Egypt

Néstor Miguel Gorojovsky gorojovsky at SPAMinea.com.ar
Tue Dec 28 19:39:10 MST 1999



Louis Proyect proposes:

...

:Egyptian head of state Mohammad Ali began a modernization
program that
:inivited comparison "only with those of Peter the Great in
Russia and the
:Meiji Emperor in Japan...By the 1830s Egypt was second ONLY TO
ENGLAND [my
:emphasis] in its modern industrial capacity." Tibebu goes on to
explain
:that the 1838 Anglo-Turkish treaty made Egypt a supplier of raw
cotton to
:Manchester and effectively ended Egypt's bid to join the first
rank of
:capitalist powers. Now ask yourself why it did such a
self-destructive
:thing. Perhaps this is because Egypt's army had been crushed by
the British
:Navy and reduced from 130,000 to 18,000.
:

It is the military defeat itself that must be explained. Numbers
do not count in abstract, by themselves.

Please note that it was an Anglo-Turkish, not an Anglo-Egyptian,
agreement. Mehmet Ali did not break up with Turkey and the
Ottoman Empire, to begin with. There is thus a previous question
to the one Lou poses: how can an army of 130,000 be defeated and
routed to the point that it becomes a rag of 13,000? Were British
fighter Supermen?  Were the Egyptians morons? How can it be that
people fighting on their own land are defeated in such a
definitive way by an army that came down from foggy Albion? These
questions almost beg this answer: the industrialization of Egypt
may have been _quantitatively_ comparable to that of England, but
the _quality_ of the Egyptian social relations, that is the basic
fabric out of which the peasant society could extract itself from
the bondage of backward social relations in the countryside, were
more tributary than anything else. I do not remember if it was
Engels or Marx, or Trotsky, who explained that the army of a
country concentrates the social structure of the country.

There may exist some point of contact between Mehmet Alí and
Peter the Great, but certainly not with the Meiji. The Meiji
military aristocracy took good note of Peary's explosive sermon,
they liquidated the power of the Shogun, that is the
representative of the Japanese Middle Ages (Marx said sometimes
to his contemporaries that if they wanted to know what the
European  Middle Ages had looked like, they would be wise to
watch Japan), and put the whole society to the service of a
project of military (that is, industrial) independent
self-reliance which was to necessarily end up with a capitalist,
modern, Japan.  Though they did not crush the power of the
landlords (Japan is so strange a country: it would be Douglas
McArthur the man called by history to set the Japanese peasants
"free"), they reorganized the society with the supreme goal of
independence and self-reliance.

 Mehmet Ali, more like the Enlightened Czar, did nothing to
challenge the power of the landowners who, to topple the cup,
were not even native Egyptians, but Turkish. That is where the
secret may be found, IMHO.  He seems to have attempted a
modernization from atop, some kind of 'desarrollismo' instead.
But projects like this one tend to crush due to the absence of
two elementary things: firstly, a domestic economic ground
protected from foreign menaces, where the local bourgeoisie may
find a good launching pad, and secondly, a mass movement that may
link the ruler with the tasks of the national revolution.

The same thing may be predicated of many Third World countries
today, that no matter how large their industrial output, the
social relations that preside that industrialization does not
allow them to enter the exclusive club of the First World. India,
Brazil, Indonesia, must each have an overall industrial product
higher than those of many First World countries. This does not
make less Third World.

It is _dependency on foreign trade for survival_ which defines.
It would be interesting to know which was the market of the
Egyptian industry: Egypt, the Eastern Mediterranean, the Ottoman
Empire?  Bismark understood that he had to cut the link between
the backwards Austrian possessions and Norther Germany, even at
the price of losing a vast hinterland for a while. Mehmet Ali did
not seem to understand this. One may attempt an answer by stating
as a hypothesis that the interests of that Egyptian industry, of
that malformed bourgeoisie, did not lay within Egypt but abroad.
In such a situation, it is more or less the same to trade raw
cotton or to trade cloth. As that archetypal son of a b.
Guillermo Walter Klein, the second man of the Martínez de Hoz
economic cabinet of 1976-1980, exposed crudely: "Da lo mismo
hacer acero que caramelos" (There is no difference between
manufacturing iron and candies).  For _such_ a kind of a
bourgeoisie, there is no difference.

Mehmet Alí's attempt seems to have been of this kind, a
'desarrollismo' avant la lettre, the idea that capitalism can be
built in a country ravaged by peasant oppression and technical
backwardness in the countryside without a political revolution.
The ruling classes of the 13 Northern States of America, much
less industrialized than their contemporary Brazil (see Moniz
Bandeira: Presença dos EE.UU. no Brasil, Civilização Brasileira,
1976), managed to quite easily set themselves free from Britain,
while Brazil was to fall from the pan of Portuguese colonialism
into the fire of a semicolonial status towards Britain. The
ruling classes in the North made a revolution. Brazilians did
not.

Néstor Miguel Gorojovsky
gorojovsky at inea.com.ar











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