The Lebanese Communist Party: A Forlorn Hope
By: Elie Hanna
Published Sunday, December 2, 2012
The Lebanese Communist Party is 88 years old. Known for its dogged fights for Lebanese rights in previous decades, its current members speak of an ideology crisis that has paralyzed the party from within. Are the golden days of the party a thing of the past, or does the party have plans to reconnect with a disillusioned public?
“When it rains in Moscow, Arab Communists open their umbrellas.”
This was once a common allegation of opponents of Arab communist parties. Back then, when Lebanese communists were spearheading the union movement in the country, they were accused of importing their ideology from the Soviet Union.
Presently, the Lebanese Communist Party (LCP) is widely believed to be in crisis – one that begins with the base, and continues to the top of the pyramid.
There has been much talk about the party’s problems and about how best to characterize them. Some believe the issue to be one of organization, while others consider it the result of failed leadership. Yet some argue that it is a crisis of ideology and political vision first and foremost.
One member of the LCP Central Committee believes that the party has become isolated from the public opinion, having failed to make the alliances needed to gain popular support, because the LCP believes alliances run contrary to its independence and would pressure it to become subservient to other factions.
“This is one of our major mistakes,” the LCP member stressed.
This mentality is reinforced by the view that the entire political class is corrupt. Yet the communists avoided dealings with this class without formulating a clear political discourse for the current period.
“We live on reactions,” one communist leader proclaimed. “We wait for an event to happen and then we react.” These reactions are paraphrased and then sent as statements to media outlets, which run the briefs at the “very bottom” of their bulletins.
The communists are also saddened by the inability of the party to forecast future events. “We were surprised by the Arab Spring,” said one LCP member. “We were also shocked by how much the political class has sought to emasculate the working class.”
The real world and the LCP exist on two separate planes. What does the party need to do? Lenin’s books are gathering dust on the shelves of libraries in the party centers. Putting together educational lessons can be as difficult a chore as fighting an election.
One leading communist activist active in universities believes that the party needs to maintain direct contact with the public in order to promote its political vision. The LCP, the activist maintained, must also adopt all the demands of trade unions and advocacy groups, and push them into the political limelight.
The young activist, a longtime member of the party, hopes that the 11th LCP Conference will be exceptional and will be on par with its second conference. He wagers on young people “like us, to provide a new model of activism away from exclusion and marginalization, the two traits that have mired the course of action taken by the party leadership since the sixth conference.”
The upcoming LCP party conference, which is supposed to take place in February, seems likely to be postponed. For one thing, the LCP has not yet invited its members to prepare political and organizational papers to be presented at the conference, according to a Central Committee member.
This member maintained that it is now impossible for the conference to be held on time, in light of the profound differences among communists. These differences, he said, have paralyzed all the party’s institutions, and are pushing things towards further aggravation.
Another member of the committee believes that those who are not taking part in the battle for restoring the party’s role are the same ones seeking to undermine it. This committee member, who hails from the Metn district in Mount Lebanon, highlighted the need to forge alliances on the basis of common grounds with other political factions.
Posses of communist commentators often start futile online debates, while promising figures emerge only to “retire” a few months later. “Whoever joins the Communist Party is probably suicidal,” according to a senior LCP member.
Yet amidst the disgruntled and disillusioned masses, there remain some who still believe in the party and its ideology. They know little about the internal disputes, and the implicit compromises that lurk between the minutes of LCP meetings.
But the majority of those believers lay forgotten in the periphery. They only visit the capital on special occasions, and they find it hard to name even five of the politburo members.
They know that they are individuals who have not succumbed to sectarianism in the country, and they know the limits of their party when compared to the political barons, but in the end, they are a peace with themselves.
In Lenin's characterization of the revolutionary process in Russia, he divided it into three periods. He called the third one a period of disunity, dissolution, and vacillation. During this period, he said, “revolutionary bureaucracy” was dominant, in conjunction with what he called “infantile playing at democratic forms.”
This prompted the Bolshevik leader to take action to move towards the crucial fourth period, and he succeeded. Today, the communists in Lebanon are seeking to avoid having to drink from the bitter cup of this “third period.”
The LCP’s symbol, a Red Oak tree, is now 88 years old. Ultimately, the party, “which has promised no privileges,” must work harder. Those who do nothing make no mistakes. The Lebanese Communists have a lot to do.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.