to the capital and set up tents on the square in front of Ghannouchi’s office. The protest is supported by the UGTT.

National strike
“We won’t leave the square until the government resigns,” said Mizar, a student from Sidi Bouzid — the town where Mohamed Bouazizi, the young fruit vendor’s self-immolation last month unleashed the first demonstrations. “We have come to bring down the rest of the dictatorship,” said Mohammed Layani, an elderly man. The Tunisian teachers union declared a national strike on 24 January to put pressure on the interim government to resign.

In any prolonged impasse between the remnants of the old regime clinging to power and the streets there is of course the danger that that the army might still intervene. The head of the army, General Rachid Ammar appears to have been a key figure in ‘persuading’ Ben Ali to go. As long as the revolutionary ferment lasts the army high command would probably hesitate about a grab for power.

Progressive Democratic Party
The bourgeois opposition figures who played no leading role in events are now trying to sweep up the spoils in presidential elections. Some are for compromise with the remnants of the old regime and are fearful of the masses. One such figure is Ahmed Bouazzi, a leader of the Progressive Democratic Party. He said, “We have three possibilities. The first is the complete chaos of Somalia; the second is a military coup after a saviour comes to rescue us from the chaos and lasts for 23 years. The third possibility is working with the people who are in charge of the state right now to prepare fair elections.”

A more intransigent liberal democratic voice is that of Dr Moncef Marzouki of the Congress for the Republic (CPR) who returned from exile in France, declaring he intended to run in the presidential elections for this party. He has a background as a champion of human rights. He has sharply attacked the national unity government, saying “It is the continuation of the dictatorship.

But, he added, “When we take them away, the state will function much better. Luckily, in Tunisia we have a great bureaucracy that can run the state.” In fact this comment shows that, though some media describe him as a leftist, Marzouki and the CPR are liberals – not socialists.

Last but not least there are the Islamists. After 22 years in exile, Rached Ghannouchi, the head of Ennahdha, or Renaissance and about 70 other exiled members of party flew home from Britain. He was welcomed by thousands of supporters at Tunis airport on 30 January. Ghanouchi compared his views to those of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Clearly the working class, the youth and women have nothing to gain from the growth of such a conservative capitalist party.

The Tunisian Workers’ Communist Party (PCOT) is a Marxist-Leninist Hoxha-ite party founded in 1986, with a youth wing, the Union of Communist Youth of Tunisia (UJCT). Its militants have operated underground for many years. Its leader Hamma Hammami, in exile in France for years, has now returned. But PCOT’s programme is the typical Stalinist stages one – first bourgeois democracy and later socialism. In its nine point programme for the revolution it correctly calls for a Constituent Assembly but sees its goal as to “establish the bases of a real democratic republic in which people would enjoy freedom, social equality and national dignity.”

Wrong strategy
This stages strategy with its accompanying popular front of unity between the classes will lead to disaster for the Tunisian workers and youth. It will leave power in the hands of the rich – who put Ben Ali and his predecessors in power and supported their crimes. It will mean the resources of the country continue to be pocketed by these parasites, It will mean that the process of privatisation under the aegis of the IMF, the US, France etc, will continue to subordinate and super-exploit the country’s natural wealth and its labour force.

The alternative is a workers and peasants government, based on democratic councils which can take over the large scale units of the economy and plan their development. This is Trotsky’s strategy of permanent revolution. Another aspect of this strategy is to spread the revolution to the surrounding countries. They are already dry tinder to a democratic revolution that grows over into a socialist revolution.

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