A party of a new type

Egypt’s 25 January revolution has opened new horizons for social resistance. Huge numbers of workers, unemployed, residents of underprivileged areas and many others have become involved in the struggle for their rights.

Likewise, workers in various industries have enthusiastically established independent unions to eliminate state control over workers’ organizations and movements — the state had traditionally controlled workers’ movements through the Egyptian Trade Union Federation, which remained the sole trade union organization in Egypt for nearly 60 years.
In tandem with this growing social movement, a broad base of pro-revolution youth has crystallized. This base includes thousands of young men and women from all walks of life who believe the objectives of the revolution are yet to be met.
Among the demands they raise is the restructuring of the Interior Ministry and retribution for those who have died at the hands of security and military forces.
Although the two groups do not belong to the traditional Egyptian left, with its various Marxist and socialist affiliations, their demands and the struggles they go through certainly place them in the left camp.
The experience of the past two years proves that if these forces remain dispersed and unorganized, it will be difficult for them to attain their goals. Despite the momentum the social movement has gained, the absence of political discourse has been detrimental to the workers’ struggle.
By the same token, isolation from wider social movements has led scores of young men and women, who courageously fought for democratic reforms and confronted oppressive police and military practices, to fall into despair. Indeed, the social and democratic movement’s failure to extend links to one another has done much harm to both of them, and prevented the Egyptian revolution from meeting its goals.
In this context, the formation of a leftist party to organize the forces of the revolution, including social movements, independent unions, youth groups and the like, becomes a must. Egypt is in dire need of a party that can work as an umbrella, gathering all those who are ready to struggle to fulfill the revolution’s democratic and social goals.
Unfortunately, none of the current leftist parties and groups have managed to play this role.
The experience of broad left parties, which appeared in a host of European and Latin American countries over the past decade, could provide valuable insight into how to deal with the current crisis in Egypt.
Following the introduction of neoliberalism from the 1980s onward, the balance of power between the ruling classes and working classes tilted remarkably in favor of the former.
The working classes lost many of the rights they had enjoyed in the previous decades, including allocations for healthcare and education, benefits for the unemployed as well as social security benefits.
Workers’ organizations, meanwhile, were dealt severe blows that undermined their role defending workers’ rights.
Employers, for their part, enjoyed unprecedented rights to hire and fire. Austerity programs adopted by governments to resolve the problem of chronic budget deficits worsened the situation for working classes and poor.
These developments have placed working classes on the defensive. Instead of struggling to gain more rights, the labor movement had to go through a barrage of fights simply to keep its existing rights — indeed, many of these were battles were lost.
In this context, the conventional forces on the left, including socialist and communist parties of different sorts, lost much of their class base, since the impact of socialist ideas and thoughts diminished.
Yet this situation has provided room for the emergence of a new kind of leftist party. Rather than adopting a socialist discourse, broad left parties have taken upon themselves the mission of fighting neoliberalism, with its devastating effects on the lives of a great majority of the population.
Hence, parties such as the Left Bloc, Die Linke, Syriza and the like were founded to adapt to the new realities of class struggle. Most of these parties represent a combination of organizations and movements determined to fight corporate and government attacks on workers’ rights, and defend minority and women’s rights.
One cannot say these parties are perfect or without problems. But, for the moment, they remain the best formula for the present situation in the class struggle worldwide.
If the Egyptian revolution is to meet the demands of “freedom” and “social justice” it raised from day one, a broad left party is desperately needed. And any party able to work as an umbrella for the forces of the Egyptian revolution needs to be activist rather than ideological.
Instead of adopting a Marxist discourse or adopting a socialist perspective that surpasses the level of consciousness of the masses and alienates many of them, such a party should support the struggle for democratic and social rights on the basis of an anti-neoliberal program.
At the same time, openness and democracy are vital for this party to grow and gain ground. It has to open up to different struggles and movements — movements for Copts, women, fishing and village associations, independent unions, campaigns against torture, protests against poor services, etc.
The party’s ability to have these groups in its ranks will be a major criterion of its success.
Democracy is no less important, however. It does not simply imply that decision making should be based on majority rule. Rather, it implies tolerance and readiness to accept — and even welcome — diversity.
In this context, different voices should be allowed to express themselves in freely, while lengthy discussions should be held before making any important decision. There should be no room for the center’s domination over governorates either.
Ghada Ragaa is an Egyptian writer and translator.

This piece was originally published in Egypt Independent's weekly print edition.


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