[Marxism] Fwd: Extreme capitalism of the Muslim Brothers, by Gilbert Achcar (Le Monde diplomatique - English edition, June,
jgreen at communistvoice.org
Sun Mar 12 03:48:25 MDT 2017
Thank you, Michael Karadjis, for your comments of March 5 on this thread.
Although we don't agree on various questions, I appreciate your long-running
work in defense of the Syrian uprising and on a number of other issues.
I realize this response has been delayed. But I not only was distracted by
other work, but spent some time reviewing the history of RS.
> Let's try and have this debate calmly. Andy is right about the RS
> comrades fighting for democratic demands and getting brutally repressed
> for it. Joseph is right that they made other serious errors. But he
> should also mention that they fixed them very fast, and that in itself
> raises questions about his interpretation of concrete errors in Egypt.
The issue isn't whether RS has serious and dedicated activists. The issue is
whether RS's astonishing blunder about the Egyptian coup is partly due to the
influence of the theory of permanent revolution.
More generally, the point is that the experience of the Arab Spring shows the
bankrupcy of PR. When the Arab Spring began, there were groups that wrote
fervent articles applying PR to various of the struggles. In the main, we
now see silence. This is not a serious approach.
An-Nar wrote in his article "The Democratic Wager" about the difficulties the
left had dealing with democatic struggles that should be supported even
though they wouldn't lead to socialism. He said that these theoretical
difficulties "have generally been based on some return to Trotsky's theory of
Permanent Revolution", and he then gave his analysis of PR. But I don't think
his points have been dealt with seriously.
An-Nar used the term "democratic wager", because he believed that currently
the main theories on the left were either PR or Stalinism. The term
"democratic wager" has some useful connotations, in that it brings out that
we should support democratic struggles even when the masses don't have all
the positions that the left would prefer they have. That's an important
point, and one I have also raised in articles supporting the struggles of the
Arab Spring. But an-Nar was apparently unaware of the Marxist-Leninist theory
of the distinction between democratic and socialist movements.
Michael, you write that RS fixed its errors very fast. Even if that were
so, it's no reason to avoid examining why they blundered at the crucial
moment. But I have gone back to reread various of RS's writings of the time,
and I think they tell a different story.
> Here's what I think. On the broad theoretical questions, I've long been
> in agreement with much of what Joseph Green says (on the question of
> Assad an-Nar's article in Khiyana, less so: I agree with some points but
> it seemed to be greatly over-stated). I agree that permanent revolution
> is too narrow a lens through which to understand world politics and
> revolution (and in particular the Arab Spring, as Joseph notes), in as
> much as we mean the particular aspects of Trotsky's theory that were
> different from Lenin's views - though in my opinion they are
> fundamentally similar.
This is interesting, but it would be helpful if you elaborated it. When you
say permanent revolution is too narrow a lens, what are you referring to? And
if PR is too narrow a lens, what is needed to supplement it?
>The main advantage of Trotsky is that he put it
> all together in a couple of highly readable volumes, whereas Lenin's
> views are written on the rush in various articles, big and small,
> throughout 1905-6 and later (not only Two Tactics).
We disagree on this.
> For the record I
> view Lenin's April Thesis as perfectly consistent with his 1905-6 views.
> I agree with many of Joseph's comments about the broader sweep. But we
> can discuss all this calmly.
> Where I don't agree with Joseph is in his attempt to somewhat
> mechanically explain the actions and errors of small Trotskyist groups
> as being caused by the Original Sin of PR.
I don't agree with blaming everything on the activists who tried to carry
out PR, rather than the theory. To explain away the errors, you refer to
small groups, the more caricaturish kinds of Trotskyists, sectarians, and so
forth. But sooner or later, one has to deal with the theory itself.
> As I see it, the problem with
> this is that Joseph in a way is doing what the more caricaturish kinds
> of Trotskyists do: they seek to explain everything on the basis of the
> need for the "correct program" (and everyone messes up because they
> don't have it), and Joseph is kind of saying the same about those who do
> have the PR view. I think in both cases it is an idealist error.
> Why do I think the RS initially messed up in 2013 in the face of Sisi's
> coup? Human error. That's it.
So the only lesson that can be drawn is to avoid human error? I don't agree.
If Marx had taken the same attitude to the experience of the revolutions of
1848, we wouldn't have Marxism.
> They are a tiny group of people;
> surrounding them were millions of people demanding the fall of Morsi,
> mostly for good reason. They were completely swamped by it. Inspired by
> this movement for *democratic* demands (note!), they missed the deeply
> anti-democratic elements of the same movement trying to ride it.
Yes, the mass sentiment for the coup affected them. But there's more to it
At the the time, the RS knew there were reactionary trends in the movement,
and knew what the leadership of the movement was. The calls for the military
to overthrow Morsi weren't a secret.The ideas that dominated the movement
weren't a secret. And right from the start of Morsi's presidency, the mixed
nature of the opposition to it was clear. Moreover,the RS's stand on June 3
wasn't a complete deviation from what they had been saying for some time, but
seems to have been broadly in line with their stands throughout the Morsi
Why did the RS think that it didn't matter that the movement called for a
military coup? It's because the RS felt that the great wave of revolution
that would lfollow the overthrow of Morsi would overcome all the hostile
elememts. They believed this even though they knew how small were the forces
that thought like them. They throught the revolution would proceed from one
high point to another: first there had been the overthrow of Mubarak, and the
overthrow of Morsi would be a further advance.
This belief was based on a general view of how revolution proceeds. More on
this when we come to the issue of the "next wave" of the revolution. But I
remember being surprised by some of the things in their leaflets, which
talked in terms of what revolution should mean, what the activists had really
wanted in overthrowing Mubarak, rather than soberly assessing the sentiments
of the working masses and the nature of their activity.
And what about the working class? The RS knew that the working masses were
split over the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood. If it was exciting to
see the masses in the streets, the RS knew that this didn't translate into a
united movement. But in a way, they ignored this point in their theorizing at
at the time.
A more realistic theory of revolution than PR would take account of what the
actual posibilities of the time. The RS at the time had all the knowledge
needed to do this, but they didn't have a theoretical framework that focused
attention on it. A more realistic theory would deal with the difference
between democratic and socialist movements, and even as far as democratic
movement, it would focus on what was happening among the working masses.
Mubarak might be overthrown by all the different groupings combined, but it
is not suprising that afterwards, progress was going to be slower, painful,
PR, on the contrary, denigrates such a conception as opportunism. It focuses
attention on revolutions that move from one high point to the next, leading
to workers' power. It regards recognition of any other outcome for a
democratic movement as Menshevism, Stalinism, stage-ism,or betrayal of one
form or the other. But Egypt wasn't ready for workers' power yet. And there
was going to have to be a protracted process of the dealing with the
influence of the MB among the masses. It wasn't going to be dealt with
rapidly in a new wave of the revolution.
RS was not simply carried away by the size of the demonstrations of June 30.
Indeed RS kept insisting that a new wave of the revolution had come, even
after the military coup, when the mass repression had begun.
> the military struck and was given backing by this element of the
> movement (and probably by a lot of others among the ordinary folk in
> those demonstrations who were simply politically naive), they were
> unprepared for it. They came out with some terrible formulations. After
> that, I distinctly remember reading about one declaration from RS a week
> for the next month. Each one got progressively better. By the time we
> get to the one a month later, the error has been fully fixed: not only
> is there any doubt that Sisi is not just the enemy, he has also emerged,
> rightly, as the main enemy; the MB demonstrations should be protected
> from repression, its cadres released from prison; and it is even now
> permissible to do joint work with the MB against Sisi's repression, as
> long as a very clear line of political demarcation is maintained.
That's not what I have seen in their literature. It's more equivocable than
that. Yes, they changed some of their positions after they saw the blood
flow in the streets, as the military dictatorship massacred the anti-coup
demonstrators. The RS gave up the worst things, such as mocking the bitter
sacrifices of the demonstrators against the coup. But they stuck for awhile
to some disastrous standpoints.
In response to your remarks, I went back and looked for RS leaflets. They now
have a website with a lot of material posted, which is useful, although there
are big gaps in the crucial periods I wanted to check. But there's some
interesting material there.
For example, one of the statements posted is from August 15, 2013, which is a
month and a half after the coup. It's entitled "Down with military rule ... no
to the return of the old regime ... no to the return of the Brotherhood".
It insists vehemently that the overthrow of Morsi occurred in "a revolution
of the masses" rather than being "a military coup aimed at removing the
president in order to establish a military dictatorship". That's not a typo.
It denied that Morsi was overthrown in a coup. Instead the statement calls
it "a new wave of the revolution".
So even though the statement opposed the military dictatorship, it praised
the coup as a mass revolution. Even though it opposed the violence against
the Islamic anti-coup demonstrators, it supported the "exclusion" of MB from
the political process, and apparently also the trials of MB leaders, albeit
it wanted them accompanied by trials of the Military Council and Mubarak
Over a period of months these stands change. But there's a limit to how far.
There is a statement of April 27, 2014, "Against El-Sisi, leader of the
counter-revolution", which sets forth why RS is taking part in the regime's
elections. It calls for a vote for Hamdeen Sabahi, but has criticisms of him
and puts forward its own five-point program. It's notable that it says
nothing about the repression of the MB and makes no appeal to workers under
the influence of the Islamists, nor to others about what stand to take to the
Islamics. It is as if the tremendous split among the masss is irrelevant.
It's as if the RS still held,which maybe it did, that the workers under
Islamic influence should be "excluded" from political life.
Then a year after the coup, there is an article by Sameh Naguib. Part 1,
which appeared on July 2, 2014, is entitled "From the end of the
revolutionary wave to preparing for a new revolution". One of the many
signficant passages in this statement says:
"... 30 June [the giant demonstration for the overthrow of Morsi] did not
come as the crest of a revolutionary wave travelling in the same direction as
the wave of January 2011 but in reality to pave the way and to provide a
popular mandate for counter revolution with a military coup with its
massacres and arrests.
"Of course this was not our perspective or analysis in the Revolutionary
Socialists at the time. The situation was very complicated. We took part in
30 June with other revolutionary forces, on the basis that in a mass
mobilisation of this magnitude and in the context of the wave of protests and
strikes which preceded it, it would be possible to cleanse its ranks of
traitors and supporters of the police and army. Or at least to create a
degree of independence for a section of the masses which wanted to get rid of
the Muslim Brotherhood as part of the process of completing the revolution
against Mubarak´s state.
"But what happened on the day itself was enough to confirm that the balance
of forces was not at all in our favor. For despite having the appearance of a
million-strong demonstration and despite the chants of "the people want the
downfall of the regime" the social and political content of this mobilisation
and these slogans had been transformed into the opposite of the previous
waves of the revolution. For the most influential mass element in the
protests and the one which dominated was the secular middle class - Muslim
and Christian, men and women - who were dominated by a state of hysterical
hostility towards the Brotherhood, mixed with hysterical adulation and
celebration of the army, and even the police: the same police which the first
revolution had ripped to shreds, and the same army which millions chanted
against and against its Supreme Council during 2011-2."
Naguib also shows some of the forces that led up to the coup over a period of
time. He writes:
"... the final preparation for the counter revolution came at the hands of
the liberals, the left and the nationalists who created the National
Salvation Front with Mubarak´s supporters and the secret police, and
afterwards the Tamarod movement and the coordination for 30 June. These
forces played a fundamental role in the transformation of what began as a new
revolutionary wave against the Muslim Brotherhood´s betrayal of the demands
and principles of the revolution, their complacency over the Interior
Ministry and the Army, against their policies discriminating against women
and Coptic Christians, their failure to address workers demands. Under the
leadership of these forces, this revolutionary momentum transformed into the
rise of popular support for the counter revolution."
Still, it's notable that RS still doesn't see the issue of overcome the split
among the working masses. It recognizes the acts of the MB leadership, and
also the hostile trends among the non-Islamic movement. But it doesn't talk
about the split among the workers that hamstrung the workers ability to
represent an alternative force. Did anyone agitate among the masses about
this split and make appeals against it?
Naguib does talk about the nature of the MB. He puts forward the view that
the MB was a reformist party, indeed Egypt's only mass reformist party. This
was not meant as praise, nor should it have been. Naguib says that
"Reformists always betray the revolution." But it's part of a description of
the complicated nature of the MB, and the different forces within it. Naguib
points out things like "Their youth and rank-and-file strongly participated
in the revolution while their leaders were negotiating with figureheads from
the regime in order to reach a compromise."
But it's notable that Naguib also sets forward a mechanical pattern for what
happens to the revolution. The reformists betray the revolution, and "This
betrayal either leads to the removal of the reformists and the consummation
of revolution or to counter-revolution, in the absence of effective
revolutionary forces with deep roots in the masses, capable of leading the
battle against the counter revolution and the reformists together." Here we
have the same view of either a great revolutionary advance, or
counterrevolution which we see in PR.
Then two years after coup, on July 24, 2015, the Political Bureau of the RS
issued a letter entitled "On the counter-revolution and the Islamists ... an
invitation to open discussion". This is an extended discussion of the
reformist nature of the MB, of what this means about the attitude to the MB,
and so forth. It is an appeal against the Islamophobia of various forces it
wishes to work with. It also says "None of what we have said here should be
taken as a call for alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood." Instead "Our aim
is to build a broad revolutionary front which, although it will not join the
Muslim Brotherhood, is open to joint work side by side with the young
Islamists who are facing the machinery of military repression every day. This
does not mean that we propose for an instant to drop our principled criticism
of the Islamist movement´s reactionary stances or their appeasement of the
This is indeed a long distance from the RS's stand at the time of the
military coup. It looks like a return to the RS'sr stand towards the
Islamists from the time of the struggle against Mubara. But times change, and
the old stand is no longer sufficient. And the RS statement doesn't answer a
number of issues that have come up with the overthrow of Morsi. And it
doesn't show any indication of whether there has been any contact with some
Islamist workers, or refer to any cooperation with them that had already
> that cannot
> explain the RS error at all. Why would they have got themselves too
> carried away with the mass movement in the streets centred around
> democratic demands? Sectarian Trotskyism should have denounced the
> movement from the outset as inevitably leading nowhere, or to reaction,
> since it did not have revolutionary proletarian leadership.
Groups that put forward the orthodox Trotskyist view of PR don't necessarily
denounce the democratic movement as inevitably leading nowhere. Instead, they
may imagine that the movement will lead to workers' power, and in practice
they write statements saying that. This is in accord with Trotsky's view that
democratic struggles are the preliminary or early stage of a struggle that
should culminate in workers' power. They will lead nowhere, or to reaction,
*if* they don't proceed to workers' power.
So groups following PR may well take part in a struggle, but they are prone
to a wrong assessment of the nature of the struggle. They need that wrong
assessment to justify taking part in the struggle. Thus PR predisposes them
to revolutionary illusions. So, for example, the proliferation of
revolutionary committees and local coordination committees may seem like
Soviets and the imminence of workers' revolution. Then later the Trotskyist
groups may be disillusioned when the movements don't live up to their
It's a caricature of the criticism of Trotskyism to take it to be saying that
Trotskyists never take part in democratic struggle. And conversely, the
participation of various Trotskyist groups in a democratic movement doesn't
mean that they have a correct orientation with respect to that movement.
> have been MORE aware, not less aware, of the dangers of the movement
> being hijacked by reaction. There is no basis in mechanical PR (or in
> ordinary PR) in being soft on a military coup in a capitalist country:
But RS didn't call it a military coup when they supported it; they called it
a mass revolution, a new wave of the revolution.
Moreover, there is a basis in Trotskyist theory for support for dictatorial
forces in certain circumstances. One example is that Trotsky fantasized about
supporting, in the name of anti-imperialism, a Brazilian fascist or
semi-fascist regime in a hypothetical military struggle with Britain,and
suggested that this could result in "giv[ing] a mighty impulse to national
and democratic consciousness of the country and will lead to the overthrow of
the Vargas dictatorship".(Trotsky, "Anti-Imperialist Struggle is Key to
Liberation: An Interview with Mateo Fossa", September 1938). This is widely
cited article from Trotsky's works. Doesn't it sound uncomfortably close to
the idea that a military coup against Morsi might nevertheless be a new wave
of the revolution that could lead to overcoming the military dictatorship?
> they would have either denounced both sides with equal vigour or taken
> the side of the corrupt, repressive bourgeois democracy against
> dictatorship, as Trotsky always did. In other words Joseph, even
> accepting your premise, I can't see how it applies.
I've seen Trotskyist theory repeatedly applied by various groups to support
reactionary forces. I don't think that this can be written off on the grounds
that these groups aren't the real Trotskyists.
> Also, if PR had such a negative impact on their thinking, how did they
> so rapidly fix their error?
> Surely, if we adopt such an idealist view on
> the power of "wrong program", then PR would have made any process of
> fixing errors long and tortuous. While I think the initial error was a
> bad one, to fix it so fast in such a situation in flux puts many
> western-based revolutionary organisations to shame.
That's spin control, not serious analysis, Michael.
> Why is it that the Mandelista Fourth International has been fully
> supportive of the Syrian revolutionary process from the outset, if PR
> has such a negative impact? Yes, other Trotskyist-origin groups have
> held horrible views, becoming apologists for the Assad regime: how can
> that be explained by PR which, in its narrower interpretations, rejects
> all bourgeois forces and stages? Why is it that much much more of the
> pro-Assad left is precisely Stalinist and stageist in its ideological
I don't think International Viewpoint really applied PR to the Syrian
situation. I looked at it in order to see what the Mandelistas had done. It
seems to have diluted the meaning of PR to the point where it doesn't mean
much of anything. I've seen this elsewhere too in discussions with some
people. They want to uphold PR in the face of the mvoement's experience, so
they define it as simply being the need to carry out revolutionary activities
or some other general assertion. In that case, PR has little significance
for them, other than inducing them to reject the Marxist theory concerning
It's been stimulating dealing with your questions, Michael. I hope this
discussion proceeds further. I'm sorry for not having the time to reply
-- Joseph Green
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