The following article appears in Proletarian Revolution No. 84 (Spring 2011).
Fear of revolution is once again haunting the ruling classes of the world. Despite often horrific repression, mass protests continue in country after country across the Middle East. The masses are proving that it is possible for them to make history, not just be its passive victims. The series of uprisings electrified working and oppressed people everywhere – even in the U.S., where thousands of protesters against a bullying governor in Wisconsin chanted “We are all Egyptians now!”
Nevertheless, there have been serious setbacks. In Libya, the popular revolt has been brutally repressed by the Qaddafi regime; pro-imperialist bourgeois forces hijacked the revolt and subordinated it to the imperialist cause; and the imperialists are waging war against Qaddafi in order to re-establish their authority in the region.
And as we write, an uneasy balance of power reigns in Tunisia and Egypt, where the working classes played decisive roles in the struggle. The new military-backed regimes have tried to suppress the mass struggles but have also been forced to make further concessions.
In Tunisia, mass protests forced the regime to abandon its backroom dealing over a new constitution and promise to hold democratic elections to a Constituent Assembly. In Egypt, strikes and protests continue despite new laws banning them. In early March, protesters stormed the State Security headquarters in Alexandria and Cairo and stopped security personnel from destroying incriminating documents. In April, a demonstration demanding that Mubarak and his cronies be put on trial for their crimes was attacked by police, who killed two protesters. But then fear of a new upsurge forced the military to place Mubarak and his kleptocratic sons under arrest. The revolutions remain alive.
In this issue of Proletarian Revolution, we salute the millions of people who have demonstrated, marched, fought and faced death demanding “bread and freedom” and an end to dictatorial regimes. We include four statements issued by the League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP) and our comrades in the Internationalist Socialist League of Israel/Occupied Palestine (ISL). These were written as the struggles were developing and were aimed to bring to bear the lessons of revolutionary strategy that Marxists have drawn from revolutionary struggles over the past century.
What are these lessons? First, the wave of revolts was not just for democracy (as most Western media accounts suggest), getting rid of the oppressive kings and presidents-for-life who have held power for decades. Masses of people, led by the young, are fighting for survival against the economic misery imposed by imperialist super-exploitation, exacerbated greatly in recent years by the international economic crisis. (This year, once again, financial speculators have driven up food prices to the point where millions in the poor countries face starvation.)
Second, the role of the organized working class was decisive in the two countries where dictators have already been toppled. In Tunisia, employed and unemployed workers in the poorest parts of the country began the rebellion and forced local unions to organize the protests and strikes that brought down dictator Ben Ali. In Egypt, though weeks of huge protests shook the Mubarak regime, it was a nationwide wave of strikes and workplace occupations that forced the dictator’s ouster.
Third, global capitalism relies on the imperialist powers’ exploitation of the Middle East’s oil wealth and the super-exploitation of its workers and peasants. The system cannot sustain a substantial middle class with a stake in the system large enough to provide a stable mass base of support that is essential if the capitalists are to rule democratically. Under these conditions, the imperialists and their local enforcers fear that if the masses win democratic rights, they will use these to challenge capitalist profit-making. Ruling by means of democratic forms is out of the question; an iron fist is necessary.
All this points to the conclusion taught by Leon Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution: in the impoverished and dominated neo-colonies and colonies, there can be no lasting achievement of bourgeois democratic rights, much less of significant economic gains for the workers and poor people, if the revolutions do not end capitalist rule and imperialist domination. The masses’ democratic aspirations can only be secured by the working class seizing power from the capitalists through socialist revolutions.
The Russian revolution of 1917, after its initial victory of overthrowing the Tsar, faced treacherous maneuvers by the bourgeois Provisional Government and various attempts at counterrevolution. It triumphed only because the Bolshevik Party fought in every struggle to defend and extend the gains of the revolution while constantly arguing that the working class needed to take state power itself. Today likewise the working class needs a political leadership committed to the overthrow of capitalism and that works to win the masses to this perspective.
The revolts in the Middle East and North Africa spread rapidly across national boundaries. The ruling classes are hated everywhere, and all the oppressed countries are held in the imperialist grip. But it is not enough for the revolutions to inspire one another – there needs to be unity in purpose and action among the workers and oppressed peoples of the region. Proletarian revolutionaries need an international party. We stand for the fundamental program of the Fourth International founded by Trotsky, the world party of socialist revolution.
In our statements we strongly criticized the political positions taken in the early stages of the revolutions by two organizations that claim the traditions of Marx and Lenin, the Communist Party of Tunisian Workers (PCOT) and the Revolutionary Socialists of Egypt. The followers of both these organizations have played heroic roles in the struggles, but both groups have failed to place the aim of the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism before the masses – as the only way to achieve their basic demands of jobs, a rising standard of living and democratic freedoms.
In the imperialist countries, a foremost task is to oppose the interventions of our own governments aimed at squelching the mass upheavals. Imperialist weaponry is being used to crush the opposition movements in Bahrain and Yemen, and imperialist diplomacy is desperately maneuvering to hold back the popular tide that threatens their domination.
Libya is a decisive test. We defend the popular uprising against Qaddafi; we oppose the subordination of that revolt to the imperialists by its self-appointed leaders; we stand for the defeat of the military intervention. In our statement we cite examples of those on the far left who support the intervention, however reluctantly, as well as those who refused to side with the youth-led rebellion. Moreover, we are not aware of any other organization that takes a clear position along the lines outlined here.
This magazine also includes statements by the LRP on the on¬going struggles of immigrant workers and the recent mass protest in Wisconsin. In the United States the working class is not confronted by murderous regimes and rampant ruling-class corruption like those in the Middle East. Still, it has seen gross injustices and growing inequality in the last few years, as capitalist bosses and politicians step up their attacks under the cover of the budgetary crisis.
Corporate bosses drove the economy to the edge of another Great Depression, awarding themselves millions of dollars in bonuses along the way, and then got bailed out of bankruptcy with trillions of working-class tax payers’ dollars. Now politicians and pundits have turned to scapegoating public-sector workers and their unions for the financial crisis. Government budgets are being slashed to pay off the bailout debts, and millions of workers face foreclosures and layoffs; Medicare and Social Security are threatened. The continuing economic crisis has exacerbated a growing racist reaction against immigrant workers especially.
Working-class people in the U.S lack the experience of victorious mass struggles. They are burdened by union and community leaders who accept the system, discourage struggle and tie their mass bases to the capitalist and imperialist Democratic Party. Now the Arab struggles have reminded the world that oppression can be fought, and Tunisia and Egypt have shown the revolutionary potential of the working class. One fundamental lesson is the same in the imperialist as well as the oppressed countries: capitalism is the problem. But there is a notable lack of leadership with a vision of the socialist alternative and how to get there.
Sooner or later working-class people in this country as well are going to say: Enough! We’re not going to take this any more! In order for the next wave of struggles to achieve successes rather than defeats, a revolutionary working-class leadership has to be built. That is the purpose of the League for the Revolutionary Party. We urge readers to check out our practical and theoretical work and our political writings, and join with us in the fight for socialist revolution.