On the counter-revolution and the Islamists … an invitation to open discussion
Letter by the Revolutionary Socialists
The latest statement by the Revolutionary Socialists “On terrorism and closing the nation’s ranks” triggered angry reactions and has been rejected on a variety grounds. Some of these reactions have taken the form of insults, abuse and mockery not only of the content of the statement but of the Revolutionary Socialists Movement in general. This in turn has led some of the activists of our movement to respond with anger and abuse. The purpose of this document is to refocus attention instead on the urgent political issues at stake. There is nothing political about engaging in a shouting match. The position outlined in the latest statement, although it was published as a statement of our political perspective, also had the objective of opening up discussion and debate. As for the unprincipled attacks on the Revolutionary Socialists, and even incitement against us, as a movement and an organisation we will not respond to these, and will focus on pulling the debate back to the terrain of politics. If some of us have been led by anger and emotion to respond in an unpolitical manner, this is unacceptable and must not continue.
We must however respond to the political criticism which some have directed towards the statement, and we welcome this as part of the debate we need to have across the whole of the Left which is opposed to the military dictatorship, and not only within the ranks of the Revolutionary Socialists.
This document therefore attempts to clarify the positions put forward by the statement, and to clarify some points which appear to have caused misunderstanding.
- The statement does not say that the attempt to take a third path, opposed to the military dictatorship and separate and independent of the Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters, gave in any sense implicit support to the dictatorship. In fact, we as an organisation took part in all attempts to build such a third alternative (from the first efforts to organise the Third Square movement to the Revolutionaries Front). It would be absurd to accuse those who attempted to build, or who are attempting to build such a movement or third alternative of support for the dictatorship. Perhaps the short statement did not explain this sufficiently clearly, or perhaps some people wanted to read it in this way.
- What the statement does say, however, is that those who stand halfway between the military and the Brotherhood, considering them to be equally dangerous and regarding them with the same degree of hostility, accepting the logic that they are two sides of the same counter-revolution and who attempt to build a third alternative on the basis of these claims are tacitly supporting the military dictatorship.
- If we were to use the language which the left adopted in previous generations then this would mean identifying the principal contradiction as opposed to the secondary contradiction! What we put forward in the statement, according to this old method, was to argue that two years after the coup our main enemy is the military dictatorship and not the Muslim Brotherhood, and that we must stop dealing with the two sides according to the same logic.
- This does not mean at all that we are saying that an alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood is necessary or possible or healthy now. But no revolutionary organisation can doubt that the battle today is against the ruling military dictatorship. This is completely independent of the Muslim Brotherhood, and in complete awareness of the Brotherhood’s non-revolutionary nature, and of its historic betrayal of the Egyptian Revolution which immediately preceded the revolution’s betrayal by the majority of the Nasserists, liberals and the Left.
- It is true that the Muslim Brotherhood betrayed the revolution immediately after the fall of Hosni Mubarak, by making a direct alliance with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. It is also true that the Brotherhood, when they came to power, even they only held it superficially, following elections which betrayed the hopes and demands of the masses and the demands of the revolution, saved the same regime and the same security institutions which are slaughtering them today.
- It is also true, for those who care to remember, that the Revolutionary Socialists stood in the front ranks of the opposition to Morsi and the Brotherhood, throughout the year of his presidency, and took part in all the activities opposed to the Brotherhood, the feloul [remnants of the old regime] and the military during that period.
- Yet the situation has changed now. Those who are accusing us of not moving on from the first year of the revolution in 2011 are in reality the ones whose clocks have stopped in the first half of 2013. If the slogan “Down with all those who betrayed – military, feloul [remnants of the old regime] and Brotherhood” was understandable at that period, with the Brotherhood’s attempts to share power with the military and the feloul, then today, in the second half of 2015 it has become empty of any meaning. In fact, and perhaps this is what has angered some people, it has become a misleading slogan, which tacitly supports the military dictatorship. This slogan equates those who are being killed, arrested, tortured and sentenced to death with the most violent, filthy and corrupt dictatorship known to modern Egyptian history. This is not a “third way”. This is complete surrender and in the present circumstances will lead to utter paralysis and implicitly to standing with the victor. Politics, particularly in such circumstances, does not recognise neutrality.
- Some may confuse our perception of the statement as a subject for debate with our historical and social analysis of the Muslim Brotherhood. This document will not offer a detailed exposition of this analysis, and its development through different stages since the 1990s. We do not disagree with whoever points out the necessity to develop this analysis with changing political and historical circumstances. However, the outlines of this analysis have been misunderstood by some, sometimes in good faith, and sometimes for other reasons. Perhaps it is useful, therefore to restate the key points here, as this is likely to remove some of the misunderstandings and tensions.
- We naturally reject the analysis which seems to have become dominant among some quarters (to the delight of Rifaat al-Sa’id, the closest Stalinist ally of the regime), and which describes the Islamist movement in general and with it the Muslim Brotherhood, as a fascist movement. Firstly, we have to differentiate between the historical, social and political context. Fascism is a term used to describe the movements which arose and grew rapidly in countries such as Germany and Italy in the 1920s and 1930s, after the failure of a wave of workers’ revolutions. These movements took advantage of panic among wide sections of the middle class over the danger of revolution which they felt could only lead to chaos, and exploited their need to repress revolutionary movements, and in particular the workers’ movement. (In fact, at a superficial level, Sisi’s regime and the mobilisation it has carried out is a lot closer to historical fascism than the Muslim Brotherhood).
- The theory that the Brotherhood is a kind of religious fascism was, and remains, merely a superficial intellectual justification for the support of sections of the traditional left, and now the Nasserists and the liberals along with them, not only for Sisi’s coup, but even for military rule, the counter-revolution and for the repression of the Islamist movement and of anyone who stands as an obstacle in the path of Sisi’s project on the grounds that they are advocates for or allied with religious fascism.
- There is another tradition on the left, which refuses to describe the Islamist movement as fascist, but which sees it as no less dangerous than the counter-revolution represented by Sisi. The perspective put forward by this current can be summarised as follows: We are of course opposed to the military dictatorship, and of course we want to struggle against it for the democratic and social goals of the revolution of 25 January 2011. Of course we see what has happened in Egypt under military rule as a counter-revolution, not only the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood from the political scene, but the uprooting and destruction of the Egyptian revolution. However, because of the Muslim Brotherhood’s betrayal of the revolution and because of their reactionary nature, and because of their adoption of the same policies as Mubarak, and because of their alliance with the Salafists, and because of their sectarianism, because of all this, not only must our battle against the dictatorship be independent of the Brotherhood’s battle, but in fact we have to carry out two battles at the same time. We must fight what could be described as two wings of the counter-revolution: the wing of the military dictatorship and the wing of religious reaction represented by the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies.
- We naturally consider that those holding this position are our comrades in the struggle against the military dictatorship, even if we disagree with them strongly over their understanding of the Islamist movement and over their understanding of the current political scene. We see a strong danger that this position will lead in the end to an implicit closing of ranks with the military dictatorship whether out of paralysis, or by acting as an onlooker in the battle, accepting the status quo and awaiting the outcome of the struggle. That is to say, awaiting the crushing of the Brotherhood, after which it will surely be the turn of the secular opposition and with it the left opponents of the dictatorship.
- Yet what we have seen in the two years since the coup, every step towards the crushing of the Brotherhood narrows the political space for everyone and paves the way for the repression of all. It is a strategic error to keep silent over the repression of the Brotherhood, or to fail to say that defending them in the face of the brutal dictatorship is an integral part of the struggle for democracy and for the return of the Egyptian revolution. This error has led to, and is leading to, the marginalisation of the left opposition to the dictatorship.
- When we describe the Muslim Brotherhood as a reformist movement, we are not applying the same criteria as in the case of reformist movements in the capitalist West, such as the social-democratic parties, for example. The historical context is different, just as in the case of fascism. The roots of the Brotherhood lie in the educated middle classes, particularly in the cities, including the provincial cities. However, the roots of social democracy in the West lie in the trade union bureaucracy, which is also part of the middle class but the context of its composition and its relationship with the rank-and-file of the trade union movement makes it a qualitatively different phenomenon to Political Islam and particularly to the Muslim Brotherhood.
- There are features of reformist movements which apply to the Muslim Brotherhood, however. The social composition of the movement, including the majority of its leadership, is based on the educated middle class. This is the ideologically dominant layer, not only among large sections of the middle class, but also, as a result of charitable work among significant sections of the poor and the working class. At the same time the Brotherhood has developed an organisation with significant representation among the commercial bourgeoisie, although its representation among the big bourgeoisie has been marginal in Egypt.
- This cross-class composition, with its spinal cord formed of the educated middle class, makes the Brotherhood a highly contradictory organisation. On the one hand, sections of its base push for a more radical confrontation with the regime, while sections of the middle class and traditional bourgeoisie seek common ground with it. Thus, the Muslim Brotherhood has for the last three decades existed in a state of constant oscillation between appeasement and confrontation, between challenging the regime, mobilising against it, and attempting to secure a deal allowing the Brotherhood wider participation within the same regime.
- The performance of the Muslim Brotherhood during the years of revolution and counter-revolution confirms the organisation’s contradictory and vacillating nature. They are certainly not a revolutionary movement. Nor are they capable of revolutionary mobilisation: on the contrary they are afraid of such mobilisations. At the same time, the Brotherhood’s social composition pushes it to participate in opposition to the regime, not only following the reactionary agenda of the traditional middle class, but also over issues such as democracy, corruption, tyranny and social injustice, albeit using opaque vocabulary. This ambiguity is a logical consequence of an entity which is contradictory in class terms attempting to express itself.
- This is an extremely short summary, with the sole aim of clarifying points which had led to the misunderstanding of the statement. It is the reason why we labelled the Muslim Brotherhood a reformist organisation, which stands as an obstacle in the way of the completion of the revolution, but neither is it one of the wings of the counter-revolution.
- None of what we have said here should be taken as a call for alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood. But it certainly means we defend their cadres and supporters from the brutality of the counter-revolution. It also certainly means clarity in publications and practical work that the enemy of the revolutionary movement in Egypt is the ruling military dictatorship. It certainly means that we need to build a new revolutionary front which does not suffer from Islamophobia, and which is prepared to avoid the hysteria of Islamist-secular confrontation. Our aim is to build a broad revolutionary front which, although it will not join the Muslim Brotherhood, is open to joint work side by side with the young Islamists who are facing the machinery of military repression every day. This does not mean that we propose for an instant to drop our principled criticism of the Islamist movement’s reactionary stances or their appeasement of the regime. Nor will we compromise the independence of our slogans, our perspectives, our banners and our organisation.
- Everything we have written here is an invitation to discuss these ideas in the widest possible sense. It is not an attack on anyone, except those who betrayed the revolution, whether they are leftists or Islamists. As for those who genuinely want to work tirelessly on the long, arduous task of bringing down the military dictatorship and returning to the goals of the January revolution, we must show our appreciation, respect and the desire to work together. It is time to go beyond a state of tension and the exchange of insults, and begin debating and building. For time is not on our side.
Political bureau, The Revolutionary Socialists
24 July 2015