August 25, 2006
This article, despite the contrived melancholy tone and sneering condescension, accurately reflects the growing trend toward unity in the Egyptian resistance to Mubarak as a result of Hezbollah's success. From the Muslim Brothers to secular reformers to Coptic Christians: all are united by their admiration of Hezbollah's methods and see it as a model for unity. The article mentions the Muslim Brothers' decision to abandon its hostility to Shi'ite organisations, as discussed by Sameh Naguib in Socialist Worker earlier this week. Typically, with the bureacratic focus of a wire service, the Bloomberg article doesn't mention the role of and effect on the Egyptian left and the communists. Naguib described it as follows: "The war has had a very strong polarising effect on the left in Egypt. For instance, there is a section of the Stalinist left, a 'right wing left', that says it is no longer important to be against imperialism, that we have to concentrate solely on winning democracy, that we can never stand with the Islamists, that Islamists are fascists, whether in Palestine or Lebanon or anywhere else. This kind of view, which has had some influence among a section of the left, has now disintegrated completely. People have had to shift their position, and the ones who were in the middle have shifted to the left because of the war."
The unity between the Lebanese communists, Hezbollah, Amal and even the right-wing Christian forces of Aoun provide a model for this. As one Lebanese communist remarked:
"We have a joke that, in the average Lebanese family with seven children, four will be with Hezbollah, two will be with the communists and one will be with Amal - all of them with the resistance".
That the communists fought and died along with the other resistance fighters and contributed to Israel's defeat has shown the Arab left how it can be done. It should also have sent a message to the Italian communists presently participating in Romano Prodi's government. The Italian communists, most of whose representatives in government voted to send troops to Afghanistan, based on remarkably familiar reformist arguments, are now trying to reposition themselves: they wish to support the use of Italian troops in south Lebanon and in doing so claim that this will hasten an end to the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. As if Italy doesn't have enough soldiers to assist the imperial hegemon in all three countries if it wishes. This sort of pettifogging 'mediation' (as they prefer to call it) results directly from their decision to enter into a coalition government with Prodi and thereby share responsibility for its neoliberal, warmongering policies. This is a problem more broadly where left parties are working with or sharing government with centre-left parties. As Israel's attack on Lebanon was under way, representatives from the European United Left went to meet with the Lebanese communists and show solidarity, but the Party of the European Left have since taken an exceptionally weak position, urging EU heads to take a more 'active' role, seeking the establishment of a UN 'buffer zone' and so on (you'll have to ignore the typically sectarian attitude of that last linked article). In general, I think, we should leave it to the Lebanese resistance to decide whether they want UN troops. But if left parties enter government coalitions, they have to decide whether they want to send delegations, and in that instance the decision to support a UN-led occupation reflects reformist commitments.
The European Anticapitalist Left Bloc, by contrast, emphasises extra-parliamentary activism and militancy, and while it has not the same institutional representation as the parties of the PEL, it should act as a focus for that perspective in the European Left more generally. During Israel's assault, the European Social Forum issued a statement of solidarity with the Lebanese resistance. It's only a statement, yes, but I don't think that even this would have happened if reformists like Bernard Cassen of Attac had hegemonised the anticapitalist movement. The great success of the London ESF in 2004 was characterised by its commitment to anti-imperialism, whereas people like Cassen (and even, regrettably, George Monbiot) have argued instead that the movement should hope for the EU to act as a counterweight to the US: a grand mistake, I think. It is this kind of orientation that leads to left leaders urging the EU to be more 'active' in the Middle East. (Ironically, there was at one point a coalescence between the positions of Michael Hardt and Bernard Cassen over the allegedly baleful effect of the antiwar movement on anticapitalism: the former because he sees no relevance to nation-states at all and therefore no point in focusing resistance toward them, while the latter thinks they can tame capitalism and therefore perhaps also tame US 'unilateralism').
There were protests against Israel's aggression by leftist groups all over Europe, with the largest in London, but quite sizeable ones elsewhere including in Brussels. These were broadcast across the Middle East, alongside the ones in Iraq, Egypt and Jordan, and it was important that they were. I don't think they would have been very impressive or sizeable if the message had been "Long Live the EU" and "Giscard d'Estaing for Lebanon".
National states are not completely useless, of course. Chavez notably ordered the withdrawal of the Venezuelan ambassador to Israel. His visit to the region and his words have made him wildly popular there. But Chavez is in a unique position as a leftist leader in a capitalist state: oil revenues have given him the ability to redistribute some wealth, while his ability to outmaneouvre political enemies based on the collective strength of workers and peasants has enabled him to improve workers' rights, and actually introduce a wave of collectivisation under workers' control. It is the most profound democratisation available within a capitalist state, and is for that reason extremely tenuous. But while Chavez uses the process of reforms, he is by no means pursuing a strategy strictly delimited by reformism. In doing what he is doing, he is building up the strength of the working class and peasantry, providing the institutional means for them to defend themselves while bolstering Venezuela's defenses against external aggression by arming the populace. The issue is reformism: Chavez doesn't pursue a reformist strategy because he knows he relies upon the collective strength of those who voted him in and who filled the streets when he was ousted, thus providing the radical layers in the army with the confidence that they could restore him to power.
Now, what Chavez is doing, were it repeated in - say - Egypt, would be even more scandalous for the US than it is as practised in Venezuela. Even Aristide's mild reforms were shocking enough for the US to overthrow him, and replace him with a corrupt alliance between death-squad leaders and sweat-shop owners: under the rubric of the UN, you'll note. Venezuelan-style populism may well end up being practised by a unity government in Lebanon, because Siniora won't survive an election and neither will the Hariri gang. Hezbollah and the Lebanese left are notably the two main forces to have resisted both the Hariri neoliberal reforms and Israeli aggression. The movement against neoliberalism and for real democracy is, as I've said before, also a movement against imperialism since it is the same forces that support both, and for the same reasons. This political lesson is being drawn by the left across the Middle East, and it should be noticed on the European Left too.