On the night of 8 September 2023, the rural regions of Morocco to the south of Marrakesh (Chichawa, El Haouz, Ouarzazate and Taroudant) were struck by an earthquake of huge force, which has since left nearly 3000 dead and many more people seriously injured. The following article, translated by Al-Muzāharāt, was originally published in Arabic on 11 September by the major Trotskyist group in the country, grouped around the Munāḍil/ah (Militant) newspaper, which explains the political and social reasons for such destruction. 

Translators’ introduction

A hand-in-glove US ally since its independence from France in 1956, Morocco’s historic development model has been built around the export of phosphates, fruits, and textiles, and the hosting of tourists. The IMF’s Structural Adjustment Program, beginning in the early 1980s, initiated the sale of public assets, the deregulation of labour markets, and the general strengthening of the rule of wealth both foreign and domestic – the latter led by King Mohamed VI, the country’s constitutional autocrat and greatest capitalist. Morocco has a ‘state proletariat’ of healthcare workers, functionaries, and teachers, whose struggles against their steady immiseration has constituted the counter-beat of labour relations over the last decade. Such formal employment is enjoyed by a minority however, and whilst the centres of the cities have a certain prosperity, Marrakesh, Casablanca, and Rabat-Salé all include areas, some localised, some sprawling, of extreme, sub-$5-a-day poverty.

It is in the rural sphere where poverty is most concentrated. A dependable 2017 study found that Moroccans suffered greater levels of ‘multidimensional poverty’ and more ‘destitution’ (a sub-type of MP) than the peoples of Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and even Palestine and Iraq, with a marked difference between the poverty rates of urban (2.4%) and rural (31.2%) Morocco. And indeed, it is from the countryside and its small towns that a number of social movements have emerged since 2011, most notably from the northerly Rif region, demanding ‘a Hospital, a University, and Work’; from the northeastern town of Jerada, demanding ‘an Economic Alternative’; and from southern town of Zagora, demanding clean water. As the following article explains, the poverty, weakness of services, and general marginality of the area most affected by the recent disaster – the same issues that those movements protested against – are amongst the major factors behind the earthquake’s humanitarian and material results.

This summer, natural calamities have struck across North Africa. In July, lethal wildfires raged in Algeria’s northeast and, two days after the earthquake, the Libyan town of Derna suffered cataclysmic flooding, with over 20,000 people believed to have died – in response to which, al-Munāḍil/ah published a statement titled ‘The People of Libya and Morocco: “Natural” Disasters, Solidarity, and a Shared Destiny’.

Earthquake in Morocco: neoliberal failure and popular solidarity

Yet more anguish has been brought to the poorest people in Morocco by an earthquake of unprecedented strength, the damage from which has still not been fully accounted for. The earthquake struck the High Atlas range, leaving entire villages all but destroyed across the hinterlands of Marrakesh, Taroudant, and Ouarzazate. There were losses in the cities, but it is the villages that have been worst affected.

Deaths are approaching 2500 with more injured, the majority of them seriously. Of course, the causes of such events are natural, though their results are fundamentally connected to the type of society that experiences them. The number those who have died and been injured is more closely related to social, economic, and political factors than it is to the strength or duration of the earthquake: this explains the high number of victims of earthquakes in the dependent, semi-colonised countries as against those in the industrialised nations, and indeed the differences between one industrialised nation and another: much depends on the particular policies that have been pursued, the condition of public services and, generally, the manner in which the fundamental needs of the population are met.

The earthquake struck the High Atlas at night: those who remained alive in the douars and small towns aided the injured with the simple means at their disposal. As is typical, the state stalled in setting its agencies into motion. Though aware of the results of its own policies for the people affected – misery and deprivation – it left them defenceless against what befell them. Of course, its propaganda efforts to project the image of a strong state to the world were much more vigorous – but the earthquake has revealed the truth of this image, just as its response to Covid-19 did.

Morocco is not the affluent, elegant neighbourhoods of Casablanca or Rabat or Marrakesh; Marrakesh is not the city of international conferences or extravagant festivals – that Marrakesh is an embellished, fake city. The real Morocco is the country we see now: one that is highly sensitive to capitalism’s crises and ‘natural’ disasters, exhausted by dictatorship and its class politics and the decades of neoliberal orthodoxy that have brought it to all but ruins.

The delay of the rescue teams, their small size, the poor quality of their equipment; the lack medical aid, of transportation for the injured, and of field hospitals; the historic neglect of the roads, et cetera, all contributed to the high death toll – the total of which will be less due to the direct effects of the earthquake and more to the policies that have marginalised and impoverished regions such as the High Atlas.

We recall the earthquake of al-Hoceima in 2004 and the hundreds of dead and injured that it left in it wake, in addition to the massive damage to homes – and the official promises and propaganda it made at the time, that were exposed by the movement [of the Rif] that followed the murder of Mouhcine Fikri in November 2016: a Movement that forced the state to admit that it had failed to fulfil the pledges it had made after the 2004 disaster, and whose leaders were brutally punished for forcing such exposures.

The truth that must be emphasised is that such natural disasters, which are increasingly violent due to capitalism’s destruction of the environment, not only cause huge losses of life and material damage – they also reveal the extent to which the public services so necessary during such disasters have themselves been devastated.

The violence of natural disasters – earthquakes, droughts, wildfires, floods, epidemics – has increased as a result of capitalism’s own increasingly extreme crises, ever-worse due to the privatisation of public services and economic policymaking in the interests of private capital. The situation cannot be explained as due merely to a mere lack of technical capacity or expertise; indeed, such crises are themselves sources of profit for sections of capital. We have seen the appalling failures of even wealthy capitalist states in the faces of wildfires, Covid-19, and earthquakes.

The institutions of capital will exploit this earthquake, just as they have used other disasters as sources of further profit. The dictatorship’s backers, both the imperialist and the reactionary powers, will adjust their support in order to maintain the current political management of the country that keeps it dependent and backwards, and thus vulnerable to both economic and ‘natural’ crises. Global financial institutions will back their local allies to the hilt, in order to keep the country dependent and drowning in debt.

Ordinary people from every part of the country rushed to show solidarity with the victims of the earthquake. From every region, aid convoys embarked for the Haouz and Taroudant. Every worker and militant must support these before all else, as means to build some kind of future for those who have survived the disaster. But such aid, and even the popular solidarity that we have seen, is no replacement for political demands.

We should fight against the policies which have led our country to such weakness and precarity, and to stop the flow of our wealth – wealth that we have created – out of the country, which to say, we must fight to end debt repayments and domination of institutions of international plunder and to redirect every policy to meet human needs. And, in the face of the endless calls for consensus with the dictatorship – which has brought nothing but ruin – the greatest necessity now is political solidarity with those that have been afflicted.

But the earthquake is a natural disaster! Indeed it is, though the isolated plight of the victims – no roads, no emergency teams, and no hospitals – is the result of policies consciously pursued over decades. All of our safety depends on fighting for a society opposed to the interests of capital: there is no alternative except to ending its rule and thus opening a path towards a society free from exploitation and dictatorship.

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Translators’ coda

a/ ‘Ordinary people’ is, more literally, ‘toilers’ or ‘those who work for a living and are poor’;

b/ ‘We should fight against’ is, more literally, ‘should fight for the downfall’, with an echo of the famous 2011-era chant;

c/ every instance of ‘dictatorship’ is, more literally, ‘tyranny’;

d/ the sentence beginning ‘And, in the face of (…)’ is, more literally: ‘Indeed, political solidarity with those afflicted is now the greatest of needs, in the fact of endless calls for political consensus concerning [حول] tyranny, a consensus which has been tried repeatedly and brought nothing but ruination’: a position of some courage in Morocco’s current political moment.

Al-Muzāharāt is a collective that translates writing from the Maghribī left.

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