Workers Hammer No. 222
In the service of opportunism
Cliffites disappear their support to Egypt's Morsi
“The victory of Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, is a great achievement in pushing back this counterrevolution and pushing back this coup d’etat. For now, this is a real victory for the Egyptian masses and a real victory for the Egyptian revolution.”
— Revolutionary Socialists founding member Sameh Naguib, quoted in Socialist Worker (US), 9 July 2012
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“Today all the masks fell from Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood organisation, who trade in revolution and for whom the revolution is nothing but a means to reach the seat of power. They and the remnants of the old regime are two sides of the same coin, which is tyranny and enmity towards the people.”
— “Statement by Egypt’s Revolutionary Socialists in response to president Morsi’s constitutional declaration”, 24 November 2012
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How do the British Socialist Workers Party (SWP), the Egyptian Revolutionary Socialists (RS, aligned with the SWP) as well as their somewhat estranged American cousins of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) explain this “victory” turning into its opposite within the space of some five months? They don’t. With anger at the murderous regime erupting in the streets, the supporting role of the RS in the Islamist victory, including its formal endorsement of the Brotherhood’s candidate in the 2012 elections, is now conspicuously absent from the RS’s narrative of “the revolution that — unfortunately — placed Morsi on the seat of power” (Socialist Worker [US], 30 January).
It is grotesque that ostensible Marxists would ever support religious fundamentalists, who want to turn the clock back on human progress to the benighted past of the seventh century. The Brotherhood would groove on the violent smashing of the unions and the spectacle of all women donning the niqab (full-face veil). Predictably, in power the Islamists moved to arrest strike organisers and trample on the rights of women and Copts. Crackdowns were unleashed on mass protests roiling the country, first sparked by a presidential power grab in late November and again beginning on 25 January, the anniversary of the upheaval that ousted the hated dictator Hosni Mubarak. In clashes across Egypt at the end of January, police fired wildly at protesters, beat them and lashed out with deadly force, leaving over 50 people dead and hundreds injured. Among the victims is a member of the Revolutionary Socialists, 17-year-old Ahmad Sami, who was shot dead in Port Said, one of three Suez Canal provinces placed under martial law and a curfew.
Although the call for a vote to Morsi caused some anguish among its membership, the RS along with its Cliffite co-thinkers in the SWP went to great lengths to defend this crime as “a blow against the old regime” (Socialist Worker [Britain], 2 June 2012). Endless nonsense was churned out comparing the Brotherhood to mass reformist workers parties, for which the tactic of critical electoral support can sometimes have relevance. Timid demurs from the no less opportunist ISO were dismissed, and charges of “Islamophobia” were hurled at critics. After the elections, the Islamist government was hailed as a “transitional stage” for “our revolutionary project”.
Such arguments are not just some simple mistake now best forgotten. From its formation in 1995, the RS courted the Muslim Brotherhood and invested these clerical reactionaries with “anti-imperialist” credentials. In doing so, it drew inspiration from the late SWP leader Chris Harman’s The Prophet and the Proletariat (1994), which retailed all manner of supposedly promising “contradictions” within the Brotherhood and like-minded deadly enemies of workers, women and religious minorities. The watchword was: “With the Islamists sometimes, with the state never”.
Since losing its enthusiasm for the president, the RS has flirted with the National Salvation Front, a lash-up of Morsi’s bourgeois rivals, such as liberal democrat Mohamed ElBaradei, Nasserite nationalist Hamdeen Sabahi and former Mubarak foreign minister Amr Moussa. On 26 January, the RS issued a statement that calls on “revolutionary youth in the Front to fight for the cleansing of its ranks” of the most inconvenient bloc partners, namely the despised “remnants of the old regime” like Moussa. Far less discerning is ISO hack Ahmed Shawki, who offered that “the forces united in the National Salvation Front represent, in many inchoate ways, the emergence of the second stage of the Egyptian revolution” (Socialist Worker [US], 12 December 2012).
As we observed in “Pandering to Reactionary Muslim Brotherhood” (Workers Hammer no 214, Spring 2011): “Tailing the Muslim Brotherhood today certainly does not prevent the Cliffites from keeping open the option of capitulating to ‘secular’ Arab nationalism.” By the same token, the present turn away from the Brotherhood does not prevent them from continuing to capitulate to political Islam, including the more hardline Salafists.
Last week, the Front joined the Salafists in pushing for a “national unity” government to restore stability. Even as he warned of dire consequences if the protests were not ended, Morsi’s defence minister, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, intoned: “The army’s deployment in Port Said and Suez provinces aims to protect the vital strategic interests of the state, at the forefront of which is the vital Suez Canal” (Irish Times, 29 January). Whether the Morsi regime remains intact or is replaced by another form of capitalist class dictatorship, deepening economic desperation and harsher imperialist-dictated austerity measures backed by the repressive state apparatus awaits the mass of the population.
To reverse the miserable conditions of life in neocolonial Egypt the proletariat, standing at the head of all the oppressed, must emerge as a contender for power in its own name. Right after the popular uprising that toppled Mubarak, which was capped by a wave of strikes, we noted: “The indispensable instrument for the working class to take the lead is a proletarian revolutionary party, which can be built only through relentless struggle against all bourgeois forces, from the military to the Brotherhood and the liberals who falsely claim to support the struggles of the masses” (Workers Hammer no 214, Spring 2011).
Apostles of defeat
Particularly since the fall of Mubarak, the RS has become a pole of attraction for young activists who have displayed heroism on the streets. But the programme of the Revolutionary Socialists is to subordinate the working masses to whatever capitalist force looks more popular at any given moment, notwithstanding their special fascination with the Islamists. Two years ago, when the military was directly taking power, these reformists fed rampant illusions in the army, which is at the core of the repressive machinery of the capitalist state.
While allowing that the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) “has no intention of abandoning the basic tenets of capitalism in Egypt”, Mostafa Ali, an RS founding leader, touted the SCAF’s openness to “pressure” from the masses: “Despite its repressive measures, the Supreme Council understands that the January 25 uprising has changed Egypt once and for all in certain ways. The generals understand the depth of revolutionary feelings among the poor, and they therefore have no intention of trying to return to the way the regime operated before January 25” (Socialist Worker [US], 31 May 2011). In fact, after it took over from Mubarak, the SCAF strengthened the police powers of the state and put the clamps on social unrest.
In a subsequent interview, Ali’s RS cohort Hossam el-Hamalawy explained the real story: “In February or March if you would have chanted against the army generals in a protest you could have been lynched by the people themselves — not by the military police — I mean by the people. Many people believed the lies and the propaganda of the army at the time about them protecting the revolution” (newsocialist.org, 10 December 2011). To swim against the stream, to debunk such lies, to insist on the political independence of the proletariat is precisely the task of Leninists. The Cliffites offered the very opposite: crude tailism in the service of dissolving the working class into “the people”.
The seeds for the Cliff tendency’s tailing of political Islam were planted in 1950 when these renegades broke from the Trotskyist Fourth International. Bending to the pressures of Cold War hysteria, Tony Cliff and his supporters capitulated to British imperialism and refused to defend the Soviet Union, China and North Korea against imperialist attack during the Korean War. Notably, it was a Labour government that had dispatched British troops to Korea. Ever since, the Cliffites have been hostile towards all those countries where capitalism has been overthrown. (See “The Bankruptcy of ‘New Class’ Theories — Tony Cliff and Max Shachtman: Pro-Imperialist Accomplices of Counterrevolution”, Spartacist [English-language edition] no 55, Autumn 1999.)
Such a position allowed the SWP to comfortably inhabit the swamp of Labourism in Britain. The counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet degenerated workers state in 1991-92, a world historic defeat for the proletariat, was grotesquely celebrated not only by the imperialists but also by the SWP and ISO. “Untainted” by any association with communism, Cliff & Co figured they could cash in, not least by redoubling their efforts in tailing after resurgent political Islam. For this task they were well prepared, having in 1979 bowed to Iran’s Khomeini, who considered the Soviet Union the greatest of all “great Satans”, and cheered the CIA-backed mujahedin against the intervention of the Soviet Red Army in Afghanistan on the side of social progress and in defense of the USSR’s southern flank.
Steeped in anti-Communist violence, the Muslim Brotherhood provided a major contingent of those mujahedin. During the first Cold War, the US imperialists had made common cause with these Islamic reactionaries and the Saudi monarchy in efforts to destabilise the nationalist regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser, which was allied with Moscow. Before its overthrow by Nasser’s Free Officers Movement in 1952, the Egyptian monarchy turned to the Islamists to slaughter Communists and other political opponents as well as to break workers strikes. Nasser himself briefly embraced the Brotherhood as a club against the workers movement before ruthlessly suppressing it. His successor, Anwar el-Sadat, unleashed the Brotherhood with knives in hand to crush the Communists on the campuses in the 1970s, while Mubarak alternately suppressed them and tolerated their growth for his own purposes.
Before Morsi’s election, the Islamists had already waged vicious campaigns against the RS. In late 2011, the newspaper of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party ran a front-page article violence-baiting the RS, while the Salafist Al-Nour Party accused it of “anarchy” and being on the CIA payroll — an incitement to imprisonment or worse. In Tunisia today, the Salafists are notorious for physically attacking striking workers and anti-government protesters.
Even as the Cliffites welcomed the ascendancy of the fundamentalist butchers, many other supposed leftists expressed concern over the fate of the “Egyptian Revolution”. But the reality is that the January 2011 uprising was not a revolution. The Mubarak regime was toppled, but capitalist class rule remains, as do its pillars, the army and religious reaction. The liberation of the Egyptian masses cannot be carried out by, or in alliance with, the capitalist exploiters, military or Islamic clergy. Such requires the seizure of power by the working class, fighting to extend its victory throughout North Africa and the Near East and to the imperialist centres. This programme of permanent revolution is based on the understanding that in countries of belated capitalist development the bourgeoisie is too weak, backward and dependent on imperialism to achieve modernisation and all-round development.
Political bandits exposed
Fraudulently posing as “orthodox” Marxist critics, David North’s World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) has recently issued a barrage of polemics against the RS and SWP over Egypt. This is pretty cheeky coming from these political bandits. As has been well-documented, including by themselves, the Northite outfit’s direct predecessors (led by Gerry Healy of the British Workers Revolutionary Party, with North as one of his US Workers League lieutenants) did not prettify reactionary Middle East despots free of charge — they did so in return for cold, hard cash.
While serving as press agents for the likes of Muammar el-Qaddafi and Iraq’s Ba’ath regime, Healy & Co — including North — hailed the 1978 execution of 21 members of the Iraqi Communist Party (CP). The CP had been the mass party of the proletariat with a militant tradition. In our article “Healyites: Kill a Commie for Qaddafi” we observed, “The Stalinist cadres in the Iraqi army, despite their class-collaborationist politics, are a hundredfold more courageous than Qaddafi’s yellow journalists in Clapham High Street [Healy’s headquarters]” (Workers Vanguard no 230, 27 April 1979).
The Northites certainly had no beef with political Islam when the imperialists fostered it as a bulwark against the Soviet Union. Indeed, Healy/North backed every force that was hostile to the USSR, including the Islamic reactionaries pitted against the Red Army in Afghanistan. Similarly over Iran, the Northites were indistinguishable from the Cliff tendency and almost the entire rest of the left in enthusing over Khomeini, headlining their Bulletin newspaper: “Long Live the Iranian Revolution!” (16 February 1979).
We said: “Down with the Shah! No support to the mullahs! For workers revolution in Iran!” The Healy/North hirelings duly slandered us: “If the antics of the Spartacist [sic] were directly orchestrated by the FBI and the CIA, they could not be more provocative” (Bulletin, 1 May 1979). Tragically, horribly, our warnings against the left’s embrace of Khomeini and the mullahs as “anti-imperialist” were proved correct. The opening act of the “Islamic revolution” was a reign of terror against the left, the workers movement, women and religious and ethnic minorities.
As for its polemics, the WSWS arguments are made, as the Northites like to say, in “utterly bad faith”. One arrow always in the Northite quiver is smearing their political opponents. In the article “Egyptian Liberal, Pseudo-Left Groups Demonstrate against Mursi” (23 October 2012), the WSWS echoes the Salafist accusations against the RS: “The CTUWS [Center for Trade Union and Workers Services] is sponsored by the AFL-CIO, and like the RS, the April 6 Movement and other pseudo-left groups, has close ties to Washington” (emphasis ours). There is no further elaboration of this claim of RS “ties to Washington”. We warn the workers movement again: beware this outfit that will fly any flag to attack any target.
At the time of the “Islamic revolution”, we predicted that the anti-Marxist methodology that led to supporting Islamic reaction in Iran would also lead to “supporting the Khomeinis of Egypt” (Workers Vanguard no 229, 13 April 1979). The SWP, RS and ISO are now proof positive.
— Reprinted from Workers Vanguard no 1017, 8 February.