In the first installment of this essay, I introduced the topics of discussion and proceeded to an assessment of the recent March on Washington and the International Socialist Organization’s (ISO) intervention in it. For this installment, which covers “the (ir)relevance of the united front tactic or ‘method’ in the present day,” I will assume that you have read the introduction, but not the subsequent material, since it has no bearing on the present matter at hand.
Which is interesting, isn’t it? How did my August 6 letter on the March, which never mentioned the united front, somehow–more than two weeks later and largely after the March was over–spur a theoretical debate on the united front? The point of departure is Paul D’Amato’s article on the united front, published on August 13. This article is almost entirely historical, save for a very brief concluding note on the ongoing relevance of the “methodology outlined by Trotsky.” But its real impact was brilliantly laid bare by MB’s letter of August 21:
I wonder if Paul intended the article to be a part of the recent debate about the ISO’s role in the March on Washington…. I initially read it that way, as I imagine many readers did, given the debate that has been taking place in SocialistWorker.org and in other places online, and because International Socialist Organization training and analysis would lead most members to say that we should participate in the March as part of a united front strategy.
If this is the case, I would like to suggest that it would be more productive to explicitly reference the March on Washington. Otherwise, the article has the feel of weighing in without actually addressing comrades’ concerns about the March. The article risks stifling a still-forming debate by invoking a core political idea–with all the authority that such an idea carries in the organization–without digging into the particular arguments and analysis that comrades have brought up in this particular debate.
On July 5, I wrote the following to an old antiwar movement friend about events in Egypt:
Well, the military was badly burned by its experience of direct rule and happy to retreat into the background, provided they could preserve all their power and privilege–which the MB [Muslim Brotherhood] was happy to go along with so long as they could clamber into office. Morsi, the army, and the US had worked out a modus vivendi, but the MB fucked up, combining incompetence, lack of reform, and offensive power grabs. The felool (old regime supporters) conspired against Morsi from the beginning, but the Tamarod movement obviously struck a deep chord–the June 30 protests were truly gigantic. So I don’t think the military had this planned from the day one of the Morsi administration (although they obviously knew what was going to happen in advance, as evidenced by how smoothly they’ve staged things).
That said, I do think this is a coup–albeit one with popular support–and if the army has any brains, they will seize the opportunity to suppress not just the MB, but the society as a whole. (This is why they’re allowing violence to go on the boil, to intervene later as the “saviors of society.”) I suspect that the revolutionaries in Egypt made a very serious mistake in agitating for the overthrow of Morsi–not because he didn’t deserve to fall, but because only the army had the power to oust him and take control of the process. The revolutionaries either openly relied on the military and/or didn’t think things through, fooling themselves with the mythologies of “anti-power” and the notion that people can just keep overthrowing governments until a “good one” comes up. It’s Occupy politics taken to its most extreme and dangerous conclusions. The left should have formed a militant opposition, developed a program of deep reforms (a “transitional program” in the Trotskyist argot), and worked on building its institutional bases (political parties, intellectual/cultural centers, trade unions, etc). The left needed a long-term revolutionary strategy rather than a campaign to topple a government that would, if successful, inevitably result in military rule.
I hope I’m wrong.
Unfortunately, I was right. I quote myself from six weeks ago not to claim any peculiar powers of political prognostication; actually I claim quite the opposite: if I foresaw the development of things, it is only because their development was actually very easy to foresee. (I have quoted my entire original message, without adding or subtracting anything save the two words in square brackets.) I was open about my views and shared them with many comrades even before June 30, but I regret not writing about them publicly. I knew that I should have, but I chose not to because I felt that I lacked the “standing” to publicly criticize the Egyptian comrades; I was also, frankly, shy of the fight that it would have inevitably set off. That is a shabby attitude unworthy of Marxism.