Friday, 22 June 2012

Egypt's Generals Follow The 1848 Playbook

When the Egyptian Revolution erupted in the Spring of last year I wrote about the similarities and differences with the Bourgeois Revolutions that swept Europe in 1848, in particular the bourgeois revolution in Germany described by Marx. In the series of posts, Egypt What Is To Be Done?, I pointed out that the revolution was a bourgeois revolution not a proletarian revolution.

Like the 1848 Revolutions, the material foundation lay in the bourgeois economic development that had created a sizeable national bourgeoisie, along with a sizeable, educated middle class, and working-class. The bourgeoisie sought to translate its economic dominance into political dominance through the introduction of bourgeois democracy. As Lenin described in “State and Revolution”,

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.”

The bourgeoisie in all societies forms but a small proportion of the total population, and so is always dependent upon the masses to push forward its own political programme. In Egypt as with all other bourgeois revolutions, the bourgeoisie has the support of the middle class, and particularly the liberal, middle-class intelligentsia. That was manifest in both the German and the Egyptian revolutions by the role of the radical students. In Germany, those students and intellectuals like Marx and Engels, relied on the printed word, in Egypt they relied on social media and mobile phones. In both cases, and as in Russia in 1905 and 1917, the workers, who have their own economic grievances, also have an interest in the winning of bourgeois freedoms such as the right to assembly, to free speech and so on, which are necessary to their own organisation as a class.

Unlike, Germany in 1848, the ruling class in Egypt were already the bourgeoisie. That is to say, that the economic and social relations in Egypt were already dominated by Capitalist production, and bourgeois social relations developed upon it. The State itself was a Capitalist State whose role was to ensure the reproduction of those very Capitalist relations. In Germany in 1848, the old Landlord Class remained the ruling class, and the State remained a feudal/military state dominated by the Prussian Junkers.

In Germany what had to be won was a Social Revolution, which replaced feudal economic and social relations with bourgeois economic and social relations, and which enshrined that within a Capitalist State, within a bourgeois-democratic political regime. In Egypt, what was required was merely a Political Revolution, which replaced the Bonapartist regime with a bourgeois-democratic regime.

As I pointed out, in many parts of the world over the last 50 years, there have been numerous examples of similar societies that have made the transition from Bonapartist regime to bourgeois-democratic regime. Contrary to the expectations of some on the Left, such transitions have frequently been brought about with the active support of “Imperialism”. It has done so, for the reasons Lenin describes above. Once capital becomes dominated by multinational, industrial Capital, which spreads out, and industrialises more and more economies, it needs to develop bourgeois-democratic relations, which provide “the best possible shell” for its activities in extracting Relative Surplus Value from an industrial working-class. That is not to say that in each and every case, Imperialism acts in this way. It does not do so because it has some moral commitment to bourgeois democracy, but only for its own economic and political interests. Where in the particular case, bourgeois democracy does not fulfil that function it has no qualms about supporting even the most brutal dictators.

Over the last 20 years or so European Capital, in particular, has sought to integrate the economies of the Middle East and North Africa. It clearly had hopes of establishing bourgeois-democratic regimes in these economies in place of the corrupt, and inefficient Bonapartist regimes of Mubarak, Ben Ali, Gaddafi and so on. But, the Middle East and North Africa are not the same as the countries of Asia, or of Latin America, where industrial development led on to the development of bourgeois democratic regimes.

Bonapartist regimes arise, because the ruling class are not strong enough to rule openly in their own name. That can be because economic development itself is at an early stage – Britain under Cromwell, France under Napoleon – or because the delay in development means that the bourgeoisie is itself under threat from a sizeable, and rising proletariat. This allows the State to rise up above the contending classes. Usually, such regimes whilst forced to ensure the reproduction and interests of Capital, are themselves made up of representatives of the petit-bourgeoisie, they frequently rely on the Officer Corps of the Army, which is itself drawn from those social layers. It is usually, the Colonels, Lieutenants and so on that organise the coups that put these regimes in place not the Generals, who are drawn from the ranks of the bourgeoisie itself.

But, Bonapartist regimes can arise because the cross-cutting cleavages within societies do not just run along class lines. They run also along ethnic, tribal, and religious lines. Divisions of society on this basis can just as easily prevent any particular social group being able to establish a stable bourgeois democratic regime. The State once again rises up above these divisions with claims to rule in the interests of the whole of society. Although such regimes, usually ensure the domination of some particular group, they do tend to act in a way that does suppress Civil War between the contending groups, which entails making at least some concessions to subordinate groups. The regimes of Gaddafi, Saddam etc. were brutal and nasty, but they did largely prevent continual civil war and sectarian conflict.

These kinds of vertical cleavages – i.e. divisions of society that run through all classes on ethnic, religious, tribal grounds – were mostly not significant in Asia and Latin America. Economies such as Brazil were able to make a transition to bourgeois democracy on a similar basis to that which had occurred in Britain and other developed economies. That is a compromise between the interests of the workers and Big Capital could be achieved on a Social-democratic basis that provided concessions for the working-class, through which it was incorporated, and through which Capital also ensured the conditions needed for its own reproduction.

The fact that countries like Egypt had had secular regimes for a long time, and that other economies like Turkey, with their own sectarian divisions, had moved to bourgeois democracy, must have given Imperialism confidence that the large liberal middle class which headed up the revolution, would be able to ensure such a transition.

But, as I pointed out in that series of posts, there were, in fact, only two large organised groups in Egyptian society. One was the military that had control of the State, and the other was the Muslim Brotherhood. For a progressive resolution to occur, it would be necessary for the workers to organise themselves to advance their own interests, and in the process to organise within the ranks of the Army amongst the ordinary workers and peasants that made up its foot soldiers, in the way the Bolsheviks had done within the Tsarist Army in 1917.

As I pointed out, if the Army gave way early on, and possibly facilitated by Imperialism, the grounds might be established for a transition to bourgeois democracy. However, Bonapartist regimes such as that which had been in power in Egypt for 60 years, like the Stalinist Bonapartist regime in the USSR, accrue to themselves significant material advantages. On a subjective, superficial analysis, they appear to have many of the characteristics of a ruling class itself. That is what misled subjectivists to see the Stalinist bureaucracy as a ruling class.

But, like a ruling class, such an entrenched military-bureaucratic elite is not likely to give up its power and privileges easily. I warned that this was a danger in Egypt. If the military held on, then the revolution required to remove it would have to be more thoroughgoing, would take on more the aspect of a social revolution than purely a political revolution. Under those conditions, it would take on the characteristics of Permanent Revolution, as described by Trotsky. In other words, the history of the Revolutions of 1848, and how they were defeated would once again become relevant for the Egyptian workers.

It soon became apparent that the Egyptian generals were not going to simply cede power. As I wrote in Military Coup As Egyptian Workers Take To The Stage, what was being described as a victory for the Revolution, when Mubarak was forced to step down, was no such thing. It was, in fact, a military coup launched by the State against its own figurehead, the better to control the developing situation. That was manifest in the events of the following months, when that military began to adopt all of the kinds of tactics that the Prussian Junkers had used in 1848. They began to act against workers, and radical students, for instance. They made concessions on paper that were designed to sap the strength of the opposition. They began to divide up the opposition by doing deals with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Bit by bit, the opposition was divided, demobilised, and demoralised. Bit by bit, the military began to reassert its control, and to take back the concessions, or to neuter the concessions it had only promised. What we see now, is that the military has successfully driven a wedge between the liberal bourgeoisie and middle class on the one hand, and the Muslim Brotherhood on the other. The success of the Muslim Brotherhood in dominating the Parliamentary elections, clearly worried the bourgeoisie. When the military stepped in to close down the Parliament, the liberal bourgeoisie largely failed to protest against it. In the Presidential elections it became clear that rather than vote for the Brotherhood, the bourgeoisie, large sections of the middle class, and of the working-class preferred to stick with the devil they knew.

Whether Shafik or Mursi are eventually declared to have won the presidential election is now irrelevant. The military have stripped the office of all significance. If Mursi is declared the winner he will have no power. If the MB attempt to change that they will find no support within the ranks of the liberal bourgeoisie and middle-class, and much of the working-class. It was notable that many working-class women who were interviewed prior to the election made it clear that they had no desire for the MB to win power. As happened in Germany in 1848, all that will be left will be for the State to act as a Party of Order, and put down the MB rebellion, before reasserting control.

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