Feb 7, 2011
The following is a translation from an article written on February 2, appearing in Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the paper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France. Events are fast moving, but the analysis in this article shows its relevance even with the changes.
The events occurring in Tunisia and Egypt are of major importance. For the first time, protests in the street are so powerful and sustained that dictators tremble and one of them, Ben Ali of Tunisia, has been sent packing. When this was written, Mubarak was still in power, but the question is posed of how long.
These dictators are mafia-like chiefs who enrich their clans and their families. But most of all, they are guard dogs for the economic interests of the big capitalist groups and, on the political level, the local servants of the great powers.
The great powers, their political and military chiefs, aren’t worried about what has happened during the last few days, but of what could happen in the future, the dynamic contained in the situation.
The Arab countries in Northern Africa are powder kegs. The crushing poverty in which the majority of the population lives and unemployment both push the youth to despair. And the economic growth the Tunisian and Egyptian leaders brag about profits only a tiny layer of the local wealthy and imperialism. The wages of an Egyptian worker amount to only a fourth of the wages in Turkey, which doesn’t pay its workers well!
This situation isn’t new, but instead of improving a bit with time, the economic crisis has aggravated it. Dictators like Ben Ali and Mubarak use the crisis to prevent their people from raising their heads and to repress them, including with terror. But these dictatorships can be inconvenient for those who own the countries’ wealth – because all the hatred and anger has a focus: the dictator.
In Tunisia when the popular movement showed it would continue, imperialism decided to drop Ben Ali, in hopes of calming the growing anger. Ben Ali had already tried the same trick to defuse the situation – firing his Interior Minister. But it wasn’t enough. When the wave of demonstrations threatened the capital Tunis and the tourist zones, whose receipts are important for the local bourgeoisie, it was Ben Ali’s turn to be “sacrificed.”
He was shipped off to a villa in Saudi Arabia to enjoy a peaceful and luxurious retirement! The United States carried out this operation, since the French leaders made the mistake of clinging too long to Ben Ali. U.S. leaders had profited from the situation to take their distance from Ben Ali. And that puts the U.S. in a better position to replace French imperialism in Tunisia.
Certainly, the U.S. wouldn’t have advised the Tunisian general staff to push Ben Ali out if there hadn’t been a popular revolt, with demonstrators courageously confronting the police who shot real bullets. The political leaders of imperialism pushed Ali out – in order to put the brakes on a movement before the poor popular masses, especially the working class, began to erupt.
The masses in revolt educate themselves through the revolt itself. When revolt is radical and durable, people learn in the fire of events to distinguish their friends from their enemies, above all, getting rid of false friends who always swarm about coming to aid the victory after it is nearly won, positioning themselves to harvest its fruit, seeking out positions that had been occupied by partisans too closely linked to the overthrown dictator.
Yes, the overthrow of the dictatorship is itself a major fact, but people have always known how to do that, when they reach a certain level of anger. But the true problems begin after the dictatorship is thrown out. What objectives should the exploited fight for, how should they try to organize to impose them? What attitude should they have toward the army? So long as the army is controlled by the general staff and military hierarchy, it is in the hands of the classes that own society’s wealth.
The bourgeoisie has many alternatives. Its problem is to choose the one most appropriate for the situation. The masses, on the other hand, serve their apprenticeship in the struggle itself. That’s why it’s indispensable that parties representing the political interests of the working class be reborn everywhere, be educated, tempered, and capable of proposing a correct policy to the working class in the context of an uprising, that is, a revolutionary communist party!
Unfortunately, there isn’t such a party in Tunisia or in Egypt, or moreover in France or the United States. But, on the road of struggle, the exploited can learn that behind the dictatorship, there is a state apparatus and a ruling class and the big imperialist powers.
Even when the energy of the revolted masses is powerful, the main obstacle that prevents them from becoming conscious of what they need to go further is the joyous but poisonous atmosphere that accompanies any popular uprising and which very often prevents it from becoming a revolution. A poisonous atmosphere because the joy of having overthrown the dictatorship smothers all criticism, smothers all opposition – but without criticism and opposition the revolution can’t advance.
General Rashid Ammar is put forward today as the “friend of the revolution.” He was, according to the press, the general who refused to shoot on the protesters, leaving the dirty work to the police. But this man served Ben Ali during his entire career, with no misgivings. And if he chose not to shoot – or if his U.S. advisers decided he shouldn’t – it was because neither of them wanted the army to sink along with the dictatorship.
The Egyptian army general staff faces the same problem. It declared that the protesters’ demands “are legitimate” and promised that the army won’t shoot on the crowd of demonstrators. Obviously there is no guarantee this promise will be kept. And the army made a point of deploying tanks in Cairo, flying fighter planes over the demonstrators. But for the time being, the army has no reason to link its destiny to Mubarak and his regime. The bourgeoisie can do without Mubarak, but not without the army.
For the moment the U.S. has not removed its support for Mubarak, contrary to Ben Ali – due to Egypt’s role as the faithful U.S. ally in the Middle East. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton sent Mubarak warnings. But if they are leaving open the opportunity for him to remain right now, it’s undoubtedly under the condition that he not compromise the army too much to leave the way open for a transition. Will the U.S. favor someone like ElBaradei, a high functionary not well known in Egypt, but who acts on the political scene as a “unifier” of the opposition? Will it favor another civilian? Or a high army officer who will take power “provisionally,” promising to proceed later to elections?
The leaders of U.S. imperialism have to be particularly prudent. First, due to Egypt’s proximity to Israel, any change in regime can have consequences for the relations between the two countries. Furthermore, Egypt isn’t Tunisia – it has eight times the population, and Cairo has 18 million inhabitants, the overwhelming majority of whom are poor. Egypt has an important, combative working class, which knows how to lead strikes, even under the dictatorship. All this represents an enormous explosive potential.
For the moment, to judge by what the media reports, the working class isn’t mobilized, or only very little, no more than the majority of ordinary people. But they could be mobilized very rapidly. A workers’ explosion in Cairo, mixing political and social demands, would represent an immeasurable danger for the ruling class. Of course, the leading circles of the imperialist bourgeoisie repeatedly speak of “stabilization.” So do many of those who demonstrate today, but think above all about defending their property. Once Mubarak has fallen and even before, they speak of “stopping anarchy.”
It isn’t possible to define from afar the details of a policy that would accord with the interests of the working class. But the general line of this policy is obvious.
The working class obviously has an interest to participate in the current movement for the fall of the Mubarak regime. Freedom and democratic rights concern it still more than the petty bourgeoisie and its intelligentsia – even if “democracy” means something different for the working class than for the middle layers of society.
The working class needs to put forward its own class objectives, independently of the petty bourgeoisie, which today has risen up, but which will inevitably break with the movement, if the movement radicalizes and threatens its property.
The workers need to try to draw the army to their side, by trying to touch the rank and file soldiers – as sons of the workers and small peasants – to oppose them to the army’s general staff and the top officers.
If the current movement develops, if it really involves a significant part of the working class and the poor categories of the population, they need to put themselves forward to lead the movement and to give themselves the organizations which will let them do it. Would it be utopian to imagine workers’ councils in Egypt? Not at all: barely two years ago, in April 2008, at the time of a strike in the Misr Spinning mill in Mahalla El Kubra – one of many strikes the workers led despite the dictatorship – the 25,000 workers of this factory created “a strike committee” to lead it. Of course, the strike was for a wage increase, in fact obtained, not a political strike. But such organisms, formed in struggle, can also take the leadership of a political struggle and transform themselves into true workers councils.
The workers have every interest not to leave the monopoly of arms to the army led by the military hierarchy, and, instead, to push for the people to arm themselves.
The current uprising has already shaken the Mubarak dictatorship. And if it continues, the end of the reign of the old dictator is probably near (a dictator who probably has already lost any chance of leaving power to his son Gamal, as he intended).
Those who wish to prevent the arrival in power of a new Mubarak, those for whom democratic rights aren’t limited to the installation of a bit more of a parliamentary regime, with elections a little less rigged; those who truly wish to better the situation of the exploited classes can’t be content with the departure of Mubarak. Don’t leave the future of the country and of its exploited classes to the good will of the general staff of the army and the imperialist bourgeoisie that it ultimately serves.