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October 2019 – the world in struggle

By Joseph Green, Detroit Workers’ Voice

Source: Detroit/Seattle Workers’ Voice

The last few months have shown a resurgence of mass protest around the world. October alone has seen the outbreak of gigantic mass protests in Lebanon, Iraq, Chile, and elsewhere. Demonstrators have defied security forces, arrests, and curfews, to shake regimes from Africa to Latin America to Hong Kong.

This year saw millions of people demonstrate against governmental inaction about climate change. But it has also seen people rise in one country after another, fed up with unemployment, lack of public services, corruption, and oppression. The people have demanded the fall of corrupt and sectarian regimes (Iraq, Lebanon), the end of austerity and the resignation of conservative presidents (Chile, Ecuador, Honduras, Haiti), and the right to self-determination (West Papua, Kashmir, Catalonia). They have brought down two long-standing tyrants (in Sudan and Algeria), and are fighting to prevent the substitution of military regimes for these dictators. They have stood together in defiance of sectarian divisions (Lebanon, Iraq). And this is just a partial listing.

It is not an accident that protests break out around the world. Globalization has brought to every corner of the world, not just naked capitalism but also mass protest. The demonstrations in country after country have their own particular triggers — whether a metro fare increase, a taking away of subsidies, or a racist atrocity. But they are not just demonstrations against this or that individual act; they are mass uprisings against year after year of conservative economics, year after year of privatization, year after year of contempt for the well-being of the people. The workers and the poor have had enough. These actions are often struggles, not against an individual or a particular policy, but a system. They are a sign of the cracking of neoliberalism. The world tomorrow will not be what it is today. Change is coming — not as fast as the working people would like, not as fast as they need, but it is coming.

In recent years, we have seen one sectarian and ultra-right election victory after another: Trump in the US, Duterte in the Philippines, Bolsonaro in Brazil, Modi in India, etc. But there is another world besides that of the corporations, the rich, and the bigots. There are working people who have had enough, and are coming onto the streets. The fate of the world depends on the progress of these protests.

The present-day governments are meeting these protests with force, with shootings, arrests, curfews, and shutdowns of mass media. So much for the pretext of democracy. So much for international law, which protects corporations but not workers. But in one country after country, the presidents or prime ministers, splattered as they are with workers’ blood, have had to make concessions. And in some cases, they have been kicked out, although the whole regime has only been shaken.

The leadership of these protests are mainly not the old trends of the left, not the Stalinist, Trotskyist, anarchist, religious sectarian, or nationalist trends. In many places, these long-time trends have dirtied their hands in taking part in the ruling regimes, or making corrupt deals with them. New activists and groupings are arising. In Lebanon and Iraq the slogan of the day is “all means all” — that is, we want the fall of “all” the politicians in the current regime, they are all corrupt, not just the president or the dominant party.

This crisis of the left forces embraces the environmentalists as well. This year has seen mass climate strikes, which are an important part of the world movement, but it is notable that the establishment environmentalists — or even most ecosocialists — have little to do with the other movements. The establishment environments look for supposedly realistic deals with the corporations and present ruling forces, and recoil with shock from what is for them, and not just for the tyrants, troublesome mass protests. Indeed, these are protests which, likely as not, denounce governments implementing austerity in the name of carbon pricing.

Today’s struggles are not the precursor to immediate social revolution or workers’ regimes; they are instead important and necessary steps on the road to the working class gaining its political independence. This is a wave of struggle that faces many dangers, and also faces the need to develop its own durable organization and orientation. If the people are rising up around the world, the far right is also organizing around the world, while the clock is ticking on environmental catastrophe. We are moving not towards an inevitable gradual victory, but towards great clashes in the world. But so far, the working masses, while uniting for a time in uprisings against  various exploiters, don’t have a clear picture of what system should replace them. The old trends are discredited, and a new trend is yet to establish itself. So dealing with the crisis in the left is a necessary part of solidarity with the heroic struggle of the demonstrators around the world.

Solidarity with the workers and oppressed people of the world! <>

A partial listing of countries where
the people have been demanding their rights

Lebanon – Thousands upon thousands of people have been flooding the streets since mid-October, furious at all the ruling parties and the constant austerity and lack of services. They regard all the factions of the government as thieves, and want all the current political leaders to quit. There are chants of “all of them means all”, and “the people demand the fall of the regime”; the demonstrators regard all the factions of the government as thieves, and want all the current political leaders to quit. They are also sick of the sectarian constitution in Lebanon, which divides government positions up according to religion rather than popular support. Several days ago demonstrators formed a human chain from the north to the south of the country to emphasize their unity across sectarian lines. While the Shiite parties claim to be different from the others and supportive of the poor, gangs from Hezbollah and Amal have attacked the demonstrations; nevertheless, Shiites continue to take part in the protests.

Demonstrators throughout the country have blocked roads and stood firm against security forces. On October 29, Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned, but the movement continues–all of them means all!

Iraq – Protests broke out in early October against, unemployment, the lack of government services, and corruption. These are non-sectarian demonstrations, and while concentrated in the Shiite regions of the country, they are directed against the Shiite parties as well as the others, and they are opposed to the Iranian influence. They want the entire ruling regime to quit.

The regime has responded with brute force. 20 demonstrators were killed on October 5 alone. Government security forces and pro-Iranian paramilitary snipers have repeated attacked and murdered demonstrators. On October 29, masked gunmen killed 18 protesters and injured hundreds in a massacre at Karbala. Over 250 protesters have been killed this month.

Sudan – The struggle against dictatorship has continued throughout this year; the activists are quite conscious of what happened in Egypt, where the hated dictator Mubarak was overthrown, but the military was able to subvert the revolution and establish a military dictatorship, and they are fighting against anything similar happening in Sudan. Demonstrations began in December last year against the dictator al-Bashir, who had led a military regime for 30 years. Unable to smother the democratic struggle, in April a military coup arrested al-Bashir and established a Transitional Military Council; this did not satisfy the protesters, who wanted to root out the old regime, not just replace al-Bashir. In the ensuing struggle, over 100 demonstrators were killed, but the military was forced in July and August to agree to a compromise military-civilian council. The nature of the coming government will depend on further struggle.

Algeria – Months of demonstrations prevented Abdelaziz Bouteflika, president for 20 years, from running for a fifth term of office. He was forced to resign in April, but this still left the rest of the regime in office. Demonstrations continued, resulting in the arrest of some members of the regime. A struggle is taking place over whether there will be elections in December, while the old regime is still intact, or a further housecleaning first.

Egypt – Despite the ferocious repression under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, protests against corruption and austerity broke out in September. More than 3,000 people have been arrested. The demonstrations have been suppressed for now, but the September actions give a glimpse of the ferment that exists under the surface.

West Papua (Indonesia) – In August and September there were mass demonstrations in the western half of the island of New Guinea: this is West Papua, which is a colony of Indonesia. Clashes have taken place with the regime’s security forces. The spark that set off the struggle was racist insults against the indigenous Papuan Melanesians, and the result has been a major outbreak of the long-standing movement for independence.

Haiti – The first half of October marked a new round of protests calling for the resignation  of President Jovenel Moïse and the creation of social programs. These are part of a struggle that began in July 2018.

Chile – In the second half of October, large demonstrations, including copper mine stoppages, broke out throughout Chile Triggered by an increase in metro fares, they have been directed against the years and years of austerity and against the conservative government of President Pinera, whose resignation is being demanded. On Friday, October 25 a million people took to the streets of Santiago in protest.

Pinera has tried to suppress the movement with force, and at least 19 people have been killed, 2,500 injured, and almost 3,000 arrested. Pinero declared a state of emergency, but the protests have spread to one city after another. In desperation, on October 28, he tried to cool things off by dismissing Interior Minister Andres Chadwick. And then, shaken by the continuation of the movement, he announced on Wednesday, October 30, that Chile couldn’t, at this time, host international meetings, and he canceled arrangements for two major conferences which now need to find new locations: the Nov. 11-17 meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), and the Dec. 2-13 meeting of the 2019 UN Climate Change Conference (also called COP25, for the 25th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change). Thus the neo-liberal APEC has to scramble to avoid being caught up in demonstrations against neo-liberalism, while the need to move the UN Climate Change Conference is another sign that the issue of climate change can’t be divorced from what’s happening to the people’s livelihood.

Honduras – This year has seen many demonstrations against conservative President Juan Orlando Hernandez. Demonstrations this month have taken place against his plans to privatize health care, pensions, and education. As well, the trial and conviction of his brother Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernandez in New York on drug trafficking charges brought out the connection of the drug deals to the financing of Juan Hernandez’s 2013 election campaign, and demonstrators have demanded he resign.

Ecuador – October has seen mass demonstrations against the canceling of fuel subsidies and other austerity measures of President Lenin Moreno. On October 8, Moreno even had to temporarily move the government out of the capital Quito to the city of Guayaquil.

Hong Kong (China) – Demonstrations have continued throughout October, and have now reached the 22nd week of protest. They have faced the increased use of new repressive tactics by the government. Chief Executive Carrie Lam invoked a law dating back to British colonialism that prohibited the use of face masks at demonstrations; activists have defied this law.

Mainland China grants no rights for criticism or protest, and yet the people of Hong Kong has stood in protest and defied one threat after another. The fake “communist” regime fears the example of Hong Kong will spread to the country as a whole. The people of Hong Kong have been insisting on their rights under “one country, two systems”, but the rights they demand are those which all working people want.

Catalonia (Spain) – There were demonstrations, including a general strike on October 19, against lengthy prison sentences — up to 13 years — handed down by the Spanish Supreme Court against Catalonian political leaders for taking part in the independence referendum of 2017. These convictions also prevent them from running for office in the coming elections.