I’ve never understood how people could sit up at night watching TV sport on the other side of the world. But I sat for hour after hour watching live coverage of the Egyptian revolution unfolding.
It’s good to know, from what you have seen with your own eyes, what is and is not true in all the media coverage. For example, when the mass media show footage of people fraternising with troops, it is difficult to know whether that is one off, whether there are 10 cases, 1000 cases, 10,000. In Cairo on some days, that was the only interaction between people and the rank and file of the army. People took initiative after initiative to talk with rank and file troops on the streets, mix with them, be with them, clearly and repeatedly and publicly express solidarity with the troops and win them over to the side of the people.
Neither was it media hype to report the disappearance of uniformed police from the streets of Cairo. Having caused around 100 reported civilian deaths, by the time Mubarak resigned, the regime’s police were utterly defeated. They were hiding in their homes, maybe too scared to hide in their stations, or in plain clothes joining the protests out of conviction or to try to save their own skins. The city of 20 million was policed by the masses of people.
It is gratifying to hear normally mundane journalists repeatedly mouth phrases totally foreign to them such as “revolution”, “people’s uprising”, “popular power, “youth rebellion”, “mass organisation” with such frequency that they become yet another conduit for a revolution that is spreading outwards. The confusion of most mainstream journalists causes them to express “shock” and surprise at the “novelty” of “unprecedented” events which, in reality, all connect logically with one another.
We see masses of civilians, with their bare hands redirecting tanks down side streets and lanes as a traffic cop would do if it were not a revolution. The masses of people are organised to protect the museums, protect their communities, take control of strategic bridges, major roads and public spaces and above all keep the movement focused, non-violent, energised, mobilising the people to win over rank and file troops, to keep all the streets peaceful and to maintain a phenomenal and striking discipline and focus on their one immediate goal – to bring down the dictatorship.
When these things unfold on the streets it poses, not the question asked repeatedly by the journalists – “How could these incredible events be possible?” – but the question that has to be asked by working people across the world: “What are the concrete forms of popular organisations that are making possible what we all had thought was impossible?”
The organisation of the insurgent mass forces was the factor capable of taking the mass movement over the threshold: transforming it from a mass protest movement into a mass revolutionary movement capable of taking power in its own hands – directly into the hands of the people and their own organisations. “Their own” organisations are those that exist at all the levels of society that ordinary people populate – neighbourhood associations, street committees, school councils, university organisations and workers organisations or whatever other Egyptian forms the revolution chooses.
Certainly not in any parliament, neither a “democratic” parliament of Mohamed ElBaradei or some other leech nor a dictator’s parliament such as Mubarak’s. Nobody lives in the parliament, no masses populate it and no working people ever go there. To the Egyptian workers parliament is a foreign land, not their saviour, as all the internationally telecast interviews of ElBaradei seek to imply. The street and the parliament may well become hostile alternatives for governing the country. If the popular organisations continue to strengthen, they will increasingly turn parliament and its “representative democracy”, along with all the remnants of the old regime, into powerless and irrelevant relics of history as the people themselves take over more and more functions.
That the Egyptian masses have already started directing tanks and organising their way through this emergency period is significant because it could be a first step in the people taking over more of the power. Today on the streets, tomorrow the barracks and after that seize the government buildings, take all the banks, all the large retail, transport, everything. After all, these are already populated by working people who work these places every day. All of this could happen. Everything is up for grabs.
The overthrow of Mubarak recalls another February Revolution: the first of the two 1917 Russian Revolutions. In February the tsarist dictatorship was overthrown and in October the “provisional government”, which sought to maintain the power and wealth of the rich, was overthrown. This opened the way for the Russian socialist revolution, which in its short life from 1917 to its degeneration in the mid-1920s was the most significant event in all of human history. If drawing parallels between the February Revolution in Russia and Egypt 94 years later is too much of a stretch for you, read the first volume of Leon Trotsky’s three-part History of the Russian Revolution, about the overthrow of the tsarist dictatorship, which, like watching the Al Jazeera live footage for an entire night, is incredibly rich in concrete detail.
The Russian Revolution, both its negatives and its lessons and inspirations, dominated the 20th century. The first socialist revolution of the 21st century began when the Venezuelan workers and soldiers’ uprising took power in April 2002 in Caracas. Nobody knows yet if Egypt will become the second. Working people around the world must do everything in our power to support each forward step by the Egyptian workers. When our time comes, we can replicate Egypt and tear down our own oppressive governments.