The recent request by Army General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi for Egyptian people to assemble in their masses on the Streets of Cairo and elsewhere is in one sense a 180 degree turn. Previously army regimes have at best been neutral on such mass street demonstrations or have more often than not tried to disperse them. This time however, the army leadership urged people to take to the streets in order to give them a mandate to prosecute what they classed as a ‘war against terror’.
Now where have we heard that rationale used before? Oh yes Bush and Blair; Netanyahu and Assad; Mubarak and Putin; Obama and Cameron, etc., etc. In other words if an authoritarian regime – of any political complexion – wishes to ruthlessly defend its elite self-interests against opposition, then starting a ‘war against terror’ provides an excellent form of camouflage. Since the vast majority of people are against terrorism it easy to gain popular assent to tough action against this phenomena, leaving the elites to decide just who it needs to defend itself from.
After such a level popular assent anyone who opposes that elite and its system – in any way – needs only to be labelled a threat to ‘stability’ or ‘security’ and evidence (fabricated or real) suggested, for the regime to swing into action. Ruthless measures then become routine. Not only people peacefully opposed to a system can be targeted by the states forces, framed, incarcerated and tortured, but people innocent of any anti-regime crime, opinion or activity can be drawn into the clutches of a lethal state organisation with license to kill – and one with no accountability. Isn’t that how many people finished up in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib and millions killed in Iraq etc.?
In this particular case of obtaining a popular mandate to pursue, arrest, torture and kill, in the name of a ‘war against terror’ and ‘stability’ the Egyptian state and its military controllers have gained the ’streets’ permission to defend itself and its own vested interests. That – despite a variety of motives of those on the ‘street’ demonstrating – is the real content of the mandate given. In future only a united population will be able to counter the newly ‘mandated’ military machine and that potential unity has now been severely jeopardised if not completely sabotaged. At the moment the elite military and the ex Mubarak supporters consider they need to defend themselves from the Muslim Brotherhood and the encroaching Islamist ideology in the Middle East.
It is true the danger of Islamism to liberal, secular, women and left elements is very real and they should be opposed by these forces. But in this way? It will be highly improbable that these anti-Morsi sectors will be protected by this state orchestrated attack upon those ordinary Muslim’s still attached to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. This course of action is more likely to create retaliation by Muslim extremists against all and sundry. Additionally, consent given now to the military elite will have its own momentum. It will be undoubtedly be used against the left, secularists and women sooner or later. When the military feel threatened from this latter quarter – as they must if workers and the poor are to pursue their original demands – it is then the military elite will invoke this popular mandate and use it as they see fit.
So reaction gains ground.
This request for a mandate against ‘terror’ and ‘instability’ by the militarised state is yet another clear indicator that what is taking place in Egypt is not a revolution – at least not yet. Instead of a concerted insurrectionary war against poverty, discrimination and injustice by a united people against the business, military, judiciary, police, and political elites – which would prepare the ground for a real revolution – there is preparation for a reactionary war to defend precisely these same elites. This creates yet another substantive distraction and deflection from focussing on the fundamental needs of ordinary people. Almost from its inception, the Egyptian Uprising was turned aside from its initial demands and directed into a political cul-de-sac.
So after mass unity in Tahir Square in pursuit of jobs, food, housing and justice, the Egyptian people are faced with (and split between) scores of political parties all seeking their own place at the feeding trough of the state. And all of which seek followers and financial subscribers in order to get there. The Muslim Brotherhood having gained a firm hand on the trough were not really addressing the streets basic concerns – hence the demonstrations. These mass uprisings, after becoming bogged down in this political blind alley for a year or so, have not got one step nearer to removing privileged access to the fruits of their various forms of labour. Instead they have opened a probable path for the return of military rule – disguised or naked – which will again become the gate-keepers of who gets to feed at the states banquet table.
Nevertheless, it would be wrong to conclude that the apparent failure of the left in Egypt to stand against this state orchestrated sectarian violence is a product of Egypt alone. Any left failure to make a difference in Egypt is a consequence of the general failure of the left throughout the world. The reformist left everywhere has been successfully seduced into becoming a political support mechanism for the capitalist system. To expect anything from these activists and posers is wishful thinking in Egypt as elsewhere. But the fact that there is not a sufficiently strong anti-capitalist left to make a serious impact on the situation in Egypt is a direct consequence of the global crisis condition of this sector.
People in glass houses….!
It is no accident that the world-wide – five-fold – crisis of the capitalist mode of production is at the same time serving to reveal the fifty-year old global crisis in the anti-capitalist movement itself. Discredited, communist style state-capitalist modes of production have mutated into rampant neo-liberal capitalist forms as in China and Russia and their rank and file ‘party’ champions have all but disappeared. For the rest of the anti-capitalist left, they are split into disrespectful, feuding and competing sects. The Trotskyist and Leninist left now greets the impending collapse of the capitalist mode of production still atomised, issuing conflicting advice and exhibiting a penchant for sowing divisions between workers.
The arrogance of anti-capitalist revolutionary groups in Europe and North America recently criticising the failures of the left in Egypt is just another facet of the remaining Orientalist cultural mentality of Europe. In Europe and North America, the anti-capitalist left cannot haul themselves out of the sectarian ruts they have been digging away in for the last 50 years. They have failed to challenge their own patriarchal assumptions with regard to women in the movement and they have failed to honestly evaluate their own historical tradition. Against the onslaught of neo-liberalism, they have failed to create anything themselves within their own spheres of influence except several competing anti-austerity movements.
The real reason there is not a strong healthy anti-capitalist movement in Egypt, the Middle East and elsewhere is a product of the failure of the anti-capitalist movement globally. This is a fault particularly reprehensible and open to self-critical discussion in Europe and North America. For in these countries, there has been a standard of living and education which created the time, the resources and means for a remedy which were lacking in many other countries. To criticise those involved in Egypt and the Arab Spring countries, whilst bogged down in our own massive contradictions, inconsistencies and divisions, is just another form of white European male arrogance.
A Global crisis needs a global resistance.
It is true that there is a need for a more organised anti-capitalist left in Egypt with a revolutionary-humanist economic and social programme which will attract support from across many layers of Egyptian Society. But that same need goes for Europe and the rest of the world also. The best thing for the rest of the world’s anti-capitalists to do in order to assist those in Egypt and elsewhere is to provide a practical example themselves of a healthy, non-sectarian anti-capitalist movement and anti-austerity movement.
Of course, it is much easier for some to hunker down in the comfort and absolute certainty of their own sectarian tradition and pour forth, as Marx noted, “platitudes and sectarian crochets in the oracular tone of scientific infallibility”. Indeed, criticising others is much easier than critically engaging with the distorted reality of our own intellectual tradition and changing our practice for the better. Yet the latter is vitally necessary if anti-capitalism is to be a positive, rather than a negative influence within the struggle against the capitalist mode of production.
The uprisings in Egypt, the middle east are the more advanced tremors of the coming inter-continental social earthquake as the global foundations of the capitalist mode of production continue to crumble and collapse. There is much to study from attention to these events and the twists and turns of activity and its reflection in consciousness. But similar processes are also at work in Europe, North America and elsewhere. As such working people everywhere, white-collar and blue have much to learn from each other and at the moment the left in general has very little to teach.
This also applies to us on the revolutionary anti-capitalist left as much as anybody else. It is time to learn from events and to act in accordance with proven principles not simply engage in rhetorical platitudes and defend sectarian positions. Revolutionary sounding phrases are very easy to compile against the defenders of capital, but concerted non-sectarian action is also what is needed. As Marx noted concerning revolutionaries of the phrase;
“They forget, however, that they are opposing nothing but phrases to these phrases, and they are in no way combating the real existing world when they are merely combating phrases.” (Marx. German Ideology. Section 1 Feuerbach.)
Roy Ratcliffe. (July 2013.)
[See also ‘The Five Fold Crisis of Capitalism’ ; ‘Anti-Capitalist Sectarianism (parts 1, 2 and 3.)’; ‘Clinging onto Patriarchy’. ‘Egypt: Workers and Soldiers’ and ‘Egypt: Insurrection or Interregnum’ ]