by Andrea Pason and Billy Wharton, co-chairs Socialist Party USA
February 11, 2011
We send greetings to the working people of Egypt on the day of their victorious struggle to depose the dictator Hosni Mubarak. Their grassroots movement provides definitive proof to the world that radical political activity can change the course of history. The activities of the protesters in Tahrir Square transformed the idea of democracy from a stale ritual that occurs every few years to an open ended struggle for freedom. We are inspired by the example provided by this mass revolt of the Egyptian people.
It is particularly important to recognize the central contribution made by the working class to the defeat of the dictator. While the occupation of the square and the street demonstrations in several cities galvanized the resistance, it was the mass strikes carried out by the workers that broke the back of the regime. On February 9th thousands of workers demonstrated the ability to shutdown the entire society and economy until their demands were met. After these mass strikes, the regime understood that surrender was its only option.
The victory of Tahrir Square need not be an isolated one – limited only to the removal of one dictatorial regime. The revolt was as much about the conditions imposed on Egyptians by capitalism – the lack of food, the unemployment, the poor housing, the declining environment – as it was about Mubarak. We can all join in the spirit of struggle initiated in Cairo by demanding a democratic socialist society where the needs of human beings are placed ahead of those of corporations.
See Tahrir Square for what it is – an open-ended struggle for freedom. And what the dissident voices in Egypt and many other parts of world are demanding are things that capitalism cannot deliver. In Egypt, the reorganization of an independent trade union movement, the experiences of direct democracy in the protests and the revitalization of a socialist left in the country offer greatest hope for advancing the political agenda for economic freedom developed in Tahrir Square.
As socialists located in the US, we pledge to continue to do our part in the international struggle for socialism. We see our own political activity as a part of the larger international movement for jobs, peace and freedom. As a part of a Socialism for the 21st Century!
To the Revolutionary Socialists of Egypt
An Open Letter from the Internationalist Socialist League (Israel/Occupied Palestine) and the League for the Revolutionary Party (U.S.)
February 8, 2011
The following is a response to the statement “Glory to the martyrs! Victory to the revolution!” issued by the Revolutionary Socialists group in Egypt, published on February 1. . .
With sincere respect for your place among the courageous fighters against Mubarak’s bloody dictatorship, we must share with you some serious criticisms of your statement of February 1. We know that your role in the Egyptian masses’ great struggles can only be properly appreciated by considering all that your group has said, as well as all that it has done in practice. However your February 1 statement is the first to be translated and circulated by your comrades in the International Socialist Tendency, so it deserves to be paid special attention.
You are right to say that Egypt’s revolution is being stolen from the working class and poor. The move by prominent opposition figures to enter into negotiations with the government shows their willingness to compromise the masses’ most basic aim of ending their oppression and winning democracy by driving Mubarak’s NDP from power. Your insistence that the economic demands of the workers and poor must not be sacrificed in the struggle for democracy is certainly correct, as are your arguments for the creation of elected councils of the struggle. You are also right to warn that the army cannot be trusted to protect the masses and that the rank-and-file soldiers will have to be rallied to split from their officers.
These points express the fact that the Egyptian revolution is at a dangerous turning point. The prominent figures claiming to represent the masses who are now negotiating with the dictatorship are acting according to their bourgeois class interests. As you know, bourgeois and middle class elements like the imams, businessmen and landowners who dominate the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood, or professionals like the diplomat ElBaradei, can all be satisfied by being given a little more space at the top of Egyptian society. No wonder they are anxious for the workers and poor people to leave the streets and return to their old lives of quiet suffering as soon as possible.
A Stable Capitalist Democracy Is Impossible In Egypt
The treachery of these bourgeois opposition figures confirms Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution, a perspective that we know you subscribe to: only the working-class and poor masses can be relied on to continue the fight to overthrow the dictatorship and win democracy for all Egyptians, because only the working class and poor have no interest in maintaining the capitalist society that the dictatorship defends.
It is essential to recognize that the reality of class exploitation and imperialist oppression means that whatever course the struggle takes, there cannot be a stable democracy in Egypt for as long as imperialist capitalism rules the region. At this time of economic crisis, with the world sliding toward another Great Depression, capitalism cannot offer a better life to the masses. Aside from the most temporary concessions granted to quell mass struggles, capitalism offers only worsening poverty and exploitation. In dominated and exploited neo-colonies like Egypt, enforcing these conditions is ultimately only possible by means of dictatorship.
Indeed, the Egyptian state is essential to imperialism’s domination of the whole of the Middle East. It governs vital shipping routes including the Suez Canal. Egypt’s border with Gaza and Israel is another wall in the Zionist settler state’s prison-house for the Palestinians. The struggle for democracy in Egypt thus threatens the imperialists’ most vital interests and will face their most violent resistance. A stable and genuine democracy will be only possible in Egypt after imperialism’s client states in the region are overthrown, especially the racist colonial settler state of Israel. Working-class socialist revolutions throughout the Middle East are the only solution to the problems faced by the workers and poor of the region. The speed with which the uprising of Tunisia’s workers and poor people inspired similar rebellions across the Arab world shows the potential for this strategy to succeed.
Under these conditions the opposition leaders’ treacherous moves to negotiate with the dictatorship do not merely threaten to prevent the masses from winning their demands. By demobilizing the struggle, especially before the working class and poor can establish their own independent mass organizations, these bourgeois leaders are helping the dictatorship regroup its forces. While the mass struggle in Egypt today has proved too great for the state to crush, that balance of forces cannot last forever. The dictatorship, as well as the imperialists who rely on it to keep order, will inevitably turn to bloody repression when it thinks it can and must.
Put simply, the Egyptian masses’ struggle will either triumph as a socialist revolution of the working class that defeats imperialism by spreading the revolution throughout the Middle East, or it will suffer a bloody defeat. Workers’ revolution is the only hope of avoiding a nightmarish counterrevolution.
Working-Class Leadership Needed
That socialist revolution is the only solution to Egypt’s crisis is of course a conclusion that most Egyptian workers seem far from embracing today. Workers and poor people (semi-employed and unemployed workers as well as impoverished vendors and others from more middle-class occupations) account for the overwhelming majority of protesters on the streets, but at least at first they for the most part participated simply as members of “the people,” without emphasizing specifically working-class demands. Unlike in Tunisia where unions organized protests from the beginning of the uprising and general strikes were widely observed, workers in Egypt are mostly only just beginning to turn from street protests to engaging in strikes and workplace occupations demanding Mubarak’s ouster. However the announcement of the formation of a new federation of independent unions, and the example of militant struggles by tens of thousands of textile workers in Mahalla and of strikes and workplace occupations by factory and service workers in Suez and elsewhere are sure to spread.
But the experience of struggle against the Mubarak dictatorship has given the working class a sense of the tremendous power it has when united in collective action and the role played by the various opposition leaders is already providing powerful confirmation of the revolutionary socialist perspective. Those lessons will be lost, however, if the revolutionary strategy is not put forward clearly and openly. That is why we were disappointed to see that in your statement of February 1 you expressed yourself not in the clear language of Marxism, which speaks of specific classes having specific interests, but instead in the vague rhetoric of populism. Complaining about “elites” hijacking the “popular revolution,” you call for the working class to support the other forces making the revolution, but you do not call for the workers to lead the revolution. Thus instead of calling for workers’ power through socialist revolution, your statement raises the purely democratic populist slogan, “All power to the people!”
Comrades, this slogan of “power to the people” may not seem so bad – it sounds a lot better than Mubarak’s rule! But “the people” include not just the masses of workers and poor but the capitalists and petty bourgeoisie as well. For as long as the revolution is promoted as being in the interests of all, it will be limited to the demands for limited democratic change that seem acceptable to most people of all classes. If revolutionaries do not insist on working-class leadership of the struggle, power will by default fall into the hands of those with the greatest resources, the bourgeoisie.
Your February 1 statement says:
“The revolution is a popular revolution. This is not a revolution of the elite, political parties or religious groups. Egypt's youth, students, workers and the poor are the owners of this revolution. In recent days a lot of elites, parties and so-called symbols have begun trying to ride the wave of revolution and hijack it from their rightful owners.”
But while the masses of workers, poor people and youth are the great force behind the revolution, they have never “owned” it. How could they have, without a working-class political party leading the broader masses in an open struggle against not just the Mubarak dictatorship but against all the representatives of capitalism?
If it is to move forward, the limits of Egypt’s “popular revolution” must be transcended and the masses’ struggle transformed into a conscious struggle for the working class to seize power. That requires leadership by a revolutionary socialist political party of the most far-sighted and determined workers and youth that is prepared to win the support of the masses in seizing leadership of the struggle from the pro-capitalist and reformist figures that currently dominate it. Until that takes place, any talk of the masses’ owning the revolution is nothing more than wishful thinking, and populist sloganeering about a “popular revolution” giving “power to the people” can only obscure the class conflict and delay the working class from realizing its tasks.
Mubarak Resigns, the Struggle Continues
February 11, 2011
One thing is clear from the events of the last 18 days: the power of the people is now back on the world stage in a dramatic fashion.
What has transpired in Egypt is nothing less than the largest popular revolution in the last 30 years. Two weeks of demonstrations and mass actions put the authority of Hosni Mubarak on its last legs, and 2 days of strikes finished the job. Masses of working class people have participated in the protests, swelling the ranks in the streets, but once the working-class exercised its social power over the economy in an organized fashion, the regime could not sustain itself. As the Revolutionary Socialists, an Egyptian organization, said: "The regime can afford to wait out the sit-ins and demonstrations for days and weeks, but it cannot last beyond a few hours if workers use strikes as a weapon."
The ruling classes of the world are now on notice: the people are back, in a big way.
While it is good and necessary to celebrate this victory, we must also understand that this political revolution is not yet a social revolution--and the extent of the political revolution, a transfer of power to the armed forces, is still minor. Cultural change is sweeping Egypt in a way that it has not in a very long time, caused by the movement for democracy from below. The explosion of popular organization in the form of independent unions, neighborhood defense committees and new political organizations will forever change the face of Egypt, the Arab world, the entire Middle East and the world itself. However, the regime created by Mubarak remains in place.
Where did the Mubarak Regime come from?
The regime of Hosni Mubarak is a creation of local Egyptian elites who worked in tandem with US, Israeli and European interests to repudiate the Arab Nationalist regime of former Egyptian President Gamel Abdel Nasser. Nasser's government came into existence in 1952 following a revolt by military officers against the British-installed monarch King Farouk. Nasser himself did not take power until 1954, but he was the major architect of the 1952 overthrow.
Nasser's regime opposed forms of popular self-organization but gained an enormous amount of respect from the people of Egypt and the entire world with his robust opposition to Israeli imperialism and indeed following the 1956 Suez Crisis, world imperialism itself. The regime operated via nationalizing major industries in order to develop the country's economy.
The Arab Nationalism of Egypt was supported by ruling elites to counter revolutionary internationalism, and its limitations (especially via the nation-state) were made clear during the 1970's. Below Nasser in the hierarchy of the regime was Anwar Sadat, who began the process of creating the regime that is in power today in Egypt. Sadat made peace with Israeli apartheid, giving de facto support for continued imperialist bludgeoning of the Arab world. Without fear from the Egyptian government--the only effective counterweight to Israeli aggression--the Israeli government was able to spend the following thirty years demolishing the region in the name of "security." Invasions and occupations of Lebanon coupled with airstrikes on Iraq and multiple vicious campaigns against the "internal" threat of occupied Palestine became the rule of the day.
A splinter group of the Muslim Brotherhood assassinated Sadat, a kind of "chickens coming home to roost" moment for the Egyptian ruling class. To counter working-class self-organization and revolutionary internationalism (not to mention more consistent and independent secular Arab nationalism) the government in Cairo did what many other governments across the Muslim world did during the 1970's: bolster--both directly and indirectly--religious political groups to provide the only effective opposition (the most cynical version of this policy in the region was the Israeli intelligence services' support for Hamas in Gaza during the First Intifada in order to counter the Arab nationalism of the Palestine Liberation Organization).