National Sections of the L5I:

Report of Beirut Conference

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The conference attracted activists not only from the Middle East and Europe but also from the Philippines, South Korea, Australia, Congo, Canada. Among the many political currents, in addition to Hisbollah, were the Lebanese Communist Party, the Lebanese Democratic People’s Party, the National Committee for Unification of Communists in Syria, the PFLP and the DFLP.

Opening the conference, the deputy general secretary of Hisbollah, Sheikh Naim Qassem, emphasised the need for an alliance between the Islamist resistance and the secular left and quoted Lenin, “the unity of this really revolutionary struggle of the oppressed classes for a paradise on earth is more important to us than the unity of workers’ ideas about the paradise in heaven”. He ended his appeal for cooperation with the slogan “Poor and oppressed of all countries, unite!”

The general debate was dominated by expressions of solidarity with the resistance and the great enthusiasm that the success of Hisbollah against the Israeli invasion in July and August has evoked in the antiwar movement around the world.

Naturally the conference also revealed problems in the movement. Some organisations were noticeable by their absence and these included the European Left Party and the Fourth International, both major players in the European Social Forum (ESF). In the case of the ELP this was not surprising because member parties have entered imperialist coalition governments, for example, Bertinotti’s Rifondazione Comunista in Italy, and supported the dispatch of imperialist troops to Lebanon. Also notable by their absence were many Islamist organisations. It seems the Sunni Islamists are as opposed to the Shi’ites as they are to imperialism and so refused to extend solidarity to Hisbollah.

Although the discussions at the conference were lively and the organisers ensured all participants were able to speak, they also adopted many of the techniques of the ESF so that the working group which formulated the final declaration, for example, was self-selected, infact, conference was never even told who was on this group.

The International Socialist Tendency (SWP in Britain) played its now customary role as the right wing of the movement. Its representatives limited themselves to general denunciations of imperialism and Islamophobia, using the need for the “broadest possible unity” to duck many of the burning questions facing the movement. Unity is of course a good thing – providing it is unity in action on just these issues and not the unity of wordy declarations that cover up inaction.

Unfortunately, the IST favoured the latter. For example, in contrast to the anti-imperialist stance of most delegates, IST speakers argued that slogans should not be too radical because that would drive away pacifist allies in the West. Against the League for the Fifth International and others who called for the immediate withdrawal of imperialist troops from Lebanon, the IST argued that this would divide us from those (like Rifondazione) who supported the UN mission and it would be quite sufficient to demand that UN soldiers should not disarm Hisbollah.

Against our arguments for increased international coordination of the solidarity movement, the IST replied that local work was more important – an argument that makes about as much sense as suggesting that one wing of an aeroplane is more important than the other. What lies behind their approach is their accommodation to liberal Islamist or Social Democratic forces and their sectarian attitude towards more radical groups.

These problems however cannot outweigh the overwhelmingly positive character of the conference. The final declaration emphasised opposition to imperialist and Zionist aggression and solidarity with the Lebanese, Palestinian and Iraqi resistance. It called for three international days of solidarity action in the coming year, March 20 (Iraq) July 12 (Lebanon) and September 28 (Palestine). Cooperation between anti-imperialist Islamists and the secular left will also be taken forward.

There will be an international commission to organise a war crimes tribunal against Israel. Similarly, journalists will form a media commission to counter imperialist falsifications. Lastly, there will be a coordination committee that will plan future activities. This will include representatives of Hisbollah, the Lebanese Communist Party and Nahla Chahal of the CCIPPP, a prominent activist in the Palestinian solidarity movement in Europe and in the ESF.

The conference could hardly have been held at a better time. The contradictions in imperialist policy in the Middle East are becoming ever more obvious. Israel has suffered the first military defeat, the collapse of US occupation policy is clearer than ever, the resistance in Afghanistan is causing increasing losses among NATO troops and recent electoral results show the rejection of Bush’s government by the American people.

These growing contradictions, however, will not lead to a more peaceful policy. On the contrary, we can expect further aggression. The building of a militant anti-imperialist movement with effective co-ordination structures is more necessary than ever. It is precisely here that the League for the Fifth International sees its principal task and it will continue to combine argument for a revolutionary communist programme and the building of the Fifth International with active participation in the building of the international solidarity movement.

In proposals distributed to all delegates we argued that the conference should:

• Call for a global economic and political boycott of Israel.

• Organise an international solidarity tour of representatives from Lebanon and other countries.

• Call for a global mass protest in the event of any aggression by Israel against Lebanon, Syria or Iran.

• Elect an international coordinating committee of delegates from all countries which should meet several times each year and maintain regular contact.