‘The Dictator Has Been Defeated, But Not Yet the Dictatorship’

Hamma Hammami

Interview with the spokesperson of the Communist Party of the Workers of Tunisia (PCOT) by Baudoin Deckers, the Party of Labour of Belgium (PTB), and posted at http://solidarite-internationale-pcf.over-blog.net/

The revolutions and big demonstrations in the Arab world have stirred up a wind of optimism in the world. What does that mean for you, this movement which started in your country?

Hamma Hammami. It is a great revolution, whether at the level of the Arab countries or of other countries of our region. Other peoples can draw some lessons from this revolution.

First, the Tunisian people have made this revolution by relying on their own forces. In many Arab countries, people claimed that one could not make revolution against dictatorships such as Ben Ali without the support of France, the United States or other foreign forces. Our people showed that by relying on one’s own forces, one can depose a dictator such as Ben Ali, backed up by a gigantic security apparatus.

Then, the Tunisian people made this revolution with almost total unity. For more than a month, there was not heard a single religious slogan, which could divide the Tunisian people. The Tunisian people are united around their democratic, economic and social aspirations.

For you, this revolution is not over. Why not?

Hamma Hammami. The revolution is still going on. It has not yet really achieved its democratic and social goals. It has defeated a dictator, but it has not yet defeated the dictatorship. The political police, the main pillar of the dictatorship, are still there and very active. The parliament is still there. It is a puppet parliament since it had to agree with Ben Ali to be able to sit. The interim president is a member of Ben Ali’s party, very close to him. The government is still led by Mohammed Ghannouchi, Ben Ali’s Prime Minister, and his ministers come from the same circle. The corrupt high officials are still in their positions. The Constitution made the dictatorship possible, it is still unchanged. The dictatorship passed countless anti-social and anti-democratic laws to protect itself and these are still in force. In the hands of the present government, all these laws and institutions can still be used against the people. Thus, the Ben Ali regime is still in place.

This is why the popular movement is continuing, despite the promises of the present government. The movement demands the dissolution of the present government. It rejects the ‘revised’ governments such as the present one. The former party in power, the RCD [Constitutional Democratic Union, which until last January 18 was still a member of the Socialist International, PTB editor’s note], should really be dissolved.

No, one cannot say that the revolution has been completed. It has not yet overcome the reactionary forces. They are still there, but weakened. This revolution must be continued with great determination, but also with a lot of tactical sense to preserve the unity of the Tunisian people and to not fall into the divisions which could have very negative repercussions on the progress of this revolution, which the peoples of the Arab world look to with great hope.

Some people present the revolution in Tunisia as a spontaneous event...

Hamma Hammami. This is false. They say that in order to discredit and deny the role of the revolutionary and progressive forces in the opposition during the last years. This is also a way to say that one should try to find a way out of this revolution with the former party in power, that the traditional politicians must regain the leadership of a movement which does not have one. This movement was not spontaneous except to the degree that it was not organised at the national level. It did not have a single leadership or a common program. But this does not mean that it lacked consciousness or organisation.

The consciousness exists, since the actors in this movement are above all members of the left, progressives, trade unionists and human rights activists. They are young unemployed graduates who belong to the student movement. Our party is there, our forces are present. The Islamists, on the other hand, have not really participated. This is why, in this revolution, there were no religious slogans. But politically, the Islamists supported the movement.

At the organisational level, the militants are very quickly organised into committees. From the first day of this revolution, in some villages there was a lack of real power. Together with the democrats, we called on the people to organise. That is what they did in the villages and regions, sometimes in assemblies, which are called ‘popular assemblies’ or ‘assemblies to safeguard the revolution’, sometimes in committees or leagues. Here in Tunis, the people are organised into popular or neighbourhood committees. They choose their leaders from among the most active militants in the course of this revolution. Their structure is still weak and embryonic. There is not yet real centralisation at the national level. But, little by little, these committees are being transformed into committees that are discussing the situation and the future, and what the people can do.

The January 14 Front was formed a few weeks ago. Who makes it up? What is its programme or its demands?

Hamma Hammami. At the political level, the left has managed to gather themselves into a front called the ‘January 14 Front,’ which refers to the day that Ben Ali fled. The left has an undeniable weight in our country. This is at the political or trade union level, at the level of youth or the women’s movement, at the level of human rights or cultural movement. This front is united around slogans and popular demands. Thus there is the demand for the dissolution of the government, the dissolution of the party in power. The Front also demands the formation of a provisional government, consisting of elements who had nothing to do with the Ben Ali regime, his party or the dictatorship. This provisional government would have as its essential task the preparation of elections for a Constituent Assembly. This Assembly would have to draw up the Constitution, the institutions, the basic laws of a Democratic People’s Republic to which the Tunisian people aspire.

We are also united around an economic and social platform, since we consider that the dictatorship was linked to an economic and social base, a comprador bourgeoisie [bourgeoisie whose fortunes are linked to the foreign multinationals, PTB editor’s note] that plundered Tunisia in collaboration with the French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Belgian companies and businesses. We want not only a political democracy but also a social democracy, because we consider that the present revolution is a democratic and national revolution, a popular revolution that must prepare the fundamental changes for the whole of Tunisian society in the future.

On Saturday, February 12, the January 14 Front held its first large public meeting in the Palace of the Congress in Tunis. It was a great success that far exceeded our expectations. The mobilisation took only about three to four days. More than 8,000 people attended, many could not even get in. It was something never seen before.

On February 11, a much broader committee was formed.

Hamma Hammami. Yes, a meeting at the headquarters of the National Council of Lawyers brought together representatives of 28 organisations. Almost all the opposition to Ben Ali, except two parties that have entered Ghannouchi’s government. Apart from 10 organisations of the January 14 Front, there was the one trade union federation UGTT, the Islamist party Ennadha, the Associations of Lawyers, Writers and Journalists, the Union of Tunisian Students and others. All are in agreement with the proposals for the foundation of a ‘National Council to Safeguard the Revolution.’ The platform does not go as far as that of the January 14 Front, since it does not demand the dissolution of the government. Certain forces such as the UGTT have accepted the government. But the 28 signatories demand that the ‘National Council’ has the power of decision concerning all laws and measures preparing for new elections, to ensure that they will be truly democratic and will take place in total freedom. They are asking for the right to supervise all the decisions of the Government and the obligation to submit all nominations for high office for approval to the National Council. The signatories call on the population of all the regions and localities to form Committees to Safeguard the Revolution and the UGTT has made all its premises available. These committees will be represented in the National Council.

You have brought together the different classes and strata of the population who were and are in opposition to the dictatorship. This approach corresponds to the character of this revolution that you call national and democratic. Why?

Hamma Hammami. Since Hannibal [General of Carthage, ancestor of Tunisia in antiquity, PTB editor’s note], this country has never known democracy. Neither the peasants or small shopkeepers, artisans or small producers, teachers or professors. Everyone aspires above all to democracy, together with the workers. It is necessary to be aware of that.

We are trying to unite the people around a single task: to put an end to the dictatorship. We are trying to avoid any division among the popular forces, which could be exploited by reaction. An agreement has been reached with the Islamists and other forces to preserve the unity of the Tunisian people and not to fall into partisan struggles.

But this revolution is also national. The people realise that the corrupt bourgeois elite is by nature comprador, it has plundered our country for the benefit of foreign companies. These are trying to produce cheap to export the products to their markets, not to satisfy the needs of Tunisian society. The interference of the European and American powers is due among other factors to the fact that they want to protect their multinationals at all costs. We need a plan of industrialisation that meets the needs of our people. This is what the people are asking for. The January 14 Front demands the formation of a national economy at the service of the people, where the vital and strategic sectors are under the supervision of the State.

You are a spokesperson of a Communist Party. What is a socialist perspective in Tunisia?

Hamma Hammami. A socialist revolution is not on the agenda today. Yes, as Marxists we believe that eventually one must go over to socialism. This will be necessary to not be caught in the net of world capitalism which is held by the big U.S. and other multinationals. This will be the only way to put an end to the exploitation of man by man. But this way of seeing things is not yet shared widely by all here. We cannot walk too quickly.

One must consider the relationship of political forces. The working class is behind in the plane of consciousness and organisation. The communist movement is still quite weak in our country, even though it is progressing a lot. The other classes are well represented by the liberal camp, the Islamist camp... Therefore one must not make errors.

Through this revolution, the first steps towards socialism can still be made at the economic level. Thus, we are for the nationalisation of the large enterprises for the benefit of the workers. As we mentioned above, this is already required from the viewpoint of recovering our independence. We will not nationalise them for the benefit of a State bourgeoisie [a class which enriches itself at the head of the new State, PTB editor’s note]. The working class must be able to run these enterprises in a democratic manner.

But this is not the case for all sectors of the economy. We would frighten the small shopkeepers, artisans, the small owners of the many workshops in our country; we would set them against the revolution.

And, above all, one must think about the peasants. Our peasantry is very diversified. It is not organised and in general it lags far behind in its level of consciousness. Some regions are more advanced, where there are agricultural workers, who sometimes become poor peasants. They have received plots of land, but they do not work them due to lack of means. They themselves will see collectivisation as a positive outcome. But there are also regions where for decades the peasants have been demanding the land that big capitalists have confiscated from them, but they work them nonetheless. To talk of collectivisation would make them think of the plundering of their lands during the 1960s. In our opinion, one must move towards socialism in a varied and gradual way, while maintaining the greatest unity of the people and to the extent that their experience leads them to see its usefulness and necessity. There is no single model. But there is one single aim, socialism.

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