The days surrounding the one-year anniversary of Beirut’s port blast saw examples of unity against the ruling class alongside the danger of sectarian divisions.
A Hizbollah leader’s funeral was fired on by Sunni militia, just south of Beirut, last week. This turned into a massive street fight and a fracture line appeared between Shia and Sunni Muslims.
But on the anniversary, a mass demonstration around the port showed that popular anger is still there. When people read out the names of the victims, there were chants of “thawra, thwara” (revolution, revolution).
At the end of the demonstration, right wing Christian forces attacked sections of it. Amal, the right wing Shia militia, also attempted to attack it, but was intercepted by the Lebanese army. At the same time there are a huge number of strikes, which are popular expressions of frustration.
There are three elements to what’s going on. The first is the nature of the ruling class in Lebanon. Ministries are parcelled out between different sectarian forces—for example, the president is always a Christian Maronite, the prime minister a Sunni.
What you get in this situation, is a small pool of sectarian leaders who move around and try to form governments.
But there hasn’t been a functioning government for over two years now.
They can’t find agreement between the sections of the ruling class for any kind of executive direction for the ruling class as a whole.
The second element is economic paralysis. After the end of the Lebanese Civil War in 1990, the country became a clearing house for oil and arms money from the Gulf.
It was essentially a “Ponzi” scheme and Lebanon suddenly reached that point—just before the pandemic—where it couldn’t operate that system anymore.
The value of the Lebanese Lira is now 90 percent lower than what it was three years ago.
Then there’s a third element to all of this, which is somewhat more complex and dangerous. You have the launch of the October Revolution, a movement that began on 17 October 2019.
It was different to anything seen before the Civil War, it couldn’t be categorised in any sectarian way and wasn’t regional.
The movement demanded an end to the sectarian set up, saying, “All of them means all of them.”
It showed something socialists have been pointing to since the 2000s. There is the emergence of a more visible class division in society—and this would lead to more clear cut class struggles.
Every single prime minister in the last three years has been a billionaire. The personal fortunes of the elite, across the sectarian groups, is so phenomenal now that differences between neighbourhoods seem insignificant.
The October Revolution had all the characteristics of a spontaneous movement—and all the deficiencies.
It had no clear leadership and became dominated quite quickly by those who saw it as just a Lebanese movement.
While there was popular mobilisation across all sectarian lines, but you could only raise the Lebanese flag.
If you tried to raise a Palestinian flag, a section would try to beat you up.
The second characteristic is that it was a movement that put demands on the existing ruling class to get its act together.
There would be a strike, for example, where the demand would be, “Form a cabinet.”
Only a tiny minority envisaged and posed the question—what do we mean by the system must fall?
Is regime change just about changing the people at the top, or are we talking about fundamental changes in the social system?
What’s missing is a force that says the solution has to be revolutionary change.
If such a force doesn’t emerge, what happened before the mass demonstration and what happened after it, will become dominant.