Socialist Appeal - British section of the International Marxist Tendency: the Marxist voice of labour and youth.

The Egyptian security forces have bloodily crushed and dismantled the protest camps of Muslim Brotherhood (MB) supporters, set up in Cairo as focal points to regroup and mobilise their forces after the overthrow of Morsi. This marks yet another dramatic change in the situation facing the Egyptian revolution. Marxists can support neither the army generals nor the MB in this struggle, but only the revolutionary masses.

The Egyptian security forces have bloodily crushed and dismantled the protest camps of Muslim Brotherhood (MB) supporters, set up in Al-Nahda Square and Raba'a al-Adawiyya in Cairo as focal points to regroup and mobilise their forces after the overthrow of Morsi. This marks yet another dramatic change in the situation facing the Egyptian revolution.

As expected, this operation by the repressive forces of the Egyptian state – which is essentially the same machine as under Mubarak – was carried out with extreme brutality. The victims are several hundreds; 525 have been killed (including 43 from the security forces) on August 14 and thousands wounded, according to the Health Ministry, but the final count is likely to rise. The interim government has declared a month-long state of emergency with a daily curfew between 7pm and 6am in Cairo and 13 other governorates.

This development should come as no surprise, and is the result of tension between the former allies - the army generals and the MB - that has reached breaking point over the last month since the removal and arrest of Morsi on July 3.

But what has happened in Egypt after the impressive show of strength and confidence represented by the massive insurrectionary movement that wiped away the MB's government? The masses, who in their millions had determined the downfall first of Mubarak and then of Morsi, have temporarily withdrawn from the main stage, leaving the ground open for reactionary forces to regroup, reorganise and take the initiative. The fragile alliance of the main two wings of the Egyptian bourgeoisie, represented by the MB and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), has ended in an open clash. Both these forces are reactionary, but the brute force of the state apparatus is still in the hands of the army generals.

MB and SCAF – two reactionary forces

The camps organised by the Muslim Brotherhood have been portrayed by the mainstream international media as a “Muslim” version of the Tahrir square movement: well organised, peaceful, democratic. This isn’t the first time that reaction - as the case in point of the rise of fascism and Nazism demonstrate - adopts some of the features of a revolutionary movement; but it does so with reactionary aims – to crush the revolutionary forces.

This was precisely the aim of the new offensive launched by the leaders of the MB: to defend the “legitimacy” of Morsi's government; to mobilise the ranks of the MB and its social base of support (not by chance the biggest of the camps was based in the Cairo district of Nasr City); to resist against what was portrayed as a “coup”, waving the flag of “democracy”. But at the same time the MB armed thugs, who have been carrying out murderous attacks against revolutionary youth.

The extremely reactionary nature of the MB is proven by the spate of attacks, which erupted (and is continuing) after the disbanding of the camps, directed against the Coptic Christians. The campaign of murders and the burning down of dozens of churches, was unleashed and carried out with the aim to derail the struggle along more favourable grounds - that of a civil war on sectarian lines. Incidentally, neither the army nor the police lifted a finger in order to defend the Coptic minority. It is also in their interest that the conflict takes place along sectarian lines. 

On the other side, the SCAF and the security forces of the Egyptian state share with the MB the common aim to crush the revolution. As long as Morsi was able to contain the movement of the masses, the army generals were happy to take a back seat, their power, wealth and impunity preserved. But they were always uneasy at sharing power with these “allies”, and once the MB could no longer contain the movement of the masses, which threatened to overthrow the whole edifice of the Egyptian state, the generals seized the opportunity to deal the MB a severe blow and gain a certain degree of popular support. 

The army generals prepared the ground for the forced dispersal of the MB sit-ins by appealing for a mass demonstration on July 26. General El-Sisi set his aims openly: "I urge the people to take to the streets this coming Friday to prove their will and give me, the army and police a mandate to confront possible violence and terrorism." With very few honourable exceptions, that demonstration was supported by most of the left wing parties and organisations, as well as the main trade union federations. 

For weeks, decisive action was delayed while negotiations were taking place. Imperialism wanted to avoid an open clash by pushing both sides to some sort of a deal. After all, both sides have so far loyally followed the diktats of US imperialism and pursued capitalist economic policies. Finally the army generals announced that they would use decisive force to clear out the sit-ins and even announced the day: at the end of the Eid Fitr holiday, which celebrates the end of Ramadan. 

The brutal repression used by the security forces against the MB sit-ins was of the same kind that hundreds of thousands of people, and especially the revolutionary youth, have faced before, during and after the downfall of Mubarak. This cannot be forgotten. We know that the same and even worse treatment will be reserved for the revolutionaries whenever the opportunity arises for the SCAF to regain firm control.

The SCAF is still the main bastion of reaction in Egypt, also controlling large sections of the economy. The army and security services are the pillar upon which the capitalist system is based. Even since the overthrow of Morsi, the army has been used already to repress workers' struggles, as the episode of the arrest by the military police of two workers at the Suez Steel Company for “incitement to strike” shows.

In the IMT resolution on the current situation drafted on July 11 we pointed out:

“Periods of sharp class struggle will alternate with periods of tiredness, apathy, lulls, and even reaction. But these will merely be the prelude to new and even more explosive developments. This is shown clearly by the Egyptian Revolution.

“In Egypt, after months of disappointment and tiredness, 17 million took to the streets in an unprecedented popular uprising. With no party, no organization or leadership, they succeeded in just a few days in overthrowing the hated Morsi government.

“The western media tried to characterise this as a coup. But a coup is by definition a movement of a small minority that conspires to seize power behind the backs of the people. Here the revolutionary people were on the streets and were the real motor force behind events. With 17 million people on the streets determined to overthrow Morsi, the Army tops, which represent the backbone of the Egyptian state, intervened to remove the president, to prevent the overthrow of the whole regime.

“In every genuine revolution it is the elemental movement of the masses that provides the motor force. However, unlike the anarchists, Marxists do not worship spontaneity, which has its strong points but also its weaknesses. We must understand the limitations of spontaneity.” (Egypt, Brazil, Turkey: Tremors of World Revolution)

Lack of revolutionary leadership

The key to understanding the present situation lies in fact that the Egyptian revolution lacks a revolutionary leadership; such a leadership, in the words of Trotsky, is “that tendency which is growing up together with the revolution, which is able to foresee its own tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, which is setting itself clear goals and knows how to achieve them.” (Trotsky, On the Policy of the KAPD, Speech Delivered at the Session of the ECCI, November 24, 1920)

Even if such a leadership existed in Egypt, it would be inevitable for the revolutionary process to go through sudden changes in the situation, such as those taking place now. Revolution does not develop in a straight line. It is a struggle between living forces where revolutionary and counter-revolutionary features temporarily prevail. The Spanish revolution of 1931-37 included the bienio negro (the two black years) in which reaction was at the helm, when thousands of workers were massacred and tens of thousands arrested. The Russian revolution of 1917 included July, the “month of the great slander”, in which the Bolsheviks were subject to repression and Lenin had to go underground. The existence of a revolutionary leadership would speed up the process, which under the present circumstances cannot assume anything other than a protracted form.

What we are witnessing now is the price to be paid for the fact that the Egyptian revolution has stopped short of smashing the bourgeois state machinery: splitting the army along class lines; disbanding the police and secret services; removing the traditional chain of command of the bourgeois state and replacing it with a new state machine based on workers' councils and a workers' militia.

“In Egypt the masses could have taken power at the end of June. In fact, they had power in their hands, but they were not aware of it. This situation bears some resemblance to February 1917 in Russia. Lenin pointed out that the only reason the workers did not take power then had nothing to do with objective conditions, but was due to the subjective factor: 'Why don't they take power? Steklov says: for this reason and that. This is nonsense. The fact is that the proletariat is not organised and class conscious enough. This must be admitted: material strength is in the hands of the proletariat but the bourgeoisie turned out to be prepared and class conscious. This is a monstrous fact, and it should be frankly and openly admitted and the people should be told that they did not take power because they were unorganised and not conscious enough.' (Lenin, Works, vol. 36, page 437, our emphasis)

“The Egyptian workers and youth are learning fast in the school of Revolution. That is why the June uprising was far broader, deeper, faster and more conscious than the First Revolution that occurred two and a half years ago. But they still lack the necessary experience and revolutionary theory that would enable the Revolution to achieve a rapid and relatively painless victory.” 

“The situation is one of deadlock in which neither side can claim total victory. This is what enables the army to raise itself above society and present itself as the supreme arbiter of the Nation, although in reality the real power was in the streets. The confidence expressed by some people in the role of the army shows extreme naivety. Bonapartism represents a serious danger to the Egyptian Revolution. This naivety will be burned out of the consciousness of the masses by the harsh school of life.

“The open counterrevolutionaries of the Muslim Brotherhood have been driven from power but because of the limits of its purely spontaneous (i.e. unorganised) nature, the Revolution has failed to take power. On the one hand the Islamist reactionaries are organising a counterrevolutionary rebellion that threatens to plunge the country into civil war. On the other hand, the bourgeois elements, generals and imperialists are manoeuvring to rob the masses of the victory that was won with their blood.

“The Revolution was strong enough to achieve the immediate objective: the overthrow of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. But it was not strong enough to prevent the fruits of its victory being stolen by the generals and the bourgeoisie. It will have to pass through another hard school in order to raise itself to the level that is necessary to change the course of history.” (Egypt, Brazil, Turkey: Tremors of World Revolution, emphasis added)

The massive insurrectionary movement on June 30 – the biggest in the history of Egypt – showed the mass revulsion provoked by the reactionary government of the MB, after only one year in office. It also showed clearly the impossibility for the masses to bear the intolerable conditions imposed by the austerity policies implemented by that government (and by the present government for that matter) under the auspices of imperialism and the IMF, alongside catastrophic economic crisis, inflation and a sudden erosion of living standards for the vast majority. As we pointed out, this movement was the direct cause of the overthrow of Morsi, putting pressure on the army to step in and remove Morsi, in order to prevent an open revolutionary situation from developing, which would have threatened not only the government, but also the real basis of power and privileges of the elite and the system upon which they are based: capitalism itself.

The reactionary nature of the Muslim Brotherhood was fully exposed by their year in office. All illusions that the Brotherhood would be able to improve material conditions for the majority of the poor and the workers have been shattered.

But, as we warned, the Muslim Brotherhood still retains some social basis of support, although significantly weaker than in the past, particularly among the petty bourgeoisie, the most backward and ignorant layers of the peasantry and the lumpenproletariat. The sheer brutality of state repression is, in fact, strengthening the grip of the leadership of the MB over these layers, providing them with a safe a way to close ranks, retie the knot, revive the links with these layers, and mobilise their social base. In a different situation the MB leaders showed – just one month ago – that they were clearly unable to cope with the pressure of the revolutionary mass movement. 

Let us be clear: it would have been extremely unlikely for the MB not to have resisted violently against any attempt to disband their reactionary camps. They had, and still have, guns and they are using them regardless of resisting repression; as an offensive weapon against the revolutionary forces, especially the youth. But it is one thing for the revolutionary people to disband a counter-revolutionary attempt – even crushing it violently – by taking a direct initiative through mass action. It is another thing that this task is carried out by the SCAF through the bourgeois state – which is the other side of the counter-revolution. In the second case, it only serves to strengthen the power of the army generals and the security forces, a power which will then be used against the workers and youth, whilst also helping the MB and presenting them as victims and martyrs

What about El Baradei, the liberal bourgeoisie, democracy, etc.?

“It has become apparent that the sides striving for power have little concern for the lives of Egyptians and will not hesitate to use the corpses of the Egyptian people as a ladder to reach their goals. The Muslim Brotherhood leaders sacrificed the lives of their followers for the sake of power, and the security forces did not hesitate to prey on those lives with all their violence and brutality.” (Official Response of the 6 April Youth Movement to Wednesday's events)

These events are showing the true colours of the so called “liberal bourgeoisie”. The wannabe leader of this section of the ruling class and the darling of the international media and US imperialism, El Baradei, has resigned his ministerial post, after having joined a reactionary government in which he was vice-president, alongside General Abdel Fattah El-Sisi as deputy prime minister. This government, furthermore, had been appointed under the authority of the SCAF. General El-Sisi had announced the crackdown on the MB well in advance and everyone knew it was going to take place. Now El Baradei seems surprised at the loss of life. 

What El Baradei personifies is the impotency of the petty bourgeois liberals in a situation where the margins for any negotiated settlement simply do not exist. Under these circumstances the social base that El Baradei represents either bends towards supporting the military or the MB.

It is a scandal that the leaders of the mainstream forces of the left on a world scale are unable to present a class analysis of these events and are wavering between a mood of relief for the crackdown against the obscurantist forces of the MB (of course tainted by the butchery displayed by the security forces) and empty cries for “democracy”, appeals to conciliation, national unity and so on.

These enlightened minds are just buckling to the ideological pressure of their respective ruling classes, who are scared by the prospect of similar revolutionary movements to take place everywhere in the future. The “left” leaders seem to be willing to support the right of the mass of the population of any nation to protest against dictators or unpopular “democratically elected” governments, but seem to deny the right of these same people to overthrow a “democratically elected” government by revolutionary means. Such a possibility is dreaded and presented as tantamount to a coup d'etat.

Let us not forget that the “democratic” MB and Morsi were precisely those who appointed El-Sisi as Minister of Defence and Commander in Chief of the Armed forces in their own government. That government was based on a counter-revolutionary agreement between the MB and the SCAF, intended to leave the Army generals and Ministry of Interior untouched, and had presided over brutal repression and killings.

The overthrow of Morsi has opened a period of struggle between revolution and counter-revolution in which the decisive factor will be the ability of the masses to carry through the revolution to the end.

In this struggle, any confidence in either of the wings of the bourgeoisie - both the army generals or Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood - would be fatal for the revolution. They represent two sides of the same reactionary, counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie. Nor can the interests of the Egyptian masses depend on the so-called “liberal bourgeoisie”, which is totally impotent. All these forces in the final analysis will find a common ground in the need to suppress the revolutionary struggle of the Egyptian workers and youth.

Only by standing up independently as a revolutionary force, and appealing to the ranks of the army to support the struggle of their class brothers against the ruling elite, will the workers and youth of Egypt be able to complete the task of the revolution and take their own destinies into their own hands!

Originally published on In Defence of Marxism