The Egyptian revolution is a blow to all those who think change is impossible. There is an exhilaration to those moments when ordinary people overthrow an old society and start to build a fresh one.
The ousting of Hosni Mubarak by the people of Egypt is one such moment.
The American socialist Hal Draper wrote of revolution: “Since the beginning of society, there has been no end of theories ‘proving’ that tyranny is inevitable and that freedom-in-democracy is impossible; there is no more convenient ideology for a ruling class and its intellectual flunkies.
“In the last analysis, the only way of proving them false is in the struggle itself.
“That struggle from below has never been stopped by the theories from above, and it has changed the world time and again.”
The Financial Times spotted both a myth about the Egyptian revolution and the correct historical analogies—even if it confused some details.
“Some caution about the ‘Facebook Revolution’ is in order,” it said.
“The commentary about the role of social media in Egypt has become so breathless that it is easy to forget that the French managed to storm the Bastille without the help of Twitter—and the Bolsheviks took the Winter Palace without pausing to post photos of each other on Facebook.”
Revolutions dominate history. The system we live under today, capitalism, is the result of a series of revolutions against feudalism.
Societies have never progressed at a smooth and even pace, but by a series of sudden jolts. And at each juncture, the role of the masses is key.
Of course, societies have a constant turnover of rulers. But a change in leader in itself is not a revolution.
Revolution means fundamental change.
States are transformed, new ruling classes replace old ones and nothing stays the same.
These things are what are so significant about the unfolding of the revolution in Egypt.
Revolution is not merely a change in state power.
It involves dramatic challenges to state power, but these are one part of a wider process.
The toppling of Mubarak is a major blow to US dominance in the region.
Part of this is because a collapse in confidence among the ruling class opens up wider divisions at the top.
The strategic significance of the region means the uprisings across the Middle East, from Algeria to Iran, will reshape global politics regardless of how they develop.
If the masses stay in the driving seat, the shift of the political balance of power will be in favour of the poor against the rich globally.
The revolution also opens up something else.
As Karl Marx explained, “Revolution is necessary not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but also because the class overthrowing it can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew.”
It opens up a vision. Socialists celebrate revolutions as festivals of the oppressed.
Not only do the shackles of everyday life fall away—the experience of struggle empowers people to throw off some of the muck of ages of this divided society.
And it is enormously important that workers’ strikes tipped the balance of power enough to push Mubarak out.
That shows the strength workers have—not just in numbers, but as organised workers who can directly affect production.
Putting that force at the centre of the revolution is key to developing the struggle.
The growing strike movements can develop new institutions of self-organisation.
People can go from factory committees and neighbourhood defence committees to organisations that can be an alternative to the existing top-down authorities.
The beginning of independent workers’ organisation in Egypt is part of that process.
This opens up the possibility of moving beyond bringing down a dictator to a workers’ revolution from below ushering in genuine democracy.
It is obvious to millions of people that we urgently need a different type of world.
The Egyptian revolution casts a light on the possibility of achieving it.
As the artist and revolutionary William Morris wrote, “It is not a dream but a cause. Men and women have died for it, not in the ancient days but in our own time.
“They lie in prison for it, work in mines, are exiled, are ruined for it.
“Believe me when such things are suffered for dreams, the dreams come true at last.”