Yesterday I spent 7 hours waiting for the interview that never came. I supposed to had an interview at 12h, but, when I arrived, I was told by Haissam that my interviewee was delayed. No problem, Haissam and I started talking about politics, life, music, everything, to pass the time. In the end the interviewee never showed up. Luckily, I had the chance to interview "el fanan", the resident cartoonist of al-ahali, who was loitering about the premises. This "surprise" interview - which is becoming a methodological category of its own, adapted to the Egyptian circumstances - and my conversation with Haissam made the afternoon not a waste of time and energy. Energy? Yes, the combination of waiting and having a continuous conversation in a foreign language can be surprisingly exhausting...
Anyway, at 19h I had an interview with Sharif al-Fayyad, called the number 2 (after Rifat as-Said) of Tagammu. I had seen him last year, when we had a short conversation about the situation in Egypt, and then he had struck me as a reformist social-democrat in a country where the political, social, and economic space for social-democratic reforms is non-existent. The pressure of international and/or national events, a more thorough dialogue or perhaps even a change in my own perspectives made his discourse seem more socialist than the year before. Even though his gradualist and eclectic socialism is more indebted to Bernstein on a good day (or Kautsky on a bad day) than to Lenin, it's a radical, encompassing leftist theory, compared to the ideological anemia of e.g. the Socialist Party in Belgium. Which contemporary leader of the Flemish Socialist Party is not only willing, but able to use Marx' arguments in a discussion about the trend towards oligopoly and monopoly capitalism due to the current crisis?
The two interviews today revealed something interesting: a tendency for liquidationism within Tagammu. Both the communist "el-fanan" and the left-reformist Fayyad supported the workers' movement of Mahalla, but they minimized the role of Tagammu or any political party in this process. According to the cartoonist, there would be a revolution in Egypt, sooner or later, and a new political organisation would be organically born out of the protest. In Fayyad's gradual project, the role of Tagammu was one of supporting the workers' movement from the outside. If the workers move, the party should support their current demands, but it should never try to organise them politically. Although they have different perspectives on the way Egypt might and should change, both agree that the party can and should only play a minimal role. They are afraid that a vanguard of political activists will try to impose itself on the movement, overestimating the political consciousness, which will lead to a failed attempt at changing the regime. While a voluntarist vanguardism and the overestimation of political consciousness is indeed a danger for any social movement, the opposite, the liquidation of the role of the party has proven a recipe for revolutionary disaster throughout history. There has to be a nucleus of organised activists before any revolutionary process. Without this kind of organisation, revolutions are doomed to fail, as Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht found out in 1918. It is true that any revolution is a midwife for new movements and new groups, often representing the seeds of a new society. But these forces are yet too weak to be able to use the momentum of the revolution to help and guide the masses to victory.
Why did the Russian Revolution in 1917 succeed while the German Revolution in 1918 failed? Because at the eve of February 1917, the Russian Bolsheviks had a small but significant organisation of cadres, who were able to politically intervene in strikes, demonstrations, factory committees, and so on.
When Lenin said in What is to be Done? that the working class could only attain a trade-unionist consciousness, he was wrong (or rather misunderstood, as Hal Draper proved). The working class can make a revolution, can develop a revolutionary political consciousness, and can even take power on its own. The role of a socialist party is not to replace or substitute itself for the independent and spontaneous actions of the class, but to accelerate the process of political consciousness, by intervening in the existing movements with a political programme which tries to bring the current demands to a next level.
A protracted revolutionary process, like in Venezuela for the last 10 years, is an exception to the rule. Political consciousness is a dynamic phenomenon. As revolutionary moments - meaning the political participation and self-organisation of the majority of the population in strikes, demonstrations and other forms of activism - are exhausting, they tend to fizzle out when there is no breakthrough, only to make way for repression and reaction by the regime. When there is no Marxist party or if the organisation is weak, like in Germany in 1918, (or, for that matter, in Egypt in 1977 during the so-called "bread riots") those moments are lost. And how long will it take before the movement has reached that stage of consciousness and willingness to change the regime again? In Germany and in Italy the failed social revolutions were one of the main causes of the rise of fascism. In Egypt, the uprising of 1977 was crushed, and the political parties were curtailed, leading to the current political vacuum.
Socialist do not have the luxury of hoping for the best to come. While they can't create revolutions, they have the responsability to organise the actual existing resistance, and build a party which is capable of intervening in mass movements.