The Awakening in Arab Countries

On the Revolutionary Developments in Egypt and Tunisia

This article was written and published in Farsi on January 31, 2011, on the verge of the Egypt's revolution. Hence, it might be out of the tune with the current situation. Nevertheless, its English translation might be useful in presenting my perspective on this revolution. This article was followed by five more notes, all in Farsi, which their translation might appear here. This article has been translated by Javad Aslani.

Koorosh Modarresi

Feb. 13, 2011

Whatever the outcome of the current revolutionary developments in Tunisia and Egypt, these movements have, to date, brought about profound changes far beyond the borders of these two countries; across the Middle East and its consequences are felt across the world.

It is worth noting that in our contemporary history the Arab countries have not been through a process of revolutionary changes. They have not experienced any revolutions. Changes from the above and coup d'états have been the main vehicles of political changes.

The popular and democratic revolutions have played a crucial role in shaping the individual and collective consciousness of all citizens and in determining the relationships between individuals and the state and society; between different classes and in particular between the bourgeoisie and the working class.

Such changes in consciousness and mentality is well illustrated by Karl Marx when distinguishes between the German and the French mentalities. For the French the state is not at all a divine phenomenon. It can be brought down. In the German psychic the state is always right. Defying the state is frown upon. Alexis de Tocqueille, a vanguard of sociology and political science of early 19th century, while expanding on this phenomenon goes on to say that the revolution in Germany is impossible, as it has been banned by the police.

The differences between such mentalities can be seen in countries that have experienced democratic revolutions. The attitude of the Iranians towards the state compared to those in the Arab countries in this regard is a compelling example of these different mentalities.

The changes that are taking place in Egypt and Tunisia, or better still, that have taken place, is in this mentality. The sort of mentality that has sent shock waves across all Middle Eastern states. Such is the consequences of this change of mentality that beleaguered rulers in this part of the world are desperately trying to appease their citizens by reshuffling key personnel and promises of reform and change. The Emir of Kuwait has offered to pay all Kuwaitis a monthly sum of $3400.

Popular and democratic revolutions bring about enormous changes in all aspects of life in the society. The hitherto oppressed and rightless masses take on the might of the sate and destroy it. Individuals and groups feel empowered and regain their dignity vis-à-vis the state. The human values, at least superficially, is recognised and the fear of the oppressive apparatuses crumbles. The fact that people can bring a government down becomes an integral part of the collective consciousness of the masses. Such a threat hangs over the society and the state. The spectre of revolution and the fear of chaos constantly daunt the sate and this new reality for ever changes the dynamics of state and the society.

The democratic revolutions, i.e., those that are confined to the bourgeois demands, by definition and according to their bourgeois characters are based on the recognition of individual rights and declaring that individuals as equal citizens vis-à-vis the state, regardless of their class position. These revolutions push individual rights and dignity to the forth and regard them as a “natural” right. The Arab countries are going through such a development. Tunisia has moved on a fair deal toward this goal and Egypt is half way through.

Furthermore, the ongoing events in Egypt and Tunisia present a dynamic and fluid interaction between social classes in the context of a revolution which offers valuable lessons for the conscious workers.

The fact is that revolutions can not be categorised in terms of “good”, “bad” or “wishful aspirations”. The revolutionary conditions and the onset of revolutions are outside the spheres of control of any individual or political party. Revolutionary crises and the start of revolutions, like an earthquake or a storm, are outside our control. A number of different and complex political, social, economic and historic parameters, both at local and global levels, are at play. Revolutions take place according to their own mechanism, but their outcomes are shaped entirely by the actions of different classes, through the actions of their respective social movements and their political parties. The working class must seize these revolutions. The outbreak of revolutions benefits the working more than any other classes. It opens up the opportunity for intervention in the social and political process in the society.

These revolutions, in the first instance, raise ambiguous and indefinite demands. Freedom and equality are demands subject to interpretations. And such ambiguity and “indefinite” nature of the demands allows the widest possible groups of people to participate and mobilise the society. With the launch of revolution the society opens up. All the classes and particularly the working class find the opportunity to intervene in the political process and to organise itself.

And in every step of the way, when the revolution moves along, the confrontation between different classes and movements widens and their demands diverge and polarise. The democratic revolutions in capitalist societies tend to open up the political environment for all classes, movements, and political parties. And what these classes, movements and political parties get out these revolutions is entirely dependent on their practice.

The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt have portrait the classic and standard case of relationships between different classes, in particular bourgeoisie, petty bourgeoisie and the working classes. The Iranian working class must pay special attention to these developments and draw lessons to deal with such a situation which inevitably will be facing.

In Tunisia and Egypt masses of people, from all walks of life, have come out. The ruling bourgeoisie are retreating and are conspiring to stifle the revolution at each phase and station to spare the state, the police and the armed forces; contain and exhaust masses with the hope preserving their interest and rule.

The bourgeoisie in opposition is chasing the revolution and attempts to win maximum concession from the ruling clique and in the process rescue the apparatus of state power. The race to claim to be the only credible alternative starts, all groups claim to have heard the “voice of revolution” , cabinet gets reshuffled, and further concessions are made to appease the protesters and the army is portrayed as the saviour of the nation

The share of the working class from such revolutions depends, entirely on the social and political condition and in particular their level of conciseness, unity and class solidarity of their ranks. In the absence of such a consciousness and unity, the working class will miss a golden opportunity to assert it will and realise its demands. But in any case such revolutions will present an opportunity for the working class to foster unity amongst its ranks and will provide an early form of communist consciousness and organisation. The outcome of the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, and whether it can lurch forward, depends on the degree of unity and power of the working class.

The Egyptian working class in mid 1950s, during Gamal Abdulnaser’s rule, suffered mass murder and obliteration of its labour organisations and has since then been under constant suppression. The working class enters this revolution without organisations and its own political parties. It seems that the working class in Tunisia are in a better situation. But we are not aware of the influence of organised proletarian communism within the working class in these two and other Arab countries. Therefore we must presume that such movements can emerge and this is only the beginning. Whether such developments will take place or not is beyond the knowledge and understanding of a person in my position. But one can be certain that without a united working class and its intervention, the gains of any popular and democratic revolution will be very limited. The popular demands, even within a democratic revolution, will be suppressed and such revolutions will fail to advance into a socialist revolution.

But such a scenario must not overshadow the fact that so far the prospect of a popular revolution for freedom and human dignity in the Arab countries has pushed back the reactionary forces that the despotic ruling regimes thrive on. The international backers of these oppressive regimes, the USA and Israel, who are the main supporters and allies of these reactionary rulers are badly weakened. It must also be added that with the demise of the ruling reactions, the fertile ground that the Islamic reactionary forces feed on will dry up.

The revolution in Egypt and Tunisia will undoubtedly inspire people of all Arab countries and will motivate them. The relationship between masses and the reactionary states will change. These revolutions will provide the working class with an opportunity to organise and mobilise. As Lenin puts it the working class learns in each day of this revolutionary time as much as one hundred years.

A welcome wind of change is blowing over the region, the Arab countries and especially over Palestine.

January 31, 2011