May Day in the Arab Spring
This year May Day promises to be a true international festival thanks to the historic 2011 Arab Spring, which has re-awakened revolutionary hopes across North Africa and the Middle East, inspiring new resistance among the embattled workers of the US and Europe across the seas. The marches and rallies planned in Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Baharein, Yemen and elsewhere will be a massive demonstration of the new democratic forces who have shaken longstanding reactionary dictatorships to their foundations, spreading panic among the leaders of Western imperialism who support them.
Ironically, May 1 first emerged as the international workers’ holiday in the United States after the 1886 Haymarket tragedy, but President Kennedy, a hawkish young anti-communist, attempted to surpress May Day by official proclaiming May 1 as “Law Day” and organizing demonstrations of support for the police. Five years ago, May Day was revived in the U.S. when mainly Hispanic immigrants organized a one-day general strike and massive demonstrations of millions of immigrants demanding their human rights. Last year, some U.S. labor unions, under pressure from right-wing attacks, revived May Day and this year, for the first time – under the impact of the Arab Spring — the immigrants and the workers will be celebrating together in New York.
In Egypt, where up to now the unions were state-controlled, the new Federation of independent unions is calling for a mass May Day assembly at Tahir Square, where the workers will be joined by masses of youth, women and disaffected middle class people. Since the Januray uprising, which was itself sparked by an earlier labor revolt and stiffened by the March 9 General Strike, the Federation has been flooded with applications from new associations of workers, farmers, students, professionals and now railroad workers and journalists who have organized themselves for the first time. Your humble correspondant will be celebrating May Day in Rabat, Morocco, with comrades of Feburary 20th movement, and I hope to have some first-hand reports for you next week, including interviews with local Human Rights, labor and left wing activists.
Although independent Arab media like El Jazeera English and the Egyptian online newspaper Aramoline http://english.ahram.org.eg/ (not to mention more radical blogs) overflow with news of strikes, new independent trade unions, vigorous neighborhood, womens’ and unemployed associations and new political parties, the western media keep repeating the same pessimistic litany of fears of takeovers by the Islamists or the army, or the old corrupt parties, while turning a deaf ear to the vibrant sounds of self-organisation from below, at best dismissing peoples’ movements as ‘chaotic.’ Moreover, the generally positive revolutionary developments of the past few weeks in the Arab world have been overshadowed by the tragic news from Libya, where a promising democratic movement as degenerated into a civil war abetted by outside imperialist interests. Social revolution and civil war are opposites. So it is important to look closely at the class basis of the democratic, basically non-violent development of the mass movements opposing the other dictatorships in the Arab world and contrast it with the tragic impasse in Libya, where the local working class is small and undeveloped, and where regional, tribal and factional division within the army and the bureaucracy are important factors.
Take, for example, this report from Mogniss H. Abdallah in Egypt: “In Cairo on April 22, the first national assembly of the Popular Commitees for the Protection of the Revolution brought together 5000 people on Tahir Square. Some 220 of these Committees are implanted across the country and have already come together in some 40 local coordinating committees. Their purpose is the self defense of their neighborhoods, villages and factories. They came into being, quite spontaneously, on January 28th when the police were suddenly withdrawn and criminal gangs of “baltagueya” were unleashed on the population by the regime.” But instead of the planned ‘chaos’ and violence designed to turn honest citizens against the revolution, the self-organised volunteers brought about a rebirth of citizen consciousness and civic order, including the recycling of garbage.
Since that time, the Committees have extended their field of action, monitoring the police, local authorities and social services. Also demanding the arrest and trial of corrupt men in power, the dismantling of fraudulently elected local councils, the restitution of illegaly approriated public goods, democratic election of local governers and an end to military trials of civilians. What we are seeing here is the spontaneous creation of an autonomous democratic counter-power, organized for self-defence, and challenging the existing powers on every front. These 21st Century Egyptians may or may not be aware that the Paris Commune of 1871 grew out of local volunteer self-defense committees or that the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917 were made by the self-organized, federated councils (Soviets) of workers, soldiers and citizens; but their common sense, class instincts and the needs of the moment, drive them – and will continue to drive them — to similar forms of self-organization. Thus the social revolution goes about its business.
So on this eve of May Day, it is salutory to listen to what ‘Sandmonkey,’ a brilliant an important Egyptian blogger, is telling his comrades among the Egyptian intelligentsia, some of whom have also fallen into the ‘doom and gloom’ scenario:
“There is nothing but optimism and the prospect of a brighter future. Yes, there is economic instability and the economy will go down for a bit, but that’s only natural and part of the healing process. When you take an anti-biotic to cure you from a disease it is bound to keep you bed ridden and feeling tired for a few days so that you can properly heal, but you will heal and you will regain your full health eventually.
Think of state TV employees who are protesting right now demanding that our national TV practices real journalism without an agenda. Think of the coalition of restaurant owners that is being formed in order to tell the municipalities that they won’t pay bribes anymore, and if they wish to shut them down they can go right ahead and face the wrath of all of their employees. Think of the students of the Lycee in Cairo, 6 and 7th graders, who did a 3 day sit-in protest demanding the return of a teacher that got fired for carrying an anti-Mubarak sign in Tahrir and forced the administration to re-instate him. Think of all the 8 and 10 year olds who went out with their parents the day of the referendum to vote and had the experience engrained in their psyche forever, something we never had ourselves, and know that they will never allow that right to be taken away from them. Think of all the 12 year olds who are watching all the hot issues (secularism vs. theocracy, left vs. right, the role of the army, the role of the police, etc..) being debated all around them right now, and having their political consciousness formed right now and know that when they turn 18 it will be next to impossible for someone to trick or co-opt them. Think of all the 15 and 16 year olds who are watching the protests all around them and the lessons and mistakes that we are doing and think of what those kids will do the moment they get into college in a couple of years or when they join the workforce. Think of all your friends, wherever they are, who are joining and debating and talking and wanting to help and do something, and know you are not a solitary phenomenon. The Virus is everywhere. The Future is AWESOME. We will not save Egypt, Egypt will save us.
Now go and think of how you can help. And when you encounter people whose stupidity or irrationality or ignorance frustrates you, smile, because you know in 6 or 7 years they will no longer exist nor be of any?influence.
We are completely unaware of what’s happening in our country because things are happening so fast that everything seems like it’s standing still. But the country is moving, the virus of the revolution spreading everywhere and changes are happening by the minute because 30 years worth of changes and reform are unleashed all at once. We are living in Hyper-time, and every person who sees a hole in the foundation of our country is working really hard and fast to plug it, and the future is looking brighter every day because of it.”
To find out why this Egyptian blogger is so optimistic, click on ‘7 Popular Myths about the Revolution,’ Rantings of a Sandmonkey, http://www.sandmonkey.org/
where he deflates the fears of takeovers by the Army brass, the Moslem Brothers, the old corrupt parties and gives details about the power of grass-roots organizing in neighborhoods, among workers, and among self-organized groups in every walk of life.
Happy May Day To ALL!
May Day Arab Spring
May Day in the Arab Spring