Lebanon’s revolution: an explosion of class anger

The explosion in Beirut last week has caused an explosion of rage and struggle, as the Lebanese masses take once again to the streets. We say: trust nobody but your own forces! Workers of Lebanon, overthrow the whole rotten system!

On 4 August 2020, an earth-shattering explosion rocked Beirut. It tore through the ports and damaged everything for nearly 9 kilometers around. The scope of the blast was so extensive that even in Cyprus, 264 km away, it still managed to shake windows. In the wake of the explosion, 6,000 people have been injured and 158 people have been killed – and counting. The damage alone was enough to leave 300,000 people homeless.

Lebanese people were already struggling. The ruling class had driven the country to the brink, leaving the economy in ruins. Facing a currency devaluation which has led to mass inflation, 45 percent of people in Lebanon were projected to drop into poverty in 2020 – and this was before COVID-19 or the explosion. Facing crisis after crisis, the Lebanese masses have been subjected to enormous hardship. In the wake of this tragedy, it is not a surprise that the masses have begun to move once more.

In the biggest show of force since the mass movement in 2019, which saw over 2 million people in the streets demanding the fall of the government, the masses have begun to assemble once more. 10,000 people protested in Beirut to demand a change to the entire system. These protestors have rightfully understood that a simple change of faces at the top is not what is needed, but rather a fundamental change that removes all of these corrupt politicians entirely.

Despite attacks by riot police and later on the army, the crowds fought back and tried to move towards the National Assembly. The headquarters of the Lebanese Banking Association was ransacked and set on fire, revealing the intense hatred for the rich capitalist elite. The slogan “the people want the fall of the regime” was heard once again.

The movement reborn

In the wake of the explosion on 4 August, the Hezbollah-backed government in Lebanon immediately called for national unity to weather this crisis. Such rhetoric may have worked in previous years, but the masses immediately rejected this. Instead, they have gathered in their thousands in downtown Beirut. They then began to move towards Parliament Square with the intention of occupying it, but were stopped by the army. Tense faceoffs followed, with many protestors calling on the army to join them against the ruling class. One woman was heard yelling: “Really, the army is here?... Join us and we can fight the government together!” Another shouted at the soldiers: “who is going to feed your children and give them healthcare? You’re the same as us”.

This anger was personified by a mock gallows that has been erected in Martyrs’ Square. Mock effigies of Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hezbollah, as well as the previous Prime Minister Hariri were hanged from the gallows. They were joined by the former-general-turned-President Aoun and his powerful son-in-law Gebran Bassil. The movement is demanding the ruling class face accountability for their corruption and negligence, rightfully blaming them for the issues facing regular working people. One protestor, while taking a picture at the gallows, stated: “This is where these politicians should hang.”

It is important to note that this anger is not new. While politicians and the ruling clique in Lebanon have been quick to speak about bringing “Those responsible to justice” – they need only look in the mirror to find the criminals responsible for Lebanon's woes. For years, Lebanon’s people have been forced to languish in poverty while the elite of the country lived in luxury and benefited from the corruption. For 16 hours of the day in Lebanon, people cannot even get electricity. Sewage has even become a problem in the country, with the government simply dumping it en masse in the mediterranean due to crumbling infrastructure. Garbage disposal faces similar problems, with government officials leaving it to be piled in the streets. Only mass protests in previous years forced them to take care of this basic issue. Heaped on this, over a third of Lebanese workers are unemployed due to the economic crisis.

The explosion was clearly the last straw, both literally and figuratively. Busy lining their pockets, the ruling class in Lebanon left a ticking time bomb in the middle of the city. Now, the masses are holding them to account.

Do not let the movement be hijacked!

One of the lessons of the movement in October 2019 was the enormous unity shown by the Lebanese masses. Not divided by religion or political affiliation, the masses tossed out sectarianism as 2 million people took the streets. In a matter of weeks, the previous Hariri government was toppled. At the time, tactics were attempted by the ruling class to divide the masses of Lebanon along sectarian lines as has been done for decades. They failed, and the movement was united.

We have seen the same spirit of unity from below in the aftermath of the blast. From all over the country brigades have been set up to help in the relief effort in Beirut and the clearing of the rubble, in strong contrast with the government’s inaction. Representatives of the authorities dare not be seen in the streets and when they do they are shouted at by the masses. The spades, shovels and brooms used for the clear out are now being turned against the government buildings and the concrete barriers protecting the National Assembly.

There is an attempt to use the same strategies of sectarian division now. In particular, the right-wing reactionary Kataeb (Phalange) Party is attempting to use the movement to place itself in a prime position for forming a new government. The leader of the Kataeb Party, Nazar Najarian, was killed in the Beirut blast. Using this opportunity, three party MPs have stepped down from parliament, with Party President Samy Gemayel stating all should join them in the birth of “A new Lebanon.” Even the slogans of the Kataeb and other ‘opposition parties’ are beginning to infiltrate the movement. In particular, the slogan of “Disarm Hezbollah” or “Beirut is a city free from weapons” has been used by some protestors. This echoes the Kataeb demand that Hezbollah relinquish all weapons under the cover of ‘democracy’ and ‘constitutionalism’.

This is all a sham, and a distraction. The Kataeb Party is not interested in helping the people. This is the party that perpetuated multiple massacres alongside the Israeli Defense Force against Palestinians and left-wing Arab socialists and communists in the Lebanese civil war. The motive for these moves is to shift the movement away from demanding the fall of the entire system towards simply a shift of government. The Kataeb Party is no doubt hoping that Hezbollah will be brought down, allowing them to take power and perpetuate the same injustice we have seen for decades. These are the same sectarian games we have seen time and time again. It is precisely these manoeuvres and divisions that in the past led to a civil war, where the working class paid the price.

We must be very clear: No party representing the ruling class in Lebanon is an ally of the masses. “All of them means all of them”, such was the slogan of the movement last year. Not a single ounce of trust must be given to these criminals, who are all cut from the same cloth.

Imperialist hypocrisy

Different imperialist powers have been quick to extend their “support” to the protesters. These wolves disguised in sheep's clothing are led by President Macron. The French government recently announced that it would be holding a relief summit to gather aid for Lebanon. Macron himself visited Beirut shortly after the blast devastated the city. The US has also made overtures, defending the demonstrators’ right to peaceful protest. It seems that Lebanon has many big friends.

The hypocrisy of Macron is particularly obvious when you look at Lebanon’s history. The current system of sectarian politics based around religion was created and perfected by France originally to maintain control of its colony. The granting of formal independence to Lebanon was conditional on keeping this system intact, to guarantee the continued influence of imperialism in the country and leading to divisions in politics that the ruling class use to this day. Macron has made several overtures to the natural ties between Lebanon and France. This “traditional relationship” in reality is like the relationship between a master and his slave, with Lebanon’s ruling class often turning to France in times of need. France would often oblige with frequent injections of fresh cash, numbering in the billions, which have always been squandered and used to maintain the status quo.

The truth is that Macron is making a political calculation. Things are not going well at home for the president. He is universally reviled by working people in France, with his approval standing at a measly 38 percent. No doubt Macron wishes to focus attention on his good deeds internationally, while simultaneously maintaining a firm relationship with Lebanon’s faltering ruling class.

On top of this, the imperialist powers want to use the disaster to push for IMF-dictated economic “reforms” (read counter-reforms) which if anything would increase the country’s woes and strengthen the dead hand of imperialist domination, in a close alliance with the rotten ruling class.

The cynical calculation of the IMF bosses is barely disguised. In a statement issued when people were still being rescued alive from the rubble, IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said: “The IMF is exploring all possible ways to support the people of Lebanon. It is essential to overcome the impasse in the discussions on critical reforms and put in place a meaningful program to turn around the economy and build accountability and trust in the future of the country” [our emphasis].

We know what the IMF means when it talks of “reforms” it deems “critical”. For the last few years, the IMF has insisted in massive cuts in the government budget: cuts in wages for public sector workers, elimination of electricity subsidies, increases in VAT, cuts in pensions, etc. They want to make the workers and poor pay for the crisis of their system.

Neither Macron nor any other imperialist powers have a true interest in real change in Lebanon. They are the same powers that have propped up Lebanon’s warlords for decades, with an ever-shifting web of allegiances. The status quo in Lebanon is the way it is in no small part due to these powers vying for control of the country. The masses cannot look to them for support, as it would be tantamount to a deal with the devil.

Revolution is the only way out

It is very clear that the situation is dire in Lebanon. People are suffering in the streets, and Beirut – once the gem of the Middle East – now lies in ruins. But as the saying goes, “It is always darkest just before the dawn.” There is a solution to this situation. It is the overthrow of the current system and the seizure of power by the people. There can be no other way out.

The enormous amount of money needed to rebuild Beirut and house the hundreds of thousands who have been made homeless can be found in Lebanon itself. The assets of the capitalists and millionaire crooks should be seized and used as part of a democratic plan of production for need not profit. Corruption is the symptom of a rotten capitalist system of patronage and exploitation. To root it out means brushing aside capitalism itself and replacing it with a democratic government of working people.

To do this, the masses cannot rely on anything but their own forces. We must reject overtures from the ruling parties, and the imperialist powers, all of whom seek to divide and weaken the movement for their own ends. Instead, the working class movement must fight and build a popular revolution involving all working people. Divided, the movement may be defeated. However, if united, there is no force in Lebanon that can defeat the workers. Onwards to victory!

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