Pham Binh and the Egyptian Revolution

I first became aware of Pham Binh during the late 2000’s. Don’t ask me why, but I had developed a fascination with British political blogs at the time. Binh would often comment on their threads. He would give the impression of being an ISO member (he had actually just left the ISO), while making snarky comments about Alex Callinicos and the British SWP. This struck me as an odd thing for someone to do.

In recent years Binh has taken to writing articles for The North Star website, which is definitely a step up from making weird sectarian comments on British political blogs. His latest article is titled Egypt’s Revolution: Democratic, Not Socialist. It begins:

    In Marxist lexicon, there are two types of revolution: democratic and socialist, or more scientifically, bourgeois-democratic and proletarian-socialist. These two types of revolution involve different class alignments, have different tasks, and lead to different outcomes, although a two-stage uninterrupted revolution that is initially democratic and becomes socialist is possible. The socialist revolution is a battle between the whole of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat for political supremacy and ends with the victory of either the capitalist or socialist social systems. The democratic revolution is a battle against autocratic rule that removes fetters on capitalist development between a great variety of classes – peasants, workers, students, landlords, capitalists, small business owners. In democratic revolutions, bourgeois forces can be found on both sides of the barricades (unlike in socialist revolutions) and their concrete outcomes can vary tremendously because of their class heterogeneity. Making accurate generalizations about democratic revolutions is difficult since they have occurred on every inhabited continent in one form or another beginning at least 300 years ago.

This sounds ponderous, but it is actually simplistic. Some revolutions don’t quite fit the neat categories that Binh posits. The American Revolution, for example, involved a number of different class forces, and it was led by an alliance between Northern merchants and Southern plantation-owners who wanted to preserve slavery. Binh’s comment at the end about the “difficulty” of “making generalizations about democratic revolutions” is perhaps meant to acknowledge this. However, Binh then proceeds as if he never made this qualification.

Binh tells us that the Egyptian revolution is a bourgeois-democratic revolution, even though the Egyptian military is defending the interests of the Egyptian bourgeoisie. And Mohamed Morsi is a bourgeois democrat, even though he tried to assume dictatorial powers. Binh therefore argues that it was a strategic blunder for the Revolutionary Socialists and other Egyptian left groups to join the millions of Egyptians calling for Morsi’s ouster. So what should these leftists do about this? Binh tells us:

    Championing the democratic revolution in Egypt now means not only condemning the coup and the SCAF-controlled interim government in words but actively organizing to reverse the coup in deeds by literally breaking Morsi out of jail and returning him to his rightful office. The weapon of criticism cannot replace the criticism of weapons, condemnation without action is phrasemongering.

    Marxists are not supporters of Morsi, but letting him rot in a Republican Guard cell and allowing the coup to proceed as planned is a death-blow to a democratic revolution barely begun and without the freedoms its victory will bring, no powerful proletarian movement can develop. Our loyalty is not to Morsi (who we will not hesitate to overthrow and defeat) but to the working class specifically and the democratic revolution generally. Breaking him out of a military jail today does not preclude arresting, overthrowing, or un-electing him tomorrow, nor does it imply an ounce of political support for the bourgeois-obscurantist Muslim Brotherhood or Morsi’s reformist ineptitude any more than the Bolsheviks’ active defense of the Kerensky government from Kornilov’s coup make them supporters of Kerensky’s strike-breaking and repression of peasant committees.

So, Binh is saying that having called for Morsi’s overthrow, the Egyptian leftists should now call for reinstating him, so that at some unspecified future moment (“tomorrow”), they can again call for his overthrow. Is he serious? Let me me point out here that calling for returning Morsi to the presidency is supporting Morsi, so it is nothing at all like the Bolsheviks’ position on Kerensky during the Kornilov coup. One of the reasons the Bolsheviks were successful in 1917 was that they maintained more-or-less consistent positions. They did not make sharp reversals, such as what Bingh is urging Egyptian leftists to do.

The Egyptian Left is facing a difficult situation, and, unlike Binh, I don’t pretend to be able to tell them what course of action they should take. One thing, however, is clear to me: the worst thing they could do is adopt a hare-brained scheme that is based on over-simplified Marxist theory and a faulty historical analogy.

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14 Responses to “Pham Binh and the Egyptian Revolution”

  1. Andrew Coates Says:

    Good points.

    Personally I agree that the Arab Spring is largely (though not exclusively) focused on democratic demands and needs.

    These include secularism – which is why I shall not be calling for support for Morsi.

  2. Pham Binh Says:

    I left the ISO in late 2006/early 2007. I was critical of the SWP and Tony Cliff way back in 2000; the critical and independent thinking you find strange ought to be natural for self-proclaimed socialists. Instead, we usually get party line/tendency loyalty that serves no useful end.

    Now, as to your half-baked Egypt commentary:

    “Binh is saying that having called for Morsi’s overthrow, the Egyptian leftists should now call for reinstating him, so that at some unspecified future moment (‘tomorrow’), they can again call for his overthrow. Is he serious? Let me me point out here that calling for returning Morsi to the presidency is supporting Morsi, so it is nothing at all like the Bolsheviks’ position on Kerensky during the Kornilov coup. One of the reasons the Bolsheviks were successful in 1917 was that they maintained more-or-less consistent positions. They did not make sharp reversals, such as what Bingh is urging Egyptian leftists to do.”

    1. The Egyptian left (specifically the Revolutionary Socialists, but the left-liberal Western-educated secular types generally) made a drastic and deadly mistake by aligning with the fulool and SCAF against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.

    That is why they need to make a sharp reversal. Refusing to make a necessary sharp reversal when the policy is wrong/stupid is what Bush Jr. excelled at but you seem to think there’s something “Bolshevik” about it.

    2. Fighting to restore Morsi and the elected parliament that was dispersed does not mean you drop your independence or actively campaign for Morsi or the Islamists (who were the dominant force in said parliament) in the next round of elections (if there are any). It simply means fighting to defend the legitimacy of democratic elections and their results when both are under attack by fascists, the military, and the police, a “small” fact you somehow manage to omit even as said forces are committing massacres! http://news.sky.com/story/1128329/egypt-elbaradei-resigns-after-camp-massacre

    If you only support democracy when a Marxist-Leninist wins the vote, you’re an opportunist, not a democrat, and certainly not any type of leftist. That you wouldn’t defend Morsi and Egypt’s fragile bourgeois democracy against SCAF is no surprise — it explains why you didn’t even try to engage with the substance of the post.

  3. Pham Binh Says:

    The substance of my post that you did not address:

    1. The distinction (and connection) between democratic and socialist revolutions. (The definition of democratic revolution I outline actually does cover the American revolution, which was a revolt against colonial autocracy that involved a wide range of class forces and produced a society based on commodity production [the slaveowners were producing cotton for the world market]).
    2. The failure of RS to outline long-term goals and formulate a political strategy to reach those goals.
    3. The failure of RS to even mention problems pertaining to the countryside, where the majority of Egypt’s population lives.

    • The Spanish Prisoner Says:

      I only care about the fact that the course of action you recommend for the Egyptian Left is foolish, if not impossible. Whatever mistakes the RS may have made, you clearly are not in a position to tell them what to do.

  4. menasolnetus Says:

    Spanish Prisoner,
    Thanks for this article. I thought I had read everything Pham had written on Egypt, and later Syria, especially the ones in which he says the workers can’t and shouldn’t make a socialist revolution in the Arab world. It was especially gratifying to find your article given a conflict I’m engaged in right now, in which he and four Binh-ites are supporting his call for alliances with fascists and rightists in Ukraine (as opposed to the genuine left position of building an organized left in Maidan to win over the masses against the oligarchs and their fascist friends).
    http://notgeorgesabra.tumblr.com/post/78848780314/2-russias-1-ukraine

    • The Spanish Prisoner Says:

      I notice that he uses an outdated argument by Marx to bolster his position, which is a very Binh-ite thing to do. How much of a following does Binh have? I think a bigger problem is that many people on the Left have gone to the opposite extreme and taken an uncritical view of Putin. I agree with you, though, about the need to build a genuine Left in Ukraine.

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