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December 2011



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Revolutionary Socialists: Egypt on the road of revolution

Egypt on the road of revolution 

December 2011

The Egyptian revolution is passing through an extremely dangerous period which is full of possibilities.

On the one hand, there are the relentless attempts by the counter-revolution to abort the revolution by igniting sectarian conflict and creating a state of panic and insecurity to divert the masses from the revolution and to prepare the ideological and practical ground for an organized retaliatory attack on the mass movement by the thugs, police and army.

The economic crisis is playing a contradictory role in that it both pushes sections of the masses to protest, occupy and strike, while simultaneously pushing other sections of the masses into the arms of the counter-revolution and its propaganda tools through the logic of the argument that it is the revolution itself which is the cause of chaos and economic crisis.

A second factor at work during this critical moment is the role of Islamist and liberal reformist political forces which are straining to contain the revolution within the limits of formalistic democracy. These forces believe that they are due a greater share of power and wealth without disturbing the old economic and social system.

So on the one hand they flirt with the military council and the remnants of the old regime, and make promises about their ability to contain and terminate the mass movement politically, as they cannot deliver this by repression.

On the other hand, these forces try to deceive the masses with lying promises about their ability to meet the masses’aspirations and demands through the old parliament.

The third factor is of course the mass movement itself, with the workers’ movement in the vanguard and around it the protest movements of the poor and oppressed which have continued from the beginning of the revolution, and reached an unprecedented level during the months of September and October with a wave of mass strikes by700,000 workers for the first time in Egypt’s modern history.

In addition there were unprecedented demonstrations and sit-ins by poor Coptic Christians, Nubians, the people of Sinai and other sections of society which have suffered decades of organised oppression from the regime.

At this moment we can see three fundamental sets of forces at work (although this is a rather simplified picture): firstly the forces of counter-revolution, headed by the military council, business leaders and the remnants of the regime’s security apparatus are working hard in preparation for large-scale armed attacks on the revolutionary mass movement in order to re-establish the old regime with some superficial changes.

Secondly we have the forces which were opposed to the old regime, headed by the Muslim Brotherhood, which want to contain and abort the revolution through parliament, and which are relying on their ability and experience in organisation, and their wide base of mass support.

The third set of forces are the forces for continuing and deepening the revolution and transforming it into a complete social revolution, at the head of which is the rising workers’ movement which has demonstrated a degree of hardness, militancy and consciousness which has not only terrified the Egyptian bourgeoisie, but also the global bourgeoisie (see reports in major newspapers around the world about the danger posed by the Egyptian workers’movement to global stability).

In the current phase of the Egyptian revolution these forces are counter-balanced. The cracks in the forces of counter-revolution and the state apparatus in general are growing deeper and more difficult to repair in the foreseeable future.

The revolution of the Egyptian masses has dealt that apparatus a blow from which it has been difficult to recover.The regime is still standing, but it is weak and its leaders are suffering from a state of paralysis, fear, hesitation and disintegration. (Examples of this can be seen in the chaos in the police, the strikes by the police corporals, the state of terror among the leaders of the army over the possibility of a split in their ranks in the paralysis of the judiciary in the face of demands for ‘cleansing’ the institution and strikes by lawyers).

To this can be added the pressure of the economic crisis, despite the regime’s attempt to use the crisis for propaganda purposes to stir up hostility in the ranks of the middle class and the marginalized towards the revolution. The regime’s fragility increases day by day.

There have of course been attempts over the last few months by the military council and the forces of counter-revolution to take the initiative and go over to a direct attack, such as the Maspero massacre, the arrests of activists, the escalating media and propaganda campaigns against the revolutionary forces, including against the workers’ movement and strikes.

Naturally the military council and the remnants of the old regime are using the period of the elections to work extensively on the fragmentation of the opposition forces and to open the way for deals and the return(even if in a limited way) of the National Democratic Party as a basic player in the parliamentary arena, especially in Upper Egypt and other areas which have been touched the least by the earthquake of the Egyptian revolution.

These developments represent a threat to the Egyptian revolution, but it is important to put them in perspective. The ruling council is not capable at the present time of organising wide scale, direct attacks on the revolutionary forces, and especially on the working class and the poor.

The confidence and militancy which the Egyptian masses have gained in the course of their revolution can not easily be crushed. A direct confrontation between the army and the masses at this moment would risk a split in the army, the collapse of the counter-revolutionary project and even the fall of the military council itself.

This is where the role of the elections and the reformist political forces comes in. The Military council needs an intermediary which has a degree of legitimacy on the Egyptian street, which is able to absorb the anger of the masses with promises of reform and change.

From the point of view of the military council this is the role of the coming parliamentary drama, and it is on this basis it has made and will make concessions to the political parties of the bourgeoisie and the petit-bourgeoisie,headed by the Muslim Brotherhood. It is not in the interests of the military council to cancel the elections at this time.

Perhaps the events of 18 November provide the clearest indication of the contradictions of the current moment. Despite the deals between the forces of the reformist opposition headed by the Muslim Brotherhood and the military council,there are crises brewing over the division of power between the Brotherhood who will sweep the polls and the continuation of the exceptional powers and economic privileges of the army and the dominant group of businessmen who were and remain part of the old regime, or rather its heart.

This appeared clearly in the document presented by Ali Selmi, which guaranteed these exceptional powers would render the incoming parliament’s authority a mere formality and leave the army and the old regime to dominate.

The Brotherhood had no choice but to organise a broad political mobilisation in order to try and weaken these guarantees, and thus it joined the wide political mobilisation for 18 November. But a mobilisation on this scale meant igniting the revolutionary anger in general.

The popular protest movement which exploded in the wake of attacks on some of those injured in the revolution and the families of the martyrs, escalating into violent confrontations in Mohamed Mahmoud Street with the fall of dozens of martyrs and hundreds of wounded,confirmed to the Islamists and the military that the revolutionary anger was not under control.

So the elections took place in order to delegitimize revolutionary protests and transfer legitimacy to the parliament which the Islamists won, even though they are open to negotiations, manoeuvres and to offering compromises in order to send a succession of reassuring messages to the West.

And who among us can forget that the Islamists sat with Omar Suleiman during the revolution to negotiate, or their role in the attacks on workers’ strikes for their rights after the revolution, or the military council use of Salafi sheikhs to ‘solve’ fabricated sectarian problems, and the support they gave to the military council in order to pass the constitutional amendments, and their refusal to participate in the ‘Second Friday of Anger’ protests in May and the two sit-ins of 8 July and 19 November.

It was ridiculous to think that the military would leave power and hand the management of the country to the Islamists easily, as it does not only defend the interests of the politically defeated layer of businessmen and investors who controlled the country’s economy like a cancer during the Mubarak era, because the military is also defending its own direct economic interests which lie in managing those sectors of the economy it controls without any popular oversight and which account for around 30% of the national economy including farms, factories, hotels, where young soldiers are forced to work for nothing, in addition to the billions in the arms budgets and revenue from foreign aid.

However, it is to be expected that consensus will emerge between the military council,some of the liberal forces which have agreed to participate in the purely decorative ‘Advisory Council’ [set up by the military council], and the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists on the Islamist side.

The aim to ensure that all these forces will get a slice of the cake – so long as the situation remains counter-balanced as we indicated above– without the need to call on the masses, who gave the liberals and the Islamists a lesson in November that they are out of control and that their protests are capable of developing into demands to overthrow the military council itself.

As for the forces in favour of continuing and deepening the revolution, they have a lot of work to do in terms of developing as a movement. We can attempt to sketch a picture of the forces of the revolution – although there will inevitably be errors in it –as divided into three principal blocs.

The first of these is the youth of the slums and the marginalized and the unemployed, joined by the Ultras [organised football fans] and many independent youth and anarchists. Some of them participated in the revolution from the outset, and they account for most of the martyrs and the injured.

They have sought revenge directly on the military council and the police and impose their presence strongly in the battles of 28 June and Mohammed Mahmoud Street, as well as during the sit-ins of 8 July and 19 November.

They represent a model of revolutionary courage and have directly called for the downfall of military rule, the cleansing of the police, an end to military trials and for the rights of the families of the martyrs and the injured.

However, they have failed to raise social demands, or even to offer solidarity with workers’ protests such as the transport workers’ strike or the teachers’ strike.

The second bloc among the revolutionary forces has at its heart the core sections of the Egyptian working class, professionals and the independent unions, which have fought a large number of battles since 2006, and has gained much experience of protest culminating in the battle of the revolution, when it directed the death blow to Mubarak in February.

It has continued its protests, which reached a peak in the strikes of the bus workers, the teachers, the Egypt Telecom workers and the doctors, as well as hundreds of other protests which carry in their womb the seeds of the general strike.

However its birth has been aborted by the absence of a revolutionary workers’organisation and the absence of demands which link the social and the political, in addition to keeping this bloc distant from organised participation in the repeated political demonstrations and sit-ins against military rule.

The third bloc consists of the different revolutionary groups, ranging from radical democrats who adopt social demands to the socialist left which have seen since the 8July sit-in a period of effective political and organisational co-ordination.

Most of these movements have been able to win hundreds of new members and have exploited the situation of political fluidity to grow significantly.

However they remain relatively marginal to the political scene, lacking the ability to propose initiatives which rally wider forces, despite their participation in the leadership and development of the November sit-in and their support for workers’ and professionals’ strikes and sit-ins.

Thus the problem is how the revolutionary groups can succeed in building a social programme which transforms the slogan of social justice adopted by the revolution –and which sets them apart from the liberals and the Islamists – into concrete, practical steps linked to wages, prices, rights to housing, health, education and employment, inter-connecting the achievement of this programme with the presence of a revolutionary government in power.

Although the Islamists (and particularly the Brotherhood) have developed their electoral programme through the addition of demands for the setting of minimum and maximum wages and progressive taxation, the Brotherhood’s previous position on social issues confirms that it is using these demands for consumption by the electorate.

It is well known that the leaders of the Brotherhood have huge economic investments and that they failed to oppose any neo-liberal policies during the Mubarak era, and they defended the agrarian reforms which ended protection on rent for peasant farmers, and strongly attacked workers’ strikes since the January Revolution (as their stance on the teachers’ strike shows).

Nor did they engage in any political battles with the system over social rights, wages, unemployment or against the liquidation of the national economy through the privatisation programme.

They also affirm their complete support for free market policies in their repeated reassuring messages to the US, the West and the Gulf states.

Moreover, the severe economic crisis in Egypt and on a global scale represents a challenge which means that any attempts by a government to adopt liberal economic policies at the present time will fail.

Egypt’s currency reserves are dwindling, investments have stopped and tourism will be sorely affected by the rise of the Salafists. The global economy which has experienced severe blows across much of Southern Europe as a result of the austerity policies adopted by governments there, is unable to extend a helping hand to crisis-wracked capitalism in Egypt.

Nor will there be relief for Egyptian capitalists from the Gulf states to the East which have seen the fire of revolution lit on their outskirts in Yemen and Bahrain.

Therefore in order to bring the revolution to victory, it is necessary to fight for the following:

1. To build a revolutionary socialist party rooted in the ranks of the workers, peasants and students, capable of leading the masses to victory. Therefore we call on Egyptian Revolutionaries among the students and workers to join the Revolutionary Socialists who are in the midst of the struggle of the revolutionaries in the Tahrir Squares across the country, in the factories, and on the university campuses, to achieve the goals of the revolution – bread, freedom and social justice – through the elimination of the society of tyranny, exploitation and poverty and the building of a socialist society which raises the watchwords of freedom and justice on its banners.

2. To construct a revolutionary front with a political programme which adopts the issue of social justice and fights for a united perspective across local neighbourhoods,factories, trade unions, villages and university campuses in favour of continuing the revolution in the street, and which fuses with sections of the working class, the independent unions and professional groups in order to develop their protests and give them the political dimension of seeking the downfall of the coalition between the military and the merchants of religion and to expose the opposition to the political,social and economic rights of all wage-earners and poor peasants which lies at its heart.

3. To struggle with the poor, the marginalised and the families of the martyrs and the injured to win their rights and to link their political demands for the downfall of military rule and their sit-ins and protests with the social and economic demands which require a revolutionary government to achieve them. The connection between the economic and the political is extremely important. The Enforcement of the economic demand to set minimum and maximum wages cannot be achieved without a direct political confrontation with the capitalist ruling class and the military council as a result of the contradiction between the interests of the state and its institutions which serve the ruling class and those of the exploited masses.

Finally, the slogan ‘power and wealth to the people’ that we have adopted, must be translated into a radical programme which becomes a weapon to pressurize the tottering regime and puts the parliament which aims to abort the revolution under popular siege from the first day, in order to expose the games of religious polarization which they are playing, and which affirms the essential social conflict and contradiction between Capital on the one hand (whether it is wearing a cloak and robes or not) and the working class and popular masses on the other.

It is a revolution until victory.

The Revolutionary Socialists
December 2011


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