Friday 28 January 2011

Egypt's Day of Rage

You wait years for a revolution, and then two turn up at once. With the revolutionary process at an earlier stage than Tunisia, Egypt nevertheless stands on the brink.

At the time of writing Hosni Mubarak's regime is looking very shaky indeed. The excellent coverage on Al Jazeera this evening has broadcast images of the National Democratic Party's Cairo headquarters being looted and then torched without any kind of intervention from the security forces (simultaneously, protesters are apparently protecting the the priceless artifacts housed in the Egyptian Museum, making attempts by the BBC to portray them as "a mob" look lazy and unsustainable). Evening news broadcasts on terrestrial channels have shown footage of protesters and riot police squaring up and fighting running battles earlier in the day. But now, Al Jazeera is saying the police have left the streets and been replaced by the army. Again, like Tunisia, the army were welcomed by some sections of the uprising as a power that will protect them from the regime. On the other hand, as troops approach strategic infrastructure (TV and radio stations, security apparatus ministries) the protesters are giving the military's an increasingly frosty reception.

Again, as with Tunisia the army can play a Bonapartist role in the Marxist sense of the term. According to Ibrahim Arafat of Qatar University, the army and the rest of the security apparatus are institutionally separated in the Tunisian and Egyptian dictatorships. Because the military played no overt role in the day-to-day repression of the two regimes it could appear as an entity standing above and apart from the rest of society, in a manner analogous to Britain's constitutional monarchy's relationship to mainstream politics. Therefore it can pose as the repository of all manner of hopes and illusions - as guarantors of the constitution, as protecters of the nation, and so on. This institutional separation is the basis of an ideological cloak that hides the fact the military top brass are as much a part of the
ancien regime as Ben Ali's and Mubarak's secret police henchmen.

Nevertheless the army is not immune from the forces demolishing the regime's foundations. The army is overwhelmingly working class in composition. The military brass value their own necks. This underlines the main question: which direction will the army swing? Will they dampen down the protests and obey the president's increasingly desperate decrees, or refuse to carry out his orders? And if so, what role will it go onto play in a post-Mubarak society?

With any luck, Hosni Mubarak will
follow the footsteps of his son and hightail it out on a plane. I wouldn't be surprised if an underling's already been on the phone to the retirement home for washed-up despots in Saudi Arabia. In the mean time not only will other North African and Middle Eastern dictatorships and monarchies be biting their fingernails, the USA itself will be concerned for its strategic interests. Along with Israel and Saudi Arabia, Egypt is the third key US regional ally. The protesters are fully aware the self-proclaimed champion of democracy and universal human rights have been training and supplying the security apparatus for many years. And US planners know one mistaken step could see their carefully-crafted geopolitical strategy unravel as quickly as Mubarak's legitimacy.

NB: Excerpts of a translated Egyptian protest manual are available
here, and follow the uprising's Twitter topic here.


Boffy said...


I think its because the US has been training those forces that it will not be too worried at the moment. Both Hilary Clinton, and Haig have made comments basically calling on the military not to use violence. They have both spoken about the people having legitimate economic and political concerns that should be addressed.

Egypyt is one of those "second 11" economies identified after the BRIC economies, along with Turkey, which is why what happens now is important for multinational Capital. The policy for that Capital, and its representatives within the US and the EU is actually quite simple. Its aim is to create the kind of conditions under which Capital Accumulation can best occur. Under conditions where the dominant form of exploitation is via Merchant Capital and its relations with a Landlord Class - which typified the Colonial regimes of the 19th century and early 20th Century - then some kind of repressive almost feudal regime is adequate. But, under conditions where industrial Capital becomes dominant, where sizeable industrial proletariats arise that is no longer the case. That is why Capital created liberal bourgeois democracies towards the end of the 19th century, that were able to incorporate the working class via some form of Social democratic consensus, which absorbed workers demands through the medium of the Trades Union bureaucracy, and Social Democratic parties or measures - for example it was Liberals and Tories who established the Welfare State in the UK, and Tories who continued those systems in the 1950's, and 70's.

As Lenin pointed out bourgeois demcoracy is the most effective system for Capital in ensuring Capital Accumulation, which is why once it has established it it is loathe to let go of it. But, in countries which have not yet, or have only recently gone through a process of industrialisation, the old political regimes exist as a legacy. In condiitons as Trotsky points out in relation to Mexico,where the domestic bourgeoisie is weak Bonapartist regimes or military juntas are able to arise. Where these regimes look to support from a powerful foreign Capital they act to repress the workers, but where, for example as in Venezuela they act in the interests of a section of the domestic bourgeoisie, they tend to rely on the support of workers as a bolster against foreign Capital. Tunisia and Egypt fall into the former category.

But, generally these kinds of regime are not the first chocie for multinational Capital. They are usually corrupt, bureaucratic, inefficient, and frequently unreliable and unpredictable, sometimes acting arbitrarily in relation to Capital itself. Russia is another current example of that. Because they rely on repression to ensure social peace rather than the normal methods of socialisation of bouregois democracy, they have very high overhead costs for capital, reducing Surplus Value. They tend to lead to outbreaks of violence and chos and perpetual sullen resistance on the shop floor, as well as the kind of social conflagration we see now.

The US and EU would undoubtedly like to see the kind of peaceful and fairly orderly transition to the kind of bouregois demcoracy that has occured in other countries that have gone through the process of industrialisation, such as those in Asia, and latin America. That is probably why they are making the noises they are now, and why they are speaking about the possibility of Aid to smoothe the path. That is, of course, not to say that if they see the possibility of some regime coming to power which would threaten their interests, they would not take a different view, and throw their support behind some strongman, or some right-wing force - possibly such as the Muslim Brotherhood - who they felt they could do a deal with. But, I think the fact that many of those protesting come from the middle classes, that a wide spectrum of parties are involved, and that El Baradei returned to Egypt gives some clue as to the preferred path that multinational Capital would like to see.

Boffy said...

I should also add that as I pointed out in my blog yesterday Soros Warns UK Cuts Will Lead To Double Dip, these North African economies over recent years have been increasingly drawn into a Mediterranean Trading Area with the EU with talk even that some of them would become candidates even for EU membership in the years ahead. Even aside from that growing economic and social unrest of those economies now quite closely linked particularly with the peripheral economies of Southern Europe is not at all what the EU in particular would want to see.

It certainly would not want to see that unrest spreading to those peripheral economies where the Summer is already likely to see increasing unrest in response to the austerity measures.

According to CNBC today there has already been talk at Davos about the Tories having not a Plan B, but a revised Plan A, whereby the Cuts agenda is reigned back in the vein that Soros talks about. As the WW said yesterday, if the economies of Europe begin to swoon under the strain of austerity, its likely that there will be return of some form of Keynesian intervention. The events in North Africa probably make that more likely.

Unknown said...

Hi comrades,

Here is my take on the Tunisian uprising, Egypt, pan-Arab revolution, etc:


Chris said...

The problem with Boffy’s position is that is misses out the geo-political concerns of the imperialist powers. So while he may be correct about the optimum conditions for capitalist accumulation (though I am not convinced he is!) the fact is that strategic decisions override these concerns. This is why the imperialist nations are more than happy to back the most despotic of regimes, the ultimate being of course Saudi Arabia, and believe me there is no desire among capitalists to see its overhead costs reduced anytime in the foreseeable future!

Boffy said...


I don't know if you saw this, but according to the Torygraph - but the story has been going round elsewhere - the US has been financing opposition Democratic groups in Egypt for some time via the US embassy in Cairo, and this has been planned for some time.

Watching the BBC's "Dateline London" today, I was taken by how much one of the contributors, used later by the BBC as a "Middle East Expert", appeared to be just a spokesman for Israel. Time and again, he kept talking about the danger that The Muslim Brotherhood would take the lead of the movement in the same way that the Islamists had done in Iran in 1979.

That is always a possibility, though I think the fact that the Army is playing an increasing role makes that less likely, but it also seems to me that although, multinational Capital and the US and EU have a direct interest in spreading bouregois democracy throughout North Africa, Israel does not. If stable bourgeois demcoratic regimes were established in much of the Middle East, the US and certainly the EU - which has close economic ties with those economies along the mediterranean - would no longer need Israel from a strategic perspective. Moreover, israel is only able to maintain itself as a heavily armed encampment, and militarised State on the basis of an existential threat from what it is currently able to describe as reactionary Arab Dictatorships.

Its clear why Israel would want to see these movements fail, but if the stories of US and otehr funding of democratic grousp is correct - and it may just be a coincidence that the head of the Egyptian Army was in the US on the day that the uprising began - short of itself directly intervening - on what basis? - it may find itself powerless to prevent it.

Boffy said...

Torygraph Article based on papers disclosed by Wikileaks.

Anonymous said...

How long until Gary Elsby tries yo blame this on Stoke's former mayoral system?

Chris said...

The US gives a lot more money (aid!) to the regime than it does to ‘democracy’ activists. The US is not stupid enough to put all their eggs in one basket, funding both sides is not unprecedented for imperialist powers. Big capital funds US politics this way! But until the people spoke the US’s preferred option was the Mubarak dictatorship. But these so called dictatorships are powerless in the face of the people, hopefully that message is being spread loud and clear. Or maybe this is just coincidence and people power has nothing to do with it and the US have just woken up to the concept of optimal capital accumulation. Hmmmmm.

“Aid is central to Washington's relationship with Cairo. The US has provided Egypt with $1.3 billion a year in military aid since 1979, and an average of $815 million a year in economic assistance. All told, Egypt has received over $60 billion in US largesse since 1975.”

Boffy said...


I've posted a copy of the Wikileaks document setting out the support the US was giving to Egyptian Democracy activists, on my blog here - Secret US Document.

What I find interesting is that only a few days ago on your post Tunisia - Another Domino Falls, we saw how all those people that the AWL describe as "idiot anti-imperialists", were once again asserting the iron law that the establishment of bouregois democracy was absolutely impossible without it growing over into a Socialist Revolution. Now, either to use a football slogan "They've all gone quiet over there", or else they blithely assert that the masses can bring about change for bouregois democracy even if Imperialism is backing the old regime.

What is so depressing is that they will no doubt come out with some excuse about how the establishment of bourgeois democracy, if that is what ultimately arises, in Egypt, was due to some quirk, some peculiarity, and just as they have failed to learn from the establishment of bourgeois demcoracies in Latin America such as Brazil, Chile, Argentina and so on, will still trot out the same distorted, mechanical parroting of PR the next time such an eruption arises.

They appear to have failed to understand that other document written by Trotsky "learn To Think". Unfortunately, these people are incapable of honest analysis, let alone Marxism.

Unknown said...

What exactly are you trying to say, Boffy?

Boffy said...

I am saying that PR only applies udner conditions of a bouregois revolution, that is where the class nature of the State is at stake - either to overthrow a Feudal or Colonial State. That is not the case in Egypyt, nor has it been the case for the many other instances such as in Latin America, Asia or in South Africa, where what already existed was a Capitalist State, and all that was being changed was the nature of the poltiical regime by which that State was regulated. To take another example, when Franco took pwoer in Spain or Hitler in Germany, this did not change the class nature of the State, and when in Spain, the fascist political regime came to an end it required only a Political Revolution, not a Social revolution to change that. It was just a matter of a struggle by the bouregeoisie to assert its right to govern directly, over the elemetns of the State which had risen above society temporarily.

Capital has always attempted to create a State coterminous with the economic sphere in which it operates. The Political regime it has found best fits its needs is that of bouregois democracy, but its main concern is to hold power and to have some stability in which to be able to Accumulate and reproduce Labour Power. At times it then has to accept other forms of political regime - e.g. fascism.

Capital/Imperialism has sought the same thing in Egypyt. For so long as a stable bouregois demcoracy was not possible in Egypt it settled for second best. Mubarak offered some stability for Capital, and also suitred the US strategic interests in the region. But, it would prefer a bouregois demcoracy, and if one can be established without creating condiitons less advantageous to it, that is what it will support.

Phil said...

You're right here again, Boffy. The revolution taking place now is a cross-class alliance of workers, peasants, urban small business people, the intelligentsia, and a number of bourgeois figures (famous Egyptian celebrities are out on the streets). The pressure for a liberal democratic outcome seems overwhelming.

I agree with you on the sect application of permanent revolution. The potential for the current *political* revolution to pass over into something deeper and thorough going is there as it is in any revolution, but that depends on how the the organs of dual power - which exist at an extremely early and undeveloped stage - play out. I can't see it happening but I would be very happy to get proven wrong by unfolding events.

Boffy said...


You are right. I've been re-reading Marx and Engels' analyses of the Revolutions of 1848. Engels in his Introduction to "The Civil War in France", says that the judgement they made in 1848 of the possibility of Permanent Revolution was way off beam because, in no country other than Britain at that time did even a sizeable working-class exist. Marx after 1850, when he resumed his Economic Studies concluded both that a much greater development of the productive forces than even existed in Britain, and of the working-class would be necessary before a socialist revolution would be possible.

This is the point where he and Engels changed their strategy away from what until then had been a hangover of their earlier Idealist and Statis notions, some of which were reflected in the Manifesto, and towards the more long game strategy of building up the working class as a force within society, much the same as the bouregoisie had developed within Feudal Society.

Part of that was their emphasis on the building of Workers property through the development of Co-operatives - if you read the First International Correspondence its littered with enquiries by them to foreign socialists with questions about whether the workers there had begun to establish Co-ops - but it also focusses on their ideas about developing indpendent Workers organisation in other ways.

That is why in revolutionary situations including their advice to workers prior to the Paris Commune, they emphasised the need not for some insurrection for the seizure of power, but for the workers to concentrate on pursuing their own distinct interests, and building their own independent organisations, essentially developing an alternative Workers State within existing Capitalist Society.

That I think is what workers in Egypt have to do now. If the culmination of that becomes the necessity of an all out struggle for State power then the workers will at least have been prepared as best they can for that. If not, then the power of the workers will continue to grow until such a denoument becomes unavoidable.