In the first instance the demands of the Revolution are democratic. Of
course! After 30 years of a brutal dictatorship the youth long for
freedom. Naturally, their desire for democracy can be abused by
bourgeois politicians who are only interested in their future careers in
a “democratic” parliament. But we are obliged to take up the democratic
demands and give them a sharply revolutionary content. This will
inevitably lead on to the demand for an even more fundamental change in
In the first instance the demands of
the Revolution are democratic. Of course! After 30 years of a brutal
dictatorship the youth long for freedom. Naturally, their desire for
democracy can be abused by bourgeois politicians who are only interested
in their future careers in a “democratic” parliament. But we are
obliged to take up the democratic demands and give them a sharply
revolutionary content. This will inevitably lead on to the demand for an
even more fundamental change in society.
a strike or a revolution people feel like human beings with dignity and
rights. After a lifetime of enforced silence, they discover that they
have a voice. The interviews of people on the streets were a wonderful
expression of this. Poor, illiterate people are saying: we are going to
fight, we will not leave the streets; we demand our rights and we demand
that we be treated with respect. This is a profoundly progressive
thing. It is the very essence of a real revolution.
It goes without saying that Marxists always subordinate the
democratic demands to the socialist revolution. But in practice the most
consistent and advanced revolutionary demands will necessarily lead to
the posing of workers’ power and socialist revolution. The Russian
Revolution is the best example of this. In 1917 the Bolsheviks took
power on the basis of the slogan “Peace, bread and land”, none of which
has a socialist content. In theory, all three demands could be achieved
under capitalism. In practice, however, they could only be achieved by
breaking with the bourgeoisie and by power passing into the hands of the
Some people say that this is nothing more than a bourgeois
nationalist movement, not a real revolution. They merely reveal
ignorance on the important role of democratic demands in a revolution
under these conditions. The experience of the Russian Revolution itself
shows the importance of the correct (revolutionary) utilization of
democratic demands. The demand for a Constituent Assembly played a very
important role in mobilizing the broadest layers of the population
behind the revolutionary cause.
While fighting for the most advanced democratic demands, Marxists do
not regard these demands as an end in themselves, but as part of the
fight for a fundamental change in society. That is what distinguishes
the Marxist outlook from that of vulgar petty bourgeois democrats.
The immediate task in Egypt was to carry out the overthrow of Mubarak
and his rotten regime. But this is only the first step. It has opened
the floodgates and allowed the revolutionary people to push their way
through. They are daily discovering their strength on the streets, the
importance of organization and mass mobilization. That is already a
tremendous conquest. Having gone through the experience of a thirty year
dictatorship, they will not allow the imposition of a new one, or any
intrigue to recreate the old regime with a new name. Tunisia is
sufficient proof of this.
Now they have had a taste of their own power, the masses will not be
satisfied with half-measures. They know that what they have achieved
they have conquered with their own hands. The struggle for complete
democracy will permit the construction of genuine trade unions and
workers’ parties. But it will also pose the question of economic
democracy and the fight against inequality.
Slogans and tactics must be concrete. They must reflect the real
situation and the real concerns of the masses. The objective tasks of
the Russian Revolution were democratic and national: overthrow of the
tsar, formal democracy, freedom from imperialism, freedom of press, etc.
We demand complete democracy, immediate abolition of all reactionary
laws, and a constituent assembly.
Yes, we must overthrow the old regime, not just Ben Ali and Mubarak,
but all the "little Mubaraks" and the “little Ben Alis”. There must be a
thorough purge of the state. And there must not be a single figure in
the government who played any part in the old regime. Why should the
revolutionary people, who sacrificed all in the struggle, allow those
who played no part in the revolution to be in power, even in the form of
an interim government? Take a big broom and sweep them all out! That is
our first demand. We will accept nothing less than this.
But this is also insufficient. For decades these men robbed and
looted the wealth of society. They lived in luxury while the people were
reduced to poverty. Now we must get back every cent that they stole
from the people. We demand the immediate confiscation of the wealth and
property of these parasites, and the expropriation of the property of
the imperialists who supported them.
This shows how the revolutionary democratic demands must lead
directly to socialist demands. Whoever is incapable of correctly
utilizing democratic demands in a revolutionary way will forever be
doomed to the role of an impotent sectarian. Such a person will never be
capable of connecting with the real movement of the masses.
Democracy, however, means different things to different people. The
poor people of Egypt do not fight for democracy in order to provide
ministerial positions for careerists but as a means of solving their
most pressing problems: the lack of jobs and houses, the high cost of
living. These economic and social problems are too deep to be solved by
any bourgeois government.
Democracy would be an empty phrase if it refused to lay hands on the
obscene wealth of the ruling elite. Confiscate the property of the
ruling clique! Expropriate the property of the imperialists who backed
the old regime and exploited the people of Egypt! The fight for
democracy, if it is pursued to the end, must inevitably lead to the
expropriation of the bankers and capitalists and the establishment of a
workers’ and peasants’’ government. Under Mubarak’s regime the Egyptian
capitalists have favoured foreign business and assisted imperialism in
looting the wealth of the country and exploiting the Egyptian workers.
We demand the expropriation of the property of the imperialists for the
benefit of the people.
The IMT says:
- For the immediate abolition of all reactionary laws!
- For complete freedom of assembly and the right to organize and strike!
- For a revolutionary constituent assembly!
- For the confiscation of all the money stolen by the old regime!
- For the expropriation of the property of the imperialists!
The Constituent Assembly slogan
If there was a party in Egypt like the Bolshevik Party, the question
of power would be posed. But in the absence of a leadership with a clear
plan, the Revolution can pass through all manner of vicissitudes. At
present the revolutionary wave has still not subsided. But the masses
cannot remain permanently in a state of ebullition. They must work and
earn money to eat. The revolutionary lava will cool for a time.
Eventually the revolution will be pushed toward some form of bourgeois
In such a situation democratic demands have an immense importance. In
a situation like Mubarak’s Egypt, democratic demands are a powerful
lever for mobilizing the broadest layers of the masses for the
revolution. We must fight for the maximum democratic rights – the right
to vote, strike, etc. – because it is in the interests of the workers to
have the freest possible scope to develop the class struggle. It is not
a matter of indifference for a worker to live under a totalitarian
regime than to have these basic rights. Democratic demands must
therefore occupy a key place in our programme.
Some people are puzzled by the fact that whereas we now advocate a
Constituent Assembly for these countries, we opposed it in the cases of
Bolivia and Argentina. The explanation is really very simple. Slogans do
not exist outside of time and place. They must reflect concrete
conditions of the class struggle at a given stage of the development of a
In Bolivia, during the revolutionary uprisings of October 2003 and
May-June 2005 the slogan of a constituent assembly was
counterrevolutionary. Why? At the time, the Bolivian workers had staged
two general strikes and two insurrections. They had set up soviet-like
bodies in the form of the Neighbourhood Juntas, the Popular Assemblies
and the cabildos abiertos (mass meetings).
The Bolivian workers could have easily taken power. It would have
been sufficient for the leaders of the COB (trade unions) to proclaim
themselves as the government. Under these concrete conditions, to
advance the slogan of a constituent assembly was a betrayal. It diverted
the attention of the workers from the central task – the seizure of
power – and into parliamentary channels.
The counterrevolutionary nature of this slogan was confirmed by the
fact that the World Bank and the US funded Office for Transition
Initiatives promoted the idea of a constituent assembly. One might add
the small detail that at this time Bolivia was already a bourgeois
democracy. In the case of Argentina, the slogan was raised by certain
left groups after the Argentinazo uprising in December 2001. In
the context of an already existing bourgeois democracy, the slogan of a
constituent assembly was completely wrong and it amounted to saying: “We
don’t like the bourgeois parliament that we have. We want another
bourgeois parliament instead.”
One has to be completely blind not to see that these cases have
nothing at all in common with the situation in Tunisia and Egypt. After
decades of dictatorship, there will inevitably be big illusions in
democracy, not just in the petty bourgeoisie but among the masses. This
conditions our attitude. We are for democracy, but it must be complete
democracy. One of the democratic demands is, ‘we need a new
constitution, and therefore a constituent assembly, but we don’t trust
the Egyptian army to convene it and therefore the struggle must go on in
Of course, Marxists cannot have a mechanical attitude to democratic
slogans, which are always subordinate to the general interests of the
socialist revolution. We do not share the superstitious attitude of the
petty bourgeois towards formal democracy. The deepening of the
Revolution will expose the limitations of bourgeois democracy. Through
experience the workers will come to understand the need to take power
into their own hands. But in order to understand the limits of bourgeois
democracy, the workers must first pass through the school of democracy.
This presupposes a serious fight for the most advanced democratic
After decades of authoritarian rule in Egypt, we cannot be
indifferent to the question of the Constitution. The current proposal by
the Army Council is that some constitutional amendments, drafted by
experts appointed by the Army, will be put to a referendum. This is
completely undemocratic. Mubarak’s constitution cannot be amended, it
should be thrown out and a democratic and revolutionary Constituent
Assembly convened in order to discuss a completely new constitution. The
reactionary role of the generals was shown by the army’s violent
disbanding of the Tahrir Square camp.
Having overthrown a dictatorship through struggle, the revolutionary
people cannot hand power to the same generals who supported Mubarak till
the very last minute. The workers cannot trust the army chiefs or any
council of "experts" appointed by them to write a genuinely democratic
constitution. We are for a constituent assembly: a democratically
elected body to work out the constitution. This is an elementary
But the question remains: who will convene the Constituent Assembly?
We cannot entrust this task to the Egyptian Army, either. Therefore, the
struggle must continue on the streets, in the factories, in the youth,
among the unemployed, until the battle for democracy is complete.
The situation in Egypt is analogous, not to Bolivia in 2003 and 2006
or to Argentina in 2001, but to Russia in 1905 or 1917. We must make use
of the most advanced democratic slogans to pose the central question of
workers’ power. We say to the workers and youth: "You want democracy?
We do too! But don’t trust the Army or El Baradei – let’s fight for real
democracy!" In Egypt, Tunisia and Iran today, the slogan of a
Constituent Assembly is very relevant indeed.
The workers of Egypt have already drawn the correct conclusion. This
is strikingly revealed in the statement of the Iron and steel workers in
Helwan, who, during the struggle, advanced the following demands:
- the immediate stepping down of Mubarak and all the figures of the regime and its symbols;
- the confiscation of wealth and property of all the regime’s symbols
and all those to be proven to be corrupt, on behalf of the interest of
- the immediate resignation of all workers from the trade unions
controlled by or affiliated to the regime and declaring their
independent unions now preparing their general conference to elect and
form their syndicate;
- the acquisition of public sector companies that have been sold or
closed and the declaration of nationalizing them on behalf of the people
and the formation of a new administration to run it, involving workers
- the formation of committees to supervise workers in all work sites
and monitor the production and distribution of prices and wages;
- call for a constituent assembly of all classes of people and trends
for the drafting of a new constitution and the election of people’s
councils without waiting for the negotiations with the former regime.”
These demands are absolutely correct. They show a very high level of
revolutionary consciousness and coincide completely with the programme
advanced by the Marxists. This programme provides the Egyptian
Revolution with all it needs to succeed.
The Revolution poses the need for organization. The trade unions are
the most basic form of organization for the workers of all countries at
all times. Without organization the working class will always be only
raw material for exploitation. The task of building and strengthening
the unions is therefore an urgent priority.
In Egypt and Tunisia the unions were closely linked with the old
oppressive regime. To all intents and purposes they were part of the
state. Their upper levels were corrupted and in many cases members of
the ruling party. Their main role was to police the workers. However, at
rank and file level they consisted of workers and honest militants.
Even in bourgeois democracies there is an organic tendency of the
union tops to fuse with the state. But history shows that when the
working class moves even the most corrupt and bureaucratized trade
unions can come under the pressure of the working class and become
transformed in the course of struggle. Either the old leaders will
change and begin to reflect the pressure of the workers or they will be
removed and replaced by others who are prepared to put themselves at the
head of the movement.
In Tunisia the UGTT leaders were compromised with the Ben Ali regime.
The old leaders were prepared to participate in a provisional
government formed by Gannouchi but were forced to resign under the
pressure of the workers. But at local and regional levels the UGTT
played a leading role in the Revolution. In some areas, like in Redeyef,
the UGTT actually took over the running of society. In others, the
local unions played a key role in the organisation of the revolutionary
movement through revolutionary committees. This shows the vital role of
the unions as a vehicle for revolution.
What is needed is a through cleansing of the UGTT at all levels,
removing all those bureaucrats which are linked to the old regime,
starting with its general secretary Abdessalem Jerad, who is playing an
openly strike-breaking role. The regional structures and national
federations which are under the leadership of the left and democratic
activists and which represent a majority of the membership of the UGTT
should convene immediately an emergency national congress. A move to
democratise the union and bring it in line with the revolutionary
movement would have massive support amongst ordinary workers. If the
workers and youth were able to remove Ben Ali and then Ghannouchi, it
should be even easier for them to remove the corrupt trade union leaders
who supported them.
In Egypt the corrupt union leaders were unable to prevent the wave of
strikes that was a preparatory school for the Revolution. The Egyptian
workers have moved against the old corrupt leaders and are fighting to
create unions which are genuine democratic and militant organizations of
the class. In so doing they have shown an unerring revolutionary class
instinct. The fight for democracy is not confined to the political
arena. It must enter the trade unions and the workplaces also.
The struggle seems to be moving in the direction of setting up a new
Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions. In revolutionary
conditions like the ones which exist now, this can become the main
organisation of Egyptian workers. However, it would be a mistake to
abandon altogether the struggle within the old official unions, which
still claim to represent millions of workers. In some instances, whole
workplaces and sectors will be unionised anew. In some other cases,
democratic and militant unions will emerge through the workers taking
control of the official structures.
The bourgeoisie and the imperialists understand the central
importance of the unions. They will send their paid agents to corrupt
and deceive workers in order to prevent them from drawing revolutionary
and socialist ideas. The CIA has close links with the leaders of the
AFL-CIO and the European Social Democracy and so-called International
Trade Union bodies. They will try to bring the militant trade union
movement under their control.
The workers must beware of such “friends” who come to corrupt them
and undermine the Revolution from within. They must also beware of the
so-called NGOs that are a disguised agency of imperialism. The role of
the NGOs is to divert the workers from the revolutionary path,
entangling them in a thousand trivial tasks, charities etc., turning
former revolutionaries and militant workers into paid lackeys, office
boys and bureaucrats. This is a poison that can corrode the workers’
The task of the unions is not to prop up capitalism but to overthrow
it. Our first aim is to fight for improved living standards, better
wages and conditions. We must fight for every improvement, no matter how
small. But we must also understand that it will be impossible to obtain
our basic demands as long as a parasitic oligarchy is the owner of the
land, the banks and the major industries.
In the struggle against the old regime, the unions have linked up
with other layers of society: the unemployed, the women, the youth, the
peasants, the intellectuals. That is absolutely necessary. The working
class must aspire to place itself at the head of the Nation and to lead
the fight against all forms of injustice and oppression.
The revolutionary people are setting up popular committees of all
sorts. That is a necessary step to provide the revolutionary movement
with an organized and coherent form. Such broad committees do not,
however, replace the trade unions, which must remain the basic
organizational form of the workers’ movement.
The trade unions are a school of revolution that will play a key role
in overthrowing the old regime and establishing a new, socialist
society, in which the role of the unions will be expanded a thousand
fold, playing a major part in the running of the nationalized
industries, planning production and running society.
The IMT says:
- Build the trade unions and turn them into genuine fighting organizations!
- Purge the unions of all corrupt elements and bureaucrats!
- For democratic unions: elections at every level and right of recall of all officials!
- Against corruption! No union official must receive a wage higher than a skilled worker!
- No to state control of the unions! The unions must be in the hands of the workers!
- For workers’ control of industry! For the expropriation of the
bankers, landlords and capitalists! For a democratic socialist plan of
Role of the youth
Karl Liebknecht, the great German revolutionary and martyr once said:
“The youth is the flame of the Socialist Revolution”. These words could
be emblazoned on the banner of the Arab Revolution. At every stage the
youth has played the key role. The protestors who poured onto the
streets of Tunisia and Egypt were mainly young people, unemployed and
without any future. Some were university graduates, others poor people
from the slums.
In all the countries of the Middle East and North Africa, the
majority of the population are young people. They are suffering the
worst effects of the crisis of capitalism. 70% of youth under the age of
25 in Tunisia are unemployed. The figure is 75% in Algeria and 76% in
Egypt. A similar situation exists in other countries.
University graduates have no jobs and therefore have no prospect of
marriage, no home and no future. These facts show the impasse of
capitalism. These countries need doctors, teachers, engineers, but there
are no jobs. Millions of young people are unable to find work, and are
therefore unable to marry and raise a family. They are motivated by a
deep sense of injustice and a burning anger and resentment towards a
system that denies them a future and a corrupt regime that has enriched
itself at the people’s expense.
The only hope these young people have is to fight for a fundamental
change in society. They have cast aside all fear and are prepared to
risk their lives in the fight for freedom and justice. In Tunisia the
revolutionary youth organised themselves and called a mass rally in
Tunis, marching on the Prime Minister’s office and camping in front of
it, in the Kasbah esplanade. Mass movements of the school students
raised the demand for a constituent assembly, and demonstrated shouting
“down with government”. They provided the catalyst for a movement which
finally brought down the government of Ghannouchi at the end of
February. In Egypt we again see the same thing. The protestors who led
the way were mainly young Egyptians, unemployed and without any future.
History is repeating itself. In 1917 the Mensheviks accused the
Bolsheviks of being just a “bunch of kids”, and they were not entirely
wrong. The average age of the Bolshevik activists was very low. The
first section to move is always the youth, who are free from the
prejudices, fear and scepticism of the older generation.
The youth of every country are open to revolutionary ideas. We must
go to the youth! If we go to the youth with the ideas of revolutionary
Marxism and proletarian internationalism, we will get an enthusiastic
The IMT says:
- Jobs for all!
- Every young person must be guaranteed either a full-time job or free full-time education.
- Equal pay for work of equal value!
- An end to police harassment!
- Full democratic rights and votes at 16!
The role of women
The decisive factor is that the masses have acquired a sense of their
collective strength and are losing their fear. Beginning with the
youngest, most energetic and determined elements, the mood of defiance
has transmitted itself to the older, more cautious and inert layers of
One of the most inspiring aspects of the Revolutions in Tunisia and
Egypt, however, was the active participation of the women. The old
submissiveness is disappearing. In Alexandria elderly housewives threw
pots and pans onto the police from the balconies of their flats. On the
demonstrations young female students in jeans fought side by side with
other women wearing the hijab. It was the women workers played a key
role in the massive strikes of textile workers in Mahalla al Kubra in
recent years, strikes which prepared the present revolutionary upheaval.
Women have been to the forefront of every revolution in history. The
images of the women of Bahrain, demonstrating fearlessly, some with
veils, some without, are an inspiring picture of the Revolution in
action. They are repeating the experience of the heroic women of Paris
in October 1789 and in Petrograd in February 1917.
The awakening of the women is a sure sign of Revolution. Society
cannot advance and prosper as long as women are enslaved. It is not by
chance that reactionaries in Egypt, as well as fomenting religious
pogroms, attacked the March 8th demonstration in Tahrir
Square. The Arab Revolution will recruit its most determined and
courageous fighters from the ranks of the women, and the complete
emancipation of women is the first duty of the Revolution. The place of
women is not in the kitchen but on the streets fighting alongside the
men. They are the most fearless elements. And they have most to fight
The IMT says:
- Down with discrimination and inequality!
- Full recognition of women as equal citizens and human beings!
- Full social, political and economic equality for women!
- An end to all discriminatory laws!
- Organize the women workers in free and democratic trade unions, independent of the state!
- Equal pay for work of equal value!