A) Politics is still the problem.
The current situation in Egypt and Tunisia demonstrates the utter failure of reformist measures (as elsewhere) to solve the problems facing the mass of the people of these two countries. The fundamental aspirations of the mass of people involved in the uprisings in both Egypt and Tunisia can be summed up in the phrase ‘bread, freedom and justice’ which was articulated by the youth around the time of the uprisings of two years ago. These are the very minimum of basic demands for any form of humane society. Yet they have still not been even partially granted by the newly empowered politicians in these two countries.
The majority of the participants involved in the North African mass protests and civil disobedience actions of 2011, became convinced that these three basic human requirements could be achieved by a reform of the political leadership. And they were increasingly encouraged by elites everywhere to think this was the best way forward. So it was out with the dictators – and – in with the politicians! Two years later and the people there still have insufficient bread, not a lot of freedom and certainly no justice. Experience in Egypt and Tunisia, as elsewhere, has now demonstrated again that changes in the personnel of the present pro-capitalist political systems cannot radically change the economic reality of those living within and under the present system.
The underlying problem for the working classes (both blue-collar and white) along with the poor in Egypt and Tunisia is that – as we shall see – the capitalist mode of production can no longer offer improvements in the economic conditions for the vast majority of them. And this situation is not simply the result of the financial crisis. The system of capitalist production – independently of the current banking crisis – has reached a structural impasse. Yet it is the capitalist mode of production which the political tendencies now in power in Egypt and Tunisia wish to administer, uphold and promote. The commitment of the new Islamic forces now in political power to global capital is clear and unequivocal.
When for example, the Egyptian central bank (with political approval) declared it was committed to honouring external debt payments, this was a pledge to honour the capitalist inspired debts incurred by Mubarak’s corrupt regime. The debts were the result of money previously supplied by the capitalist international bond and money markets to the now ousted dictator. With its people so desperate for better conditions that they rose up against Mubarak, the new Mursi regime has rewarded their exertions by paying $13 billion to foreign investors. With many of its people starving the Islamic government of Egypt has at the same time set aside $8 billion to service external debt! These early policy actions amount to nothing more than refusing bread to the Egyptian poor, whilst enriching the already bloated financial markets dominated by investors in Europe and North America.
Not satisfied with the level of debt Mubarak had got the Egyptian people into, the new Muslim government, headed by Mursi has also entered into negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a further $4.8 billion loan. It is a loan – once finalised – which will come with numerous strings attached. So when President Mursi publicly declared “It is now time for us to work toward the advancement of the Egyptian people as whole,” he actually means the following. The ‘whole people’ are in a long queue in which the international capitalist class are at the front, greedily banking further billions in even more interest payments.
Next in line are the Egyptian capitalist class and their political and military elite supporters with their pockets already bulging. And to obtain a part of what is left at the back of the queue, the millions of workers and poor will be encouraged to squabble and fight it out amongst themselves. The classic policy of divide and rule this time using religious denominations is already splitting people into warring factions. Change the financial amounts somewhat and change the names of the political figureheads and this is essentially the same capitalist template for Tunisia. The replacement government for Ben Ali in Tunisia was working toward ‘honouring’ the debts and obligations to European and North American capitalism. Both these new regimes, supported by European and North American political elites, are intent on maintaining the capitalist system as it stands.
For this reason, stability, order and profit-making production are the essential policies being pursued by these new political forces, not bread, freedom and justice. The Islamic perspective on economics and governance is essentially the same as the neo-liberal secular perspective – accept domination by the ‘markets’ – and rule with an iron fist. In the case of Tunisia we need to ask what has motivated the attacks on secular political representatives in Kebili province, the arson attacks on the Nidaa Tounes opposition party and the assassination of Chukrie Beleid? Is it a coincidence that these actions came after a video by a Salafi cleric was circulated effectively saying that Beleid’s head was ‘wanted’? Why was it wanted? Is this religious assault on secular forces a pre-emptive strike to prevent a class-based perspective emerging? One which might oppose such blatant accommodation to capital.
These have been very public threats by Muslim extremists who at the same time threatened another champion of secular governance, Ahmed Najib Chebbi. We need to consider in what direction are such assaults pressing. The political and sectarian divide in Tunisia (as in Egypt) has resulted in two or more large poor communities at loggerheads and close to civil war instead of united to achieve their own particular versions of bread, peace and justice. That is the direct effect if not the direct intention. The initial sacrifices of the Tunisian and Egyptian workers and youth who faced down the police thugs of Mubarak and Ben Ali and started the uprisings, have as yet been for nothing. For in Tunisia, as in Egypt, youth unemployment remains high, with no policy or apology for this state of affairs, tourism has collapsed, the finances have been left in a mess by the Ben Ali regime and economic assistance (more debt burden for the workers) is being sought from the world’s money markets.
This is essentially the same pattern as Egypt; but can this be surprising? Well not really: because under the domination of the capitalist system there can realistically be no other model. This is why on a different scale it is being used to draw up the austerity plans for delivery to the workers of Europe, North and South America, Japan and the middle east. Everywhere the basics of the pro-capitalist mantra has the same three policy elements. 1. Stabilise the banking system by giving them as much money as they need to overcome their bad (criminal) decisions. 2. Encourage increased production and compete with other countries to have the most lowest paid workers in employment, and; each country sell more products than it buys. 3. Maintain current forms of political and economic elite power.
B) More capitalism is not the solution.
The whole international representatives of the capitalist system are in various stages of denial concerning the nature and depth of the crisis facing the capitalist system and consequently facing humanity. As the saying goes ‘there are none so blind as those who won’t see‘. And for the super-rich and their supporters what blinds them is the billions they accumulate from the system. Yet for more than a century, it has been clear that the capitalist mode of production has been unable to employ all the citizens of each country – even at low levels of sustenance. This has been the case ever since capitalism became the dominant mode of production. An unemployed reserve army of labour is a constant feature of this mode of production since before the time of Marx in the 19th century.
In the 20th and 21st centuries with automation and computerisation, the situation has become considerably worse. The technical developments of industry, agriculture and commerce have become ever more efficient. Now every year technical developments in capitalist industry, agriculture and commerce, require less and less workers to maintain global production at saturation levels. Levels which under the present mode, create more products than can be profitably consumed. From cars, TV’s, computers, to super tankers and aircraft, surplus products and surplus capacity currently exists in all major sectors of profitable production and distribution. This is the underlying structural crisis of the current system.
This basic 21st century capitalist economic reality is the underlying condition which determines and limits what can be done in Egypt and Tunisia as long as the present economic system is not really revolutionised. For this reason, no participants in the current political milieu or state superstructure are equipped, either intellectually, emotionally or practically to effect changes in this economic foundation. The political system in Europe and North America lacks the mechanisms to even regulate the volatile financial sector adequately. The global financial system continues to totter on the edge of collapse despite regular liquidity infusions of more and more printed money. When it comes to the economic level of production and distribution the political elite is even more incapable of effecting the necessary and substantial change required.
At a global level under the present system, the immediate and mid-term prospect is for further financial insolvency and further sovereign debt collapses. This is the very real prospect for the highly industrialised economies of Europe, North America, Japan and even China. This in turn will engender further global economic downturns in which production levels fail to rise or even decrease, whilst prices rise and austerity persists. All other countries, including those in the middle east and Africa, which are dependent upon exports and imports (money and commodities) from and between the ’advanced’ countries, will also be negatively effected. Therefore, no reformist changes in the political complexion of Egypt and Tunisia’s governance – even the most optimistic – can or will produce bread, freedom and justice.
As noted above, the only changes the global pro-capitalist representatives are contemplating are slight and will allow the banking and bond fraternities to continue their speculative activities. The two other measures already noted are actually in direct contradiction to each other. The first – persisting with austerity and job reductions, and the second – stimulating competitive production. It should be obvious that increased production under the capitalist mode depends upon sufficiently numerous well-paid workers (and others) globally to soak up this increased production. Global austerity and job losses merely exacerbate the contradiction between what is produced and what can be purchased. Fewer employed workers also means less tax income for governments and this increases the already insolvent (bankruptcy) levels of governmental debt – in all countries.
C) The need for a revolutionary transformation.
The Arab street needs to return to its original inspiration and aspiration. Bread, freedom and justice are the fundamental rights of all human beings. They were the original basis for a united struggle by the citizens of Egypt and Tunisia, before this struggle was deflected and directed into sterile sectarian competition for political or religious control of formal seats of power. The frequent sterile ‘adult’ demand for the youth in Egypt and Tunisia to come up with an acceptable alternative ‘political solution’ to the ones currently being practiced is to demand the impossible. There are no political solutions to the present crisis. There are only economic and social ones. The right to produce needs to lie with the workers and ordinary citizens not some fat-cat individuals or their international board-room representatives. At the very least, the means of production need to be taken out of the hands of the capitalist representatives and reside with the workers.
For this reason there is still need to assemble, discuss and protest. In this regard, the ‘black bloc ‘ youth of Egypt have made an important first step in announcing their intention to protect protestors. It was such physical protection which enabled the original peaceful uprising to assemble, discuss, defend itself and prevail. It is such protection which will continue to allow protest to flourish – this time on the basis of evaluating the last two years experience. If those currently at the back of the resources queue in Egypt and Tunisia are sensible, they will reject the invitation to fight amongst themselves for what is left after the finance capitalists have bagged the lion‘s share. It would be an advance – something to work for – if they campaigned for unity to fight for a system which provides equally for all those in the queue. Given the 21st century systemic impasse for capitalism this makes the aspiration for bread, freedom and justice – for all citizens – a truly revolutionary demand, for it cannot be met – for all citizens – from within the capitalist mode of production. To achieve it requires going beyond capital.
The alternative logic of the capitalist mode of production and the ideology of its upholders, whether in Egypt, Tunisia or elsewhere, is clear. It is toward increased competition between workers. Competition for available jobs and resources, and between countries for raw materials and favourable markets. That way leads incrementally to ideas of nationalism, racism, ethnic strife, religious intolerance and fascist-type totalitarianism. These divisive ideologies have more than once been used by desperate ruling classes and have proved to be historical dead ends for humanity. A radical alternative is both desirable and necessary. Working toward a revolutionary transformation of the mode of production needs putting on the workplace and community activist agenda. In this task the Youth of Egypt and Tunisia (as elsewhere) can play a decisive role. Since the system denies them practically everything – even hope – they have nothing to lose.
So even apart from the ecological and environmental concerns created by the profit-focussed capitalist mode of production, a change in the global economic system is necessary for the mass of people to obtain a decent standard of living in terms of food, shelter, education, health and entertainment. In the first half of the 21st century, humanity faces a stark choice; increased competition between capitalist countries or improved citizen co-operation between peoples. To choose competition with all that entails – austerity, poverty, environmental degradation and wars – it is not necessary to do anything. The leaders of current system will blindly lead us down that particular path. They have done so before – and will do so again.
To realise bread, freedom and justice for all by choosing co-operation between peoples, however, will require a great deal of sustained work and activity. It will take time, experience, knowledge and sufficient numbers of people. In advance of the formation of such large-scale critical masses, it will require national and international co-operation between those who have already accepted the need for such a historical transformation. If the latter in Egypt and Tunisia (and the same goes for other countries) can learn to overcome their differences and create an organisational form and future anti-capitalist purpose which is inclusive and egalitarian in terms of gender, ethnicity, age, disability, sexual orientation and class, then this will facilitate both the actual as well as the potential movement for real substantive change.
Whether some like it or not the perspective of a revolutionary transformation of the mode of producing the world’s goods and services is one which faces the majority of humanity. The youth is the section of the global population which will suffer most in a future dominated by the capitalist mode of production. But it is also this section of the population which is least encumbered by previous – outmoded – forms of conducting the anti-capitalist struggle. They are unlikely to adopt the top-down, patriarchal, elitist, vanguardist model of anti-capitalist struggle, which went so tragically wrong in the Soviet Union, China and wherever else it was exported to. And this model – where it is artificially kept alive – still haunts and disfigures the international struggle against the capitalist mode of production.
Roy Ratcliffe. (February 2013.)
[See also ‘Austerity: its another word for War’; ‘Form and Essence in the anti-capitalist struggle’; and ‘Uprisings and Revolutions.’ all at http://www.critical-mass.net.