The world has been shaken by the Arab Revolution. From the Atlantic to the Persian Gulf, revolution is on the agenda. And once again Egypt has been at the heart of this process, as it has always played a leading role in the region, due to its size, population and economic weight.
In the past Egypt had a leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser, who was regarded as an anti-imperialist. Under his rule much social change took place, and he is still remembered today, as is testified by the fact that during the demonstrations in Cairo in the recent period, placards with the portrait of Nasser have been seen.
No other Arab leader has ever achieved the same popularity as the revolutionary colonel Nasser. His attempt to create a modern, industrialised and civilized Egypt was immediately met with opposition on the part of imperialism. Every single reform and gain for the masses was achieved through confrontation with the capitalist system.
However, what we need to look at on the one hand is the nature of the revolutionary regime of Nasser, and on the other how this same regime was transformed into the monstrously oppressive US imperialist backed regime of Mubarak despised by the Egyptian masses. The answer is not to be found in the different personalities of these leaders, but in deeper processes taking place within society.
The Colonial revolution
After the Second Wold War, an anti-imperialist movement swept throughout the colonial countries. In Asia and Africa the masses rose up against their colonial rulers, taking advantage of the power vacuum that opened up by the shift in the balance of world relations determined by the outcome of the war. In the Middle East the post-war scenario was radically transformed by the demise of French and British imperialist rule (the dominant forces until then), the rise of the USA as the main capitalist world power and the growing influence of the USSR on the back of the Red Army's victory against Nazi Germany. US meddling in the area aimed at taking over the spoils of the former colonial rulers played an important role in further destabilising the Middle East.
In the Arab world, imperialist partition into spheres of influence controlled by Britain and France was already in place after the First World War. Egypt and Sudan had already been de facto British protectorates since 1882 and annexed to the British Empire in 1914. Algeria was occupied by France in 1830 followed by Tunisia in 1881.
The British government offered Arab independence to gain the support of Arab guerrilla forces against what was left of the Ottoman Empire, but in the post-war treaty all references to Arab independence were forgotten. The Arab nation was artificially divided into a number of states, the boundaries of which were drawn arbitrarily in the sand. Formal independence was granted to Jordan, Iraq and Egypt where monarchies were established to reward some of Britain lackeys but these weak regimes were placed under strict imperialist patronage (including a direct military presence) and would have fallen without open British or French support. In Egypt the British-backed monarchy of King Farouk was soon exposed for all its weakness.
There was the burning need to develop a modern industrial base to meet the most basic demands of the population, build the infrastructure of a modern economy and achieve political and economic emancipation, and remove the appalling misery of the masses, etc. All these basic tasks, however, could not be achieved without a genuine break with colonial rule. Thus revolution was on the agenda.
Apart from the economic interest in the exploitation of the increasingly important oil reserves that were being discovered in the region, for the imperialists, the Middle East and North Africa became after the Second World War a region of strategic importance in the struggle against the USSR and “communism”. Egypt was rightly regarded as the key to the whole area. Conservative politicians such as Winston Churchill spoke of Britain’s “rightful position” in the area around the Suez Canal as a way of ensuring their strategic presence in the region. The British capitalists stressed that the Suez Canal was a key supply artery for the Empire.
However, by the end of the Second World War, Egypt was moving rapidly in the direction of revolution. The masses demanded that the foreign troops should leave. Egypt’s Prime Minister, Mahmoud Nuqrashi, was forced to ask the British for a re-negotiation of the Suez Canal treaty and for a withdrawal of the troops. The right-wing British Labour leaders, who sided with the interests of British capitalism rather than the world working class, turned this down. Violent protests and riots erupted in Cairo and Alexandria. Workers and students attacked British soldiers and companies. Eventually, Britain was forced to promise a withdrawal of the troops by 1949, but that did not happen.
As in all colonial and ex-colonial countries, the national bourgeoisie in the Arab countries has never played any progressive role. Their development as a class took place under the patronage of imperialist domination, their privileges depending on the crumbs of their masters' looting of the country's wealth. Before the revolution of 1952, the Egyptian elite loyally served the interests of British capital. The traditional party of the Egyptian bourgeoisie, the Wafd, sided with the British during World War Two.
The Egyptian Communist movement on the eve of 1952
The Egyptian working class in the context of a general mass upsurge was emerging strengthened with a significant rise in trade union activity and organisation. The Communist movement, however, was rife with internal disputes and divisions.
Communist parties (CPs) in the Arab world already had to bear the consequences of the Stalinist policy of supporting the so-called “democratic” imperialist countries that happened to be fighting the war in alliance with the USSR, in particular Britain. In order to do this the CPs had to suddenly abandon the anti-colonial struggle to help organise the “war effort”.
After the war, the CPs went through a second deep crisis. The USSR decided to support the UN resolution for the partition of Palestine. This resolution and the disengagement of British imperialism from the Mandate over Palestine created the conditions for the Zionist leaders of the Jewish Agency for Israel to strike a blow by means of armed force and start a campaign of terror to drive the Palestinian Arabs out of their villages and homes, leading to the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homeland. In May 1948 the State of Israel was proclaimed and, again, the USSR was the first state to recognise it. These events demoralised and fragmented the Arab Communist organisations, with Egypt being no exception.
The Egyptian Communists had until then countered the rising influence of the Zionist movement on a class basis, while opposing any discrimination or attack against the Egyptian Jews (mainly by the Muslim Brotherhood). These policies got an echo and the Communist-led Israeli League developed significant support amongst Egyptian Jews, to the extent that they were able to dispute for control over the Makkabi Club in Cairo against the Zionists in a long drawn-out battle which culminated in April 1947. The attempted armed expulsion of the Communists from the club was successfully fought against and only state repression allowed the Zionist bourgeois to regain control. The Israeli League was disbanded by force and many of the leaders arrested or expelled.
At the time of the UN declaration on the partition of Palestine and the creation of a Jewish state in 1947, however, the poisoned fruits of Stalinist influence over the Egyptian Communists had taken their toll. A violent turn in the policies of the main CP factions was enforced in order to align swiftly with Stalin's decision to endorse the formation of Israel. Confusion and demoralisation were the inevitable consequences.
The 1952 revolution
With the CP having failed to become a revolutionary party capable of leading the working class in the revolution, the discontent of the masses found an expression through sections of the armed forces. Many junior officers (among them the young Nasser and Anwar Sadat) were hoping for a British defeat in the war – not out of sympathy for Fascism, but in the hopes of being able to drive out the British and achieve genuine independence.
An increasingly big chasm was opening between the overwhelming majority of the army’s lower ranking officers (not to speak of the troops) and the monarchist loyalists in the high command. The British troops were seen more and more by the masses as an occupation force.
A further blow was dealt by the disastrous 1948 Arab-Israeli War, ignominiously lost because of the different agendas pursued by the Arab regimes, and lack of coordination and poor preparation of the military campaign. The Egyptian high command's incompetence was exposed. The radicalisation of the lower ranking officers in the Egyptian army and troops led to the growth of the clandestine “Free Officers Movement”, launched in the aftermath of the war and led by a young officer, then 30 year-old Gamal Abdel Nasser.
A string of attacks on British forces culminated in an incident in Ismailia. In retaliation, the British Army attacked a local police barracks, killing fifty Egyptian police officers and wounding one hundred. Suddenly Egypt was in flames.
On January 26, one million workers and peasants took to the streets against the monarchy of King Farouk, starting a turbulent period of mass revolt that exposed the narrow base of support for the monarchy. This movement had an impact on the most consistent sections of the national-revolutionary movement and the army ranks. On the back of the mass unrest, on July 23, the “Free Officers” staged a largely bloodless coup under the formal command of a senior army general, Muhammad Naguib, and King Farouk was ousted.
After the coup, the Free Officers formed a Revolutionary Command Council to dictate the policies of the civilian government. All nobility titles were abolished. Their aim was to initiate a process of transforming Egypt from a backward, semi-colonial country into a modern industrialized nation.
Uninterrupted character of the revolution
The original intention of the “Free Officers” was limited to the ousting of king Farouk and his clique, not that of ending the monarchy. But the very dynamic of the revolution led in a few months to the overthrow of the monarchy and the proclamation of a republic on June 18, 1953. The national-democratic revolution in Egypt had been set in motion and developed according to its own logic, as a struggle between living forces, regardless of the original intentions of its leaders.
The programme of the Free Officers was to liberate Egypt from the domination of imperialism. But events were soon to prove that this programme – the programme of the national-democratic revolution – could not be achieved without a break with capitalism.
The Free Officers Movement from their inception had quite a heterogeneous composition and different perspectives coexisted within a general nationalist framework at the very top of the RCC, provoking in the first years of the regime a sharp struggle for the leadership, mainly around the figures of General Muhamad Naguib and the more radical wing around Nasser. These frictions – often involving a power struggle between different wings of the army and ending up in the reshuffling of posts in the hierarchy – were a distorted reflection of the class struggle. Major rifts erupted, for example on the question of agrarian reform.
Every clash resulted in the radical wing emerging strengthened. Nasser eventually succeeded in gaining the upper hand after an assassination attempt against him by the Muslim Brotherhood in October 1954. The subsequent wave of repression targeted not just the MB (which had several leaders arrested and some sentenced to death) but also the Communist Party, the trade union movement and the Wafd party. 20,000 people were arrested in a matter of weeks. Nasser was appointed president by the RCC in January 1955. A new constitution confirming and extending the ban on parties introduced in January 1953, established a one-party system and was confirmed by referendum in 1956. By then Nasser had established firm control.
In spite of these divisions, the Free Officers carried out a number of revolutionary changes and launched an ambitious programme of industrialisation. Soon, however, the local bourgeoisie turned against Nasser’s plans. The hopes of the officers that the Egyptian bourgeoisie would contribute to modernising Egypt by investing in industry were quickly dashed. As was the case for example after the February revolution in Russia in 1917 and after the 1998 electoral victory of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, the national bourgeoisie proved to have no interest in the genuine development of the country. On the contrary, they wished to maintain the subservient position of the country to foreign capital and the landlord class that they were benefiting from.
The role of secular forces in the revolution was primary and it is worth noting that even well established bourgeois Islamist organisations like the Muslim Brotherhood played no role. However, several leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood tried to gain positions in the post-revolution government, opening up ferocious internal feuds over ministerial posts. The failed assassination of Nasser marked the final defeat of the MB and those sympathizing with them were purged from all important positions.
Nasser, therefore, found the road to an alliance with the bourgeoisie blocked. However, he refused to accept that this was the end of his attempt to modernise the country, and thus sought support among other layers. He thus turned to the masses, which in turn pressured him for relief from their appalling social conditions.
A series of reforms were introduced, including a reform of the education system, labour laws that introduced guarantees against sackings, the 7-hour working day, health insurance and insurance against accidents at work and progressive legislation to affirm women's rights. Egyptian society was undergoing profound changes.
The revolutionary government
Because capitalism was incapable of developing the backward countries, many movements around the world took on a so-called “socialist” character, despite the fact that the working class was not able to become the leading force of the democratic revolution. Revolutions occurred, although this was often in a distorted and unfinished form. In the absence of a revolutionary leadership of the working class, other social layers, including sections of the military caste in a number of countries, were pushed to the forefront.
The allegiance of the small and poor peasants to the new regime was immediately strengthened. In September 1952 the RCC passed its first major domestic measure, the Agrarian Reform Law, which drastically reduced land rent and distributed to the small and poor peasantry the land belonging to the big estates. More than 400,000 landowners were expropriated. The poor peasants’ incomes were doubled. A maximum limit for individual land ownership was also introduced.
The following years saw a big growth and development of the industrial sector. Production of electricity boomed as did the textile industry. The share of agriculture in GDP dropped by more than half from 1952, stabilizing at around 15 percent throughout most of the 1980s. Industry's share moved in the opposite direction: from only 13 percent in 1952 to around 35 percent in the 1980s.
Nasser was moving in the direction of a decisive break with capitalism. The foreign banks and insurance companies were nationalised in the period 1955-57. Later on, a minimum of 51 percent public ownership was introduced in the most important industries.
But Nasser never went the whole way and capitalism remained in place. There was no real planning of industry, but at the same time, capitalism was unable to function in a “normal” manner due to all the regulations and restrictions imposed by the state. This ambiguous set up led to big contradictions in the economy (including corruption and waste within the state sector). The fact that the revolution had stopped half way without finishing capitalism off and introducing workers’ democracy and a planned economy, was eventually to pave the way for the subsequent counter-revolution under Anwar Sadat, after Nasser’s death.
The stalemate determined by the crisis of the old colonial rule, the change in world power relations, the lack of a social basis of the Farouk monarchy on the one hand, and the mass upsurge left without a revolutionary leadership based on the working class on the other hand, created a vacuum that was filled by the coup of the “Free Officers”.
The regime that came to power could be described as a Bonapartist regime in the classical sense as analyzed by Marx. It was a regime of crisis in a situation where the class struggle reached a stalemate – the ruling elite was unable to restore their rule while the revolutionary proletariat and the masses were unable to take power into their hands. In this situation the state – that is, in the last analysis, armed bodies of men in defence of the property relations of the ruling class – became more independent of the ruling class itself, while never reaching complete independence.
However, in the case of Egypt and many other colonial or ex-colonial countries, the fabric of the state was not as solid as in the more advanced capitalist countries. In 1978, Ted Grant summed up these peculiarities in The Colonial Revolution and the Deformed Workers' States :
“In bourgeois countries in the past, where the bourgeoisie has a role to play and looks forward confidently to the future – i.e. when it is genuinely progressive in developing the productive forces – it has decades and generations to perfect the state as an instrument of its own class rule. The army, police, civil service, middle layers and especially all key positions at the top; heads of civil service, heads of departments, police chiefs, the officer corps and especially the colonels and generals are carefully selected to serve the needs and interests of the ruling class. With a developing economy and a mission and a role they eagerly serve the 'national interest', i.e. the interest of the possessing class – the ruling class.
“In Syria, as in all the ex-colonial countries, the imperialists, in this case the French, partly under the pressure of their rivals, especially American imperialism, were compelled to relinquish their direct military domination. The state which emerged is not fixed and static. The weakness and incapacity of the bourgeoisie gave a certain independence to the military caste. Hence the perpetual coups and counter-coups of the military. But in the last analysis they reflect the class interests of the ruling class. They cannot play an independent role.
“The struggle between the cliques in the army reflects the instability and contradictions in the given society. The personal aims of the generals reflect the differing interests of social classes or fractions of classes of society, the petit-bourgeois in its various fractions, the bourgeoisie, or even under certain conditions the proletariat in so far as they are successful in gaining power. The officer caste must reflect the interest of some class or grouping in society. They do not represent themselves though of course they can plunder the society and elevate their own ruling caste. Nevertheless they must have a class basis in a given society.”
It is the Bonapartist nature of these forces that explains for example why a regime like that of Nasser – insofar as it needed to seek the support of the working class and the poor peasants – could gain so much independence from the bourgeoisie and imperialism to the point of being on the verge of breaking with capitalism altogether. At the same time, the regime could not allow any independent organised force of the working class to exist and develop. Any attempt in that direction was ruthlessly suppressed.
That is why the regime couldn't give way to true revolutionary democracy, let alone workers' democracy and control, while reacting empirically to the revolutionary pressure of the masses in granting important reforms as long as these did not question the grip over the state by the military caste.
In other words, while granting unprecedented reforms and thus playing a progressive role, the regime undermined the ability of the working class and the masses to defend them in the long run, keeping them forcefully passive. This explains why when the regime started swinging back into the sphere of influence of US imperialism and privatisation and counter-reforms became the main features, the military did not lose their grip, but just had to resort to more repression to stay in power.
The demise of the Egyptian CP
The weakness and fragmentation of the Communist movement was further amplified during the 1950s by the inability of all Communist factions to understand the nature of Arab nationalism precisely when it was rising as a mass force and taking the lead in the revolution through Nasser's “Free officers”. The fact that several prominent figures in the Revolutionary Command Council and the Free Officers had links to HADITU (the main Communist organisation at the time of the revolution) didn't make up for the lack of an independent revolutionary strategy from the party.
New divisions opened up among those who supported the Free Officers' regime uncritically and those factions who simply rejected the “Free officers” straight away, denying the revolutionary character of the July 1952 coup and the abolition of the monarchy.
This second trend was undermined by the growing mass support for the social reforms the government had implemented and eventually it capitulated to Nasserism, while the pro-Free Officers wing (around the HADITU faction) went so far as to identify their goals with the military and to actively campaign in Alexandria and Kafr Dawar for the workers to “keep calm” with regards to the regime's decision to execute two workers' leaders after the violent suppression of a strike in Kafr Dawar. It goes without saying that this position provoked splits in the party and alienated the base the CP had amongst trade unionists and the working class.
Despite subsequent twists and turns in its policies and a formally successful attempt to re-unite the party, the unified CP was never able to play anything other than an ancillary role to that of Nasser. It never developed an independent revolutionary policy. It bent more and more under the repression of the regime, losing what credibility it had gained in the eyes of the most militant section of the working class, until it eventually dissolved in 1965.
It is worth noting that the first wave of repression against the CP was as early as January 1953, when the legal press of the two main communist organisations was banned. The fact that Nasser was forced within a couple of years to move towards a bloc with the USSR did not improve in the slightest the position of the Egyptian CP, as the Stalinist bureaucracy in Moscow was too busy cultivating its relationship with the Egyptian leader to bother too much about the targeting of the CP for repression.
The Suez crisis
The relationship between Nasser and imperialism continued to worsen. One of the first decisions on the part of the Free Officers was to build the Aswan Dam in Upper Egypt. The dam would produce vast amounts of electricity and drastically improve conditions for agriculture. Thus, the dam became a symbol of the new Egypt. Initially, the US granted a loan of 56 million dollars for the construction. Britain granted a loan (conditioned by the US loan) of 14 million dollars. The World Bank granted a loan of 200 million dollars on condition that this would allow it to oversee Egypt's state finances. In this way, the imperialists sought to maintain colonial rule over Egypt.
The imperialists continued to behave as if they would be able to continue their long-standing domination of Egypt. Nasser was looking for a counterweight to the imperialist powers, and looked to the so-called “non-aligned” countries such as Yugoslavia, India and so on. He refused to join the Baghdad Pact – in reality an eastward expansion of NATO against the Soviet Union, including the regimes in Iraq, Iran and Pakistan. This move made it impossible for Egypt to purchase arms from the West, and thus Nasser was forced to turn to the Stalinist countries instead. The Soviet Union, via Czechoslovakia, began supplying heavy arms to Egypt. U.S. and British efforts to match the Soviet offer failed to pull Nasser back. From this time on, Egypt purchased its military equipment from the Soviet Union and other countries in the Warsaw Pact. Western imperialism viewed Nasser as being on the verge of becoming a Soviet puppet.
When, finally, Nasser recognised the People's Republic of China during the height of tensions between China and Taiwan the imperialists stopped all loans to Egypt. Nasser responded by nationalizing the Suez Canal. Until then, the canal had been owned by a Paris-based company with strong British interests involved. The imperialists were infuriated by the move by Nasser. Such behaviour was unheard of! But the effect this had among the Arab masses was translated into enormous popularity for Nasser, as he was seen to be standing up against the imperialists.
The conflict culminated in the Suez crisis with the Anglo-French occupation of the Suez Canal. In a secret deal between the French, the British and Israel, it was agreed that Israeli forces would invade Egypt thus giving British and French forces the excuse to intervene as a “peacekeeping” force. On 29 October 1956 Israeli forces invaded Egypt. The next day the British and French issued an ultimatum to Nasser to end hostilities. Upon Nasser’s refusal to do so, British and French forces were sent into Port Said on 5-6 November. On 7 November the United States, the USSR and the United Nations condemned British and French military action, forcing a cease-fire and putting an end to the whole adventure.
For the British and French, the war was an attempt to regain their former position in the region and curb the rising influence of the US. They needed a secure strategic position in the Middle East, from where they could control shipping and oil supplies. A few years earlier, France had lost her possessions in Syria and Lebanon. The French were engaged in an armed conflict with the Arabs in Morocco and Algeria. The British imperialists, after having been pushed out of the region, had tried to achieve good relations with the Arab regimes, but with meagre results. They changed their previous position and decided to back Israel, a state that at this time was a new (and fast-growing) military power in the region. Israel’s position was one of complete dependence on Western imperialism, in particular US imperialism, against the neighbouring Arab states.
The Stalinist bureaucracies in Moscow and Beijing, on the other hand, were not too keen on seeing the Suez Canal falling into direct British-French control. But the United States also was not too pleased at seeing the British and French playing a role well beyond their real influence in the region, and had tried to avoid the situation leading to outright war. The British and French were hoping that the USSR would be too occupied with crushing the Hungarian Revolution to pay too much attention to the events in Egypt, but this turned out to be wrong. The USSR threatened to intervene in Nasser’s favour and the French and British had to withdraw without achieving their aims.
The Suez crisis shook up the masses and turned them even more against French and British imperialism. At the same time, the victory of Nasser made him a leading figure for the entire Arab nation. Pan-Arab nationalism was triumphant.
The blind alley
The effects of the Suez crisis were enormous. In the entire Arab world, the masses saw the victory as a great step towards liberation. The United Arab Republic between Egypt and Syria was established. In effect, this was conceived as a mere expansion of the Egyptian market, and Syria withdrew after a military coup in 1961.
The development of Nasser’s policy was not dictated by a preconceived plan. Rather, Nasser improvised his way through, balancing between the classes. He leaned on the masses in order to strike blows against imperialism and the reactionary Egyptian elite. At the same time, he leaned on the military in order to smash any independent activity from the workers and the poor masses. The Communists were brutally repressed. On the international level, he tried to manoeuvre between the major power blocs. This was reflected in the alliance with Yugoslavia’s Tito and India’s Nehru.
After the humiliating defeat in the 1967 war with Israel, Nasser was personally demoralized and wanted to step down. However, mass demonstrations in Egypt and other Arab countries, under slogans such as “we want to fight!” demanded that Nasser stay as president. He stayed until his death in 1970, and his funeral turned into a mass demonstration of seven million in Cairo.
Behind the rhetoric about “Arab Socialism”, there was a utopian attempt to create “capitalism with a human face”. On the one side, the state sector was massively developed. But no real planning existed, and there was no participation from below. Many state bureaucrats in charge of the nationalized industries – strengthened in the Nasser period with restrictions on imports – later pressured for more privatizations (naturally with themselves or their families as private owners) in order to sell off the assets and get a quick profit.
The last years of Nasser’s rule were characterised by a series of counter-reforms. The revolution stopped half way. The workers found their wages coming under attack. Strikes broke out. Often, the army was sent in to quell protests and strikes.
The death of Nasser in 1970 marked the end of the revolutionary wave that had begun in 1952 and that ended in a blind alley because it was not carried through to its conclusion. The Egyptian bourgeoisie was strengthened by the very same industrialisation that they themselves had so much opposed. Furthermore, they gained political strength after the repression of all independent organisations of the working class and the masses. The balance of forces had changed. The counterrevolution was on its way.
Anwar Sadat, from the old-guard of the Free Officers, was the representative of the counterrevolution on the part of imperialism, the Egyptian bourgeoisie, state bureaucracy and the corrupt military hierarchy. They wished to turn back the clock and roll back the social gains of the Nasser era. In a sense, this reaction was quite “logical” on a capitalist basis. It was not possible to carry on with the massive public subsidies for basic goods and loss-making production. It had to end with either a complete state takeover with a democratic plan under the workers’ control, or a roll-back and a frontal attack on the living standards of the masses.
As always, religion became the convenient ideological cover for the counterrevolution. As he carried out his “market reforms”, Sadat released the MB activists from prison. He also encouraged the MB leaders, exiled in Saudi Arabia, to come back to Egypt, where they were given high positions. Despite all the “religious” and “pious” noises (Sadat named himself the “Believing President”), the counterrevolution had nothing to do with religion, but everything to do with class struggle.
Sadat’s cuts in the public sector hit the workers and poor hard. In 1977, the unbearable attacks on living standards provoked an open mass revolt, the bread riots, that threatened the very existence of the regime.
When Sadat no longer was in need of the services of the fundamentalists, he attacked them and dissolved their student organisations. Then the Frankenstein’s monster turned against its former master and thus Sadat was assassinated in 1981. But the military regime remained in place, and Hosni Mubarak took over.
In the Mubarak years, the IMF-dictated neo-liberal policies continued and were intensified. The minimum wage was frozen in 1984. Poverty reached unheard-of proportions at the same time as the top levels in society enriched themselves shamelessly. Mubarak’s Egypt was praised time and time again by the bourgeois economists. For the Egyptian people, the conditions were a living hell of poverty, humiliation and stifling dictatorship.
The new wave
For years, it seemed that the counterrevolution had a firm grip in Egypt. But this was only so on the surface. Beneath the surface, conditions for the new revolution – on an immensely higher level – had matured. Desperation and anger had accumulated. It began to find a way to the surface with the Mahalla workers’ strikes and occupations from December 2006 onwards. This movement, however, reached a temporary limit due to its unorganized character.
In “The Mass Strike, the Political Party and the Trade Unions”, Rosa Luxemburg described the dialectical development of the Russian revolution of 1905. Economic demands were succeeded by political demands and vice versa. A united, national movement was followed by local organisation and party building – this again paved the way for a revival of the united struggle on a higher level. This book is useful in understanding the developments of the Egyptian class struggle from December 2006 up until the mass uprising of 2011.
The decisive impulse in uniting all the anger against the Mubarak regime was provided by the Tunisian revolution. All the revolutionary energy was united. Now, the revolution has entered a new and higher stage. The lessons from the Nasser era clearly show that a revolution cannot be stopped halfway. If it stops short of doing away with capitalism, repression, humiliation and imperialist domination will return with a vengeance.
The older generation of Egyptians remember the Nasser era of the 1950s and 1960s as the country’s best years. It was a time of progress. But all the hopes and the steps forward were crushed by the counterrevolution. This must not be allowed to happen again! The lessons of the past are valuable for the new generation of revolutionaries. The new society struggled to be born in the Nasser period, but it ended as an abortion.
The failure of Nasserism was its failure to go beyond the limitations of bourgeois nationalism. This was the mistake that Hugo Chávez admitted in 2005 when he declared, that the Bolivarian revolution can only succeed if it succeeds as a Socialist revolution. This is all the more true for the Arab revolution.
The development and history of the Free Officers regime is also a warning for the working class in Egypt and internationally. Only as a socialist revolution, can the revolutionary idea advanced by Nasser about a united Middle East and North Africa become reality.