Saturday, April 07, 2007

Investigating the Lebanese Left (Part I): Its Problems


As I stated in a lot of posts through out my blog, the left suffers from several problems which leads to the conclusion in a similar way Rene Descartes stated couple of centuries ago: it is dangerous to construct new material on a building with an old infrastructure. Best Solution is to me is to tear down all those leftist schools in Lebanon and start from scratch. It is too dangerous to construct new schools based on the old. For example, the Democratic Leftists started as an off-shoot from the Stalinist Lebanese Communist Party, the Independent Leftist Movements from the universities, and Communist Students. They mixed their ideology with the right-wing elitest economies of Harriri and Politics of Junblatt in order to survive within 14th of March. Sadly, being secular is not enough to be classified as leftist, despite the fact few of them claimed that Tony Blair is a leftist. The goal of this post is to investigate the causes of the left and how it collapsed in Lebanon, and what are the different prospects and dangers for the left to be revived (if the term left is logical, since I only believe in revolutionary Communism).

The Beginning of the Lebanese Left

There is no definite idea what year the Lebanese Left started in Lebanon; however, the early records show that the Lebanese Communists started their activism in the early 20th Century in terms of Union movements. By 1910, a translator according to “Parties of Lebanon”, was the first to translate the term Socialism into Arabic as Ishtirakieh. The Lebanese comrades used to move through out Syria, Iraq, and Egypt, and played their role in forming Socialist based trade unions. By 1917, the success of the Bolshevik Revolution in Petrograd and Russia provided a moral boast in Lebanon and conveyed a clear message: if the mighty Tsar can be ousted outside his throne in Russia, the same can be repeated in Lebanon and Syria. Then there was no Lebanon, rather, there was a minor autonomous province in Mt. Lebanon, under a governor with an Ottoman citizenship.

1917 was also an important year for the Lebanese, because the Armenians started to arrive towards Lebanon, due to the butchery of the Ottoman Empire in performing one of the bloodiest genocides on the Armenians. The Armenians were more interactive with Europe than the Lebanese/Syrian Communists. They already had membership in Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebnekht’s “The Spartacus League”, a revolutionary school which opposed the reactionary reformists in Germany at a one point of time.

By 1922, contacts between the Lebanese/Syrian Communists were established with the 3rd International, then Stalin’s goons Yaganovich, Kirov, and Bolganin and others did not fully destroy the Bolsheviks. The Communists were distributed between Syria and Lebanon, just as borders were heavier when the British finalized their acquisition over Palestine and borders were constructed. Jordan was also carved out of Syria as compensation to King Abdullah the First (actually to persuade him from not restoring kingdom of Syria which is brother Faysal the First, became the first King over Iraq) and swayed both sons of Shareef Hussein to forget about the Middle East and settle for these two nations (since the British broke their word when they encouraged Shareef Hussein to rebel agains the Ottoman Empire).

With hopes and activism taking place, in 1925, a meeting of five comrades took place in Beirut and decided to build a Lebanese – Syrian Communist Party. Eventually both parties would split up, specially with the return of the Stalinist Khaled Bikdash from the Soviet Union to Syria and established authority over the Lebanese faction. It should be noted that the first demonstration against the French in Lebanon occurred on May the First 1925, which included 7000 comrades demonstrating against the French mandate. The glorious event witnessed the participation of the Armenian comrades who arrived to Lebanon, spearheaded by Artin Madayan, of the Spartacus League, and that triggered the building of the Party. The comrades already were active and established the first red cell in Bikfaya, where the Tobacco Union was formed. They were forced directly to work underground, because France and the newly born Soviet Union disagreed.

Ever since, the Lebanese Communists fluctuated, sometimes boomed, sometimes collapsed, till post Civil War, they suffered from almost total paralysis.

Problems of the Communists/Leftists in Lebanon

The first problem of the Lebanese Communists was the deviation from the revolutionary ideology. They were mass oriented, and recruitment was booming, the first confrontation occurred when the Lebanese Communists endorsed Arab Nationalism as an identity of Lebanon as a nation in the face of the French Mandate. This created by 1926 several confrontations with the 3rd International, which by then Stalin was beginning to annihilate the Bolsheviks. In the Marxist Ideology, we do not believe in any form of nationalism, rather we believe in the will of people to determine their fate. Now if any Zionist want to yell at me about their freedom, we do not mean expelling Palestinians outside their homes and promote a racial ideology. A Proletariat (those who do not own the means of production and suffer from Alienation towards the world due to their work) is a Proletariat wherever you go, be that a Jordanian, Mexican, Israeli, US, French, Russian, Chinese, or anywhere else of the world. The goal of the Communists is to emancipate the Proletariat towards a unified front against their oppressors. We do not believe in any ideology, rather we perceive any form of nationalism as an elite created bourgeoisie which divides the Proletariat through out the world (except in the Market).

The Second problem is not keeping the logic of class struggle in their platforms. The comrades created fabulous platforms, but they were not Marxist based, rather they are Lebanese oriented, which limits their goals to Lebanon as a setting. This problem we still suffer from it now, members of the Democratic Left or Communist Party would travel outside Lebanon and become inactive because they are not Lebanon, rather joining the first progressive Socialist movement in their area and be of assistance to emancipate the Proletariat. After all, we the revolutionary Marxists are Internationalists, and henceforth we do not disagree with our fellow revolutionary activists wherever we are. The problem is that the Communists in Lebanon drifted away from class struggle (actually a lot of the LCP wonder naively if there is class struggle, while the DLM embrace the World Trade Organization to “save Lebanon from the claws of the Baathi Syrians”.

Third, by 1936, the Palestinian crisis has spilled chain reactions through out the Arab World. The year 1936 is a famous year of the revolutions. In Syria, the Atlas nations, Iraq, and several nations, different insurrections occurred, while Lebanon was facing a political turmoil between the French and the Lebanese elites. Palestine in specific witnessed the Palestinian insurrection which started as a one year Demonstration then a two year revolution. The Palestinians could not tolerate anymore to witness British brutality or Zionist butchery against them. They rebelled under the banner of Arab Nationalism. This caused a rebound in the Arab world as they endorsed Arab Nationalism as a salvation to the crisis. The British were forced to move 20,000 soldiers to Palestine while Odre Wingate initiated the secret training of Zionist Night Squads (which will become the core of the Haganah and the Israeli Defense Forces). The British transfer of soldiers is considered to be the greatest military transfer before World War II. Partly of Arab leadership corruption trying to bargain their way with the British on Palestine’s expense (hence crippling the revolution half way), the Egyptian, Jordanian, Saudi, and Iraqi Monarchs participated in messing up the Palestinian Revolution. Prior to 1939, Ben Gurion was willing to accept a partition plan while after the 1939 insurrection was crushed down to pieces, he decided to push the Yishov into taking the whole Palestine, annihilating it, and bring Israel to existence, even though according the UN partition plan, the Jews were still a minority even on their Jewish side of Palestine.

The Lebanese Communists, like all Communists, indorsed Arab Nationalism as a means of salvation against European Imperialism. A unified Arab Strong Nation is more than enough to end the Palestinian crisis as well as face Western Imperialists. The problem is that if that nation occurred, a new form of Imperialism would occur, and the Arab Nation in the minds of the Arab and Lebanese elites was not endorsed in a revolutionary class struggle Soviet style federation. Worse, on a later stage, Nasser’s experimentation of Socialism, accompanied with corruption, will bring forth the rise of the Islamic Brotherhood in Egypt. This created massive conflict with the Stalinist, now Moscow based, headquarters. Even the Stalinists opposed the concept of Fatherland or nationalism till World War II erupted and pushed Stalin to promote the “Mother Russia logos”, exactly the opposite of what Lenin and Trotsky did despite the odds against them.

Fourth, with Stalin capturing the Soviet Union, and annihilating the 3rd International, all revolutionary Communist Parties became pawns for Moscow’s foreign policy. They had to abide by Moscow’s policies. Whatever Moscow wanted, the LCP had to follow, some comrades were even secretly interrogated by the KGB, such as George Hawwi himself. Stalinism struck the Lebanese Communist Party, which was already suffering from the brutal character of the Syrian Based Stalinist Khaled Bikdash. Farajallah el Helo (as time will tell later) was melted in acid bit by bit) under the blessing of such a character, Jamal Nasser, and the Syrian Baathis (different than al-Assad’s model of the Baathi party). The danger of Stalinism has transformed whatever Marxist ideas the “comrades” were dedicated to achieve towards a “A No Party But the Party” logic. The Central Committee dictatorship, spearheaded by the General Secretary was dominated in the Lebanese Communist Party, like all other revolutionary parties. The Party seized to be mass oriented, despite the fact it restored its popularity by 1970, whereby the Socialist Kamal Junblatt (his Lebanese version of Socialism) unified arms with the Communist Coalition and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (with its socialist oriented leader Ina’am Ra’ad).

Jamal Nasser’s unity with Syria caused maximum damage to the Communists in Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon. The Communists in Lebanon were executed, persecuted, and they were forced to go under cover. The fate of the Communists in Syria and Egypt caused them to be totally annihilated. Meanwhile, two new Arab style of Communism were about to rise. A small cell of George Habash’s Liberation Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) were founded by students from the American University of Beirut, and the Lebanese Communist Party’s Stalinism proved too much and caused a faction to split up and build the Order for Communist Work.

The PFLP automatically suffered a split, but they were active wherever they were, and like the LCP, they endorsed Arab Nationalism and mixed it with Communism, in the name of Liberating Palestine. The new faction (after one year) PFLP-General Command was led by a more reactionary figure, Jibreel.

The OCW was however a different case. It started as an off-shoot of Arab Nationalism, then became mixed with Maoism (another form of Stalinism a la Agricultural model), and a variety of revolutionary Marxism. Actually, between 1958 - 1975, a certain view of Arab Nationalism was constructed from a left-wing perspective, to which Junblatt's Progressive Socialist Party, LCP, and OCW affiliated themselves to. Arab Nationalism and Communism do not mix, if anything Arab Nationalism, specially Nasser's version, dettered the Communists, and caused the Muslim Brotherhood to rise.

Dr. Fawwaz Traboulsi would become the first Arab to translate Trotsky’s and John Reed’s books into Arabic, and a come back to genuine Marxism was restored till again the Civil War and the Israeli invasion would cause the OCW to drift again, while its leader Mohsen Ibrahim would impose his one man show figure. The point is though, the OCW had with it at a one time, the greatest thinkers of Lebanon combined, before all losing faith and sold out on their goals. Most of the political parties in current times have their main figures coming from the OCW, and I will leave their names as a surprise as I will do another post on their names and where they ended.

Back to the point and not drift away from item four, the Communists suffered a lot due to the fact of Stalin and his goons taking over the Soviet Union, and transforming the USSR from a voluntary Union to a dictatorship empire.

Problem five is lack of full knowledge of the Marxist Ideology and their experience. The majority of the Communists in Lebanon are not aware why they celebrate May Day. They are not aware how the Proletariat (with Marxist and Anarchist nucleus cells) organized the Chicago Hay Market demonstrations in 1886. They are unaware how the 2nd International organized the first global solidarity movement in 1889 raising the red flag through out the world as a solidarity for the Proletariat and in honor of the fallen ones. For example, a stupid Democratic Leftist member told me: “if Che Guevara was alive, he would have supported 14th of March”, which is not true since Che Guevara would believe in the revolution (despite his errors on the ideological level), while a member of the Democratic Youth League (the LCP’s youth party) would tell me that Che Guevara would support Hezbollah against Israel, which is also not the case at all. Che Guevara would support the people’s revolution against both, the Zionist leaders of Israel, and the religious leadership of Hezbollah. To be more exact, Che Guevara’s last years were involved extensively in reading Lenin and Trotsky’s books while attacking Stalinism and denouncing it in terms of any relations to real Communism. The Communists today lack any knowledge, some comrades would read The Communist Manifesto, and then sweat bullets, others naively read Mao’s Little Red Book and then self-glorify themselves as doing an achievement.

That is the problem, there is no guidance to understand what is the meaning of Communism, the sciences devised by Marx and Engels, how the ideology is constantly updated, and most importantly, the Party is not everything. In case the party is corrupt (such as the LCP and DLM), then the comrades can dissolve it and dump its Stalinist leadership. It is rather shameful that members of the LCP do not know the meaning of Dialectical Materialism or Historical Materialism, or what is the impact of the World Trade Organization, rather they support Hezbollah blindly because they “are resisting Israel” or “fighting US imperialism”. This a lie. No Party can be built without having full knowledge of their ideology be that Anarchist or Communist (I would say these two since the other schools of the left are reformists). As Lenin said: “A revolutionary party is guided by a revolutionary theory”, but sadly, there is no theory to guide the LCP, and specially not the DLM.

Moving to Point 6, the Stalinist Nature of the Party taught the comrades to rely heavily on the Soviet Union, but the Soviet Union collapsed, as it should have been, in order for the real Marxist movements to be revived (even though Lebanon has been a hard case, while Palestine has been even harder). The LCP and OCW performed wonders against the Israelis during the 1982 invasion. They, along with Ra’ad’s SSNP, blocked the Israelis from entering West Beirut for a whole month, which taught the rest of the world that the Israeli Army can bleed. More interesting, the heroics of the secular resistance front, founded by the LCP and OCW, and joined by the SSNP, to kick out the Israelis from West Beirut, and afterwards force them to retrieve towards the South (where Hezbollah and AMAL along with the Resistance Font bombarded the invaders with all kinds of operations). The LCP and OCW started the resistance to Israel, and played a crucial role. However, the comrades did not understand why they are fighting the Israeli Army from a Marxist perspective, all they had in their mind that they were the evil Zionists who kicked out the Palestinians from their houses. They never understood that their secular resistance was vital to block any resistance fronts from being transformed into religious whereby their warriors would go to heaven, They never understood that they should be representing the demands of the workers, and worse, they should never ever have allied with the rest of the reactionary parties (even though they themselves were reactionary as well). With the death of the Soviet Union, the party crumbled down, and a lot of people abandoned the OCW and LCP (as well as the PFLP) to join more reactionary movements, whether religious or right-winged.

Seventh, desperation struck the comrades. Two brilliant artists dominated the sphere of art in Lebanon, their names were Marcel Khalifi and Ziad Rahbani. Marcel Khalifi played fusion Jazz with oriental music, while Ziad Rahbani, at an age of 17, started writing musical plays from a Communist perspective. Rahbani’s plays were a hit, and still are, and some people compare his character to a God, due to his genius eye of capturing the turmoil of the people in a most comic way. The Problem with Ziad, as always, he was a Communist in spirit, but in reality also a Stalinist (and his latest speech at the Foundation Memory of the LCP proves it). His disparity triggered a lot of the youth to become desperate and simply sit at Cafes and imitate Ziad’s famous characters instead of opening the books of Rosa Luxemburg or Paul La Farque and learning what the meaning of revolutionary Communism is really about. The leftist leaders never allowed for real change, and fought at every moment potential progressive movements.

When the Civil War was over, while the LCP was at its worst moments, a new wave of Leftist movements was triggered in 1996-1997. Suddenly, people read about independent leftist movements, not affiliated with any party, popped out of the blues in university, and some won elections at their areas. The most well known two student groups are the No Frontiers Group (based in the American University of Beirut) and the Direct Work Group (based in Balamand). The problem again with those revolutionary groups, they lacked a fixed organization. They were, as I read, horizontal, and anything horizontal without a fixed ideology is a double edge sword. By 2001, those leftist independent groups, which included a variety of leftists ranging from Anarchists and Social Democrats to Socialists and Communists, scattered over 11 universities (mainly private and slightly public). Most of them collapsed either on their own, or due to the interventions of the Democratic Left and the LCP. Each is seeking to carve their way and blocked any potential growth for these groups. Actually, there was an independent group which was supposed to carry the concept of these university groups, which was called the Direct Line, but it crumbled down quickly due to power struggle and lack of organization, you can’t have a revolutionary movement without the revolutionary theory. The good part about these groups, they provided space for comrades to attain organizational experience and become future cadres, and the bad news is that they were limited to universities. I think currently the remaining groups are in Balamand and AUB, I am not sure though about the rest.

Moving to point 8, there is a problem of people supporting Communism or even the left in general from a hereditary aspect. Some of the old guard members of the OCW and LCP told me that the Communists as a coalition prior to the Civil war had about 60,000 between members, trade-unionists, and sympathizers. A lot of their children became communists or left-wing supporters from their parents. Taking into consideration of earlier problems discussed, we are aware of the deformed ideology inherited by the children, and in most of the cases, they proceed into deforming the ideology. In such a case, the youth embrace a wrong logic which does not reflect Marxism as it is, rather, a deflected form of Communism.

Point 9 reflects on the hopes and destruction of the capacity of the comrades. In a matter of speaking, almost everyone is exposed to Marxism in school. In school, for example, students in the history courses study the Bolshevik revolution and to what extent the Bolsheviks had to fight their way to sustain it between 1917 – 1924. In other courses, for example Philosophy, Cultural Studies, and Sociology, Marx and Engels pop up more frequently than others. In terms of Political Economy, World Affairs, and Globalization, Marx, Lenin, Bukharin, Trotsky, and Engels, as well as other thinkers (advocates of the dependency theory) appear. Despite the fact that Antony Giddens’ book is reductive, and Marx and Engels (as well as others) are not properly dealt with, the passion for changing the current reality rises within the youth. At later age, the youth do not pursue properly Marxism properly and disregard it as a childish dream. There is a saying in Lebanon that is very popular: “If you are not a Communist before the age of 18, you do not have a heart. If you are a Communist after the age 23, then you are without a brain.” 90% of those who disregard the sciences of Marx, Luxemburg, and Lenin is due to the fact they have no idea about what is really class struggle (imagined usually as people running to the streets with swords fighting the bourgeoisie), no clue about the oppressive nature of Capitalism, and no proper idea what are really the demands of the ideology (or as far as the left for the matter, such as a group of Anarchist Feminists who think that Anarchy is about Homosexuality).

The myth of Che Guevara has been incredible in Lebanon, the one man army who inspired revolutions through out the world, and in Lebanon Che Guevara has been a hero not only for the leftists, but also as far as for the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, but very few bothered to read about his books. Others put that dictator, Stalin’s pic, on their wall, and next to it Che. Sadly, Stalin made one a hell of an impact in Lebanon from the perspective of the man who saved the world from Nazism. This is not really quiet true. Stalin was in alliance with Hitler till 1941, and worse, when Hitler invaded the USSR, Stalin for the first six months suffered a nervous breakdown to the extent orders came out of the Kremlin without carrying his signature, rather from one of his goons. Worst ever, Stalin’s ruthless machinery is responsible for the death of their people due to brutality and the no-retreat command (any soldier in the battlefield takes couple of steps backwards, the commanding officer has the authority to shoot that soldier). The “Red Army” did enter Berlin prior to the US army, but what the comrades in Lebanon do not know that the US could have entered before the Red Army, but preferred to wait for them in order to enter Berlin together. The Red Army entered quickly when reaching Berlin to install the Soviet Flag on Hitler’s Palace. Last but not least, none of the Lebanese Communists know that 81% of the Soviet weaponry was merged with US technology (source: Khrucheve Remembers By Rouchenko).

The Lebanese Communist Party and other factions gambled on these myths, in order to recruit. Once the youth enter the LCP, they are either disgusted from proceeding with activism and from further enhancing their knowledge on Marxism, or they become Stalinists from the perspective of “No Party But the People’s Party”. Moreover, the LCP itself has a huge history of heroism in resisting the Israelis, and along with the OCW, they played a role in building the Resistance Front and expelling the Israelis from West Beirut in 1982. All of those tributes are “humped” by the reactionaries. Today, we see in a disgusting manner the Democratic Leftists marketing Samir Qassir in events to recruit to their own and justify their alliance and allegiance to Samir Jaajaa and Saad Harriri. This leads to the following logic: No Space For the Comrades to be Active and Enhance Themselves.

Another problem we notice in the LCP and its antithesis DLM is the fact they sell out on their beliefs while gambling on such heroics, achievements, and myths. That is the problem, the LCP is almost regarded as an extension for Hezbollah, despite the fact Hezbollah disregards the LCP in elections. The LCP keeps promoting the resistance ideology and live on past glories, and that is the problem with the LCP. They do have nice programs for the reform of the public Lebanese University, but that is it. Their lack of ideology does not permit them to enhance their members’ capabilities, and worse, it destroys it. The same is true with the tiny miniature faction, the Democratic Left Movement. The DLM started as an alternative to all reactionary leftist movement that would create a space for the comrades and would accept any of the left-wing schools (Anarchists – Communists – Social Democrats – Green – Feminists – (strangely Stalinists) – Socialists – others. Elias Attallah and his rival, the opportunist Ziad Majed, took hegemony over the movement (which had 5000 registered members till it shrank down to 600), and promised their opposition, during the build-up, with juicy titles without the intention of doing any changes. After the assassination of Samir Qassir, their logic is: “The Only Way to be a Leftist is to Be 14th of March”, and the sad problem is they really self-glorify themselves in that perspective. In any case, the DLM will crumble down once the 14th of March triads (Jaajaa – Junblatt – Harriri) would toss Elias Attallah out of their candidates list to the Parliament.

End of Part I


Anonymous said...

Dang, this is a long article I want to read but don't have the time presently. I am currently reading a good british leftish discourse on where they have gone wrong. "The left - how the liberals have lost their way" by Nick Cohen.

MarxistFromLebanon said...

Jonz, this is actually Part I :D, welcome to my blog

Renegade Eye said...

Che is a symbol. I think his personal views were created by a Stalinist perspective. I'm still trying to figure him out. People are attracted so much to the romantic image, his politics are lost.

It's easier to be Stalinist. In the USA, the great artists of the 1930s were Stalinist, because you could believe in nationalism, religion, pacifism etc. He positioned himself as moderate.

The shooting deserters thing was invented by Trotsky, but not used the same as by Stalin.

I've joined RMT on a sympathizer basis.

MarxistFromLebanon said...

Che started from a stalinist perspective but in his final stages of his life he rebelled

lalebanessa said...

I looked all over the back roads of Hamra for Fawwaz Traboulsi's book ( A History of Modern Lebanon), but no one has it. Do you know a specific bookstore where I can find it?

Angry Anarchist said...

lalebanessa, it's available in Maliks dbayeh... sorry, i havent checked in hamra (maliks lau doesnt have it). my sis got it for me in USA for many bucks less. wht can i say, i am stingy. :P

Anonymous said...

You can find the book in Virgin. They close to 100 copies. Bas, it is expoensive. Talking $30+. Can be bought in US fro Pluto Press for 14$.

wehbe said...

re: The left - how the liberals have lost their way, by Nick Cohen.

This is a very bad book written by Britain's leading Arab hater and pro war columnist. Even the mainstream press have rubbished it...

In one sentence, “the problem with the Left is that they sympathise with Arabs and Muslims, Muslim are ‘islamofacists’, therefore the left support fascism/terrorism” etc.


No one buys this line any more.

By the way I had the unfortunate experience of working with him... yeek


Souhad said...

Brillant analysis! except when it comes to your assessment of the DLM, where i think Ziad Majed, Elias Khoury and the latest Samir Kassir played an excellent role until the situation deteriorated, Kassir was assassinated, Elias Atallah became hostage of his MP seat and enjoyed what it offered him ridiculising through his statements the whole left movement. Ziad and ELias Khoury and many young members decided not to resign but to distance themselves publicly from the Atallah. They are now publishing a newsletter that is a real good one.

MarxistFromLebanon said...

Dear Souhad

Welcome to my blog. Elias Atallah was lost on how to get political recognition. I have known him for a while, and actually the man got drunk in my house and started speaking Russian. Elias has a history of flirting with the Communist Party (post civil war), Communist Students, Khat el Moubashar, tiny indepedent leftest student movements, leftist platform, and several others.

The DLM as a matter of fact had me prior its foundaiton for one month. The problem with the assassination of Samir Qassir, it blinded the DLM further to the Right. Elias Khoury himself is caught in this cyclone. I was asked several times to write for Ofok, I didn't because I cannot write for a non-democratic journal.

Keep up the class war