Saturday, 26 February 2011

The Arab Revolution and the Coming Insurrection:Multitudinous or Permanent? A response to Hardt, Negri and Newsnight

History is the subject of a structure whose site is not homogenous, empty time, but time filled by the presence of the now. Thus, to Robespierre ancient Rome was a past charged with the time of the now which he blasted out of the continuum of history. The French Revolution viewed itself as Rome incarnate. It evoked ancient Rome the way fashion evokes costumes of the past. Fashion has a flair for the topical, no matter where it stirs in the thickets of long ago; it is a tiger’s leap into what has gone before. 
                  From Walter Benjamin's 14th Thesis on the Concept of History
      One of the first aspects of the Arab revolutions to strike the observer - and still more, one expects, the participant - is the return of words and concepts widely thought to be the oldest of hat. Who, apart from those of us who have been anticipating these events with far less certainty than we would now admit, could use the word 'counter-revolutionary' six months ago and expect the listener to find a common referent? Yet now, there are tangible counter-revolutionaries and with them the necessity for the defence of the revolution.  Battalions of citizens are formed: palaces marched upon: mercenary phalanxes await with long-prepared chains. Revolutionary time is  a time 'blasted out of the continuum of history'. It is 'a random time, open at any moment to the unforseeable irruption of the new' but equally infused with shards of the messianic moments of the past.

    Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri are both right and wrong, then to argue that 'even calling these struggles "revolutions" seems to mislead commentators who assume the progression of events must obey the logic of 1789 or 1917, or some other past European rebellion against kings and czars.' 

This is, of course, true. Revolution is when millions of people make history and for that reason it is an unpredictable process. The interesting discussion for those who aspire to the victory of the revolution (how joyful to be able to write those words without irony or condescension) concerns the circumstances in which history is now being made. 

  Hardt and Negri are no mere facebook boosters. Yet their conception of what is going on in the Arab Revolutions is only a partial truth. They write that the protests resemble 'what we have seen for more than a decade in other parts of the world' in the form of a horizontal network that has no single central leader. Traditional opposition bodies can participate in this network but cannot direct it'. Paul Mason, a man whose attentiveness to the possibilities of rhizomatic rebellion contrasts happily with his job as economics editor of Newsnight, agrees.

This is right. The revolutions are spontaneous, they are "horizontal" and they are not led by latecoming aspirants such as Mohammed el Baradei, Rashid Al Ghanoushi or the Muslim Brotherhood. But this is a mark of continuity with previous revolutions, not a break. Indeed, that's why they were revolutions.  It would be wrong to say that there was no leadership - in the simple, tautological sense of people who give a lead - behind the Egyptian revolution at the very least. The January 25th demonstrations were called by a network of socialist, liberal and Muslim Brotherhood youth activists. They saw the rupture in the normal way of doing things opened up by Tunisia and took a 'tiger's leap into what had gone before'. It took a long time before the millions of revolutionaries, having given Mubarak three more chances than he deserved, moved on the palace at Heliopolis and the state TV building. Arguments went on about what to do next in what a BBC journalist called the 'gigantic open air debating chamber' of Tahrir Square and some people made and won an argument to act. This is a different kind of leadership to Mohammed El Baradei turning up and annoucing he is ready to take any mantle offered to him - but the dichotomy drawn by Hardt and Negri between complete spontatneity and utter obedience misses it.

  Hardt and Negri's perspective follows on from a particular political economy, claiming correctly that 'the Arab revolts ignited around the issue of unemployment and at their centre have been highly educated youth with frustrated ambitions - a population that has much in common with protesting students in London or Rome'. Paul Mason draws the same conclusion  - 'at the heart of it all is a new sociological type: the graduate with no future', living  'in a virtual undergrowth online and through digital comms networks.'

   The global spread of 'frustrated ambitions' is certainly visible, and a product of the ongoing crisis of capitalism. Youth unemployment, amongst both graduates and non-graduates (such as Mohammed Bouaziz) is very high in the Arab states and beyond. The khobzistes and the shabab, at best in informal employment or an insecure aspiration to petty bourgeois status, have played a most visible role in the street risings of the contemporary scene. Where we find a shard of the old-new, a renewal of the 'secret agreement between past generations and the present one' is the participation of workers - the employed proletarian sort rather than the diffusely multitudinous sort - in the Arab Revolutions. Indeed, taking the spectacle of a mixed-up time in which twitter feeds announce 'Newsnight special on spreading revolution as our warrant, perhaps it is time to revive the concept of permanent revolution?

      What are the grounds for this dusting off of a historical subject, usually considered at best a 'stage army to be marched on and off the scene of history' ? Consider the Egyptian Revolution. Its origins lie in the strike wave that passed through the country between 2006 and 2008 and most especially in the mill town of Mahalla. More than 1.7 million workers took part in more than 1,900 strikes and other protests (in the absence of free unions) between 2004 and 2008 (Joel Beinin  Workers' Rights in Egypt 2010:49). It was this strike wave that began to weaken the barrier of fear - but also more concretely led to the networks that supported the January 25th demonstrations. One of the groups calling those demonstrations, the April 6th youth movement, although disparate, is linked to this struggle in its very name: it refers to the call for a general strike in support of the worker's uprising that took control of Mahalla on that day in 2008. As Wikileaks has revealed, State Department officials recognised that 'in Mahalla a new organic opposition force bubbled to the surface, defying current political labels...This may require the government to change its script.' Not spear carriers, but authors.

  In the three weeks of demonstrations that led to Muabarak's fall, Egyptian workers showed some of the 'awareness that they are about to make the continuum of history explode'. At first workers participated in demonstrations called by the networks that emerged to support them two years previously and in atmosphere changed by their own struggles. As Mubark proved a more stubborn rhinoceros than many had expected, it was the participation of workers as workers that pushed finally pushed him out. A general strike (remember in a country where there were no free unions until a week beforehand) called on Wednesday the 9th of February spread quickly amongst transport workers, steel workers, Suez canal support workers and eventually so many workplaces that even twitter could not keep up. They are still there and the question is not whether they are organised, but how they can be organised and generalised into an alternative political power.

 In Tunisia, the uprising did begin in the poor, marginalised and semi-employed sectors. What spread it and unified these protests however, were the efforts of trade unionist even against their own leadership, comprised by long years of corporatist compact with Ben Ali. One should not forget the 2008 miners strike: background to key point in the revolution, the storming of the UGTT offices in Gfasa by militants in support of the protests (Olivier Piot, 'Tunisia: Diary of a Revolution', Le Monde Diplomatique 1102). Piot is worth quoting at length here
    'Fearing student protest, Ben Ali closed all educational establishments. A few hours later, the UGTT finally reacted. Its leadership authorised the regional sections in Sfax, Kairouan and Tozeur to organize a general strike the next day and then in Tunis on 14 January. "Those cities were going to go it alone away" said a member of Ettjadid ["Renewal", a party that emerged form the old Tunisian Communist party]. That evening riots broke out in working class areas of Tunis. This was a turning point.'
 What of elsewhere? On Libya, where the revolution has now taken on the aspect of civil war against a dictator mad, bad and lucrative to know, any comment would be speculation . In Bahrain, inheritor of a long trade union tradition the threat of a general strike one week ago seems to have been what brought the Khalifas to offer reforms - much as the decision to call off that strike is surely open to criticism. Iran provides a negative example of where the Green Movement in 2009, but hopefully not now, proved unable to mobilize workers.

   Two points where Hardt and Negri are conclusively right is when they (unconsciously?) echo an earlier revolutionary :
a radical constitutional response must invent a common plan to manage natural resources and social production. This is a threshold through which neoliberalism cannot pass and capitalism is put to question. And Islamic rule is completely inadequate to meet these needs. Here insurrection touches on not only the equilibriums of north Africa and the Middle East but also the global system of economic governance.

The revolutionary state of exception contains within it both the intimations of a future (and a past) that is kind, human and self-organised and on the other the determined effort of the enemy to remain victorious. In both Tunisia and Egypt the military structure remains and is now - as in the most recent attacks on Tahrir square demonstrated - readying itself. As Comrade Hossam rightly argues the only way to prevent retreat is to continue the attack using the fiercest of weapons, the worker's economic power. As Negri and Hardt understand, this is incompatible with capitlalist economic governance.

   And what of that global system? One has but to watch the workers of Wisconsin and the American Midwest - in which the flashes of Tahrir have been both conscious and unconscious - to realise that something is certainly up.

We may wonder where the centre of the world system now lies. The 'global imbalances' of which The Economist have warned for years refer to the dislocation between a Euro-Atlantic (with the exception of Germany) importing zone and a China centred exporting zone, with the oil resources of the Gulf thrown in. Workers have now begun to strike and protest in Saudi Arabia and the monarchy is flailing for some way to buy its way out of the Arab revolutionary wave. Sympathy protests in China so far have been very small but as Paul Mason points out, the social make up of much of the country (what I would like to call the experience of uneven and combined development) is not too far away from the Arab world. Chinese workers have also begun to rediscover traditions of collective action in recent years. Might we believe - is it too soon to hope - that the 21st century has begun?

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Statements from the Egyptian left

Statement of the Revolutionary Socialists, Egypt
Glory to the martyrs! Victory to the revolution!

What is happening today is the largest popular revolution in the history of our country... and of the entire Arab world. The sacrifice of our martyrs has built our revolution and we have broken through all the barriers of fear. We will not back down until the criminal 'leaders' and their criminal system is destroyed.

Call to Egyptian workers. Statement from the Revolutionary Socialists, Egypt:
The demonstrations and protests have played a key role in igniting and continuing our revolution. Now we need the workers. They can seal the fate of the regime. Not only by participating in the demonstrations, but by organising a general strike in all the and large corporations...

The regime can afford to wait out the sit-ins and demonstrations for days and weeks, but it cannot last beyond a few hours if workers use strikes as a weapon. Strike on the railways, on public transport, the airports and large industrial companies…! Egyptian Workers! On behalf of the rebellious youth, and on behalf of the blood of our martyrs, join the ranks of the revolution, use your power and victory will be ours!

Form revolutionary councils urgently.

This revolution has surpassed our greatest expectations. Nobody expected to see these numbers. Nobody expected that Egyptians would be this brave in the face of the police. Nobody can say that we did not force the dictator to retreat. No...body can say that a transformation did not happen in Middan el Tahrir.

What we need right now is to push for the socio-economic demands as part of our demands, so that the person sitting in his home knows that we fighting for their rights... We need to organize ourselves into popular committees which elects its higher councils democratically, and from below. These councils must form a higher council which includes delegates of all the tendencies. We must elect a higher council of people who represent us, and in whom we trust. We call for the formation of popular councils in Middan Tahrir, and in all the cities of Egypt.

Statement of the Revolutionary Socialists, Egypt, on the role of the army:

Everyone asks: Is the Army with the people or against them?

The army is not a single block. The interests of soldiers and junior officers are the same as the interests of the masses. But the senior officers are Mubarak's men, chosen carefully to protect his regime of... corruption, wealth and tyranny. It is an integral part of the system...

This army is no longer the people's army. This army is not the one which defeated the Zionist enemy in October 73. This army is closely associated with America and Israel. It's role is to protect Israel, not the people... Yes we want to win the soldiers of the revolution. But we must not be fooled by slogans that 'the army on our side'. The army will either suppress the demonstrations directly, or by restructuring the police to play this role.


ما يحدث اليوم هو أكبر ثورة شعبية في تاريخ البلاد.. بل في تاريخ المنطقة العربية كلها.. ثورة تزداد اشتعالا واتساعا كلما سقط الشهداء.. لقد اجتزنا كل حواجز الخوف ولن نتراجع حتى نسقط هذا النظام العفن بكل رموزه وقياداته وسياساته الإجرامية.

رحيل مبارك هو الخطوة الأولى وليس الخطوة الأخيرة للثورة
تسليم السلطة الديكتاتورية لعمر سليمان وأحمد شفيق وغيرهم من حاشية مبارك هو استمرار لنفس النظام. فعمر سليمات هو رجل اسرائيل وأمريكا في مصر، يقضي أغلب وقته بين واشنطن وتل أبيب خادما وفيا لمصالحهم. وأحمد شفيق هو الصديق المقرب لمبارك وزميله في الاستبداد والقمع ونهب الشعب المصري.

ثروات البلاد ملك للشعب ولابد أن تعود إليه
على مدى العقود الثلاث الماضية حول هذا النظام المستبد الفاسد البلاد الى عزبة كبرى تملكها حفنة صغيرة من كبار رجال الأعمال والشركات الأجنبية.. 100 أسرة تمتلك أكثر من 90% من ثروات البلاد.. هؤلاء يحتكرون ثروات الشعب المصري من خلال سياسات الخصخصة والنهب وتحالف السلطة مع رأس المال.. هؤلاء حولوا غالبية الشعب المصري الى فقراء معدمين وعاطلين عن العمل.

المصانع التي خربوها وباعوها برخص التراب يجب ان تعود الى الشعب..
علينا تأميم الشركات والأراضي والعقارات التي نهبتها هذه الحفنة.. فطالما ظلوا يملكون ثرواتنا لن يكتمل التخلص من هذا النظام. فالاستبداد الاقتصادي هو الوجه الآخر للاستبداد السياسي. لن نتمكن من مواجهة البطالة وتحقيق أجور عادلة وحد أدنى لائق للأجور بدون استعادة ثروة الشعب من تلك العصابة.

لن نقبل بعد اليوم أن نكون كلاب حراسة لأمريكا واسرائيل
هذا النظام لا يقف وحده.. فالديكتاتور مبارك خادم أمين وعميل مباشر لمصالح أمريكا واسرائيل.. حول مصر الى مستعمرة أمريكية وشارك بشكل مباشر في حصار الشعب الفلسطيني وجعل قناة السويس والمجال الجوي المصري مرتعا للسفن الحربية والمقاتلات التي دمرت وقتلت الشعب العراقي، وصدر الغاز المصري لاسرائيل برخص التراب في حين يخنق الشعب المصري بالارتفاع اليومي للاسعار. ثورتنا يجب ان تعيد لمصر استقلالها وكرامتها ودورها القيادي في المنطقة.

ثورتنا ثورة شعبية
ليست ثورة نخبة أو أحزاب سياسية أو جماعات دينية. ان شباب مصر من طلاب وعمال وفقراء هم أصحاب هذه الثورة. وقد بدأت في الأيام الأخيرة الكثير من النخب والأحزاب ومن يسمون أنفسهم بالرموز في محاولة ركوب الموجة وسرقة الثورة من أصحابها الحقيقيين. رموز ثورتنا هم شهدائها وشبابنا الصامد في الميادين. لن نسمح لهؤلاء البهوات أن يستولوا على ثورتنا وأن يدعوا أنهم يمثلوننا. نحن سنختار من يمثلنا ويمثل الشهداء الذين استشهدوا ودفعوا دماءهم ثمنا للخلاص من النظام.

جيش الشعب هو الجيش الذي يحمي الثورة
الجميع يتساءل: هل يقف الجيش مع الشعب أم ضده؟ لابد أن ننتبه الى ان الجيش ليس كتلة واحدة. فمصالح الجنود وصغار الضباط هي نفس مصالح الجماهير المنتفضة.. أما كبار الضباط فهم رجال مبارك، اختارهم بدقة ليحموا نظامه وتربطهم نفس علاقات الفساد والثروة والاستبداد. هم جزء لا يتجزأ من النظام. يجب ألا ننسى ان هذا الجيش لم يعد جيش الشعب. هذا الجيش ليس هو الجيش الذي حارب العدو الصهيوني وانتصر في أكتوبر 73. هذا الجيش هو الجيش الذي ارتبط بشكل وثيق بأمريكا واسرائيل وأصبح دوره هو حماية اسرائيل وليس حماية الشعب المصري. نعم نريد كسب الجنود الى الثورة. لكن لا يجب ان ننخدع بالشعارات حول وقوف الجيش الى جانبنا. وسوف يقوم الجيش في نهاية المطاف إما بقمع المظاهرات بشكل مباشر أو بإعادة تشكيل الشرطة لتلعب هذا الدور.

يا عمال مصر انضموا الى صفوف الثورة
لقد لعبت المظاهرات والاحتجاجات دورا أساسيا في إشعال واستمرار ثورتنا. لكننا نحتاج الى دعم العمال لحسم سقوط النظام. ليس فقط بالمشاركة في المظاهرات بل في تنظيم الاضراب العام في كافة المصالح الحيوية والشركات الكبرى. فالنظام يستطيع ان يتحمل اعتصامات ومظاهرات الميادين أياما وأسابيع، لكنه لن يستطيع البقاء لساعات إذا استخدم العمال سلاح الاضراب فأوقفوا السكك الحديدة والنقل العام والمطارات والشركات الصناعية الكبرى..
باسم شباب مصر الثائر وباسم دماء شهدائنا نتوجه الى عمال مصر بنداء أن ينضموا الى صفوف الثورة وان يحسموا انتصارها.

المجــــد للشـــــــهـداء
يسقط النظــــــام
النصر للثــــــــــــورة

الاشتراكيون الثوريون
ميدان التحرير 1 فبراير 2011

Then, somewhat less worker-focused than IS statement. Shows perhaps debates that are going on. This is my translation so apologies for any mistakes


Statement No.1 of the union of the forces of the Egyptian left
The people want the fall of the regime.
 After more than 30 years of suffering, in which was practiced all sorts of subjugation, repression, tyranny and the impoverishment of the Egyptian people, on the 25th of January the heroic Egyptian people launched a completely popular revolution in the face of the Mubarak regime, demanding with the struggle of the youth with a heroism unprecedented in the modern history of the people and with continuing steadfastness this great revolution has one main demand and that is the fall of the corrupt regime of Mubarak the tyrant. The Egyptian left, under the banner of the union of the forces of the Egyptian left declares the following.
The Egyptian left expresses itself as one part of the great popular Egyptian revolution and holds fast to its main demand:
1 the departure of Mubarak from the government and the continuing fall of the corrupt tyrannical regime which the revolution has already achieved with the fall of most its leaders and the removal of its legitimacy which was built on forgery, tyranny and subjugation.
2.Dissolution of the chamber of deputies, which does not represent the wishes of the Egyptian people, as a prologue to the holding of free and fair elections under a new democratic constitution under the supervision of local and international observers.
3.Formation of a national non-party government comprised of national personalities and representatives of the struggle guarding the interests of the nation in the transition period.
4.Formation of a constituent assembly of legal and political figures [original has ‘men of law and politics’] to draw up a new democratic constitution for the country.
5.The presentation to the high court of those responsible for the crimes and killings of the Egyptians before and after January 25th especially Habib Al Adly the former minister of the interior and his accomplices in the use of violence against the Egyptian citizenry and of the figures of the regime and the businessmen connected to it and the building of a civil police force, the placement of police departments and judicial apparatus under the control of elected popular councils, the abolition of the state security, the central security, the presidential guard and of conscription to the army and appointment of a civilian minister of the interior.
6. Immediate end to the state of emergency and abolition of the so-called ‘Committee of Party Affairs’: freedom of association for the Egyptian people of different parties, people’s associations and organisations.
7. Immediate measures to be taken to alleviate the suffering of the poor, the distribution of social support to the poor and unemployed, the provision of basic goods at affordable prices, with work to adopting a plan of real development for the country based on the development of the productive sectors in agriculture, manufacture and distribution with equitable development based on progressive taxation
8. The return of the Egyptian army to its natural role of defending the nation to distance itself from participation in the internal political affairs of the nation and leave Egyptian politics completely to civil society.
Long live the revolution of 25th January
Long live the Egyptian popular revolutionary struggle.
1 ،اتحاد قوي اليسار المصري بيان رقم

الشعب يريد اسقاط النظام
بعد معاناة دامت أكثر من 30 عاما ،مورست فيها كافة صنوف القهر والقمع والاستبداد
والإفقار للشعب المصرى، انطلقت في مواجهة نظام مبارك ثورة شعبية كاملة الأركان
أطلقها شباب مصر البطل فى الخامس والعشرين من يناير 2011، قدم فيها الشعب المصري،
بكافة فئاته، ملحمة من البطولة غير المسبوقة في تاريخ الشعوب الحديثة، ومع استمرار
صمود هذه الثورة العظيمة وثباتها علي مطلبها الرئيسي، وهو اسقاط نظام مبارك الفاسد
المستبد, يعلن اليسار المصري المنضوي تحت راية اتحاد قوي اليسار ما يلي: 

<span>أولا:</span>اذ يعتبر اليسار المصري نفسه جزء من قوي ثورة الشعب المصري
العظيمة، يعلن تمسكه بمطلبها الرئيسي وهو رحيل مبارك عن سدة الحكم والاستمرار في
اسقاط النظام المستبد الفاسد الذي نجحت الثورة بالفعل في اسقاط الكثير من اركانه
ونزعت عنه شرعيته التي بناها على التزوير والقهر والاستبداد.
<span>ثانيا:</span>حل المجالس النيابية المزورة التي لا تعبرعن ارادة الشعب
المصري، تمهيدا لاجراء انتخابات حرة نزيهة في ظل دستور جديد وقوانين ديموقراطية
جديدة وتحت أشراف ورقابة دولية ومحلية.
<span>ثالثا:</span>تشكيل حكومة مدنية غير حزبية  موسعة من شخصيات ورموز وطنية
مشهود لها بالكفاءة والامانة والحرص علي مصالح الوطن والشعب المصري لتسيير أمور
البلاد خلال المرحلة الانتقالية.
<span>رابعا:</span>تشكيل جمعية تأسيسية من رجال القانون والسياسة لاعداد دستور
ديموقراطي جديد للبلاد.
<span>خامسا:</span> تقديم المسئولين عن جرائم قتل و ترويع المصريين قبل و أثناء و
بعد 25 يناير 2011 وعلى رأسهم حبيب العادلى وزير الداخلية السابق ومساعديه
المتورطين فى استخدام العنف ضد المواطنين المصريين، وكافة رموز النظام البائد ورجال
الأعمال المرتبطين به الي محاكمة فورية علنية عاجلة، واعادة بناء جهاز الشرطة كهيئة
نظامية مدنية، وإخضاع الشرطة وأقسامها للرقابة القضائية ورقابة المجالس الشعبية
المنتخبة، وإلغاء الأمن المركزي ومباحث أمن الدولة وقصر التجنيد الإجباري على الجيش
دون الشرطة، وتعيين وزير مدني للداخلية.
<span>سادسا:</span>ضرورة الانهاء الفوري لحالة الطوارئ والغاء ما يسمي بلجنة شئون
الاحزاب واطلاق حرية التنظيم للشعب المصري من أحزاب، نقابات، جمعيات أهلية ومنظمات
حقوقية علي ان يتم ذلك بالاخطار فقط للجهات الادارية المسئولة.
<span>سابعا:</span>اتخاذ اجراءات عاجلة لتخفيف المعاناة عن الحماهير تتضمن اقرار
حد أدنى وآخر أعلى للجور وتقديم اعانة بطالة للعاطلين عن العمل واعانات اجتماعية
للفقراء وتوفير للسلع الأساسية بأسعار مناسبة، مع العمل على اعتماد خطة تنمية
حقيقية للبلاد تقوم على تطوير القطاعات الانتاجية في الزراعة والصناعة والتوزيع
العادل لناتج التنمية وفرض ضرائب تصاعدية

<span> ثامنا:</span>: ضرورة عودة الجيش المصرى إلى ممارسة دوره الطبيعى فى حماية
الوطن من أعدائهالخارجيين لكي ينأى بنفسه عن الاشتراك فى العملية السياسية الداخلية
و يتركها بالكامل  للمجتمع المدنى السياسى المصرى .
عاشت ثورة 25 يناير
عاش كفاح الشعب المصرى ال

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Mahmoud in Cairo reports

Comrade Mahmoud from Glasgow is part of the movement in Cairo and in one of the neighbourhood self-defence committees. Just got off the 'phone with him. He said
-There are barricades up all around Tahrir, people were elated to drive out the thugs last night but they're regrouped although perhaps in smaller numbers, about 500 at Talaat Harb square. Many have been captured and punished. Almost all had security ID.
- Muslim Brotherhood is mobilising now - Thursday afternoon - to take people to the square. MB leadership not much in evidence
-Some of the tanks at the museum were at least passively with the thugs but the one on Talaat Harb is with the protests. The soldier inside fire shots in the air to disperse the thugs. Army is 'shitting itself' and nobody knows what they will do.
-People are radicalised by the situation, calling for Mubarak's execution.
-Talk that the police will come back in uniform tomorrow but all their stations have been burnt down.

-Most factories are still working, economic pressure is beginning to have an effect because the past couple of days have focused on political demands
-Protestors could overwhelm thugs but hampered by lack of leadership and co-ordination, many slogans turning simply to divine inspiration
- General strike is the key.

That's a summary of our conversation.