From August 8, thousands of protesters gathered in downtown Beirut demanding that Lebanon’s leaders “resign or be hanged”. It was their determination that forced the government to announce its resignation on August 10.
The Lebanese population had already been demonstrating against corrupt politicians who get rich by stealing from the whole of society. The hatred they inspire has increased since the deadly explosion that destroyed the city on August 4, killing close to 200 people and injuring thousands more.
People’s lives are of little importance to the nepotistic and corrupt political regime in Lebanon. But the lack of consideration for people’s lives, the general interests of society and even the planet is a basic law of capitalism where the only things that count are profit margins, expected profits and dividends.
The quest for profit has an even more severe and devastating impact in poor countries dominated by imperialism. When a catastrophe hits a country deprived of financial resources, the consequences are brutal and often bring death.
When news first came of the explosion in Beirut’s harbor, it was impossible not to think of the one at the AZF chemical factory in Toulouse in 2001: it was the same chemical that had exploded, destroying an entire district of the French city, leaving 31 dead and 2000 injured.
The AZF catastrophe happened in France, a country with so-called democratic institutions and countless safety regulations and organizations that are supposed to protect people and the environment. But such institutions and regulations are always determined within the limits of capitalism where capitalists’ interests take precedence over people’s safety.
That was the case in Toulouse where the profits of Total, a major oil and gas company which owned the AZF factory, came before the lives of factory workers and residents. More recently, the Dépakine and Mediator scandals have proved that even in a rich country with a powerful state apparatus and administration, capitalists are capable of putting thousands of lives in danger for their profits with not much risk to themselves.
When Macron promises to rebuild Lebanon, he has the bourgeoisie’s interests in mind. There’s nothing new there. As a former colonial power, France set up a protectorate over Lebanon a century ago, presiding over the country’s foundation and the establishment of a religiously biased political system which supports favoritism. So, Macron couldn’t be more cynical when he says he understands how disgusted the Lebanese are with the political system that was created by French imperialism itself and has been under its constant protection.
Today, rich imperialist countries, France in the lead, promise to take action to help the Lebanese people affected by the catastrophe. But Macron’s aid won’t help the working class in Lebanon any more than the stimulus package worth billions will help workers faced with losing their jobs and worsening exploitation here in France.
The interests of French capitalists are the only thing being “helped” by France’s presence in Lebanon, along with those of French companies, both big and small, which in the words of a real estate developer are operating in Lebanon “just like they would back home”. French companies can count on the support of wealthy Lebanese families whose interests blend with their own. They can also count on political leaders who are often linked to one rich family or another. Take the Hariri family for example. As construction magnates, they own half of Beirut. Their ministerial seats are passed from father to son and their ties with French imperialism are so close that they happily lent their luxurious 4,300 square-foot home located in one of the wealthiest districts in downtown Paris to their friend Jacques Chirac for his senior years.
The working-class men and women in Lebanon who have been forced into poverty by the economic crisis and made victims of this deadly explosion have good reason to revolt. But if they want to really change society and ensure that people’s lives come before profits, the government can’t be their only target, no matter how rotten it is, because its role is to protect the capitalists’ interests.
They’ll have to fight the whole capitalist system and put the economy under workers’ control. If they don’t, political leaders may come and go but poverty and death will remain for the exploited not only in Lebanon but around the world.