Egypt: Strike wave marks new stage of mass opposition to regime

Decisive action needed to block reaction and complete revolution

Despite stops and starts, the battle in Egypt is intensifying and could be coming to a head. We are on the eve of what could be a new high point, the demonstrations called for 11 February. The weakened Mubarak regime has been desperately attempting to wear down the revolution through a combination of minor concessions and continued attempts at repression.

Suleiman, the first choice of both Mubarak and imperialism to derail the revolution, is offering a few, very nominal, changes to the system that would leave all its basic features intact, while issuing threats. The resignation of Mubarak, now a discredited figure, and his replacement by Suleiman or some other element from the old regime, would not in itself change anything fundamentally or satisfy the movement.

Suleiman’s arrogance seems to know no bounds, as he seemingly attempts to justify the regime’s refusal to allow genuine free elections on the basis that Egyptians were “not ready” for democracy. More ominously, he went on to warn of a coup and repression, piously saying: “We don’t want to deal with Egyptian society with police tools.” How kind! The Mubarak police state’s former head of intelligence tells the population that he doesn’t “want” to repress, but may be forced to if they do not shut up and stop protesting.

However, far from intimidating the opposition, the regime’s apparent determination to remain in place has deepened the revolution’s mobilisation.

Large numbers, especially of workers and youth, are rapidly learning and drawing revolutionary conclusions from their experiences. The events of the last few days – Mubarak’s refusal to resign, the attack on Tahrir Square, the battles in different cities and towns outside Cairo, the security forces’ continued seizures of activists and last, but not least, Suleiman’s threats – have led to increasing numbers drawing the conclusion that more decisive action is required to remove not just Mubarak but the whole rotten regime. This is why last Tuesday’s (8 February) protests were the largest so far and accompanied by the start of a strike wave throughout Egypt.

Every time the movement has made even the slightest pause for breath, or when the rulers see even a slight opportunity, the regime attempts to counter-attack or threaten the opposition. The failure of the 3 February attack by Mubarak thugs on the Tahrir Square protestors has not stopped the repression, oppositionists are being arrested and disappear, while attacks on journalists, especially foreign ones, have become routine.

But, contrary to what the regime expected, this has not succeeded in repressing or halting the movement. On the contrary, these actions by the regime are only helping to radicalise the mass movement and spread the unfolding revolution across the country. Today, the longer the old regime attempts to stay put, the more this is radicalising the movement. Such is the growing determination to remove the regime that, so far, government calls for a return to “normality” are being ignored and being seen as simply an attempt of the old gang to stay at the top. How long this mood can last is open, but at this moment an important new stage is opening with the entry of the working class into collective battle, not simply participating as individuals in protests, but acting as a class with a mighty impact and colossal speed as strikes develop throughout the country.

These strikes have not simply been for economic and social demands but have demanded the purging of pro-regime elements from the official trade unions and from companies like Telecom Egypt. In some workplaces – like Schweppes Beverages, Nile Textiles, the Suez Canal authority and others – workers are staging sit-ins either in the workplaces or outside the company headquarters. In other areas, roads and railway lines are being blocked and in a number of cities, like Aswan and Port Said, protesters have attacked government buildings.

Most significantly, a mass meeting of striking iron and steel workers in Helwan has issued a widely circulating call for workers to demonstrate in Tahrir Square this Friday (February 11) and are calling for:

1. The immediate resignation of the president and all men and symbols of the regime.

2. The confiscation of funds and property of all symbols of the previous regime and everyone proved corrupt.

3. Iron and steel workers, who have given martyrs and militants, call upon all workers of Egypt to revolt from the regime’s and ruling party workers’ federation, to dismantle it and announce their independent union now, and to plan for their general assembly to freely establish their own independent union without prior permission or consent of the regime, which has fallen and lost all legitimacy.

4. The confiscation of public-sector companies that have been sold or closed down or privatized, as well as the public sector which belongs to the people, and its nationalization in the name of the people and formation of a new management by workers and technicians.

5. The formation of a workers’ monitoring committee in all workplaces, monitoring production, prices, distribution and wages.

6. A general assembly of all sectors and political trends of the people to develop a new constitution and elect real popular committees without waiting for the consent or negotiation with the regime.

A huge workers’ demonstration will join Tahrir Square on Friday, 11 February 2011, to join the revolution and announce the demands of the workers of Egypt.

Long live the revolution!

Long live Egypt’s workers!

Long live the intifada of Egyptian youth – People’s revolution for the people!

This statement indicates why both the Egyptian ruling class and imperialism are increasingly desperate to contain the movement. Hillary Clinton has spoken of the dangers of the revolution being “hi-jacked”, but this is precisely what the US and other governments are doing to try to contain the revolution and prevent it challenging either their strategic interests in the Middle East or capitalism itself.

Now, more than ever, the issue is: how to remove the regime?

There needs to be a clear strategy to maintain momentum. As we wrote on 10 February: “To be successful, a revolution – even a spontaneous uprising or insurrection as we have seen in Tunisia and now in Egypt – needs to maintain its momentum by going from one victory to another.” ( The movement has already created elements of “dual power”, now it is a question of gaining real power. Today, the question of removing the government, starting with taking over key buildings – including the Presidential palace, interior and defence ministries, and TV stations – is posed, alongside an appeal to the armed forces rank and file to support the revolution. On this basis, real democratic rights could be won, including establishing democratic control over the media and opening them up to all political and social forces that support the revolution.

To go forward, the steps already taken to form local committees and genuine independent workers’ organisations should be spread wider and linked up. A clear call for the formation of committees in all workplaces, communities and amongst the military rank and file would get a wide response. These bodies could co-ordinate resistance to the regime, and maintain order and supplies and, most importantly, be the basis for a government of workers’ and poor representatives that would crush the remnants of the dictatorship, defend democratic rights and start to meet the economic and social needs of the mass of Egyptians.

The demands of the iron and steel workers in Helwan and other worker are a basis for action. They pose a decisive challenge to the old order and capitalism, but they cannot be completely implemented without breaking with imperialism and overthrowing capitalism. The Helwan workers’ call for “People’s revolution for the people!” can only be realised through a mass movement that brings to power a government of workers’ and poor representatives.

However, unfortunately most sections of today’s Egyptian Left, while advancing many important democratic, economic and social demands, do not concretely raise the idea of a government breaking with capitalism. While most of the Left reject discussions with Suleiman and Mubarak regime, they do not clearly oppose the idea of collaborating with, or supporting from outside, some other kind of “transitional” government involving pro-capitalist elements. This would be a dangerous mistake because any government involving capitalists would naturally attempt to safeguard the future of capitalism in Egypt. This would be true of any government whose stated main role was “only” the organisation of elections because it would have to govern the country in the run-up to any elections. It is the lesson of many other revolutions – like Russia after February 1917 or Spain 1936 – that such governments cannot meet the demands of working people and are used by the ruling class as a means of trying to break the revolution and ensure the continuation of their rule. The left must be clear: the demands of the workers, poor and youth cannot be met unless the old regime is completely removed; capitalism cannot offer a way forward for Egyptian society; no coalition government with pro-capitalists; for a government of the representatives of workers, small farmers and the poor.

The revolution is growing stronger, now is the time to concentrate its forces to overthrow the regime, end the decades-long repression and open the way to a democratic, socialist Egypt.

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February 2011