Whether you get your news from the papers, TV or online you won't have missed headlines about an 'Egyptian Revolution.' What's happened in Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Yemen has shown that people from many social strata are fed up with the conditions they live in and are rebelling en masse against those who enforce them. The fact that this movement has affected a number of countries is very exciting, but it does not amount to a revolution, i.e. the replacement of one class by another. Despite the scale and heroism of the uprisings, despite the promise they contain, most of the explicit demands being made only amount to an adjustment of the capitalist political system: bourgeois rule has not been consciously challenged.
In Egypt, for example, the move to get rid of Mubarak now has the support of the army and US imperialism, so as a demand it is clearly no challenge to capitalist rule. Yet the leftists go along with the idea that a revolution is taking place. “Victory to the Egyptian revolution” is the front page headline of Socialist Worker (5/2/11). In the same issue the SWP say that “The overthrowing of Mubarak would fundamentally challenge the status quo in the oil rich region.” In reality the replacement of Mubarak has become part of US policy which it is undertaking through its links with the Egyptian army.
The SWP see the uprising in Egypt as a blow against Israel and ultimately the control of the US in the region who rely on Israel to act as its policeman in the Middle East: " a revolutionary transformation of the region would throw this arrangement into question and give hope that Arab people can win their fight for freedom." Not only is the talk of a 'revolutionary transformation' a misleading description of the immediate potential of the situation, but the genuine struggles of workers and other oppressed strata are obscured by the nationalist jargon about the “Arab people.”
It is not surprising that, in an article in which the SWP says Egypt is “on the verge of revolution”, it refers to “the memory of the Iranian Revolution of 1978-9.” Back then, during the period of upheaval which led to the replacement of the Shah by the regime headed by Khomeini, as well as the popular demonstrations there were also militant workers' strikes. In October 1978 the strikes of tens of thousands oil workers, steel workers and rail workers were major factors in the Shah's exit. But that didn't mean there was a revolution. The Islamic regime which came to power in the wake of these events is perhaps even more repressive than the rule of the Shah.
And today the leftists, for all their talk of the importance of the working class, still look to other forces and ideas as the key element in the situation. For example, the SWP describes the Muslim Brotherhood as a “contradictory force”. By this it means that although it is a conservative force and “its leaders include factory owners and rural landlords” it also “has the respect and support of millions of Egyptians.” While revolutionaries are straightforward in denouncing any party that wants to take its place in the capitalist state apparatus, leftists pick out their favourites from the contending bourgeois forces.
The SWP also says that “the hold of Nasser and nationalism remains a strong force.” But instead of exposing the influence of the current generation of Nasserites the SWP claim that they too have an 'ambiguous' role: “They are deeply hostile to neoliberalism―not because they oppose capitalism, but because they believe all industry should be under state control. They support some peasants’ and workers’ demands, yet believe these should be limited by the needs of national unity. This means that the role they will play in the coming period remains unclear.”
Why would we expect any more from a group that thinks (as they did in the 1950s!) that “Nasser’s radical reforms inspired the Arab masses, and threatened imperialist domination of the Middle East.” The truth is that many had illusions in Nasser, but that far from threatening imperialism he was an integral part of the imperialist conflicts in the region. During his rule and that of his successors Egypt became an outpost of Russian imperialism prior to switching sides in the conflict between the two blocs.
The promotion of Arab nationalism is widespread throughout the left. The ‘Communist Party of Great Britain’ that publishes Weekly Worker (quotes from nos 850 and 851)is particularly strong on pan-Arabism, in a way that is reminiscent of Bakunin's pan-Slavism. Avoiding a class analysis the CPGB says that Mubarak's Egypt is “An everyday living insult, and humiliation, to ordinary Egyptians and the very idea of pan-Arabism in general” and that “Arab reunification remains an urgent but unfulfilled task.” Instead of a marxist understanding of the international unity of the working class the CPGB argue that “the Arab masses have a shared problem. The answer should be a common solution, which, of course, there is - revolutionary pan-Arab unity.” Referring to the “Arab masses” and making pseudo-scientific pontifications about the “objective and cultural-psychological conditions for pan-Arab unity exist in abundance” does not change the class reality of capitalism, where only a conscious working class can overthrow bourgeois rule, and where all forms of nationalism stand in the way of class consciousness.
The CPGB claim that “A free Egypt, as part of a pan-Arab revolution that rages across the entire region, would challenge the hegemony of Israel.” This shows where their position leads. The expression “challenge the hegemony” ultimately means 'go to war with'. This is where the leftists' ideas lead. The CPGB's idea of a 'revolution' raging across the Middle East means plunging it into an imperialist war in which many of the 'Arab masses' will lose their lives. In the past support for the Palestinian 'revolution' by SWP founder Tony Cliff meant support for Nasser's Egypt in 1967's Six Day War. Not only do leftist ideas hamper the real movement of the working class toward a real revolution, they also lead to imperialist war.