Wednesday, 30 November 2011

November 30th Public Sector strike: the St Andrew's Day mass strike in Scotland

Photo by Aoife McKenna

“An old communist conceives an embryo of longing. One day his modern prince will come.” So wrote the leftist doctor David Widgery in a reflection on the place of revolutionaries shortly after Thatcher’s victory in the 1979 election. Does the UK public sector general strike, nearly thirty-three years on, signify the coming of ‘the proletarian kiss’?  Too soon to tell, by more than half. What can be said is that this is the first mass strike since the offensive mounted by Thatcher started winning for her side: the first national collective action of a working class reconstituted by the neo-liberal decades: the first since Widgery called for ‘a politics that can move with astonishing ease from the details of a strike to the problems of childrearing…which is seeking not Euro-Reforms but a new way of life, love and government.’
What has happened and what does it mean?

The Events

    The day began, of course, with pickets. At my own picket line, one of eight at Edinburgh university, the strike was not completely solid.  At least ten cars and thirty pedestrians entered, without accounting for the other entrances. However, this was a several-fold decrease in traffic from the last time we held a strike. This is an important sign of progress because part of the meaning of this strike, particularly in higher education, is re-constituting a tradition of collective action embodied in not crossing picket lines. An increased stay-away rate is a good indicator of this understanding. The postman refused to cross our picket. The main library picket line, when I visited it, was a quite superb mixture of staff and students, segueing into a feminist-inspired ‘teach-out’ at the end. Law lectures and several workshops and seminars in the Politics department were cancelled, although definitive information is not yet available. Chambers Street was, in the words of one UCU official, ‘one giant picket line’ and the National Museum of Scotland was closed. A ‘battle bus’ arranged by Occupy Edinburgh and the Coalition of Resistance toured the picket lines, to great acclaim. When the derelict Forest Café (a former anarchist collective) was occupied, the cops turned up in a taxi. Had they run out of vans?

    Across Scotland the strike can only be judged a resounding success. Almost every school was shut (although certain SNP councils make St Andrew’s day a holiday anyway). The Glasgow underground was closed. Councils almost everywhere stopped. Ferry services were stopped in the Western isles and all classes at Strathclyde university cancelled. According to the Guardian, 300,000 workers participated in the strike in Scotland. So nearly one-in-ten: if you add in their families then we almost certainly can speak of one tenth of the population involved in some way. The multiplier effect of having schools on strike must have increased the effective impact as workers stayed home: a salutary reminder to those who regard teachers, amongst other public service workers, as a bloated waste of money. What would you actually do without them? When was the last time so many people took in Scotland took the same act⎯a political act⎯at the same time?

    The rallies confirm the breadth and scope of strike action. 30,000, or thereabouts participated in Glasgow, 10,00 in Dundee, 20,000 in Edinburgh. The crowd in Edinburgh was shockingly beautiful in its size and composition. The Unison section alone filled the assigned meeting place in front of the parliament. The march filled the Royal Mile for the best part of an hour: for the most part cheered on by onlookers.
Photo by Aoife McKenna
    Some points about the composition of the strike, visible on the rally, are worth noting. It seemed mostly to be people who had never struck before, as confirmed at least by some anecdotal sampling. It was mainly female. It had young children⎯the schools of course being shut by the strike itself, but what an excellent ‘early years intervention’ this must have made. The strike and rally were, in short, representative of the working class. That class as it is, and not as it exists in the fantasies either of the Clarksonoid right or parts of the left (who will especially have to buck up some gender-related ideas if they intend to retain contact with the 21st century proletariat).

     This was more than a march. Just as the Occupy movement represents an act of reconstituting space under the control of a collective subject, so this mass strike represents a (so far temporary) taking of control over the central relationship that structures most of our lives- and in this sense is even more radical than the retaking of privatized space.  It was the physical expression of a reversal of the normal order of things. You usually have to work and you usually take what’s coming to you, because you’re on your own. In Edinburgh and everywhere else in the strike, that was no longer true. We were together, and we were powerful. That, I think, is why when I looked around half-way down the walk I noticed that everyone was smiling.

Politics before and after

        There is little need to re-hash the reasons and the context for the strike: Tory arguments that either public sector workers are going to be fine once their pensions are cut, or that they have it coming to them, are transparently piffle. We encountered a few such outbursts on the picket today (including an indignant ‘I have school fees to pay!’) but not many. The day was very well chosen indeed: Osborne’s pledge of another decade of sado-monetarism and European commissioner Olli Rehn’s insistence that the Euro would not survive another bout of inaction further proof of its pertinence. The ruling class are in disarray. Their prescription that everyone must pay for the crisis except for its authors is failing even in its own terms.

    What about Scotland? One of Alex Salmond’s great advantages has been the low quality of his opposition. Faced with opponents of the calibre of Iain Gray, few could fail to shine. The SNP have been able to gain electoral support through nods to a broadly social-democratic consciousness, expressed in the retention or introduction of moderately humane policies such as those on tuition fees or prescription charges. Serious class struggle, however, is likely to confuse, disperse and discombobulate. The pensions policy belongs to the Tories but the  sectors on strike are under devolved control. Witness Salmond’s performance today. First, and this should be eternally recalled, he crossed a picket line. Since there was a PCS picket line outside of his official residence he would have had to cross in order to get a pint of milk. While Miliband flustered in London, Scottish Labour (and the Greens) at least respected the pickets at Holyrood. The SNP, with one exception, walked straight in to hold a debate they themselves had tabled. The topic of the debate was public sector pensions, which, the SNP tweeted, were subject of a ‘cash grab’ by Westminster. It’s terrible that you’re having your cash grabbed but you’re not allowed to stop the grabbers.

    Seven months into his super-majority administration, Salmond seems a silly hypocrite and a scab. This is not because of Labour, still less the ConDem fractions in Scotland. It is because of class-based resistance to the economic crisis that now defines politics everywhere. That resistance has morphed, re-grouped, strengthened and re-appeared in new places and new forms (which sublate rather than supplant the old) on almost monthly basis throughout 2011. Its most recent phase has been the Occupy movement. Might this strike mark a new metamorphosis? Unions, after all, have leaders and they tend not to be keen on things changing too much. But, Edinburgh is beginning to experience something that feels like victories for the good guys. Not only was the (SNP led) council pressurized into supporting the Occupy camp, the council’s plans to privatise services were dropped in part because of a Unison-led campaign reflecting the sway of the city’s left in that union. Being with 19,999 other strikers on the streets makes one feel like there could be more to come.

    Is there a chance for more than votes, for that different way of life, love and governance with which I started? The left of the left is not in much of a state to answer that question. However, the strike offers some way to begin. The two slogans that have defined 2011, “the people demand” and “we are the 99%”, interpellate a popular subject. Yet there has always been a tension and ambiguity present within them. Who really are the 99%? Who does not belong to the people? The strike may present some resolution, or centre of gravity for that popular subject: amongst those simultaneously attacked and rendered powerful by capitalism.

    The Italian intellectual Lucio Magri, editor of Il Manifesto, died the day before the UK strike. In his last book , he resorted to Brecht’s parable ‘the Tailor of Ulm’ to capture the experience of the twentieth century. The tailor thought he could fly. He built ‘things that looked like wings’ and jumped from a church roof. Of course he died. The bishop, who had mocked the tailor, said to the people: ‘It was a wicked foolish lie. Mankind will never fly.’

Maybe. Maybe.

Photo by Aoife McKenna

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Being White means never having to say you're sorry: on the Christian fundamentalist terror attack in Norway

       One of the chief characteristics of the capitalist ideological apparatus is, as Malcolm X said, to 'make the victim look like the criminal and the criminal look like the victim.' The organisers of the superb 'Slutwalks' are surely aware of this: as are the family of Alfie Meadows or the activists attacked on the Mavi Marmara. The seemingly puzzling response of most Anglophone media to the terrorist atrocities in Norway - atrocities that they refuse to identify as such, preferring to refer to 'violence' carried out by a 'lone extremist' - are explicable once we understand this. Richard has written an excellent post on the topic, to which I can only add these thoughts.

  One could be forgiven for thinking that the near one-hundred victims had, in the opinion of the broadcasters and once the necessary effusions were over, almost brought it on themselves by living in and defending a multi-cultural society, by being immigrants themselves or by some strange osmosis of 'jihadi mentality' into a previously pristine blond head. This Guardian opinion piece suggests that Breivik's violent politics 'may have been a response to the arrival of al-Qaida-inspired terrorism', while informing us that he had 'adopted the language of Muslim jihadists'. The only evidence offered in support of this claim is his use of the word 'crusade': I don't need to tell you what's wrong with the inference there. The BBC news anchor interviewing one of the survivors first summoned the bad taste to ask 'how many guns did he have? Did he stop to re-load?' Then followed up with a question to a previous Norwegian Prime Minister: 'Do you think not enough attention was paid to those who were unhappy with regard to immigration?' Surely, this reduces the normal pandering to racism to a horrific absurdity: yes, he's massacred one hundred children and set off a bomb in the middle of the capital but we have to acknowledge the legitimate concerns.

  It is as yet unknown whether Breivik acted alone. What is known is that mainstream commentators and news are unable - they cannot conceive- of drawing the conclusions they would had their original assumptions of Islamist responsibility proven true. Breivik was formerly a member of the 'Progressive Party', Norway's equivalent of the BNP: an admirer of the EDL and the European post-liberal Fascism on which I have written before, and a frequent contributor to the online discussions permeated with violent Islamophobia and threats against the left. His every word reeks of the wounded, lying pomposity of a comment on the BBC 'Have your say' website. The building blocks of his ideology are repeated daily by Fox News, Melanie Philips and every bore who winges on about how 'they're not integrating.' Were this an Islamist, we would soon have been reminded of how Al-Qa"ida is a network, a franchise, an ideology that inspires terror but must still be rooted out: most certainly not a lone crazy.

But Breivik must be a loner, or something else would come into question. We do not have here a clash of extremisms, of Jihadists (or 'Cultural Marxists') against right-wingers exploiting fears about immigration. The texture of Breivik's ideas, right down to the admiration of Hayek and the claim that 'the inability to create a competitive environment, the over-regulation of the economy, the bureaucratisation, it is going to lead to economic collapse' comes from the ruling class. The Norwegian leftist Aslak Sira Myhre  gets to the bottom of it:
' For at least 10 years we have been told that terror comes from the east. That an Arab is suspicious, that all Muslims are tainted. We regularly see people of colour being examined in private rooms in airport security; we have endless debates on the limits of "our" tolerance. As the Islamic world has become the Other, we have begun to think of that what differentiates "us" from "them" is the ability to slaughter civilians in cold blood.
This is what liberals misunderstand when they see in every niqab a threat to 'tolerance' and refuse to see the EDL and its allies as fascists because they like Israel and Sol Campbell. For them, there really are different 'races', between whom the best relations one can hope for are marjoritarian tolerance. But racism does not produce oppression: it is a product of it. Breivik's murderous Islamophobia is the noxious exhaust of a decade or more of Western wars expansion in Islamic lands, just as much as the ideology of biological racism reflected Europe's imperial heyday.

    There is one final, underplayed or ignored, aspect to the terrorist atrocity that places it firmly on the fascist spectrum. It was an attack on the left and the workers' movement. The murdered youth belonged to the Labour party youth wing and the bomb was directed at the PM's headquarters. Breivik's testament is of course full of denunciations of 'cultural Marxism' and 'Soviet style regulation of the economy in the name of gender equality' - perhaps to be expected from a man who seems almost a cut-out of the failed and resentful petit bourgeois. Where are the Breiviks in Britain, and what service are they likely to provide in the coming years of struggle over austerity? We have a fair idea - you can enter the service of an overt anti-terrorist operation in London on September the 3rd.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Slutwalk - my best pal Rose C Munro's blog

Slutwalk is happening in Edinburgh tomorrow. If you think people have the right not to be sexually assaulted and that the victims are not to blame come to it. It starts at 1:30 in the middle of the Royal Mile.

My best mate and comrade Rose C Munro will be speaking at the event as a rape survivor. She says why on her blog SmorgasNog.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Lies taken for wonders: on gay girls, straight guys, Arab revolutions

Mimicry reveals something in so far as it is distinct from what might be called an itself that is behind.
                         Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis
Amina often flirted with Brooks, neither of the men realizing the other was pretending to be a lesbian.  
                                         Washington Post Blog 13th of June 2011

I have never met Tom MacMaster, the Edinburgh-based fantasist behind 'Gay Girl from Damascus' although I assume we must have passed one another in the library or a cafe: unless, of course, 'MacMaster' is yet another alter-ego. He is, he says, sorry. He certainly should be. He took in some people, me included, but much more seriously has surely emboldened the Syrian regime in its efforts to portray the current uprising as a fake media war against the country and endangering real online gay activists in Syria who don't need him or anyone else to make things up on their behalf. This is before we get to the enormous assumption of entitlement behind this identity theft. Given the subject position from which I speak  and my own execrably scanty knowledge of post-colonial, gender and queer theory I don't think I can say much about that: but I eagerly await the thoughts of comrades and friends who,unlike me, know what they're talking about.

  There's still a lot to be said about this incident, the extraordinary richness of which can be summarised by the image of two middle-aged straight men flirting with each other in the guise of lesbians while neither knows the other is pretending to be a lesbian. This seems an almost-haiku like condensation of the ideological construction of the self. What I find especially interesting about the story lies in what it says about Western liberal response to the Arab revolutions and the analogy - certainly tenuous but I hope not offensive - between 'Amina' the online sock-puppet and that response.

 MacMaster's 'Amina' is an avatar of what Slavoj Zizek refers to as the ' cynical wisdom of western liberals, according to which, in Arab countries, genuine democratic sense is limited to narrow liberal elites while the vast majority can only be mobilised through religious fundamentalism or nationalism.' Far from overturning 'orientalist assumptions' as he seems to have believed he was doing, MacMaster's creation of Amina confirms them. Amina is a woman: this innoculates against the assumed misogyny of the Arab male, potentially unleashed if the dictatorships fall. Amina's support for the revolutions therefore functions to legitimate them against this danger, and in the process legitimating the original assumption. Arabs and Muslims are assumed to be homophobic: let's make Amina gay (without regard to the actual experiences or voices of gay people in the cultures in question) to perform the same function. The avatar Amina congratulates its own creator by legitimating the revolutions through an unimpeachable interlocutor. That there already exist campaigning (and anti-imperialist) LGBT organisations in the Middle East is irrelevant to the echo chamber.

MacMaster is not alone in this maneouvre, I think. The current Euro-American attempt to appropriate the Arab revolutions for a narrative of liberal progress towards market democracies reveals more than a dash of this sock-puppetry. When Barrack Obama speaks of how 'we must teach our children to be like Egypt's youth' is there not a hint of Amina? When the World Bank's Robert Zoellick tells a conference of other bankers and bigwigs that Mohammed Bouaziz set fire to himself for the sake of more free-market policies, is there not a flash of Tom MacMaster and Bill Graber flirting with each other in the mirror image of each other's delusion?

One establishes a mirror vision of the ideological image of oneself and then sets it up to be emulated. Here is what Egypt's youth - it's ragged, confused slum youth and the workers of Suez - had to do in the revolution  when they faced the riot police.

I think we do need our children to be like this: but I don't think Obama really does.

This brings us back to Amina. She stands in well for that group of online, Anglophone activists most accessible to and therefore favoured by the Western media - to the extent that her non-existence only became a problem when her inventor went on holiday. The real activists of this kind should not be disparaged: they are brave and important.But the desire of the Western liberal gaze to invest them with ownership of the revolutions should not be accepted. It is the feared Arab masses to whom these revolutions belong and who will determine their future. 

This film, for which I find it difficult to muster superlatives, demonstrates the emergence of such a collective subject. 

It also shows, I am perfectly sure, the largest assembly of LGBT people that Yemen has ever seen - simply because it is a cross-section of the population. Some of those will be wearing full niqabs; others beards; some may be undergoing the turmoil of a suppressed identity, others not. The women are separated from the men. But when they've come out onto the streets in this way, in these numbers and in the face of all the violence directed against demonstrations in Yemen for the past four months, is it so difficult to believe that they might march out, proud  and together one day?

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Why Supporters of the Arab revolutions should oppose Western military intervention in Libya

The US led NATO  air attack on Libya, widely trailed for the past few weeks, raises an urgent demand for political clarity on the part of supporters of the Arab revolutions. Things are going to get much more complicated in the Middle East now as regimes which the US and its allies would be happy to see toppled, such as Syria, face off against potential revolutions. Difficult arguments are going to happen, and it is as well that we clarify them now.

 Anyone seeking a understanding of the Western liberal fetish for armed intervention - and have you noticed how the TV is now filled with 'strategic expert' types visibly glistening at the thought of a cruise missile rather than heroic young revolutionaries ? - should of course turn to Richard Seymour's book The Liberal Defence of Murder. While you find it on your bookshelf, consider the arguments of Gilbert Achcar, the Lebanese leftist. Gilbert argues, in a vein with which many will agree, that the No-fly zone, and therefore the bombing required to enforce it, should be supported because:

if Gaddafi were permitted to continue his military offensive and take Benghazi, there would be a major massacre. Here is a case where a population is truly in danger, and where there is no plausible alternative that could protect it. The attack by Gaddafi's forces was hours or at most days away. You can't in the name of anti-imperialist principles oppose an action that will prevent the massacre of civilians. In the same way, even though we know well the nature and double standards of cops in the bourgeois state, you can't in the name of anti-capitalist principles blame anybody for calling them when someone is on the point of being raped and there is no alternative way of stopping the rapists.

Now, aside from the implicit acceptance of the liberal imperialist vision of Western military power as global police , this argument is simply that something must be done and that NATO are the only people who can do it - 'there is no alternative way of stopping the rapists.'

Is this right? Why believe that Western military intervention would, as an unintended consequence of the duplicitous imperialist intentions that such an experienced observer of the scene as Achcar must recognise, prevent Gaddafi's overcoming and killing the opposition? Is there an example of where a no-fly zone has done this and then led to the desired outcome of the fall of the regime?

No-fly zones were enforced on northern and southern in 1992, ostensibly to prevent Saddam's further repression of the Shi"a rebellion in the South and the Kurds in the north. The Kurds did succeed in fighting off Saddam's forces only then to fall into vicious civil war amongst various externally backed factions themselves. Incidentally, the Kurdish autonomous region has seen some of the most violent suppression of the recent mass demonstrations in Iraq that form a little known part of the current popular upsurge. In the South, where the rebellion had been defeated before the no-fly zone was announced, Saddam carried out some of his worst acts of repression - summary executions of civilians picked at random, the destruction of city blocks by tank shelling, the draining of the marshlands to drive out their inhabitants - under the no-fly zone. They did not lead to the ousting of Hussein but eventually to the 2003 invasion. We all know how that turned out.

 Neither the Bosnian no-fly zone nor the Kosovo war led to the toppling of Milosevic - although most refugees fled Kosovo after the Western bombing began. It took mass demonstrations and strikes to get rid of him.

But hasn't such a movement risen in Libya and now faces extinction, which can only be prevented by Western military intervention? The desire to prevent a massacre, and the wish of the Benghazi government to have air support is understandable. But the dynamics of revolution are fundamentally political - it seems that the initial momentum of the revolution politically winning people to its side was lost as the Gaddafi's patronage networks functioned effectively in the centre of the country, forming a block to the revolutionary advance on Tripoli. The attack by foreign planes is going to exacerbate, not alleviate that political problem. This leaves the door open at best to a semi-partition of the country, of the kind that prevailed in Iraq between 1991 and 2003.

 Second, this process is not confined to Libya. It is not mere rhetoric to contrast the military intervention in Libya with the silent support for the vicious represssion in Yemen and Bahrain, now invaded by Saudi troops. Each case of revolution has been boosted by previous popular victories - but the NATO bombing gives unneccesary credence to the regimes' claim that the popular movements are foreign stooges. Yes, the Arab league has called for this no-fly zone, perhaps as a quid pro quo for the invasion of Bahrain. But the very fact that this assembly of despots supports it should make us think twice about the effects of this policy on the revolutionary process. Nor will these public pronouncements make any difference to the mukhabarat and official propaganda who will use the Libyan example to the hilt to discredit the movements.

  This does not - absolutely does not - mean support for Gaddafi. This is not the case of the Lebanese war of 2006. If you want to support the revolutions and not the hypocrisy of the Western powers, I suggest the following demands:

Release the Gaddafi regime funds to the revolutionaries and allow them to buy weapons

Condemn the Saudi (GCC) invasion of Bahrain, cut ties with both regimes and with Yemen's Ali Abdallah Saleh - removing also the military aid to his regime. Cancel all military contracts with them.

Allow Benghazi to become an open port for Arab -or other - revolutionary volunteers to join the fight.

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.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Egypt, the tipping point and the military

The Egyptian intifada is the most wonderful thing that has happened for decades, and it is at a critical point. The apparatus of fear, the security forces, have melted away from the main streets and resorted to looting. Jets have just buzzed Tahrir square (I have just heard one over the line to Al Jazzera English with Comrade Hossam)  where people are back,defying the curfew and continuing to demand the end of the regime including Omar Suleiman.  Al Jazeera itself has been banned but Hossam reports that people are determined and taking control of their own security by forming self-defence committees in the neighbourhood.

 Night is falling and, as everyone knows, the army's reaction is going to be the key. Mubarak is on a sinking ship, watching his rats leave: his sons are in London (chase them if you find them), Ahmed Ezz, the personification of the unity of personal corruption, neoliberalism and abasement to Zionsim has resigned. Reports have come through of literal capital flight - 19 private Egyptian planes arriving in Dubai last night. Mubarak first said there would be no concessions, then managed to combined looking weak with enraging the protests by making no concessions but seeming like he had to. Someone is giving orders but I don't think it's actually Mubarak anymore. Hilary Clinton has just said on CNN that the US seeks an 'orderly transition of power'. This looks Shah-like.

But watch that phrase 'orderly transition of power'. It means keeping power for the currently existing order. Suleiman is, as everyone by now surely nows, as despised as Mubarak. As much as Ahmed Ezz, he represents in personal form the regime of which the people demand the downfall - a securocrat at the head of the apparatuses of oppression that have weighed on the Egyptians for so long, and the link between the Egyptian regime, the US and the Israeli occupation in keeping the Palestinians in their place. He is not a very good choice to mask the easing out of Mubarak. That is why there is an unhealthy hint of 'orderly transition' in the planes and live fire that can still be mustered by the remnants of the state.

Will the soldiers shoot? Someone is still giving and taking orders but equally there are widespread beautiful scenes of fraternization. Could the troops fire on so many of their own people? The pattern of repression - from use of police, to security police, to army tanks and now perhaps to air force indicates a dynamic of moving the armed state functionaries literally further away from the protestors. The 'July Revolution' of 1952 - the coup that brought Nasser to power - came after the mass burning of Cairo earlier that year but the Egyptian army today is not that of sixty years ago. For one thing it's been in power that long and that's what people want to fall.

 The question isn't whether officers will take power (they're in power) but whether the lower ranks will obey their orders. The Free Officers were largely composed of people from middle peasant backgrounds (two thirds of them, according to Ellen Trimberger in her book Revolution from Above). Their programme comprised the strengthening of the army through the expulsion of foreign influence, industrialisation and agrarian reform (Hussein, 1973:96). The new regime sought to shift Egypt’s source of foreign currency from the export of cotton – the main mechanism of combination by which capitalist relations had penetrated the country – towards a strategy of self-sufficient industrialisation (Hinnebusch, 1985:23). In so doing Nasser took his place amongst the wider category of regimes that had emerged from the crises of national liberation resolved by ‘middle class nationalists determined on independence in the global arena and national unity internally’ (Hinnebusch 1985:15). They ‘hoped to create a strong Egyptianized state with the aid of an up-to-date army, and compensate the failure of the traditional representatives of the ruling class’ reflecting their keenly felt awareness of the political consequences of Egypt’s uneven development in the ‘politico-ideological inferiority… with respect to foreigners, loss of the state's moral authority, and anachronism of the traditional political parties’ (Hussein, 1973:95).

 The revolution happening now is the result of the eventual bankruptcy of that project after the 1967 defeat, the death of Nasser and the turn to neo-liberalism under Sadat's infitah. The top brass are now part of the nexus of mukhabarat, business cronies and patronage that comprises the Egyptian ruling class.The heroic stage of the Arab petty bourgeoisie in uniform, if it ever had one, has long past. In the 1980s the Egyptian military built up a significant portfolio of industrial investments (especially in food but including at one point even an opera troupe) that have remained in the hands of officers, even as Mubarak sacked the man in charge of the programme as a potential rival. Even if you think Hugo Chavez is a model to be emulated, do not expect one here.

But the army has 450,000 men in it. The lower ranks come from the people who are protesting. This is what is leading to the fraternization. This disintegration of discipline may be being tolerated right now but once the example is there it's more difficult to go back. The protests are not simply observers of the army either. The more of them and the more determined they are (I feel very foolish writing those words, as if I had a right to judge the unprecedented courage of these millions of heroes) the more pressure on the ranks. The Egyptian army has not sustained the acceleration of contradictions brought about by war and external defeat, as the Russian army had by 1917 and the Portugese by 1974, but it is too big to be completely isolated from the people. The emergence of popular alternative power centres exerts an attraction on those who might otherwise believe 'order must be restored'. There are elements of such alternatives in the neighbourhood committees now being set up on Tunisian lines to defend against the looting remnants of the mukhabarat. I'm reading reports of strikes in Suez, Isma"iliya and Mahalla, which will pose similar questions of popular organisation.

The books mentioned above are
Hinnebusch, Ray. (1985) Egyptian Politics under Sadat: The Post-Populist Development of an Authoritarian-Modernizing State. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hussein, Mahmoud. (1973) Class Conflict in Egypt, 1945-1970. New York: Monthly Review Press.
Trimberger, Ellen Kay. (1978) Revolutions from Above. New Brunswick: Transaction Press.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Days of rage; will the Arab revolution spread?

Central Cairo is a 'war zone'. The police have used tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets against protestors - including firing at the heads of demonstrators. It is difficult to be sure of the numbers involved at the moment but twitter feeds from Tahrir Square in the middle of Cairo are talking about 50,000 people and an occupation of the square. This astonishing picture shows workers in the industrial town of Mahalla Al-Kubra (scene of a strike wave that culminated in the abortive uprising of 6th April 2008) surrounding the riot police of the central security. Every demonstration happening here is illegal, in a country where a trip to the police station can see you imprisoned incognito, sexually assaulted or worse.

  That's how things go when you've had a revolution in the near neighbourhood. The Egyptian 'day of rage' has been explicitly organised to emulate the Tunisian revolution - a good argument for why spontaneous action alone is not enough. The slogans across the country speak clearly enough of the protestors' aims:

        'Tell the police, tell the army, we cannot find a loaf of bread
         Oh Gamal [Mubarak] and your dad, Mahalla hates you'

and the wonderful, haiku-like translation from Alexandria:
    'Revolution, revolution, like a volcano,
      Against Mubarak the coward.'
Posters and symbols of Mubarak and his ruling NDP have been torn down and destroyed. The NDP offices and parliament have been besieged, much as the Tunisian RCD are now getting their just deserts. A common comparison drawn is with the bread riots of 1977 that almost felled Sadat: if anything, this movement is bigger. Perhaps the greatest tribute to its potential is that Hilary Clinton has called for the protestors to show 'restraint' in their struggle to free themselves from one of the US favourite outsourced torture solution providers. 

 With all this going on, it may seem easy, perhaps trite, to pick on  the preposterous claim that Egypt unlike Tunisia, is unripe for revolution. Indeed, one might treat such 'experts' with the indulgence reserved for a talkative but uncomprehending child were it not for slanders like this one ; ' If 200,000 people take to the streets, they will only shout slogans in favor of the cross or in favor of Islam.' Utter, utter drivel and disproved by today's events. These have in no small part been organised by the same people who brought Copts, Muslims and secularists together in the aftermath of the dreadful church bombing earlier this month.

The party of order is in disarray, spouting contradictory non-sequitirs to reassure itself. Egypt is not 'middle class' enough to have a revolution, they say. People usually say the opposite. Conditions in Tunisia were both so unbearable that a revolution was inevitable and yet at the same time the Tunisian people benefitted from a secular, cultured and well-heeled middle class who could instruct masses. Witness, once more Amr Hamzawy arguing that
'the Tunisian middle class expanded the social protests spearheaded by the poor and the unemployed, moving them from remote spots to big cities linked social and economic grievances to Ben Ali's corruption and raised a greater demand for [political] change'

This statement is true if you swap the word 'middle' for 'working' class - which is what we conventionally call wage earners, who organise the collective action of withdrawing their labour through trade unions. That is why a split is now emerging between supporters of the old regime and the organised working class in Tunisia. There is a difference between the Egyptian and Tunisian cases here in that the Tunisian UGTT (although part of the Bourguibist state apparatus) enjoyed partially free elections. The Egyptian trade union federation officers are appointed by the dictatorship.

   The good news is that for almost all of the past decade Egyptian workers have struggled against this regime, to the extent of founding their own independent unions. Strikes spread across the country in 2006-7 from the epicentre in Mahalla el-Kubra eventually leading to the uprising in that city in 2008. In 2009, in a police state where independent workers’ actions are illegal, there were 478 industrial actions by workers, including 184 sit-ins, 123 strikes, 79 demonstrations and 27 rallies.  Rather than the Muslim Brotherhood or the increasingly ineffective Mohammed El-Baradei, it is the networks born out of these struggles (such as the April 6th movement) that have mobilized for today's day of rage. This is the context of the revolt, an accumulation of grievance against the combination of Thatcherite economics and Stalinist police state that characterises nearly every Arab regime.

  Egypt is indeed a much bigger state with more US backing than Tunisia - but with that comes an increased potential for the working class. As the Economist puts it
 With its 84m mostly poor and frustrated people, Egypt is the pivot. It is the main ally of the West and a force for moderation in the search for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. If it should implode, the geopolitics of the entire Middle East would be turned upside down.

The title of that article is 'Let the scent of Jasmine spread'. The aroma may not be so pleasing to neo-liberal nostrils after all.
  UPDATE: At least two, possibly three protestors were killed yesterday and protests have been called again for today although Facebook and Twitter seem to have been blocked in Egypt. Several hundred more people are still being held by the security police.  The occupation of Tahrir square (look at the picture above and remember what everyone  in it risked) was broken up by violent police action, it seems. The demands of the protest were announced as
1)the immediate departure of Mubarak from power.
2)the dissolution of the Nazif cabinet
3) a freely elected parliament
4)the formation of a national government.

Extraordinary footage is emerging. Here is the protest from Tahrir Square. They're saying 'the people want the fall of the government.'

And here is one of ordinary Egyptians chasing away the security police. Can these people go on being ruled in the old way? Can those in charge of the running police go on ruling in the old way?

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Trotsky, Lenin and Coco Chanel's lessons for Tunisia

'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'  Leon Trotsky, Results and Prospects
'No support for the Provisional Government; the utter falsity of all its promises should be made clear' V.I. Lenin, The April Theses

        'The Revolution, having begun as a bourgeois revolution as regards its first tasks, will soon call forth powerful class conflicts and will gain final victory only by transferring power to the only class capable of standing at the head of the oppressed masses, namely, to the proletariat. Once in power, the proletariat will not only not want, but will not be able to limit itself to a bourgeois democratic programme.'
Leon Trotsky, Results and Prospects
 'The completion of the socialist revolution within national limits is unthinkable...The socialist revolution begins on the national arena, it unfolds on the international arena and is completed on the world arena.'
        Leon Trotsky, The Permanent Revolution

'Fashion fades, only style remains the same.Coco Chanel

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Tunisian Revolution: Twilight of the Jumlukes?

Every revolution, Marx remarked, begins with flowers. It is rather gratifying then that 'jasmine', rather than some insipid shade from the State Department sample book, is trending as the appropriate adjective for the Tunisian intifada. This is not just another of the Moor's bon mots - he meant that every revolution begins with a moment of unity against the old regime, a joyful prising open of politics by the masses into which rush different visions of the possible new society, visions which will necessarily themselves come into decisive conflict with one another. Tunisia is undergoing just such an interregnum. Ben Ali has fled to Jeddah, so despised that pilots refuse to fly his relatives to France.  The state remains, and it doesn't know what to do.

 The mukhabarat and the army are flailing violently around, surely aware of the fate that awaits them, while the regime remnants try to cling on by agreeing to a 'coalition government' with parts of the opposition (who are not the moving force behind the intifada). This would lead to elections and then most likely to a side-step to neo-liberalism with a democratic face of the kind seen in Eastern Europe after 1989. This is only one possibility, however much it is pushed by the State Department and Ben Ali the torturer's 'Euro-Mediaterranean' partners. It would also only exacerbate the unemployment and poverty that led to the explosion in the first place. ّWhat would deal with that, as the redoubtable comrades of the Cairo Centre for Socialist Studies, is an extension of the revolution to overthrow not just Ben Ali but the economic system he served, and the spread of that revolution to the other shop-worn dictatorships of the Arab world. Tunisia presents the possibility of the overthrow of what the PFLP used to call 'Arab Reaction' - and, might we hope, of permanent revolution?

Where is the licence for this optimism, intellectual as well as wilful? One can point first to the speed with which in Tunisia, as so often elsehwere, apparently solid structures of oppression have crumbled away to the astonishment of mainstream commentators and 'analysts'. Going to the mosque in a suspicious way was enough to get you a visit from uncle Zeen's unpleasant friends - and now people are doing this. It says 'freedom'.

 Second: this is, to an almost vulgarly Marxist degree, an anticapitalist revolt. It began, as most people know, with the attempted self-immolation of Mohammed Bouazzi, young man living in a provincial town and harrassed by police goons who tried to stop him selling vegetables. Further attempted protest suicide, then police homicide of protesters, followed. The political and economic demands of this movement have been  fused from the beginning. As Larbi Sadiki, in an analysis tinged with Fanonism, argues :
It is not the Quran or Sayyid Qutb - who is in absentia charged with perpetrating 9/11 despite being dead since 1966 - Western security experts should worry about. They should perhaps purchase Das Kapital and bond with Karl Marx to get a reality check...The armies of 'khobzistes' (the unemployed of the Maghreb) - now marching for bread in the streets and slums of Algiers and Kasserine and who tomorrow may be in Amman, Rabat, San'aa, Ramallah, Cairo and southern Beirut 
  Indeed - but there is more to the Jasmine revolution even than just the rage of the dispossessed shabab. Proletarian organisation, rather than just dispossession, has also played a role. The Tunisian labour movement has had heroic chapters in its history from the days of French colonialism onwards but was then integrated into the state under Bourguiba.  The leadership initially refused to call a strike in support of the demonstrations, although local activists seem to have been involved. A general strike was held on Friday the 14th leading to the demonstration that ousted Ben Ali. As Juan Cole rightly points out, 'You don’t get massive crowds like the one in Tunis without a lot of workers joining in'. The lesson here is not lost on Mubarak, Assad, Abdullah and the rest - nor will it be on the Egyptian workers who have moved through cycles of revolt since 2007.

   The potential for the rest of the Arab world, and especially its workers, to follow the Tunisian example is intoxicating and real. Algerian khobzistes have already taken up the challenge. Every country in the region has the same basic social situation as Tunisia: if anything Tunisia was thought of as rather prosperous. Once, 'radical' regimes overthrew the monarchs and promised 'freedom, socialism, unity.' They delivered none out of three. The 'jumlukes' - a combination of the Arab words for monarchy and republic, coined to desribe the regional convergence around the principle of hereditary despotism - are in trouble. Even Jordan (on which I will produce a further post later) has joined in. Last year brought some fighting spirit to the teachers' union, port workers in dispute in Aqaba and talk of a 'hot autumn' around the predictably rigged elections. Now a 'day of rage' has been declared in Amman, and roadblocks set up around the towns. The demonstrators have been chanting 'Ben Ali, send the plane back for Rifa"i' (the Jordanian Prime Minister). Cairo has its own variant: 'Mubarak, Mubarak, Saudi is waiting for you.' The puns are different but the demands are the same. We may yet welcome two, three, many jasmine revolutions.