From the July-August 2011 issue of News & Letters:
by Richard Greeman
Morocco, where the Arab Spring has opened up a space of relative freedom to discuss and demonstrate, is an exciting place to be, where every day new groups are getting organized and putting forward their grievances. The Feb. 20th Movement, which started among students on Facebook and rode the wave of massive demonstrations sweeping the Arab world, owes its unity to an excellent ten-point program which all its adherents–including Marxists, Islamists, Human Rights fighters, etc.–must observe. So it is very broad and heterodox, but united in action. It has been able to keep up its demonstrations, and is now moving towards deepening its roots in the community and countryside.
I had the opportunity to give a talk at the Benslimane section of the Moroccan Human Rights Association and made some of the very same points as your editorial, in my own words. (French translated into Arabic!) Every time I talk at a meeting with Arab comrades, I tell them about the Wisconsin effect and how delightfully ironic it is that the Arabs are teaching the Americans about democracy! They videoed the meeting, and I hope it will be on YouTube soon.
The occasion was a book-launch for the Arabic publication of Raya Dunayevskaya’s Marxism and Freedom (translated as Socialism and Freedom), sponsored by the Victor Serge Foundation (which paid for the translation) and introduced by Maâti Monjib and myself.
THE ARABIC MARXISM AND FREEDOM
We sold 38 copies, and of the whole run of 3,000, only 400 were returned–pretty amazing in Moroccan publishing. Maâti says that in Morocco they count five readers for every book, which means more than 12,000 Moroccans may soon read this Marxist-Humanist classic. It couldn’t have come at a better time. I’ve asked a couple of comrades to review it in Arabic, and we are hoping to have the Arabic available online soon, and to promote editions in Egypt and/or Lebanon if possible.
The subject they gave me was “Human Rights and Left Ideologies” which gave me the opportunity to dismiss all ideologies–free market, Islamist, totalitarian communist, nationalist etc.–as forms of false consciousness rationalizing the power of one or another ruling class. All ideologies are oppressive. So what is needed is a philosophy of Freedom. As for the “human rights” part of the topic, I took as my text Hegel’s Master/Slave dialectic, where the Master knows only his privilege and arbitrary will, while the slave, revolting against her oppression, discovers a mind of her own.
This went over well with my audience, half of whom were women wearing head scarves. Especially when I used “husband” and “brother” along with “Pharaoh” as examples of the Master.
HUMAN RIGHTS AS SUBJECT, AS REVOLT
So human rights became a question of Subject, of women’s revolt and self-activity, rather than an object, something handed down by the UN. I tried to make the point that the best way to overcome the influence of Salafism (reactionary Islamism) is not to polemicise (which would be accepting our opponent’s ground for debate) but to undermine Salafism by insisting on women’s equality, women’s rights.
As the women lined up for me to sign their copies of Raya’s book in Arabic as Prefacer, I wished I could speak Arabic and had more time to talk with them individually. One thing I learned is that what a woman puts on her head doesn’t necessarily tell you what’s going on in her head.
You are right to note that women’s rights are central to the developing social revolution in the Arab world, and the revolutionaries of the Feb. 20th Movement I met in Rabat and Marrakesh all seemed very much aware of this. For them, it is no longer a question of solving the “women question” after the revolution, but of putting it first, at the cutting edge of the struggle.
This is also the line of the senior leaders of La Voie Démocratique, the historic Marxist (more or less Trotskyist) party in Morocco, with whom I spoke. This is a big step forward. So is the recognition of mass creativity from below on the part of these old Marxist fighters, many of whom endured prison and torture under the reign of the previous King, Hassan II.