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A liberation zone for democratic rights, multiculturalism, international brotherhood and peace.

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Archive for July, 2013

Salvaging Greece — Lal Khan

Posted by admin On July - 28 - 2013 Comments Off on Salvaging Greece — Lal Khan


While change is desired, there is a failure to articulate it. With a strong Marxist current gaining ground, Greece would be at the threshold of an insurrection

The boom in capitalism of the last two decades served to mask the underlying contradictions in society, but not to remove them. The gains of economic growth were not evenly distributed. According to a UN report, the richest two percent own more than half the world’s wealth, while the poorest half of the world’s population own barely one percent of the global wealth.

In 2008, the economic crisis laid bare the obsolete nature and historical redundancy of the system. Greece, in turmoil for more than four years now, delineates this crisis like a textbook case.

While the crash of world capitalism has hit almost every economy, the ferocity of the crisis was most acute in Greece in many ways. In a population of 11 million, over four million have been pushed below the absolute poverty line. Unemployment amongst the youth is 62 percent. The ‘austerity measures’ have deprived large sections of the population of healthcare and other social benefits. Suicides in Greece have risen sharply. The masses are seething with revolt. There have been 29 general strikes in the last four years. Some of these actions lasted for 48 hours. However, Greece is not an exception. Several other advanced capitalist countries are on the brink.

Arguably, in most countries of south Europe, the revolt has already entered its first phase. The process is uneven. In certain cases, it is unfolding with intensity. The pace is rather slow in some other countries. But everywhere the process is moving in the same direction.

In Greece, there is a movement in the direction of revolution. The workers and youth have shown tremendous will to struggle. But confusion over a programme to change society remains prevalent. While change is desired, there is a failure to articulate it. With a strong Marxist current gaining ground, Greece would be at the threshold of an insurrection.

In the meantime, a certain lull in class struggle has also set in because the general strikes did not yield any tangible gains. Still, the mood remains revolutionary. The traditional social democratic party leaders, reformist trade unions, as well as ex-communist leaderships are holding the class struggle back. But the recent struggle over the state broadcasting company (ERT) of Greece shows that the movement can explode again at any time.

The right-wing Samaras government of New Democracy is weak and fractious, staggering from one crisis to the next. It cannot last very long. Sooner or later the bourgeoisie will have to pass the poisoned chalice to SYRIZA’s charismatic leader, Alexis Tsipras.

A section of the ruling class, however, would prefer reactionary measures to SYRIZA’s rule. But this would imply a call to civil war, which they are not sure of winning. They would preferably send the workers to the school of reformism.

A SYRIZA government will have to make one of the two following choices: either break with the bourgeoisie and defend the interests of the working class or capitulate to the pressures from the bourgeoisie.

Tsipras became very popular because he seemed to stand for radical policies. But as he gets closer to power, he is moderating his stance and trying to present himself as acceptable to the Troika and imperialism. His recent visits to Washington, Berlin, and other imperial capitals are evidence of this morphing. He is careful not to promise too much to the Greek workers and the youth in order not to frighten the bourgeoisie, while dampening the masses’ expectations. However, the expectations will remain high. If a Left coalition government led by SYRIZA fails to take the necessary action against big business, it will cause a wave of bitter disillusionment, preparing the way for an even more right wing coalition, possibly between New Democracy and Golden Dawn (a neo-fascist party).

Under these conditions, Golden Dawn would grow on the right, and the KKE (Communist Party) would grow on the left. For a whole period, one unstable government will follow another. Left coalitions will give way to right wing coalitions. But no combination of parliamentary forces can solve the crisis.

A spell in government will be the best way to undermine and discredit Golden Dawn in the eyes of its petty bourgeois followers. In all probably it will not be the form that reaction takes in Greece in the future. More likely a period of right wing government under conditions of extreme crisis will lead to another split in New Democracy, which can fuse with the remnants of Golden Dawn to form a much bigger and more dangerous right wing formation. Even so, the Greek ruling class will proceed carefully, testing the ground through the gradual introduction of reactionary laws and measures to restrict democratic rights.

It may also attempt to move towards parliamentary Bonapartism before imposing an open dictatorship. But long before reaction can succeed, there will be a whole series of social explosions, in which the question of power will be posed. There is a contradiction between the level of consciousness of the movement and the tasks posed by history. It can only be resolved by the experience of the masses. Consciousness often tends to lag behind events. But consciousness can catch up with a bang. That is the real meaning of a revolution. The essence of a revolution is lightning changes in the mood of the masses. Explosions can occur suddenly, without warning, when least expected. That was the meaning of the events in Turkey and Brazil. As the crisis deepens, the mood of the masses is changing. Everywhere there is a backlash against the policies of austerity. This is grasped even by a section of the bourgeoisie. There are definite limits to what people can stand. These limits are being reached.

In the period of the boom, despite overwork and increased exploitation, many workers could find a way out through individual solutions, like overtime. Now that avenue is blocked. Only through struggle will it be possible to defend the existing conditions, let alone secure better ones. Now the psychology of the workers is changing fundamentally. There is a mood of anger and bitterness. One layer after another is being drawn into the struggle. The traditional proletariat has been joined by layers that in the past would have considered themselves as middle class: teachers, civil servants, doctors, nurses, etc.

However, after decades of relative class peace, the workers need a preliminary period to stretch their muscles like an athlete whose muscles have become stiff. The school of mass strikes and demonstrations is preparation for more serious things. With the epicentre of revolution moving to Europe, Greece will be its vanguard.

The writer is the editor of Asian Marxist Review and International Secretary of Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign. He can be reached at ptudc@hotmail.com

The capitalist state-Ernest Mandel

Posted by admin On July - 26 - 2013 Comments Off on The capitalist state-Ernest Mandel

story 4 inside

The form of the capitalist state as the means of government of the bourgeois class is therefore determined by class interests. It can only assume a given form, if it coheres with its nature

“Historical materialism elevates the principle of the dialectical relationship between the particular and the general, which reveals the essence of phenomena, to the theoretical foundation of the dialectical understanding of history.”- Leo Kofler, Geschichte und Dialektik

Theoretical discussion about defining and explaining of the class nature of the capitalist state has increased significantly in recent years [1]. Although at this stage it is still mainly occurring in the West Germany, Britain and Italy, it is nevertheless a discussion which – often within the context of debates about “state monopoly capitalism” and the class nature of the “national-democratic state” (in some ex-colonies in Africa and Asia) – is taking place around the globe [2].

It is not my aim here to discuss in detail the most important texts published on the topic. Instead my inquiry concerns some general problems in applying the method of historical materialism to the question of the class nature of the capitalist state – problems which directly or indirectly play an important role in the controversy.

The central category of the materialist dialectic is that of a totality impelled and being driven to change by its immanent contradictions. The forms of this movement itself vary (for example, purely quantitative changes should not be conflated with qualitative changes). But the motion of the structure is just as important as the character of the structure. For historical materialism, there exist no eternal, unchangeable forms in any social phenomena. This category of a totality replete with contradictions, and therefore subject to change, directs Marxist research to inquiry into the origins of phenomena, their laws of motion and their conditions of disappearance, both with regard to the base and with regard to the superstructure of society.

For historical materialism, the “being” of each social phenomenon can only be recognized and understood in and through its “becoming”. That being the case, it should be clear from the start that every attempt to define the class nature of the capitalist state which abstracts from the historical origins of that state, i.e. which rejects the genetic method, conflicts with historical materialism.

Every attempt to deduce the character and essence of the capitalist state directly from the categories of Marx’s Capital – whether from “capital in general”, from the exchange and commercial relations at the surface of bourgeois society, or from the conditions for the valorization of capital [3] – overlooks that this state, as an institution separated from society and transformed into an autonomous apparatus, was not created by the bourgeoisie itself.

In reality, this class originally took over a state which existed prior its conquest of political power (in Europe, the semi-feudal absolutist state) and then reshaped it according to its class interests. To understand the class character of the capitalist state, we should therefore start off by asking: why did the bourgeoisie not destroy the absolutist state machine, but only transform it? How did this change occur? For what purpose does the bourgeoisie use the state machinery it has conquered and adapted, and how does it necessarily have to be used? How does the bourgeoisie succeed in using the state machine for its own class ends, notwithstanding the autonomy that the state has?

The objection that such a methodological approach to the problem is ambivalent and eclectic can be dismissed straightway, because the field of action of the state is never reducible to “purely economic conditions”. As an outgrowth of the social division of labor, state functions as such originally gained independence, i.e. became the responsibility of special institutions separated from society, when the division of society into classes was occurring, i.e. they were the instruments of an existing class order.

Technical necessity or reified consciousness [4] by themselves cannot explain why the majority of the members of society are compelled to leave the exercise of particular functions to a minority. Behind functional necessities or reified consciousness exist relations among people, class relations and class conflicts. So if we try to deduce any given state form, including the capitalist state, from purely economic relations, we either remain trapped in reified reflexes of class relations, or else we reduce class conflicts in a mechanistic way to “pure economics”.

On the other side, the origins and development of the capitalist state cannot simply be reduced to some general imperative to use non-economic force against the class enemies of the bourgeoisie either. The basis of this imperative must be related to the specific forms of capitalism, and viewed as a necessary feature of the rule of capital, rather than of the ruling class in general. If the essence of the capitalist state is detached from the conditions of existence of the state, then what distinguishes it from all other class states, is lost sight of, instead of being included in the analysis.

Only by linking the special functional conditions of the capitalist state with the specificities of capitalist production and bourgeois ideology – co-determined by the structure of bourgeois society. as well influencing each other – can we frame the problem of the class nature of the capitalist state exhaustively, and solve it.

The corollary is that every modern capitalist state combines general features of this class nature with unique characteristics, which derive from the moment in history (the stage of capitalist development, of the formation of the bourgeoisie and the working class) when the national bourgeoisie fought to conquer independent political power, as well as from the historical conditions of the class conflicts (including the balance of power between the bourgeoisie, the aristocracy, and plebeian/pre-proletarian, semi-proletarian and fully proletarianized workers).

Not just the specific institutional arrangements and the precise state form obtained (e.g. a constitutional monarchy in Great Britain and Sweden, versus a republic in the USA and France), but also the unique political tradition of each bourgeois nation and its prevailing political clichés and ideologies (which also play a very important role in the emergence and development of the modern labor movement) are bound up with this.

It is also important to distinguish clearly between what is intrinsic to bourgeois society generally, and those special features of the capitalist state which only reflect specific power alignments between the social classes. Several authors unjustifiably claim that the reproduction of capitalist relations is more or less automatically guaranteed, because those relations directly influence and shape the consciousness of the producers (the working class). Since wage earners experience their exploitation as the result of an exchange, so it is argued, they will not question these exchange relations.

Hence they will also not question commodity production, or the capitalist mode of production, or the accumulation of capital. From this idea, it is then inferred that, in contrast to other class states, it is sufficient for the capitalist state to provide formal legal equality which separates political-legal relations between people from actual social production. Three conceptual confusions are involved here.

Firstly, the fact that a given mode of production generates its own forms of reified consciousness, does not mean at all that these forms suffice to guarantee the reproduction of the social order. Secondly, even a consciousness which cannot rise beyond exchange relations can threaten the reproduction of capitalist relations of production; workers who are politically uneducated can nevertheless stage rebellions which threaten private property and the bourgeois order.

Such revolts might have little chance of success, but they can cause so much damage, that the capitalist class believes that maintaining a costly and parasitic state apparatus as a bulwark against the possibility of such revolts is essential (cf. the second German empire).

And thirdly, this train of thought contains an economistic error. The continuation of commodity production and privately owned means of production does not automatically guarantee that a rapid valorization of capital will occur all of the time. That also requires among other things a specific distribution of the new value produced by labor-power between wages and surplus value, which permits a “normal” valorization of capital.

Aside from quality, quantity thus plays a central role here. Capitalism has a built-in limit preventing wages from rising above a level that would endanger the valorization of capital, principally through an expansion of the reserve army of labor, in reaction to a decline in the accumulation of capital. But this longer-term tendency does not have a continuous and uninterrupted effect. In spite of the fact that it is “bounded by exchange relations”, wage-labor can thus demand, and achieve, wage rises in some situations which make the valorization of capital more difficult, and endanger it in the short term.

Moreover, precisely because wage earners (be it with a “false consciousness”) experience their exploitation at the most basic level “only” as the result of exchange, they are forced into a fight to defend and increase their wages. Thus, so-called “reified consciousness” could even lead them to conclude that this fight will succeed only through united collective action and organized solidarity.

Mutually contrary aspects of “reified consciousness” (resignation and rebellion) are therefore inherent in the system, but each of them obviously has different consequences for potential threats to the system. Out of the impulse towards trade unionism, emerges an elementary proletarian class consciousness, which can at least potentially and episodically lead to anti-capitalist struggles. And so, with a less mechanistic analysis of the connection between generalized commodity production, reified consciousness and the need for a state machine for the bourgeoisie, we arrive at conclusions quite different from many participants in the debate.

In contrast to slaves or serfs, wage earners are free workers, a circumstance which should be understood dialectically and as replete with contradictions, and not simply reduced to “separation from the means of production”. Additionally, capitalism implies not just a universalized market (and thus the inevitable reification of social consciousness), but also – in contrast to the work of private producers in simple commodity production – the objective socialization and co-operation of labor in large-scale industry.

That is precisely why non-economic power is essential for capital. It must guarantee the reproduction of the social relations of bourgeois society, and market mechanisms alone are not sufficient for this. Free workers can at least temporarily refuse the sale of their labor-power under conditions most favorable for the valorization of capital. They can do this more effectively if they have collective resistance funds and collective organizations, and these have emerged everywhere in response to capitalism, just like reified consciousness.

Securing the reproduction of social relations within bourgeois society therefore demands coercion and violence by the agents of capital, to prohibit, prevent, frustrate, or restrict the collective refusal to sell the commodity labor-power (the right to strike) or at least make it less successful. That imperative is visible throughout the whole history of bourgeois society. Not only because “free” wage-labor in reality (implicitly) also means work under compulsion – not just economically or personally, but also at the level of “law and order” – freedom and coercion necessarily co-exist in bourgeois society.

Without coercion for the working class, no freedom for the employer: the young Marx had already grasped this when he noted in his article On the Jewish Question that “Security is the supreme social concept of civil society, the concept of police, the concept that the whole of society is there, only to guarantee to each of its members the conservation of his person, his rights and his property. In this sense, Hegel calls civil society ’the state of need and of reason’.” [den Not- und Verstandestaat]” [5]. Indeed. Without police, private property and the valorization of capital are not secure; without capitalist state violence, there is no secure capitalism.

It follows that there has never been, and will never be, a capitalist state based on the preservation of “juridical equality”, or on the securing of the “application of formal principles”. The capitalist state is and remains, like all other political states before it, an instrument for the preservation of the rule of a definite class – not just indirectly, but also directly. Without a permanent repressive apparatus – and in times of crisis the “hard core” of the state reduces to this apparatus, to a “body of armed men” as Frederick Engels put it – the capitalist state could not exist, the reproduction of capitalist relations of production becomes at the very least uncertain, and bourgeois rule is vulnerable to challenge.

One could actually turn the theories of many (especially German) participants in the discussion on their head; precisely because the conditions of capitalist exploitation seem to be based exclusively on exchange relations and not on direct, personal master-servant relations, the potential threat always exists in bourgeois society that the wage earners will “abuse their freedom” to threaten the existing social order, if not overthrow it altogether.

Since the capitalist state was itself the product of bourgeois revolutions, and since revolutions are, as is known, dangerous schools in the possibility of changing society radically, the bourgeoisie understood immediately after the conquest of political power that it needed a permanent non-economic repressive apparatus to oblige resistant workers to the sale of the commodity labor power, at prices promoting, and not braking, the valorization of capital.

For the same reason, it is simply wrong to suggest that some or other tendency towards formal-political equality before the law of all “citizens” of a bourgeois nation necessarily follows from the formal equality of all individuals in bourgeois society. To the contrary: to neutralize the contradictory effects on the market of the formal equality of capital and wage-labor – an equality essential for the continuation of capitalism and the valorization of capital – the tendency towards violating or contesting the political rights of the working class is built into the capitalist state. The idea the capitalist state or all of bourgeois ideology tends spontaneously and automatically towards equal voting rights for all people is belied by the real history of bourgeois society. It is one of the great achievements of Leo Kofler to have demonstrated this in detail.

In the real history of the capitalist state, the combination of the universal franchise, equal voting rights with a secret ballot, and effective freedom of political organization for the working class, has been the exception. Even in Western Europe, it became the norm only after World War I. In the rest of the capitalist world, it remains until this very day the exception rather than the rule. More significant is that even this purely formal political, legal and organizational equality for the working classes was in Western Europe nearly everywhere forced on the bourgeoisie by the other social classes, and that the bourgeoisie in no sense voluntarily granted it to all citoyens [6].

Just exactly under what conditions and within what limits it could turn this political defeat temporarily into a political victory is an issue which does not alter the importance of the historical fact in any way whatever – if only because in the last sixty years the ostensibly “bourgeois-democratic” achievement has already been overturned again on many occasions (Mussolini, Salazar, Hitler, Franco, Petain, to mention only the most important West European examples) and because a renewed questioning of these rights is again a definite theme in Western politics.


The form of the capitalist state as the means of government of the bourgeois class is therefore determined by class interests. It can only assume a given form, if it coheres with its nature. So long as the bourgeoisie has not lost its economic and social power – i.e. its command over the means of production and the social surplus product – any suggestion that a fundamental change in the form and function of the state is possible assumes that the ruling class would use the social surplus-product not for maintaining itself but for its own self-destruction.

There exists not a single historical example of such a process of the self-destruction of ruling social classes, neither in the history of pre-capitalist societies, nor in the history of capitalist society. So the primary task of the capitalist state is to provide, secure and reproduce the social conditions (the social framework) of the existing class domination, those conditions in other words which Frederick Engels indicates in Anti-Dühring with the formula “external conditions of-production”.

The state is “an organization of the particular class, which is pro tempore the exploiting class, for the maintenance of its external conditions of production and, therefore, especially, for the purpose of forcibly keeping the exploited classes in the condition of oppression corresponding with the given mode of production (slavery, serfdom, wage labor)” [7]. The way in which it fulfills this task is determined by the specificity of the capitalist mode of production and the nature of the social classes that it creates. It is also determined by the given, historically emergent relationship of forces between the classes specific to each specific bourgeois form of society, in each given phase of its development.

To carry out this task, both a repressive and ideological-integrative instrument must be applied. The formal-legal equality of individuals in bourgeois society and the absence of direct master-servant relations certainly creates the possibility of much stronger legitimation of the capitalist state in the eyes of the dominated classes as the (false) representative of society as a whole than was the case in pre-capitalist states.

But the universal franchise, freedom to organize politically for the workers movement, and the integration of the leaders of their mass organizations in the capitalist state are only necessary, not sufficient conditions for this perception of legitimacy. A definite long-term decline of mass participation in class struggles, or a definite low level (or a definite decline) of the average class consciousness of the working class, due to particular historical circumstances, is also a factor.

Whether the complex concatenation of objective and subjective factors actually enables the bourgeoisie to camouflage its class rule successfully in the eyes of the exploited as being the “result of popular sovereignity” and as the “will of the people” expressed in electoral outcomes is something which only an social and political analysis of a specific state in a specific era can reveal. But whatever the case may be, there is no convincing proof that particular state forms – such as in Great Britain at the time of the Prince Regent and of Queen Victoria, in France during the reign of Louis Philippe or the Second Empire, in the German Empire under Wilhelm I and Wilhelm II, in Belgium under Leopold I and Leopold II, not to mention Mussolini’s Italy or Franco’s Spain – were perceived as the “legitimate representatives of the whole society” by the working class of these countries.

Similarly we can justifiably doubt the presence of such a perception in the North American state in the Coolidge-Hoover period. The capitalist state must not only secure the external conditions, but also the social conditions of the capitalist mode of production. That is, it must also create those general conditions for production proper which the “functioning capitalists” cannot produce themselves, either because it is not profitable for them to do so, and because of the prevailing competition among private capitals.

Capitalism presupposes social production and social exchange. But “capital cannot of its own accord, by its actions, produce the social character of its existence by any means”, as Alvater puts it so well [8]. The relationship between state and society is therefore not reducible to the relationship between politics and economics; because the capitalist state is also a directly economically active institution of the capitalist order. This is most clearly shown by the monetary regime. Just as generalized commodity production presupposes the independent existence of exchange value in a universal equivalent, in money, the normal reproduction of total social capital requires a continual division and reconstitution of productive-, commodity- and money-capital [9]. And that process cannot occur, at least not on any large scale, without a currency and credit system which is guaranteed and secured by the state.

If we examine the supply of money and credit, it is immediately obvious that without a central state authority, a fully functional capitalist mode of production could not exist. But money and credit point straightaway to other “directly economic” functions of the capitalist state. Capitalist competition manifests itself in the history of capitalism in two ways: as competition between individual capitals, and as competition between fractions of world capital sited in territorial states. In this second form of competition, the capitalist state fulfills a defensive role for “national capitals against “foreign” competitors, in the area of currency, customs and trade policy, colonial policy, etc.

This role of the state is likewise, at least initially “purely economic” and without it the system would again fail to function, or function fully. In his Grundrisse, Marx concluded that the ideal conditions for the capitalist mode of production are those in which private capitals themselves can create a maximum of those “general conditions of production” [10] . Nevertheless, in the case of a third category of these “general conditions of production”, namely those related to the provision of infrastructure and education, the general tendency was demonstrably in the opposite direction, from the time that large-scale industry began to dominate.

These functions were increasingly – and later almost exclusively – fulfilled by the capitalist state, because far too much tension existed between private interests seeking to organize them according to the profit motive, and the collective interests of the bourgeoisie as a class, or the objective requirements of the valorization of capital in general. A unified taxation system connects the money and credit system with the infrastructural tasks which must be fulfilled.

The link between the “external” (social) and the “economic” (general) conditions is formed by those state functions that fall under the general heading of “administration”. Included here are not only the administration securing law and order and the protection of private property, but also the police and military apparatus protecting the bourgeoisie from “internal and “external” enemies as well as all of the administration concerned with other public services, such as the infrastructure proper (e.g. the public health system, which, given the raw poverty of the early proletariat was essential to protect the bourgeois class in the large cities from the danger of epidemics).

In the course of the development of bourgeois society, the number of “general conditions of production” met by the state grew almost without interruption. But this apparently linear process must be analyzed in its different aspects. In some areas there really existed something like technical necessity here, i.e. the logic of technology demanded ever stronger centralization, and forced the bourgeoisie to recognize the objective socialization of labor in these areas, through a genuine nationalization of these functions.

That applied, for example, to railway construction and management, and later to the regulation of air traffic. Private organization in this area was so strongly stamped by “partial rationality” [11] that it endangered the system as a whole, so that bourgeois society could, despite glorifying private enterprise, not afford it. With the unfolding of the long-term laws of motion of capital (inter alia the increasing concentration and centralization of capital on the one hand, and the growing difficulties for the valorization of capital on the other side) there is an increasing number of productive areas in which the risk of losing the gigantic investments required becomes too great to attract any private capital.

But within a complex social division of labor precisely these areas can play an important or even crucial role in securing or threatening the competitiveness of a given capitalist class on the world market. Nationalizing these activities, or increasingly subsuming them under the “general conditions of production” in that case does not express any technical necessity but rather the requirements of capital valorization under given historical circumstances.

The nationalization of energy and steel production in Great Britain, or the raw materials industry in France, and more generally the “nationalization of losses” of unprofitable branches of industry necessary for the material reproduction of capital, just like the nationalization of the gigantically rising costs of research and development, belong to this category. There is, finally, nevertheless also a tendential expansion of the “general conditions of production” in areas where neither technical necessity nor immediate conditions of valorization play a crucial role. Late capitalism tends to bring all the conditions for the reproduction of the commodity labor-power under its control, i.e. subordinate human beings and human needs directly to its valorization objectives.

Nationalized health care, education and land-use authorities ultimately rest on the need to discipline people and not on technical necessities. In the many of these areas, parasitic centralisations which so clearly manifest themselves could be eliminated in a systematic and planned way after the collapse of the political power of capital, and be replaced by an integrated system of socialist self-management. In the development of the capitalist state, a specific, contradictory relation to the history of the state in general emerges, congruent with an analogous relation of capitalist industry (capitalist productive forces) to the general development of the productive forces.

On the one hand, despite the historic tendency of the bourgeoisie to weaken state absolutism, particularly in the phase of modern imperialism, classical monopoly capitalism and late capitalism, the capitalist state leads to a hypertrophy of state functions which is almost unprecedented in the history of class society. The number of functions which become distinct, independent activities through a re-division of labor in basic productive and accumulation functions, grows uninterruptedly and with an accelerating tempo. No doubt the numerical growth of state apparatuses, the growth of material wealth, and the growing complexity and specialization of the administrative activities themselves are part of the explanation – but, for reasons already mentioned, we should not attribute to them the significance which bourgeois ideology postulates here.

At the same time, the average level of culture among large masses in society grows, including the working classes, although this culture may be less and less compatible with, or able to truly satisfy, the real needs of individuals as social beings. In this way, the objective potential grows to stop the further hypertrophy of the state radically, and to eliminate it, if the social interests of the associated producers rather than the interests of capital valorization begin to determine the developmental tendencies of the state. Precisely because the working class, which fuses more and more with the technical intelligentsia, itself acquires the growing capacity for self-management as the capitalist mode of production develops, a workers’ state could, after the downfall of capitalism, become a state tending towards generalized self-management in all social areas, i.e. a state which begins to wither away from the moment it is established, as Lenin so incisively and radically put in The State and Revolution [12].

The specificity of the capitalist state is not just defined by its special relationship to the working class, but also by its origins in the relationship of the bourgeoisie to the semi-feudal nobility in class struggles. This class conflict is closely related to an essential distinction between bourgeois and pre-bourgeois class society with respect to class rule, and between the capitalist class and the pre-capitalist ruling classes, to which we ought to pay attention in analysing the class nature of the capitalist state.

Pre-bourgeois ruling classes appropriated the social surplus product mainly for the purpose of unproductive consumption. The form of this appropriation varies according to the prevailing mode of production, but the goal is generally the same. Although accumulation as goal was not entirely absent in the history of pre-capitalist modes of production and ruling classes, it nevertheless played a smaller, subordinate role compared to the capitalist mode of production. The capitalist class is compelled by generalized commodity production, by privately owned means of production and the resulting market competition to maximize capital accumulation.

This limitless drive for enrichment (production of exchange-values as an end in itself) is made possible by the fact that the social surplus product takes the form of money. But that circumstance also means a contradiction emerges between different possibilities for investing the social surplus product which is specific to the capitalist mode of production alone (although it may also present to some extent in other types of society partly based on cash economy). The immanent tendency of capital to maximize accumulation (i.e. to maximize both the production and realization of surplus-value, and of the productive expenditure of realized surplus-value to capitalize it) collides with the tendency towards increased squandering of surplus-value on unproductive consumption by the ruling class and its hangers-on (“third parties”) on the one side, and with the growth of unproductive state expenditures on the other.

Just how much capital tries to restrict the unproductive waste of surplus value by individuals to “normal” limits but also “to the level of one’s social station” is well known, and requires no further comment here. It is important, however, to note that capital historically first experienced the unproductive expenditure of the social surplus-value as the waste of this surplus-value by a power alien and hostile to it, namely the semi-feudal absolutist monarchy, which distributed the social surplus product to the parasitic court nobility and the higher clergy, who were exempted from taxation. The battle of the rising bourgeois class to maximize accumulation of capital, or rather, remove all restrictions on its free development, was initially a struggle against the unlimited powers of the pre-capitalist state to levy taxes.

Thus originally its battle for the conquest of political power was fundamentally about the power to decide itself what fraction of surplus-value would be withdrawn through taxation from immediate capital accumulation by “functioning capitalists”, i.e. objectively socialized. It is indisputable, and cannot be dismissed as “mere empirical detail”, that all successful bourgeois revolutions between the 16th and the 19th century were sparked off by taxation revolts, and that all modern parliaments emerged from the fight of the bourgeoisie to control state expenditure.

The specific organizational forms of bourgeois political power, with its complex array of informal political structures (parties, clubs, pressure groups, networks and lobbies), trade associations representing different interests in economic disputes (which were at first mainly, if not exclusively, taxation disputes), elections and elected parliaments, as well as a permanent administrative apparatus and a suitable state ideology (including the doctrine of the “separation of powers”), is largely reducible to this basic conflict.

The real contradiction involved does not require elaboration in detail. It is clear that when, after its triumph over absolutism, the bourgeoisie did not smash the state machine but transformed according to its own needs, it also had to pay for this state as soon as there was no longer any major source of revenues other than the surplus-value appropriated by capital. When an actively organized labor movement did not yet exist, the “political life” of bourgeois society revolved mainly around the question of how much surplus-value should be withheld from private accumulation through government taxes (direct collectivization), at the expense of which fractions of the propertied classes, for what specific purposes, and with what financial advantages for particular fractions of the bourgeoisie. We can also view the question more generally in terms of the direct material basis for the existence of the state apparatus. Things are probably less cut-and-dried when we frame the problems in this way, and do not limit ourselves to abstract philosophical definitions. I think however that, if we do not reduce everything to individual corruption of government leaders and higher functionaries, it is no “vulgar Marxism” to ask the macro-economic (or macro-sociological) question: what, then, is the material basis (in capitalist society, the financial basis) of the state ? And the final conclusion of a materialist investigation of the class nature of the bourgeois state must return us to the Marxist axiom that the social class controlling the social surplus product therefore also controls the state.


The classical pre-capitalist state had its autonomous material basis. The Roman Empire of the slave owners, in its heyday, maintained the army (and the slave market) through conquests abroad. The court in ancient Asiatic modes of production lived on the plunder of their own producers, and on the plundering of foreign countries, and not on the gifts of the mandarins, priests or generals. The feudal king was originally the foremost landowner, and as such was supported by tributes paid from the surplus product appropriated by other lords.

But with the generalization of a cash economy, closely related to the victory of capital, i.e. with its penetration in the sphere of production, a state form appears which does not possess autonomous sources of revenue apart from taxing the population (in the last instance, this signifies collectivizing a fraction of the social surplus-product). The absolutist monarchy, very aware of its income source, for centuries battled (ideologically aided by its legal counsels) to maintain sovereign rights to taxation.

This battle, in which it sometimes united with fractions of the rising bourgeois classes, was ultimately lost. The unrestricted power to levy tax was broken, and since that time even the most “autonomous” or most “tyrannical bourgeois state (including Hitler’s Third Reich) failed to force unacceptable taxes on the bourgeoisie. In capitalist society, the individual capitalist obviously experiences every tax as an “expropriation” of a fraction of his own surplus-value, profit, or income. However much he might consider taxes as inevitable under given circumstances, or even a communal necessity, this expropriation always remains a burden, an obstacle to maximizing accumulation.

Since the capitalist class nevertheless also needs security for its capital, a genuine “role conflict” reproduces itself within this class as such, and within the consciousness of each individual capitalist, between the member of civil society and the personification of capital accumulation: two souls are continually at war in his Faustian breast. In different historical periods and in different capitalist states, this produced wide variations in attitudes among individual capitalists, from a very ordinary conformity to fiscal discipline to maximal tax evasion. These attitudes can be explained in part conjuncturally and in part historically. The conflict here is a conflict between bourgeois private interests and bourgeois social interests, not a conflict between the private interests of unspecified “citoyens” in general and unspecified “social interests” independent from class divisions. In the consciousness of other citizens, however false or reified, this conflict mostly appeared in that special form.

Workers knew very well that they did not have political equality when the right to vote was based on property ownership. It is an anachronistic error to project modern capitalist ideologies onto early capitalism or classical 19th century capitalism without regard for the specific state forms and political structures of-these periods. For citizens living in the period from the 16th century to the end of the 19th century, or even the beginning of the 20th century, it was self-evident that only men of property had full political rights. Only tax payers could have the full right to participate in decisions about state expenditure. Otherwise unrestricted taxation, i.e. collectivization of surplus- value, would have no limit.

This principle was not just articulated by bourgeois intellectuals, but also by countless bourgeois politicians of the past. Precisely for this reason, the contradiction between the private interests and the social interests of the bourgeois class, reflecting the contradiction between the expenditure of surplus value for immediate accumulation and for tasks which at best benefit this accumulation only indirectly, remained limited in two ways.

There was a time when all (or a great majority) of the owners of surplus-value were fully prepared to “sacrifice a little to keep the lot”, i.e. there was a general consciousness to defend the class and state interests together. The battle for the conquest of political power by the bourgeoisie was an historical process, in which this bourgeois class consciousness was formed and crystallised. On the other side, the whole bourgeoisie (with the possible exception of the “lumpen-bourgeoisie” who live by the direct plunder of the public purse) has a social interest only in offering as little as possible, i.e. an interest in a “poor state”.

This is not only because the entire bourgeoisie is interested in maximum accumulation, but also because the permanent poverty of the state is the solid material basis for the permanent rule of capital over the state apparatus. The “golden chain” of national and international debts tie the state inextricably to the rule of capital, regardless of the state’s hypertrophy and its autonomisation. Precisely because this dependence exists, regardless of how large the state budget may be – the fiscal crisis of the state can be greater given a budget which absorbs 40% of the national income than with a budget which only represents 4% of that income – it is a permanent structural dependence, without which the class nature of the bourgeois state cannot be fully understood. Because the specificity of the capitalist state derives from the class conflicts between the bourgeoisie, the working class and pre-apitalist classes, it is simultaneously rooted in the characteristics of the capitalist class itself.

The conflict between individual and social interests of the bourgeoisie, a conflict that centres on private expenditure versus social expenditure of surplus-value, is closely tied to the problem of the functional division of labour within national territory created by the specific organizational form of the capitalist state. Just as in pre-capitalist society the state commands a qualitatively bigger independent material basis than the capitalist state, the pre-capitalist state also features a much closer personal union between the top of the ruling class and the top of the state apparatus.

In the Roman Empire (even in Julius Ceasar’s decadent republic) the ruler was the largest slave owner. In the feudal state, the king was often also the most important landowner. In the absolutist monarchy, all important offices of the lord, the central administration and diplomacy were exercised by the most important families of the court nobility (and often the court clergy). In capitalist society by contrast, at least in the epoch of bourgeois ascendancy, this was impossible because most capitalists are busy with their private business and simply lack the time to specialize in affairs of state. Insofar as these tasks were not left to the decadent or bourgeoisified nobility (i.e. a rentier class), they were more and more taken over by a subdivision of the bourgeois class, namely by professional politicians and a growing bureaucracy [13].

Although the latter developed parallel to the absolutist monarchy, it could never assume anything other than limited leadership functions, except through entry into the aristocratic elite (noblesse de robe). This bureaucracy identifies to a large extent with “the state in itself”, and this identification resonates best with the ideology of the state as representive of society’s collective interests (in contrast to the traditional bourgeois conception of the state as representative of the propertied citizenry). The relative credibility of that ideology in turn depends on the degree of genuine relative autonomy of the capitalist state vis-à-vis “functioning capitalists”. This autonomy is obviously only relative, but it is not just a mere “appearance” insofar as it is based on the mentioned functional division of labour, and insofar as it does not necessarily imply a functional division of labour within the capitalist class (top civil servants can also be drawn from the small bourgeoisie, professionals etc.).

This division of labour is structurally rooted in the essence of capitalism, i.e. private property and competition. Private property and the pressure of competition create an objectively inevitable conflict within the capitalist class between private and social interests. A functioning capitalist forsaking his private interest consistently for a common capitalist interest would fare just as badly as capitalist (i.e. lose out in the competitive battle) as a functioning bourgeois politician who systematically neglected the common interests of capital in order to advance his own private interests – a bad, and from a class point of view incompetent politician. Under “normal” conditions of capital accumulation and valorization, the capitalist class delegates direct exercise of political power to professional politicians or top bureaucrats only if they provide basic guarantees that they will subordinate their private affairs to common class interests – which is something which functioning capitalists usually cannot provide.

If professional politicians fail in this respect, they suffer the same fate as Nixon or Tanaka. Even so, the relative autonomy of the capitalist state, shaped by private property and competition vis-a-vis functioning capitalists, should not be exaggerated. Especially to avoid platitudes and prevent abstract Poulantzian formulas about the “structural dependence of the state on the bourgeoisie” from degenerating into empty tautologies or simplistic petition principii, a few more aspects should be integrated into the analysis.

It is a mechanistic error to reduce the capitalist class to “functioning capitalists”. All owners of capital belong to it, including rentiers and all those that could live from their interest receipts, regardless of whether they work in some profession. The high income of top state functionaries and parliamentarians, as well as their opportunities for getting access to confidential information enabling risk-free speculation, almost automatically guarantees the inclusion of top politicians and top public servants in the capitalist class, regardless of background – because their position enables them to accumulate capital, which they do in most cases.

As owners of capital they then have a vested interest in the preserving the foundations of bourgeois order. In capitalist countries there are few top politicians or top public servants who, at the end of a successful career, have not become owners of substantial assets, stocks and share portfolios beyond owning their own home etc., and this “purely economically” makes them full members of the capitalist class. If in analyzing the structure of capitalist society we do not pay due attention to this aspect tying capitalists and the state together, for fear of “vulgar Marxism” or “descriptive verbiage”, we turn a blind eye to the pivot of society, i.e. capital itelf.

The universalized drive for enrichment and the cash economy are not “external” or secondary phenomena of capitalism but defining structural characteristics. No group in society can permanently escape their influence, and that includes professional politicians and bureaucrats. It is not a matter of individual corruption, but rather the inevitable effect of the intrinsic tendency of capitalism to convert every substantial sum of money into a source of surplus-value, i.e. capitalize it.

Only a state in which top politicians and public servants would not receive salaries higher than the average wage of workers would evade this direct structural bind. It is no accident that Marx and Lenin made this demand as basic precondition for real workers’ power, and that it is a norm that never has been, nor will be, realized in a capitalist state [14]. The special nature of the capitalist state is also defined by its hierarchical construction, more or less mirroring the structure of society. Key public servants are no more elected by staff at lower levels or the citizenry than company managers or employers are elected by employees, or army officers by their men. Between this hierarchial structure and great disparities in income there is again a structural nexus characteristic of capitalist society. Competition, the drive for private enrichment and the measure of success according to financial gain can hardly dominate social life while inexplicably playing no role at all in government affairs.

Again, the negative test can round off the analysis: there never was, and never will be, a capitalist state where the hierarchical principle is replaced by democratic elections in all key areas (police, army, central administration). Only a workers’ state could realize such a radical revolution in the make-up of the state.

Another characteristic of the capitalist state is the selection process leading to the choice of top positions in politics and administration. This selection process – based less on direct buying of state functions, nepotism, inherited prebends or reward for service to the head of state than was the case in pre-capitalist states – is governed to a large extent by the pressure to perform and competition, which dominate economic life.

It is important though to stress that in this selection process, those modes of behaviour and ways of thinking must win out which objectively make successful capitalist politicians and key public servants the instruments of capitalist class rule, regardless of their personal motivation or the self-image they happen to have. The functional character of the bureaucracy plays a decisive role here. One could imagine prison guards who occasionally help a prisoner to escape. But it is inconceivable that wardens who did this regularly would gain posts at the summit of the justice administration.

One pacifist lieutenant is possible, one might even have a few hundred of them, but a military general staff exclusively made up of committed pacifists is obviously improbable. Only those who exercise the specific functions which capitalist society requires with maximum efficiency can reach top positions. Only those who conform long-term to the prevailing laws, rules of the game and ruling ideology which the social order expresses and secures, can make a successful career in the system.

The weakest point of all reformist and neo-reformist conceptions of the democratic state (including the eurocommunists [15]) consists in not understanding this specific character of the capitalist state apparatus, inextricably bound up with capitalist society. As an extreme hypothesis, the possibility cannot be ruled out that an absolute majority in a normal parliament could somewhere vote to abolish private ownership of the means of production. But what can be safely ruled out is that the local Pinochets would not regard it as “violation of the constitution”, “contempt for basic human rights” or a “terrorist attack on Christian civilization”. They will promptly react like Pinochet, among other things with mass murder of political opponents, mass torture and concentration camps [16].

In so doing, they would of course take care to draw attention away from the abolition of all democratic freedoms. When the stakes are high, the eternal values of capitalist society turn out to be limited to private ownership, and the necessity to defend it legitimates every violation of even a merely formal popular sovereignity, every kind of violence and even declaration of war on one’s own countrymen (in the course of history, the Thiers, Franco’s and Pinochets have proved this in a “purely formal” way).

In this sense, it is pure utopia to try not only to use the capitalist state apparatus to abolish capitalism, but also to think this aspparatus could somehow be neutralized instead of needing to be replaced by a radically different state apparatus, so that the economic and political power of capital can be abolished. And finally, the management of ongoing state affairs should not be confused with the wielding of political power at the highest level. If in an enterprise various functions are delegated to specialist managers, this does not mean that the board of directors and the nig shareholders lose their power of command over the assets and the workers.

In the same way, just because the haute bourgeoisie leaves the day-to-day tasks of governing to professional politicians or key public servants, this does not mean that big business also leaves the most important strategic and political decisions to them. If we scrutinize some of the crucial decisions taken in the 20th century – such as for example the decision to appoint Hitler as imperial chancellor, the approval of the popular fornt government in France (almost at the same time as the approval of the Mola-Franco putsch against the Spanish popular front government); the green light for the start of world war 2 in Germany and Britain; the decision to orient the USA towards participation in the war; the decision of the USA and Britain to ally with the Soviet Union and later to break that alliance; the decision by the Western powers to reconstruct the economic power of Germany and Japan after world war 2 – then we find that these decisions were taken not in parliaments or in ministerial offices or by technocrats but directly by the captains of industry themselves.

When the very survival of capitalism is at stake, then the big capitalists suddenly govern in the most literal sense of the word. At that point, every semblance of “autonomy” of the capitalist state vis-à-vis business disappears completely. Engels’s maxim that the capitalist state is the “ideal-total” capitalist, because the real-total capitalist can only be an aggregation of the sectional interests of “many capitals”, must be understood and interpreted dialectically [17]. Here again, it is a question of applying the dialectic of the general and the particular.


1. A review of the discussion can be found in Bob Jessop, The Capitalist State (Oxford: Martin Robertson, 1982)

2. For a brief discussion of the theory of state monopoly capitalism, see Gerd Hardach, Dieter Karras and Ben Fine, A short history of socialist economic thought (London: Edward Arnold, 1978), pp. 63-68. See also Ernest Mandel, Late Capitalism (London: Verso, 1981), pp.515-522. On the concept of the national democratic state, see Michael Lowy, The politics of uneven and combined development (London: Verso, 1981), pp.196-198 and Henri Valin [pseudo. Ernest Mandel], Le neo-colonialisme et les Etats de democratie nationale, in Quatrième Internationale, vol.26 no.23, April 1968, pp.43-49.

3. Valorisation of capital (Kapitalverwertung) refers to the process whereby capital increases its value through production. In Marx’s theory, capitalist production is viewed as the unity of a labour-process creating use-values and a valorization process creating additional capital value (surplus-value). The newly valorized capital must however be realized through sales of output before it can be appropriated and thus effectively accumulated. Many English translations render Kapitalverwertung as “self-expansion of capital” or “realization of capital” but this is really misleading because capital cannot “self-expand” without exploitation of living labour nor does it “realize itself” through market-sales automatically. The same problem arises with Entwertung (devalorisation, i.e. the loss of capital value) which is often translated as “devaluation”.

4. Reification (Verdinglichung, thingification) was a term coined by Destutt de Tracy but in Marx’s sense refers both to the process whereby human attributes and relations are transformed into attributes of or relations between things, and forms of consciousness resulting from this transformation. The outcome is typically distorted, one-sided or false views of reality. Marx sees the cause of reification objectively in the mediation of social relations by market transactions, and subjectively in uncritical, dehistoricized thinking patterns.

5. Karl Marx, On the Jewish Question (1843), in Early Writings, Penguin edition, p.230

6. See Goran Therborn, The Rule of Capital and the Rise of Democracy, New Left Review 103 (1977), pp.3-41.

7. Frederick Engels, Anti-Dühring (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1947), p. 340.

8. Elmar Alvater, Zu einigen Problemen des Staatsinterventionismus. See Ernest Mandel, Late Capitalism, pp.479-480

9. See Karl Marx, Capital Volume 2.

10. Karl Marx, Grundrisse (Penguin edition), pp.530-531 etc.

11. See Ernest Mandel, Late Capitalism, pp.508-511.

12. Lenin, The State and Revolution, in Collected Works, vol.25, p.424f.

13. Bureaucracy in the sense of a social stratum of functionaries.

14. See Lenin, op. cit., and Marx’s writings on the Paris Commune.

15. See Ernest Mandel, From Stalinism to Eurocommunism (London: NLB, 1978).

16. See e.g. Les Evans (ed.), Disaster in Chile (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1974).

17. In Anti-Dühring, Engels states that the modern state “is only the organization that bourgeois society takes on in order to support the general external conditions of the capitalist mode of production against encroachments as well of the workers as of individual capitalists. The modern state, no matter what its form, is essentially a capitalist machine, the state of the capitalists, the ideal personification of the total national capitalist” (op. cit., p.338).
Ernest Mandel was a key Marxist economist and political theorist and longstanding leader of the Fourth International. He died in 1995.]

Socialist Register 2013: The Question of Strategy- Alex Snowdon

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In this two-part review essay, Alex Snowdon discusses Socialist Register 2013: The Question of Strategy, on how the left, internationally, has responded to austerity and crisis

Socialist Register 2013: The Question of Strategy (Merlin 2012), 380pp.

What is to be done? The question posed by the title of Lenin’s short book over a century ago is always demanding an answer. For socialist activists, seeking not only to understand the world but to change it, this is a matter of the greatest importance. It is, as the title of this volume puts it, the question of strategy. Fundamentally this means considering: who has the capacity to change the world, and how can they do so?

At a time of deep crisis across a number of overlapping fields – economic, imperial and ecological – the question of strategy demands urgent and persuasive answers. Yet the crisis of the system has not automatically generated a convincing response from the left. Indeed it is often suggested that the crisis of the system is matched by a crisis of the left. The multiple crises of capitalism, matched by the difficulties faced by the contemporary left in responding to them, are the background to this new, wide-ranging volume of nineteen essays.

Socialist Register began in the early 1960s as part of the post-1956 New Left. Every year there is a fresh volume, always with a theme, drawing together diverse contributions from an international range of socialist writers and activists. This review is an essay divided into two parts over two weeks: the material in Socialist Register’s 2013 volume demands a serious and considered response. Rather than attempting to summarise every contribution, however, I pay fairly detailed attention to several very stimulating contributions in particular. These engage directly with the question of strategy for the radical left in the ‘old capitalist heartlands’ of Europe and North America.

Three aspects are in the foreground here: protest movements (specifically Occupy and anti-austerity), left-wing electoral parties, and the revolutionary left. The relationship between these different elements is of fundamental importance if we are both to develop a successful strategy for defeating austerity and to create a new left capable of leading a challenge to the entire system.

Crisis, austerity, alternatives

Greg Albo’s ‘The crisis and economic alternatives’ is the opening essay and provides a useful framework for the whole book. Albo’s starting point is the systemic crisis of capitalism that has wracked the core economies since 2008, and the far-reaching political and social implications of that crisis. He observes that in North America, Japan and Europe this crisis is comparable in scale and severity to three earlier periods of ‘major crisis’: the Long Depression of 1873-96, the Great Depression in the 1930s, and the period of successive recessions which began in 1973.

One political consequence has been a renewal of critiques of neoliberalism, opening up space for political opposition. Albo refers to three trends in particular. The first is an upsurge of protest identified with the likes of Occupy and UK Uncut, ‘demonstrating a tactical inventiveness that the left very much could use’ (p.2). The second is the development of radical-left parties in the electoral arena in Europe. He mentions five by name, ‘Syriza in Greece, the Left Bloc in Portugal, the Left Front in France, the Socialist Party in the Netherlands, the Red-Green Alliance in Denmark’. Most commentators would also regard Germany’s Die Linke (the subject of an essay in this volume) as deserving inclusion in the list.

The third trend is Albo’s main focus: renewed interest in alternatives to neoliberal economics and the strategic question of posing an alternative to dominant austerity. He is concerned that the formulation of such alternatives has so far been ‘sputtering’ and hopes that the growth of anti-austerity struggles will expand the space in which alternatives can be debated. Albo develops some detailed ideas along these lines, but the most pertinent part of his essay is when he considers how alternative economic strategies, which can easily seem utopian and distant, might be translated into demands guiding the anti-austerity movement.

Albo notes that we do not yet have ‘focused campaigning demands animating the movements,’ so he proposes what these demands might be. This is not meant as a coherent ‘transitional programme’, but rather as ‘a distinctive socialist contribution to struggles over an exit to the crisis’ (p.11). It consists of five elements: debt audits and defaults, bank nationalisation and democratic control, a radical programme of public works, a ‘green new deal’ which links climate justice and anti-austerity struggles, and a number of transnational measures grouped under the heading ‘confronting the world market’.

Albo makes the important point that ‘the position of financial capital within the neoliberal power bloc makes [bank] nationalization under political control a struggle of the first order’ (p.12). It is a struggle that pushes beyond the limits of neoliberal capitalism. Nationalisation of the banks is viewed here as integral to breaking the power of finance capital. The demands for mass public works and a ‘green new deal’ also cut against the core tenets of neoliberalism, seeking to stimulate the economy through public investment rather than adopting policies of cuts and privatisation.

All this leaves open the question of agency – of how such demands can be pursued – which is a more central focus in a number of the other essays. Albo, however, is aware of the difficulties here: he observes that both the crisis and the resistance to it have proceeded in profoundly uneven ways in different countries, so that inevitably in some countries there is greater scope (but also greater urgency) for raising these demands in practical ways, as a direct challenge to nation states and the international institutions backing them. The PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain) are the countries where the crisis has been deepest and the challenge to austerity has been fiercest, therefore posing such questions most urgently.

Revolutionaries and new parties of the European left

This leads us on to the state of the anti-austerity left in Europe. A number of essays cover this territory. Charles Post’s ‘What is left of Leninism? New European left parties in historical perspective’ sounds audacious – and it is. One of the very strongest pieces in the whole volume, it goes back to the pre-1917 development of socialism to help understand current divisions and debates on the radical left. Post provides a sweeping historical survey of the twentieth-century revolutionary left. This includes the development of a number of mass Communist Parties in the early 1920s and, during the Stalinist era, their political degeneration. However, it is the analysis of the radical left since 1968 that I want to focus on here.

In 1968-75 there was substantial growth in Trotskyist and Maoist organisations. Shaped by the upsurge of student and worker militancy of those years, they offered an alternative to both social democracy and official Communism. There was a widespread view among revolutionaries that conditions were comparable to the post-1917 period and the growth of genuinely mass revolutionary parties was a viable prospect, just as happened in much of Europe (and to an extent beyond) during the years following the Russian Revolution.

These prospects were dashed as a period of working-class retreat began in the mid-1970s and the neoliberal offensive commenced. The European revolutionary left was thoroughly disoriented and suffered a series of splits. Some groups collapsed, others declined. The authentic non-Stalinist revolutionary left of the 1970s never grew to the scale seen in some countries during the Third International period of the early 1920s.

The downturn period saw a largely successful neoliberal assault on the working class, with a weakening of trade-union power, a shift in weight from the rank and file to the union bureaucracy and a decisive move rightwards in the Labour Party and its continental equivalents. This was complemented by the marginalisation of the radical left and its ideas (intellectually, Marxism came under sustained assault). Post observes that only two small but substantial revolutionary organisations survived the downturn period with membership largely intact and a credible base among militant workers: the British International Socialists (IS) and the French Revolutionary Communist League (LCR). Both of these were Trotskyist organisations; the Maoist left, meanwhile, had almost entirely collapsed by the end of the 1970s.

The IS, which became the Socialist Workers Party in 1977, adapted well to changing circumstances and took important initiatives like the Anti-Nazi League in the late 1970s, a united front that was successful in beating back the threat of the far right, while also sustaining a base in the trade unions despite vastly more difficult circumstances than during the early-1970s upturn in struggle. The SWP came through the 1980s and 1990s with a solid activist base intact, with roots in an admittedly weakened organised working class, so that in the early years of this century it could play an impressive role in anti-capitalist and anti-war movements (and for a time in new left-wing electoral formations). The LCR, similarly, maintained a credible layer of working-class activists throughout the 1970s and 1980s, so that it was able to intervene in fresh workers’ struggles from the mid-1990s onwards and, a little later, in the anti-capitalist movement.

Post argues that these organisations were about as successful as could reasonably be expected in harsh circumstances. The aspiration to develop new mass revolutionary parties that could challenge reformists (in parliament and the trade unions) for leadership of the working-class movement was, however, unfulfilled. The revolutionary left remained a small minority current, marginal to the broad labour movement.

This was not simply, argues Post, because there was a period of defeats for the working class or a crude result of economic and social changes. It was largely due to circumstances beyond revolutionaries’ control, but these were as much to do with the nature of the working-class movement as anything, i.e. the political and organisational domination of the working class by reformism, manifested in the weight of the trade-union bureaucracy, the strength of long-established social-democratic parties (like the British Labour Party) and the role of Communist Parties which had long since accommodated to the system. The revolutionary left repeatedly found itself confronting these obstacles within the broader movement. When a new wave of anti-capitalist mobilising developed at the start of this century, radical consciousness tended not to translate into specifically Marxist ideas and allegiance to the revolutionary left.

This brings us to the development of new parties of the European left over the last decade or so. The space for such parties was created primarily by the capitulation of social democracy to neoliberalism and, to a lesser but still important degree, the collapse of the Communist parties after 1989 and the fact that revolutionary organisations were too small to fill the gap. The character of these parties was also influenced by the development of generally street-based protest movements. In the early 2000s, with the rapid growth of anti-capitalist and anti-war movements, Italy’s Party of Communist Refoundation (PRC) held out great promise. However, the PRC made enormous concessions to parties to its right, which effectively finished it as a credible left-wing force.

Since that time a number of new left-wing parties have emerged, some of which have since collapsed or fragmented, while a few have been sustained fairly successfully. Germany’s Die Linke, formed in 2007, resulted principally from a fusion of an old Communist left (based mainly in the East) with the left-wing of social democracy disenchanted with the neoliberal trajectory of that political tradition (based mainly in the West). Die Linke has had some difficulties recently and it is currently unclear how it will develop.

Some parties, like the earlier (2004-07) version of Respect in England and Wales and the Scottish Socialist Party, have been quite different in character: the revolutionary left has been the principal driving force, lending them considerable radicalism, but without the benefits brought by large-scale cracks in the mainstream parties of social democracy or in the union movement. Reformism has remained a more powerful block than many revolutionary activists anticipated, despite a deepening loss of faith in mainstream politics among millions of people and the poor record of social democracy in office.

Newer parties of the left are sometimes held up as shining lights for us to follow, but Post argues that they have in fact suffered from a whole series of problems and, furthermore, they are incapable of successfully moving beyond the old divide in the socialist movement between reformism and revolutionary politics. Most of them have had an important degree of success, some continue to be successful, and they have generally been worthy of support and participation. Yet they have had difficulty grappling with such questions as how to connect parliamentary and electoral activity to extra-parliamentary activity, how to overcome the weaknesses of the trade unions, and how to prevent sliding to the right and into compromises with neo-liberal politics.

Crucially, Post argues, it is simply impossible to be successfully both post-social-democratic and post-Leninist. Ultimately, it is still necessary for the most advanced, revolutionary elements of the working class to organise independently in their own organisations, separate from reformist parties. This is one of the central lessons of 1917 and the period which followed the Russian Revolution. The new parties of the left have not ‘transcended the pre-1914 social-democratic “twin pillars” organisational norm where the party focused on electoral politics, while the union officialdom directed day-to-day class struggle in the workplace and beyond’ (p.191). These new parties have reproduced the old challenges of social democracy, dating back to before 1914: ‘the contradictions of entering capitalist governments, the relationship of electoral and routine trade union activity and mass, extra-parliamentary struggles, and the issues of war and peace’ (p.191).

None of this remotely means that the new left parties are unimportant and should be disregarded. It does, however, strongly suggest that independent revolutionary organisation and the united front method, whereby revolutionaries work with those who have reformist consciousness in extra-parliamentary struggles over shared demands, are as necessary as ever. Post looks to ‘the revival of the rational core of Leninism – the transcendence of the division of labour between party and unions and movements through the organisation of radical and revolutionary activists who attempt to contest the forces of official reformism over the conduct of mass struggle’ (p.192).

Finally, Post points out that the political development of left-wing parties is shaped by two especially important factors: the outcome of extra-parliamentary struggles against austerity, and the relative strength within these parties of radical anti-capitalists, who can counter the pressures which are liable to pull such parties in a more moderate direction. Revolutionaries, if they can organise effectively, can influence the direction of credible left-wing parties where they exist. In all countries, whether there is such a party or not, revolutionaries have the challenge of shaping anti-austerity struggle beyond the realm of electoral politics and strengthening the radical anti-capitalist pole within those movements.

Occupy and the new anti-capitalist left

Two essays engage with issues arising from the Occupy movement, which emerged from September 2011 onwards, first in New York and rapidly spreading nationwide (and to an extent beyond the US). These two particular contributions look especially at the experiences of Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Oakland, placing them in context, and sketching conclusions that might be more generally applicable.

Occupy Wall Street signposted a resurgence of radical protest in the US and generated political debate about social and economic inequality. The Occupy movement can be seen as opening up new possibilities for the American left. After the initial Occupy moment – galvanising, exciting, hopeful – different directions were (and are) possible. There are naturally different ideas about what the movement is for, what it can become, and how it should organise. Jodi Dean’s ‘Occupy Wall Street: after the anarchist moment’, highlights the strengths of Occupy, but also notes that initially attractive qualities – inclusive, leaderless, participatory, and consensus-seeking – brought serious problems too. The focus on ‘consensus’ masked political and tactical differences, so there was a tendency to fudge issues that actually needed thrashing out and resolving in order for action to be taken.

The need for democratic structures which can guide effective action was too often evaded. If there are not accountable leaders or leadership bodies then unaccountable leaders emerge. The rhetoric of being ‘leaderless’, however well-intentioned and genuine, is soon complemented by unaccountable leadership and weak democracy. This reduces the capacity for collective action around coherent demands.

In New York the biggest Occupy-related protests resulted from trade-union participation. However, without coherent strategy there was a failure to build fully on the successes. Instead the tendency was for fragmentation into disparate campaigns and projects. Without a clear, agreed strategy for reaching out to broader layers of support, sustaining the occupation was increasingly seen as an end in itself. The movement was liable to turn in on itself; ‘obsessively reflecting on its failures adequately to include’ (p.54). Questions of process became more important than questions of action.

Dean observes that Occupy ‘mobilised not a proletariat bound to the factory but the proletarianised, extended throughout uneven, unequal cities’ (p.55). This is a valuable insight: in a period of low levels of industrial struggle, protests and occupations are the primary expression of resistance. But that does not mean abandoning any notion of working-class struggle or politics: it is a question of forms of resistance, shaped by the realities of today’s working class and the legacy of defeats for the organised working class during the long neoliberal offensive.

Dean suggests, provocatively and, in my view, correctly, that the occupiers effectively formed a ‘self-selected vanguard’ in a broader struggle, taking on the kind of responsibilities Lenin attributed to professional revolutionaries or Bolshevik cadre. She writes that they were ‘establishing and maintaining a continuity, a persistence, that enables broader numbers of people to join in the work of the movement. This continuity combats the fragmentation, localism and transitoriness of much of contemporary left politics’ (p.56).

In the Leninist tradition the two crucial points about any vanguard are that they are organised in a coherent and collective body, and that they are in constant interaction with wider layers of the class. This is the basis for needing two interconnected things: revolutionary organisation and the united front. Occupy was, by its very nature, a politically-disparate phenomenon. It was not as (relatively) politically and ideologically homogenous as a revolutionary organisation. It also struggled to establish forms of long-term organisation, limited instead by the transient character of a specific tactic: the occupation of public space.

Occupy activists’ relationship with wider layers of support was complex. Some elements were outward-looking and determined to build wider (and long-term) alliances, especially with working-class organisations. However, there was also a strong pull, due to both material and political pressures, to be inward-looking and overly focused on simply maintaining the occupation itself (and on its own internal dynamics).

Part two of this review will continue the discussion of the problem of tactics and strategy in relation to Occupy, trade-union activism, radical-left electoral politics, and the possibilities for a united resistance to austerity.
– See more at: http://www.counterfire.org/index.php/articles/book-reviews/16489-socialist-register-2013-a-question-of-strategy#sthash.eVs3ywLW.dpuf

On fascism and fascists-Khaled Fahmy

Posted by admin On July - 22 - 2013 Comments Off on On fascism and fascists-Khaled Fahmy


In focusing on the Muslim Brotherhood’s fascist tendencies do we not risk losing sight of the largest elephant in the room — the perils of army intervention in the name of protecting liberty?
In March, I wrote an article here in response to an article written by Wael Abbas, author of the blog Misr Digital, in which he had warned of the threat of a spread of armed militias belonging to different groups, from the Brotherhood to the Ultras to thugs, expressing apprehension at what he viewed was the rise of militarism and fascism in Egypt. Abbas concluded his article with a comparison between our state a year ago (when the article was written) and the state of Germany in the last days of the Weimar Republic in the 1920s, on the eve of the Nazis coming to power.

In my own article, I mentioned that a comparison between the Brotherhood and the Nazis might be disturbing, yet it might also be useful if used to analyse and understand the current moment. And I argued that there are many differences between the Brotherhood and the Nazis, most importantly the fact that the Nazis had already exercised effective control over the institutions of official violence — the military and police — before they gained political power, while the Muslim Brotherhood lacked control over these two key institutions even after being voted into office.

And I believe that the Brotherhood’s record in power clarifies how this factor, i.e. their inability to control the army and the police, rendered their leaders paranoid and anxious. In light of the ongoing revolution and daily protests against their policies, the Brotherhood felt a need to reach an understanding with these two institutions. And indeed, in every incident of street confrontations between protestors and the police, the Brotherhood sided against the people.

Brotherhood MPs denied that the police had used live ammunition during the interior ministry clashes; they turned a blind eye to the dire transgressions committed by the police in the events of Port Said II, and the Hisham Qandil cabinet aborted every serious initiative for security sector reform, all the while flirting with the police to the extent that Mohamed Morsi even thanked them for their role in the January 25 Revolution!

The Brotherhood’s relationship with the army was no different. They forbade their followers to chant against the military; after Morsi had launched his presidential term by forming a fact-finding committee to investigate human rights violations that took place under the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, he refused to make the results of the report public after finding out that it was strongly critical of the army; awarded Field Marshal Tantawi and his deputy, Anan, with the highest accolades, the flirtatious attitude towards the army culminating with the constitution maintaining all the economic, social and political perks that the army previously enjoyed, and even added some more.

And after they thought that they had succeeded in neutralising these two key institutions, the Brotherhood dedicatedly sought to control the public domain. Thus, they drafted laws to control civil society organisations; to control demonstrations; to gerrymander electoral districts in favour of their candidates; and to control the judiciary, all in the shadows of a constitution that they drafted in an exclusionary and flawed manner.

Due to all that, in addition to the nauseating discourse systematically waged against Shia Muslims and Copts, the people finally rose in one large uprising on 30 June. In this revolution, Egyptians strongly expressed their rejection of the Brotherhood’s project, a project that was seen as restricting the public domain and clamping down on the people’s hard-won liberty. On 30 June, Egyptians from all walks of life rose to oppose a group that was steadily undermining the principles of their revolution while holding on only to the narrowest definitions of democracy, that which reduced it to ballotocracy.

And after the Brotherhood had refused to revise their policies in the wake of the 30 June revolution, and after their leaders had incited their followers to violence, and after such violence had indeed erupted in Manial, Bein El Sarayat, Sidi Gaber, and Ramsis, I understand the apprehension of many towards allowing the Muslim Brotherhood to continue to exist in the political scene except if the group fundamentally revised its philosophy, its self-image, its message and its practices. I also understand the necessity of holding Brotherhood leaders legally accountable for their inciting to violence. And I understand further the demand of many to ban Brotherhood leaders from running for or assuming public posts, similar to the ban imposed on leaders of the ousted National Democratic Party.

And yet do we not, by focusing on these demands, ignore the elephant in the room? Are we not ignoring the army and its blatant intervention in the political process since 3 July?

In the article I previously mentioned, which I wrote in response to Wael Abbas, I tried to warn that our concern about the Muslim Brotherhood’s fascist tendencies should not distract us from the risks we face when dealing with the military. I concluded my article, which was titled “Weimar Republic or 18 Brumaire” with an allusion to the coup d’état conducted by Napoléon Bonaparte and his nephew Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte in the years 1799 and 1851, respectively, and ended by saying that “my fear of the validity of our comparison (between our current state and the state of the Weimar Republic) is not exceeded by anything other than my fear that the more accurate comparison is not that between the Brotherhood and the Nazis in 1933, but rather between our situation today and the status of France on the eve of the eighteenth Brumaire.” And unfortunately, my fear was valid. The army’s intervention on 3 July sent a confusing message to the Brotherhood. Instead of the clear message sent to them by millions on the street, which said, “You have failed; you must leave,” the army’s message effectively said, “You are victims, and we will always persecute you.”

What complicated matters further was that the public, which throughout SCAF’s rule chanted against the military, is now flaunting General El-Sisi’s photos and is taking him to be their prophet and saviour. The people forgot, or decided to forget that the army, whose jets they now dance under in Tahrir Square, is the same army that conducted virginity tests on female protestors, trampled the “blue-bra girl”, abducted and tortured protesters in the Egyptian Museum and the Cabinet headquarters, performed surgical operations on protesters in military hospitals without anesthesia or sterilisation, and above all, has run, and continues to run, an economic empire that is estimated to be equal to a quarter of the country’s GDP.

This revolution erupted for the sake of liberty and it was able to topple Mubarak and to end his rule that had humiliated and impoverished the people. And on 30 June we revolted once more when we felt that the Muslim Brotherhood was slamming the door of liberty in our faces. We will not allow the army to steal away our revolution yet again or to oppress us and exercise its will over us in the name of protecting our liberty.

Hania Moheeb, sexual harassment and the revolution-Elly Badcock

Posted by admin On July - 21 - 2013 Comments Off on Hania Moheeb, sexual harassment and the revolution-Elly Badcock


Hania Moheeb, sexual harassment and the revolution-Elly Badcock

Egyptian feminist activist Hania Moheeb speaks to Elly Badcock about her experiences of sexual harassment and the challenges and hopes for Egyptian feminists and the revolution
In the sunny days following the Dangerous Ideas for Dangerous Times festival, I was lucky enough to meet and interview Egyptian feminist activist Hania Moheeb. Speaking out about her brutal experiences of sexual harassment, Moheeb discussed the challenges and hopes for Egyptian feminists and the revolution more generally.

Describing herself as ‘one of millions of Egyptians protesting since 2005’, Moheeb was never involved in any particular movement or political party within Egypt. When asked how she started becoming active politically, she is clear: “I didn’t choose feminism. Feminism chose me. I was subject to a cruel incident of sexual harassment on the second anniversary of the revolution…and I was one of the very first women to speak out about this in Egypt”. Moheeb said she saw this as a crucial political task because “Egyptian society was very ready to keep a blind eye to such incidents, to deny them, because daily sexual harassment in the streets of Egypt is such a common practice”.

The millions who watched the Egyptian revolution unfold and felt a sense of hope and inspiration are often quite shocked to realise that women’s liberation hasn’t kept pace with other changes in Egyptian society. I ask Moheeb why she thinks this is. “This kind of harassment”, she answers, “is nothing but normal. The post-Mubarak regime is an Islamic one, and they have traditionally been against women’s rights” – she reconsiders her answer – “let me put it this way, they have their own vision of women’s rights which is not the progressive view in Egypt.”

She recalls growing up in 1970s Egypt, and says firmly that the Muslim Brotherhood have consistently used sexual harassment as a tool to keep women off the streets. “My decision to speak out wasn’t just because of the terrible attack I was subject to, but because of years of anger”.
Islamism and Neoliberalism

Given that the right in Britain consistently use Islam’s supposedly inferior treatment of women to justify imperialist war and brutal Islamophobia, Moheeb’s analysis makes me uncomfortable. Prominent women like Laura Bush and Cherie Booth lamented the Taliban’s treatment of women to whip up support for the war in Afghanistan, as did liberal feminist organisations including America’s Feminist Majority Foundation. In the last few years, the far-right in Britain have seized on the burqa and niqab to justify a full-scale war on Muslims, rhetorically and physically.

I discuss this with her, and she is quick to draw a line between political Islamism and the Islamic religion. She delineates the Muslim Brotherhood from the ‘moderate’ (another uncomfortable world in recent months) al-Azhar, one of the oldest and most prominent Islamic institutions in the world. “The Muslim Brotherhood have their own way of thinking – it’s not the Islamic way. They don’t represent Islam. They represent themselves and that’s that”.

It is, of course, verging on useless to draw immediate parallels between Egypt and Britain. Here, Muslims are public enemy number one; under surveillance from the Government, institutional racism from the police, and under constant pressure to proclaim themselves moderate and distance themselves from terrorist attacks. In Egypt an Islamist party rules, and discussions about the nature of Islam within a predominantly Muslim population are not a thinly veiled excuse to perpetuate racism.

Nonetheless, I’m initially surprised at Moheeb’s swiftness to attribute problems of sexual harassment and women’s oppression to Islamism rather than neoliberalism. Our later discussion clarifies the issue for me, as Moheeb elaborates on other challenges facing women that are symptomatic of a broader neoliberal crisis – the limited access to public services, for example.

“Part of my story is not just the nightmare I lived in Tahir, but the nightmare I lived in the hospital. Medical rights and healthcare rights are so important – and nobody is getting them in Egypt, but especially women”.

She feels that the campaign against sexual harassment and sexual violence is a tactical battle that links together a number of different challenges women face; “we are using this issue because if I can’t walk safely on the streets then I won’t be able to go to work, I won’t be able to go to school, I won’t be able to live a normal life even as a housewife going to the grocery store next door.”

Globally, she argues, this is an all-too-common story. She talks about her discussions with Italian and American comrades who are also lamenting the backlash on women’s rights, and is insistent that “there is something about the economic and political ideology ruling the world that is against women, that is patriarchal, and is against many of the values we fight for.”`

She talks about how vital it is that women attempting to dismantle this ideology forge greater alliances, not only to learn from each other – an absolutely crucial task – but also to provide support in a battle which takes its toll emotionally and politically.

We finish by looking at the prospects for revolutionaries in Egypt today – a subject on which Moheeb is quietly hopeful. “I don’t want to say the revolution is going slowly but surely, but we are learning from our mistakes and that’s so important. One of the most important outcomes of this revolution has been the levels of awareness rising – even amongst schoolchildren. Everybody can suddenly express themselves. We’re learning about consensus, teamworking, and how to do politics.”

Although we’ve discussed the differences and tensions between different groups of revolutionary activists, Moheeb is keen to emphasise the importance of collective organisation and building mass movements.

“There are basic demands for all Egyptians – social justice and anti-corruption. These are common amongst everyone, and we can begin working on them right now and then have our differences out.”

It’s an instructive lesson for a fragmented left; we may have differences in strategy, in outlook, in belief. At times these differences need to be aired openly – but we have one crucial task at hand, to unite around issues that strike a chord with millions of ordinary people. If we can do that, the possibilities are limitless.
– See more at: http://www.counterfire.org/index.php/articles/41-interview/16569-hania-moheeb-sexual-harassment-and-the-revolution#sthash.DOefJMqp.dpuf

The Revenge of History: The Battle for the Twenty-First Century – Dan Poulton

Posted by admin On July - 21 - 2013 Comments Off on The Revenge of History: The Battle for the Twenty-First Century – Dan Poulton


Dan Poulton welcomes Seamus Milne’s excellent collection of articles eviscerating ruling-class views on everything from the ‘War on Terror’ to the economic crisis

Seamus Milne, The Revenge of History: The Battle for the Twenty-First Century (Verso 2012), xxii, 298pp.

Seamus Milne’s latest book, a collection of his Guardian articles covering over a decade of international and domestic politics, is both an impressive counter-narrative to rampant right-wing propaganda and an exquisitely pitched valedictory cry for the left. Milne’s relentless critique of Western domestic and foreign policy runs parallel to more than a decade of lies, obfuscations, misdirection and spin from the right-wing media, the political establishment and the neoliberal order as a whole. There is so much highly condensed information and analysis in the book and so many pithy rebuttals of imperialist and neoliberal myth that any review of it is necessarily a taster of the richness of his prose and the clarity of his analysis.

Milne takes apart argument after argument in these superb, forensically condensed essays, which expertly combine close reading of geopolitical events with an unwavering humanitarianism and far-sightedness that is rarely seen in the mainstream media, and would give most far-left commentators a run for their money. From US neocons insisting that the ‘liberation’ of Iraq would be a ‘cakewalk’, to former US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld predicting the invasion to last only six days (and Blair claiming fewer civilians would die than in any year under Saddam), Milne exposes just how devastatingly misplaced ruling-class confidence was in the early years of the ‘War on Terror’, arguing that ‘it was the opponents of war who were again proved correct’ (p.xiii).


From the collapse of the Soviet Union to the beginning of a more multi-polar world with the reassertion of Russia’s military presence on the global stage, the rise of China and India and social-democratic resurgence in Latin America, to the neoliberal crisis of 2008; from the wars in the former Yugoslavia to sanctions against Iraq and the War on Terror; from the Seattle anti-globalisation movement to the 2010 student revolt and the Tottenham riots of 2011, Milne provides a blow-by blow running commentary consistently putting a left-wing perspective that is firmly anti-imperialist and pro-social justice. Wherever movements rise up to challenge the neoliberal imperialist order, Milne is their unwavering champion.

Referring to the post-Seattle, pre-crash years he writes, in the book’s introduction, ‘in grassroots campaigns and social forums across the world the case was hammered home that the neoliberal order was handing power to unaccountable banks, private corporations and Western controlled global institutions, fuelling poverty and social injustice, destroying communities and the environment, eviscerating democracy, undermining workers’ rights – and was both economically and ecologically unsustainable’ (p.xiii). Milne is an expert of using the right wing’s moments of honesty against them, as when he writes: ‘the meltdown at the heart of the global economic system, described by Bank of England governor Mervyn King as the worst financial crisis in capitalism’s history, turned a powerful case against the neoliberal order into an unanswerable one’ (p.xv). He also puts paid to neoliberal fatalism, writing of the Communist era, ‘no economic and social model ever came pre-cooked. All of them, from Soviet power and Keynesian welfare state to Thatcherite-Reaganite neoliberalism, grew out of ideologically driven improvisation in specific historical circumstances’ (p.xxii).

The book opens with a stark note of foreboding, when, following the 9/11 attacks, Milne writes, ‘if it turns out that Tuesday’s attacks were the work of Osama bin Laden’s supporters, the sense that the Americans are once again reaping a dragons’ teeth harvest they themselves sowed will be overwhelming’ (p.2). The Revenge of History charts the imperialist turn of the UK political establishment, reminding us that former Prime Minister Tony Blair framed intervention in Yugoslavia as a ‘war of values’ (p.4). Blair’s government, he writes, ‘has emerged as the most interventionist British administration since decolonisation’ (p.5). We hear one US Democrat describe post-‘98 Anglo-American attacks and sanctions on Iraq as ‘infanticide masquerading as policy’ (p.6). Despite the best attempts of the mainstream media to white-wash the UK’s imperialist bent in humanitarian colours, Milne will not let them forget the dark legacy of British adventurism:

‘The fact that Iraq, Zimbabwe and Sierra Leone are all former British colonies doesn’t trouble the cheerleaders of the new ‘doctrine of international community’, enveloped as they are in a blanket of cultural amnesia about the horrors of Britain’s colonial past. It is less than half a century since British soldiers shot dead striking Sierra Leoneans on the streets of Freetown, nailed the limbs of Kenyan fighters to crossroads posts and posed for pictures with the severed heads of Malayan guerrillas’ (p.6).

It is remarkable, when reading these essays, to think that the ruling class could ever portray their intentions as anything even approaching humanitarian concern. We hear Ariel Sharon saying that the way to tackle pro-Palestinian protesters is to ‘cut off their testicles’ (p.8) and former Israeli PM Ehud Omert confesses: ‘if the day comes when the two state solution collapses and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights … the state of Israel is finished’ (p.142).

The US and the UK’s allies are shown to be the bloodthirsty neocolonialists the far left has always made them out to be. ‘Israel’s decision to launch its devastating attack on Gaza on a Saturday,’ writes Milne of 2008’s Operation Cast Lead, quoting  Israel’s biggest selling newspaper Yedioth Aharonot, ‘was a “stroke of brilliance … the element of surprise increased the number of people who were killed.” Whilst another Israeli paper agrees, “we left them in shock and awe”’ (p.176).

Neoliberalism after the fall

Time and again the failures of the post-’89 neoliberal order are laid bare:

‘Migration into western Europe is the inevitable product of pauperisation and conflict at its periphery, in an arc stretching across the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe through the Middle East and North Africa. The free-market globalisation policies promoted by Britain and other EU governments have decimated jobs and living standards throughout those regions, while conflicts for which Britain and its allies share responsibility have become a veritable engine of refugees’ (p.14).

The calm but firm tones of Milne’s writing occasionally give way to barely concealed anger, as he rails against ‘American-proscribed shock therapy’ posing ‘under the banner of reform’, whilst describing a post-Soviet Europe of ‘mass pauperisation and unemployment; wild extremes of inequality; rampant crime; virulent anti-Semitism and ethnic violence, all combined with legalised gangsterism on a heroic scale and the ruthless looting of public assets’ (p.17).

Even on their own, the facts he brings to light are startling:

‘By the late 1990s,’ he writes, ‘national income had fallen by more than 50 percent (compare that with the 27 percent drop in output during the great American depression), investment by 80 percent, real wages by half and meat and dairy herds by 75 per cent. Indeed, the degradation of agriculture [claimed one author] … worse even than during Stalin’s forced collectivisation of the countryside in the 1930s’ (p.17).

With these statistics borne in mind, we are perhaps not so surprised to find that, by 2001, ‘86 per cent of Russians regret the dissolution of the Soviet Union’ (p.18). But Milne does not glorify the Stalinist regimes that gave American imperialism a run for its money in the post-war years. He merely points out the hypocrisy of a Western capitalist narrative that spares no ink highlighting the horrors of Nazism and Communism but omits to outline the barbarity of its own colonialist past.

He argues that colonialism represents the ‘third leg of twentieth century tyranny’, writing that, ‘there is no major twentieth-century political tradition without blood on its hands.’ For Milne however, ‘the battle over history is never really about the past – it’s about the future’ (p.42).


The concept of the ‘revenge of history’ that provides the book’s title is never explicitly drawn out, but is a constant theme of Milne’s prose. Briefly stated it could mean that every victory of the capitalist class sows the seeds for further instability and the fomentation of resistance, both actual and ideological. But the question as to whether the gains of the ruling classes actually constitute some sort of Pyrrhic victory over the oppressed and exploited remains openly contested. This is the urgent message at the heart Milne’s writing over the last decade and more.

There’s plenty of fuel for the fire of resistance present in the rise of widespread anti-systemic views in society as a whole. Milne comments on a NOP poll for Channel 4 which found that most people believe multinational companies have more power over their lives than the British government, and that the corporate giants care ‘only about profits and not the interests of the people in the countries where they operate’ (p.20).

The War on Terror

Milne reveals the UK and the US to be the rogue states they really are, pointing out that between them the two powers have taken military action without United Nations’ approval five times, up to and including the invasion of Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Sudan, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan (p.25). Nine-Eleven is treated with an appropriate balance of respect for a Western tragedy and the proper contextualisation of the events themselves, so often submerged beneath the tide of albeit understandable outcry. Milne’s urgent warning at the time could not have been more succinctly put, though of course he was not the only one sounding a note of forewarning:

‘The September 11 atrocity was certainly an unprecedented act of non-state terror,’ he explains. But the actions of the conspirators were ‘also unquestionably the product of conditions in the Arab and Muslim world for which both Britain and the US bear a heavy responsibility, through their unswerving support of despotic regimes for over half a century’ (p.29).

However, Milne’s warnings go deeper, and are routed in an understanding of the geopolitical balance of forces secured over the last century:

‘The anti-colonial storm that swept away Western direct rule in the twentieth century cannot be reversed,’ he tells us. ‘If the US and Britain are set on a continuing course of armed intervention, punitive sanctions and multinational colonies, that is a recipe for indefinite war’ (p.32).

Likewise, are we reminded that the present imperialist epoch of the early twenty-first century is in conformity with America’s earlier strategy of ‘benevolent domination’ from the 1990s (p.36).

Milne deftly skewers the bombast of a state ‘with less than one twentieth of the earth’s population,’ which is nonetheless ‘able to dictate to the other 95 percent and order their affairs in its own interests, both through military and economic pressure’ (p.36). Writing in 2002 Milne neatly foreshadows the Arab Spring nearly a decade hence, noting the ‘likelihood of social eruptions in client states like Saudi Arabia which no amount of military technology will by able to see off’ (p.37). The ‘War On Terror’ also had its unlikely harbinger in one Al Gore, who said that around the world the US had created fear over, not what the ‘terrorists are going to do, but at what we are going to do’ (p.43). All these voices Milne evokes like a radical composer conducting a musical polemic.

The Crisis

Articles covering the financial crisis make for particularly insightful reading. The 2008 crash, we are told, ‘delivered the funeral rites on the corpse of high Thatcherism – strangled to death by the very monsters it brought forth from the deep in the reckless frenzy of Big Bang deregulation more than two decades ago’ (p.148). Another hidden gem is Milne’s observation that, conjured up from the depths of the crisis, ‘Marx’s analysis of capitalism has been hailed by everyone from the German finance minister to the Pope’ (p.151). Confirming the anti-systemic mood, a Financial Times Harris poll reveals that ‘large majorities believe the financial crisis has been caused by “abuses of capitalism”, and in Germany, 30 percent of people blame the “failure of capitalism itself”’ (p.151).

Meanwhile in Britain, after the public bailouts of UK banks, the Tories seize upon every opportunity to turn the tables on those who point to the failures of the financial system as the source of the crisis:

‘For the Tories, this is a happy return to their small-state comfort zone. The argument is no longer about the failure of the market, but of the state; not the reckless greed of the City, but the cost of public sector pensions; not the devastating impact of the recession, but the deficit. And the sharp increase in government debt is now somehow attributed to a burst of Labour fecklessness, rather [than] the billions spent bailing out the banks and paying for the slump’ (p.163).

In what is described as a ‘kind of political coup’ (p.229) the political establishment force through austerity measures whilst blaming Labour profligacy. ‘In reality,’ Milne reminds us, ‘the ballooning of Britain’s budget deficit mirrors the average deficit rise across the thirty three most developed countries, from 1 per cent of GDP in 2007 to 9 per cent in 2009, as tax receipts slumped and dole payments mushroomed in the wake of the 2008 crisis’ (p.230).


It’s almost embarrassing how many sacred cows of Western ruling-class ideology are slain over the space of around three hundred pages. Iraq brings forth an understandably angry trashing of mainstream narratives regarding this century’s most controversial conflict. ‘It’s not only the hundreds of thousands of dead and 4 million refugees,’ he notes with studied calm. ‘After seven years of US (and British) occupation, tens of thousands are still tortured and imprisoned without trial, health and education have dramatically deteriorated, the position of women has gone horrifically backwards, trade unions are effectively banned, Baghdad is divided by 1,500 checkpoints and blast walls, electricity supplies have all but broken down and people pay with their lives for speaking out’ (p.193). Thus, in this steady but resolute manner, no ideological prisoners are spared.

Elephants in Rooms

The Revenge Of History also traces the more positive developments of late twentieth and early twenty-first-century politics, paying due credit to what Milne describes as ‘the decade’s last globally significant shift’. Here he is talking about ‘the tide of progressive social change that has swept Latin America’:

‘Driven by the region’s dismal early experience of neoliberal economics, and assisted both by US absorption in the War on Terror and the emergence of China, a string of radical socialist and social democratic governments have been swept to power, attacking social and racial injustice, challenging US domination and taking back resources from corporate control’ (p.199).

And by 2009 the already gargantuan financial crisis had put the dampers on any chance of a vehement trumpeting of the fall of the Berlin Wall and beginning of the collapse of the Soviet Union twenty years before. According to Milne, the rather muted celebrations displayed none of the ‘ideological confidence and enthusiasm’ one would have expected only a few years before (p.218).


Milne may be a staunch defender of progressive causes, but he stares strategic reality in the face, particularly in his analysis of the way forwards for the movement in Britain. The 2010 student revolt is rightly championed, but Milne must have been amongst the first to point out that students and other protesters filled a gap where organised political opposition should have been. Yet he also notes the progressive policies of Unite the Union’s General Secretary Len McCluskey, and his stated aim of constructing an ‘“alliance of resistance” around the trade unions, still broader than the campaign that saw off Margaret Thatcher’s poll tax’ (p.233).

Perhaps the most salient message to take from Milne’s The Revenge of History is that, as with the left’s arguments around the ‘War on Terror’, alternative voices like those sometimes hosted in The Guardian, that were once mocked as a ‘babble of idiots’ for opposing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, later became wholly vindicated, by the facts as well as by public opinion (p.276).

But if it is the history articulated by the radical left that is to finally have its ‘revenge’ over the blinkered, self-satisfied narratives of the global ruling elites, it is necessary to transform the ‘babbling idiocy’ of anti-austerity politics into the kind of sound, progressive arguments of which Milne is such an eloquent proponent.
– See more at: http://www.counterfire.org/index.php/articles/book-reviews/16572-the-revenge-of-history-the-battle-for-the-twenty-first-century#sthash.bREAOWmk.dpuf

Revolution at the crossroads:Reading the Comintern’s Fourth Congress-Review by Jennifer Roesch

Posted by admin On July - 21 - 2013 Comments Off on Revolution at the crossroads:Reading the Comintern’s Fourth Congress-Review by Jennifer Roesch


We are all fond of prophesying the future course of the revolution. But the fact is that the only thing we can predict is that our prophecies will not hit the mark. The revolution will very likely take place in quite another manner than we imagine.”
— Gregory Zinoviev

“But we must take advantage of every moment of respite from fighting, from war, to study and to study from scratch.”
— Vladimir Lenin
Toward the United Front:
Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922
By John Riddell
Haymarket Books, 2012 · 1,310 pages · $55.00

WHEN READING history, there is a frequent tendency to pass retrospective judgment and attempt to draw clear lessons for our times. This is particularly true for those of us who wish to follow Marx’s injunction to understand the world in order to change it. This exercise, however, runs into some immediate difficulties. The most central, perhaps, is that history does not neatly repeat itself, giving us the chance to try it again with all the “right” answers. At the same time, there are those who argue that conditions are so different today that revolutionaries have little to learn from those who organized in contexts very different from our own.

I would suggest a different approach—one that treats history, especially revolutionary history, as neither political primer nor mere historical artifact. Instead, we should attempt to assimilate the experience of those who came before us by appreciating that experience in its own context. In painstakingly transcribing and synthesizing multiple translations of the proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Comintern, John Riddell has given us the opportunity to do precisely this. Here, in 1,300 pages, are the ideas of revolutionaries living through both hopeful and dangerous times.

In the space of five short years, many of them had lived through revolutions, including one that had succeeded in Russia, and they had developed an immense faith in the capacity of the masses of ordinary people to struggle. At the same time, they had also witnessed the betrayal of internationalism by the largest and most revered parties of socialism—parties to which many of them had belonged. And they had seen the initial revolutionary wave recede and could see the dark forces of reaction threatening to destroy all that they had fought for. Balanced between an old order attempting to reconstitute itself and a future struggling to be born, these revolutionaries faced enormous challenges.

It may seem daunting to immerse oneself in these debates. They are frequently contentious, almost always long, and populated by an almost dizzying cast of characters. But by providing an accessible introduction, clarifying annotations and very helpful biographical notes on the speakers, John Riddell has provided us with a roadmap to this conference. And I promise that if you spend some time with these men and women, learn their world, and grapple alongside them with the questions they faced, you will find our own world illuminated in new ways. You may not find the answers to the questions, challenges, and debates we face today. But you will likely approach them with new insight and renewed conviction.

A review cannot possibly do justice to the full range of discussion taken up in this volume, and it is certainly no substitute for reading it in its entirety. This is a task that I would highly recommend readers take up. Here I simply aim to outline some of the main threads of discussion that took place at the Congress. One of the most striking features of the proceedings is the open and extensive clash of ideas. Three hundred and fifty delegates attended the conference from sixty-one different countries. These delegates frequently included representatives of minority factions within the individual parties, as well as invited guests. The discussions lasted for thirty days and involved extended plenary sessions, as well as individual commissions devoted to areas of work and issues in particular countries. Presentations ranged from forty-five minutes to two hours and individual contributions from fifteen to forty-five minutes. At one point, a speaker from France requested, and received, forty-five minutes to present his dissenting viewpoint. Frequently, interjections from the audience would either compel a speaker to finish or appeal to the chairperson for more time. This reflected the seriousness and urgency with which all participants approached these debates.

Revolution at the crossroads
Two factors formed the backdrop to the proceedings. On the one hand, the Russian Revolution had opened up a revolutionary process with reverberations that were felt everywhere that people faced exploitation and oppression. So, in addition to the immediate revolutionary wave that swept through Europe, there were anti-colonial revolts in Africa and Asia that gave rise to newly formed Communist parties. With a reputation for an uncompromising opposition to imperialism and colonialism, the Comintern became a reference point for oppressed people. So, for example, the celebrated poet of the Harlem Renaissance, Claude McKay, explained that he felt compelled to speak at the conference because, “The Communist International is for the emancipation of all workers of the world without distinction of race or color. And this stand of the Communist International is not just written on paper, as is the Fifteenth Amendment of the United States of America, it is something real.” Thus, the Fourth Congress was facing the question of how to build genuinely mass parties in which the working class could lead all the exploited, oppressed, and dispossessed in a struggle for liberation.

At the same time, the Fourth Congress took place in a period in which the ruling class had seized back the initiative. The initial revolutionary wave had ebbed and the working class had experienced bitter defeats. One delegate after another described the impact of counterrevolution. There are haunting appeals for support for hundreds of comrades imprisoned and facing execution, and vivid descriptions of the rise of fascist gangs in Italy. And, of course, Russia had emerged from a period of civil war victorious, but with the working class battered and exhausted. All of this had an impact on the working class and on the revolutionaries themselves. A German delegate, Karl Becker, described the party as having a “depreciated morale.” This mood was, in turn, a reflection of broad layers of workers having lost confidence.

Karl Radek, a Russian Marxist active in the Polish and German socialist movements, summed up the problem quite aptly: “What characterizes the world we now live in is that although world capitalism has not overcome its crisis, and the question of power is still objectively the core of every question, the broadest masses of the proletariat have lost the belief that they can conquer power in the foreseeable future. They have been forced onto the defensive.” The united front policy, which constituted the bulk of the discussion and debate at the Congress, grew out of the recognition of this reality. While workers did not have the confidence to engage in offensive battles, there were defensive struggles that they needed to fight in order to maintain even minimal living standards and democratic rights. The ability to wage these fights was hampered by the fact that the working class was politically divided. The previous period had seen bitter divisions between the reformist social-democratic parties, which had sided with the counterrevolution and played a critical role in saving capitalism, and the revolutionary parties—formed initially as breakaways from the social-democratic parties—that believed workers must seize power. While the revolutionary parties had grown rapidly, the traditional reformist parties still retained the allegiance of the majority of workers. Despite these divisions, most workers instinctively felt a desire for unity in action.

Toward the united front
The united-front policy was aimed at achieving this unity in action while maintaining the political independence of the revolutionaries. In his introduction, John Riddell traces the origins of the united-front policy not to Russia, but to the struggles of the most advanced sections of the working class in Germany. The tactic had first, and successfully, been used to fight against a right-wing military coup (the Kapp Putsch) in the spring of 1920, when all the leading parties of the left called upon the working class to engage in mass strikes, demonstrations, and armed action to put down the coup. Later that year, metalworkers in Stuttgart, influenced by the German Communist party (the KPD), called on the leadership of their union to carry out a joint struggle for an improvement in living conditions. The KPD campaigned vigorously in support of this proposal and won wide support and credibility as a result. The KPD then built on this experience to generalize the call for united action in an “open letter” to all workers’ organizations.

The Fourth Congress was dedicated to generalizing and elaborating this policy throughout all the parties of the Comintern. In a meeting of the executive committee in preparation for the Fourth Congress, Trotsky prepared a report on the united front that remains to this day one of the best distillations of the policy. Though Trotsky himself played a minimal role in the Fourth Congress itself, it is worth reviewing what he wrote, as it offers an exceptionally clear framework for assessing the debates at the Congress. In his report, Trotsky laid out several guidelines that must be conceived as interdependent and inseparable parts.

First, he recognized that the primary goal is to win the majority of the working class: “The task of the Communist Party is to lead the proletarian revolution. In order to summon the proletariat for the direct conquest of power and to achieve it the Communist Party must base itself on the overwhelming majority of the working class. So long as it does not hold this majority, the party must fight to win it.”

This cannot be achieved by dissolving into the other working-class organizations. In order to win influence, the revolutionaries had to first form their own party. “Any members of the Communist Party who bemoan the split with the centrists in the name of “unity of forces” or “unity of front” thereby demonstrate that they do not understand the ABC of Communism and that they themselves happen to be in the Communist Party only by accident.”

However, having successfully split with the nonrevolutionary organizations, the question remained of how to influence the mass of workers who still looked to those organizations for leadership. In the partial and immediate struggles for reforms, the revolutionaries must take the initiative and must be the most vigorous in attempting to secure unity of working-class forces in these fights.

The working masses sense the need of unity in action, of unity in resisting the onslaught of capitalism or unity in taking the offensive against it. Any party which mechanically counterposes itself to this need of the working class for unity in action will unfailingly be condemned in the minds of the workers. The problem of the united front—despite the fact that a split is inevitable in this epoch between the various political organizations basing themselves on the working class—grows out of the urgent need to secure for the working class the possibility of a united front in the struggle against capitalism. For those who do not understand this task, the party is only a propaganda society and not an organization for mass action.

This means making temporary alliances with other organizations and leaders within the working class for joint action. These efforts must be sincere. They are not a maneuver to “expose” the reformist leaders, but a genuine attempt to unify the fighting ranks of the working-class in order to best develop its strength and confidence. Trotsky explains that this must mean entering into negotiations with the leaders of reformist parties.

Does the united front extend only to the working masses or does it also include the opportunist leaders? The very posing of this question is a product of misunderstanding. If we were able simply to unite the working masses around our own banner or around our practical immediate slogans, and skip over reformist organizations, whether party or trade union, that would of course be the best thing in the world. But then the very question of the united front would not exist in its present form. The question arises from this, that certain very important sections of the working class belong to reformist organizations or support them. Their present experience is still insufficient to enable them to break with the reformist organizations and join us.

Unity of the front consequently presupposes our readiness, within certain limits and on specific issues, to correlate in practice our actions with those of reformist organizations, to the extent to which the latter still express today the will of important sections of the embattled proletariat.

Revolutionaries have only to gain from such initiatives:

The greater is the mass drawn into the movement, the higher its self-confidence rises, all the more self-confident will that mass movement be and all the more resolutely will it be capable of marching forward, however modest may be the initial slogans of struggle. And this means that the growth of the mass aspects of the movement tends to radicalize it, and creates much more favorable conditions for the slogans, methods of struggle, and, in general, the leading role of the Communist Party.

The reformist leaders are afraid of the mass struggle because it has the power to get out of their hands. They are above all committed to stability and peaceful means to secure gains for the working class within the limits of existing society. Therefore, they seek electoral alliances and union negotiations. By seeking to engage them in a united front, revolutionaries can test the different methods of struggle.

The reformists dread the revolutionary potential of the mass movement; their beloved arena is the parliamentary tribune, the trade-union bureau, the arbitration boards, the ministerial antechambers. . . . We are, apart from all other considerations, interested in dragging the reformists from their asylums and placing them alongside ourselves before the eyes of the struggling masses. With a correct tactic we stand only to gain from this. A Communist who doubts or fears this resembles a swimmer who has approved the theses on the best method of swimming but dares not plunge into the water.

These efforts do not mean that unity in action will always be achieved: “But it is necessary that the struggling masses should always be given the opportunity of convincing themselves that the non-achievement of unity in action was not due to our formalistic irreconcilability but to the lack of real will to struggle on the part of the reformists.”

Problems and debates around the united front
However clear Trotsky’s guidelines, in real life this process entailed many difficulties and much confusion. Within the Comintern, there did not yet exist tempered organizations with the combination of patience and dynamism necessary to successfully pursue such a policy. The Comintern was trying to create such organizations in an extremely compressed time frame. The experience of revolution had created many competing trends within the working class as it tried to find its way forward. Perhaps the biggest difficulty was that there was significant opposition based among a layer of impatient revolutionary workers who fiercely resisted compromise and negotiations. These “ultraleftists” represented a significant trend within the workers’ movement and one that exerted a significant pull on many of the party leaders; these revolutionary workers needed to be patiently argued with and won. By the time the Fourth Congress met in 1922, most though not all, agreed in theory with the idea of the united front. What this meant in practice, however, was subject to wide interpretation, and even within the leadership there existed different emphases.

At the start of the Congress, Zinoviev, a leading Russian Bolshevik and the president of the Comintern, declared that, “We can say without any exaggeration that the most urgent task of our time, and perhaps of our entire epoch, is to defeat Social Democracy, which is the most important factor in international counter-revolution and a barrier to the victorious advance of the international working class. It is on this task that our Communist parties, newly appeared on the stage, must focus their attention above all.” But in a short written greeting read during the same session, Lenin laid a very different emphasis, arguing that, “The main goal is still to win over the majority of workers.”

In an abstract sense, both of these statements are true and they reflect different aspects of the same question. But what one emphasizes in any given situation can influence how effectively the policy is pursued. In a situation in which fascism is beginning to mobilize its forces, Zinoviev’s emphasis on the dangers of social democracy can easily provide political cover for those comrades who want to abstain from a united front with the social democrats or who would equate social democracy and fascism. Again and again, delegates throughout the conference wrestled with how to get the balance right. At other points, Zinoviev himself displays an immense capacity to articulate the demands of the working class and the need for the revolutionary party to be sensitive and responsive to those. At one point he responds to a delegate who argues that they must abstain from strikes and save their strength for propaganda and revolution:

Anyone who has a feel for the working class, whose devotion to it is not merely subjective but based on some understanding of its life, who has worked in this class and with it, will reject such childishness. Precisely because we wish to struggle for proletarian revolution, we must take part in every strike, leading the way and fighting for every partial demand. We are revolutionaries. That does not mean that we are ignorant of the need to better working class conditions, be it only to the extent of a drop of milk for the children. We are against reformism, but not against bettering the lives of the working class. . . . In this sense, we view the united-front tactic as not merely a momentary occurrence, an episode, but as something that, under the given conditions of capitalism, will endure for an entire period.

Here, Zinoviev is arguing that revolutionaries must be consistent in their attempts to carry out the united-front tactic. It is not simply a set-piece demand meant to expose the reformist leaders, but a genuine policy of striving for unity in action. And yet, as you read the proceedings you can almost palpably feel the frustration of many of the delegates with the tempo of struggle and a reluctance to carry out the patient and systematic work necessary. There is a fear of getting bogged down in negotiations with the leadership of the other parties and losing the initiative. Thus, some of the delegates stress the need to create a united front “from below” and to work directly with the masses.

Ruth Fischer, a leader of the left current within the German KPD, expresses this worry in her comments: “The first error is to place too much emphasis on these sacred negotiations at the top. What is the real reason for this exaggerated emphasis, this worship of negotiations and working together with the leaders? This harbors a very dangers illusion, an illusion whose consequences lead to revision of communism and the revolution.” She worried that if the Communists spent too much time in negotiations they would lose touch with the more radical sections of the working class and miss an opportunity to propel the struggle forward. So, for example, when the social democrats (the SPD) cut off negotiations, Fischer considered this a good thing that led directly to the formation of factory councils and a more offensive phase of the struggle. For her, then, the united-front tactic is a necessary evil that should be passed through as quickly as possible.

Fischer was part of the Lefts in the German Communist Party leadership who—prodded by Karl Radek, Bela Kun, Zinoviev, and other Comintern leaders—had supported the “theory of the offensive” in 1921, a policy designed to, according to Kun, “force the development of the revolution.” In late March 1921, the German party leadership directed its members to provoke an uprising of the German working class. The majority of workers failed to heed the party’s call. CP workers tried to use force to get workers to come out on strike, calling workers who refused to support them “scabs.” Tens of thousands of workers quit the party. The theory of the united front was in part a response to the disaster of what came to be called the March Action.

Many of Fischer’s German comrades responded effectively to different aspects of her criticisms of the united front policy. Ernst Meyer argued that negotiations at the top and unity at the bottom cannot be counterposed. “Fears have been voiced that our cause has been harmed by negotiations at the top, substituting for a process carried out by the workers as a whole. Lost from view here is the fact that negotiations at the top should have no aim apart from making possible the action of the workers as a whole. . . . In many cities and districts, common work—common struggle—was made possible only when the leaderships came together to negotiate and discuss.” He argued that the factory council movement that Fischer wanted to elevate above the united-front negotiations was, in fact, only made possible as a result of that tactic: “We would never have seen a factory-council movement of this scope if we had not consistently applied the united-front tactic in order to grow closer and closer to the masses and if we had not driven ever deeper into the factories and unions and the working class masses as a whole.”

What many of the delegates insisted upon was a levelheaded and honest admission that the revolutionary forces had been weakened, that the SPD leaders still held the allegiance of large numbers of workers, and that these leaders must therefore be engaged with. Thus Karl Becker, another German delegate, pointed out that comrades were too quick to want to break off negotiations:

After an action, after any major betrayal by the Social-Democratic leaders in some united-front action, tendencies are immediately evident among entirely good comrades who say that this common action, these negotiations with the Social-Democratic leaders must be the last. From now on, we will carry out the united front only from below, they say. . . . But, so long as the leaders have masses organized behind them, we will have to continue to negotiate. We have applied these methods successfully in the factory-council movement and simultaneously organized the united front among masses.

Karl Radek put the question even more starkly:

We now know one thing in general: we are the weaker side. We face great barriers on the road to the masses; Social Democracy seeks to isolate us from its workers. When the pressure from the masses is great enough, they must negotiate with us. And, when they negotiate, we have an interest in breaking this off only at the point when we have compelled them to set the largest possible masses in motion or when it has already been clearly established for everyone that they do not want any action.

The rise of fascism
The necessity of fighting for united action was heightened by the rise of fascism in Italy. The Congress proceedings show the delegates attempting to analyze this new phenomenon. The delegate Amadeo Bordiga—the leader of the Italian Communist Party at the time—described how the fascists systematically and violently smashed all organs of working-class defense. He explained how, once these organizations were physically broken up, “the peasants and proletarian forces were now terrorized and knew that if they dared mount any kind of campaign against this group, the Fascists would repeat their expedition with much stronger forces against which no resistance was possible.”

Other speakers attempted to politically analyze what this new development represented. Nikolai Bukharin, a leading Russian Marxist theoretician, emphatically argued that fascism must be recognized as a unique development that must not be underestimated. “Fascism is not merely an organizational form that the bourgeois had in the past,” he said. “It is a newly discovered form that is adapted to the new movement by drawing in the masses. Among other things the bourgeoisie understands that it too requires a mass party. . . . It is an entirely new organizational form.” Radek attempted to develop this point by explaining how fascism’s victory rests on a new social base. It must seek out forces that “are different from those that the high ruling class can find in its own social milieu. This is achieved by turning to the layers of the middle class. . . . It recruited forces from the layers that are closest to the proletariat among those discontented because of the War.”

The fascists’ ability to mobilize a mass base, capitalize on the weakness of the socialist Left, and offer a solution, however illusory, to an exhausted and demoralized population was what led Bukharin to describe it as the greatest defeat for socialism. Many of the ideas that Trotsky was later to elaborate in his analysis of fascism in the 1930’s can be found in their initial stages in the Fourth Congress. Tragically, however, some of the worst aspects of the Stalinist response to that same period can also be found in the comments of delegates at the Congress—in particular, those of the Italian leader Bordiga.

Bordiga rejected the idea that fascism represented any new kind of organizational form. Not only did he not distinguish the program of fascism from the regular workings of bourgeois democracy, but he also said it is no more dangerous a variant of bourgeois rule than Social Democracy. He argues that their program has “merely repeated the banal themes of democracy and Social Democracy.” He underestimates the danger that fascism poses to basic democratic rights, arguing that, “It is by no means compelled to destroy the democratic institutions” and dismissively referring to democracy as “only a collection of deceptive guarantees.”

This analysis is then used to justify a somewhat stunning passivity coupled with a refusal to build any kind of united fight against the fascists. In his introduction, John Riddell describes the full magnitude of the Italian Left’s failure to mount a resistance:

Neither the CP nor the SP attempted to build a broad and effective defense against the Fascist rampage. The CP was focused on the contest with its Socialist rival, while the SP relied on the formal protections promised by a state apparatus that was, in fact, complicit in Fascist violence.

He describes how an antifascist organization, Arditi del Popolo (People’s Squads), developed independently of the parties, eventually grew to 20,000 members, and scored important successes. The Communist leadership not only refused to work with this organization but banned its members from joining, thus missing an important opportunity to build a united front. This failure is all the more shocking when one reads the description of how the Communist forces were already being attacked.

Bordiga described a moment when 100,000 fascists held Rome under occupation and the party print shop was raided. While all the editors escaped out a side door, the editor in chief was “quickly put up against the wall, in order to be shot, while Fascists drove back the crowd. Our comrade only escaped thanks to the fact that the Fascists got news that the other editors had fled over the roof and rushed up to capture them.” And yet, after this report, Bordiga told the conference that “Our party is in pretty good shape,” and reported that a leading worker believed that “we will now be able to work better than was the case before.”

Radek was forceful in his advice to the Italian CP: “It will have to mobilize the proletarian and petty-bourgeois masses against Fascism. Theoretical resolutions on the united front and reflections on Fascism are not enough. Yes, even the heroism of a small band of Communists is not enough. We must be the masses’ cry for liberation.” Tragically, this advice went unheeded and instead his stern warning turned prophetic: “If our Italian Communist friends want to have a small, pure party, I must tell them frankly that a small, pure party can be readily accommodated in prison.”

It is devastating to read these debates with historical hindsight and to know the consequences when united action wasn’t pursued. However, in 1922 the future was still balanced between revolution and counterrevolution, and there were places where Communists were scoring important successes. In Germany, where the united-front policy was most consistently pursued, the KPD was able to translate some defensive victories into a renewed working-class militancy. The balance of forces tilted back in a favorable direction as workers began to regain a sense of confidence and raise more offensive demands.

The workers’ government debate
This success posed new challenges and opportunities for the revolutionaries as they attempted to broaden and accelerate the struggle. It is in this context that the slogan of the workers’ government, a question that dominated the conference, first arose. In Germany, the development of the struggle had led to electoral successes for the social-democratic parties. But it had not yet led to the reappearance of workers’ councils (which had first emerged in 1918, but had then disappeared). The KPD faced the question of whether it would be willing to join a coalition government made up exclusively of workers’ parties. Supporters of this policy saw it as an opportunity to pursue the united front at a governmental level.

At the start of the Congress, there was widespread agreement with raising the slogan of a workers’ government. But there were both difficult tactical questions involved, particularly in Germany, as well as multiple interpretations of what the slogan even meant. Zinoviev argued that, “The workers’ government slogan is a specific and concrete application of the united front tactic under specific conditions.” But his initial formulation of the workers’ government slogan defined it as “the same thing as the dictatorship of the proletariat. It is a pseudonym for a soviet government. It is more comfortable for an ordinary worker, and that’s why we want to use this formula.”

This unfortunate formulation failed to satisfy anyone. The “Lefts” saw it as a pacifying slogan that sowed illusions that a parliamentary road to socialism might be possible. On the other side of the debate, the slogan’s strongest advocates believed that the “pseudonym” formulation was inadequate. They argued that a workers’ government should be distinguished both from the traditional social-democratic parliamentary approach and from the dictatorship of the proletariat (defined as a government based on soviets, or workers’ councils). Instead, they proposed that under certain circumstances a workers’ government could carry out an anticapitalist program that could become a point of departure for a mass struggle for a proletarian dictatorship.

The German delegates, who were dealing with this question in the most concrete form, were the most articulate in developing this conception and debating its nuances. Ernst Meyer made the case for the workers’ government slogan as a means to bridge the gap between a defensive common struggle of the working class and an offensive struggle for working-class power. He argues that “if this slogan is taken up and adopted by the majority of the working class, and if they launch a real struggle for this slogan, it will soon become clear that the attempt to achieve a workers’ government. . .will lead either directly to the dictatorship of the proletariat or to an extended period of very sharp class struggles”

Radek echoed this point and added that this approach was particularly necessary in the advanced countries of Europe where social-democratic traditions are much stronger. He notes that the workers’ government is not “a historic necessity but a historic possibility,” one that is “based in the fact that the worker masses in the West are not politically amorphous and unstructured, as they were in the East. They are structured in parties, and they cling to those parties.” Here, Radek recognized the challenges faced by revolutionary parties in countries where bourgeois democratic traditions had deeper roots, and where reformist parties maintained real credibility among a majority of workers. This produced a different set of problems for revolutionaries organizing in that context.

Nonetheless, Radek and others emphasize, it is important to guard against the temptation to downplay the necessity of revolutionary struggle. He argues that we can “banish this danger through the character of our agitation,” but that it would be “nonsense to reject in doctrinaire fashion the possibility of such a situation.” Nonetheless, the Comintern delegates were operating in unchartered territory when discussing this possibility. And it is clear, even from the discussion that took place, that there is much room for confusion. As Riddell points out, the debate was unfortunately complicated by the executive committee’s description of pro-capitalist governments run by workers’ parties (such as the Labour government in Britain) as a workers’ government.

However, many of the most cogent advocates of the workers’ government slogan took pains to distinguish these two conceptions. Meyer argued that, “The workers’ government differs fundamentally from a Social-Democratic government, in that it does not merely carry the label of a socialist policy but actually carried out a socialist-communist policy in life. A workers’ government will, therefore, not be parliamentary in character, or will be parliamentary only in a subordinate sense. Rather, it must be carried out by the broad masses.” In this scenario, a workers’ government would come into sharp conflict with the ruling class and a period of intensifying contradictions and struggles would ensue.

The discussion of this question was complex and contradictory and resulted in numerous revisions to the resolution on it. The final resolution incorporated a criticism of “false” or “illusory” workers’ governments, emphasized the necessity of mass struggle to underpin any workers’ government and stressed its transitional character in opening up a process of revolutionary struggle. Nonetheless, the discussion retained a degree of ambiguity. In many ways, though, this ambiguity was inherent in the situation; the Comintern delegates were responding to rapidly evolving conditions with flexibility and creativity. The Polish delegate Michalkowski (Adolf Warszawski) made a valuable contribution when he observed that:

If the Executive has not yet been able to come up with a finished formulation of this slogan, in my opinion that is because two different things are being confused. We are trying both to advance the slogan and at the same time give it a form, which is quite impossible, because the form will depend on revolutionary conditions that permit it to find a broader foundation than is possible today.

In other words, the Comintern was attempting to respond to rapidly evolving conditions while still absorbing the lessons of the previous wave of revolutionary activity. It was an enormously difficult task and the seriousness of the debates that took place at the Congress reflected this.

Tribune of the oppressed
Lenin once wrote (in What Is To Be Done?) that the revolutionary party should aim to be the tribune of the oppressed, and it is in this regard that the Comintern really broke new ground. Where the social-democratic parties of the Second International had capitulated to imperialism and national chauvinism, the Comintern retained an implacable opposition to colonialism and a defense of national democratic rights. Because of this, they won a hearing with all the world’s oppressed peoples. The challenge for the new Communist parties was to prove that they could play a leadership role in the fight for all of the exploited and oppressed. This would require serious attention and systematic work around these issues, a compelling strategy for liberation, and a sensitivity to and collaboration with existing struggles. They were not always successful in these aims, but the attempt is inspiring and far-reaching. It gives a glimpse of the possibilities that are opened up in a period of revolutionary upheaval.

Discussions at the Congress focused on women, peasants, youth, the Black struggle in the United States, and the anticolonial struggle in the East. It would be impossible to describe all of the issues taken up in these discussions. I will limit myself here to one general point and a few comments on the discussion of women’s work and the anticolonial struggle.

The proceedings of the Congress bring to life the voices of those who have been historically marginalized in the discussion of the early Communist movement. These are men and women who had great confidence in the potential of the Comintern and believed that Marxism provided the best hope for liberation. But they could also be fierce in their criticisms, confident that they brought unique insight and knowledge to the discussion, and insistent on the need for greater theoretical clarity and attention to issues of oppression. The clash of ideas and the range of experiences is sometimes dizzying, occasionally frustrating, but always hopeful. The sense of something new being born is palpable in some of these sessions.

The discussion of women’s work lasted one day, was limited to presentations without discussion, and, in many ways, feels anachronistic in today’s world. And yet, the emphasis on the need for special attention on how to bring women into the revolutionary movement retains relevance today. Clara Zetkin presented the opening speech. While she took pains to be clear that the Women’s Secretariat was not an independent organization, she did argue that attention must be paid to the specific issues facing women and that this work was most effectively carried out by women themselves:

However much Communist work among women must be firmly linked ideologically and organically to the life of the party, we nonetheless need special bodies to carry out this work. . . . There is no getting around the historical fact that the broad masses of women today still live and work under special social conditions. . . . Just as we must reckon with the specific psychology of the masses of poor peasants. . .so we must also reckon with the specific psychology of the broad masses of women.

This approach, however, encountered real resistance within the Comintern. Many felt that it was enough to involve women in the general work of the party and that special bodies were not necessary to encourage this. So, for example, the Polish party “considered it enough that the most effective women fight in the rank and file and that women be present in the mass movements and strikes.” But there were also examples of pioneering work being carried out under immensely difficult conditions. Varsenika Kasparova, a Russian delegate who was in charge of women’s work in the East, described the headway that had been made in organizing women who suffered particularly oppressive subjugation. Interestingly, she argues that where there is a broad national-liberation movement, the Communists must involve themselves in this and engage with women’s rights groups currently influenced by bourgeois nationalist leaders.

Like the comrades leading the sessions on women’s work, delegates from the East felt that they had to fight for time and attention to their issues. Thus, Manabendra Roy of India took the Congress to task for not already having taken up the Eastern question. He argued that the question “should have been taken up in connection with the capitalist offensive, for when you speak of this offensive, you should not ignore the reserves on which capitalism is based.”

The contributions of Roy, in particular, and the other delegates from the colonial and semicolonial countries, are impressive for the depth, clarity, and concreteness they lend to the discussion. While the Second Congress had affirmed the necessity of supporting the national-liberation movements against colonialism, the contributions in this discussion lent substance to this resolution and explored the complexities of the question. Roy’s comments challenge the Comintern delegates to understand the distinctions encompassed in the term “colonial and semi-colonial countries.” He insists that it is not enough simply to support the national-liberation movements, but that attention must be paid to the class character of the different struggles, the development of the national bourgeoisie, and the conflicts within its different sections, and the relationship between imperialism and an incipient local capitalism. And he foregrounds the necessity of developing the independent capacity of the working-class forces within the broader national struggle, arguing, “The time will come when these people,” refering to the bourgeois maximalists, “will surely betray the movement and become a counter-revolutionary force. We must educate the other social force, which is objectively more revolutionary, in such a way that in can shove aside the others and take the leadership.”

Many of the observations offered in these sessions anticipate future developments and these speeches deserve to be read carefully. Beyond their inherent analytical value, they show the potential for the Comintern’s understanding to be enriched by the interplay between the different parties, especially that between those of the oppressor and oppressed nations.

Assessing the Comintern
Riddell notes in his introduction that two-thirds of the Communists present at the Fourth Congress were killed in Stalin’s purges. The Fourth Congress was the last in which such a democratic exchange of views took place. Over the next decade, the Comintern would be transformed into an instrument of Stalinist foreign policy. This reality has led many to retrospectively conclude that the attempt to build a “centralized world party of revolution” was doomed to failure. But while the proceedings of the Fourth Congress painfully illustrate the difficulties involved in such an attempt, they also resist this interpretation.

Many of the central leaders of the Comintern recognized the difficulties entailed in the project. Zinoviev, speaking of the need for an “International of action, a centralized international world party” admitted that “It will take years and years to achieve this in life.” Lenin repeatedly worried that the Russian party, which had scored the greatest victories, had not learned “how to present our Russian experience to foreigners.” He spoke again and again of the need to study, to assimilate the experience of the Russian Revolution—and he understood that this could not be easily or quickly done.

And yet, reading the proceedings, one senses how linked the problems in the various countries were. The capitalist offensive, the rise of fascism, the need to build united fronts—these questions dominated the parties throughout the Comintern even if they varied in their specifics. And there were lessons being drawn rapidly that needed to be generalized. There is an urgency that, in defiance of retrospective assessment, runs through all the proceedings. Reading these discussions takes the reader back to a moment when history was still being made.

There has been much discussion of the dominance of the Russian party within the Comintern, and whether that distorted the development of the individual parties and their ability to respond to local conditions. It seems indisputable that the Bolshevik leaders enjoyed a disproportionate influence and prestige. This, however, was not the result of any arbitrary organizational power. Instead, it flowed from the success that they had achieved in leading the Russian Revolution and their ability to transmit that experience. In a wonderful passage, Clara Zetkin attributes this success to the Bolsheviks’ ability to achieve an “intimate organic connection” between themselves and the broadest masses of the population. She highlights the dynamism of this process:

This organic unity of party and masses does not consist in the rigid application of a highly mechanical schema. It is not a power imposed on the proletariat from outside. No, it is a life that pours out of the masses themselves. . .Life and activity flow in a rich alternating current from below out of the masses to the party and through a thousand visible and invisible channels back from the Party to the masses.

When Lenin urges the Congress delegates to study carefully the Russian experience, I believe it is this process that he is asking them to assimilate.

Undoubtedly, most delegates were eager to learn from this experience and were likely to give more weight to the opinions of the Russian party. At the same time, it is hardly the case that the Bolshevik leaders enjoyed uncontested authority. One of the great pleasures of reading the Congress proceedings is being introduced to some of the formidable and talented leaders who helped to shape revolutionary theory and policy in that period.

On substantive theoretical questions, there existed multiple perspectives that enjoyed influence. So, for example, it is striking that Rosa Luxemburg’s theory of imperialism seemed to be more influential for many delegates than Lenin and Bukharin’s. In the discussions of the colonial and semicolonial countries, the delegates frequently referred to her book, The Accumulation of Capital. The Dutch delegate Ravesteyn referenced how “our unforgettable pioneer and theoretician, Rosa Luxemburg provided proof in her greatest and best theoretical work that the process of capital accumulation cannot take place without a surrounding non-capitalist territory, on which it acts destructively.” The German delegate Thalheimer again argued for the centrality of Luxemburg’s theory in the debate on a program for the Comintern.

This debate over what type of program to adopt is another example of other parties challenging the leadership of the Russians. The Russian party put forward a short and more general program, whereas the Germans argued for one that was more specific both in its analysis of social democracy and an outline of potential transitional demands and stages. The German proposal seemed to enjoy widespread support, although the entire discussion was tabled at Lenin’s suggestion that more study was necessary. As mentioned previously, Roy articulated a sharp and developed analysis of the struggle in the colonial countries. The guests and delegates from the United States took the lead on developing an analysis of the role of the Black struggle. The exchange of ideas and level of debate is sharp but invigorating.

Nonetheless, for all the initiative and acumen displayed by the various representatives, it is impossible not to be struck by a certain dependence on the Russians and the Comintern Executive Committee. The presence of different factions at the Congress, and the extensive debate carried by different party representatives, is in one sense exciting. It reflects parties that are rooted in the workers’ movements in their respective countries and the various pulls that this inevitably produces. At the same time, the inability of these parties to independently assess their experiences and overcome their divisions is a sign of weakness. It is notable how often delegates speaking at the Congress seem to be appealing to the Comintern executive for approval of their views. It is clear that these are parties trying to forge new leaderships under very challenging conditions. The pressures this creates were immense and the mistakes many and, in some cases, tragic.

Ultimately, though, the Comintern project was, in Zetkin’s wonderful words, “a wager.” It was a time when, despite all defeats, people had reason to believe that history could be made by masses of ordinary people. Speaking about the Russian Revolution, Zetkin reminded delegates that, “Despite all preparations, the answer to the question, ‘victory or defeat,’ was not given in advance. The wager could not and should not have been avoided.” The same could be said about what the revolutionaries who assembled in 1922 were trying to do. By making the debates and discussions of those men and women available to us, Riddell has given us the opportunity to learn from their experiences in the hope that, given the chance, we may help tilt the balance towards victory.

-The International Socialist Review is published bimonthly by the Center for Economic Research and Social Change

Egypt: The workers advance-Philip Marfleet

Posted by admin On July - 21 - 2013 Comments Off on Egypt: The workers advance-Philip Marfleet


A striking feature of Egypt’s Revolution is the extraordinary number of people engaged in struggles in the streets and workplaces, and in formal and informal organisations. The absolute numbers, together with the proportion of the population involved and the continuity of their struggle, may mark the Egyptian upheaval as unique in modern history. This pattern also marks the Egyptian Revolution as a mass popular upheaval—a “people’s movement” in which a number of common aims brings together activists across the society and therefore, at certain points, across classes. Levels of engagement are nonetheless uneven; so too is the location of struggle, which has moved back and forth from city squares to workplaces, campuses and neighbourhoods. This article looks at the changing locus of struggle and the increasing confidence of Egyptian workers who, during 2013, have reasserted their potential as a force for further change.

The 18 days of January-February 2011, during which Tahrir Square was continuously occupied by protesters committed to remove Mubarak, revealed the depth of accumulated hatred of the regime and of Egyptians’ aspiration for change. Repeated attacks by police and baltagiyya (thugs) on protesters in the square and in cities across the country were met by renewed mobilisations. In effect, Mubarak challenged the movement to double and redouble its support, testing the people’s resolve: on each occasion it met the challenge, bringing millions into the streets. A key feature of the revolution was established: the involvement of huge numbers in public action sufficient, at a deadly cost, to neutralise the police. At the same time the movement challenged military chiefs with the prospect of massive violence if the armed forces—conscript bodies—were mobilised. The movement did not at first succeed in its main aim, however. Street protests alone did not bring down the president, whose fall was eventually precipitated by mass strikes. These, relates Sameh Naguib, “spread like wildfire, with both economic demands and the main revolutionary demand of removing Mubarak”.1 All key sectors of Egyptian industry were involved: textiles, steel, transport, Suez Canal workers, civil servants and even the army’s own military factories. At this point army chiefs seized direct control of the apparatus of state, declaring that their Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) would “remain in continuous session to…protect the nation, and the achievements and aspirations of the great people of Egypt”.2 Faced with the challenge of confronting both the streets and striking workplaces with massive armed force, or removing the dictator, SCAF opted to sacrifice Mubarak.

In the months that followed there was a concerted wave of further industrial action. Strikes across the public and private sectors pursued all manner of demands, notably tathir—cleansing of owners, managers, security chiefs and trade union leaders associated with the Mubarak regime. Independent trade unions were established in scores of workplaces and across key sectors of industry. More workers took part in collective action than at any time since the anti-colonial movement of the 1940s.3 By the summer of 2011 the strike movement had subsided, however, the focus of activity returning to the streets, where young activists confronted SCAF in a series of heroic and bloody battles to defend their new freedoms. The pattern was sustained throughout 2011 and 2012: notwithstanding further strikes and widespread unionisation, the agenda for radical change was pursued primarily by means of rallies, marches and public protests of all kinds. These reached their peak in November and December 2012, when following a constitutional declaration by the Brotherhood’s President Muhamed Mursi, further huge demonstrations filled the streets of all major cities. In Cairo some 2 million people marched on the presidential palace. A veteran activist described the scenes:

I thought that Tahrir [in January-February 2011] was the summit of our movement but events at the ittihadiyya [the presidential palace] exceeded everything. The scale of the protests was immense and mood was confident and defiant. When the Brotherhood tried to intervene their members were driven away ferociously. The army was helpless. It was another demonstration of the raw determination of the movement.4

The streets were leading the revolution, challenging the police, the army and the Brotherhood, which had secured the presidency in June 2012. Within weeks the pattern changed, however, and during 2013 the locus of struggle has moved to the workplaces.
Strikes and occupations

The scale of street mobilisation has decreased, while industrial struggles have been more numerous, more prolonged and more closely linked across cities, regions and specific sectors of the economy. In 2012 the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) recorded 3,817 “labour strikes and economically motivated social protests”: during the first quarter of 2013 it counted over 2,400 such events.5 These figures should be addressed with some care: ECESR records not only collective withdrawals of labour and workplace occupations but also vigils, demonstrations, blockades and hunger strikes among which some have been “citizen actions” including protests over rising prices, lack of fuel and clean water, and power cuts. The headline figures are nonetheless significant, revealing that industrial struggles intensified after the election of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi as president. According to ECESR, over 70 percent of all actions during 2012 occurred after Mursi took office, reaching an average of over 450 strikes and protests each month between July and December.6 Between January and March 2013 they surged again, with an average of 800 separate events each month, and preliminary evidence suggests that since March this figure has again risen sharply. Most strikes have raised wage demands; other issues have included job security, mismanagement, bullying, corruption and factory closures.

Hatem Tallima of Egypt’s Revolutionary Socialists puts this changing pattern into context:

There’s a much greater readiness now to use the strike as a default strategy when owners and managers won’t respond to workers’ demands. For decades under Mubarak the repression made collective action very difficult but the revolution has allowed fast learning and now people move much more rapidly to the strike. This itself is part of political generalisation within the revolutionary process.7

These developments are evident in key sectors of industry such as transport. In February 2013, 1,200 dock workers at Ain Sukhna port on the Red Sea coast maintained a 16-day strike to demand secure jobs. Even the US-based Bloomberg business service was impressed, reporting that “not a single shipping container moved into or out of Egypt’s principal port for Asian trade”.8 Following a partially successful outcome (the Egyptian government agreeing to hire the strikers through a state-owned company), Bloomberg observed that the dispute “showcased workers’ growing activism two years after the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak”.9 In April rail workers undertook a strike said to be the largest stoppage in the sector for over 30 years, with 73,000 workers involved, demanding increased pay and holidays. Government and the state media did their best to break the strike, warning that the army would take over the railway system. One striking driver told AlMasry AlYoum: “Neither the army nor the police are capable of driving or operating these trains… We even operate the army trains for the armed forces”.10 When government officials attempted to get Cairo Metro workers to drive railway trains, Metro unions also threatened to strike. As action continued, the military leadership attempted to conscript rail workers. Drivers received orders stating that they had been assigned to work “in a military capacity for the armed forces” and that those who delayed in reporting for duty would face a six-month jail term or a fine of 5,000 Egyptian pounds [£500] or both.11 A further threat of strike action on the Metro in solidarity with the railway workers and forcing an immediate retreat by the army, cancelling the attempted conscription, brought a promise from management to implement strikers’ demands. The dispute was promptly followed by a further stoppage in railway maintenance workshops: more than 1,000 workers at the historically important Shubra depot in Cairo demanding shorter hours and longer holidays.12 Meanwhile workers at Cairo Airport, which has seen increasing levels of militancy, staged a highly effective strike following the death of a colleague in an industrial accident.

There have been parallel developments in manufacturing and public services, including in sectors entirely new to collective action. In 2012 over a quarter of disputes took place at privately owned industrial enterprises, among which unionisation is a recent development.13 In March 2013 workers in power stations took action and drivers of microbuses, integral to the whole road transport system in Egypt but who have not hitherto organised collectively, mobilised over availability of diesel fuel. In Mahalla al-Kubra drivers parked buses in squares and on railway lines: traffic across the entire city came to a halt.14 There were similar stoppages in Alexandria, while in Giza drivers blockaded the Cairo ring road, paralysing traffic around the city.15 In May 2013 musicians and staff at Cairo Opera House took strike action against the culture minister, Alaa Abdel-Aziz, who had sacked their director earlier. When the curtain went up for the evening performance of Aida the audience saw hundreds of performers and staff holding placards: demonstrations took place later outside the theatre.16

March also saw strikes among police and the Amn Markazi (Central Security or CSF—the riot police). The scale of the police movement is unclear but at least 60 police stations and 10 CSF camps were involved across the country.17 Police activists established a “7 March Movement”, its name echoing the 6 April youth movement which was prominent in pro-democracy actions during the final years of the Mubarak era and is still a key current within the revolutionary networks. One of the founders told Egyptian media that action began in the southern city of Assiut: “The police stations decided to strike one after the other—it was a domino effect. We put the idea to discussion and policemen responded”.18 The campaign’s demands included a new pay structure and dismissal of the interior minister, accused by police activists of forcing them to play a “political role” in recent conflicts.19
Political generalisation

The CSF is a key component of the state security apparatus, boosted continuously under Mubarak until by 2011 it numbered 450,000.20 The force recruits through conscription, receiving young men from poor, mainly rural, backgrounds who are judged unfit for the armed forces proper, often on the grounds of illiteracy: many are from the most deprived regions of Upper Egypt. Recruits are placed in desert camps in which they are underfed and grossly underpaid; they enter a brutal regime in which they are trained, on pain of extreme disciplinary measures, to operate as the state’s frontline enforcers. The CSF has been used many times to assault demonstrations, break strikes and occupations, intimidate meetings and rallies, and prevent people voting in local and general elections. In January and February 2011 it was used unsuccessfully to contain mass demonstrations in Tahrir and across Egypt.

CSF loyalty to the government cannot be guaranteed. In 1986 a CSF rebellion against officers’ brutality and inadequate food and conditions spread quickly across major cities. Scores of thousands of conscripts participated and the movement was only contained after the army killed hundreds of activists. Since 2011 there has been growing evidence of the impact on the CSF of the revolutionary movement. There were numerous reports in 2011 of CSF forces deserting—in some cases to join street protests.21 In May 2012 CSF troops at a base in Obour City, north east of Cairo, rebelled in protest at abuse by their officers, occupying the highway until troops arrived and concessions were negotiated.22 In March 2013 some 8,000 members of the force in the Suez Canal area rejected orders to deploy in Port Said against anti-government protesters. CSF chief Maged Nouh was seized and held by strikers, among whom some left their camp to protest against the interior minister, accusing him of complicity with the Muslim Brotherhood and denouncing President Mursi for “repeating the mistakes of the former regime”.23

Mursi has used both regular police and the CSF more and more often during 2013 to tackle street protests and strikes. Activists believe that following events at the ittihadiyya in November 2012 he struck a deal with the main security agencies whereby, in exchange for increased budgets and pay rises for the senior ranks, police and intelligence agencies would protect the Brotherhood, which under Mubarak had been their main target for repression. In cities from which police largely disappeared after the fall of Mubarak they have returned to assault demonstrations, especially protests at Brotherhood offices. In February 2013 they confronted demonstrators in Port Said protesting over an outrageous court decision in which judges handed down capital sentences on 21 football fans—scapegoats for massive police violence in the city’s stadium a year earlier. They used live weapons, killing 27 demonstrators: in response, furious crowds drove security forces from the city and when President Mursi declared a curfew thousands of people occupied the streets to show their defiance. Humiliated, and apparently deeply affected by what they saw as illicit instructions to attack the demonstrators, CSF troops in Port Said, Suez and Ismailiyya refused to obey officers and challenged the interior minister as to the legitimacy of his orders—in effect a further mutiny. There is no compelling evidence that the CSF is about to fracture—but the Port Said events and the recent police strike suggest that security forces cannot be used by Mursi as if nothing has changed since 2011.
Political crisis

Mass protests in Port Said are an exception to the pattern of diminishing street activity during 2013. There have been fewer very large protests in major cities and Tahrir Square in Cairo has been relatively quiet. Provincial cities, especially in the Nile Delta, have seen many small discontinuous protests: in February there were scores of attacks on Brotherhood offices, with skirmishes involving the CSF and the military police. These were uncoordinated, however, with loose aims apart from expressions of hostility towards the Brotherhood. This reflects a general crisis of politics in the Egyptian opposition, which is particularly acute in the major political parties.

In November 2012 leading parties formed a National Salvation Front (NSF) of organisations opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood, aiming to take a unified stand against Mursi’s constitutional declaration and the referendum which followed. The Front combined radical nationalists such as Hamdeen Sabahi of the Popular Current Party, with liberal reformers such as Mohamed El Baradei of the Destour (Constitution) Party and Amr Mousa of the conservative Conference Party, with its links to the Mubarak networks—Mousa was foreign minister under Mubarak for a full ten years.

Assessing the Front’s record over its first six months, Taylor and Saleh describe “a weak and fragmented secular opposition” incapable of mobilising the millions of people hostile to Mursi and the Brotherhood.24 The Front has failed to agree on any of the pressing issues which confront the opposition:

Should the opposition engage and compromise with Mursi for the sake of national unity, or boycott and try to weaken him to make it harder for the Brotherhood to control the country? Should they participate in parliamentary elections that many believe will be skewed towards the Brotherhood, as they say all post-revolution votes have been, or stay away at the risk of being marginalised and looking like bad losers? And should they back a proposed loan from the International Monetary Fund as essential to pull the economy out of crisis despite the tough terms that would be attached, or oppose it on grounds of national sovereignty and social justice—or just sit on the fence?25

Taylor and Saleh quote an NSF official to the effect that the coalition has been hampered by a “battle of the egos” among its leaders.26 Hatem Tallima of the Revolutionary Socialists comments that their inability to develop coherent positions means that the Front represents “salvation—but for Mursi and the Brotherhood”.27 He continues:

They [NSF leaders] have lost all their bets in confronting the Brotherhood. Sabahi in particular believed he could strike deals with the police and the army against Mursi. In fact it’s Mursi who has bought time with these arrangements. And Sabahi has lost much support among activists and those who voted for him [in the presidential elections of 2012] by working with feloul [“remnants” of the Mubarak regime such as Amr Mousa] who he hopes can provide him with more influence.28

Sabahi had drawn thousands of young activists to the Popular Current, founded in September 2012, on the basis of his commitments to continuing the revolution, securing basic needs and protecting historic interests of workers and peasants in the welfare state. Invoking the traditions of President Nasser—Sabahi has been a lifelong Nasserist—he also won much support for backing the Palestinian cause. Enthusiasm gave way to anger among young supporters, however, when the organisation joined the NSF. One of the party’s leading activists, Khalid El-Sayed, argued: “Most of the members of the Popular Current rejected the idea of forming a coalition with organisations led by feloul. It was against what the revolution stood for”.29 There have since been many resignations from the party. In January 2013 youth of the Destour Party, which had also grown rapidly since it was founded in September 2012, occupied the organisation’s headquarters in Cairo to protest against undemocratic procedures and unacceptable policies of the leadership. In March 2013 a number of leading activists resigned, declaring that the party was dominated by power-seekers. One defector said: “There is a group of people controlling the party that believes they will win the majority in parliament and will become ministers”.30

Liberal and reformist parties in general are in crisis. Their rank and file members have drawn confidence from involvement in mass struggles in the streets and workplaces, and identify with aspirations of the activist movement to continue the revolution, notably the demand for “Bread, freedom, social justice”. Within the new parties they are confronted by authoritarian figures consumed with personal bids for power and oriented on institutions of the state as the key arena for political activity. This also affects the most radical wing of the NSF, the Socialist Popular Alliance, or tahaluf, which at the time of writing faces the loss of its committed socialist activists. The Alliance was formed in 2011, grouping members of the tame “leftist” electoral platform permitted under Mubarak, the Tagammu’ or rally, together with radical social democrats and revolutionary Marxists who had earlier been members of the Revolutionary Socialists. Former members of tahaluf say that its left wing activists, who have been prominent in the revolutionary movement from its earliest days, received undertakings that they would be fully represented in the organisation’s leading bodies and in selection of election candidates. They have in fact been progressively marginalised as, under the direction of the Tagammu’ faction, tahaluf has adopted increasingly conservative policies and promoted favoured reformist figures for the polls. As with the Popular Current and Destour, disillusioned members are overwhelmingly young, energetic and angry at the failure of their party to meet the aspirations of the revolutionary movement. A former member comments:

Neither the Salvation Front nor any of its leaders offer a social strategy for the revolution. They do not address the questions faced by the people—prices of food and fuel, employment, a fair minimum wage, housing, rents, increasing poverty. They don’t take care of the people—they take care of their own ambitions.31

For Sabahi, El Baradei and the others the main concern is to negotiate new deals with the military and even the Brotherhood, to which they are formally opposed. They are retreating, moving away from the mass movement which created the political space they now occupy. This accounts in part for the reduced level of street activity in recent months: rather than focus popular concerns on further changes needed to secure the gains of the revolution, NSF leaders have been consumed with manoeuvres and with deals struck in private. The role of Hamdeen Sabahi has been particularly important. In the presidential elections in 2012 he gathered millions of votes across Egypt’s major cities, carrying some industrial centres of the Nile Delta by large margins. Given the opportunity to build on this achievement, Sabahi has led the Popular Current away from public activity, leaving a vacuum on the left of national politics. Hisham Fuad of the Revolutionary Socialists says: “Hamdeen and all the parties of the Salvation Front have failed to deal with workers’ pressing problems—but workers don’t have the luxury of disappointment. The questions of bread, wages, and everyday living become more and more important”.32

Pressure on the mass of people has been increasing relentlessly. The economy is in a tailspin: since the fall of Mubarak there has been a 60 percent drop in foreign exchange reserves and steady erosion of the value of the Egyptian pound—between December 2012 and May 2013 it fell by 12 percent against the US dollar, with serious implications for a state that imports the bulk of its staple foods. Investment has collapsed and there has been a sharp rise in unemployment. Prices have risen steadily, with serious impacts on the 25 percent of the population that spends half of all its income on food.33 The economist Galal Amin argues that this is the worst crisis for decades: “without fear of making a mistake [the worst] since the 30s”, he says.34 Samir Radwan, who was finance minister in the months following the fall of Mubarak, says: “You are talking about nearly half of the population being in a state of poverty… Either in absolute poverty or near-poor, meaning that with any [economic] shock, like with inflation, they will fall under the poverty line”.35 Amin comments: “Nobody cares about the poor now”.36

Mursi has adopted most of Mubarak’s economic agenda, entering talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a $4.8 billion loan which, he hopes, will facilitate further borrowing internationally. The IMF loan has not materialised, however. Mursi has hesitated to impose new subsidy cuts demanded by the fund: he has no objection in principle but realises that sweeping cuts may mean the end of his presidency. Sustained national protest over IMF-inspired attacks on the poor would present an enormous challenge. The mood in the CSF is unpredictable, while so far military chiefs have not dared to risk a conscript army in open battle with the people.

Fear of lasting damage to the armed forces seems to be behind a statement from General Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi of SCAF that that there will be no return to military rule in Egypt. His speech in May 2013 caused dismay among feloul, leaders of liberal and nationalist parties, and supporters of the Brotherhood who hope for army backing. Al-Sisi said:

Nobody solves their problem with an army, and armies should be kept out of political problems. Try to find a method of understanding among yourselves [civilians] as, if the army takes to the street, Egypt will have very dangerous problems that may delay its progress for the next 40 years. 37

The statement was said to have left many political leaders “speechless”: some had been anticipating an announcement that the army would seize power. Instead Al-Sisi insisted that politics must be a civilian affair and that the job of the army is solely to secure elections.38 Though this guarantees nothing, it suggests that the vigour of the revolutionary movement, and especially the effectiveness of recent workers’ actions, has concentrated the minds of military chiefs.
Streets and workplaces

Economic crisis and its impacts put into context the cost of vacillation and retreat by the NSF. In an interesting defence of “Egypt’s dismal opposition”, the liberal academic Thomas Carothers pleads for time for its leaders to develop stable, coherent organisations.39 He comments:

There are multiple reasons most newly emerging parties lack a grassroots organisational network or base. Grassroots organising is particularly difficult in post-authoritarian contexts. Citizens who have lived through decades of repressive rule are usually suspicious of any and all political parties, viewing them in light of their negative experiences with whatever dominant party ruled previously.40

There is something in this: decades of repression mean that those who pursue visions of pluralist democracy may struggle to establish party structures and to create stable memberships. In the case of Egypt, there are particularly high levels of public scepticism about all parties. Removal of Mubarak was eventually achieved by means of sustained mass action: the only coherent opposition organisation, the Muslim Brotherhood, initially opposed the uprising of 2011 and has since attempted to end the process of change, losing much of its pre-revolutionary support. Large numbers of activists nonetheless entered new parties with high hopes. They have been quickly disappointed: all the leaders of liberal and radical currents which dominate the NSF are focused upon the state and their wish to share power with those who dominate it—the officer elite of SCAF. Carothers’s argument, directed mainly at an American foreign policy audience, anticipates “transition” from authoritarianism to a form of representative politics somewhat less ugly than the Mubarak order. But revolutionary upheavals are not processes that offer unlimited opportunity for activists to construct parties on the bourgeois democratic model. Rather they are struggles for power in which the main contending classes address their overriding interests. In the case of Egypt, the mass movement has needs and aspirations which cannot be satisfied by the liberals and nationalists of the NSF, who are providing a lifeline for the Mursi government and those with a stake in the economic order created and nurtured by Mubarak.

The crisis of the NSF makes a recent shift in struggles from the streets to the workplaces particularly important. Streets, neighbourhoods and workplaces are not separate areas of political action—as demonstrated by the mass strikes prompted in 2011 by events in Tahrir. Workplace organisation, however, with its capacity to unify collective interests at the point of production, can advance political agendas rapidly across sites and industries. Workers’ struggles in Egypt have recently increased not only in number and in scale but in terms of organisation and politics. Committees have emerged in some factories in Suez and in the new industrial centre of Sadat City—the first firm evidence of specific workplace organisation above the trade union level and with continuity through local and national disputes. In 10 Ramadan City near Suez over 60 workers from eight factories met in April 2013 to discuss coordination of their struggles, and activists are attempting to form a council of Suez workers. Haitham Mohamedein of the Revolutionary Socialists says:

We are starting to see a different sort of politics in the workers’ movement, with efforts to build local rank and file organisation and to link struggles. Workers have learned from the experiences of the streets, where the main issues have been democratic demands, and have fused these with demands which arise from their own experiences at work—the cost of bread, the minimum wage, the requirements for family life.41

These promising initiatives are at an early stage and so far restricted to cities in which industrial struggles have been continuous and intensive. There are parallel developments, however, across some sectors of industry—notably in transport, where activists are attempting to create a network of militants from the docks, railways, buses, microbuses, the Cairo Metro, and the airports.

Workers’ organisation is both assisted and inhibited by the new trade union movement. Independent unions have grown steadily since 2011. There are two independent networks: the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU), formed in January 2011, and the Egyptian Democratic Labour Congress (EDLC), launched officially in April 2013. EDLC originated in a split in 2011, when the Centre for Trade Union and Workers Services (CTUWS) and unions under its influence broke from EFITU. Each federation claims some 250 unions, some organised at the national level, many organised locally at a single enterprise. Differences between the two are associated in part with their leaderships. EFITU was formed under the influence of Kemal Abu-Eita, leader of the Egyptian Real Estate Tax Authority Union, which in 2008 led a breakthrough in union activity by establishing a first national union independent of the official state-controlled federation of the Mubarak era. EDLC is led by Kemal Abbas, who founded CTUWS in 1990. Abu-Eita is a Nasserist and a member of the Karama Party; Abbas was formerly a member of Tagammu’.

Each federation has been effective in facilitating unionisation: each, however, favours a model which, under the circumstances of the revolution, may inhibit the most effective forms of organisation. It is increasingly clear that strong local organisation, linking workers across workplaces and sectors of industry, will play a key role in confrontations with the state. The new union federations have different priorities, however, including the development of stable national networks, effective internal administration and coherent national leaderships. In the context of mass struggles these can become bureaucratic obstacles. Haitham Mohamedein explains:

Of course, we are with the independent unions against employers and the state. But we also recognise that there are already problems of bureaucracy and when these hold back workers’ struggles we must be ready to criticise them—from within the unions.42

Revolutionary activists also point to what they call the “infatuation” of some union leaders with international trade union federations. The emergence of Egypt’s independent unions has been tracked closely by organisations such as the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC). In 2010 the national trade union federation in the US, the AFL-CIO, presented its George Meany-Lane Kirkland Award for Human Rights jointly to Abu-Eita and Abbas. Never slow to co-opt new union leaderships, ITUC and other international networks have since been courting the Egyptian federations. One revolutionary activist in Cairo says: “We can do without constant invitations to Egyptian trade unionists to attend conferences at which they will be ‘taught how to negotiate’. We need to develop strong organisation of the rank and file, not to train more bureaucrats”.43

One important feature of recent struggles is the emergence of local initiatives for workers’ self-management. Under Mubarak much of the public sector was sold off to private businessmen in crooked deals in which favoured clients bought at knock-down prices and sold on, making huge gains, sometimes as part of asset-stripping exercises in which many employees lost their jobs. Adly describes a “state of corruption” in which “business and power interacted to pave the way for accumulation of private wealth”.44

Since 2011 a key demand of the independent unions has been for de-privatisation of these enterprises, retrieving them from their new owners and restoring jobs. This has been part of the revolutionary movement’s wider search for social justice, closely associated with tathir. Many strikes have been undertaken with these aims in mind; at the same time workers have pressured the government and used the legal system to seek judgements in their favour. In 2011 judges declared for the de-privatisation of a number of important enterprises: Omar Effendi Stores, Tanta Flax and Oils Company, Shebin El-Kom Spinning and Weaving Company, the Nasr Company for Steam Boilers, and the Nile Cotton Ginning Company.45 In 2012 a further judgement annulled the privatisation contract of Assiut Cement Company, which had been sold to the CEMEX corporation.

Apart from Omar Effendi (Egypt’s largest chain of department stores) these judgements were not implemented. In August 2012 workers from the Steam Boilers Company, joined by delegations from the Ideal Company and the Kouta Steel Company, staged protests outside the presidential palace and the cabinet building, demanding that government comply with court judgements and retrieve the companies from their private owners. When the government appealed against the 2011 decisions, a further definitive court judgement in relation to Shebin El-Kom Textile Company and the Steam Boilers Company directed that they should be restored promptly to public ownership, declaring that “Mubarak-era privatisation procedures raised suspicions of corruption, conflict of interests and a lack of transparency”.46 Still nationalisation did not proceed. Nile Cotton Ginning Company workers brought a further case, this time against prime minster Hisham Qandil, alleging that he had failed to implement a legal ruling on de-privatisation: in April 2013 a local court in Cairo found Qandil guilty, issued a one-year suspended sentence and called for his dismissal from the government.47

Workers at some plants had a different strategy. At Kouta Steel in 10 Ramadan City an elected Technical Committee won a ruling from the Administrative Court that the factory—closed by its owner for eight months—should resume production under the committee’s management. In February 2013 they sent a solidarity message to Vio.Me steel workers in Salonika, Greece—who had established a similar venture—explaining their action:

We learned that the factory owner had fled, and…a general assembly of the workers decided to place the factory under workers’ self-management. Hence the factory was reopened on 12 February 2013, as a cooperative under workers’ management…

We are now taking the final steps to resume the production process after having reconnected gas and electricity. The Kouta Steel Factory workers are all one in heart and mind, adamant to improve the factory and proceed with our experiment till the end.

Though a thousand miles away from Greece, we send our strongest expression of solidarity and support to the workers of Vio.Me and to their newborn experiment in self-management. We also declare our absolute rejection of the austerity measures that affect first and foremost the working class, whether in Greece or here in Egypt.

We invite Vio.Me workers to start and [sic] exchange of our experiences in struggle, so that we can benefit from lessons learned from both experiments in self-management. Millions of workers are looking at us as a concrete reality and an awaited dream.48

By April 2013 the Kouta plant was in production. Hisham Fuad of the Revolutionary Socialists says:

The whole experience for the Kouta workers has been extremely difficult. They’ve had to endure months without wages, long legal proceedings, problems with companies that supply water and electricity, and general harassment from the government. But they’ve continued, showing that in the present crisis self-management is an option: it is not an answer to workers’ problems but it does show that private business can be challenged and that workers can play a role in their places of work.49

The experience at Kouta is being transmitted to other factories. At Cleopatra Ceramics, which employed 20,000 workers in Ain Sukhna and 10 Ramadan City, workers have been involved in continuous struggles since, in July 2012, its owner Mohamed Abul-Enein, a former a member of parliament for Mubarak’s National Democratic Party and a notoriously cruel employer, abruptly closed the business. When he reneged on agreements concluded after a factory occupation, workers travelled to Cairo, marched on the Presidential Palace and obtained a deal negotiated by Mursi. When this too unravelled they stormed a government building in Suez, demanding punishment for Abul-Enein. Eventually they occupied the factory, resumed production on their own terms and sold products directly to secure an income.

The idea of self-management appeals strongly to workers who see empty factories and absent or corrupt owners. Their self-organisation marks a huge rise in confidence since the revolution and a willingness to challenge the business priorities of the Mubarak era and the Mursi government.
Self-management of private enterprises is not in itself a strategy to advance the revolution. As long as production is organised in line with the priorities of the market, those who take strategic decisions are obliged to compete with other enterprises and to transmit competitive pressures into the workplace. Combined with the demand for nationalisation, however, and in coordination with workers’ committees, these initiatives have an important role to play.
Mursi and the crisis

In a recent speech Mursi appeared to make major concessions to the workers’ movement, saying that privatisations and job losses were a thing of the past. In a televised May Day broadcast from the industrial centre of Helwan he said there would be “no more sale of the public sector; that is finished…and we will no longer do away with workers [sic]”.50 This indicates increasing pressure on the government from below: more unionisation, more widespread and intensive strike action, and general hostility towards private business and the ethics of the Mubarak era. It also marks an increasingly anti-capitalist mood and very widespread opposition to a new IMF loan and austerity policies certain to go with it. But Mursi’s speech has been greeted with scepticism: since 2011 workers have heard all manner of promises from ministers and from employers. One factor in the recent wave of struggles has been anger that undertakings made by many employers during the strike wave of 2011 have not been honoured. Firm agreements, especially on wages, jobs and union rights, have often been ignored: meanwhile the pressures of everyday life have increased relentlessly. At the same time, the president and the Brotherhood have lost much of the authority they gained as an opposition during the Mubarak years. They are viewed more and more clearly as a business-friendly party committed to the Mubarak agenda. When Mursi implements another round of austerity measures there is likely to be a concerted response.

In April 2013 radical activists launched the Tamarud (“Rebellion”) initiative. This aimed to collect signatures across Egypt calling for a new presidential election—in effect a vote of no confidence in Mursi. It has been unprecedentedly successful. Within a month organisers had collected 7 million names, with each signatory identifying her/himself by including their national identity number—an open statement of political engagement unheard of before the revolution.51 The campaign culminates in a mass demonstration to be held at the presidential palace on 30 June, the anniversary of Mursi’s appointment. Sameh Naguib of the Revolutionary Socialists says:

Tamarud has reached millions of people who see that Mursi and the Brotherhood want to bring their revolution to an end. It shows both how quickly Mursi has lost support and the people’s wish to defend their interests. Socialists have been deeply involved in Tamarud. We’ve found great enthusiasm to sign the petition in working class areas—striking workers have been signing en masse. Of course, feloul want to get on the bandwagon but they hesitate, especially since Al-Sisi’s declaration that the army won’t take power—for them the future looks more and more uncertain.52

Mursi is in a vice. The IMF, the World Bank and Mubarak’s former international allies, now his allies—the US, the EU, the Gulf states—insist that he takes further austerity measures. The Egyptian pound weakens by the day and there are legitimate fears of a speculative assault in the international financial markets, driving the local currency to a further low. Egypt can barely pay for grain imports critical to the survival of most of the population: further weakening of the pound could bring an abrupt crisis. Mursi’s own organisation is increasingly under the influence of a conservative faction led by the multi-millionaire Khairat al-Shater, which wishes to press on with neoliberal policies and to embrace the “Turkish model” of business-friendly Islamism.53 Meanwhile, the workers’ movement grows in confidence and activist networks prepare through Tamarud to renew public protests.

In this fluid situation the left has an unprecedentedly large audience. Paralysis of the liberal, nationalist and reformist parties has intensified work to establish a coalition of radical forces. A Revolutionary Alternative Front has been established, bringing together members and former members of the Popular Current, the Destour Party, the Socialist Popular Alliance, the Strong Egypt Party of liberal Islamist Abdel-Moneim Abou El-Fotouh (not part of the NSF), the Revolutionary Socialists, and the 6 April youth movement. They are committed to pursue the revolutionary process, to reject deals with the Muslim Brotherhood and the armed forces, and to exclude feloul. These developments have also brought greater interest in the socialist left and especially in the Revolutionary Socialists (RS). Surviving for over 20 years under the dictatorship, the RS has emerged during the revolution as a national organisation, present in every major city. It is the sole organisation focused upon workers’ struggles and active in the streets, on campuses and in united campaigns including Tamarud. It is attempting urgently to link the most effective workplace organisations and to draw activists to Marxist politics in which the international and historic experiences of struggle are brought to bear upon the Egyptian Revolution. The need for such a party has seldom been so clear. As the revolution continues, its opportunities and responsibilities become apparent.


1: Naguib, 2011, p25. See also Fahim and Kirkpatrick, 2011.

2: SCAF Statement of 10 February 2011, New York Times, 2011.

3: See Alexander, 2011, 2012.

4: Interview with a veteran activist, Cairo, December 2012.

5: Enein, 2013.

6: Enein, 2013.

7: Interview in Cairo, April 2013.

8: Lynch and Marroushi, 2013.

9: Lynch and Marroushi, 2013.

10: Charbel, 2013a.

11: MENA Solidarity Network, 2013a.

12: The Shubra workshops were an important centre of worker militancy throughout the 1930s and 1940s. See Beinin and Lockman, 1987. See also CTUWS, 2013.

13: Einin, 2013

14: Fady, 2013.

15: Ahram Online, 2013b.

16: Saad and others, 2013.

17: Halawa, 2013.

18: Halawa, 2013.

19: Halawa, 2013.

20: Dunne and Revkin, 2011

21: El Hamalawy, 2012.

22: El Hamalawy, 2012.

23: Al Masry Al Youm, 2013a.

24: Taylor and Saleh, 2013.

25: Taylor and Saleh, 2013.

26: Taylor and Saleh, 2013.

27: Interview in Cairo, April 2013.

28: Interview in Cairo, April 2013.

29: Rashwan, 2013.

30: El Gundy, 2013.

31: Interview in Cairo, April 2013.

32: Interview in Cairo, April 2013.

33: All figures from Kingsley, 2013.

34: Galal Amin in Kingsley, 2013.

35: Kingsley, 2013.

36: Kingsley, 2013.

37: Quoted in Hussein, 2013.

38: Hussein, 2013.

39: Carothers, 2013.

40: Carothers, 2013.

41: Interview in Cairo, April 2013.

42: Interview in Cairo, April 2013.

43: Interview with a labour activist in Cairo, April 2013.

44: Adly, 2011, p1.

45: In the case of the Steam Boilers Company, privatised in 2000, workers alleged that the new owners had stolen shares and bonuses and laid off over 1,100 employees. In the case of Tanta Flax and Oils, privatised in 2005 and sold at a third of its real market value to a Saudi investor, a workforce of 2,850 had been reduced to less than 200-Al Masry Al Youm, 2012; Charbel, 2013b.

46: Ahram Online, 2013a.

47: Al Masry Al Youm, 2013b.

48: MENA Solidarity Network, 2013b.

49: Interview in Cairo, April 2013.

50: Middle East Online, 2013.

51: Ahram Online, 2013c

52: Interview in Cairo, June 2013.

53: See Marfleet, 2013, on the influence of the Brotherhood’s sister organisation in Turkey, the AKP.


Adly, A, 2011, “Mubarak (1990-2011): The State of Corruption”, Arab Reform Initiative Thematic Studies:The Politics of Corruption, http://bit.ly/13QkLzR

Ahram Online, 2013a, “Egypt court confirms annulment of textile co. privatisation”, Ahram Online (21 January), http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/3/12/62952/Business/Economy/Egypt-court-confirms-annulment-of-textile-co-priva.aspx

Ahram Online, 2013b, “Microbus drivers strike strangles traffic in Cairo”, Ahram Online (10 March), http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/64/66512/Egypt/Politics-/Microbus-drivers-strike-strangles-traffic-in-Cairo.aspx

Ahram Online, 2013c, “ ‘Rebel’ campaign signals Morsi’s downfall, says leftist journalist”, Ahram Online (30 May), http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/64/72613/Egypt/Politics-/Rebel-campaign-signals-Morsis-downfall,-says-lefti.aspx

Alexander, Anne, 2011, “The Growing Social Soul of Egypt’s Democratic Revolution”, International Socialism 131 (summer), www.isj.org.uk/?id=741

Alexander, Anne, 2012, “The Egyptian Workers’ Movement and the 25 January Revolution”, International Socialism 133 (winter), www.isj.org.uk/?id=778

Al Masry Al Youm, 2012, “Labor protests outside presidential palace”, Al Masry Al Youm (22 August), www.egyptindependent.com/news/labor-protests-outside-presidential-palace

Al Masry Al Youm, 2013a, “CSF officers strike over planned Port Said deployment”, Al Masry Al Youm (6 March), www.egyptindependent.com/news/csf-officers-strike-over-planned-port-said-deployment

Al Masry Al Youm, 2013b, “Misdemeanor court hands PM jail sentence”, Al Masry Al Youm
(17 April) www.egyptindependent.com/news/misdemeanor-court-hands-pm-jail-sentence

Beinin, Joel, and Zachary Lockman, 1987, Workers on the Nile (Princeton University Press).

Carothers, Thomas, 2013, “Egypt’s Dismal Opposition: A Second Look”, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (14 May), http://bit.ly/13Ql3GP

Charbel, Jano, 2012, “We don’t need no liquidation, ‘Arabawy_, www.arabawy.org/tag/self-management/

Charbel, Jano, 2013a, “Egypt’s railways see biggest strike in almost 30 years”, Al Masry Al Youm (4 April), www.egyptindependent.com/news/egypt-s-railways-see-biggest-strike-almost-30-years

Charbel, Jano, 2013b, “Qandil acquitted in privatization case”, Al Masry Al Youm (10 April), www.egyptindependent.com/news/qandil-acquitted-privatization-case

CTUWS (Centre for Trade Union and Workers’ Services), 2013, “Shubra Metro Workers on Strike and Trains Work without Maintenance”, www.ctuws.com/?item=1208

Dunne, Michele and Mara Revkin, 2011, “Rethinking Internal Security in Egypt”, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, http://bit.ly/13Ql6lS

El-Gundy, Zeinab, 2013, “Generational conflicts shake El-Baradei’s Constitution Party”, Ahram Online (28 March), http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/64/67797/Egypt/Politics-/Generational-conflicts-shake-ElBaradeis-Constituti.aspx

El-Hamalawy, Hossam, 2012, “In Egypt, Mubarak’s repression machine is still alive and well”, Guardian (16 May), http://gu.com/p/37j6v

Enein, Ahmed Aboul, 2013, “Labour strikes and protests double under Morsi”, Daily News [Cairo] (April 28), www.dailynewsegypt.com/2013/04/28/labour-strikes-and-protests-double-under-morsi/

Fady, Salah, 2013, “Mahalla drivers shut down city roads”, Al Masry Al Youm (17 March),

Fahim, Karim, and David Kirkpatrick, 2011, “Labor Actions in Egypt Boost Protests”, New York Times (9 February), www.nytimes.com/2011/02/10/world/middleeast/10egypt.html?_r=0

Hawala, Omar, 2013, “Divisions among police result in intermittent ‘strike’ action”, Egypt Independent (13 March), www.egyptindependent.com/news/divisions-among-police-result-intermittent-%E2%80%98strike-action

Hussein, Emad Al-Din, 2013, “Al-Sisi has left many speechless”, Middle East Monitor (14 May), www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/africa/6009-al-sisi-has-left-many-speechless

Kingsley, P, 2013, “Egypt ‘suffering worst economic crisis since 1930s’” Guardian (16 May), www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/may/16/egypt-worst-economic-crisis-1930s

Lynch, David, and Nadine Marroushi, 2013, “Workers Adding to Egyptian Chaos as Strike Wave Disrupts Economy”, Bloomberg (February 27), www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-02-27/workers-adding-to-egyptian-chaos-as-strike-wave-disrupts-economy.html

Marfleet, Philip, 2012, “Egypt—never ‘one hand’ ”, in Mike Gonzalez and Houman Barekat, eds, Arms and the people (Pluto).

Marfleet, Philip, 2013, “Never Going Back: Egypt’s continuing revolution”, International Socialism 137 (winter), www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=866&issue=137

MENA Solidarity Network, 2013a, “Egypt: Independent unions, revolutionary activists slam conscription of rail strikers” (April 10), http://menasolidaritynetwork.com/2013/04/10/egypt-independent-union-federation-condemns-conscriptio/

MENA Solidarity Network, 2013b, “Egypt: Workers from Kouta Steel send solidarity to Greece” (20 February), http://menasolidaritynetwork.com/2013/02/20/egypt-workers-from-kouta-steel-send-solidarity-to-greece/

Middle East Online, 2013, “Morsi courts Egypt workers with halt to privatisation” (30 April), www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=58448

Momani, Bessma, 2005, IMF-Egyptian Debt Negotiations,.(The American University in Cairo Press).

Naguib, Sameh, 2011, The Egyptian Revolution (Bookmarks).

New York Times, 2011, “Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces: Statements and Key Leaders” (14 February), http://nyti.ms/13QkYmG

Rashwan, Nada, 2013, “Egypt’s National Salvation Front faces existential challenges”, Ahram Online (25 February), http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContentPrint/1/0/65497/Egypt/0/Egypts-National-Salvation-Front-faces-existential-.aspx

Saad, Mohamed, Rowan El-Shimi, Sara Elkamel and Ati Metwaly, 2013, “The show will not go on: Cairo Opera House on strike” Ahram Online, (29 May), http://bit.ly/1ayxKqH

Taylor, Paul, and Yasmine Saleh, 2013, “INSIGHT—Egypt opposition can’t harvest Brotherhood unpopularity”, Reuters (5 May), www.reuters.com/article/2013/05/05/egypt-opposition-idUSL6N0D90Z120130505
Cover of issue 139

All articles copyright © International Socialism unless otherwise stated

Defence against corporate & imperial forces: Noam Chomsky

Posted by admin On July - 20 - 2013 Comments Off on Defence against corporate & imperial forces: Noam Chomsky

ed pick 1

With wrenching tragedies only a few miles away, and still worse catastrophes perhaps not far removed, it may seem wrong, perhaps even cruel, to shift attention to other prospects that, although abstract and uncertain, might offer a path to a better world – and not in the remote future.

I’ve visited Lebanon several times and witnessed moments of great hope, and of despair, that were tinged with the Lebanese people’s remarkable determination to overcome and to move forward.

The first time I visited – if that’s the right word – was exactly 60 years ago, almost to the day. My wife and I were hiking in Israel’s northern Galilee one evening, when a jeep drove by on a road near us and someone called out that we should turn back: We were in the wrong country. We had inadvertently crossed the border, then unmarked – now, I suppose, bristling with armaments.

A minor event, but it forcefully brought home a lesson: The legitimacy of borders – of states, for that matter – is at best conditional and temporary.

Almost all borders have been imposed and maintained by violence, and are quite arbitrary. The Lebanon-Israel border was established a century ago by the Sykes-Picot Agreement, dividing up the former Ottoman Empire in the interests of British and French imperial power, with no concern for the people who happened to live there, or even for the terrain. The border makes no sense, which is why it was so easy to cross unwittingly.

Surveying the terrible conflicts in the world, it’s clear that almost all are the residue of imperial crimes and the borders that the great powers drew in their own interests.

Pashtuns, for example, have never accepted the legitimacy of the Durand Line, drawn by Britain to separate Pakistan from Afghanistan; nor has any Afghan government ever accepted it. It is in the interests of today’s imperial powers that Pashtuns crossing the Durand Line are labeled “terrorists” so that their homes may be subjected to murderous attack by U.S. drones and special operations forces.

Few borders in the world are so heavily guarded by sophisticated technology, and so subject to impassioned rhetoric, as the one that separates Mexico from the United States, two countries with amicable diplomatic relations.

That border was established by U.S. aggression during the 19th century. But it was kept fairly open until 1994, when President Bill Clinton initiated Operation Gatekeeper, militarizing it.

Before then, people had regularly crossed it to see relatives and friends. It’s likely that Operation Gatekeeper was motivated by another event that year: the imposition of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which is a misnomer because of the words “free trade.”

Doubtless the Clinton administration understood that Mexican farmers, however efficient they might be, couldn’t compete with highly subsidized U.S. agribusiness, and that Mexican businesses couldn’t compete with U.S. multinationals, which under NAFTA rules must receive special privileges like “national treatment” in Mexico. Such measures would almost inevitably lead to a flood of immigrants across the border.

Some borders are eroding along with the cruel hatreds and conflicts they symbolize and inspire. The most dramatic case is Europe. For centuries, Europe was the most savage region in the world, torn by hideous and destructive wars. Europe developed the technology and the culture of war that enabled it to conquer the world. After a final burst of indescribable savagery, the mutual destruction ceased at the end of World War II.

Scholars attribute that outcome to the thesis of democratic peace – that one democracy hesitates to war against another. But Europeans may also have understood that they had developed such capacities for destruction that the next time they played their favorite game, it would be the last.

The closer integration that has developed since then is not without serious problems, but it is a vast improvement over what came before.

A similar outcome would hardly be unprecedented for the Middle East, which until recently was essentially borderless. And the borders are eroding, though in awful ways.

Syria’s seemingly inexorable plunge to suicide is tearing the country apart. Veteran Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn, now working for The Independent, predicts that the conflagration and its regional impact may lead to the end of the Sykes-Picot regime.

The Syrian civil war has reignited the Sunni-Shiite conflict that was one of the most terrible consequences of the U.S.-U.K. invasion of Iraq 10 years ago.

The Kurdish regions of Iraq and now Syria are moving toward autonomy and linkages. Many analysts now predict that a Kurdish state may be established before a Palestinian state is.

If Palestine ever gains independence in something like the terms of the overwhelming international consensus, its borders with Israel will likely erode through normal commercial and cultural interchange, as has happened in the past during periods of relative calm.

That development could be a step toward closer regional integration, and perhaps the slow disappearance of the artificial border dividing the Galilee between Israel and Lebanon, so that hikers and others could pass freely where my wife and I crossed 60 years ago.

Such a development seems to me to offer the only realistic hope for some resolution of the plight of Palestinian refugees, now only one of the refugee disasters tormenting the region since the invasion of Iraq and Syria’s descent into hell.

The blurring of borders and these challenges to the legitimacy of states bring to the fore serious questions about who owns the Earth. Who owns the global atmosphere being polluted by the heat-trapping gases that have just passed an especially perilous threshold, as we learned in May?

Or to adopt the phrase used by indigenous people throughout much of the world, Who will defend the Earth? Who will uphold the rights of nature? Who will adopt the role of steward of the commons, our collective possession?

That the Earth now desperately needs defense from impending environmental catastrophe is surely obvious to any rational and literate person. The different reactions to the crisis are a most remarkable feature of current history.

At the forefront of the defense of nature are those often called “primitive”: members of indigenous and tribal groups, like the First Nations in Canada or the Aborigines in Australia – the remnants of peoples who have survived the imperial onslaught. At the forefront of the assault on nature are those who call themselves the most advanced and civilized: the richest and most powerful nations.

The struggle to defend the commons takes many forms. In microcosm, it is taking place right now in Turkey’s Taksim Square, where brave men and women are protecting one of the last remnants of the commons of Istanbul from the wrecking ball of commercialization and gentrification and autocratic rule that is destroying this ancient treasure.

The defenders of Taksim Square are at the forefront of a worldwide struggle to preserve the global commons from the ravages of that same wrecking ball – a struggle in which we must all take part, with dedication and resolve, if there is to be any hope for decent human survival in a world that has no borders. It is our common possession, to defend or to destroy.

Source: Alternet

A New Drone Deal For Pakistan-Daniel Markey

Posted by admin On July - 18 - 2013 Comments Off on A New Drone Deal For Pakistan-Daniel Markey


A protest against drone strikes in Pakistan, 2012. (Courtesy Reuters)

For all its successes, the U.S. drone program in Pakistan is unlikely to survive much longer in its current form. Less than a week after his election on May 11, Pakistan’s new prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, reportedly declared to his cabinet that “the policy of protesting against drone strikes for public consumption, while working behind the scenes to make them happen, is not on.” This fall, Pakistan’s national and provincial assemblies will elect a new president, likely a Sharif loyalist, and the prime minister will also select a new army chief. It is safe to say that these men are unlikely to follow their predecessors in offering tacit endorsements of the United States’ expansive counterterrorism efforts.

In other words, the United States is going to have to hammer out a new drone deal with Pakistan in the years ahead, one that is sensitive to Pakistan’s own concerns and objectives. This will likely mean that Washington will face new constraints in its counterterrorism operations. But managed with care, a new agreement could put the targeted killing campaign against al Qaeda on firmer political footing without entirely eliminating its effectiveness.

Ever since its inception in 2004, the U.S. drone campaign in Pakistan has been stumbling along shaky legal and strategic ground. At various points in time, Washington and Islamabad constructed different fictions to enable the drone campaign. Before launching the first drone strike that killed Taliban leader Nek Muhammad in June 2004, Washington sought personal authorization from then President and army chief Pervez Musharraf. For several years thereafter, the Pakistani army claimed responsibility for all drone strikes, publicly denying (however implausibly) American intervention.

But the program’s remarkable success in killing al Qaeda and Taliban leaders, combined with the otherwise largely unaddressed problem of sanctuaries in Pakistan’s tribal areas, encouraged U.S. officials to expand their list of targets. As the program grew, and especially as Washington killed militants with suspected links to Pakistan’s own military and intelligence services, such as members of the Afghan Taliban–affiliated Haqqani Network, Pakistani officials shed the fiction that the strikes were their own. Islamabad instead bowed to what it perceived as a powerful domestic consensus against the drones and criticized the United States in increasingly shrill terms for violating Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty. Privately, however, Musharraf and his immediate successors — including the civilian government led by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the army under General Kayani — continued to greenlight the drone program.

As the drone strikes mounted, the hypocrisy of the official Pakistani position became ever more difficult to hide. Opposition politician and former cricket star Imran Khan made the criticism of drones a centerpiece of his Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party’s election campaign in 2011 and 2012. And in early 2012, the Pakistani parliament unequivocally denounced the drone strikes and called for them to end. This unmistakable sovereign act called into question oft-repeated U.S. claims that Pakistan actually provides “tacit consent” for the drone campaign.

Pakistan’s current and future leaders, starting with Nawaz Sharif, will have little reason to implicate themselves in the drone hypocrisy of their predecessors. Sharif is on sounder political footing than his predecessor, but — as his top lieutenants are already signaling — he cannot weather the political storm that is likely to result if the United States appears to blithely disregard his authority. Washington’s failure to shift its policy would lead Islamabad to escalate its diplomatic protests.

One step in this escalation has already happened, with Pakistan taking its case against drones to the international community by way of the United Nations. If Pakistani frustration mounts without yielding results, one can imagine Sharif’s new army chief threatening to shoot U.S. drones from the sky, just as past Pakistani leaders have threatened to take down helicopters that cross into the nation’s airspace. At that stage, Washington would likely pull the drones from normal operation rather than play a high-stakes game of chicken. (Indeed, Washington has a habit of taking extended breaks from drone strikes at sensitive periods: for instance, there were no strikes for over six weeks after the so-called Salala incident at the Afghan border.)

The question is whether Washington and Islamabad can find a deal that addresses Pakistani concerns without depriving the United States of a counterterrorism tool that has been more effective, at least in a tactical sense, than any other. Short of ending the drone program altogether, the only way that Pakistan’s leaders can credibly claim to assert their sovereign authority — and thereby prove their nationalist credentials to political allies and adversaries alike — is if Washington cedes to Islamabad a greater degree of control over the program, especially when it comes to target selection.

At one extreme, this would mean doing what a number of Pakistani leaders (including General Musharraf) have requested for years: placing the drones under Pakistani command. Of course, given the highly sensitive nature of drone technology, along with the fact that U.S. officials do not adequately trust their Pakistani counterparts to deploy the drones in ways that would effectively eliminate top terrorist leaders, this solution remains off the table in nearly any conceivable future.

Somewhat less pie-in-the-sky, if still unrealistic at this stage, would be the idea of disarming U.S. drones and leaving Pakistani forces to act as the “trigger pullers” whenever terrorist targets are identified. Strikes would then be launched by Pakistani Air Force jets, helicopters, or perhaps even artillery, and would use U.S. intelligence for target selection. This solution also has an assortment of practical problems, from the time lag between identifying targets and shooting at them to, once again, U.S. officials’ lack of faith in their Pakistani counterparts’ ability and desire to act on that intelligence in the first place.

Then there is the option of crafting a “dual-key” authority at the operational level, perhaps by informing Pakistani officers in real time as drone strikes are launched and by implementing a mutually acceptable mechanism through which Islamabad could veto a specific strike, or at least raise it up the chain of command in a timely manner. Versions of a dual-key approach have been tried in the past, with some success. But given the fraught terms of cooperation between Washington and Islamabad in recent years, it is hard to imagine U.S. officials accepting this sort of arrangement, at least not yet. The real-time nature of the decision process would limit the potential for unwanted leaks or tip-offs to targets, but U.S. officials would still be wary that Pakistani officials could acquire too much knowledge of the drone program and its capabilities. If political trust improves over time, however, this might be a useful model for cooperation.

A final option — and the only realistic compromise at present — would be for Washington to seek Islamabad’s pre-authorization for specific targets and zones for strikes. The United States would retain full operational control over drone missions, and unlike the earliest stage in the drone program, when Musharraf’s explicit approval was required to kill Nek Muhammad, this process could provide blanket authority for a much longer (mutually agreed, if not publicly disclosed) target list. In return, Pakistani leaders would acknowledge publicly the terms of the new arrangement. Accompanying this preauthorization regime, Washington and Islamabad could establish a mechanism for reviewing claims of civilian losses and providing appropriate compensation, as the United States has done in Afghanistan and Iraq. In bringing the program out of the shadows, U.S. operational authority for the drones would almost certainly have to shift from the CIA to the Pentagon, as the Obama administration has already said it plans to do in other countries.

Admittedly, this final compromise option would be painful for both Islamabad and Washington. Pakistani leaders would finally have to come clean to their people about authorizing drone strikes. That would eliminate even the thin veneer of deniability that past leaders have maintained to protect themselves from political fallout. It would also place Sharif’s party firmly on the blacklists of the Pakistani Taliban and other targeted groups, which to date have enjoyed slightly more ambiguous relationships.

For their part, U.S. counterterror officials would chafe at any preauthorization program. This would be especially true if the target list excluded individuals, such as senior Afghan Taliban commanders, with whom the Pakistanis would prefer to maintain ties. A preauthorization regime would also mean foregoing the controversial U.S. practice of signature strikes, in which drones have been used to attack individuals who fit the profile of terrorists — for example, people who move about in armed convoys or visit known terrorist camps — but whose identities are not yet known to U.S. officials.

The new drone deal would be premised on the assumption that the United States is prepared to accept less frequent drone strikes than it has become accustomed to. So one potentially insurmountable stumbling block to this compromise would be if Washington planned to use the drone campaign as a primary tool for shaping the battlefield in Afghanistan, for instance by intensifying strikes against the Haqqani Network in the FATA’s North Waziristan agency. Pakistani leaders would almost certainly reject this strategy. Under such conditions, however, it is hard to imagine anything other than a tense and conflict-prone relationship between Washington and Islamabad, whether or not any new drone deal has been negotiated.

But officials in Washington would be wise not to let relations with Pakistan deteriorate to that point. The United States faces potential challenges in Pakistan that are even more daunting than the war in Afghanistan or the fight against al Qaeda. Nuclear-armed and battling a hardened Islamist insurgency, Pakistan is on track to be the fourth most populous country in the world by midcentury. Pakistan, in short, is here to stay — as is Nawaz Sharif, at least for the immediate future. Sharif may not be the man that the United States would choose to lead Pakistan, but he is one that Washington would be wise to learn how to bargain with.

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