The Second Egyptian Revolution
Statement by the International Marxist Tendency (IMT)
Morsi has fallen. The magnificent movement of the masses has once more shown to the entire world the authentic face of the Egyptian people. It shows that the Revolution, which many even on the Left believed to have stalled, still possesses immense social reserves.
Despite all the lying propaganda that tries to present the Revolution as a “coup,” this was a genuine popular insurrection, which spread like wildfire through every city and town in Egypt. This was the Second Egyptian Revolution.
Over the last week there were, on the most conservative estimate, 17 million on the streets, and calls for general strike were in the air. This was the most unprecedented popular uprising in history. In its scale and sweep it far surpassed even the Revolution that overthrew the dictator Mubarak less than two years ago.
With no party, no organization or leadership, the masses fearlessly challenged a hated regime. In the words of Marx, following in the footsteps of the Paris Commune, they “stormed heaven.” The Revolution is advancing with seven-league boots, pushing aside all obstacles.
Trotsky explains that “the history of a revolution is for us first of all a history of the forcible entrance of the masses into the realm of rulership over their own destiny.” That is the inner meaning of the Egyptian Revolution. Like every great revolution, it has stirred up society to the depths. It has given a voice and a form to the shapeless aspirations of the masses for a decent life and a better future.
“But the masses are politically confused; they have no clear program and do not know what they want.” This is the sterile reasoning of formalists and sectarians. It is the product of ignorance of what a revolution is.
By its very nature, revolution signifies the entry onto the stage of history of the millions of politically untutored people. They have read no Marxist books and are not members of any party. But they are the real mainspring of the revolution, and the only guarantee of its success.
In the early stages of the revolution the masses are confused and naive. Naturally! Who was there to educate them? Who can do so now? The masses can only learn through their direct experience of action. They are learning from the greatest book of all—the book of life.
In a Revolution, however, the masses learn fast. The men and women on the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and other cities have learned more over the past days and weeks than in the whole of their lives. Above all, they have learned their own collective power—the power to challenge governments and states, politicians and bureaucrats, generals and police chiefs—and to win.
This is a very powerful lesson, but also a very dangerous one from the standpoint of the ruling class—and not only in Egypt. The leaders of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco and Qatar are trembling in their shoes. But the shock waves from Egypt are spreading far further afield.
The people of Egypt are setting a dangerous example to the workers and youth of the whole world. In Portugal, the government is on the verge of collapse as a result of mass demonstrations and a general strike. The people of Portugal are refusing to accept the imposition of more pain by the bourgeois gang in Brussels and Berlin. The entire plan of “austerity for the workers and profits for the bankers” is threatened by this—and with it, the future of the Euro itself.
Was this a coup?
The reaction of the imperialists to the events in Egypt has been a combination of fear, impotence and treachery in equal measure. The Americans were just as powerless to influence these events as they were two years ago. They have been compelled to resort to backstage maneuvering and intrigues with the tops of the Egyptian army, backed up by threats and blackmail.
The comically misnamed “free press” of Europe and the USA has produced a poisonous flood of lies and misrepresentation. The first and most blatant lie is that Morsi was removed, not by the movement of the masses, but by an army “coup.” This is an “explanation” that explains nothing.
Everybody knows that the army chiefs did a deal with Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood a year ago that handed nominal power to those thieves and gangsters in return for leaving intact the old state apparatus. The murderers and torturers of the old regime were allowed to get off free.
Not one general or police chief was put on trial for crimes against the people. They were allowed to continue plundering the state and filling their pockets as before, but the wealthy businessmen who stand behind the Muslim Brotherhood were permitted to participate in the plunder.
If the army chiefs decided to ditch Morsi it was only because they were compelled to do so by an irresistible movement of the masses. The generals were afraid that if they did not act, the masses might go further and move to take power into their own hands. They decided to sacrifice Morsi in order to save whatever could be saved of the old state apparatus and above all their own wealth, power and privileges.
The bourgeois media is pushing the line that this “coup” does not bode well for “democracy” in Egypt. On the television screens they show tearful representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood protesting that this was a blow to democracy as the “legitimately elected” President was removed by the military, comparing this to the coup in the 1950s, which led to decades of dictatorship.
By constantly harping on the fact that it was the military that removed Morsi, they are striving to divert attention away from the fact that it was the masses who brought about the overthrow of Morsi.
This was not a coup. On the contrary, it was imposed on the military by the masses. The generals have made it clear that they do not want to take over the government. That is hardly surprising. One only has to take one look at the heaving mass of humanity in Tahrir Square to understand the impossibility of the army controlling such a vast movement. Instead, the generals decided to ride on the back of the tiger. The problem is that a man who rides on the back of a tiger will encounter serious difficulties when he tries to dismount.
The second big lie that is being painstakingly disseminated by the media is that Morsi was Egypt’s “first freely elected President,” that he therefore has “legitimacy” and the people should have been patient and waited for new elections, just as the “civilized” Americans, French and British do...
When this puerile argument was put to a protester in Tahrir Square, he merely answered: “But this is a Revolution!” That was a very good reply. Since when does a Revolution bow its head before existing laws, governments and institutions? A Revolution by its very nature challenges, defies and tries to overthrow the existing order, its laws, rules and values. To demand of a Revolution that it shows respect for the institutions and personalities it is trying to overthrow is to demand that Revolution should renounce itself.
In any case, the argument that Morsi’s government was democratic is false to the core. Neither the way it came to power nor the way it ruled was genuinely democratic. The majority of Egyptians did not vote for Morsi, as has been so often alleged. Only 46.4 percent of eligible voters went to the polls in the first round of the presidential election.. Many of those who did vote for Morsi on the second ballot did so under the illusion that they were voting for the “lesser evil,” to defend “democracy” and so on. Even sections of the Left advocated a vote for Morsi on this basis, a very wrong position, which we sharply criticized at the time. Our criticism has been amply justified by what followed.
Morsi was not the “lesser evil.” The methods of Morsi’s rule were in no way different from the methods of Mubarak. In fact, they were carried out by the same people. During his twelve-month rule, hundreds of protesters were killed and thousands of activists were persecuted, beaten and imprisoned by his thugs only because they mobilized politically against him.
Pogroms were organized against Christians, Shias and other religious minorities. The rights of the workers were systematically undermined. He orchestrated a legal coup in the main union federation. He had 21 innocent football fans sentenced to death. Women were sexually assaulted on the streets in order to intimidate them into submission. Egypt was being pushed towards an undemocratic and repressive Islamic constitution. Morsi gave himself special powers that went far beyond his constitutional rights. Finally he declared his intention to push Egypt into the sectarian maelstrom in Syria.
The “democrats” now advise the workers to be patient, to wait until the next election, to “give democracy a chance” and so on and so forth. But these “democrats” are well fed and live in nice houses. They can afford to be patient, since the bourgeois democracy they defend has already given them very satisfactory results. But the masses cannot wait. They have been hungry for 12 months while others live in abundance. They are homeless while others live in luxury. Even people who voted for Morsi in the hope of some improvement have seen their hopes dashed. The intensity of their anger is proportionate to the degree of their expectations.
For the masses, democracy is not an empty word. The acid test of democracy is if it can fill empty stomachs. The Egyptian revolution was not fought in order to provide lucrative jobs for professional politicians. It was a rebellion of the masses against exploitation, unemployment and poverty. In a Revolution the mood of the masses changes with lightning rapidity. By contrast, the lumbering machinery of parliamentary democracy is slow and lags behind events. Morsi’s alleged legitimacy was based on the vote of a minority, and the support that he had then has largely melted away.
Stages in the Egyptian Revolution
A Revolution is not a one-act drama. It unfolds through a series of stages, in which the masses try to find a way out of the crisis, looking first at one political party or leader, then another. In the first stages, which are characterized by the explosive entry of the masses into the political arena, their lack of political experience and naivety leads them to take the path of least resistance. But they soon learn that the “easy” way turns out to be the most painful and difficult.
“The masses go into a revolution not with a prepared plan of social reconstruction, but with a sharp feeling that they cannot endure the old régime. Only the guiding layers of a class have a political program, and even this still requires the test of events, and the approval of the masses. The fundamental political process of the revolution thus consists in the gradual comprehension by a class of the problems arising from the social crisis—the active orientation of the masses by a method of successive approximations. The different stages of a revolutionary process, certified by a change of parties in which the more extreme always supersedes the less, express the growing pressure to the left of the masses—so long as the swing of the movement does not run into objective obstacles. When it does, there begins a reaction: disappointments of the different layers of the revolutionary class, growth of indifferentism, and therewith a strengthening of the position of the counter-revolutionary forces. Such, at least, is the general outline of the old revolutions.”
We can see a similar pattern in the Egyptian Revolution. In the absence of a strong revolutionary party, a section of the masses looked towards the Muslim Brotherhood, which was the only seriously organized party at that time. The leaders of the Brotherhood, skilled in deception, took great care to hide the real material and class interests that lay behind their rhetoric.
But once in power, they soon came out in their real colors. Reaching a deal with the army chiefs, they betrayed all the hopes of their supporters. The opinion of the masses swung decisively against them, leading directly to the present situation. This represents a new and qualitatively higher stage of the Egyptian Revolution.
There will be a whole series of movements and upheavals, and a whole series of unstable governments, because on a capitalist basis no solution for Egypt’s problems is possible. There will be new uprisings, but also periods of tiredness, disappointment, despair, defeats and even reaction. But every interruption will be followed by new explosions. That is rooted in the nature of the period.
Can the masses take power?
This inspiring movement was a genuinely mass movement. Revolutionary committees sprang up across the country. A general strike was launched. Millions occupied the streets. The government was suspended in mid-air. The demonstrators surrounded the President’s palace, padlocked the gates and put up posters saying: “Closed by Order of the Revolution.”
Government buildings were occupied by ordinary people—bricklayers, carpenters, shopkeepers, clerks, students, and teachers. They were joined in some cases by ordinary soldiers and officers. Policemen in uniform joined the demonstrators to express their solidarity.
No attempt was made to send soldiers into Tahrir Square, as they did two years ago for fear that they would have been infected with the revolutionary contagion. The tops of the army moved against Morsi because they had no other choice. If they had not done so, there was a serious risk that they would have lost control of the army itself. Under the powerful pressure of a movement of millions, it is not excluded that the army itself might split, with a section of junior officers moving to the left as happened with Nasser in 1952. In the absence of a strong revolutionary party, such a scenario remains a possibility.
In the last few days in Egypt power was lying in the streets waiting for somebody to pick it up. The tragedy is that there is no real leadership to take over. Morsi was overthrown by a revolution, just as the Tsar was overthrown in Russia in February 1917. But the experience of the Russian Revolution showed that it is not enough to overthrow the old regime. Something has to be put in its place. In the case of Russia, the existence of the Bolshevik Party under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky was the decisive factor that allowed the Revolution to triumph. But no such party exists in Egypt. It must be built in the heat of events.
In reality, power was in the people’s hands. But if this power is not organized, it can slip through their fingers. When the movement subsides and the people return to their daily lives, the professional politicians, the careerists and merchants will hijack the Revolution and reach dirty deals behind the backs of the people. Nothing will have changed, and in a year or so the people will have to come back onto the streets.
“The people are being unreasonable,” the bourgeois critics of the Revolution say. “Egypt’s problems are too great to be solved in a few months.” Yes, it is true that Egypt’s problems are very serious. But for that very reason, they cannot be solved by half measures. Desperate problems demand desperate solutions. And the plain fact is that the root cause of the problem is not this or that administration, this or that President. The cause of the problem is the crisis of capitalism. And it can only be solved by the abolition of capitalism and its replacement by a nationalized planned economy under the democratic control of the working class.
The army cannot remain in power, but they will probably try to form a so-called technocratic government headed by “liberal” bourgeois of the El Baradei type. There may be some illusions in the army among more backward elements, although its authority is not as great as the western media try to claim. The most conscious people have no illusions in the army. The most combative elements of the youth are gathered around a loose coalition called Tamarrod, which has given a form to the revolutionary aspirations of the masses. Tamarrod issued a statement before the fall of Morsi, on the lines of “the United States are trying to influence the army and Morsi, but all parties must know that the people’s revolutionary will is stronger.”
That is a hundred-times correct. The slogan of the most consistent revolutionaries must be: “No confidence in the bourgeois politicians who wish to steal the Revolution and bargain away its gains like merchants haggling in the bazaar. Distrust people like El Baradei, who represent only themselves but claim the right to speak for the Revolution.”
Such people cannot solve the pressing problems of the Egyptian people. But how can these problems be solved? The Russian workers set up soviets—workers’ councils—in order to give an organized expression to the movement. In Egypt too, revolutionary committees have begun to emerge. These are the way in which the aspirations of the masses can be properly expressed. The committees should be linked up on a local, regional and finally on a national basis. This would represent a genuine revolutionary and democratic alternative to the corrupt and repressive bourgeois state.
The people of Egypt cannot wait for the army or anyone else to make decisions for them. Workers’ control should be immediately introduced in the factories and workplaces to guarantee production, protect workers’ conditions and rights and expose the corruption, swindling and mismanagement of the bosses and bureaucrats.
In order to defend the Revolution against terrorist attacks by supporters of the deposed President and Islamo-fascist elements, the workers must be armed and organized into a militia, linked to the revolutionary committees. People’s revolutionary courts should be set up, linked to the revolutionary committees, to arrest and try counterrevolutionaries and to punish those guilty of crimes against the people.
Let our slogans be:
- Bread! Work! and Houses!
- Confiscate the wealth of the rich who have plundered the wealth of Egypt for generations and use it to rebuild a shattered country.
- Down with the capitalists and bureaucrats who have robbed and exploited us!
- For a government of workers and peasants that will nationalize the big banks and corporations under democratic workers’ control and mobilize the wealth of Egypt for the benefit of the millions of toilers, not a handful of wealthy parasites.
- For a program of public works to build schools, hospitals, roads and houses, both to provide employment for the unemployed and to solve the problem of bad housing and homelessness.
- Form elected action committees in every workplace, area, school and university.
- Trust only yourselves and your popular democratic committees.
- Control your leaders. If they do not act according to your wishes, remove them and replace them with those who will.
- All power to the revolutionary committees!
- Long live the Arab Socialist Revolution!
—In Defense of Marxism, July 4, 2013