Socialist Worker

The Egyptian Revolution—the revolutionary party and the battle for change

by Isabel Ringrose
Issue No. 2744

Revolutionary Socialists campaigning in 2012

Revolutionary Socialists campaigning in 2012 (Pic: Gigi Ibrahim)


At key moments in any revolution, the working class faces important choices.

Is it time to consolidate gains that have been won or to push forward to conquer new heights?

How can new forces be won to the struggle?

Such issues are not settled without a struggle.

And to push aside those who want to hold back struggle, revolutionaries have to organise.

That’s why a revolutionary party is crucial.

The Revolutionary Socialists (RS) in Egypt played a vital role in building workers’ activity and politics during the revolution.

Strike

RS pushed for a general strike to topple Hosni Mubarak and called for “a worker’s revolution against the capitalist government” after the military took power.

The Egyptian Revolution—how workers terrified bosses
The Egyptian Revolution—how workers terrified bosses
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And it later urged revolutionaries not to side with the military against the Muslim Brotherhood government.

Members faced violence and arrest both from Mubarak’s regime and counter-revolutionary forces.

Mass strikes were key to the overthrow of Mubarak.

And after he was deposed strikes continued to demand job security, independent trade unions and the removal of corrupt bosses.

Following the 18-day uprising in Tahrir Square, RS brought together some of the best rank and file ­workers.

These led in part of the new trade union ­movement that the revolution had encouraged. This work was crucial to organising workers and directing their struggle.

In a move to bring stability and gain control the military government denounced the strikes.

So did sections of the revolution—in particular the middle classes and liberals.

They didn’t see the workers as the vehicle to bring about change, and accused them of being greedy and selfish.

RS was crucial in providing theoretical and practical leadership for the strikes and fought to convince others of their importance.

But the revolution became dominated by reformists of different types who argued against class unity and ­workers’ power.

They centred on conflict between secular and Islamist groups rather than between capitalists and workers.

Meanwhile military generals who supported Mubarak’s regime posed as a “revolutionary” force against Islamists.

Alliance

But after the first general election, won by the Muslim Brotherhood with Mohamed Morsi as president, the army and the Islamists entered into an alliance.

Revolutionaries again called for change.

Protests erupted and the military saw this as an opportunity to launch a counter revolution.

The Egyptian Revolution—A glimpse of what democracy could look like
The Egyptian Revolution—A glimpse of what democracy could look like
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They pretended to be on the side of the people, which many fell for. The revolutionary party reminded revolutionaries that being anti-Morsi shouldn’t mean trusting the army or being on the same side, but many on the left disagreed.

Without bigger numbers the revolutionary party couldn’t convince everyone that the army would not betray people in Egypt.

It meant the millions in Egypt fighting to keep the revolution alive were not won to the need for workers’ power. And opposition to the counter-revolution was weak.

The military’s victory was not inevitable.

But without unified workers’ organisation and a bigger revolutionary left, alternative ideas couldn’t spread across every workplace in Egypt.

Yet the work of RS was key—it helped to show workers their strength in organising and fighting for a new society.

The revolutionary party has to remember the experience of Egypt. And it has to use it to fight for success next time.

This is part of a series of articles on Egypt in revolution Read our coverage at bit.ly/EgyptSW2021

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