Saturday, 15 January 2011

Revolution in Tunisia: can it deepen and widen?

The future of Tunisia hangs in the balance. There could be bloody retribution by the corrupt old regime, despite it being beheaded (with the hurried exit of ex-president Ben Ali). Or the democratic advance could become permanent, with new freedoms and a more liberal government.

But the radicalism, militancy and social weight of the popular movement raise the spectre of a third possibility: social and economic revolution, not just the 'democratic revolution' we are clearly now witnessing. Whether that becomes an actuality depends principally on the combativity, strength and political independence of Tunisian workers.

This is about deepening the revolution - from a democratic revolution (which, let's be clear, is already driven by mass action from below not by machinations inside the elite) to - whisper it - a socialist revolution. Because, ultimately, that's what is needed to permanently end the poverty, mass unemployment, economic insecurity and inequality that has largely triggered the Tunisian revolt and given it such force.

But there's also the question of widening the revolution, spreading it in what has been described as a "domino effect" across north Africa and the Middle East. Algeria, a neighbour, has already been witness to profound social upheavals in recent days and weeks. This is no abstract question.

Egypt is the most populous of Arab states, with a large working class. One Egyptian commentator has said: "Every Arab leader is watching Tunisia in fear. Every Arab citizen is watching Tunisia in hope and solidarity."

Mohamed Ali of the Islam Channel is a former political prisoner of the Tunisian regime. Interviewed on the BBC's Newsnight, he compared Tunisia to the country which prefigured the Eastern Bloc revolutions of 1989, saying "Tunisia is the Poland of the Arab world - this is like 1989". He also said: "We have got rid of the head of the snake, but the revolution is continuing".

There are two articles I recommend for exploring these issues further. Joseph Daher's new piece, 'Tunisia: the revolution begins', gives an account of an extraordinary 24 hours in the Tunisian revolt, but also raises the issue of the country's working class deepening the revolution. Ian Black's Guardian commentary concerns the potential for broadening the revolutionary process across the Arab world.

Related posts:
Tunisia: resistance, revolution, repression
What does 21st century revolution look like?



  1. A democratic revolution is clearly possible but how can a socialist revolution be possible without the existance of a Tunisian revolutionary socialist organization with mass membership?- eg something like KOR (Poland late 70s) or the Bolsheviks

    John Rees essay on war and revolution - also reprinted as part of Imperialism and Resistance would suggest that socialist revolution is an impossibilty in Tunisia until such an organization with sufficient influence exists

  2. Historical experience suggests 3 things can play a crucial part. One is the existence of a sizeable working class actively participating in the revolution and advocating its own demands - rather than a revolt with a middle class base or dominated overwhelmingly by elite elements. Secondly, political leadership from a revolutionary organisation with roots in the working class and a radical independent political line. Finally, the internationalisation of the revolt so it isn't left isolated and vulnerable.

    The first of these is looking hopeful - Tunisia has a large working class which is central to the revolution. The final point is unpredictable - let's see what happens in Algeria, Jordan, most importantly Egypt and elsewhere.

    The question of organisation is complex - and the lack of a coherent revolutionary socialist wing to the movement could be fatal. But it isn't a foregone conclusion. It will depend largely on the choices made by existing forces like the Communist Party and the extent to which the most radical elements grow in the coming weeks. But it's true that the absence of a strong socialist organisation capable of leadership is - like just about everywhere else in the world, frankly - a problem.