Monday, 7 February 2011

Egypt - What Is To Be Done - Part 3

Bonapartism, & Permanent Revolution

But, how much of this actually applies to Egypt? The only thing that actually applies is that what is being undertaken is a Democratic Revolution. But, this Democratic Revolution is not one being undertaken by one class against another, which is the situation analysed by Lenin above, and by Trotsky in Permanent Revolution.
In Russia it was the bourgeoisie – with the support of the workers, peasants and petit-bourgeoisie opposing the Absolutist political regime of the Landlords. In Permanent Revolution, Trotsky examines not just that situation, but the equivalent situation where a national bourgeoisie opposes the Colonial Political regime of some foreign ruling class. In Egypt, the bourgeoisie are already the ruling social class. The State in Egypt is a Capitalist State, which acts to defend the interests of Capital, and to ensure the reproduction of Labour Power. As for the Colonial Revolution against British Imperialism, that was completed decades ago. What we have in Egypt, is a Capitalist ruling class, and a Capitalist State. But, as Trotsky points out in relation to his analysis of the Soviet Bonapartism of Stalin, classes can exercise their rule in many different guises of political regime.
Capital has been the ruling class under political regimes that range from Absolute Monarchy, to the Parliamentary Democracy, to the Military Junta, to Presidential Systems and Republics, to Fascist Dictatorships, and various forms of Bonapartism be they those of the authoritarian variety such as under Mubarak, to the semi-democratic such as that of Cardenas. These different political regimes all disguise the class rule of Capital, and each exists for a whole series of reasons conditioned by the material conditions existing within the particular society, the balance of class forces, and the historical development of the society.

In short, this revolution is not of the kind described by Lenin and Trotsky, or indeed by Marx and Engels. If the overthrow of bourgeois democratic relations occurred in Germany as a result of a violent transformation of society by the Nazis, then in reality what the current revolution in Egypt now most closely resembles is the re-running of that film in reverse.
Or put another way, when Trotsky argued that Soviet Bonapartism could only be overthrown via a Political Revolution conducted by the Russian workers against the Bonapartist regime of Stalin then this is its bourgeois equivalent. In both cases a ruling social class is forced to have to confront a bureaucratic/military elite, which having based itself on the property relations of the ruling class, has concentrated political power in its hands, and, through it, control over the State. If ever a refutation of the Third Camp theory were required from history, this is it.

But, it is understandable why the Third Campists, basing themselves on a bourgeois, subjectivist methodology should arrive at their false conclusion. What is becoming clear in Egypt, is the extent to which a Bonapartist regime, which raises itself up above social classes, can exercise many of the traits of a class itself, especially when it comes to defending its interests, especially when via the State it can accrue considerable material privileges for itself, and can use the power of patronage – even in relatively minor amounts – as well as the entire armoury of the State, to mobilise against those who would take that power away from it.
The extent to which the State can do that should not be underestimated. It took relatively small privileges to white workers in South Africa or Protestants in Northern Ireland, to create a level of support for the status quo. Everywhere State capitalist regimes have been able to utilise the support of those who depend upon its existence as a bulwark of support for its defence. We have seen that again in Egypt with various Government Departments encouraging their workers to go out on to the streets in support of Mubarak.

The extent to which the ideas of Permanent Revolution will apply in Egypt then cannot be predetermined. It will depend upon the extent to which Mubarak decides to try to hold on to power, and the extent to which the apparatus decides to support him.
Given the increasing pressure that the US, EU and other major powers are putting on Mubarak to go, and especially given the close relations between the US military and the Egyptian Military, it has to be said that things do not look good for him, and the other elements of his regime would do well to think about how much it is in their interest to be pulled down with him. Certainly, under a bourgeois democratic Egypt, the military will continue to play a major role. And despite all of the hyperbole, it is inevitable that a bourgeois democratic Egypt, will want to continue a close relation with the US, and certainly with the EU, because its economic prosperity, which has been growing rapidly – even if it has not been reflected in the living standards of the majority of workers – depends upon it. But, despite that, Mubarak, for now appears intent on clinging to power. Reading Trotsky's “History of the Russian Revolution”, where he quotes extensively from the Tsar's personal diary, it is amazing how such people, even as their whole world collapses around them, are able to delude themselves about their own invincibility.

If Mubarak continues to hold on to power, and if no quick, effective move is made against him, then it is inevitable that one of two courses will develop. In one course, the movement will run out of steam, and be dissipated, to be met by an equally inevitable clamp down, arrest of protest leaders, and period of reaction to prevent the possibility of any repeat for a long time.
Those western governments who are now giving warm words to the protesters will wring their hands, proclaim their most profound indignation, and then continue to deal with Mubarak or his chosen successor. On the other hand, it is possible that as chaos mounts, some organised force will seize the day, and place itself at the head of the movement, pushing through a revolution to remove Mubarak and his regime, and install itself in power. At the present time there are only two such forces in Egypt capable of fulfilling that role. One is the Army, the other is the Muslim Brotherhood. It is not in the interests of workers that either of these forces should be able to pursue that course.

It is one thing for the Army to fracture under pressure from the mass movement, for the rank and file soldiers to apply pressure on their officers, such that the generals are led to go to Mubarak and tell him to leave, whilst some Provisional Government – even a bourgeois Provisional Government – is put in place prior to the rapid convening of a Constituent Assembly – it is another for one Bonapartist regime to be replaced by another, simply exchanging one set of military personnel for another..
And, although the Muslim Brotherhood are currently saying they have no desire for power and so on, that is also what the Khomeniites said in Iran in 1979. Just as a Workers Government has to carry through socialist measures or quickly be replaced, so a theocratic revolutionary government would be forced to carry through religious measures or risk losing the support of its base, and the bourgeois nature of the Brotherhood means that whatever social reforms it introduced would be paid for by attacks on the workers.

It is in this respect that if Mubarak is able to cling to power, and any transition arises out of chaos that Permanent Revolution applies. Under those conditions either the workers are forced to make a bid for State power, or else they will see the basic democratic aims of the revolution destroyed. In all eventualities the most important task for the workers is to develop their own organisations, and to prepare for the defence of their own class interests. The task of Marxists is to facilitate that development, and to provide the workers with a Programme of demands that meet both the workers economic and political needs.

If we use the analogy mentioned previously that the situation in Egypt represents the running in reverse of the process by which a bourgeois democratic regime is replaced by Fascism, then perhaps the most appropriate ideas about how the workers should proceed are not Trotsky's “Permanent Revolution”, but his writings on fighting fascism.
The most comprehensive collection of those writings in respect to Nazi Germany are contained in THE RISE OF HITLER AND DESTRUCTION OF THE GERMAN LEFT. Also useful are his writings, in relation to the Spanish Civil War. I'd also like to recommend in this respect looking at the posts at Poumista. But, I think the most appropriate, and most concise formulation of Trotsky's ideas in this respect is his Action Programme For France.

It is particularly relevant if indeed the events in Egypt are viewed as a rewinding of the film of a fascist takeover, because of the conditions for the rise of fascism that Trotsky outlines at the beginning of his argument. He writes,

“For the workers, growing unemployment; for the small peasants, ruin; for all the exploited, misery is increasing.

Dying capitalism is bankrupt. And the ruling class has only one plan for trying to get out of this historical bankruptcy: still more misery for the laboring masses! Suppression of all reforms, even the most trifling! Suppression of the democratic regime!

Throughout the entire world, the iron heel of fascism is becoming the last resort of desperate capitalism.”

And that was of course true in the 1930's. It was even true to some extent in the 1980's, when a deep economic crisis led to the Capitalists having to make the workers pay, and resorting in a number of bourgeois democracies not to fascism, but certainly to a strong state.
The creation of the SPG, and measures introduced by Thatcher in Britain were an indication of that. But, of course in the aftermath of WWII, that idea about an Imperialism that could only proceed on the basis of the kinds of anti-democratic regimes that Trotsky speaks of no longer applied. In fact, the US, which had no Colonies used its power to break up the old Colonial Empires of Britain, France and other European states.
That's not to say that it was not averse to propping up and installing its own Dictators and strongmen where they were its only option for protecting its economic and strategic interests, but it was clearly no longer the only or preferred option for Imperialism.

More importantly, the idea of a bankrupt collapsing global Capitalism clearly does not apply at the present. The Long Wave Boom that lasted from 1949 until 1974, was probably the most powerful there had been until that time.
The Long Wave Boom that commenced around 1999 is likely to surpass it. If the turn to fascism is the response of Capital to the problems it faces and restrictions on choices it has during a Long Wave decline such as the 1930's, as Trotsky describes then the opposite is also true. In a period of Long Wave Boom, the options for Capital open up, and it is better able to move to its preferred political regime of bourgeois democracy. As I wrote in my 2007 blog post Prepare To Dust Off The sliding Scale,

“The world economy is booming. One of the largest investment firms in the world Bridgewater Associates has recently completely its regular analyses, which shows that for the first time since 1969, there is not one single economy in the world in recession. The IMF has just increased its forecast for world economic growth yet again. China where the Government has been trying to slow economic growth for fear of overheating has just put in economic growth yet again of over 10%, but that is put in the shade by the world’s fastest growing economies. Azerbaijan is forecast to grow by 26% this year, as is Angola as a result of the current high price of oil, Mauritania which does not have oil, but has gold and other raw materials is forecast to grow by 18%.”

There are, of course, those in the Camp of the Left for whom any admission that Capitalism is not in a state of imminent collapse is anathema. They prefer to blind themselves with prejudices based on the repetition of old dogmas rather than honest analysis that might undermine them. But, any attempt to describe the current economic problems of some European countries as reflecting some global crisis let alone imminent collapse of Capitalism are complete nonsense. Not only are European countries such as Germany growing strongly and on the back of a dynamic economy, but the US is growing strongly too. Moreover, a look at the growth rate of the world's second largest economy – China – or of the many other rapidly developing economies in Asia, Latin America, and now even Africa show that you have to be wilfully blind to not see that the global economy cannot possibly be described as in crisis.

But, as I also pointed out in that 2007 article, it is precisely under those conditions that the kinds of eruption we have seen in Egypt occur. It is precisely under those conditions that the contradictions are raised to new heights, and in which the conditions for the workers to become more militant exist.
On the one hand, rapid economic growth leads to an increasing demand for Labour Power. At the same time the introduction of new Capitalist methods of production often leads to a sharp rise in Productivity, and rise in unemployment as workers are thrown out of old forms of production. In the Industrial Revolution in Britain for example, a huge rise in demand for Labour-Power in the new factories was swamped by a tide of unemployment of former agricultural labourers and peasants. The massive rise in the wealth of Britain was mirrored in a massive rise in poverty and misery for the masses. It ultimately, resulted in a revolt. But, it was the further development of the workers that occurs as a result of that process, in which their wages and conditions rise, where there confidence rises, and where their understanding of their position develops that leads to the more effective organisation of the workers, and their formulation of organisations and demands to meet their needs. The spontaneous rebellion of the saboteurs and Luddites, becomes replaced with the organised action of Trades Unions, Chartists, and Socialist Parties.

As I wrote in 2007,

“It takes time, and with new more productive technology the demand for labour may not rise quickly, and may rise in new unorganised industries. Indeed each Kondratieff upswing has tended to see the emergence of a new economic powerhouse that challenges and replaces the former dominant economy – in the present case China appears to be fulfilling that role, and that may require the development of a whole new Labour Movement.

I think all of these elements can be identified in the present conjuncture, and that should give confidence to Marxists that once more the conditions are developing for militant working class struggles. How these struggles manifest themselves will differ.
In China wages are rising by 10% plus per year, and there are clear signs that Chinese workers are beginning to become more organised. The same is true of workers in South Korea and other rapidly growing Asian economies. Under these conditions workers struggles are likely to take on increasingly an offensive nature.”

And, as I have written several times over recent months, the Middle East is one of those areas where this rapid economic development has been occurring. Both Egypt and Turkey are among those economies identified as being amongst the “second 11” of developing economies seen as following on from the BRIC economies. It is not surprising then that the kinds of development that occur within this economic advance, not only in the growth of the working class – side by side with unemployment – but also in the growth of a middle class – many of those who began these struggles were University students who previously would have taken up jobs elsewhere in the Middle East or in Europe – who, as every Middle Class in history has done, begin to demand democratic rights alongside their growing economic status lead to the kinds of Democratic Revolution we have seen in Egypt. The same process has occurred many times before in history. The task of Marxists is to understand the lessons from those previous struggles and attempt to enable Egyptian workers to avoid the mistakes of those previous revolutions and struggles.

Back To Part 2

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