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Egypt: Socialists need to rethink the military takeover

August 20, 2013

By John Riddell. The military massacres in Egypt are “part of a plan to liquidate the Egyptian Revolution and restore the military-police state of the Mubarak regime,” say the Revolutionary Socialists (RS) of Egypt in an August 15 statement. Their present analysis contrasts sharply with their previous positive appraisal the July 3 military coup that ousted Egypt’s elected government.

The RS, who enjoy a wide reputation as a revolutionary voice in the Egyptian struggle, are reconsidering the meaning of this experience. Socialists abroad should be rethinking it as well.

In the rich and varied world discussion of these events, contributions in the Green Left Weekly newsgroup (Australia) provide useful starting points for reflection, as do the reactions of several ALBA governments.

The army/police massacre is “a bloody dress rehearsal for the liquidation of the Egyptian Revolution,” the RS now states. “It aims to break the revolutionary will of all Egyptians who are claiming their rights, whether workers, poor, or revolutionary youth, by creating a state of terror.”

Yet only a month ago, the RS and socialist currents abroad that follow its lead looked on the military overturn of Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi as the culmination of a great step forward for Egypt’s revolution.

The giant anti-Morsi demonstrations of June 30 that triggered his ouster were “the historic beginning of a new wave of the Egyptian revolution,” the RS wrote on July 5. True, the army and police had gained in authority, they stated, but “this influence is momentary and superficial.” June 30 represented a “new revolutionary explosion.” In replacing the elected government by a hand-picked junta – the trademark of a military coup – the army’s July 3 coup merely “acquiesced to the will of the rebelling populace.”

Now that the RS has, finally, identified the military rulers as the main enemy, this must shape international solidarity efforts.

Democratic rights

Other aspects of the RS analysis also need review. For example, the August 15 RS statement declares that they do not “defend for a single day the sit-ins by the Brotherhood and their attempts to return Morsi to power.” In reality, the Muslim Brotherhood’s public protests represent an attempt to assert their right to exist as a political movement after six weeks of brutal and bloody suppression. Their right to protest military violence must be defended.

The RS has tended to be even-handed, attacking both the military and on the Brotherhood. Its August 20 statement now explicitly repudiates this approach, rejecting “a kind of ‘balance’ in our attacks on the military and the Islamists.” Yet its main slogan, “Down with military rule … no to the return of the Muslim brotherhood,” stays in the old groove.

In fact, the military are in the saddle and the Brotherhood repressed and subjected to massacres. In this situation, an even-handed approach is a formula for paralysis and abstention. What is needed is a united defense of democratic and human rights.

The earlier RS statement pointed the way on this issue. “We must be consistent in opposing all forms of abuse and repression to which the Islamists will be exposed in the form of arrests and closures of satellite channels and newspapers, for what happens to today to the Islamists will happen tomorrow to the workers and the leftists,” the RS stated on July 5.

Socialists internationally should support and encourage protests against the military’s denial of democratic and human rights in Egypt – including the rights of the Brotherhood and its supporters. Morsi and other Brotherhood political prisoners should be released, the Brotherhood’s political and legal rights should be restored, and new elections should be held without delay and without any restrictions on who may participate.

In particular, socialists should highlight the role of imperialism, over several decades, in orchestrating, financing, and defending the rise of rightist military tyranny in Egypt – a process that transformed Egypt into a pliant tool of U.S.-Israeli policy.

Bourgeois democracy

The overturn of Morsi swept away the limited forms of electoral democracy achieved following the 2011 revolution, replacing it with direct military rule. The earlier RS statement took no note of this change, suggesting instead that the overturn represented a step forward from “formal democracy, with its ballot boxes” to “legitimacy via the democracy of the popular revolution – direct democracy creating revolutionary legitimacy.” This “opens the horizons to new forms of popular power, which dwarf the temporary democracy of the ballot box,” the RS said.

The dismissal of elective institutions is still evident in the August 20 RS statement, which refers with apparent approval to “the downfall of the legitimacy of the ballot box.”

It is now clear that the talk of “new forms of popular power” was delusionary. Far from achieving a new system of direct revolutionary democracy, Egypt’s popular movement is now overshadowed by the rise of military tyranny. This misjudgement suggests the need to revisit our attitude to the limited democratic gains – the “formal democracy, with its ballot boxes” – achieved by the 2011 revolution.

Since 2011, Egypt’s limited democratic institutions have been subject to repeated heavy-handed intervention by the military wing of the bourgeoisie, including dissolution of an elected parliament. Nonetheless, election of a government in a process not subject to direct military control erected a safeguard of the democratic rights of working people. And when constitutional rule was swept away, there was no longer any institutional barrier to unrestrained and murderous military repression.

Yes, one day working people will replace bourgeois parliamentarism with a superior form of democracy. But under today’s circumstances, socialists are not indifferent to the form of capitalist rule. We strive to defend and to expand the democratic elements won within the capitalist order. Capitalist parliamentarism offers more favourable conditions for workers’ struggle than unrestricted capitalist tyranny.

The central issue is the nature of the regime’

A probing debate on these and other issues in the Egyptian struggle has developed in the discussion list of Green Left Weekly, an Australian newspaper associated with Socialist Alliance. The exchange was initiated by Roger Annis, Richard Fidler, and Art Young, socialists in Canada with whom I have collaborated for several decades. Their contribution argues in support of the view of Australian socialist Michael Karadjis, who stated on the same list, ‘The coup regime has now revealed itself to be a bloody, anti-working class, anti-democratic, anti-Palestinian regime of reaction.’

A contrary view has been argued by Tony Iltis in a series of articles in Green Left Weekly and in four replies to Annis, Fidler, and Young (see #1, #2, #3, and #4). Karadjis added a comment in reply to Iltis.

It should be noted that Iltis’s writings do not represent the position of Socialist Alliance. SA’s views are expressed in August 16 statement that concludes: ‘The Socialist Alliance adds its voice to those demanding that all political prisoners be released and supports those who are calling for an immediate end to military rule and a civilian-led process to democratically elect a new government.’

[The previous two paragraphs are open to misinterpretation regarding the views of Tony Iltis. I have posted a clarification in the comments section; see— JR August 21]

ALBA governments take action

While socialists debate how to respond to military tyranny in Egypt, several anti-imperialist Latin American governments, members of ALBA (the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America) have moved into action.

Days after the army takeover in Egypt, Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro, speaking at a mass rally in Cochabamba in the presence of presidents of Bolivia, Ecuador, and Argentina, denounced the military coup. He explained that Venezuela defended the Morsi government against the coup despite its disagreements with Morsi regarding the civil war in Syria. (See reports in Telesur and AVN.)

Recalling on July 23 Egypt’s anti-imperialist stand during the presidency of Gamel Abdel Nasser, Maduro said, “Egypt is in upheaval today because it has departed from the path of independence.”

Since then, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, and Venezuela have all denounced the army’s massacres, and Ecuador and Venezuela have withdrawn their ambassadors from Egypt in protest.

A call to action

On August 17, Egyptian-Canadians in Vancouver convened a demonstration against the coup d’état and police/army violence in Egypt. The remarks of Roger Annis to this action provide a guide for socialists in Canada in expressing our solidarity:

We demand that the governments in Canada, United States and Europe cease their complicity with the criminal, military regime and its July 3 coup d’état. They must scrap all military assistance to the Egyptian military. They must condemn the coup and they must support a return to legal and constitutional government. They must demand that political prisoners be released forthwith, including President Mohamed Morsi and other leaders of his party. The draconian, emergency measures by the coup regime that effectively outlaw civil liberties must be ended.

They must also demand that the punitive measures against the Palestinian people in Gaza who are suffering as a result of border restrictions by the military regime be ended. Emergency aid should be provided as needed. Israel must end its treatment of Gaza as an outdoor prison that it can bomb or cut off at will….

For a 21-item annotated selection of background materials on the Egyptian events, see Roger Annis’s ‘Reading Guide to the July 3, 2013, Military Coup in Egypt’.

Thanks to Felipe Stuart Cournoyer for research assistance on the ALBA response.

  1. permalink

    Great and important article, John. Somewhere in the middle, you have this sentence: “Nonetheless, election of a government in a process not subject to direct bourgeois control erected a safeguard of the democratic rights of working people.” You meant “direct MILITARY control”, didn’t you?Regards,Henry Lowi

    Date: Tue, 20 Aug 2013 16:35:55 +0000 To:

    • I meant what I wrote — the bourgeoisie did not have direct control of the elections because the masses got involved and influenced the outcome. But your suggestion is a good one, and I made the change.

  2. David Thorstad permalink

    It amazes me how naive many leftists are about Islamists, with whom they would eventually be in open conflict if the left had more social weight than it does. So, some leftists downplay the fascist nature of some of the most important Sunni rebels in Syria. And how can one take seriously the Egyptian Revolutionary Socialists for zigzagging within weeks on whether a military coup is a good thing or a bad thing? The return of military fascism in Egypt has to be an unusual case of some on the left actually embracing fascism. If the Islamists win in Syria, things won’t be any better for the left. Clearly, the left, both in Egypt and internationally, is so weak and ineffectual that all it can do is comment from the sidelines. And even then, it can’t get its principles in line with reality. Beginning with the imperialist attack on Libya (embraced by some Trotskyists, especially in France), and now Syria (where the French NPA has called for imperialism to do more militarily to overthrow the Assad regime–though I doubt the imperialists are paying much attention to the advice), much of the left is discrediting itself.
    Your article, John, is sensible in a sea of foolishness and self-delusion.

    • Pham Binh permalink

      D: “If the Islamists win in Syria, things won’t be any better for the left.”

      Breaking up Assad’s fascist state machine will be better for the left, even if it means the forces we have to fight afterward are a ragtag bunch of militias, carbombing jihadis, and or other extremist elements. Don’t present the Islamists as a monolithic force when they aren’t one. Don’t unite your enemies unnecessarily.

      As I’ve argued elsewhere, Marx’s 1850 approach can offer us useful guidance on how to deal with Islamists today: “The relationship of the revolutionary workers’ party to the petty-bourgeois democrats is this: it cooperates with them against the party which they aim to overthrow; it opposes them wherever they wish to secure their own position.”

      Why in your view is that wrong?

  3. Pham Binh permalink

    Nice work John.

    You write, “In particular, socialists should highlight the role of imperialism, over several decades, in orchestrating, financing, and defending the rise of rightist military tyranny in Egypt – a process that transformed Egypt into a pliant tool of U.S.-Israeli policy.” Probably the worst thing I’ve seen from Egypt’s Revolutionary Socialists on the question of American imperialism’s role (a subject I ignored completely in my own article on the topic) is the following issued on July 6 as the coup regime solidified itself and prepared to crush the Muslim Brotherhood:

    Occupy the squares: stand firm in the face of the conspiracy by the Brotherhood and America. … the stubbornness, stupidity and criminality of the US-backed Muslim Brotherhood and Mohamed Badie, its General Guide, open the terrifying horizons of civil war. This can only be stopped by millions coming into the squares and streets to protect their revolution. They must abort the US-Brotherhood plan to portray the Egyptian Revolution as a military coup.

    “The popular uprising of 30 June threw the Muslim Brotherhood out of power, and its plan is now clear. The Brotherhood is seeking to take over the squares in order to project an image of false popularity for the president who was removed by the uprising. It may even be aiming to negotiate his return to power with the support of the US and other imperialist powers in order to accomplish what Mursi promised to do for them in Syria and the region.

    “Leaving the squares to Mursi and his supporters today is the biggest danger that faces the revolution.”

    This comes dangerously close to repeating fulool/Sisi chauvinist rhetoric that the Muslim Brotherhood is conspiring with foreign powers against the Egyptian nation.

  4. Thanks for your comments, Binh, Dave, and Dimitris.

    Binh’s article, , poses sharply the question whether the Egyptian revolutionary process, so far, is socialist or democratic in character. I agree with Binh that this underlying issue has shaped socialists’ response to the July 3 coup. The Revolutionary Socialists’ initial opinion, after July 3, that the Egyptian struggle had gone beyond parliamentary constitutionalism into a stage of direct people’s power seems, on the face of it, to reflect an error on the point posed by Binh.

    Binh’s article is well worth reading, and I hope to comment on it shortly.

    Dimitris’s probing comments on democratic revolution, posted to a different article on this blog (but easily accessed on the comment list on my home page) takes up this from a different angle.

    As for your remarks, Dave, we have a big area of agreement, but I would suggest that when we use the term “Islamism,” we be specific about what we mean. If “Islamism” means a doctrine that seeks to derive political philosophy from Islam, then I would say that “Islamists” exhibit the same wide spectrum of political beliefs that we find among adherents of any other religion. In my experience, many people inspired by Islamic beliefs have played a constructive role in left and anti-imperialist movements. We must guard against notions that Islamic beliefs are inherently reactionary — which I am sure, Dave, was not your meaning.

  5. It is unfortunate the RS did not follow this approach from a year ago:

    Socialist Worker, July 9, 2012

    Sameh Naguib, one of its funding members:

    “…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.

    This might not seem clear on the surface of things. Many people, especially in the West, and also over here, have an Islamophobic attitude that does not allow them to see the nature of the Muslim Brotherhood. So many people here, even on the left, could say that there’s no real difference between Morsi, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Shafiq, the candidate of the military–that they’re both counterrevolutionary forces, and the victory of any of them is a victory of the counterrevolution and a defeat for the Egyptian revolution.

    Now this is a complete mistaken view of what is actually happening and of the nature of the Muslim Brotherhood and of Islamists in Egypt and the Arab world. The Islamists are reformists. They took part in the revolution and at the same time tried to make deals with the generals who are ruling Egypt.

    Whenever there is the threat of counterrevolution, the Islamists will run toward the masses–will mobilize the masses in the hundreds of thousands against the military regime. Whenever there’s a threat from below, whenever the masses seem to be breaking the hold of the Muslim Brotherhood, then they side with the military regime, with the generals, in trying to hold back the masses…”

  6. Before getting into a purity contest with westerners I will express my disagreement via this interview with an Egyptian communist. I have known way too many victims of religious Islamists from Iran and Egypt to try to get all PC about it. There is no bravery in being out of range. So with that I present a counter perspective.

    Interview with Salah Adli, general secretary of the Egyptian Communist Party by “Nameh Mardom”, the Central Organ of the Central Committee of the Tudeh (Communist) Party of Iran

    6 July 2013
    I would like first of all to extend my greetings to the Tudeh Party of Iran and wish it success in its struggle. I would also like to salute ” Nameh Mardom” newspaper for the opportunity to clarify the big historical events that are taking place in Egypt.

    Q1 – In the recent statements of the CP Egypt (July 3rd) you referred the fact that the mass protest movement comprises of various classes and strata. How were the classes and strata of the Egyptian society mobilized in the second wave of the 30th June Revolution?

    Salah Adly: Since the outbreak of the revolution of 25th January 2011, the protest movements have not subsided, and demonstrations of millions of people have not stopped, i.e. the revolutionary state of the masses has always been there, subsiding at times and flaring up some other times. The workers’ protests and strikes also escalated. After the success of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood came to power, the masses discovered their authoritarian nature, fascist character, their bias to the interests of more reactionary and parasitic sections of capitalism, and their inability to run a state of the size of Egypt.

    Furthermore, their betrayal of the interests of the homeland and their willingness to act as the biggest broker to maintain the interests of America and Israel in the region were exposed. They concluded the truce in Gaza and gave America and Israel what even Mubarak’s client regime had not given. Their sectarian and obscurantist project, which is hostile to democracy, science, culture and tolerance, became very evident. More importantly, the masses discovered the falsehood of their use of religious slogans to disguise their plans in the service of the Greater Middle East project and “creative chaos”….

    [For the full text of this interview, see:

  7. johng permalink

    great piece. very relieved to see this.

  8. Stuart Munckton permalink

    In my opinion, this is a useful piece that raises some very valid points and will add to the needed serious thinking on the meaning of the horrific events in Egypt. The comments on the position of the Revolutionary Socialists taps into concerns I had at the time –specifically on what seemed illusions or exaggerations on where the struggle was at and just how advanced in terms of consciousness and organisation the mass movement really was. Comments about new forms of popular power etc etc struck me as unlikely.

    BUT I have been very reluctant to draw too hard conclusions on a country I don’t know much about and have been willing to see. To my mind, I could not judge the competing claims and counter-claims about the full meaning of July 3 and surrounding events and was willing to see how things play out. Things have played out quite decisively – in a very negative way.

    I have felt, and I still strongly feel, the KEY question for socialists outside Egypt is not to perfect analysis, though we should try, but to be clear about what we support – struggles that advance democratic rights and the interests of the oppressed. Whatever analysis was made from far outside the country on the role of the military removal of Morsi at the time, it is clear that right now the military regime is carrying out a terrible reign of terror – and it must be opposed and the role of the West, especially the US, in helping prop up the military must be opposed.

    However, one thing that I must note about the piece is that the treatment of Tony Iltis’s writings (who has written the large majority of Egypt copy for Green Left Weekly in recent weeks, and as I edit the international section, I take responsibility for those articles – whose line is close to the type of loine John is critiquing).

    Whatever criticisms or disagreements there may be with Tony’s writings, the piece unfortunately imputes positions to Tony that are not what he holds. I don’t believe this is deliberate – I have enormous respect for John’s great contributiosn to socialist discussions and theory and have never known him to ever knowingly misrepresent someone’s views or argue via “strawmen” etc.

    John write: “Their contribution argues in support of the view of Australian socialist Michael Karadjis, who stated on the same list, ‘The coup regime has now revealed itself to be a bloody, anti-working class, anti-democratic, anti-Palestinian regime of reaction.’
    “A contrary view has been argued by Tony Iltis in a series of articles in Green Left Weekly and in four replies to Annis, Fidler, and Young (see #1, #2, #3, and #4). Karadjis added a comment in reply to Iltis.
    “It should be noted that Iltis’s writings do not represent the position of Socialist Alliance. SA’s views are expressed in August 16 statement that concludes: ‘The Socialist Alliance adds its voice to those demanding that all political prisoners be released and supports those who are calling for an immediate end to military rule and a civilian-led process to democratically elect a new government.’”
    This implies strongly that Tony does NOT think the military regime is an anti-working class reactionary regime. But he clearly does.

    Whether his anlaysis of it and its relation to Morsi’s government is right or wrong, it is most certainly not one of support for the military. In the first comment John links to, Tony expresses sympathy for the RS line of “neither the miliutary or Morsi”. That was August 7, the growing massacres have shifted how Tony has explained it, along with how the RS has too, so that his article finishes this week with a quote from the RS denouncing the massacres as a “a plan to liquidate the Egyptian Revolution and restore the military-police state of the Mubarak regime.” (

    Now there is a clear difference of *analysis* here, as no doubt John and other comrades who have criticised the RS or Tony would say that is already a reality, or would say well that should be backed dated all the way to the coup and its lead up and there was a failure of recognition at the time of this.
    But as John says of the RS piece “Now that the RS has, finally, identified the military rulers as the main enemy…”, then surely that same approach, criticising, but reognising a welcome if belated shift, should also dictate approach to Tony (and therefore Green Left’s) approach?

    After all, Tony’s article says: “The US-funded military is the main obstacle to the revolution’s demands of economic justice and opportunity, political freedom and national independence and dignity.” (It also,whatever else its strengths and weaknesses, does what John says is needed in relation to explaining the history of imperialism’s use of the army)

    The criticism of the approach taken by the RS (and Tony in his last article) make some valid points and I am give serious consideration to these arguments. But at no point has Tony ever implied the military regime was NOT anti-working class and reactionary — his argument has been that it already was. Of course, the situation has taken a marked turn for the worse — not something Tony denies *at all*, even with a different assessment of how and why.

    More worryingly, the article implies Tony DOES NOT SUPPORT the demands of the Socialist Alliance in the Socialist Alliance National Executive statement of August 16: “The Socialist Alliance adds its voice to those demanding that all political prisoners be released and supports those who are calling for an immediate end to military rule and a civilian-led process to democratically elect a new government.”

    This is simply untrue and is very unfair on Tony, who actually *drafted* the SA statement that includes those demands. The exact wording is not identical to the first draft, but those basic demands were there.

    The statement has been criticised. In my opinion, regardless of rights or wrongs of the analysis it contains, it probably an error to have included even as much analysis as it did. It includes much less than the previous SA statement, which is a step forward (and the previous statement was less clear on the question of a coup, among other things, it is been superseded by events).

    A statement by the NE of a group half a world away, many of whose members – including on the NE – are simply in no position to serious judge the situation on the ground in Egypt, needs to focus on the KEY political points of opposition to the military regime, protest against its crimes and support for democratic rights. On that, despite very obvious disagreements on analysis, there is to my knowledge no disagreement in Socialist Alliance.

    (Among other things, trying for too in-depth analysis of another country in the midst of turmoil is a posture — most of the SA NE are not *closely* following the events and in a position to judge. The first statement, for instance, made mention of the Coalition of Socialist Forces — but most of the NE had no real idea who that even was. Our comrades are in the midst of a very busy, intense election campaign — everyone is very concerned about what is happening in Egypt, and we all want to mark our strong opposition to the military’s reign of terror, but it is an illusion to imagine a body like the SA NE is seriously in a position to collectively draw correct analysis and then vote on it, and neither does it have to. It needs to do what it did in the last statement — oppose the military and its terror and support democratic demands.)

    I should point out that, as well as highlight the ALBA government’s stance in Green Left, the protest on August 18 in Sydney against the military terror and for democratic rights featured a Socialist Alliance member as an organiser of it, and SA members were the only left group represented there. (see

  9. prianikoff permalink

    “Socialists internationally should support and encourage protests against the military’s denial of democratic and human rights in Egypt – including the rights of the Brotherhood and its supporters. Morsi and other Brotherhood political prisoners should be released, the Brotherhood’s political and legal rights should be restored, and new elections should be held without delay and without any restrictions on who may participate.”

    Of course Morsi should be released! He’s the elected President of Egypt.
    But what’s not so clear is who could possibly supervise any “new elections” at this point.
    The only way they could happen “without any restrictions on who may participate” would be if the Army stepped down from power.
    Since they certainly won’t do this voluntarily, the only way it’s likely to happen would be as a result of a revolutionary General Strike.
    In which case, adopting the position “neither SCAF, nor the MB, but workers power” would clearly be fanciful.
    No such strike could take place without the involvment of the MB rank and file, which has borne the brunt of the army’s fury.
    This is a clear-cut example where a united front the Islamists is necessary with, whatever differences socialists have with them.
    This will enable them to gain a much wider audience for their socialist programme.
    Of course, that would place socialists in the firing line too.
    Unfortunately if they’re revolutionary socialists, that’s what they have to expect.
    When push came to shove, did Pinochet didn’t make any distinction between Allende and the MIR?

    Regarding the analogies with Syria, these can be seriously misused.
    The Saudis and Gulf States are currently bailing out the SCAF government to the tune of $12 billion.
    This has allowed it to raise 2 fingers to being mildly told off by the US & EU.
    Yet much the same coalition has been backing the rebels in Syria, who resorted to an armed struggle that has completely by-passed any electoral process.
    The question is not whether we agree with the Islamists politically – we don’t.
    We support democratic demands; consistent democracy as a step towards a socialist government run by workers.

  10. Thanks for Stuart Monckton for his comments regarding my article, “Egypt: Socialists Need to Rethink Military Takeover.”

    Stuart says that my article gives a misimpression of the articles of Tony Iltis in Green Left Weekly. In fact, it was not my intention to express an opinion on Iltis’s articles; I linked to four of them because they are central to an exchange I was highlighting.

    However, I can see that what I wrote is open to misinterpretation. I should have written:

    “Tony Iltis, whose articles in Green Left Weekly were the object of criticism by Annis, Fidler, and Young, posted four responses (see #1, #2, #3, and #4). Karadjis added a comment in reply to Iltis.

    “As for Socialist Alliance, its views are expressed in August 16 statement that concludes: ‘The Socialist Alliance adds its voice to those demanding that all political prisoners be released and supports those who are calling for an immediate end to military rule and a civilian-led process to democratically elect a new government.’”

    I have added a reference to this clarification in the text of my article and also posted it in Links, where my article is reprinted.

  11. johng permalink

    This interesting debate prompted a bit of a discussion about the theory of permanent revolution amongst some of us in the SWP, IS Network, and non-affiliated, coming broadly from the IST tradition. This was my somewhat lengthy take. If its not appropriate here I understand:

    Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution was a theory that suggested that the only two alternatives in revolutionary Russia was either a revolution led by the proletariat or on the other hand Tsarist counter-revolution. In other words the tasks of the bourgeois revolution would have to be carried out by the proletariat. The argument was premised on a theory of uneven but combined development that meant a) despite Russia’s backwardness the proletariat, despite being a tiny minority, was very advanced (concentrated in what were by international standards some of the most modern factories in the world) and on the other hand that the revolution could be spread (Trotsky’s theory was not voluntarism) hence rescuing Russia from its backwardness. Trotsky later generalised the theory to the colonial countries after the failure of the revolution to spread led (on his own terms) to the rise of Stalinism. One difficulty with this was that colonial state’s did not hot house capitalist development in the way that the Tsarist state did: instead they played a far more contradictory role: they needed some level of economic development to balance the books, but ‘independent centres of capital accumulation’ were by definition not the goal: debates on the precise balance of development and retardation bequeathed by colonialism of course continue but in my view remain part of the larger problem that uneven but combined development can be expected to have different results in different circumstances: by definition.

    Subsequent to Trotsky’s death this more general version of the theory was falsified all the way down the line. Colonialism was overthrown, often without the intervention of the proletariat and independent centres of capital accumulation occur all around the world. This was one factor which led to the disintegration of the Trotskyist movement. It was a theory which if clung to in defiance of reality led either to the belief that the anti-colonial revolutions had not really happened (ie the kind of ultra-left position associated with many forms of orthodox Maoism) or on the other hand to ascribing socialist properties to various unlikely sorts of regimes (often, as it happens, military dictators of various kinds). In other words, as theorists of state capitalism were fond of arguing, sticking to the letter of Trotsky’s formulations neglected their spirit and led to opposite forms of politics.

    The response of Cliff and Harris was of course their little pamphlet Permanent Revolution Deflected which attempted to combine this analyses with the over-all theory of State Capitalism (hence the emphasis on China, something which in retrospect might be regarded as confusing). But as Neil Davidson points out somewhere in fact even in the 1920s and 30s capitalist development occurred in backward countries, often able to act independently of imperialism (ie Turkey, Mexico). Trotsky Neil suggests recognised these cases but saw them as exceptions, but this was a pattern which turned out to be the rule rather then the exception. The true deflection was in October 1917 rather then the other way about. So effectively in the post-October world post-1945 the theory was just about as comprehensively refuted as any theory can be, if its taken to be a theory, rather then, as has been rather implausibly (and confusingly) suggested ‘a strategy’ (most could strategies tend to be based on an analyses). What was not of course refuted was the theory of uneven but combined development which, I would suggest, allowed Trotsky to accurately forecast the social forces in 1917 via his theory of permanent revolution but which became considerably shakier as a historical generalisation: because of course in different places and at different times, uneven but combined development might have very different consequences: and indeed they did.

    In the post-war world decolonisation proceeded apace, different patterns of uneven but combined development occurred, producing different patterns of social relations and political arrangements over a very long period of time which surely deserve empirical consideration. Instead what tended to happen was that Trotsky’s theory simply becomes a frozen totem to wave at equally frozen stalinists still regurgitating the old stages theory of the anti-trotskyist campaign of the 20s and 30s. Both locked in a now long vanished world. In the 1970s as capitalist development began to produce sizeable working classes in the 1970s and 1980s the theory was dusted down and in the great spurt of industrialisation of the period we looked to the working classes of Poland, Iran, South Africa and Korea to rehearse the experience of Russia. It was not to be. In the period of capitalist growth new ideologies of populism and nationalism had grown up and proved enormously influential: whether one was discussing Peronism in Argentina, national liberation in South Africa, the Catholic Church in Poland or more generally democratic ideologies of various kinds. The working class was often divided politically despite playing strategically a very important role in this period (it must be said a considerably more central role then the organised working class has played in the current wave of struggles in the Arab world recently, and indeed elsewhere), and we were careful to emphasis the different ways in which revolutions might be deflected (although not this time by intellectuals with their hands on the levers of the state: there were now new bourgeoisie’s growing who proved quite capable of standing up for themselves and did not perform in identical fashion either to the bourgeoisie’s of Tsarist Russia or indeed to the bureacratic stateocracies of the 1950s and 60s.

    Today of course matters are different yet again. Today we live under neo-liberalism (these have been some deflections: to the point it seems to me where maintaining the theory at all becomes somewhat more implausible then the comparatively mild ad hocery of the Cliff and Harris variety).

    The conditions of global production being generalised everywhere today are entirely different to the conditions of global production generalised in 1917 (in other words we need concrete discussions, a stadial theory if you like, of uneven but combined development). This may account for the relative (and I stress relative) marginality of the organised working class in contemporary struggles compared to the struggles of the 1970s and 80s in the global south. We are also witnessing a massive social churning in many developing countries involving many social classes some of whom have risen as older elites decline some of whom have been further immisserated. The different kinds of political reactions to the unravelling of a post-colonial order many Trotskyists did not even admit existed requires more then a re-statement of a particular application of a theory, by now more then a hundred years old. It requires a new analyses of neo-liberalism in a world of uneven but combined development. We need analyses of the impact of these forms of development on actually existing social classes on actually existing politics, as opposed to a belief that revolution will magic away these contradictions instead of necessarily growing out of them if it is to happen at all. We do not need the frozen ideological totem to wave at our equally frozen opposite numbers. We need actual analyses of living social forces. It is not enough any-more simply to recognise that there exists a working class in Egypt or in China or in India. This is news to absolutely no-one. There is also a working class in Spain, in Italy, in Greece, in Britain, in Germany and in France. By itself this tells you absolutely nothing. Too often we behave as if our frozen totem will magic away the actual social and political relations we are confronted with rather then analysing these actual social and political relations themselves (of course what Trotsky set out to do in his writings on Russia and then, in his confrontations with the Stalinists).

    Neil Davidson has argued that we no longer live in the era of bourgeois revolutions and hence a ‘theory of permanent revolution’ makes no sense (in the same way as it would make no sense in Britain). All these countries already are independent centres of capital accumulation and there are no ‘tasks’ of this kind to be fulfilled (very baldly). This is not really my argument here. My argument is that the ‘frozen totem’ becomes a substitute for analyses and the result can too often lead to catastrophism (ie the mistaken belief that the only two alternatives in any situation are proletarian revolution or on the other hand counter-revolution: historically simply not true in most of capitalisms history since 1917 let alone since 1945) or on the other hand to believing that there is an automatic pattern of radicalisation which means that ‘history is on our side etc’ leading to formulations which risk cutting reality to fit our tools rather than using our tools to analyse reality. The truth is that the working class around the world is often polarised between different kinds of radical middle class politics (rather then the other way about) the product of decades of a counter-factual history, which is actually our factual history, and it is against this particular history that we need to analyse and speak about the contemporary revolutions in the Middle East. To continue to behave as if these entirely new developments in an entirely new world are incomplete or smaller versions of events that took place almost a hundred years ago in entirely different circumstances is I believe a serious mistake. Recent events in Egypt raise questions therefore for socialists everywhere.

  12. Art Young permalink

    Egypt is enormously important and these issues need to be debated across the international left. The stakes are high and opinions are strongly held. In providing a public forum for this debate, which includes opinions critical of GLW’s coverage, GLW sets a good example for other socialists of how we should deal with serious differences like these.

    Thank you John for drawing attention to this debate and commenting on it. There have been many exchanges on the Green Left list since the initial contributions that you mention. The debate continues to evolve. My take is expressed in the joint article that you mention and in two more recent contributions, “GLW and Egypt — The Issue is Reactionary Military Rule” , and “The Counterrevolution in Egypt – Our Responsibilities” .

    Fred Fuentes has been a key participant in the discussion, with several insightful contributions. In my view, these drawn on his considerable knowledge of the struggle in Latin America. Fred’s contributions include “Is it true that the Egyptian coup was a desperate attempt to stop an impeding revolution?” ; “GLW on Egypt: continuing to get it wrong” ; and “Should the left be demanding “No to the Muslim Brotherhood” .

    The discussion is continuing. Those interested can follow it by subscribing to the Yahoo discussion group or regularly visiting its website.

  13. Dear John G

    I liked your challenging analysis of the theory of permanent revolution, particularly as developed in the SWP-IST tradition. I come from a different strand of Marxism and am not familiar with “deflected permanent revolution,” so I’ll keep a respectful silence on that point and approach the questions you raise from a different angle.

    You are right to conclude, “Recent events in Egypt raise therefore questions for socialists everywhere.” A little earlier, you say, “We do not need the frozen ideological totem to wave at our equally frozen opposite numbers. We need actual analyses of living social forces.”

    This is a good way to start. So let’s ask: What is the character of the revolutionary process in Egypt as it has unfolded up to this point?

    In my opinion, its basic thrust is for democracy: for democratic rule, the democratic rights that workers need to defend their interests, and elementary measures for social justice. In Egypt, democracy cannot be achieved without national sovereignty: freeing the Egyptian government from its tutelage to the U.S. and Israel. In short, at this stage, the revolutionary process is democratic in its demands and dynamic.

    Neil Davidson would surely point out that Egypt already had its democratic revolution back in the 1950s. But the gains of that period have been rolled back and must be fought for anew. Actually, that is not so different from the classic bourgeois revolutions in England and France, which involved periods of backsliding, followed by renewed advance.

    In contrast to the classic bourgeois revolutions, however, the situation in Egypt demands that working people contend for the leadership of the democratic struggle, and strive to lead it in a direction favourable to their own interests – take it “to the end,” as Lenin said. Surely the entire experience of the last two years in Egypt shows this to be true.

    But what is the working-class program for the Egyptian revolutionary process – particularly on the question of power, posed so urgently during the last two months?

    Certainly, if carried through to the end, a democratic revolutionary process will tend to grow over into socialist revolution. But we do not have the preconditions for socialist revolution in Egypt today. We do not have a capitalist class unable to rule as before, a broad and resolute working-class vanguard, or a consolidated revolutionary party – to say nothing of the capacity to overcome the limitations posed by Egypt’s narrow, dependent, and fragile economy.

    But, then, even the Bolsheviks in 1917 did not demand an immediate socialist revolution. They talked of “steps toward socialism,” while their key demands – land, bread, peace, the constituent assembly – were democratic in character. Soviet power was posed as the only way to achieve these goals. As it turned out, the course of events forced the soviet regime to consummate the socialist revolution more swiftly than it wished.

    And that was in 1917, with world imperialism paralyzed by its war and in total crisis, while national economies had vastly more economic autonomy than they do today.

    In Egypt today, we argue for the need for socialist revolution, but it remains a task for tomorrow, not today. Socialists’ program for today has to be formulated in terms of the present relationship of forces and levels of working-class consciousness.

    During the crisis of June 30-July 3 in Egypt, millions of Egyptians mobilized to oust the elected government, without posing any alternative. Here was a situation where socialist forces had to advance an independent program. The only bourgeois force with an answer was the army, pressing for restoration of military rule. What could socialists propose to Egyptians calling for Morsi’s resignation as a potential alternative to the Morsi government?

    I’m not able to answer that question from this distance. But I would say this: whatever the theories of permanent revolution and deflected permanent revolution may tell us about the long-term dynamic of the Egyptian revolution, they do not help provide an answer to this question.

    Under present conditions a working-class alternative will not be “power to the workers’ committees” (which do not yet exist) or any variant of that. It will have to be posed in the framework of existing capitalist reality, existing movements, and the democratic thrust of current popular struggles.

  14. johng permalink

    Substantial agreement with what you say John thanks for this. Will try to raise to your level of coherence tomorrow! I would say that it does seem to me that the main thrust of the revolutions are democratic which of course does not mean that they have no social content. And that by any measure a military coup is a massive step backwards. I’d agree that abstract theories are of no use here but absolutely agree with how you present the situation in your main article. But like I say I’ll have a bit of a think and get back tomorrow.

  15. Art Young permalink

    In my previous comment I provided links to the contributions that I mentioned. For some reason the links are not present in the version that appears above. Reading these will provide a fuller and clearer picture of the debate. The GLW discussion website also contains many other valuable contributions on this topic.

    By Art Young

    Green Left Weekly’s response to the coup in Egypt
    (Co-authored; the criticism that launched the debate)

    GLW and Egypt — The Issue is Reactionary Military Rule

    The Counterrevolution in Egypt – Our Responsibilities

    By Fred Fuentes

    Is it true that the Egyptian coup was a desperate attempt to stop an impeding revolution?

    GLW on Egypt: continuing to get it wrong

    Should the left be demanding “No to the Muslim Brotherhood”

  16. johng permalink

    was going to come back but I’m now just ploughing through the excellent (and disturbing) debate in all the above links.

    One of the things I think we should reflect on is the way in which the debate became about the Muslim Brotherhood. Perhaps in focusing so much on the Islamists we neglected to analyse the social basis and politics of other components of the movement. Consequently much of our commentary became a bit Zen (ie like one hand clapping). Long detailed discussions about the nature of the government little in the way of real analyses of the social and political basis of the popular movement against it. Perhaps this reflected the fact that on the western left we’ve been discussing Islamists for decades now and so its familiar and hence comfortable terrain, all our positions coming neatly pre-prepared. Its one reason why I’m a bit cautious about more detailed prognosis which I think could only come from inside Egypt.

    Rather then devise slogans or programs for the left in Egypt (I don’t think possible to do at a distance) I think we need broader discussions about the nature of the revolution itself. It seems pretty clear to me that the interpretation of the movement in June as a deepening of the revolution reflected the aspirations of some in the movement rather then an overall reality that was much more ambiguous politically. This is confirmed not just by the reality of the coup, not just by the popular chauvinism unleashed by it (we are clearly not just talking about conspiracies here) but also by its effective demobilisation. The polarisation which has taken place and produced this situation was not simply a revolt against ‘neo-liberalism’, it also reflected a tiredness rather then an enthusiasm for, revolution. In addition all the debates about the constitution, about both the exclusivity and incompetence of the Brotherhood etc, reflect long term political and ideological divides as much as spontaneous reactions to governments carrying out neo-liberal policies: united in the movement against the government were supporters and opponents of neo-liberalism, supporters and opponents of democracy, the left and the right.

    Its clear now that this was a polarisation which whilst it indeed reflected legitimate discontent, was fundamentally a reactionary one. It was quite a trick to blame the elected government for not being given power by the military, and the climate ended up disorientating even revolutionaries with a deep antipathy to the old regime. I am not at all arguing for a conspiracy theory of the movement. Rather for closer attention to be paid to the popular politics and ideologies of the movement itself. Working Class organisations are clearly split between supporters of the coup and the brotherhood (with smaller groups denouncing both). The left appears to be in the same situation. The larger forces amongst the ‘revolutionaries’ appear to set the agenda of the debate and its clear to me at least that both the working class movement and the left is much less influential within the broader movement then many had assumed (partly on the basis of more general pre-conceptions). But there is little in the way of detailed analyses of this broader movement that the left has attempted to shape. By this I don’t just mean lists of organisations and fronts (one can look them up on wiki). I mean their social basis as well as their political basis. And again that is something that can only come from those much more familiar with Egyptian society.

    Last night one saw interviews with Egyptians stating that the movement against the coup was ‘dying out’ because the arrests of the leadership had removed the people who used to ‘bribe’ the followers of the brotherhood to turn out on demonstrations. I thought a proposition which dovetailed perfectly with popular middle class prejudices about the involvement of the masses in politics in developing countries (and its a tone of voice one has also heard on the left). Then I remembered that interview with the young boy that went viral in the heady days of June: where he talked about people only supporting the Brotherhood because they gave them free cooking oil. Amidst the poisonous hatred unleashed by the coup and the bitter repression, I think its one small symptom of the need to revise our understanding not just of the politics post-coup but the nature of the movement before it as well. But again, all this would require a much deeper understanding of the sociology of Egyptian society then I actually possess to analyse properly.

    But I’m going to try and pull some of these thoughts together and relate them both to my first post and the original questions raised (I find coherence tough!)

  17. johng permalink

    Query: In the immediate aftermath of the overthrow of Mubarak there were prolonged discussions amongst revolutionaries about when elections should take place. If I remember rightly large sections of both the left and liberals supported those who called for a delay, the main motivation being that a delay would allow liberals and the left to get their act together as otherwise the Islamists would win. I remember seeing a left Egyptian revolutionary on TV arguing this position against another liberal saying that the elections should happen immediately as otherwise it would simply be the military in power and better an elected government then the military even if it was the wrong government. I think about this time a prominent Iranian academic (was it Hamid Debashi?) wrote an open letter to his ‘Egyptian friends’ warning them about their anti-democratic prejudices. Can anyone locate any english language sources for this? In retrospect the nature of that debate was probably an important one.

    • Sources for what? Hamid Debashi?

      The left-libs who later became the National Salvation Front and Sisi’s fig leaf were repeatedly crushed at the ballot box on every occasion since 2011 by the Islamists/salafists who commanded ~75% of the vote each time.

  18. Hi John, I’ve written a piece on my blog that is, in part, a critical reply to this article (which I thought was very good overall). As always, I would welcome your comments (and those of other comrades), either here or over on my blog. Thanks!

    • Here is S.N. Joseph’s comment on my Egypt article, reprinted from his blog (, plus a brief response:

      S.N. JOSEPH: ‘Operating at an incomparably higher political level is John Riddell’s article of August 20, which really should be read in full. I think that the critique of [Revolutionary Socialists) is (unfortunately) largely correct, although Riddell’s defense of Egypt’s formal democracy strikes me as improperly abstract. As Gilbert Achcar points out, this tends to suggest that “elected officials have carte blanche to do whatever they want during their term of office, even if they blatantly betray the expectations of their constituents.” And if you want the real truth, almost every government in the modern world, regardless of how dictatorial it actually is, will be more formally democratic than the revolution that overthrows it, for the simple reason that it will have always/already used the state power to organize some “election-show”–superficially encompassing the whole nation–in order to legitimize itself. Since movements and revolutionary parties can never avail themselves of such methods before taking state power, modern revolutions always have a formally anti-democratic moment, even if their substance must be profoundly democratic in order to progress.

      “I suspect that Riddell is tracking too closely the position of left-leaning governments in Latin America, particularly Venezuela. As sympathetic as I am to these governments, they have not been entirely principled in their international relations, which often have a highly instrumental character. Venezuela, for instance, supported the Ahmadinejad regime against the Green Movement; and backs the Assad regime against the Syrian opposition. Even if one thinks that progressive governments under imperialist capitalism have to make such unsavory alliances–personally I consider it short-sighted even as a “matter of state”–there’s no reason that grassroots activists have to follow the same line.

      “So again: what is to be done? In Egypt, I think the immediate task is not to get killed (seriously) and to prepare to operate illegally. Internationally, solidarity activists should demand an end to international “aid” to Egypt’s military (and demand that the Saudis not replace it, on pain of losing their own assistance). Everyone should demand an end to the “state of emergency” and the witch-hunt against the Muslim Brotherhood (which covers for a much wider campaign of social repression). The issue of the Brotherhood leadership is, to my mind, trickier: they’ve committed grave crimes, but they shouldn’t be prosecuted by people committing equally bad or worse crimes. The demand to restore the governmental status quo ante strikes me as totally abstract and disconnected from anything that might conceivably actually occur.

      RESPONSE BY JOHN RIDDELL: Shawn, you are quite right that we have to differentiate between defending capitalist democratic institutions against a rightist coup and defending workers’ power against a counterrevolution dressed up in “democratic” costume.

      We don’t support bourgeois democracy; we support the democratic rights that working people have been able to conquer within the capitalist framework. But when rightists try to overturn bourgeois democracy so as better to repress the workers’ and popular movement, we favour united struggle against the coupsters.

      This statement of principle is abstract. A position on Egypt must be developed out of Egyptian conditions, not by copying out of a textbook.

      Still, as I am sure you will agree, those who hailed the Egyptian coup as the culmination of a great revolutionary advance or who now favor even-handed opposition in Egypt to both the military dictatorship and the political movement it is suppressing should explain how they square these approaches with longstanding socialist principle on responding to rightist coups.

      • Hi John, thanks for your reply. Yes, I agree that the Egyptian comrades who hailed the coup as a progressive step made a terrible mistake; I also agree that the “we condemn both sides equally” line ignores the “small fact” that one side controls the state power. These are important points, and I’m glad you’ve written about them so forthrightly.

        But coups, even military coups, are not inherently reactionary; eg, the Portuguese military coup of 1974 and indeed the Egyptian military coup of 1952 were both progressive. This is, I think, why you use the formulation “rightist coups” in your comment: it’s a question primarily of social content and not political form (which are linked but not in one-to-one correspondence). Hence the problem with July 3 coup isn’t that all coups are bad, but rather that this coup was clearly put all power in the hands of the most dangerous counter-revolutionaries. (The MB government was also counter-revolutionary, but with many more contradictions that prevented it from pursuing the all-out assault that we’re seeing today.)

        We likely agree on all this, but my criticism of your piece is that you seem to amalgamate the Marxist approach to these questions with the approach of the left governments in LatAm, which I think use a different framework, based on trying to build networks of international relations independent of/opposed to US imperialism–itself a worthy goal–yet willing to disregard the social character of governments opposed to the US. In my view these different approaches ought to be clearly distinguished (from a standpoint of critical support for the left governments).

        (Reposted from

      • Right. The problem is S.N. Joseph seems to be 1) ruling out such united struggle with or alongside the Muslim Brotherhood on the grounds that the Brotherhood in office betrayed the hopes of the people who voted for it or because they’ve supposedly committed “grave crimes” 2) acceding to the coup’s victory instead of struggling against it, hence the call for getting ready to operate in underground/illegal conditions instead of utilizing the admittedly limited legal means to fight the counter-revolution.

  19. johng permalink

    sorry, sources for the debates that took place on the left and amongst liberals about whether to delay the elections or not. Also, yes, the article I refer to. I’m not sure it was Debashi but if it was…It was a pretty powerful piece warning that this approach was mistaken and that he found it increasingly incomprehensible. If I remember correctly it was almost an anticipation of the kinds of worries that are now growing.

  20. prianikoff permalink

    John Riddell (quoting SN Joseph):-
    “The demand to restore the governmental status quo ante strikes me as totally abstract and disconnected from anything that might conceivably actually occur.”

    Even more abstract is the idea that a mass movement capable of overthrowing the military will emerge without engaging with the rank and file of the MB-F&JP
    (Given the mass arrest of its leadership, we are largely talking about lower level leaders and the rank & file) With some justification (!), they see Morsi as the rightful President of Egypt & al Sisi as a criminal.

    The situation is roughly as follows:-
    The big industrialists and urban Middle Class are supportive of the Army crackdown.
    The Copts feel it is protecting them from sectarian attacks (which weren’t all perpetrated by MB supporters)
    Elements of the union leadership which have previously worked with the left, have been won over by promises of social-unionism.
    e.g. the leaders of the Tax collectors union.

    The MB still has majority support in the countryside and amongst the poorer, least westernised elements in traditional Egyptian society.
    The task of the left is to detach the working class from its collaborationist leaders and win over the mass base of the MB by providing it with effective political arguments.
    This is made harder by the economic aid Egypt is receiving from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.
    But this can only alleviate the economic situation for about a year at best.
    So the socialist left has to put forward an emergency economic plan to revive the economy as an urgent task.

    Socialists also need to engage with the disillusion with the Military amongst MB supporters.
    As the Christian Science Monitor of August 23rd reported, the protests by the MB have become smaller and more localised but “grown more broadly anti-military since Aug. 14, when security forces attacked two protest camps full of Morsi supporters, killing hundreds.”

    This is an important observation. It shows not only a higher level of politicisation, but also that the repression hasn’t been totally succesful. Pinochet had to kill at least 20,000 to crush all oppostion in Chile – that would be equivalent to around 200,000 in today’s Egypt. This hasn’t happened, so
    there are still possibilities for open, mass work.

    Those who fear restoring the “status quo ante” by supporting the demand to free of Morsi, or even return him to the Presidency just aren’t thinking dialectically. Were it to happen in a situation in which the military had been defeated, everything would have changed. If the socialist left were part of an alliance against the coup which achieved that, their arguments would be hugely strengthened.
    The MB leadership & Morsi, (assuming he survived such an event would be politically weakened.)
    This is one “stages theory” I like! But of course, it means that socialists have to operate as a movement, independent of the MB.

  21. Shawn, let me respond first on military coups and then on the ALBA position.

    ON COUPS, RIGHT AND LEFT: You are right that military dictatorships sometimes carry out progressive measures. You mention the coup in Portugal that overturned fascism, and the coup in Egypt that chased out the British imperialists. I could mention a few more. And yes, that is why I wrote of “rightist” coups.

    But what concerns us most is promoting conditions favourable to the free development of workers’ and popular struggles. And here there is no doubt that bourgeois democracy – even when as restricted, dishonest, and repressive as in the U.S. – offers better conditions for our struggle than an outright military dictatorship. Moreover, even though bourgeois democracy is ultimately simply a form of capitalist dictatorship, it institutionalizes many democratic rights that workers have fought to achieve. Example: the right of U.S. blacks to vote, which is today under attack by 21st century Jim Crow.

    An interesting case in point is Hugo Chávez, an admirer of Juan Peron who once attempted to carry out a progressive military coup. He then turned away from that path and sought to use bourgeois democratic electoralism to help build a militant people’s movement. Interesting here is the role of Cuban leaders, who strongly advised Chávez and others to utilize democratic openings as a tool in revolutionary struggle.

    ON THE ALBA POSITION: Your comment raises again what some consider opportunistic inconsistency by the ALBA governments, whose positions I cited in my original article. I believe you have Syria in mind. A statement on Syria made today by Cuba provides a good test. Bear in mind that this is a statement not of a small revolutionary group but of a state with significant influence, operating in the terrain of United Nations politics. I think the statement sounds the right notes and its consistent with Cuba’s stand on Egypt.

    Here is a translation by the Cuban government:

    Havana, Aug 28 (acn) The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cuba issued the following statement regarding the growing threats against Syria, which we reproduce below.

    The recent pronouncements of the U.S. government and several NATO allies urging military action in Syria, ignoring the efforts of some states to reach a political solution to the conflict that is bleeding that Arab nation, are alarming.

    It is necessary to remember that those who today advocate military action against Syria are the same that launched bloody wars without a mandate from the Security Council of the United Nations, under the deliberate lie about the existence of weapons of mass destruction or the pretext of civil protection, which caused substantial deaths of innocent people including children, who they qualify as “collateral damage”.

    There is a call to attack Syria, just as [its] government has authorized the UN Research Mission into the alleged use of chemical weapons in the country and this has begun work on the ground.

    Cuba condemns any use of chemical and other weapons of mass destruction and is firmly committed to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction and with the strict compliance of its provisions.

    The available information on the crisis in Syria is fragmented, imprecise and subject to frequent manipulation.

    An aggression against Syria would cause serious consequences for the already troubled region of the Middle East, would be a flagrant violation of the principles of the United Nations Charter and international law and increase the dangers to international peace and security.

    Cuba reiterates its conviction that it is necessary to find a political solution and expresses its strong opposition to any attempt to undermine the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria and the self-determination of its people.

    • Opportunistic inconsistency? It’s more like contradictions.

      Another example — the Saudi government backed Sisi’s bloody coup in Egypt to the tune of $12 billion while arming the secular and moderate opponents of Sisi’s equivalent in Syria, Assad.

      Sometimes progressive/revolutionary governments back reactionary forces abroad and sometimes reactionary governments back progressive/revolutionary forces abroad. Life outside of abstract principles is pretty complicated, especially when we’re talking about states and state power.

    • Hi John, just a couple quick responses, since I don’t think we’re very far apart on Egypt. (Also posted at

      Re: Coups. I agree with what you’ve written here.

      Re: ALBA. I thought the Cuban statement was very good. I had more in mind the stuff Venezuela has said, which has consistently gone beyond opposition to imperialist intervention (which is totally correct) into support for reactionary regimes. (See
      Now I don’t think that left governments in an imperialist world system can be begrudged to take pragmatic decisions that may have a side-effect of strengthening reactionary regimes; eg, the Bolsheviks negotiated the Rapallo Treaty with the counter-revolutionary German government. But there’s no reason to lend political support, which is what the VZ government has unfortunately done.

      The ALBA position is important, and I’m glad you discuss it, but I think it could have been discussed sympathetically but critically in an article aimed at clarifying the stance that socialists should adopt.

      All that said, your piece was of course an extremely important contribution.

  22. Translation follows.
    J’aimerais faire une intervention en français s’il m’est permis. Je félicite cette contribution très enrichissante sur la situation en Égypte et l’approfondissement des débats ouverts par les nombreuses contributions.
    Je partage l’opinion de John Ridell sur le caractère démocratique des grandes mobilisations qui caractérisent la situation Égyptienne et les gains démocratique comme les ‘élections libre ‘, les syndicats indépendants, qu’il s’agit d’un coup d’État éactionnaire et qu’il faut défendre les droits démocratiques qui sont en train d’être détruits. Mais je ne suis pas pour participer à un front pour le rétablissement de Morsis à la présidence, le coup d’État à crée une nouvelle situation, un nouveau rapport de force on ne peut reculer l’horloge de l’histoire. Les Frères Musulman ont une attitude sectaire et ne reconnaisse pas la nouvelle situation, ils ont perdu la bataille du pouvoir c’est maintenant un fait! Il faut simplement défendre leur droit d’exister comme tous les droits démocratiques.

    Je trouve qu’Art Young nous a très bien prévenus du caractère réactionnaire du coup d’état. Mais je pense qu’il va peut-être un peu loin en anticipant une défaite majeur pour le processus de la révolution démocratique qui n’a jamais été achevé, c’est un recule certain mais peut-être pas fatal. Il reste encore des espaces démocratique, je ne pense pas par exemple que les syndicats indépendants ont été détruit bien que la nouvelle situation est sûrement plus difficiles pour eux. Ça impose une situation ou les travailleurs se retrouvent à l’avant-scène ce qui les obligera sans doute à se tourné vers les autres couches opprimées de la population pour défendre l’espace démocratique qui leur reste et peut-être même gagner un plus grand respect et reconnaissance de leur force.

    Félicitation et continue se travail formidable ! André

    TRANSLATION BY J.R.: I’d like to make a comment in French, if you don’t mind. My congratulations on your very educational article on the situation in Egypt and on the deepening of the debate resulting from the many comments.

    I share John Riddell’s opinion on the democratic character of the mass mobilizations we have seen in Egyt and the democratic gains, such as “free elections” and independent unions. Yes, we are dealing with a reactionary coup d’etat, and the democratic gains now being dismantled must be defended.

    However, I am against taking part in an alliance to restore Morsis to the presidency. The coup has created a new situation and a new relationship of forces; we cannot turn back the clock of history. The Muslim Brothers have a sectarian attitude and do not recognize the new situation. They have lost the battle for power, and that is now a fait accompli. What’s needed is simply to defend their right to exist, along with all democratic rights.

    In my opinion, Art Young was right in warning of the coup’s reactionary character. But I think he is perhaps going too far in thinking that the incomplete process of democratic revolution will suffer a major defeat. It is a major setback, true, but perhaps not a fatal one. There is still democratic space.

    I do not thing, for example, that the independent trade unions have been defeated, even though the present situation is surely more challenging for them.

    This creates conditions where the workers are in the foreground and need to turn to other oppressed layers of the population to defend the remaining democratic space and perhaps even gain increased respect and recognition of their power.

    Congratulations and keep up the good work! André

  23. In response to snjoseph’s comment on Venezuela’s position on Syria.

    I agree that some statements by Venezuelan leaders have been unhelpful. Consider Chavez, a year ago, speaking in a video: Chavez’s basic point is to oppose intervention, and he’s right. But he adds that the cause of violence in Syria is terrorists sent over the border, and that’s a one-sided statement that detracts from his main idea.

    For an up-to-date and rounded presentation of Venezuela’s view, see Maduro’s September 1 open letter to Obama, It’s an effective and moving statement.

    The article by Lance Selfa that you reference offers a couple of snippets from Venezuelan leaders but fails to mention the overall position they share with other ALBA countries: for non-intervention and a political solution. Most socialists agree on non-intervention. But socialist currents rarely take up the call for a political solution. It’s worth considering.

    The ALBA position is based on a series of attempts in Latin America to end or to head off civil wars and to open up space for the masses to organize legally and contest for government. These efforts have been successful in Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Bolivia. In El Salvador, results have been mixed. In Honduras and Guatemala, results are not good. In Colombia, the jury is still out.

    The ALBA case does not deny the right to revolution. It’s based on an estimation of the specific conditions in most of Latin America today. See my review of Roberto Regalado,

    By contrast, the 1979 revolutions in Nicaragua and Iran provide examples where mass movements were able to overcome or neutralize the army and break it up.

    What about Syria today? Can the insurgent forces win the civil war and break up the Syrian army? I am concerned that reliance on a “win the war” policy imposes unending suffering on the Syrian people, draws in foreign intervention, and offers no clear road to a democratic outcome. There may be good cause for Syrians opposing the Assad regime to advance a perspective analogous to that of the ALBA countries.

    I would appreciate a reference to discussion of this issue by those more familiar than I with the situation in Syria.

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