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Initial thoughts on Egypt
All too often, we on the Left attempt to prematurely analyze objective reality based on what we see as the expression of an internal contradiction, without thoroughly investigating, understanding or appropriating the internal factors, even at the level of perceptual knowledge. [Italiano]
Initial thoughts on Egypt
Feb. 4, 2011
All too often, we on the Left attempt to prematurely analyze objective reality based on what we see as the expression of an internal contradiction, without thoroughly investigating, understanding or appropriating the internal factors, even at the level of perceptual knowledge.
Theory should not be reduced to the act of commenting or reaching verdicts on events (even if that includes analysis), but should instead be the process of understanding an objective reality. In this way, the production of theory should serve the proletarian struggle.
The struggles in Tunisia and Egypt, just to cite a couple of the recent ones, are not revolutions, or more precisely, they have not reached the stage of revolutionary struggles, though they may be on that path. The struggles are still on the level of demanding popular democratic reforms. A very thin line separates these from being reformist struggles. Therefore, these struggles should be seen as popular democratic uprisings, rather than revolutions. This clarifies the content and nature of these struggles, as well as their limitations. Their purpose is to enlarge bourgeois democracy.
The limitations are determined by the fact that these struggles are being waged under the leadership of sectors of the bourgeoisie, and most importantly the petit bourgeoisie, which the bourgeoisie is heavily leaning on to guarantee their control of the popular masses, and prevent any development of these struggles into revolution.
These struggles, even with their limitations, are an objective advancement over the previous order, and require our support. We need to support them in unity with the objective interests of the Egyptian proletariat and the international proletariat.
However, the risk is present for these struggles to be co-opted by the dominant classes. Only the autonomous presence of the popular masses, particularly the working class, will determine A) how far the demands could be pushed, and B) the continuation of these struggles to actually defeat the dominant classes and imperialism.
It will be important for us, non-dogmatically and from a non-ultra-leftist position, to avoid conflating these struggles with revolutions or concluding that they are victories, and thus deflating their actual effect.
Dictatorship is the capacity of a class to reproduce its dominance within a specific social formation. The dominant classes use the state apparatus as their political tools to administer, manage and regulate their dominance.
The anti-dictatorship struggle should not focus itself against one person, but against the dominant classes. So, it is important not to confuse the state apparatus with the government. The state apparatus is the machine of repression, and the government is the center pole of that machinery. Elections tend to allow the dominant classes the possibility of rejuvenating the state apparatus by changing the government, favoring this alteration for the purpose of retaining their power.
In a sense they are constantly regulating bourgeois democracy. Of course, this is relative depending on the strength of the bourgeois dominant structure and the nature of their internal struggle, as well as their ability to maintain power in the face of popular struggle and imperialist interference.
In some instances of bourgeois democracy we encounter periods of particularly extreme forms such as autocracy and fascism. Even in these cases, we should not confuse the trees with the forest. The forest is always the dominant classes. The trees are these particular forms that power takes, or individual figureheads.
If we do confuse them, we are bound to make any number of the following errors:
1) To label these struggles revolutions and conclude that they are victories.
2) To call for a united front.
3) To limit our support to government change, allowing the restructuring of the relations among the dominant classes, even if they do concede some rights to the masses.
4) Be completely overtaken by reformism.
5) Go against the objective interests of the working class.
Since Nasser, a problem faced by the National Liberation Movement (but not only related to the NLM), is that a bureaucratic bourgeoisie has been consolidated within these social formations. The bureaucratic bourgeoisie has a tendency to be autocratic. In most of the social formations in question, it is this fraction of the bourgeoisie that, in its own interests and in the interests of all the dominant classes, possesses hegemonic political power .
Two types of struggle are presently occurring in Egypt, as well as in many other social formations (each of course with their own particularities): the struggle between the popular masses and the dominant classes, and the struggle among the different factions within the dominant classes for political control and preferential relation with imperialism.
As we analyze these struggles, we should consider several points:
1. There is a constant struggle among the dominant classes to restructure bourgeois democracy, especially if it is being managed autocratically by one fraction and all power is concentrated in the hands of one individual.
2. In most cases within this type of social formation, the social base of the bureaucratic bourgeoisie is the army or sectors of the army, and/or the general repressive apparatus structure. Sadat and Mubarak were army generals. In most cases, the army or particular sections of the army act as the political organizations of the bureaucratic bourgeoisie fraction. One sector of the army could be under the leadership of this sector of the bourgeoisie and in service to imperialism, or it could serve feudal landlords -- this is not cut and dried. We need to analyze these conditions further to understand the army’s role.
3. The sectors of the bourgeoisie acting against the bureaucratic bourgeoisie (which has been headed by Mubarak) are not progressive and should not be considered allies of the masses. The contradictions between these sectors are secondary contradictions, presently being resolved antagonistically. The bourgeoisie as a block is utterly pro-imperialist. Soon after Nasser, the imperialist political line within the Egyptian social formation made substantial gains. For example, aid from imperialists favored the formation of the bureaucratic bourgeoisie, undermined Nasser‘s petit bourgeois nationalism, and greatly impaired the national bourgeoisie. More in-depth analysis is needed to understand the full internal impact of that political line.
4. Egypt’s role in assisting imperialism in the Middle East is significant, especially in relation to Israel. This also facilitates the development of a particular ultra-reactionary feudalist Islamic tendency, as we have seen in other social formations in the Middle East.
5. The struggle among the dominant classes is solely in the interests of those classes, even if the masses receive a few concessions. Genuine liberation depends upon the autonomous capacity of the masses, and their independence from and resistance to the bourgeoisie.
6. Sectors of the dominant classes against the hegemony of the bureaucratic bourgeoisie generally tend to lean on the petit bourgeoisie to influence the masses, to limit and prevent any deepening of the social contradictions that would allow a transition from an uprising to a revolutionary struggle. The petit bourgeoisie usually presents their class demands as the demands of the fundamental masses (those of the working class in particular); thus drowning the struggle in populism, opportunism and class collaboration.
7. The popular struggle will advance based on its capacity to resist cooptation by sectors of the dominant classes and imperialists who present themselves as in opposition to the bureaucratic bourgeoisie.
8. Imperialist politics have matured greatly in the past forty years. The practice of unilateral support for autocrats is over; now imperialists will lean on both camps and adjust their position as a situation develops. Imperialism must be unequivocally denounced.
9. We should not simply react in a populist fashion. We need to point out that the situations in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere represent the failure of capitalism and neo-liberalism.
The popular demands are based on underlying class interests. We need to understand their class content in order to pursue our anti-capitalist struggle at all levels, and to support these popular struggles from an anti-imperialist/anti-capitalist perspective.
In the days to come, the relations of power will be crucial to what is achieved by the struggle of the masses. The more the struggle is constrained, the more the outcome will favor the interests of the bourgeoisie as a block and imperialism. Even if the bureaucratic bourgeoisie is shaken by the maneuverings of the imperialists, the probability for the bureaucratic bourgeoisie and the block of the dominant classes to regain control is far greater than the likelihood of victory by any autonomous popular alternatives.
We need to develop and offer analysis of these situations, and avoid potential negative impacts of blind support flowing from the low level of class consciousness and struggle in the United States.
These are some initial thoughts to consider in the context of our general support of the uprisings in Egypt.