Monthly Archives: February 2011

Worker’s Control and the Revolutions in North Africa

By a comrade on the struggles in North Africa, this isn’t an “AS line” on these inspiring but far-away events; what it is, is a gutsy opening to discussion of the tasks of the revolutionary working class.

credit: Leil-Zahra Mortada

“Combining contradictory tasks—patriotism and socialism—was the fatal mistake of the French socialists. In the Manifesto of the International, issued in September 1870, Marx had warned the French proletariat against being misled by a false national idea; the Great Revolution, class antagonisms had sharpened, and whereas at that time the struggle against the whole of European reaction united the entire revolutionary   nation, now the proletariat could no longer combine its interests with the interests of other classes hostile to it; let the bourgeoisie bear the responsibility for the national humiliation—the task of the proletariat was to fight for the socialist emancipation of labour from the yoke of the bourgeoisie…..

Although the socialist proletariat was split up into numerous sects, the Commune was a splendid example of the unanimity with which the proletariat was able to accomplish the democratic tasks which the bourgeoisie could only proclaim. Without any particularly complex legislation, in a simple, straightforward manner, the proletariat, which had seized power, carried out the democratisation of the social system, abolished the bureaucracy, and made all official posts elective.” (Lessons of the Commune, Lenin)

“Essentially, the problem was that the left thought it should simply tail after the working-class and other oppositional activity, rather than intervene and propose and alternative strategies.  They believed that they should avoid having ideological arguments with various currents within the working class.  In practice, this meant that the left ended up taking its lead not from the most advanced but from the most backward sections….” (Revolutionary Rehearsals)

The Class Struggle has become more open now than ever. Nobody knew where the spark might come from. But we all know that the contradictions are becoming more pronounced, the antagonisms sharper. The explosion and the open struggle is now to be found in Northern Africa (it is mostly being referred to as a shake up of the Arab World. We find this term just as correct for obvious reasons).

Tunisia began it on January 14.

And the recent explosion folks are talking about? Egypt.

We have all heard about the massive protests resulting in the deaths of innocent civilians at the hands of police, many police vehicles being set on fire in response, and government buildings attacked. The uprising is being called spontaneous and leaderless, but this explosion has a precedent in Egypt: the lessons learned through their preceding struggles makes the Egyptian people more capable of leading themselves forward as they intervene in history, and to plan actions without relying on a figurehead or predetermined formula for protest.

In 2008 there were militant strikes led by women in the textile factories that grew into 2 days of riots. In 2003, 50,000 Egyptians protested against the Iraq War. In 2000, the biggest demonstrations since the 1977 bread riots went down in solidarity with the Palestinian Intifada. So we see the combination of political and economic struggles over the period of many years, throughout the course of which, thousands of leaders and intellectuals were produced from amongst the humble masses. A generally heightened degree of consciousness is burned into the minds of millions as a result of sustained waves of protest and strike. As consciousness grows and the country becomes more focused on a common goal, solidarity builds and leaps in the social relations and culture can occur. Women are publicly participating in the large militant protests to a degree that many observers say is unprecedented. The shifts in gender relations in Egypt, like this whole explosion of militant activity, is rooted in far more mundane every day struggles, with heightened peaks represented by women taking the vanguard in the struggle at the workplace during the textile strikes.

Add to this brew of organic proletarian political praxis the intentional intervention by militants of various political persuasions–from the Islamist, to the trade unionist, to the feminist, and revolutionary marxist–and the practical struggle becomes mixed up in the daily stew of theoretical debate. These are the situations that capital tries desperately to avoid by implanting apathy, cynicism and miseducation into the hearts and minds of the downtrodden across the globe.

Egypt is one of Africa’s most developed countries and has a very deep cultural past, rooted in ancient African civilization, the Muslim empire that brought science to much of the world, including Europe, and in modern times a venerable legacy of class struggle and national independence. The upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt are having their impact now on Sudan where a student-driven movement to oust the president (charged with war crimes against the people of southern Sudan) and for economic demands is growing.

The uprising (“intifada,” in arabic) in Egypt is NOT to be underestimated. It must be remembered that Egypt is not just a Muslim country, it is African, and this continent has as much potential as the “Arab world” to explode into revolutionary upheaval. Egypt is where Obama decided to give his speech to the Muslim world, and is a central player in politics across the African continent. And, of course, Egypt is one of the most dependable allies that the United Stated of America has, which complicates the politics of US intervention and gives the Egyptian working class more wiggle room to maneuver.

What do people in Egypt want? They want an increase in wages, an end to increasing food prices, an end to unemployment, and political freedoms. To win these, they will have to smash out the whole capitalist box that imprisons them.

The protest in Egypt started on Tuesday, January 25. They were organized by activists and militants, in large part with electronic means of communication: Facebook, twitter, and cell-phone text messages. The Protests of Tuesday were already being hailed as the biggest sign of discontent towards the Mubarak in the 30 years it has governed Egypt.

Then came Friday, January 28. With the Tunisian people in their minds and heart, the Egyptian people moved forward, facing repression the entire way: Twitter, Facebook, txt messaging, are all currently disabled in Egypt.  Still, Friday indeed brought many to their feet–and with that, revolutionary struggle unfolded all over the different news mediums, all around the globe.

Friday was the biggest day of protest! It was obvious that these were no mere demonstrations, there was a revolution happening before the eyes of the world. Technology and communication can now show more clearly a revolution when it happens. This should not be taken for granted. All of Egypt’s oppressed and miserable came forth and, in no exaggeration, did battle with the 30 year-long regime of the NDP (National Democratic Party), the party of Hosni Mubarak, Dictator of Egypt for 30 years. A big and important factor in this battle was the public and active presence of women,showing how crisis can call deeply ingrained norms into question.

One of the most interesting events that was communicated out of Egypt was the vacillation of the Armed forces, their desire to be taken up by the revolutionary masses.   Indeed this event makes it again clear: society in Egypt is beginning to be turned on its head.  This event must not be taken lightly, for one thing that should be known, as a Professor from Harvard said, most of the people in the armed forces are conscript. They are ordinary folk.  Rumours are even swerving around that there was confrontations between the Military and the Police on the ground.  The military of the Bourgeois now turns on it.

It is not hard to guess that the vast majority of the people out on the streets of Egypt (and not just in the Capital, Cairo) are proletarian.  People who sell their hours of labour in exchange for a small wage.  But it would be a little hard to guess to as to who is leading the movement and holding formal leadership.

Is it the Unions? The Muslim Brotherhood (who are the largest oppositional group to the Regime in the country)? Mohamed El Baradei (a well know Nobel prize winner and in opposition to the Regime)?  It is not clear.  Nobody has (can?) take formal leadership.  There is no institution to take the place of the current oppressive Egyptian State .

And for this reason, we must look back to Tunisia.  For it is Tunisia who Egypt follows, and therefore it is most urgent that we say to the Egyptian proletariat, “look again”.

It must be understood that Tunisia is leading the assault in the Arab world against the economic hardships and lack of political representations.  We must not be taken a hold by bourgeois media and forget about Tunisia. We cannot get lost in their hysteria.  There is a modern time connection between Tunisia and Egypt that has deepened with the modern revolutionary conditions.  Indeed, Tunisian activist and militants were telling folk from Egypt how to have better on-the-ground tactics through the internet!! What great political leadership! Egypt needs more; that is why we say, look to Tunisia’s District Committees! District Committees which have sprung up in Tunisia and are in essence Workers Councils! Those Councils which are reminiscent of the network of Councils from Paris 1871!  It has happened before and it becomes reality once again; and anyway, if in Tunisia they are not workers councils, we nonetheless point out that it is councils that are needed and that these are “forces created by the revolution…at the initiative of the masses”**. The interest of the proletariat should not be lost among the interest of other social classes within these councils!

Workers’ councils are not some fantastic, romantic thing that we advocate because we fetishize the Russian Revolution as some moderate critics might allege. Workers’ councils are the logical outcome of sustained, widespread, militant proletarian action and pop up across the globe at some time or another when struggle reaches a certain pitch. The case of the Iranian revolution offers a historical example that might in some ways foreshadow events to come in Tunisia and Egypt. The book, Revolutionary Rehearsals (Haymarket Books, 1987) describes the emergence of workers’ councils in Iran, known as shoras, and how they displaced the government-controlled unions and became a basis of militant power that confronted the SAVAK, the secret police:

“Within the oil and other established industries, workers with direct traditions of organization (or with parents or close relatives who had passed on their experience), played a leading role in founding the workers’ shoras. When the newer industries whose workforces were mainly recent rural migrants, the emergence of the shoras owed little either to previous working class traditions or to the influence of the organizations of the Left. In these industries, the workers’ recent experience of developing and running insurrectionary strike committees, together with their hatred of the Shah’s SAVAK-imposed syndicates provided the main impulse behind their formation of shoras.” (pg. 143)

On January 17th, it seems, similar committees sprung up in Tunisia to defend the proletariat and the Tunisian revolution (not yet socialist). These District Committees seem to have sprung up spontaneously and only on the will of the proletariat.  What other factors were involved is too difficult to figure out as of this moment.  Point is they are an established fact and they represent workers and the community in general organizing themselves and defending the revolution in Tunisia. If we are misinformed as to their true nature, nonetheless, there is some kind of bottom-up organizing in Tunisia that has enough potential to affect the quality of government that results from this great upheaval. Here is an example of what Tunisia’s District and Regional Committees are  fighting for. This is from the “Call by the Siliana Wilaya [Department] Committee to Protect the Population — Siliana, Jan. 16, 2011″ posted on the Socialist Organizer website (http://www2.socialistorganizer.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=424&Itemid=1):

The committee works to:

– Recognize the moral and material rights of our martyrs and to honor their memory by bringing their killers to justice and giving their names to squares and public places.

– Defeat the ruling party (RCD) and all its structures, including its militia, and freeze its assets, and restitute to the people all the goods and property that were stolen from them; and to prosecute all those responsible for the political, financial and administrative corruption.

– Recognize the poorer regions, especially Kasserin, providing them the right to development and the equitable distribution of wealth for the creation of jobs.

– Fight any propaganda that distorts and obscures the reality of facts in all regions, particularly in the region of Kasserin, and which attempts to sow hatred between regions.

– Establish a Government of National Public Salvation, chaired by a nationally recognized, independent personality, known by all for his/her integrity. This government will be composed of people who are not involved in the political, economic and social worlds of the ruling party.

The government must guarantee the election of a Constituent Assembly for the purpose of adopting a new Destour [Constitution — Ed,] that breaks with the old regime. Long live the revolution of the Tunisian people! Glory to our martyrs! Long live the fighting Tunisian people!

These committees represent a positive step forward in organizing the main forces of the revolution; the working class and its allies. But, as we can see, a specifically proletarian program for proletarian control of society is not part of this agenda, despite the fact that as SO says, many union activists are playing active roles in them. Still, the working class is allied with, and perhaps subordinated to the middle classes and opposition sections of the bourgeoisie. Now then, the Egyptian working class must look at these committees in Tunisia, build similar institutions, and fight for the power within them to guide themselves for a totally reorganized economy that workers plan and control, ie socialism, a workers state, that is, a network of councils that can smash the State.

Even though Tunisia’s, and now Egypt’s, committees are at best embryonic but with the potential for more soviet-like forms to emerge, the case of Egypt holds a lot of potential for really revolutionary developments to take place. Already the vacillation of the armed forces, a de facto general strike, and the total participation of society in protest against the regime is qualitatively more significant even than the movement in Greece over the last year or two.

The reason for Egypt’s explosions can be said like this: it got an extra push to liberate itself, it got this push from Tunisia. Strike after strike in Tunisia.  With each one, and because of current economic conditions internationally, the Tunisians people’s consciousness grew and grows.  Yes that is the extra push Egypt needed.  As noted above, Egypt has an impressive history of labor struggle, but the peoples of Egypt were truly inspired by the action of the international proletariat, particularly the Tunisian Revolution. And this being a fact, we say to Egypt, “look again to Tunisia Brothers and Sisters!! For they have District Committees! History has not passed in vain! History has taught us that the networks of Workers Councils are to take the place of the Bourgeois State and indeed smash it! Assert your power the way the Tunisians have asserted theirs! By calling into place a network of Councils that can challenge the class power relations and further advance the international revolution!!”.

Comrades, this is the correct thing to do! The revolution in Tunisia is led by workers!! The General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT) is the group that seems to lead the workers.  But it does not lead them to Socialism! It tails the movement, because it does not know Socialism, thus, it does not know the revolutionary program of the Tunisian Proletariat!! And only a socialist and revolutionary program can bring the peoples of Tunisia what they really want: indefinite economical and political stability. Are we wrong? No.  And we will point to the fact that members of the UGTT tried to enter into a coalition government that still retained the Ministers of the old regime, the type of class collaboration that spells the death of all revolutionary movements.  But these members ultimately left the coalition, and when they left, it was not because of their own enlightenment, it was because the Tunisian Proletariat barked at its top union officials and said “you fools! That is NOT what we demand!”. The bark came from the District Councils.

But the revolutionary workers councils that have existed before in the proletariat’s history are not romantic.  We do not create things in our minds and then try to fit reality accordingly.  We are Scientific Socialist.  Moreover, we are Internationalist.  And we believe that history has not passed in vain.  Thus we will recall the Workers Councils of Paris 1871, the workers councils of Russia 1905 and 1917, China 1927, the workers councils in Chile, in Poland,  etc. The Tunisian’s have councils and momentum.  Both of these are established facts.  Another fact; workers made the revolutions in both Tunisia and Egypt and there should be few barriers to North African workers creating their own councils either. If this uprising is to surpass the merely democratic and nationalist reforms that are currently the main demands, and grow into a truly revolutionary movement for the ouster and oppression of the entire bourgeoisie – and not just one or the other of its figureheads – workers will have to create the organizational apparatus to exert their power politically and dictate the re-construction of society in their own image.

Of course, the Workers Council Network will be able to push the Bourgeois Regime only if the vanguard of the proletariat will lead it to.  There is no way around that.  There is no presumption here. But that is another piece of writing  altogether.

We urge Egyptians to follow in the steps of Tunisia! Bring forth the Workers Councils! Do not fear it! For your Brothers and Sisters of the same class have brought it to life before throughout history!  Your history! The working class history! A revolutionary History!

We do not hesitate in asserting that a network of councils dominated by the interest of the proletariat is to smash the oppressive State! Agitation in with this focus is correct!***

Comrades! Long live the international Proletarian Revolution!!

** “14th of January Front” statement. (http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2011/tunisia310111.html)

***We do not claim to have direct connections in Egypt or Tunisia.  Nonetheless, we are internationalist (by de facto, we are Marxists) and thus are compelled to give an analysis.

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