The price of bread

PROGRESSIVE people throughout the world have been heartened by the risings in the Middle East that have so far thrown out the dictators of Tunisia and Egypt and threaten many more, including the Yemen and Bahrain.

Suddenly the whole region is waking up and demanding the basic bourgeois freedoms that other countries take for granted.

The trigger for these changes though has not been something as abstract as bourgeois ideas of free speech and democracy but rising food prices. It is the same old “bread, peace and land” that drove the Soviet revolution. Repressive regimes can hold down the masses with fear of barbarous reprisals for a very long time.

But when food prices rocket and millions of people cannot feed themselves or their families they lose their fear. Things cannot continue as they have done. Unarmed thousands are ready to come on to the streets and challenge the regimes — and they win a change of government. They no longer fear death because they know that with hundreds of thousands mobilised and on the streets they can achieve a real change for the whole of their class that is more important than their own lives.

The dictators, armed to the teeth by Britain, America and France, find their conscript armies unwilling to fire on the workers who are their brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers — and their power evaporates.

But these people have not yet won a full revolution — and most of them know this. The old state structures are still in power and the imperialist powers are desperately scrambling around to find now figureheads to support who will be willing to do their bidding and govern the country for the benefit of world capitalism. Just a couple of years ago the people of Pakistan were jubilant at the fall of Musharraf and his replacement with murdered Benazir Bhutto’s widower. But it didn’t take long for US imperialism to corrupt Zadari and make him their puppet almost as much as Musharraf had been.

The governments of Tunisia and Egypt are in a state of transition and already some progressive things have happened. Two Iranian warships have been allowed through the Suez Canal — a frigate and a supply ship on a training exercise — into the Mediterranean and Israel is alarmed. And the Rafah crossing has been opened — initially to allow Gaza citizens in urgent need of medical help or education to cross in either direction pending its full opening soon.

But Cameron is currently visiting Egypt to give his support to the new temporary government — and has brought with him an arms dealer. Clearly they want to keep the new Egypt in the imperialist fold.

Nevertheless imperialism cannot resolve the issue that drove the Egyptians on to the streets in the first place. World food prices are rocketing because of the greedy bankers and speculators who caused the economic meltdown two years ago and the colossal bailout of public money that was needed to restore order.

Now workers all around the world are paying the price in terms of cuts in jobs and welfare support. But the workers in the Middle East, who have very little in the way of welfare support, came out on to the streets to refuse to pay the price and to demand lower food prices and better wages. These demands are more fundamental than bourgeois notions of democracy and will not go away as long as food prices are high and wages low.

The workers of the Middle East are setting an example that is resounding throughout the Third World — the countries that have suffered so long under repressive imperialist trade terms and conditions backed by threats of military interventions.

But now these countries have the option of trading instead with China, Venezuela, Brazil, and other growing powers. We are seeing the power of the imperialist countries — undermined by their failures in n Iraq and Afghanistan — now sinking further towards their inevitable collapse. And even here as we struggle to mobilise the workers of Britain to fight the savage cuts of the Con-Dem Coalition, this visible decline of imperialist power must give us heart and encouragement.