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From The Socialist newspaper, 11 August 2021

Beirut's devastating port explosion one year on

Justice can only be served by ending corrupt capitalism

Damage to buildings and apartments in Beirut after the massive explosion in the city's port on 4 August 2020. Many other areas of the capital were reduced to rubble

Damage to buildings and apartments in Beirut after the massive explosion in the city's port on 4 August 2020. Many other areas of the capital were reduced to rubble   (Click to enlarge)

Iain Dalton, Socialist Party national committee

One year ago in Lebanon, a huge devastating explosion of illegally stored ammonium nitrate at Beirut's port resulted in the loss of over 200 lives, 7,500 injured, and around 300,000 people made homeless. That evening of 4 August 2020 will continue to be seen as the moment when the rank corruption of Lebanon's sectarian political system and capitalist rule caused an avoidable tragedy.

No one has yet been prosecuted for the tragedy. Instead, the past few months have seen the families of the victims of the explosion, and their supporters, lobbying the Interior Ministry. They are demanding that the judge inquiring into the explosion interrogates the Director-General of Public Security - among others currently protected under immunities.

The already dire economic and social situation, at the time of the explosion, has careered even further out of control.

Alongside the further decline of the Lebanese currency have come huge price rises and massive shortages of almost everything, including basic essential medicines. Wildfires have also been raging in the countryside.

As the Guardian highlighted: "In the year since Beirut began picking up the pieces, the Lebanese currency has plunged 15-fold in value. Hyperinflation has put staple foods out of reach of much of its population.

"Vital medicines can no longer be found - a four-year-old girl died from a scorpion sting because anti-venom was out of stock. And there is not enough fuel to supply the undergunned electricity sector or the private generator mafia that plugs the gap, charging exorbitant prices to do so."

Although the 'technocratic government' of Hassan Diab was forced to resign as a result of the explosion, no replacement has been formed. The prime minister overthrown by the mass protests of October 2019, Saad Hariri, was initially selected as prime minister-designate.

But after ten months of wrangling over ministers' portfolios - particularly with Lebanese President Michel Aoun of the Christian Maronite Free Patriotic Movement, and the Shia-based Hezbollah - Hariri finally resigned, unable to form a government.

His replacement as prime minister-designate is Najib Mikati, also a former prime minister, as well as being the richest man in Lebanon with a wealth of around $2.5 billion.

Mikati is perhaps one of the few people who could fill the post, which is mandated to be filled by a Sunni, according to Lebanon's sectarian-based constitution, who would be acceptable to both Aoun and Hezbollah, having formed a previous government with them in 2011.

He aims to form a government and thereby unlock some of the aid from various foreign governments, much of which has been verbally predicated on the formation of a government.

The western imperialist powers may content themselves with imposing sanctions on some leading politicians (especially Hezbollah-linked), as the US has done.

But, a Mikati government, as the Socialist previously said of the formation of a government under Hariri, "offers no solution to the Lebanese masses. They will be expected to suffer further for the stabilisation of the profits of the Lebanese capitalists and imperialism."

What way forward?

A Mikati government, formed on this basis, would perpetuate the patronage and corruption that has preceded it, including under governments he has headed in the past.

Moreover, the 'reforms' demanded by imperialism would include cutbacks and privatisations, which would attack the living standards of the working class and poor of Lebanon even more.

Such attacks are bound to lead to mass opposition movements again developing on the streets of Lebanon, as working people refuse to be made the scapegoats.

Given Lebanon's history of sectarian division and civil war, the threat of new sectarian conflicts is implicit in the country's unstable situation.

Worryingly, there have been some tit-for-tat sectarian killings recently in the south of Beirut between those from Shia and Sunni backgrounds, with the latest incident being the murder of five people at a funeral for a member of Hezbollah.

However, many of the mass demonstrations of the past two years have been marked by a distinct anti-sectarianism. The last year has also seen shifts develop in student unions and among the syndicates (unions) of professionals.

This has included defeats for candidates' lists led by or combining many of the major sectarian parties (including the Future Movement, Free Patriotic Movement, Hezbollah, and Amal) in the Bar Association, last year.

In the Order of Engineers and Architects elections, in July, the 'Order Revolts' candidate won 72% of the vote, following significant wins at lower levels of the association, including in Beirut, where the lead candidate was one of the parents of a child killed in last August's explosion.

Alongside the development of new independent unions, there is the possibility of re-forging the workers' movement in the country. The pressure developing from below will have been a key factor in the calling of a one-day general strike in June by the General Confederation of Lebanese Workers.

Working-class representation

But rebuilding fighting organisations among workers and youth is only one part of the problem of how to break from the sectarian-dominated situation confronting Lebanon. Equally important is the question of independent working-class political representation.

While parliamentary elections are due under the current sectarian system in May 2022, a key demand must be the convening of a revolutionary constituent assembly, based upon elected representatives from workplaces and communities, and fully accountable and recallable by those who elect them.

The assembly should fight to replace the current sectarian status quo, with a government representing the working class and poor.

A number of new parties and formations have sprung up in recent years on a non-sectarian basis. However, many are dominated by ideas of 'cross-class collaboration'. Several are led by wealthy business people, who would be probably even more likely than the sectarian parties to attempt to carry out the savage attacks on working-class living standards demanded by imperialism in return for aid.

In contrast, the policy of an independent non-sectarian workers' party must be not only to tear up Lebanon's sectarian constitution, but the repudiation of the national debts run up by the sectarian parties and the rotten capitalist system they depend upon.

A mass workers' party should adopt socialist policies, including a monopoly of foreign trade, nationalisation of the banks and other major monopolies under democratic workers' control and management, among other key demands.

Capitalism in Lebanon offers nothing but more misery and an increasingly desperate situation for the working class.

Only a bold socialist alternative put forward by the workers' movement, and drawing the rest of the poor and oppressed of the country behind them, can offer a real way out of the sectarian nightmare in the country.

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In The Socialist 11 August 2021:


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Beirut's devastating port explosion one year on


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