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John Passant

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December 2011



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My interview Razor Sharp 18 February
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp on Tuesday 18 February. (0)

My interview Razor Sharp 11 February 2014
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp this morning. The Royal Commission, car industry and age of entitlement get a lot of the coverage. (0)

Razor Sharp 4 February 2014
Me on 4 February 2014 on Razor Sharp with Sharon Firebrace. (0)

Time for a House Un-Australian Activities Committee?
Tony Abbott thinks the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is Un-Australian. I am looking forward to his government setting up the House Un-Australian Activities Committee. (1)

Make Gina Rinehart work for her dole

Sick kids and paying upfront


Save Medicare

Demonstrate in defence of Medicare at Sydney Town Hall 1 pm Saturday 4 January (0)

Me on Razor Sharp this morning
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace this morning for Razor Sharp. It happens every Tuesday. (0)

I am not surprised
I think we are being unfair to this Abbott ‘no surprises’ Government. I am not surprised. (0)

Send Barnaby to Indonesia
It is a pity that Barnaby Joyce, a man of tact, diplomacy, nuance and subtlety, isn’t going to Indonesia to fix things up. I know I am disappointed that Barnaby is missing out on this great opportunity, and I am sure the Indonesians feel the same way. [Sarcasm alert.] (0)



What can Egypt learn from previous Arab revolutions?

For the first time in decades, revolution is on the agenda, thanks to the masses of the Arab world writes Sandra Bloodworth in Socialist Alternative. Developing an understanding of the revolutionary process is essential if the breathtaking challenge it poses is to be met.

Now that the first phase of the revolution has passed, activists have to face the issue of how to defeat the counter-revolution. They have to be capable of providing the political confidence to wide layers of workers to continue to fight for their own demands and to build their own independent organisations.

None of this will happen by chance, the questions that confront the movement in Egypt where counter-revolution stalks the country, are urgent. They are problems revolutionaries have faced again and again when masses of people have challenged their rulers and fought for a better world. And the Arab world has a rich history of revolution to learn from.

In fact, it is the responsibility of activists to learn what previous struggles can teach us. It is a way of honouring the martyrs of those revolutions – they will not have died in vain in the face of counter-revolution. Their struggles will live on in the present if their experience helps bring complete victory to the Arab revolutions.

This is not to say that we can draw up a template from past experiences and neatly slot in the present so that the answers to the problems activists face come up in flashing lights – each revolution has its own specific features. But the contours, the fundamental questions we face every time people fight to change the world, have much in common. Capitalism has dominated the globe since the beginning of the twentieth century and the nature of the social classes does not fundamentally change from place to place or over time.

We can learn valuable lessons for Egypt and the other Arab countries today from the revolutionary upheavals which rocked Iraq from 1958 until 1963.

In July 1958 a group of army officers known as the “Free Officers” seized power, depending on a rapidly growing mass movement for support. The government they formed was made up of army officers and civilian leaders with Qasim, one of the Free Officers’ leaders, as prime minister. Supporters of the old regime were expelled from the army, the police and state institutions.

The uprising ended the monarchy, and the government threw the British off their military bases. They began taking control of oil resources from the multinationals; they began a process of land reform, building houses for shanty dwellers outside Baghdad, and improving living standards. Political prisoners were freed and workers’ and peasants’ unions were legalised.

In spite of this program of far more radical reform than what the military regime has been prepared to countenance in Egypt this year, by 1963 the mass movement had been crushed in order to allow “business as usual” by the capitalist class and its middle class supporters.

Just as we have argued all year, in all mass popular uprisings, it seems as if the whole nation is united at first. But the capitalist class will never countenance reforms that challenge their ability to exploit workers. They cannot rule in co-operation with workers and the poor, because their interests are counter-posed.

Higher wages means lower profits. Political mobilisation and struggle means disruption to production; it builds confidence, so that workers begin to think they should have a say in who their bosses are, how they should be treated at work; and heaven forbid, they might even think they should have a say in how the economy is run!

And so those who support the continuing existence of a capitalist economy – no matter how radical their rhetoric when urging the population to rise up against a hated regime – always instigate counter-revolution. And they turn to similar methods to defeat the revolution and to take control into their own hands. They make every effort to co-opt, disorient or demoralise existing radical organisations. And, in the last resort, they always have the armed might of the state to unleash on those who will not accept their rule.

That’s why a revolutionary organisation which has built up the ability to convince and lead newly-radicalising masses is necessary. This does not mean just any organisation, but one which is absolutely clear about the nature of class society, one committed to not just political change at the top, but to a workers’ social revolution.

The Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) had 25,000 members by early 1959 in a population of less than 7 million. They had a base among workers in the railways, the Basra port and the oilfields. In April 1959 the ICP led mass demonstrations as tensions with the government built – scenes very similar to what we have witnessed with the upsurge in November in Egypt.

On 1 May between 300,000 and a million (depending on whose account you accept) came into Baghdad’s streets. Allen Dulles, director of the CIA, declared that the situation in Iraq was “the most dangerous in the world today”, and that the Communists were close to a “complete takeover”.

The party could and should have led a workers’ revolution to end capitalist rule. All the signs of counter-revolution loomed, just as we’ve seen in Egypt this year. Attacks on political rights, a reluctance to carry through with promised reforms and demands for a return to “business as usual” by the middle and upper classes all threatened the gains of the revolution.

But the ICP declared, “Our party supports the economic interests of the national bourgeoisie… The aim of the revolution is to establish social and economic reforms within the framework of capitalist relations of production.” So, for all their talk of communism and radicalism, for all of their mass influence and the possibility of a workers’ revolution which could have ignited similar revolts around the Arab world, the ICP let the opportunity pass, proving they were not a revolutionary party.

The consequences are a warning to all those finding their way in Egypt and around the Arab world: organisations that waver end up siding with the counter-revolution. The absence of revolutionary leadership means defeat.

The Qasim regime suppressed the workers’ movement. Between July and October 1959, hundreds of ICP members and sympathisers were intimidated, beaten, arrested and killed. The ICP’s newspapers were banned, and police forcibly disbanded their youth organisation of 8,000.

The working class paid dearly for the failure of the ICP. In 1960, 6,000 workers were sacked, and the government took control of the trade unions, peasants’ unions and organisations of lawyers, teachers and students. All the democratic reforms were reversed, preparing the ground for a military coup by rival officers which brought down Qasim. This began a dictatorship by the Baath Party which lasted under the leadership of the butcher Saddam Hussein with the backing of the US until they invaded in 2003.

The ICP could not defend its members or the mass of workers because they had declared the class struggle as “left-wing extremism”; they had raised slogans such as “Hand in hand with the national government for the preservation of order!” and called for solidarity between the people, the army and the government. Today in Egypt there are forces raising similar slogans. They are not cloaked in “communist” colours, but their impact is just as dangerous.

Events are unfolding differently in Egypt, but the lesson is clear from the Iraq revolution. No matter how strong and courageous the movement is, unless some activists cohere as a national leadership who can lead the mass of workers, students and the poor to challenge for power, the growing counter-revolution will triumph. There is no “moderate”, “middle” way out of the revolutionary process.

Over the course of the last eight months, millions of Egyptians have learnt that the army can’t be trusted as they’ve witnessed its treachery and the growing counter-revolution. But if there had been an organisation with the authority and influence to convince them in February, there could well be far fewer martyrs now, because the movement would have confronted the army and may well have been able to advance the social revolution.

When we look at the history of parties like the ICP, it is understandable why some people reject the idea of a party. The point is to build a revolutionary workers’ organisation which recognises the fundamental lessons of history and is unswervingly committed to workers’ power.

The capitalist class has to be confronted, all elements of the old state need to be dismantled, destroyed, and replaced with the kind of popular committees in the workplaces and neighbourhoods which began to emerge early this year. If they are just replaced by a new state committed to capitalism as was the case in Qasim’s Iraq, they will eventually be used to repress the masses.

The working class, with its power in production, can lead all the other oppressed layers in a struggle to carry through a social revolution which can begin to fulfil the needs and aspirations of the masses. If it does not, then reaction will triumph. This is the vital lesson the Iraq revolution teaches us.


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