In Russia in 1917 the Revolution lasted for nine months, from February to October, when the workers finally took power under the leadership of the Bolshevik Party. However, the Russian Revolution was not a straight line and proceeded through all kinds of vicissitudes and contradictions. There was a period of open reaction in July and August. Lenin had to flee to Finland and the Bolshevik Party was virtually illegalised. But this merely prepared the way for a new advance of the Revolution, culminating in the October insurrection.
In Spain we saw a similar process, starting with the fall of the monarchy in 1931, followed by a big upsurge of the class struggle. But the defeat of the Asturian Commune in October 1934 led to a period of reaction, the Biennio Negro, or two black years in 1935-6. But this proved to be only the prelude to a new upsurge of the Revolution, starting with the victory of the Popular Front in the elections of 1936, leading to the Civil War and ending in defeat and fascism.
After the fall of Mubarak, the Egyptian Revolution is like a big carnival. But the masses are fighting for things no bourgeois government can give them. Like the Russian workers in February 1917, the workers of Egypt have succeeded in overthrowing a tyrant but they have not won their main objectives. The real struggle is still ahead. What has been solved by Mubarak’s overthrow? What was achieved by Ben Ali fleeing to Saudi Arabia? Nothing fundamental has been solved. The workers are fighting for bread, jobs and houses, not for some kind of charade of formal bourgeois democracy in which everything changes so that everything can remain the same.
Through painful experience the masses are learning some serious lessons. Sooner or later they will draw the conclusion that the working class must take power. There will be an extended learning process, a process of inner differentiation. This has already begun. In the revolutionary committees the more moderate elements who led the movement in its early stages, and who have illusions in the army, are being challenged by new layers of workers and youth who are opposed to compromise. They fear that what they have conquered with their blood can be taken away from them by subterfuge. This suspicion is well founded.
With the fall of Mubarak the Egyptian Revolution won its first great victory. But none of the fundamental problems of Egyptian society have been solved. Prices continue to rise, homeless people sleep in cemeteries and about 10 percent of the workforce is unemployed according to official statistics, though the real figure is much higher.
There is a burning anger against inequality and the all-pervading corruption that is the chief characteristic of the old regime. Billions of dollars of public money have gone missing. The amounts looted by the Mubarak family alone are estimated at between $40 billion and $80 billion. This has provoked anger and disgust, in a country where 40 percent of the people are living below the poverty line.
It is impossible to say for sure what will follow. However, we can say that the Revolution will be protracted in time and will experience all manner of ups and downs. At the present time, the masses are intoxicated with the idea of democracy. The feeling of euphoria affects even the most advanced and revolutionary elements. This period of democratic and constitutional illusions is an inevitable phase but it will not last. The Revolution stirs society to the bottom. It awakens new, previously inert and “backward” layers to political life. They are demanding their rights. When these people say “thawra hatta’l nasr” (revolution until victory), they mean it.
All attempts to restore the political equilibrium will come to nothing because the crisis of capitalism does not permit any solution to the most basic needs of the population. There will be a series of unstable bourgeois regimes. One unstable ministry after another will fall. This presents a danger. When the class struggle reaches the point of deadlock, the state tends to rise above society and acquire a relative independence. The result is an unstable military regime, or, to give it its correct name, a Bonapartist regime. The very fact of the existence of such a regime indicates that the Revolution that began on 25 January is not finished. It will experience many new turns before the final denouement can be written.
Despite all the appeals for “national unity”, Egyptian society is becoming sharply polarized. The Revolution still has considerable reserves of support in the population. Students are agitating on the campuses. Workers are staging strikes and factory occupations, driving out hated managers and corrupt trade union leaders. The strike of the Egyptian oil workers won all their demands, including the resignation of the oil minister, in just three days. This shows where the real power lies.
The military regime in Egypt cannot maintain itself for long. All the attempts to restore “order” (that is, the rule of the rich and powerful) have failed. The army has tried to stop strikes, but the strikes continue. Far from subsiding, the movement of the workers is increasing. What can the generals do? If they were unable to use their tanks to crush the insurrection, still less can they use them to crush strikes in what is supposed to be a democratic regime.
The generals will have to pass power to a civilian (i.e. bourgeois) government. This will be counterrevolution in a democratic disguise. But it will not be easy for to the counterrevolution to restore stability. For the workers, democracy is not an empty word. If it does not lead to an improvement in living standards, jobs and houses, what was the point of fighting in the first place?
If all this had happened ten years ago, they might have been able to consolidate some form of bourgeois democratic regimes. The boom in world capitalism would have given them some margin for manoeuvre. But now there is a profound crisis on a world scale. This is both the reason for the revolutionary ferment and the reason why it cannot easily be brought to an end. The capitalist system cannot offer anything to the masses. It can’t even provide jobs and a decent living standard in the USA and Europe. How can they hope to do it in Egypt?
The actions of the workers striking, occupying the factories and kicking out the managers are of tremendous importance. They mean that the Revolution is entering the factories and workplaces. They signify that the workers of Egypt are proceeding from the struggle for democracy in society to the struggle for economic democracy in the workplace. It means that the Egyptian working class is beginning to participate in the Revolution under its own banner, fighting for its own class demands. This is a decisive factor for the future of the Revolution.
The workers are protesting against corruption and low salaries. They are rebelling against state-appointed managements and setting up revolutionary committees to run factories and other workplaces. That is the correct line to take.
Bourgeois commentators have emphasized that many of these strikes are of an economic nature. Of course! The working class is pressing its immediate demands. That is to say, they see the Revolution as a means of fighting not just for formal democracy but for better wages, for better working conditions – for a better life. They are fighting for their own class demands. And this struggle cannot cease just because Hosni Mubarak is no longer sitting in the Presidential Palace.
For a workers’ democracy!
In Suez, the state collapsed completely for four or five days. Like in Tunisia earlier, revolutionary committees and armed checkpoints were established to defend the people. These facts demonstrate beyond question that soviets (i.e. workers’ councils) are not an arbitrary invention of the Marxists but emerge spontaneously in any genuine revolution.
This poses the central question, that of the state. The old state power has been brought to its knees by the Revolution. It must be replaced with a new power. There is a power in society that is stronger than any state. That power is the revolutionary people. But it must be organized. In both Egypt and Tunisia there are elements of dual power in the revolutionary committees. Entire cities and regions were taken over by these committees.
In Tunisia, the revolutionary organisation of the people went even further than in Egypt. These bodies, in many cases organised around the local structures of the UGTT trade unions, took over the running of all aspects of society in towns and cities and even in whole regions, after expelling the old, RCD regime, authorities. For all the talk of “chaos” and “lack of security” on the part of the ruling class, the fact is that working people organised themselves to guarantee order and safety, but this was a different type of order, a revolutionary order.
In Egypt, following the collapse of the police force on January 28th, people stepped in to protect their neighbourhoods. They set up checkpoints, armed with knives, swords, machetes and sticks to inspect cars that were coming in and out. In some areas, the popular committees virtually took over the running of the town, even organizing the traffic. Here we have the embryo of a people’s militia – of an alternative state power.
And just as the people set up committees to protect their areas from criminal elements when the police were taken off the streets in order to cause chaos and disorder, now in order to organize the Revolution in the most effective manner, the same idea must be taken up and generalized. In order to defend and extend the Revolution, we must form defence committees everywhere!
Elected Committees for the Defence of the Revolution, which already exist in some areas, should be established in every factory, street and village. The revolutionary committees should link up on a local, regional and national level. This would be the starting point for a future democratic workers’ and peasants’ government – a real alternative to the rotten dictatorial regime.
The IMT demands:
- A complete purge and democratization of the army
- For the setting up of soldiers- committees and committees of revolutionary-minded lower ranking officers
- Out with the corrupt and reactionary generals
- Immediate disbandment of all repressive bodies
- All those guilty of acts of terror against the people must be put on trial and punished
- The general arming of the people
- The establishment of a people’s militia
- For a workers’ and peasants’ government!
Revolution knows no frontiers
The international character of the revolution has been clear from the very beginnings. Other Arab countries face many similar problems to those in Tunisia and Egypt: rising food prices, sharply deteriorating economic conditions, unemployment and rampant official corruption. Many millions of people are struggling to exist. And in society as in nature, similar conditions produce similar results. What has happened in Tunisia and Egypt can happen in many other countries, and not only in the Arab world.
The imperialists have been trying to console themselves with the thought that there is no domino effect. But the dominoes are already beginning to fall: Libya, Morocco, Sudan, Iraq, Djibouti, Yemen, Bahrain and Oman – all are entering the revolutionary maelstrom. As in Tunisia and Egypt, the people of Algeria, Jordan and Yemen were living in poverty under dictatorial ruling elites which lived a luxurious life by plundering the nation.
In the case of Iraq, the Revolution is linked to the struggle against imperialism and foreign domination and the right to self-determination of the Kurdish people. At the same time, one characteristic of the protest movement in Iraq is that it has cut across the sectarian divide between Shiites and Sunnis, between Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens, which has been the basis for the domination of reactionary politicians.
Among the main issues raised by the protesters are rising living costs, partly caused by the government’s withdrawal of subsidies for petrol and sugar—an explosive issue across the Arab world. The leaders of Jordan, Algeria and Libya all reduced taxes on imported food or lowered the prices of staples in an attempt to avoid unrest. In Algeria the regime has made concessions in an attempt to prevent an explosion that would be even bigger than the insurrection in the Berber areas in 2001.
Even the oil-rich monarchs of the Gulf are worried. Kuwait has distributed £4,000 (€4600 or US$4600) to all its citizens to keep the population quiet. But such measures can at best succeed only in postponing the inevitable revolutionary upsurge.
The Western media shamelessly portrayed the movement in Bahrain as a religious-sectarian struggle of the Shiite majority and the Sunnis. That is a lie. The Bahrainis are fighting against corruption, for free elections, against discrimination and for rights for immigrants and women, for equitable distribution of wealth and against unemployment. Everywhere we see the same courage of the masses in face of fire. In Bahrain the army was forced to withdraw from Pearl Square. Once again, the role of the working class was crucial, as it was the threat of a general strike on the part of the Bahraini trade unions which forced the regime to make some concessions
In all the Gulf Sates there is brutal exploitation of labour, largely immigrant labour. There are 1.1 million Pakistanis working in Saudi Arabia alone. A similar situation exists throughout the Gulf. There have been strikes and uprisings there in the past that have not been reported, such as the strike of 8,000 building workers in Dubai.
The Saudi regime itself, that bastion of reaction in the Middle East, resembles a pressure cooker without a safety valve. In such a regime, when the explosion comes, it will occur without warning and with extreme violence. The Saudi royal family is corrupt, degenerate and rotten to the core. It is split over the succession and there is growing resentment and discontent in the population. When the moment comes, all the oil in the kingdom will not save them. It is significant that now even the Wahhabi clergy is turning against them.
The Arab Revolution has revived the revolutionary movement in Iran, where officers in the Revolutionary Guard have said they are not prepared to fire on the people and warned the Basij to leave their truncheons at home. Rifts in the state apparatus reveal the deep crisis of the regime which is split from top to bottom.
Because each case is somewhat different, it is hard to say what kinds of regimes will emerge in each case. What kinds of political tendencies and regimes will emerge depends on many factors and will differ from one country to another. The processes in Tunisia and Egypt were almost identical. But in Libya the situation is different. The regime had more of a base, particularly around Tripoli. The uprising was largely confined to the eastern part and the Revolution has been transformed into a civil war, the outcome of which is still uncertain.
Gaddafi doesn’t care if the whole country goes down with him. Having lost control of the whole of the east including the second biggest city, Benghazi, he decided to fight to the last, plunging Libya into a bloody conflict. There have been wide ranging defections in the Libyan army, even at the top level. But it did not have the same effect as in Egypt because of the different nature of the army and the regime.
One thing is clear: everything has been thrown into the melting pot. Not one of these regimes will survive in the end. There are different possibilities, depending on the class balance of forces and a whole series of internal and external factors that are impossible to foresee. But one thing is clear: no matter what regime is installed, it will not be able to satisfy even the most minimal demands of the masses.
Impotence of imperialism
The imperialists are worried about where all this will go, and how far it will spread. They did not expect these events and do not know how to react. Obama did not dare call on Mubarak publicly to resign because of the effects in these other states. He was obliged to speak in carefully calculated code. The very words “democracy” and “human rights” in the mouth of Obama and his European counterparts stink of hypocrisy.
The cynicism of Western governments stands exposed in all its crudity. After decades of backing the vicious dictatorship in Tunisia, suddenly they are all in favour of democracy and human rights. Yet Sarkozy had praised Ben Ali as a friend of democracy and human rights even when he was torturing his opponents in the prisons. And Washington covered up the barbarous acts of all the other pro-western dictators. Now they are getting their just reward.
Politics affects the economy and vice-versa. Oil prices have climbed on fears the unrest could spread to other Arab states including oil giant Saudi Arabia or interfere with oil supplies from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal. Brent crude surpassed the $120 a barrel mark and is still hovering over the $110 mark. This threatens to undermine the weak and fragile recovery of the world economy.
For economic, political and military reasons the imperialists need stability in the Middle East. But how are they to get it? That is the question! From the beginning the US has been struggling to find a coherent response to events that are changing by the day, even by the hour. In reality the strongest power in the world has been reduced to the role of a helpless onlooker. An article in The Independent by their correspondent in Washington, Rupert Cornwell, carried the interesting title: Washington’s strong words underline US impotence. That expresses the real position.
Some “clever” people, however, think that the Arab Revolution is all part of an imperialist conspiracy. Nothing could be further from the truth. The bourgeoisie was taken completely by surprise by all this. These revolutions are completely destabilizing one of their most important regions. This is far from welcome to them. And it has repercussions far beyond the Arab world.
The Middle East is a key area for the imperialists. The Americans have spent four decades establishing their position there. Egypt was a key piece in their calculations. Now all this has been swept away before their eyes in a few weeks. The richest and most powerful state on earth was completely paralyzed. Obama could not intervene, and even found it difficult to say anything about it for fear of offending their Saudi allies.
Eight percent of world trade passes through the Suez Canal, and the Americans were terrified that would be closed, but they could do nothing about it. All that Obama could say was that it was the Egyptian people’s choice. The Americans did not say that when it came to Iraq or Afghanistan, where US imperialism did not think twice about invading.
US warships were in fact sent to Suez but did nothing. This was intended to reveal the mailed fist that is concealed within the velvet glove of Obama’s “democracy”. But in reality it was an empty gesture. The US burned its fingers in Iraq. A new military adventure in Egypt would have provoked a storm in the USA and on a world scale. There would not have been a single US embassy left standing in the Middle East and all the other pro-US Arab regimes would be faced with overthrow
The USA has a special interest in Bahrain because of its important strategic position next door to Saudi Arabia and Iran. It is the base of the Fifth Fleet, the most important US naval base in the whole region. Yet they were powerless to intervene against the revolutionary movement in Bahrain. If this was all part of an imperialist plan, nobody told Obama about it!
In the case of Libya they did not hesitate to denounce Gaddafi and call for his overthrow – which they signally failed to do in the case of Mubarak. This is yet another example of their duplicity, cynicism and double standards. But although they hinted that military action was not ruled out, they hesitated to act. In the moment of truth they could not summon up the courage to intervene. Hilary Clinton said that a no-fly zone would have to be approved by the UN – knowing full well that it would be vetoed by Russia. This is a complete contrast to the conduct of the USA in Iraq.
In reality, the imperialists are trapped. They know that any hint of American troops on the soil of Libya or any other Arab country would provoke a backlash all over the Arab world. However much they hate Gaddafi, the people of Libya do not want to see their country “liberated” like Iraq and Afghanistan.
The IMT says:
- No to foreign intervention!
- End the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan!
- Down with imperialism!
- Hands off the Arab Revolution!
Israel and the Palestinians
Nowhere has the Arab Revolution caused greater panic than in Israel. The strongest military force in the region was paralysed in the face of the events in Egypt. The Israeli ruling clique even had to be careful about what they said about the situation in Egypt. Binyamin Netanyahu ordered ministers not to talk about it in public. Israel called on the United States and a number of European countries to curb their criticism of President Hosni Mubarak. Jerusalem tried desperately to convince its allies that it was in the West’s interest to back Mubarak in order to maintain the stability of the Egyptian regime. This flew in the face of the efforts of the United States and European Union to remove him so that they could guarantee an “orderly transition” and avoid a revolutionary overthrow.
Marx pointed out that no people could ever be free if it enslaved another people. Israel rules over a large and disaffected population of Palestinians who are learning on their televisions how to overthrow tyranny. On the West Bank the Palestinians are held down with the help of the Palestinian Authority’s police. But it is open to question whether Palestinian police units, or Israeli security forces, would be able to crush a mass democracy movement, after Egypt’s powerful army refused to fire on the people.
The separate peace signed by Israel and Egypt in 1979 was a betrayal of the Palestinian cause and is deeply unpopular in most of the Arab world. The backing of Egypt has been an important element in helping the continuing Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories conquered in 1967.
The Oslo agreement between Israel and the Palestinians in 1993 was a new betrayal. The so-called Palestinian territories are nothing more than a version of the South African Bantustans. It was a cruel mockery of a homeland and none of the basic demands of the Palestinians were conceded. Israel continued to rule the roost. Since then things have gone from bad to worse.
Now the fall of Israel’s most powerful regional ally has radically altered the whole equation. It has shaken the Israeli government and called into question the deep-seated belief that the occupation of the Palestinian territories can be sustained indefinitely. Overnight the carefully prepared plans of the imperialists are in ruins.
Decades of so-called armed struggle and negotiations have led nowhere. But the revolutionary movement poses the Palestinian question in a completely different light. The ruling clique in Israel is not at all worried about Hamas’ rockets and suicide bombers. On the contrary, every rocket that falls on an Israeli village serves to push Israeli public opinion behind the government. But a Palestinian Intifada, combined with the Arab Revolution in Egypt and Jordan, is another matter altogether.
As a military power, Israel may be unbeatable. In the event of a war with Egypt, Israel would probably win again. But could it win against masses of protesters in town squares across the West Bank, Gaza and Israel too, demanding political rights for Palestinians? This is a question that must keep the Israeli generals and politicians awake at night.
The fall of Mubarak has very serious implications for Israel. In the best case, Israel’s defence spending will have to rise still further, as its rulers contemplate the threat of a war in the south. This will put further strains on an economy that was already in crisis. New cuts and attacks on living standards will be the result, putting an intensification of the class struggle on the order of the day in Israel.
Netanyahu imagined that his country was an island of stability and democracy that could not be affected by revolution. But basically, Israel is just another Middle Eastern country that is threatened by the revolutionary wave emanating from Tunisia and Egypt. There are new contradictions inside Israel. The increase in fuel and water has made Israel one of the most expensive countries to live in the world. The Histadrut (Israeli trade unions) leadership has been playing with the idea of a national strike.
The events in Tunisia and Egypt will have profound consequences for the Palestinians. The Palestinians have been betrayed by everyone they put their trust in, beginning with the supposedly friendly Arab regimes and ending with their own leaders. The latest revelations by Wikileaks had exposed the scandalous collusion of Abbas with the Israelis and Americans. This will have a big effect on the psychology of the Palestinian masses.
For forty years, the PLO leadership has betrayed the Palestinian cause. The PLO could have taken power in Jordan in 1970. Then the whole history of the region would have been different. But the petty bourgeois nationalist leadership refused to attack their “Arab brothers”. So the Jordanian monarch mobilized the Bedouins who (with the help of the Pakistani Army) slaughtered thousands of Palestinians. It is a fact that many more Palestinians have been killed by Arab “brothers” than by the Israelis.
The same Bedouins who attacked the Palestinians in 1970 are now protesting against the King. Former army officers are warning the regime that unless it makes concessions it will face the same fate as that of Ben Ali and Mubarak. This shows that the Hashemite monarchy is fast losing its base and is hanging by a thread. The movement has spread from the Bedouin areas to Amman and the Palestinians, who make up the majority of the population of Jordan.
It is time to reassess the tactics and strategy of the Palestinian struggle. The Wikileaks revelations have exposed the Palestinian leaders as little more than Israeli stooges. The mood of the Palestinians is angry and bitter. There have been a number of attempts to organise mobilisations both against Abbas in the West Bank and against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, which have been met with heavy repression. Even demonstrations in solidarity with the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions have been banned by both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.
Now a united movement against the current leadership of the Palestinian movement, against Israeli occupation and for the unity of the Palestinian struggle has been set up, attracting the support of tens of thousands on Facebook and calling for demonstrations and protests. For Palestinians, an Intifada in Egypt was part of their dreams for decades. Now it is a reality. The overthrow of the reactionary Arab regimes by the masses will deal a serious blow against Israel and US imperialism and transform the whole situation. Now for the first time the Palestinians can see who are their only real friends: the workers and peasants of the whole Arab world.
This represents a fundamental turning point. The Palestinians have seen how it is possible to fight against the oppressors, not with bombs and rockets, but by revolutionary mass action. The whole mood will be different now. There will be new stirrings in the youth, movements against Hamas in Gaza, and against the PLO leaders in the West Bank. There is growing pressure for something different than what has existed heretofore. The idea of a new Intifada will rapidly gain ground among the Palestinians. This would change everything.
For a Socialist Federation!
After the First World War the so-called Arab nation states were created artificially by imperialism. This division was not based on any natural or historical criterion but purely on the interests of imperialism. The Sykes-Picot agreement divided Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan between Britain and France. Under the Balfour Declaration in 1918, the British gave permission for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
In the Gulf, small states with huge reserves of oil were established so they could be controlled by imperialism easily, for access to resources. The Saudi monarchy consisted of desert bandits, raised to power by the British agent Wilson Cox. Imperialism has divided the living body of the Great Arab Nation.
The Arab Revolution can never succeed until it has put an end to the shameful Balkanization of the Arab world. The only way to break the chains forged by imperialism is to place on our banner the slogan of a Socialist Federation of the Arab world. This would create a mighty Socialist Commonwealth, stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Euphrates.
On the basis of a nationalized planned economy, unemployment would be immediately abolished. A vast reservoir of unused labour power would be mobilized to solve the problems of housing, health, education and the infrastructure. By pooling the huge resources of all these countries on the basis of a common plan of production, deserts could be made to bloom and a new cultural revolution would put all the gains of the past in the shade.
A Socialist Federation, with full autonomy for all the peoples, is the only way to solve the national and religious strife that has poisoned the lives of the peoples for decades, leading to one war after another. Muslims and Copts, Sunnis and Shiites, Palestinians and Jews, Arabs, Amazigh (Berbers), Maronites, Kurds, Turkmens, Armenians, Druzes – all will find a place in a Federation based on the principle of absolute equality.
The IMT says:
- Defend the rights of the Palestinian people and all oppressed nationalities to self-determination!
- Down with the imperialist and Israeli aggressors! End the occupation of Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine!
- Drive out the collaborators! For the revolutionary overthrow of all the Arab puppets of imperialism!
- Expropriate the property of the imperialists and their Arab stooges! The wealth of the Arab lands must be returned to the people!
- For the revolutionary unity of the peoples! For the Socialist Federation of the Middle East and North Africa, on the basis of a free, equal and fraternal union, with full autonomy to every nationality!
Leaps in consciousness
The Egyptian Revolution is the final answer to all those sceptics and intellectual snobs who constantly harp on the alleged “low level of consciousness” of the masses. Those western “experts” who talked contemptuously of the Egyptians as “apathetic” and “passive” and “indifferent to politics” must eat their words.
Marxists understand that human consciousness in general is not progressive or revolutionary but profoundly conservative. Resistance to change is deeply rooted in the human mind as part of a survival mechanism that comes from the remote past of our species. As a general rule, therefore, consciousness lags behind events. It does not change gradually, today more revolutionary than yesterday and tomorrow more than today, any more than water that is cooled from 100 to 0 degrees first becomes a paste, then a jelly and finally a solid.
This view of consciousness is metaphysical and mechanical, not materialist and dialectical. Dialectics teaches us that things change into their opposite, and that small, apparently insignificant changes can at a certain point, known in physics as a critical point, produce explosive transformations on a gigantic scale. The change in consciousness happens suddenly, when it is compelled by great events to change. When this occurs, consciousness is swiftly brought into line with reality. This leap of consciousness is precisely what a revolution is.
The masses, whether in Egypt, Iran, Britain or the USA, do not learn from books but from experience. In a revolution, they learn much faster than in other circumstances. The Egyptian workers and youth have learnt more in a few days of struggle than in thirty years of “normal” existence. On the streets the masses developed a sense of their own power. They lost the deadening fear of the uniformed riot police backed up by water cannons and thousands of plain-clothes thugs, who they pushed back and defeated.
In a revolution the learning process is enormously speeded up. We see exactly the same process in Egypt and Tunisia. Here is a vast laboratory where the different vague, competing lists of demands issued by different organisers are put to the test. On the streets the masses decide which slogans are appropriate and which are not. We will see the same process repeated time and time again, and not just in the Middle East and North Africa but everywhere.
From Cairo to Madison
In 1917 it took about a week for people in India to learn that there had been a Revolution in Russia. Today everyone can see the revolution live on their television screens. The situation in the Middle East is having a tremendous effect around the world. In India, for the first time in 32 years, the unions and left parties recently organised a general strike over wages and prices. There was a march of 200,000 on the streets in New Delhi, over food price rises. Although India is growing at an annual rate of nine percent, this increases inequality by concentrating wealth at the top.
In Tunisia and Egypt the capitalist system is beginning to break at its weakest links. The bourgeois will tell us that such things cannot happen in the advanced capitalist countries, that the situation is different and so on and so forth. Yes, the situation is different, but only in degree. Everywhere the working class and the youth will be faced with the same alternative: either we accept the systematic destruction of our living standards and rights – or we fight.
The argument “it cannot happen here” is without any scientific or rational basis. The same thing was said of Tunisia only a couple of months ago, when that country was considered to be the most stable in North Africa. And the same argument was repeated in relation to Egypt even after Ben Ali was overthrown. Just a few weeks were sufficient to expose the hollowness of those words. Such is the speed of events in our epoch. Sooner or later the same question will be posed in every country in Europe, in Japan, in Canada, and also in the United States.
Inflation is rising. Food prices are rising. This will have the most serious effects everywhere, particularly in poor countries. According to the World Bank, 44 million more people will be thrust into extreme poverty in the coming period, pushing the figure to over one billion worldwide. Millions of people are fighting for food, jobs and housing – that is, for the most basic conditions of a semi-civilized existence. These conditions ought to be freely available to everybody in the first decade of the twenty-first century. But the decrepit capitalist system is no longer able to guarantee these things even in Europe and North America. This is why there are riots and uprisings. It is a life and death question.
The present crisis is not a normal cyclical crisis of capitalism. The recovery also is not normal. The capitalists are trying to squeeze the workers more than ever in an attempt to re-establish the economic equilibrium: to pay off their debts, reduce cost of labour, etc. But by so doing, they destabilize the entire situation. This partly explains both the Arab revolution and the upsurge of the class struggle in Europe
Every country in the world has been affected. It is no accident that China added its voice to the chorus calling for a return to “order “in Egypt. In part it is a question of economic interest. The Chinese regime is interested in global economic stability because it wants to continue to earn a lot of money from exports. But above all, Beijing is afraid of anything that could provide an impetus for strikes and protests in China itself. They have clamped down on all protest and blocked any reference to Egypt on the Internet.
By contrast, every class conscious worker in the world will rejoice at the marvellous movement of the workers and youth in Tunisia and Egypt. The psychological effects of this cannot be underestimated. For many, especially in the advanced capitalist countries, the idea of revolution appeared as something abstract and remote. Now the events that have unfolded before their eyes on television show that revolution is not just possible but necessary.
In Europe and the USA there is a seething hatred of the bankers and fat cats who are rewarding themselves obscene bonuses while the rest of society suffers continuous attacks on their living standards. This fact is strikingly reflected in the dramatic events in Wisconsin. It is no accident that the workers of Madison, Wisconsin chanted things like “fight like an Egyptian”. This is the effect of the vicious policies being imposed on the working class during an economic recovery in the US.
Suddenly the world has woken up to the fact that there has been an explosion of the class struggle in Wisconsin, with 100,000 people on the streets. We see images of workers holding placards calling the governor Hosni Walker and chanting: “Wisconsin Dictator Must Go”. Egyptian workers even sent solidarity messages to the Wisconsin workers. There have been student walkouts, campouts at the state Capitol and spontaneous rallies. The police who were sent to disperse the demonstrators went over to the people, joined the occupation wearing jackets that carried slogans like “cops for labour”. This is an extremely important development.
In Europe we have seen big movements of the workers and youth: eight general strikes in Greece in the last twelve months; a huge strike movement in France bringing three and a half million workers out onto the streets; the movement of the British students; a general strike in Spain; in Italy the movement of the metal workers. Recently there was the biggest general strike in Portugal since the fall of the dictatorship in 1974. Even in the Netherlands there were 15,000 students protesting at the Hague. In Eastern Europe as well we have seen big movements in Albania and Romania. In Bulgaria, even the police have been out on strike.
Twenty years ago, the bourgeoisie was overjoyed at the overthrow of “communism”. But their rejoicing was premature. In retrospect the fall of Stalinism will be seen as only the prelude to a far more dramatic development: the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. Everywhere, including the United States, the system is in crisis. Everywhere the ruling class is trying to place the full burden of the crisis of its system on the shoulders of the poorest layers of society.
These movements have striking similarities to the mass movements that led to the overthrow of the regimes in Eastern Europe. On paper these governments had a powerful state apparatus, big armies, police, and secret police. But that did not save them. Nor will all the money, police and armies in the world save the rulers of Europe and the United States once the workers move to change society.
The masses have shown again and again determination and willingness to struggle. In order to achieve victory they need to be armed with a clear programme and leadership. The ideas of Marxism are the only ones that can provide it. The future is ours.
- Long live the Arab Revolution!
- Workers of the world unite!
- Long live socialism, the only hope for the future of humankind!
- Thawra hatta’l nasr!
London, March 14, 2011