Hezbollah's doomed compromise
On one side stood Hezbollah, the Shia based resistance movement that ejected the Israeli occupation in 2000 and defeated Israel's invasion in 2006. On the other side in Lebanon's near-civil war stood Sunni Muslim and Druze militias backing leading pro-government billionaire Sa'ad Hariri, son of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri, whose assassination forced the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon in 2005.
In May, the country was right on the brink of civil war when Hezbollah and its allies seized mainly Sunni Muslim West Beirut and disarmed the militia of Hariri's Future Movement, before handing it over to a Lebanese Army unwilling to side with the government. They were also successful in putting down the fighters of pro-government Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, although without damaging his popular base to the same extent. Meanwhile, Hariri's supporters in the north of the country took revenge for their humiliation on the small Alawite minority in Tripoli, and massacred 14 pro-Syrian activists in Halba.
The peace deal granted the Hezbollah-led opposition practically all the demands it had made since its decision in December 2006 to withdraw from the government coalition and launch mass street protests. Hezbollah now has a third of the seats in a transitional cabinet (giving it a veto over controversial decisions), pending parliamentary elections to be held under a new election law favourable to Hezbollah's Christian allies (the Free Patriotic Movement of former army head Michel Aoun).
In return, the opposition has pledged to cooperate with the pro-government March 14 coalition in electing a new President (an office left vacant since the expiry of pro-Syrian president Emile Lahoud's term of office in November 2007), and promised in future not to use the "weapons of the resistance" to resolve internal conflicts.
This of course is an empty promise, as is the implication that newly reappointed prime minister Fouad Seniora will not use force either. After all the government - and the Sunni, Druze and Christian sectarian parties supporting it - had just tried to resolve its crisis of legitimacy through the use of force, in a failed attempt to close Hezbollah's optic-cable telecoms network. It was this network that Hezbollah used to such effect in defending the country against Israel's 33-day bombardment in 2006. The scale of this latest provocation, and the complete unpreparedness of the official and pro-government forces for real fighting with Hezbollah, suggests that the government may have been counting on US or even Israeli intervention against a "terrorist coup d'etat". In the event, George Bush and Ehud Olmert decided discretion was the better part of valour.The Siniora government's actions were a blatant attempt to start the disarmament of Hezbollah, the only effective military resistance to the Zionist state. This is a key US policy objective since Israel's defeat in 2006, and the first step towards bringing Lebanon into a pro-US bloc confronting Syria, Iran and the Iraqi resistance. In this bloc too are the reactionary Arab regimes, principally Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt.
It was correct for working class forces in Lebanon to side with Hezbollah's resistance to the government's attempt to disarm it. Yet Hezbollah's pursuit of a rotten deal that gives it an enhanced place in Lebanon's undemocratic confessional system (where power is shared out on the basis of religious affiliation), should be condemned. Indeed the Islamist movement is blocking of genuine democratic and social reforms, and re-enforcing a system which divides of the working class and popular masses along religious lines. Despite its military resistance to Israel. Hezbollah's policy therefore ultimately weakens the ability of the Lebanese masses to resist Israel's aggression and US imperialism's regional designs. Whatever the courage of its resistance fighters, Hezbollah's Islamist politics are not the answer to the problems of Lebanon and the Middle East.
A principled working class party in Lebanon - while uniting in action with all forces fighting Israeli and US aggression - would seek to build a radically different axis of resistance, an alternative to Hezbollah and the Islamists.
In contrast to the merry-go-round of elections, electoral laws and constitutional compromises, it would raise the slogan of a constituent assembly elected on the basis of one person, one vote, without religious weighting, in which the relations between Lebanon's minorities, its relations with Syria, Palestine and the Arab world, and the question of what sort of social and economic regime - capitalist or socialist - the country should be based on could be openly debated out in front of the whole people.
To convene one would require a working class struggle against the confessional system, against the system of capitalist exploitation obscured and protected by it, against the subordination of all the Arab countries to imperialism under the armed guard of the Zionist state.
A starting point would be the struggles of the workers and exploited classes (of all religions) against the pauperisation induced by neo-liberal globalisation. The political crisis in Lebanon is related to a massive economic crisis - a huge national debt, inflation and the collapse of public services that have hit the urban poor especially hard - an issue that was not even touched on at the so-called "peace talks" in Qatar.
As economist Karim Makdisi noted, "the opposition... is more or less in agreement with the government in regards to social and economic policy... Both... have attempted to sweep the main social and economic issues facing Lebanon under the carpet".
That the Shi'a form a large part of the urban poor - and that Hezbollah's ally Amal more or less controls the trade unions - has allowed the anti-government opposition to exploit the workers' grievances in their bid for power. Workers' strikes over the minimum wage and against power cuts have themselves been turned on and off, as the opposition have tried to prevent them acquiring a momentum of their own.
The Lebanese Communist Party, for its part, has failed both to give a class lead to these struggles and to develop a force independent of the religious confessional parties. This is a consequence of its "two stages" theory - a legacy of Stalinism - which insists that the struggle for democratic demands and national freedom are a separate stage that must be completed before the working class can fight for its own government.
By contrast, the programme of authentic Leninism-Trotskyism bases itself on the strategy of permanent revolution: on the recognition that in countries like Lebanon, the bourgeois parties - of whatever religious stripe - cannot and will not lead even the struggle for democracy and national independence to a successful conclusion. For that, the working class must come to the head of the struggle and, on seizing power, must pursue its own class goals: the abolition of capitalism in Lebanon, the spreading of social revolution across the region, the formation of a Socialist United States of the Middle East.