By Roger Annis, August 27, 2013
The following commentary is a reply to What You Need to Know About the Egyptian Crisis, by Bill Fletcher Jr. which was published on The Progressive, August 24, 2013.
Bill Fletcher describes the military/fascist regime now ruling today in Egypt as a “classic case of Bonapartism”. But he doesn’t describe what he means by ‘Bonapartism’. He gets it wrong and it’s one of several incorrect assertions in his article.
Leon Trotsky made a useful description of the term ‘Bonapartism’ in a 1935 essay on the situation in German context of his day in 1935:
The concept of Bonapartism, being too broad, demands concretization. During the last few years we have applied this term to those capitalist governments that, by exploiting the antagonisms between the proletarian and fascist camps and by leaning directly upon the military-police apparatus, raise themselves above parliament and democracy, as the saviours of “national unity.” We always strictly differentiated between this Bonapartism of decay and the young, advancing Bonapartism that was not only the gravedigger of the political principles of the bourgeois revolution [eg France 1789—RA] but also the defender of its social conquests. We apply a common name to these two manifestations because they have common traits; it is always possible to discern the youth in the octogenarian despite the merciless ravages of time.
–‘The Workers’ State, Thermidor and Bonapartism, Feb. 1935
By this definition, Egypt’s military regime does not qualify. It is not rising above the fascist camp, it is the fascist camp.
‘Bonapartism’ was used by Marxists in the 1920s and 1930s to describe the unique circumstances that arose in countries like Italy then Germany. Capitalism was in acute economic and political crisis, but the working class and other popular classes were not yet strong and politically coherent enough to win the governmental power from the capitalists and begin from there the construction of a new, socialist order.
Fascist movements arose during the crises as the last line of defense of the capitalist system. Theirs was a program to destroy the very cohesion of the popular classes. ‘Bonapartist’ rule referred to authoritarian capitalist governments of finance capital that would posture as above this fray but whose fundamental interest and mission was also to defeat the popular classes and their threat to capitalist rule.
So here again, Egypt fails the test of the term. Capitalist rule in Egypt was not threatened by the June 2013 protest movement nor by the January/February 2011 popular uprising. Of course, the 2011 movement was a giant step into forms of bourgeois democracy with great importance. The June 2013 movement, on the other hand, was more complicated and nuanced. It comprised a popular will to continue advancing along the road of social justice and democracy opened up in 2011, on the one hand, and the class forces wishing for a return to authoritarian, even military rule. (Of course there were great variations and nuance within this overall schematic.)
The new rulers of Egypt have not ‘risen above’ the contending social classes; they are the naked rule of the capitalist side of that equation and have spawned fascist gangs to supplement the repression of the police and military.
Fletcher laments that the points of view of “leftists and progressives” in Egypt have been ignored in the U.S. He doesn’t name who those might be. Are they the ‘leftists’ that backed or turned a blind eye to a military coup and subsequent repression? The ones who joined the pro-coup National Salvation Front? Or the real leftists, who are in the streets today, braving their lives, in the awful, bloody struggle against this Pinochet-style regime? If it is the former, thank you but no thank you; the mainstream media is full of their material.
The long description of Egypt’s history by Fletcher is interesting but does not have too much bearing on disputed issues at hand. His description of the presidency of Mohamed Morsi and the government of his Freedom and Justice Party is partial and not nuanced as any such analysis needs to be. That includes his assertion that Egyptian progressive forces (once again unnamed) consider the Muslim Brotherhood to be a “fascist” movement. Yes, many Egyptian ‘leftists’ are making that claim, but I disagree and am frankly a lot more worried about those leftists who are cozying up to military rule. I enclose below an Aug. 26 e-mail missive by Mamdouh Habashi, a co-founder in 2011 of the Egyptian Socialist Party. The missive is unsourced but it is consistent with another published interview with him. (See an excellent commentary by Ramzy Baroud on the subject of the nature of the Muslim Brotherhood and its followers. He is the editor of the Palestine Chronicle).
Fletcher writes in reviewing the Morsi record, “In one of the least covered arenas, workers continued to be suppressed and trade union rights were being undermined.” He provides no source or information for this assertion. It’s one-sided. An article by Joel Beinin on Middle East Report Online, August 23, 2013 helps to redress the balance, though Beinin contradicts himself at several points in his article when he appears to exaggerate the attacks on unions by the Morsi-led government.
Trade union rights and organizing made important strides since the overthrow of Mubarak, including during the one year of rule of President Morsi. Was the progress being made during Morsi’s government a direct result of the government’s policies? I cannot say because I have seen little published material on the subject. Regardless, the Freedom and Justice Party government and presidency was a weak, not strong, capitalist government. It had to take account of its mass base among poor workers and peasants and the tremendous aspirations unleashed by February 2011.
Fletcher concludes his article by saying, “First, in the USA the principal job of those of us on the left side of the aisle must be to insist upon non-intervention in the internal affairs of Egypt. That includes the cessation of military assistance.” And that’s all.
While tyranny reigns in Egypt’s cities and countryside, Fletcher says the country is in the grip of a “struggle around two projects”–the bourgeois Islamists and the bourgeois military regime. “Both the Egyptian military and the Muslim Brotherhood need to pull back from the military option”. Not a word about the pressing need to mobilize in opposition to the repression in Egypt. Not a word about allying with Egyptians in calling for a return to elected government.
He also does not speak of the deadly consequences of the military coup for Palestinians and others peoples in the Middle East (Tunisia) and their ‘Arab Spring’.
Fletcher concludes by writing, “Finally, and to go full circle, we in the USA must pay more attention to what left and progressive forces are saying within countries such as Egypt before jumping to conclusions.” Again, it would be helpful if he could suggest to whom, exactly, he recommends paying attention. Those of us who are joining in condemning the coup in Egypt are making known a broad array of writers, activists and websites in Egypt, the Middle East and beyond. For my humble part, I am compiling such sources on the Egypt page of my web blog and wrote this suggested list of readings several weeks ago.
About Muslim Brotherhood and Democracy
By Mamdouh Habashi, August 25th 2013
From: Mamdouh <[email protected]>
Date: Mon, Aug 26, 2013 at 2:55 AM
Subject: EGYPT TODAY
The German media spread a distorted picture of the events in Egypt and the attitude of the German and other Western governments towards the political situation in Egypt is the process of democratization in Egypt is not conducive.
Even if it sounds reasonable to call for reconciliation, reconciliation is not the key word here to solve the existing conflict. It can be no reconciliation between right and wrong or between the rule of law and terrorism. And what the Muslim Brotherhood is now doing openly for weeks is open terror. Propelled by the fiery speeches of the leadership, the brainwashed young people and other extremist supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood turned against the society for terrifying, sabotage and destruction.
The leftists, nationalists and liberals were aware of the reactionary and violent nature of the Muslim Brotherhood since their emergence in the hug of the British colonial power 85 years ago. The story is an ongoing conflict between the Muslim Brotherhood and the state.
In the latest development, it has become a conflict between the Muslim Brotherhood and the people because their policies of last year, with a government of representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood, have opened up the eyes of the people to see their true interests and objectives. It has become clear that this government does not represent the interests of the people, but only the interests of a small extremist group that abuses religion for political power and personal enrichment.
In this time, it has also become clear that violence is an integral part of the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood and has always been. Now the people have decided to discontinue the Muslim Brotherhood, these respond with terror.
Since the revolution of June 30th 2013, a transitional government composed of prominent representatives of political groups was used in Egypt with the help of the military which gave a road map that should lead the country into democratic elections and to govern the country in the meantime by the stipulations required by the people’s revolution targets. It is not acceptable that Ms. Merkel and Mr. Westerwelle ask our government to cooperate with the Muslim Brotherhood while our government is discussing to dissolve the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. The Egyptians do not want to negotiate with criminals in order to maintain their state. This offers a comparison of recent German history; the conflict of the Baader-Meinhof group with the German government in the 70-ies.
The Egyptian society is open and those who have appended the Muslim Brotherhood for idealistic religious belief are part of the people and are welcome in the society – as long as they do not exploit religion for political purposes and condemn violence as a political means. The democratization process cannot go on without the separation of religion and politics or if political conflicts are played violent.
The Egyptians understand the support of the German government for the Muslim Brotherhood so that the West is hostile towards the new democratic government. The political participation of the people in the formation of a new government and a sustainable strategy for the future is a sign of the development towards true democracy in Egypt. The
Egyptians are disappointed that the West does not grant them these basic democratic rights.
It is important that Western governments finally realize that the Muslim Brothers speak with a forked tongue, on the one hand, they style themselves as victims of oppression and claims to power of the military, on the other hand they know domestically only the discourse of threat and violence. To this policy, the people responded with a resounding no. It is now important for all democratic states and institutions to try to help the Egyptians to use their new political consciousness for a better future.
Mamdouh Habashi is a co-founder in 2011 of the Egyptian Socialist Party.