Unity across the Arab world

The Revolutionary Socialists in Egypt are a group that adheres to the same tradition as our Socialist Workers Party. Peter Manson asked Mohammad Hamama, a prominent RS member, about the prospects for the working class movement in Egypt and beyond

How would you describe the current situation in Egypt?

This is an era of revolution. The toppling of Mubarak was just the start. We need to overthrow the regime, but Mubarak was just its head. There are a lot of mini-Mubaraks all over Egypt: in every sector, every apparatus and every institution. Government ministers and private sector bosses - they are all corrupt and they all make up the regime, the regime we want to topple.

But things are getting very tough. The idea that the revolution ended when Mubarak fell is really wrong. The revolution is only just starting. The army generals are serving their own interests and they will try to save whatever they can of the old order. The workers must take the lead now - this is their moment. The movement must spread all over Egypt. We need to turn every corner of the country into Tahrir Square. We need to topple every single Mubarak.

We need far more than political reforms. We need very radical social reforms relating to how wealth is distributed. The companies privatised over the last 30 years need to be nationalised again in order to undermine the generals.

How would you assess the strength of the revolutionary movement?

The radical revolutionary forces and the socialists are very few and this situation is not as good as we would have wished. The radical point of view is always opposed by counter-propaganda and today the line is being pushed that continued strikes will destroy stability and halt the wheels of production. Socialists have an important role, but, as I say, we are very few in number.

And we are fighting on different fronts. Countering the media, fighting the military and the remnants of Mubarak’s regime, opposing the mistakes of the middle layer of activists.

What has been the role of the Revolutionary Socialists?

We have been active in the latest protests and strikes. Over the last month there have been a whole number of them and we have been attempting to spread the protest movement and supporting it as much as we can.

Another very important task is the building of independent workers’ unions everywhere: to help workers organise themselves and take the struggle forward against the regime and against the capitalists.

We are also engaging with the Democratic Labour Party, the new party which has just been set up. It is not as radical as we had hoped, but its formation adds to the workers’ political front.

So, to sum up our present work, we are engaged in a big number of strikes and protests, we are helping to build the trade unions everywhere, and we are helping the construction of the DLP.

How did this new party come to be formed?

The initiative was taken by Kamal Khalil, the prominent socialist activist. He is a veteran of the working class struggle from the 60s. He joined with a large number of workers’ leaders to draft a programme and started to collect signatures in support of the formation of this new party. They have already held a conference in Cairo and they are holding meetings in all the large cities.

They started with around 6,000 members. One of the main conditions they want to apply is that the majority should be workers - it certainly makes sense that a majority of the members of a workers’ party should be workers. I estimate that the membership is something like 15,000 now.

Apart from Revolutionary Socialists, what other groups are there on the revolutionary left?

This is a tricky question actually. I believe there are none. There is Socialist Renewal, which was once a wing of Revolutionary Socialists, but split away. But I think their policies are not good. They want to build a ‘shadow parliament’ and have supported negotiations with the military over the last two months. I don’t think they are engaged with the workers at all. If I found anyone more left than me I would join them, but I don’t think there is anyone.

What shape is the Communist Party in?

The Egyptian Communist Party is very weak. They are not involved at all in any workers’ protests, strikes and so on. They don’t have any media voice or presence at any level. I don’t believe they exist in any real sense.

How has the situation changed in relation to your ability to operate?

There are now great opportunities for us. After the removal of Mubarak and the former state security apparatus (perhaps temporarily) we are able to speak freely, distribute our papers and issue our statements online and elsewhere. These days we are not facing the difficulties we used to have in putting out our propaganda and talking to people. We can engage with the workers in their factories and so on.

But there is still harassment from the military. Some of our comrades have been arrested and detained - some have been tortured actually. Nevertheless, there are big possibilities to make something out of the situation, to build workers’ unions, strengthen workers’ organisation and so on. We need to take these opportunities before we lose them - I believe these freedoms will soon come under threat from the military.

What connection do you see between your struggle and the movement across the Arab world?

If we want to build a free movement we must learn to cooperate and connect with comrades and fellow socialists everywhere and especially across the Arab countries - Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, Algeria: we need to cooperate in order to build a strong labour movement in all these countries and achieve our radical demands for winning back workers’ rights.

I am talking as a socialist, but there is another point of view: these countries are like our geopolitical arm. They are very important to us and I don’t believe our revolution will be completed or we will achieve any kind of success until we have removed all the dictators and all the old regimes. So I strongly support the revolutions in all these countries. All of them share the same conditions. They are all ready for a revolution and face the same destiny. In fact we have a common destiny all over the world and any kind of success elsewhere is a success for us too.

Over the last 10 years socialists had not been able to mobilise and gain momentum for the workers’ movement and struggle as we have done this year - initiating strikes and building individual trade unions. Of course, our initial inspiration came from the Tunisian revolution. The trigger was Mohammed Bouazizi, who set himself on fire - it was like a domino effect. And the workers have made up one of the most important components of these revolutions. Our comrades have done a good job in helping create the conditions for the revolution to start.

What about the specific Arab aspect? Should socialists call for the unification of the Arab nation, with the working class taking the lead?

Of course. I don’t want the kind of unity that Nasser led 50 years ago, but if you are talking about the unity of the working class, of course I will go for that!

I am thinking of the example of Marx calling for the unification of the German nation in order to open up space for the working class.

Of course. This is our ultimate goal - linking up across borders and uniting workers all over these countries and all over the world. We want an organised, united working class all over the world, but unity of the working class across the Arab world can be the very first step.

But I don’t believe we are ready for this right now. We have to wait for the different countries to reach the same stage of maturity in order to connect them in the manner you are talking about. We are facing big difficulties in uniting workers even here in Egypt. Some have a lot of experience and are very advanced in pursuing the class struggle, while other sectors are just starting.

What you are talking about is very good and we have to go for it, but we are in no rush. We have to study the situation very carefully and calculate our chances of success before we make such a move.