Class struggle in Jordan’s war economy

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An article from a close sympathiser showing that despite and even because of the omnipresence of war in the Middle East, the class struggle can still raise its head.

At the end of May this year a wave of strikes and protests by workers and unemployed in Jordan against tax increases, price rises and state corruption was widely reported in the media. In fact the movement by lower-paid workers against gas and electricity price increases began several months earlier in the provinces, building up to mass protests in the capital Amman that lasted for over a week, with the trade unions showing some difficulties in harnessing and controlling the movement. That this movement took place around the same time as the workers in Iran were striking and protesting  against more or less the same conditions shows that, even in the imperialist cauldron of the Middle East, the working class is capable of raising its distinctive head and fighting back against the attacks of the state on its own ground. As in Iran, some of the attacks have been pushed back with price rises rescinded and tax increases withdrawn, although this can only be a slight and temporary relief until the attacks are renewed under other guises, with more force or a combination of both.

The leader of Jordan, King Abdullah, sacked some of his government in response to the protests and noises from the state blamed the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for the attacks, just as the left of capital always has its bogeymen - "greedy bankers", "the EU", "the World Bank", etc., in order to promote their own nationalist and "anti-imperialist" (i.e., usually anti-American) ideology[1] . But the problems of the Jordanian economy go far deeper than IMF loan repayments: there's a droll joke in Jordan along the lines that "we have less water than oil, and we haven't got any oil". And its problems pre-date the massive influx of refugees that it's taken in (two-thirds of its population is Palestinian and there are also Muslim and Christian refugees from across the region, not least Syria) and also pre-dates the withdrawal of "aid" from the major Gulf states. The Kingdom was a vital military outpost for British imperialism until the 1950's when the Americans took it over, continuing to work with their UK "junior partners". Jordan has a skilled working class but the country's war economy is integrated into the imperialist essentials of the Middle East, firstly by Britain, then America and also France and Germany. And there are the specific imperialist aspirations of the Jordanian state, even if subordinated to their masters: taking part in a secret war in Libya, troops in Afghanistan and other "peace-keeping" manoeuvres. Its war economy, the militarised nature of the Jordanian state directly gives rise to graft, nepotism and cronyism (Wasta, in Arabic), something that British and American imperialism has used to divide and rule over the Hashemite Kingdom.

On the imperialist level, the future of the Jordanian state becomes more uncertain as the team around Trump turn to a Saudi/UAE/Israeli axis, and this makes it all the more unlikely that there will be any sort of effective bail-out of the Jordanian economy, which spends 15.8% of its economy on military spending[2], by the wealthier but struggling Gulf States. This poses a possible turn towards Turkey or Iran by Jordan, fuelling more instability in the region; and if this is speculation at the moment what's certain is that Jordan's position will become more perilous within the regional imperialist free-for-all. On the economic level, university graduate unemployment is registered as 24.1% and unemployment overall around 18%, figures that are widely derided as substantial underestimations. In fact, across the whole of the Middle East, youth unemployment and unemployment generally is a major problem for all the states. Thus protests also took off again in Iran just over a week ago, this time focused on Tehran rather than in the provincial cities; but, as promised by them after the previous struggles, they were ruthlessly repressed by the Revolutionary Guards using the riot police, tear gas and mass arrests of "trouble-makers". Slogans were again raised against Iran's wars and the war economy. The involvement of the workers isn't clear here though the Iranian government immediately met with union bosses.[3]

The proletariat in Jordan is no stranger to class struggle, being involved in movements in 1989, 1996 and particularly from 2009 to 2012. In 2011 almost every sector in the Jordanian economy took part in strikes and protests including precarious expatriate workers.[4] Some new "independent" trade unions emerged from this, though their recent actions show them as bound to the Jordanian state as the old union structures.  But for both capital and labour in Jordan, as elsewhere, the economic crisis and its consequent attacks have further deepened, presaging further attacks which are not just cyclical but ever more vicious.

There are signs from the proletariat in Jordan (and some from Iran) that the struggles are more profound than before: there is almost no mobilising role by the religious authorities (the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan's case), in contrast to events around the Arab Spring; there is a dearth in the protests of Jordanian flags or any sort of "coloured" flags denoting a nationalist movement; the appearance, numbers, diversity and solidarity of the working class is much more pronounced and the struggles better organised; the trade unions, 33 of them now, up from around 16 in 2011, have been sidelined and vocally criticised by the workers and the youth movement (mostly of the unemployed which the unions tried to separate the workers from) refused to get involved in pointless confrontations with the British-trained[5] security forces, the Darak, showing a certain consciousness and maturity.

Given their peripheral nature, their numerical weakness and the sea of imperialist atrocities that surrounds them, the struggles in Jordan further point to the centrality of the working class in the heartlands of capital to really push back against the attacks in the first place. But despite the evident difficulties that confront it, this was a clear expression of the proletariat and its attempts to unify its combat. And completely contrary to leftism's phoney "revolution" in Rojava, northern Syria, which strengthens imperialism, the class struggle in Jordan is an example of the beginnings of a potential blow against it.

Baboon, 1.7.2018


[1]  This is the sort of ideology propagated by the British Socialist Worker's Party and the left wing of Corbyn's Labour Party.

[2]  Middle East Eye, 7.6.2018. With 15.8% of government spending and 4.8% of GDP, Jordan is proportionally among the highest military spenders in the Middle East and the world.

[3]  The latest protests are not just in Tehran but in the provinces with, for example, protests against water shortages in Khorramshahr in the southwest province of Khuzestan, July 1st where banks and public buildings were attacked and where the slogan "the enemy is here" was reported, leading to shots being fired at protesters:

An important point to make here in respect of Iran is that its economic crisis has been greatly exacerbated by US imperialism and that National Security Advisor John Bolton has just met with the ex-terrorist Iranian group MEK, giving a strong signal of "regime change".

[5]  Britain has well-established forces and "training" programmes in Jordan. It constantly conducts large-scale manoeuvres and Jordan is a platform for its involvement in Syria and the wider Middle East. Just recently the British military pressure group, the United Kingdom Defence Association (UKNDA), called for Britain to send an entire armoured brigade, 5000 men and their support, to Jordan.



Protests in the Middle East