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John Riddell on Egypt: Socialists need to rethink the military takeover

By John Riddell

August 20, 2013 -- Johnriddell.wordpress.com -- The military massacres in Egypt are “part of a plan to liquidate the Egyptian Revolution and restore the military-police state of the Mubarak regime”, say the Revolutionary Socialists (RS) of Egypt in an August 15 statement. Their present analysis contrasts sharply with their previous positive appraisal the July 3 military coup that ousted Egypt’s elected government.

The RS, who enjoy a wide reputation as a revolutionary voice in the Egyptian struggle, are reconsidering the meaning of this experience. Socialists abroad should be rethinking it as well.

In the rich and varied world discussion of these events, contributions in the Green Left Weekly newsgroup (Australia) provide useful starting points for reflection, as do the reactions of several ALBA governments.

The army/police massacre is “a bloody dress rehearsal for the liquidation of the Egyptian Revolution”, the RS now states. “It aims to break the revolutionary will of all Egyptians who are claiming their rights, whether workers, poor, or revolutionary youth, by creating a state of terror.”

Yet only a month ago, the RS and socialist currents abroad that follow its lead looked on the military overturn of Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi as the culmination of a great step forward for Egypt’s revolution.

The giant anti-Morsi demonstrations of June 30 that triggered his ouster were “the historic beginning of a new wave of the Egyptian revolution”, the RS wrote on July 5. True, the army and police had gained in authority, they stated, but “this influence is momentary and superficial”. June 30 represented a “new revolutionary explosion”. In replacing the elected government by a hand-picked junta – the trademark of a military coup – the army’s July 3 coup merely “acquiesced to the will of the rebelling populace”.

Now that the RS has, finally, identified the military rulers as the main enemy, this must shape international solidarity efforts.

Democratic rights

Other aspects of the RS analysis also need review. For example, the August 15 RS statement declares that they do not “defend for a single day the sit-ins by the Brotherhood and their attempts to return Morsi to power”. In reality, the Muslim Brotherhood’s public protests represent an attempt to assert their right to exist as a political movement after six weeks of brutal and bloody suppression. Their right to protest military violence must be defended.

The RS has tended to be even-handed, attacking both the military and on the Brotherhood. Its August 20 statement now explicitly repudiates this approach, rejecting “a kind of ‘balance’ in our attacks on the military and the Islamists”. Yet its main slogan, “Down with military rule … no to the return of the Muslim Brotherhood”, stays in the old groove.

In fact, the military are in the saddle and the Brotherhood repressed and subjected to massacres. In this situation, an even-handed approach is a formula for paralysis and abstention. What is needed is a united defence of democratic and human rights.

The earlier RS statement pointed the way on this issue. “We must be consistent in opposing all forms of abuse and repression to which the Islamists will be exposed in the form of arrests and closures of satellite channels and newspapers, for what happens to today to the Islamists will happen tomorrow to the workers and the leftists”, the RS stated on July 5.

Socialists internationally should support and encourage protests against the military’s denial of democratic and human rights in Egypt – including the rights of the Brotherhood and its supporters. Morsi and other Brotherhood political prisoners should be released, the Brotherhood’s political and legal rights should be restored, and new elections should be held without delay and without any restrictions on who may participate.

In particular, socialists should highlight the role of imperialism, over several decades, in orchestrating, financing, and defending the rise of rightist military tyranny in Egypt – a process that transformed Egypt into a pliant tool of US-Israeli policy.

Bourgeois democracy

The overturn of Morsi swept away the limited forms of electoral democracy achieved following the 2011 revolution, replacing it with direct military rule. The earlier RS statement took no note of this change, suggesting instead that the overturn represented a step forward from “formal democracy, with its ballot boxes” to “legitimacy via the democracy of the popular revolution – direct democracy creating revolutionary legitimacy". This “opens the horizons to new forms of popular power, which dwarf the temporary democracy of the ballot box”, the RS said.

The dismissal of elective institutions is still evident in the August 20 RS statement, which refers with apparent approval to “the downfall of the legitimacy of the ballot box”.

It is now clear that the talk of “new forms of popular power” was delusionary. Far from achieving a new system of direct revolutionary democracy, Egypt’s popular movement is now overshadowed by the rise of military tyranny. This misjudgement suggests the need to revisit our attitude to the limited democratic gains – the “formal democracy, with its ballot boxes” – achieved by the 2011 revolution.

Since 2011, Egypt’s limited democratic institutions have been subject to repeated heavy-handed intervention by the military wing of the bourgeoisie, including dissolution of an elected parliament. Nonetheless, election of a government in a process not subject to direct military control erected a safeguard of the democratic rights of working people. And when constitutional rule was swept away, there was no longer any institutional barrier to unrestrained and murderous military repression.

Yes, one day working people will replace bourgeois parliamentarism with a superior form of democracy. But under today’s circumstances, socialists are not indifferent to the form of capitalist rule. We strive to defend and to expand the democratic elements won within the capitalist order. Capitalist parliamentarism offers more favourable conditions for workers’ struggle than unrestricted capitalist tyranny.

The central issue is the nature of the regime’

A probing debate on these and other issues in the Egyptian struggle has developed in the discussion list of Green Left Weekly, an Australian newspaper associated with Socialist Alliance. The exchange was initiated by Roger Annis, Richard Fidler and Art Young, socialists in Canada with whom I have collaborated for several decades. Their contribution argues in support of the view of Australian socialist Michael Karadjis, who stated on the same list, "The coup regime has now revealed itself to be a bloody, anti-working class, anti-democratic, anti-Palestinian regime of reaction."

A contrary view has been argued by Tony Iltis in a series of articles in Green Left Weekly and in four replies to Annis, Fidler and Young (see #1, #2, #3 and #4). Karadjis added a comment in reply to Iltis.

It should be noted that Iltis’s writings do not represent the position of Socialist Alliance. Socialist Alliance’s views are expressed in August 16 statement that concludes: "The Socialist Alliance adds its voice to those demanding that all political prisoners be released and supports those who are calling for an immediate end to military rule and a civilian-led process to democratically elect a new government."

[The previous two paragraphs are open to misinterpretation regarding the views of Tony Iltis. I have posted a clarification and in the comments section -- John Riddell, August 21.]

ALBA governments take action

While socialists debate how to respond to military tyranny in Egypt, several anti-imperialist Latin American governments, members of ALBA (the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America) have moved into action.

Days after the army takeover in Egypt, Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro, speaking at a mass rally in Cochabamba in the presence of presidents of Bolivia, Ecuador and Argentina, denounced the military coup. He explained that Venezuela defended the Morsi government against the coup despite its disagreements with Morsi regarding the civil war in Syria. (See reports in Telesur and AVN.)

Recalling on July 23 Egypt’s anti-imperialist stand during the presidency of Gamel Abdel Nasser, Maduro said, “Egypt is in upheaval today because it has departed from the path of independence.”

Since then, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador and Venezuela have all denounced the army’s massacres, and Ecuador and Venezuela have withdrawn their ambassadors from Egypt in protest.

A call to action

On August 17, Egyptian-Canadians in Vancouver convened a demonstration against the coup d’état and police/army violence in Egypt. The remarks of Roger Annis to this action provide a guide for socialists in Canada in expressing our solidarity:

We demand that the governments in Canada, United States and Europe cease their complicity with the criminal, military regime and its July 3 coup d’état. They must scrap all military assistance to the Egyptian military. They must condemn the coup and they must support a return to legal and constitutional government. They must demand that political prisoners be released forthwith, including President Mohamed Morsi and other leaders of his party. The draconian, emergency measures by the coup regime that effectively outlaw civil liberties must be ended. They must also demand that the punitive measures against the Palestinian people in Gaza who are suffering as a result of border restrictions by the military regime be ended. Emergency aid should be provided as needed. Israel must end its treatment of Gaza as an outdoor prison that it can bomb or cut off at will….

[For a 21-item annotated selection of background materials on the Egyptian events, see Roger Annis’s "Reading Guide to the July 3, 2013, Military Coup in Egypt". Thanks to Felipe Stuart Cournoyer for research assistance on the ALBA response.]

Comments

Egypt coverage at Green Left Weekly

Posted by Mike Karadjis on Marxmail: http://www.marxmail.org/msg114316.html

"Egypt: Socialists need to rethink the military takeover"

Which says, among many other valuable things:

"A probing debate on these and other issues in the Egyptian struggle has developed in the discussion list of Green Left Weekly, an Australian newspaper associated with Socialist Alliance. The exchange was initiated by Roger Annis, Richard Fidler, and Art Young, socialists in Canada with whom I have collaborated for several decades. Their contribution argues in support of the view of Australian socialist Michael Karadjis, who stated on the same list, 'The coup regime has now revealed itself to be a bloody, anti-working class, anti-democratic, anti-Palestinian regime of reaction.'
"A contrary view has been argued by Tony Iltis in a series of articles in Green Left Weekly and in four replies to Annis, Fidler, and Young (see #1, #2, #3, and #4). Karadjis added a comment in reply to Iltis.

"It should be noted that Iltis's writings do not represent the position of Socialist Alliance. SA's views are expressed in August 16 statement that concludes: 'The Socialist Alliance adds its voice to those demanding that all political prisoners be released and supports those who are calling for an immediate end to military rule and a civilian-led process to democratically elect a new government.'"

Comment:

I thank John and the other Canadian comrades, who I largely agree with. However, we also need to be clear on what disagreements exist. While the GLW articles by Tony Iltis do contain a number of views I disagree with, the way this is put above suggests that Tony would disagree with my statement that the coup regime is "a bloody, anti-working class, anti-democratic, anti-Palestinian regime of reaction," which I think is unlikely. It also suggests that Tony would disagree with the SA statement, since you quote the SA statement as contrary to the GL articles. Tony can speak for himself, but, again, I very much doubt Tony would disagree with the SA statement, in fact his articles have condemned the military repression and demanded it end.

And in fact, contrawise, the SA statements have contained some of the same mistaken formulations that Tony's GLW articles have contained.

In summary, seems to me the main differences are the following:

First, the continual insistence that the military only acted to oust Morsi under pressure from the mass movement, whereas in fact the Mubarakists had long had their own campaign, including of sabotage, against the MB regime

Second, the continual assertions that the military played a similar role in the February 2011 overthrow of Mubarak and the July 3 overthrow of Morsi, which is patently incorrect

Third, the tendency to equate the MB and the military as equal enemies of the Egyptian people at this moment - the MB are enemies, but it is not of the same order by any means

Fourth, I would add using the claims of absurd numbers of demonstrators (17 to 33 million), as well as the alleged Tamarod petition of 22 million for which no evidence has ever been presented, to claim there were more people on the streets or in petitions than had voted for Morsi, in order to argue against an obsession with bourgeois representative democracy. While this can't justify a coup, it can make it look not so bad - it is not what we would have chosen, but ultimately the military coup, if self-serving, did carry out the will of the masses at that point.

Two things wrong with that - first, the numbers themselves; second, the confusion it creates between an actual revolutionary overthrow (if the numbers really did reach that size and the masses were able to institute organs of popular power to compete with the MB-led parliament) and a coup speaking in its name.

Holding these views does not make one a supporter of the coup regime and its repression. However, it does create a lot of confusion.

The root of this confusion is not Tony Iltis, nor GLW, nor the Socialist Alliance, nor Solidarity (the Australian IST group and its international), nor SAlt (connected to US ISO and their int'l allies), nor the countless other left organisations and individuals who have come out with this line around the world.

The root of the problem lies with the fact that the revolutionary socialist movement in Egypt is tiny (the RS as far as I can see), that they understandably got swept up in the moment with millions in the streets, which overwhelmed their analysis (that's not a criticism, its understandable in the circumstances), and much of the world revolutionary left, without first-hand knowledge, initially followed an understandable policy of deferring to the opinions of the comrades on the ground, and not wanting to immediately jump up and down with a counter-line. The "non-sectarian" method.

Thus, both the RS's error, and the error of others in repeating their view, were understandable in the circumstances.

However, we have long moved beyond the heady days of early July. The blood-drenched counterrevolution is far more obvious now. I think that without sharp critiques and recriminations, all those who held those views then should reassess. The RS's statements have continually improved since the first one. Yet they still repeat some of the incorrect mantras. Even if they feel a tactical need to relate to the movement there in this way, and I'm not sitting on my laptop to tell them what to say in the thick of it, for us outside we need to be clearer and also to recognise that, not wanting to be "sectarian" and all that notwithstanding, we are allowed to recognise that those on the ground are not always right and are quite capable of making mistakes, so as soon as we have better information we should be prepared to put a different view. 

Clarification regarding my article on Egypt

Thanks for Michael Karadjis for his comments regarding my article, “Egypt: Socialists Need to Rethink Military Takeover.”

Michael says that my article gives a misimpression of the articles of Tony Iltis in Green Left Weekly. In fact, it was not my intention to pass judgment on Iltis’s articles; I linked to four of them because they are central to an exchange that I consider important.

However, I can see that what I wrote is open to misinterpretation. I should have written:

“Tony Iltis, whose articles in Green Left Weekly were the object of criticism by Annis, Fidler, and Young, posted four responses (see #1, #2, #3, and #4). Karadjis added a comment in reply to Iltis.

“As for Socialist Alliance, its views are expressed in August 16 statement that concludes: ‘The Socialist Alliance adds its voice to those demanding that all political prisoners be released and supports those who are calling for an immediate end to military rule and a civilian-led process to democratically elect a new government.’”

I have noted this clarification in the text of my article on my blog (http://johnriddell.wordpress.com).

Egypt is enormously important, the debate is continuing

Egypt is enormously important and these issues need to be debated across the international left. The stakes are high and opinions are strongly held. In providing a public forum for this debate, which includes opinions critical of GLW’s coverage, Green Left Weekly sets a good example for other socialists of how we should deal with serious differences like these.

Thank you John for drawing attention to this debate and commenting on it. There have been many exchanges on the Green Left list since the initial contributions that you mention. The debate continues to evolve. My take is expressed in the joint article that you mention and in two more recent contributions (see list below).

Fred Fuentes has been a key participant in the discussion, with a number of insightful contributions critical of GLW’s editorial stance. Many readers of Links will know Fred from his many articles on Latin America, particularly Venezuela and Bolivia. About a half dozen other comrades have joined the debate, expressing a range of views.

The discussion continues. Those interested can follow it by subscribing to the Yahoo GLW discussion group or regularly visiting its website. The search feature of the website can be used to locate the contributions that deal with Egypt.

Contributions by Art Young:

Green Left Weekly’s response to the coup in Egypt
(Co-authored; the criticism that launched the debate)
http://tinyurl.com/k6ugcg4/82758

GLW and Egypt — The Issue is Reactionary Military Rule
http://tinyurl.com/k6ugcg4/82807

The Counterrevolution in Egypt – Our Responsibilities
http://tinyurl.com/k6ugcg4/82965

Contributions by Fred Fuentes:

Is it true that the Egyptian coup was a desperate attempt to stop an impeding revolution?
http://tinyurl.com/k6ugcg4/82916

GLW on Egypt: continuing to get it wrong
http://tinyurl.com/k6ugcg4/82931

Should the left be demanding “No to the Muslim Brotherhood”
http://tinyurl.com/k6ugcg4/82977

On giving "political support" the Muslim Brotherhood
http://tinyurl.com/k6ugcg4/83013

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