This is What Victory Looks Like

photo by Hassene Dridi for AP

Written on the night of January 14th 2011

The dictator, thief and Western client Zein al-Abdine Ben Ali, beloved until a few hours ago in Paris and Washington, has been driven from Tunisia. His reign was ended not by a military or palace coup but by an extraordinarily broad-based popular movement which has brought together trades unions and professional associations, students and schoolchildren, the unemployed and farmers, leftists, liberals and intelligent Islamists, men and women. One of the people’s most prominent slogans will resonate throughout the Arab world and beyond: la khowf ba’ad al-yowm, or No Fear From Now On.

It is to be hoped that Tunisia will now develop a participatory system based on respect for citizens’ rights, that it will reclaim and develop its economy, implement social justice, and move out of the Western-Israeli embrace. The revolution, however, is beset by dangers. Although the head of the snake has been sacrificed, the conglomerate of interests behind the Ben Ali regime is largely still in place, and will be working furiously to restrict and roll back popular participation. For this reason it is of crucial importance that Tunisians are tonight raising the slogan ‘al-intifada mustamura,’ or ‘the intifada continues.’

Beyond the local Tunisian mafia, those who have every reason to wish the revolution to fail include: the terrified Arab regimes, particularly the Western clients; Israel; and sections of the American, French and other Western elites. One or more of these powers may stoop to sponsoring chaos in some form or another. But we can have a good degree of confidence. Over the last weeks Tunisians have proved themselves sufficiently courageous and open-eyed to face down all manner of threats.

Whatever happens next in Tunis, the Arab world has entered a new stage. Tunisia has shown that the ‘Arab street’ has greater potential, greater power, than many Arabs, cowed by decades of oppression, dared dream. Now we know that if Arabs are enraged by their regimes’ corruption and mismanagement, by the muzzling of dissent and debate, by the failure to build functioning health and education systems, by the craven kow-towing to Zionism and the hosting of foreign miltary bases – now we know the Arabs can coerce their regimes to change these policies, or face Ben Ali’s fate.

The Western clients in particular are in trouble. Saudi-owned media coverage of Tunisia makes their fear plain. Over the last weeks Algeria has seen demonstrations and riots. Yesterday thousands marched against economic conditions in Jordan. Tonight a demonstration outside the Tunisian embassy in Cairo congratulated the intifada, and chanted “Revolution Until Victory” (the old Palestinian battle cry), “Revolution in Egypt.”

Egypt used to be the political, cultural and military leader of the Arab world; now it bears less weight than Qatar. Most Egyptians are hungry and over a third are illiterate. Mubarak’s regime is a willing tool of Zionism and imperialism, a besieger of Palestinians. And the country’s social fabric is being ripped apart by salafism and sectarianism. If somewhere needs a dose of Tunisia, that place is Egypt. Inspiration from Tunisia is something that could raise Egypt’s confidence, halt Egypt’s decline, and give impetus to radical change. The escape route from communal hatreds and social breakdown is popular action, for all citizens, irrespective of religion, sect, ethnicity, tribe or region.

This Tunisian victory was not won by employing nativist romanticism, sectarian distraction or religious obscurantism. Tunisians held ‘Power to the People’ signs and posters of Che Guevara rather than the rulings of a cleric. This will have a long-term cultural effect on the Arab world, at least to the extent of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, which has energised Arab Islamism ever since. (Here I’m remarking on the surprising fact that the first Arab revolution of the age has largely been secular in character, but I don’t wish to trot out a simplistic secular-versus-Islamist discourse. Tunisian Islamists have been as active as everyone else in the struggle, and Tunisian Islamism is very often politically pluralist and reasonably progressive. Rashid al-Ghannushi’s Nahda Party is a good example.)

Inevitably the events have exposed the continuing hypocrisy of Western governments as well as the mainstream media’s continuing adhesion to ruling class foreign policy concerns. Until the very day of the revolution’s victory the Anglosaxon media kept as quiet as it possibly could. This in marked contrast to its coverage of the Iranian Green Movement, which had a much narrower social base but was cast as a near-unanimous uprising, its martyrs were named and lionised, and reams of nonsense were written concerning the ‘twitter revolution’. Well, here was a secular mass movement calling for freedom and civil rights, using the new media, appealing to universal values, on the southern shore of the mediterranean – and nobody wanted to know.

By tonight, all of a sudden, the American position has changed from ‘we’re not taking sides’ to applauding ‘the courage and dignity of the Tunisian people.’ And, in a twinkling, the media has discovered that Ben Ali was a corrupt dictator. A new story is being scribbled out, to adapt to events. That’s what you call a fait accompli. And, for once, it was the Arab people who did the deed. This is what victory looks like.

21 thoughts on “This is What Victory Looks Like”

  1. I wish to thank Robin Yassin-Kassab for, and congratulate him on, this remarkably thoughtful and insightful article. Among other things, it articulates the impressive power of the Tunisian people to change the course of their country’s history, and with it the inspirational impact on the rest of the Arab world, especially Egypt which was “destined” to lead the Arab world but, sadly, is unable to lead itself at the present time. We should always remember that it was the immortal Tunisian Arab poet Abu-Alkassim Al-Shabi who said: “If one day the people demand/wish life, then destiny/fate will inevitable respond (to their will.” “The dark night will give way to the bright day, and the chains will inevitably be broken.” Hopefully, the promising winds of change blowing so valiantly from the western part of the Arab world will bring the rich and promising “rain” of freedom and liberation to the entire Arab world, including the Nile Valley, the Fertile Cresent, and the Arabian Peninsula.

    Congratulations from the bottom of our hearts to the people of Tunisia.

    Ibrahim Hayani,
    Toronto, Canada

  2. Here’s hope once again. Congratulations Tunisians! May your endeavors be guided by wisdom. One wishes this to blossom and make Tunisia an example for the neighbors to follow. Thank you Robin for a balanced and perceptive piece.

  3. Nothing makes my heart more joyous then seeing those oppressed by their government on behest of others rising up and taking what was their’s to begin with. BUT at the same time I also hope those who wish to derail or hijack this ground movement for the rights do not succeed. For now “long live the Revolution”
    I truly hope my country men i.e. Pakistanis take a note from what happened in Tunisia and may draw some inspiration. I truly hope.
    Great piece Robin.

    1. Stop comparing Tunisia movement to Solidarity.
      Both are different.
      We didn’t have anything similar to your Islamists, and we were (and are) pro-Western, pro-US.
      Che-Guevara (your hero) was our enemy, and we hate revolution you seem to like so much. It gave us communist rule with “fight for the oppressed people” slogan!!
      I, as a Pole, am offended by your “long live revolution”m cry.

      1. I’ve met plenty of Poles, Kasia, and not all of them are racist fools like you. The revolution in Tunisia had almost nothing to do with Islamists. This was a secular revolution seeking freedom from dictatorship, corruption and economic mismanagement – not unlike the anti-Communist revolution in Poland. But your racism makes you see bearded fanatics. Wash your eyes and study reality.

      2. @Kasia
        Poland is a big country and I think you might be oversimplifying in your response. Of course there is no exact comparison between Poland and Tunisia, but the fact remains that the people of Poland’s courage in standing up to the perceived might of the communist empire was and is admired everywhere and is generally considered to have been the herald of a new dawn of freedom in eastern Europe. My hope is that the Tunis revolt will act as a similar catylist and inspire the subjugated masses in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world to overthrow their criminal regimes.

    2. Well, the Polish solidarity movement was a front to bring israeloamerican/nato fascism into the governing seat in Poland. The Poles have had about the most fascist series of governments in Europe since. I certainly hope the people who are working to free Tunisia of their repressive guv are not anything like solidarity. If they are, Tunisia just replaced one oppressor with another.

      1. I think solidarity in Poland was lot more than a zionist plot. primarily, it was a liberation movement from foreign occupation and domestic despotism. It is true, however, that Poland’s experience of being occupied by Russia has made many Poles romantically naive about the USA. Poland has been involved in the criminal occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. And Poland has a racism problem. Part of this is that many Poles have still not come to terms with their country’s role in the persecution of Jews. Blaming it all on the Germans is too simple.

        1. I meant the leadership, the rank and file were more or less dupes. They had legit grievances, but they were manipulated by a corrupt and bought leadership. Since solidarity took power, Poland has became one of the most fascist countries in Europe. The problems of Poland you mention are a direct consequence of this. They go hand in hand with fascism, where rightwing, reactionary values take precedence.

          BTW, I didn’t say solidarity was a zionist plot. While zionists were involved, all the other western capitalist factions were also. The term I used, israeloamerican/eu, is shorthand for western oligarchic capitalism originating from the usa and Europe primarily, both zionist and non-zionist factions, and where israeloamerica is used specifically to represent the fact that the usa is now essentially an israeli colony.

          1. I think I’d agree with much of your politics, but your use of language is imprecise and sensationalist.

            1. My use of language is also lazy and poorly spelled (without a spell-checker) and usually consists of improper grammer and nummerous typos. ;D

  4. Tunisia: the revolution has started; Algeria: the masses begin to revolt again 15.1.2011
    Draft 1

    On the 15th January 2011 the Tunisian masses have overthrown the hated dictatorial regime of Ben Ali, a member of the Socialist International (the same Socialist International as Tony Blair, as Zuma and other imperialist agents). This magnificent revolution which has already shed the blood of dozens of heroes, is in grave danger of being smothered by world imperialism and principally French and US imperialism. The Tunisian masses are in the forefront of showing the world proletariat how to combat high food prices, unemployment and in general, the current world onslaught of capitalism-imperialism against the world working class, by overthrowing their own capitalist government. What was achieved by the heroic masses in Bolivia when they expelled their trade union leadership and stopped the increase in the price of petroleum has been taken a decisive step further by the Tunisian masses, arms in hand, overthrowing the hated imperialist puppet, Ben Ali. But the revolution is already in danger as US and French imperialism manoeuvre to take control and smother the revolution.

    The appointment of the Tunisian speaker of ‘parliament’ as interim President and his call for the ‘opposition’ to form a ‘Cabinet’, must be rejected. All the ‘representatives’ in the ‘parliament’ are linked to Ben Ali, his corrupt family or capitalist interests. The US imperialists have long been building links with the so-called opposition. US imperialism wants to gain greater share from French imperialism of the control of the Tunisian regime so that they can advance their interests of war in the Middle East against the Palestinians and the masses in Iran. For years, Ben Ali has been a puppet of US and French imperialism, supporting the sellout Fatah leadership and supporting fascist Israel. The call by French imperialism for elections should be rejected- they want to hold capitalist elections that will ensure that Tunisia remains forever slaves to capitalism-imperialism. Capitalist elections will be used as a means to create a new caste of managers to enforce the slave conditions required by imperialism in their onslaught against the masses. Nowhere on the planet have capitalist elections ended imperialist exploitation, so why should they work now in Tunisia?

    For years the International Monetary Fund (which represents the interests of US, French and German imperialism, mainly) has spearheaded the privatization and further plundering of Tunisian resources. The Ben Ali regime was spearheading the latest attempt of world imperialism to shift their crisis onto the Tunisian masses. In this sense, what the masses in Tunisia are facing, is the same attack of imperialism on a global scale. The world proletariat should draw the lessons. It is a myth that imperialism-capitalism has emerged from their crisis. On the contrary they have decided to go further on the offensive against the masses of the world and want to rapidly increase their rate of exploitation- this is what the high sugar, flour, petroleum and other prices really represent. Even the highly reactionary Economist predicted more ‘sovereign shocks’ this year. They know very well that imperialism capitalism has not exited the crisis and know that the only way out for imperialism is to attack the world’s masses on a greater scale. What the Tunisian masses show us is how to respond to this offensive.

    When the Tunisian masses were being butchered by the Ben Ali regime the French imperialists maintained a long silence before finally saying that the use of ‘force’ was ‘disproportionate’, in other words they supported the crackdown on the masses (perhaps using pistols instead of machine guns!). The US regime only issued a mild statement of concern but as they stated in the Wikileaks exposure, they were ‘dialling down public criticism’ of the Ben Ali regime, in other words, like in China after the massacres of Tiananmen Square, they would look the other way while the masses are butchered, and if the masses win then the US imperialists would try to make sure that their man is installed. Both US imperialism (through their puppet regime in Egypt) and French imperialism claim they now support the Tunisian masses. This is a lie! They both are vying to regain control of the masses. They are parasites trying to expropriate the heroic revolution of the masses. Remember that imperialism has learnt from the masses struggle in Kyrgyzstan when the masses overthrew the US puppet regime of Bakiev, US imperialism installed a so-called opposition leader, Rosa Otumbayeva, who crushed the revolt and re-established the control for US imperialism. US imperialism instigated so-called inter-ethnic clashes so that the regime had a cover for destroying the independent worker organisms that were springing up. We need to be alert for such influence by both French and US imperialism, who would temporarily set aside their differences to crush the revolution if it went too far (such as taking over the imperialist assets)- remember the French and US intelligence are operating in Tunisia and would do anything to undermine a workers revolution.

    More than a year ago the workers and peasants in Madagascar rose up against the regime’s attempts to privatize more than 1/3 of the island. The rank and file of the army took to the streets, proclaiming, they are with the masses. The masses hung the hated police from the street lamps and the base of the army joined with the workers and peasants in their revolution that ousted the US imperialist puppet, Ravalomanana. In this sense, with the tanks and troops openly siding with the masses in the streets of Tunis, the revolution in Madagascar has finally broken its isolation and reached mainland Africa. In Madagascar, however, the French imperialists, through Rajoelina, have taken over the government and opportunistically stepped into the vacuum that existed when the masses failed to take complete power into their hands, parasitically taking advantage of the ousting of a leadership that was under the thumb of the competing US imperialism. In Tunisia, US imperialism is manoeuvring to take advantage of the revolutionary ousting of French puppet Ben Ali. They must not be allowed to do so.

    What are the most immediate tasks in support of the Tunisian revolution?
    The most immediate task is the setting up of workers committees in every workplace, the capitalist farms, the oil and gas installations, the mines, the banks, the tourism industry, all the capitalist newspapers, television and radio stations, all imperialist assets, for the purpose of taking them over, expropriating them without compensation to the capitalists and placing them under workers’ control. Hand in hand with this is the task of arming the masses and setting up workers militia and calling on the army to come over to the side of the working class, of the revolution. Send family members to the barracks to fetch their sons and daughters. It is with joy that we hear that the rank and file of the army, is fraternizing with the revolutionary masses. It is important to consolidate the support of the rank and file soldiers through soldiers delegates to workers councils. We should not allow the upper ranks of the army, who all have links to imperialism and the Ben Ali clique, to seize control of the revolution. The rank and file soldiers should discard the upper ranks, declaring any positions elective and subject to instant recall. The central task should be the arming of the masses as imperialism will not sit with folded arms to allow a thorough-going workers revolution that expropriates all its assets. [the October 1917 workers state was invaded by all imperialists from around the globe in an attempt to crush it; imperialism knows full well that the Tunisian revolution could become generalised, even within the imperialist centres; that is why they will work day and night to take over and smother the Tunisian revolution].

    Let the delegates from each workplace, from the unemployed, from street committees in working class neighbourhoods, from the rank and file soldiers, from the poorest peasants set up a real workers government. It is only this workers government that can immediately nationalise the land and decide that all work be shared among all who can work, without loss of pay (divide all the work among all those who can work, with immediate effect); that can lower food prices, taking over all production and distribution of food, centralizing it and formulating a national plan so no-one goes hungry. It is only this workers government that can immediately nullify the odious debt made to the Paris club of banks as well as that made to any other imperialists; it is only this workers’ government that can immediately expose the full extent of the secret support of French and US imperialism for the Ben Ali regime (on all fronts, including military and intelligence); it is only this workers’ government that can expose the bribes received by the Ben Ali regime for their support of fascist Israel and of the US puppet Mahmud Abbass. It is only this workers government that can immediately bring an end to starvation and unemployment in the rural areas and can give cheap assistance to the poorest farmers; it is only this workers’ government that can form worker collectives, taking over all capitalist farms, to feed the masses. It is only this workers government that can bring real freedom to the masses, for the right to meet and organise freely, making available venues and resources for the masses to express themselves. US and French imperialism are the torchbearers of reaction throughout the world and cannot guarantee a single democratic right.

    Break the isolation of the Tunisian revolution
    Although there are significant differences between the economies of Algeria and Tunisia, there is the same underlying cause for the uprisings currently underway there. Imperialism has relegated, by means of extreme violence, Africa as a primary exporter of raw, unprocessed materials, and at their whim as a holiday destination for the middle class and capitalist classes from the imperialist centres. Algeria exports only one product- gas and petroleum, while Tunisia is largely a holiday resort for the middle class and upper class from Europe (it also has a significant agriculture and minor hydrocarbon production). Down with Boutaflika, Gaddafi, Mubarak, etc!

    Across the whole of North Africa, Turkey and the Middle East, imperialism maintains its iron grip over the masses through dictatorial regimes. These same regimes are the ones that transmit the world capitalist crisis onto the masses through high prices, high unemployment, low wages, lack of even basic bourgeois democratic rights. It is time for the masses to get rid of all these regimes through workers’ revolution, like in Tunisia, ensuring the expropriation of all imperialist assets and banks, without compensation and placing them under workers control. Forward to a federation of Socialist workers states of North Africa and of the Middle East. This is the way to fight high prices and unemployment. Down with Faisal, Abbass, Husein, etc!

    But the very structure of the economies of North Africa and the Middle East means that the best of technology has been kept away and reside in the hands of imperialism.
    For the Tunisian revolution and North African (and Middle Eastern) revolution to advance towards Socialism requires that the working class in several imperialist centres such as France, USA, UK, Germany, take power. It is time for the immigrant workers in Europe, Japan and the USA to unite with their class brothers and sisters to overthrow the imperialist regimes. The French imperialists have already seized all Tunisian government assets in France as a security measure to weaken any workers regime in Tunisia. The Tunisian working class is showing the French working class the way out of the crisis. The starting point is like in Bolivia, to expel the treacherous union and leaders of the workers movement, and like in Tunisia to overthrow the regime. For more than 100 years the French imperialists have brutalised the working class and peasants in the semi-colonies and colonies. It is in our common interest to unite with the French worker to end this period of the terror of the capitalists. We remember the million Algerians killed in the 1956-1962 war against French imperialism; we remember how over 2 million Algerians were kept by the French imperialists in concentration camps. We remember how the Stalinist CP’s and fake left supported Ben Bella in his betrayal of the Algerian revolution- they supported him in agreeing that the local middle class take over government positions to become local managers for imperialism, while the hydrocarbons remained largely in French imperialist hands. We remember the betrayal by the French CP and fake left of May 1968 when the workers took over all of France and they called on workers not to take power but to accept a few crumbs as compensation and to leave the imperialist regime in power. It is time to finally and definitively do away with the murderous regime of the French V republic. Forward to Soviet France! Forward to a federation of Socialist workers states of Europe! Down with the imperialist Maastricht that keeps the world’s masses in starvation in a world of plenty.

    Indeed the first internationalist task of the French workers is to demand real independence for Tunisia, Algeria, Madagascar, Guadaloupe, Matinique, Ivory Coast, Reunion, and all other colonies and semi-colonies that are brutalised by French imperialism. They should spearhead what should have been done last year during the French October revolt, kicking out their treacherous leaders, and taking the lead to expropriate all imperialist assets, without compensation to the capitalists, and placing them under workers control, taking May 1968 to its logical conclusion. This can be achieved in no other way than through the working class ousting the regime of the hated butcher, Sarkozy, and taking power in their own hands. This is best solidarity that the French working class can give.

    We remember the million killed in Rwanda as the French and US imperialists vied for control of the region. We remember the over 6 million killed in the DRC as the US battled all other imperialists for the rape of the resources of the region. For the immigrant worker to join hands with the US worker to overthrow the murderous regime of Obama; for the working class across the world to definitively defeat US imperialism all over the planet (and indeed all other imperialists). For a Socialist federation of workers states of the Americas.

    We call for an organizing committee to refound the Fourth International in Tunisia.
    Long live the world Socialist revolution! This is the way to fight the capitalist crisis!

  5. “Revolution Until Victory” indeed! Congratulations to all Tunisians! May ‘al-intifada mustamura,’ and bring solace, justice, and dignity to all the wretched of the Earth!
    Thanks for a great piece, Robin!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: