Which way forward for Egypt: Class collaboration or revolution? Reply to the Revolutionary Socialists

Writing from Cairo on Wednesday 06 June Robert Fisk, an honest and perceptive journalist published an article entitled: Revolutions don't always pan out quite as we wanted. As far as Egypt is concerned, the title is an understatement. He further asks: Is Hosni Mubarak's ghost going to be reinstalled, substituting a security state in place of democracy?

A few months ago everybody was “for the Revolution” – including the generals and other prominent elements of the old regime. But as time passes they have regained their composure and confidence. Their arrogance was shown in the recent trials that allowed most of the criminal elements of the old regime to escape punishment.

The calling of elections which would be organized by the same reactionary and corrupt bureaucrats who had ruled Egypt for decades was bound to be a farce, and it was a farce. Now the young people of the 25 January revolution are asking what happened to their revolution. They are drawing cartoons in which Mubarak's face morphs into Shafik's – via the all-powerful Field Marshal Tantawi. This is an accurate depiction of the real process that has taken place.

Fisk writes:

“The young sometimes seem to be the only Egyptians left with a sense of humour – until you talk to them. And they speak of betrayal.Is Mubarak's ghost going to be reinstalled, substituting a security state in place of a democracy? That's what many of the protesters are asking in Tahrir Square ahead of the second round of presidential elections on 16 and 17 June.”

The Egyptian security regime is still in action. They are practiced masters of the fraudulent vote, especially in the villages of Upper Egypt, and are determined to see Shafik installed. The generals are shamelessly playing the sectarian card to stir up fear and insecurity. While the Revolution was at flood-tide, Christian Copts and Muslims demonstrated shoulder to shoulder, protecting each other against counterrevolutionary attacks and provocation. But, as soon as the movement began to die down, the murderous pogroms against the Copts recommenced, organised by the old Mubarak secret police, in connivance with the tops of the army.

Fisk comments:

“And then there are the cops who've got away with it; the sniper, for example, who shot demonstrators in the eye and whose picture was actually printed in the Cairo press but who has never been arraigned. Not a single police thug has been charged with attempted murder. I even heard from a reliable source that a policeman imprisoned under the Mubarak regime for brutalising a Cairo man served his sentence and then emerged to be reappointed and promoted. And he's still there. Why has not a single ‘baltagi’ plainclothes criminal been arrested for beating and killing demonstrators?”

Classes in the Egyptian Revolution

Ahmed Shafik is Hosni Mubarak's last prime minister who watched his former boss jailed for life. He says he stands for stability, for security on the streets, and an end to chaos: in one word, he stands for an end to the Revolution. And, as Fisk reports, “in the streets of Cairo more and more people – doormen, shopkeepers, policemen's families and taxi drivers – express their support for ‘Stability Shafik’".

For anyone remotely acquainted with revolutions, this development is not at all surprising. There is a well-known law of mechanics that says: every action has an equal and opposite reaction. The impetuous onward thrust of the Egyptian Revolution, which last year seemed to be triumphing all across the line, has now encountered its first serious barrier.

This barrier is analogous to another well-known law of mechanics: the law of inertia. Society is composed of classes, and these classes, based on fundamentally opposed interests, are in a state of unstable equilibrium. This equilibrium is maintained for long periods by a natural tendency towards inertia. The antagonistic classes reach an uneasy compromise, and this is necessary to the normal functioning of the economy and social life in general.

However, at intervals denoted by periodic crises (wars, economic crises etc.) the equilibrium is disturbed and a chaotic state emerges. The oppressed classes, and those parties and groups that were forcibly submerged in the period of so-called normality, push their way to the surface.

The two main classes in modern society are the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. However, between these two antagonistic poles there are a whole layer of intermediate strata, which we generally describe as the middle classes or the petty bourgeoisie. Unlike the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, the middle class is not a homogeneous class. In Mubarak’s Egypt there was a fairly broad layer of people who formed the basis of the regime.

Apart from the top layer of wealthy bourgeois, army generals, police chiefs and corrupt bureaucrats, there was a wide layer of petty government officials, lawyers, clerks, policemen, prison warders and their families and dependents. In addition, there is a host of small businessmen, shopkeepers; people connected with the tourist trade, taxi drivers, men who took tourists for rides on camels around the pyramids, hotel porters and the like. All these, one way or another, derived their income and perks from the old regime and had little or no interest in change.

As long as the Revolution was marching forward, these elements more or less kept their heads down. Only on one occasion did the regime attempt to mobilize them as shock-troops to disperse the Revolution. But they were quickly swept aside by the movement of the revolutionary masses. That showed the real balance of class forces. In the moment of truth, these elements revealed their true nature – as human dust.

A Revolution arouses great hopes in the hearts and minds of the masses. But if these hopes are not fulfilled, if the Revolution does not keep its promises, if a gulf opens up between words and deeds, then the whole process can unravel and go into reverse. The enthusiasm and willingness to struggle and make sacrifices that we saw at the beginning of the Revolution can become translated into disappointment, disillusionment, despair and demoralization. This in turn can lead to apathy and passivity.

In his Theses on Revolution and Counterrevolution, Trotsky writes:

“2. Revolution is impossible without the participation of the masses. This participation is in its turn possible only when the oppressed masses connect their hopes for a better future with the idea of revolution. In a sense the hopes engendered by the revolution are always exaggerated. This is due to the mechanics of class society, the terrible plight of the overwhelming majority of the popular masses, the objective need of concentrating the greatest hopes and efforts in order to insure even the most modest progress, and so on.

3. But from these same conditions comes one of the most important – and moreover, one of the most common – elements of the counterrevolution. The conquests gained in the struggle do not correspond, and in the nature of things cannot directly correspond, with the expectations of the broad backward masses awakened for the first time in the course of the revolution. The disillusionment of these masses, their return to routine and futility, is as much an integral part of the post-revolutionary period as is the passage into the camp of ‘law and order’ of those ‘satisfied’ classes or layers of classes that had participated in the revolution.”

At this point, the  opportunists who have kept their heads down and their mouths shut, out of fear of the revolutionary masses, now begin to speak up, timidly at first and then more boldly. The frogs of the Marsh begin to croak in unison: “The Revolution has gone too far! We have had enough of extremism! It is time to call a halt!”

The real revolutionary struggle for power is on the streets, in the factories and army barracks. Here the power of the masses was clearly displayed: their audacity, courage and determination. This is what defeated every attempt of the counterrevolutionary forces and finally succeeded in overthrowing the tyrant Mubarak.

The decisive elements in the revolutionary equation were: the working class and the revolutionary youth of Egypt. They showed tremendous revolutionary spirit and maturity. But in the last analysis, they lacked something that was essential for their final success: a revolutionary party and leadership.

No doubt those who are inclined towards anarchism will point to Egypt as an example of the possibility of carrying through the revolution without a party or a leadership, by direct mass action from below. But in reality, what the Egyptian Revolution demonstrated was the limitations of direct action and spontaneity: the masses succeeded in overthrowing Mubarak, but they did not succeed in overthrowing the state or in effecting a genuine change in society.

Despite all their heroism, they were robbed of the fruits of victory, and the pendulum began to swing in the opposite direction. Because the masses did not lay hands on the state and remould it in their own image, forming a revolutionary government of workers and peasants, the old state remained intact and began to regain control of the situation.

The old regime was trying to push back the Revolution step by step. The presidential elections were intended to mark a decisive stage in this process. But in practice they had the opposite effect. What happened shows that the Revolution still has considerable reserves of energy from which to draw.

Rigged elections

The calling of elections under these circumstances was intended to provide a rallying point for all the forces of the counterrevolution. By putting forward Ahmed Shafik as the candidate of “stability”, the generals who are the real rulers of Egypt were appealing to the mass of petty bourgeois and backward layers of the population to vote against the revolution.

The presidential elections were held under the rule of a military junta operating under the old Mubarak constitution. A deal was struck between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood after the fall of Mubarak, which agreed to maintain it, the constitution, with only minor changes. The drafting of a new one was delegated to a constitutional committee to be nominated by the parliament which is controlled by the Islamist forces. The old state apparatus remains in control of the electoral machinery.

The conduct of the elections was characterised by massive fraud. About half a million eligible individuals were added to the voters’ lists without explanation by the electoral commission. Access of observers to the counting process was not secured. Dumped ballot boxes were found. The main defeated contenders have filed substantiated complaints. But all reported cases of irregularities were rejected without serious investigation and no recourse is possible.

To this we have to add the massive fraud. It is reported that 600,000 soldiers - who are by law not allowed to vote - were given ID cards to vote ... for Shafik we assume.  There would have also been some layers of "liberals" and Stalinists who voted for Shafik to prevent an "Islamic takeover".

Since Shafik had obviously mobilized all the forces supportive of the old regime it can be concluded that 5 million votes is the highest figure the open counter-revolution can muster. Under these conditions, Shafik’s votes do not advertise the strength of the counter-revolution, but rather its weakness.

The most important feature of the first round of the presidential elections was the result scored by the left Nasserist, Hamdeen Sabbahi. He came third with 20.7% and some 4.8m votes. Sabbahi won in most of the urban centres, in the two largest cities, the capital Cairo and in Alexandria, with about one third of the votes leaving his contenders far behind.

In the urban centres the pro-revolutionary forces are the absolute majority of the electorate. Let us take the case of the Cairo slum quarter Imbaba which used to be a Salafi Jihadi stronghold in the 90s and later was taken over by the Muslim Brotherhood. Yet Sabbahi came in the first place (32.2%) followed by Shafik (23.2%); Mursi (18.3%); Aboul Fotouh (14.7%).

If the elections of May 23/24 had been for a proportional parliament the pro-Tahrir forces with some 40% of the electorate behind them would have emerged as the strongest force. That is a big advance compared to the parliamentary elections of last autumn. But these elections were obviously rigged in order to exclude the revolutionary forces and reduce the choice to one between two bourgeois candidates: one representing the old regime backed by the army and the Muslim Brotherhood (MB).

After the withdrawal of all other forces from the constitutional committee, the judiciary has declared the body to be unrepresentative. So the attempt by the SCAF, with the complicity of the MB, to prevent the convening of a democratically elected constituent assembly came to nothing. Now the junta is attempting to engineer a constituent assembly in accord with their interests.

In all these confused and contradictory developments, the Marxists must endeavour to keep a cool head. We must work out the correct slogans, tactics and strategy that alone can guarantee success. A correct political line can only be arrived at through a comradely discussion of tactics and strategy. That is the objective of the present article.

A few days ago I wrote a criticism of the decision of the Egyptian Revolutionary Socialists.   On June 4 the Revolutionary Socialists published a statement entitled To the Comrades. This was an attempt to provide some semblance of a justification for their support for the Muslim Brotherhood in the next stage of the Presidential elections in Egypt.

Clearly their earlier statement dated May 28, 2012 calling for a vote for the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Muhammad Morsi, which I criticised in my last article, has caused considerable unrest in their ranks and also in the ranks of the British SWP, their sister organization and its followers internationally, as the new statement admits:

“This statement has provoked a negative response among a number of the members of the RS, which calls for a detailed discussion of the contents and timing of the statement, as well as the method in which the decision was reached.” 

Form and content

The new statement of the Revolutionary Socialists starts with an apology. Firstly, they say that “subsequent developments have confirmed that the state of urgency was unwarranted.” In other words, it was a problem of timing, not of the essential content.  Whether I say something at 10 am or 10 pm, whether I say it with or without urgency, makes no difference to the truth or otherwise of what is said.

“We do not want in this context to make excuses for this haste but only explain the hurried announcement itself, and to sum it up as the desire of the leadership to take initiative in establishing a specific position after having suffered for months a lag in taking decisions and positions, or occasionally taking positions that were vague or in the nature of a compromise”.  

It is, of course, undesirable for a leadership to delay taking decisions for months, or to take “positions that were vague or in the nature of a compromise”. But it is even worse finally “to take initiative in establishing a specific position” that is false from start to finish.

“This desire for decisiveness and speed has led us to believe that we have erred in publishing this rushed statement. But in any case we are obliged now not only to acknowledge the error that the leadership has made but also to apologize to the membership of the movement for the muddling and confusion that we have caused by this mistake”.

This is a kind of apology that is no apology at all. The authors of the statement express their regret that the statement was rushed, but in no way seek to repudiate or even modify what the statement actually said.

Having made an apology that apologises for nothing at all, the authors then proceed to deal, not with the content of the statement, but the method by which it was reached:

“2) Regarding the method of reaching this decision, many members of the movement are of the opinion that this position was reached in a unilateral way without sufficient discussion before the membership.  This criticism has elicited a broad discussion on the relationship between centralism and democracy in decision making within the movement, and around a shared understanding of ‘democratic centralism’ and how to enable this.  Does the leadership have the right to take a decision regarding a tactical issue or political position, without exhaustive discussions before the cadre and membership of the movement?  And what is the correct balance between the necessity of centralism for unity of action and efficient execution on the one hand, and the necessity of democracy for correct decisions and their relations with revolutionary practice for the cadre?”

Democratic centralism

Democratic centralism (we note that the authors for some reason place this term in inverted comas) implies the broadest and most democratic debate within the revolutionary party before reaching a decision, and the greatest degree of unity in carrying it into practice. This was the method of the Bolshevik Party under  Lenin and Trotsky, but it does not appear to be the method of the Revolutionary Socialists.

On such an important issue as this, it was imperative to organize a democratic internal discussion, allowing all the members to express their views freely for and against. In that way, the party could have maintained unity and carried out whatever was democratically decided by the majority. Clearly, this was not done. The leadership, which, on its own admission, “suffered for months a lag in taking decisions and positions” unilaterally decided to support the Muslim Brotherhood. 

It would appear that this was done without any serious consultation of the membership. As a result, it caused “muddling and confusion” and serious divisions within the party. Needless to say, this is the last thing the party needs at this particular moment. The statement asks questions about the correct parameters of democratic centralism in general, but does not bother to ask whether the disquiet in the ranks was due to the method by which the decision was reached or by the nature of the decision itself. That is to say, it treats it exclusively as a matter of form, not of content.

A mature revolutionary membership will readily accept the fact that the leadership will sometimes be compelled to take urgent decisions without being able to consult the members adequately. They will accept it as long as the matter is discussed honestly afterwards, and as long as the decision arrived at was the correct one. In this case, however, the decision was a disastrous mistake, and this has nowhere been admitted. That, and not any formal question of procedure, is the reason for the discontent in the ranks. 

Anyone can make a mistake. That goes for a revolutionary party as well as any individual. When a mistake is made, the first requirement is to honestly admit it, analyse it, and make sure it is not repeated. Only in this way can the party educate its cadres and raise the collective political level of the membership. But where the leadership refuses to recognise a mistake and seeks to justify it, the way is prepared for the commission of new mistakes. Thus, what began as a mistake becomes transformed into an organic tendency.

Unfortunately, the leaders of the Revolutionary Socialists have refused to recognise their mistake and therefore are preparing the way for even bigger mistakes. By reducing everything to a question of “haste”, they ignore the real problem, which is one of abandoning the class standpoint and capitulating to the pressure of alien classes.

The statement itself indirectly confesses that all the formal questions for which they apologise are of secondary importance. On the substantive issues, the authors do not apologise at all. They reconfirm their previous position:

“But what is important is the clarification that the contents of the statement present a position which was the direct result of previous discussions, which had ended with the necessary certainty of participating in the runoff elections, and voting against the candidate of the old regime, whoever his rival.  For that reason, the statement was, from a formal standpoint, exceedingly democratic, as it was the result of previous discussions on the topic”.

The SWP and the Muslim Brotherhood

What this means is that, although the decision to support the Muslim Brotherhood was not adequately discussed, it was really “from a formal standpoint, exceedingly democratic, as it was the result of previous discussions on the topic.”

If this was all the result of previous discussions on the topic, there was no reason for anybody to be surprised by it. We wonder what the point of the introductory paragraphs was, since, if everything was “exceedingly democratic”, there was no real reason to apologise for anything.

On this point we can agree with the authors of the statement. It is quite true that the decision to support the reactionary bourgeois Muslim Brotherhood was indeed the result of previous discussions over a period of years. It is the logical result of the opportunist line taken by the leaders of the British SWP in relation to Islamist and jihadi organisations, which they wrongly considered to be “anti-imperialist” and therefore progressive.

For years the SWP confused and miseducated its supporters with this reactionary nonsense, which, as we pointed out in our last article, directly contradicts Lenin’s line on this question. This opportunist adaptation found its most extreme expression in the book by Chris Harman entitled The Proletariat and the Prophet.

The “Marxist” leaders of the SWP have systematically distorted and falsified the positions of Marxism on religion and the anti-imperialist struggle for years. Now we see the inevitable consequence of their opportunism. When the leaders of the Egyptian Revolutionary Socialists say that their capitulation to the Muslim Brotherhood was the result of many previous discussions, they are telling the truth. They are only carrying to a logical conclusion the ideas they learned long ago from the SWP.

What is really disgusting is the fact that the leaders of the SWP, who are directly responsible for this betrayal, are now trying to cover the tracks and deny all responsibility. Having carefully fostered illusions in the Muslim Brotherhood for years, they now publish articles criticizing the Brotherhood and denouncing its crimes. This is a cowardly way of covering their bare backside to avoid criticism in their ranks. At the same time they share and support the class collaborationist policies of the leaders of their group in Egypt. Isn’t this a disgrace!

In point 4) we read the following:

“Some have imagined that the call not to vote for Ahmed Shafik, and therefore to vote for the Brotherhood candidate Morsi, is a type of support by the movement for the Brotherhood itself, or a kind of alliance with them.  And this image is the farthest thing from reality.  Everyone knows that from the first days of the Egyptian revolution, the Revolutionary Socialists have directed scathing criticisms toward the Brotherhood for their reluctance to participate in the revolution”.

There follows a list of criticisms that the RS have made of the Brotherhood in the past. This is supposed to prove that those who say that the line adopted by the Revolutionary Socialists represents support for the MB and even “a kind of alliance with them” are wrong. In fact, they have imagined all of this.  

One does not require much imagination to see that by calling for a vote for the Muslim Brotherhood and the formation of a coalition government with them, the RS are supporting the MB and are indeed calling on the Left, not just to a form a “kind of alliance” with them but to enter a coalition government with them. This is very plainly expressed in both statements of the Revolutionary Socialists, and this fact is not in the least altered by the criticisms that the RS and the SWP have made, and may still be making, of the Brotherhood.

The Russian Mensheviks also made many criticisms of Kerensky and the Russian bourgeoisie, but in the moment of truth they entered a bloc with the latter against the Bolsheviks. What was more important: the criticisms or the fact that the reformists entered a coalition government with the agents of the bourgeoisie? The statement says: “the Revolutionary Socialists distinguish with all clarity between those Muslim Brothers in the ranks of the opposition during the era of Mubarak who were arrested and tortured in the struggle, and the group itself which has begun in actuality to share power with the remnants of the old regime”.

This is confused in the extreme. In the jails of Mubarak there were many workers who were arrested and tortured for participating in strikes. It is true that many leaders and activists of the Brotherhood were also arrested, but the fact that someone is arrested does not condition his politics. The conflict between the Mubarak regime and the Muslim Brotherhood was a conflict between two rival wings of the bourgeoisie. Both are hostile to the working class and the Revolution and in the last analysis will always combine to defeat it.  

A conservative bourgeois party

The latest statement of the Revolutionary Socialists is an attempt to cover up their embarrassment by stressing that they would support Morsi “if [he] accepted certain fundamental conditions.  Among these conditions were: the formation of a presidential coalition including Abdel Moneim Abouel Fotouh and Hamdeen Sabbahi; the selection of cabinet ministers from outside the Muslim Brotherhood and its party; agreement to the law of trade union freedoms; and consensus with the other political forces on a civil constitution”.

Here we go from bad to worse. What the RS is advocating is not merely a vote for a reactionary bourgeois party, which is what the Muslim Brotherhood is, and always was. They are actually advocating the formation of a coalition government in which Hamdeen Sabbahi, the representative of the Left, would collaborate with the Muslim Brotherhood.

This is a malicious caricature of a popular front. At least in the reformists and Stalinists could present their class collaborationist politics under the guise of “unity with progressive bourgeois parties”. But there is nothing progressive about the Muslim Brotherhood.

Behind the facade of Islam, the Brotherhood is in reality a conservative bourgeois party, pledged to “free market economics” (that is, capitalism). A recent article by Reuters says of them: “Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood has drawn up a strongly free-market economic plan and pledges to move fast to negotiate a loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) if it forms a government after this month's presidential election. 

The Financial Times writes: “Rivals portray the Brotherhood as a nebulous organisation obsessed with religion, but its wide-ranging plan, details of which were revealed during the build-up to last month's first-round presidential vote, projects a pragmatism that puts rapid economic growth ahead of ideology”.

This shows that the serious representatives of the bourgeoisie understand the real class nature of the Muslim Brotherhood and the real content of its programme. Its actions in government will be determined neither by the Holy Quran nor by democratic ideals but exclusively by the defence of its class interests – that is, the interests of big business. In conditions of capitalist crisis, this means that it will carry out a vicious anti-working class policy.

Egypt’s economy is in a deep slump. It contracted by 4.3 per cent in the first quarter of 2011 and has remained stagnant in the following three quarters. Tourists and foreign investors are staying away. The Egyptian pound has plummeted to a seven-year low, fuelling inflation. The interim government has spent more than half of the country's foreign reserves. It has borrowed to finance its budget deficit at ever-increasing interest rates as local banks stretched their lending ability to the limit. Poverty, unemployment and homelessness are increasing. The Financial Times reports:

“Nearly half of the people earn less than $2 a day. Political uncertainty and security worries have hurt the economy, turning net foreign direct investment from an inflow of $6.4bn in 2010 to an outflow of $500m last year, and increasing the (underestimated) official unemployment rate from 9 per cent to 12.4 per cent.

“With a fiscal deficit nearing 10 per cent of gross domestic product, the state cannot absorb the 700,000 new job-seekers entering the labour market annually. Egypt has just introduced a private-sector minimum wage, but it is just E£700 ($116) a month – less than half that of Beijing. Most Egyptian workers will not even receive this amount because they work for businesses that operate informally to dodge mountains of red tape”.

For over a year the Brotherhood has been putting together a detailed economic and social programme called El-Nahda (The Renaissance). Khairat El-Shater, who was the Brotherhood's first choice for president until he was disqualified by the state election committee, is the driving force behind the project. 

He says the sorry state of Egypt's economy and the government's heavy debts, which he put at LE1140 billion ($189 billion), gives the country little choice but to rely on private companies and investors:  "The issue is not an option for Egyptians in the coming period," he said in an interview in April. "The Egyptian economy must rely to a very, very large degree on the private sector. The priority is for Egyptian investors, then Arab then foreign." 

The leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood would be only too happy to accept a deal with the Left. They know that the parlous state of the Egyptian economy and the deepening crisis of world capitalism will oblige them to carry out deep cuts in living standards. This would rapidly destroy their electoral base. The resulting disillusionment would result in a sharp swing to the right, to the benefit of the counterrevolutionary forces who would enjoy the luxury of being in opposition.

Since the Muslim Brotherhood would obviously be the majority “partner” in any coalition, its ministers would call all the shots. The Left would be reduced to playing the role of second fiddle. They would be the prisoners of the majority, which would kindly give them the most problematic ministries, particularly the Ministry of labour, which would force them to take responsibility for carrying out anti-working class laws, crushing strikes in the public sector and so on.

If the revolutionaries maintained an implacable opposition to all the bourgeois parties, and especially the Muslim Brotherhood, they would prepare the ground for a swing to the left and the possibility of victory in the next elections. But if the Left were foolish enough to enter into a deal like the one proposed by the Revolutionary Socialists, it would deal a serious blow to the Egyptian Revolution and hand power to Ahmed Shafik and the counterrevolutionaries.

So much for the argument that it is necessary to enter a coalition with the Muslim Brotherhood in order to block the advance of the counterrevolution!

The MB is losing ground

In justifying its policy of alliances with the bourgeois, the statement says:

“ But those who infer from this that there is no difference between the candidate of the counterrevolution and the Muslim Brotherhood candidate make a fatal  error which supports catastrophic conclusions incompatible with the traditions of the Revolutionary Socialists”.

There are, of course, differences between the open counterrevolution and the Muslim Brotherhood. It is the difference between that wing of the Egyptian bourgeoisie that for decades has had a monopoly of control of the state, and another wing of the same class that was excluded from this lucrative operation and is now demanding that the ruling stratum move over and let them have a share of the loot.

The conflict is a sharp one, but not as sharp as the conflict between all the factions of the bourgeoisie and the working class. The statement admits that “the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood reconciles and bargains, to the point of occasional complicity with the remnants of the old regime”.

That should have been enough to make the comrades draw the correct conclusion: that the antagonisms between the MB and the old regime are very relative, and that the Brotherhood is ready and willing to accommodate itself to the old regime, just as soon as the latter shows its willingness to share power with it.

The Brotherhood tries to be all things to all men. To the masses they pose as democrats and supporters of the Revolution (although their “revolutionary” credentials are more than dubious). To the generals they appear as the sternest defenders of Order. To the Islamists they are more Muslim than the Prophet himself. To the Americans they are respectable “Islamic moderates”, friends of the West and so on.

In order to justify its support for the MB, the SWP is always emphasising its proletarian base. And indeed in the past during the parliamentary elections in Alexandria, Port Said and Suez (which are proletarian strongholds) the MB and the Salafists achieved massive victories with up to 80% of support.

However, in the latest elections the vote of the Islamists collapsed. Instead, the two candidates seen as representing the revolution - Hamdeen Sabbahi 20.7%, Aboul Fotouh 17.4% - drew behind them a total of more than 9 million votes, most of these coming from the industrial and revolutionary centres.

This should be seen in light of the fact that a lot of people from Tahrir have not bothered participating in the elections. In the proletarian areas the Islamists were smashed. In Alexandria Sabbahi and Aboul Fotouh got more than 56% between them; in Port Said Sabbahi alone got more than 41%. In fact the only constituencies left to the Brotherhood  are in the rural areas. Even here they have lost a lot of ground to Aboul Fotouh and Shafik.

The Muslim Brotherhood possesses a powerful apparatus and a lot of money. Yet the vote for the MB’s candidate, Mursi, actually indicates a sharp decline. As a result of their opposition to Mubarak in the past, the “Islamic bourgeoisie” has a certain base. But their support is already declining, as the elections showed.

From 10.1m votes they lost nearly half: their votes were down to 5.8m or 24.8%.  This decline reflects a growing disappointment of the masses with the MB because of its alliance with the generals and SCAF. On the other hand, Aboul Fotouh, a liberal Islamist, who had been expelled from the MB, scored 17.4% which equals roughly 4.1m votes.

As a result of this decline, the leaders of the MB are compelled to lean on the Left in order to form a government. They are assiduously courting the people of Tahrir Square. “You must support us, or else you will have the return of Shafik and the old regime!” they cry. And some naive people are foolish enough to believe them.

In order to obtain a loan from the IMF, the MB will have to accept the usual conditions. It will be compelled to administer a large dose of bitter medicine to the Egyptian people in the form of slashing subsidies and cutting living standards. In order to do this, it will need obedient and obliging allies who will provide it with a left cover. By calling for a vote for the MB and the formation of a coalition government, the Revolutionary Socialists are providing this. They have fallen into a trap from which they will not find it easy to escape.

Class contradictions

The comrades of the Revolutionary Socialists are on stronger ground when they say that within the Brotherhood there are class contradictions between the wealthy bourgeois leadership and the poor workers and peasants who vote for them. The statement says:

“But the Muslim Brotherhood is a tremendous mass organization with well-established bases among the middle class in the cities and the countryside, as well as among the poor, the workers, and the farmers.  The leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood, even as it is submitting to pressure from the businessmen and the old regime, cannot ignore its sociological bases”.  

It seems that the comrades have allowed themselves to be too impressed by this “tremendous mass organization”. By its side they feel weak and insecure. But the strength of the Brotherhood is at the same time its weakness. Behind the apparently imposing facade of a “multi-class party” lie sharp contradictions of different classes. The leaders try to paper over these divisions by presenting themselves as all things to all men. But this facade of unity will break down, and the “tremendous mass organization” will end up as a tremendous zero.

The statement itself says that the votes of the Muslim Brotherhood have been broken down to half of what they were from the parliamentary elections to the presidential elections. It points to the divisions and resignations that the group has suffered. It says correctly:

“The Muslim Brotherhood is an organization filled with class contradictions concealed behind vague religious slogans.  But whenever the leadership has been forced to take concrete and decisive positions, these contradictions have erupted”.

These class contradictions inside the Muslim Brotherhood will inevitably intensify, especially when the leaders enter into government, leading to crises and splits. If the Left maintains its independence from the Muslim Brotherhood and all other bourgeois parties, it will benefit from this inevitable process of class differentiation. But if it allows itself to be entangled in electoral agreements and coalitions, it will share all the odium that falls on the heads of the Brotherhood.

That Shafik is the candidate of the counterrevolution is clear to all. But it does not follow at all that this can justify support for the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood. The statement says:

“7) The choice between Shafik and Morsi is not a choice between a revolutionary candidate and a counterrevolutionary candidate.  It is not a choice between a program that represents the interests of the nation and another that represents the interests of the ruling class.  It is rather a choice between a military bourgeois candidate hostile to the revolution and a vacillating bourgeois candidate who wants neither a return to the old order nor the completion of the revolution to its end.  This means a choice between two enemies.  And the question is who among them do we prefer to struggle against: a general who will send out tanks against the citizens, or a waffling opportunist Brother subject to pressures from below, who can possibly be exposed before his own base and citizens?”

Here the authors of the statement make two serious mistakes. They exaggerate the imminent danger of counterrevolution in order to frighten people into supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and they also exaggerate the differences between Shafik and Morsi to present the latter in a more favourable light for the same reason. They do not explain that Shafik and Morsi are essentially representatives of the same class; that they defend the same class interests and will use any means at their disposal to defend these interests.

Is it true that the essential difference between Shafik and Morsi is that one represents the generals and will send the tanks to crush the Revolution while the other is only a vacillating bourgeois “who wants neither a return to the old order nor the completion of the revolution to its end”? No, it is not true at all, as the authors of the statement know very well. They have already admitted that “the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood reconciles and bargains, to the point of occasional complicity with the remnants of the old regime”.

Is it true, as the statement maintains, that Shafik wants to put an end to the Revolution, whereas Morsi “wants neither a return to the old order nor the completion of the revolution to its end”? No, it is radically false. Both Shafik and Morsi, as representatives of the bourgeoisie, want to put an end to the Revolution as soon as possible. There may be some differences over the appropriate methods to be used, but the aim is exactly the same.

The way in which the bourgeoisie puts an end to a Revolution is a tactical question that is determined not by ideology or abstract principles but by concrete questions relating to the class balance of forces in a given moment. In the mass demonstrations last weekend, the generals did not send the tanks to massacre the people in Tahrir Square, not because of any moral scruples, but because they feared the consequences.

Like the Egyptian generals, the US imperialists, who were powerless to intervene during the Revolution, have recovered their nerve lately and are intervening actively in the process. Washington would like to see a friendly government in power in Cairo. They would not mind if Ahmed Shafik returned to power. But they must also realise that this would be a provocation that once again set in motion a revolutionary movement of the masses, with incalculable results. 

Behind the scenes the Americans are changing their tune on the Muslim Brotherhood. Whatever their reservations, they are beginning to see that this moderate Muslim organization can become a bulwark against “communism”, as it was in the past. The Financial Times says:

“One of the significant realignments resulting from the Arab spring is the growing warmth between western policy makers and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. This is born out of necessity, but strengthened by the surprising discovery that on economic issues, the west and the Islamists often see eye to eye”. (my emphasis, AW)

The same article adds: “Some European countries, notably the Netherlands, remain wary of talking to Islamists. But British executives and parliamentarians are returning from Egypt pleasantly surprised, saying things such as “these are smart people we can do business with”.

Unlike the authors of the statement, the imperialists understand that the class balance of forces does not favour an open display of counterrevolutionary force. The reason that the Brotherhood has never sent tanks to crush striking workers and demonstrators is that it is not yet in power and therefore does not have such means at its disposal. But when the bourgeois Muslim Brotherhood holds the reins of state power firmly in their grasp, it would be extremely naive to believe that they would behave in any different way.

Foresight and astonishment

Now at last we come to the real reasons why the leaders of the Revolutionary Socialists have taken this position. In point 9) they say:

The results of the first round of elections were a shock to many revolutionaries, including the Revolutionary Socialists.  The results of Hamdeen Sabbahi and, to a lesser extent, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, clarified without doubt that the majority of the voters support continuing the revolution since they have voted for candidates outside the military-Brotherhood binary.  However, the inclusion of Shafik in the runoff elections by a combination of terror and fraud, and the renewed operations of all sections of the security and military apparatus, as well as the National Democratic Party machine on his behalf as the clear candidate of the counterrevolution, has created a situation of panic for some and frustration for others”. (My emphasis, AW)

Trotsky once wrote that theory is the superiority of foresight over astonishment. The authors of the statement admit that they were shocked by the results of the first round of elections. But why should anybody have been surprised by these results? Is it surprising that elections held under the supervision of the old bureaucrats and army generals have been rigged to give a favourable result to the candidate of the counterrevolution? There was nothing surprising about this. It was rather to be expected.

They say that these results created a situation of panic. That is a very surprising thing for a Marxist party to say. In the first place, it was the duty of the leadership to warn the members and supporters of the party that such a result was not only possible but probable. In the second place, the reaction of a Marxist party to electoral fraud must not be to look for unprincipled alliances with bourgeois parties as “the lesser evil”, but to organize mass demonstrations and strikes in protest, to arouse a general feeling of indignation and rebellion of the masses against each and every one of the bourgeois parties, that is to say, to carry the Revolution forward.

The result of the first round for the Left was not at all bad, especially if we bear in mind that the elections were rigged. The document correctly underlines this success:

“Hamdeen Sabbahi earned the majority of votes in most of the urban centres that represented for the Egyptian revolution, and in most of the regions in which are concentrated the most organized and conscious sectors of the working class.  And it is this which indicates that the revolutionary camp has not been defeated, and that there are new rounds upcoming in the war against the counterrevolution”.  

The votes for Hamdeen Sabbahi were an excellent base to carry on agitation for our revolutionary demands and unmask and denounce our class enemies – especially the Muslim Brotherhood – and in this way prepare for future advance. But the conclusion drawn by the leaders of the Revolutionary Socialists could not be more mistaken. They write;

“But this situation requires organization and unification of the revolutionary ranks to create a barrier preventing the return of the old regime.  And narrow interests among the different political forces are standing as a dangerous obstacle to this unity”.

What unity is being referred to here? What revolutionary ranks can create a barrier preventing the return of the old regime? We answer: the only unity that interests us is the unity of the revolutionary people: that is to say, the workers, peasants, the urban poor, the revolutionary youth, the women and the intelligentsia. That and that alone, can prevent the victory of the counterrevolution.

How is this unity to be achieved? We reply: the unity of the revolutionary people can only be guaranteed if the working class places itself at the head of all oppressed classes and leads the nation. But in order for this to happen, it is imperative that the proletariat is led by a conscious and courageous vanguard: by a Marxist party and leadership.

Elections do not solve anything

Those who seek a short cut will object: but this objective is too ambitious. We are too small and must seek allies. The aim is certainly too ambitious if we are talking about the short term. The task of the Egyptian Marxists is not the conquest of power but the conquest of the masses. But this can only be achieved by a stubborn and determined struggle against those bourgeois political formations that are trying to deceive the masses and trick them into supporting them: that is to say, first and foremost, the Muslim Brotherhood.

That is how Marxists understand revolutionary unity. But how do the leaders of the Revolutionary Socialists understand it? The statement says: “The determining factor for the success of any of these positions is the development of a distribution of forces in the squares on the one hand and the ability of the revolutionary forces to unite ranks on the other”.

What does this mean? What is meant by “the development of a distribution of forces in the squares”, and with which “revolutionary forces” are we supposed to unite? In point 12) we get the answer:

“From another angle, we must place pressure on the candidates of the first electoral round who are closest to the revolution, foremost Hamdeen Sabbahi and Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, to close their ranks and create a third alternative, to place pressure in every way possible on the Muslim Brotherhood and crystallize an alternative to Morsi in the event that we do not receive the expected response.  This third alternative must put forth a clear position for the runoff elections, whether by the formation of a revolutionary presidential council in which the Muslim Brotherhood candidate will participate, upon accepting the conditions of the revolutionary forces, a matter which has become exceedingly difficult, or by an escalation of the revolutionary surge so that the masses can respond by cancelling the elections and imposing a transitional presidential council”.

One rubs one’s eyes in disbelief. According to the leaders of the Revolutionary Socialists the Left must seek unity with the Muslim Brotherhood and Abouel Fotouh, a former leader of the MB. This is supposed to be the only way to prevent the victory of the counterrevolution and the destruction of the Revolution.

Let us remind ourselves that Ahmed Shafik, the candidate of the old regime, got 24.5 – less than Morsy’s 24.9 and only a little more than the Left candidate’s 21.1. Abouel Fotouh received 17.8 percent of the vote, compared with Hamdeen Sabbahi’s 21.1 and 24.9 for Mohamed Morsy. Even from an arithmetical point of view, this does not suggest an imminent danger of the return of the old regime. But electoral arithmetic does not exhaust the question of the balance of class forces.

Generally speaking, the electoral front is a favourable terrain for bourgeois and reformist politicians. Although it can have a great importance for Marxists for tactical reasons, it is not their natural milieu. It can be used to mobilise the workers, to assess our progress and to test the success of our slogans. But it is not necessarily the most important front.

To allow our entire policy to be determined by the fluctuations of elections, or to attach too much importance to them, would be a big mistake. Whoever wins the Egyptian elections (and this will partly be determined by an electoral machine that is heavily biased in favour of the counterrevolution), the class struggle will continue, and indeed become intensified.

On a bourgeois basis there is no solution for the most pressing problems of the masses. No bourgeois government can solve the problem of unemployment, low wages and bad housing. That is true of Britain and the USA. It is a thousand times truer of Egypt.

The first wave of the Egyptian Revolution will lift the most moderate bourgeois “reformist” faction to power. This is a law that knows few exceptions. The masses, especially the petty bourgeois masses, will always look for an easy option. But in reality no such option exists. They will learn a very hard lesson in the school of the Muslim Brotherhood.

How do we fight the threat of counterrevolution?

The counterrevolutionaries are rallying around the person of Shafik. That is clear to all. The supporters of the old regime are looking for a new strong man. Under the slogan of security and stability they seek to liquidate the Revolution, as Shafik himself has announced. The open agents of the counter-revolution hoped that the overthrow of Mubarak would mark the limits of the Revolution.

Shafik bases himself on the military and the old state apparatus, and on the business elites who did well out of their relations with the old regime. He has also won the support of a section of the Copts. But a big section of the Copts from lower and middle classes voted for Sabbahi.  And considering that the state apparatus and a large part of the media was mobilised to back Shafik, his result was poor.

Without blatant rigging, it is quite possible that Sabbahi would have made it into the run off.  Immediately after the elections the revolutionary people were back in Tahrir Square and on the streets of other Egyptian cities. Some people are demanding that the junta must immediately cede power to a civil transition council composed of the major presidential candidates.

This is clearly insufficient. It assumes that the existing candidates have a popular mandate. They do not. How is it possible to allow a man like Shafik, an open representative of the counterrevolution and the military, to have a say in deciding the future of a democratic Egypt? This would make a mockery of the Revolution.

The central problem is the state itself. As long as the old state apparatus, army and bureaucracy remain intact, the Revolution cannot take a single step forward. The revolutionary people must take a big broom and sweep the whole lot out. 

We must demand the complete removal of every single one of the generals, police chiefs and corrupt bureaucrats, all of whom must be put on trial for their crimes against the people. Since the judges appointed by the old regime have shown that they can no more be trusted to convict their old masters, any more than a marionette can pull its own strings, we demand popular trials with tribunals composed of workers and peasants.

Instead of the rotten commissions formed by the old state, we demand the setting up of a council entirely composed of the elected representatives of the popular movement. The run-off elections must be postponed until the SCAF has withdrawn and a new constitution is drafted. Otherwise, we have no alternative but to boycott the elections.

It seems that the main tendency of the Tahrir Square people and the left movement is for a boycott or to spoil their ballots to express opposition to both Shafik and Mursi. That shows a correct revolutionary instinct. Absolutely no trust must be given to Mursi or the MB! They have not even accepted the most elementary demand of the Revolution: to immediately end the rule of SCAF.

To continue to participate in this rigged electoral process is to give credibility to the existing set-up. In practice it signifies acceptance of the rule of the generals. As for the Muslim Brotherhood, it continues its treacherous role of complicity with the counterrevolution. Instead of fighting the old regime, these cynical bourgeois are intent on avoiding conflict with it.

The Muslim Brotherhood is opposed to a civilian transitional council even if it includes the MB. It also opposes the postponement of the run off-elections. In other words, the leaders of the Brotherhood are actively collaborating with the regime to perpetuate an anti-democratic system. And yet some on the Left continue to paint the Muslim Brotherhood in glowing colours, as champions of democracy and a “bulwark against counterrevolution”. Is this not completely shameful? 

The central slogan should be the ending of military rule and for the immediate convening of a genuine constituent assembly. Sabbahi has called for a boycott of the next round, and under the circumstances, this is the only correct slogan. An active boycott, accompanied with a general strike and mass street protests would prepare the ground for taking the Revolution to a higher stage. The boycott slogan is the only one that is consistent with the core demand for the end of the military rule that has been raised by revolutionary democratic movement since Mubarak’s fall.

On the present basis it cannot be excluded that Shafik will be pronounced as the victor. But this would be such an obvious case of fraud that it is likely to provoke an explosion. The masses would again erupt onto the scene as they have done before. The first time they toppled Mubarak. Then they tried to end the military rule before the parliamentary elections last autumn.

More recently we saw mass demonstrations against the acquittal of Mubarak’s sons and other criminals of the old regime. But these movements would pale into insignificance alongside the mass protests that would greet any attempt by the old regime to regenerate itself, hiding behind the mask of a false democracy.

“Nothing has changed in Egypt”. Yet everything has changed in Egypt! Having been aroused by the Revolution, the masses will not easily be pacified. The genii cannot be put back into the bottle. Blocked on the electoral front, the people will have no alternative but to take to the streets again and again. The result will be even more massive popular mobilisations, demonstrations and uprisings.

The Egyptian Revolution still has powerful reserves. Marx explained that Revolution needs the whip of counterrevolution. It is likely that in its arrogance, the counterrevolution will overreach itself, provoking another popular explosion and further strengthening the revolutionary wing.

The Egyptian Marxists can gain considerably on condition that they do not allow themselves to be swayed by moods of impatience and frustration. We must follow Lenin’s advice: patiently explain. The tide will begin to turn in our favour. But in order to benefit from future developments, it is crucial to remain firmly on a line of class independence.

London 12th June, 2012.

Join us

If you want more information about joining the IMT, fill in this form. We will get back to you as soon as possible.