Egypt: The Egyptian working class enters the revolutionary process

Class confrontations are challenging the regime and the whole system

In defence of the revolution:

  • No trust in the military chiefs
  • For workers’ committees in the workplaces and neighbourhoods
  • For immediate elections of a revolutionary constituent assembly under the control of the workers’ committees
  • Formation of democratic rank and file committees in the armed forces and police
  • For a workers’, small farmers’ and poor people’s government!

The celebrations, which began when Mubarak stepped down, ended last night (13 February). The army cleared the square, following its 5th statement calling on the people of Egypt to “go back to normal life”.

While the media has focused on the ‘victory’ of the revolution, many activists have been discussing what to do next. This discussion orientates around the clearing of protesters from the square, the risk of confrontation with the army and the call for a million-strong demonstration next Friday 18 February.

Workers have been entering the revolutionary struggle for almost a week now, with the last couple of days seeing hundreds of thousands taking strike action and protesting for better pay, conditions, for workers’ rights and against corruption. But the need to orientate towards workers has only now started to be discussed among activists. Following today’s magnificent strikes and workers’ protests, which have flared up spontaneously all across the country, workers are showing their confidence and determination to move into industrial action and defend their demands and their revolutionary aspirations.

Uniquely the CWI calls for a workers’ alternative and puts forward a class programme, both amongst activists in meetings and workers on strike. In discussions CWI comrades explain the need for the building of a mass workers’ party that can challenge the capitalist regime and the attempts already to limit and turn back the revolution. We also call for the bringing to power a workers’ government. Our leaflet, which contains these points, was taken and distributed by activists among other activists and was discussed among some groups. In fact it has triggered a number of discussions and meetings with youth and workers who are looking towards the CWI for ideas and a way forward for defending and completing the revolution.

Revolutionary struggle has moved into the workplaces

Today tens of thousands of workers have been on strike or have protested for better pay, conditions and representation in trade unions, as well as demanding the resignation of executive directors. Most of them, if not all, have had all their demands met within hours as the bosses feel weak and try to prevent the revolution deepening.

But the regime is re-establishing itself using the army. It has cleared Tahrir Square – the symbol of the ongoing revolutionary process, but fears the working class getting organised. The first, hesitant steps towards counter-revolution have been attempted with the ruling class now willing to make limited democratic reforms to the ‘youth revolution’ which it portrays as having ended with a victory and mass celebrations.

The national bourgeoisie behind this military ‘temporary’ regime is, on the one hand giving concessions to workers, and on the other repressing them and isolating the strikes. Solidarity and linking up the struggles are more needed and relevant than ever for the working class to take on a leading role in continuing the revolution and confronting the capitalist class and big business.

It is crucial for the revolutionary left to develop a transitional programme that links today’s issues with the need to change society if it is to be able to seize the opportunity to help build a working class movement that can end this rotten brutal system. This means orientating in the direction of workers entering the political struggle and being able to form their own political mass party armed with a socialist programme.

Workers’ protests and strikes spreading like wild fire

Public transport drivers, state communication company workers, Education Ministry workers, bank workers, Ministry of Health workers, Interior Ministry workers, metro workers, railway workers, postal workers, university workers, petroleum services workers, nuclear energy professionals, Giza cleaning workers, agricultural workers, education workers, electricity workers, and many more have been on strike only today.

Even the police have stopped working in their call for better pay. In Baniswef, south of Cairo, police were confronted by the military forces who this time used thugs to physically attack the protesting workers in uniform. When interviewed by the media the police explained that they get low pay and have no right to demand improvement, and that they were told to obey orders when they shot at demonstrators.

Clearly the police force, just as the army can be, is divided along class lines, with an increasing number now wanting the right to organise a strike and committees. The CWI’s call for a class appeal to be made to the rank and file in the state forces to organise themselves and join with the workers’ movement and to be on their own class’s side in the revolution is proving to be a correct call.

The spark behind the revolution

The ‘Facebook youth’, inspired by the Tunisian revolution, called for a Day of Rage on Tuesday 25 January with the aim of starting a protest movement. The first day saw many confrontations with the police in Tahrir Square, but the thousands of protesting youth had no lead on what to do next and no united demands.

The expectations of many youth was that this would be a movement similar to that which preceded it in Egypt following the bombing of the Christian church on New Year’s Eve. The strategy of the security forces was initially to allow the youth to let off steam in the square while closing them in and surrounding them as a way to control the protests. As youth kept arriving in the square, the police started to split them up into groups spread all across the square’s area so that they could not hear each other chanting. But confrontations developed as a result of the police trying to stop people from entering the square – which has a symbolic history from the 1972 movement.

There was a conscious policy by the tops of the police force not to provoke the youth by confronting them physically, but instead to intimidate them. Sounds of bombs and disturbing loud noises were used to scare youth from square. Such tactics are aimed at intimidating the revolutionary spirit of the youth while remaining hidden from the media and public opinion. But the youth were determined and resisted in an ongoing battle and kept re-gathering during the second day when rubber bullets and gas were used to disperse the tens of thousands of protesters.

As a result of this brutality, the first Friday protests saw hundreds of thousands in the streets of their own areas on top of those in the square, many targeting governmental buildings and burning symbols of the state apparatus. Within a couple of days the movement had entered a different stage with the masses taking to the streets and confronting the regime. But no demands were raised as such and chaos spread in a social explosion after decades of repression and increasing poverty. There was no longer fear of the regime which was being blamed for the repression and killing of the youth, many of whom were now protesting against unemployment and poverty, and for social justice. The slogan, proposed by a Marxist in the square, calling for regime change was picked up very quickly by the movement and united it around this immediate demand.

But no Left organisations were playing the role of bringing class demands onto the scene and many workers, at first, adopted liberal demands of reform. The question of toppling the government and challenging those in power was not raised by the movement in an organised way. Thus the term ‘youth revolution’ had been used by liberals and the media to limit the role of the masses and workers who were entering the struggle and who were the decisive force able to oust Mubarak. The youth movement had revolutionary elements within it but had also liberal reformist activists whose intention was never for a real revolution.

Since the military takeover last Friday 11 February, youth demonstrators have been gradually leaving Tahrir Square. A number have been complaining that the opposition parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood and al Ghad (Tomorrow) party had pulled out too soon immediately after Mubarak quit.

Mubarak replaced by a latently repressive military rule

While portraying themselves as ‘overseeing’ the reforms, the army chiefs had been calling on demonstrators to clear Tahrir Square. They have implemented a curfew around the area. This was supported by the anonymously and suddenly launched campaign of ‘cleaning and rebuilding Egypt, hand in hand with army’, with the pro-capitalist ‘leaders’ of the movement claiming that “the main demand has been met”.

But after more than two weeks of resisting the state machine’s brutal repression and vicious counter-revolutionary attacks, a number of youth were rejecting this decision and resisted the army in the Square, with over a dozen arrested and a number beaten by the military police.

The liberal and pro-capitalist parties are satisfied with the gains made on the back of the mass movement. For them the real ‘threat’ came from workers entering struggle, taking strike action and threatening to topple the regime with a general strike.

This decisive point of the revolution meant that the capitalist class had to take action to prevent a workers’ revolution, the possibility of the military splitting and the development of demands beyond liberal reforms.

Hundreds of thousands of young protesters, who came out calling for regime change and for social justice, have been let down. A number of activists are already drawing the conclusion that not even the main demand of regime change has been satisfied, but that the military has stepped in to save it.

Workers have drawn that conclusion much quicker and have begun to fight for their own demands. A section of workers has been protesting and taking strike action for better pay, realising that the so-called ‘youth revolution’ on its own will not win such demands.

There is a mood among broader groups of activists that all political parties have their own agendas. These include the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Ghad, Al Wafd Party, the Nasserites, Baradei’s Democratic Front, the 6th April Movement (the Facebook youth), and others.

The division between pro-capitalist liberals and the Left has naturally been reflected in the formations which were coordinating the Tahrir Square protests, like the 25 January Youth Committee and the 25th January Movement, who are now forming committees to take the movement forward.

Debates on the way forward

Among the Left groups active in the Square, through the Secretariat Council in Defence of the Revolution, and after many discussions and disagreements over what to do next, it was finally agreed to form a workers’ committee to look at workers’ struggles, on top of the already existing coordination and communication committees.

Yesterday, before the clearing of the Square by the army, some slogans were heard such as: “the people want to clear out the regime” but the initiators were “unknown non-organised” activists who disappeared later. At 6am that morning, the army had tried to force people out of the Square, in a clear illustration of what the military police taking over the streets actually means. 17 people were detained. The army tried to portray the isolated and deserted unorganised activists as thugs, while the masses had gone home in celebration marches.

Left activists continued to circulate among people in the Square. Leaflets were given out and speeches made in the open, with people gathering to hear them. At one point there were five stages from which speeches were being made simultaneously, but no clear lead was given. Some argued against clearing the Square and others said it is better to cooperate with the army and not to confront them. But it was finally agreed that activists will keep going to the Square to support the people protesting there until the square is empty. Today the Square is totally cleared and traffic back to normal.

Most of the Left also agreed to respond positively to at least parts of the military’s 5th statement which was announced first by a reporter on Egyptian state television. Thus suggestions were made to welcome the dissolving of the parliament and Shura (Advisors) Council but to call for a civil government (non-military and secular ie not Islamic) of skilled members (technocrats) to facilitate the transitional process in the run up to the elections which a date should be set for.

The Left groups’ immediate demands also include the release of all political prisoners and for the right to organise and launch political parties, and a rejection of the army repressing demonstrators; for the total change of the constitution, and not the modification of it by a military council or the army or the remnants of the old regime; to oppose a military council but argue for a civil one with a set transitional period for elections, and not the vague “until elections”; for a one-million demo next Friday in Tahrir Square. It was also agreed that it was necessary to go back to committees already formed during the revolution (revolutionary, peoples’ and defence committees) and to call for student and workers’ committees to help organise the strikes and workers’ protests; to build for Friday’s demonstration in the streets, communities, universities which open next week, and in factories.

Fears of military rule

Now there are fears of the development of military rule among a layer of activists, especially those on the Left. Already the army is removing corrupt heads of councils in state institutions and companies, but replacing them with people from the army.

A parallel development has been that of a growth in Egyptian nationalism. Illusions are being created that the army provides the best means to protect the ‘national interest’ and against ‘foreign interference and conspiracies’. But in reality, and as seen on many strikes surrounded by the military police, the nationalist propaganda is being used to isolate workers in struggle and to block away the media and the outside in an attempt to prevent the spreading of the struggles to other workplaces. The same old regime, which created the ‘lumpen’ elements and tried to use them as thugs to repress the youth movement, is now using chauvinistic nationalist propaganda to reverse the movement, and to counter any potential workers’ revolution.

No hijacking of the revolution by the army!

The 4th statement by the Military Council, confirming commitment to foreign and regional agreements, meant only one thing to a layer of activists and workers and that is the Camp David agreement. The statement was made to confirm to US and Israeli capitalism that the Egyptian regime is still here.

The demand for social justice which was raised by a layer at the start of the revolution has now been dropped with a section in society thinking that this was simply a liberal revolution to gain democratic rights.

On the other hand, for those activists who see that this is the start of a revolution that can threaten capitalism, the need to go towards the workers in state owned companies and institutions and in the private sector who are on strike is more urgent than ever.

The Square is only a symbol now for the revolution and youth and workers can always go back to it for demos etc. But the revolution has now moved into the factories and companies and amongst workers moving into action. The revolution has won a partial victory, but is still ongoing to defend the demands of the masses, and this is now beginning among workers.

There is an increasing need among Left youth and workers to discuss what stage of the revolution has entered, which has moved from the youth and middle class in the streets, to the workers in the factories. The regime has been spreading rumours among isolated workers in struggle that there is a foreign conspiracy and foreign media are portraying developments as chaos etc, in order to isolate them from the broader movement.

The importance to link economic demands with political struggle has been raised by many activists, a number of whom have said that the CWI leaflet (Leaflet and demands) is “great”, “beautiful”, or “magnificent”.

The need for a socialist alternative

The working class moving into action is posing a decisive challenge to the old order and capitalism. But better living conditions and workers’ rights cannot be completely won without breaking with capitalism and building a socialist society.

As the Helwan Iron and Steel workers have called for building of workers’ committees, helping to create a mass workers’ movement within which the socialist alternative can be discussed is the key task for the Left at this historical moment.

While many of these practical proposals coming out of Left meetings are necessary, unfortunately so far there is no overall view of the revolution’s tasks and the stage it is at. This is why, while rejecting military rule, many do not see that the alternative is the urgent development of democratic workplace and neighbourhood committees as the foundation for a government of representatives of workers, small farmers and the poor that now could guarantee democratic rights and organise a real parliament, a revolutionary constituent assembly, that would decide Egypt’s future.

Socialists would argue for a workers’, small farmers’ and poor people’s majority that would implement a democratic socialist programme. This could include the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy under democratic workers’ control and management to enable a socialist plan to be drawn up, and would change the situation, not just in the Arab world, but also worldwide.

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February 2011