on egypt, and revolution

still huging in Tahrir SQ Cairo in Free Egypt Srounded by joy,tear,dignity+ proudnes.pple of Egypt have freed themselves made their own history+ours,freedom is our any ideas for party. we don’t know what to do now.
– comrade Osama Q, Tahrir Square, Cairo, 9pm, 11 February, 2011

by Joe Thorne

Revolutions are actually quite common. It’s only February and there have been two already this year :in Tunisia and Egypt. Other recent revolutions include Serbia (2000), Georgia (2003), Kryrgyzstan (2005) and Ukraine (2005). Recent failed endeavours include Thailand (2009), Burma (2007), and Iran (2009).

All of these revolutions were, to use the Marxist term, political rather than social revolutions. That is, they overthrew the faction which ruled the state and replaced it with another one. In some cases, but not all, this new faction turned out to be as bad as the old one, attacking the very people who had brought it to power. In no case was the outcome something we could call a genuinely free, democratic society, without exploitation, hierarchy or alienation – what we call communism.

A social revolution is one which transforms not just the ruling clique, but the way in which all society is organised. Such a revolution is necessary so that we do not leave the door open for the immediate reentry of the old order wearing a new mask. Or else, we and our children, and our children’s children, will fight the same battles over and over, and often lose.

This said, social revolutions are more complicated matters than merely political ones. Each of the aforementioned revolutions was carried out by a mass movement from below, involved mass, violent confrontation with the state, and in several cases mass strikes. In several of these cases, but not all,  revolutionary upheavals were strategised by relatively small groups,who found the means and the opportunity to inspire mass action, such as Otpor! in Serbia, or the panoply of groups who came together to call the January 25 protests in Cairo.

Each of them faced a state in which democracy was a hollow shell, even by modern liberal standards: elections being farcically rigged as a matter of course. Each of them took place against a background of great material deprivation, and each relied upon securing the tacit backing, or at least non-intervention, of the armed forces, rather than a direct confrontation with them.

Social revolutionaries in the relatively affluent, liberal-democratic west face a greater challenge. The illusions of the parliamentary system are powerful, as is the capacity of the state and capital to ease dissent through concessions. The senior ranks of the armed forces may be prepared to back a different oligarch, but it seems less likely that they would ever back changes amounting to their own abolition.

All this means that if there is ever to be a social revolution in conditions such as ours; it will require a broad deepening of distrust in the liberal democratic state, and the conviction that the old institutions must be replaced whole-sale by new ones; there must be a broad conviction that it is capitalism that must be undone, not this or that act or parliament.  Such convictions cannot be produced by argument or propaganda divorced from lived experience and struggle; but neither – as any number of revolutions, including Egypt’s show – are they necessarily the spontaneous products of intense anti-state struggle.  They need to be worked for.

And the army?  Well, if we ask why – after 18 days – Mubarak finally resigned when he did, a number of possible explanations suggest themselves.  The gradual retreat of his international backers is one, the widespread outbreak of industrial strikes in the two days prior – which must have been a concern for his internal backers, Egypt’s big capitalists – is another.  But another is surely that speculation of a split in the army was mounting – with, indeed, some signs that one was emerging on a very small scale.  Such a split was probably not very close, but even the threat of it was enough to concentrate the minds of generals.  We can anticipate that a social revolution would require that such a split actually take place.

For now, the revolutionaries of Egypt achieved something wonderful: not because the Supreme Military Council which now holds state power, can govern in their interests: but because they have felt their own power; all around the country students and workers have learned what it means to fight and organise, and win.  They will need those capacities in the years ahead; and the conviction to refuse the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Coptic Church, the generals, the owners and the bosses, and all the representatives of the past and future state.

Osama woke, still on Tahrir Square, this morning, and people are still hugging, greeting each other “Freedom morning”.