John Riddell: Democracy in Lenin's Comintern

How did Communist parties handle issues of internal discipline and democracy in Lenin’s time? The recent intense discussion within the British Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) and beyond has heard claims that the SWP rests on the traditions of democratic centralism inherited from the Bolsheviks.

John Riddell: Democracy in Lenin's Comintern

Richard Atkinson: Death and the Bedroom Tax

Some extended thoughts about Stephanie Bottrill, the woman who committed suicide because of the bedroom tax.

Richard Atkinson: Death and the Bedroom Tax

Dave Renton: Who Was Blair Peach?

Today marks the 35th anniversary of the killing of Blair Peach by the police. David Renton looks back at Blair Peach’s life as a poet, trade unionist and committed antifascist

Dave Renton: Who Was Blair Peach?

Bunny La Roche: Nasty Little Nigel gets a rude welcome to Kent

Bunny La Roche of RS21 on Nigel Farage's visit to Kent

Bunny La Roche: Nasty Little Nigel gets a rude welcome to Kent

Financial Appeal

We're up and running! An appeal for funds to kickstart the IS Network

Financial Appeal

Solidarity and counterrevolution in Egypt: an introduction

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Introduction


The overthrow of Mubarak in Egypt was a massive setback for imperialism and made the language of revolution central in the midst of global capitalist crisis. It was a revolution that travelled- spreading right across a region which had been at the centre of great power politics since the middle of the last century. As the project for an American century was ground down in the bloody horror it had created in Iraq, the spreading revolutions appeared to signal a new era of political radicalism growing out of opposition to imperialism and neoliberalism.

In the region itself the coming together of diverse social and political forces against dictatorship broke the mould of older corrupt systems of dominance and promised something new. There had been signs of this in the movements against the war but this was not a protest movement-it was a revolution. All the older stereotypes about a region that history happened to rather than a region that made history were shaken: producing consternation in Washington and Tel Aviv, but also, as the contagion spread, in Tehran and Moscow. Imperialists and dictators alike looked like they were losing the plot.

It’s unsurprising that socialists and activists around the world were inspired by these developments and eagerly debated both the tactics of the new movements of the squares and the wider significance they portended. Many were aware of their history. Egypt had always been at the centre of radical political developments in the region, it had also always been seen as one of the centres of the regions labour movement. Meetings were held, solidarity declared and resolutions passed.


Excitement and speculation about the new was therefore combined with long held theories and hopes from the past. The scene darkened as it became clear that many of the existing dictatorships were prepared to pull the sky down rather than give up their power: in Libya allowing imperialist intervention and in Syria creating civil war and unprecedented horror. These produced loud and sometimes acrimonious arguments on the left but there was no shortage of debate and reassessment.


In Egypt elections took place producing landslide victories for the Freedom and Justice Party, backed by the Muslim Brotherhood. Sections of the left backed Morsi, the Freedom and Justice Party candidate, against the old regime candidates, but in general believed that there was no fundamental contradiction between the Military and the Muslim Brotherhood. In retrospect many of us on the left held two apparently contradictory beliefs at the same time. On the one hand we believed that the introduction of formal democracy was cosmetic, on the other we believed that the changes heralded by the revolution were irreversible.


So big debates raged about whether the new government was simply a puppet of the military or whether it would be like the AKP in Turkey, whilst some feared it would be like the Iranian regime. In the meantime polarisation grew about the political meaning of the clashes of the new government with the military, some seeing these as attempts to consolidate democracy, others as attempts to consolidate theocracy. These debates became merged with debates about whether continuing social struggles and associated political campaigns were a continuation of revolution or on the other hand part of a destabilisation campaign by the military and feloul against democracy. It’s doubtful if even today there is any consensus on these questions: the answers are not straightforward.


What absolutely no-one expected however was that just one year after the election the government would be behind bars and supporters of that government would be butchered by tanks and helicopter gunships in the streets, that hundreds would be being sentenced to death in absurd show trials, and that the old constellation of social and political forces associated with the revolution would be utterly and irrevocably divided- with no agreement even on the meaning of the terms revolution and counterrevolution. In the meantime the US, the EU and the Cameron government has offered their congratulations to the mass murderer Sisi whose rigged elections had to be extended by a few days to get enough people to stand in line for the cameras outside polling stations, whilst so cowed is the media that their anchors make jokes about sexual assaults in Tahrir Square in order not to allow them to spoil the General’s day. It is a time of rage and shame.


There is obviously no way that the controversies associated with these tragic developments can be settled from afar on a British blog. But some of us do believe that we owe a duty of solidarity to those forces which continue to provide the main opposition to the military and face repression day in and day out, and are the main target of the counterrevolution’s repression. Especially as that repression is being supported by our own government, who are now responding to the long arm of counterrevolution by demanding enquiries into the ‘activities’ of the Muslim Brotherhood in this country, at the behest of forces opposed to the democratic revolutions in the region, including that well know supporters of secularism and democracy Saudi Arabia. We feel that the left internationally has been too silent about this aspect of the counter-revolution because of its political ambivalence about R4BIA and the belief that it is merely a Muslim Brotherhood front. This has had the effect of diminishing coverage and awareness of the scale of the repression, but also, very importantly, the scale of resistance to it. We think that it is absolutely not necessary to politically support the Muslim Brotherhood or its program to support the main opposition to the western backed military regime. We are absolutely in favour of continued solidarity with activists of the left facing the repression of the regime but feel that such solidarity should not be seen as a substitute for also supporting a larger secular campaign of support for all victims of the coup regime.


In order to open up a debate about this difficult question Sam Charles Hamad has written the following piece on the experience of R4BIA following the military coup, in anger, and in solidarity.

John Game