Book Review: A Marxist vision for the Arab Spring

Mahmoud El-Wardani, Monday 28 Apr 2014

Syrian author and analyst Salama Keila tries to answer the essential question after three years of the Arab Spring: Why have the Arab revolutions been stolen from their makers?

Wad'a Al-Thawarat Al-Arabiah wa Maseeruha (The Arab Revolutions' Status and Fate) by Salama Keila, Khutuwat Publishing, Damascus, 2014. 156.pp

More than three years after the outbreak of the revolutions of the Arab Spring, the essential question is not answered: Why were the revolutions stolen from their makers? Why did they not realise their main objectives? Why is the future lying ahead of these revolutions vague and muddled?

Syrian author and analyst Salama Keila seeks to answer in his book these questions that are raised persistently. Hhe presents a "traditional" Marxist vision and a viewpoint that was absent to some extent, or lay undeveloped because many thought that time and events transcended a traditional Marxist vision, especially after the downfall of the socialist regimes in the 1990s and the feebleness and inability that hit Marxist movements in Arab countries. Moreover, this movement's participation was meagre to the extent of absence in the revolutions of the Arab Spring.

The foundation the author launches his vision from starts in the first chapter by answering another question: How did class status crystallise in such a form that lead to revolution?

It is a well known fact that Arab countries' status quo remained stagnant for a long time. The regimes stabilised in a way that seemed "eternal." Monarchs and presidents stood their ground for long decades. This was paralleled by the entrenchment of the power of security services and the police. Eventually, sections of the elite began to catch the wave launched by globalisation — namely, democracy.

The consequences that affected many Arab countries weren't sudden but rather a natural development that occurred after the collapse of the pan-Arab project with the death of Gamal Abdel Nasser and the waning of Nasserism. At the same time, the whole capitalist pattern entered a profound crisis where the real economy was crushed under the predominance of rentier capitalism, which led to financial accumulation without transforming it into capital.

Within the countries that have come a long way depending on the public sector, developing agriculture, founding industries, free education, social security and establishing the right to work, segments supported by the US led a profound attempt to change the structure of economies in order to get rid of the state's role. The public sector was dismantled and sold and a close connection was established with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to conduct restructuring operations. In this milieu, a new class of businessmen emerged — mafia gangs that grew inside the state apparatus and looted the profits the public sector achieved. The state, in turn, became subordinate to the interests of monopolistic corporations and imperialistic speculation money.

On the political level, these regimes became accessories to American policy where several regimes permitted the existence of US military bases on their lands and even fought alongside the US against other Arab countries, such as Iraq. Those regimes began to adapt to the existence of the Hebrew state and established public or secret relations with it, accepting to relinquish the Palestinian cause.

In parallel, those regimes were reformulating their internal political fabric, where the opposition was marginalised or crushed and transformed into a mere decoration. What was more dangerous, according to the author, was the elites' going along with the wave of democracy (widespread human rights and civil society organisations that were financed and supported by foreign countries). Consequently, this hindered the elite in seeing the transformation that the low classes underwent and the huge congestion built up due to unemployment, impoverishment and marginalisation.

An enormous gap arose between elites seeking to catch up with the democracy wave and the people who were starving literally, and who didn't have a choice but to rise up and revolt. This includes huge protest movements launched by workers, peasants and the poor in cities and the widespread strikes and demonstrations that while they had specific economic demands related essentially to bettering livelihoods across the board.  

The second chapter of Keila's book is devoted to discussing the foundations, change and nature of the Arab revolutions. If the wave began in Tunisia, soon it laid the foundation for revolution in Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya and Syria, in addition to strong protests movements in Jordan, Iraq, Morocco and Oman, and also the demonstration of the unemployed in Saudi Arabia.

These uprisings and revolutions raised a basic slogan, "The people want to overthrow the regime," but this didn't materialise. Developments went towards "circumvention aiming at rebuilding the regime," to quote the author. In this context, the author monitors the mechanisms of the forces that called for change, which originates essentially from the youth and some opposition parties. The fundamental observation is that the youth set out from "the principle of bypassing the parties or from a spontaneous starting point that didn't wait for the parties' activities which were distracted and amused by calling for democracy," and, he adds sarcastically, "struggling for human rights."

While the third chapter deals with the current situation of the Arab revolutions, the fourth chapter discusses the role of the left in these revolutions. It asserts that the priority that ruled the activity of the Marxist movements in the Arab world in general was democracy and the democratic struggle in the Liberal sense. He adds that this movement was surprised with the revolutions because it was unable to feel the spirit of the people. Moreover, the word "revolution" was absent from the minds of the Marxists in the Arab world. The issue of authority was absent also. Meanwhile, reality imposed revolution due to the situation of congestion and impoverishment of several segments of society. The youth played the role of the catalyst through the use of modern technologies and social media sites.

Despite the fact that the Marxist movements were absent, the author in the fifth chapter, titled "What are the near results of the revolutions?" asserts that class struggle burst out publicly and stability won't be reached before achieving a change that "reformulates" classes through rebuilding the economic system and redistributing wealth. Thus, class struggle and the flow of segments of youth into political activity will allow for building new, real Marxist forces able to represent the interests of the lower classes.

As for the final chapter, the author tackles the prospects of the Arab revolutions, asserting that until now no serious change was realised and that the emerging new authorities prevaricate with the aim of preserving the same economic structure, with a slight modification in the format of political government that allows for co-opting political forces that were in the opposition, to absorb the revolution and empty it of substance.

However, it seems apparent that the low classes will remain ready to fight for achieving change, for the revolutions broke the tyranny of those in power and at the same time the low classes broke down the wall of fear forever. The situation is that there is a new phase that will be written by millions of youth who participated in consecutive uprisings to crystallise a class alternative that defends the low classes. This is the revolutionary party that should be founded in Arab revolution countries.

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