Friday, 11 February 2011

Military Coup As Egyptian Workers Appear On The Stage

Just as the Egyptian working-class began to enter the fray, the Egyptian Generals have implemented a Military Coup. The celebrations in Tahir Square are understandable as the events of the day are seen in the positive light of Mubarak standing down, but in reality the Military that have now pushed him aside, possibly on the back of heavy prompting from the US, are the same Military top brass from which Mubarak himself came, and which supported Sadat before him, and which supported Nasser before him. In reality Egypt has merely swapped the political regime of a Bonapartist leader resting on a military-bureaucratic elite, for the open rule of that same military-bureaucratic elite.
The celebrations are premature. If the military acted under heavy prompting from the US and other western powers, then it is possible that this may be merely a stage in a process of negotiations that lead to bourgeois democratic elections later in the year. But, it is not at all clear, nor certain that this will be the case.

What we have seen over the last two weeks in Egypt, is that although the Army on the streets did not take action AGAINST the protesters, nor did it take action IN FAVOUR of the protesters. On the contrary, there is evidence that the military or at least sections of the military continued to see themselves as the defenders of the regime, that there continued to be communication between the military and the police and secret police, and that this same military allowed into Tahir Square Mubarak's thugs in what was a clear attempt to intimidate the protesters at a point when the regime had attempted to make concessions, and hoped that some of the protesters may have relented. What we have seen, time and again during the last two weeks is an application of what is known as the Grand Old Duke of York tactic.
The regime has put out information suggesting that some concession would be made raising hopes and expectations. Then it has not made the concessions that everyone was expecting, or else they have been completely watered down. The hope is that having raised hopes and dashed them, some of the protesters will be demoralised. The same tactic has been used time and again. At one stage it seemed that the tactic may have been working as the size of protests declined. But, then the protests swelled once more. The most desperate attempt at the tactic was use yesterday when all day long the message was let out that Mubarak was standing down. Then he simply appeared on TV and dashed those hopes, even apparently surprising Obama, and the CIA, who had themselves been saying that Mubarak was going.
As an indication of how little influence all those billions of dollars the US has handed over to Mubarak and the Egyptian Generals, has bought them, not only did Mubarak cock a snook at them, but he openly attacked them appealing to that well known tactic of presenting himself as an Arab “anti-imperialist” who was standing up to US threats and interference. Not only that, but the CIA Chief was forced to explain his earlier statements that Mubarak was going by saying that he was only basing himself on the information that the world news channels were putting out!!!! It may be an Agency, it may be Central, but where it the Intelligence?

It may be that the US Military picked up the phone to its Egyptian counterparts, and told them that it was time for them to intervene. On the other hand, it could be that this is just the latest example of that Grand Old Duke of York tactic, and recognising that Mubarak himself had to go, the Military have simply replaced him, in the expectation that this will finally demobilise the mass movement in the way they have been trying to do for the last two weeks. That seems more likely to me. Despite all of the claims of the “idiot anti-imperialists”, who try to paint US Imperialism as some kind of God, which only needs to desire something for it to be done, Mubarak has been just the latest strongman who has shown their ability to look first to their own interests, and the interests of the State apparatus that supports them.
In the last few days, the sting out of the US threat to cut off Military Aid to Egypt was drawn by another one of those strongmen. Saudi Arabia not only told the US to stop attacking Mubarak, but said openly that they would finance the Egyptian Military directly themselves if the US withdrew its support. On that basis its not unlikely that the Egyptian Generals might have seen the potential to cling to power for longer. And those Generals have considerable financial incentive to hang on to power. The corrupt nature of such Bonapartist regimes ensures that such people are also lucratively rewarded.

But, the other factor that may have prompted the need for a more dramatic move is that in recent days the working-class have begun to enter the fray.
Across Egypt not only strikes, but increasingly occupations, and work-ins have begun, with workers beginning to introduce some elements of workers control in some places. This is a significant development compared to the protests of the previous two weeks. In the end, the kind of street protests we have seen, which are the typical form of protest of the middle class, and of the urban poor can be absorbed by a ruling elite.
Ultimately, those involved tire, and the numbers diminish until they can be pushed off the streets. With workers it is different. The workers for reasons set out below take longer to move than the Middle Class, but once they are in action, it is more difficult for them to simply withdraw. Moreover, unlike a street protest, a strike directly hits the profits of the ruling class, and the taxes and income of the State. Moreover, once as was beginning to happen in Egypt, the workers begin to challenge the premise of private property, once they challenge the rule of Capital by starting work-ins, and introducing measures of workers control, then what in reality is developing is a situation of dual power. As Trotsky describes it,

“The closer it is to production, to the factory, to the shop, the less possible such a regime is, for here it is a matter of the immediate, vital interests of the workers, and the whole process unfolds under their very eyes. workers’ control through factory councils is conceivable only on the basis of sharp class struggle, not collaboration. But this really means dual power in the enterprises, in the trusts, in all the branches of industry, in the whole economy.

What state regime corresponds to workers’ control of production? It is obvious that the power is not yet in the hands of the proletariat, otherwise we would have not workers’ control of production but the control of production by the workers’ state as an introduction to a regime of state production on the foundations of nationalization. What we are talking about is workers’ control under the capitalist regime, under the power of the bourgeoisie. However, a bourgeoisie that feels it is firmly in the saddle will never tolerate dual power in its enterprises. workers’ control consequently, can be carried out only under the condition of an abrupt change in the relationship of forces unfavorable to the bourgeoisie and its state. Control can be imposed only by force upon the bourgeoisie, by a proletariat on the road to the moment of taking power from them, and then also ownership of the means of production. Thus the regime of workers’ control, a provisional transitional regime by its very essence, can correspond only to the period of the convulsing of the bourgeois state, the proletarian offensive, and the failing back of the bourgeoisie, that is, to the period of the proletarian revolution in the fullest sense of the word.”

Trotsky – Workers Control Of Production

In other words, the developing struggle of the workers under conditions of widespread social unrest, and a challenge to State Power, had the potential for developing towards real class struggle; not just a Political revolution, to change one bourgeois political regime for another, but a revolution that placed on the agenda the whole question of class power in the State.

Like most Democratic Revolutions, the first actors on the stage are the radical middle classes, and sections of the bourgeoisie, who, often on the back of a period of rapid economic growth, feel empowered to demand a say in society commensurate with their enhanced economic and social standing. As Paul Mason says in his blog,

“To amplify: I can't find the quote but one of the historians of the French Revolution of 1789 wrote that it was not the product of poor people but of poor lawyers. You can have political/economic setups that disappoint the poor for generations - but if lawyers, teachers and doctors are sitting in their garrets freezing and starving you get revolution. Now, in their garrets, they have a laptop and broadband connection.

The weakness of organised labour means there's a changed relationship between the radicalized middle class, the poor and the organised workforce. The world looks more like 19th century Paris - heavy predomination of the "progressive" intelligentsia, intermixing with the slum-dwellers at numerous social interfaces (cabarets in the 19C, raves now); huge social fear of the excluded poor but also many rags to riches stories celebrated in the media (Fifty Cent etc); meanwhile the solidaristic culture and respectability of organized labour is still there but, as in Egypt, they find themselves a "stage army" to be marched on and off the scene of history.”

But, in reality this has been true not just of the French Revolution, but of all the Revolutions we have seen so far, including the Russian Revolution.
That is so, because all of these Revolutions including the latter have been Bourgeois Revolutions either Bourgeois social revolutions overthrowing the class power of Landlords, or, or bourgeois Political Revolutions overthrowing the political regime of some form of Bonapartism, or of Colonial ruling classes. In 1917, as Trotsky says, it was not just the February Revolution that was bourgeois, it remained bourgeois for sevreal years, as he describes it, a Bourgeois Revolution, backed up with a Peasant War. The working-class in all these instances is not the lead class, it is not its interests that spark the revolution, but those of the middle class. The working-class is more reluctant at first to get involved – which is one reason that Lenin in 1905 had to wage his struggle against the economists who reflected that mood that the workers should just let the bourgeoisie and petit-bourgeoisie wage the bourgeois revolution.

Moreover, the BBC's John Lyne in Cairo said on Friday morning as, the Egyptian masses swarmed into Tahrir Square, that the workers in Egypt had only just begun to stir, to organise strikes and other activities, and that their grievances were quite different from those of the middle classes who have so far led the movement, and who made up the majority of the masses in the street protests. That is quite right. But, as those previous revolutions illustrate, and as I have argued in my posts on “Egypt – What Is To Be Done?”, that does not change the fact that the objectives of that Bourgeois Revolution are not irrelevant to the workers, which is why at a certain point it is inevitable that the workers themselves have to enter the stage of history in such struggles. They appear later, precisely because the initial concerns of the revolution are not their immediate concerns, and because they have more to lose than those taking part in the initial protests. Paul Mason correctly notes,

“This leads to a loss of fear among the young radicals of any movement: they can pick and choose; there is no confrontation they can't retreat from.
They can "have a day off" from protesting, occupying: whereas with the old working-class based movements, their place in the ranks of battle was determined and they couldn't retreat once things started. You couldn't "have a day off" from the miners' strike if you lived in a pit village.

In addition to a day off, you can "mix and match": I have met people who do community organizing one day, and the next are on a flotilla to Gaza; then they pop up working for a think tank on sustainable energy; then they're writing a book about something completely different. I was astonished to find people I had interviewed inside the UCL occupation blogging from Tahrir Square this week.”

But, it is not just these reasons that explain the late arrival on to the stage in such revolutions. The reason these are bourgeois revolutions is because it is the bourgeoisie in all these cases which is the rising class, not the workers. It is the bourgeoisie in these cases which remains the most dominant economic and social force, and its ideas which dominate the society not those of the workers. Only when the working-class has gone through a process of development can it assume that position. As I have set out in my previous posts, this can only happen when the working-class has increased its standing economically, socially and ideologically. The whole basis of the Marxist strategy is to bring that development about within the context of a need to carry through the Bourgeois Revolution.

At the moment we are not seeing the workers move forward so decisively as to frighten off the bourgeois and petit-bourgeois. If the protest movement declines from here, it will not be because the bourgeoisie have taken fright at the advance of the workers. It will be because the Military regime have succeeded in demobilising them, fooled them into believing that real change is at hand, the kind of change to bourgeois democracy that the bourgeoisie and petit-bourgeoisie can settle for, but which can provide no solution to the workers problems, or the problems of the urban poor. For now, it would be good if the masses out on the streets are not demobilised.
It would be an advance from here for some form of civilian Provisional Government to be established quickly to hold power instead of he Military. That would be some indication that the Military are serious about seeing in the introduction of bourgeois democracy. It is not up to Marxists to demand the introduction of such a Government, because by the nature of the revolution at this stage, such a Government would be a Bourgeois Government. Out task remains to argue for Socialism, for the workers to continue to organise, to press their own economic, social and political demands, to develop its organisations such as the Factory Committees, the Workers Councils and the Defence Squads and Militia, which can act to defend and advance the workers interests whether the bourgeoisie pull back or not. Our task is to try to advance the working-class to the position where it can lead the Revolution.
But, for that reason we are not in a position to demand a Workers Government, or to make some premature bid for power. That would be ultra-left adventurism. Consequently, if such a Provisional Government were established be it one made up of representatives of the main opposition parties as was the case with the Russian Provisional Government in 1917, or a Government made up of civilian technocrats as has been touted – who by their nature would be bourgeois – then we would not oppose the establishment of such a Government. It would be an advance from a Military Junta as exists now. But, socialists could take no part in such a Government. Their duty would be to take a position of “extreme revolutionary opposition” towards it. Severely criticising its every action that was against the interests of the workers, the petit-bourgeoisie and urban poor. Our task remains to build the independent strength of the Egyptian working-class.


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