The Saharawi people must look to the Moroccan working class as their best ally

The United Nations has betrayed the Saharawi people once again. After ten years of promising a referendum on self-determination, they have now dropped this plan altoghether and are proposing limited autonomy. We publish here an article from the Spanish Marxist paper El Militante written just before the latest developments. The author argues that the Saharawis will find their best allies in the Moroccan workers and youth in their common struggle against the hated Moroccan monarchy and for a Socialist Federation of the Maghreb. (J.J. Catala, June 2001) Also in Spanish: En la clase obrera marroquí el pueblo saharaui debe buscar a su mejor aliado. Marruecos, una bomba de relojería

Morocco - A time bomb

Soon after Morocco won independence, the Berber El Haj Omar sang: “We still have a knife against our throat, the metal is the same as in the times of the protectorate, only the handle has changed.” (Quoted in To Whom belongs Morocco?, by Mourn Diouri). If that elementary truth was clear at the beginning of the 60s when Hassan II came to power, it has now taken a much more brutal and ruthless expression today in the oppression against the Moroccan people and the Saharawis.

Hassan II

When Hassan II acceded to the throne in 1961, he did not bother trying to fool anyone. From the very beginning he made clear he did not mind going down in history as the bloodiest monarch in the history of the Maghreb. Thus, one of his first actions was to form his own secret service with the help of Israel’s Mossad, with which it established close links, something unprecedented for an Arab country. He did not hesitate in offering his ports and airports to imperialism during the wars in the Middle East, to be used as strategic bases for US ships and aircraft on their way to Israel. The Mossad, as a reward, helped him set up his secret services, and above all participated in the kidnapping and murder of Ben Barka (a well known Moroccan socialist leader assassinated in Paris in 1965, see our Ben Barka appeal).

Dams Policy

At that time, Morocco was an overwhelmingly peasant country with a sizeable amount of fertile but dry land, which was able to sustain a large agricultural population. But the IMF and the World Bank were in favour of propping up economically a regime where private property and foreign investment were safe (unlike many Latin American countries with permanent revolutions and peasant uprisings), and came up with the idea of developing an export-oriented agriculture aimed at the European Common Market.

This was the beginning of the so-called “Dams Policy” which was to last from 1964 to 1971. During this period, on the basis of international loans, a number of dams were built which transformed one and a half million hectares of land into irrigated land, but which left another three million hectares without any source of water. Obviously most of the irrigated land became the property of the royal family (one million hectares approximately), a few military officers and the Moroccan bourgeoisie. In order to conceal this process of concentration of land property, a number of state-owned companies were formed.

At the end of the seven years of the “Dams Policy”, 25% of the landowners who had 10% of the agricultural land controlled 80% of the irrigation water, and the 75% of landowners in the rest of the land had to survive with access to just 25% of the irrigation water. This land became dry and could no longer sustain anyone. This policy created a mass of poor peasants who could no longer survive on their now completely dry land and were left with no other option than to sell their land and emigrate to the cities.

It goes without saying that the proud Moroccan people who have resisted for decades the Spanish and French colonialists would not accept these policies. There were a number of peasant uprisings which were brutally repressed. A heroic example of this is Temara in 1970, when 10,000 peasants rose up against the expropriation of their land and were finally put down by the army.

The great migration

This marked the first of a series of exoduses, mainly of young people, from the countryside to the cities, and later to Europe. These young people could barely survive in the shantytowns on the outskirts of the main Moroccan cities, in overcrowded shacks with no water or electricity, and under constant police harassment. In some instances the police even provoked fires in the shantytowns in order to expel their inhabitants.

During the 1970s an estimated 400,000 people a year crossed the strait into Europe looking for work in France, Belgium, Spain, Italy, etc.

Phosphates and mining

The other main source of income for the monarchy was mining where the conditions of the workers were also appalling. The work rhythms were inhumane, the miners had no health insurance and the conditions in some of the mines was akin to slavery. In 1968 there is was a historic miners strike. The miners at Khourigba fought a long battle despite the fact that they were isolated and faced harsh repression.

The following years, particularly from 1970 to 1973, are characterised by important peasant uprisings and miners strikes which occasionally coincided with strikes in other sectors like the textile industry. Cities like Casablanca, Rabat, Fez and others were already important working class centres. At the same time there were a number of students strikes, particularly against the so-called reform of the high school system which was meant to push as many students as possible out of the education system.

Some multinational companies established factories in Morocco in this period, looking for cheap labour: Goodyear built its biggest plant in the world, Lafargue-Marroc, Interrlane (Guillette)… These and many other companies, as well as financial institutions and banks, received substantial subsidies from the Moroccan government in order to establish themselves in the country; for instance the Bank of Paris and the Benelux, Marroc-Leasing, Manatex, etc.

The year 1975 was marked by an unprecedented strike movement. In the main industrial sectors there were more than 100 important strikes which paralysed the country’s industrial production, including the production of phosphates, of which Morocco is the world’s main producer with 71% of the total reserves.

The war in Western Sahara

Widespread discontent in society even reached sections of the army officers and Hassan II suffered two coup attempts. The repression was brutal: tens of thousands of “suspects” are arrested. Conservative estimates put the number of people who were made to “disappear” by the regime at 4,000 over two years. But repression could not stop the movement of the youth nor the workers’ strikes.

Like many other dictators, Hassan II decided to use one of his final cards: a foreign war which would keep the army busy and provoke massacres of youth and workers. This was the real cause of the Green March. In Spain the Franco dictatorship was in its last days. Spain was unable to resist Morocco’s advance into the Western Sahara. But “a scorpion always dies using his sting” and Spain left her colony signing the “Three Sided Agreement” which meant the further enslavement and oppression of the Saharawis.

That was the beginning of a war of survival by the Saharawi people against Morocco in the occupied territories and from the refugee camps near the border. The conditions of the Algerian desert were very tough, but the struggle went on against the regime of Hassan II. The Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic and the Polisario Front waged a heroic struggle which can be compared to those of the Palestinian and Vietnamese peoples’ against imperialist aggression.

It was a long war in which the workers of Spain and other European countries sympathised and helped these oppressed people. At the same time demoralisation spread amongst the ranks of the Moroccan people as they were used as cannon fodder in this senseless struggle. But not everyone was suffering. In 1978, Hassan II personally owned 1.4 million hectares of land, of which 672,000 hectares were irrigated. He received 33% of the country’s income from the export of oranges and 50% of all income from phosphates.

The imperialist powers: the US, Israel, France, Spain and others, supplied the regime with the most advanced military equipment (aircraft, radar, tanks, etc). They were not prepared to risk their multimillion-dollar investments and defended their monarchy with all means at their disposal. In 1981 alone, Morocco received 108 Chrysler tanks worth $182 million, 6 OV-10 Bronco planes and 20 Northrop F-52 and F-5 planes. In 1982 they bought 381 Maverick surface-to-air missiles worth $28 million and 18 AB-206 helicopters made in Italy by Augusta-Bell. Morocco became one of the main military powers in Africa. Every year they had joint military manoeuvres with the US, mainly with the rapid intervention forces (this was during the Reagan era).

A massive foreign debt

The costs of the war were a heavy burden for the Moroccan workers. The foreign debt which was already high before 1975 because of the “Dams Policy” spiralled out of control as a result of the war. It is estimated that the war cost the Moroccan regime $1.25 million a day, and that the total cost of the war could be as much as $3.6 billion.

Just to give an indication of what this meant for the Moroccan people, in 1980 40% of the state budget was spent by the Ministries of Defence and Interior, with only 0.6% going to the Ministry of Youth and Sports, 0.2% to Labour, 0.1% to Social Affairs, 0.2% to Culture and 5% to the Ministry of Health. The prices of basic foodstuffs and other basic products nearly doubled every two years; for instance between 1979 and 1981 flour went up by 86%, sugar by 97%, cooking oil by 75%, milk by 100%, etc. The year 1981 was particularly hard on the workers. Repression was brutal. In the Casablanca riots, which lasted for two days, more than 100 people were killed, 8,000 arrested, and 2,000 jailed with sentences from three months to 20 years.

By 1984 Morocco was a heavily indebted country, where half of the country’s GDP was used to pay the interest of its debt, and where the working class, particularly the youth, had been emigrating to Europe for 15 years. Out of 27 million people living in the country, 9.5 million survived with less than a dollar a day. Repression continued to be the norm against mass demonstrations and riots which affected all the main cities. Hundreds were killed and thousands were sent to jail for years. Foreign journalists were expelled.

An indication of the sorry state of the country is the fact that in 1984 the main source of foreign income was the money sent by more than 2 million Moroccans working in Europe. This was still the case in the year 2000. Foreign companies did not hesitate in investing in a country which still offered them a constant supply of cheap labour with no trade union rights and where any workers’ protest was put down by Hassan II with his army and police. The struggle of workers and students was still a main feature of these years.

Hassan II also received sizeable amounts of aid from friendly governments: $6 billion from the US, $60 million from France, $285 million from Germany, $25 million from Italy and $23 million from Spain. None of these governments seemed worried about the brutal repression of any protests by workers and youth. In the first four months of 1987 there were 22 strikes in key industries and many spread to citywide strikes. In the year 1989 there were more than 100 important strikes, amongst them the bitter struggle of the Jerada miners which spread quickly to the students and the rest of the city which at that time had 60,000 inhabitants.

Referendum or no referendum

By the beginning of the 1990s the United Nations wanted to “look for a democratic solution to the Western Sahara question” and proposed a referendum which was quickly forgotten about, and remained in the drawer of some UN bureaucrat. In the meantime the Saharawis barely survived in the refugee camps, while those in the occupied areas are exploited, tortured and persecuted with the brutal methods of the monarchy.

Morocco was then forced to renegotiate its foreign debt with the IMF and the World Bank, as they could not pay the debt nor the servicing of the debt. The answer of the world representatives of capitalism was simple: “Yes, but we want a higher degree of control over the Moroccan economy.” They demanded the following measure to be implemented:

  • Devaluation of the Dirham.
  • An end to the Central Bank’s control over the currency.
  • A freeze on wages.
  • An end to subsidies on basic foodstuffs.
  • Deregulation of foreign investment.
  • An increase in direct taxation.
  • Lowering of taxation on capital.
  • Cuts in the state budget.
  • Cuts in social spending (health, education, housing, etc.).

And this is the main reason why thousands of young Moroccans lose their lives every year trying to cross the strait in small boats. According to some opinion polls 90% of Moroccan youth are prepared to escape this slow death by any means necessary. There are now 7 million unemployed out of a total population of 29 million. 95% of the population have no access to healthcare. Millions of people live in the overcrowded shantytowns in the outskirts of Casablanca, Tanger, Marrakech and other cities, living 8 to 10 to a room, with no water or electricity and suffering constant police harassment. More than 60% of the population have no access to running water, and 87% have no electricity supply.

The “democratic” face

Nowadays, the monarchy of Mohammed VI tries to use a democratic face. They pretend something is changing but the apparatus of repression is still intact. His police and army are as ready as ever to crush any protests, as was seen by the brutal repression against Saharawi youth in the occupied Sahara last spring.

He says he wants to alleviate the suffering of “his” people, but how much has he invested of his own personal wealth into health, education, housing, etc? The wealth of the royal family is now an estimated $40 billion. Half a dozen top army officers and prominent capitalists have a combined wealth of $13 billion while the country’s foreign debt is $20 billion.

It is pathetic to read the statements of the “socialist” prime minister of Morocco, Abderrahmán Yusufi, defending the king and justifying the “slow pace of reform” (or rather the lack of it!) because there is “resistance to change” amongst certain sectors of society.

These “left wing” leaders have in fact been bought off by the regime, and without their support the monarchy would have ceased to exist long ago. Their excuses and justifications are the main basis of support for the regime. Repression is a symptom of a regime which fears losing control of the situation. Three weekly publications which dared to mildly criticise the regime have been closed down: Le Journal, Assahifa y Demain

“We have become bourgeoisified. We have separated ourselves from the people. We must reconquer the poor neighbourhoods,” said Yussufi to Le Monde Diplomatique in July 2000, while complaining that the Islamic fundamentalist organisations, some of them still illegal, are gathering support amongst the people. But that is partly the result of the socialist and communist leaders supporting the regime instead of leading the struggle against it. The same can be said of the trade union leaders who have accepted a few crumbs in exchange for social peace.

We have to ask, what has changed? Is Mohammed VI different from Hassan II at all?

Neither monarchy, nor capitalism

The monarchy was born and consolidated with the whip in its hands. An old saying advises: “If you want to sleep sound, you must bury the whip with the hand which used it.” The Moroccan working class needs an organisation with a revolutionary leadership committed to defending its interests until the last, not one that compromises given half a chance.

There is a risk that, as with what happened in Algeria, the clashes of the future will have features of a civil war, with a struggle between “fundamentalism” and “Westernisation”, as if ancient traditions which used to rule society centuries ago or others copied from Europe could solve any of the problems the Moroccan people are facing today.

Rather, the struggle must be one of the oppressed against the oppressors. The oppressed, once freed from exploitation can open the way to a full development of a society where the different beliefs can live in harmony and the national rights of all peoples can be respected. That means a struggle for a workers’ socialist Morocco and against the Morocco of Mohammed VI.

For a Socialist Revolution of the Maghreb

In this struggle the Saharawis have a lot to say. Their enemy is not the Moroccan people, but the Moroccan monarchy and Moroccan capitalism, the same dictatorship which oppresses Moroccans and Saharawis alike. In the occupied areas and in the refugee camps in the Algerian desert, the Saharawis must extend an open hand to the Moroccan workers, youth and peasants as their brothers in a common struggle. The struggle today must be for a workers’ socialist Maghreb which would unite the peoples of this region, artificially separated by colonialism in the last century.

There is no historical reason for these peoples to be separated from each other. These divisions only benefit the imperialist powers which dominate their economies, and want them to remain their colonies. Today it is the strength of the working class which is dictating the rhythm of struggle, not the plans of the Moroccan government. For months Mohammed VI has been trying to devaluate the dirham in order to make exports to Europe more competitive, but they hesitate for fear that this would spark a wave of struggle in the country.

No confidence in the UN. If Mohammed VI has only conceded an appearance of “democracy” he will only concede an appearance of “autonomy” on condition that his “constitution” is recognised and that the Moroccan character of the territory is recognised.

Abraham Serfaty was quite clear about it: “If the referendum is lost, that would be a national catastrophe. Morocco would not leave the Sahara and the situation could not be sustained faced with international legality…if it was won Algeria would not accept it…it seems that France and the US are already convinced now that the referendum was not a good solution.” (Interview with Le Monde Diplomatique, no. 57, July 2000)

All forces are gathering so that this referendum will never take place, and instead limited autonomy will be offered.

Even if this were to happen the Saharawi Republic and the Polisario Front should link up their struggle with the Moroccan workers. A new war would allow the regime to receive more support, more money, and more arms in order to massacre its own people and the Saharawis. This is not what the Saharawi people have been fighting for for 25 years. The Saharawi people can and must win the struggle, but their ally is not the United Nations Assembly where dollars rule more than laws. Their only ally is the international working class and particularly the Moroccan working class.

On these lines we have always denounced every agreement of the Franco dictatorship and later of the Spanish monarchy with this murderous regime. The rank and file of the Spanish labour organisations have always showed their solidarity with the Saharawi people, but they have the same problems with their leaders as the Moroccan workers.

Felipe Gonzalez was in power for more than a decade without uttering any criticism of Hassan II. On the contrary he helped him in many ways. The personal friendship of the Moroccan King with the Spanish monarch Juan Carlos was well known.

The policies of the right wing Aznar government are even worse.

In any case, it is clear that the Spanish working class has never turned its back to the Saharawi people and in the coming years it will have opportunity to show it.

Last minute update

After writing this article two facts have arisen that confirm the perspectives outlined. The UN, through their especial envoy and former US state secretary, James Baker, have announced that they are dropping their plan for a self-determination referendum in the Western Sahara. On the other hand, during the month of May there have been many protest demonstrations against the Moroccan regime which have been brutally repressed leaving several protestors dead.

J. J. Català
El Militante,
marxist voice of workers and youth (Spain)
July 2001