Sunday, 7 July 2013

Egypt – A Lesson In Bonapartism

Since the start of the “Arab Spring”, and possibly even going back to the Iraq War, large sections of the Left have abandoned Marxist analysis in favour of simply being liberal cheerleaders. They have failed to analyse the material conditions existing in these various countries, and therefore, failed to understand the basis for the existence of Bonapartist and militarist regimes within them. Instead of such an analysis, to determine the actual situation, and balance of forces, so at to develop an adequate programme on which to move forward, much of the Left has simply proceeded on the basis of petit-bourgeois moralising in favour of “democracy”, without even specifying what kind of democracy that is to be!

The Marxist analysis of Bonapartism, however, starts from the opposite end. It tries to understand why a particular type of political regime has arisen, not on the basis of a superficial analysis of the contending political forces, but on the basis of the actual social forces that stand behind them, which in turn is a reflection of the material, ultimately economic, conditions existing within the society.

On that basis, it is not difficult to understand why many of these countries had Bonapartist regimes of one sort or another. From a Marxist perspective, what would actually be surprising would be, on the contrary, why they did not! The Marxist theory relating to Bonapartism, simply put is that where contending social forces are fairly equally matched, such that the ruling class is either absolutely or relatively to weak to rule in its own name, the state is able to rise up above society and rule in its own name. In reality, it also has to do so by defending the property relations upon, which the ruling class rests, because unless it does so, the economy itself collapses, and with it the state. That was true going back to the time of Rome, of the Absolutist Monarchs, to Oliver Cromwell, to Napoleon Bonaparte and his nephew, as it was to Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, or to Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, or Mubarak.

For that reason, Bonapartism can only ever be an unstable, transitional regime. Sooner or later, either the revolutionary class becomes strong enough economically, socially, and thereby politically to assume the reins of power for itself directly, as it did in France after Louis Bonaparte, or in Germany after Bismark, and as it has done in various countries in Latin America and Asia, or it does not, and the old ruling class re-establishes power as it did in England after Cromwell, and as it did in the USSR after Gorbachev. The longer this regime remains in place, the more entrenched it becomes, the more it takes on the characteristics of a ruling class itself, and the more thoroughgoing is the political revolution required to replace it.

In Latin America, rapid economic and more specifically industrial development, of economies that were already sizeable, but frequently mismanaged, in societies that had won political independence back in the 19th Century, meant that a large, modern bourgeoisie developed, backed by a sizeable educated middle-class and urbanised working-class. With the support of imperialism that needs the development of a modern social democracy as the best conditions for extracting relative surplus value from the industrial workers, a transition towards such social democracies was fairly painlessly effected in the last 20 years, after decades of intermittent periods of military rule. Something similar occurred in the Asian Tigers.

But, the material conditions in most of the Arab countries are not at all the same. In some of the North African economies like Egypt and Tunisia, a considerable economic development has occurred in the last 20 years or so, and without the kind of oil resources of many of the other economies of the region, a larger proportion of it focussed on industrial production. These economies were increasingly being drawn into the remit of the EU, as a southern periphery. That led to the development of the same kind of social forces that brought about the introduction of a bourgeois social democracy in Latin America and Asia. Those forces played a significant role in driving forward the “Arab Spring”, just as when a similar development occurred under the Shah in the 1970's in Iran, it was those forces that were the spearhead of the revolution.

But, we should be under no illusion what these social forces amount to. There is a general tendency on the Left, to see any revolution, or any large movement, and want to jump on it, and claim it as ours. Not surprising really, the Left has been waiting nearly 90 years for another 1917, that will never come, so anything that looks like it, is snatched at like a straw by a man going down for the last time. Its what led the SWP to align itself with the large, but wholly reactionary forces of political Islam, simply because in being opposed to some existing regimes, and more specifically being opposed to US Imperialism, they were seen as revolutionary, when in fact they were wholly counter-revolutionary.

We see the same thing in Hillel Ticktin's article in last week's Weekly Worker, where he casts his net across the globe to draw in a series of social disturbances and sees in them a sense of foreboding for capitalism something akin to the Ides of March for Caesar - World Economy Unforeseen Consequences. Of course, as a catastrophist, Ticktin has to see behind these series of uprisings not the effects of a rapidly growing global capitalism, that has given added social weight to the classes involved in them, but rather the contrary, a sign confirming his view that the global economy is in a terrible depression. Even China is ONLY growing at 8%!

But, of course, there are plenty of instances of large social movements that are far from revolutionary. The Nazis themselves were such. Just look at what happens when a large mob decides to lynch an outed paedophile, or more ridiculously to lynch a paediatrician, because they don't know the difference between the two!

In the case, of the social forces in Latin America and Asia that pushed through the transition to a bourgeois social democracy they were able to do so largely for the same reason that the big bourgeoisie was able to forge an alliance with the organised working-class in Britain, France and Germany at the end of the 19th Century, beginning of the 20th Century to do the same thing. The big industrialists as Engels pointed out, realised that they could only obtain political power if they were supported by the workers, and they also realised that they could win that support by offering the workers concessions within the system, that not only could they well afford, but which themselves both helped create a market for their goods, and at the same time weakened the small capitalists, thereby facilitating the more rapid centralisation of capital in their hands.

Today, the huge multinational corporations, employing industrial workers, and extracting relative surplus value, have an incentive for following exactly that course everywhere in the world where they operate.

But, another factor that facilitates such a transition is the horizontal stratification of society, as opposed to its vertical stratification, or the existence of deep going cross-cutting cleavages. In other words, if a society is divided along class lines, the working-class can be more easily socialised and accommodated. That is precisely the way Fordism operated, it is precisely the way bourgeois social democracy works via the welfare state etc. But, a society that is vertically stratified is much harder to accommodate.

In the Middle East and North Africa there is a considerable number of cross-cutting cleavages. These societies are divided horizontally on the basis of class and status, and along a multitude of vertical lines from tribal loyalty, to sex, to ethnicity, to religion and so on. All of these divisions lead to a weak polity and a strong state, whose role is then to keep a lid on all of these antagonisms. As we have seen once that lid is lifted the result is carnage.

Moreover, even in the case of the bourgeois liberal forces involved in these uprisings, we should remember that they are precisely that. These are in no way socialist or proletarian revolutions. They are not even bourgeois revolutions with any potential for flowing over via some process of permanent revolution into a socialist revolution. They cannot be so, because in all these instances, the working class is itself too weak to fulfil that role.

Anyone familiar with the events of the 1848 Revolutions will not be at all surprised that the Egyptian liberal bourgeoisie turned to the military as its saviour. In this case, they did so as a counterweight to the reactionary Morsi regime, but had it been workers in that position, the liberal bourgeoisie would have turned towards that military for support against us, just the same way.

That is why we should not make these social forces out to be something they are not. Revolutionary as against the existing regimes, sometimes, but not always, revolutionary in a social sense, absolutely not. The Bonapartist regimes in these countries already presided over a capitalist state. These revolutions did not and could not represent any kind of social revolution, therefore. They were only politicalrevolutions. Revolutions undertaken by sections of the existing ruling class, that now felt strong enough after a period of rapid economic and social development to take political power directly into its own hands.

In the case of Libya, it was not even that. The rebel forces are estimated to have been at most around 14,000 strong, or about 0.6% of the population. In no sense could that have been a rational basis upon which to launch any kind of revolution, social or political. But, in reality, that never mattered because these forces were merely a tool of the Gulf Monarchies and their own intrigues in the region backed by their US allies. In Syria, a truly popular movement, was hijacked after several months by the same jihadist forces, backed by the Gulf feudal regimes with huge amounts of money and the latest weapons.

Lenin, once said that we are under no obligation to support every movement claiming to be fighting for liberation, and where they are acting as the agent of some Monarchical conspiracy, he went on, we most certainly should not be supporting them. Similarly, Trotsky in his writings on the Balkan Wars argued vehemently against any imperialist intervention, and against the idea that the working-class could allow the tasks of history to be resolved by our class enemies on our behalf. See - Lessons Of The Balkans.

But, Egypt may yet hold out another lesson that should have been learned from the past. In 1979, the revolution in Iran started by the urban middle class, and supported by the urban workers, was hijacked by the mullahs, because they were able to act as the most organised social force. It was a lesson that was taught by Lenin, who pointed out that to seize state power you do not need a majority of support, only that the majority do not oppose you. In fact, there is good reason for seeing February 1917 as the equivalent of 1789, and the October 1917, as the seizure of power by Napoleon.

The Bolsheviks as the elections to the National Assembly demonstrated, had the support of only around 25% of the population. But, they were the most tightly organised, most disciplined organisation, and they had control of the military machine. They used it to close down the democratically elected assembly where they were a minority. Virtually nothing of what Lenin wrote in “State and Revolution” formed a basis of what they actually did in practice. The State was supposed to be a Workers State, but workers themselves were far removed from any kind of control over it. The idea that this state was to be the most democratic based upon a system of direct elections from workplaces was shown to be a sham by the very fact that the leaders of this State, such as Lenin,Trotsky, and Stalin appeared to have been elected from no particular workplace!

But, already by 1921, the situation in the Party itself was such that it was clear that the only way the leaders of this Party were going to surrender power to anyone was at the end of the barrel of a gun. In other words, via a political revolution. For example, in his summing up speech of the 10th Congress responding to Kollontai, and the Workers Opposition, Lenin says,

Comrades, this is no time to have an opposition. Either you're on this side, or on the other, but then your weapon must be a gun, and not an opposition. This follows from the objective situation, and you mustn't blame us for it. I think the Party Congress will have to draw the conclusion that the opposition's time has run out and that the lid's on it. We want no more oppositions!”

(Lenin – Speeches At Party Congresses pp 226-7)

That was the lesson that the mullahs learned in 1979. The same lesson seems to have been learned by the Muslim Brotherhood, who played little role in the original rebellion in Egypt, but then used their organisation to seize power. The Islamists have done the same thing in Tunisia. In Libya, the regime is supposed to be elected, but the real social power resides in the streets with the Islamist militias.

In my original series on Egypt, two years ago - Egypt - What Is To Be Done? - I wrote that there were only two forces in the country organised to fight for power, the military and the Muslim Brotherhood. The military removed the figurehead Mubarak whilst retaining the reins of state power in their hands. More recently I pointed out that Morsi would either come to terms with the military or else they would remove him, which might then result in a Civil War. The Muslim Brotherhood account for maybe 30% of the population's support. They have extensive organisation, and now they have the basis to argue that they have tried a peaceful path, and been overturned opening the way for them to attempt to seize state power. That would drag Egypt into the unfolding civil war between Sunni and Shia across the region, with the difference that in Egypt this would be Sunnis against secularists, liberals, and Christians.

This is probably not what the US desired, but it is reaping what it has sown. The US has forged an alliance with the Sunni Gulf Monarchies. The latter have their own agenda they seek to pursue from that alliance. They seek to bolster their own position against domestic forces in their own societies, and against Iran. To that end, they finance and supply the jihadists that operate as a mercenary army on their behalf throughout the region. The jihadists have their own agenda, in turn, supported by some within the ruling circles, of establishing some form of Islamic Caliphate. The objective of the US is to remove the regime in Iran, and thereby to weaken the role of Russia and China in the region, strengthening the position of the US in a strategically important area.

The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the dominant role now played by Sunni Islamist forces in Libya, spreading out into Mali and other parts of North Africa, in Syria, and spreading out into Lebanon and Jordan, and with the potential of drawing in Turkey, which has its own imperialist ambitions in the region, for which it will have to present itself as a champion of Muslim Sunni interests, are an inevitable consequence of that strategy.

That is all the more reason that socialists should be very wary of simply giving support for every large social movement that arises. It is all the more reason we should warn the workers of the area against making alliances with their class enemies whatever political mask they wear. The only hope is for the consistent development of the forces of the labour movement within the region, across borders and across other social divides.

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