The following interview was translated by. Max Ajl, a researcher in agrarian issues and rural development. His book on the Green New Deal (Pluto Press) will appear with in 2020. He is on Twitter @ajl_max. The original Arabic was published 7 November 2019 and can be found online here.
We want to put a nail in the coffin of this sectarian system, through the restructuring of power.
—Hanna Gharib, the Secretary-General of the Lebanese Communist Party, on what he sees as the course and purpose of the Lebanese uprising in his comprehensive conversation with Nisrine Hammoud in Al-Adab.
Nisrine Hammoud: Since the initial sparks of the “October” uprising in Lebanon, the Lebanese Communist Party has been present in the squares. However, after 19 days, is it not time for the forces of the uprising to organize the movements in the street in order to protect them, in light of the fact that Mr. Hassan Nasrallah called on the demonstrators to form a delegation to dialogue with the President of the Republic, in conjunction with the issuing of the Prime Minister’s “reforms paper”?
Hanna Gharib: The Communist Party contributed to the ripening of this uprising. We have expressed our political stance on the street since the adoption of the Taif Agreement. And throughout this phase, we were confronting the existing political authority.
Let us recall that the Communists previously organized on December 16, 2018 a popular movement with MP Dr. Osama Saad, and with some civil groups, before the formation of the government. We also organized a demonstration within the Popular Salvation Movement, after that, mobilizing under the slogan “No confidence in this government!” which indeed truly has been shown to be the case, and the Lebanese people are saying it once again during this most recent intifada. And we restate our “no confidence” position in the new government, which is reproducing the corrupt political order.
Then we took to the streets in conjunction with the conference of the Arab Development Summit on January 202019, in the “All to the Street” demonstration against the government’s fiscal and tax policies, and again on January 31, 2019 after the formation of the government that resigned under the pressure of the last uprising.
In May 2019, there were confrontations in Riad el-Solh Square between us and the political authority during the discussion of the 2019 budget.
I mention all of these movements to note that we have always kept economic and social issues close to our hearts, and mobilized around them. Our party is the party of workers, wage earners, youth and all low-income people. That is why we have contributed from the beginning to the maturation of this intifada, which we consider an important patriotic achievement and struggle.
Q (NH): What about the “leadership” of this intifada?
A (HG): It was supposed to be led by the trade union bodies, specifically the General Labor Union, which is supposed to express the concerns of the people that went to the streets. But where is this union? Its leadership was snatched away by the authorities!
Then came the “Coordinating Committee of the Trade Union,” an organized body of teachers’ associations in the public and private sectors and the Association of Public Administration Officials in Lebanon. However, the existing political authority also managed to strike at it.
The existing political authority thought that by striking out at these organized trade union bodies, with known leadership, the underlying concerns would evaporate. The crisis erupted in the street in the form of a popular uprising after the political authority blocked all other forms of expressing the demands of every social layer, and indeed of all of the Lebanese people. The political authority did not take into its calculations that the rights of the people belong to the people, and not to the syndical tools of the authority, who were installed by the latter at the head of the General Labor Union and the Trade Union Coordination Body.
Therefore, the political authority that asks today “Where is the leadership of the intifada?” must take responsibility for the absence of leadership. You, the people of the political authority, have beaten down this leadership for 30 years. You have confronted secular forces, and the leftists among them, and independent trade unionists, and have not given people their rights! How can you request from us a rebuilding of the leadership in ten days after everything you did to them over a span of 30 years?
Q: Some claim the Communist Party is in the street today with dark forces lying in wait for the resistance.
A: The socio-economic issue is at the heart of the patriotic cause. Securing electricity, water, the road network, jobs, health, education and housing is an act of resistance. Resistance is a holistic act.
We must resist the Zionist entity and at the same time we must secure that which contributes to and ensures our people’s steadfastness so that they can confront the American project in the region – this project which aims to propagate fragmentation, sectarianism, and ethnic divisions in the region, in order to justify the establishment of the racist Zionist entity. Sectarianism is the biggest ally of this project, which is represented in the structure of the political system and its dependence on the globalized capitalist network, which requires Lebanon to be and reduces it to a mere consumer market.
We are subject to double exploitation:
- from imperial hegemony looting our goods and wealth;
- the class exploitation exercised by the political authority through the use of sectarianism and sectarianism as a cover to perpetuate its system, impoverish our people, and force our youth to immigrate
Today, the American project is attacking on all axes. We cannot resist it on one axis without the other, i.e. just on the military side. We must resist it at all levels: intellectual, political, economic, and social. This means changing the sectarian political system. Thus, we must combine liberation with change, within one process: national and social liberation. We have to build our alliances on this basis, and that is what we lack and have difficulty achieving. This is the great imbalance that allowed the American-Zionist project to try to out-maneuver us and to try to strike at the resistance project and Lebanon’s national role.
All paths are interconnected. That is the position of the Lebanese Communist Party. No one can claim that we are not fully committed to the resistance! We are one of the founders of the resistance to the Zionist enemy. We are the “Popular Guard,” we are the Ansar,1 we are amongst the founders of the Lebanese National Resistance Front, which liberated three quarters of Lebanon’s territory from the Zionist occupation. We fought the enemy during the July 2006 aggression with our flesh and blood, and our comrades were martyred in so doing. In any Zionist-American aggression against Lebanon, we will be side by side with all resistance forces, against the immense American foe and its internal tools. We will not allow the movement to be an internal “diversion.”
But it also falls upon the resistance to confront the economic and financial arms [of the empire], the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which implement their projects through advisers present in all ministries.
I do not see a contradiction between the position of supporting the resistance to the Zionist entity and the position of supporting the intifada against the sectarian political system. Anyone who has placed himself against the intifada should review his position!
Let the resistors stand side by side.
The issue is peaceful, and repression does not solve the problem but exacerbates it. Hence, it was necessary to condemn the attacks by the security forces and the militias of the political authority against the demonstrators and the protesters in Tire, Nabatiyeh, Bint Jbeil, Riyadh al-Solh and Martyrs’ Square, and elsewhere in the Jebel, the Beka’a, and the North.
There has been an onslaught upon our role, as a Communist Party, in respect of union and social activities. The current uprising has nothing to do with the Lebanese Forces, which opportunistically moved from the government to the streets to ride the wave. As for the civil groups associated with the embassies, it was the state that gave them licenses; they existed and were operating before the intifada. Some of Lebanon’s municipalities, which are affiliated with political parties and accuse the movement of that connection [with the embassies], are carrying out “development” projects with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and we have no connections to those groups!
We are located in most of the arenas of the movement, from northern Akkar to the Jebel, to Beirut and the South and the Beka’a. We are present alongside progressive, nationalist, and leftist groups. In the squares of Tyre, Nabatiyeh, Kafrramman, Sidon and Bint Jbeil, the patriotic resistance is present. Is USAID located in the squares of the uprising in the south?! These accusations are fallacious and without any grounds!
The current [Lebanese] political system follows external imperatives. We cannot resist imperialism in Washington, while leaving the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and American organizations in our ministries and leaving the “Lebanese Data” in US hands! We are indebted to them, we draw sustenance from them, and we want to resist them? That can’t work! What is required is to break from this dependence and this mortgaging of our country to these people by the corrupt political authority.
Q: As to the maneuvering of the political authority in the face of the uprising through the “Hariri reform paper.” It has practiced repression and carried out the “counter-revolution” after Hariri’s resignation, by pushing one “street” against another, and later on, by delaying parliamentary consultations in order to reconstitute itself after the people toppled it. What of the Communist Party’s project to exit the crisis?
A: We went into the squares to raise our voice towards building a democratic national state and changing the socio-economic policies currently in place. In this context, we worked with a group of 11 economists to prepare a paper (1) that we presented during the intifada as an alternative to the “Reform Paper” approved by the government and referred to the Parliament.2
What is the Government Reform Paper? It is a buckling in the face of the American pressures related to the Cedar Conference, pushing towards privatization and the selling-off of the remaining state institutions.3
After the overthrow of the government, we want to put the final nail in the coffin of this sectarian system, with the restructuring of power through the formation of a transitional national government: a government that confronts the Americans and their projects, faces the threat from the Zionist entity, and confronts the sectarian political system that impoverishes the Lebanese through a system of quotas and corruption through an economic structure dominated by rentierism.
Q: What about the program of this Transitional National Government?
A: The program of the transitional government is based on holding parliamentary elections outside the sectarian constraints, based on proportional voting, and with Lebanon as one electoral district. Since the Taif Agreement was adopted, the ruling authority invoked the Syrian presence to justify the non-implementation of the Constitution. And it continued to run roughshod over the constitution after the Syrian withdrawal. What is required is the application of the Constitution (art. 22)!4
Another item on our agenda is the passage of the law for an independent judiciary so that it can prosecute corrupt individuals for the recovery of looted public money and property.
A further item is practical measures to protect the Lebanese pound. Otherwise, we ourselves will pay the price that the corrupt political authority ought to pay – which, if it reconstitutes itself, will “manage” the crisis yet again, and abort any uprising afterwards.
It is time to eradicate the cancer of sectarianism and of capitalism. Therefore, I stress the “transitional” character, in the sense of moving the country from one stage to a new one: from the path of sectarian quotas, which has proven a failure, to the path of democratic change to build a democratic national state. This is what will give the intifada the political worth which it deserves: an uprising crossing sects, doctrines, and regions, which Lebanon has never seen in its history.
In this short margin span of time, i.e. six months (the transitional government is not supposed to exceed this span), this government must be given extraordinary powers in order to be able to pass legislative decrees, first and foremost the new electoral law as mentioned above, to hold early parliamentary elections, and to restore looted public money.
But the current political authority proceeds as if there is no new player in political life – namely, the ‘popular movement.’ The parties involved are engaged in behind-the-scenes consultations, in search of those whom they will appoint as ministers and thinking about how they will take over the authority. As for us, in the Lebanese Communist Party, we say that the priority is the program, and the specifications of the government that we want. Because the people are the source of political power, we are discussing this program in all arenas, to find out the diverse spectrum of views in the movement, adding and amending to ensure the widest possible mass of signatures and support, to ensure unity, and to outmaneuver the authority, in order to ensure that it cannot infiltrate the movement and divert it.
There is no possibility of salvation without change, nor change without confrontation. The confrontation will occur through the program, the tasks, and specifications that we have set for this government. In response to the authority’s request to erect a leadership for this movement, the movement demands the election of a new leadership for the Lebanese people – that is, the constitution of a new authority for the state. Let the existing political authority go up for early elections, as the constitution specifies! The movement will not proclaim itself from above as representing the people. The Communist Party does not claim to represent the movement. But we are part of it, and we are a part of this people.
Q: What about coordination with other left parties?
A: Coordination is maturing in the street, rather than coming exclusively from leaders. Exclusively relying on top-down impositions has failed. There is a new situation in which the left operates, and it must renew itself and its rhetoric, and be in contact with the issues of the people, especially the rising youth, and stand by them. This will now be the baptism of the left: to succeed in defending its position and slogans, and to organize its ranks in the squares and on the national level. However, this is not enough. It must seek to build social alliances with all the surging segments of the working class: first, wage earners, the working class, and the marginalized, and secondly, other social and professional segments, in order bring to prominence the intifada’s social aspect.
Alongside the immiserated classes in the squares of the intifada, the petty bourgeoisie is also present, which shares with the Communist Party the notion of overthrowing the sectarian system and establishing a civil state but does not demand rights for the poor and the workers. Also, some of these bourgeois groups are dubious in their hostility to “Israel”!
The programmatic paper we presented prioritizes the demands of the poorest. There is a saying: “by the time the fat man slims down, the thin man is [already] dead.” That is, before this economic and financial collapse comes, we do not want the weak to die! Priority should be given to the day worker, the worker who earns less than the minimum wage, and the unemployed. Securing job opportunities, protecting the Lebanese pound, and ensuring minimum wages are essential demands.
At the beginning of the “October intifada,” the first to take to the streets were the poor, the unemployed youth, the day laborers and the wage earners, followed by professionals and office workers. So, we have to give voice to the poorest among the workers, youth, students, wage earners and the poorest categories of employees in the public and private sectors, contractors, and retirees. We must protect social security funds and guarantee funds. We must work towards building an independent trade union pole that responds to the demands of the movement filling in the vacuum in trade union organizing resulting from the absence of the General Labor Union and the Trade Union Coordination Body. This would fortify the movement and its social base, in the face of attempts at sectarian and doctrinal fragmentation, which reappear under slogans like “street against street” or “for each sect its street.”
The political authority must pay a political price for the financial and economic bill. It has already paid part of this price, through resignations from government under the intifada’s pressure. It has paid an additional price as large social segments of its “public”5 de-associated from it. However, this is not enough. It is necessary to form a transitional government in accordance with the program referred to above, and to hold early elections. Therefore, we will continue the intifada at this important period, in these ways:
- Demonstrate its vision and program of work for the transitional period;
- Secure the broadest political and social alliance around its program for effecting a political breach that breaks the historical monopoly of power, the media, state institutions, trade unions, and other bodies of society dominated by authoritarian powers, which are dependent and which mortgage themselves either to internal or external elements.6
The aim is to transform Lebanon from a sectarian state into a national, civil, and democratic state.
We will go up the stairs step by step and we will have patience and endurance because the battle is long.
There is no revolution without a revolutionary theory. There is no revolution without revolutionary leadership. Increasingly, we will work to transform the intifada into a democratic national revolution, in its class and social context, so that it will become an act of national liberation against imperialism and its instruments at home: a sectarian system and the corrupt political authority.
- ↩ Literally, “supporters.”
- ↩ http://www.lcparty.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1939.
- ↩ The Cedar Conference was held in Paris in April 2018, and donors pledged $11.8 billion in concessional loans to the Lebanese government for investment projects.
- ↩ Article 22 (as amended by 18/1990, date of entry into force September 21, 1990): “With the election of the first House of Representatives on a national, not sectarian, basis, a Senate shall be established in which all religious sects shall be represented and with powers limited to critical issues.”
- ↩ In the sense of “supporters” or “base.”
- ↩ The original Arabic is unclear and has been rendered as clear as is possible.
- ↩ Thanks to Zeyad El Nabolsy for help with some sticky points in the translation.