The Egyptian Proletariat Between the Hammer and the Anvil of the Bourgeoisie

What is happening in Egypt is a dramatic expression of the deep political disorientation of the world proletariat, as well as one of the worst crises in capitalist history.

The deterioration of the material conditions of the proletariat and of the underprivileged masses was one of the main factors in the Muslim Brotherhood’s election victory last year. With huge financial resources from a sector of the Egyptian bourgeoisie as well as some Arab oil states in particular Qatar, they have always maintained a kind of mini-welfare “charity”, which, of course, cannot eliminate the misery of millions of the proletariat, even if it partly softens its most extreme forms for a short while. Once in government, however, it was obvious that they could not fulfil the liberally scattered promises of the election campaign of greater “social justice”: the reactionary ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, the programme of the party of “Freedom and Justice” – the political expression the “Brotherhood” – that is a bourgeois faction, excluded this from the start. But even if the "Brotherhood" had wanted to take some economic steps in favour of the lower classes, they would have had to deal with the economic crisis, as, indeed happened. However, the "Brotherhood" never thought of launching economic policy measures other than those commonly (though incorrectly) defined as neoliberal. Against employees, the working class, the Morsi government stuck to the same path as the governments that preceded it. In Egypt, as in every other part of the world, the sting of crisis means the bourgeoisie can do nothing else but attack the general living conditions of the proletariat. To this we must add the predictable measures of any regime which flies the flag of religious obscurantism on “civil rights”, on culture, on women, which have angered the secular part of so-called civil society. On July 3 the military, which controls forty percent of the Egyptian economy, in the face of mounting protests and the inability of Morsi to control the streets, deposed what, in bourgeois terms, was a legitimately-elected government, proof, if ever it were needed, that self-styled democracy is a luxury the middle class cannot always afford and which they will blithely abandon when it suits them. It was obvious, however, that the bourgeois faction which was the victim of the coup was not just going to stand and watch, thus opening up unpredictable scenarios.

In this battle between opposing factions of the ruling class, the proletariat and similar social strata are paying and will pay the highest price. Part of the proletariat, has come onto the streets of Cairo and other cities just as the other half had done before, in the struggle against Morsi. In both cases, the determination, the courage, the bloodshed have been and are being used by the bourgeoisie, especially by the "secular-technocratic" provisional government supported by the military, and the bigoted obscurantists of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Egyptian working class, beginning with its “citadels” on the Nile Delta, have given us wonderful examples of fighting at the front of the class war. They have contributed decisively to shake regimes that seemed unshakable, but they have never been able to break free from the power of the bourgeois “left” – Stalinism and its remnants – or from reformism, including its updated version of radical reformism. Where large sections of the proletariat have not followed secular reformist illusions their social anger has been tapped by the opium of religious fundamentalism. Their anger has been diverted onto an inter-bourgeois battle ground but on this terrain the class can only act as cannon fodder in support of interests which are not only not their own but are, indeed, opposed to them.

It’s a tragic situation, but not surprising: in Egypt, and not only there, the working class lacks a truly alternative programme to the present state of things, it lacks an organisation that can attract and channel along coherent anti-capitalism lines the enormous potential of social energy that the class itself expresses. In essence it lacks a revolutionary party.

What Egypt is showing is that the task of developing today’s very weak revolutionary forces is becoming ever more urgent. Without this the most aware and most advanced of the proletariat will remain without an effective political reference point. Either the proletariat begins to create a revolutionary party, indispensable political tool of the class struggle, or it is destined to remain tragically trapped between a rock and a hard place of the bourgeoisie.

International Communist Tendency

16 August 2013

Saturday, August 17, 2013


The situation in Egypt as well as in the wider region highlights Marx's dictum in the Communist manifesto that where the progressive class is unable to overthrow the reactionary class then the outcome of their struggles will be there mutual destruction with all of the pain and destruction that this would entail. In all these struggles the working class as an independent factor armed with a Marxist political programme is not only missing but there appears to be no sign of one emerging.

Hi Dave. Do you think we've had it then? That the revolutionary class is not actually up to its revolutionary/evolutionary task: to save humanity from the capitalist disaster? Do you think we're doomed?

Hi Charlie At this moment in time I do hope that my pessimism is unfounded. Although the past seems to provide evidence that the working class is not up to it's historic task. Germany during the period 1919-23 sees the working class follwing the reformist SDP through to Greece, Egypt today still following reformist organisations. Apart from Russia in 1917 the working class in any developed capitalist democracy has never been close to taking political power.

The Egyptian workers may be on a steep upward learning curve. According to the info we have received the so-called new independent unions tried to call off strikes (for back pay amongst other things) as they support the military coup. The workers have refused and some have been arrested. Global capitalist recovery may be a chimera but it will not stop the capitalists from thinking they can achieve it on the backs of our sacrifices - therein lies the rational hope for the future. It has taken 4.5 billion years from the Big Bang to get where we are now so perhaps expecting capitalism to be overturned in a couple of centuries is a tad impatient!