The October Revolution has brought Arab Marxist thought back to the stage.
By Hassan al-Barazili
Of course, it is not the case of the Communist Party and other left-wingers which lost any class-struggle perspective and, after the civil war, held a permanent alliance with Hezbollah under the excuse of fighting back Zionism, the same Hezbollah which was both a key supporter of Syrian forces presence in Lebanon and a major military force against the Syrian revolution, and today is an enemy of the current revolution in Lebanon.
It is the case of Arab Marxist thinkers who did not ally themselves to any bourgeois forces and have stood in solidarity with both Arab revolutions and the Palestinian resistance along their political lives.
Coherent with their histories, all of them stood in solidarity with the Revolution.
Nevertheless, two critical issues were not fully addressed in their articles.
Is It a Revolution?
None of them call the current revolution, revolution!
Depending on the reason, that might not be a minor detail.
The 2019 October Revolution in Lebanon is not the same as the 1917 October Revolution in Russia.
In 1917 Russia the industrial working class was the leading social class, workers, peasants and soldiers’ councils were formed, a revolutionary party – the Bolsheviks – played a critical role.
In Lebanon we have a kind of “leaderless” revolution as there is no established national organization to take the lead. In this sense, it is somewhat similar to the 1917 February Revolution in Russia when there were neither councils nor a revolutionary party playing a critical role.
Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky in his preface for “The History of the Russian Revolution” wrote about his understanding about a revolution:
“The most indubitable feature of a revolution is the direct interference of the masses in historical events. In ordinary times the state, be it monarchical or democratic, elevates itself above the nation, and history is made by specialists in that line of business – kings, ministers, bureaucrats, parliamentarians, journalists. But at those crucial moments when the old order becomes no longer endurable to the masses, they break over the barriers excluding them from the political arena, sweep aside their traditional representatives, and create by their own interference the initial groundwork for a new régime. Whether this is good or bad we leave to the judgement of moralists. We ourselves will take the facts as they are given by the objective course of development. The history of a revolution is for us, first of all, a history of the forcible entrance of the masses into the realm of rulership over their own destiny.”
Since October 17, the Lebanese masses actually carried out a “forcible entrance into the realm of rulership over their own destiny” as Leon Trotsky defines.
This definition is critical to have a proper evaluation of the class dynamics ahead of us. But it does not mean that Leon Trotsky underestimate the need for a revolutionary party.
In his “The Theory of Permanent Revolution”, he wrote:
“4. No matter what the first episodic stages of the revolution may be in the individual countries, the realization of the revolutionary alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry is conceivable only under the political leadership of the proletariat vanguard, organized in the Communist Party. This in turn means that the victory of the democratic revolution is conceivable only through the dictatorship of the proletariat which bases itself upon the alliance with the peasantry and solves first of all the tasks of the democratic revolution.”
On the opposite, Leon Trotsky believed that the existence of a revolutionary party was a request for the victory of the revolution.
Then it comes the second critical issue: the revolutionary party.
The Revolutionary Party
Neither Ziad Maged nor Joseph Daher mention it. Yet Gilbert Achcar does not consider it necessary for the moment:
““Leaderless movements” are fine in the early phase of an uprising, but to go forward, the movement must organize in some form. Leadership is needed — not in the sense of some charismatic leader or “vanguard party,” but in the sense of a network of grassroots organizations that can coordinate and steer the movement towards fulfilling its aspirations. From this angle, I do not expect any radical change to occur in Lebanon soon. The best that I hope for, at this still initial stage, is that this first countrywide mass uprising results in the build-up of organizational structures able to play a leading role in a future wave of popular struggle with clear and radical goals.”
In other section of his interview, Gilbert Achcar mentions what kind of national organization he has in mind:
“In Sudan, by contrast, the driving force of the movement is the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) which was formed in 2016 as an underground network of associations of teachers, journalists, doctors, lawyers and other professions. The SPA was decisive in laying the ground for what eventually led to the popular uprising. They then convened a coalition of forces that included, along their association, feminist groups, a few political parties and some of the armed groups waging ethnic struggles against the regime. This coalition became the recognized leadership of the uprising and the military had no choice but to negotiate with them.”
Of course, a national organization always play a critical role. Any true revolutionary should stand for it. But, what about the revolutionary “vanguard party”?
In the case of Sudan, there is a communist party which is a leading force inside the SPA (Sudanese Professionals’ Association). Whether it is a revolutionary or a reformist party is not the question to be addressed here. The question is, however, whether a “vanguard party” is necessary or not.
On top of Leon Trotsky opinion about the need for a revolutionary party, let’s check two others.
In his pamphlet “The Questions of the Revolutionary Party Organization”, Argentinian Marxist thinker Nahuel Moreno writes about the critical need for both a revolutionary party and a revolutionary vanguard as such party is not generated spontaneously:
“The question of party organization, by contrast, rests on our hands. The masses can do wonders and show magnificent heroism and forge revolutionary organizations to seize power. If we do not set out our own organizational framework properly in such a way to allow us to build the general staff for these struggles and organizations, unless we can organize steadily and structure in ironclad the support for our policies and programme among the masses, the revolution and us will lose.”
Mona Khneisser also contributes to the debate on the perspectives of the revolution. In her article “Lebanon’s Protest Movement Is Just Getting Started” she develops a radical critique of the “horizontal” and “leaderless” movements and stands for a “lasting organization” and a “coherent, encompassing political agenda that can radically overturn the current state of affairs.“ Is it possible to achieve without a “vanguard party”? She writes:
“The movement in Lebanon, like elsewhere, will have to build lasting organizations and formulate common strategies that can harness the extraordinary power of the streets to realize concrete, radical reforms.”
“What is needed is not “technical expertise” (in fact, technocratic experts have been present in previous governments) but a coherent, encompassing political agenda that can radically overturn the current state of affairs — a substantive political and economic agenda that moves beyond discussions of corruption as individual practices and attacks the deep structural inequalities embedded within the neoliberal economic model and the sectarian power-sharing political regime.”
A true revolutionary vanguard party is instrumental for times of peace. In times of revolution it becomes critical to fight for workers power based on democratic councils.
“Vladimir Lenin, leader of another October revolution, the 1917 Russian, wrote that “Everything is illusory, except power”. He meant that any gains taken from the bourgeoisie are at risk while the bourgeoisie is in power. It is necessary to remove the bourgeoisie from power. It is necessary to put the workers and the poor people in power. That is a socialist revolution.”
There are revolutions under way in many countries: Lebanon, Iraq, Algeria, Sudan, Hong-Kong, Chile, Colombia, Catalonia and probably others will follow. The challenge posed for Marxists is to build revolutionary vanguard parties and all efforts in that direction should be whole-heartedly supported.
 Trotsky, Leon, The History of Russian Revolution, Preface, 3rd paragraph in https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1930/hrr/ch00.htm
 Trotsky, Leon, The Permanent Revolution, chapter 10, https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1931/tpr/pr10.htm
 Moreno, Nahuel, Questions of Revolutionary Party Organization, The Centrality of the Organization, https://litci.org/en/questions-on-revolutionary-party-organization-full-article/
Photo: Demonstration for Black rights in Vila Brasilandia, Sao Paulo, Brazil