The Egyptian Revolution has captured the attention of the masses all over the world. In Indonesia, activists are energetically discussing the role of the Muslim Brotherhood in the revolution, the intervention of the military, the nature of the revolution, and the future prospect of the revolution. Below, in a reply to Muhammad Ridha, an activist from the Working People’s Party (Partai Rakyat Pekerja, PRP) in Indonesia, Ted Sprague outlines the dialectical process of the Egyptian revolution.
Revolution is not a single-act drama with a ready-made script which merely needs to be read out with a loud voice. Those who expect an ideal and pure revolution will only be greeted with disappointment in the end. The Egyptian Revolution is one of many examples that display a dialectical process of revolution, which does not proceed in a straight line and according to a rigid scheme in one’s mind. It is a living process and filled with contradictions.
It is filled with contradictions – and thus lives – because a revolution throws millions of people who have been previously marginalized from politics directly into the political arena. These millions of ordinary people not only bring their revolutionary instincts and energies but also a lot of naivety, confusion and prejudices. These latter continuously clash with the real facts of revolution, and unceasingly push, pull, and destroy all old beliefs. This is what revolution is all about, where flower pots are not the only things broken, but also old beliefs.
To be able to understand what is happening in Egypt, and, as hoped by comrade Ridha, “to clarify what we really mean by the role of military in this [Egyptian] revolution,” we have to return to facts, facts and facts. Only by basing ourselves on facts – moreover, living and historically flowing facts – we can then begin our political analysis on a correct path.
The first error of our friend Ridha is in his understanding of the role of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and Morsi in the first Egyptian Revolution, and from there flows his failure to understand the relation between Morsi and the military. Morsi is not “the legitimate son of the 2011 revolution” as claimed by Rhida. The revolution that toppled Mubarak was neither organized nor led by the MB. Those who have been actively involved in the Egyptian Revolution knew very well that the leaders of the MB dragged their feet through the decisive moments of the revolution, and, like a genuine opportunist, only asked Mubarak to step down once it became clear that Mubarak could no longer hold on to power. Even the MB themselves cannot – and never did – claim to lead and organize the 2011 insurrection, let alone portray themselves as “the legitimate son of the 2011 revolution”. The Muslim Brotherhood was pushed forward only because of the weakness of the people’s insurrection in 2011, which exploded spontaneously and without any organization or any leadership that could bring it to the next stage of the revolution. We saw the same thing with the spontaneity of the Occupy movement, the Indignados, and the rest of the Arab Revolution.
At the bottom of this mistake is the inability of Ridha and many other people to understand the dialectical development of a revolution, the contradictions within it that give room for the MB to play a role in Egypt. Therefore, before we continue further, we will have to return to the ABCs of the dialectics of revolution, which is the question of spontaneity and leadership in the revolution. Here we will return to Rosa Luxemburg. I have to apologize to the readers for dragging them back to almost 100 years ago, but the conflict between spontaneous mass action and purposeful organizational work (leadership) shows up again and again in every episode and stage of a movement. Without a proper understanding of the dialectical relationship between these two things, we will be thrown from one side to the other, becoming victims of impressionism and will be reduced to political paralysis.
Rosa Luxemburg and Spontaneity in the Revolution
In the earlier phase of a revolution, spontaneity is a force that gives the movement a massive advantage. Spontaneity gives an insurrection an unpredictable character, thus making it harder for the ruling class to repress it directly. Spontaneity also gives the widest arena and room for the political creativity of millions of people that were never expressed previously. Spontaneity destroys all the old routines that have been chaining the people in their daily life, routine in action and also thought. It opens wide the window to the minds of the masses that had been shut tight in the past, and thus opens the way for revolutionary ideas – which they previously dismissed, shunned, and rejected – to enter and grip their minds and shake it violently.
Spontaneity plays the utmost positive role, especially in today’s period where the workers’ mass organizations have sunk deeply into the swamp of reformism and bureaucratism, which turn them into great obstacles for the movement. The leaders of these mass organizations – trade unions and labour parties – have become a spanner in the wheel of history. Therefore, spontaneity turns into a powerful weapon against the ossified reformist apparatus. Workers move with their instinct and creativity, without waiting for the command from the apparatus or without paying attention to the obstacles put up by their own leaders.
However, in dialectics we learn that what is first can become the last, and the last first. Spontaneity, which in the early phase of a revolution is a source of strength, later turns into its opposite. It becomes the weakest point in the revolution once it has moved to the next stage, when the question of power is posed. It is in this stage that an organization with a clear programme, and which consists of the most advanced elements of the working class that have been assembled and tempered carefully long before the revolution explodes, becomes a necessity. We need an organization that can gather the energy from these spontaneous outbursts and focus it.
In one of her masterpieces, Mass Strike, which Rosa Luxemburg wrote following the 1905 Revolution in Russia, she said:
“If, therefore, the Russian Revolution teaches us anything, it teaches above all that the mass strike is not artificially ‘made,’ not ‘decided’ at random, not ‘propagated,’ but that it is a historical phenomenon which, at a given moment, results from social conditions with historical inevitability... If anyone were to undertake to make the mass strike generally, as a form of proletarian action, the object of methodological agitation, and to go house-to-house canvassing with this ‘idea’ in order to gradually win the working-class to it, it would be as idle and profitless and absurd an occupation as it would be to seek to make the idea of the revolution or of the fight at the barricades the object of a special agitation.”
Revolution is not created by a group of revolutionaries. It cannot be planned like a dinner party. Any attempt to accelerate, or to spark a revolution, is “idle and profitless and absurd”. It is capitalism that will create a revolution, just like it creates its own grave diggers. However, this is just the first half of a revolutionary equation. The second half is that the task of revolutionaries is to win the revolution that has presented itself before them. It is here that the role of an organization and leadership becomes crucial.
However, after her death, many of Rosa Luxemburg’s works have misquoted by the many enemies of Lenin and Bolshevism. For these people, the biggest sin committed by Lenin and the Bolsheviks was that Lenin and his comrades had tirelessly prepared an ideologically tight, disciplined, and steeled Marxist organization long before the Russian revolution unfolded, and because of that they could take power when the question of power was presented before them. For these people this sin of “vanguardism” has to be exorcised from Marxism. Thus, after her passing, Rosa Luxemburg was anointed as the prophet of “revolutionary spontaneity” that has been counterposed to Lenin’s “vanguardism”. The dead cannot defend themselves. But we can say that from within the tradition of old German Marxism, Rosa is the only figure whose revolutionary credentials remained untainted, unlike the treacherous Karl Kautsky.
Today’s youth, who are looking toward Marxism, are offered quotations from Rosa that have been torn away from their real meaning and context – an act that is no less different from what the Stalinists did to Lenin’s works – to counterpose her Marxism to that of Lenin. One particular work that is often used by these people is Rosa’s work whose original title is “The Organizational Questions of Russian Social Democracy” and later turned – of course long after the author herself had died – into “Leninism or Marxism”. In reality, this polemic written by Rosa in 1904 was never again brought up by her. Rosa’s works are treated like an eternal monument, which is separate from the intellectual and political development of the writer itself. In reality, Rosa dedicated much of her time in the disciplined work of steeling a revolutionary wing within the German and Polish Social Democracy. She did not simply wait for the miracle of mass spontaneity to bring about socialism. Especially after the German Revolution in November 1918, she ferociously collected together communist cadres who had broken away from the treachery of Social Democracy to form the German Communist Party (KPD), which she hoped would be able to lead the German proletariat toward the victory of socialism.
After she was freed from jail, Rosa and her comrades immediately organized the Founding Congress of the German Communist Party. In the “Party Programme and Political Situation” session led by Rosa, with utmost clarity she outlined the spontaneous character of the 1918 German Revolution:
“It is characteristic of the dialectical contradictions in which the revolution, like all others, moves that on November 9, the first cry of the revolution, as instinctive as the cry of a new-born child, found the watchword which will lead us to socialism: workers’ and soldiers’ councils. This was the call which rallied everyone – and that the revolution instructively found the word, even though on the 9th of November it was so inadequate, so feeble, so devoid of initiative, so lacking in clarity as to its own aims, that on the second day of the revolution nearly half of the instruments of power which had been seized on November 9 had slipped from the grasp of the revolution...
“This first act, between November 9 and the present, has been filled with illusions on all sides... What could be more characteristic of the internal weakness of the Revolution of November 9 than the fact that at the head of the movement appeared persons who a few hours before the revolution broke out had regarded it as their chief duty to agitate against it – to attempt to make revolution impossible: the Eberts, Scheidemanns and Haases...
“There is a definite revolutionary method by which the people can be cured of illusion, but unfortunately, the cure must be paid for with the blood of the people.”
The 1918 German Revolution exploded spontaneously, without being organized beforehand by Rosa and her comrades, let alone by the Social Democrats “who a few hours before the revolution broke out had regarded it as their chief duty to agitate against it – to attempt to make revolution impossible.” It exploded with the “instinctive cry of a new-born baby”, and spontaneously found the slogan “workers’ and soldiers’ council’. However, even this advanced slogan – if compared to slogans from today’s Occupy, Indignados, and other spontaneous outbursts – was still “so inadequate, so feeble, so devoid of initiative, so lacking in clarity as to its own aims” that within a short time the revolution lost almost half of its gains.
Illusion was so thick in the early phase of this Revolution that the same people who a few hours before the revolution had opposed it, and moved heaven and earth to abort it, were pushed to the forefront as leaders of this revolution. The reformists and social democrats became the leaders of a revolution that they didn’t want. The German ruling classes also manoeuvred to push them to the head of the revolution so that they could derail and then crush it. In the same work, Rosa said that the bourgeoisie believed that “by means of the Ebert-Haase combination, by means of the so-called socialist government, they would really be able to bridle the proletarian masses and to strangle the socialist revolution.”
It is in this situation that the German Communist Party was established with the task of leading the Revolution that was already unfolding toward its victory. “The Spartacus League is only the most conscious, purposeful part of the proletariat, which points the entire broad mass of the working class toward its historical tasks at every step,” declared Rosa. Then on 11 January 1919, at the most decisive moment of the German Revolution, four days before she was arrested and brutally murdered, once again she emphasized the need of having a party: “The absence of leadership, the non-existence of a centre to organise the Berlin working class, cannot continue. If the cause of the Revolution is to advance, if the victory of the proletariat, of socialism, is to be anything but a dream, the revolutionary workers must set up leading organisations able to guide and to utilise the combative energy of the masses.” Rosa’s “vanguardism” became very concrete in practice because she did not confine herself within the rigid and non-dialectical theory of “revolutionary spontaneity”.
Leon Trotsky viewed Rosa in the following manner:
“Rosa’s theory of spontaneity was a wholesome weapon against the ossified apparatus of reformism... She was much too realistic in the revolutionary sense to develop the elements of the theory of spontaneity into a consummate metaphysics. In practice, she herself, as has already been said, undermined this theory at every step.”
However, Rosa’s attempt to build this communist party was somewhat too late. While Lenin had assembled revolutionary Marxist cadres since the beginning, as a Bolshevik faction inside the Russian Social Democracy that relentlessly fought against reformism (the Mensheviks), Rosa only did this after the revolution had unfolded. Even though Rosa had for years led a bitter polemical struggle against reformist tendencies inside the German Social Democracy, she never took the logical step of establishing a tight, disciplined, and steeled faction like the Bolsheviks. The amateurishness of the German Communist Party was displayed so blatantly by its inability to protect its own leaders. It couldn’t safely hide Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht from the Freikorps. The German Revolution was finally defeated and drowned in blood.
The Egyptian Case
Without understanding the dialectical development of a revolution, which is moved by the contradictions within it, many people drew the wrong conclusion about the role of Morsi and the MB in the 2011 revolution, and then the role of the military in the recent revolution. Thus, Morsi became “the legitimate son of the 2011 revolution”, which is as absurd as saying that the Ebert-Scheidemann government – those social democrats who a few hours before the revolution were still agitating against the revolution – was the legitimate son of the 1918 German Revolution.
Spontaneity, and thus the lack of organization and leadership, is the reason why power which was already on the streets could be picked up by the MB, just as the German workers in November 1918 were trapped in the democratic illusions they had in their social democratic leaders. After succeeding in overthrowing Mubarak with an explosive energy – that emerged spontaneously without being tied to any party or organization – the same spontaneity lost its force in the next stage: the conquest of political and economic power. Just as the German ruling classes manoeuvred – and not without its own contradictions – to hand over power to the reformist leaders that they could trust, so it is in Egypt where the ruling classes and the military have engaged in all kinds of manoeuvres with elements of the bourgeois liberal opposition and the MB, but especially with the latter as they constitute an organized force that can be relied on to “bridle the proletarian masses and to strangle the socialist revolution”.
The military, in a Bonapartist fashion and with the blessing of the bourgeoisie as a whole – which not always necessarily given willingly –and of US imperialism, intervened to save the situation that was becoming out of control. The longer Mubarak insisted on staying in power, the more radical the masses on the streets became. If Mubarak was not forced out of power, whole layers of the ruling classes could have been swept away with him. This is well understood by US imperialism. The US ambassador at that time, Frank Wisner, conveyed Obama’s message to Mubarak that it was time for him to step down. SCAF then took over the provisional government.
In the next process, the Egyptian masses were filled with illusions on all sides. Some had the illusion that SCAF could provide them a transitional period to democracy; some had the illusion in the liberal camp, some in the Islamists; some were longing for a return of a Nasser or Sadat, hoping that there would arise progressive junior officers who would save Egypt; some, a minority, maintained trust only in their own power. These are the contradictory processes in the Egyptian Revolution.
Since the beginning the Muslim Brotherhood preferred negotiating behind the back of the masses instead of mobilizing mass action. Just after SCAF took power, the MB was manoeuvring with the army while the advanced layer of the masses, especially the youth, continued to fight SCAF with demonstrations that claimed hundreds of life. SCAF understood that they could trust the Muslim Brotherhood better than the revolutionary youth who had played an active and central role in the 2011 Revolution, and vice versa the MB trusted the SCAF better than they did the masses on the streets. The MB was a loyal and respected opposition, which in the last analysis had the same interests as Mubarak and SCAF, the preservation of capitalism and their own profits. A revolution that comes from below is not on the MB’s agenda.
Sameh Elbagqy, a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, said: “The core of the economic vision of [the] Brotherhood, if we are going to classify it in a classical way, is extreme capitalist.” The class base of the MB is the bourgeoisie. This is what has also been missing from Ridha’s attention and analysis: what is the class base of the MB? This is why the Americans were not too worried about Morsi being elected, because he and his party aim to preserve capitalism in Egypt. The imperialists believed that Morsi and his party could restore order in Egypt and suppress the revolution. Under the Mubarak regime, Muslim Brotherhood capitalists were discriminated politically, and sometimes even economically. The capitalist class is not one homogenous bloc. There can be competition and splits amongst them. They are only united by their position in the relations of production, as the owners of capital, and are thus united in their struggle against the workers.
How fragile the support that the MB – or any other candidates – had amongst the masses can be seen from the presidential election numbers in May 2012. Firstly, 54 percent of the people did not vote. Their instinct told them that this election was a scam, that there were no candidates who truly represented the revolution. This could not even be compared with the 1999 election in Indonesia after the fall of Soeharto, where 90% of the people cast their votes. Secondly, of the 46% who voted, Morsi only received 25% of the votes, which means only 11.5% of those who are eligible to vote gave their support to Morsi. During the legislative election in November 2011–January 2012, the MB received 37.5 percent votes of 54% who actually voted, which meant only 20% of the population as a whole. Within just a few months, from January 2012 to May 2012, the MB lost almost half its support. The closer the MB got to power, the more exposed they became in the eyes of the masses. This is no different from the Prosperous Justice Party in Indonesia (the Muslim Brotherhood’s counterpart in Indonesia) – but at a slower pace as there is no revolutionary process now in Indonesia – where after gaining positions in the government they have been exposed as a group of corrupt thieves and servants of the capitalists.
In the second round of the presidential election, when the choice was between Morsi, the Islamist candidate, and Shafik, the military candidate, the masses spread their support almost evenly between these two candidates. Half (51.7%) chose Morsi because they feared the return of the Mubarak camp and the army, while the other half (48.3%) found themselves supporting Shafik because they feared Islamic Sharia law. What was in the minds of most people was which one was the lesser evil. Even some on the Left were trapped in the logics of the lesser evil.
The Muslim Brotherhood ruled, but with a deal with the SCAF that the Morsi regime would not touch their commercial empire and would protect them from the civil courts for all the crimes they had committed against the people. Until now not one army officer has been brought to justice for the killings they committed against the demonstrators. Meanwhile, Washington understood very well that the MB was a partner that they could rely on to maintain the stability of investment and the political climate. Egypt is an important country. A revolution there could disrupt the whole region. When John Kerry visited Egypt and met with Morsi in March, US$250 million aid were immediately released for Egypt, which was a sign of Washington’s trust in the Muslim Brotherhood, the same organization it had considered a “terrorist organization” until not so long ago.
The Military, the State, and Bonapartism
It would, however, be wrong for us to think that the relationship between the MB and the military is one of harmony. But it would be even more incorrect to think that those two are enemies in principle. The MB and the military are united in their fear of the working masses and the revolution, and together they manoeuvred – while maintaining as much as possible their own interests – so that order could be restored in Egypt.
Rhida was therefore wrong in his assessment on the relationship between Morsi and the army, which he presents with the so-called ‘logic of equivalence’:
“The military involvement in the toppling of Morsi... was more because of the relationship that was created between the military and Morsi after the election... Since coming to power Morsi had been systematically removing the power of the military... This situation then placed the military in a marginalized position, just like the other political powers that had been marginalized by the Morsi presidency and Muslim Brotherhood, which are the liberals, the secular camps, and also the revolutionary Left. This political conjuncture and constellation then made what I called as a form of logic of equivalence, quoting Laclau-Mouffe, amongst those who were marginalized by Morsi.”
First, the military cannot be equated with the other political forces, “the liberals, the secular camps, and also the revolutionary Left”. The military is an essential part of the state, as Marx and Engels explained that the state, in the last analysis after being stripped of all its veils, consists primarily of special bodies of armed men and women that serve the interests of the propertied classes. It is the army that allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to rule, and thus they could also remove them when needed, as happened with Mubarak. The military elites are not too fond of the Muslim Brotherhood, and do not really trust them. But the Muslim Brotherhood is the lesser evil in their eyes, as it is also for US imperialism, for whom the worst evil is the conquest of power by the toiling masses.
However, the MB is not an organization that is full of fools. Riding the revolutionary wave where the masses harbour deep hatred towards the dictatorial rule of the military, the MB made several jabs at the army, with several attempts of army personnel changes to strengthen their own position. However, these conflicts between Morsi and the army did not change the fundamentals, that they both stand on the basis of capitalism, and that the army is a special body of armed men and women of the state.
In a situation of crisis in the society, where class struggle has reached such a height, where the bourgeoisie can no longer restore order but the working class is incapable of taking power, the State can gain a certain independence and can act in order to save the whole situation. A society cannot continuously be in the scorching heat of class struggle. The state, in this case the army, had to intervene at some point. In the first act of the revolution, by removing Mubarak once he and his NDP party could no longer hold the situation and had become a liability; in the second act, by kicking out Morsi and the MB, for the same reason.
This is a phenomenon called Bonapartism, where, according to Ted Grant, “the antagonisms within society have become so great that the state machine, ‘regulating’ and ‘ordering’ these antagonisms, while remaining an instrument of the property owners, assumes a certain independence of all the classes. A ‘national judge’ concentrating power in his hands, personally ‘arbitrates’ the conflicts within the nation, playing off one class against another, nevertheless remaining a tool of the property owners.” Bonapartism is a phenomenon that we often see in underdeveloped countries, because, on the one hand, the bourgeoisie is weak, and, on the other hand, we have an acute crisis that continuously strains the nation because of the unbearable poverty and exploitation suffered by the masses.
For comrade Rhida, the military was involved in the overthrow of Morsi because of the so-called “logic of equivalence”, because they were also marginalized by Morsi, therefore together with the liberals, the secularists, and the revolutionary Lefts they removed Morsi. This is a fatal mistake. The Egyptian military intervened not in the capacity of an “ally” or a “partner” of the masses, who are equally marginalized, but as a State in a Bonapartist capacity as explained above.
In my previous article (Was there a Military Coup in Egypt?), it was explained that:
“Today the masses have won a battle, but the struggle is not yet over. The lack of a revolutionary party allows the military to manoeuvre and save the situation by installing Mr. Mansour as the head of the provisional government. This is the weakness of today’s Egyptian movement, and there is no other shortcut than keep building the forces of revolutionary socialism in this movement.”
There is no conclusion or a tendency toward a conclusion, as Ridha accuses, that “the military has been subordinated by the revolutionary political leadership.” There is not even a “revolutionary political leadership” to talk of! It is only the weakness of the movement, which is the lack of a prepared organization and leadership, which allows the military to manoeuvre. It has to be emphasized once again that the military intervention doesn’t come from a position of strength, but a position of weakness. This is proven by the fact that General Sisi, after declaring the disbanding of the Morsi government, couldn’t install the SCAF as the provisional government as it did when Mubarak fell. They are now relying on elements of bourgeois liberals around El Baradei to channel this revolution back to safe democratic channels.
The Economist, the magazine of the ruling classes, laid out with utmost clarity the dangers after the fall of Morsi:
“The precedent that Mr. Morsi's ouster sets for other shaky democracies is a terrible one. It will encourage the disaffected to try to eject governments not by voting them out but by disrupting their rule. It will create an incentive for oppositions all over the Arab world to pursue their agendas on the streets, not in parliaments. It thus will reduce the chance of peace and prosperity across the region.”
In other words, the bourgeois democratic illusion has to be re-established in Egypt.
What is now in the hands of the military and al-Beblawi today is just a shadow of power. The class balance of forces today is in favour of the working masses. But, as long as the masses do not have a party and a leadership that can solve the question of power, then this shadow will begin to acquire substance. The masses cannot be in a state of flux for an indefinite period. They cannot be on the streets for weeks without the prospect of victory in sight. Eventually tiredness will manifest itself, and counter-revolutionary forces can gain the upper hand from this.
However, the question at hand is: can the next government solve the fundamental issues in Egypt, which is the question of bread? This is not just about democracy. “For the masses, democracy is not an empty word. The acid test of democracy is if it can fill empty stomachs,” wrote Alan Woods in the IMT statement on the revolution. In the period of world crisis we are in today, bourgeois democracy cannot fill those empty stomachs. The next government in Egypt will be a government of crisis. The lack of revolutionary leadership will give the movement in Egypt a protracted character, with revolutions and counter-revolutions coming one after another, with ebbs and flows that will keep shaking and moving the consciousness of the people. This is a learning process for the wider masses, a process that unfortunately has to be paid for with the blood of the people. But there is no other way.
A party, a revolutionary leadership, that can understand the class balance of forces and put forward timely and correct slogans and programme, and that, as Rosa said, “is only the most conscious, purposeful part of the proletariat, which points the entire broad mass of the working class toward its historical tasks at every step,” this is what we need to build. We are interested in the question of Egyptian revolution not because of mere sentimentality of solidarity, but because the same question will be posed in the future revolution in Indonesia. Therefore, such a party has to be prepared long before the revolution knocks on our door. The Indonesian proletarian masses cannot rely merely on revolutionary spontaneity; they also need a party that is ready to conquer power. In the end, as Trotsky famously said, “the world political situation as a whole is chiefly characterized by a historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat”.
 Muhammad Ridha, “Revolusi Mesir Sekarang dan Pertanyaan Rumitnya,” 8 July 2013
 Rosa Luxemburg, “Mass Strike,” 1906
 Rosa Luxemburg, “Our Program and the Political Situation,” December 1918.
 Rosa Luxemburg, “What Does the Spartacus League Want?” December 1918
 Quoted from Pierre Broue, “The German Revolution 1917-1923”. Rosa Luxemburg, Die Rote Fahne, 11 Januari, 1919.
 Leon Trotsky, “Luxemburg and the Fourth International,” 1935.
 Suzy Hansen, “The Economic Vision of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Millionaires”, Bloomberg Businessweek, 19 April 2012. http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-04-19/the-economic-vision-of-egypts-muslim-brotherhood-millionaires
 Ted Grant, “Democracy of Bonapartism in Europe – A Reply to Pierre Frank,” August 1946.
 Ted Sprague, “Was there a Military Coup in Egypt?” 4 July 2013.
 The Economist, “Egypt’s tragedy”, 6 July 2013.
 Alan Woods, “The Second Egyptian Revolution,” 5 July 2013.
 Leon Trotsky, “Transitional Programme,” 1938.