Thursday, 20 January 2011
Wednesday 19 and Thursday 20 saw the continuation of mass demonstrations all over Tunisia against the “new” national unity government and demanding an end to the RCD ruling party. Tens of thousands marched throughout the country under the slogan “RCD degagé” (Out with the RCD), clearly identifying the national unity government as a continuation of the old regime.
The seven key ministries (including the prime minister, finances, foreign affairs, interior and defence) are held by the same people who held these ministries under the hated dictator Ben Ali. The people feel that their revolution, which forced Ben Ali to flee the country on Friday 14, will not be finished until the old regime is completely destroyed. "Ben Ali has gone to Saudi Arabia! The government should go there too," was one of the slogans. The rallying cry of these demonstrations was: "We want a new parliament, a new constitution, a new republic! People rise up against the Ben Ali loyalists!"
It is worth watching some of the videos of these demonstrations in order to get a feel for the real mood of the Tunisian workers and youth: Bizerte, Jan 19, Tunis, Jan 19, Gabes, Jan 19, Bizerte, Jan 19, occupation of the RCD offices in Sousse (now renamed Bouzazi Peoples’ House), Jan 19, Sfax, Jan 19, Bizerte, Jan 20, Touzer, Jan 20, Touzer, Jan 20, Almzop, Jan 20, Kairouan, Jan 20.
These angry and militant marches are not just demanding the disbanding of the RCD and the old regime at all levels, but they are taking direct action to implement their demands. In more than 30 towns and cities in the provinces massive demonstrations, mainly gathering outside the offices of the UGTT trade union, have marched on the RCD headquarters and occupied them. As a matter of fact, as the RCD controlled not only the national, regional and municipal governments, but also controlled all aspects of public life (professional associations, the police, the judiciary, etc), the destruction of the power of the RCD means that power is passing from the old regime to the masses on the streets and to the neighbourdhood committees which have sprung up over the last week. These committees are tasked with maintaining public order and defending the population against the remains of the old regime (police officers, secret services, the presidential guard), which are still desperately trying to protect what is left of the old dictatorship.
The most advanced example of these emerging elements of dual power that we know of is in the town of Sidi Bou Ali, in Sousse, with a population of just over 10,000 people. There, on Sunday 16, the masses gathered in the town square and after deliberating about the “new” national unity government, decided to take power into their own hands. This is the statement that was passed which we reproduce in full:
“Following the decision to entrust ‘Mohamed Ghannouchi’ with forming a new government tasked with overseeing the new presidential elections for the country; following the administrative vacuum and in the city of Sidi Bou, Sousse Governorate; we, citizens of the town of Sidi Bou meeting in the "People's Square" in the city resolve the following:
We reject this decision which is based on an undemocratic constitution, not a peoples’ one, which has been violated many times and does not guarantee the rights of all national opinions in the country;
Our rejection of the domination of the ruling party over the political life of the country, represented by all symbols in the current government and its lackeys;
The public election of a provisional local council in order to manage all city affairs and to work at a local level, and in coordination at regional and national level, to maintain the normal functioning of civilian life, economic, cultural and political life in the country until the drafting of a new constitution of a democratic and popular character, which will pave the way for elections to ensure the peaceful transfer of power and without a monopoly over it, and ensures that all the national parties are represented.
The formation of committees to protect the neighbourhoods and their coordination;
To work to restore economic life and to secure the necessities of daily life for the citizens;
To work to re-establish working civilian institutions (banks, hospitals, municipalities, schools, institutes, post offices, the tax office ...);
To protect public property;
Coordination with local and regional councils formed;
Communication and contact with the national army as the only existing force in the country.
We have decided on the distribution of tasks amongst the following commissions:
The commission on Publicity and Media;
Commission on contacts with the National Army;
Defence Committee for the Protection of the Neighbourhoods;
Commission on protection of municipal property;
Commission of supply of essential goods;
Awareness, leadership and culture Committee (because of the importance of this statement we provide below a French translation and the Arabic original, which should be given as much publicity as possible)
This statement is most extraordinary, and we have no doubt that similar action has been taken in many other towns and cities. Faced with the vacuum of power left by the destruction of the old institutions the youth, the workers, the people in general, have taken it upon themselves to start building a new “institutionality”, based on democratic committees “publicly elected” in mass meetings.
In Sidi Bou Ali, the “provisional council” which has been set up is not just a committee of struggle, but has taken over the running of all affairs (public order, provisioning, the economy, the post office, education, etc). They have de facto taken power in the town.
These are in fact, in embryonic form, soviets (i.e. workers’ councils), the emergence of which is a true sign of a genuine revolution taking place. It is clear that in some cities it has been the local executives of the UGTT trade unions which have taken the initiative in creating such committees.
These are the first steps in the right direction. These committees must now be generalized in every factory, in every workplace, in every neighbourhood. The committees should be coordinated at a local, regional and national level through representatives elected democratically and subject to the right of recall, as the resolution from Sidi Bou Ali clearly points out.
We would like to make two comments on this statement which are relevant for the whole of the revolutionary movement in Tunisia. The first is in relation to the question of the Army. The statement talks of liaising and communicating with the Army. It is clear that the Army at this point commands a lot of respect amongst the people. As we have reported before, there were many instances of fraternization between the Army and the demonstrators during the uprising last week and it was the police and the presidential guard, rather than the Army, which played the key role in the brutal repression of the people which took between 100 and 200 lives. In the last few days, the Army has fought running battles with the remains of the Ben Ali loyalist police forces. This explains the attitude of the people.
However, we must warn that one thing is the rank and file soldiers and even some lower ranking officers who can be won over to the side of the revolution, but the Army as an institution and particularly its top command is a completely different matter. The Army is part of the capitalist state apparatus of the Ben Ali dictatorship and if the revolutionary movement of the people presents a decisive challenge to the capitalist system, it will either split down the middle along class lines or side with the ruling class.
In the last few days we have already seen incidents in which the Army has been used to “maintain order” as against the anti-RCD demonstrators. In the capital marchers were allowed to demonstrate but prevented by the Army to reach the Ministry of Interior. The reason is probably that inside the Ministry of the Interior, the Ben Ali henchmen are busy destroying any proof of their brutal repression, torturing and spying on the Tunisian people.
On the evening of January 19, a small group of a few hundred youth decided to challenge the curfew (starting at 8pm every night) declared by the “new” government. A detachment of the Army went to try and disperse them. A tense situation developed. The army officer in charge, a Colonel, was received with shouts of “long live the Army”. He argued that “the army is with the people”, that they had a “legitimate right” to demonstrate, and that the “Army would not fire on the people”, but that they had “to respect the curfew”, that “a palace of gold cannot be built overnight”, that they should be “patient” and “return the day after”. In the end the standoff ended in a draw and the protestors stayed, therefore breaking the curfew. The day after, January 20, when thousands marched on the RCD offices in Mohammed V Avenue, the Army fired warning shots in the air to try to disperse them. In the end the building was taken over by the protestors (video).
These are early days regarding the Army. The top generals know full well that they cannot use the conscript soldiers, infected by the virus of revolution during the last few weeks, against the people, and it would be foolish to try to do so. However, step by step, they will work to reclaim the streets, and if the revolutionary people lowers its guard, and withdraws from the streets, then the Army will be back in power as the armed wing of the ruling class and its state apparatus and it will be used to defend the interests of the capitalists, not those of the people.
For this reason, it is necessary to build and strengthen the links with the army ranks, with the soldiers and lower ranking officers which are closer to the people. They should be encouraged to set up their own committees and send representatives to the local revolutionary councils. The soldier’s committees must take it upon themselves to denounce the reactionary officers, all those who were directly involved in repression, those who had personal, economic and other ties to the ruling class and the Ben Ali regime and publicly expose them, arrest them and put them on trial.
Soldiers committees linked closely to the revolutionary committees of workers and youth would be a guarantee that no-one has either the power or the strength to make a move against the will of the people.
The second observation we would make on the statement of the revolutionary people of Sidi Bou Ali is that it talks about a new constitution, democratic elections and the representation of all parties (it is understood that the RCD would be excluded). We would say that this can be achieved through a constituent assembly, but who would convene such an assembly? As of yet there is no power which has the legitimacy to do so. The “new” national unity government is nothing but the continuation of the old regime. But if the revolutionary councils were to be linked at a regional and national level, they would have the legitimacy to convene such a constituent assembly to decide over the profound reorganization of the country’s life.
Manoeuvres at the top
While the workers and youth continue the struggle on the streets, the ruling class continue their manoeuvres at the top to try to create a “new” government with some legitimacy. The resignation of the three UGTT trade union members from the government (less than 24 hours from its announcement and even before its first meeting), was followed by the resignation of the minister representing the social democratic FDLT. The former Communist Party issued a strongly worded communiqué demanding the removal of all RCD ministers from the government and conditioning its participation on their withdrawal… but stayed in the government nevertheless.
In a surreal twist to the story, all RCD ministers in the “new” government then proceeded to resign from the RCD, as if this changed their character. The RCD in turn expelled Ben Ali, trying to distance itself from the dictatorship, and disbanded its Central Committee from which most of its members had already resigned. Now, one of the RCD ministers has also resigned from the government. This is a bit like all the world’s Archbishops resigning from the Catholic Church and then the Church deciding to expel the Pope from its ranks. These are clearly desperate manoeuvres which will not fool the Tunisian people.
The different imperialist powers, having been caught by surprise by the revolutionary uprising, are now busy behind the scenes, attempting to make sure that “order” (i.e. normal capitalist exploitation) is restored as soon as possible. The Tunisian people should reject any foreign imperialist interference. The US and particularly the French imperialists (of both right-wing and social-democratic varieties) have their hands soaked in the blood of the Tunisian people. They fully backed Ben Ali right until the end. They have no right to pretend now that they are friends of the Tunisian revolution and that they can help “supervise” democratic elections. On the contrary, the Tunisian workers and youth must launch an internationalist appeal to their class brothers and sisters in the whole of the Maghreb and the Middle East to follow their example, and to the workers of Europe to join them in the struggle against their imperialist masters.
A situation is developing in which a rift has opened between the power of the streets and the official power of the new government. Elements of dual power are clearly present, but these cannot last indefinitely. The workers and youth must take the initiative and push forward, otherwise the initiative will return to the official institutions of power… and this will mean the restoration of the old regime with some new faces.
Mass demonstrations in the streets and the setting up and linking up of the revolutionary committees must be continued and strengthened. That, however, will not be enough. The UGTT national leadership, under immense pressure from below has been forced to abandon the so-called national unity government. It should now organise and call a general strike to render the government powerless. The regional and local bodies of the UGTT should take the initiative for this in close coordination with the revolutionary committees.
Political and social revolution
A thorough purge is required at all levels of society. All the agents of the old regime in all public and private institutions should be removed and put on trial. The revolutionary people have already started the job by occupying the RCD headquarters. This should be extended to the forces of repression (the secret police, the presidential guard, etc) which should be disbanded and their officials put on trial.
But this revolution was not only about overthrowing a dictatorship. The slogans of the people were demanding “Jobs, bread – out with Ben Ali”, clearly linking political with social demands. The achievement of democracy, in itself, without a change in the socio-economic system, will not fundamentally change anything.
The question of the property of the means of production should be posed by the movement. To start with, the property of the Ben Ali family and his Trabelsi clan should be expropriated and put under the democratic control of the working people. That in itself would mean a serious blow to capitalism in Tunisia, as the Trabelsi clan controlled large parts of the economy (banking, construction, housing, car dealerships, telecommunications, media, tourism, airlines, import-export, agriculture, oil, cement, etc. there is almost no sector in which the clan did not have decisive business participation.) It is said that “half of the Tunisian business world is linked to Ben Ali in one way or another”. The Tunisian revolution, in order to be genuinely democratic, must also become a social revolution against the capitalist system.
Down with the “unity government”– RCD Out! Disband the forces of repression! Arrest and trial of all those officials linked to the old regime at all levels! Strengthen the people’s committees at a local, regional and national level! A democratic Constituent Assembly to decide the country’s future! Soldiers’ committees! Expropriation of the property of the Trabelsi clan under the control of the working people! No to imperialist intervention!