What we see opening up before us is the early stages of the world socialist revolution. The same general process will unfold, albeit at different rhythms, around the globe. There will inevitably be ebbs and flows, defeats as well as victories, disappointments as well as successes. We must be prepared for this. But the general tendency will be towards a greater acceleration of the class struggle on a world scale.
The marvellous movement of the masses in Tunisia and Egypt is only the beginning. Revolutionary developments are on the order of the day and no country can consider itself immune from the general process. The revolutions in the Arab world are a manifestation of the crisis of capitalism on a world scale. The events in Tunisia and Egypt show the advanced capitalist countries their future as in a mirror.
Tunisia was apparently the most stable Arab country. Its economy was booming and fat profits were being made by foreign investors. President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali ruled with an iron hand. Everything seemed to be for the best in the best of all capitalist worlds.
The bourgeois commentators look at the surface and do not see the processes that are taking place in the depths of society. Hence they were blind to the processes at work in North Africa. They denied any possibility of a revolution in Tunisia. Now all the bourgeois strategists, economists, academics and “experts” make a public exhibition of their perplexity.
The country erupted after the self-immolation of the unemployed youth Mohamed Bouazizi. Hegel pointed out that necessity expresses itself through accident. This was not the only case of suicide by a desperate unemployed youth in Tunisia. But this time it had unexpected effects. The masses poured onto the streets and started a Revolution.
The first reaction of the regime was to crush the rebellion by force. When that did not work, they resorted to concessions, which only served to pour petrol on the flames. Heavy police repression did not stop the masses. The regime did not use the army because they could not use it. One bloody clash and it would have broken in pieces.
The Tunisian working class launched a wave of rolling regional strikes, culminating in a national strike. It was at this point that Ben Ali had to flee to Saudi Arabia. This was the first victory of the Arab Revolution. It changed everything.
When Ben Ali fled, there was a vacuum of power which had to be filled by revolutionary committees. They took power at local and in some places at regional level. In Redeyef, in the Gafsa phosphate mining basin, there is no authority other than that of the trade unions. The police station was burnt down, the judge fled, and the town hall was taken over by the local union which has its headquarters there. Mass meetings are held in the main square and addressed by the trade union leaders on a regular basis. They have set up committees to deal with transport, public order, local services etc.
The masses were not satisfied or pacified by their initial victory. They have been out in large numbers on the streets against any attempt to recreate the old order under another name. All the old parties have been completely discredited. When Gannouchi tried to install new governors in the regions, the people rejected them. Hundreds of thousands protested and they had to be removed.
In Tunisia the lava of revolution has not yet cooled. The workers are demanding the confiscation of the wealth of the Ben Ali family. Since they controlled vast sections of the economy, this is a direct challenge to the rule of the capitalist class in Tunisia. The confiscation of the property of the Ben Ali clique is a socialist demand.
The Tunisian workers have kicked out unpopular bosses. The left-wing January 14th movement have called for the convening of a national assembly of revolutionary committees. This is a correct demand but so far no concrete steps have been taken to implement it. Despite the lack of leadership the Revolution continues to advance with giant strides, toppling Gannouchi and raising the movement to new heights. Our slogan must be: thawra hatta’l nasr! – Revolution until victory!
The Egyptian Revolution
Tunisia opened up the Arab revolution, but it is a small country on the margins of the Maghreb. Egypt, on the other hand, is a huge country of 82 million, and it stands at the heart of the Arab world. Its numerous and militant proletariat has shown its revolutionary spirit many times. The Egyptian Revolution undoubtedly reflected Tunisia’s influence but was also based on other factors: high unemployment, falling living standards and hatred towards a corrupt and repressive government.
Tunisia acted as a catalyst. But a catalyst can only work when all the necessary conditions are present. The Tunisian Revolution showed what was possible. But it would be entirely false to assume that this was the only, or even the main, cause. The conditions for a revolutionary explosion had already matured in all these countries. All that was required was a single spark to ignite the powder keg. Tunisia provided it.
The movement in Egypt showed the amazing heroism of the masses. The security forces could not use bullets against the main demonstrations in Tahrir square for fear that a Tunisian scenario could develop. The regime imagined that it would be enough, as in the past, to crack a few heads. But it was not enough. The mood had changed. Quantity changed into quality. The old fear was gone. This time it was not the people but the police who had to flee.
This led directly to the occupation of Tahrir Square. The regime sent in the army, but the soldiers fraternized with the masses. The Egyptian army is made up of conscripts. The upper ranks of the army, the generals are corrupt. They are part of regime, but the rank and file are drawn from among the workers and poor peasants. And the lower and middle ranks of the officer corps are drawn from the middle class and open to the pressure of the masses.
Opposition parties demanded reforms, including the dissolution of the parliament installed in December after fraudulent elections, the holding of new elections, and a declaration from Mubarak that neither he nor his son would run for president in the elections scheduled for September. But in reality the leadership was lagging far behind the masses. The movement went far beyond these demands. The revolutionary people would accept nothing less than the immediate removal of Mubarak and the complete dissolution of his regime.
Beginning with such elementary demands as an end to the emergency laws, the firing of his interior minister, and a higher minimum wage, the demonstrators, emboldened by numbers, raised their slogans to a higher, more revolutionary, level: “Down with Mubarak!” “The people demand the fall of the regime!” or simply: “Go!” In this way, the revolutionary consciousness of the masses was raised by leaps and bounds.
The state and revolution
It is futile to attempt to explain the events in Egypt and Tunisia without the central role of the masses, which was the motor force of events from start to finish. Bourgeois and petty bourgeois “experts” now try to play down the importance of the action of the masses. They see only what is happening at the tops. For them it is only a question of a “coup”, of “the army passing power to itself.” The same bourgeois historians assure us that the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 was “only a coup”. They are not capable of looking history in the face, but instead are fascinated by its hindquarters.
Their “profound” analysis is superficial in the most literal sense of the word. For the bourgeois philosophers in general everything only exists in its outward manifestations. It is like trying to understand the movement of the waves without bothering to study the submarine ocean currents. Even after the masses had taken to the streets of Cairo, Hillary Clinton insisted that Egypt was stable. She based her conclusion on the fact that the state and its repressive apparatus remained intact. But in just two weeks it was in ruins.
The existence of a powerful apparatus of state repression is no guarantee against revolution, and may be just the opposite. In a bourgeois democracy the ruling class has certain safety valves that can warn it when the situation is getting out of control. But in a dictatorial or totalitarian regime there is no opportunity for people to voice their feelings within the political system. Therefore upheavals can happen suddenly, with no warning, and immediately take an extreme form.
The armed forces constituted the main basis of the old regime. But like any other army it reflected society and came under the influence of the masses. On paper it was a formidable force. But armies are composed of human beings, and are subject to the same pressures as any other social stratum or institution. In the moment of truth, neither Mubarak nor Ben Ali could use the army against the people.
The armies of many Arab countries are not the same as the armies of the developed capitalist world. They are, in the last analysis, also capitalist armies, armed bodies of men in defence of private property, but at the same time they are also the products of the colonial revolution. Of course the generals are corrupt and reactionary. But the rank and file conscripts are drawn from the workers and peasants. The lower and middle ranks of the officer caste reflect the pressure of the masses, as was shown with Nasser’s coup in 1952.
The revolution provoked a crisis in the state. Tensions were growing between the army and the police and between the police and the protesters. This is why the army council in the end decided to ditch Mubarak. The army was clearly shaken by the events and showed signs of cracking under the pressure of the masses. There were cases of officers dropping their weapons and joining the demonstrators in Tahrir Square. Under these circumstances there can be no question of using the army against the revolutionary people.
Role of the proletariat
During the first two weeks power was in the streets. But having won power in the streets, the leaders of the movement did not know what to do with it. The idea that all that was necessary is to gather a large number of people in Tahrir Square was fatally flawed. Firstly, it left the question of state power out of account. But this is the central question that decides all other questions. Secondly, it was a passive strategy, whereas what was required was an active and offensive strategy.
In Tunisia, mass demonstrations forced Ben Ali into exile and overthrew the ruling party. That convinced many Egyptians that their regime might prove equally fragile. The problem was that Mubarak refused to go. Despite all the superhuman efforts and courage of the protesters the demonstrations failed to overthrow Mubarak. Mass demonstrations are important because they are a way of bringing the formerly inert masses to their feet, giving them a sense of their own power. But the movement could not have succeeded unless it was taken to a new and higher level. This could only be done by the working class.
This reawakening of the proletariat was expressed in a wave of strikes and protests in recent years. This was one of the main factors that prepared the Revolution. It is also the key to its future success. The dramatic entry of the Egyptian proletariat on the stage of history marked a turning point in the destinies of the Revolution. That is what saved the Revolution and led to the overthrow of Mubarak. In one city after another the workers of Egypt organized strikes and factory occupations. They drove out the hated managers and corrupt trade union leaders.
The revolution moved onto a higher level. It turned from a demonstration into a national insurrection. What conclusion must be drawn from this? Only this: that the struggle for democracy can be victorious only to the degree that it is led by the proletariat: the millions of workers who produce the wealth of society, and without whose permission not a light bulb shines, not a telephone rings and not a wheel turns.
Reawakening of the Egyptian nation
Marxism has nothing in common with economic determinism. Mass unemployment and poverty are an explosive issue. But there was something else present in the revolutionary equation: something more elusive, which cannot be quantified but it is a no less potent cause of discontent than material deprivation. It is the burning feeling of humiliation in the hearts and minds of an ancient and noble people dominated by imperialism for generations.
There is the same general feeling of humiliation in all the Arab peoples, enslaved and oppressed by imperialism for over 100 years, subordinate to the dictates, first of the European powers, then of the transatlantic giant. This feeling can find a distorted expression in the guise of Islamic fundamentalism that rejects everything western as evil. But the rise of Islamism in recent years was only the expression of the failure of the Left to offer a genuine socialist alternative to the pressing problems of the Arab masses.
In the 1950s and 60s, Gamal Abdel Nasser’s dream of Arab socialism and Pan-Arabism aroused the hopes of the Arab masses everywhere. Egypt became a beacon of hope to the oppressed and downtrodden Arab masses. But Nasser did not carry the programe to its logical conclusion and under Anwar Sadat it was thrown into reverse. Egypt became a pawn in the great power politics of the USA. In the three decades of Mubarak’s rule these tendencies were multiplied a thousand fold. Mubarak was a stooge of the USA and Israel who shamelessly betrayed the Palestinian cause.
In the last three or four decades the Arab psyche was coloured by disappointment, defeats and humiliation. But now the wheel of history has turned 180 degrees and everything is changing. The idea of revolution has a very concrete meaning in the Arab world today. It is capturing the minds of millions and is becoming a material force. Ideas which connected with only a few are now convincing and mobilizing millions.
Revolutions are great clarifiers. They test all tendencies. Overnight the ideas of individual terrorism or Islamic fundamentalism have been swept aside by the revolutionary torrent. The Revolution has reawakened half-forgotten ideas. It promises a return to the old traditions of socialism and pan-Arab nationalism, which have never completely disappeared from the popular consciousness. It is no accident that songs of resistance from the past are being revived. Images of Nasser have appeared on demonstrations.
We are witnessing a new Arab renaissance. A new consciousness is being forged in the heat of struggle. Democratic demands are fundamental for the people under such circumstances. People who have been enslaved for a long time finally cast aside the old passive and fatalistic mentality and raise themselves up to their full stature.
One can see the same process in every strike, for a strike resembles a revolution in miniature and a Revolution resembles a strike of the whole of society against its oppressors. Once they get active, men and women rediscover their human dignity. They begin to take their destiny into their own hands and demand their rights: we demand to be treated with respect. That is the essence of every genuine Revolution.
The Revolution is raising consciousness to a higher level. It is cutting the ground from under the feet of the reactionaries who have confused the masses and befuddled their senses with the poisonous fumes of religious fundamentalism. Despite the lying propaganda of the imperialists, the Islamists played little or no role in the Revolution in Tunisia and Egypt. The Revolution despises sectarianism. It cuts across all divisions and unites men and women, young and old, Muslim and Christian.
The revolutionary movement cuts across religion. It cuts across gender. It brings the Arab women onto the streets to fight alongside their men. It cuts across all national, ethnic and linguistic divisions. It defends oppressed minorities. It gathers together all the living forces of the Arab nation and unites them in common struggle. It enables the revolutionary people to rise to its full height, to recover its dignity and to rejoice in its freedom. Men and women can raise their heads and say with pride: “We will no longer be slaves”.
The limits of spontaneity
The Revolution in Tunisia and Egypt came from below. It was not organized by any of the existing political parties or leaders. All of them were left far behind by a movement they had not foreseen and for which they were completely unprepared. If there is one lesson to be drawn from the experience of the Egyptian Revolution, it is this: the revolutionary people can trust nobody but themselves – trust in your own strength, your own solidarity, your own courage, your own organization.
When we look at Egypt the historical comparison that immediately comes to mind is Barcelona in 1936. With no party, no leadership, no programme, no plan the workers marched on the barracks with extraordinary courage and smashed the fascists. They saved the situation and could have taken power. But the question is precisely: why did they not take power? The answer is the lack of leadership. More accurately, they were let down by the anarchist leaders of the CNT in whom they placed their trust. Whoever has illusions in anarchism had better study the history of the Spanish Revolution!
At first sight the movements in Tunisia and Egypt appear to be a spontaneous revolution with no organization or leadership. But this definition is not really exact. The movement was only partly spontaneous. It was called into being by certain groups and individuals. It has leaders who take initiatives, put forward slogans, call demonstrations and strikes.
A lot of emphasis has been placed on the role of social networks as Facebook and Twitter in Tunisia, Egypt (and earlier in Iran). There is no doubt that the new technology has played a role and is extremely useful to revolutionaries and made it impossible for states such as Egypt to retain the information monopoly they once enjoyed. But those who exaggerate the purely technological side of things are distorting the real essence of the Revolution, that is, the role of the masses and the working class in particular. That is because they wish to portray the Revolution as a mainly middle class affair, led exclusively by intellectuals and Internet enthusiasts. This is entirely false.
In the first place, only a small proportion of the population have access to Internet. Secondly, the regime practically disconnected the Internet and disrupted mobile telephone services. This did not stop the movement for a single minute. Without Internet and mobile phones the people organized demonstrations using a very old technology, which is known as human speech. The same technology was used to bring about the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution, which sadly had no access to Facebook or Twitter but did a tolerably good job anyway. An even bigger role than Facebook, however, was played by Al Jazeera. Millions of people could watch the events as they unfolded, day by day, hour by hour.
As we have seen, it is not true to say that the Egyptian Revolution had no leaders. There was a kind of leadership right from the beginning. It consisted of a loose coalition of more than a dozen small parties and activist groups. It was they who issued a Facebook call for a “day of rage” to coincide with Police Day on January 25th. Some 80,000 Egyptian web-surfers signed up, pledging to march on the streets to voice demands for reform.
Both in Tunisia and Egypt initially the demonstrations were convened by groups of mainly young people who provided the leadership that the “official” opposition parties failed to provide. The Economist refers to “the emergence of loosely related groups pressing for reform, run via the internet by youths of generally secular outlook but no particular ideology. Some coalesced around labour rights. Some promoted human rights or academic freedom.”
These actions, then, were carried out by a decisive minority and therefore they were not purely spontaneous. But this was just the tip of a very large iceberg. Public sympathy was on the side of the protesters. The nationwide protest turned into a general uprising against the Mubarak regime, with simultaneous mass protests all over Egypt. So in fact, there was a kind of leadership, although not with very clear ideas. However, in both Tunisia and Egypt the response from the masses took the organizers by surprise who did not dream of the extent of this support they would get. None of the organizers anticipated the huge numbers that answered the call, and fewer still expected the riot police to let them get very far.
It is true that the “spontaneous” character of the Revolution provided a certain protection against the state, and in that sense it was positive. But the lack of an adequate leadership is also a serious weakness that has very negative effects later on.
The fact that in both cases the masses succeeded in overthrowing Ben Ali and Mubarak without the aid of a conscious leadership bears eloquent witness to the colossal revolutionary potential of the working class in all countries. But this statement does not exhaust the question under consideration by any means. The weakness of a purely spontaneous movement was seen in Iran, where despite the tremendous heroism of the masses, the Revolution ended in defeat – at least for the time being.
The argument that “we do not need leaders” does not bear the slightest scrutiny. Even in a strike of half an hour in a factory there is always leadership. The workers will elect people from their number to represent them and to organize the strike. Those who are elected are not arbitrary or accidental elements, but generally the most courageous, experienced and intelligent workers. They are selected on that basis.
Leadership is important, and the party is important. A child of six could understand this proposition, which is the ABC of Marxism. But after ABC there are other letters in the alphabet. There are some who call themselves Marxists who imagine that unless and until a Marxist party stands at the head of the proletariat, there can be no question of a revolution. Such ridiculous pedantry has nothing in common with Marxism. The revolution will not unfold in an orderly manner, with the revolutionary party conducting the masses with a baton.
In 1917 Lenin said that the working class is always far more revolutionary than even the most revolutionary party. The experience of the Russian Revolution proved that he was correct. Let us remind ourselves that in April 1917 Lenin had to appeal to the workers over the heads of the Bolshevik Central Committee, which adopted a conservative attitude to the question of proletarian revolution in Russia.
The same conservative mentality, the same aristocratic distrust of the masses, can be seen in many of those who regard themselves as the “vanguard” of the class, but who, in practice, act as a break on the movement in a decisive situation. It is sufficient to refer to the sorry role of the old so-called “vanguard” in Iran, who had survived from the 1979 revolution, but who stood aloof from the revolutionary masses who came onto the streets in their millions to challenge the regime in 2009.
Do Marxists say that unless and until the revolutionary party is built and stands at the head of the working class, revolution is impossible? No, we have never said such a thing. The revolution proceeds according to its own laws, which develop independently of the will of revolutionaries. A revolution will occur when all the objective conditions are present. The masses cannot wait until the revolutionary party has been built. However, once all the objective conditions are present, the factor of leadership is indeed decisive. Very often it means the difference between victory and defeat.
Revolution is a struggle of living forces. Victory is not predetermined. In fact, at one point, the Egyptian Revolution came very close to defeat. Tactically speaking, staying in Tahrir Square was not the best option. This showed the limited outlook of the organizers. Mubarak almost outmanoeuvred the movement, buying off some layers, and mobilizing the lumpenproletarian thugs for vicious attacks. It could have succeeded. Only the decisive intervention of the masses, and particularly the intervention of the working class, prevented defeat.
The problem of leadership
The masses never have a finished plan at the beginning of a revolution. They learn through struggle. They may not know exactly what they want, but they know very well what they do not want. And that is sufficient to propel the movement forward.
Leadership is a very important element in war. This is not to say that it is the only element. Even the most brilliant leaders cannot guarantee success if the objective conditions are unfavourable. And sometimes it is possible to win a battle with bad generals. In a Revolution, which is the highest expression of the war between the classes, the working class has the advantage of numbers and its control of key parts of the productive apparatus of society. But the ruling class possesses many other advantages.
The state is an apparatus for maintaining the dictatorship of a minority of exploiters over the exploited majority. The ruling class holds many other powerful levers in its hands: the press, radio and television, the schools and universities, the state bureaucracy and also the spiritual bureaucrats and thought police in the mosques and churches. In addition it possesses an army of professional advisers, politicians, economists and other specialists in the arts of manipulation and deception.
In order to fight against this apparatus of repression, which has been built up and perfected over many decades, the working class must develop its own organizations, led by an experienced and determined leadership that has absorbed the lessons of history and is prepared for all eventualities. To argue that it is possible to defeat the ruling class and its state without organization and leadership is like inviting an army to go into battle untrained and unprepared to face a professional force led by experienced officers.
In most cases, such a conflict will end in defeat. But even if the Revolution succeeds in overwhelming the enemy in the first charge, it will not be enough to guarantee ultimate victory. The enemy will regroup, reorganize, modify its tactics, and prepare for a counteroffensive, which will be all the more dangerous because the masses will have been lulled into believing that the war has already been won. What at first appeared to be a moment of triumph and joy turns out to be the moment of extreme danger for the fate of the Revolution, and the lack of an adequate leadership in such cases will prove to be its Achilles’ heel, a fatal weakness.
The leadership of the protest movement contained diverse elements and different ideological tendencies. In the last analysis, this reflects different class interests. In the beginning this fact is disguised by the general appeal to “unity”. But the development of the Revolution will inevitably give rise to a process of internal differentiation. The bourgeois elements and the middle class “democrats” will accept the crumbs offered by the regime. They will compromise and enter into deals behind the backs of the masses. At a certain stage they will desert the Revolution and pass over to the camp of reaction. This is already happening.
In the end it is the most determined revolutionary elements that can guarantee the final victory of the Revolution: those who are not prepared to compromise and are willing to go to the end. New explosions are implicit in the situation. In the end one side or the other must triumph. The objective situation is ripe for the assumption of power by the working class. Only the lack of the subjective factor – the revolutionary party and leadership – has prevented this from taking place so far. The overcoming of the problem of leadership is therefore the central problem of the Revolution.
Intrigues at the top
It was the national insurrection that persuaded the generals that only Mubarak’s departure could calm Egypt’s streets and restore “order”. This was, and remains, their overriding obsession. All talk of democracy is merely a fig-leaf to disguise this fact. The generals were part of the old regime and participated in all the dirty work of corruption and repression. They fear the Revolution like the plague and want only a return to “normality” – that is, a return to the old regime under a different name.
The ruling class has many strategies for defeating a Revolution. If it cannot do so by force, it will resort to cunning. When the ruling class faces the prospect of losing everything they will always offer concessions. The overthrows of Ben Ali and Mubarak were a great victory, but they were only the first act of the revolutionary drama.
The representatives of the old regime remain in positions of power; the old state apparatus, the army, police and bureaucracy, is still in place. The imperialists are intriguing with the tops of the army and the old leaders to cheat the masses out of everything they have won. They offer a compromise, but it is a compromise that would maintain their power and privileges.
Defeated on the streets, the old regime is striving to strike a bargain, that is, try to fool the leaders of the opposition, so that they in turn could fool the masses. The idea was that once the initiative was in the hands of the “negotiators”, the masses would become mere passive onlookers. The real decisions would be made elsewhere, behind locked doors, behind the backs of the people.
The men of the old regime are slowly beginning to recover their nerve. They have begun to feel more confident and redouble their manoeuvres and intrigues, basing themselves on the more moderate sections of the opposition. The masses feel uneasy. They do not want the movement to be hijacked by professional politicians and careerists who are bargaining with the generals like merchants haggling in a bazaar. But the question remains: how to carry the Revolution forward? What needs to be done?
As the movement becomes more radicalized, some of the elements who played a leading role in the early stages will fall behind. Some will abandon it; others will go over to the enemy. This corresponds to different class interests. The poor people, the unemployed, the workers, the “men of no property” have no interest in maintaining the old order. They want to sweep away not only Mubarak but the entire regime of oppression, exploitation and inequality. But the bourgeois Liberals see the struggle for democracy as the path to a comfortable career in parliament. They have no interest in carrying through the Revolution to the end or of disturbing existing property relations.
For the bourgeois Liberals the mass movement is only a convenient bargaining chip, something with which they can threaten the government to give them a few more crumbs. They will always betray the Revolution. No trust whatever can be placed in these people. El Baradei now says that he opposes the constitutional amendments, but instead of demanding an immediate constituent assembly, he says that elections should be postponed, that the conditions are not present, that the time is not right, and so on and so forth. For these gentlemen the time for democracy is never right. For the masses who have shed their blood for the Revolution, the time for democracy is now!
The IMT says:
No trust in the generals!
No trust for self-appointed ‘leaders’ who call for restoring “normality”!
Keep the mass movement in being!
Organize and strengthen the revolutionary committees!
For a clean out of all the supporters of the old regime!
No deals with the old regime!
The current “interim regime” has no legitimacy and should be removed immediately. Demand the convening of a Constituent Assembly now!
The Muslim Brotherhood
Some, including Khamenei in Iran, say that the revolutionary movement we are witnessing is about religion, that it is “an Islamic reawakening”. But this is clearly not the case. Even the main clerics in Egypt admit it. They fear being swept aside if they try to portray the Revolution as a religious movement. It is a movement of all religions, and therefore of no religion. There was no animosity against Christians on the demonstrations. There was not even a hint of anti-Semitism.
Religious sectarianism is a weapon used by reactionaries to confuse the people. The December attacks on the Coptic Christians were clearly engineered by the secret police in order to create a sectarian divide and divert attention from the real problems of the masses. They are resorting to the same dirty tactic now in order to divide the masses on sectarian lines, fomenting conflict between Muslims and Copts in an attempt to split and disorient the people and undermine the Revolution.
The revolts in Tunisia and Egypt are largely secularist and democratic, and often deliberately excluding the Islamists. The notion that the Muslim Brotherhood was the “only real opposition” was false to the core. The basic demands of the Egyptian demonstrators are for jobs, food and democratic rights. This is nothing to do with the Islamists and is a bridge to socialism, which has deep roots in the traditions of Egypt and other Arab countries.
Some misguided people on the left have described the movements in Tunisia and Egypt as “middle class” revolutions. These same so-called left-wingers have been flirting with reactionary groups like Hezbollah, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood for a long time. They try to justify this betrayal of Marxism on the grounds of the so-called anti-imperialist stance of the leaders. This is false from start to finish. The so-called Islamists are anti-imperialists in words only, but in practice represent a reactionary trend. They are, in fact, the fifth wheel of the cart of the old regime.
The imperialists have tried to use the Islamists as a bogeyman to confuse the masses and conceal the real nature of the Arab Revolution. They say: “Look! If Mubarak goes, al-Qaeda will take his place.” Mubarak himself told the Egyptian people that if he went it would be “like Iraq”. These were all lies. The role of the fundamentalists and organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood has been grotesquely exaggerated. Such organizations do not represent a force for progress. They pose as anti-imperialists but they stand for the interests of the landlords and capitalists. In the last analysis they will always betray the cause of the workers and peasants.
It is frankly a scandal that certain European left groups, and even some who call themselves Marxists, have supported the Islamists. This is nothing less than a betrayal of the proletarian revolution. It is true that the Muslim Brotherhood is divided along class lines. The leadership is in the hands of conservative elements, capitalists and wealthy businessmen, while its rank and file members include more militant sections of the youth and those who come from poorer and working class backgrounds. However, the way to win the latter over to the side of the revolution is not by making alliances with their capitalist leaders, but rather to subject them to implacable criticism, in order to expose their hollow claims at being anti-imperialist and pro-poor.
This is precisely the opposite of what these groups did when they made an alliance with the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood in organising the Cairo anti-war conference. In effect, these left organisations were providing the Muslim Brotherhood leaders with a left cover, approving their false anti-imperialist credentials and thus strengthening their grip on their own membership.
In the past the Muslim Brotherhood were backed by the CIA to undermine the leftward moving nationalism of Gamal Abdel Nasser. Islamic fundamentalism was a creation of John Foster Dulles and the US State Department, to cut across the left after the 1956 Suez War. But when Sadat and Mubarak became American stooges their services were no longer required. Hillary Clinton and others have said that the Muslim Brotherhood are not a threat, that they are people who can be worked with. This is a clear indication that the imperialists will once again try to use the Islamists to head off the Revolution.
Similarly, Hamas and Hezbollah were originally set up to cut across the PFLP and other left tendencies in Palestine. Later, the CIA created Osama bin Laden as a counterweight to the Soviet forces in Afghanistan. And now they are again intriguing with the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood to head off the Revolution in Egypt and deceive the people. But the Muslim Brotherhood is not a homogeneous movement and is now splitting into different factions along class lines.
The poor people who support the Brotherhood are one thing. The leaders are another thing altogether. In the 1980s leaders of the Brotherhood were key beneficiaries of economic liberalization – the programme of infitah or “opening” – under which Sadat and then Mubarak dismantled the state sector, favouring private capital. One study of Brotherhood businessmen suggests that at this point they controlled 40 percent of all private economic ventures. They are part of the capitalist system and have every interest in defending it. Their conduct is not determined by the Holy Qur’an but by class interest.
The “hard line” Islamists are as frightened of the revolutionary masses as the regime itself. The Muslim Brotherhood declared that it would not negotiate with the government until Mubarak stepped down. But the moment the regime beckoned with its little finger, they changed their minds. One of their leaders went onto Tahrir Square, where the protestors were standing firm and preventing the tanks from occupying the Square with their bodies, appealing to them not to clash with the army.
Our attitude to such people was worked out long ago by Lenin who warned at the Second Congress of the Communist International:
“11) With regard to the more backward states and nations, in which feudal or patriarchal and patriarchal-peasant relations predominate, it is particularly important to bear in mind:
first, that all Communist parties must assist the bourgeois-democratic liberation movement in these countries, and that the duty of rendering the most active assistance rests primarily with the workers of the country the backward nation is colonially or financially dependent on;
second, the need for a struggle against the clergy and other influential reactionary and medieval elements in backward countries;
third, the need to combat Pan-Islamism and similar trends, which strive to combine the liberation movement against European and American imperialism with an attempt to strengthen the positions of the khans, landowners, mullahs, etc.” (Lenin, Draft theses on the national and colonial questions, 5 June, 1920, our emphasis)
That is the real position of Marxism towards reactionary religious trends. It is the position that the IMT firmly defends.
The IMT says:
- Defend the unity of the revolutionary people!
- Down with the pogrom-mongers and hate-merchants!
- Oppose all discrimination based on religion!
- No compromise with reactionary and obscurantist trends!
- Every man and woman must have the right to hold any religious belief or none!
- For the complete separation of religion from the state!