Some thoughts on the Egyptian and Greek elections.
Some people are asking how can the IS tendency vote for the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) but not for the left reformist, Syriza ? The first thing that needs to be said is that the Egyptian Revolutionary Socialist (RS) are an independent organisation who make up their own minds on these questions. And before anyone suggests this is pedantry they should realise this is a very important point for our Egyptian friends.
The second thing is that these people seem to think this is self -evidently a monstrous contradiction. But this is not a serious way to pose the question. There are two different elections in two different countries and each has to be considered concretely – they should not be mechanically counterposed.
In Egypt there is a run off between two candidates, Shafiq and Mursi.. The only possible options for the left in this election are abstention or a vote for Mursi (the MB candidate). In Greece, Antarsya and SEK (SWP) face the problem that in their election if they vote for Syriza they cannot stand themselves. Conversely if they stand they cannot vote for Syriza.
The RS have decided that in their concrete situation it is very important to prevent the election of Shafiq – a leading Mubarak supporter and ‘feloul’ (remnant of the old regime) – as this would mean a serious victory for SCAF and the counterrevolution. Therefore it is necessary to give critical support for Mursi, without in anyway agreeing with his programme or ideas. This may be correct or not but it is a perfectly reasonable and principled decision for a revolutionary organisation to take. And need I remind people that the RS are a very serious and principled organisation.
SEK and Antarsya have decide they will stand in the election, even though they know they will be squeezed and get a low vote, because they have a distinct programme (more radical than Syriza’s) they want to put before the Greek working class – they call for for Greece to default on its debt, nationalise the banks, cut the working day, and leave the euro on its own terms. This is only an obviously ‘mad’ or ‘sectarian’ decision if you have faith in the ability of a Syriza led government to resolve the crisis in the interests of the working class.
I’m not in Egypt or Greece, so I don’t feel well qualified to judge the situation. Nevertheless I know Egypt (having visited quite often) better than Greece so I’ll start with there. I support the RS statement. In my opinion there has been for some time a serious danger facing the revolution and the revolutionaries and this danger has been compounded by a tendency of the revolutionaries to run too far ahead of the less advanced majority of the masses as if they could overthrow SCAF simply through will power and their own heroic . struggle on the streets. This is an understandable, and very brave, mistake but a mistake nonetheless. To overthrow the regime the revolutionaries have to win over the masses, and that means, as Lenin explained at great length in ‘Left- Wing Communism- an Infantile Disorder’, knowing when to engage in direct battle, when to retreat and when to ‘patiently explain’.
As I said I know much less about Greece but I do know that the entire historical experience of ‘left’ governments in times of serious crisis shows that this is a perilous situation for working people – remember Allende, the Spanish Popular Front, the Hungarian ‘Soviet’ Government of Bela Kun, and so on: all followed by merciless repression. The French revolutionary, St Just, warned that those who make a revolution half way dig their own graves.
This is not a reason to ‘oppose’ Syriza, or ‘workers’ governments’ in general [on the contrary they should be given critical support ] and that is not what SEK are doing, but it is a reason to maintain and build a clear independent revolutionary alternative, which is what they are trying to do. It is also a reason for Marxists not suddenly to drop all their historic critique of reformism and centrism.
In reading some of the debate online with, as so often, people who don’t know very much about the situations pronouncing dogmatically (especially if they can bash the SWP) I found myself recalling something written by Lukacs in ‘History and Class Consciousness’.
“It is ridiculous,” Lenin says in a statement that only caricatures the situation formally, not essentially, “to imagine an army taking up battle positions somewhere and saying: ‘We are for Socialism’ while somewhere else another army will stand and declare: ‘We are for Imperialism’ and that such a situation should constitute a social revolution."” The emergence of revolutionary and counter-revolutionary fronts is full of vicissitudes and is frequently chaotic in the extreme. Forces that work towards revolution today may very well operate in the reverse direction tomorrow. And it is vital to note that these changes of direction do not simply follow mechanically from the class situation or even from the ideology of the stratum concerned. They are determined decisively by the constantly changing relations with the totality of the historical situation and the social forces at work. So that it is no very great paradox to assert that, for instance, Kemal Pasha may represent a revolutionary constellation of forces in certain circumstances whilst a great ‘workers’ party’ may be counter-revolutionary. [G.Lukacs, H&CC, 1971, p.311]
Before anyone gets excited I’m NOT saying that Mursi and the MB are a ‘revolutionary constellation of forces’ or that Syriza is ‘counter revolutionary. I merely quote Lukacs to show that these matters are not as simple as some people seem to think. And while we are at it it is also worth recalling that when Zinoviev debated Martov at the USPD Halle Congress in 1920 and won the majority over to the German Communist Party and the Third International, the social democrat Hilferding mocked the Bolsheviks for their alliance with ‘the mullahs of Chiva’ at the Baku Congress of the People of the East and Martov denounced them for their dealings with Enver Pasha.(See ‘Zinoviev and Martov: Head to Head in Halle’, edited by Ben Lewis and Lars Lih). [Zinoviev’s reply was simply that if you are serious about world revolution you have to relate to the hundreds of millions of Asia. Many of whom are muslim].
Obviously none of these historical references proves that either RS or SEK have made the correct decisions in their respective situations – that will have to be tested and proved in practice. However they do show that neither organization is being ‘obviously’ unprincipled or absurd.
1 June 1, 2012