The workers, politics and the left in Morocco

Submitted by cathy n on 12 September, 2011 - 6:04

Ziyad, from Courant Marxiste Révolutionnaire, Morocco, spoke to Ed Maltby.

In Morocco, young people were influenced by what had happened in Tunisia, and also by the various calls coming from other so-called Arab countries, calling on people to demonstrate against dictators, for human rights. They initially came together around demands which stopped at a certain political ceiling: that is, minimal democratic demands. On 20 February people came out to demonstrate for social justice, against repression and against corruption.

There were some so-called “theorists” of the Moroccan regime, who tried to minimise and rubbish the protest, saying that in Morocco it was not necessary, we were making a transition to a new democratic society, with the new King who was taking a new direction.

But on the day of the demonstrations, all the calculations of these theoreticians and of the Moroccan regime were confounded because there were a lot of people who came out into the streets, in all the towns of Morocco, to press their three main demands and call for other rights too. The feeling that existed in the population was urgent. They were just waiting for an opportunity to let their discontent blow up in the face of the system, and demand their rights.

The movement was obliged to organise a core for itself, and a list of demands. They had to do that, otherwise the movement would have become uncontrollable. In the first days of the movement, in the Rif, it started out seriously violent, with the burning of police stations, deaths and so on. There was a danger of pointless violence and provocation. And so the young people wanted to organise themselves properly, around a well-defined list of demands.

The first groups who came out to write this list of demands were the social-democrats and the Islamists, who were able to put their stamp on things. The Moroccan social-democrats took up an old demand of theirs, for “parliamentary monarchy”. This would form the ceiling of the movement – you can demand anything you like, so long as it does not surpass the framework of parliamentary monarchy. So the parliamentary monarchy was on the list of demands. It was also a demand of the Islamists, who are not Salafists or Jihadists but we can still call them extremists. They in fact want a Caliphate, with “shura”-style committees underneath it.

The CMR called on all its members and all activists to participate in the movement. Even if we didn’t entirely agree with the demands on the list, we nevertheless supported the struggle against corruption and for rights: and the dynamic of the movement cut against the slogan of parliamentary monarchy. We were never going to demand to replace an archaic, dictatorial, undemocratic monarchy with a parliamentary monarchy! But we wanted to participate in the movement, with the demonstrators.

Bit by bit, the demonstrations started to take place every week, every Sunday. That was the position of the Secretariat, which was the body that unified all the 20 February protest groups around Morocco. So at each demonstration, the numbers got bigger, and we started to see that the mobilisation was ready to criticise the bourgeois state, to look at economic demands, to talk of workers’ issues, to demand housing, jobs and so on – at this point it was clear that the movement was ready to go beyond the slogan of the parliamentary monarchy. As revolutionary Marxists in Morocco, our comrades did all they could to support this development, and to criticise the bourgeois state, the nature of work in Morocco, the health system and the exploitation of the poor and working people. We fixed our work on that level.

We used our newspaper to put out the demands that we wanted. We told people that there was one weapon we could use: to call for strikes. Not necessarily a general strike, if that was not possible, but for ongoing strikes, as much as possible, that could stop the economic operation of the country. People didn’t go so far as to start a strike wave, but they did take up our demands.

It was at that point that the attacks of the Social Democrats and the bourgeoisie and the Islamists against the left began to increase. We can talk of four main political currents – the Social-democrats and the Islamists, and on the far-left, the Revolutionary Marxist Current, and another far-left group, called Voie Démocratique (VD are a Marxist-Leninist party that has existed for a long time, which has participated in the demonstrations); and then there are young people with no political label, who participate in the movement and are looking for ideas.

The Islamists and Social-democrats united to form a camp opposed to the radical left - the CMR and VD. The social democrats and the Islamists do not want to pass the political limit they have imposed, which is the parliamentary monarchy demand. The centre of their power is in the centre of the country – Rabat and Casa, in this zone there. The radical left’s demands are dominant in the North, in the Rif and the industrial south. You don’t see parliamentary monarchy demands there, or demands for vague social justice, but people saying directly, “get rid of the King” and calling for a constitutional assembly and the dissolution of the Parliament. These are the three slogans which unify demonstrators in the North, the South and the Rif. But in the centre the contrary is the case. There they demand a parliamentary monarchy, and in the general meetings of the 20 February Secretariat their activists accuse other militants as being extremists.

We demand the increase of salaries, the shortening of the working day, and housing for all, as well as the formal recognition of the Berber language as a language of Morocco, and the end to all political arrests. We try to create a political platform together with people who are in struggle for their economic rights. Those people struggling for their economic rights will find themselves blocked by the regime, or the bosses, or the law or whoever, and they will in this way come to the political movement against this regime.

The CMR has recently created a new trade union organisation in Morocco, called the Voie Syndicale Combative. It’s not aimed to replace the existing unions, and we call on all our militants to work within the existing unions. We know very well that it is there that we will find workers. We must work in the unions and fight the bureaucracy. But the fight against the bureaucracy from within became very difficult and there came a point where we chose to launch another union, made up of self-organised committees of workers, district by district. So for example, the textile workers of this or that district, the phosphate miners of this or that district. Under pressure from this initiative, the main trade union federation of Morocco, the CNT, in order to maintain its credibility, called on people to boycott the King’s constitutional referendum.

Before speaking of the constitution, the demonstrations started to grow and the demands began to radicalise to the point where the King started to retreat. At first he said that he would change the prime minister, and people said that it wouldn’t be enough; then he said that he would replace his whole government and people didn’t accept that either; and then he announced a referendum on a whole new constitution. I see this as a defeat for the Moroccan monarchy, which has given more confidence to the demonstrators. It is not easy to get the King to agree to a referendum on a whole constitution!

It is true that the movement is going ahead too slowly. But much has been achieved. The biggest thing that has been achieved is the separation between the social-democrats and Islamists on the one hand, and the far-left on the other. We can see this difference within the movement. At the start of the movement, people didn’t necessarily see the difference between our programmes. But we have become visibly different with our independent programme. In Morocco, the struggle is not against a normal-style dictator. The Moroccan Monarchy is the biggest economic power in Morocco, with a huge political power. The King has control over 70% of the country’s wealth, making him a real partner with the imperialists. It would be relatively easy, for example, for the imperialists to have replaced Ben Ali with a different pawn. It would be much harder for them to sacrifice the Moroccan monarchy – he is a collaborator and an economic partner. There is no Moroccan bourgeoisie which could play the same role as the Moroccan monarchy vis-à-vis imperialism.

The struggle against the monarchy is also in large part a struggle against European and American imperialism. That can be seen in the letters of congratulation that the European Parliament has sent the King.

In the North and the Rif and the South, we are trying to mobilise people to encircle the central region. In Casa there were live rounds fired at a demonstration last week. The strategy in the centre now is to occupy public spaces and try to spark a strike, until the monarchy accepts the protesters’ demands.

We know that there is a weakness in the Moroccan far left. That weakness is the lack of a clear political organisation. There is now a debate over perspectives and over how to create such an organisation. There is a debate over whether or not to create a broad, NPA-style party, which unites the Stalinists in VD with the CMR and so on; and whether we should make a front of democratic, social-democratic and leftwing parties in order to respond to the pressing questions of the moment. But we have refused all such schemas so far. We are for the creation of a revolutionary party, based on Lenin’s book What is to be done?. We can debate and make criticisms here and there, but we mean first of all to apply Lenin’s theory of organisation and then see what to do next.

We can’t just announce a revolutionary party, it needs to be built. And there are other tendencies on the far left who should be included within a revolutionary party – not just the CMR. We must prepare the tools, the cadres, with which we can fill the vacuum in politics which has appeared. We have refused all collaboration with the Islamists and the social-democrats in demonstrations. We debate with them in the Secretariat of 20 February – but we have refused to work with them in the streets. Some people didn’t understand this, and we lost out at first, as people said we all had to be together against the King – but now people see that we are different, and they understand in what ways we are different from the reformists and Islamists, and so through keeping an independent profile, we have gained far more ground than we lost at the outset.

The CMR has existed, at first as a regroupment of individual activists, since the beginning of the workers’ fight against Stalinism. The Moroccan far left has been historically dominated by a number of different Stalinist-influenced parties. The CMR decided to do entry work inside these parties rather than forming an independent party. There were militants in those parties who we could not allow to fall into the false theory and practice of their leaderships. Our first goal was to go into these parties and defend authentic, unadulterated Marxist politics against the pile of Stalinist lies. In 1997, the CMR came out of these parties, under their own name and their own flag. A comrade had been killed by the police, Abdel al-Nasser, a worker in the marine fishing fleet, and we came out as the CMR to demonstrate about it. This was a big surprise for many on the Moroccan political scene, who did not know that there was a current that was developing itself in secret within these different parties.

There are three tendencies within the CMR. There are Morenist and Mandelite comrades, and there is a third tendency which is not affiliated to either international current, but which defends Leninist ideas of the notion of the party, and the theory of permanent revolution against ideas of shortcuts. Between the three tendencies, there are disagreements over different subjects, but we try to keep all the currents in the same group with the same paper, and to work together. We must address these differences to avoid a split at the decisive moment – as most splits take place at the most decisive and interesting moments.

The biggest disagreement is over the creation of a broad NPA-style party, which is defended by the comrades who are closer to the Mandelite current.

We attempt to exist in many sectors, especially in the working-class districts. We have tried different initiatives. We have, for example, set up workers’ clubs in the South, in Agadir. These are not trade unions but their only purpose is education and to enrich the workers’ cultural and theoretical knowledge. They are like schools, which teach everything, from the most simple to the most complicated. For example, in the Agadir workers’ club of Aït Melloul, we have 2,600 members or more, which is more than double the number of trade unionists in the whole city. But we don’t intend to turn these clubs into trade unions.

In the student movement, we operate as “revolutionary students”. We try to operate in many sectors of industry – we have many comrades in maritime fishing in the South and in the big industrial farms in the countryside. Also we have comrades in the phosphate mines.

There has been in recent years a growth in struggles which we do not consider to be class struggles, such as ATTAC and social forums. Many revolutionary-minded young people have gone into these struggles, which means that the ATTAC group in Morocco and the campaigns it involves itself in have a different character to in France.

Western Sahara? We say that the Sarahawi people must be able to decide their own destiny. We don’t call it Moroccan Sahara, we call it Western Sahara. It must be free. We do criticise Polisario, which is a rotten, corrupted front, in league with dictators and infected by Stalinism. It is in an advanced stage of degeneration, nationalist and Islamist.

The policy of the Stalinists in the demonstrations is to raise slogans about socialism and so on. But when it comes to talking about what happens when you replace the King, and what kind of state is to come next, they become very vague. We don’t want to lose the participation of their militants in the fight for democracy. But their attitude is stage-ist, focussed only on democratic demands and not on going any further.