What Happened to the “Arab Spring”?
Storm over the Middle East
U.S./NATO Imperialists Hands Off Syria!
Striking Egyptian textile workers at Mahalla al-Kubra, July 19.
(Photo: al-Masry al-Youm)
A year and a half after a wave of protest and revolt swept through the Arab East, where are we at? In the wake of the popular upheaval touched off by secular youth joined by workers, in Tunisia and Egypt military-based authoritarian regimes have been replaced by military-based pseudo-democratic regimes with weak Islamist governments subordinate to imperialism. U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton and war secretary Leon Panetta jet around the region “advising” presidents, generals and “rebels.” Women protesters are brutalized. Thousands of demonstrators are jailed by military tribunals.
In Libya, the U.S./NATO imperialists bombed the government of nationalist strongman Muammar Qaddafi to smithereens, so that a hodgepodge of competing Islamist and tribal militias now hold sway. In Syria, the U.S. and its European allies together with Arabian peninsula monarchs are arming a Sunni Muslim military insurgency against the regime of Basher Assad, dominated by the Alawite minority and allied with Shiite Iran. In Bahrain, a revolt by the Shiite majority against a Sunni puppet monarchy backed by the U.S. Fifth Fleet was ruthlessly put down with Saudi aid.
U.S. imperialism would seem to be sitting pretty, considering that last year its satraps were falling one by one. Back then, everyone from Barack Obama’s White House to the bourgeois media to the vast majority of the left were all hailing the “revolutions” that overthrew Hosni Mubarak in Cairo and Mohammed Ben Ali in Tunis. The Internationalist Group was among the very few voices warning that there had only been a popular revolt, and so long as the army ruled, calling it a revolution was a fraud. Today the military still holds the whip hand. Yet the civil war in Syria and U.S./Israeli threats to “bomb, bomb Iran” could set off a conflagration engulfing the region. And the working class is beginning to move, notably in Egypt.
After all the high hopes of 2011, how could things come to this impasse? Key to perpetrating the fraudulent illusion of revolution was proclaiming its goal as simply “democracy.” Democratic demands can mobilize millions in overthrowing bonapartist military/police rule. But in this era of capitalist decay, as imperialist rulers systematically destroy democratic gains of the past, from trade-union rights to public education, they will not and cannot tolerate even limited bourgeois democracy for those who toil in the workshops of “globalized” capitalism. If one semi-colonial dictatorship is overthrown, it will be replaced by another, slightly reformulated anti-democratic regime so long as the weak bourgeois ruling class dependent on imperialism remains in power.
In Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere, there are no more jobs now than a year ago. Landed estates stolen by the crony capitalists have not been returned to the peasants. Unions still face heavy repression. And since nothing but a mockery of democracy is possible in the late-developing capitalist countries, where living standards are falling and there is desperate squabbling over the few remaining crumbs, a struggle that limits its goals to “democracy” can end up menacing the democratic rights of the oppressed. With the election of Islamist governments in North Africa in uneasy cohabitation with the military, what limited rights exist for women are at risk. In Egypt, over 12,000 protesters have been tried by military tribunals, more than in the entire three decades of Mubarak’s rule. What kind of “democracy” is that? And in Syria, an imperialist-backed largely Sunni Islamist insurgency could lead to a Lebanon-style sectarian-communal war.
The experience of the abortive “revolutions” of the “Arab spring” is confirming once again what the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky explained over a century ago in his theory of permanent revolution. In the impoverished capitalist countries, the fundamental democratic gains of the classical bourgeois revolutions can only be achieved by the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the taking of power by the working class that quickly passes over to socialist tasks and spreads the revolution to the imperialist centers. That was the program of the Russian Revolution of October 1917, led by Lenin and Trotsky, and however “last century” it may appear to many today, events are demonstrating that it holds true in the Middle East and North Africa today. As we wrote last year, it is necessary to “Turn Popular Revolt Into Workers Revolution!”
Part I: Egypt
– Military and Islamists in Power
Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood meeting with
generals of the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces on August 5.
(Photo: Egyptian presidency via Reuters)
In Egypt, it was the massive strike wave that triggered the downfall of Mubarak after three decades in power. Joyous crowds chanted, “the army and the people are one hand.” The earlier slogan, “The people want the regime to fall,” became “The people have brought down the regime.” But who actually ousted the despotic Rais (leader) was not “the people” but the Egyptian military, after getting the green light from Obama and the Pentagon. And while the despised dictator was gone, the military-based dictatorship remained intact. As we warned then:
“In short, the revolution that so many Egyptians yearn for may have begun, but it is far too early to proclaim victory…. In the name of ‘democracy,’ the Egyptian army (with Washington’s backing) just staged a coup.”
–“ Egypt: Mubarak Gone, Workers to Power!” (13 February 2011), in The Internationalist No. 33, Summer 2011
In the following days, the military moved to squelch the revolutionary ferment. It called on demonstrators in Tahrir (Liberation) Square to go home and workers to go back to work. When this failed, the military-appointed cabinet issued a law banning strikes and protests.
At the time of Mubarak’s overthrow it was crucial for Marxists to warn that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) was no ally of the poor and working people, that the army was the backbone of the regime, and that it was necessary to continue the uprising to fight for a workers and peasants government. Yet the self-proclaimed socialist left did not do that. Certainly it would have been unpopular with many amid the victory celebrations. The International Socialist Organization (ISO) in the U.S. wrote in an editorial that “many Egyptians will welcome the transfer of authority to leaders of the military as an alternative to Mubarak and his top henchmen,” saying only that this posed “new questions for Egypt’s revolution.” New questions, but no answers. How about a call for “No alliance with the military butchers”? Not from these tailists.
In a report from Tahrir Square on the same day, Mostafa Omar, a spokesman of Egypt’s Revolutionary Socialists (RS), repeated the mantra:
“At this point, people want a role for the armed forces in ensuring that the remnants of the old regime will be dismantled and figuring out a transition…. There will be mass pressure on the army to live up to those promises.”
–Socialist Worker, 11 February 2011
A month later, speaking to an ISO-sponsored event at the Left Forum in New York, Omar noted: “Sections of activists that were quiet before are now publicly criticizing the timidity of the Council in meeting the revolution’s demands for democracy and social justice – something you could not do in the first few weeks after February 11. Some are drawing the conclusion that the army is complicit in counter-revolutionary actions” (Socialist Worker, 30 March 2011). Certainly the ISO and its cothinkers in the Egyptian RS did not do that on February 11 and immediately thereafter, much less call for struggle to bring down the SCAF.
Beyond tailing after the masses, the ISO and RS social democrats did not even seek workers power, speaking instead of a “democratic revolution.” This is the hoary program of “two-stage revolution” – first (bourgeois) democracy, then sometime later socialism – put forward the by the Menshevik opponents of Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolsheviks in 1917 and later taken up by Stalin. Yet history has shown repeatedly that the second stage never comes, and instead the supposed democratic “allies” turn on the socialists and begin persecuting and even massacring them. In Egypt, when the mass pressure on the military eventually came, the SCAF went after striking workers and the secular and leftist youth who sparked the uprising, murderously attacking demonstrators in Tahrir Square in early April with armored cars and live ammunition.
In this and subsequent attacks on demonstrators, leftists and workers, the ruling military junta was backed by the Muslim Brotherhood. Founded in 1928 by Egyptian imam Hassan al-Banna, the Brotherhood is a mass Islamist organization dedicated to ordering society on the basis of Islamic law (sharia) according to the Sunni tradition. Over the decades it has built up a clientele of millions of impoverished Egyptians through social works while organizing conservative businessmen and professionals. Its main leader, Khairat al-Shater, the presidential candidate of the Brotherhood-sponsored Freedom and Justice Party until he was disqualified by the SCAF, is a millionaire financier, as are a number of MB leaders. After being jailed under the previous regime, they are now moving to displace Mubarak’s cronies as leaders of the business sector.
The Brotherhood is a bulwark of capitalism and an archenemy of communism, socialism, trade unions, strikes, secularism, democratic rights for women or anything else that goes against the interests of capital or Islamic law. It is not against alliances with the military and imperialism, quite the contrary. In the late 1940s when the Egyptian Communist Party was making big gains in the working class, Hassan al-Banna worked closely with the British military occupiers and his MB was the main force fighting the left. In the early ’50s, the Brotherhood was deeply involved in the Free Officers coup which ousted King Farouk, but later turned against nationalist colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser, tried to assassinate him and was banned. Nasser’s successor, Anwar Sadat, a former Brother, released MB prisoners but was subsequently killed by Islamist officers.
Under Mubarak’s rule, the Muslim Brotherhood was tolerated, its leaders sometimes jailed to keep them in line. The MB only joined the demonstrations at the end. In the immediate aftermath it mobilized to approve the military’s constitutional decree, since its Article 2 made Islam the state religion and the principles of sharia the basis for law. Over the next few months, the MB denounced protests against the SCAF as “counterrevolutionary.” They were joined in this by the more extreme Salafi and jihadi Islamists, who together with the MB held a giant rally in Cairo at the end of July calling for the imposition of sharia, for “national unity” with the army and denouncing secular liberals and the left. In September and October, as a new wave of strikes broke out, the Islamists and the military both opposed them. Islamists and the military competed in attacking religious minorities.
On the eve of parliamentary elections in November 2011, when the SCAF spelled out that it intended to act as arbiter over a new constitution, posing as a defender of individual rights, the Islamists for the first time mobilized massively calling to end military rule. But as battles raged, the MB made a deal to leave the military in power until June 2012. After an MB/FJP-led alliance took half the parliamentary vote and a Salafist bloc headed by the Al Nour party won another 28%, the skirmishing continued through the presidential elections. In the first round in May the Islamist vote plummeted from over three-quarters to one-quarter while the Nasserite candidate, Hamdeen Sabahi, did far better than the MB’s Mohammed Morsi in Alexandria, Cairo, Port Said and the industrial cities of the Nile Delta. But in the June run-off, the Islamist Morsi beat the representative of the “feloul” (the old regime), Ahmed Shafik, Mubarak’s last prime minister.
Once again, the regime pulled a last-minute maneuver: on the eve of the vote, the Mubarak-appointed supreme court threw out much of the parliamentary election results and dissolved parliament; then hours after the polls closed the SCAF issued a decree gutting presidential powers. The Brotherhood and many liberals cried “coup d’état”– although it was more of a “self-coup” since the military already controlled all the levers of power. This set off days of jockeying for position and many stories in the media about a clash between the Islamists and the leaders of the armed forces. Clinton and Panetta flew in to talk with both sides. In reality both the SCAF and the MB are willing to do business with each other: this was maneuvering over the terms of the deal. The real contradiction, as it has been throughout, is between the working class and a militarist-Islamist-imperialist alliance.
Socialists Call for Vote for Muslim
Military forces chase woman during attack on Tahrir Square, Cairo, 17 December 2011. The day before,
military attack on protesters left 8 dead, 299 injured. (Photo: Mohamed El Shamy/al-Masry al-Youm)
As the second round election approached, many on the left lamented that voters were being given the “choice” between “jail or the veil.” Yet at this point, the Revolutionary Socialists suddenly sprung a call on “all the reformist and revolutionary forces” to “form a national front that stands against the candidate of the counterrevolution,” Shafik (Socialist Worker [UK], 2 June). In other words, it was an appeal to vote for Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. This was linked to “demands” on Morsi and the MB to form a coalition government with the Nasserite Sabahi and liberal Islamist al-Fotouh and select a prime minister outside the FJP; to approve a “civil” (code word for secular) constitution, guarantee the right to strike, include representatives of Copts, workers and youth in a constituent assembly, etc.
The RS’s shamefaced call to vote for a bourgeois candidate was a betrayal of the most basic Marxist political principle of working-class independence. Moreover, this was not your usual popular-front coalition tying the workers organizations to some bourgeois “progressives,” it was calling to elect an outright reactionary. The demands tacked on were just window dressing, since there is no way the Brotherhood would agree to them. Even if they did, this would be a trap for the left and would not benefit Egyptian workers. Morsi has made it clear he will agree to a $3.2 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, which will include onerous conditions. The job of any “left” representatives in an MB government would be to impose the cutbacks and keep a lid on workers’ protests. After the dirty work was done, they would be tossed aside.
The call to vote for the MB/FJP leader caused a commotion inside the RS, and on June 4 the leadership produced a letter “To the comrades” regretting the “muddling and confusion” caused by their “hurried” appeal made after the “shock” of the first-round election result (namely that Shafik would be in the runoff) caused “panic for some.” But the leadership upheld and made explicit “the call not to vote for Ahmed Shafik, and therefore to vote for the Brotherhood candidate Morsi.” Internationally, while the RS’s mentors in the British Socialist Workers Party supported this opportunist call, it threw the American ISO for a loop. The ISO posted an article oh-so-politely criticizing the RS’ stand, saying “for socialists to call for a lesser-evil vote for the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, an avowedly pro-capitalist organization committed to Islamist politics” raises “many troubling questions” (Socialist Worker, 31 May).
Mostafa Ali wrote back for the RS defending its call, saying the ISO “fell into a disastrous trap.” He counted the vote for MB leader Morsi in the first round as part of a “majority vote for the revolution” (Socialist Worker, 3 June). Yet before that vote, Ali had argued that “for the left, the Brotherhood is considered to be in the camp of the old regime and the counterrevolution” (Socialist Worker, 22 May). This led to a further exchange in which the ISO repeated back what the RS had said earlier about the MB being in cahoots with the military against strikes, leftists, etc., while Ali replied by citing the ISO’s longstanding position of making political blocs with “reformist Islamist groups.” (For that matter, the ISO twice endorsed Ralph Nader, a flag-waving avowedly pro-capitalist candidate who opposes women’s right to abortion and ran on a populist platform bashing immigrants.) And with that, they diplomatically dropped the subject.
Ali’s sharpest rejoinder to the ISO was that it didn’t see the difference between the danger to “the revolution” of the Muslim Brotherhood’s “right-wing program” and the return of “a regime ready to slaughter the revolution.” In fact, the MB is quite prepared to slaughter any real revolution through its still-tenuous alliance with the military and imperialism, or with Islamist squads who have repeatedly attacked leftists. Conservatives of the Muslim Brotherhood may have their differences with Salafists and jihadis, yet they are all committed to Islamic law an capitalism. When MB supporters proclaim “Islam is the solution” and “the Koran is our constitution,” when MB leader el-Shater calls for wholesale privatization, this is not empty rhetoric. This is a mortal threat to working people because neither Islamists, nor militarists, nor imperialists nor domestic capitalists can tolerate democracy for the toilers they exploit.
The reality is that the SWP, ISO and RS are all reformist organizations deeply committed to pursuing opportunist policies – their only differences are over who to tail after and how far to go. At the same time, the Egyptian Revolutionary Socialists without a doubt have among their ranks many committed militants who have braved repression. Yet in the continuing turmoil, such betrayals (this was far worse than a mistake) can have disastrous consequences. Today, many in the Cairo streets are saying that a “second revolution” is needed. But as the Muslim Brotherhood was losing support, particularly among workers, the RS told people to vote for the MB. While it is false to say that the overthrow of Mubarak amounted to a revolution, the stark choice facing Egyptian working people today is indeed revolution or counterrevolution. And the stark fact is that both Morsi and Shafik were candidates of counterrevolution.
If anyone still thought that voting against the Muslim Brotherhood would be a blow against the ruling military, they should have been disabused of this notion as soon as Morsi took office. The new president tacitly agreed to the SCAF’s sharp limitations on his powers, and while the MB-dominated parliament “challenged” the supreme court’s order dissolving it by meeting … it then closed the session after 15 minutes. And although Morsi released some jailed Islamists and jihadis, he has done nothing about the thousands of protesters tried by closed-door military tribunals. From Hassan al-Banna to Mohammed Morsi, the Brotherhood has always sought an alliance with the capitalist military.
Reformist Support for Islamism, Product of Cliffite Anti-Sovietism
In justifying their precipitous call in a moment of “shock” and “panic for some” to vote for the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, the RS leaders argued that this was just carrying out a policy of blocking with “moderate Islamism” which had been decided long ago. That at least is true. For years, the RS and their SWP mentors held antiwar conferences in Cairo together with top MB leaders. They all hark back to the anti-Marxist tract by the late Chris Harman, The Prophet and the Proletariat (1994). Flitting from Egypt to Algeria to the Sudan to Afghanistan and Iran, SWP honcho Harman presents a catalogue of erudite and treacherous arguments for why socialists should ally with Islamic reaction … “sometimes.” The Islamists recruit among the downtrodden masses and the impoverished petty bourgeoisie; they are a response to the bankruptcy of Stalinism and nationalism; they sometimes adopt “anti-imperialist” postures, etc.
In more recent years, the SWP/ISO/RS buttress their arguments by lambasting Islamophobia and bourgeois ideologues who equate Islamism with fascism. (One of the main purveyors of the “Islamofascism” excuse for supporting imperialism was ex-International Socialists/SWP member Christopher Hitchens.) Yet the policy of politically allying with deeply anti-communist, reactionary Islamists has been literally suicidal, in the case of Khomeini’s Iran, where tens of thousands of leftists were executed by the “Islamic Revolution.” (Harman faults the “mistaken positions” of the Iranian left for this.) While Trotskyists called for “Down with Shah, No to Khomeini!” the ISO in the U.S. published gushing headlines on Khomeini’s Iran like “The Form – Religious, the Spirit – Revolution!” (Socialist Worker, January 1979).
More fundamentally for this social-democratic current, this policy was a post-facto justification for supporting Islamic reaction in alliance with imperialism against the Soviet Union. Over Afghanistan, where the Soviet Army intervened to prop up a weak reform government against the onslaught of U.S.-financed Islamic mujahedin, the British SWP demanded “Troops Out of Afghanistan!” (Socialist Worker, 12 January 1980). An article in the SWP’s journal International Socialism (Spring 1981) praised the mujahedin as “brave freedom fighters giving their lives in a struggle against imperialism,” referring to the Soviet intervention. While these anti-Soviet social democrats lined up with imperialism in Cold War II, genuine Trotskyists instead proclaimed, “Hail Red Army in Afghanistan! Extend the Gains of the October Revolution to the Afghan Peoples!”
We strongly greeted Soviet intervention in defense of a regime carrying out a (very limited) land reform, which defended women who refused to wear the Islamic veil and whose teachers were murdered by the CIA’s “holy warriors” for the “crime” of teaching girls to read. Harman, in contrast, criticized the Afghan land reform for supposedly provoking “spontaneous risings from all sections of the rural population.” Those “spontaneous” uprisings were led by the landowners, khans and mullahs, they were also sparked by the reform government’s decrees favoring women’s rights, and (it was confirmed years later) were financed and encouraged by the CIA even before the Soviet intervention.
So there is a pre-history to the SWP/ISO/RS policy of political support to Islamism, and it all goes back to the anti-Sovietism of their godfather Tony Cliff, the founder of the International Socialist Tendency. Cliff broke with Trotskyism at the onset of the first Cold War, declaring the USSR under Stalin to be “state capitalist.” He formalized the break with the Fourth International during the Korean War when he refused to support Soviet-backed North Korea against the U.S./U.N. imperialist attack. From that time on, although claiming to represent a “third camp” (“neither Moscow nor Washington”), in fact, the Cliffites have acted as “socialist” hangers-on of the “first camp” – U.S./NATO imperialism. Today, by supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, in increasingly open alliance with Washington, and the U.S.-backed Islamist insurgency in Syria, the latter-day Cliffites are once again backing the same horse as the imperialists.
Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood and the military may not be identical to Iran under Khomeini and the military. But in Iran, Afghanistan, Egypt or elsewhere, Islamism is antithetical to communism. The Islamists understand this, so do the imperialists. Hard-line Cold Warrior John Foster Dulles, Republican president Dwight Eisenhower’s future Secretary of State, wrote in his tract War or Peace (1950): “The religions of the East are deeply rooted and have many precious values. Their spiritual beliefs cannot be reconciled with Communist atheism and materialism. That creates a common bond between us, and our task is to find it and develop it.” That is exactly what U.S. imperialism did by allying with Islamist mujahedin against Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in the 1980s, pouring in over $1 billion a year in the biggest CIA operation in history. And then as now, it gets some cover on their left flank from the fake-left.
Class Needs an Internationalist
EFITU trade unionists in Tahrir Square on eve of Mubarak ouster, February 2011. Banner reads: “The
Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions supports the demands of the people’s revolution
and calls for a general strike of Egyptian workers.” (Photo: Hossam el-Hamalawy)
Marxists have always insisted on independence from all wings of the bourgeois as the bottom line of working-class politics. Karl Marx put it succinctly in a speech to the International Workingmen’s Association (the First International) in September 1871, summing up the lessons of the failed 1848 revolutions and the Paris Commune: “Our politics must be working-class politics. The workers’ party must never be the tagtail of any bourgeois party; it must be independent and have its own policy.” This principled opposition to class collaboration was carried forward in Trotsky’s political opposition to the “popular fronts” of the 1930s, when the workers organizations tied their ranks to capitalist parties, often no more than “the shadow of the bourgeoisie,” but which acted as barriers to proletarian revolution (see the Internationalist Group bulletin on The Popular Front: Roadblock to Revolution [May 2007]).
Thus in Egypt the League for the Fourth International has opposed political blocs not only with “moderate” Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood but also with bourgeois secular liberals like Mohammed El Baradei. The RS (backed by the ISO and SWP), on the other hand, has blocked with both, and their main complaint against the liberals (and against the former Muslim Brotherhood youth, now called the Egyptian Current) is that they want to have a “third way,” supporting neither the SCAF nor the MB! Instead of navigating among the various bourgeois forces, genuine Marxists fighting for socialist revolution look to the working class. And in recent weeks workers on the Nile have once again been fighting back hard.
It has been well-documented and is widely known that since 2006, the Egyptian working class has been engaged in the largest strike wave in its history. Moreover, while the protests that led to the downfall of Mubarak were started by petty-bourgeois youth, it was the strike action by hundreds of thousands of workers on 9-11 February 2011 that forced the military to finally oust the hated autocrat. Ever since then, there have been numerous strikes. Many have been led by the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU), which was founded just days after the revolt broke out. Historian Joel Beinin reported that at least 150,000 workers participated in 489 strikes in February 2011. The EFITU issued a list of “Demands of the Workers in the Revolution” which proclaimed:
“If this revolution does not lead to the fair distribution of wealth it is not worth anything. Freedoms are not complete without social freedoms. The right to vote is naturally dependent on the right to a loaf of bread.”
–Joel Beinin, The Rise of Egypt’s Workers (Carnegie Papers, June 2012)
Those demands and calls for do not basically go beyond the call for democracy and do not challenge capitalism. Beinin notes: “Many public and private sector managers treat workers, especially women, no less contemptuously than they did in the Mubarak era.” When women workers of a textile company that went bankrupt held a sit-in to demand back wages they were owed, at the invitation of a police officer (who said that the blood money for their deaths would only be $8 each), a truck driver plowed into them, badly injuring one and killing another. The driver was released. A year after the overthrow of Mubarak, many new unions have been formed and the EFITU now claims over 2 million members. But the military still continues to uphold the corporatist Egyptian Trade Union Federation, which is an organ of state control of labor.
This July, following the election, workers have again launched a new wave of strikes, notably in the center of labor militancy in the past, Mahalla al-Kubra, a textile city in the middle of the Nile Delta. Some 23,000 workers of the state-owned Misr Spinning and Weaving factory walked out on February 17 and were joined by another 12,000 workers from other state textile mills. They returned a week later after receiving some concessions, but threatened to go out again in September. Other strikes include the Pirelli Tire workers. The English-language Egypt Independent (22 July) reported that “Strikes sweep Minya, Fayoum and Ismailia.” This shows that the Egyptian working class is ready to fight. But to stand up to and defeat the military and the MB government (which the reformist socialists voted for!), workers must fight politically.
This includes centrally building a workers party, and not just some reformist parliamentary “labor party” such as the Democratic Workers Party (DWP) that the RS and others launched in April 2011. The program of the DWP is limited to reforms under capitalism such as land reform, rent control and the like. Its founders make clear that this is not to be a revolutionary party. RS leader and DWP founder Kamal Khalil declared, “if this was a vanguard’s party we would’ve named it the Socialist Labor Party, or the Communist Workers’ Party, and its agenda would have been geared toward revolutionary socialism rather than reform” (Egypt Independent, 15 April 2011). This in the midst of convulsive struggles which the RS claims is already a revolution!
Again, this reformist policy is diametrically counterposed to that of Leon Trotsky, who in made clear in discussions on the Transitional Program that calling for a workers party in the United States Marxists advocate a party that fights for a series of transitional demands including workers control of industry, the formation of factory committees and a “workers and farmers’ government.” In Egypt today, the focus of communists should not be on the terrain of bourgeois elections but in building such a workers party on a program of revolutionary class struggle, and on founding workers committees and councils that would challenge the bourgeois state. Such bodies are directly posed by struggles in industrial centers with a militant tradition such as Mahalla. But who on the Egyptian left is fighting for such a program?
The impoverished masses of the Near East certainly yearn for revolution. For decades they have groaned under the iron heel of dictatorships either installed and financed by the Western imperialists (Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, the Arabian peninsula monarchies, etc.) or periodically in league with them (Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Qaddafi’s Libya and Assad’s Syria all allied with the U.S. at one time or another). Even those regimes that occasionally went in for “socialist” rhetoric signed on to the “free market” policies known as “neo-liberalism,” under which state industries were sold off to cronies, living costs soared as subsidies were abolished, and a tiny elite grew obscenely wealthy while working people saw their standard of living plummet. This extreme disparity between fabulous riches and deadening poverty drove the first Arab revolts.
The revolutionary potential is there, but it requires an internationalist communist vanguard party to guide it toward the goal of overthrowing all the emirs, kings, presidents and generals, the Islamists and Zionists, in a socialist federation of the Near East. Only such a framework will make possible a genuine solution to the oppression of the Palestinian people, suffering not only under the yoke of the Zionist militarists of Israel but also under the various Arab regimes which have pretended to be their benefactors. Such a voluntary federation on the basis of workers rule would for the first time make possible overcoming the bloody sectarian-communal conflicts which have beset states like Lebanon and Syria as well as Palestine, and make possible a united socialist Kurdistan, in this region of interpenetrated peoples where artificial borders drawn up by the imperialists have set the oppressed masses at each others’ throats.
The League for the Fourth International seeks to build such a world party of socialist revolution.
COMING NEXT: CIVIL WAR
See “The Economic Vision of Egypt’s
Muslim Brotherhood Millionaires,” Bloomberg
Business Week, 19 April 2012.
To contact the Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International, send e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org