Lebanon News

Communists seen as playing leading role in protests

Supporters of the Lebanese Communist Party attend a protest as they mark Labor Day in Beirut. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Many regard the Lebanese Communist Party as part of the country’s past, particularly given the infighting and division which have plagued the group since the fall of the Soviet Union. But surprisingly, LCP members and supporters from all across Lebanon are playing a leading role in anti-government protests.

All of a sudden, LCP slogans and chants are appearing at demonstrations and making it into the news again, and sayings by communist icons such as Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin are circulating on social media.

But many party members believe that internal reform and the resolution of leadership disputes are necessary for the party’s revival.

“This occasion came to unite communists inside and outside the party, and even unite those inside the party who are divided in their stance from the party’s leadership,” said Atallah al-Salim, who leads the party’s Department of Youth and Students. “It has proved that communists can unite on the street, which is their main field,” Salim told The Daily Star.

The LCP is Lebanon’s oldest party, which in the 1970s boasted tens of thousands of members who rallied behind socio-economic demands and political reform. But the group has almost disappeared from the political scene in recent years, weakened by internal disputes and rising sectarian tension. Its members are now estimated to number just a few thousand.

The party gained momentum with the outbreak of anti-government protests in July, triggered by a trash crisis in Beirut and Mount Lebanon.

Protesters’ demands soon exceeded a solution to the garbage crisis, with some calling for the fall of the political system, an end to corruption and improved services such as electricity and water.

“I believe the communists have no choice but to be in the front lines of such a popular movement, because its demands converge with the political path of the party,” Salim said.

He pointed to the protesters’ frustration with rampant corruption and the sectarian allocation of posts, and their calls for an electoral law based on proportional representation and economic reform, saying all of these have been part of the LCP’s political rhetoric for decades.

Salim said that the group’s heavy participation in recent anti-government protests was the culmination of its role in demonstrations against the sectarian system in 2011 and protests by the Union Coordination Committee of 2013 and 2014.

“There is a dialectic relationship between the communist party and this popular movement,” said Imad Samaha, a member of LCP’s Central Committee. “The stronger the movement is, the stronger the party is, and vice versa.”

He added that the party should take advantage of recent protests to revive its role.

Salim said the party could attract new young members through its participation in the protests, but noted that the “battle of reform within the party” must continue to prevent new members from withdrawing.

“You cannot bring these young members, with all the energy they have, into a party marred by a huge number of problems,” Salim said.

“We had such an experience before. We attracted dozens of young members when we took part in protests against the sectarian system in 2011. Very few are still members of the party today as a result of internal disputes.”

“Any young member joining the party ... should feel that there is accountability in this party which is totally absent right now, and that the leadership has confidence in party ranks and vice versa,” Salim said.

Many LCP members blame party leader Khaled Hadadeh and other members of the leadership for the party’s decline, and accuse them of postponing the LCP’s 11th National Congress to remain in power.

The congress convenes every four years, and a 60-member Central Committee, which has legislative and oversight authorities, is elected.

Also elected are the 19 members of the politburo, the party’s executive branch. One of the politburo members is elected secretary-general.

The congress was last held in 2008, when Hadadeh was elected for a second term as secretary-general. It did not convene in 2012, under several pretexts, including the outbreak of the Syrian crisis and massive internal divisions.

The congress was finally set for Oct. 23, raising hopes of an end to the infighting.

But the LCP’s politburo has decided to postpone it again, saying that the group was too busy with the anti-government protests.

Speaking to The Daily Star, Hadadeh said that LCP’s logic and slogans were gaining popularity for two reasons: mounting socioeconomic problems and the weakness of a political system that no longer ranks high on the agenda of the international community.

“We are not saying that we triggered this popular movement. This social awareness is prompting people to take to streets, and it is normal that the left and the communists be in the forefront.”

While acknowledging that there are differences within the LCP, Hadadeh said that the communists would unite over socio-economic and political demands.

“They feel there is hope for a serious social movement and for the endorsement of an election law that will pave the way for actual reform in the country; a law that adopts the entirety of Lebanon as one electoral district, based on proportional representation and without the sectarian allotment of Parliament seats,” Hadadeh said.

The LCP leader claimed the protests would help set the party’s house in order, and said the upcoming conference would see young members who have played a leading role in the popular movement elected to top posts.

Hadadeh denied that any LCP members have accused the leadership of using the protests to postpone the congress.

“There are differences over what should have priority, this public movement or the congress,” Hadadeh said.

“Some youth believe that convening the congress as soon as possible helps the public movement, while the leadership believes that focusing on backing the protests in their early phase now will lead to a better atmosphere at the congress, and help the youth assume a leading role in it,” Hadadeh said.

He also denied that the congress had been postponed.

“Preparations for the congress are ongoing, but at a slow pace because we want it to serve the popular movement rather than [conflict] with it.”

“Whether the conference will convene in October, November or December is a detail.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 30, 2015, on page 4.

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