Socialist Worker

Is this a revolution or just a coup?

by Alex Callinicos
Published Tue 15 Feb 2011
Issue No. 2239

Leon Trotsky recalls in his memoirs that, immediately after the Russian Revolution of October 1917, Lenin said to him in German, “Es schwindelt”—“It makes one dizzy.”

The last few weeks has made plenty of people dizzy, revolutionaries and non-revolutionaries alike. It took just under a month from the suicide of Mohamed Boazizi for the Tunisian masses to bring down the dictatorship of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on 14 January.

Two and half weeks later an even mightier tyrant, Hosni Mubarak, was forced out by mass protests in Egypt. But how much has changed? Very little, claims the voice of imperialist realism, George Friedman of the strategic intelligence website Stratfor:

“What happened was not a revolution. The demonstrators never brought down Mubarak, let alone the regime. What happened was a military coup that used the cover of protests to force Mubarak out of office in order to preserve the regime.

“When it became clear Feb 10 that Mubarak would not voluntarily step down, the military staged what amounted to a coup to force his resignation.”

For Friedman, the Egyptian revolution is nothing more than an episode that allowed the military to resolve its conflict with Mubarak over his attempt to install his son Gamal as his successor.

Now this analysis isn’t completely false. It underlines that, even if Mubarak has gone, the regime over which he presided continues to exist. More fundamentally, the core of the Egyptian state—its repressive apparatuses—survives.

The Central Security Force may have been shattered by the street battles on 28 January, but the army definitely wasn’t.

Preserve

Indeed, one reason why the generals acted on Friday of last week may well have been to preserve the army intact. They may have been worried about retaining the loyalty of their conscript troops and junior officers, many of whom had been fraternising with the protesters.

What broke the Shah’s regime during the Iranian Revolution of 1978-9 was the cumulative effect of months of bloody protests and strikes that wore down the cohesion and morale of the army.

Mubarak’s stubborn clinging to power conjured up such a scenario. Hence the ruthlessness with which the US and the military dumped him.

But in forcing him out and assuming power themselves, the generals have put themselves centre-stage.

The appearance of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces recalls bodies like the Command Council of the Revolution, the military junta through which Gamal Abdul Nasser ruled Egypt after 1952.

But Mohammed Tantawi, the head of the Supreme Council, is no Nasser. A US embassy cable published by Wikileaks quotes a source saying “one can hear mid-level officers at [Ministry of Defence] clubs around Cairo openly expressing disdain for Tantawi. These officers refer to Tantawi as ‘Mubarak’s poodle’, he said.”

This evidence underlines that the military junta will strive to preserve the status quo. But this then brings us to what is wrong with Friedman’s analysis.

However much friction there may have been between Mubarak and the army, it was the self-organised masses throughout Egypt who forced the generals to act.

Now the military is striving to get the genie back into the bottle. This may not be so easy. One of the decisive developments in the days leading up to Mubarak’s fall was the spreading strike movement.

This didn’t come out of the blue—the past few years have seen the biggest wave of workers’ struggles in Egypt since the 1940s.

What we may well see now develop is the kind of interaction between economic and political struggles that Rosa Luxemburg analysed during the Russian Revolution of 1905.

Their political victory may encourage workers to demand satisfaction for the economic grievances that helped to drive the revolt in the first place. And these struggles can strengthen the political movement to get rid of the regime altogether.

The Egyptian revolution is far from over.


Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.