Ben Ali and Mubarak have for some time been ousted although Gaddafi, after unleashing numerous savage dogs of war against many of his own people, looks less likely to suffer the same fate. The involvement of European and North American military and political elite, has ensured Gaddaffi of more support than he might otherwise have expected. The populations of Syria, Yemen and Bahrain are just a little further down the queue of hitherto patient sufferers of western supported dictators. Nevertheless, the coalition of popular forces, in the Arab world which mobilised themselves to oust these nepotistic despots will, sooner or later, face the serious question of what they want and how they want to proceed.
To a large extent the issue they are united upon – to be rid of their political elites – was a broad agreement on what they didn’t want. Millions clearly did not want authoritarian regimes backed by sufficient western supplied and trained military and police forces to ensure their stranglehold on wealth and power was permanent. However, when these (and other) regimes have departed the question will inevitably arise as to what socio-economic and political system is to be put in its place. The same system but with different figureheads in power or a completely different one.
A core of the aspirations which the youth initiators of the original rebellions and anti-regime uprisings, were for well-paid jobs, decent housing, reasonable food costs, satisfactory welfare provision, universally available, and uncorrupted public services. These are aspirations which strike a chord with more than just the poorly paid and unemployed. They resonated with many sectors of the population. To get rid of the dictators, a united and resilient uprising was necessary. However, will further huge street demonstrations be sufficient to deliver the core aspirations of all citizens? I doubt it. Under the present economic system, two huge problems are likely to stand full square in their way. First; the uncertainty which follows from a popular uprising or from a radical change to any political regime. Second; the present global economic and financial crisis of capitalism.
1. The developing national situations.
It is obvious that any popular uprising to a greater or lesser extent, dislocates the normal functioning of the societies, in which they take place. Where the political regime is challenged, this dislocation introduces a degree of economic uncertainty in the minds of those who have previously amassed wealth under it. They will not only try to remove more of their wealth from the country involved, but will also be reluctant to risk any of it in further investment. Until they consider their existing personal wealth is secure and that sufficient profits can be reliably expected they will mark time or seek investment opportunities elsewhere. This fact alone will ensure that under the present system of capital dominated economic activity there will be no immediate progress toward meeting the aspirations of the majority of the population for good jobs, housing, food, and reliable public services.
Indeed, within post-uprising countries, there will undoubtedly be a protracted regression and a certain downturn in economic activity. Thus any formal pro-capitalist political structure which emerges in order to replace the overturned regime will be unable to meet any universal economic demands placed upon it. It will simply not have the resources available to it under the present system of private capital initiated economic activity. Any sought after inter-governmental, World Bank or IMF loans, as when they are pursued in other countries, will also be tied to conditions which will fundamentally undermine such aspirations for the majority of citizens.
The participants of each uprising, if they are to persist in their quest for decent human standards of living will, therefore, be forced to take matters in their own hands. They will need to seriously question, the whole economic and financial system as well as the political. Just as in Egypt, during the mass confrontation, people created jobs for themselves by efficiently directing traffic, forming street protection groups, setting up checkpoints to eliminate weapons and cleaning the pavements in Tahrir Square, people emerging from dictatorships will need to rely on their own self-activity.
Under the brutal onslaught of Gaddafi’s fascistic mercenaries, the people of Libya had initially to rely upon themselves for defence, co-ordination and the orderly seizing of control in their cities. The later decision of a clique of anti-Gaddafi forces to invite the politicians in Europe and the US to support them, weakened and has prolonged their struggle, rather than strengthened it. Put simply, people in such post-uprising and revolutionary circumstances, need to rely upon their own initiatives and those of people in the same circumstances. In fact to start up production and consumption, interupted by any form of crisis, they just need the collective power to pay themselves for such activities and the many others which are required as the situation unfolds. However, that collective power needs to be created.
For more on the possible process of developing self-activity after an uprising see section 3 below. Meanwhile each country emerging from under the control of dictatorial regimes will find themselves unavoidably connected to the global economy, which is itself in deep crisis.
2. The present global economic crisis.
The current economic and financial system, dominated as it is by capital, is itself in severe and protracted crisis. It is a crisis initially caused by the relative over-production of commodities and capital in its earlier cyclical upturn phase. During that earlier period the accumulation of profits were so great that huge amounts were directed into the speculative financial sectors of the global economy. At the same time within industry and commerce, far more commodities and services were being produced, than could eventually be sold at a profit. The result has been that many capitalist firms, throughout the world, have rationalised, moved production to low-wage economies, or gone out of business and made their employees redundant. This process has produced high levels of unemployment and poverty in all countries of the world.
In addition the previous noted high levels of profit in the form of surplus capital, emanating from the industrial sector, has progressively entered the financial sectors of the capitalist economy and created speculative bubbles in many areas, particularly housing, ‘futures’ markets and government loans. Large-scale, everyday production by ordinary people, created the huge financial surpluses and now the huge financial surpluses in the hands of a oligarchic minority, threaten everyday production and consumption for the majority. With rising unemployment (and thus reduced tax income from its unemployed citizens), pro-capitalist government politicians have looked to private investors (ie those staffing the same financial sectors noted above) to borrow sufficient funds for their activities. Such borrowing requires loan repayment plus interest and thus governments, having put themselves into debt, (often to fund wars and amass sophisticated military equipment) choose now to squeeze the repayments out of the general population in one way or another.
Those who will suffer under the various austerity squeezes are the blue-collar and white-collar workers of their respective countries. But of course, privileged sectors of the middle-classes, professionals and small businesses, are also effected by this global downturn together with the large-scale unemployment. A severe economic and financial crisis drags the majority of the population into its turbulent convulsions and the present one is not over yet. More financial collapses and economic downturns will follow the ones of 2008 and the current protracted one. These crises, including the present debt-crisis are systemic. Only some of the super-rich (and their political representatives) are able to shield themselves from the privations created by a severe crisis and by speculation or swindling they can even benefit from it. In the so-called advanced countries, the post-second-world-war conditions obtained by the working people of Europe and North America, the same ones desired by those in the middle-east and North Africa, are being steadily taken away.
3. An alternative way to meet post-regime aspirations.
It is obvious that normal politics did not remove the dictators and ruling elites of the middle-east and North Africa. Indeed formal politics were the means of the subjection of ordinary citizens. The formal liberal-democratic politic regimes of Europe and North America sold arms to the dictators, trained their armies and police forces in forceful civilian control techniques and feted the dictators at banquets and conferences. Liberal-democratic economics and politics has demonstrated that it can be served by a variety of models of control; puppet regimes, dictatorial or superficially democratic. Now, having witnessed their dictatorial puppets being ousted, the liberal-democratic political elite in Europe and North America are already encouraging replacement by pro-capitalist liberal-democratic political regimes. Western liberal-democratic elites are content with such allegedly ‘democratic’ regimes, because these can be manipulated and influenced, by power and money. Ensconced in various political parties these new elites will quickly establish oligarchies and progressively attract substantial financial contributions in order to pay for media propaganda calculated to maintain or return them to power.
It has been argued, in the previous section, that under the present economic system, any such ‘democratic’ replacements will not be able to deliver what most people want. So what could be an alternative way forward? If one examines the series of successful and unsuccessful uprisings and revolutions in recorded history, two substantial factors quickly emerge. First, after sufficient numbers have actively backed the popular uprising the rank and file of the armed forces have had to become neutralised and then attracted to the aims of the popular uprising. It should be recognised in this regard, that rank and file soldiers are often discontent with their pay and conditions as well as the role they are often required to play. Second, the popular masses themselves need to establish popular assemblies in which to discuss and debate the important issues which arise and agree actions in pursuit of their aims and objectives. Historically, these inclusive assemblies have been more successful if they are established at local, regional and national levels and if they include at least, (as many as possible) of the sectors that took part in the original uprising – including representatives of all the working classes.
These two factors, the appeal to the army ranks and the general workers and peoples assemblies, function best when brought together. For this reason, the rank and file soldiers have generally been encouraged and actively invited to send rank and file representatives to the popular assemblies to discuss their conditions and the role they should play in the changed circumstances. In this way the armed forces have an alternative source of authority to that of their military hierarchy and at the same time have a stake in the progress of the socio-economic transformation. In this way they can come to see themselves as the people’s army and not the elite’s.
Such general assemblies, therefore, become the medium for openly discussing and influencing the direction of events for all sectors of the anti-regime forces and thus they organisationally assist in maintaining the maximum unity. The existence of such popular arenas minimises, and can also discourage, the existence of secret conclaves of secessionist political parties and their respective elites. This latter being a process, by which unnecessary divisions are rapidly inserted and manipulated in order to steer the popular revolution in directions suitable to a one-sided purpose. Popular assemblies, (or an alternatively named equivalent) also become the arena for democratically authorising actions and activities which become necessary as the situation develops. This can include the prevention of asset stripping and deliberate factory closures, the democratic control over the mass media, any necessary mass mobilisations to defend the previous gains and the sequestering of any public assets, in order to progressively set paid economic activity in motion.
If these are some of the lessons, emerging from the experiences of past uprisings and revolutions, then it would be wise for those involved to carefully consider them. Activists will need to adopt or adapt them to the new circumstances of the 21st century, with of course, any additions which are creatively improvised as circumstances allow or even dictate. Already the uprisings in North Africa and the middle-east have effected the lives of those who live in the rest of the world. Those finance capitalists who invest and speculate on the price of commodities, including the staple energy source of petroleum, are daily bidding up the costs of these essential items, which translates into higher prices, for fuel, food, clothing and other raw materials for the rest of the world.
The ultimate success of those people in the countries of the middle-east and North Africa in obtaining their aspirations, will of course, have even further implications for the rest of us. The effects upon the rest of the world will arise, not only from the inspiration transferred to ordinary people by their tenacious example, but also from other factors. Under the present unequal system, any gains for those casting off dictatorships, will cause further increased prices for the people in the rest of the liberal-democratic world.
This represents a dual set of influences which is already motivating others outside these Maghrib and Gulf countries, such as Greece and Spain, to rise up in millions against the present system. For it is a system in which European and North American billionaires and their institutionalised agents, control the amount and direction of investment in industry and commerce whilst creaming off the majority of the social wealth for themselves and in the process creating economic, financial and ecological crisis. Very soon, as the young people in Greece and Spain may have tentatively signalled, we may all be Tunisians, Egyptians, or Libyans. More of us may sooner or later have our own equivalents of Tahrir Square replete with people power and placards, announcing that not just the individual political ‘suits’ must step aside, but in its perniciously corrupt global entirety and here too – ‘the regime of the capitalist mode of production must go‘.