Uprising in Lebanon: for revolution or stabilization?

Hezbollah went into Beirut and came out again once the government had backed off on its plans to dismantle its communications network. Although powerful, the Hezbollah leaders are only interested in maintaining their share of power. They are not interested, and are incapable of, solving the real problems facing the masses.

Well over 60 people have been killed during the street fighting in Lebanon between Hezbollah and Maronite militias. What instigated the fighting was a decision of the Lebanese government to eliminate Hezbollah's telecommunications network. Hezbollah leaders regarded that move as a declaration of war on their movement and started an armed struggle against the government.

During the fighting, the utter impotence of the Lebanese state was clearly evident. It took only two days for Hezbollah to conquer the west of the capital city Beirut. Prime Minister Fuad Siniora ordered the army to intervene, but the army refused his command. The only ones that were prepared to fight for "stability" were the Maronite militias. After realizing the weakness of the state, Siniora backed down completely, announcing that Hezbollah's telecommunications network would remain intact.

The recent events show beyond any shadow of a doubt that the Lebanese state has no real power, and has stopped functioning. It is also clear that today Hezbollah is the most powerful political movement in Lebanon. Since the end of the 2006 war against Israel, there has been nothing to stop Hezbollah from taking control of the state and removing the minority-rule of the Maronite oligarchy. However, Hezbollah still seems to respect the Lebanese "rules of the game". It even expressed support for the Lebanese chief of staff - the Maronite Michel Suleiman - as the country's next president. What prevented Hezbollah from taking over lies in the nature of the Lebanese class struggle.

Class struggle in Lebanon

Like many "post"-colonial counties, Lebanon is an artificial state, created by French imperialism. It was fashioned in a way that would allow the leaders of a Francophile religious sect - the Maronite Christians - to control the state while being a very small minority in the Muslim dominated Middle East.

A controversial ethnic survey conducted in 1932 showed that the Maronites were the largest ethnic group in Lebanon (although not having an absolute majority). The other two major groups were the Sunni and Shiite Muslims. This survey gave the Maronites the pretext to concentrate the bulk of political power in their hands. This pretext is used to this today, despite demographic changes in favour of the Shiites.

While the Sunni leaders were largely co-opted by the Maronites, the Shiite remained the most socially deprived group. Many still living in rural areas, and another sections in the poorer urban suburbs, the Shiites live in immense poverty, while the Maronites and the Sunnis benefit greatly from Lebanon's emerging role as a financial nexus for Middle Eastern petroleum-capital and investors from the West.

This situation could not remain stable for long. The Maronite oligarchy found itself facing increasing opposition from the entire Lebanese population (including many rank-and-file Maronites). They accused this opposition from below of promoting "separatism" - trying to destroy the "peaceful co-existence" of the different ethnic groups in Lebanon. Actually, the opposite was true. This opposition revealed the collaboration of various ethnic groups, Shiites, Sunnis, Christians, Palestinian refugees and Druze, all united in the fight against the exploiting class, that had been using the ethnic shield to retain political and economic power. The true separatists were the Maronites themselves - which consistently fought against uniting Lebanon with the rest of the Arab world, especially with Syria.

Tensions erupted in a civil war which started in 1975 and officially ended in 1990. During that war a new section emerged within the Shiite ruling class. While the co-opted Shiite landowners were largely supportive of the order in Lebanon, a more populist faction emerged from among the Shiite religious leaders. This faction - called Amal (Hope) - demanded equality for the Shiite poor and grew out of their support.

This populist yet reactionary organization managed to stop the influx of many Shiites into the Left and secular resistance movements. The secular Left opposition demanded true equality for all peoples in Lebanon and an immediate end to the ethnocratic nature of the Lebanese state. By detaching the most exploited section s of the population from the Left opposition, Amal turned a class struggle that united various ethnic groups into an ethnic struggle that kept these groups apart. In this way it perpetuated the deadlock that governed Lebanese society from its beginnings.

In 1982, the situation of the Maronites was most dire. In desperation they pleaded with Israeli imperialism to assist them. Israel invaded Lebanon using the pretext of bringing under control the PLO- the Palestinian national liberation movement. This invasion very quickly became a long-term presence designed to protect the Maronite oligarchy. The Shiite villagers were concentrated in the south of Lebanon, which meant that they suffered most from Israel's aggression. This brought forth radicalisation within the Shiites and their leadership. As a consequence, Hezbollah grew as a more radical faction of Amal and finally, with the aid of Syria and Iran, took over as the leader of the Shiite resistance movement.

Hezbollah is a dead-end

Hezbollah and Amal diverted the Lebanese class struggle along reactionary ethnic lines. For that reason they play a counter-revolutionary role in Lebanon. By hijacking the Lebanese class struggle, Hezbollah receives great political support which enables it to be the leading force in the Lebanese political arena. However, its separatist and reactionary nature prevents it from being a progressive force that can mitigate the distress of the Lebanese people.

The Lebanese counter-revolution could not have been accomplished without the generous assistance of the imperialist powers. From the days of French colonial rule until the present conflict, the imperial powers have consistently intervened in order to maintain the pro-Western oligarchy in Lebanon. This intervention was required to fight the Arab secular Left which was affiliated to the Soviet Union and raised the progressive flag of uniting the Middle Eastern artificial countries into a single state. At times of great distress for the Maronites, Western troops were sent to defend them. In the uprising of 1958 American troops were sent in. In the uprising of the seventies and eighties Israel intervened. These interventions prevented the Left from taking over. Disappointed by the failures of the secular Left, many Lebanese turned to religion.

However, precisely because Hezbollah only represents a faction of Lebanese society, it cannot solve any of the contradictions in Lebanon, just as the Maronites cannot do. Hezbollah took part in destroying the supra-ethnic nature of Lebanon's mass resistance movement - the only type of resistance that can solve the problems created by ethnocracy. Hezbollah can only replace one type of ethnic rule with another - but unlike the Maronites, Hezbollah will find it much more difficult to maintain stability. First of all, the Lebanese bourgeoisie are mostly of Maronite and Sunni origin. The army is also controlled by these groups. They are not ready to give political power to the Shiites. Secondly, Hezbollah will find itself isolated in the international arena. It will not be able to recruit the entire Lebanese society to defend its rule.

This drives a more inclusive standpoint to Hezbollah's political approach. Hezbollah's domestic actions show that all it wants is a piece of the political pie, and not much more. Just as Hamas did not go forward after taking over Gaza, Hezbollah also shows unwillingness to disrupt the present order: if they get too greedy, they might lose it all. An example of this is Hezbollah's support for the economic policy of Lebanon's late Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri, a flat income tax rate and the permission to import cheap Syrian labour in 2005, which utterly deteriorated the already poor conditions of the Shiites. Hezbollah was also silent about smuggling from Syria, which drove many Shiite farmers into bankruptcy. Hezbollah used funding from Iran to build a welfare network which gave it support from the same Shiites it had helped to push into even greater poverty. This example shows that Hezbollah would prefer political stability rather than the interests of its constituency, as long as it is getting its share of the pie.

The recent conflict in Lebanon was not about taking power, it was about maintaining it. Hezbollah retaliated to what appeared to it as an intention of the government to alter the status quo. Once the government backed down from its intentions, Hezbollah announced a cease-fire and withdrew from Beirut.

Thus, thanks to Hezbollah's counter-revolution, Lebanon will continue to be ruled by oligarchs, dividing up this tiny country among them, and completely paralysed in mending the social ruptures that they have provoked. The only hope for Lebanon is the re-emergence of the supra-ethnic class struggle that was derailed into a dead-end ethnic struggle. So far it seems that Hezbollah is stronger than ever: its victory over Israeli imperialism and the weakness of the Lebanese government has placed great power into its hands. However, this power is based on illusions: it cannot solve any of Lebanon's social problems.

There should be no mistake about it: Lebanon's problem is not an ethnic one, and not even a national one. It is an international problem. Lebanon is a small part of the international class struggle. The Maronite oligarchy is nothing but a puppet of global imperialism - earning their due in return for their contribution to preventing the Arab world from uniting. To bring true liberation for the peoples of Lebanon, it is necessary to go beyond arbitrary ethnic piece-of-the-pie struggles.

All over the Arab world, people are beginning to realize that the Islamic movements have no solutions. In Egypt, Jordan, Iran and Iraq we are beginning to see the mighty Middle Eastern proletariat reassemble itself for the next round of its battle against imperialism and the reactionary local elites that serve it. This is the only political power, the only hope for the plight of the Arab masses in Lebanon and in other countries. The international grip of imperialism can only be fought against by an international resistance of the workers. Any form of resistance that entails dividing workers along ethnic or religious lines will do nothing but maintain the imperial world order.