Mubarak's detention is due to targeted mass pressure
Far from the revolutionary movement coming to a halt, argues Eddie Ford, new advances are being made
On April 8 the masses once again converged on Cairo's Tahrir Square - the people's parliament. In one of the largest demonstrations since the democratic upsurge in January, more than 100,000 protested against the old order in Egypt. The regime still clings onto power under the patronage of the ruling military council currently headed by field marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi - who from 1991 onwards loyally served as defence minister under the Hosni Mubarak administration.
But cracks in the army are emerging, with sections becoming increasingly seditious - even allies of the revolution. Thus at the April 8 demonstration dozens of soldiers openly defied orders and joined the protestors - some of whom were chanting, "The people want the fall of the field marshal" and "Tantawi is Mubarak and Mubarak is Tantawi". Indeed, by some accounts it was an actual army officer leading the anti-Tantawi slogans - anti-top brass graffiti was sprayed onto the make-shift barricades as he shouted. For the generals this must have represented an ominous development, setting a dangerous precedent. More generally still, if the army starts to fray at the edges - even split down the middle - this poses a mortal threat to the entire regime, not just the present army incumbents or a future, tame, 'civilian' government deemed friendly to the interests of the Tantawi ruling council and the Egyptian ruling class as a whole.
In response then, the obviously panicked military council - in reality showing its fragility rather than strength - mounted a pre-dawn raid on the protestors occupying Tahrir Square. Some 20-30 military trucks carrying a mix of army, police and the dreaded internal security forces stormed into the square at 3.30am, armed with clubs and rifles. This led to a two-and-a-half hour battle, which saw the unarmed protestors being repeatedly fired upon with rubber bullets (the very same 'non-lethal' bullets, of course, that were responsible for 17 deaths in Northern Ireland). At least two people in Tahrir Square were killed and scores badly injured. Inevitably, there will be other such murderous attacks on the revolutionary movement in Egypt - whether from the army, paramilitary agents, lumpen elements or downright criminal thugs bought cheap by the regime.
All of which, once again, raises the urgent necessity for the workers, peasants and urban petty bourgeoisie to form a popular militia if they are to defend and extend the gains of the revolutionary movement - and, more simply, prevent themselves from being butchered by a dying, but still potentially deadly, regime. At the moment, this means that the masses must arm themselves with whatever comes to hand - clubs, knives … and perhaps pistols 'expropriated' from the police and other sources (it is quite legitimate, of course, for the Egyptian revolutionary movement to buy/acquire weapons from whomever they like).
However, it is far from fanciful to envisage soldiers handing over weapons to the pro-democracy movement - intimations of which we saw at the April 8 demonstration. Given that state power ultimately comes from the barrel of a gun - until we have world communism, that is - such an eventuality would make a popular militia a serious force. That would increase the chances of winning over more sections of the army to the revolution, which in turn would decrease the likelihood of the generals launching assaults on the pro-democracy movement. In other words, forming a popular militia is part and parcel of the revolutionary fight for democracy.
Understandably, and tactically quite correctly, the protestors have concentrated their fire up until now on the hated former despot, Mubarak himself, along with those closely associated with him and his National Democratic Party regime (the NDP, quite disgracefully, was up until January 31 a member of the Socialist International, which, of course, includes the Labour Party; so, in that sense, both Tony Blair and Mubarak were part of the same organisation). This ire has been particularly directed against his kleptocratic family, especially the two malodorous sons, Alaa and Gamal Mubarak, the latter being groomed to dynastically succeed his father - until, that is, it finally became clear to the military and US imperialism that the masses would not tolerate such an outcome. Hence when Mubarak senior was forced out of the presidential palace on February 11 by a combination of escalating pressure from above and below - both internally and externally - so too was the St George's College-educated Gamal left without a throne to park his backside on.
Of course, the masses' rage against the Mubaraks is not driven by a petty desire for revenge - they want democracy, and the corruption and ill-gotten wealth of Mubarak and the NPD are clearly antithetical to democracy. The regime has terrorised and robbed for decades (Hosni Mubarak ranking 20th on Parade Magazine's 2009 list of the world's worst dictators) and the Mubarak family has stolen billions from the state coffers - living like modern-day pharaohs whilst the masses were reduced to poverty and misery, with even basic foods such as bread, beans and rice becoming increasingly expensive. As if that were not enough, just hours before the demonstrations, Mubarak had rubbed yet more salt into the wound - and further inflamed the passions of the demonstrators - by releasing a five-minute audio recording to a Saudi-owned satellite television network, Al Arabiya, in which he denied that he or his family had abused power or smuggled any assets abroad. Perish the idea.
Therefore it is more than understandable for the protestors at Tahrir Square to demand that the Mubaraks and their cronies be prosecuted. After all, Hosni Mubarak has been left to live in luxury in another opulent presidential residence in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. It was not for nothing that one activist group dubbed the April 8 demonstration as "the Friday of purification and accountability" and that the protestors on that day also vented their anger against the public prosecutor - who has filed charges against some, but not all, of the Mubarak-era officials. An affront to the masses, who want real and thorough-going regime-change - not the old Mubarak system without Mubarak and a bit of constitutional tinkering.
However, as the Weekly Worker goes to press, it does appear that the regime - to some degree or another - has acquiesced to the demands of the protestors, presumably out of fear of what the masses would do if the Mubaraks went unpunished. Yet more evidence indeed that the regime is unable to rule in the old way, veering crazily from repression to concessions on a near daily basis. On April 13 Egyptian prosecutors announced on state television that they had detained Hosni Mubarak and his two sons for 15 days in order to face questioning about corruption and "abuse of power" (just hours after the ex-dictator was abruptly hospitalised). Both the sons have been transferred to a Cairo prison.
The prosecutor general's office has set up a Facebook page to "promote communication" between the authorities and the families of those killed and injured during the 18 stormy days of turmoil that led to Mubarak's ousting - but it seems, though the details are so far hazy, that any subsequent murders or beatings carried out by the military ruling council will not be investigated. We shall see. When the news of the Mubarak arrests broke, needless to say, there were spontaneous demonstrations in Sharm el Sheik and elsewhere - with crowds jubilantly chanting "15 days", "God is great", etc. In its war of democratic attrition against the ancien régime, which continues to steadily crumble, the masses are winning more and more battles.
And they want much, much more than just the Mubaraks and their closest henchmen getting banged up - great though that would be, of course. So banners at the April 8 protest included a whole gamut of economic demands - such as, for instance, the imposition of minimum and maximum wages.
Then there are an extensive series of political and democratic demands. Like a complete purge of all Mubarak/NDP elements from the government; the immediate release of all political prisoners, Islamists included, of course; the real abolition of the vicious, 500,000-strong internal security forces, especially the feared State Security Investigations; the ending of the curfew; the removal of all bureaucratic restrictions on the press; opposition to all censorship; freedom of association; freedom to form political organisations/parties; freedom to form trade unions and take strike action; and so on. In the words of another banner seen on April 8, "The revolution is continuing until democracy is achieved". Sentiments which communists wholeheartedly endorse, seeing how the class struggle and democratic struggle are bound up together.
Obviously we have no hesitation in calling for the overthrow of the regime in Egypt - and all the other reactionary regimes in the region, including the 'anti-imperialist' or 'anti-Zionist' ones like Gaddafi's Libya or Assad's Syria. However, our revolutionary-democratic approach is tempered by the sober fact that proletarian rule is not on the immediate agenda - the working class cannot come to power either today or tomorrow. The reason for this is quite straightforward. After decades of state repression the working class in Egypt just does not exist politically - at least as far as Marxists understand it.
Accordingly, our essential strategy is for pan-Arab revolution, which we believe to be usefully informed by the broad Marx-Engels approach to Germany in 1848-51 - we are for the revolution in permanence (a somewhat different perspective, it needs to be mentioned in passing, from VI Lenin's call for "uninterrupted revolution" in Russia or Trotsky's theory of "permanent revolution"). What is required are the tactics and programme of forming the working class into a party - a party that can win a majority of the Egyptian population and thus has a realistic possibility of spreading the flame of revolution. By definition, for such an approach to be even vaguely viable, space is needed to enable the workers to organise, educate and generally exert themselves as a political force - for which the very first condition, of course, is the winning of freedom of the press, freedom of association, freedom to form parties, trade unions, popular assemblies, militias, etc. Precisely the sort of aims being advocated by those occupying Tahrir Square, even if the left forces involved are at the moment weak and divided. But we are optimistic about the left in Egypt and the rest of the Arab world. There is every reason to believe that it will both rapidly grow and rapidly learn.
Logically then, for the working class to become an independent political class for itself the entire Mubarakite state-apparatus must go: the standing army, police, secret police, the NDP, the government-controlled media and all the rest of the bureaucratic crap. Communists most certainly do not call for the holding of elections under present conditions. Whilst the regime may be cracking before our very eyes, it is still in place and there is no genuinely democratic alternative to it. Hence any such elections could only produce a danger for the revolutionary movement. Of course, if elections do end up being held for all our objections, then it might be a perfectly legitimate tactic to participate in them.
So communists are not for a new parliament, president, constituent assembly or, for that matter, a 'yes' vote in the coming referendum on constitutional 'amendments' - as approved by the army council, of course. We note, without surprise, that the Muslim Brotherhood has come out in favour of these extremely minor constitutional sops (ie, restricting the presidency to two terms). But both the MB and the army have a mutual interest in stability - the exact opposite of what communists desire: the building of an alternative power from below. Or, to put it another way, the only government we want is the weakest one possible - a very temporary and fleeting institution whose ability to crush the developing working class movement has been severely limited, if not crippled altogether.
1. The Guardian April 9.
3. Parade Magazine March 22 2009.
4. New York Times April 13.