A Crisis of Revolutionary Leadership

Mass Revolt in Egypt

The following International Bolshevik Tendency statement was published on 7 February, prior to the departure of Hosni Mubarak.

The fall of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, long-time dictator of Tunisia, set off shock waves across the Arab world and sparked a popular revolt in Egypt, the most populous and politically important country in the region. The powerful Egyptian working class, which has carried out militant struggles over the past decade, has played a major role in the mass demonstrations rocking the country. Workers belonging to the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation defied their leaders and staged a nation-wide “illegal” work stoppage.

The anger of the masses and their willingness to risk their lives in the struggle to overthrow the hated dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak have been repeatedly demonstrated over the past two weeks. The objective social power of the proletariat makes it the natural leader of all the oppressed in the fight to smash the Egyptian police state and, in so doing, break the chains of global imperialism. But to fulfill this role, the workers’ movement requires revolutionary leadership—a Leninist party armed with the program of permanent revolution. Unfortunately such a party does not yet exist, not even in embryo.

Mubarak has long been one of the most prized regional assets of U.S. imperialism. The $1.5 billion in (mostly military) “aid” doled out to Egypt annually by Washington is second only to Israel. Initially, U.S. policy was to pretend nothing was happening—exemplified by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 25 January pronouncement that Mubarak’s regime was “stable.” When youthful protesters overwhelmed security forces a few days later and succeeded in torching scores of police stations (as well as Mubarak’s party’s political headquarters), the Egyptian strongman’s patrons reluctantly concluded that it was time to start talking about an “orderly transition.” At this point they favor a “new” regime headed by Omar Suleiman, Mubarak’s chief henchman and long-time head of Egypt’s national intelligence agency, who is engaged in negotiations with the reactionary Muslim Brotherhood and other figures ostensibly opposed to the dictatorship.

If Suleiman does not pan out, the Egyptian ruling class may be prodded into experimenting with some sort of pseudo-democracy led by Mohammed ElBaradei (former head of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency) or an equivalent figurehead. Any such regime would be little more than a fig leaf for the fearsome military-police state apparatus. If a “democratic” solution proves too difficult to arrange, the ultimate option for Egypt’s rulers would be a military coup.

On 2 February, in an attempt to counter the growing momentum of the protests, Mubarak’s political police led several thousand thugs in an organized attack on dissidents in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the center of the upheaval. Several people were killed and many more were wounded, but the demonstrators fought back with improvised self-defense units and managed to hold their ground. The Egyptian army, which had earlier declared that it would not fire on the protests, did nothing to obstruct the murderous pro-regime thugs. This doubtless came as a revelation to some of the more naïve demonstrators who had been chanting “the people and the army are one” only a few days earlier. The notion that the army, whose top brass have supported the dictatorship for decades, is on the side of the people and of democracy is a dangerous illusion. Mubarak’s rule has always rested on the police, intelligence agencies and the military. Taken together, these institutions constitute the core of the state. Any significant improvement in the conditions of life for the masses requires the destruction (or “smashing”) of the capitalists’ machinery of repression. Smashing the capitalist state will involve splitting the conscript army by winning over a section of it, primarily among the ranks, to the side of the insurrection.

Many who have suffered under Mubarak imagine that free elections will solve their problems. Some have called for a constituent assembly to draw up a new democratic constitution. Marxists support the masses’ yearning for democracy while insisting that a constituent assembly capable of sweeping away autocratic rule requires the revolutionary overthrow of the present regime. The fundamental issue posed in Egypt today is which class shall rule. In order to move forward, the anti-Mubarak revolt must begin to create institutions which will allow workers and the poor to exercise their will. An essential step is to establish new unions which are independent of the bosses and their state. It is also necessary to set up councils of delegates from different workplaces and working-class neighborhoods throughout the country, just like Russian workers did in the revolutions of 1905 and 1917. Another obvious step is to organize armed self-defense guards in each enterprise and working-class district as well as local committees to procure and distribute food, water and other essentials. Such institutions can lay the basis for a new state apparatus—one dedicated to serving and protecting the interests of working people and all the oppressed. Two key demands in the struggle against Mubarak’s tyranny are that all those victimized for political opposition to the dictatorship be freed immediately, and that key figures in the old regime be tried by workers’ tribunals.

The fundamental problem confronted by the Egyptian masses today can be described as a “crisis of leadership.” The workers and youth at the forefront of the struggle are determined not only to get rid of the current regime, but to free themselves from the dead hand of the oligarchs who own and control the vast majority of the country’s wealth. This determination is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for the fundamental (i.e., revolutionary) reconstruction of Egyptian society. The essential requirement for social revolution is the creation of a revolutionary workers’ party capable of giving direction to the struggle to uproot the social system that spawned Mubarak.

A revolutionary party in Egypt would seek to address the material deprivations of the masses, beginning with a demand for the immediate expropriation of Mubarak (who managed to amass a personal fortune of some $40 billion in a country where 40 percent of the population ekes out an existence on less than $2 a day). While the ill-gotten gains of Mubarak’s corrupt bourgeois friends should also be immediately seized, it is necessary to go beyond the brutal dictator and his immediate circle and expropriate the capitalist class as a whole. This would make it possible to address the chronic unemployment suffered by Egyptian youth, as well as plebeian concerns over food, housing, healthcare and education through the introduction of rational economic planning.

The authorities are trying to outwait the demonstrators in order to regain control of the streets while also proffering various meaningless cosmetic concessions. Washington is alarmed at the prospect of instability spreading in the region and therefore would like to find a political, rather than military, route to winding down the protests. The only way forward for Egypt’s workers and youth lies through the creation of a disciplined Bolshevik combat organization modeled on the party headed by Lenin and Trotsky that led the Russian workers to victory in October 1917.

Down with Mubarak/Suleiman Dictatorship!

No Support to ElBaradei or the Muslim Brotherhood!

Imperialists: Hands Off Egypt!

For Working-Class Independence from the Bosses and their State!

For a Revolutionary Workers’ Party in Egypt!

Forward to an Egyptian Workers’ State in a Socialist Federation of the Middle East!