OVER THE LAST few months, we have seen a wave of mass protests sweep across multiple countries on at least four continents. Indeed, we have seen over the last 11 months protests, strikes and uprisings against the exploiting classes, its state, institutions and acts of austerity.
This wave of class struggle began last December with wildcat strikes, led by working women, at factories in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Chile, China, Hungary, India and Romania, as well as popular (cross-class) revolts in Iraq, Morocco and Tunisia. In Sudan, a three-fold rise in bread prices sparked riots and a popular uprising that ultimately ousted the long-time dictator, President Omar al-Bashir.
At the same time, a series of weekly protests against rising fuel prices was initiated by the popular movement known as the “Yellow Vests.” The protests grew increasingly sharper as 2019 began, forcing French President Emmanuel Macron to make concessions to the protesters. However, the demands of this cross-class movement had grown by that time and the protests continue to this day.
February saw wildcat strikes break out in Iran (again!) and Mexico. The previous November, Iranian workers staged a genuine mass strike in southwestern region of Khuzistan, with workers at the Haft Tapeh sugar factory going so far as to explore the organization of a shora (workers’ council) and workers’ takeover of their workplace. Workers continued their strikes and protests in early 2019, including at the steel plant in Hawaz.
In Mexico, nearly 100,000 workers in Matamoros, in the maquiladora zone on the border with the U.S. began a mass strike against both the bosses and their trade union stooges. After three weeks of struggle, which included facing down the threat of military intervention by “leftist” President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and with the help of striking teachers in Michoacán, who blockaded roads and railways, most workers were able to win their demands of a 20 percent wage raise and bonus.
For several months, events seemed to die down. However, September saw popular (cross-class) protests pick up across the Middle East and the Americas. In Egypt, thousands took to the streets in Cairo, Alexandria and other cities against corruption and growing poverty. More than 3,500 have been detained by the regime of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and thousands more injured.
Half a world away, in Haiti, ongoing protests against food and water shortages, price hikes, looting and roadblocks have turned into daily popular protests against corruption and a demand for the resignation of the president, Jovenel Moïse, have effectively shut down the capital, Port-au-Prince.
At the beginning of October, popular protests and riots broke out in Iraq and Ecuador. People took to the streets of Amara, Baghdad, Basra, Najaf and Nassiriya to protest against unemployment, lack of social services and corruption. They were met with bullets (real and rubber), water cannons and tear gas. At least dozens have been killed and thousands have been injured in the clashes.
Meanwhile, in Ecuador, the Oct. 1 announcement of an end to fuel subsidies set off a powerful wave of popular unrest and protests, led mainly by indigenous Ecuadorans, that was able to take control of the capital of Quito and force the government of President Lenín Moreno to flee the city and set up shop in the coastal town of Guayaquil.
By mid-October, popular uprisings began in Lebanon and Chile. In Lebanon, the announcement of a tax on WhatsApp messaging sparked mass protests across the country that cut across ethnic and religious lines, forcing the prime minister, Saad al-Hariri, to not only withdraw the tax but also demand that no new taxes be imposed on the poor and working class in 2020. But this has not stopped the protests, which now seek the ouster of al-Hariri’s government and a “revolution.”
At the same time, in Chile, mass popular rejection of a rise in mass transit fares announced Oct. 1 have transformed into the largest protest movement in the country since the end of the August Pinochet dictatorship. At the time of this writing, millions have joined the popular movement, including large sections of the working class. Moreover, the movement itself has begun to take on a character of a mass reckoning over the end of the dictatorship and the “transition to democracy.”
(There are, of course, other events that are continuing to unfold, including the mass protests in Spain, Hong Kong and, most recently, Guinea. These will be addressed in future articles in WPP.)
There is a line in Shakespeare’s Macbeth of a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. The events of the last year are indeed a great tale of cross-class uprising, with great sound and fury. But does it all signify nothing? Were events to continue and be left to their own devices, the unfortunate answer would be yes. On their own, as they are current constructed, with the de facto political program and leadership left in the hands of the petty bourgeoisie, either of the community leader or trade union bureaucrat type, these cross-class popular movements cannot do anything but fail.
Militancy is an expression of committed action, not a substitute for program. All the militancy that can be mustered by humanity, if used for reformist ends, can, at best, only achieve a reformist conclusion.
It is inevitable that mass social movements, even one for workers’ revolution and the overthrow of capitalism, will contain within it both backward-thinking workers and even non-workers. That is why there is a need for a conscious proletarian communist political leadership, organized into a party that is strictly proletarian in program and makeup, internationalist, and part of a world party of proletarian revolution, within such movements.
It would be the task of such a party to actively intervene, winning its best workers to the communist program, while also educating our fellow proletarians on both the important tasks of the day, as well as the dangers inherent with the presence of elements of the exploiting classes in the movement. At all times, the proletarian communist party must serve as a guardian of the historic interests of our class.