Friday, 25 November 2011

The Egyptian Revolution - Part 6

Egypt is one of those economies identified by Goldman Sachs as being one of the Next 11, economies that are developing behind the BRIC economies. In more recent years, Egypt, along with other countries in MENA, have also benefitted from closer ties with the EU through the establishment of the Union For The Mediterranean, which was a result of the Barcelona Process, started in 1995, which drew various countries from MENA into the orbit of the EU. This is a similar process to that which drew in countries from Eastern Europe, and from the Balkans. Not only is the establishment of bourgeois democracy, in MENA, therefore, in the interests of that growing national bourgeoisie, and middle class in those countries, but it is also in the interests of European Capital, both because it creates the conditions of openness, and the Rule of Law, which Capital needs in order to make large, long-term investments, free from the corruption, intimidation, and uncertainty that surround Bonapartist regimes, and because the establishment of bourgeois democracy has long been recognised by the bourgeoisie as its most effective means of rule.

In State and Revolution, Lenin notes, that Bourgeois Democracy is the “best possible political shell for capitalism”

“In a democratic republic”, Engels continues, “wealth exercises its power indirectly, but all the more surely", first, by means of the “direct corruption of officials” (America); secondly, by means of an “alliance of the government and the Stock Exchange" (France and America).

At present, imperialism and the domination of the banks have “developed” into an exceptional art both these methods of upholding and giving effect to the omnipotence of wealth in democratic republics of all descriptions. ...

Another reason why the omnipotence of “wealth” is more certain in a democratic republic is that it does not depend on defects in the political machinery or on the faulty political shell of capitalism. A democratic republic is the best possible political shell for capitalism, and, therefore, once capital has gained possession of this very best shell (through the Palchinskys, Chernovs, Tseretelis and Co.), it establishes its power so securely, so firmly, that no change of persons, institutions or parties in the bourgeois-democratic republic can shake it.”

Indeed, Engels had even noted the extent to which it was in the interests of Big Capital, not only to establish Bourgeois democracy, but also to adopt the programme of Social-Democracy. In the “Condition of the Working Class in England”, Engels writes,

“And the manufacturing capitalists, from the Chartist opposition, not to Free Trade, but to the transformation of Free Trade into the one vital national question, had learnt, and were learning more and more, that the middle class can never obtain full social and political power over the nation except by the help of the working class. Thus a gradual change came over the relations between both classes. The Factory Acts, once the bugbear of all manufacturers, were not only willingly submitted to, but their expansion into acts regulating almost all trades was tolerated. Trades Unions, hitherto considered inventions of the devil himself, were now petted and patronised as perfectly legitimate institutions, and as useful means of spreading sound economical doctrines amongst the workers. Even strikes, than which nothing had been more nefarious up to 1848, were now gradually found out to be occasionally very useful, especially when provoked by the masters themselves, at their own time. Of the legal enactments, placing the workman at a lower level or at a disadvantage with regard to the master, at least the most revolting were repealed. And, practically, that horrid People’s Charter actually became the political programme of the very manufacturers who had opposed it to the last.”

Preface to the English Edition of “The Condition of the Working Class in England"

The Bourgeois Democratic, Political Revolutions sweeping across MENA have to be viewed in this context. They reflect a maturation of these societies, a sign that economic development and industrialisation have now proceeded to an extent whereby the domestic bourgeoisie – certainly in Egypt, if not in every MENA economy – has become strong enough to be able to rule via some form of bourgeois democracy, and is challenging the Capitalist State military-bureaucratic elite, which has previously been able to raise itself above the contending social classes, and rule in its own interests. The domestic bourgeoisie, is finding support for that challenge initially within the ranks of the petit-bourgeoisie, and middle classes, which having had access to education and culture, now rails against the authoritarianism and inefficiency of the Bonapartist State, particularly as the recession since the end of 2008, has seriously threatened its living standards, and opportunities for escape to Europe. As Paul Mason wrote, in his blog a while ago,

“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.”

Paul Mason

But, it has to be borne in mind, precisely the point that Engels and Lenin were making, which is that it is precisely because Bourgeois Democracy is the “best possible political shell for capitalism”,that Capital institutes it, and where it is strong enough to do so, introduces all of those Social Democratic measures, such as some form of Welfare State etc. not out of any sense of altruism, not out of some idealistic moral imperative to do so, but precisely in order to be better able to exploit labour!!! And, it is precisely for that reason that workers, although they have their own immediate interests in winning bourgeois democratic freedoms, such as the right of free speech, to assembly, to join a Trades Union, to strike etc., because all these things facilitate the self-organisation of the working class, cannot, and should not limit their actions merely to a struggle for what is, after all, merely a more efficient means for Capital to exploit them, and to oppress them. In the end, bourgeois democracy is a sham, it is merely a very powerful means by which the Capitalist Class disguises its class Dictatorship.

In the Thesis on the Colonial Question Lenin makes that clear when he writes,

“.. the need for a determined struggle against attempts to give a communist colouring to bourgeois-democratic liberation trends in the backward countries; the Communist International should support bourgeois-democratic national movements in colonial and backward countries only on condition that, in these countries, the elements of future proletarian parties, which will be communist not only in name, are brought together and trained to understand their special tasks, i.e., those of the struggle against the bourgeois-democratic movements within their own nations. The Communist International must enter into a temporary alliance with bourgeois democracy in the colonial and backward countries, but should not merge with it, and should under all circumstances uphold the independence of the proletarian movement even if it is in its most embryonic form;”

Trotsky, further elaborates this point in the Transitional Programme, where he is dealing with how Communists respond in fascist and authoritarian regimes. He writes,

“It is from this point onward that an uncompromising divergence begins between the Fourth International and the old parties, which outlive their bankruptcy. The emigre “People’s Front” is the most malignant and perfidious variety of all possible People’s Fronts. Essentially, it signifies the impotent longing for coalition with a nonexistent liberal bourgeoisie. Had it met with success, it would simply have prepared a series of new defeats of the Spanish type for the proletariat. A merciless exposure of the theory and practice of the “People’s Front” is therefore the first condition for a revolutionary struggle against fascism.

Of course, this does not mean that the Fourth International rejects democratic slogans as a means of mobilizing the masses against fascism. On the contrary, such slogans at certain moments can play a serious role. But the formulae of democracy (freedom of press, the right to unionize, etc.) mean for us only incidental or episodic slogans in the independent movement of the proletariat and not a democratic noose fastened to the neck of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie’s agents (Spain!). As soon as the movement assumes something of a mass character, the democratic slogans will be intertwined with the transitional ones; factory committees, it may be supposed, will appear before the old routinists rush from their chancelleries to organize trade unions; soviets will cover Germany before a new Constituent Assembly will gather in Weimar. The same applies to Italy and the rest of the totalitarian and semi-totalitarian countries.”

Consequently, as I wrote in my blog Egypt What Is To Be Done,

“Our role is to help organise the working-class as an independent political force, capable of intervening not just to pursue goals which immediately are in its interests – such as the establishment or defence of basic bourgeois freedoms, but which at the same time furthers the development of the working-class as a class for itself, which develops its forms separate from those of the bosses – separate forms of property, separate forms of organisation, separate forms of democracy, and separate forms of State. That was the conclusion that Marx and Engels drew from their experiences in the Revolutions of 1848.”

And, as I set out in those posts, the revolutions sweeping MENA have a lot in common with the Revolutions of 1848. In those Revolutions, the Middle Class and the bourgeoisie needed the support of workers. To the extent that the Bonapartist State apparatus clings to power, as Gaddafi did in Libya – and as the Military may yet try to do in Egypt – the bourgeoisie, and middle classes in Egypt will also require the support of workers. In 1848, the workers were able to mobilise to push forward their own independent class interests, but the conditions were not yet ripe for Socialist Revolution. Today, independent workers organisations are springing up across MENA, breaking free from the official State Trades Unions, and today, the grip of Stalinism over the world working-class movement is not so powerful and deadening as it was in the period after the Second World War. Yet, despite rapid economic growth in Egypt and other Middle Eastern and North African economies, it is not yet possible to consider the possibility of a successful socialist revolution. Even were those conditions to exist or to develop in the coming period, the situation of these economies within the context of a powerful global capitalism has to be taken into consideration, and without the rapid spread of socialist revolution to at least Southern and Western Europe, any such revolution would quickly become isolated, and ultimately defeated.

Back To Part 5

Forward To part 7

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