Letter from Lebanon

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Recent events exposed the weakness of the US-backed government and both the strength and limitations of the Hezbollah-led opposition, argues Bassem Chit.

Lebanon's 14 March coalition government has been an ally of US and European imperialism since it took power in 2005. The coalition capitalised on popular resentment against Syria's 29-year occupation to push for a neoliberal, pro-imperialist agenda. The government increased the role of "domestic intelligence" agencies in coordination with the US, and formed an armed militia under the guise of private security companies. They hoped that these security companies would become powerful enough to match Hezbollah. So the government could wage Israel and the US's war on the resistance.

In early May the government discovered that Hezbollah was monitoring military aircraft landing at Beirut International Airport and operating a secret military communication system. The government fired the head of security at the airport - a man close to the resistance - and closed the communications network.

This was a declaration of war. Hezbollah and its allies reacted swiftly. In a few days of fighting they swept away these militias destroying the "US project". The rapid defeat of the government revealed the hollowness of their popular support. It represents a massive victory for the resistance. The government capitulated at peace talks held in Doha, Qatar.

But despite this success, Hezbollah and its allies face difficult questions. The opposition has been pushing for a national unity government, using popular resentment against 14 March to get more seats in the cabinet, ministries and so on.

Yet any challenge to neoliberalism is missing. The 14 March government has implemented "economic reforms" such as the removal of protection on local produce, and massive cuts in social benefits and state services. By showing little concern over the growing anger against neoliberal policies, the opposition has stated that there will be no change of direction with the new government.

The most important evidence for this was the general strike called by the opposition in January 2007. The strike was organised to put "street pressure" on the government, but it turned out to be, as one Hezbollah official said, "a popular Intifada".

While the opposition leadership demanded a bigger role in the cabinet, the movement called for the government to fall, higher wages, less taxes, cheaper bread and policies to tackle the shortage of water and electricity.

As this movement was threatening the opposition's control over the "street" the general strike was called off, just as it was beginning to bite. Despite the opposition's powerful resistance to imperialism, it does not represent the interests of the working class.

There is a second weakness in the opposition strategy. The Doha peace deal does not present any real solution to the sectarian political system. The opposition only wanted the electoral system reformed.

By accepting a rearrangement of the sectarian allocation of power, the opposition has made its peace with the system. This means they will only succeed in delaying a new crisis. The signal they are sending is that they are willing to form a "bourgeois united front" against the interests of the working class.

As socialists we oppose such a move, and are pushing harder for class politics. We support the right of the resistance to bear arms, but we also support the people who hold these weapons, the people who help the resistance fighters and gave shelter to those displaced during Israel's 2006 war on Lebanon. The resistance's victory in July 2006 came from the masses, not, as Hezbollah claim, "from heaven".

The economic problems are those of everyday life. Today over a third of the population live under the official poverty line. The minimum wage has remained at $200 per month - the official poverty line - since 1996.

The victory for the resistance over imperialism provides a golden opportunity for the left. The ruling class will try to build illusions that Lebanon's sectarianism is "embedded within society", but recent struggle has seen a slow withering away of sectarianism, to be replaced by growing class antagonism. Hope, more than ever, lies within the grasp of the working class.


Bassem Chit is a member of the Leftist Assembly for Change