Speech by Derwin Smith, member of Socialist Aoteaora and the International Socialist Organisation (Dunedin Branch).
The people of Tunisia have made a revolution. Through sustained protests, strikes, and army mutinies they have ousted Ben Ali, a long term military dictator. Over one months’ worth of sustained action, sparked by rising food prices and unemployment, finally forced Ben Ali to step down in January ending his 23 year rule. This has sent shockwaves through North Africa and the Middle East.
The news of Tunisia’s revolution has been inspiring. Major protest and strike action have spread to Egypt calling for the downfall of Mubarak, Egypt’s military dictator. Smaller protests have broken out in Jordan, Yemen, Algeria, and Palestine.
This international uprising did not come out of nowhere. For years determined people have been building organisations in Tunisia and Egypt, such as trade unions and political parties that have been calling for freedom, equality, and the end to dictatorship. In 2008 there were mass protests all over the world against the rising price of basic food commodities. Revolution is the logical conclusion of these movements.
The Tunisian working class may have forced their military dictator to step down – this is the first step. Tunisia’s revolutionary union federation, the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT), that was key to forcing out Ben Ali is committed to rid the government of all the members of his party and is organising ongoing rallies and strike action to make this happen. Local militias have formed to protect their communities from police violence. The people of Tunisia have taken power into their own hands and have shown the world that revolution is possible.
The protests and strikes in Egypt against Mubarak are only the beginning. Egypt is the most industrialised Arab nation with the largest economy and working class. In the last few years there has been a growing workers movement that has been taking militant action. It is this movement that could provide the political leadership and power to create real change in the region. Egypt’s working class will play a key role in shaping the political landscape of the world.
The Egyptian government receives the second largest amount of US aid coming behind the state of Israel. The Egyptian military receives one point five billion dollars of aid from the US every year. This alone should show how important Egypt is to the American Empire. The current regimes are pawns of US imperialism i.e. they work in the interests of foreign capitalists suppressing their own people to protect the profits of the wealthy. This has led to the US dominating the region both economically and militarily. As the people of North Africa and the Middle East throw off the shackles of foreign backed military dictatorship, it is unclear what will be put in its place.
The workers movement in Egypt is at the heart of the revolution. A new federation of Egyptian trade unions has formed that is organising workplace committees all over the country. They are planning strikes to bring down the dictatorship. It was sustained strike action, including general strikes, as well as protests that brought down the dictatorship in Tunisia.
Workers at multiple factories including steel and printing have dismissed their bosses and have taken over production for the revolution, not profit to fill the pockets of the owners. Egypt’s’ wealthy elite is leaving the country by the planeload. The revolutionary movement in Egypt has gone beyond a ‘political’ revolt. It is also an economic revolt. It is not just Mubarak the workers of Egypt are trying to depose but the capitalist class as well.
As the workers of Egypt organise to overthrow the political dictatorship of Mubarak they are organising to overthrow the dictatorship at work as well. The economic dictatorship of the employing class. They are building democracy at the workplace, against their employers. They are building democracy in their communities, against the police. They are building democracy in the political sphere, against the dictatorship.
Extending democracy to all spheres of life is the task of the workers revolution.
Bringing down the dictatorship is the first step. When this happens, it will be up to the Egyptian working class to drive home the economic revolution; this uprising should not end with political revolution. The revolutions of North Africa should not end with a simple change of government but an end to the current system of government. A system where wealth and power is controlled by a tiny political and economic elite - not by the people as a whole.
It will be up to the Egyptian workers movement to make sure that the next set of politicians that gain power are not puppets of US imperialism. The international ruling class, including John Key and the New Zealand elite, supports the current system of Dictator Mubarak. They want the rulers of Egypt, whether it is Mubarak or not, to keep the Egyptian people shackled, to provide ‘stability’. The capitalists do not want to see the profits from their investments threatened by the courageous Egyptian people. The capitalists of the world do not want to lose control of the resources of the Middle East.
The ruling class of the industrialised world have bullied and bribed the corrupt rulers of the Middle East for centuries to gain access to new markets, cheap labour, and most of all vast supplies of Oil. The British Empire, the United States and the old Soviet Union are all guilty. The ruling class of the world, including in New Zealand, supports the racist state of Israel to police the region. The ruling class of the world, including New Zealand, are waging imperialist war in Afghanistan and Iraq killing and displacing millions. All to control the regions wealth, protect their profits, and maintain their power.
If the Egyptian working class are victorious in their struggle they will be the force that brings the international Arab masses out of their slumber all across the Middle East. Just as the Tunisian uprising sparked revolt in Egypt, a militant and victorious Egyptian working class could fan the flames of international revolution throughout the Middle East.
The Uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt are driving fear into the hearts of dictators the world over -especially in the Middle East. A revolution in Egypt could push the working class into action all across the region. The puppet governments of Western Imperialism could be toppled one after the other. The links the Egyptian workers movement has in the region will be vital in spreading this revolt.
If Egypt’s military and economic chains to the Empire are smashed by workers revolution another world will be possible.
If the Arab working class takes control of their own lives off their corrupt rulers the political landscape of the entire region will be transformed very rapidly. The vast wealth produced in the region could be used for human need, not private profit, by the people themselves. Poverty in the region could be wiped out.
Egypt was the first Arab nation to officially recognise the state of Israel. The siege of Gaza could be brought to an end by opening up the border with Egypt. The racist state of Israel relies on the support of the surrounding countries. The tangled mesh of alliances between the different regimes in the region that lets the state of Israel continue to colonise Palestine and invade its neighbours is the very same that let the Western Powers invade and occupy Iraq and Afghanistan.
A workers revolution in Egypt could spark the international uprising needed to bring this to an end. The racist state of Israel could be abolished ending decades of theft and war.
A international uprising in the region could decolonise the Middle East of the foreign armies occupying Iraq and Afghanistan. These wars of imperialism are barely sustainable at the moment. Without the support of the surrounding governments these conflicts could be brought rapidly to an end.
The reign of terror by foreign and domestic armies and police would be overturned by revolution in Egypt.
None of this is inevitable.
Yesterday, the call for a one million person march in Cairo was answered by the Egyptian masses. There was a general strike throughout the country. It is reported that up to eight million people filled the streets of Egypt’s cities yesterday. That means one in ten people were out trying to overthrow the dictatorship.
President Mubarak stated yesterday that he does not intend to step down. The current dictatorship could suppress the revolutionary movement and stay in power. This is a possibility. It has set pro government forces on rallies; however this shows the desperation of the regime not its strength. The movement would then most likely re-emerge at a later date stronger than ever, like it has done in the past.
The revolutionary movement may overthrow the dictatorship and install a new set of politicians that will keep the Egyptian people shackled with the same chains of US imperialism. The revolutionary movement may let the capitalist class regain control over the economic assets of the country. This is also a possibility, especially since the US has shifted its support to, Mohamed El Baradei, an Egyptian leader that is still pro capitalist, he would still be a pawn of imperialism, but is more moderate than Mubarak.
It could be that the Muslim Brotherhood could gain leadership of the revolutionary movement. The rulers of Gaza, Hamas, are an offshoot of it. This mass Islamic party has been outlawed by the dictatorship for some time for their activity against US imperialism. This could be tragic for the struggling workers of Egypt. This organisation has no commitment to workers democracy and a state similar to that of Iran could evolve, where female trade unionists get whipped in public for struggling for higher wages and safer conditions.
The revolutionary movement in Egypt may move to deepen and protect the democratic gains made so far, in the economic sphere as well as political. They may overthrow the dictatorship and replace it with workers democracy, without the capitalist class.
We do not know what will happen in Egypt.
We do know that the workers movement in Egypt has been going from strength to strength in the past few years. The revolutionary socialist tradition has also been growing. These trends will be key in deciding the outcome of the current uprising. A well organised and coordinated workers movement will be vital in overthrowing Mubarak. A vibrant revolutionary workers tradition could provide a hopeful vision of a country run by workers, not the same old bosses and politicians with different names. Whether a political organisation of revolutionary workers will emerge that can lead the struggle for socialism is impossible to say at this point.
A workers revolution in Egypt could spark the international uprising needed to place the vast wealth of region in the hands of the people themselves. It could overturn colonial rule in Palestine. It could bring an end to imperialist war and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. It could inspire the workers of the world.
Our comrades in North Africa and the Middle East need our help.
My challenge for everyone here today is to help us organise demonstrations in solidarity with the struggling people of North Africa and the Middle East. We must also build a fighting workers movement here in New Zealand like our comrades in Egypt and Tunisia are doing. Ultimately this is the greatest contribution we can make to the fight against global imperialism.
Help us build a revolutionary workers party in this country. When the tide of rebellion reaches the pacific we will need it. Join us in the struggle for freedom and socialism.