People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 40

October 02, 2011

Understanding Struggles in

West Asia & Latin America


R Arun Kumar


IT is now roughly ten months since the protests that shook the West Asia/North Africa region caught the world's attention. The 'Arab Spring' swept across Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Syria, Jordan, Oman and even Saudi Arabia. The impact of the 'Spring' was varied; while it was a gale in some countries sweeping off the rulers entrenched for many years, it was only a breeze in others. These protests startled the world, forced it to take notice of an important aspect of the people of this region that was slowly sought to be muted – their secular voice.

In a world long parched of 'impact-events', the protest movements of this area certainly proved to be an oasis. In the post-Soviet Union era, it was really heartening to witness the might of popular resistance that scripted the collapse of deep-entrenched dictatorial regimes, solidly backed by the premier imperialist power in the world. These are really 'epochal' events, because in the recent memory no one does remember of such an occurrence. It is this remarkableness that made people expect 'something more' from these movements in the region. Before proceeding to see if this 'something more' – a socio-economic transformation of the society – is realisable, let us briefly recap, even at the cost of being repetitive, some important features of these movements.




The protests broke out basically against the dictatorial rulers of this region and for democratic rights. The stifling of dissent by the dictatorial regimes suffocated the people who are increasingly burdened by the global economic crisis. There were no avenues to express their grievances – no opposition parties; trade unions were banned and so were the right to organise, protest and demonstrate. On the other hand, while the common people were suffering under economic duress, the elite were shining in opulence. They were further infuriated by the fact that the US, which has a huge footprint on the region, is also the progenitor for the economic crisis that had worsened their lives. This volatile combination incensed the people.


A combination of all these reasons broadened the nature of the protests, which is reflected in massive peoples' participation. The urban salaried classes, more than anything else, were concerned about the absence of democratic rights, and thus, as soon as the dictatorial regimes collapsed or some concessions were granted, declared victory and went back. The industrial working class had economic demands too listed. They not only demanded an increase in the wages, reduction in prices, etc, but had also fought for their right to organise and strike. Further, the demands for the Palestine homeland, breaking free from imperialist intervention were also brought forward. Most of their demands were unmet and this forced them to stay on the streets even to this day as seen in Egypt and Tunisia. The media, true to its class bias, gave enough prominence to the protests as long as their primary focus was democratic rights. The moment economic demands began taking primacy, they started ignoring.


Imperialism, which was caught off-guard initially, immediately got its act together to ensure that its grip over the region is not lost. It was forced to change the faces of its cohorts in Tunisia and Egypt, but struck to them in Yemen and Bahrain (even pushing Saudi Arabia to send military to crush the protests in Bahrain). It went further in Libya and Syria by actively encouraging the protesters to destabilise the regimes. In Libya we are witnessing NATO's military aggression. The US embassy is playing an active role in Syria, fanning protests and there are allegations that the rebels are covertly armed by the imperialist countries. Imperialism, wants to use this 'opportunity' to ensure that the entire region is cleansed of hostile regimes and progressive forces do not raise their head, all the while retaining its hold. Imperialism is trying to improvise upon its tactics which were tested and developed in what it considers as its 'backyard' – Latin America.




Latin American history is replete with instances of dictatorial regimes and coups. The imperial footprints are found on most of them, even as late as the ouster of Zelaya of Honduras. Zelaya was initially considered close to the US, but once he started implementing progressive policies and getting closer to the ALBA, the US dumped him for another more trustworthy ally. Similar are the stories of many of the earlier dictators. When popular pressure increases against the policies pursued by a particular president, he is dumped to ease the pressure and ensure that the policies are continued. If military rulers and dictators were losing confidence among the people, imperialism promoted parties sympathetic to its cause through controlled elections. Imperialism successfully ran this show for a few decades, until the people slowly saw through the game and were getting radicalised through their struggles. A break in the cycle of rulers produced in the 'US-assembly line' was made possible by decades of arduous struggle. The present progressive governments of the continent, are thus, not a sudden development, but a product of these arduous struggles and many failed attempts. Lula, lost thrice before winning the elections, similarly Morales, the FMLN and many others. Even Chavez had failed in his attempt to capture power through a coup, served a sentence in jail, came out, participated in the elections and won.


It would be naοve to simplistically compare the events of West Asia/North Africa with Latin America. Apart from the socio-economic and cultural differences between the two regions, we should keep in mind that the developments in West Asia/North Africa are only few months old and are still developing. For Latin America to become what it is today, it took decades of laborious struggles against the neo-liberal policies pursued by the pliant regimes that depended on the US for their survival. Apart from the trade unions, various social movements, women, youth and even liberation theology too played an active part in organising people and leading them in struggles.




A huge positive from the events in both Latin America and West Asia/North Africa is, they demonstrated the continued relevance and validity of popular struggles in resisting imperialist onslaught, particularly in the backdrop of the collapse of the Socialist bloc. It is these vibrant popular struggles that are responsible for ensuring the progressive regimes in Latin America pursue alternative visions of development, however limited they might be. The absence of widespread struggles in many of the Latin American countries today is also because of these alternate policies. The degree of 'progressiveness' of the regimes depended on the intensity and vigilantism of the popular movements. The class struggle going on in Latin America is enriching both the people and the ruling classes with a wealth of experience. Of course, these cannot be blindly copied anywhere else because of the variations, apart from other things, in time and space.


Imperialism became more alert and conscious after its experiences in Latin America and accordingly reworked its strategies while dealing with the situation in WA/NA. It is urging the local ruling class to deal with the protests more decisively and not succumb to them. It does not want the region to go the Latin American way, where progressive governments rule, challenging the dictates of the US. This becomes all the more 'necessary' in the present scenario of global economic crisis, when the control over natural resources assumes added importance. To break the resistance and the unity of the protesters, all sorts of divisive tactics are being used, apart from force – the threat of Al Qaeda, religious fundamentalism, sectoral strife and even tribal affinities. Now, gaining 'experience' in Syria and Libya, it wants to replicate it in Venezuela and Cuba according to reports emanating from a Obama headed White House meeting on September 12.


WA/NA is hence a theatre for intense class struggle. A progressive resolution of this struggle would benefit not just the people of that region; the entire world stands to gain. It would be a mighty blow to the imperialists who are groping in the dark to come out of the global economic crisis and would also unleash rays of hope among the struggling people worldwide. A progressive change would go a long way in the establishment of real democracy, bring stability and lessen peoples' economic hardships. Of course, all this depends on the resoluteness of the people in carrying out struggles.


The developments in both Latin America and WA/NA offer important lessons to the communists too. Every crisis will give rise to a revolutionary situation, creating the objective conditions necessary for revolutionary transformation. But to bring in a revolutionary transformation, it requires subjective conditions to be sufficiently ready. It is onerous upon the communists to strengthen the subjective factors – revolutionary conscious working class, equipped with the ideology of scientific socialism and led by the communist parties – to make use of the objective conditions.