The recent revolutions in Algeria and Sudan show that none of the contradictions facing workers, youth and the poor, that led to the wave of Arab revolutions starting in 2011, have been resolved. We republish this manifesto (written by the IMT during the first wave of those movements), explaining the tasks of the Arab Revolution, which are every bit as pressing and relevant today.
In 2011, without any organisation, programme, plan or preparation, the Egyptian masses – in the words of Marx – stormed heaven. A mighty movement of workers and youth brought down the hated regime of Hosni Mubarak: part of a wave of revolutions that swept the Arab world. To commemorate the anniversary of this great event, we re-publish the IMT’s manifesto for the tasks of the Arab Revolution.
The Arab Revolution is a source of inspiration to workers and young people everywhere. It has rocked every country in the Middle East and North Africa to their foundations and its reverberations are being felt all over the world. These dramatic events mark a decisive turning point in human history. These events are not isolated accidents apart from the general process of the world revolution.
What we see opening up before us is the early stages of the world socialist revolution. The same general process will unfold, albeit at different rhythms, around the globe. There will inevitably be ebbs and flows, defeats as well as victories, disappointments as well as successes. We must be prepared for this. But the general tendency will be towards a greater acceleration of the class struggle on a world scale.
The marvellous movement of the masses in Tunisia and Egypt is only the beginning. Revolutionary developments are on the order of the day and no country can consider itself immune from the general process. The revolutions in the Arab world are a manifestation of the crisis of capitalism on a world scale. The events in Tunisia and Egypt show the advanced capitalist countries their future as in a mirror.
Tunisia was apparently the most stable Arab country. Its economy was booming and fat profits were being made by foreign investors. President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali ruled with an iron hand. Everything seemed to be for the best in the best of all capitalist worlds.
The bourgeois commentators look at the surface and do not see the processes that are taking place in the depths of society. Hence they were blind to the processes at work in North Africa. They denied any possibility of a revolution in Tunisia. Now all the bourgeois strategists, economists, academics and “experts” make a public exhibition of their perplexity.
The country erupted after the self-immolation of the unemployed youth Mohamed Bouazizi. Hegel pointed out that necessity expresses itself through accident. This was not the only case of suicide by a desperate unemployed youth in Tunisia. But this time it had unexpected effects. The masses poured onto the streets and started a Revolution.
The first reaction of the regime was to crush the rebellion by force. When that did not work, they resorted to concessions, which only served to pour petrol on the flames. Heavy police repression did not stop the masses. The regime did not use the army because they could not use it. One bloody clash and it would have broken in pieces.
The Tunisian working class launched a wave of rolling regional strikes, culminating in a national strike. It was at this point that Ben Ali had to flee to Saudi Arabia. This was the first victory of the Arab Revolution. It changed everything.
When Ben Ali fled, there was a vacuum of power which had to be filled by revolutionary committees. They took power at local and in some places at regional level. In Redeyef, in the Gafsa phosphate mining basin, there is no authority other than that of the trade unions. The police station was burnt down, the judge fled, and the town hall was taken over by the local union which has its headquarters there. Mass meetings are held in the main square and addressed by the trade union leaders on a regular basis. They have set up committees to deal with transport, public order, local services etc.
The masses were not satisfied or pacified by their initial victory. They have been out in large numbers on the streets against any attempt to recreate the old order under another name. All the old parties have been completely discredited. When Gannouchi tried to install new governors in the regions, the people rejected them. Hundreds of thousands protested and they had to be removed.
In Tunisia the lava of revolution has not yet cooled. The workers are demanding the confiscation of the wealth of the Ben Ali family. Since they controlled vast sections of the economy, this is a direct challenge to the rule of the capitalist class in Tunisia. The confiscation of the property of the Ben Ali clique is a socialist demand.
The Tunisian workers have kicked out unpopular bosses. The left-wing 14th January Front have called for the convening of a national assembly of revolutionary committees. This is a correct demand but so far no concrete steps have been taken to implement it. Despite the lack of leadership the Revolution continues to advance with giant strides, toppling Gannouchi and raising the movement to new heights. Our slogan must be: thawra hatta'l nasr! - Revolution until victory!
The Egyptian Revolution
Tunisia opened up the Arab revolution, but it is a small country on the margins of the Maghreb. Egypt, on the other hand, is a huge country of 82 million, and it stands at the heart of the Arab world. Its numerous and militant proletariat has shown its revolutionary spirit many times. The Egyptian Revolution undoubtedly reflected Tunisia’s influence but was also based on other factors: high unemployment, falling living standards and hatred towards a corrupt and repressive government.
Tunisia acted as a catalyst. But a catalyst can only work when all the necessary conditions are present. The Tunisian Revolution showed what was possible. But it would be entirely false to assume that this was the only, or even the main, cause. The conditions for a revolutionary explosion had already matured in all these countries. All that was required was a single spark to ignite the powder keg. Tunisia provided it.
The movement in Egypt showed the amazing heroism of the masses. The security forces could not use bullets against the main demonstrations in Tahrir square for fear that a Tunisian scenario could develop. The regime imagined that it would be enough, as in the past, to crack a few heads. But it was not enough. The mood had changed. Quantity changed into quality. The old fear was gone. This time it was not the people but the police who had to flee.
This led directly to the occupation of Tahrir square. The regime sent in the army, but the soldiers fraternized with the masses. The Egyptian army is made up of conscripts. The upper ranks of the army, the generals, are corrupt. They are part of the regime, but the rank and file are drawn from among the workers and poor peasants. And the lower and middle ranks of the officer corps are drawn from the middle class and open to the pressure of the masses.
Opposition parties demanded reforms, including the dissolution of the parliament installed in December after fraudulent elections, the holding of new elections, and a declaration from Mubarak that neither he nor his son would run for president in the elections scheduled for September. But in reality the leadership was lagging far behind the masses. The movement went far beyond these demands. The revolutionary people would accept nothing less than the immediate removal of Mubarak and the complete dissolution of his regime.
Beginning with such elementary demands as an end to the emergency laws, the firing of his interior minister, and a higher minimum wage, the demonstrators, emboldened by numbers, raised their slogans to a higher, more revolutionary, level: “Down with Mubarak!” “The people demand the fall of the regime!” or simply: “Go!” In this way, the revolutionary consciousness of the masses was raised by leaps and bounds.
The state and revolution
It is futile to attempt to explain the events in Egypt and Tunisia without the central role of the masses, which was the motor force of events from start to finish. Bourgeois and petty bourgeois “experts” now try to play down the importance of the action of the masses. They see only what is happening at the tops. For them it is only a question of a “coup”, of “the army passing power to itself.” The same bourgeois historians assure us that the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 was “only a coup”. They are not capable of looking history in the face, but instead are fascinated by its hindquarters.
Their “profound” analysis is superficial in the most literal sense of the word. For the bourgeois philosophers in general everything only exists in its outward manifestations. It is like trying to understand the movement of the waves without bothering to study the submarine ocean currents. Even after the masses had taken to the streets of Cairo, Hillary Clinton insisted that Egypt was stable. She based her conclusion on the fact that the state and its repressive apparatus remained intact. But in just two weeks it was in ruins.
The existence of a powerful apparatus of state repression is no guarantee against revolution, and may be just the opposite. In a bourgeois democracy the ruling class has certain safety valves that can warn it when the situation is getting out of control. But in a dictatorial or totalitarian regime there is no opportunity for people to voice their feelings within the political system. Therefore upheavals can happen suddenly, with no warning, and immediately take an extreme form.
The armed forces constituted the main basis of the old regime. But like any other army it reflected society and came under the influence of the masses. On paper it was a formidable force. But armies are composed of human beings, and are subject to the same pressures as any other social stratum or institution. In the moment of truth, neither Mubarak nor Ben Ali could use the army against the people.
The armies of many Arab countries are not the same as the armies of the developed capitalist world. They are, in the last analysis, also capitalist armies, armed bodies of men in defence of private property, but at the same time they are also the products of the colonial revolution. Of course the tops of the army represent the interests of the ruling classes, but, as we have seen in Egypt, the ordinary soldiers and lower ranking officers are much closer to the working people and in face of a revolutionary upsurge can go over to the revolution. We saw this in Nasser's coup in 1952.
The revolution provoked a crisis in the state. Tensions were growing between the army and the police and between the police and the protesters. This is why the army council in the end decided to ditch Mubarak. The army was clearly shaken by the events and showed signs of cracking under the pressure of the masses. There were cases of officers dropping their weapons and joining the demonstrators in Tahrir square. Under these circumstances there can be no question of using the army against the revolutionary people.
Role of the proletariat
During the first two weeks power was in the streets. But having won power in the streets, the leaders of the movement did not know what to do with it. The idea that all that was necessary is to gather a large number of people in Tahrir square was fatally flawed. Firstly, it left the question of state power out of account. But this is the central question that decides all other questions. Secondly, it was a passive strategy, whereas what was required was an active and offensive strategy.
In Tunisia, mass demonstrations forced Ben Ali into exile and overthrew the ruling party. That convinced many Egyptians that their regime might prove equally fragile. The problem was that Mubarak refused to go. Despite all the superhuman efforts and courage of the protesters the demonstrations failed to overthrow Mubarak. Mass demonstrations are important because they are a way of bringing the formerly inert masses to their feet, giving them a sense of their own power. But the movement could not have succeeded unless it was taken to a new and higher level. This could only be done by the working class.
This reawakening of the proletariat was expressed in a wave of strikes and protests in recent years. This was one of the main factors that prepared the Revolution. It is also the key to its future success. The dramatic entry of the Egyptian proletariat on the stage of history marked a turning point in the destinies of the Revolution. That is what saved the Revolution and led to the overthrow of Mubarak. In one city after another the workers of Egypt organized strikes and factory occupations. They drove out the hated managers and corrupt trade union leaders.
The revolution moved onto a higher level. It turned from a demonstration into a national insurrection. What conclusion must be drawn from this? Only this: that the struggle for democracy can be victorious only to the degree that it is led by the proletariat, the millions of workers who produce the wealth of society, and without whose permission not a light bulb shines, not a telephone rings and not a wheel turns.
Reawakening of the Egyptian nation
Marxism has nothing in common with economic determinism. Mass unemployment and poverty are an explosive issue. But there was something else present in the revolutionary equation: something more elusive, which cannot be quantified but it is a no less potent cause of discontent than material deprivation. It is the burning feeling of humiliation in the hearts and minds of an ancient and noble people dominated by imperialism for generations.
There is the same general feeling of humiliation in all the Arab peoples, enslaved and oppressed by imperialism for over 100 years, subordinate to the dictates, first of the European powers, then of the transatlantic giant. This feeling can find a distorted expression in the guise of Islamic fundamentalism that rejects everything western as evil. But the rise of Islamism in recent years was only the expression of the failure of the Left to offer a genuine socialist alternative to the pressing problems of the Arab masses.
In the 1950s and 60s, Gamal Abdel Nasser’s dream of Arab socialism and Pan-Arabism aroused the hopes of the Arab masses everywhere. Egypt became a beacon of hope to the oppressed and downtrodden Arab masses. But Nasser did not carry the programe to its logical conclusion and under Anwar Sadat it was thrown into reverse. Egypt became a pawn in the great power politics of the USA. In the three decades of Mubarak's rule these tendencies were multiplied a thousand fold. Mubarak was a stooge of the USA and Israel who shamelessly betrayed the Palestinian cause.
In the last three or four decades the Arab psyche was coloured by disappointment, defeats and humiliation. But now the wheel of history has turned 180 degrees and everything is changing. The idea of revolution has a very concrete meaning in the Arab world today. It is capturing the minds of millions and is becoming a material force. Ideas which connected with only a few are now convincing and mobilizing millions.
Revolutions are great clarifiers. They test all tendencies. Overnight the ideas of individual terrorism or Islamic fundamentalism have been swept aside by the revolutionary torrent. The Revolution has reawakened half-forgotten ideas. It promises a return to the old traditions of socialism and pan-Arab nationalism, which have never completely disappeared from the popular consciousness. It is no accident that songs of resistance from the past are being revived. Images of Nasser have appeared on demonstrations.
We are witnessing a new Arab renaissance. A new consciousness is being forged in the heat of struggle. Democratic demands are fundamental for the people under such circumstances. People who have been enslaved for a long time finally cast aside the old passive and fatalistic mentality and raise themselves up to their full stature.
One can see the same process in every strike, for a strike resembles a revolution in miniature and a Revolution resembles a strike of the whole of society against its oppressors. Once they get active, men and women rediscover their human dignity. They begin to take their destiny into their own hands and demand their rights: we demand to be treated with respect. That is the essence of every genuine Revolution.
The Revolution is raising consciousness to a higher level. It is cutting the ground from under the feet of the reactionaries who have confused the masses and befuddled their senses with the poisonous fumes of religious fundamentalism. Despite the lying propaganda of the imperialists, the Islamists played little or no role in the Revolution in Tunisia and Egypt. The Revolution despises sectarianism. It cuts across all divisions and unites men and women, young and old, Muslim and Christian.
The revolutionary movement cuts across religion. It cuts across gender. It brings the Arab women onto the streets to fight alongside their men. It cuts across all national, ethnic and linguistic divisions. It defends oppressed minorities. It gathers together all the living forces of the Arab nation and unites them in common struggle. It enables the revolutionary people to rise to its full height, to recover its dignity and to rejoice in its freedom. Men and women can raise their heads and say with pride: “We will no longer be slaves”.
The limits of spontaneity
The Revolution in Tunisia and Egypt came from below. It was not organized by any of the existing political parties or leaders. All of them were left far behind by a movement they had not foreseen and for which they were completely unprepared. If there is one lesson to be drawn from the experience of the Egyptian Revolution, it is this: the revolutionary people can trust nobody but themselves – trust in your own strength, your own solidarity, your own courage, your own organization.
When we look at Egypt the historical comparison that immediately comes to mind is Barcelona in 1936. With no party, no leadership, no programme and no plan the workers marched on the barracks with extraordinary courage and smashed the fascists. They saved the situation and could have taken power. But the question is precisely: why did they not take power? The answer is the lack of leadership. More accurately, they were let down by the anarchist leaders of the CNT in whom they placed their trust. Whoever has illusions in anarchism had better study the history of the Spanish Revolution!
At first sight the movements in Tunisia and Egypt appear to be a spontaneous revolution with no organization or leadership. But this definition is not really exact. The movement was only partly spontaneous. It was called into being by certain groups and individuals. It has leaders who take initiatives, put forward slogans, call demonstrations and strikes.
A lot of emphasis has been placed on the role of social networks as Facebook and Twitter in Tunisia and Egypt (and earlier in Iran). There is no doubt that the new technology has played a role and is extremely useful to revolutionaries and made it impossible for states such as Egypt to retain the information monopoly they once enjoyed. But those who exaggerate the purely technological side of things are distorting the real essence of the Revolution, that is, the role of the masses and the working class in particular. That is because they wish to portray the Revolution as a mainly middle class affair, led exclusively by intellectuals and Internet enthusiasts. This is entirely false.
In the first place, only a small proportion of the population have access to Internet. Secondly, the regime practically disconnected the Internet and disrupted mobile telephone services. This did not stop the movement for a single minute. Without Internet and mobile phones the people organized demonstrations using a very old technology, which is known as human speech. The same technology was used to bring about the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution, which sadly had no access to Facebook or Twitter but did a tolerably good job anyway. An even bigger role than Facebook, however, was played by Al Jazeera. Millions of people could watch the events as they unfolded, day by day, hour by hour.
As we have seen, it is not true to say that the Egyptian Revolution had no leaders. There was a kind of leadership right from the beginning. It consisted of a loose coalition of more than a dozen small parties and activist groups. It was they who issued a Facebook call for a “day of rage” to coincide with Police Day on January 25th. Some 80,000 Egyptian web-surfers signed up, pledging to march on the streets to voice demands for reform.
Both in Tunisia and Egypt initially the demonstrations were convened by groups of mainly young people who provided the leadership that the “official” opposition parties failed to provide. The Economist refers to “the emergence of loosely related groups pressing for reform, run via the internet by youths of generally secular outlook but no particular ideology. Some coalesced around labour rights. Some promoted human rights or academic freedom.”
These actions, then, were carried out by a decisive minority and therefore they were not purely spontaneous. But this was just the tip of a very large iceberg. Public sympathy was on the side of the protesters. The nationwide protest turned into a general uprising against the Mubarak regime, with simultaneous mass protests all over Egypt. So in fact, there was a kind of leadership, although not with very clear ideas. However, in both Tunisia and Egypt the response from the masses took the organizers by surprise who did not dream of the extent of this support they would get. None of the organizers anticipated the huge numbers that answered the call, and fewer still expected the riot police to let them get very far.
It is true that the “spontaneous” character of the Revolution provided a certain protection against the state, and in that sense it was positive. But the lack of an adequate leadership is also a serious weakness that has very negative effects later on.
The fact that in both cases the masses succeeded in overthrowing Ben Ali and Mubarak without the aid of a conscious leadership bears eloquent witness to the colossal revolutionary potential of the working class in all countries. But this statement does not exhaust the question under consideration by any means. The weakness of a purely spontaneous movement was seen in Iran, where despite the tremendous heroism of the masses, the Revolution ended in defeat – at least for the time being.
The argument that “we do not need leaders” does not bear the slightest scrutiny. Even in a strike of half an hour in a factory there is always leadership. The workers will elect people from their number to represent them and to organize the strike. Those who are elected are not arbitrary or accidental elements, but generally the most courageous, experienced and intelligent workers. They are selected on that basis.
Leadership is important, and the party is important. A child of six could understand this proposition, which is the ABC of Marxism. But after A, B and C there are other letters in the alphabet. There are some who call themselves Marxists who imagine that unless and until a Marxist party stands at the head of the proletariat, there can be no question of a revolution. Such ridiculous pedantry has nothing in common with Marxism. The revolution will not unfold in an orderly manner, with the revolutionary party conducting the masses with a baton.
In 1917 Lenin said that the working class is always far more revolutionary than even the most revolutionary party. The experience of the Russian Revolution proved that he was correct. Let us remind ourselves that in April 1917 Lenin had to appeal to the workers over the heads of the Bolshevik Central Committee, which adopted a conservative attitude to the question of proletarian revolution in Russia.
The same conservative mentality, the same aristocratic distrust of the masses, can be seen in many of those who regard themselves as the “vanguard” of the class, but who, in practice, act as a break on the movement in a decisive situation. It is sufficient to refer to the sorry role of the old so-called vanguard in Iran, who had survived from the 1979 revolution, but who stood aloof from the revolutionary masses who came onto the streets in their millions to challenge the regime in 2009.
Do Marxists say that unless and until the revolutionary party is built and stands at the head of the working class, revolution is impossible? No, we have never said such a thing. The revolution proceeds according to its own laws, which develop independently of the will of revolutionaries. A revolution will occur when all the objective conditions are present. The masses cannot wait until the revolutionary party has been built. However, once all the objective conditions are present, the factor of leadership is indeed decisive. Very often it means the difference between victory and defeat.
Revolution is a struggle of living forces. Victory is not predetermined. In fact, at one point, the Egyptian Revolution came very close to defeat. Tactically speaking, staying in Tahrir square was not the best option. This showed the limited outlook of the organizers. Mubarak almost outmanoeuvred the movement, buying off some layers, and mobilizing the lumpenproletarian thugs for vicious attacks. It could have succeeded. Only the decisive intervention of the masses, and particularly the intervention of the working class, prevented defeat.
The problem of leadership
The masses never have a finished plan at the beginning of a revolution. They learn through struggle. They may not know exactly what they want, but they know very well what they do not want. And that is sufficient to propel the movement forward.
Leadership is a very important element in war. This is not to say that it is the only element. Even the most brilliant leaders cannot guarantee success if the objective conditions are unfavourable. And sometimes it is possible to win a battle with bad generals. In a Revolution, which is the highest expression of the war between the classes, the working class has the advantage of numbers and its control of key parts of the productive apparatus of society. But the ruling class possesses many other advantages.
The state is an apparatus for maintaining the dictatorship of a minority of exploiters over the exploited majority. The ruling class holds many other powerful levers in its hands: the press, radio and television, the schools and universities, the state bureaucracy and also the spiritual bureaucrats and thought police in the mosques and churches. In addition it possesses an army of professional advisers, politicians, economists and other specialists in the arts of manipulation and deception.
In order to fight against this apparatus of repression, which has been built up and perfected over many decades, the working class must develop its own organizations, led by an experienced and determined leadership that has absorbed the lessons of history and is prepared for all eventualities. To argue that it is possible to defeat the ruling class and its state without organization and leadership is like inviting an army to go into battle untrained and unprepared to face a professional force led by experienced officers.
In most cases, such a conflict will end in defeat. But even if the Revolution succeeds in overwhelming the enemy in the first charge, it will not be enough to guarantee ultimate victory. The enemy will regroup, reorganize, modify its tactics, and prepare for a counteroffensive, which will be all the more dangerous because the masses will have been lulled into believing that the war has already been won. What at first appeared to be a moment of triumph and joy turns out to be the moment of extreme danger for the fate of the Revolution, and the lack of an adequate leadership in such cases will prove to be its Achilles’ heel, a fatal weakness.
The leadership of the protest movement contained diverse elements and different ideological tendencies. In the last analysis, this reflects different class interests. In the beginning this fact is disguised by the general appeal to “unity”. But the development of the Revolution will inevitably give rise to a process of internal differentiation. The bourgeois elements and the middle class “democrats” will accept the crumbs offered by the regime. They will compromise and enter into deals behind the backs of the masses. At a certain stage they will desert the Revolution and pass over to the camp of reaction. This is already happening.
In the end it is the most determined revolutionary elements that can guarantee the final victory of the Revolution: those who are not prepared to compromise and are willing to go to the end. New explosions are implicit in the situation. In the end one side or the other must triumph. The objective situation is ripe for the assumption of power by the working class. Only the lack of the subjective factor – the revolutionary party and leadership – has prevented this from taking place so far. The overcoming of the problem of leadership is therefore the central problem of the Revolution.
Intrigues at the top
It was the national insurrection that persuaded the generals that only Mubarak’s departure could calm Egypt’s streets and restore “order”. This was, and remains, their overriding obsession. All talk of democracy is merely a fig-leaf to disguise this fact. The generals were part of the old regime and participated in all the dirty work of corruption and repression. They fear the Revolution like the plague and want only a return to “normality” – that is, a return to the old regime under a different name.
The ruling class has many strategies for defeating a Revolution. If it cannot do so by force, it will resort to cunning. When the ruling class faces the prospect of losing everything they will always offer concessions. The overthrows of Ben Ali and Mubarak were a great victory, but they were only the first act of the revolutionary drama.
The representatives of the old regime remain in positions of power; the old state apparatus, the army, police and bureaucracy, is still in place. The imperialists are intriguing with the tops of the army and the old leaders to cheat the masses out of everything they have won. They offer a compromise, but it is a compromise that would maintain their power and privileges.
Defeated on the streets, the old regime is striving to strike a bargain, that is, try to fool the leaders of the opposition, so that they in turn could fool the masses. The idea was that once the initiative was in the hands of the “negotiators”, the masses would become mere passive onlookers. The real decisions would be made elsewhere, behind locked doors, behind the backs of the people.
The men of the old regime are slowly beginning to recover their nerve. They have begun to feel more confident and redouble their manoeuvres and intrigues, basing themselves on the more moderate sections of the opposition. The masses feel uneasy. They do not want the movement to be hijacked by professional politicians and careerists who are bargaining with the generals like merchants haggling in a bazaar. But the question remains: how to carry the Revolution forward? What needs to be done?
As the movement becomes more radicalized, some of the elements who played a leading role in the early stages will fall behind. Some will abandon it; others will go over to the enemy. This corresponds to different class interests. The poor people, the unemployed, the workers, the “men of no property” have no interest in maintaining the old order. They want to sweep away not only Mubarak but the entire regime of oppression, exploitation and inequality. But the bourgeois liberals see the struggle for democracy as the path to a comfortable career in parliament. They have no interest in carrying through the Revolution to the end or of disturbing existing property relations.
For the bourgeois Liberals the mass movement is only a convenient bargaining chip, something with which they can threaten the government to give them a few more crumbs. They will always betray the Revolution. No trust whatever can be placed in these people. El Baradei now says that he opposes the constitutional amendments, but instead of demanding an immediate constituent assembly, he says that elections should be postponed, that the conditions are not present, that the time is not right, and so on and so forth. For these gentlemen the time for democracy is never right. For the masses who have shed their blood for the Revolution, the time for democracy is now!
The IMT says:
- No trust in the generals!
- No trust for self-appointed “leaders” who call for restoring “normality”!
- Keep the mass movement in being!
- Organize and strengthen the revolutionary committees!
- For a clean out of all the supporters of the old regime!
- No deals with the old regime!
- The current "interim regime" has no legitimacy and should be removed immediately. Demand the convening of a Constituent Assembly now!
The Muslim Brotherhood
Some, including Khamenei in Iran, say that the revolutionary movement we are witnessing is about religion, that it is “an Islamic reawakening”. But this is clearly not the case. Even the main clerics in Egypt admit it. They fear being swept aside if they try to portray the Revolution as a religious movement. It is a movement of all religions, and therefore of no religion. There was no animosity against Christians on the demonstrations. There was not even a hint of anti-Semitism.
Religious sectarianism is a weapon used by reactionaries to confuse the people. The December attacks on the Coptic Christians were clearly engineered by the secret police in order to create a sectarian divide and divert attention from the real problems of the masses. They are resorting to the same dirty tactic now in order to divide the masses on sectarian lines, fomenting conflict between Muslims and Copts in an attempt to split and disorient the people and undermine the Revolution.
The revolts in Tunisia and Egypt are largely secularist and democratic, and often deliberately excluding the Islamists. The notion that the Muslim Brotherhood was the “only real opposition” was false to the core. The basic demands of the Egyptian demonstrators are for jobs, food and democratic rights. This is nothing to do with the Islamists and is a bridge to socialism, which has deep roots in the traditions of Egypt and other Arab countries.
Some misguided people on the left have described the movements in Tunisia and Egypt as "middle class" revolutions. These same so-called left-wingers have been flirting with reactionary groups like Hezbollah, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood for a long time. They try to justify this betrayal of Marxism on the grounds of the so-called anti-imperialist stance of the leaders. This is false from start to finish. The so-called Islamists are anti-imperialists in words only, but in practice represent a reactionary trend. They are, in fact, the fifth wheel of the cart of the old regime.
The imperialists have tried to use the Islamists as a bogeyman to confuse the masses and conceal the real nature of the Arab Revolution. They say: “Look! If Mubarak goes, al-Qaeda will take his place.” Mubarak himself told the Egyptian people that if he went it would be “like Iraq”. These were all lies. The role of the fundamentalists and organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood has been grotesquely exaggerated. Such organizations do not represent a force for progress. They pose as anti-imperialists but they stand for the interests of the landlords and capitalists. In the last analysis they will always betray the cause of the workers and peasants.
It is frankly a scandal that certain European left groups, and even some who call themselves Marxists, have supported the Islamists. This is nothing less than a betrayal of the proletarian revolution. It is true that the Muslim Brotherhood is divided along class lines. The leadership is in the hands of conservative elements, capitalists and wealthy businessmen, while its rank and file members include more militant sections of the youth and those who come from poorer and working class backgrounds. However, the way to win the latter over to the side of the revolution is not by making alliances with their capitalist leaders, but rather to subject them to implacable criticism, in order to expose their hollow claims at being anti-imperialist and pro-poor.
This is precisely the opposite of what these groups did when they made an alliance with the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood in organising the Cairo anti-war conference. In effect, these left organisations were providing the Muslim Brotherhood leaders with a left cover, approving their false anti-imperialist credentials and thus strengthening their grip on their own membership.
In the past the Muslim Brotherhood were backed by the CIA to undermine the leftward moving nationalism of Gamal Abdel Nasser. Islamic fundamentalism was a creation of John Foster Dulles and the US State Department, to cut across the left after the 1956 Suez War. But when Sadat and Mubarak became American stooges their services were no longer required. Hillary Clinton and others have said that the Muslim Brotherhood are not a threat, that they are people who can be worked with. This is a clear indication that the imperialists will once again try to use the Islamists to head off the Revolution.
Similarly, Hamas and Hezbollah were originally set up to cut across the PFLP and other left tendencies in Palestine. Later, the CIA created Osama bin Laden as a counterweight to the Soviet forces in Afghanistan. And now they are again intriguing with the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood to head off the Revolution in Egypt and deceive the people. But the Muslim Brotherhood is not a homogeneous movement and is now splitting into different factions along class lines.
The poor people who support the Brotherhood are one thing. The leaders are another thing altogether. In the 1980s leaders of the Brotherhood were key beneficiaries of economic liberalization – the programme of infitah or “opening” – under which Sadat and then Mubarak dismantled the state sector, favouring private capital. One study of Brotherhood businessmen suggests that at this point they controlled 40 percent of all private economic ventures. They are part of the capitalist system and have every interest in defending it. Their conduct is not determined by the Holy Qur’an but by class interest.
The “hard line” Islamists are as frightened of the revolutionary masses as the regime itself. The Muslim Brotherhood declared that it would not negotiate with the government until Mubarak stepped down. But the moment the regime beckoned with its little finger, they changed their minds. One of their leaders went onto Tahrir square, where the protestors were standing firm and preventing the tanks from occupying the square with their bodies, appealing to them not to clash with the army.
Our attitude to such people was worked out long ago by Lenin who warned at the Second Congress of the Communist International:
“11) With regard to the more backward states and nations, in which feudal or patriarchal and patriarchal-peasant relations predominate, it is particularly important to bear in mind:
“first, that all Communist parties must assist the bourgeois-democratic liberation movement in these countries, and that the duty of rendering the most active assistance rests primarily with the workers of the country the backward nation is colonially or financially dependent on;
“second, the need for a struggle against the clergy and other influential reactionary and medieval elements in backward countries;
“third, the need to combat Pan-Islamism and similar trends, which strive to combine the liberation movement against European and American imperialism with an attempt to strengthen the positions of the khans, landowners, mullahs, etc.” (Lenin, “Draft theses on the national and colonial questions”, 5 June, 1920, our emphasis)
That is the real position of Marxism towards reactionary religious trends. It is the position that the IMT firmly defends.
The IMT says:
- Defend the unity of the revolutionary people!
- Down with the pogrom-mongers and hate-merchants!
- Oppose all discrimination based on religion!
- No compromise with reactionary and obscurantist trends!
- Every man and woman must have the right to hold any religious belief or none!
- For the complete separation of religion from the state!
In the first instance the demands of the Revolution are democratic. Of course! After 30 years of a brutal dictatorship the youth long for freedom. Naturally, their desire for democracy can be abused by bourgeois politicians who are only interested in their future careers in a “democratic” parliament. But we are obliged to take up the democratic demands and give them a sharply revolutionary content. This will inevitably lead on to the demand for an even more fundamental change in society.
During a strike or a revolution people feel like human beings with dignity and rights. After a lifetime of enforced silence, they discover that they have a voice. The interviews of people on the streets were a wonderful expression of this. Poor, illiterate people are saying: we are going to fight, we will not leave the streets; we demand our rights and we demand that we be treated with respect. This is a profoundly progressive thing. It is the very essence of a real revolution.
It goes without saying that Marxists always subordinate the democratic demands to the socialist revolution. But in practice the most consistent and advanced revolutionary demands will necessarily lead to the posing of workers’ power and socialist revolution. The Russian Revolution is the best example of this. In 1917 the Bolsheviks took power on the basis of the slogan “Peace, bread and land”, none of which has a socialist content. In theory, all three demands could be achieved under capitalism. In practice, however, they could only be achieved by breaking with the bourgeoisie and by power passing into the hands of the working class.
Some people say that this is nothing more than a bourgeois nationalist movement, not a real revolution. They merely reveal ignorance on the important role of democratic demands in a revolution under these conditions. The experience of the Russian Revolution itself shows the importance of the correct (revolutionary) utilization of democratic demands. The demand for a Constituent Assembly played a very important role in mobilizing the broadest layers of the population behind the revolutionary cause.
While fighting for the most advanced democratic demands, Marxists do not regard these demands as an end in themselves, but as part of the fight for a fundamental change in society. That is what distinguishes the Marxist outlook from that of vulgar petty bourgeois democrats.
The immediate task in Egypt was to carry out the overthrow of Mubarak and his rotten regime. But this is only the first step. It has opened the floodgates and allowed the revolutionary people to push their way through. They are daily discovering their strength on the streets, the importance of organization and mass mobilization. That is already a tremendous conquest. Having gone through the experience of a thirty year dictatorship, they will not allow the imposition of a new one, or any intrigue to recreate the old regime with a new name. Tunisia is sufficient proof of this.
Now they have had a taste of their own power, the masses will not be satisfied with half-measures. They know that what they have achieved they have conquered with their own hands. The struggle for complete democracy will permit the construction of genuine trade unions and workers’ parties. But it will also pose the question of economic democracy and the fight against inequality.
Slogans and tactics must be concrete. They must reflect the real situation and the real concerns of the masses. The objective tasks of the Russian Revolution were democratic and national: overthrow of the tsar, formal democracy, freedom from imperialism, freedom of press, etc. We demand complete democracy, immediate abolition of all reactionary laws, and a constituent assembly.
Yes, we must overthrow the old regime, not just Ben Ali and Mubarak, but all the "little Mubaraks" and the “little Ben Alis”. There must be a thorough purge of the state. And there must not be a single figure in the government who played any part in the old regime. Why should the revolutionary people, who sacrificed all in the struggle, allow those who played no part in the revolution to be in power, even in the form of an interim government? Take a big broom and sweep them all out! That is our first demand. We will accept nothing less than this.
But this is also insufficient. For decades these men robbed and looted the wealth of society. They lived in luxury while the people were reduced to poverty. Now we must get back every cent that they stole from the people. We demand the immediate confiscation of the wealth and property of these parasites, and the expropriation of the property of the imperialists who supported them.
This shows how the revolutionary democratic demands must lead directly to socialist demands. Whoever is incapable of correctly utilizing democratic demands in a revolutionary way will forever be doomed to the role of an impotent sectarian. Such a person will never be capable of connecting with the real movement of the masses.
Democracy, however, means different things to different people. The poor people of Egypt do not fight for democracy in order to provide ministerial positions for careerists but as a means of solving their most pressing problems: the lack of jobs and houses, the high cost of living. These economic and social problems are too deep to be solved by any bourgeois government.
Democracy would be an empty phrase if it refused to lay hands on the obscene wealth of the ruling elite. Confiscate the property of the ruling clique! Expropriate the property of the imperialists who backed the old regime and exploited the people of Egypt! The fight for democracy, if it is pursued to the end, must inevitably lead to the expropriation of the bankers and capitalists and the establishment of a workers’ and peasants’’ government. Under Mubarak's regime the Egyptian capitalists have favoured foreign business and assisted imperialism in looting the wealth of the country and exploiting the Egyptian workers. We demand the expropriation of the property of the imperialists for the benefit of the people.
The IMT says:
- For the immediate abolition of all reactionary laws!
- For complete freedom of assembly and the right to organize and strike!
- For a revolutionary constituent assembly!
- For the confiscation of all the money stolen by the old regime!
- For the expropriation of the property of the imperialists!
The Constituent Assembly slogan
If there was a party in Egypt like the Bolshevik Party, the question of power would be posed. But in the absence of a leadership with a clear plan, the Revolution can pass through all manner of vicissitudes. At present the revolutionary wave has still not subsided. But the masses cannot remain permanently in a state of ebullition. They must work and earn money to eat. The revolutionary lava will cool for a time. Eventually the revolution will be pushed toward some form of bourgeois democracy.
In such a situation democratic demands have an immense importance. In a situation like Mubarak’s Egypt, democratic demands are a powerful lever for mobilizing the broadest layers of the masses for the revolution. We must fight for the maximum democratic rights – the right to vote, strike, etc. – because it is in the interests of the workers to have the freest possible scope to develop the class struggle. It is not a matter of indifference for a worker to live under a totalitarian regime than to have these basic rights. Democratic demands must therefore occupy a key place in our programme.
Some people are puzzled by the fact that whereas we now advocate a Constituent Assembly for these countries, we opposed it in the cases of Bolivia and Argentina. The explanation is really very simple. Slogans do not exist outside of time and place. They must reflect concrete conditions of the class struggle at a given stage of the development of a particular country.
In Bolivia, during the revolutionary uprisings of October 2003 and May-June 2005 the slogan of a constituent assembly was counterrevolutionary. Why? At the time, the Bolivian workers had staged two general strikes and two insurrections. They had set up soviet-like bodies in the form of the Neighbourhood Juntas, the Popular Assemblies and the cabildos abiertos (mass meetings).
The Bolivian workers could have easily taken power. It would have been sufficient for the leaders of the COB (trade unions) to proclaim themselves as the government. Under these concrete conditions, to advance the slogan of a constituent assembly was a betrayal. It diverted the attention of the workers from the central task – the seizure of power – and into parliamentary channels.
The counterrevolutionary nature of this slogan was confirmed by the fact that the World Bank and the US funded Office for Transition Initiatives promoted the idea of a constituent assembly. One might add the small detail that at this time Bolivia was already a bourgeois democracy. In the case of Argentina, the slogan was raised by certain left groups after the Argentinazo uprising in December 2001. In the context of an already existing bourgeois democracy, the slogan of a constituent assembly was completely wrong and it amounted to saying: “We don't like the bourgeois parliament that we have. We want another bourgeois parliament instead.”
One has to be completely blind not to see that these cases have nothing at all in common with the situation in Tunisia and Egypt. After decades of dictatorship, there will inevitably be big illusions in democracy, not just in the petty bourgeoisie but among the masses. This conditions our attitude. We are for democracy, but it must be complete democracy. One of the democratic demands is, ‘we need a new constitution, and therefore a constituent assembly, but we don’t trust the Egyptian army to convene it and therefore the struggle must go on in the streets.’
Of course, Marxists cannot have a mechanical attitude to democratic slogans, which are always subordinate to the general interests of the socialist revolution. We do not share the superstitious attitude of the petty bourgeois towards formal democracy. The deepening of the Revolution will expose the limitations of bourgeois democracy. Through experience the workers will come to understand the need to take power into their own hands. But in order to understand the limits of bourgeois democracy, the workers must first pass through the school of democracy. This presupposes a serious fight for the most advanced democratic slogans.
After decades of authoritarian rule in Egypt, we cannot be indifferent to the question of the Constitution. The current proposal by the Army Council is that some constitutional amendments, drafted by experts appointed by the Army, will be put to a referendum. This is completely undemocratic. Mubarak's constitution cannot be amended, it should be thrown out and a democratic and revolutionary Constituent Assembly convened in order to discuss a completely new constitution. The reactionary role of the generals was shown by the army’s violent disbanding of the Tahrir Square camp.
Having overthrown a dictatorship through struggle, the revolutionary people cannot hand power to the same generals who supported Mubarak till the very last minute. The workers cannot trust the army chiefs or any council of "experts" appointed by them to write a genuinely democratic constitution. We are for a constituent assembly: a democratically elected body to work out the constitution. This is an elementary democratic demand.
But the question remains: who will convene the Constituent Assembly? We cannot entrust this task to the Egyptian Army, either. Therefore, the struggle must continue on the streets, in the factories, in the youth, among the unemployed, until the battle for democracy is complete.
The situation in Egypt is analogous, not to Bolivia in 2003 and 2005 or to Argentina in 2001, but to Russia in 1905 or 1917. We must make use of the most advanced democratic slogans to pose the central question of workers' power. We say to the workers and youth: "You want democracy? We do too! But don't trust the Army or El Baradei – let's fight for real democracy!" In Egypt, Tunisia and Iran today, the slogan of a Constituent Assembly is very relevant indeed.
The workers of Egypt have already drawn the correct conclusion. This is strikingly revealed in the statement of the Iron and steel workers in Helwan, who, during the struggle, advanced the following demands:
- the immediate stepping down of Mubarak and all the figures of the regime and its symbols;
- the confiscation of wealth and property of all the regime's symbols and all those to be proven to be corrupt, on behalf of the interest of the masses;
- the immediate resignation of all workers from the trade unions controlled by or affiliated to the regime and declaring their independent unions now preparing their general conference to elect and form their syndicate;
- the acquisition of public sector companies that have been sold or closed and the declaration of nationalizing them on behalf of the people and the formation of a new administration to run it, involving workers and technicians;
- the formation of committees to supervise workers in all work sites and monitor the production and distribution of prices and wages;
- call for a constituent assembly of all classes of people and trends for the drafting of a new constitution and the election of people's councils without waiting for the negotiations with the former regime.”
These demands are absolutely correct. They show a very high level of revolutionary consciousness and coincide completely with the programme advanced by the Marxists. This programme provides the Egyptian Revolution with all it needs to succeed.
The Revolution poses the need for organization. The trade unions are the most basic form of organization for the workers of all countries at all times. Without organization the working class will always be only raw material for exploitation. The task of building and strengthening the unions is therefore an urgent priority.
In Egypt and Tunisia the unions were closely linked with the old oppressive regime. To all intents and purposes they were part of the state. Their upper levels were corrupted and in many cases members of the ruling party. Their main role was to police the workers. However, at rank and file level they consisted of workers and honest militants.
Even in bourgeois democracies there is an organic tendency of the union tops to fuse with the state. But history shows that when the working class moves even the most corrupt and bureaucratized trade unions can come under the pressure of the working class and become transformed in the course of struggle. Either the old leaders will change and begin to reflect the pressure of the workers or they will be removed and replaced by others who are prepared to put themselves at the head of the movement.
In Tunisia the UGTT leaders were compromised with the Ben Ali regime. The old leaders were prepared to participate in a provisional government formed by Gannouchi but were forced to resign under the pressure of the workers. But at local and regional levels the UGTT played a leading role in the Revolution. In some areas, like in Redeyef, the UGTT actually took over the running of society. In others, the local unions played a key role in the organisation of the revolutionary movement through revolutionary committees. This shows the vital role of the unions as a vehicle for revolution.
What is needed is a through cleansing of the UGTT at all levels, removing all those bureaucrats which are linked to the old regime, starting with its general secretary Abdessalem Jerad, who is playing an openly strike-breaking role. The regional structures and national federations which are under the leadership of the left and democratic activists and which represent a majority of the membership of the UGTT should convene immediately an emergency national congress. A move to democratise the union and bring it in line with the revolutionary movement would have massive support amongst ordinary workers. If the workers and youth were able to remove Ben Ali and then Ghannouchi, it should be even easier for them to remove the corrupt trade union leaders who supported them.
In Egypt the corrupt union leaders were unable to prevent the wave of strikes that was a preparatory school for the Revolution. The Egyptian workers have moved against the old corrupt leaders and are fighting to create unions which are genuine democratic and militant organizations of the class. In so doing they have shown an unerring revolutionary class instinct. The fight for democracy is not confined to the political arena. It must enter the trade unions and the workplaces also.
The struggle seems to be moving in the direction of setting up a new Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions. In revolutionary conditions like the ones which exist now, this can become the main organisation of Egyptian workers. However, it would be a mistake to abandon altogether the struggle within the old official unions, which still claim to represent millions of workers. In some instances, whole workplaces and sectors will be unionised anew. In some other cases, democratic and militant unions will emerge through the workers taking control of the official structures.
The bourgeoisie and the imperialists understand the central importance of the unions. They will send their paid agents to corrupt and deceive workers in order to prevent them from drawing revolutionary and socialist ideas. The CIA has close links with the leaders of the AFL-CIO and the European Social Democracy and so-called International Trade Union bodies. They will try to bring the militant trade union movement under their control.
The workers must beware of such “friends” who come to corrupt them and undermine the Revolution from within. They must also beware of the so-called NGOs that are a disguised agency of imperialism. The role of the NGOs is to divert the workers from the revolutionary path, entangling them in a thousand trivial tasks, charities etc., turning former revolutionaries and militant workers into paid lackeys, office boys and bureaucrats. This is a poison that can corrode the workers’ movement.
The task of the unions is not to prop up capitalism but to overthrow it. Our first aim is to fight for improved living standards, better wages and conditions. We must fight for every improvement, no matter how small. But we must also understand that it will be impossible to obtain our basic demands as long as a parasitic oligarchy is the owner of the land, the banks and the major industries.
In the struggle against the old regime, the unions have linked up with other layers of society: the unemployed, the women, the youth, the peasants, the intellectuals. That is absolutely necessary. The working class must aspire to place itself at the head of the Nation and to lead the fight against all forms of injustice and oppression.
The revolutionary people are setting up popular committees of all sorts. That is a necessary step to provide the revolutionary movement with an organized and coherent form. Such broad committees do not, however, replace the trade unions, which must remain the basic organizational form of the workers’ movement.
The trade unions are a school of revolution that will play a key role in overthrowing the old regime and establishing a new, socialist society, in which the role of the unions will be expanded a thousand fold, playing a major part in the running of the nationalized industries, planning production and running society.
The IMT says:
- Build the trade unions and turn them into genuine fighting organizations!
- Purge the unions of all corrupt elements and bureaucrats!
- For democratic unions: elections at every level and right of recall of all officials!
- Against corruption! No union official must receive a wage higher than a skilled worker!
- No to state control of the unions! The unions must be in the hands of the workers!
- For workers’ control of industry! For the expropriation of the bankers, landlords and capitalists! For a democratic socialist plan of production!
Role of the youth
Karl Liebknecht, the great German revolutionary and martyr once said: “The youth is the flame of the Socialist Revolution”. These words could be emblazoned on the banner of the Arab Revolution. At every stage the youth has played the key role. The protestors who poured onto the streets of Tunisia and Egypt were mainly young people, unemployed and without any future. Some were university graduates, others poor people from the slums.
In all the countries of the Middle East and North Africa, the majority of the population are young people. They are suffering the worst effects of the crisis of capitalism. 70% of youth under the age of 25 in Tunisia are unemployed. The figure is 75% in Algeria and 76% in Egypt. A similar situation exists in other countries.
University graduates have no jobs and therefore have no prospect of marriage, no home and no future. These facts show the impasse of capitalism. These countries need doctors, teachers, engineers, but there are no jobs. Millions of young people are unable to find work, and are therefore unable to marry and raise a family. They are motivated by a deep sense of injustice and a burning anger and resentment towards a system that denies them a future and a corrupt regime that has enriched itself at the people’s expense.
The only hope these young people have is to fight for a fundamental change in society. They have cast aside all fear and are prepared to risk their lives in the fight for freedom and justice. In Tunisia the revolutionary youth organised themselves and called a mass rally in Tunis, marching on the Prime Minister’s office and camping in front of it, in the Kasbah esplanade. Mass movements of the school students raised the demand for a constituent assembly, and demonstrated shouting “down with government”. They provided the catalyst for a movement which finally brought down the government of Ghannouchi at the end of February. In Egypt we again see the same thing. The protestors who led the way were mainly young Egyptians, unemployed and without any future.
History is repeating itself. In 1917 the Mensheviks accused the Bolsheviks of being just a “bunch of kids”, and they were not entirely wrong. The average age of the Bolshevik activists was very low. The first section to move is always the youth, who are free from the prejudices, fear and scepticism of the older generation.
The youth of every country are open to revolutionary ideas. We must go to the youth! If we go to the youth with the ideas of revolutionary Marxism and proletarian internationalism, we will get an enthusiastic response.
The IMT says:
- Jobs for all!
- Every young person must be guaranteed either a full-time job or free full-time education.
- Equal pay for work of equal value!
- An end to police harassment!
- Full democratic rights and votes at 16!
The role of women
The decisive factor is that the masses have acquired a sense of their collective strength and are losing their fear. Beginning with the youngest, most energetic and determined elements, the mood of defiance has transmitted itself to the older, more cautious and inert layers of the population.
One of the most inspiring aspects of the Revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, however, was the active participation of the women. The old submissiveness is disappearing. In Alexandria elderly housewives threw pots and pans onto the police from the balconies of their flats. On the demonstrations young female students in jeans fought side by side with other women wearing the hijab. It was the women workers played a key role in the massive strikes of textile workers in Mahalla al Kubra in recent years, strikes which prepared the present revolutionary upheaval.
Women have been to the forefront of every revolution in history. The images of the women of Bahrain, demonstrating fearlessly, some with veils, some without, are an inspiring picture of the Revolution in action. They are repeating the experience of the heroic women of Paris in October 1789 and in Petrograd in February 1917.
The awakening of the women is a sure sign of Revolution. Society cannot advance and prosper as long as women are enslaved. It is not by chance that reactionaries in Egypt, as well as fomenting religious pogroms, attacked the March 8th demonstration in Tahrir Square. The Arab Revolution will recruit its most determined and courageous fighters from the ranks of the women, and the complete emancipation of women is the first duty of the Revolution. The place of women is not in the kitchen but on the streets fighting alongside the men. They are the most fearless elements. And they have most to fight for.
The IMT says:
- Down with discrimination and inequality!
- Full recognition of women as equal citizens and human beings!
- Full social, political and economic equality for women!
- An end to all discriminatory laws!
- Organize the women workers in free and democratic trade unions, independent of the state!
- Equal pay for work of equal value!
The Revolution is not finished
To say that a revolution has begun is not to say that it has been completed, much less that victory is assured. It is a struggle of living forces. Revolution is not a one-act drama. It is a complicated process with many ebbs and flows. The overthrow of Mubarak, Ben Ali and Gannouchi marks the end of the first stages, but the Revolution has not yet succeeded in completely overthrowing the old regime, while the latter has not yet succeeded in re-establishing control.
In Russia in 1917 the Revolution lasted for nine months, from February to October, when the workers finally took power under the leadership of the Bolshevik Party. However, the Russian Revolution was not a straight line and proceeded through all kinds of vicissitudes and contradictions. There was a period of open reaction in July and August. Lenin had to flee to Finland and the Bolshevik Party was virtually illegalised. But this merely prepared the way for a new advance of the Revolution, culminating in the October insurrection.
In Spain we saw a similar process, starting with the fall of the monarchy in 1931, followed by a big upsurge of the class struggle. But the defeat of the Asturian Commune in October 1934 led to a period of reaction, the Biennio Negro, or two black years in 1935-6. But this proved to be only the prelude to a new upsurge of the Revolution, starting with the victory of the Popular Front in the elections of 1936, leading to the Civil War and ending in defeat and fascism.
After the fall of Mubarak, the Egyptian Revolution is like a big carnival. But the masses are fighting for things no bourgeois government can give them. Like the Russian workers in February 1917, the workers of Egypt have succeeded in overthrowing a tyrant but they have not won their main objectives. The real struggle is still ahead. What has been solved by Mubarak's overthrow? What was achieved by Ben Ali fleeing to Saudi Arabia? Nothing fundamental has been solved. The workers are fighting for bread, jobs and houses, not for some kind of charade of formal bourgeois democracy in which everything changes so that everything can remain the same.
Through painful experience the masses are learning some serious lessons. Sooner or later they will draw the conclusion that the working class must take power. There will be an extended learning process, a process of inner differentiation. This has already begun. In the revolutionary committees the more moderate elements who led the movement in its early stages, and who have illusions in the army, are being challenged by new layers of workers and youth who are opposed to compromise. They fear that what they have conquered with their blood can be taken away from them by subterfuge. This suspicion is well founded.
With the fall of Mubarak the Egyptian Revolution won its first great victory. But none of the fundamental problems of Egyptian society have been solved. Prices continue to rise, homeless people sleep in cemeteries and about 10 percent of the workforce is unemployed according to official statistics, though the real figure is much higher.
There is a burning anger against inequality and the all-pervading corruption that is the chief characteristic of the old regime. Billions of dollars of public money have gone missing. The amounts looted by the Mubarak family alone are estimated at between $40 billion and $80 billion. This has provoked anger and disgust, in a country where 40 percent of the people are living below the poverty line.
It is impossible to say for sure what will follow. However, we can say that the Revolution will be protracted in time and will experience all manner of ups and downs. At the present time, the masses are intoxicated with the idea of democracy. The feeling of euphoria affects even the most advanced and revolutionary elements. This period of democratic and constitutional illusions is an inevitable phase but it will not last. The Revolution stirs society to the bottom. It awakens new, previously inert and “backward” layers to political life. They are demanding their rights. When these people say "thawra hatta'l nasr" (revolution until victory), they mean it.
All attempts to restore the political equilibrium will come to nothing because the crisis of capitalism does not permit any solution to the most basic needs of the population. There will be a series of unstable bourgeois regimes. One unstable ministry after another will fall. This presents a danger. When the class struggle reaches the point of deadlock, the state tends to rise above society and acquire a relative independence. The result is an unstable military regime, or, to give it its correct name, a Bonapartist regime. The very fact of the existence of such a regime indicates that the Revolution that began on 25 January is not finished. It will experience many new turns before the final denouement can be written.
Despite all the appeals for “national unity”, Egyptian society is becoming sharply polarized. The Revolution still has considerable reserves of support in the population. Students are agitating on the campuses. Workers are staging strikes and factory occupations, driving out hated managers and corrupt trade union leaders. The strike of the Egyptian oil workers won all their demands, including the resignation of the oil minister, in just three days. This shows where the real power lies.
The military regime in Egypt cannot maintain itself for long. All the attempts to restore “order” (that is, the rule of the rich and powerful) have failed. The army has tried to stop strikes, but the strikes continue. Far from subsiding, the movement of the workers is increasing. What can the generals do? If they were unable to use their tanks to crush the insurrection, still less can they use them to crush strikes in what is supposed to be a democratic regime.
The generals will have to pass power to a civilian (i.e. bourgeois) government. This will be counterrevolution in a democratic disguise. But it will not be easy for to the counterrevolution to restore stability. For the workers, democracy is not an empty word. If it does not lead to an improvement in living standards, jobs and houses, what was the point of fighting in the first place?
If all this had happened ten years ago, they might have been able to consolidate some form of bourgeois democratic regimes. The boom in world capitalism would have given them some margin for manoeuvre. But now there is a profound crisis on a world scale. This is both the reason for the revolutionary ferment and the reason why it cannot easily be brought to an end. The capitalist system cannot offer anything to the masses. It can't even provide jobs and a decent living standard in the USA and Europe. How can they hope to do it in Egypt?
The actions of the workers striking, occupying the factories and kicking out the managers are of tremendous importance. They mean that the Revolution is entering the factories and workplaces. They signify that the workers of Egypt are proceeding from the struggle for democracy in society to the struggle for economic democracy in the workplace. It means that the Egyptian working class is beginning to participate in the Revolution under its own banner, fighting for its own class demands. This is a decisive factor for the future of the Revolution.
The workers are protesting against corruption and low salaries. They are rebelling against state-appointed managements and setting up revolutionary committees to run factories and other workplaces. That is the correct line to take.
Bourgeois commentators have emphasized that many of these strikes are of an economic nature. Of course! The working class is pressing its immediate demands. That is to say, they see the Revolution as a means of fighting not just for formal democracy but for better wages, for better working conditions – for a better life. They are fighting for their own class demands. And this struggle cannot cease just because Hosni Mubarak is no longer sitting in the Presidential Palace.
For a workers’ democracy!
In Suez, the state collapsed completely for four or five days. Like in Tunisia earlier, revolutionary committees and armed checkpoints were established to defend the people. These facts demonstrate beyond question that soviets (i.e. workers’ councils) are not an arbitrary invention of the Marxists but emerge spontaneously in any genuine revolution.
This poses the central question, that of the state. The old state power has been brought to its knees by the Revolution. It must be replaced with a new power. There is a power in society that is stronger than any state. That power is the revolutionary people. But it must be organized. In both Egypt and Tunisia there are elements of dual power in the revolutionary committees. Entire cities and regions were taken over by these committees.
In Tunisia, the revolutionary organisation of the people went even further than in Egypt. These bodies, in many cases organised around the local structures of the UGTT trade unions, took over the running of all aspects of society in towns and cities and even in whole regions, after expelling the old, RCD regime, authorities. For all the talk of "chaos" and "lack of security" on the part of the ruling class, the fact is that working people organised themselves to guarantee order and safety, but this was a different type of order, a revolutionary order.
In Egypt, following the collapse of the police force on January 28th, people stepped in to protect their neighbourhoods. They set up checkpoints, armed with knives, swords, machetes and sticks to inspect cars that were coming in and out. In some areas, the popular committees virtually took over the running of the town, even organizing the traffic. Here we have the embryo of a people’s militia – of an alternative state power.
And just as the people set up committees to protect their areas from criminal elements when the police were taken off the streets in order to cause chaos and disorder, now in order to organize the Revolution in the most effective manner, the same idea must be taken up and generalized. In order to defend and extend the Revolution, we must form defence committees everywhere!
Elected Committees for the Defence of the Revolution, which already exist in some areas, should be established in every factory, street and village. The revolutionary committees should link up on a local, regional and national level. This would be the starting point for a future democratic workers’ and peasants’ government – a real alternative to the rotten dictatorial regime.
The IMT demands:
- A complete purge and democratization of the army
- For the setting up of soldiers- committees and committees of revolutionary-minded lower ranking officers
- Out with the corrupt and reactionary generals
- Immediate disbandment of all repressive bodies
- All those guilty of acts of terror against the people must be put on trial and punished
- The general arming of the people
- The establishment of a people’s militia
- For a workers’ and peasants’ government!
Revolution knows no frontiers
The international character of the revolution has been clear from the very beginnings. Other Arab countries face many similar problems to those in Tunisia and Egypt: rising food prices, sharply deteriorating economic conditions, unemployment and rampant official corruption. Many millions of people are struggling to exist. And in society as in nature, similar conditions produce similar results. What has happened in Tunisia and Egypt can happen in many other countries, and not only in the Arab world.
The imperialists have been trying to console themselves with the thought that there is no domino effect. But the dominoes are already beginning to fall: Libya, Morocco, Sudan, Iraq, Djibouti, Yemen, Bahrain and Oman – all are entering the revolutionary maelstrom. As in Tunisia and Egypt, the people of Algeria, Jordan and Yemen were living in poverty under dictatorial ruling elites which lived a luxurious life by plundering the nation.
In the case of Iraq, the Revolution is linked to the struggle against imperialism and foreign domination and the right to self-determination of the Kurdish people. At the same time, one characteristic of the protest movement in Iraq is that it has cut across the sectarian divide between Shiites and Sunnis, between Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens, which has been the basis for the domination of reactionary politicians.
Among the main issues raised by the protesters are rising living costs, partly caused by the government’s withdrawal of subsidies for petrol and sugar—an explosive issue across the Arab world. The leaders of Jordan, Algeria and Libya all reduced taxes on imported food or lowered the prices of staples in an attempt to avoid unrest. In Algeria the regime has made concessions in an attempt to prevent an explosion that would be even bigger than the insurrection in the Berber areas in 2001.
Even the oil-rich monarchs of the Gulf are worried. Kuwait has distributed £4,000 (€4600 or US$4600) to all its citizens to keep the population quiet. But such measures can at best succeed only in postponing the inevitable revolutionary upsurge.
The Western media shamelessly portrayed the movement in Bahrain as a religious-sectarian struggle of the Shiite majority and the Sunnis. That is a lie. The Bahrainis are fighting against corruption, for free elections, against discrimination and for rights for immigrants and women, for equitable distribution of wealth and against unemployment. Everywhere we see the same courage of the masses in face of fire. In Bahrain the army was forced to withdraw from Pearl Square. Once again, the role of the working class was crucial, as it was the threat of a general strike on the part of the Bahraini trade unions which forced the regime to make some concessions
In all the Gulf Sates there is brutal exploitation of labour, largely immigrant labour. There are 1.1 million Pakistanis working in Saudi Arabia alone. A similar situation exists throughout the Gulf. There have been strikes and uprisings there in the past that have not been reported, such as the strike of 8,000 building workers in Dubai.
The Saudi regime itself, that bastion of reaction in the Middle East, resembles a pressure cooker without a safety valve. In such a regime, when the explosion comes, it will occur without warning and with extreme violence. The Saudi royal family is corrupt, degenerate and rotten to the core. It is split over the succession and there is growing resentment and discontent in the population. When the moment comes, all the oil in the kingdom will not save them. It is significant that now even the Wahhabi clergy is turning against them.
The Arab Revolution has revived the revolutionary movement in Iran, where officers in the Revolutionary Guard have said they are not prepared to fire on the people and warned the Basij to leave their truncheons at home. Rifts in the state apparatus reveal the deep crisis of the regime which is split from top to bottom.
Because each case is somewhat different, it is hard to say what kinds of regimes will emerge in each case. What kinds of political tendencies and regimes will emerge depends on many factors and will differ from one country to another. The processes in Tunisia and Egypt were almost identical. But in Libya the situation is different. The regime had more of a base, particularly around Tripoli. The uprising was largely confined to the eastern part and the Revolution has been transformed into a civil war, the outcome of which is still uncertain.
Gaddafi doesn’t care if the whole country goes down with him. Having lost control of the whole of the east including the second biggest city, Benghazi, he decided to fight to the last, plunging Libya into a bloody conflict. There have been wide ranging defections in the Libyan army, even at the top level. But it did not have the same effect as in Egypt because of the different nature of the army and the regime.
One thing is clear: everything has been thrown into the melting pot. Not one of these regimes will survive in the end. There are different possibilities, depending on the class balance of forces and a whole series of internal and external factors that are impossible to foresee. But one thing is clear: no matter what regime is installed, it will not be able to satisfy even the most minimal demands of the masses.
Impotence of imperialism
The imperialists are worried about where all this will go, and how far it will spread. They did not expect these events and do not know how to react. Obama did not dare call on Mubarak publicly to resign because of the effects in these other states. He was obliged to speak in carefully calculated code. The very words “democracy” and “human rights” in the mouth of Obama and his European counterparts stink of hypocrisy.
The cynicism of Western governments stands exposed in all its crudity. After decades of backing the vicious dictatorship in Tunisia, suddenly they are all in favour of democracy and human rights. Yet Sarkozy had praised Ben Ali as a friend of democracy and human rights even when he was torturing his opponents in the prisons. And Washington covered up the barbarous acts of all the other pro-western dictators. Now they are getting their just reward.
Politics affects the economy and vice-versa. Oil prices have climbed on fears the unrest could spread to other Arab states including oil giant Saudi Arabia or interfere with oil supplies from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal. Brent crude surpassed the $120 a barrel mark and is still hovering over the $110 mark. This threatens to undermine the weak and fragile recovery of the world economy.
For economic, political and military reasons the imperialists need stability in the Middle East. But how are they to get it? That is the question! From the beginning the US has been struggling to find a coherent response to events that are changing by the day, even by the hour. In reality the strongest power in the world has been reduced to the role of a helpless onlooker. An article in The Independent by their correspondent in Washington, Rupert Cornwell, carried the interesting title: Washington's strong words underline US impotence. That expresses the real position.
Some “clever” people, however, think that the Arab Revolution is all part of an imperialist conspiracy. Nothing could be further from the truth. The bourgeoisie was taken completely by surprise by all this. These revolutions are completely destabilizing one of their most important regions. This is far from welcome to them. And it has repercussions far beyond the Arab world.
The Middle East is a key area for the imperialists. The Americans have spent four decades establishing their position there. Egypt was a key piece in their calculations. Now all this has been swept away before their eyes in a few weeks. The richest and most powerful state on earth was completely paralyzed. Obama could not intervene, and even found it difficult to say anything about it for fear of offending their Saudi allies.
Eight percent of world trade passes through the Suez Canal, and the Americans were terrified that would be closed, but they could do nothing about it. All that Obama could say was that it was the Egyptian people's choice. The Americans did not say that when it came to Iraq or Afghanistan, where US imperialism did not think twice about invading.
US warships were in fact sent to Suez but did nothing. This was intended to reveal the mailed fist that is concealed within the velvet glove of Obama’s “democracy”. But in reality it was an empty gesture. The US burned its fingers in Iraq. A new military adventure in Egypt would have provoked a storm in the USA and on a world scale. There would not have been a single US embassy left standing in the Middle East and all the other pro-US Arab regimes would be faced with overthrow
The USA has a special interest in Bahrain because of its important strategic position next door to Saudi Arabia and Iran. It is the base of the Fifth Fleet, the most important US naval base in the whole region. Yet they were powerless to intervene against the revolutionary movement in Bahrain. If this was all part of an imperialist plan, nobody told Obama about it!
[Edited 29 March 2011:]
In the case of Libya they did not hesitate to denounce Gaddafi and call for his overthrow – which they signally failed to do in the case of Mubarak. This is yet another example of their duplicity, cynicism and double standards. Although initially they hinted that military action was not ruled out, they hesitated to act. Hilary Clinton said that a no-fly zone would have to be approved by the UN. This is a complete contrast to the conduct of the USA in Iraq, when they completely by-passed the UN.
In the end, under pressure from the French and the British, the USA agreed to a no-fly zone. We now have open imperialist aggression in Libya. This has nothing to do with defending the people of Libya and even less with defending the revolution. The opposite is the case. Their aim is to get a foothold in the region in order to strangle the revolutions that have begun.
We oppose this imperialist bullying. The task of overthrowing Gaddafi belongs to the Libyan people. The truth is that the initial revolutionary impetus that began in the east has been sidetracked and taken over by counter-revolutionary elements on the Interim Council who have now handed over the fate of the Libyan people to western imperialism.
The IMT says:
- No to foreign intervention!
- End the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan!
- Stop the bombing of Libya!
- Down with imperialism!
- Hands off the Arab Revolution!
Israel and the Palestinians
Nowhere has the Arab Revolution caused greater panic than in Israel. The strongest military force in the region was paralysed in the face of the events in Egypt. The Israeli ruling clique even had to be careful about what they said about the situation in Egypt. Binyamin Netanyahu ordered ministers not to talk about it in public. Israel called on the United States and a number of European countries to curb their criticism of President Hosni Mubarak. Jerusalem tried desperately to convince its allies that it was in the West's interest to back Mubarak in order to maintain the stability of the Egyptian regime. This flew in the face of the efforts of the United States and European Union to remove him so that they could guarantee an “orderly transition” and avoid a revolutionary overthrow.
Marx pointed out that no people could ever be free if it enslaved another people. Israel rules over a large and disaffected population of Palestinians who are learning on their televisions how to overthrow tyranny. On the West Bank the Palestinians are held down with the help of the Palestinian Authority’s police. But it is open to question whether Palestinian police units, or Israeli security forces, would be able to crush a mass democracy movement, after Egypt’s powerful army refused to fire on the people.
The separate peace signed by Israel and Egypt in 1979 was a betrayal of the Palestinian cause and is deeply unpopular in most of the Arab world. The backing of Egypt has been an important element in helping the continuing Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories conquered in 1967.
The Oslo agreement between Israel and the Palestinians in 1993 was a new betrayal. The so-called Palestinian territories are nothing more than a version of the South African Bantustans. It was a cruel mockery of a homeland and none of the basic demands of the Palestinians were conceded. Israel continued to rule the roost. Since then things have gone from bad to worse.
Now the fall of Israel’s most powerful regional ally has radically altered the whole equation. It has shaken the Israeli government and called into question the deep-seated belief that the occupation of the Palestinian territories can be sustained indefinitely. Overnight the carefully prepared plans of the imperialists are in ruins.
Decades of so-called armed struggle and negotiations have led nowhere. But the revolutionary movement poses the Palestinian question in a completely different light. The ruling clique in Israel is not at all worried about Hamas’ rockets and suicide bombers. On the contrary, every rocket that falls on an Israeli village serves to push Israeli public opinion behind the government. But a Palestinian Intifada, combined with the Arab Revolution in Egypt and Jordan, is another matter altogether.
As a military power, Israel may be unbeatable. In the event of a war with Egypt, Israel would probably win again. But could it win against masses of protesters in town squares across the West Bank, Gaza and Israel too, demanding political rights for Palestinians? This is a question that must keep the Israeli generals and politicians awake at night.
The fall of Mubarak has very serious implications for Israel. In the best case, Israel’s defence spending will have to rise still further, as its rulers contemplate the threat of a war in the south. This will put further strains on an economy that was already in crisis. New cuts and attacks on living standards will be the result, putting an intensification of the class struggle on the order of the day in Israel.
Netanyahu imagined that his country was an island of stability and democracy that could not be affected by revolution. But basically, Israel is just another Middle Eastern country that is threatened by the revolutionary wave emanating from Tunisia and Egypt. There are new contradictions inside Israel. The increase in fuel and water has made Israel one of the most expensive countries to live in the world. The Histadrut (Israeli trade unions) leadership has been playing with the idea of a national strike.
The events in Tunisia and Egypt will have profound consequences for the Palestinians. The Palestinians have been betrayed by everyone they put their trust in, beginning with the supposedly friendly Arab regimes and ending with their own leaders. The latest revelations by Wikileaks had exposed the scandalous collusion of Abbas with the Israelis and Americans. This will have a big effect on the psychology of the Palestinian masses.
For forty years, the PLO leadership has betrayed the Palestinian cause. The PLO could have taken power in Jordan in 1970. Then the whole history of the region would have been different. But the petty bourgeois nationalist leadership refused to attack their "Arab brothers". So the Jordanian monarch mobilized the Bedouins who (with the help of the Pakistani Army) slaughtered thousands of Palestinians. It is a fact that many more Palestinians have been killed by Arab "brothers" than by the Israelis.
The same Bedouins who attacked the Palestinians in 1970 are now protesting against the King. Former army officers are warning the regime that unless it makes concessions it will face the same fate as that of Ben Ali and Mubarak. This shows that the Hashemite monarchy is fast losing its base and is hanging by a thread. The movement has spread from the Bedouin areas to Amman and the Palestinians, who make up the majority of the population of Jordan.
It is time to reassess the tactics and strategy of the Palestinian struggle. The Wikileaks revelations have exposed the Palestinian leaders as little more than Israeli stooges. The mood of the Palestinians is angry and bitter. There have been a number of attempts to organise mobilisations both against Abbas in the West Bank and against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, which have been met with heavy repression. Even demonstrations in solidarity with the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions have been banned by both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.
Now a united movement against the current leadership of the Palestinian movement, against Israeli occupation and for the unity of the Palestinian struggle has been set up, attracting the support of tens of thousands on Facebook and calling for demonstrations and protests. For Palestinians, an Intifada in Egypt was part of their dreams for decades. Now it is a reality. The overthrow of the reactionary Arab regimes by the masses will deal a serious blow against Israel and US imperialism and transform the whole situation. Now for the first time the Palestinians can see who are their only real friends: the workers and peasants of the whole Arab world.
This represents a fundamental turning point. The Palestinians have seen how it is possible to fight against the oppressors, not with bombs and rockets, but by revolutionary mass action. The whole mood will be different now. There will be new stirrings in the youth, movements against Hamas in Gaza, and against the PLO leaders in the West Bank. There is growing pressure for something different than what has existed heretofore. The idea of a new Intifada will rapidly gain ground among the Palestinians. This would change everything.
For a Socialist Federation!
After the First World War the so-called Arab nation states were created artificially by imperialism. This division was not based on any natural or historical criterion but purely on the interests of imperialism. The Sykes-Picot agreement divided Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan between Britain and France. Under the Balfour Declaration in 1918, the British gave permission for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
In the Gulf, small states with huge reserves of oil were established so they could be controlled by imperialism easily, for access to resources. The Saudi monarchy consisted of desert bandits, raised to power by the British agent Wilson Cox. Imperialism has divided the living body of the Great Arab Nation.
The Arab Revolution can never succeed until it has put an end to the shameful Balkanization of the Arab world. The only way to break the chains forged by imperialism is to place on our banner the slogan of a Socialist Federation of the Arab world. This would create a mighty Socialist Commonwealth, stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Euphrates.
On the basis of a nationalized planned economy, unemployment would be immediately abolished. A vast reservoir of unused labour power would be mobilized to solve the problems of housing, health, education and the infrastructure. By pooling the huge resources of all these countries on the basis of a common plan of production, deserts could be made to bloom and a new cultural revolution would put all the gains of the past in the shade.
A Socialist Federation, with full autonomy for all the peoples, is the only way to solve the national and religious strife that has poisoned the lives of the peoples for decades, leading to one war after another. Muslims and Copts, Sunnis and Shiites, Palestinians and Jews, Arabs, Amazigh (Berbers), Maronites, Kurds, Turkmens, Armenians, Druzes – all will find a place in a Federation based on the principle of absolute equality.
The IMT says:
- Defend the rights of the Palestinian people and all oppressed nationalities to self-determination!
- Down with the imperialist and Israeli aggressors! End the occupation of Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine!
- Drive out the collaborators! For the revolutionary overthrow of all the Arab puppets of imperialism!
- Expropriate the property of the imperialists and their Arab stooges! The wealth of the Arab lands must be returned to the people!
- For the revolutionary unity of the peoples! For the Socialist Federation of the Middle East and North Africa, on the basis of a free, equal and fraternal union, with full autonomy to every nationality!
Leaps in consciousness
The Egyptian Revolution is the final answer to all those sceptics and intellectual snobs who constantly harp on the alleged “low level of consciousness” of the masses. Those western “experts” who talked contemptuously of the Egyptians as “apathetic” and “passive” and “indifferent to politics” must eat their words.
Marxists understand that human consciousness in general is not progressive or revolutionary but profoundly conservative. Resistance to change is deeply rooted in the human mind as part of a survival mechanism that comes from the remote past of our species. As a general rule, therefore, consciousness lags behind events. It does not change gradually, today more revolutionary than yesterday and tomorrow more than today, any more than water that is cooled from 100 to 0 degrees first becomes a paste, then a jelly and finally a solid.
This view of consciousness is metaphysical and mechanical, not materialist and dialectical. Dialectics teaches us that things change into their opposite, and that small, apparently insignificant changes can at a certain point, known in physics as a critical point, produce explosive transformations on a gigantic scale. The change in consciousness happens suddenly, when it is compelled by great events to change. When this occurs, consciousness is swiftly brought into line with reality. This leap of consciousness is precisely what a revolution is.
The masses, whether in Egypt, Iran, Britain or the USA, do not learn from books but from experience. In a revolution, they learn much faster than in other circumstances. The Egyptian workers and youth have learnt more in a few days of struggle than in thirty years of “normal” existence. On the streets the masses developed a sense of their own power. They lost the deadening fear of the uniformed riot police backed up by water cannons and thousands of plain-clothes thugs, who they pushed back and defeated.
In a revolution the learning process is enormously speeded up. We see exactly the same process in Egypt and Tunisia. Here is a vast laboratory where the different vague, competing lists of demands issued by different organisers are put to the test. On the streets the masses decide which slogans are appropriate and which are not. We will see the same process repeated time and time again, and not just in the Middle East and North Africa but everywhere.
From Cairo to Madison
In 1917 it took about a week for people in India to learn that there had been a Revolution in Russia. Today everyone can see the revolution live on their television screens. The situation in the Middle East is having a tremendous effect around the world. In India, for the first time in 32 years, the unions and left parties recently organised a general strike over wages and prices. There was a march of 200,000 on the streets in New Delhi, over food price rises. Although India is growing at an annual rate of nine percent, this increases inequality by concentrating wealth at the top.
In Tunisia and Egypt the capitalist system is beginning to break at its weakest links. The bourgeois will tell us that such things cannot happen in the advanced capitalist countries, that the situation is different and so on and so forth. Yes, the situation is different, but only in degree. Everywhere the working class and the youth will be faced with the same alternative: either we accept the systematic destruction of our living standards and rights – or we fight.
The argument “it cannot happen here” is without any scientific or rational basis. The same thing was said of Tunisia only a couple of months ago, when that country was considered to be the most stable in North Africa. And the same argument was repeated in relation to Egypt even after Ben Ali was overthrown. Just a few weeks were sufficient to expose the hollowness of those words. Such is the speed of events in our epoch. Sooner or later the same question will be posed in every country in Europe, in Japan, in Canada, and also in the United States.
Inflation is rising. Food prices are rising. This will have the most serious effects everywhere, particularly in poor countries. According to the World Bank, 44 million more people will be thrust into extreme poverty in the coming period, pushing the figure to over one billion worldwide. Millions of people are fighting for food, jobs and housing – that is, for the most basic conditions of a semi-civilized existence. These conditions ought to be freely available to everybody in the first decade of the twenty-first century. But the decrepit capitalist system is no longer able to guarantee these things even in Europe and North America. This is why there are riots and uprisings. It is a life and death question.
The present crisis is not a normal cyclical crisis of capitalism. The recovery also is not normal. The capitalists are trying to squeeze the workers more than ever in an attempt to re-establish the economic equilibrium: to pay off their debts, reduce cost of labour, etc. But by so doing, they destabilize the entire situation. This partly explains both the Arab revolution and the upsurge of the class struggle in Europe
Every country in the world has been affected. It is no accident that China added its voice to the chorus calling for a return to “order “in Egypt. In part it is a question of economic interest. The Chinese regime is interested in global economic stability because it wants to continue to earn a lot of money from exports. But above all, Beijing is afraid of anything that could provide an impetus for strikes and protests in China itself. They have clamped down on all protest and blocked any reference to Egypt on the Internet.
By contrast, every class conscious worker in the world will rejoice at the marvellous movement of the workers and youth in Tunisia and Egypt. The psychological effects of this cannot be underestimated. For many, especially in the advanced capitalist countries, the idea of revolution appeared as something abstract and remote. Now the events that have unfolded before their eyes on television show that revolution is not just possible but necessary.
In Europe and the USA there is a seething hatred of the bankers and fat cats who are rewarding themselves obscene bonuses while the rest of society suffers continuous attacks on their living standards. This fact is strikingly reflected in the dramatic events in Wisconsin. It is no accident that the workers of Madison, Wisconsin chanted things like “fight like an Egyptian”. This is the effect of the vicious policies being imposed on the working class during an economic recovery in the US.
Suddenly the world has woken up to the fact that there has been an explosion of the class struggle in Wisconsin, with 100,000 people on the streets. We see images of workers holding placards calling the governor Hosni Walker and chanting: "Wisconsin Dictator Must Go". Egyptian workers even sent solidarity messages to the Wisconsin workers. There have been student walkouts, campouts at the state Capitol and spontaneous rallies. The police who were sent to disperse the demonstrators went over to the people, joined the occupation wearing jackets that carried slogans like “cops for labour”. This is an extremely important development.
In Europe we have seen big movements of the workers and youth: eight general strikes in Greece in the last twelve months; a huge strike movement in France bringing three and a half million workers out onto the streets; the movement of the British students; a general strike in Spain; in Italy the movement of the metal workers. Recently there was the biggest general strike in Portugal since the fall of the dictatorship in 1974. Even in the Netherlands there were 15,000 students protesting at the Hague. In Eastern Europe as well we have seen big movements in Albania and Romania. In Bulgaria, even the police have been out on strike.
Twenty years ago, the bourgeoisie was overjoyed at the overthrow of “communism”. But their rejoicing was premature. In retrospect the fall of Stalinism will be seen as only the prelude to a far more dramatic development: the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. Everywhere, including the United States, the system is in crisis. Everywhere the ruling class is trying to place the full burden of the crisis of its system on the shoulders of the poorest layers of society.
These movements have striking similarities to the mass movements that led to the overthrow of the regimes in Eastern Europe. On paper these governments had a powerful state apparatus, big armies, police, and secret police. But that did not save them. Nor will all the money, police and armies in the world save the rulers of Europe and the United States once the workers move to change society.
The masses have shown again and again determination and willingness to struggle. In order to achieve victory they need to be armed with a clear programme and leadership. The ideas of Marxism are the only ones that can provide it. The future is ours.
- Long live the Arab Revolution!
- Workers of the world unite!
- Long live socialism, the only hope for the future of humankind!
- Thawra hatta'l nasr!
London, March 14, 2011