Monday, 14 February 2011

A funny thing happened on the way to the revolution...

Ancient Egypt's post-industrial paradigm meant
this Pharaoh had to build the pyramids by himself

Recent events in Tunisia and Egypt are an enduring reminder that revolution continues to play a central role in a globalised world despite the many epitaphs and obituaries afforded to it by academics, political pundits and the literary mouthpieces for global US domination.

The spectacle of Western political elites such as David Cameron, Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama, lining up to publicly affirm their commitment to liberal democracy and their obvious sincerity in their wish to see democracy take root in Tunisia and Egypt is only marginally preposterous when we consider the public and political support that these Western 'democracies' have consistently provided to the very same leaders and regimes. While Mubarak and Ben Ali murdered, imprisoned, tortured their own civilian populations, the US and UK governments punished them with trade deals and rather large sums  in US aid ($1.3 billion a year according to The Guardian).(1) Despite the attempts of previous British and US administrations to bring down Mubarak by the use of extreme friendship, it took the active engagement of a non-friendship strategy and the democratic mobilisation of hundreds of thousands if not millions to end his rule.

The cacophony of the democratic 'transitionals'

Although somewhat a sceptic when it comes to believing anything reported in the mainstream media, this writer thought it a little odd that some journalists should feel a little in the way of surprised that a little hostility had been shown to them by the crowds. To anyone with half filled cranium, one might have viewed this as perfectly understandable given the above support of the British and US for the soon-to-be-vanquished dictator and his bloodthirsty state machine. That the press have to a considerable degree indulged in the same sort of cack-fence-hand-balancing act that has characterised Cameron's recent vacillatory bleatings has not been lost on the ordinary Egyptian activist.

At the root of this is the West's concern that the usurption of their man in Egypt may not sufficiently dissipate the anger and opposition of the mass of Egyptians, and may act as a brake on the formulation of any government sympathetic to Western aims in the region. One other paragon of democratic delight in the region is also mightily concerned as should be the case. The expansionist state of Israel, which represents such a healthy example of what a vibrant democracy and economy should look like, that it stolidly refuses to accept the $3 billion or so in aid dished out to it by the US government every year is taking recent events very seriously indeed.(2) The Egyptian regime has been a vital ally of Israel. Without the pro-Israeli Anwar Sadat and his successor Mubarak, it is unlikely that Israel would have been able to consolidate its positions in the Occupied Territories, wage a bloody war or two against another democracy in the region - Lebanon - and commit gross human rights atrocities daily against the Palestinian peoples to say nothing of its war crimes against the population of Gaza. Thus politicians of all colours and the Western media are pushing the idea of 'transition' which for them means business as usual, and for the Egyptians, after a few democratic frills and thrills have been added to their creaking constitution, back to the business of squeezing every last drop of profit from Egyptian workers which brings us nicely to the point of this article.

Apparently, due to a shift from industrial to knowledge
production and services, this lot don't exist anymore
(striking textile workers Malhalla el-Kubra 2009)
What's that you say... the working class... not in my post-industrial paradigm!

There is however a more fundamental problem for Western political and business leaders which has loomed like veritable spectre that may yet return to haunt Europe. They are currently busy ramming home neoliberal policies and massive cuts in social provision across Europe (Greece, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and the UK) in order to stave off economic collapse and further enrich the already rich at our expense. Mubarak's been in the vanguard of a similar set of policies which he's been happily visiting on his own people for decades, like some latter day global reincarnation of the Exodian plagues. Thus, the speed with which events in Tunisia and Algeria hopped across North Africa showing utter disdain for national borders and engulfed Egypt, has sent a shiver down the collective spines (if one might be found) among the Western ruling classes. It would appear that Trotsky's theories on permanent revolution have never been so apposite.

Post-industrialism -  a theory of the middle class by the middle class, for the middle class

There has been a corollary in the forcing of the Washington Consensus policies down the publics' collective throats for decades. They have also been ideologically bludgeoned into accepting the common sense notion that the working class as a force for revolutionary change in the world, belongs to a long-buried past. It's a past lazily epitomised by many now-cynical once left-ish academics and vox-pop political commentators as the failed 'actually existing socialism' and 'communist' experiment of the former USSR and its satellite states of Eastern Europe. For much of the press and media, because of the almost hegemonic status of this view, this most recent (and ongoing) revolution must therefore be characterised as 'middle class' because to them, the 'other lot' only inhabit the footnotes in dusty tomes in the British Library or have slipped down the social scale and now inhabit a Sub-Dickensian cider-sodden underworld  three clicks away from Cannery Row referred to increasingly by the same media types and social analysts as 'the underclass'. Besides, if we believed the press, the entire revolution was achieved by a single FaceBook savvy post-graduate with a laptop and over-ambitious sebaceous glands.

This is not to willfully avoid the obvious fact that much mass middle class discontent (unemployment and the end of 'jobs for life' in the civil service for middle class university graduates) has played an important role within the revolution. Rare are the revolutions that consist of a single class actor. But how often have we been told by the likes of Ronald Inglehart and his merry band of post-materialists that it's by and large the working class whose demands tend to centre on the material while the middle classes protest about the environment, nuclear disarmament and chlorine-free tampons?

The roots of the revolution

Yet the recent social mass explosion that has led to Mubarak's political demise, should not be seen in isolation nor as the consequence of the ire of an increasingly disenfranchised and powerless middle class. It should viewed as an extension of mass working class opposition to both the regime and the neoliberal policies of the West eagerly pursued by Mubarak resulting in increasing numbers of strikes that have raged in the industrial centres of Egypt for many years. "What rot! Why haven't we heard about these strikes?" I hear you chime. It's quite elementary my dear Watsons.  It's a sort of self-fulfilling logic (based on simple cause and effect) which goes something like this: because the working class no longer exist or at best, are few in number, why report the activities of a small minority. People have money in their pockets, may own their own homes (ex-council) have computers, mobile phones and go on holiday at least once a year. It's a very good indicator to social mobility. We're all middle class! (or at least lower-middle class). Thus reporting working class strikes isn't particularly relevant or popular (and might give people the wrong idea) and as such, they're about as welcome on the BBC teatime news or Newsnight as a poorly timed methaneous emission at a canary testing factory. Rare unless it happens to be on British Airways and has a detrimental impact on the holiday plans of social class grade B and C1.

British Airways cabin crews prior
to being post-industrialised out of history
Malhalla el-Where?

So it's no surprise that the wave of strikes that have defined Egypt for the past three to four years, particularly around the huge textile mills of Mahalla el-Kubra,(3) have made hardly a dent in the scheduling of BBC news or the wider press. Why would reporters wish to cover this? Strikes are only ever about material things after all - 'knife and fork' issues. They're never political are they? It's a general rule of thumb among many used to determine what's newsworthy and what's not concerning all things industrial. And it is of course entirely wrong. And exactly who are these people who the 'determining'... the people who have not only accepted the 'post-industrial' paradigm but have acted as the vanguard in convincing us that the working class really have 'ceased to be' in cod Cleesian terminology? They accept the ideology and feel the need to convince us the same should we feel the need to organise and resist the magnetic attraction of this perfectly natural phenomenon known as 'the market'. As most are drawn from the middle class, educated at the elite universities such as Cambridge and Oxford, they rarely go on strike. It's hardly surprising that they should hold such views. Besides, they don't want their weekend breaks ruined in a bout of wildcat action by baggage handlers at Stanstead.

The new middle class
But the evidence shows that that the Egyptian working class have consistently been at the forefront of the fightback against the state, rising prices, unemployment and for key political demands for many years. Alexander has written extensively on the importance of working class resistance to the market reforms of the Mubarak regime and provides in her analysis a level of continuity between events over the last few years and those of today.(4) Their actions have provided the space for such recent political demands to be formulated. They have consistently confronted Mubarak's state repressive apparatus head-on and have given wider Egyptian society (with the Tunisian masses) the confidence to take on the state machinery. In contrast, the FaceBook analyses provided by the Oxbridge elites and political journos and commentators have proved largely ahistorical and frankly wanting.

An example to test this ridiculous assumption

Last weekend (5-6th Feb), the British news media appeared to have placed the Egyptian revolution lower down its list of priorities for reportage. Indeed, after the violence of the counter-revolution in the guise of the plain clothes police thugs and pro-Mubarak supporters on camel-back charging through the throng, if one was to believe much of the news coverage, it was all pretty much over and the most that the protesters could expect was many more months of Mubarak in power until a orderly 'transition' to civilian rule could be organised. Yet within one or two days, with the spreading of strikes across Egypt and the active participation of the working classes in the vanguard of the protest movement (it was noted on the BBC news around the same time how many middle class activists had been driven from Tahrir Square by the violence of the pro-Mubarak forces who had taken the streets, to be replaced by even greater numbers of workers)(5)

Enter the dragon

By Tuesday and Wednesday it had all changed. BBC news reporters and the press had switched from endless pictures of mass humanity in Tahrir Square to pictures of striking workers on the Suez Canal,(6) to reporting strikes by doctors, lawyers (the respectable end of the strike movement) striking rail and public transport workers.(7) In Cairo, hundreds of 'electricity workers stood in front of the South Cairo Electricity Company, demanding the ousting of its director.'(8) Few could deny the political relevance of this act against a government appointed bureaucrat of a state-owned company. Railway workers wishing to strike across the country were asked to remain at work to enable protesters to travel by rail to the major protests being organised, a striking example if any of the potential power of sections of the working class in 'post-industrial' society.(9) With the growing participation of increasing numbers of striking workers in key industries, the movement was emboldened, given a fresh impetus and wielded real power.(10)

The same old tears...

The example of events in Tunisia and Egypt are there for us to draw from and learn. This will not be lost on our own ruling political elites (and the elites who exert dominance over every minute of our lives but are never elected - the capitalist ruling class and the unaccountable managerial elites who exercise power on their behalf) who behind the cloak of 'democratic legitimacy', savage our welfare, health and education systems, throw hundred of thousands on the scrapheap and impose more WTO and World Bank prescriptive measures upon us in the form of sell-offs and forced privatisations. Expect a tightening up of the British legal system as our own homegrown security police apparatus adopt the 'Mubarak methodology' as tens and hundreds of thousands take to the streets to oppose to these vicious and damaging policies.

TUC Demonstration Against Cuts, Saturday 26th March 2011, assemble 11am Victoria Embankment, London, march to rally in Hyde Park,
As such, it is beholden upon us to join our Egyptian brothers and sisters and exhort our trade union branches to provide coaches for the Demonstration Against Cuts.

(1) Source The Guardian, Friday 4th Feb 2011,
(2) Counterpunch sourced at
(3) Sourced at
(4) Alexander A, Inside Egypt's Mass Strikes, International Socialism Journal, 03 March 2008 sourced at
(5) Source The Economist at
(6) Sourced at
(7) Sourced at
(8) The Globe and Mail, Feb 09 2011, sourced at
(9)Sourced at
(10) Tehran Times 11 Feb 2011, sourced at

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