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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12 responses to “Worker’s Control and the Revolutions in North Africa

  1. I like the big picture from ancient civilization in Egypt to the intifada that the statement took up. I think there’s a dangerous ambiguity about the role of the army. The army was held back, in Tunisia and in Egypt, primarily because that way the state could grant reforms of a kind without forcing the struggle onto a higher level. While Engels said the state boils down to bodies of armed people, in Egypt that is almost literally true in that the military is the predominant power in state functions (whereas in Tunisia it was a police-based dictatorship and in the U.S. you have a formal separation of government functions and military control).
    One thing your statement pointed out that many left statements have not is that councils are needed, but that councils need a vanguard party. A task of that party is not just explaining the role of the army but how to split it, by–for instance–raising demands for the soldiers to arm the workers and for the soldiers to elect their officers.
    That is taken up in this statement:
    http://www.lrp-cofi.org/statements/tunisia_lrp-isl_1-28-11.html
    I’d be interested to here Advanced the Struggle comrades thoughts on the statement, as I’ve been reading this blog for a while from the East Coast and been looking for a way to open up a dialogue as I appreciate your honest dedication to workers’ revolution and living struggle and understanding that it involves taking theory seriously. I was especially glad to see that you posted rather quickly a thoughtful statement on the events, when groups that have tremendous organizational experience (forgive me if I’m wrong, but I take it that you’re mostly young people like myself) who claim commitment to revolution have produced weaker statements and in some cases, haven’t produced any yet.
    A key in Tunisia is the attitude toward the Jan 14th Front, which in my opinion is a Stalinist, popular front grouping that represents a terrible danger to the revolution. It is not clear whether the statement suggests that the Jan 14th Front would accept a government of workers’ councils.
    Comradely,
    RedTrackWorker

  2. thanks for this. what’s going on in Egypt is, no doubt, very touching for us all, and makes the possibility of mass revolts in the US much more possible and normal.

    i have some questions, though, on the way the councils in Tunis are being characterized in this essay. i understand our ability to answer these questions are going to be rather difficult because of the lack of information coming out of both Egypt and Tunis, but i still hope this contributes to the conversation.

    “District Committees which have sprung up in Tunisia and are in essence Workers Councils!”

    i’m not sure this is actually the case. to me there seems to be a very important difference between autonomous working class organizations on the one hand, and popular institutions for self-governance by the working class on the other.

    in light of the fact that, for now, as far as we know, there are only three committees, it’s unclear to me if these committees have either the popular mandate or the social weight amongst the rest of the Tunisian working class to be considered institutions foe self-governance.

    wouldn’t it be more accurate to describe these committees and independent working class political organizations?

    later on in the essay it goes:

    “Even though Tunisia’s, and now Egypt’s, committees are at best embryonic but with the potential for more soviet-like forms to emerge,”

    so maybe we don’t t disagree on the character of these committees, but i think clarity would help. maybe it’s analogous to the two different forms of organization that emerged in the anti-budget cut movement where you all are at in Cali; there were popular assemblies, but there were also action committees that emerged to plan and organize for March 4th, which seemed to be distinct and different from the popular assemblies.

    the question and possibility of workers councils and committees is important, and there are several examples of the self-acvitity of the working class in Egypt that i’m using to think through this question.

    in the Theses on Feuerbach Marx defines revolutionary activity as “practical-critical” activity, and i want to place an emphasis on the word “practical.” the emergence of the neighborhood defense committees was a practical necessity that the Egyptian people responded to. the mass activity in the streets broke through the isolation of capitalist that often arrests us all, and allowed the Egyptian people to begin to take back control of their collective social power that is used against us.

    this same example of practicality emerged with the clashes between the pro-democracy protesters and al-Baltagayyah (pro-Mubarak thugs). prior to these street battles, many of the protesters echoed the calls by the military to remain peaceful, but when the attacks began, the notion of non-violence, which could have spelled the movement’s doom, was quickly discarded, and many of the protesters began to defend themselves.

    in an interview with some of the people who took up the task of armed self-defense with Robert F Williams i noticed that when they talk about what they did, they do so in the most un-spectacular language and tone, which is very different from the way these past movements and figures have been celebrated sometimes to the point of being romanticized. this struck me as a very important insight into the way oppressed people think about themselves and their feats in the middle of revolts and struggles.

    i’ve also been at a talk where General Baker, speaking of the Great Rebellion in Detroit, talked about beating up the cops as something that just needed to happen. to them, it’s just a practical necessity.

    i don’t mean to discount the new spirit, new personalities and new social relations that emerge in these moments of struggle. the activity and leadership of women and the changing gender relationships that were noted in this essay are important earmarks of the social revolution that is taking place in Egypt. the festival-like atmosphere is another indicator of this.

    *******

    keeping with the theme of practicality, to me the questions are twofold: what is necessary, and what is possible?

    the “leaderless” character of the protest movement may be at the same time its biggest strength and its biggest weakness. many in the streets have exclaimed proudly that this is not about any “ideology.”

    this seems to speak of the state of the Egyptian Left and many of the other opposition groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood. the Left in Egypt is tiny, and so what are categorized as communist (or Marxist or whatever) ideas and strategies appear as an abstract body of thought detached from the everyday lives of the working class. this is due in large part to repression by the Mubarak regime and the Egyptian state, but this also stems from the fact that the state socialist tendencies that came to dominate many of the national liberation movements have collapsed on their own internal contradictions. instead of fighting for autonomous working class power from below, these tendencies joined the state in order to contribute to the development of the rule of capital. as such, impressions of Marxism, socialism and communism are often associated with the oppressive state.

    regardless, i’m sure many of us are vastly familiar with the social reality of being part of a marginal Left. we’ve all have heard comments about our own work such as, “those people just have an agenda,” and not just by red-baiting liberals, but by working class people as well.

    Islamism has also suffered its own historical defeat. despite claiming a membership network of half a million it seems the Muslim Brotherhood has been unable to exert much influence on the movement. this seems to point to the popular understanding of the limitations and failure of the reformist politics of the Muslim Brotherhood.

    the problem facing the movement today is that it seems much of the protest movement has adopted abstract notions of “democracy,” and this is easily being seized upon by liberal reformists such as ElBaradei who has appointed himself the leader of this movement. not only has the Muslim Brotherhood lined up in support of ElBaradei — probably because of the unfavorable position it stands in regards to US foreign policy — but there are also reports that the initial organizers of this movement — the April 6th Youth Movement (A6YM) — is also supporting ElBaradei.

    the A6YM emerged in 2008 when the workers from the strike movement coalesced with the revolt in the streets against sky-rocketing food prices. it is an informal network of what seems to be mostly young, student organizers, and lists a membership of some 70,000 on facebook. although, because it’s an informal network it is difficult to know for sure how much actually support ElBaradei, but either way the A6YM does seem to exert a pretty significant center of gravity in the movement compared to the other groups.

    more recently, what is calling itself The Wise Men Committee — a group of intellectuals, including Amr Hamzawy from the Carnegie Middle East Center — have opened up negotiations with Omar Suleiman asking him to head a transitional government, with the possibility of Mubarak remaining president in name only without any real powers, which is a clear violation of the popular demand that Mubarak leave now.

    it seems that we may be at another turning point in Egypt: as both the revolutionary Left and independent working class organizations are both very small, it is unclear as to whether or not the interests of the working class will be able to be clearly articulated against the maneuverings of the liberals and the limitations of the latter’s program.

    in Greece, strikes and protests brought down the government, and a new so-called “socialist” government took its place, but because of the objective movement of capital, this “socialist” government could not even deliver on economistic demands.

    the same fate could await Egypt.

    *******

    i don’t want to give the impression that i’m arguing that it is up to revolutionaries to bring communist consciousness to the working class, as Lenin put it. these vanguardist notions are part of the logic that lead both Lenin and the Bolsheviks to take state power over and against the communist movement of the Russian working class.

    but just as the ruling class is working day and night propagating bourgeois ideas, so too must revolutionaries propagate communist & revolutionary theory for the working class to take up and use as their own.

    although, the working class in both Egypt and Tunis may still establish workers’ councils, it seems that today that maybe we are witnessing the birth of independent working class organizations on possibly a mass scale.

    over the past four years thousands of strikes and on-the-job actions have taken place across Egypt, and yet we have seen the establishment of only two unions independent from the state. while a network of worker militants was also established, they, along with other organizers throughout Egypt, have faced tremendous repression by the state.

    the democratic rights thought could be secured by this movement will, no doubt, be a tremendous boon for the self-activity of the working class. i am excited to see what will happen next.

    • jubayr, it is painfully clear that what’s needed above all now is exactly a Leninist Vanguard party. Your history of the Russian revolution is incorrect to the fullest degree when you say that “Lenin and the Bolsheviks” took “state power over and against the communist movement of the Russian working class.”

      It is without doubt a well known fact that in Russia “the communist movement of the Russian working class” was represented ONLY BY “Lenin and the Bolsheviks.” And only by “Lenin and the Bolsheviks” were the Russian working class able to acheive state power and drive out first Kornilov and then Kerensky and after, nearly every Imperialist country which tried to drown the first workers state in blood.

      This is what it is going to take in Egypt and the Middle East, a Leninist workers party based on a Trotskyist program.

      http://www.internationalist.org/palestineworkersstate1005.html

  3. Jubayr,

    Very interesting/well-informed analysis. You weave together a lot of very interesting and important questions re:Egypt, revolution, role of vanguard, consciousness, committees, etc.

    >>Islamism has also suffered its own historical defeat. despite claiming a membership network of half a million it seems the Muslim Brotherhood has been unable to exert much influence on the movement. this seems to point to the popular understanding of the limitations and failure of the reformist politics of the Muslim Brotherhood.<>the problem facing the movement today is that it seems much of the protest movement has adopted abstract notions of “democracy,” and this is easily being seized upon by liberal reformists such as ElBaradei who has appointed himself the leader of this movement. not only has the Muslim Brotherhood lined up in support of ElBaradei — probably because of the unfavorable position it stands in regards to US foreign policy — but there are also reports that the initial organizers of this movement — the April 6th Youth Movement (A6YM) — is also supporting ElBaradei.<<

    This is true. ElBaradei is a liberal for sure, however I don't think it would be the end necessarily of struggle if he's elected. In the last analysis it seems that it comes down to the people not the elected leader. Recently Morales tried to enact a huge tax increase on oil that would sent gas prices skyrocketing. Massive protests, even amongst his supporters crippled Bolivia and forced Morales to recant. Not saying this will happen with El-Baradai, just saying we should not assume the game is over if he succeeds Mubarak.

    Here's hoping.

  4. >>Islamism has also suffered its own historical defeat. despite claiming a membership network of half a million it seems the Muslim Brotherhood has been unable to exert much influence on the movement. this seems to point to the popular understanding of the limitations and failure of the reformist politics of the Muslim Brotherhood.<<

    We are in agreement here. It may even be worth hitting on this point even harder, and in a more elaborate way, because to me it illustrates how far off many even within the left have been in regards to their multiculturalism-tinged analysis of Egypt and other Arab states (claiming that the Islamic countries are not interested in secular popular revolutions, they have 'their' own way, and it is religious, etc.)

  5. Excellent analysis. Mubarak is gone! Long live the Egyptian revolution! When I was reading an article today in The Guardian about Mubarak one quote stood out in the article that I wanted to share:

    “But when the legions of Egypt’s poorly paid workforce, urban and rural, rallied to their side, when the armies of the unemployed and excluded joined in, too, when the Muslim Brotherhood finally decided to get involved, and when, crucially, rank-and-file soldiers turned on the brutal police and told their commanders they would not obey any order to suppress the protests, the revolution was assured.”

    This is indeed the substance of revolutions. When the entire class structures of a society can be brought in through struggle with the vanguard proletariat in the lead. Truly inspiring stuff. In Rosa Luxemburg’s brilliant revolutionary theory ‘The Mass Strike’ she speaks to the importance of this in revolutionary struggle. She writes that the only way we can overthrow absolutism and the ruling class is through
    “the drawing together of the various social layers and interests, besides the education of the proletarian revolutionary parties, and not less of the liberal, radical and petty bourgeois, conservative and reactionary parties; it requires self-consciousness, self-knowledge and the class consciousness not merely of the layers of the people, but also of the layers of the bourgeoisie. But this also can be achieved and come in fruition in no way but in the struggle, in the process of revolution itself, in the actual school of experience, in collision with the proletariat as well as one another in incessant mutual friction.”
    So dialectical. I think Luxemburgs ‘The Mass Strike’ and the experiences of Russia offer us much useful material to analyze struggle today.

  6. new post is up! check it out:
    http://gatheringforces.org/2011/02/10/the-egyptian-uprising/

    here are some quotes:

    On Tuesday, one of the largest pro-democracy demonstrations yet went down in Cairo – this after days of the US media reporting, and the Mubarak regime requesting, a return to “normalcy” in Egypt – and perhaps even more significantly, new and militant strikes are now emerging throughout Egypt: six thousand Suez Canal workers have gone on strike in Suez, Port-Said, and Ismailia. They are being joined by railway technicians and oil workers, by government, sanitation, and court employees, and by factory workers both in Suez and historic, militant Mahalla. Independent trade unions are forming, and calls are being circulated for both single-day and more sustained General Strikes. The working class is moving in Egypt.
    ……..
    While the future of the Egyptian uprising is still unclear, what is clear is that we are seeing, right before our eyes, the dramatic illustration of an old Leninist mantra: that the proletariat, through concrete, revolutionary action, accomplishes the democratic tasks that the bourgeoisie can only weakly and hypocritically proclaim.
    …….
    Is the Egyptian uprising a revolution? What needs to happen for it to become a revolution? What is the role of the military, both the brass and the rank and file? What is the role of the working class and these new, independent proto-unions? Where have women been in this struggle? What might the effects of the Egyptian uprising be on US imperialism, Israeli apartheid, and other authoritarian regimes in the Middle East? What are the two competing conceptions of democracy in this conflict, and why is the concrete relationship between democracy and socialism so crucial to pinpoint and understand for the revolutionary Left? What is the proper, non-sectarian attitude to have towards political Islam? Finally, where is the Egyptian solidarity movement in the US? Why is it so weak? What needs to happen to make it stronger?
    ……..
    check out their post and weigh in on the questions in the comments thread.
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  7. David McNally’s article “Mubarak’s Folly: The Rising of Egypt’s Workers” is the best analysis of the working class self-activity in Egypt I’ve seen so far:

    http://davidmcnally.org/?p=354

    The following excerpt really seems to capture the dialectic of class antagonism in Egypt over the last half decade:

    “… by 2004 it was strike action, sit-ins and demonstrations by workers that comprised the most determined and persistent oppositional activity – most of it illegal under the emergency edicts and laws that deny workers the right to form independent unions. Over the past six years or so, more than two million workers engaged in thousands of direct actions. Most importantly, they regularly won significant concessions on wages and working conditions. The result was a growing confidence among workers – so much so that genuinely independent unions began to emerge in a society where the official unions are effectively extensions of the state.

    In 2006-7 mass working class protest erupted in the Nile Delta, spearheaded by the militant action of 50,000 workers in textiles and the cement and poultry industries. This was followed by strikes of train drivers, journalists, truckers, miners and engineers. Then 2007-8 saw another labor explosion, with riots at the state-owned weaving factory in Al-Mahla Al-Kobra. The youth-based April 6th Movement emerged at this point in support of workers’ strikes. Meanwhile, workers began to address the general interests of all working people, particularly the poorest, by pressing the demand for a substantial increase in the minimum wage.

    […]

    In the course of a few days during the week of February 7, tens of thousands of them stormed into action. Thousands of railworkers took strike action, blockading railway lines in the process. Six thousand workers at the Suez Canal Authority walked off the job, staging sit-ins at Suez and two other cities. In Mahalla, 1,500 workers at Abul Sebae Textiles struck and blockaded the highway. At the Kafr al-Zayyat hospital hundreds of nurses staged a sit-in and were joined by hundreds of other hospital employees.

    Across Egypt, thousands of others – bus workers in Cairo, employees at Telecom Egypt, journalists at a number of newspapers, workers at pharmaceutical plants and steel mills – joined the strike wave. They demands improved wages, the firing of ruthless managers, back pay, better working conditions and independent unions. In many cases they also called for the resignation of President Mubarak. And in some cases, like that of the 2,000 workers at Helwan Silk Factory, they demanded the removal of their company’s Board of Directors. Then there were the thousands of faculty members at Cairo University who joined the protests, confronted security forces, and prevented Prime Minister Ahmed Shariq from getting to his government office.

    What we are seeing, in other words, is the rising of the Egyptian working class. Having been at the heart of the popular upsurge in the streets, tens of thousands of workers are now taking the revolutionary struggle back to their workplaces, extending and deepening the movement in the process. In so doing, they are proving the continuing relevance of the analysis developed by the great Polish-German socialist, Rosa Luxemburg. In her book, ‘The Mass Strike,’ based on the experience of mass strikes of 1905 against the Tsarist dictatorship in Russia, Luxemburg argued that truly revolutionary movements develop by way of interacting waves of political and economic struggle, each enriching the other. In a passage that could have been inspired by the upheaval in Egypt, she explains,
    Luxemburg wrote:

    ‘Every new onset and every fresh victory of the political struggle is transformed into a powerful impetus for the economic struggle. . . After every foaming wave of political action a fructifying deposit remains behind from which a thousand stalks of economic struggle burst forth. And conversely. The workers condition of ceaseless economic struggle with the capitalists keeps their fighting spirit alive in every political interval . . .’

    And so it is in the Egyptian Revolution. Tens of millions of workers – in transportation, healthcare, textiles, education, heavy industry, the service sector – are being awakened and mobilized. They are fusing demands for economic justice to those for democracy, and they are among the hundreds of thousands building popular power and self-organization. Moreover, should the rising of the workers move toward mass strikes that paralyze the economy, the Egyptian Revolution would move to a new and more powerful level.

    What the coming weeks will bring is still uncertain. But Mubarak’s folly has triggered an upsurge of workers’ struggle whose effects will endure. ‘The most precious, because lasting, thing in this ebb and flow of the [revolutionary] wave is . . . the intellectual, cultural growth of the working class,’ wrote Rosa Luxemburg.”

  8. Great piece folks.

    I agree, Mass Strike is highly relevant for understanding the interpenetrating economic and political strikes in Egypt that sealed the coffin on Mubarak’s rule. I hope this dynamic expands and expands, preventing the permanent stabilization of bourgeois democracy, leading to proliferating independent workers’ groups and militant unions, revolutionary organizations, etc. These could be the embryos of future workers councils, or could advocate for workers councils. I agree with Jubayr these councils may not yet have emerged fully in either Egypt or Tunisia (I’m still trying to figure out if the Benghazi Commune is a workers’ council or a cross-class popular council or an “interim” bourgeois government).

    I really like your points Jubayr about the practicality of steps like armed struggle. That cuts through all the historical hype or horror that is usually peddled around these questions.

    I agree that Islamism is facing it’s eclipse, at least in its reformist/ electoralist form viz. the Muslim Brotherhood. The M.B. functioned in a tailist fashion, following instead of leading the mass movement. The fact that both Fatah AND Hamas were suppressing Egypt solidarity demonstrations in Palestine is further evidence of this.

    That doesn’t mean Islamic politics are on the downswing though. There seems to be a strong Muslim presence throughout the revolution. Folks might be abandoning Islamism as a political ideology, but this doesn’t mean they’re abandoning Islam as a religion. If anything, what I kept hearing from Tahrir Square were calls for unity among Christians, Muslims, and atheists. This is a universalism that encompasses religion, instead of a narrow secularism that excludes it in the name of universal values. The images of Christians defending Muslims while they prayed during the middle of demonstrations are a very practical and concrete expression of this new universalism. This kind of spirit will hopefully overcome the more sectarian versions of Islamic politics.

    I agree though, this does shatter all those ridiculous multicultural theories of Muslims not understanding democracy or religious pluralism…. it also shatters the NeoConservative racist ideas that Arabs are not ready for democracy and can only receive it from the outside through imperial force.

  9. Interesting piece.

    I would recommend S.A. Smith’s book ‘Red Petrograd’ as a detailed account of how factory committees and workers’ councils emerged at the grassroots in revolutionary Russia.

    Smith shows how contradictory the emergence of the earliest factory committees actually was. In some cases, workers in the defense industries took control of their factories and kicked out the bosses because they felt the capitalists were sabotaging Russia’s ability to fight in World War One. It was only later that internationalism and antiwar sentiment got a major hearing in these committees.

    Probably any factory committees or workers’ councils emerging in revolutionary North Africa would also reflect mixed consciousness in this way.

    A couple of places where workers’ control might start to express itself in Egypt:

    1. The struggle against the secret police. Almost every factory or workplace would have had a government agent or informer. Likely the boss and the foreman also informed the secret police of any agitation taking place on the shop floor. Egyptian workers have already started kicking police spies out of the factories and demanding the dissolution of the secret security apparatus.

    2. The possibility of capital flight. I’m not sure if this is happening already in Egypt but it seems likely to take place if the revolutionary process continues to deepen through mass strike action. If foreign investors and employers start to pull out of the country and close their businesses, we may see factory occupations take place and the slogan of nationalization under workers’ control emerge.

  10. While we’re making book recommendations, I can’t suggest Joel Beinin’s “Workers and Peasants in the Modern Middle East” (2001) highly enough.

    His history clearly lays out the class contradictions that led to the mass strikes, that set the stage for the recent uprising.

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