The Egyptian Revolution: First Lessons


The Egyptian Revolution: First Lessons

Radical, the organ of Radical Socialists, organized a seminar on 23rd February, 2011 at the Mahabodhi Society hall. The seminar was addressed by three speakers – Dipankar Chakraborty, editor of Aneek, Gautam Sen of the Majdoor Mukti Committee, and Kunal Chattopadhyay of Radical Socialists.

Dipankar Chakraborty said that in his view it was too early to talk about the lessons of the revolution. He provided a short account of the rise of progressive nationalism under Nasser, and stressed its anti-imperialist role. He argued that it was the betrayal by Sadat after the Yom Kippur War that cased the turn in Egypt. Under Mubarak, Egypt had become a fiefdom of imperialism. He went on to analyse the background to the revolution, the several years of popular struggles, and the fact that the first step of the revolution had been victorious.

IMG_3974Gautam Sen asserted that 2011 was an important year, for after many years, when the rulers and their ideologues had been insisting that the days of revolutions were over, revolution after revolution had started unfolding. He hailed the Egyptian revolution as evidence that masses were the ultimate makers of revolutions. He also asserted that the Egyptian revolution proved that those who claimed that democratic revolutions were no longer possible were entirely wrong. The Egyptian revolution was indeed a great democratic revolution. While the working class had played an important role, it was not a working class revolution. Finally, he wanted to establish the Egyptian revolution in its geopolitical perspective.

Kunal Chattopadhyay argued that the Egyptian revolution had to be viewed as an incomplete and dynamic process. The dictator had been overthrown, but the army that had been the real ruler ever since General Neguib’s uprising that overthrew King Farooq was still in power. In that sense, no self contained democratic revolution had occurred in Egypt. Chattopadhyay questioned the value of glorifying the bourgeois nationalist military officers who had ended the rule of Farooq. He pointed out that they had hanged strike leaders inside factory gates, and that the Stalinists had betrayed the working class by submitting to the officers in the name of anti-imperialism. He took up further some of the pet themes of the imperialist media and their imitators in India, arguing that it was not an internet revolution. While internet had been effectively used for mobilization purposes, it was living human beings who did the work. Furthermore, a gap was already opening up between the petty bourgeois democrats who wanted everything to end now that elections had been promised, and the working class that was resisting the IMF dictated terms, and any talk of an abstract democratic revolution that ignored the class content was going to be harmful for the workers’ cause. He stressed that in the 19th century the Marxists had been among the leading democrats, while the bourgeoisie had not been in favour of democracy. It was only after the degeneration of the Russian revolution that the bourgeois regimes tried to present themselves as a democratic alternative to socialism. Unless the class demands of the workers were given coherent shape and the struggle taken to the next stage, the revolution would be halted. And the coherence could come only if the working class formed numerous organisations – trade unions, workers’ societies, and proletarian parties. No blueprint existed, but this was a crucial lesson. In addition, he pointed out, the spread of the Arab revolution showed that in the contemporary era, one revolution could set off a  much more powerful and wider revolution. International revolution was thus back on the agenda.

Between 75 and 100 people attended the seminar. A special issue of Radical was taken out on that day, and large numbers were sold, as were back issues and the literature produced by RS.

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