Friday, 8 April 2011

Ebb & Flow In Egypt - The Beginning Of Repression By The State

Revolutions never proceed in a linear fashion. In Egypt, for years it was workers who resisted the regime at a low level with repeated strikes and industrial action, as they attempted to use their only weapon – withdrawal of their labour power – to mitigate their condition, and attempt to defend their wages and working conditions. As always it was the workers in the larger enterprises who were both better placed to organise, and better placed to win concessions from their employer, which was itself often the Egyptian Capitalist State.
It was a high point of such struggles, the strike of the Mahalla textile workers on April 6th 2008, which provided the impetus for students, and other petit-bourgeois elements to organise later for their own interests and demands, taking them out into the streets, and into Tahrir Square.

In January 2008 Mahalla workers drew up a list of demands. It included higher wages, bonuses and allowances, and indicating that they were looking beyond their own sectional interests to broader class interests it included a rise in the national minimum wage from 35 Egyptian pounds to £E1200 ($212) a month. It had not gone up since 1984. They announced a strike on April 6th if their demands were not met.

A few weeks later opponents the Mubarak regime called for a general strike on that day. The call was not made by organised groups of workers but was supported by some small opposition parties, intellectuals, some youth and radicals. The call for a General Strike spread over the Internet and via mobile phones. More than 65,000 joined a Facebook site promoting the strike. By its nature this was almost entirely a movement of middle class youth, but as so often in the past they were being given confidence and inspiration by the example provided of working class power.

The Interior Ministry warned people off with the usual appeals to the need for Order. In the event, a general strike did not take place. However, thousands of workers did take strike action.
In Mahalla, some of the workers’ leaders, who had played a leading role in the previous strikes, called the strike off after the monthly food allowance was doubled on April 5th. The strike had been due to start at 7.30am but at 3am hundreds of plain-clothes security moved in to the factory and arrested anyone who tried to speak out. Despite this many stayed away from work.

On April 7th. a demonstration of 2,000 started at 4 p.m. and grew to several demonstrations with up to 40-50,000 involved. Anti-government slogans were raised along with demands for the release of those arrested the previous day. Children were throwing stones, at the Security Forces and soldiers, and chanting ‘The revolution has come! The revolution has come!’

On April 8th. the Prime Minister, Ahmed Nazif, announced a bonus of 30 days wages! Following this the regime was less confident to crack down on workers in the way it did on students, community or democracy campaigners, and it is no coincidence as I pointed out in my blog Military Coup As Egyptian Workers Appear On The Stage that it was at the point when workers once more began to flex their muscles that the Generals moved in their Coup to replace Mubarak.

In fact, what we see developing is something that is quite common in revolutionary upheavals. Firstly, we see different social groups having different objectives. The workers who began the movement, were concerned with immediate economic concerns. Looking back to when these disputes began around 2006, it was precisely at that point, around 7 years into the new Long Wave Boom, where the economic tide had had long enough to begin to significantly raise the demand for labour-power. Trotsky, who had begun to analyse the effects of the Long Wave as described by Kondratiev – though Trotsky disagreed with Kondratiev in terms of method and detail – spelled it out,

“But a boom is a boom. It means a growing demand for goods, expanded production, shrinking unemployment, rising prices and the possibility of higher wages. And, in the given historical circumstances, the boom will not dampen but sharpen the revolutionary struggle of the working class.
This flows from all of the foregoing. In all capitalist countries the working-class movement after the war reached its peak and then ended, as we have seen, in a more or less pronounced failure and retreat, and in disunity within the working class itself. With such political and psychological premises, a prolonged crisis, although it would doubtless act to heighten the embitterment of the working masses (especially the unemployed and semi-employed), would nevertheless simultaneously tend to weaken their activity because this activity is intimately bound up with the workers’ consciousness of their irreplaceable role in production.

Prolonged unemployment following an epoch of revolutionary political assaults and retreats does not at all work in favour of the Communist Party. On the contrary the longer the crisis lasts the more it threatens to nourish anarchist moods on one wing and reformist moods on the other. This fact found its expression in the split of the anarcho-syndicalist groupings from the Third International, in a certain consolidation of the Amsterdam International and the Two-and-a-Half International, in the temporary conglomeration of the Serrati-ites, the split of Levi’s group, and so on. In contrast, the industrial revival is bound, first of all, to raise the self-confidence of the working class, undermined by failures and by the disunity in its own ranks; it is bound to fuse the working class together in the factories and plants and heighten the desire for unanimity in militant actions.

We are already observing the beginnings of this process. The working masses feel firmer ground under their feet. They are seeking to fuse their ranks. They keenly sense the split to be an obstacle to action. They are striving not only toward a more unanimous resistance to the offensive of capital resulting from the crisis but also toward preparing a counter-offensive, based on the conditions of industrial revival. The crisis was a period of frustrated hopes and of embitterment, not infrequently impotent embitterment. The boom as it unfolds will provide an outlet in action for these feelings.”

Flood Tide

That is what has been seen in every instance of the Long Wave Cycle. It was what led me to be confident in the prediction back in 2005, and to repeat in a blog in 2007 Prepare To Dust Off the Sliding Scale,

“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.”

In more recent months I have pointed out that Egypt along with Turkey is one of those economies that has industrialised and developed rapidly enough in the last decade or so, to be listed by Goldman Sachs and others as one of the “Next 11” group of economies after the BRIC economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China.
Part of the reason for its economic development has been a need to focus on industrialisation given its lack of the oil resources of other Middle eastern countries, and its integration into the Mediterranean Economic Area, and trading relations with EU countries through that relation. That together with the size of the working-class that goes with it, the relatively high levels of education and other social development, means that Egypt probably more than any other country currently undergoing social upheavals is the most likely to be able to throw off the chains of the Bonapartist regime and move forward to some form of bourgeois democracy. Indeed, it is that which has brought the bourgeoisie, and sections of the radical bourgeoisie out on to the streets.

As I wrote in my blog Egypt – What Is To Be Done, we have seen this before in 1848, and in other democratic revolutions. In many of those Revolutions, the bourgeoisie and petit-bourgeoisie, once the workers began to advance their own separate interests took fright.
They lined up with the existing rulers, and suppressed the workers often in the most bloody manner, only then to find themselves being suppressed by the State. It was this that led Marx and Engels to develop the idea of the need for a permanent revolution, a revolution by which the workers themselves would have to concentrate on developing their own organisation, property, democracy and forms of State, and to counterpose these when they were strong enough both to the old regime, and to the bourgeoisie.

But, as I pointed out in those posts, the situation in Egypt is not the same as that analysed by Marx, or the situation analysed by Trotsky in Permanent Revolution. In Egypt it is not a Landlord Class or Colonial Ruling Class that holds state power.
It is the Egyptian capitalist class. A democratic revolution is required in Egypt not to establish a Capitalist State, but in order that the Egyptian bourgeoisie can wrest direct political control of its state back out of the hands of the Bonapartist Military-bureaucratic elite that has seized it on the back of the weakness of the bourgeoisie. It is for that reason that the extent to which the Theory of Permanent Revolution applies, depends upon the extent to which that elite fights to hold on to power. If it goes relatively quietly, then a transition to bourgeois democracy may be effected without the need for the bourgeoisie to mobilise the working-class without which it lacks the numbers and social power to overthrow an entrenched State power. Under those conditions, especially if it were supported by Imperialism with aid, such a regime could buy off the workers via some form of Social Democratic consensus. If the regime resists, then in the course of the wider social mobilisation against it, rather like in Libya, then at some point the workers will begin to advance their own interests, and the bourgeoisie will draw back, line up with the forces of reaction and crush the workers.

Its for that reason that in both Egypt and Libya, it is necessary for the working class to maintain its independence from these alien class forces and to concentrate on building up its own forces and means of defence. It is for this reason that those within the Labour Movement who advocate some kind of Popular Front with those forces, advising the workers and socialists to only raise their own demands after the existing regime has been overthrown, are betraying the working-class, and leading them into mortal danger. Still worse are those who mislead the workers into a belief that Imperialist intervention could be in their interests.

Early on in the Egyptian Revolution, the BBC and other media were advising the protesters to go back to work and clear the streets after Mubarak stood down.
But, as I pointed out Egypt what Is To Be Done, if they did demobilise it would mean the end of the revolution. The concessions would be replaced with repression. In the last few weeks without much coverage in that same western media that has instead been focussing on atrocities in Libya, that change has begun to develop in Egypt. There were reports coming out that the regime had been negotiating with the Muslim Brotherhood to introduce limitations on who could be termed Egyptian, and claim the right to vote. Other concerns arose as it became clear that various regulations and measures were being put in place, which would ensure that the old regime could still control the new parliament. This came as the Egyptian workers were increasing their organisation, and it appeared that the younger members of the Brotherhood were being won away towards socialist organisations.

The change was symbolised when the military, which had refrained in large part from intervening during the demonstrations in Tahrir Square, began to act against protesters, for example, when they tried to storm the Interior Ministry where they believed that secret files and records documenting torture etc. were being destroyed.

Now Channel 4 News has highlighted, the fact that the Military are now acting against sections of the protesters, and many of them have disappeared, as well as many others having been seized and subjected to beatings and torture. Some of this is highlighted in the video below.

Further details are to be found at the website Channel 4 News.

Once again this highlights the lunacy of those who want to tie the workers hands by limiting their struggle merely to bourgeois democracy, let alone who want to tie the workers to the fortunes of alien classes, or to rely on the good will of Democratic Imperialism. As I said in my blog Egypt – What Is To Be Done,

“In short, there are a number of principles which must govern the actions of the Egyptian workers if they are to avoid the mistakes of the past. The most important of those is for the workers to maintain their strict independence from other classes, supporting them in action in the struggle for Democracy, but using their own methods of struggle for that, and developing their own organisations and demands alongside it.
They must maintain a position of “extreme revolutionary opposition”, supporting the Democracy movement in action, but all the time stressing the separate interests of the working-class, and its ultimate hostility to the bourgeoisie. It must focus primarily on the goal of developing the working-class, and the fight for Socialism rather than subordinating that to the immediate concerns of the struggle for democracy. It must build the strength of the working-class from below. The socialists must conduct mass work on the shop floor and in the workers communities, concentrating on the building of Rank and File Organisations from the bottom up, as the only sound basis for winning positions. Until such time as the socialists have successfully conducted that struggle and won the battle for democracy they must avoid any premature bid for State power...

The fate of the Egyptian workers lies in their own hands, and they can by organising to fight for their interests here and now, transform their condition, and can become the most important force in Egyptian society as a result of their actions.”

For now that will mean the workers raising demands for the release of all political prisoners, and an end to detentions and beatings. But, it also shows why Marxists in Egypt must convey the message of no trust in the Generals or Military, and begin to build their own structures of workers' democracy in the factories and communities. More than ever it shows the need to build Workers' Militia.

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