Every revolution is a flowering of the creative energy of people who have just discovered their power to change the world. New parties spring up out of nowhere and the political map is constantly redrawn.
But every revolution also poses questions of strategy and tactics, and above all raises the issue of leadership. The current phase of the unfolding revolution in Egypt presents huge challenges for revolutionary socialists.
The dictator Hosni Mubarak has fallen, but much of his dictatorship remains intact. Protests and strikes by workers and students have mushroomed across the country over the past few weeks. They are demanding the removal of corrupt bosses and college deans appointed by Mubarak and his cronies.
In response, the cabinet has decreed that all strikes and protests are illegal.
An urgent question is: what kinds of organisation should socialists build to channel the energy of the masses and provide a counterweight to the power of the state?
Revolutionary socialists in Egypt are playing a leading role in building three very different kinds of organisation, which aim to extend and deepen the revolution.
They are at the heart of the project to organise independent unions. They play a key role in building the Popular Committees to Defend the Revolution, which now publish a weekly newspaper Revolutionary Egypt with a print run of 50,000.
They are also engaged in a project to create the Democratic Workers’ Party with other socialists and independent trade union activists.
Here, two Egyptian socialists talk about what they are doing.
Sayed Abd-al-Rahman, Popular Committee to Defend the Revolution
I am a member of the Ma’adi, Basatin and Dar-al-Salam Popular Committee to Defend the Revolution. The committee was founded in the days after the fall of Mubarak by a group of activists, most of them on the left.
We knew each other from before the revolution and had been working together in the area on issues like Gaza, the war on Iraq and social issues specific to the area.
When the revolution started, our main thought was, “How can the revolution continue?”
We felt that many people would say that the revolution was just the fall of Mubarak, but we see the revolution in a deeper way—as a journey towards a changed society.
Ordinary people taking part in the revolution had a sense that things had to get better. So our aim was to work on how to continue the revolution in the area we live.
We organised a big meeting to commemorate the martyrs two days after Mubarak’s fall. It was also to say to people, “Come and join us, come and let’s think together about what we can do as the Popular Committee.”
We got a sound system, mics and a small table and started the meeting—200 local people came.
It was amazing to stand in the street and talk about politics.
Under Mubarak, we could sometimes organise a very quick demonstration for about half an hour so that the police wouldn’t have a chance to break it up. But there we were, having a huge street meeting for two or three hours.
It felt like a people’s parliament—everyone was giving their own ideas and opinions about the revolution.
The membership reflects the nature of the area. For example, in Dar-al‑Salam, the majority of people are small producers and artisans. This is a sector that is extremely hard to organise politically. They have small workshops, they are usually their own boss.
It would be very easy for the counter-revolution to win them in a time like this when the country’s economy has stalled. That’s why political work is so important in these areas.
In most of the places we are organising there has been no political activity at all.
The idea that an ordinary person from these streets could pick up the mic and talk about their opinions in front of people is a very positive step.
We meet on Saturdays and discuss what we’re going to do that week. We go with the decision of the majority or sometimes by consensus.
The problem is that we have a small office to meet in and there isn’t enough room for all the members of the committee. There are about 20 young men and women. These people are active on a daily basis, but there is a wider membership of about 200 who are active more occasionally.
We organised a demonstration to show unity between Muslims and Christians. We also mobilised 1,000 people to protest after a police officer killed a minibus driver in the street.
People are members of the committee as individuals, even if they are also members of political groups. The founding members are mainly from the left, some are members of the Revolutionary Socialists, and others are leftists from the 1970s generation.
Our idea of membership is to say to people that if they agree with our ideas and want to be active, they should join us.
It doesn’t matter if they are Muslim of Christian, a man or woman, young or old.
For us, continuing the revolution means achieving democracy from below, and creating political bodies that can allow people to express their ideas democratically.
We’ve seen this in practice in the soviets during the Russian revolution, and in the neighbourhood councils during other revolutions during the 20th century.
At a theoretical level we see that this is something that could be achieved in the future.
‘We have lacked the weapon of a political party—until now’
Kamal Khalil, speaking at the founding meeting of the Democratic Workers Party
Workers have three weapons: the strike, independent unions and finally they must have a political party to express their interests and organise workers’ power in society.
The strike weapon is used by workers despite all the laws of the existing regime which banned strikes and trapped workers in the government unions. Despite all the laws against it, workers in Egypt have been exercising their right to strike since 2006.
And despite all the laws criminalising independent unions, workers from the tax collectors to the Mahalla textile workers have been able to organise independent unions.
But Egyptian workers lacked the weapon of a political party until now.
There has been no party that expresses what workers want in terms of economic policy, or democratic demands.
No party that expresses workers’ views on class issues, or on imperialism.
Today we’re taking steps. We’ve started to discuss a programme, we’re going to publish a newspaper and we’ve set up a founding committee.
We are getting people to join and we will hold a founding conference where we’ll discuss the programme. Then people can say they disagree and we can decide to take it out of the programme.
There are a lot of intellectuals who want to join.
But we are saying that we want to build a party of workers—1,000 workers in Suez, 1,000 in Mahalla and 1,000 on the railways.
Then intellectuals can join, so long as they agree with our programme.
The leadership of the party needs to be at least 70 percent or 80 percent workers. Workers need to speak with one voice.
So the founding committee has someone from the tax collectors, someone from the Mahalla workers, someone from the public transport workers, someone from the Suez Canal, someone from the factories in Port Said.
For the founding conference everyone will have to be an elected delegate.
This is a workers’ party, but we have put peasants’ demands in our programme.
In the future if we win peasants to membership of the party we could change the name to be the workers’ and peasants’ party, but for the moment we will focus on the workers.
We can encourage members of the Committees to Defend the Revolution to join the party, but we still have to start from the workers.
Back in 1920, a workers’ party was created. But since it was dissolved in 1924 workers have had no party of their own. This is a historic opportunity.