IP is publishing articles and comments on the events in Egypt. This piece originally appeared on the Internationalist Discussion List.
I assume most people on this list have been following the recent events in Egypt with interest. There are many sites on the internet which provide detailed factual accounts of what has transpired there since January 25. I have wondered, however, about the question of how (pro-)revolutionaries are analyzing the developing situation there, and what they/we would have to say to the working class in Egypt were they/we there. There are some who are saying that this is all just bourgeois politics, a movement to change the government/regime, to find a less corrupt one, maybe, at most, to bring about a representative democratic system of government with associated legal civil rights, on the model of the sorts of movements that took place around Eastern Europe 20 years ago following the collapse of the ‘Iron Curtain’. I am assuming that many here don’t share that perspective, and see that there is more going in Egypt than that.
The movement seems to be focused so far on one key demand: Mubarak (and his National Democratic Party regime) out! All of the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Egyptians involved in this movement agree on this. These people are convinced that Mubarak and his regime are responsible for their plight. There is a common feeling that this plight is unacceptable, and they are demanding “No more!” When a regime is as totalitarian as Mubarak’s has been, it becomes the obvious focus for all who are dissatisfied with their situation, their socio-economic conditions. It becomes attractive to believe that if only the dictator and his regime were gone, things would be so much better. Of course, many people know better, since the world has seen many such dictators thrown out, only to give way to either another equally “bad” dictator/regime, or perhaps a slightly “less bad” regime, but general socio-economic conditions remaining the same as before or even
worsening, specifically for the working class, depending on the overall state of the economic crisis.
The willingness and determination of masses of people (and I am assuming that at least a large minority of these people are working class) to stand up to a dictatorial regime and say “Enough! Get out!” surely must be inspiring for (pro-)revolutionaries everywhere. And the fact that they have accomplished this and held their ground for as long as they have, determined to continue until Mubarak is gone, is already a kind of victory, in that it is a major step forward from passive acquiescence. But of course, we know that for the working class to fight for their interests they need to go much further than just getting rid of Mubarak and his regime. So the question is: what else to do?
It would seem that there is a fledgling ‘independent trade union federation’ which has arisen from the various strikes and workers’ struggles since 2007 in Egypt (e.g. in Mahalla), and it has issued a call-out for a ‘general strike’ as part of this movement. Since it is new and thus far not recognized and legalized by the government, it may offer workers more room for autonomous activity than typically established trade unions do.
“Today [Jan. 30], representatives of the of the Egyptian labor movement, made up of the independent Egyptian trade unions of workers in real estate tax collection, the retirees, the technical health professionals and representatives of the important industrial areas in Egypt: Helwan, Mahalla al-Kubra, the tenth of Ramadan city, Sadat City and workers from the various industrial and economic sectors such as: garment & textiles, metals industry, pharmaceuticals, chemical industry, government employees, iron and steel, automotive, etc… And they agreed to hold a press conference at 3:30pm this afternoon in Tahrir Square next to Omar Effendi Company store in downtown Cairo to announce the organization of the new Federation of Egyptian Trade Unions and to announce the formation of committees in all factories and enterprises to protect, defend them and to set a date for a general strike.”
As far as I can tell, a date has not yet been set for the proposed general strike
On the other hand, this federation has apparently already gained the support of the AFL-CIO and the ITUC, so perhaps there will be no more room within it for autonomous workers’ activity than within established legally recognized unions.
The following brief sketch of the situation in Egypt was written on January 31, before the attacks by the “pro-Mubarak” thugs, who seem mostly to be non-uniformed police. I am assuming that people here are reasonably well informed of the “main” events since then.
People should feel free to discuss not just the question of what to do, but also to offer analyses of the balance of forces involved in the situation in Egypt now, both class forces and those of various factions within the Egyptian ruling class, especially within the military, dominant as it is.
This text offers some analysis of the different factions within the Egyptian ruling class, including within the military.
Now (or recently) in Egypt we have a situation of an uprising initiated by some young (well-educated) unemployed workers which has spread into a general cross-section of the population (i.e. all classes and strata except the ruling class), the principal basic demand of which is the ouster of Mubarak and his regime. The buildings of Mubarak’s NDP party have been torched in various cities. The police initially confronted the uprising, in some cases with lethal violence, and in others with less than lethal force. After 4-5 (?) days, many police forces were defeated or else withdrew on command from their various stations and sites. The army came into the key public areas prior to the defeat/withdrawal of the police. Prisoners (thousands, perhaps many such) were either released or not prevented from ‘escaping’. It has been widely reported (via blogs) that quite a lot of looting, especially of people’s homes, has been occuring and that many of those involved
have been police/ex-police, (ex-) prisoners, and other criminals/gangsters. In various neighbouhoods (wealthy, ‘middle class’, and working class), the residents have organized themselves into what some have called “neighbourhood watch” committees.
Mubarak has sacked his cabinet and appointed a new VP and PM. The uprising has overwhelmingly rejected this ‘olive branch’ as unacceptable and is increasingly strongly demanding that Mubarak step down immediately. The army seems to be the key factor in this situation, the dominant player; and so far it has shown itself as prepared to act if (it decides it is) ‘necessary’, but thus far refusing to take sides. Some of the insurgents have taken the army’s refusal to (thus far) intervene with force as implicit support for the uprising and its demands.
So, in this situation, if we, as organized communists were to find ourselves there, what would we be saying ‘should be done’? It seems to me that the uprising has created an opening, a space, perhaps even a ‘vacuum’, as a result of the absence of the police. The police in some form or other — there were some reports of widespread ‘desertion’ by police to the side of the insurgents — will return, but likely not with the same authority they had before their defeat. By themselves they won’t be able to command the same degree of fear and intimidation as they could prior to the start of the uprising.
As I said, residents in various neighbourhoods have organized themselves for the purposes of defense and security of their residential property. Even if the army retains its position of holding supreme power in Egypt, it seems that the power of the state there has temporarily receded and that there is now or will be (soon?) space for workers to begin organizing themselves, both within their workplaces and within their residential neighbourhoods. Thus, I wonder if communists there should at this time be calling for workers — and all of the working class, including the unemployed, students, youth, retireds, ‘housewives’ — to organize themselves wherever they are, at work, where they live, in their schools and universities and colleges, in the ‘community’: organize into autonomous assemblies to discuss and decide what needs to be done, and which direction to move the uprising into.
Of course, I realize that this way of putting things is somewhat problematic, since if we were there, we would know a lot more specifics about the situation than we do not being there, we would be placed in concrete context, while the way I have posed it here is rather abstracted from that context. Perhaps there is already such organization going on. Perhaps other kinds of organizing has happened. Still, while we don’t know about any of that, we can at least consider what we think the best course of activity for organized communists there to be based on what we do know.