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John Passant

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July 2013



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Building a revolutionary socialist party in Egypt

The Revolutionary Socialists sprang from underground to play a leading role in Egypt’s revolt. Sameh Naguib in Socialist Worker Ireland explains how they built a party to shape the struggle.

The revolution continues

We live in exceptional times. World capitalism is in crisis and causing an enormous amount of human suffering—whether in poorer countries or the West.

Resistance and mass movements are taking off in different places. Obviously in some places this is happening more rapidly than others.

If you believe in the possibility of a better society you can open your eyes and see that people do revolt. They bring down regimes.

And we have to work very hard to prepare for those exceptional moments. It requires serious consistent revolutionary work for years beforehand. Campaigns are not enough. Strikes are not enough.

We need an organisation that can unite these struggles in order to take the revolution to its logical conclusion, and to win.

The masses will not wait for you. You need to be prepared.

If revolutionaries do not have a viable, coherent set of ideas and an ability to organise the movement then you lose to other forces.

All kinds of different forces will take the space that revolutionaries could have occupied. They include forces of reformism and of reaction.

The last two and a half years in Egypt have been like being in a kind of hurricane that doesn’t settle. The Revolutionary Socialists as an organisation has been vindicated.

But if we hadn’t built an organisation before the revolution we would have been decimated, splintered into a hundred pieces.


Unless we prepare ourselves for those moments of mass action and revolution the wave will be too strong for us to stand on our feet and offer an alternative.

We have grown rapidly since the revolution began, in terms of numbers of members and in terms of being active in areas that were very difficult to be in before.

Being called the Revolutionary Socialists (RS) itself made us attractive. People would buy the paper from us and talk simply because we had a revolutionary sounding name and we began to recruit people more openly.

We became publicly known for the positions we take. The media and the military attack us. We are seen as the people who are principled, who will not give in to the army.

It’s very easy to fit people in. New comrades are coming from movements.

They are already involved, whether that’s in building their unions or protesting on the streets.

But we offer something more. We say we need political organisation, coherence and unity to get over the unevenness of the struggle.

The sort of organisation you need is very different at different stages.

Obviously when you are a small group of people then the form of organisation you need will be different than when you are larger.

Building when the struggle is going up is very different to building during a downturn.

There’s the difference between legal and illegal organisation.

It has been very important to understand how the Bolsheviks in Russia built in different periods.

Most of the time that we were building the RS, we were underground. Once the revolution took place we could operate openly, and that completely changed our work.

An underground organisation had to be much more centralised.

There was no free flow of information—the leadership had a monopoly over information. This was necessary as there was always the threat of infiltration.


When we had a conference it discussed everything, but there was always that problem of access to information.

People would say you are not democratic enough. But if democratic means that information becomes available to all then if the state has an infiltrator, or gets one leading member and tortures them, then slowly you can completely destroy the organisation.

That is something we have been able to make a big leap in since the revolution—and there is no upturn in struggle quite like a revolution.

People now know who the leadership is. We can communicate between members and between members and leadership.

People know what is happening in different cities. This boosts the confidence of individual members.

And we are now able to recruit openly, which has made a huge difference.

If this revolution had happened ten years earlier I don’t think we would have survived it. The ability to take positions quickly, to unify the party on these positions and to intervene in an effective way, is a huge challenge at a time of revolution.

Getting it right depends on having a coherent cadre—a set of comrades who can carry the argument in the party and the broader struggle. Even if the number is not that big, it makes a big difference.

Organisation is a tool rather than a set of rules. It’s a tool to find answers to the same questions we always face.

How de we grow, how do we put down roots in the working class, the student movement and the poor areas?

How do we build a cadre capable of withstanding the twists and turns, highs and lows of different periods of the struggle

The lesson of revolutionary organising is that you should build in a principled and flexible way.

Our rapid growth has meant we have experienced the pull of anarchism. We have recruited some very young people who have only been politicised by the revolution.

They have no experience of struggle, they want things to change immediately.

So we do educational work. We hold public meetings for those wanting to join the organisation. We have simple pamphlets on things like socialism or the working class.

The point is to be principled but not in a dogmatic sense—to recognise the need for different tactics, but without becoming opportunistic.

In a revolution, just to survive as an organisation is an accomplishment. But if the wave doesn’t break you, it will lift you up like nothing else.



Comment from Byon
Time July 16, 2013 at 9:04 pm

This is appallingly dishonest stuff. Last year, those in International Socialist “tradition” were urging people to vote for the Muslim Brotherhood as a vote against the military and Mubarak regime remnants. This year the IS tradition are clearly allied with the same military against the Muslim Brotherhood who are labelled “sectarian” . But that is only to speak of Egypt. Next door, in Syria, the IS are outspoken supporters of the murderous Jihadists and Saudi/Qatari funded practitioners of sectarian civil war, whose numbers include the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, no less.
Last year SW wrote “A vote for Mursi is a vote against the legacy of Mubarak and for continuing change in Egypt”. This year the IS are covering for the Egyptian putchists, calling the military coup against the very same MB “a second revolution”, while passing over in near silence the massacre of the 51 MB protesters by the military. Never mind the fact that the repression which the military applyies against the Muslim Brotherhood today will be used with even greater brutality against the inevitable opposition to the economic structural adjustment packages and austerity that the military regime and the Egyptian bourgeiosie and its imperialist allies collectively have in store for the Egyptian workng class.
In the coverage of the Egyptian events in the IS press, one will struggle to find a word about the thoroughly bourgeois nature of either the Egyptian military, with whom the IS are allied today, or of the Muslim Brotherhood, with whom the IS were allied in Egypt yesterday (and whom they support Syria today); nor do the IS have a word to say the vast sectors the military controls in the Egyptian economy, the military’s role as a capitalist exploiter of the labour of the working class, its receipt of huge sums of US aid, or its filthy role in policing Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel, the lynchpin state of the imperialist order in the region. In short the IS have nothing to say about the class nature of either the military or the MB, characteristics which itself guarantees a counter-revolututionary and anti-working class role for both organisations.
Thus, in place of principled independence of the working class, the IS serves up a recipe of opportunist tailing of various bourgeois and politically criminal forces that are themselve associated with imperialism. In practical terms this means the IS are allied with the MB yesterday, the Egyptian military, Mubarak regime leftovers and Tamarod today, and goodness knows which retrograde elements tomorrow.

Comment from John
Time July 16, 2013 at 10:11 pm

The Revolutionary Socialists of Egypt are not aligned with the military. I suggest you read their material more clearly. They are part of the revolutionary forces in Egypt and adjust as the revolution changes, deepens, shifts. It is what the Bolsheviks did too during the Russian revolution. They had built an organisation that could develop along withe the revolutions. From a smaller base that is what the RS is trying to do and to intervene in the revolution. What would you have done in the election when Morsi was pitted against the open face of counter-revolution? Abstain? That is objectively siding with Mubarak’s forces. What would you do when 17 or 20 or 30 million come on to the streets to defend the demands of the 25 January revolution? Stand aside? Seems that is what you are suggesting. Or worse, defend Morsi against the masses on the street? The RS is completely aware of the fact the military will attack the Left. That is why it opposes the military and the MB but calls for the end to attacks on the MB. I find your view completely undialectic.

As for Syria, a mass uprising against a dictatorial regime occurs and the revolutionary left sides with those fighting for freedom and justice, and continues to side with those fighting for freedom and justice. The fake left which parades its support for the butcher Assad deserves nothing but contempt. It lies that those who support revolution are siding with the jihadists. This is convenient cover, like their lies about Egypt, for the revolutionaries who fear revolution.

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