After the defeat of a revolution, there are always three reactions.
Sections of the ruling class declare that the whole project was evil or that the good intentions were hijacked by malicious agitators.
Today Egypt’s bloody dictator Abdel Fattah al-Sisi blames the revolution for unleashing economic suffering and terrorism.
Real revolutionaries say it was right to fight but resolve that next time our side will do it better—and succeed.
The Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin expressed this well after the defeat of the 1905 revolution. “Just wait, 1905 will come again,” he wrote. “That is how the workers look at things.
“For them that year of struggle provided a model of what has to be done.
“For the intellectuals and the renegading petty bourgeois it was a model of what should not be done.”
Lenin added that the working class had to learn how to make the methods of insurrectionary strikes and armed struggle “more massive, more concentrated and more conscious”.
In contrast, the liberals would seek to replace what they saw as the “naive impulsiveness of untamed mass struggle” with “‘cultured and civilised’ constitutional work”. Twelve years after 1905 the revolution did indeed come again in Russia. That time it was successful.
So it is with the Egyptian Revolution. The horrors of Egyptian society now should not be used to eliminate the hope of 2011 or the power of revolution. Today tens of thousands of political prisoners, particularly socialists and those from the Muslim Brotherhood, are caged in jails.
But there are important gains that can never be taken away. Above all millions of Egyptians felt their power and saw the potential for fundamental change.
And the revolution set an example for new generations.
It confirmed that strikes and mass protests can topple a brutal regime. And it demonstrated that ordinary people can do this themselves.
It showed that a revolutionary process can transform, at least temporarily, women’s role in society and challenge the oppression of other groups.
It proved that a movement that begins with the demand of removing a particular member of the ruling class can raise issues such as democracy in the workplace and the whole running of society.
It confirmed that a revolution in one country can cause international shockwaves.
Egypt also provides lessons to remember.
It is not enough to remove a dictator—it is necessary to uproot the whole system that produced the tyrant. The army generals and the police chiefs may at times claim to support a revolution but ultimately they will organise to crush it.
And without a revolutionary socialist organisation, the politics of compromise with the old order will win out—with disastrous results.
The factors that produced the Arab Spring have not gone away.
Workers in revolt across the world will be faced with similar challenges to those in Egypt ten years ago.
The revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg in her last published work threw a defiant challenge to the ruling class after the defeat of the 1919 German revolution.
She said, “‘Order prevails in Berlin!’ You foolish lackeys! Your ‘order’ is built on sand.
“Tomorrow the revolution will ‘rise up again, clashing its weapons’, and to your horror it will proclaim with trumpets blazing ‘I was, I am, I shall be!’.”