Monday, 28 November 2011

The Egyptian Revolution - Part 7

Unlike 1848, the bourgeoisie across MENA are not attempting to overthrow the political regime of some other ruling class. In 1848, the political regime was still under the control of the old landed aristocracy. Across MENA today, the Capitalist Class is the ruling class, it is its State which rules society. The struggle it is waging is against the military-bureaucratic elite that controls that State, and which has become powerful relative to the class whose interests it ultimately serves, just as indeed the Stalinist, Bonapartist military-bureaucratic elite became powerful in the USSR and the other Stalinist States. But, as Trotsky spelled out in relation to the Stalinist bureaucracy in the USSR, the more that elite becomes entrenched, the more the Political Revolution, required to remove it, takes on a more thoroughgoing social character. In relation to the USSR, there was no other healthy, Workers State in existence, which could have pressed down upon the Soviet bureaucracy, and provided assistance to the Russian workers. The Russian working-class existed as a ruling social class in complete isolation, which is what made their rule so weak, so dependent upon the State bureaucracy, and which, in turn provided the strength of the position of the State bureaucracy. But, the Egyptian ruling class does have lots of support from ruling Capitalist classes throughout the globe, and those Capitalist Classes have every incentive as set out above for wanting to establish their “best possible political shell for capitalism” across MENA.

To that extent, in Egypt, the Capitalist Class may be able to effect a fairly stable transition from the political regime of Bonapartism to bourgeois democracy in the same way it has done across much of Latin America, and those parts of Asia, which have experienced rapid economic growth in the last 30 years. What is more, just as this rapid economic growth in Asia and Latin America, has facilitated the adoption of the kind of strategy that was outlined by Engels, i.e. the adoption of some form of Social Democracy as a means of buying off and incorporating the working-class – Lula is probably the best example of that – so the Egyptian ruling class, especially with the assistance of its international brethren via the establishment of some of Marshall Plan For MENA, as I set out recently, may be able to accommodate workers demands for better wages and conditions. The Capitalist Class of today, is much more savvy in how to achieve such things than was its 1848 counterparts.

Under those conditions the strategy set out by Marx and Engels after 1850, and by Lenin in his “Two Tactics Of Social Democracy”, seem even more appropriate. The development of the working-class in Egypt within the context of the unfolding revolution gives considerable hope for the success of such a strategy.

In reality, in Egypt over the last few years there have been increasing signs of worker discontent, just as there have been in other parts of the world such as China, where the State has attempted to control workers demands via State run unions. According to Socialist Alternative,

“Two million workers have taken part in 3000 strikes and industrial actions since 2004, the largest movement of the working class in the Middle East for decades.

Although virtually illegal, strikes increased from 222 in 2006 to 650 in the first nine months of 2007, involving 200,000 workers. In August 2007, alone, there were 100 industrial actions.”

They detail a number of workers disputes such as,

“when Ghazl al-Mahalla textile mill (with 28,000 workers the biggest in the Middle East) became the centre of workers’ militancy. A strike and occupation forced the bosses to make big concessions. Women workers played an important role. Five thousand workers tore up their membership cards of the official union in March 2007 and a new organisation emerged, the Textile Workers’ League.

By September 2007, the workers had still not received the bonus agreed as part of the settlement, worth 150 days pay. A mass meeting of 10,000 workers decided to strike and occupy. Despite threats of police, army and prosecution 10,000-15,000 slept on the premises. During the day, over 20,000 workers were present, organising their own security guards and food deliveries.

The strikers demanded pay rises in line with inflation, affordable housing and the resignation of the official trade union leaders. “We want a change in the structure and hierarchy of the union system in this country,” said Mohammed El Attar, one of the strike leaders. “The way unions are organised is completely wrong, from top to bottom. It is organised to make it look like our representatives have been elected, when really they are in fact appointed by the government.”

Workers in Kafr al-Dawwar textile mill near Alexandria struck in solidarity for several hours and Grain Mill workers demonstrated. Workers organised collections across Egypt. After a week the Mahalla workers won a stunning victory.

In fact, these developments, reflect the kind of transformation of the world working class movement as a result of the progress of the Long Wave Boom after 1999, that I had previously outlined. In my post, Prepare To Dust Off The Sliding Scale, I wrote in 2007,

“As the economic expansion of the upswing begins this demoralised and weakened condition is not easily shaken off. Confidence has to be restored, organisation rebuilt, new leaders developed. 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.”

That was manifest in Egypt too.

“During the summer of 2007, the movement broadened to include white-collar employees, civil servants and professionals. The single largest collective action of the entire strike movement was the December 2007 strike of 55,000 property (real estate) tax collectors employed by local authorities. After three months of strikes, a 13-day sit-down protest in front of the Finance Ministry by 5000 workers a day ended with a great victory. The strike committee continued to meet together and a year later formed Egypt’s first independent trade union.

Abd El-Kadr Nada, Assistant General Secretary of the new union, told the CWI in 2009, “There haven’t been free trade unions in Egypt since the 1920s. The government philosophy has been to build unions to control the workers and so they’ve not allowed independent unions to start. They are scared more independent unions will succeed. They are scared a revolution will happen.” (op.cit.)

Of course, Marxists have to warn workers that independent Trades Unions, are not a solution to their problems either. The whole strength of bourgeois democracy is based upon the idea that contending interests are able to struggle for their interests on something approaching a level playing field. But, no such level playing field exists. The whole basis of the Trades Unions is to continue to assume the continued existence of Class Society, and, therefore, the dominance of Capital. That dominance of Capital is itself sufficient, as Lenin points out to ensure that even “independent” Trades Unions will act as conveyor belts of bourgeois ideology, or continuing the idea of simply bargaining within the system, and will as the British Bosses soon recognised even be useful means for conveying into the working-class the kinds of “sound economical doctrines” that Engels refers to above.

Back To Part 6

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