A spectre is haunting the Middle East and North Africa—not the spectre of communism, not yet, but that of revolution. Only in the seven months of 2018, we have had insurgencies in Iran, Tunisia, Jordan, Iran again and now Iraq. In all of these instances, the central question has been the question of class—of poverty, of unemployment, of inequality, of social services such as electric power and sanitary water. In none of these countries has a leadership emerged—all of the uprisings were, according to all testimonies, spontaneous. All of these uprisings, as well as the unrelenting demonstrations of the people of Gaza for the right to return and against the callous decision of Donald Trump to move the US embassy to Israel to al Quds/Jerusalem, pose a stark question: that of the organisation, leadership and coordination of the masses that heroically throw themselves into the maelstrom of rebellion and revolt, defying the repressive regimes, albeit to different degrees, of their countries and of the Zionist state.
“This is not a protest, it’s a revolution”
The events in Iraq have been going on since Sunday the 8th of July. They started in Basra, the oil-rich port city of Southern Iraq. There were widespread demonstrations. The masses attempted to storm the governor’s headquarters of Basra province, where dozens of demonstrators were wounded. At a certain point, the crowds blocked access to Umm Qasr, a key oil export port in the vicinity. There were also attacks on party offices, that of Dawa, the ruling party of prime minister Abadi, and that of al Badr, a time-tested ally of Iran led by Shiite leader Hadi al Amiri. The demonstrations received a great boost on Friday, when a spokesman for the Shiite spiritual leader cleric Ayatollah Ali al Sistani supported the demonstrations and called authorities to lend an ear to the grievances of the masses.
From Basra the demonstrations spread to the rest of southern Iraq, to cities such as Amara, Nasiriyah, al Mawala, Maysan, Babil, and the holy cities of Karbala and Najaf. The latter was particularly shaken, with the masses storming the airport, damaging equipment, torching certain premises. Finally on Sunday the 15th, the uprising reached the capital city of Baghdad.
An emblematic scene form a video shown on Al Jazeera sheds light on the nature of the uprising. A very young man from Najaf says, “This is not a protest, it’s a revolution”, adding “we are not fighting in the name of any political parties, this is the youth and tribal people of Iraq.” One cannot but be reminded of the comment of La Rochefoucauld to Louis XVI upon the storming of the Bastille during the French revolution of 1789. When the king said, “But this is a revolt”, the councillor politely but firmly replied, “No, sir, it is a revolution!” The young man of Najaf, a victim of the abject poverty of the masses of this oil-rich country, obviously unaware of the dialogue between the king and the president of the Estates General of far off France far back in history, almost repeats line to line the same rebuttal to the international jet set of liberal media pundits, who have been belittling all manner of mass uprisings since the Arab revolution of 2011 all around the world as “protests” and the actors as “protestors”! “Non, sire, c’était bel et bien une révolution et cette révolution-là n’est évidemment pas morte!”
The demands of the Iraqi masses are loud and clear: clean water, sanitation, uninterrupted electricity, an end to unemployment and poverty. The insurgency has started in the almost exclusively Shiite regions of the country. The Shiites having dominated Iraqi politics since the war and the occupation of Iraq by imperialism in 2003, as opposed to the epoch of Saddam when the Sunni minority was on top, this simply cannot be a question of sectarian grievances. Neither can it be a consequence of the ethnic tension between Arab and Kurd. This is a class revolt in its purest form.
Iraq is going through a special phase politically speaking. Elections were held in May, with no decisive winners. So fragmented are the leading ruling class parties that even the frontrunner Sairoon coalition received a mere 54 seats out of the 329 available. It is obvious that if the party that came on top has such a small plurality, it would take ages to form a viable coalition government. No wonder coalition talks have been going on forever. Moreover, the turnout remained at 45 per cent, which seems to be a result of the fact that the whole system is illegitimate in the eyes of many for the simple reason that it is the brainchild of the imperialists. To add insult to injury, there was widespread perception of electoral fraud. It was decided that there be recounting of votes in certain regions so as to decide whether a total recount was warranted. However, as the recount was continuing, there were two consecutive fires in buildings where a very sizeable number of the ballots had been stored, with massive damage to the documentation. So now it is not obvious at all how the total recount can be done, even if it should be decided that there should be one!
The frontrunner Sairoon coalition consists of motley forces bringing together Moqtada al Sadr, a Shiite cleric, the once powerful Iraqi Communist Party and certain secular forces. Al Sadr was in the forefront of the resistance to the US and British armies of occupation in 2004 and again in 2007, but is also critical of Iran’s influence in Iraq despite himself being Shiite. On the basis of this record, he could perhaps be considered the most progressive Shiite political force in Iraqi politics and his victory a slap in the face of US imperialism. However, his contact with the Saudi leadership creates suspicions with respect to his credentials. Al Sadr was the leader behind the crowds that laid siege to parliament for a whole period a couple of years ago, demanding a cleanup regarding knee-deep corruption among the political elite. The victory may partially be due to that action, which is a main source of grievance for the masses.
The Sairoon coalition is trailed by the Al Fatah coalition, formed around the Badr Corps of Hadi al Amiri, Iran’s closest ally in Iraq, as has already been pointed out. This is the force that organised the very controversial Popular Mobilisation Units that were a powerful element in the defeat of ISIS or ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). The al Nasr coalition around Prime Minister al Abadi and his Dawa party came in third, despite the fact that Iraq had just come out victorious from the war against ISIL. There was a tie for fourth place between the State of Law slate of former prime minister Nuri al Maliki and the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Massoud Barzani.
A word about the latter is in order. Massoud Barzani has been a collaborator of US imperialism in its war on and occupation of Iraq, nominally in the name of the emancipation of the Kurdish people, a people that has undergone a veritable oppression and, at times, savage repression in the hands of the four states of the region, Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria, among which the homeland of the Kurds was divided after World War One. In aiding and abetting US crimes in Iraq, Barzani (and his close ally Talabani) pretended that they were working for Kurdish liberation. That strategy of basing the prospect of Kurdish emancipation on slavish subordination to the US and, later, to Erdoğan’s Turkey collapsed, however, with the defeat of the attempted referendum for Kurdish independence in October 2017. Abandoned by all his protectors, Barzani not only failed in his independence bid, but lost Kirkouk, a disputed region, back to the central government of Iraq.
Organise a political leadership for the masses!
Given this virtual deadlock of the political leadership of the ruling classes and the forces of the Kurdish people of Iraq, it should be obvious that there exists ample political space for a party for the working class and the poor across sectarian and ethnic divides to be formed. To uninitiated eyes, the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP), the allies of al Sadr in the latest elections, seem a candidate to fill that space. This party, however, is a bankrupt leadership that has played a hideous role in recent developments in Iraq. A single fact would suffice to make clear what we mean: the ICP unequivocally supported the US imperialist invasion! True, the ICP had almost been a Stalinist party from its birth in 1934 on, a party that later, after the 1958 bourgeois revolution led by Baath, loyally tail-ended the bourgeois leadership, only to be decimated, after 1968, by that same leadership when Baath turned against its communist and, a bit later, Kurdish allies. But capitulation to imperialism is altogether different from slavishly following the bureaucratically degenerated leadership of the Soviet Union, which based its Middle East policy on cooperation with and defence of the bourgeois military dictatorships of Egypt, Iraq, and Syria.
There are other smaller communist groups in Iraq and among the Kurdish minority. However, the more important among these confine themselves to a purely “workerist” kind of political work, in other words an economistic self-limitation, and an enlightenment type of secularist ideology. Some have refused to fight against the occupation forces of imperialism in the name of “organising the workers” while the country was fighting for survival in the face of imperialist aggression.
The task today is to build a movement and a party that bases itself firmly within the struggle of the working class and the poor, but also engages in the fight against imperialism and the sectarian and ethnic divisions that it has sown within the Iraqi population. The present uprising has shown that even the poorer strata of the Shiites, who as a group were repressed under Saddam but rose to predominance in the new regime, are not contented with the present state of things. Iraqi Marxists, communists, socialists, whatever they call themselves at present, should address this discontent that comes with the seeds of unity among the labouring masses of the population.
We address in particular the genuine communists that act out of conviction in the rank and file and among the youth of the Iraqi Communist Party. We call on them to abandon the bankrupt politics of this party and rebuild authentic communism in Iraq in the footsteps of Marx, Engels and Lenin. We assure them that the Bolshevik origins of communism live on in the ranks of those forces who, in the tradition of Leon Trotsky, have continued the internationalist and revolutionary line of the Communist International, abolished in 1943 by the Stalinist Soviet bureaucracy.
We address the Workers’ Communist Party of Iraq and its offshoots and other groups with a revolutionary orientation. We call on them to turn to the Leninist politics of marching with and leading the masses in every important fight that they are forced to wage and not only in their economic struggle. We further call on them to abandon their fixation on the enlightenment brand of bourgeois secularism and adopt proletarian secularism that is based on the unification of the masses across religion and sect against the capitalist order.
We address the poor and the youth of Iraq as your neighbours from Turkey, whatever your political orientation may have been so far. We call on you to organise yourselves so as to make the powerful movement of the Iraqi masses for social justice and emancipation continue and survive, even if at this stage things should calm down for the moment. We ask you to organise yourselves in councils and committees and democratically lead the fight, but we also wish to remind you that only a revolutionary party of working people can stand up against the cruel injustices created by capitalism and by imperialism.
We will fight with you as we fight social injustice and despotism in our own country. In fact, what we need is the international cooperation and synchronisation of our efforts on the scale of the MENA region and further of the entire globe. What we ultimately need is a world party, a revolutionary International.
Seven in seven
We have been pointing out for several months now that every passing month in 2018 brings with it, in our wider region, a new uprising of the people. If we throw our net wider, that is to say look at the whole region of Central and Eastern Europe, the Balkans, the Caucasus, and MENA, then we can count seven popular revolts in as many months: in addition to Iran, Tunisia, Jordan, and Iraq in the MENA region, we can observe that popular rebellions or gigantic mass demonstrations that lasted for days or weeks have erupted in Slovakia, Romania and Armenia as well.
After a reprieve of several years in the wake of the defeat of the Egyptian revolution in the hands of the Bonapartist dictatorship of al Sisi, Marx’s old mole seems to have been digging again. It dives here and resurfaces there, only to make the bases of the imperialist capitalist world order shakier so that in the not-too-distant future we can bring the whole edifice to the ground in ear-deafening thunder.
* Sungur Savran is the Chairman of the Revolutionary Workers’ Party (DIP), Turkey