Studies VIII: The 14 January Front

This page includes a series of posts which will consist of translations and excerpts from the communiques, statements, pamphlets and other literature from left-wing political parties in the Arab world, especially Tunisia (others as well, Egypt, Algeria and Mauritania in particular). The selections will focus on foreign policy, women’s issues, relations with other political factions (mainly Islamists and other leftist tendencies), ideology, rhetoric and general worldview. The purpose of this series is to put into English elements of the contemporary Arab political discourse which are generally neglected in western and English-language reportage and analysis while the of Islamist tendency receives extensive, if not excessive coverage. The translations in this series should not be taken as this blogger endorsing or promoting the content of particular materials: the objective is to increase access to and understanding of the contemporary Arab left by making its perspectives known, especially in areas of interest and relevance to English-speakers. This series will include both leftist and Arab nationalist [party] documents, statements, communiques, articles and so on. The series will attempt to touch on as many of the main (and interesting) leftist parties as possible.

Below is an English translation of the founding statement of the 14 January Front (an alternative English translation can be read here), a coalition of Tunisian leftist parties formed after the overthrow of Zine al-Abdine Ben Ali (14 January was the day Ben Ali stepped down from office). The statement lays out the groups’ intentions to continue demonstrations until the “objectives of the revolution” are met, including the removal of Ben Ali-era officials and the overthrow of the interim Ghannouchi government. It appeals to the Tunisian people to continue protesting — “especially in the street” — to keep the interim authorities on their toes and politics in a constant state of play, lest elements of the old regime move things revert back to the way they were before the uprising. It is a strong representation of the arguments for “continuing” or “permanent revolution” made by many on the Tunisian left. This is a tendency also found among Egyptian leftists (reflecting the prominence of Trotskyist thought among many contemporary Arab leftwing factions; although, the Egyptian left is more overtly bourgeois in orientation than the Tunisian hard left (as seen in the 14 January Front and among older members of Ettajdid) and has stronger social democratic inclinations ideologically). Fundamentally, there is little trust that centrist Tunisian or Egyptian bourgeois democrats can be trusted to carry out revolutionary objectives and a belief that working class people must set and drive revolutionary objectives. Furthermore, the rhetoric of Arab revolutionaries of all orientations, but especially leftist ones, tends to call out for other Arab societies to join them in revolt. Contrary to some of the early writing in western presses about the limited objectives of Arab uprisings (notably with respect to Palestine) the chants and the statements of the groups and individuals partaking in uprisings this year frequently make reference to one another and call on other Arabs to sustain pressure for change in the region by rising up  — the Arab uprisings do not accept a concept of “revolution in one country” (even the Stalinists among them). As Hossam Hamalawy told NPR recently: “You cannot build a democracy in a country where you are surrounded by a sea or an ocean of dictatorships”.

On this tendency Marx set out on the subject (see here) arguing that the working class is tasked with organizing autonomously (hence, for example, the foundation of the Egyptian Workers Democratic Party (WDP), which describes itself as the country’s first party for workers) and pressing for driving “the proposals of the democrats to their logical extreme”:

[t]hey [revolutionaries] must drive the proposals of the democrats to their logical extreme (the democrats will in any case act in a reformist and not a revolutionary manner) and transform these proposals into direct attacks on private property. If, for instance, the petty bourgeoisie propose the purchase of the railways and factories, the workers must demand that these railways and factories simply be confiscated by the state without compensation as the property of reactionaries. […] The demands of the workers will thus have to be adjusted according to the measures and concessions of the democrats.[. . .]

Although the German workers cannot come to power and achieve the realization of their class interests without passing through a protracted revolutionary development, this time they can at least be certain that the first act of the approaching revolutionary drama will coincide with the direct victory of their own class in France and will thereby be accelerated. But they themselves must contribute most to their final victory, by informing themselves of their own class interests, by taking up their independent political position as soon as possible, by not allowing themselves to be misled by the hypocritical phrases of the democratic petty bourgeoisie into doubting for one minute the necessity of an independently organized party of the proletariat. Their battle-cry must be: The Permanent Revolution.

In any case, the 14 January Front’s statement is widely available on the Internet on various party sites, forums and Facebook pages (it has its own website: http://front14janvier.net/). Since its formation, the front has gone through many changes of course and by now its collective strength has heavily eroded. It nevertheless remains a key element in understanding the evolution of the Tunisian left’s political development after the fall of Ben Ali. Understanding its objective also helps contextualize the ongoing protests by those described as the “far left”.  Continue reading