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The revolutionary process in Lebanon, which started in October 2019 when the masses rose up against the capitalist exploitation policies and the sectarian regime in the country, continues as the economic crisis deepens due to COVID-19. Following the outbreak of the revolutionary uprising of the Lebanese workers, Saad Hariri had resigned, and a new government was established on January 21 under the leadership of the former Minister of Education, Hasan Diyab.
The character of democratic reactionism
Although the new government tried to establish some prestige by hiding behind adjectives such as “independent” and “technocrat,” it did not take long for the Lebanese workers to recognize that this discourse was just a mask. On the one hand, there are Lebanese capitalists, whose interests are indexed to the continuation of the neoliberal capitalist exploitation. They are fully aware that such continuation is secured through the existing sectarian regime in the country that was established after the civil war under the auspices of imperialism. On the other hand, there are Lebanese workers who rise up in order not to pay the price of unemployment and poverty caused by the capitalist exploitation. They target the regime’s oppressive policies, sectarian favoritism and corruption.
The Diyab government, consisting of technocratic-looking representatives of the regime, came to power having two main tasks to accomplish: to keep the regime afloat and to maintain the system of exploitation. To do so, they needed to sooth the masses using a democratic discourse and implementing partial democratic concessions. One has to read the fact that the new government was established with the claim that it will prepare a more democratic election law to address people’s dissatisfaction with the regime at a time when the country has been going through a critical turn alongside these above-mentioned tasks.
However, workers who rebelled against injustices in the income distribution, the inability to access public resources, corruption and unemployment weren’t fooled by Diab’s hypocrisy, and carried on with their mobilization under a new slogan against the new government: “Let them all go!”
The pandemic and the deepening economic crisis
The economic crisis deepened with the outbreak of the pandemic in Lebanon. The country has already been going through the biggest economic crisis in its history even before the world-wide COVID-19 pandemic has hit. When the amount of the country’s external debt hit $92 billion, corresponding to 170% of its GDP, the government announced its default in March and declared that it was ready to negotiate with the IMF for new debt-restructuring plans.
At the same time, like all capitalist governments, the Diab government tried to make workers pay the price of the crisis instead of implementing policies that favored public health, so that the bosses could preserve their wealth and profits during the pandemic. This resulted in the deepening of the social crisis in the country, to which the government responded with implementing curfew in order to paralyze the mobilizations on the streets with the idea of securing the endurance of the class it represents rather than public health.
The larger picture of the social collapse that has deepened with the pandemic is as follows: The youth unemployment rate rose above 30% in the country, and the total unemployment rate almost hit 55%. Approximately 60% of Lebanese population is living below the poverty line. Since March, the local currency depreciation has reached 150% ($1 used to be 1500 Lebanese lira, now it is 4000 Lebanese lira), and the purchasing power of workers has collapsed in face of the rapidly increasing inflation. Considering the fact that the country has an export- and not production-based economic model, the problems in accessing basic goods such as wheat and medicine in the midst of such a crisis heightened by the pandemic ring the alarm bell for a possible food and health crisis.
In such an atmosphere, the government announced that it would design a new economic plan and start negotiations with the IMF. The fundamental aspect of this plan, which includes no policy in favor of workers, consists of offering new sources of exploitation to domestic and foreign capitalists through the privatization of natural resources such as hydrocarbons. Recognizing that the outcome of any possible agreement with the IMF would make them pay the price of the crisis through the imposition of further austerity measures, Lebanese workers re-mobilized against the economic and social crisis, the corrupt sectarian regime and its representative, the Diab government.
Mass mobilization and possibilities
The struggle of the masses that took the streets during the pandemic spread to many cities of the country on April 27, when the police and army forces killed 26-year-old Fouad Samman in Tripoli during a street mobilization.
There exist two main axes that shape the revolutionary uprising of the oppressed and exploited in Lebanon since October 2019: Not paying the price of the capitalist crisis and getting rid of the corrupt sectarian regime. Nowadays, the target of this struggle has become banks. The fact that the majority of the leaders of the sectarian regime are the shareholders of the banks in the country and that the banks had prevented workers from accessing their own money during the period of struggle has made the banks targets that stand at the intersection of the masses’ economic and democratic demands.
However, through the revolutionary process that has been spontaneously progressing for nine months, there surged no political alternative that could combine the economic, social and democratic demands of the masses with a perspective of breaking away from capitalism and of building a workers’ government. As a consequence, the forces of the current order are constantly seeking ways to divide/defeat the mass movement and to keep the regime afloat. In this oppressive regime that is built on sectarian foundations, those who are in power have many tools to use towards these ends: to resort to the Army and the police forces, to turn to democratic reactionary tactics represented by the Diab government, and to try to divide the masses through Hezbollah-like counter-revolutionary, sectarian structures.
Lebanese workers have been able to maintain their determination in their struggle and unity against all these threats coming from the regime so far. While the price paid by the workers as a result of both economic and social collapse as well as the pandemic, the construction of a leadership amongst the mobilizing masses that could break away from capitalism and the regime remains to be the most urgent need.
June 22, 2020