Hail the Revolutionary Coup in Egypt…Well Sort of…No, Not Really
A recent article by the IWL (International Workers League) on developments in Egypt, entitled, Egypt: No confidence at all in the new puppet military and imperialist administration! makes some confusing and contradictory claims that they come to by a combination of: ignoring the developments since 2011 in Egypt, by rewriting recent history in Egypt, and by misapplying a theory of Permanent Revolution on development in Egypt and throughout the Middle East. Whether that theory has held up intact over the course of the last 80 years, during which dozens of revolutions have occurred and been reversed without the leadership of the working class in either phase of the ‘process,’ is beyond the scope of this document. Nevertheless, I will try to make sense of the mass of confusion, historical inaccuracy and theoretical sleight-of-hand represented in the article.
What Are the Claims?
1) The military reclaiming direct control of the government through a coup should be supported by socialists because it was a direct result of the popular explosion that took place between June 30 and July 3rd, 2013.
“Jaded and absolutely fed up, the toiling masses rose with much greater power than that epic feat against the dictator and toppled another president in fewer three years..Egyptian masses are now writing a new page in the history of their revolution, a revolution that is still continues its course and is permanent and uninterrupted.”
2) The events that have taken place represent a weakening of the State (another reason we should support the event even though they ended in a coup).
“The military regime ruling in the country managed to survive the fall of Mubarak was not destroyed even it was injured and weakened by the activity of the masses… the fundamental thing is to understand that, regardless the forms, the fall of Morsi, just as the fall of Mubarak was before it, is an enormous revolutionary triumph of the Egyptian masses who, through their activity weakened the military as well as American imperialism that have been upholding this regime for the past 30 years.”
3) The Muslim Brotherhood’s claim that Morsi should be returned to power because he was elected in a fair election is false, and that they represent the forces of counter-revolution and should be put down.
“Of course, according to what we explained above, this repudiation cannot stand for our supporting the demonstrations of the Brotherhood trying to return to power or that their leaders – beginning with Morsi, liable for all the repression during this year, or the Brotherhood’s mass media are to be returned to them to be used in campaigns against what the masses decided in the streets…. As long as the Brotherhood keeps on calling their supporters to walk out into the street to take over the control, that is to say, to go against the action of the vast majority of the toiling masses and the achievement that the eviction of Morsi meant for them; we are against defending his right of expression and demonstration.”
4) Socialists should oppose the ensuing crackdown on the Muslims who are demonstrating to restore the president who was democratically elected in Egypt.
“However, the fact that we are against the demonstrations of the Muslim Brotherhood to return to the office does not mean that we shall back any repressive action of the Army or the police because their measures obey the interests of their commanding officers and the is no reason for which we can trust them. We condemn this attack for its unnecessary cruelty and because these deaths served the only purpose of strengthening the attempt by the Brotherhood at returning to power taking advantage of the indignation that this fact caused in all the sectors, including those who had evicted Morsi.”
5) Socialists should oppose a government of the military because it represents the restoration of the most repressive sections of the State apparatus and appears to have growing support from the forces of imperialism, namely the United States and its key allies in the region.
“No confidence in the new government! We must face them independently!
With Morsi defeated, the main enemy of the mass movement is the new government established once more by the military.”
6) The “mass movement must demand from this new civilian-military government, the one that claims to be the “guardians of the people” an immediate, really democratic and sovereign Constituent Assembly to pass a program for the liberation of Egypt from the imperialist bonds.”
One can be excused for being confused by this tangle of contradictory assessments given that points (1) and (2) run completely contrary to point (5); and that point (3) runs counter to point (4). Such a mess of mixed messages can only produce the worst response in workers or revolutionaries at time like this: not clarity but confusion, not action but paralysis.
Untangling the Mess: Comparing Egypt 2011 to 2013
First off, the struggle in 2011 was an uprising that opposed the worst aspects of austerity that led to mass unemployment and hunger, opposed a Mubarak regime that was a dictatorship and shed workers blood in the streets; and called for the removal of Mubarak and the establishment of a democratic process that would allow more popular control of the government and presumably, the beginning of the realization of the popular demands.
The aims of the struggle at the time where partially accomplished by the establishment of free elections (although confined within bourgeois limits) for the first time in Egyptian history. These developments, including the establishment of democracy in Egypt, were universally hailed by socialists as a first step in a revolutionary process. The IWL went so far as to call these developments an “unconscious socialist revolution” I will leave aside lack of familiarity with such a term ever being used within Marxism, and that it is completely contradictory to what Marxists actually think socialist revolution is: the conscious act of the working class coming to power.
The fact is that the coup in 2013 has now completely reversed every one of the partial gains accomplished by the “first phase of the revolution” in 2011, and yet we are supposed to understand this as a continuation of the revolutionary process. In fact, we are supposed to see the forces of the Muslim Brotherhood as the forces of counter-revolution because they are ‘mistakenly’ going into the streets to defend ‘democracy’ because they are demanding that a democratically elected president be restored and military rule be reversed.
The election of Morsi was close, he defeated the former regime candidate by a slim margin (51% vs. 49%) but he did win what was largely considered a fair election. In fact there have been many subsequent elections since then. The people in Egypt went to the polls at least six times: to vote for a referendum to chart the political way forward (March 2011), to vote for the lower and upper house of parliament (November 2011-January 2012), to elect a civilian president over two rounds (May-June 2012), and to ratify the new constitution (December 2012). Each time the electorate voted for the choice of the Islamist parties to the frustration of the secular and liberal opposition.
I think it is understandable that Muslim workers see themselves as defending democracy by opposing the coup because that is exactly what they are doing. They are not mistaken. Far from being counter-revolutionary, within bourgeois terms, these workers see most clearly what has happened. The democracy they fought and bled for in 2011 has been dismantled by a coup. As a matter of fact, socialists who applauded the 2013 demonstrations uncritically and directed the working class into the hands of the military, instead should have opposed the removal of a bourgeois bully (but an elected one) by a military coup, which amounts to back handed support of reaction, and instead organized a working class defense of democracy.
This is exactly the role the Bolshevik party played in 1917 in defending a far worse criminal in power (Kerensky) against the forces of reaction on the march (Kornilov) that threatened to take down both Kerensky and the organs of worker’s power, the Soviets.
But now events have passed socialists and the working class by and reaction has once again taken power (despite socialists refusal to acknowledge that). I do not believe socialists need to call for re-imposition of Morsi in opposing the illegitimacy of the military coup; just as the Bolsheviks would not have called for the re-installation of Kerensky. Socialists are for neither bourgeois road. Despite the weakness of the Left in Egypt and internationally, the role of socialists both inside and outside of Egypt is to argue for the independence of the working class.
Instead, IWL draws an equal sign between Mubarak and Morsi. They fail to acknowledge, on the one hand, that while one ruled by direct dictatorship, the other’s rule was established by bourgeois democracy; and on the other hand, that Mubarak’s fall was the final chapter in a struggle against dictatorship and for the establishment of a democratic regime, while Morsi’s fall came with the dismantling of that regime and the re-imposition of military dictatorship. To call such a development a continuation of a revolutionary process is a contradiction, and not the kind resolvable through ‘dialectics,’ its just bad logic.
Who took down Morsi? The masses or the military?
IWL makes this mistake because it claims that the events, which took down Morsi, were a simple result of the mass demonstrations that took place in late June and early July. If only it were so simple. A quick perusal of the bourgeois and Left press over days after the coup prove that it was nothing of the kind.
Things broke down between Morsi and the military over a year ago when Morsi moved swiftly to shake up the military after his inauguration on June 30, 2012. Within six weeks, he summoned Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, who had served Mubarak for two decades and was interim head of state after him, and told him to retire along with the U.S.-trained chief of staff, General Sami Enan. Morsi then appointed a pious Muslim, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, as commander of the armed forces.
The president believed he had stamped his authority on the men in uniform. In reality, the officer corps was willing to see two old retainers put out to pasture, clearing a blocked promotion ladder. “They (the Brotherhood) misread what happened. We allowed it to happen,” said one colonel. The military still viewed with deep suspicion a head of state that, they believed, saw Egypt as “just part of a bigger (Islamic) Caliphate,” said the colonel.
Morsi believed the military would not act against him, especially if the Brotherhood took care of the army’s economic interests when drafting a new constitution. “He thought Sisi was his guy,” a
senior Western diplomat said. “He didn’t understand the power dynamics.”
Late in 2012, when Morsi and the Brotherhood pushed for a new constitution, they clashed with secular parties and civil society groups angered by the Islamist tinge to the charter, ambiguous wording on freedom of expression, and the absence of explicit guarantees of the rights of women, Christians and non-government organizations.
After weeks of debate, fear that a judiciary packed with Mubarak-era appointees would dissolve the constituent assembly, helped prompt Morsi to issue a decree shielding the assembly from legal challenge and putting the president above judicial review. It was a move born out of the Brotherhood’s deep suspicion that the judiciary was out to undo all its electoral gains. When Morsi rammed the new charter through, the opposition walked out. The constitutional decree was a turning point. Ministers were not consulted. Several of Morsi’s own staff warned that it would set him on a confrontation course with powerful sections of civil society.
The demonstrations against Morsi were entirely justified and expressed the popular disillusionment with the Morsi government and their attempt to consolidate more political power into the presidency using the cover of “protecting the gains of the revolution.” Many mainstream media (and even state-run media) outlets participated in protest by suspending publication or expressing opposition to Morsi’s policies. Still, while popular support of Morsi eroded, there were reports that many of the demonstrations were actually led by the Mubarak supporters. It was clear that Morsi had overplayed his hand and was facing opposition from both the Left and the Right. The opposition was said to be led by activist Hamdeen Sabahi and centrist leader, Mohamed ElBaradei in an alliance with one of Mubarak’s men, Amr Moussa, the former foreign minister under the dictatorship. The Morsi regime was clearly weakening.
On December of 2012, a wave of protests rocked the Morsi administration and Morsi’s Ittihadiya palace was regularly attacked with petrol bombs, rocks and metal bolts. The police and military refused to come out and defend Morsi at the time and the Muslim Brotherhood was forced to organize its own defense of its party in power. Later in January, during the second anniversary of the uprising that had established democratic rule in Egypt, Morsi had called a curfew after demonstrations turned violent. Reports have it that far from imposing a curfew, members of the military refused to impose it.
“People at night were playing football with the army which was supposed to be imposing the curfew,” said Mekky, who had become justice minister. “So when I (as president) impose a curfew and I see neither my citizens nor my army that are supposed to implement the curfew are listening to me, I should know that I am not really a president.”
A Weakened State or a Stronger One
The IWL article claims that the Egyptian State has been weakened by the coup. A state that now enjoys the active or passive support of tens of millions of Egyptians. A state that has absorbed into itself virtually every section of resistance in the Tamarrud (from El Baradei, to the students and trade union leaders) as well as all the sections of the former Mubarak regime, and excluding only the Salafists and the Muslim Brotherhood itself. All these sectors bound under one roof supporting a coup government, an aggressive return to the streets of the military and brutal crackdown on Muslims and opposition forces. Compare this to a regime in which the military refuses to act to defend it and instead plays soccer with workers. By any measure that makes sense, politically or organizational, the hand of the state has been massively strengthened by the coup and socialists would be fools to not acknowledge this development. Because this same state apparatus is being prepared and sharpened for dealing with opposition it will face beyond the Muslim Brotherhood in the coming weeks, months and years.
The Process of Morsi’s Removal
In truth, the groundwork for this support and strengthening of the state did not start on June 30th 2013, but had been laid down in the preceding months.
In the months prior to the coup, the European Union, supported by the United States, launched a discreet diplomatic effort to try to bring the Morsi government together with its liberal and secular opposition to compromise on a national unity government. The aim was to trigger fresh parliamentary elections and a loan agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that could have unlocked stalled economic aid and investment.
Morsi never explicitly embraced the EU initiative although he never rejected it either. Morsi proved unable to implement the IMF’s neoliberal agenda. Events soon put a deal out of reach.
Only a month before the army intervened to remove Morsi, two of Egypt’s most senior power brokers met for a private dinner at the home of liberal politician Ayman Nour on the island of Zamalek.
The two power brokers were Amr Moussa, a long-time foreign minister under Mubarak and now a secular nationalist politician, and Khairat El-Shater, the Brotherhood’s deputy leader and most influential strategist and financier. Moussa suggested that to avoid confrontation, Morsi should heed opposition demands, including a change of government.
The Tamarrud itself, far from being an independent movement of the working class, is a student-initiated movement, which grew well beyond their ability to direct and control as it swelled. It brought together a variety of disparate forces whose only point of agreement (whether coming from the Right or from the Left) was a shared a hatred and distrust for a weakening, and isolated Morsi administration. This included trade unions, students, liberal leaders and groups, members of the old Mubarak regime (fulool), members of the military, and even the Salafists. While workers participated in the movement and provided its popular base, the political leadership of it was entirely composed of a disparate grouping of the bourgeoisie and petite bourgeoisie.
Billionaire businessman Naguib Sawiris, who left Egypt shortly after Morsi’s election, told Reuters he threw his full support behind the youth movement.
“The Free Egyptians party, the party that I founded, used all its branches across Egypt to (gather) signatures for Tamarrud,” Sawiris said in a telephone interview from his yacht off the Greek island of Mykonos. “Also the TV station that I own and the newspaper, Al-Masry Al-Youm, were supporting the Tamarrud movement with their media … It is fair to say that I encouraged all the affiliations I have to support the movement. But there was no financing, because there was no need.”
Far from causing the fall of a regime, the demonstrations on June 30 – July 3, despite their mass base and mass character, can best be understood as the final act in the political undoing of the democratic reforms won in 2011. The political and organizational groundwork for this act by the military had been prepared months in advance, and has been used to orchestrate a popularly supported coup that significantly strengthens the hand of the state, of imperialism and threatens to split a nascent workers and student movement along religious lines while undoing or marginalizing political developments that had led a section of workers to see the military as their enemy in 2011.
Oppose the Coup, Oppose the Crackdown
This is why socialists should oppose the military, not just in the actions it takes today, but also in the taking of power and reject any association of the coup as part of some revolutionary process. The acts by the military over the last month are best understood as an act of counter-revolution that should not just be opposed in name but in deed. For socialists, that means rejecting the attacks, which are now taking place on Muslims or the shutting down of radio and television stations like Al Jazeera. It is not enough to ‘expose’ the crimes of the military or ‘condemn’ the crimes of the military. That is the role of a reformist, liberal media. We are revolutionaries. Socialists on the ground in Egypt should be organizing the active defense of Muslim workers being attacked by the military, and rejecting the ethnic divide being promoted within our class by bourgeois dictatorship that has been restored.
In actively defending our Muslim brothers and sisters who are now under attack by the bourgeois state, we can explain to Muslim workers that we do not support the restoration of the Morsi government not just because of the many betrayals and atrocities it visited on its opponents but because the “Morsi democracy” is really a different form of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. (It’s worth mentioning that the same is true for the US regime which imprisons greater percentage of its population than any other country, doesn’t allow felons to vote, and condones people like Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant being gunned down in the street.)
We as socialists are not for that either, but we are for uniting workers across racial, ethnic, religious and gender lines to overthrow the rule of the bourgeoisie, whether it’s hidden behind a military dictatorship (Mubarak, Sisi) or behind a parliamentary shell (Morsi, Obama). We must convince Muslim workers of the atrocities that Morsi committed in attacking our Christian brothers and sisters. Socialists can organize a defense against the military repression while engaging Muslim workers about the basis of that defense which challenges religious and ethnic sectarianism and attempts to politically and organizationally unite a single workers movement. A movement whose aim to opposing and eventually take down the coup government for the establishment of a workers government and the overturning of imperial and capitalist relations in Egypt. This must be followed by the subsequent spreading of the socialist revolution throughout the region, and the world.
Of course we cannot be blind to the enormity of the task and how feeble our forces are in arguing such a course and how politically distant the working class is from such a vision.
Nevertheless, this is our path. It is the path of the political independence of the working class in relation to the machinations of the bourgeoisie; and it is the only path that can solve the economic and social crisis in Egypt – socialist revolution.
This stands in sharp contrast to what the IWL is arguing in their article. The mush of opposing a coup we support or rejecting a crackdown we simultaneously justify.
Permanent Revolution? Does Egypt Fit?
We cannot fool ourselves into thinking this path is an easy one. The fact is, there are no socialists of any weight providing the kind of leadership we are calling for. In part because, like the IWL, socialists in Egypt and across the globe have been completely confused by the developments in Egypt (and throughout Middle East during the Arab Spring), and have tried to paint the great moments of class struggle that are taking place in socialist colors by saying they are part of a revolutionary process that ‘may’ lead to socialist revolution because it conforms to a process of permanent revolution laid out by Trotsky in 1929.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Postulates 2 and 3 of Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution states:
“With regard to countries with a belated bourgeois development, especially the colonial and semi-colonial countries, the theory of the permanent revolution signifies that the complete and genuine solution of their tasks of achieving democracy and national emancipation is conceivable only through the dictatorship of the proletariat as the leader of the subjugated nation, above all of its peasant masses.”
“Without an alliance of the proletariat with the peasantry the tasks of the democratic revolution cannot be solved, nor even seriously posed. But the alliance of these two classes can be realized in no other way than through an irreconcilable struggle against the influence of the national-liberal bourgeoisie.”
Is that what is going on in Egypt? Is that what is taking place in any of the regimes taken down by or threatened during the Arab Spring? Absolutely not. Class struggle? Yes. But struggle thoroughly led by sections of the national bourgeoisie and even sections of the petite bourgeoisie. Not a single movement in any region of the Arab Spring has an independent working class organization or expresses independent working class demands. How do we know this? Well, there is no call for socialist revolution in the face of any of these developments, no establishment of workers councils, no moments of dual power and finally, (and unlike in Trotsky’s day) no mass Communist Party rooted in the working class in any of these countries, not even a single movement led by independent trade unions.
As postulate 4 of Trotsky’s permanent revolution states:
“No matter what the first episodic stages of the revolution may be in the individual countries, the realization of the revolutionary alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry is conceivable only under the political leadership of the proletariat vanguard, organized in the Communist Party.”
All this should give us some pause as we assess the political and organizational developments taking place within a region where struggle is immense, but the movements, because of the weakness of the radical Left, end up being manipulated by various sections of national bourgeoisie and are even financed by sections of international bourgeoisie through imperialism.
The failure of the IWL and the rest of the revolutionary Left to recognize the decisive influence of the international and national bourgeoisie, and their insistence on characterizing events in terms of a “permanent and uninterrupted” revolutionary process, instead of clearly assessing events as they unfold and charting a course independent of the bourgeoisie, leads them to the path of opportunism. This is the path that the IWL and most other revolutionaries are currently walking.
Size (and Implantation) Matters.
The challenge we face is that the number of socialists with a base in the working class in Egypt, in the Middle East, or throughout the world, is tiny in relation to the crisis workers now face. A small group of socialists in Egypt would find it impossible to enact either the course of action the IWL and others is suggesting: “a demand from this new civilian-military government, the one that claims to be the “guardians of the people” an immediate, really democratic and sovereign Constituent Assembly to pass a program for the liberation of Egypt from the imperialist bonds.”
Beyond the absurdity of demanding a coup government of dictatorship to call a “Constituent Assembly” and the confusion such a call would have in the heads of the few workers who are listening; the real problem is the idealist notion that ANY of this can be realized without the presence of a mass revolutionary party with a mass working class base. Nothing of the sort exists, in Egypt or anywhere for that matter. Proclamations such as these, even if they were right, (and the IWL’s are not) are scraps of paper without a mass party to implement it and to test it in practice. The ideas might be founded on scientific socialism but the method is idealist and hopelessly utopian.
A small set of socialists could, however, begin assembling a core of workers and students around them who reject the military government, the Morsi government and ethnic divisions being sown by the coup government. Such a group might begin to build around them a cohort of revolutionaries prepared to put forward an independent political line in the face of the mass of confusion sown within our class by the movement’s bourgeois leadership. But let’s be clear, these revolutionaries must understand that this is a building operation, and they will have limited impact on the course of the struggle given the scale of the forces at play and the small size of their own organization. These more modest aims would be hard to do and the pull of opportunism is great, but our task is to make a working class revolution, not just produce regime change of any sort.
Class struggle in Egypt is great, but is no surprise. We are Marxists. Class struggle results from a class divided society. The real story we should be telling in Egypt and to workers here in the US is the tragedy of millions mobilized and acting for a better world, several times, over only a few years and what does it produce without mass revolutionary leadership and revolutionaries without a mass working class base.
Well, you see it in Egypt. A coup government of reaction.
The project for building such an organization here in the US is an immediate task that cannot be put off for a time when struggle picks up. It is an essential task now both for the possibility of training a cadre of socialists how to lead class struggle, and to building a larger revolutionary party that has a relationship to, and eventually recruits, a growing working class vanguard which will develop in that struggle. Without that preliminary work, the kind of work done by the Bolsheviks over decades in Russia, we will lose. That is the lesson of Egypt and the Arab Spring. In our opinion, we should start telling it that way.
Andy Libson is a schoolteacher and member of United Educators of San Francisco and the reform caucus Educators for a Democratic Union. firstname.lastname@example.org