Blog post

“Egypt's Workers Revolt”

Clara Heyworth17 February 2011

In an article for Counterpunch, Mike Whitney rightly points out that the blinkered "ain't capitalism great" US media commentary surrounding the toppling of Mubarak (and the continued unrest across the Middle East) belies the real roots of the revolution: working class roots ...

The real story about what's going on in Egypt is being suppressed in the US because it doesn't jibe with the "ain't capitalism great" theme that the media loves to reiterate ad nauseam. The truth is that the main economic policies that Washington exports through bribery and coercion have ignited massive labor unrest which has set the Middle East ablaze. Mubarak is the first casualty in this war against neoliberalism, but there will be many more to come ...

The revolution started long before the demonstrations in Tahrir Square, and it will continue for a long time to come. Workers everywhere are rebelling against the miserable conditions, slave wages and "privatization", the crown jewel of neoliberalism.

Reiterating that this "isn't about removing a despot, it's about class warfare," Whitney goes on to cite Rosa Luxemburg on the uniqueness of every revolution, highlighting the uncertainty of the outcome in Eygpt and the continued need to fight:

The modern working class does not carry out its struggle according to a plan set out in some book or theory; the modern workers' struggle is a part of history, a part of social progress, and in the middle of history, in the middle of progress, in the middle of the fight, we learn how we must fight ... That's exactly what is laudable about it, that's exactly why this colossal piece of culture, within the modern workers' movement, is epoch-defining: that the great masses of the working people first forge from their own consciousness, from their own belief, and even from their own understanding the weapons of their own liberation. [Rosa Luxemburg]

Visit Counterpunch to read the article in full.

The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg will be launched in New York on March 14th—the discussion will include a contribution from Helen C. Scott on the importance of Luxemburg's work vis-à-vis Egypt.

For another excellent article addressing the relevance of Rosa Luxemburg's work to the rising of the Egyptian working class, see David McNally's "Mubarak's Folly: The Rising of Egypt's Workers," an excerpt of which includes:

What we are seeing, in other words, is the rising of the Egyptian working class. Having been at the heart of the popular upsurge in the streets, tens of thousands of workers are now taking the revolutionary struggle back to their workplaces, extending and deepening the movement in the process. In so doing, they are proving the continuing relevance of the analysis developed by the great Polish-German socialist, Rosa Luxemburg. In her book, The Mass Strike, based on the experience of mass strikes of 1905 against the Tsarist dictatorship in Russia, Luxemburg argued that truly revolutionary movements develop by way of interacting waves of political and economic struggle, each enriching the other. In a passage that could have been inspired by the upheaval in Egypt, she explains,

Every new onset and every fresh victory of the political struggle is transformed into a powerful impetus for the economic struggle ... After every foaming wave of political action a fructifying deposit remains behind from which a thousand stalks of economic struggle burst forth. And conversely. The workers condition of ceaseless economic struggle with the capitalists keeps their fighting spirit alive in every political interval ...

What the coming weeks will bring is still uncertain. But Mubarak's folly has triggered an upsurge of workers' struggle whose effects will endure. "The most precious, because lasting, thing in this ebb and flow of the [revolutionary] wave is ... the intellectual, cultural growth of the working class," wrote Rosa Luxemburg.