This is revolution!
What is a revolutionary situation
“… a revolution is impossible without a revolutionary situation; furthermore, it is not every revolutionary situation that leads to revolution. What, generally speaking, are the symptoms of a revolutionary situation? [...]
(1) when it is impossible for the ruling classes to maintain their rule without any change; when there is a … crisis in the policy of the ruling class, leading to a fissure through which the discontent and indignation of the oppressed classes burst forth. For a revolution to take place, it is usually insufficient for “the lower classes not to want” to live in the old way; it is also necessary that “the upper classes should be unable” to live in the old way;
(2) when the suffering and want of the oppressed classes have grown more acute than usual;
(3) when, as a consequence of the above causes, there is a considerable increase in the activity of the masses, who uncomplainingly allow themselves to be robbed in “peace time”, but, in turbulent times, are drawn … into independent historical action.
Without these objective changes, which are independent of the will, a revolution, as a general rule, is impossible. The totality of all these objective changes is called a revolutionary situation. Such a situation existed in 1905 in Russia, and in all revolutionary periods in the West; it also existed in Germany in the sixties of the last century, and in Russia in 1859-61 and 1879-80, although no revolution occurred in these instances. Why was that? It was because it is not every revolutionary situation that gives rise to a revolution; revolution arises only out of a situation in which the above-mentioned objective changes are accompanied by a subjective change, namely, the ability of the revolutionary class to take revolutionary mass action strong enough to break (or dislocate) the old government, which never, not even in a period of crisis, “falls”, if it is not toppled over…”
V.I. Lenin: The Collapse of the Second International
1. Masses lose fear
The great economic crisis has driven the masses of North Africa and the Middle East to breaking point. Huge numbers of unemployed youth, soaring prices and old, rotten dictatorships roused millions into action. The spur was the suicide of Mohammed Bouazizi in Tunisia which brought scores of thousands into the streets, confronting the police, spreading revolt to Algeria, Jordan, Yemen and above all Egypt. By matching force with force, mass demonstrations drove the police from the streets. Rights that were denied for decades like freedom to hold meetings, to speak out, to march, had at last been won, not by begging for them, but by taking them.
2. Ruling class divides
The fury of the people splits the ruling class. Some around the ruling dictator and his clique try to hold firm – any compromise, they say, will only embolden the masses. Others – opposition politicians and senior generals – start looking for a compromise and jockeying for position to replace the old regime. So Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak sacked his government and promised to improve wages – Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh raised wages and cut income tax. These reforms are a by product of the revolution, and a snare to convince the workers and youth to back down. But the people sense that the regime’s crisis is their opportunity and press on – like the millions in Cairo on 1 February who rejected anything less than Mubarak standing down now.
3. General strike
Street protests and clashes escalate, and soon the workers come onto the scene. In Tunisia it was the mere threat of a general strike that sent dictator Ben Ali packing. In Egypt the great general strike that began on 1 February declared it would continue until Mubarak resigned and gave him until Friday 4 Feb to do so.
In Suez, steel workers seized their factories and began to run them under workers’ control. Strikers and demonstrators set up committees to organise traffic, security and food distribution, and patrols and militia to defend their areas from looters and police.
Egyptian workers have dumped their old government backed unions and built a new trade union federation to help launch the strike.
The general strike is the most powerful weapon of the revolution apart from the mass armed uprising. As Leon Trotsky said, it poses the question: “who will be master in the house” – the capitalists, or the workers?
4. Revolt spreads
The eyes of the world are fixed on Egypt, just as a week ago the eyes of Egypt were fixed on Tunisia. Millions of workers, youth and poor people in the cities and countryside across the Arab world are not just inspired by the heroism of the revolutionaries and the strength of the people when they rise – they are shown a new way forward in the fight against tyranny. Not parliamentary manoeuvres, not guerrilla warfare, not Islamism, but the mass mobilisation of the poor, the formation of fighting groups, popular committees and the general strike – in short, the methods of the working class revolution.
5. New methods.
This is a 21st century revolution – the good old techniques like leaflets, strikes, barricades and the militia have not disappeared but have been added to by new forms of communication and organisation. No wonder Mubarak tried to block Facebook and Twitter when in Tunisia and in Egypt Facebook groups brought hundreds of thousands onto the streets, and Twitter allowed protesters to communicate with each other quickly and en masse in street battles with the police. Thousands found work-arounds when the internet was blocked, using faxes, dial-up modems and special ISPs. And in the main square of Cairo on 31 January it was a simple printed leaflet that set out the movement’s demands – no compromise, general strike, a million to march on 1 February.
6. Rulers tremble
The ruling class all over the world is trembling as revolution becomes not just a threat but a living reality once more. They know the great economic crisis is bringing even greater unemployment, even greater suffering. And they know that everywhere young people denied an education are set on change by any means necessary.
Obama is desperately trying to convince Mubarak to stand down – but wants him to do it slowly, so that the Egyptian masses do not get the chance to express their real desire which could clash with the US-backed order in the region. In particular they fear that a revolution across the Arab world will threaten their multinationals, their huge loans, and their expansionist Israeli puppet.
And the Chinese ruling class are terrified too – the combination of poverty, a large concentrated population and hatred of dictatorship could easily spread to China’s 1.3 billion people. When their economy hits the buffers, they fear revolution too. No wonder Beijing banned the Google search term ‘Egypt’!
7. Who rules?
In Egypt, in Tunisia, across the Middle East, the revolution puts the question point blank: who rules? In Egypt will it be the generals in the Army? Will it be Mubarak’s chosen deputy, the former spy boss and torturer Suleiman? Will it be America’s friend El Baradei, perhaps in a temporary alliance with the conservative Muslim Brotherhood? Or will it be the mass of the poor, the working class and the youth?
The capitalist politicians did not make the revolution on the streets and in the factories. It was made by the millions – the working class, the lower middle class and the poor. But the rich and privileged will try to take it over.
In the struggle the masses have been forced to form local popular committees – it is bodies like these, workers’ councils (or ‘Soviets’ as they were called in the Russian Revolution) that can become the basis for a new type of government and a new type of state – one really controlled by the exploited and oppressed, one that can really take the economy into the hands of the people.
Will the Egyptian workers organise a party in time to fight for this perespective? Will they be defrauded of the fruits of their revolution – or will they win their birthright and open a new page in history?
The drama will be played out over the weeks and months ahead. Victory to the Egyptian Revolution!