As the Lebanese elections draw to a close, it is clear that a major shift is taking place in the balance of power. The March 8 Alliance, a coalition of Hezbollah, Haraket Amal, and the Christian Free Patriotic Movement, has lost the majority they have held since 2018. They were reduced from 71 seats, which gave them a majority, to 58 seats, whilst the opposition Christian Lebanese Forces (LF) surged forward. Alongside the two traditional sectarian opposition parties, a new wave of independent candidates has also broken through. Thirteen independent candidates won seats under a broad banner called ‘Change’.
It is clear that widespread disillusionment is behind this shift. As society continues to polarise under the impact of a deep financial and social crisis, the Lebanese workers will continue to look for solutions outside of the traditional avenues of sectarian coalitions that have dominated the political scene since the end of the Lebanese Civil War decades ago.
Widespread disillusionment and crisis
Much has changed since the previous elections in 2018. Since then, Lebanon has gone through a deep financial crisis, a mass movement of over six million people, and has been ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic and the hyper-inflation that quickly followed. Moreover, the crisis has not subsided. It is estimated that the value of the Lebanese pound has depreciated by 90%, with food inflation in particular being over 1,000%. This situation has been enormously worsened by the war in Ukraine, from which Lebanon imports up to 90% of its food.
This ongoing crisis has thrown 75% of the population into poverty. It was within this context that we saw the heroic and revolutionary movement of the masses in 2019. In October of that year, the masses came together in their millions to protest the corrupt billionaire warlords that have led Lebanon for decades. In a country wracked by sectarian division, where warlords often turn protests into clashes between religious figures, this was a massive development.
Unlike previous movements, which were easily funnelled into sectarian camps to support this or that corrupt political party, the October revolution in Lebanon was entirely different. It focused on the entire government and all the political parties, which were – correctly – seen as corrupt. The rallying cry of that revolution was, “All of them means all of them” – emphasising that these leaders were not to be trusted.
Although this heroic movement represented an enormous step forward, it did not complete the task. Due to its largely spontaneous nature, no real leadership developed. Eventually, it dissipated as people became exhausted. However, the conditions which brought the movement to life not only did not disappear – they have become sharpened. Lebanon still faces the worst economic crisis in its history. The world crisis of capitalism, imperialist sanctions and the networks of warlords, corrupt politicians and millionaire businessmen who leech off the Lebanese people are to blame. It is in this context that support is draining from the traditional coalition of 8 March, which represents Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement.
Traditional coalitions lose support
With the movement on the streets having arrived at an impasse due to the lack of leadership, the masses in Lebanon turned to the electoral front to make a difference. In Lebanon, two coalitions have largely controlled politics since 2005 when the Syrian army withdrew from the country after 31 years of occupation.
The largest of these is the March 8 Alliance, an alliance of Hezbollah and the Free Patriot Movement, which has governed Lebanon as a coalition government since the elections in 2018. The dominant party in this coalition is Hezbollah, which has held a grip on the jnoub (southern Lebanon) for decades. This coalition has now lost its majority.
This is no accident, but is a reflection of a development in the consciousness of working people in Lebanon. Hezbollah has governed during one of the worst economic periods in Lebanese history. And workers remember how the Hezbollah government reacted to the revolutionary movement in 2019.
The slogan at the time, “All of them means all of them,” was often followed up by, “Nasrallah is one of them!” This reflected that fact that the masses could see through the Hezbollah leader’s populist language, which he used to mask the fact that his coalition is in fact part of the establishment. This was exemplified during the movement in 2019 itself when Hezbollah militants on motorbikes assaulted protesters across southern Lebanon in an attempt to silence criticism of Hezbollah.
Independent candidates make breakthrough
With the ruling coalition losing support, the masses have turned to new faces. A number of independent candidates, many of them protestors from the 2019 movement, ran in the latest elections. Thirteen of them, loosely labelled the forces of ‘Change’, won the seats they contested.
In one of the biggest upsets for the March 8 coalition, two traditionally secure seats in southern Lebanon were snatched by ex-protestors. Firas Hamdan and Elias Jarade, both protestors from the 2019 movement, won seats. They ran on an anti-establishment programme, denouncing the corruption in Lebanese politics and the current establishment.
This is a welcome development as it shows the masses attempting to find their own independent leadership, instead of relying on the old politicians who have run Lebanon for decades. These independent figures were a natural next step, as workers’ consciousness is developing, and as they are turning away from the traditional sectarian method of politics. This is part of what Trotsky referred to as “the molecular process of revolution”.
However, it must be emphasised that many of these candidates have a vague and loose programme, and none of them have identified capitalism as the main source of Lebanon’s problems. In fact, most of these independents are not even organised together, and many have illusions in reforming the Lebanese state from the top. This is not possible, and would set these independents up for failure. Instead, the working class of Lebanon must trust its own forces and continue to organise in the workplaces and communities for real change.
No faith in the opposition!
Whilst the independents made headway, Lebanese Forces (LF) also increased its seat count to 19. With the collapse of the Free Patriotic Movement, a prominent member of the March 8 coalition, votes have been funnelled towards the LF, making them the largest Christian party in Lebanon.
The LF has managed to present itself as a kinder, more liberal, alternative to a Hezbollah government. With backing from Saudi Arabia and western imperialism, it has painted itself as mainly interested in democracy and reform. However, the LF is no true alternative. It is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
We cannot forget the history of the LF. Tracing its lineage to the many Christian militias in the Lebanese Civil War, the LF at the time was founded for one reason: to crush the revolutionary aspirations of the Lebanese National Movement (LNM). At the time, the LNM, alongside the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) were organising a mass movement across the country, with explicitly left-wing demands.
The Christian militias, with funding from western imperialism, were organised to attack and destroy the LNM. During the civil war, they carried out many massacres of civilians to this effect. The most infamous of these was the slaughter at Sabra and Shatila refugee camp, where up to 5,000 Palestinian refugees were gunned down, whilst the Israeli Defence Force, which was occupying Lebanon at the time and which was allied to these militias, simply watched on.
It is this bloody legacy that the LF continues today. With the backing of the Saudi regime and western imperialism, the LF wants nothing more than to assert the domination of western imperialism in Lebanon and to create a government friendly to western and Saudi investment. They do not represent an alternative to Hezbollah. They are criminals whose interests are directly opposed to those of the masses.
A revolutionary solution is needed
Lebanon is at an impasse. The economic crisis is only worsening as the situation deteriorates further. Although the rise of an independent political movement is necessary, political reform will not be enough to resolve this crisis. In fact, the Lebanese state cannot be reformed from the top. Since its inception during the French colonisation period, the Lebanese state has always been divided on sectarian lines. This was further reinforced in the 1990s with the Taif agreement, which cemented religious division in politics.
This sectarian division has been perpetuated by the capitalists and by imperialism in order to create a false impression of communally aligned interests and to cut across any development towards working-class unity. Both western imperialism and its regional proxies on the one hand, and Iran as a regional power on the other, are attempting to pull Lebanon into their orbit. This duel over spheres of influence in Lebanon is represented by the March 8 Alliance, which ties itself to Tehran, and parties like the LF, which tie themselves to Saudi Arabia and western imperialism.
When the independents enter parliament, they will not find a functioning democracy where reforms can be passed, but a corrupt state that cannot be relied upon and is instead tied to imperialist interests. It is precisely for this reason that reforms cannot be passed through the parliament but must be forced from the bottom.
The Lebanese Revolution can only succeed by breaking with the whole of the establishment that represents Lebanese capitalism, and its corrupt state. The working class must reject all these sectarian parties and fight to overthrow all of them.The wealth of the billionaires in parliament, who have robbed the workers of Lebanon for decades, must be expropriated in order to fix the problems in the country. Ultimately, only the masses of Lebanon can carry out this programme: the programme of socialist revolution.