The second round in Egypt's fraudulent presidential elections will be taking place on June 16 and 17. In the election, Ahmad Shafiq, one of Mubarak's old ministers, will face Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Marxists can offer no support to either of these candidates, both of whom represent the forces of counter-revolution. However, the Revolutionary Socialists in Egypt have decided to do just that, and it is a grave mistake.
"It is better to vote for something you want and not get it, than for something you don't want, and get it." (Eugene Debs)
The Socialist Worker online, Issue 2305 (dated 2 June 2012) carried an article entitled Revolutionary Socialists' statement on Egypt's presidential elections.
This article is so scandalous that I had to read it twice and look up the British SWP website to make sure it was not a hoax. But no, it is not a hoax. The Egyptian Revolutionary Socialists (Cliffites) are supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in the second round of the elections and calling them to form a broad national unity government against “fascism”.
The RS have produced a statement, which starts thus:
“The Revolutionary Socialists Movement confirms its opposition on principle to the candidate of the Military Council, the dissolved National Democratic Party and the forces of the counter-revolution, Ahmad Shafiq.”
It goes without saying that all socialists are opposed to the counterrevolutionary gangster Ahmad Shafiq on principle. This man is a criminal and an enemy of the Egyptian people. As Mubarak’s last prime minister, he was responsible for the bloody attacks of the state forces against the Revolution. His candidature is merely the most obvious expression of the fraudulent nature of these elections and the fake constitution that prepared them.
As a result of massive fraud and trickery, Shafiq has managed to reach the second round of the presidential elections, where he faces the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, Dr Mohammed Morsi. The article correctly says:
“This is thanks to a massive mobilisation by the counter-revolutionary camp, which deployed the full, organised force of the resources at its command – the repressive apparatus of the state, the media and the business interests standing behind Shafiq.
“His success reflects the smear campaigns, systematic repression and intimidation of the social and popular forces which peaked before the election and were expressed in the dregs of the old regime daring to run in the election.”
It is very clear that the old regime – which was not completely destroyed with the overthrow of Mubarak – is using every means at its disposal to cheat the masses of their victory. They used massive fraud to hand victory to the criminal Ahmad Shafiq. But does this fact justify support for the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood?
What the elections showed
What the elections revealed above all was the weakness of the old regime. At the recent elections there were not two but three main candidates: Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate came first with 24.4% of the votes, followed by Ahmed Shafiq who got 23.3%, and then Hamdeen Sabahi, a Nasserite, who got 20.3%.
Shafiq was the candidate of the old regime, the most reactionary sections of the ruling class, the army and the bureaucracy. The last prime minister of the old regime, he was overthrown three weeks after Mubarak. He is a puppet of the military and it is clear that the counter-revolution is uniting around his candidacy. It is thought that he mobilised the old Mubarak party - NDP for his campaign. His campaign was supported by all media and probably some parts of the armed forces were more or less forced to vote for him.
Despite everything the Shafiq camp only managed to gather five million votes for their candidate. This would be the sum total of all the forces of open reaction in Egypt, and it might well be an over-estimate. Moreover, only 26 million voted out of a population of 80 million. Yet at the height of the revolution last year we saw 10-20 million on the streets – a large part of which do not seem to have participated in the elections.
This does not suggest that the counterrevolutionary forces are gaining ground. On the other hand we have the rise of Hamdeen Sabahi, a Nasserite who is giving the revolutionary movement its first confused political expression (The Financial Times calls him a socialist, although that must be taken in the old Nasserite sense).
The Hindu newspaper wrote: “Hailing from a peasant family, Mr. Sabbahi has focused on a programme to counter poverty in a manner that would benefit the Fellahin or small farmers as well as Egypt's unhappy industrial working class.” He has promised to increase social welfare payments for the poor, the minimum wage and farm subsidies, promises he plans to pay for by raising the taxes of rich Egyptians. Among other things, he proposes a “Tahrir tax,” named after the central square at the centre of the Egyptian uprising, that would require Egyptians with more than about $900,000 to pay 10 percent of their net worth in one lump sum.
Sabahi is also the candidate most hostile to Israel and the West. “I will support all forms of armed resistance” against Israel, Mr. Sabahi said, “whether it comes from Palestine’s land, from Lebanon’s land or from any other land.” “Egypt will no longer be a godfather for Israel in this region,” he added. “This will be over.”
Sabahi got a very good result, winning nearly every major Egyptian population centre, including Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor and the Red Sea region, areas where he was not even considered contender a few weeks ago. His promise not to be swayed by a party or the military is thought to be what won him such wide support, and his popularity has only grown since he came third in the election. Some talk of writing his name on the run-off ballot. Others contend that he was robbed of a place in the run-off by a government that rigged the election.
When the first round results were announced, thousands of people marched to Tahrir Square to protest because they were convinced (doubtless correctly) that Sabahi had been cheated out of a place in the run-off, which will take place in the next weeks. It seems that Sabahi called for a boycott of the next round of the elections. Under the circumstances, that was the only correct thing to do. But instead of basing themselves on this genuinely revolutionary demand, the RS has endorsed Mursi, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The vote for Hamdeen Sabbahi shows the enormous potential for the future victory of the Left in Egypt. But in order to prepare for future victory, it is essential that the revolutionaries do not compromise themselves before the masses by entangling themselves in unprincipled alliances with the enemies of the working class. Let us add that these enemies are not only the survivals of the old regime, but include bourgeois political formations like the Muslim Brotherhood.
The lesser evil?
The document of the RS says:
“We are also convinced that the victory of Shafiq in the second round of the elections will be a great loss to the revolution and a powerful blow against its democratic and social gains. It would give a golden opportunity to the preparations of the counter-revolution for a more brutal and extensive revenge attack under the slogan of ‘restore security to the street within days’.”
Nobody can have any illusions as to the nature of Shafiq and the role he is playing. But is this a sufficient justification for calling for a vote for the Muslim Brotherhood? In order to justify this, the document appeals to the old argument about the “lesser evil”. We have heard this argument many times before. On every occasion, what was supposed to be the lesser evil turned out to be a very great evil.
In Russia before the Bolshevik Revolution, the Cadets (Liberals) posed as the enemies of Tsarism and defenders of democracy. The opportunist wing of the Russian Social Democracy always argued that the workers’ movement must support the Liberals against the reactionary Tsarist regime as “the lesser evil”. This argument was always rejected with the utmost scorn by Lenin and Trotsky. This was the central question that distinguished the revolutionary tendency (the Bolsheviks) from the reformist and opportunist wing (the Mensheviks).
Following in the footsteps of Marx, who had described the bourgeois “democratic party” as “far more dangerous to the workers than the previous liberals”, Lenin explained that the Russian bourgeoisie, far from being an ally of the workers, would inevitably side with the counterrevolution.
“The bourgeoisie in the mass,” he wrote in 1905, “will inevitably turn towards the counter-revolution, towards the autocracy, against the revolution, and against the people, as soon as its narrow, selfish interests are met, as soon as it 'recoils' from consistent democracy (and it is already recoiling from it!)” (Works, vol. 9, page 98)
What class, in Lenin's view, could lead the bourgeois-democratic revolution?
“There remains ‘the people’, that is the proletariat and the peasantry. The proletariat alone can be relied on to march on to the end, for it goes far beyond the democratic revolution. That is why the proletariat fights in the forefront for a republic and contemptuously rejects stupid and unworthy advice to take into account the possibility of the bourgeoisie recoiling.” (ibid)
From his very earliest writings until his death, Lenin repeatedly warned the workers not to trust the bourgeois liberals.
Trotsky had the same position, as we see from his writings on Spain and Germany. When the Stalinists accused Trotsky of supporting Bruening as the 'lesser evil' against Hitler in Germany, he replied:
“The Social Democracy supports Bruening, votes for him, assumes responsibility for him before the masses - on the grounds that the Bruening government is the ‘lesser evil.’ ... We Marxists regard Bruening and Hitler, Braun included, as component parts of one and the same system. The question as to which one of them is the ‘lesser evil’ has no sense, for the system we are fighting against needs all these elements.” (The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany, p.138)
The policy of Lenin and Trotsky to fight reaction was the workers’ united front, not unprincipled blocs and electoral deals with bourgeois parties.
In Spain in the 1930s, the Monarchy was swept aside by the masses after the local elections of 1931. The Socialists joined a coalition with the bourgeois Republicans under the slogan of “defend democracy”. But the conditions of the masses grew steadily worse. The result was the rise of the fascists – first under Gil Robles, and later under Franco.
The Spanish fascists (Falangists) had a very effective slogan for the peasants and workers: “Que te da a comer la Republica?” What does the Republic give you to eat? In the same way in Egypt, the reactionaries will say to the unemployed workers, the ruined shopkeepers and the hungry fellaheen: What does democracy give you to eat? In this way bourgeois “democracy” prepares the way for fascism and reaction.
The MB and imperialism
“We therefore call on all the reformist and revolutionary forces and the remainder of the revolutionary candidates to form a national front which stands against the candidate of counter-revolution, and demands that the Muslim Brotherhood declares its commitment to the following”.
There follows a list of demands which the RS presents to the leaders of the MB like a shopping list. They must form a presidential coalition which includes Hamdeen Sabbahi and Abd-al-Moneim Abu-al-Fotouh as Vice-Presidents. They must select a Prime Minister from outside the ranks of the Brotherhood. They must approve a law on trade union freedoms, and so on and so forth.
But just a minute! If I vote for the MB candidate, what guarantee have I that any of these “demands” will be met? The RS says the MB leaders must do this and must do that. But how can we force these leaders to do anything once they are elected? These demands are like the sugar coating that is put on a bitter pill to help the patient to swallow it. But no amount of sugar can take away the bitter taste of this particular pill, which will give the working class of Egypt a very nasty stomach pain.
What the leaders of the RS are advocating is not even a popular front. That would be an alliance of workers’ parties with a bourgeois liberal party. This is something far worse. The Muslim Brotherhood is not a bourgeois liberal party but a reactionary, anti-worker Islamist organization. In the past it was backed and fostered by the CIA as a useful tool against Nasserism, until the US imperialists began to change their mind about Islamist organizations.
After Nasser’s death the US imperialists noted that the regime in Cairo had changed its policies and adopted a “pragmatic” attitude to Israel and the West. It therefore no longer required the services of the Muslim Brotherhood, who were abandoned to the tender mercies of the Egyptian state. With the bombings of 9/11, Washington’s attitude to Islamism hardened when former allies and agents like Osama Bin Laden stopped killing Russians and began killing Americans.
Lately, however, Washington seems to be changing its mind once more. Now they see the Muslim Brotherhood as a useful tool against revolution. The Americans were caught off guard by the Egyptian Revolution. “Our assessment is that the Egyptian government is stable and is looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people,” said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on January 25, 2011.
Terrified of the spread of revolution in the Middle East, Washington has now modified its stand in relation to the Muslim Brotherhood, which it increasingly sees as a bulwark against revolution and communism. In other words, it also sees the Brotherhood as a lesser evil. On this the Americans and the Cliffites are agreed, except that one sees the MB as a bulwark against revolution and the other sees it as a bulwark against counterrevolution. Both cannot be right. One view must clearly be mistaken. Which view is that?
Evidently the leaders of the RS feel rather ashamed at their own behaviour. They therefore try to cover their backside by assuring their members that they have not abandoned a revolutionary position. The statement continues:
“Our position does not, of course, mean that we are dropping our criticism of the social and economic programme of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and its ‘Renaissance Project’ which is essentially biased towards the market economy and finance and business.
“Nor do we weaken our criticism of the political performance of the leadership of the Brotherhood and the Freedom and Justice Party and of the trust of these leaders in the Military Council and their attacks on the revolutionaries during the battles of Mohammed Mahmoud Street and the Cabinet Offices and others”.
Here we have a shamefaced admission that the RS is asking for a vote for a reactionary bourgeois party. Its ‘Renaissance Project’ is “essentially biased towards the market economy and finance and business”. They say this almost as if they were surprised. But how could a party led by wealthy businessmen fail to be “biased towards the market economy and finance and business”? How could it not place its trust in the generals who are attacking the people who made the revolution?
They can say that they intend to continue to be “critical” of the Brotherhood's policies, and “demand” they adopt this or that platform as much as they want, but the objective fact is that they are fomenting electoral illusions in a reactionary bourgeois party.
What the Muslim Brothers stand for
One can say that Egypt has two bourgeoisies. One has held power for decades and has enriched itself by plundering the state. In the person of the SCAF and gangsters like Shafiq they are determined to cling to their power and privileges at all costs. The fall of Mubarak was a serious blow to them, but they have regrouped and are attempting to push the Revolution back.
But there is another bourgeoisie, one that has not benefitted from control of the state and has been kept out of power for decades. They represent a very wide stratum of petty and in part medium proprietors, who have not yet matured but are energetically endeavouring to do so. Hiding behind the cloak of religion, they are now striving to occupy their “place in the sun”, and this brings them into conflict with the other wing of the bourgeoisie. The entire political life of Egypt now centres on this struggle between these two bourgeois tendencies.
Behind all the thousands of fine words about liberty and democracy, is the struggle between these bourgeois tendencies. They are fighting like cats in a sack to get control of the state with its lucrative contracts, subsidies, corruption etc. But both sides are firmly united against the workers and the Revolution.
This struggle is by no means without significance for the working class; quite the contrary. But that does not mean we have to take sides or support one wing of the bourgeoisie against the other. Class-conscious workers must do everything possible to get the peasants and backward workers to follow them and not follow the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Mubarak dictatorship was overthrown by the masses, and particularly the heroic Egyptian working class. This victory was no thanks to the Muslim Brotherhood but in spite of them. To have any illusions in this reactionary movement would be absolutely fatal.
What was the role of the MB in the uprising against Mubarak? In the first stage the leaders called on their supporters not to join in the protest demonstrations. Only when the movement had achieved massive proportions did they finally join in. They had to do so, or they would have lost their base.
Far from defending a revolutionary, or even a progressive democratic standpoint, the Muslim Brothers stand for a reactionary, anti-working class policy mixed up with the worst kind of religious obscurantism. Morsi, the Brotherhood’s candidate, claims to be the only true Islamist in the race and has declared that his party platform amounts to a distillation of Islam itself. The NYT reports that, after an initial attempt to appear moderate, the MB campaign appeals sharply to the right:
“After distancing itself from the more conservative salafis during and after the parliamentary voting, Mr. Morsi and the Brotherhood embraced them on the campaign trail, eagerly standing with them. He called himself the only true Islamists in the race, led chants for the implementation of Islamic law, and portrayed his political program as a distillation of Islam itself”. [NYT, April 27]
The Guardian published a report on 25 May that quotes the words of the MB candidate who the RS is asking people to support:
“In meetings with western governments, the Brotherhood stresses its moderate and democratic credentials. But Morsi's religious views are highly conservative and are certainly a big part of the FJP’s appeal.
“His cheerleaders have tweaked the revolution's famous slogan, ‘The people want to bring down the regime’ into ‘The people want God’s sharia to be implemented,’ commented journalist Noha Hennawy. At one election rally in the Delta town of Mahalla, the Brotherhood's supreme guide, Mohamed Badie, compared Morsi to one of the prophet Muhammad's most venerated companions and the first rightly-guided caliph.
“The ummah [Islamic nation] had sworn allegiance to Abu Bakr, and by the same token the ummah will swear allegiance to Morsi as president of Egypt, ‘God willing,’ said Badie. At his first rally Morsi reportedly chanted the Brotherhood's controversial slogan: ‘The Qur'an is our constitution.’”
In addition to its religious obscurantism (which is not a mere detail but has reactionary consequences) the MB is not so hostile to the military as they would like people to think. The New York Times writes:
“Indeed, the Brotherhood has also indicated that it intends to take a conciliatory approach toward the generals, allowing them to preserve the commercial empire they control, protecting their budget from public scrutiny and keeping them out of civilian courts”. [NYT, May 25]
Only after the first round did Morsi try to present his anti-Mubarak credentials with an appeal to all forces to unite against Ahmed Shafik. Officials of the Muslim Brotherhood announced that they were inviting the other “revolutionary candidates” — effectively, all but Mr. Shafik — to a meeting to talk about a coalition to oppose the former prime minister and about sharing power in a Brotherhood-led government. [NYT, May 25]
How is it possible to present such reactionary views as something progressive? Perhaps the comrades of RS will argue that, since Egypt is a semi-colonial country, different rules must apply. But this is in direct contradiction to everything that Lenin and Trotsky ever wrote about the colonial revolution.
The MB is a bourgeois party and is led by wealthy businessmen. The initial candidate of the MB was the millionaire business tycoon Khairat el-Shater. The leaders of the MB are not the political representatives of the masses but their political exploiters.
What do the masses want?
The MB has a mass base among the peasantry, the petty bourgeoisie and the more backward layers of the workers and lumpenproletariat. These are oppressed layers who have been summoned to political life by the Revolution. They are striving for a change in society, but as yet their level of political consciousness is very low.
We can sum it up in the following way: the masses have only a vague idea of what they want, but they know very well what they do not want. What do the Egyptian masses want? Their aspirations are confused, but it is possible to see their main aims. They want democracy of course. After many years of having their most basic rights denied, they seek to take control of their own affairs. But the masses understand democracy differently to the middle class politicians.
For the middle class careerist politician democracy means a position in parliament, a ministerial portfolio, a high salary and other privileges. For a worker or a peasant democracy is not an end in itself but a means to an end: a way of getting a job, a house and a decent living standard.
Why did the Egyptian masses take to the streets and risk their lives to overthrow Mubarak? They were fighting for a better life. More correctly they were fighting against a life that had become unbearable. Through their exertions and sacrifices, the masses succeeded in overthrowing the tyrant. This was a great victory. But one year later, what has really changed? Unemployment is worse than ever, living standards are falling, small businesses are ruined. This was bound to be the case as long as the Egyptian economy remained in private hands, subject to the vicissitudes of the capitalist world economy.
Is it really true that, by supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, we will prevent the reactionaries from returning to power? This argument may be superficially attractive, but it is false to the core. Let us pose the question not abstractly, in terms of “principle”, but concretely, in terms of what a MB government would mean from the standpoint of the masses. The MB is not even bourgeois democrats but a reactionary, obscurantist Islamist outfit. To present this as “the lesser evil” is far-fetched in the extreme.
What difference would it make to have a Muslim Brotherhood government? No difference at all. The MB leaders are themselves capitalists and are in favour of preserving the market economy at all costs. They will continue to exploit the workers just as before, except that the capitalist crisis will be even deeper and more severe than before.
The next sentence is so extraordinary that it is almost surreal:
“We have to defend the right of the masses to make choices and test those choices as a condition of the development of their consciousness and the development of their position in relation to different political forces”.
It is one thing to recognise that the MB has a certain support among the masses at this stage. It is another thing altogether to advise the masses to vote for the MB. It is certainly true that the experience of an MB government will aid the development of the consciousness of the masses and the development of their position in relation to different political forces. But this is true only if the revolutionary party has not compromised itself by calling for a vote for the MB.
The masses will learn a very hard lesson in the school of the MB. And what lesson will they draw? If the Left maintained its independence, and continued to defend a revolutionary policy, they would appear before the workers and peasants as their true representatives. This would prepare the way for a massive swing to the Left later on.
But if the Left supports the MB, what then? They would have taken upon their shoulders full responsibility for every action of the MB government – even though formally they were not part of it. The masses would not forgive those who had persuaded them to vote for the party that betrayed their aspirations.
Under those circumstances, what conclusions would the masses draw? They would blame the Left for their problems. Some would say: “We were better off under Mubarak!” And the stage would be set for a big swing to the right.
That is where the idea of the “lesser evil” leads.
Through what stage are we passing?
The rise of the MB is a reflection of this early stage of the Revolution, the first confused stirrings of consciousness in the masses who have not yet learned to be class conscious, to distinguish their real class interests from those of the bourgeois leaders of the MB. This will come with time. The masses will have to pass through the school of the MB – and it will be a very harsh school indeed.
On the other hand we have the more advanced elements of Egyptian society, mainly the working class and the revolutionary youth and intelligentsia. The Egyptian working class played a fundamental role in the Revolution, although the bourgeois media has deliberately downplayed this fact. The truth is that through their heroic struggles, the Egyptian workers prepared the way for the Revolution, and by their decisive actions, particularly in the latter stages, ensured its victory.
The young workers’ movement in Egypt is beginning to get organized, both industrially and politically. The growth of the Revolutionary Socialists can play an important role in the development of a really independent political party of the working class. But the prior condition for this is that the Revolutionary Socialists must maintain absolute independence from all bourgeois political parties and movements, subjecting them to a merciless criticism and unmasking them before the masses.
It is true that the MB was persecuted by the old regime, and their leaders were imprisoned. This gives them an aura of respectability to many as enemies of the old regime and fighters for liberty. But this image is entirely misleading. In reality, the leaders of the MB are wealthy men and part of the bourgeoisie, that is to say, the enemies of the workers and peasants. Their clashes with the old regime were really clashes between two different wings of the same class.
The fact that this struggle went on for a long time and assumed a bitter and ferocious character does not contradict this in the slightest degree. The old regime wanted to monopolise state power, and was not willing to share it with the MB. What the MB leaders want is not to transform society (they have vested interests in maintaining it) or overthrow the state, but only to find a place in that state and use it for their own purposes. They want the old bureaucrats to move over and leave them a little space in bed. But the old bureaucrats, after decades in power have acquired huge wealth and privileges from corruption. They are very comfortable and not anxious to make room for the leaders of the MB. That is the real basis for the present “struggle”.
We can confidently predict that, the moment the MB has a firm hold on power, its leaders will seek an accommodation with the old state bureaucracy, and especially the army, which they will need to defend their wealth and privileges against the working class. Once they have climbed up the ladder that has been held up by the masses, they will kick it away and make peace with the old enemies.
Washington, which has a far better understanding of the mechanics of class society some on the left in Egypt and London, can see this very clearly. Long experience has taught the strategists of imperialism to distinguish carefully between deeds and words. That is why the US State Department is changing its line on the MB. They are no longer seen as “dangerous terrorists” but potential partners in the business of re-establishing Order and Stability in Egypt.
On the other hand, the masses, who lack any experience of politics, are naive. Unlike the imperialists they do not distinguish between words and deeds. They trust their leaders and believe what they say. They will have to go through the experience of an MB government in order to draw the conclusion that “these people are just the same as the old gang”. This learning process would be immeasurably shorter if the Revolutionary Socialists would maintain absolute independence from the MB, warning the masses of their real nature and role. Instead of this the Revolutionary Socialists is spreading illusions in the MB, and thus “educating” the masses backwards.
The comrades of the Revolutionary Socialists make a serious mistake when they allow themselves to be excessively impressed by the mass support (which undoubtedly exists) of the MB and the immediate question of the elections. They paint in lurid colours the alleged effects of a victory by Shafiq in order to justify their support for the MB. Elections have a certain importance, but this is not an absolute question.
Elections are only a kind of snapshot that expresses the mood of the masses at a given time. But these moods will change continuously. It is easy to see what the present elections in Egypt represent. They represent the early, embryonic phase of the Revolution, when the masses have not yet learned who is who. Some wish to push forward and achieve a real change. But this layer is still a minority (although a very considerable one).
Another, more conservative, layer is frightened of change and chaos and after many months of constant upheavals and turbulence, longs for peace and quiet and a return to “normality”. A third layer longs for change but looks for reassurance to the men who offer them an easy way out. They look to the familiar names and slogans, and they think they have found the easy way by voting for the MB.
The hollowness of the “centre”
In terms of Egyptian politics, one might tentatively characterise the latter as the “centre”. The leaders of the MB pose as reasonable and moderate men. They are not revolutionaries, and will not change too much too soon. They are not Islamist extremists. In fact, they are not extremists of any kind. This is a very reassuring message to a population that is newly awakened to political life and a bit afraid of extremes. To them the Centre seems the safest option for change without tears.
But precisely because it appears as all things to all men, the Centre is the emptiest of all political formulas. Its emptiness will be revealed by events. Egypt’s deep and incurable economic and social crisis will tear it apart. All that is required is a little time for the masses to see what an MB government looks like in practice.
The historical task of the present epoch, the entire crux of the problem of the Egyptian Revolution consists in the necessity for the broad mass of the population to become conscious of the limitations of movements like the MB, democrats, their selfish narrow-mindedness, half-heartedness and cowardice, their willingness to compromise and betray.
The leaders of the Revolutionary Socialists say that their support for the MB is only a question of “tactics”, not a question of principle. But this is just playing with words. Tactics in general are subordinated to strategy. A tactic that is in direct contradiction to the general strategic line of the movement is necessarily harmful. By advocating electoral support for the MB, the Revolutionary Socialists are abandoning class independence, which is a fundamental plank of a revolutionary proletarian policy, and subordinating the workers to one faction of the bourgeoisie. This will cause tremendous confusion and disorient the vanguard. That is not at all merely a “tactical” question!
If the leaders of the Revolutionary Socialists would base themselves, not on what the leaders of MB say about themselves, but on the real class interests that they represent, they could never have made such a glaring error. The Revolutionary Socialists have a lot to say about the business interests standing behind Shafiq but say nothing of the business interests of the leaders of the MB. Probe just a little below these opinions of political leaders, down to their class position, and you will find that in real life the MB wants to share political privileges with Shafiq and co.
No worker can claim to be a class-conscious worker if he or she has not realised that it is impossible to be a consistent fighter for the abolition of wage slavery, while clinging to the shirt tails of the MB. From the standpoint of the unemployed Egyptian worker, poor peasant or ruined small proprietor, it is by no means a question of dividing political privileges, but a question of bread. But it is precisely this question that none of the bourgeois parties – whether the Shafiqs or the Morsis can solve. The question of bread can only be solved by a fundamental change in society: by the workers and peasants taking power into their own hands.
“Egypt is not Russia”
“But this is not Russia 1917!” Our opportunist friends will exclaim indignantly. “The revolutionary party is too small to take power. Therefore, we must be realistic and ally ourselves with the least bad option.” This is a very old song and not even the melody has changed since it was sung by the Russian Mensheviks, Bernstein, Kautsky and every other opportunist trend in the Marxist movement. It is false to the core.
Let us grant that, at least for the moment, the Egyptian Marxists are too weak to lead the workers to power – a statement that is obviously true. The question is: how do we transform ourselves from a minority to the majority? Let us remind ourselves that in February 1917 the Russian Bolsheviks were also a small minority: a party of only about 8,000 in a country of 150 million. We do not think that they were much stronger than the Egyptian Marxists at the beginning of the Revolution. Yet in only nine months the Bolshevik Party grew from a party of 8,000 to a party of hundreds of thousands that stood at the head of millions of workers and peasants.
How was this transformation achieved? Was it by supporting the “least bad option”? Did the Bolsheviks advocate a vote for the Cadets and the Provisional Government because it offered a safeguard against the return of the Tsar? On the contrary, Lenin and Trotsky mercilessly attacked the bourgeois liberals and the Provisional Government and sharply denounced the opportunist leaders in the soviets for supporting them. The line pursued by the leaders of the Revolutionary Socialists in Egypt is the line of the latter, not of Lenin and Trotsky.
We know from history that every revolution passes through an initial phase of democratic illusions. The masses on the streets seem to be advancing constantly, pushing aside all obstacles. It is like a procession that can only go one way – upwards. The masses feel their strength and believe themselves to be invincible. In this stage of the revolution, the main idea is unity: the “people” are united in struggle against a common enemy.
Then comes the second stage. Beginning with the most advanced and politically conscious elements, the masses begin to understand that they have been deceived, that none of their main objectives has been achieved, and that, in essence, nothing has changed. This stage, which is accompanied by a sense of frustration and all kinds of convulsive uprisings, is the beginning of an inner differentiation in the revolutionary camp. Gradually, the more revolutionary and proletarian elements separate themselves from the vacillating elements, the careerists and bourgeois politicians who have hijacked the Revolution for their own ends.
This is an unavoidable stage. It is the stage through which the Egyptian Revolution is now passing. After a year of revolution nothing has been solved yet. There has been massive resistance against the SCAF and the masses have taken the streets many times and in great numbers. There is the permanent threat from the counterrevolutionaries. The SCAF has tried to test the ground for counterrevolution by attacking isolated groups within the revolution (Coptic Christians, Football fans etc.) but every time they have been met with mass resistance on the streets.
What has been the role of the Muslim Brotherhood in all this? Have they been fighting the counterrevolution on the streets together with the revolutionary workers and youth? No, they have, silently or openly chosen the side of the army at every turning point.
Role of the Muslim Brotherhood
Here are some quotes from the Socialist Worker itself:
“Student activists at Cairo University also came under attack by thugs during a sit-in last week. Protests have erupted on the campuses after the higher education ministry announced that student union elections would go ahead without any changes to the student union constitutions.
“Revolutionary activists in the student movement oppose such a move, which will block the creation of genuinely independent student unions.
“But the Muslim Brotherhood’s student organisations support the student union elections under the old system. They look set to capitalise on their close relationship with the generals” (My emphasis, AW).
Here is another quote from the Socialist Worker:
“Crackdowns on Revolutionary Socialist (RS) activists in Alexandria, the Nile Delta towns of Mansoura and Mahalla and the southern province of Bani Sueif followed the massacre.
“Plainclothes thugs and uniformed security forces assaulted activists, tore down banners calling for the 11 February strike and burnt down the group’s red flags.
“They rounded up other activists who were spraying graffiti in support of the strike on walls of factories.”
This was yet another counterrevolutionary provocation. What has the Socialist Worker got to say about the role of the MB?
“The state-run media and the official newspaper of the Muslim Brotherhood, which opposed the strike, have also been directing a smear campaign against the RS.
“They have accused the RS of inciting violence, destroying the economy with strikes and, even more ludicrously, being agents of the CIA.
“Egyptian parliamentarians joined the denunciations of the strike. Islamists in the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi movement hold most of the seats”
Note that the Socialist Worker directly brackets together the state-run media, that is to say, the mouthpiece of open reaction,and the official newspaper of the Muslim Brotherhood. Both were united in opposing thestrike and in slandering the Revolutionary Socialists. Yet the latter tell us that the MB is a bulwark against the counterrevolution and ask the Egyptian workers to vote for it. Isn’t that a scandal?
Yes, it is a scandal, and is made even worse by the fact that the advanced workers and youth have already seen through the MB, as the SW points out when it writes:
“Since its inauguration on 23 January, parliament has become a target for protests by workers and activists demanding that the goals of the revolution are achieved.
“Most of the MPs sided with the interior ministry’s crackdown on protesters”.
“Most of the MPs” are Islamists and members of the MB. On 3 February hundreds of thousands gathered again on Tahrir to mark the anniversary of the revolution. This is what the SWP wrote about it:
“The message dominating the day is, ‘Down with Scaf, down with the military’. The spectacular success of Wednesday’s protests has helped renew people’s confidence that they can finish off the military council”. And it adds:
“Today the Muslim Brotherhood also faced open hostility for being seen as collaborators with the military.
“They just won the majority of seats in parliament, a sign of their roots and support. But although parliament only sat for the first time on Monday, they are already seen as letting people down.
“One slogan of the 18 days in Tahrir that brought down Mubarak had been ‘Raise your head up high, you are an Egyptian’.
“Today this was turned against the Brotherhood. ‘Raise your head up high you are only a chair,’ protesters shouted – meaning they had sold out on the revolution just to gain a seat in parliament.
“In the square tonight the Muslim Brotherhood stage is facing an angry crowd. At one point demonstrators shook their shoes at the stage to show their anger."
Let us cite yet another striking example of the treacherous conduct of the MB. In February the RS and the “independent” Unions called for a general strike against the SCAF. The strike did not materialise (which also shows the weak base of the RS) but as the Socialist Worker writes, just like the media, priests, imams “The Muslim Brotherhood, which dominates the newly elected parliament, fought hard to stop the walkouts.”
Again on 11 February several key members of the RS were arrested on bogus grounds . This was probably due to their role in calling for the general strike. The Socialist Worker wrote:
“The attack on the Revolutionary Socialists comes after an intense defamation campaign undertaken by the military council in conjunction with the Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood.” (my emphasis, AW)
Finally, let us quote from the RS statement before the elections said:
“Therefore it is our duty not to abandon the masses, nor to arrogantly set ourselves above them, but to engage in the battle to expose the candidates representing the alliance between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood, while pushing the masses towards completing their revolution by focusing on the demands of the revolution and the revolutionary forces such as…”
On Many occasions, especially after the Brotherhood started targeting the RS, the RS has called the MB a counter-revolutionary force. So the MB are openly siding with the military and the counterrevolution; they break strikes; they attack revolutionaries; they have “sold out on the revolution just to gain a seat in parliament”; the revolutionary workers and youth demonstrate against them and “shake their shoes at the stage to show their anger."
But despite all this, the RS calls on the masses to vote for them as a bulwark against reaction. If this were not so serious it would be laughable.
An organically opportunist tendency
We have no doubt that in the ranks of the Revolutionary Socialists there are many honest and self-sacrificing workers and youth who deserve our wholehearted support. But by taking this position on the elections, the party has made a most serious mistake.
We will be blunt. To argue in any way that the MB represent a progressive force in Egyptian politics, that they are conducting a serious struggle against the old regime, or that they somehow can be a bulwark against reaction is either a case of ignorance or falsification. But the Socialist Worker cannot claim to be ignorant of the role of the Muslim Brotherhood, as the above quotes demonstrate.
We do not blame the comrades in Egypt for this mistake. It is entirely the responsibility of the leaders of the British SWP who have been giving the Egyptian comrades wrong advice for years. The SWP is an extremely opportunistic organisation that combines ultra-left phraseology with opportunist adaptation on every major question.
It is this kind of adaptation that led them to advocate sending British troops into Northern Ireland in 1969 “to protect the Catholics”; the same opportunism that led them to back the CIA-backed mujahedeen against the left wing government in Kabul, presenting these counterrevolutionary bandits as “freedom fighters”. In recent years the SWP has played a lamentable role in tail-ending the Islamists and given uncritical support to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Here the SWP commits a “small error”. It confuses revolution with counterrevolution. It justifies this disgraceful policy by referring to “anti-imperialism” and the need to combat “islamophobia”. But in order to combat islamophobia it is not necessary to embrace Islamism. And it should not be necessary to point out that people can oppose imperialism for all kinds of reasons – reactionary as well as progressive.
It is really a bit embarrassing to have to point out these things, which a child of six ought to understand. But since some “Marxists” (and even some “Marxist theoreticians”) who are considerably older do not understand the ABCs of Marxism, let us explain in very simple language.
When a Marxist points out the limitations and deceptions of bourgeois democracy, it is one thing. But when a fascist attacks bourgeois democracy, that is another thing altogether. In the same way, when the workers and peasants and revolutionary youth of a country like Egypt say they want to fight imperialism, we believe them. But when reactionary mullahs say the same thing, we must look more closely at what their intentions are.
Today in many ex-colonial countries anti-imperialist demagogy is used to disguise the most ferocious black reaction. Lenin saw this danger very clearly. Let us see how he posed the question in the Draft Theses on National and Colonial Questions for The Second Congress of The Communist International. Immediately after explaining the need to support revolutionary national liberation movements, Lenin wrote the following:
“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.”
What has Lenin’s position got in common with the disgraceful tail-ending of the bourgeois-islamist reactionaries who wish to impose sharia law and the rule of the mullahs on the people of Egypt? It has nothing to do with it. It represents an opportunistic capitulation to a retrograde trend in Egyptian politics and a complete abdication of a class position.
Incidentally, the same tendency that in Egypt embraces Islamist reaction with the greatest enthusiasm, in Greece refused to support Syriza or enter a Left government. Not very consistent, but then, political consistency was never the strong point of this tendency, which can pass from ultra-leftism to opportunism without even blinking.
The International Marxist Tendency has consistently supported the Egyptian Revolution from the very beginning. We welcomed the setting up of the Revolutionary Socialists. We greet every one of your successes with enthusiasm. We are your friends and comrades. But a true friend is not someone who flatters and praises without reason. Lenin pointed out that many revolutions have been destroyed by flattery and empty words.
A true friend is one who, when he sees that a mistake is being made, is not afraid to look you straight in the eye and say: “My friend, you are doing yourself harm.” We urge the comrades of the Revolutionary Socialists to break from this opportunist line, which can only have the most negative consequences for the Egyptian Revolution. Only a consistent class policy can show the way forward. In the short term, that road may be hard, but it is the only one that leads to final victory. There are no short cuts.
London, 1st June 2012.