Two years ago, on February 20th, 2011, a wave of protests began against the Moroccan regime. Was it just about imitating the events in Tunisia and Egypt or do young people and workers from Morocco have their own reasons to take to the streets?
The Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions which toppled some of the most notorious dictators in the region are a great source of inspiration for the Moroccan people in general and youth in particular. They show it is possible to overthrow these dictatorial regimes as a means of regaining our dignity and freedom. But it's not just about imitating the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions. Morocco was known for its strong and combative movement even before the outbreak of the revolutionary events in Tunisia and Egypt.
The 20th February Movement represented a qualitative change in the protest movement in Morocco and an historic continuation of the uprisings of the Moroccan people. The Moroccan masses came out in various cities throughout Morocco in marches and uprisings and were met with repression and murder by the repressive apparatus of the dictatorial regime. The Moroccan masses know very well what they do not want anymore: unemployment, poverty, exploitation, etc. This has been shown in the economic and social demands that were raised (social justice, looters of public money to be brought to account and put on trial, etc.) during those protests. So the 20th February Movement, the protests and the uprisings by the Moroccan masses were not the result of imitating the events in neighbouring countries but primarily a result of public discontent and a rejection of the reality of tyranny and exploitation imposed by the dictatorial monarchy to serve the interests of the capitalists and imperialism.
What were the components of the February 20th Movement and the protests?
The 20th February Movement was composed of leftist revolutionary currents and some reformist currents, as well as the Islamic fundamentalists of ‘Justice and Charity’. More importantly, many young people without any political or organizational affiliation were active in the movement. Note that the Islamic fundamentalists have withdrawn from the 20th February Movement, confirming our analysis of the counterrevolutionary and antidemocratic nature of this group (see our article in Arabic المغرب: حركة 20 فبراير ومستقبل الثورة حوار )
What were the demands of the February 20 Movement, and what is the position of the Marxists?
The 20th February Movement demanded democracy in general and in vague terms, but it also included demands with a class character such as the immediate cancellation of the privatisation of strategic sectors and the return of confiscated land to the peasants, a compensation fund for unemployment benefits for the unemployed, jobs for graduates and other demands.
The Marxists of course support the demands of the 20F Movement for reform but we do not consider them to be the be all and end all of the movement. At the same time we bring forward our own transitional demands and stress the working class character of the struggle against the tyranny.
The 20F movement has seen changes since its inception. In your opinion what were the different stages of its development?
During its first year it was initially able to mobilise thousands of young people. The movement was even able to achieve many concessions from the system. In this first stage the Movement also experienced a lot of internal crises, defections and expulsions, and mutual accusations between the components, against the background of many of the questions and issues.
The second year was a period of decline where almost no meetings were held amid an atmosphere of tension. The number of demonstrations and protests fell in some cities to zero and in others the Movement continued.
The Islamists of the ‘Justice and Charity’ (Salafists) were also part of the February 20th Movement. What was their role?
Since the beginning we made it clear that this group was a reactionary and fierce defender of private property. The fundamentalists are neither progressive nor democratic. If they participated in the movement at the beginning, it was because they were under pressure from their own rank and file on the one hand and on the other hand it was the desire of its leaders to use the movement to put pressure on the ruling class to allow them to have access to a slice of the cake. They were taking part for opportunistic reasons. When the movement faced repression, they were not to be seen. The only thing they wanted was to wrestle political gains for themselves, such as the right to form a political party. In reality, they never adopted the demands of the movement, they are not democrats, they do not oppose tyranny and capitalism.
What was the position of the labour and trade union movement in relation to the February 20th Movement? Were there any strikes and if there were, what were their demands?
Workers actively participated in the demonstrations. Together with their sons and daughters (students and the unemployed, etc.) they formed the backbone of the movement. But their presence was still mainly unorganised without any politically conscious class slogans. The role of the leadership of the trade unions in this context was bad as they refused to mobilize the working class on the basis of clear demands. Neither did the union tops want to unify and centralise the economic and political struggle of the working class. Nor did they call for a general strike which would, if it had taken place, have settled the conflict with the dictatorship and the bosses in a speedy manner and with fewer losses of human life.
The trade union bureaucracies are hostage to illusions about "social peace" and feared the revolutionary struggle just as much as the bourgeoisie fears it. This is why the regime made small concessions in the collective bargaining agreements between the unions and the state. Their aim was to neutralize the working class and separate it from the wider movement by accepting meagre wage increases in exchange for social peace. Those increases were a result of the general revolutionary upsurge in the country. But this does not mean that the labour movement did not go on strike and take part in other forms of protest as is shown by the strikes of the mine workers of Bouazar, the struggles of the miners in Khouribga, and other heroic workers' struggles.
What was the reaction of the system to the 20F Movement?
Most demonstrations of the 20th February Movement faced brutal repression in the full meaning of the word. It resulted in more than nine martyrs (in Al Hoceima, Safi and Bni Bouayach and Sefrou ...) and dozens of detainees, who are still languishing in prison, as well as an unspecified number of wounded. The regime also launched a campaign of slander and media lies against us and tried to break the movement with the help of it intelligence services and provocative elements
The regime combined brutal repression with false promises, manoeuvres, biased media campaigns, and by using the clergy and the mosques. In a speech on March 9th 2011 King Mohammed VI announced a review of the constitution aimed at promoting a system of human rights and the democratic election of the government. The committee in charge of drafting the new constitution left the powers of the King untouched. The reforms were then approved in a rigged referendum in order to continue the status quo of the tyranny and the autocracy. So it wanted to portray the image of the King making some concessions. By directing the repression against the more radical wing of the revolutionary youth movement it hoped to split the 20F Movement. The constitutional reforms were also aimed at drawing attention away from the on-going struggle in the streets, factories and universities and channel it in the direction of debating the constitutional and legal ploys designed by corrupt academics.
Did the arrival of the Islamists of ‘Justice and Development’ in the Government change the situation? What is their policy? Did the government succeed in responding to the demands of the masses?
The Justice and Development Party (PJD) came to power accompanied by a lot of hope and promises. The PJD had the image of being an "opposition party" which "will bring the necessary reforms," etc. The official media contributed in the dissemination of these illusions by talking about "achievements of the opposition" and the "wise leadership" of the PJD. The party promised, for instance, that when they took power, the economy would grow at a rate of not less than 7% a year.
But all of those hopes evaporated after the first days of their government. Food prices have risen following the decision to increase the price of fuel,
Repression did not lessen. On the contrary movements and uprisings in several regions and cities were brutally treated resulting in the deaths of two students
And things will get worse with the threat of the government to cancel the compensation fund that subsidises basic food products.
The 20th February Movement has lost its momentum. Why is this in your opinion? Are there other forms of protest going on today?
This decline was expected in the absence of a political alternative and a clear horizon for the young people involved in the struggle. This has temporarily benefitted the forces of counter-revolution. The situation in the whole Arab region after the overthrow of the dictators is also raising concerns amongst young revolutionaries. They are actively looking for an explanation and a way forward for the revolution. The reaction of the Egyptian masses against the government of Morsi and the Tunisian general strike and uprisings against the Ennahda-led coalition have given a renewed impetus. It is clear that the masses have a strong desire not to let their revolution be hijacked by reactionary forces. This is very positive and the revolution in Morocco will certainly benefit from it.
So the current events in Tunisia (general strike, the second revolution) and Egypt (struggles against the government of Morsi) also affect Morocco?
Of course they affect the political situation in Morocco. The young people and the working class in Morocco follow with great interest the course of events there. Each victory achieved by the Egyptian and Tunisian masses has a positive impact on the morale and awareness of the masses of the people in Morocco. The same happens with every setback. The most important lesson from the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions is about the nature of the fundamentalist forces and their practices once in government. In the past this debate seemed theoretically "abstract", and illusions existed about the need to have broad alliances against the dictatorship, including the fundamentalists. Now the fundamentalist movements are being put to the test and that experience helps the masses to a better understanding of their reactionary nature.
Despite two years of protests the regime is still in power. Some people draw pessimistic conclusions about the impossibility of a revolution in Morocco. What do you think?
At first, I would like to make a distinction between two types of defenders of such gloomy thoughts. In the first category are the pseudo-intellectuals and ex-revolutionaries and "radicals". Those gentlemen and ladies are always pessimistic. They don’t need to analyse the objective situation. They have no confidence in the working class or in the revolutionary youth. Their role is to spread frustration and pessimism among the younger generation. At the slightest temporary lull in the movement they start sobbing, saying: "Did I not tell you? It is useless to struggle”. Those elements do not matter, and soon they will be pushed aside by the new wave of the revolution.
In the second category are groups of young people who stood up to fight without a compass or perspective and experience. They fought for two years and made great sacrifices. And because of the lack of experience they believed that the revolution was like a continuous forward march to victory, without lulls, U turns and setbacks. But in the end they are surprised by the bitter reality, and got frustrated. Those youth, or at least the best elements of them, can learn correct lessons when assisted by the Marxists. They will learn that the revolution is at the same time a science and an art as Marx always maintained. And they will need to absorb revolutionary theory and build a revolutionary organization, and amongst them you will find the best leaders of the Moroccan revolution.
How do you see the possibility of overthrowing the regime in Morocco?
The system is actually very weak. There are crises at all levels. Its social base is weak and narrow. Their imperialist backers don’t give them unconditional support anymore as proven by the experience in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, etc.
For a long time the notables (the local and regional administrative, judiciary elite of pachas, caïds, chioukhs, mokkadem, etc.) formed a solid base for the continuity of the regime, but they no longer have the same strength as before. The urban middle class is constantly being eroded, and even joined some protest movements, or at least sympathised with them. The reformist parties have no ability to influence the street. And false promises about the reforms and the new constitution no longer have the same impact, especially since the masses are accumulating experiences every day in the light of the misery and exploitation and oppression. The strongest of all lies cannot resist the test of this reality.
The repressive apparatus is showing signs of exhaustion and discontent appears from time to time amongst the ranks. Even the army is divided and witnessing a silent ferment. The first attempt to direct it against the movement would break it apart along class lines. This explains the delay in the use of the army, so far. The regime prefers to use thugs and gangs recruited from among the sons of the middle class and the lumpenproletariat, rather than relying on the army to repress the movement.
All economic and political data indicate that the existing system in Morocco is immeasurably weaker than the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia, Mubarak in Egypt or Gaddafi in Libya. And thus overthrowing the dictatorship is not an impossible question.
In order to bring down the regime in Morocco the following should happen.
The working class should join the movement with independent demands and traditional methods of struggle: the general strike, armed uprising, etc.
With a revolutionary party with a clear program and rooted in the trade unions, the schools and neighbourhoods, with the necessary credibility in the eyes of the masses, it would become possible not only to overthrow the regime, as has happened in Egypt and Tunisia, but also to bring the working class to political power.
A few thousand organised Marxists, really rooted in the masses, could lead the revolution to success. This is what we can learn from history. This is not yet the case. But we are building those forces. The workers, as during the Paris Commune, have proven they can take power. What was needed to consolidate that power and generalise it was as Marx said ‘immediately attack Versailles and nationalize the central bank." So the role of the Marxists today is to raise the correct program, demands, methods and strategy. Again the Tunisian and Egyptian revolution are a clear evidence of what we are saying.
What do you expect to happen in the coming months in Morocco?
Our general perspective for events in the coming months is that of an intensification of the class struggle. This conviction is based on a scientific understanding of the political and economic situation in Morocco and the region and the world.
The crisis of capitalism continues to worsen. There is no way out on the horizon. It is having a devastating impact on the system in Morocco. All indicators are in the red: unemployment has reached very high levels, one third of youth have no job, prices are on the rise, the working and living conditions are becoming unbearable. Last year 60.000 labour related accidents were officially reported, including 2000 lethal accidents.
Dependence on foreign economic powers has increased. Last year exports covered only 47% of all imports. The trade deficit represents 24% of GDP. The public debt represents now 70% of the annual GDP. Servicing the public debt costs as much as public expenditure on education, health and investment! Three quarters of the income of the state comes from taxes on the working class, small peasants and the poor!
The solution of the ruling class to get out of this crisis is to increase the attacks on the gains and the rights of the working class and the poor in general, which is what we are now witnessing in successive actions of the government.
On the political side there is a strong attack on the few gains of the freedoms that have been achieved thanks to the bitter struggles over decades.
The attack on the pension fund and on wages, the attempt to impose a law restricting the right to strike, are all affecting directly the working class and its gains. It will push the working class to respond forcefully.
The ruling class, or at least part of the most stupid faction represented by the palace and the prime minister, has the illusion that they succeeded in weathering the revolutionary storm. They imagine that the situation is ‘back to normal’ i.e. back to the situation that existed before the 20th of February 2011. That is why they think it is time to go on the offensive. But the days and months ahead are bound to show how wrong they are. The wheel of history cannot be turned back. The genie of the revolution is out of the bottle.
This is already visible in the renewed struggle on the campuses by the university students, the continued struggle of the ‘diplômés chômeurs’ (the unemployed graduates) and in some uprisings such as in the popular neighbourhoods of Marrakech last year against price rises (المغرب - مراكش: جماهير حي سيدي يوسف بن علي يصنعون التاريخ فلنعمم التضامن ولنعمم النضال) and in the countryside (the struggle for a basic infrastructure and against the devastating effects on village women of the system of microcredits) or in the strikes in the hotel sector, agriculture, mining and in the justice department, amongst teachers and in the hospitals.
This announces a new wave of struggle, a huge rebound, which poses for us Marxists new and greater political, theoretical and organisational challenges.