Socialist Worker

Get ready to change the world

The Revolutionary Socialists sprung from underground to play a leading role in Egypt’s revolt. Sameh Naguib explains how they built a party to shape the struggle

Issue No. 2361

A protest against military rule last year

A protest against military rule last year (Pic: Hossam el-Hamalawy)


We live in exceptional times. World capitalism is in crisis and causing an enormous amount of human suffering—whether in poorer countries or the West.

Resistance and mass movements are taking off in different places. Obviously in some places this is happening more rapidly than others. 

If you believe in the possibility of a better society you can open your eyes and see that people do revolt. They bring down regimes.

And we have to work very hard to prepare for those exceptional moments. It requires serious consistent revolutionary work for years beforehand. Campaigns are not enough. Strikes are not enough.

We need an organisation that can unite these struggles in order to take the revolution to its logical conclusion, and to win.

The masses will not wait for you. You need to be prepared.

If revolutionaries do not have a viable, coherent set of ideas and an ability to organise the movement then you lose to other forces.

All kinds of different forces will take the space that revolutionaries could have occupied. They include forces of reformism and of reaction.

The last two and a half years in Egypt have been like being in a kind of hurricane that doesn’t settle. The Revolutionary Socialists as an organisation has been vindicated.

But if we hadn’t built an organisation before the revolution we would have been decimated, splintered into a hundred pieces. 

Wave

Unless we prepare ourselves for those moments of mass action and revolution the wave will be too strong for us to stand on our feet and offer an alternative.

We have grown rapidly since the revolution began, in terms of numbers of members and in terms of being active in areas that were very difficult to be in before.

Being called the Revolutionary Socialists (RS) itself made us attractive. People would buy the paper from us and talk simply because we had a revolutionary sounding name and we began to recruit people more openly.

We became publicly known for the positions we take. The media and the military attack us. We are seen as the people who are principled, who will not give in to the army.

It’s very easy to fit people in. New comrades are coming from movements.

They are already involved, whether that’s in building their unions or protesting on the streets.

But we offer something more. We say we need political organisation, coherence and unity to get over the unevenness of the struggle. 

The sort of organisation you need is very different at different stages.

Obviously when you are a small group of people then the form of organisation you need will be different than when you are larger.

Building when the struggle is going up is very different to building during a downturn. 

There’s the difference between legal and illegal organisation.

It has been very important to understand how the Bolsheviks in Russia built in different periods.

Most of the time that we were building the RS, we were underground. Once the revolution took place we could operate openly, and that completely changed our work.

An underground organisation had to be much more centralised.

There was no free flow of information—the leadership had a monopoly over information. This was necessary as there was always the threat of infiltration. 

Information

When we had a conference it discussed everything, but there was always that problem of access to information.

People would say you are not democratic enough. But if democratic means that information becomes available to all then if the state has an infiltrator, or gets one leading member and tortures them, then slowly you can completely destroy the organisation. 

That is something we have been able to make a big leap in since the revolution—and there is no upturn in struggle quite like a revolution.

People now know who the leadership is. We can communicate between members and between members and leadership.

People know what is happening in different cities. This boosts the confidence of individual members.

And we are now able to recruit openly, which has made a huge difference.

If this revolution had happened ten years earlier I don’t think we would have survived it. The ability to take positions quickly, to unify the party on these positions and to intervene in an effective way, is a huge challenge at a time of revolution.

Getting it right depends on having a coherent cadre—a set of comrades who can carry the argument in the party and the broader struggle. Even if the number is not that big, it makes a big difference.

Organisation is a tool rather than a set of rules. It’s a tool to find answers to the same questions we always face.

How de we grow, how do we put down roots in the working class, the student movement and the poor areas?

How do we build a cadre capable of withstanding the twists and turns, highs and lows of different periods of the struggle

The lesson of revolutionary organising is that you should build in a principled and flexible way. 

Our rapid growth has meant we have experienced the pull of anarchism. We have recruited some very young people who have only been politicised by the revolution.

They have no experience of struggle, they want things to change immediately.

So we do educational work. We hold public meetings for those wanting to join the organisation. We have simple pamphlets on things like socialism or the working class.

The point is to be principled but not in a dogmatic sense—to recognise the need for different tactics, but without becoming opportunistic.

In a revolution, just to survive as an organisation is an accomplishment. But if the wave doesn’t break you, it will lift you up like nothing else.

Sameh will be speaking at Marxism 2013. For details go to marxismfestival.org.uk

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