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The revolutionary process in Egypt

July 14, 2012

The capitalist press would certainly have you believe the revolution in Egypt is over.  Mohammad Morsi, no doubt the future liberator of the Palestinian people, met today with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who, among other things, continues to sanction the illegal and barbaric occupation of Palestine, and who’s State Department has unceasingly considered the Egyptian military a “stabilizing force” in the Middle East and a close ally.

Far be it from over, the revolutionary process in Egypt is continuing to unfold, even after the US-military backed Supreme Council of Armed claimed essentially total legislative control.  Following Morsi’s election, striking workers descended on the presidential palace in droves, demanding to meet with him so they can talk to him about improving working and living conditions.  Then not just workers,  but “almost everyone with a problem in this country, be it political, personal or economic” descended on the palace, “expectations are rising and rising.”  According to Hossam el-Hamalawy, an Egyptian photojournalist and leading member of the Revolutionary Socialists, the Brotherhood establishment immediately attacked the protests, denouncing them as “counter revolutionary” and claiming they “must have” been supported by the ruling military council as a way of undermining Morsi.  Hamalawy reminds us, however, that this was the same chorus sung just after the downfall of Mubarak, when strikes were denounced, and arguments were made to give the military a chance.  This was despite the fact that what was essentially a general strike (a massive strike wave that broke out and put a halt to work and production, not a propagandistic call by a “more-revolutionary than thou” micro-sect) that brought down the dictatorship in the first place.  Now, years later, SCAF and the military have been almost universally vilified and the idea that “the people and the army are one fist” has taken the back seat.

The truth is, far be it from some abstract, Twitterized “multitude” leading the revolution by prefiguring and “taking space,” it has been the struggle of the working class that has taken the lead in Egypt and served as the foundation for the rest of the revolutionary movement.  It was striking workers who first chanted “yasqot, yasqot Hosni Mubarak!”  Millions of workers went out on strike both before and after the revolution of January 25. Strikes notably continued and even expanded and escalated after the ascension of the counter-revolutionary SCAF to power after Mubarak’s ouster.

I’m reminded of a video I watched not long ago, of workers demanding the re-nationalization of industries that were privatized under Mubarak’s neoliberal regime.  They chanted outside a courthouse, then start to move inside. Security guards tried to block the workers, but they were soon overpowered.  The workers went on to virutally occupy the entire building.  These weren’t radicals, or socialists, or anarchists. These were people that are radicalizing through the revolutionary process.  This is the embryonic form of what socialists are talking about when they talk about “self-emancipation.”  This is what ultra-Left sectarians cannot picture.  To them, you are either revolutionary or you’re not.  You’re either radical, or you’re not.  They cannot imagine the possibility of people “radicalizing.”  From that perspective, we have already lost.  The revolution cannot be led by some radical minority from above (whether by a the creation of some “Democratic People’s Republic” or an ultra-radical micro-sect who fight the good fight on behalf of everyone else).  But by masses of people themselves, rapidly expanding their political imaginations, expectations, and recognition of their own political power, through learning the lessons of the struggle.

Any revolutionary who doesn’t believe that revolution is either impossible or inevitable (that is metaphysically inevitable, and so one doesn’t need to ask what the role of revolutionaries are in emerging struggles), needs to seriously consider the question of how revolutionaries organize themselves and intervene in mass struggles.  The role of revolutionaries, socialists and their organization isn’t to “lead the people” through their own actions, rather, it is to unite those revolutionaries (both old and experienced, and the newly emerging and very eager) in order to encourage and help others along to their radicalization.  The socialist organization helps the movement lead itself, but as an revolutionary movement that is beginning to emerge, not as a movement that is already revolutionary (that is the position of the “more revolutionary than thou” sectarian ultra-Left who apparently see in every march, the potential for the final showdown with the police and the state), or as a hopelessly reformist movement (that is the position of the opportunistic, “pragmatic” Left).  The socialist organization must encourage the movement’s development by helping it learn the lessons of its own experience, from a revolutionary perspective (as an internal critique and dialogue within the struggle, as partners and comrades; not an external criticism as an unsoiled radical minority standing outside the struggle as a patronizing teacher), and to point toward the ultimate result of the course of the movement, fully realized, that is revolutionary vision for the movement, i.e. “the self-emancipation” of the working class and the oppressed.

The unfolding revolutionary process in Egypt needs to be studied as closely (if not, dare I say, more closely) than any revolutionary has studied the Russian Revolution or the Paris Commune.  What we are seeing the unfolding dialectics of revolution happen right before our eyes, with all its twists and turns.  There are many lessons to be learned: the formations of united fronts and class alliances, the role of the fight against ethnic and sexual oppression, the problems of organization, how to retreat and advance, etc.  Some are of course, specific to the Egyptian situation (but these are no-less important lessons!), but others can and should be generalized and used to point the way toward building a revolutionary socialist movement in the 21st century, a question facing all serious socialists and revolutionaries.