Saturday, February 12, 2011

"Revolution is a locomotive"

Those middle class activists who think that Egyptians will now return to work to labour under a military regime - Wael Ghonim, the Google employee incessantly puffed by the Anglophone media as the 'leader' of this revolution, 'trusts' the army and urges people to go back to work - are about to be disabused and disillusioned. The protesters in Tahrir today are chanting that they want a civil, not a military government. The workers are still on strike. The steel mills, the sugar factories, public transport... they are not going to return to work just because the army now says it's in control. In the last week, the hard cutting edge of this revolution was the working class, and those whose revolutionary agenda did not include the interests of the working class are likely to find themselves left behind by events very soon.

Meanwhile, with celebrations erupting in Gaza, Tunisia, Lebanon, Jordan, all over the Middle East (and, I might add, in London), the struggle in Algeria is continuing today. In Algiers, the train services have been stopped, to prevent protesters from flooding into the capital. Thousands of police have been deployed. Crowds are being attacked with tear gas lobbed by police and rocks thrown by plain clothes thugs. Initially, only a few dozens managed to reach the main square where the protest was due to take place, with other scattered throughout the city. But it seems that the protesters have managed to break police cordons, despite considerable resistance. Algeria is an interesting contrast to both Tunisia and Egypt. The police have recently been awarded staggering 50% pay rises amid an economic crisis that is slashing working class incomes, and they have thus far been able to contain and disperse the rebellions with calculated violence and homicide. The main opposition groups, whether the Left or the Islamists, have been effectively repressed and then coopted over the years, such that they are playing only a small role in what is otherwise plainly a class uprising. The main trade union federation has had regime-friendly apparatchiks planted in its leadership, so it has done nothing to support the revolt. As a consequence, the riots which began to break out first in December 2010, then in force this January, initially had little institutional support. The protesters have now developed an umbrella co-ordinating body comprising opposition parties and factions, but this is only a few weeks old. As such, it's early days for the Algerian uprising. But the miraculous breakthrough in Egypt will have given it, and every other brewing rebellion in the vicinity, a tremendous shot in the arm.