On March 27 Israeli socialist Moshe Machover addressed a meeting of the CPGB. He argues that with the involvement of UN and Nato forces, the Libyan revolution had already been lost. The only solution now is an Arab-wide revolution.
On March 27 Israeli socialist Moshe Machover addressed a meeting of the CPGB. He argues that with the involvement of UN and Nato forces, the Libyan revolution had already been lost. The only solution now is an Arab-wide revolution.
Western intervention in Libya – and the rest of the Arab world – aims to subvert popular power and the Arab revolution, argues Eddie Ford
Almost inevitably, given the chronically weak state of the working class movement, imperialism has intervened militarily in Libya. Dutifully, both the United Nations and the Arab League, that thieves’ kitchens of despots and dictators, sanctioned the action – even if it seems more like a coalition of the unwilling, or damned, than the willing. And, of course, the House of Commons on March 21 voted overwhelmingly in favour of the latest military adventure, by 557 to 13.
So, under the guise of setting up a no-fly zone to “protect” civilians in Benghazi and elsewhere, the UK, France and the United States – with a few stragglers like Qatar to provide Arab ‘legitimacy’ – have effectively declared war on the regime of Muammar Gaddafi. Maybe even on him personally, United Nations resolution 1973 or not – US-made Tomahawk cruise missiles exploded in his Tripoli compound, but magically failed, presumably, to inflict any ‘collateral damage’ on those unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity. Perhaps Tripoli civilians need less ‘protecting’ than Benghazi ones.
Coalition forces appear to be expanding the scope of their operations almost by the hour – launching new air strikes against Gaddafi’s troops outside the (currently) insurgent-held western city of Misrata. US secretary of state Hillary Clinton claims that people “close” to Gaddafi were in touch with other countries asking for advice on “exile options”.
Naturally, in order to justify the attacks, we have being bombarded with crap about “genocide”, “crimes against humanity”, “human shields”, etc – the propaganda war to accompany the real hot war. Mere cant. It cannot be denied that the Gaddafi regime is a foul dictatorship which has violently oppressed the Libyan people for decades and which thoroughly deserves to be overthrown – with communists being amongst the first to welcome the armed uprising against its tyranny. However, such hyperbolic language is being deployed in an attempt to fool us into believing that Libya – unlike other, pro-western, Middle East dictatorships – is a special case and that this ‘humanitarian’ or liberal imperialism will somehow be beneficial to the long-term interests of the Libyan masses. In reply, communists argue that the Libyan intervention will no more bring liberation or democracy to its people than the imperialist overthrow of Saddam Hussein – a former client regime of the west – relieved the suffering of the Iraqi masses. Instead, the brutal imperialist invasion and occupation of Iraq just brought about new horrors and suffering – leaving the country traumatised and dismembered.
Therefore, from that perspective – an internationalist and democratic one – the Stop the War Coalition is to be commended for having staged a protest opposite Downing Street on March 20 against the air assault on Libya. Indeed, not to have done so would have made a mockery of its name. Addressing the 100 or so demonstrators, both Jeremy Corbyn and George Galloway noted that the date marked the eve of the eighth anniversary of Operation Shock and Awe that led to the Iraq invasion and condemned the obvious hypocrisy of the western powers. Where was the no-fly zone over Gaza when it was being blitzkrieged by Israel or, for that matter, the one over Bahrain – which has seen “invited” forces from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates murderously repress the pro-democracy activists trying to emulate the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions?
But, of course, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are friends, and strategic assets, of the west – so it is an entirely different story. Furthermore, compounding the hypocrisy, the UAE is lending military support – to some degree or another – to the imperialist campaign against Gaddafi (it being reported by Reuters that the Greek airbase at Souda, Crete, received a request from the UAE to stand by for the refuelling of 12 Dassault Mirage 2000s and 12 F-16 Fighting Falcons en route to Sicily). Given that the UAE military is busily involved in the suppression of democracy, both at home and in Bahrain, it is utterly absurd – if not near madness – to believe that the very same military can help to bring social advance and progress to Libya.
True, it does have to be said, the STWC demonstration was small and, yes, we in the CPGB are critical of the politics often peddled by its leadership under John Rees (national officer and leader of Counterfire) and Andrew Murray (chair and Communist Party of Britain member) – least of which is its unprincipled exclusion of Hands Off the People of Iran to please the Tehran regime. But it was entirely correct to call the March 20 demonstration. Along with the STWC comrades and others on the left, we say: imperialism out of Libya; down with Gaddafi. Clearly, western intervention in Libya – and the rest of the Arab world – aims to subvert the Arab revolution.
But there are some on the left, totally misguidedly, who have come out in support of the imperialist ‘no-fly zones’ – a misnomer in the sense that we are talking about active and aggressive attacks on Gaddafi’s tanks, armoured cars, mortar and infantry positions, and so on, not just the taking out of air defence systems (situated more by military necessity than cynical political calculation in densely populated urban areas). To see the ‘pro-war’ left at its most degenerate, and downright stupid, you would be hard-pressed to do much better than the social-imperialist Alliance for Workers’ Liberty – which in the past implied that imperialism had a progressive role to play in Iraq by creating a democratic “breathing space” for the working class.
Hence the AWL categorised the March 20 STWC protest as a “pro-Gaddafi demo” and castigated the Socialist Workers Party for its supposedly “oxymoronic line” slogan, “No to intervention in Libya! Victory to the Arab revolutions!” AWL functionary Sacha Ismail also mocked a Counterfire activist for waving a placard calling for “regime change here” (what a terrible demand for a Marxist to raise), asininely remarking: “… as if that solves the problem of what socialists should say about Libya” – before further rebuking another Counterfire member for “leading the chanting” of “Hands off Libya!”
Well, the AWL may have put the moron back into oxymoronic, but such philistine comments only serve to indicate that it has abandoned even the ABC of Marxism – which precisely, as the SWP and Counterfire comrades suggest, consists principally of fighting for “regime change” at home: that is, making revolution. The fact that the AWL finds this so hilarious just about says it all. But then again, as an organisation the AWL specialises in slippery and dishonest polemics – steeped as it is in a sectarian culture so assiduously promulgated by its fading patriarch, Sean Matgamna – in a feeble bid to disguise its instinctive first-campism (ie, pro-imperialism). For example, we have Matgamna’s infamous 2008 “discussion article”, where he rhetorically asked, “if the Israeli air force attempts to stop Iran developing the capacity to wipe it out with a nuclear bomb, in the name of what alternative would we condemn Israel?” Given that the article stressed the right of Israel to self-defence, the implication was quite clear: a pre-emptive Israeli strike on “clerical fascist” Iran would be justifiable.
In this vein, the AWL is up to its old sophist tricks again. Hence, though we are advised by Clive Bradley to hold “no illusions” in the west, we are also informed that to oppose imperialist intervention means “abandoning” the anti-Gaddafi rebels, given that the workers’ movement internationally “does not have a military force of our own to come to the aid of Benghazi”. Therefore, Bradley asserts, there cannot be an “issue of principle” that should make socialists “demonstrate against the one thing which might prevent untold slaughter” and avoid a “crushing defeat for the wave of revolutions” – namely, imperialist military might. Or, in other words, “Yes to Libya” and “not no to the USA”. It is not “our job to try to stop the implementation of a no-fly zone”, since, according to the AWL, the one operated against Saddam Hussein from April 1991 “provided some protection for the Kurds”.
The pro-imperialist logic is plain to see. By the same token, those who opposed the Iraq war in 2003 were guilty of striving to keep Saddam Hussein in power and thus abandoning the people of Iraq to their fate. Similarly, not sending the task force steaming down to the south Atlantic in 1982 – refusing to intervene – would have meant deserting the Falkland Islanders in their hour of need, leaving them to the tender mercies of the Argentinean military junta. Or, just as plausibly, surely it would have been the case that by not declaring war on Germany in 1914 the British government would have ‘betrayed’ or abandoned the plucky Belgian people – or the noble Poles in 1939? For the befuddled AWL, any sort of class analysis seems quite alien – replaced by a liberalistic, and shrilly moralistic, support for the ‘underdog’ at any given moment (which more often than not neatly dovetails with the imperialist agenda).
Of course, the AWL are not the only ones on the left who come in favour of imperialist no-fly zones – although at least most have the decency to arrive at such a conclusion more reluctantly. Thus comrade Dave Osler, a member of the Labour Party/Labour Representation Committee and a former Trotskyist, writes that you “would need to be a liberal of a spectacularly gullible kind” to seriously “maintain that the American ruling class and those other ruling classes invest serious amounts of blood and treasure in the promotion of democracy for democracy’s sake”. Yet, having said that, he goes on to argue: “… once in a while there is a more or less accidental coincidence between what the US wants to see happen in a country and the interests of working people that live there” – Libya being one of those times, he feels. Therefore he is compelled, though he does not find these “words particularly comforting to write”, to “support the no-fly zone”, but “with no illusions”.
As for comrade Andrew Coates (a self-confessed Pabloite), he states – correctly – that “the left has to begin from the premise of support for the Libyan people’s resistance to the Gaddafi tyranny” and that the uprising “takes place within the context of pan-regional Arab democratic revolutions”, being “directed against a bureaucratic capitalist tyranny with close links to international capital”. But like comrade Osler he thinks that the imperialist intervention just so happens to “correspond to the particular needs of the Libyan population under imminent threat of repression by the Gaddafi state machine” – leading him to the conclusion that “blanket opposition” to no-fly zones, etc is “morally bankrupt” and the STWC’s March 20 protest “against the help offered to the Libyan people” is “repellent”. Rather, “in the absence of any other means of international support”, comrade Coates gives “qualified support” to UN resolution 1973, which sanctioned the attacks.
Naturally, communists can understand – and sympathise with – the sentiments underpinning these arguments. Yes, the Benghazi insurgents are massively outgunned by the despicable Gaddafi regime, which responded to the initial pro-democracy demonstrations in the only way it knew – by brute repression and ruthless violence, leaving many dead and injured. Of course, communists agree that those leftists who urge support for the ‘anti-imperialist’ Gaddafi are contemptible – such as the Workers Revolutionary Party with its wretched slogan of “Victory to Gaddafi!”, not to mention the highly practical “Bring down the Cameron-Clegg coalition with a general strike and go forward to a workers’ government and socialism!”
Or the Stalinite Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist), which exhorts “support for the Libyan government in its fight to crush attempts to take control of Libyan oil out of the hands of the Libyan people”.
However, for all that, by making such arguments comrades Osler and Coates – and others like them – are sailing into dangerous waters: they run the risk of constituting themselves as the leftwing conscience of liberal/humanitarian imperialism. The fact that, as the comrades like to emphasise in support of their position, some sections of the Benghazi provisional government (or Commune, as some have idiotically called it) have welcomed the imposition of a no-fly zone is no measure as to the progressive nature or efficacy of such a move – likewise, a large number of the Irish catholic-nationalist population in 1969 initially welcomed the British military intervention – but within a short space of time they had taken up Molotov cocktails and arms against the same imperialist ‘liberators’.
No, the imperialist intervention into Libya is more akin to pouring water on the flames than re-igniting the spark of revolution, acting to divert the anti-Gaddafi uprising – and the entire revolutionary movement across the Arab world – into safe, containable channels Indeed, if anything, the introduction of no-fly zones, etc runs the real risk of galvanising a measure of patriotic or ‘anti-imperialist’ support behind the regime – which as a consequence may mean that Gaddafi can cling on to power longer and at some future point inflict harsher reprisals against those opposed to his rule.
Unlike scabs such as the WRP, communists wholeheartedly backed the revolutionary democratic upsurge – the revolution – in Libya against the rotten regime, just as we did in the entire Arab world. We want to see all these regimes swept away by popular power, with the working class securing hegemony over the demonstrations, protests and uprisings.
But we envisage this happening as part of a pan-Arab movement, striving for the unification of the Arab people after centuries of Balkanisation, not by repeated imperialist interventions designed to reconfigure western control over the region – using a new generation of elected, ‘democratic’ clients, as opposed to the old-fashioned despots.
Members of Milton Keynes Stop the War Coalition held an emergency protest to oppose the imperialist military intervention into Libya. More than 100 Tomahawk cruise missiles bombarded Libya within the first day of bombing.
We held aloft our banner saying “No war in our name”, distributed leaflets and collected signatures to a petition calling for an end to military intervention. We chose to stage our protest in Midsummer Place where many people would see it and a high proportion agreed with us that, while Gaddafi is clearly a reactionary dictator, imperialist intervention is not the answer. The Libyan people themselves are the ones who must settle accounts with Gaddafi. Indeed for the last few years the West had been getting along fine with Gaddafi and was happy to do all sorts of deals with him. Their hypocrisy regarding Saudi intervention to crush the democracy movement in Bahrain was also commented upon by members of the public.
Sadly our protest was brought to an early end. Midsummer Place, along with many other spaces in Milton Keynes, masquerades as a public space. It was made clear once again (this is not the first time campaigners have been moved on) that this is not the reality. After a while security were called for and they insisted that we cease our protest (which it must be said was not obstructing or inconveniencing anyone). The owners of these privatised spaces are happy for you to use them to come and shop, but when something more social than the atomised exchange of commodities is attempted on their premises it is never long before security (or even the police) arrive. One day the people of Milton Keynes will have to claim these spaces as their own.
To hear more about the CPGB’s political position regarding the imperialist intervention into Libya, click here to listen to one of our podcasts.
Communists oppose western meddling in Libya, writes Eddie Ford. Rather it is the masses themselves who must overthrow the Gaddafi regime
Isolated and beleaguered, the Gaddafi regime is fighting for its very life – effectively reduced, as things stand now, to a rump which controls Tripoli and not much else (with protests sporadically breaking out in the capital’s southern suburbs).
Libyan ambassadors and diplomats abroad are deserting their boss in increasing numbers, like rats leaving a sinking ship. Of course, for the most part, their sudden fealty to democratic values is pure hypocrisy – they were loyal servants of the Libyan regime right up until the 11th hour, when they finally realised that the writing was on the wall for Gaddafi and therefore that it might be more expeditious to find employment elsewhere. As for the Libyan masses, they remained unbowed despite the terror launched against them – steadfast in their total rejection of the regime, not just colonel Muammar Gaddafi himself. The latter has vowed to “turn Libya red with fire” if necessary in order to stay in power. More likely that he has signed his own death warrant.
Hence the eastern half of the country, apart from this or that pocket, has been almost completely freed from Gaddafi’s tyrannical rule. Benghazi, the country’s second city and now widely referred to as ‘free Benghazi’, has become the de facto capital of Libya – until Tripoli falls, that is. A provisional government (or national council) has been declared, though, of course, given the rapidly moving confusion of events – the fog of revolution – it is not entirely clear who or what it is composed of, or its exact political configuration. However, one thing that does seem all but certain is that we are not dealing with an Islamist authority of any stripe here.
In other words, a living repudiation of the scaremongering lies promoted by the regime – and some of its wretched apologists in the west and elsewhere – to the effect that the forcible overthrow of Gaddafi would represent a victory for the Islamists or even al Qa’eda. To this end on February 21 we had Saif al-Islam Muammar Al-Gaddafi, the tyrant’s odious son, ranting on state TV that the country would be split asunder into “15 Islamic fundamentalist emirates” if the regime was toppled – when he was not spluttering on about how he would “eradicate” all anti-government protestors (amusingly enough, for those who appreciate dark humour, Saif al-Islam received his PhD from the London School of Economics in 2008 for a dissertation entitled, ‘The role of civil society in the democratisation of global governance institutions: from “soft power” to collective decision making?’). In fact, all the evidence to date indicates that Islamist involvement in the Libyan uprising has been minimal.
In the words of Fathi Terbil, the ‘human rights’ lawyer whose arrest on February 15 sparked off the mass protests and who now sits on the new revolutionary council in Benghazi, “this is just the first stage of the uprising”, which aims for the “destruction of the regime”, But, he cautioned, “we haven’t completed it yet”. In order to defend the gains of the revolution – and to claim the prize of Tripoli – the revolution must not halt, but instead act with ruthless aggression against the regime: attack is so often the best form of defence. Even now, with the regime visibly disintegrating, there is still the danger that Gaddafi could regroup his forces and regain the initiative. Even if such a reimposition of control was only temporary, any prolongation of the regime can only mean more death and suffering for the Libyan masses – as the Gaddafi dictatorship has shown itself more than willing to inflict cruel and wanton violence when cornered.
But, having said that, the balance of forces is weighted against the Gaddafi regime. By all accounts, Gaddafi is now largely reliant on his elite armed forces and mercenaries to prop him up. Mercenaries are all very well and good, but their ‘loyalty’ quickly evaporates when the going gets tough and it looks like their paymaster is on the losing side. In which case, they just make a run for it – especially when, as in Libya, they are a rag-bag of desperadoes recruited from every corner of sub-Sahara Africa, not to mention eastern Europe, Russia, South Africa, etc. And Gaddafi’s elite units, like the air force, might turn out to be just as disloyal as well, when asked to fire upon their own brothers and sisters – quite literally. Of course, we have already seen mutinying amongst such elements – with two senior Mirage F1 fighter pilots defecting to Malta; and the crew of a Sukhoi-22 who refused to bomb Benghazi.
Desperately, the regime is trying to break out of its Tripoli box – with very little success so far. On February 28 Gaddafi’s Khamis Brigade – led by his youngest son of the same name and purportedly the best equipped army unit in Libya – tried to reclaim the strategic town of Zawiyah, 19 miles from the capital. Ominously for the regime, the brigade was beaten back by revolutionary forces using seized military equipment (albeit mostly semi-decrepit), including tanks, armoured personnel carriers and pick-up trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns. The fighters themselves were armed with a mixture of hand-guns, assault rifles, shotguns and improvised weaponry. Perhaps even more inauspiciously for the regime, stories are circulating that there was a “breakdown” of military discipline amongst the Khamis Brigade – even a “split”. One rebel told the Associated Press that the Khamis Brigade was defeated “because our spirits are high” and “their spirits are zero”.
Revolutionary forces are now attempting to organise a liberation army that can march on Tripoli itself, though there is no way of knowing at the moment as to how advanced these plans are – or to what degree we are witnessing the birth of a serious or viable military-political force that can finally dislodge Gaddafi. But some sort of military committee appears to have been formed, which includes defecting senior officers from the regime, and it is roughly estimated that this nascent revolutionary army consists of at least 5,000 volunteers – most of whom are being trained in Benghazi (receiving a crash course in basic military concepts and manoeuvres). We can only expect their numbers to swell over the next days and weeks.
Meanwhile, both the United States and UK governments have openly declared that Gaddafi is “delusional” and “has to go” – something that communists find hard to disagree with. However, there is the danger that imperialism might intervene in an effort to devise an outcome more to its liking. Like finding a hand-picked successor to Gaddafi – a favoured client who it hopes will do its bidding. Or perhaps by claiming that intervention is necessary in order to avert “genocide” – the charge that some have absurdly, and self-interestedly, directed against Gaddafi. The dictator sitting in Tripoli wants to eliminate, whether physically or not, all those who oppose his regime – not carry out the extermination of any particular ethnic/racial group or peoples.
Whatever the justification employed, the western threat is real. David Cameron belligerently told MPs that Britain did not “in any way rule out the use of military assets” and suggested that the British government might arm anti-Gaddafi forces. Cameron now appears to have backtracked from this stance, after the Obama administration publicly distanced itself from such notions. However, it would be foolish in the extreme to dismiss the prospect of imperialist intervention in Libya – especially if the US starts to fear that the quickly unfolding events in that country pose a definite risk of revolutionary contagion. Then the US tone could change rapidly, from its opposition to “outside intervention by any external force” – as Hillary Clinton put it – to precisely the opposite: military or other measures to restore ‘order’ and ‘stability’ to Libya, and the Arab world as a whole.
Needless to say, communists utterly oppose any imperialist intervention in Libya – no-fly zones, sanctions, ‘targeted’ assassinations, coups d’etat, etc. We want the Libyan masses to deal with Gaddafi themselves, which, of course, they are perfectly capable of doing. A Libyan revolution carried out from below would be a tremendous step forward – providing further inspiration, and revolutionary impetus, to the masses on the streets of Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, etc.
The democratic and revolutionary struggles in these countries are interweaving with, and feeding off, each other in a dynamic way. The Arab masses are increasingly calling for total regime change, not just for the removal of this or that president or monarch – as evidenced so clearly in Bahrain, where a movement for reforms within the existing monarchist system quickly turned into a mass force demanding the overthrow of that entire regime. The same is happening in Tunisia as we speak. Hence on February 25 some 100,000 or more protestors, in the largest demonstration since the ousting of Ben Ali, gathered in the capital demanding the resignation of the interim government. And the masses got a scalp, with the resignation two days later of Mohammed Ghannouchi – the prime minister and self-proclaimed acting president, not to mention former close ally of Ben Ali.
As the Gaddafi regime faces its violent demise, it is no exaggeration to say that we are in a period of the Arab awakening. The lynchpin, of course, is Egypt, which was briefly at the centre of the pan-Arabist movement – then under the leadership of bourgeois and petty bourgeois nationalists rather than the necessary working class hegemony – until the ‘road map’ with Israel transformed Egypt into a key imperialist ally under the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak. Therefore the real question is, who is going to lead the Arab revolution? That task can only fall to the working class and its organisations.
Finally, we in the CPGB denounce those who – to some measure or another – have come out in support of the ‘anti-imperialist’ Muammar Gaddafi, even if they might voice mealy-mouthed criticisms of his regime. Daniel Ortega, former hero of the Sandinista revolution, has openly admitted that he telephoned Gaddafi in order to offer his “solidarity”, describing the Libyan tyrant as a man “waging a great battle” to defend the unity of his nation. Ditto Hugo Chávez, who posted a message on Twitter proclaiming: “Long live Libya and its independence! Gaddafi faces a civil war!” He has also repeated the simplistic allegation, albeit dressed up as a paraphrasing of Gaddafi, that the US has been orchestrating the mass movement because it is “after the Libyan oil, just like they were after the Iraqi oil”; it has “gone mad” for oil. Conspiratorial crap, parroted, of course, in The News Line, the Workers Revolutionary Party’s paper (“‘They want to steal Libya’s oil,’ says Chávez”), when it is not urging the masses in Tripoli to “defend their city against Nato”, side by side with Gaddafi’s forces.
By contrast, those who have not prostituted themselves before nationalist tyrants insist on working class independence – no to the dictators, no to imperialist intervention. For an Arab revolution led by the working class.
Egyptian working class needs to arm itself with a programme of extreme democracy, writes Eddie Ford
The achievement of the first goal of Egypt’s popular uprising – the removal of the hated dictator, Hosni Mubarak, from power – is something we can only welcome. Mubarak was clearly intent on remaining president until September – and then for an indefinite period as the power behind the throne to oversee the “orderly transition” that imperialism craves. Hence his typically arrogant appearance on state TV on February 11, claiming he was “delegating” some of his powers to the vice-president, Omar Suleiman. But within 24 hours Mubarak was gone – forced out by the militant resistance and anger of the masses in Tahrir Square and elsewhere throughout Egypt. Nor did the equally hated Suleiman end up as Mubarak’s replacement – he went too, if less dramatically.
Without the crowds demonstrating and protesting day after day, without the display of people power, then Hosni Mubarak would still be president today – have no doubt. His departure is a huge democratic gain that we celebrate along with the vast majority of Egyptians. Even more than that, communists regard recent events – and not just in Egypt – as an anticipation of the future, which will see further and greater democratic movements and revolutions in this region of the world. Just look at the protests now breaking out in Bahrain, with thousands setting up camp in the capital, Manama – making their own Tahrir Square and demanding basic democratic rights (some waving placards of Che Guevara), with King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa offering each family in the country a cash pay-out of £1,640 in a frantic attempt to buy off discontent. And now Libya too has caught the democratic bug, experiencing an uprising in the eastern city of Benghazi, hundreds clashing with the police to demand the release of a prominent democracy campaigner and Gaddafi critic. The Arab masses are hungry for democracy, like their Iranian counterparts – who, inspired by the ousting of Mubarak, have once again taken to the streets in the largest anti-government protests for more than a year.
However, having said that, despite the initial victory of the Egyptian people the army is still in control and is issuing warnings against continued protests and strikes. Maybe Egyptian history repeating itself. So immediately upon Mubarak’s resignation the military high command suspended the constitution and dissolved parliament – with field marshal Mohammed Tantawi installed as acting dictator. Indeed, it was the army – coming under massive pressure from the Obama administration – that finally gave Mubarak his marching orders. Both US imperialism and the Egyptian military were horrified by Mubarak’s strutting TV performance and feared that his continued presence could plunge the country into “chaos and disorder” – that is, a continuation of the revolutionary upheaval. By telling Mubarak to go, the army top brass acted to defend its privileged position and preserve the regime as a whole. Mubarakism without Mubarak.
The ruling military council has declared that it intends to stay for six months or longer until the elections are held, and has imposed martial law. There will be no “swift transfer” of power to a civilian-led government nor an end to the 30-year state of emergency laws nor the release of political prisoners – and the military has retained Mubarak’s cabinet in its entirety. A committee, we are told by the military, will draw up “amendments” to the constitution which at some so far unspecified date will be put to a referendum. Albeit in a relatively non-violent way, the military removed virtually all protestors from Tahrir Square (though large demonstrations have once again begun there).
To provide camouflage army tops are holding meetings with assorted high-profile individuals – such as the Google executive Wael Ghonim, and the founder of the April 6 Youth Movement, Ahmed Maher – so as to give the appearance of being interested in alternative political views and meaningful democratic change. A fig-leaf. In reality the military, not unreasonably, hopes that US imperialism will prize such stability above all else and endorse a post-Mubarak Egypt that remains dominated from top to bottom by the old, military-backed order – albeit with a cosmetic constitutional change, and some new faces here or there. Or, in the words of prime minister Ahmed Shafiq, “there is no change in the form, method or process of work” – in fact, he added, “matters are completely stable” and the main task is to “bring a sense of security to the Egyptian citizen”. To this end, the military has issued a series of terse communiqués threatening retribution against the spreading “subversion” and “anarchy”.
In the brief few weeks of the uprising we have seen the working class begin to flex its muscles – finding a democratic space within which to operate. Hence the wave of strikes sweeping the country, as workers demand trade union rights, an end to corruption, anti-pollution measures and pay increases.
It is estimated that 40% or more of Egypt’s 80 million-strong population lives on less than £1 a day and are heavily reliant on subsidised foods – particularly bread, given that the price of staples such as rice and pasta have gone through the roof in recent years, plunging millions into poverty and desperation. The beginning of the week saw hundreds of thousands of workers go on strike from several industries and sectors – the (state-run) oil and gas industries, ambulance drivers, healthworkers, textile and steel workers, tourism, post office employees – even some police officers joined the strikes. Significantly, hundreds of Bank of Alexandria workers demonstrated outside its branch in central Cairo, urging their bosses to “leave, leave” – the same slogan used in the mass protests against Mubarak. The Central Bank of Egypt ordered all banks to remain shut following industrial action by staff at the largest, the National Bank.
Doubtless to the alarm of the regime, the officially recognised Egyptian Trade Union Federation and its bureaucratic apparatus is increasingly being side-stepped. Until last month, it was the sole trade union federation in Egypt, representing 2.5 million workers in 23 unions. But on January 30 a meeting convened in Tahrir Square led to the formation of the Federation of Egyptian Trade Unions, as an alternative pole of attraction to the state-run ETUF – which actually called on workers to support Mubarak, evacuate Tahrir Square, roll back the revolution and so on. The FETU’s first act was to call for a general strike in support of the opposition movement and to publish a list of demands on wages, welfare reform, workers’ rights, the release of opposition detainees, etc.
So Egypt is convulsed by massive protests against poverty pay and autocratic, bullying bosses – the mini-Mubaraks. With more certainly to come. As Kamal Abbas, head of the independent Centre for Trade Union and Worker Services, put it, “the question today isn’t ‘Who’s striking?’ The question is, ‘Who’s not striking?’” Abbas further remarked that the “success of the revolution” has “given everyone confidence to come out” and that “people are uncovering the scale of corruption” – which in turn breeds more anger and as a consequence more strikes and demonstrations. Yes, the Egyptian prime minister could not be more wrong – the situation is not “completely stable” – far from it.
Clearly taken aback by the scale of the strikes, the military council has balked so far at an outright ban – after all, that would rather ruin its attempts to present a democratic face to the world. Particularly given its talk about recognising the “legitimate aspirations” of the Egyptian people, etc. However, the military has called on “noble Egyptians” to see that these strikes lead to “negative results” and “damage the security of the country”. A violent response from the military to the strike wave is a distinct possibility, and thus the strikers – just like the Egyptian masses as a whole – should arm themselves in any way possible so as to defend themselves from the regime. Form workers’ self-defence units, as part of the wider struggle for a popular militia that will defend – and seek to advance – the democratic gains that have been made during the uprising. History and logic teaches us that the regime, whether in the shape of the military ruling council or a tame ‘civilian’ administration, will by one method or another do everything to claw back all the revolutionary and democratic advances we have seen thus far.