January 26, 2011

One Fruit Cart – Tunisia

Filed under: Civil Disobedience, Food and Farms, Freedom — Tags: , , — Russ @ 4:18 am


Things are just getting started in Tunisia. That’s what we want the history books to someday write. Things are off to a promising start there. Over a month of sustained spontaneous protest has toppled a despot of decades and forced some political reforms. While this isn’t freedom’s sufficient goal, it’s a great start.
The Ben Ali regime was a typical despotism. It was a calcified crony state integrated into the neoliberal global finance system, its real rulers Western banks and corporations. Like other corporatized colonial despotisms, it was an ally of the US government. Ben Ali himself, who has fled the country taking over a ton of gold with him, was a typically worthless piece of filth. The regime was worthless and decrepit in every way. Tunisia’s economic situation is bleak although not exceptionally so. The stagflation pattern – permanent mass unemployment along with escalating prices for necessities – is rampant here as in other North African and Mideastern countries. (And as will become more and more familiar in the West including America. Stagflation is the only future possible, if we allow the future to go according to corporate plan.)
One difference between Tunisia and most Western kleptocracies is that it didn’t have the hang of neoliberal pseudo-democracy. Instead of holding sham elections and allowing a modicum of free speech which is drowned out by the official sound system, it engaged in clumsy old-style political repression. This lack of a safety valve may be part of the reason revolt broke out here sooner than elsewhere.
The proximate spark was an unemployed college graduate who was assaulted by the police for selling fruits and vegetables without having paid the proper protection money. They confiscated his fruit cart and stock, the one and only thing he had in order to struggle to support his family and try to preserve some shred of human dignity. That’s the exact kind of extortion and confiscation the US government’s recently passed Food Tyranny bill intends to impose on every kind of fruit cart here. In despair, he publicly burned himself alive.
This sparked escalating demonstrations. At first the police responded with violence and repression. They shot protestors and carried out mass arrests. As the protests and street fighting escalated, the now frightened thug Ali promised reforms. They say it was “the first sign of weakness he had ever shown”. The trade union federation UGTT called for mass demonstrations in Tunis. People climbed onto the roof of the hated Interior Ministry. Street battles ensued as the police tried to break up the protest. After trying to switch back to threats of greater repression, the despot fled the country. The prime minister announced a provisional government backed by the army with himself at its head. That was a few days ago. Since then the protests have continued, with the demonstrators and police at a standoff, with the army perhaps separating them. It’s difficult to tell day to day exactly what’s happening, as the information coming out is fragmentary. Needless to say, MSM accounts are unreliable at best. Nobody knows how many people have been murdered by the police. As of 1/17 the official death toll was 78, which means the real tally is much higher.
Wikileaks may have played a role in bringing anger to a flash point. Tunisians were outraged to read cynical US State Department cables which frankly discussed the Tunisian regime as a vile tinpot despotism the US must nevertheless prop up. (So remember that the next time you see some corporate liberal scoffing at how Wikileaks can’t make any difference anyway.) The Western response to the uprising has been typical. Unlike Iran’s uprising which the US system greeted with ardent embrace, here the party line was, “we take no sides”. The extent of covert support for the regime is unknown, although some British kleptocrats went further to deplore the “violence” of the protestors in getting in the way of police bullets. Since when a bullet hits flesh it becomes too damaged to be reused, they must consider this to be destruction of government property.
(We’ve also seen the usual suspects among liberal and social fascist traitors. Most of the same “socialist” and “union” leaders who did all they could to cripple the recent strikes and protests in France rushed to call for restraint on the part of Tunisia’s rebels. The party line among France’s Professional Left has been that the people should seek gradual reform within the existing system, looking toward some electoral Eldorado which may in a hundred years bring the same liberal democracy which has already failed in France itself.
France also harbors some exiled Chalabi-style Tunisian “dissidents”. Evidently these were simply losers in previous palace struggles, who now look for an opportunity to slink back and pose as “leaders”.
This guy, a self-proclaimed “human rights activist”, deplores the atrocities of the rabid mob:

The perspective guiding the union functionaries, “human rights” activists, academics, and student careerists that make up the bulk of France’s “far left” is entirely different. The outlook motivating these layers—drawn from the more privileged sections of the middle class—was articulated in a January 14 interview by Le Monde with Tunisian human rights activist Larbi Chouikha.

As Ben Ali fled Tunis, Chouikha called for a “velvet revolution,” referring to the 1989 restoration of capitalism in Stalinist-ruled Czechoslovakia, a transition in which the new regime aligned itself closely with the demands of international finance.

Chouikha complained: “The question for us now is: ‘How can we stop this explosion of pillage, which is becoming intolerable?’ It’s a breakdown that frightens us. These kids are not only attacking the property of the Trabelsi family, but police stations, and everyone’s property.”

The horror. It looks like human rights isn’t his real line of work, but some other kind of “rights”. It’s up to them, but we can only encourage Tunisia’s people to reject such parasites and carpetbaggers as the treacherous posers and scammers they are.
We can take it as a rule that a dissident in exile, if he’s spent that time partying in the West, has been corrupted. That’s assuming he was ever any good to begin with. So any such returnee must be regarded with suspicion, and forced to prove himself through new action.
As I’ll discuss further below, the best thing the Tunisian movement has going for it is its spontaneity and the absence of prefabricated “leadership”. We just had the latest demonstration in France of what happens when a people’s movement subordinates itself to pre-existing leadership.)
So is this Tunisia’s February? Nominally, it’s a similar pattern. Economic hardship triggers mass spontaneous protest which causes the army to withdraw support from a hated despot who must abdicate. Someone forms a provisional government. But there are several major differences. In February 1917 the Tsarist regime collapsed completely, and the provisional government was cobbled together by previously disempowered parties (liberals and various socialists). This new government immediately instituted complete political reform. (It wasn’t so eager to undertake structural economic reform, which eventually led to its downfall.) Today the existing regime is still in place, albeit having shaken off its hated figurehead. But beyond a few political concessions, it intends no changes. If the evolution ends here, it will have accomplished little more than to provide an example of what spontaneous people’s action can do when it erupts, and what happens when it stops short of its goal.
Also, in 1917 people everywhere immediately, as part of the spontaneous efflorescence, formed workers’, soldiers’, sailors’, and peasants’ councils, the soviets. Today, although I looked for signs of it in accounts, I haven’t heard yet of council formation, which is a classic metric of a real revolutionary process. The most I read was that some among the protestors are calling for a new constitution, which I hope means they propose to write it themselves.
Nevertheless, the most promising precedent which is fully embodied by this admirable movement is its decentralized spontaneity. It had no pre-existing leadership structure, has not followed a preset plan, and has not been coordinated by any hierarchy. Like all true movements, it presents the spontaneous genius of the people. I’m not saying the people can carry out the full social revolution in a purely spontaneous way. But any leadership worthy of the name can arise only indigenously, out of the movement’s own ranks, proving itself in the movement’s own councils and assemblies.
If the people of Tunisia maintain this new activist spirit and follows through along its vector, building on itself and evolving out of itself, they can provide a great lesson and beacon to the world. Their spark is already setting off parallel fires in Algeria, Libya, and most importantly of all Egypt. I hope to have much more to write about these evolutions.
Today the people of Tunisia stand poised to liberate themselves and serve as a school to the world. Their lessons for their fellow North Africans and Arabs are self-evident. But since neoliberalism plans the same slavery for all peoples, everywhere, so the lesson is the same for all peoples, everywhere.
I’ve often said that I think the likely basis for a redemption movement in America will be Food Sovereignty and relocalized food production and distribution. I’ve also written about how the corporations and government are planning to prevent us from doing this. So you can understand why this fruit cart resonated with me. That’s our fruit cart. Indeed, on a personal level that’s my fruit cart. And whatever we dream of doing in this perilous system where the goal everywhere is to prevent us from doing anything but quietly starving to death, whatever plans any of us have, that’s our fruit cart as well. (And in that sense let this piece also be my rebuttal to whatever filth that criminal spewed last night. I didn’t watch the gangster gala and haven’t yet read exactly what he said, but I’m sure I’ll hear all about the gory details today.)
So this revolt is our future revolt as well. We the people, wherever we may be, are all citizens. We all face the same enemy. We’re all in the same struggle. So in that spirit I hail the Tunisian spirit as our own and wish it vigor, wisdom, resolve, courage, and the relentless will to follow through to the end, which is the new beginning. 


  1. 10+

    Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

    Comment by i on the ball patriot — January 26, 2011 @ 7:35 am

    • Thanks, i ball.

      Comment by Russ — January 26, 2011 @ 8:16 am

  2. In Tunisia, the government ruled with an iron fist. In the US, the Mafiocracy rules with an iron fist covered by a velvet glove. What we have in the US is pure corporatism (what they might call fascism in Tunisia), where the government is controlled by corporations. Corporations, through bribes to our elected officials and through regulatory capture, own and run the country. Is Jeff Immelt Obama’s economic adviser, or is he a Federal Reserve board member and the CEO of GE? Were Hank Pauslson and Robert Rubin Treasury Secretaries, or were they CEOs of Goldman Sachs? Is Adam Storch the COO of the SEC, or is he a Goldman Sachs exec? Is Tim Geithner the Treasury Secretary, or is he the President of the New York Fed, who rammed $29 billion worth of Bear Stearns near worthless assets up the middle class taxpayers asses at the request of JPM CEO Jamie Dimon?

    Last night, Republicrats Obama and Ryan spoke TO the American people, but spoke FOR their own people, who are more international in origin. Is President Obama’s loyalty to his largest campaign contributor, Goldman Sachs, or is it to Joe Sixpack? Paul Ryan’s largest campaign contributors are from the securities and investment and insurance sector. Does he legislate for them, or for working class Americans? I could go on and on for days listing the “revolving door” corporatist government controllers and conflicts of interest with their elected bribe takers.

    International corporations run up trillions of dollars worth of debt, pay themselves record bonuses, and “socialize” their losses to the already well over the “tipping point”, US sovereign debt. Their profits, however, achieved through the confiscation of the present and future taxpayers’ money, are privatized. And yes, 51% of Americans receive some kind of Government subsidy. That is socialism. It is also a system of payments for protection, because, if they are not paid, they will either be rioting or they will be armed and invading the homes of those who have still been able to keep some modicum of their assets.

    Neither Ryan nor Obama mentioned the banksters’ trillions of dollars’ worth of public wealth confiscation, nor the trillions of dollars of public wealth confiscation deemed necessary to fight two elective, Middle East wars in which only the war profiteering defense contractors are enriched. Neither mentioned that America, including its entitlement liabilities, is well over $100 trillion in debt. To mention any of this, or the mention all the fraud and feeding of the pigmen at the public trough might have been construed as “fear mongering” and “class warfare”.

    Russ, you mentioned Wikileaks. Where are the Bank of America leaks that Assange promised to release? Will we ever get to see the list of American Banksters, who have their assets hidden away in offshore banks, that Elmer gave to Assange? Now that Assange has had much of his funding cut off, could Bank of America and the offshore account holding banksters have stepped in to become his new benefactors? Let’s hope not.

    Comment by black swan — January 26, 2011 @ 11:52 am

    • Yup, it’s pretty bad.

      I don’t know when the Wikileaks BofA delivery is supposed to be, or when they plan to release the bankster list (if they just got that, I guess they’ll still be some time working with it before they release it). I vaguely recall the BofA delivery was supposed to be sometime early this year.

      Comment by Russ — January 26, 2011 @ 2:46 pm

  3. Russ, thanks for this post. In my humble opinion, and for what it’s worth, this is one of your best.

    I’ve looked all over the US media for information on the uprising in Tunisia, and yet I still couldn’t point to a single article that gives as good an account of events as you’ve provided in this post. Finally, in order to get a detailed account of what happened, I had to go to Le Monde Diplomatique, in French, and found an article entitled “La semaine qui a fait tomber Ben Ali” (The week that brought down Ben Ali).

    Available here, in case anyone reading is interested:


    As far as I can tell, it’s not in the English version of Le Monde Diplomatique.

    Were it not for that article, and your post, I’d still be in the dark, and to me this is just one more sign of the worthlessness of the US corporate media.

    Anyway, I’m encouraged by what happened in Tunisia and hope the courageous example of revolt set by this unemployed fruit seller named Mohamed Bouazizi will continue to be heard throughout the Middle East and throughout the world. If only it could inspire people to stop looking for someone else to lead them, stop looking for a hero to follow, and understand that the real heroes are simple men like Mohamed Bouazizi, men who make us see that each one of us has the power within him (or her)self to revolt against injustice. We don’t need to wait for someone in the future to give us the green light, each of us can do whatever we can today with whatever we have.

    As Saul Alinsky put it: “Once you accept your own death, all of a sudden you’re free to live. You no longer care about your reputation. You no longer care except so far as your life can be used tactically to promote a cause you believe in.”

    Comment by Frank Lavarre — January 26, 2011 @ 3:25 pm

    • “As Saul Alinsky put it: “Once you accept your own death, all of a sudden you’re free to live. You no longer care about your reputation. You no longer care except so far as your life can be used tactically to promote a cause you believe in.””


      I am subscribed to the English version of LMD, and I receive the table-of-contents emails monthly. It wouldn’t surprise me if the English edition lags significantly behind what’s published in the French due to translation requirements (it’s also not clear to me that a LMD blog posting is equivalent to one of their published articles, so that could also explain it). The LMD English version has had extensive Tunisia/Algeria coverage over the last year or so. I’ll post in the comments on this blog if I see anything relevant get translated.

      Comment by paper mac — January 26, 2011 @ 4:21 pm

    • Thanks! If you click on the links you’ll find sites with good coverage. Libcom especially has lots of good stuff.


      I especially recommend the Bamyeh article I linked.

      Lots of people talking about Alinsky today. I had an exchange at Naked Capitalism involving him.

      Comment by Russ — January 26, 2011 @ 4:32 pm

  4. This commotion in Tunisia may be more about food than freedom. Zerohedge has this map of food riots around the world: http://www.zerohedge.com/article/interactive-map-recent-food-riots-and-price-hikes

    The question then is why do food prices rise? And the answers vary depending on who answers. Zerohedge is of the opinion that the easy money policies of the US FOMC are the culprit.

    Can’t find now, but I have seen studies that collected data on the percentage of family income spent on food. This percentage is comparatively very low in the US, but is high in the developing countries such as China, India, Brazil, Russia. The conclusion of these studies was that the higher the percentage of family income spent on food in a particular country, the higher the likelihood of civil unrest in that country, which makes sense to me. So, these events in Tunisia under an incompetent government were to be expected.

    Not nit-pick, but the original soviets did not spontaneously organize. The agitators worked ‘overtime’, and this went under the rubric of ‘combining the ideology with the masses’.

    Comment by nilys — January 27, 2011 @ 8:44 am

    • This food and fuel stagflation will be intensifying and permanent for as long as the system lasts. That’s by design. The artificially low prices for food in the West were the result of crop subsidies, subsidized cheap fossil fuel and neoliberal strategy, temporarily keeping prices low, externalizing the cost on non-Western farmers.

      But now all such liquidations are coming home. And although the crop subsidies are slated to continue, I doubt they’re slated to keep being passed along to the consumer.

      And we can add commodity speculation to the list of factors driving up prices. That’s a purely voluntary crime of the system. Direct war on the people.

      I’d say that the Tunisian uprising is out of a combination of political and economic grievances. Such uprisings almost always are.

      Not to nit-pick back, but the soviets did spontaneously organize. Only later (though sometimes quickly) did pre-existing parties enter and seek to control them. That’s what’s meant by “combining the ideology with the masses”.

      Lenin was confident enough that the Bolsheviks would be able to do this later on down the road that he issued the call “All power to the soviets” when the Bolsheviks still had a negligible presence within them, and the Petrograd soviet and other major soviets were dominated by the Mensheviks and SRs. (Who themselves had taken time to achieve that preponderance.)

      Comment by Russ — January 27, 2011 @ 9:26 am

      • The St Petersburg Soviet was founded after the Bloody Sunday by intellectuals who supported Father Gapon. These people belonged to different parties and settled on a compromise chairman. The chairman was an attorney by training and a son of a narodnik. Later the same year Trotski began running the soviet, enlarging it dramatically. Nonetheless, the soviet was generally ineffective. Trotski was at the time a Menshivik. Far more important for the strike of 1905 was the All-Russian Railroad Union, which was assembled of and run by primarily white-color rail workers. Presumably, the very first soviet was founded during a strike in Ivanovo. That soviet was led, among others, by Frunze.

        Comment by nilys — January 27, 2011 @ 10:53 pm

      • Nilys, thanks for those details. They don’t contradict what I said, however, unless you’re saying Gapon supporters not only anticipated Bloody Sunday but had a whole pre-fabricated plan in place to set up councils.

        (And correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t Gapon’s petition march itself a spur-of-the-moment thing, only announced a few days before it took place?)

        Now the council idea couldn’t be completely spontaneous once so many people knew the history from 1789 and 1871.

        But for obvious reasons, i.e. the regime’s repression, it wasn’t possible for politicians or intellectuals to organize councils in any top-down way in early 1905. They could only participate in the spontaneity.

        Comment by Russ — January 28, 2011 @ 3:56 am

  5. Amazing post. Thx a lot. I will back here soon.

    Comment by Noclegi — February 25, 2011 @ 4:51 pm

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