The self-immolation of a young vegetable vendor was the spark that ignited a popular revolt against Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali’s vicious dictatorship. While the vicious dictator who ruled Tunisia for 23 years has now fled, his regime has survived almost intact.
With Ben Ali safely in Saudi Arabia the regime of the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) party continues to rule. Other than Ben Ali and his family, all the other key figures have stayed on and are trying to present themselves as ‘steady hands’ that can steer the country out of this crisis. Although some have resigned from the RCD and have even talked of disbanding this blood-soaked and corrupt party, whatever formulation that they and their imperialist masters find will not hoodwink the masses. They know that the RCD members are exactly the same people who ruled ruthlessly over them with impunity and greed for decades.
Within hours of Ben Ali and his family – weighed down by 1.5 tons of gold bars worth $60m (£38m) – leaving Tunisia, the long road ahead of the mass movement was clear. Crowds celebrating the tyrant’s departure were treated in the same way as before. There was never any let up in the attacks by the riot police, plain-clothes police, secret service, and, of course, the army against the masses. The main role of the repressive apparatus of the state at present is to maintain the regime while the RCD leadership, including henchmen like Ghannouchi, try to present themselves as ‘saviours of the nation’ and statesmen who can not only stop ‘anarchy’ but also deliver the economic, social and political demands of the masses.
They tried to cover up the fact that this is the same Ben Ali-RCD regime but without the top leader. Although dominated by Ben Ali’s lieutenants it was given a ‘fresh face’ by others who are trying to help the Tunisian bourgeoisie out of this crisis – including shamefully the leadership of the collaborationist Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) that put forward three ministers! The masses were very clear about the true nature of the government of ‘national unity’ and forced the UGTT ‘ministers’ to step down after just one day.
The spark in a tinderbox
What is clear is that the accumulation of economic, social and political grievances over 23 years – plus the painful fact that Ben Ali’s rule was a continuation of the Bourgiba regime that replaced the French colonial administration – have become so exacerbated that the confiscation by police of Mohammed Bouazizi’s cart, and his response to this blatant act of injustice, sparked a mass revolt that not only brought about a revolutionary situation in Tunisia, but has sent shockwaves throughout North Africa and the Middle East. The 26-year-old university graduate set fire to himself on December 17 against the harassment of the regime’s functionaries. His method of protest has been replicated by many in other countries who find themselves in a similar situation and the hope that their sacrifice will be the catalyst that sets off a rebellion in their country as well.
The imperialist backers
Ben Ali, a trusted servant of the imperialist powers, ruled over a pauperised and brutalised population that was humiliated, humbled and harassed every day through the lack of the most basic necessities and democratic rights. Since Ben Ali was touted as an ‘anti-Islamic’ and friendly ruler who brought ‘stability’ to a country in a ‘turbulent’ region, however, the imperialists have consistently turned a blind eye to his regime’s abuses of human and labour rights and the growing destitution of the Tunisian masses. For the Tunisian workers and other exploited layers the ‘stability’ cherished by the imperialists meant mass unemployment, poverty, suffocating repression, rapacious corruption, and so on.
This regime made capitalism and, in particular, a totally pro-imperialist relationship, safe. That is why at the height of the protests the French Foreign Minister, Michele Alliot-Marie, said that France could share the expertise of its police with Tunisian security forces in “settling security situations of this type.” French imperialism’s character as an enemy of Tunisian workers and poor could not have been made more obvious! Now that the popular rebellion has forced the dictator out, the EU and other imperialists are trying to stop the further radicalisation of the movement by providing some loans and other measures.
The next step
The demands thrown up by the revolutionary situation in Tunisia are enormous. Democratic demands include the release of all political prisoners (and the right of all exiles to return) and complete freedom to demonstrate, to meet, to form political parties, to publish newspapers and to have unfettered use of the broadcast media. Other immediate demands include the mass distribution of food and other essentials to the poor and job creation through a public works programme of building homes, hospitals, schools and other amenities for working class families. Transitional demands like a sliding scale of wages (and income for the unemployed) in-line with inflation and opening the books of companies that Ben Ali’s family and the RCD members have robbed from the Tunisian workers must be realised.
To achieve these there are two main tasks facing the mass movement: one is ‘national’ and the other an international one. The so-called national task is to carry on the pressure on the RCD, the army, police and the whole repressive apparatus of the bourgeois state until they have been totally smashed. The international task is to link the struggle of the masses in Tunisia with the struggle of workers and all exploited and oppressed layers throughout the region. The region’s dictators are already busy making hasty tax and price cuts so that they can stop the insurrectionary fire from spreading. The artificial borders dividing the Arabs have to be ripped up and the imperialists’ local servant-thugs have to be overthrown – with Egypt already looking shaky.
Now the next step is for the masses to arm themselves so that they can smash the bourgeois state’s “armed bodies of men” and set up independent, mass-based and armed organisations in factories, neighbourhoods, universities, schools and so on (even in army barracks as the revolutionary situation develops!). In the absence of a revolutionary vanguard party capable of leading the workers to power, there is nothing on this earth that can be more bold and radical than the independent and armed organisations of the masses. Workers, students, women, peasants and other progressive layers need to form their own organisations that make democratic decisions about their own affairs and, through representatives in an assembly of the exploited and oppressed, co-ordinate and implement their demands (using arms when necessary) against the capitalist class and all its allies.
26 January 2011