The military coup in Egypt and the scandalous position of the IWL/PSTU (2013)
Opportunism and crystalized confusion
The military coup in Egypt and the scandalous position of the IWL/PSTU
By Icaro Kaleb, October 2013
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The position adopted by the International Workers’ League (IWL) and its leading section, the Brazilian PSTU (Unified Workers’ Socialist Party) in face of the recent events in Egypt is a display of incoherence and blatant deviation from the Marxist method, both for its opportunist approach and its denial of reality. What has been consistent, though, is the opportunism of the Morenoites in their trajectory – from their historical view of the Brazilian cops as workers to their illusions in the Egyptian army now, one can easily trace parallels between the PSTU’s policies at home and those proposed internationally.
Events in Egypt are of general knowledge since they have been all around the headlines, and we will not spend a lengthy space on them. The fall of Dictator Hosni Mubarak and the election of the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi in June 2012 did not at all mean the collapse of the bourgeois regime, but was instead a controlled transition whose intention was to settle down the protesting masses. Such ‘change’ did not at all alter the cornerstones of the Egyptian dictatorship that had lasted for so many years. This was, to some extent, the reason for such a widespread mass dissatisfaction with the Morsi government. It was unable to meet the expectations of those who fought for the fall of the previous regime. Add to that its continuation of austerity measures against the working class, the corrosion of wages by a deepening inflation, the repression of political adversaries and the attempt to implement sections of the Sharia Law (a set of rules derived from interpretations of Islam). The increasing dissatisfaction led dozens of millions of people to participate in street protests and also to workers’ strikes throughout Morsi’s government.
Facing the collapse of the Muslim Brotherhood government and its inability to maintain stability, and to prevent any chance that this government could be removed by an independent action from the streets, the summit of the Egyptian army (which had not been removed from office in 2012 and only conceded to a civil government) toppled Morsi by means of a military coup d’état. That was how one leading structure of the repressive state apparatus put an end to the brief and very limited experience of the Egyptians with bourgeois democracy. A few weeks after the coup, the army started a brutal repression against the militants of several opposition parties and organizations, especially the former ruling party. The army slaughtered hundreds and injured at least a thousand.
But this apparently bread-and-butter analysis of the event was not unanimous among the left. The reason for that was because the army received significant popular support from the protesting masses in the immediate aftermath of the coup. Many of the protesters called for a military intervention and celebrated when the military deposed Morsi. We will analyze the PSTU’s take every step of the way.
First of all, the PSTU saw Morsi’s fall by the hands of the generals as some sort of “victory”. The title of one of their articles written after the coup read: “Morsi has fallen! Grand victory for the movement of the Egyptian people!”. Here is an excerpt from this confused article:
“We are witnessing a huge victory for the masses, who correctly understand so and celebrate in the streets and squares all over the country.
“It is a victory because the key factor of Morsi’s defeat was the colossal mobilization of the masses. In face of this, the military regime, although not destroyed, is clearly weakened, and the military officials saw themselves forced to sacrifice yet another government loyal to them, as had been the case with Mubarak, now it is with Morsi…”
— “Morsi has fallen! Grand victory for the movement of the Egyptian people!”, 4 July 2013.
In this statement, the PSTU portrays Morsi’s fall as the result of workers’ actions, or rather, of the action of “the masses”. These masses, to which the Morenoites give no clear class characterization, would have weakened the army, which would now be more fragile after the regime change.
The huge street demonstrations of July 3rd were in fact among the largest in the history of Egypt, but they lacked working class leadership and class consciousness. They created a situation which prompted the military into action. But the destitution of Morsi made by the Army cannot be seriously seen as any “victory of the masses”. It was rather a movement in the interests of the military and the bourgeoisie in general. The PSTU mechanically separates “Morsi’s fall” (supposedly a victory) from the ascension of the forces which immediately replaced him – the summit of Army officers who were quick to anticipate any other force from removing the former President and shaking the bourgeois state. What benefit does the PSTU think this “victory” has brought the Egyptian working class and the oppressed?
The PSTU was forced to recognize, after the military started its brutal repression, how disastrous the coup d’état had been for the workers:
“By making this movement, [the Army] could present themselves and be identified by broad sections of the masses as ‘friends’ and ‘guardians’ of popular demands.
“Unfortunately, they were able to steal the victory from the masses, in order to keep control of the process following Morsi’s debacle and manage the creation of a new government. Because of the lack of revolutionary leadership with mass influence, the people ended up trusting the way offered by the Army to halt the popular movement.”
— “Egypt: no trust in the new government, puppet of the Army and imperialism!”, 26 July 2013.
“Standing on the great prestige obtained with the population due to the removal of Morsi and the hatred against the Muslim Brotherhood, the Army started an unbridled and thoroughly disproportional repression against the militants of the Brotherhood”
— “The military attacks not only the reactionary Muslim Brotherhood, but all the people”, 20 August 2013.
In these statements, produced some time after the coup d’état, the PSTU admits that Morsi’s fall benefited the Army leaders, and not the “masses”, and that the military formed a new government with the intention of better repressing any opposition parties (“not only the reactionary Muslim Brotherhood”).
Being enthusiastic about the massive support received by the military in its overthrow of Morsi, the PSTU insisted (and still insists) that it was a “victory”. Marxists should, however, try to understand the reasons that led the masses to trust the summit of the bourgeois army, which gave it moral support to take over power and repress the opposition. Instead of echoing popular illusions, we must understand that the lack of a revolutionary party that could have been the spearhead of mass dissatisfaction with the Morsi government – and then lead the workers and the oppressed towards the destruction of the bourgeois state – is what eventually led to the current bloodbath. The Army, on the contrary, is one of the main strongholds of the bourgeois state and of the capitalist system.
A simple question cannot be answered by reading the PSTU formulations. Did Morsi’s fall strengthen or weaken the military junta? According to the PSTU, both are true. The Army “is clearly weakened”, but it was somehow able to start “an unbridled and thoroughly disproportional repression”. Such “disproportional repression” (would there be a “proportional repression”?) was the only concrete achievement of the grand “victory” that the PSTU acclaimed.
In reality, since Morsi was brought down not by the organized workers’ movement, but precisely by the military junta that had once sustained his government; nothing different could have been expected. It would have been crucial to warn the Egyptian workers about the mortal danger and call for an organized resistance based on proletarian self-defenses and denunciation of the role of the Army. Instead, the PSTU chose to “celebrate” with the masses. They actually went as far as to characterize Morsi’s deposition as a “democratic concession” by the Army (obviously this was prior to the intensification of the repression):
“The most immediate factor is that, as is well known, after the big protests that brought down Mubarak and Morsi, instead or repressing and conducting a bloodbath, as it is expected from a counterrevolutionary military regime, the officers saw themselves forced to accommodate to democratic concessions, to the point of removing two of its previous governments”
— “Egypt: no trust in the new government, puppet of the Army and imperialism!”, 26 July 2013.
But who brought down Morsi, the Army which arrested him or the “big protests”? The PSTU answers this by claiming that the bourgeois Army was fulfilling the wishes of the people:
“When the military, facing the movement of the masses, gave Morsi an ultimatum, and announced that if he did not agree to the popular demands in 48 hours, they would overthrow him, the position of the revolutionaries and their orientation should not have changed, because the military ‘coup’ did not mean a setback, as would be the case if it involved a regime change from bourgeois democracy to a dictatorship. In this case, it was a ‘coup’ within the limits of the same military regime and although the Army was overthrowing the government by force, it was fulfilling the main demand from the mass movement at that moment: Morsi’s fall.”
This quote is particularly criminal for the use of quotation marks for the coup. In the heads of the PSTU leaders, it does not matter how and by who a government is concretely overthrown. As long as it counts with popular support, even if only initially and briefly, such regime change is considered progressive. The Morenoites mistake Morsi’s fall orchestrated by the military junta made to consolidate its dictatorship and repress the workers for a progressive overthrow. Under this objectivist logic, revolution is replaced with reaction. The bankruptcy of this analysis was late made clear:
“To the IWL-FI, as we have stated in other articles, this is the true content of the facts and the process as a whole. It is important to have this in mind, since it is natural to have questions or doubts, especially since the form through which Morsi’s final deposition happened was an Army coup.
“The military intervention, amid the movement of the masses, concretized Morsi’s destitution. Although this is the contradiction and not the essence of the process, it is not a minor element, since it is what led to a new government in Egypt. Consequently, there was a whole new strategic political plan, orchestrated by the military, which maintains the same objective as the ruling class and imperialism since the fall of Mubarak: defeat the revolution.
“But the first and most important fact is that, independently from the form, Morsi’s fall (such as Mubarak’s) is an enormous revolutionary victory of the Egyptian masses who, with their action, weakened the military and also the American imperialism, which has given support to this regime for more than 30 years.”
So to sum it up, despite being “orchestrated” and “concretized” by the military junta, in order to “defeat the revolution”, Morsi’s fall was also “an enormous revolutionary victory” which “weakened the military and American imperialism” (!!!). It is hard to get more confusing than this. The core is that the actual way by which the Muslim Brotherhood’s government was overthrown was not “the essence”, only a secondary factor, since the essence was (we are never told why) the “victory of the masses” no matter how it concretely happened.
This is not a new “logic”. It is the same the Morenoites leaders used in Libya in 2011, when the rebel army led by tribal and bourgeois leaders (and with the political and military support of imperialist powers) overthrew the regime of Muammar Gaddafi. The PSTU also claimed that his fall was a “victory” despite the fact that is was concretely led and organized by the British, French and American imperialists. This is not Marxism. It is an objectivist logic that borders stupidity by celebrating the fall of a bourgeois regime by the mere fact that is was hated by the masses and that the agents behind it had some temporary popularity, no matter what the program or leadership of such movement was. Marxists take into consideration the class character, program, leadership and the dynamic of the process, not only the expectations of the masses (and especially not in the abstract manner the PSTU did). If the Morenoites were in Egypt, they would have confused the workers even further by telling them that a “victory” had been achieved and that the Army was fulfilling a popular demand. The PSTU would have paved the way for the bloody attack against the Egyptian masses.
What about after the coup?
After acknowledging the severe repression conducted by the Army, the PSTU was still thoroughly confused about the tasks of fighting the coup d’état. After putting together the interests of the masses and those of the bourgeois Army around the overthrow or Morsi, the Morenoites legitimated the repression against the Muslim Brotherhood. There is no question that the Brotherhood is a reactionary organization in every sense. As there is no question that revolutionists should give no support to its will to get back to power after the coup. The military coup should be defeated by working class methods; preferably with a program for workers’ power to end capitalist exploitation and oppression. But revolutionists have an active interest in halting the attacks of the Amy against street protests and other struggles, even those led by the Muslim Brotherhood. Once brutal repression is legitimized against the Brotherhood, it will surely be conducted against all oppositional parties – including socialists.
At least formally, the PSTU claims to agree with this perspective:
“However, the fact that we are against the protests of the Muslim Brotherhood does not mean we will support any repressive measure by the Army or the police, since such measures follow the interests of the commanders and there is no reason to trust them.”
— “The military attacks not only the reactionary Muslim Brotherhood, but all the people”, 20 August 2013.
But then it immediately contradicts itself by saying:
“Whilst the Brotherhood continues to urge their members to go to the streets to get back to power, that is, to go against the action of the broad majority of the people and the achievement of overthrowing Morsi, we are not in favor of their rights of expression and protesting.”
Without ever trying to explain how it is possible that such violent repression was the immediate result of the grand “victory” it proclaimed, the PSTU now stands in favor of the military curbing the Muslim Brotherhood’s right to protest and defend their views. In order to defend the “achievement” that the overthrow of Morsi by the junta supposedly was, the PSTU supports the repressive apparatus of the bourgeois state.
Far from being sympathetic towards reactionary Islamists, and definitely maintaining our political opposition to them, revolutionaries should oppose the military coup and its repression against opposition parties, including their right to protest and defend their views. We oppose such views and rallies politically, but are not in favor of prohibiting them by using military force, since this could only reinforce the power of the Army officers. This does not mean supporting Morsi’s return to power, nor the program of the Muslim Brotherhood. Only the organized workers, with a revolutionary program, can effectively defeat the reactionary ideology spread by the Brotherhood. The PSTU does not even consistently defend democratic rights against the military repression.
Class collaboration… even with the bourgeois Army
This scandalous position derives directly from the IWL’s policy of class collaboration for the removal of bourgeois regimes. One day before Morsi’s deposition, the PSTU issued a call for the defeat of the Egyptian president, and explicitly said it was in favor of doing so uniting all classes, including sections of the capitalist class, such as the bourgeois politician Mohamed Mustafa ElBaradei:
“For the struggle against a Bonapartist regime, it is necessary to adopt a policy of broad unity of action against the military regime and its measures. This unity of action, realized through complete political independence of the workers’ movement and the revolutionary organizations, must include all democratic forces opposed to the military regime, from youth organizations such as Tamarod, up until the bosses’ parties and the National Salvation Front of ElBaradei and Amr Musa.”
— “Millions take the streets of Egypt”, 2 July 2013.
By proposing to fight Morsi along with the capitalist parties, the PSTU was in favor of a movement which could never mean a serious victory against capitalism and imperialism. This could only be considered a “victory” in the objectivist Morenoite scheme of the “democratic revolution”. This idea, put forward by the late founder of IWL, Nahuel Moreno, assumes that socialist revolution must be preceded by an “unconscious revolution” led by non-socialist political parties and which does not necessarily have the working class as the leading social force. In defending this vulgar two-stage scheme for revolution, the Morenoites are far distant from Trotskyism and the perspective of Permanent Revolution; they are proposing what is actually an obstacle to the necessary proletarian revolution to smash the bourgeois state.
Despite their bogus words in contrary, working class independence does not matter for the PSTU precisely because in the first stage of their “democratic revolution”, they do not care about who leads the masses or who overthrows the government, or with what program. This is always considered a factor of secondary importance, which would not change the “essence” of the objective process.
Defending that it is possible to collaborate with sections with the bourgeoisie, not on a tactical level for the benefit of the proletariat on certain specific circumstances, but for the overthrow of a regime, means class collaboration – it erects obstacles on the road for socialist revolution instead of removing them. In a certain sense, though, the PSTU scheme for revolution was concretized when they defended this same sort of “unity” with the bourgeois Army by proclaiming their taking over from the Muslim Brotherhood as a “victory”. The results of this are all around to be seen.
Even now, the IWL Morenoites are again proposing another multi-class bloc with a slogan for “Immediate elections for a free and sovereign Constituent Assembly, without the participation of the military or the Brotherhood, to take over the power!” The Constituent Assembly which should “take over the power” excludes the Muslim Brotherhood and the military junta, but not the bourgeoisie as a whole.
While on other occasions the PSTU states that only a proletarian government will solve the burning issues for the Egyptian working class, and that only a revolutionary party can defend their interests, those lines are mere “socialist ornaments” to a fundamentally pro-capitalist orientation in the practical sense. Their talk about socialism has no concrete impact on the policies that are advanced, which propose collaboration and unity with the bourgeoisie to remove governments and then brag about “revolutionary victories” while another (maybe even more reactionary) capitalist government is built. In the meanwhile, there is no relief for the suffering of the Egyptian workers. For them, the politics of the IWL have nothing to offer but confusion.