Music Mondays: Irhal

Ramy Essam: Irhal

The skinny:

Irhal means ‘leave’ (as an imperative) in Arabic and became the anthem of the Egyptian protests in Tahrir Square against President Mubarak’s dictatorial regime.

Popular poetry, improvised colloquial verse and a mix of high and low Arabic characterised the protest’s political slogans, and singer Ramy Essam set this particular chant to a simple acoustic guitar backing. He became a YouTube sensation and a revolutionary figurehead of the Arab Spring.

Mubarak finally got the message to ‘Irhal’ and was forced to resign, but when Essam returned to the square after this historic announcement, he was identified as an agitator, arrested and detained for four hours, during which time he was beaten and Tasered.

‘Irhal’ is one of the most influential songs on the mordern age. And so it should be, considering the source material: the song itself was stitched together from the catchiest chants Essam heard while camped out in Tahrir Square.

But what really makes ‘Irhal’ significant is how it caught the public imagination, and conscience, at precisely the right moment. ‘Irhal’ struck a resonant chord with Egypt’s dissatisfied citizens, and the rest is, literally, history. It’s this ability to give a unified voice to a disparate crowd which makes music such a powerful catalyst. Intriguingly, the acoustic flamenco stylings of ‘Irhal’ belie Essam’s actual musical tastes, which run more toward metal. He didn’t think he could make a living playting heavy rock, however, so it’ll be interesting to see if ‘Irhal’ opens up a new future for him.

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Published in: on September 19, 2011 at 6:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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ibn-Poum

My new favourite blog: Journeyman. See for example:

Via the Journeyman, On This Deity. Some recent samples:

In a related vein, a great post from Rustbelt Radical: Egypt, the Commune and Coriolanus; Marx and Shakespeare in Historic Times

And a soundtrack to this post: Nina Simone.

Below the fold, from the archive of struggle, via Entdinglichung: (more…)

Poumastic

Distant Spanish echoes

Michael Totten interviews Stephen Schwartz of the Centre for Islamic Pluralism. (Schwartz is the co-author of one of the most important books in English on the POUM, Spanish Marxism versus Soviet Communism with Victor Alba.)

Your Friend in the North on the Battle for Spain.

The King’s Speech

Is a pack of lies, says Isaac Chotiner, and Christopher Hitchens, and Hitchens again.

“Progressive” [sic] politics

At BobFromBrockley:

Shiraz Socialist publish a couple of shameful articles from the vaults of News Line, the paper of Gerry Healey’s Trotskyist cult the Workers Revolutionary Party. The articles, from 1983, exhibit a particularly disgusting brand of anti-Zionist antisemitism, portraying a reactionary Zionist web that stretches from the “rich Jews” who colluded with Hitler right through to rival Trot group Socialist Organiser, a conspiracy that silences opposition by playing its “anti-Semitic trump card” – phrases that have become all too common on the left. Anyway, the articles are relevant now because they contain a defence of the tyrant Muammar Gaddafi as anti-imperialist: try and swallow the words “in support of the Libyan masses under their leader Muammar Gaddafi.” And it is relevant to the “Progressive London” post because it generously quotes Ken Livingstone defending the WRP. Ken claims News Line “gives you an objective presentation of the news and political developments and supports the base struggles of the working class in industry and the community” and describes his enemies in the Labour Party as “agents of the Begin government”. I had forgotten how far back Ken goes with this “anti-imperialist” swamp. More on this sort of thing from Andrew Coates, David Osler and Michael Ezra and (from the archive) Sean Matgamna and Paul Anderson.

Also these two posts by Louis Proyect: “Qaddafi and the Left” and “Qaddafi and the Monthly Review” (re-posted at Kasama).

The new Stalinism

Darren Redstar on the new Stalinist witch-hunting of anarchists at Socialist Unity.

Pacifism: objectively pro-fascist, or objetively pro-imperialist?

Louis Proyect has a long piece attacking Gene Sharp (who I don’t know enough about to defend, although I find many of Louis’ accusations questionable). He includes this quote from the NYT:

Some people suspect Mr. Sharp of being a closet peacenik and a lefty — in the 1950s, he wrote for a publication called “Peace News” and he once worked as personal secretary to A. J. Muste, a noted labor union activist and pacifist — but he insists that he outgrew his own early pacifism and describes himself as “trans-partisan.”

Louis continues, interestingly, about AJ Muste, which struck me as interesting, given a discussion here a while back. Not often, I imagine, that Proyect and Michael Ezra are in agreement.

The Muste connection is interesting. In the 1930s, Muste was the leader of a group called the Workers Party that spearheaded major labor struggles. In James P. Cannon’s “History of American Trotskyism” there is a useful discussion of Muste’s importance. When Cannon found his own Trotskyist group growing closer to Muste’s, he broached the subject of a fusion that Muste was agreeable to. The Trotskyists were at that time doing what is called “entryism” in Norman Thomas’s Socialist Party. When they were expelled, they united with Muste as the Socialist Workers Party, reflecting each group’s antecedents.

Eventually Muste abandoned Marxism and became a Christian pacifist. As a leader of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Muste became critical in the formation of the Vietnam antiwar coalitions that would challenge the imperialist war-makers. One crucial difference between Muste and Sharp was their chosen arena of struggle. Muste targeted his own government while Sharp saw his role as providing leadership to struggles elsewhere, particularly in the Soviet bloc countries. During the Korean War Sharp spent nine months in a federal prison in Danbury, Conn., as a conscientious objector. He also took part in some civil rights protests but from the 1960s onwards his emphasis has been on providing consultation to people in other countries.

al-Poum

GeorgeOrwell

Image via Wikipedia

Following on from Mikey’s post here about socialist commandments, here are a couple with titles inspired by socialist hymns: Arise ye workers from your slumbers (about the SWP front, the Right to Work campaign – even the name should be anathema to real communists) and On tyrants only we’ll make war! (about the Stop the War left’s hypocrisy about tyrants).

Talking of tyrants, David Osler has a very good piece on whether clerical fascists can turn social democrats (thinking of the Muslim Brotherhood), which cites an excellent piece on the Middle East from Tony Cliff in 1946, which I think I recently linked to.

And talking of Cliff’s International Socialists, I didn’t know Lord Macdonald of Tradeston was an ex-member, until reading this piece by comrade Osler, whose title references one of my favourite Lenin paraphrase. Unrelated, here’s comrade Osler on Japanese Maoism.

In the most surprising places… Tess Lewis in the Wall Street Journal on Victor Serge. Opening para:

‘No poison is more deadly than power!” The Russian anarchists’ slogan is the perfect motto for the life of the writer and revolutionary Victor Serge (1890- 1947). A life-long man of the radical left, he saw almost all his friends, heroes and enemies destroyed by the poison of Soviet communism and spent his life exposing the psychosis of absolute power. Yet even in his darkest hour—isolated and destitute in Mexico City in 1943, surviving on donations from friends, unable to get his writing published in more than a few small journals, his wife driven insane by the persecution of the Soviet secret police—Serge never lost his faith in the ideals of socialism

DJ Taylor on Mubarak and the Neds, citing George Orwell:

Monitoring last week’s news from Tahrir Square, it was impossible not to be reminded of an essay George Orwell published in an obscure monthly magazine called The Adelphi shortly before the start of the Second World War.

The piece seldom gets reprinted these days, doubtless due to its somewhat bracing title: Not Counting Niggers. In it, Orwell makes the, by now unexceptionable, point that in a prosperous country left-wing politics is always partly humbug, because a thorough-going reconstruction of society would lead to a drop in living standards, which no politician of any party is ever prepared to countenance. He also points out – this was in 1939 when the Empire’s working-class population included several hundred million Indian labourers – that Britain’s standard of living was linked to the exploitation of people earning a few pence a day and dying before they were 40.

Fast-forward 72 years and a very similar piece of moral sleight-of-hand applies to our relationship with the autocracies of the Middle East.

A new blog to me: Work Resumed on the Tower, “a blog focused [on] popular culture, literature, and politics from a radical, anti-capitalist perspective.” I very much recommend a recent post: In Defense of (a slightly more modest) Marxism.

Taming the Trots: Anarchism’s Sisyphean Task: Rachel at Northern Voices on a misery of sharing the left with the likes of Linda Taafe.

A note on the post-Gerry Healey Workers Revolutionary Party, from Marko Attila Hoare, with which I thoroughly concur, having been close to this faction at that time and being almost exactly the same age as Marko:

The members of the WRP (‘Workers Press’) with whom I collaborated in Workers Aid were among the bravest, most principled and most committed fighters for social justice and political liberation that I have ever met. When the Bosnian genocide was at its height and when much of the rest of the Western left was either sitting on the sidelines or actively sympathising with the perpetrators, these people built the Workers Aid movement to bring aid to, and show solidarity with, the people of the Bosnian city of Tuzla. This was an industrial city with a proud left-wing and working-class history, whose own miners had supported the British miners’ strike in the 1980s and whose citizens maintained a social democratic administration in power throughout the Bosnian war. Members of the WRP/WP and other supporters of Workers Aid – sometimes risking their own lives as they guided their convoy of rickety lorries along the broken roads of a country at war and through sniper zones – built a movement of solidarity between British and European trade unionists and Bosnian trade unionists that defied the ethnic cleansers and their Western backers.

That is the WRP with which I worked in the 1990s, and to whose newspaper I contributed. Although I have since mostly lost touch with them, I remember with particular respect and fondness Bob Myers, Dot Gibson, Charlie Pottins, Bronwen Handyside, Cliff Slaughter, the late Geoff Pilling and others, some of whose names I don’t recall. It was an honour to have worked with them and to have contributed to their newspaper, and though I suspect they might not approve of my subsequent political evolution, I would do so again. So no, I don’t find my past association with them ‘embarrassing’ (I have advertised my former involvement with Workers Aid in the ‘About’ section of my blog since the day it was launched); they represented what was best in the British left. For someone like Daniel Davies, whose sole political activity seems to consist of running a blog devoted to smearing and rubbishing other left-wingers, the same cannot be said.

(more…)

Poumismic

Egypt and Tunisia, what is to be done?

Boffy: on Bonapartism and permanent revolution.

Bob: on the carnation revolution, the jasmine revolution, and Marx’s love of flowers.

Johnny Guitar: on some of the scum (Hosni Mubarak…) allowed in the Socialist International these days, and on its belated rectification.

From the archive: Tony Cliff on the Middle East at the crossroads (1945), John Rees on the democratic revolution and the socialist revolution (1989).

Dorothy Thompson, z”l:

Entdinglichung, Sheila Rowbotham, Shiraz Socialist.

Also:

Michael Weiss: on Julian Assange as Bakunin with a MacBook.

Owen Jones, in the spirit of Keir Hardie: the left needs to watch its language.

Andrew Coates, in the spirit of Robert Tressel and Oscar Wilde: Big Society goes bang.

Nick Cohen: on disgusting old Stalinist Eric Hobsbawm and his How to Change the World.

Ron Radosh: commie Camp Kinderland still exists.

Jim Denham: on Norman Geras’ Marxism.

HiM@N: on the death of Rosie the Riveter.

Globalise the jasmine revolution: some notes from history and theory

The social revolution of the 21st century cannot take its poetry from the past but only from the future. It cannot begin with itself before it has stripped away all superstition about the past. The former revolutions required recollections of past world history in order to smother their own content. The revolution of the nineteenth century must let the dead bury their dead in order to arrive at its own content. There the phrase went beyond the content – here the content goes beyond the phrase.

Bourgeois revolutions, like those of the eighteenth century, storm more swiftly from success to success, their dramatic effects outdo each other, men and things seem set in sparkling diamonds, ecstasy is the order of the day – but they are short-lived, soon they have reached their zenith, and a long Katzenjammer [cat’s wail] takes hold of society before it learns to assimilate the results of its storm-and-stress period soberly. On the other hand, proletarian revolutions, like those of the 21st century, constantly criticize themselves, constantly interrupt themselves in their own course, return to the apparently accomplished, in order to begin anew; they deride with cruel thoroughness the half-measures, weaknesses, and paltriness of their first attempts, seem to throw down their opponents only so the latter may draw new strength from the earth and rise before them again more gigantic than ever, recoil constantly from the indefinite colossalness of their own goals – until a situation is created which makes all turning back impossible, and the conditions themselves call out:

Hic Rhodus, hic salta!
[Here is the rose, here dance!]

–Karl Marx The Eighteenth Brumaire of Hosni Mubarak [with two or three words changed]

Egypt was the home of the first recorded labour strike in history, a wildcat stoppage of craftsmen in the tombs of the pharoahs. Like the current unrest, it was partly a struggle over hunger.

A contemporary document recounting the first ever recorded labour strike, which occured in Deir el Medina, Ancient Egypt during the reign of Ramses III when workers did not receive their rations.

The stoppage occurred in the 12th century BC, on the 21st day of the second month in the 29th year of the reign of the pharaoh Ramses III, while Ramses was fighting a series of wars and engaging in an extensive building campaign.

The strikers were hereditary craftsmen who worked on the tombs of the pharaohs, the vast complexes that to this day draw visitors from all over the world to the Valley of the Kings.

This papyrus was written by the scribe Amennakhte at Deir el Medina. It describes the workers’ struggle, and the corruption which had spread throughout the administration.

Year 29, second month of winter, day 10
On this day the crew passed the five guard-posts of the tomb saying: “We are hungry, for 18 days have already elapsed in this month;” and they sat down at the rear of the temple of Menkheperre.

In the twentieth century, there was considerable class struggle, both rural and urban, in Egypt. This, from 1935, is from the first published article by the young Tony Cliff (Yigael Gluckstein as he was then), a teenage Trotskyist in Hashomer Hatzair in Palestine, writing in (I think) a Kibbutz Artzi journal, Ha-Mesheq Ha-Shittufi [The Cooperative Economy]:

The appalling pauperization of the masses of workers and peasants in Egypt and the exacerbation of class tensions are manifested very clearly in the spontaneous eruptions of the masses. The bitterness pent up in them erupts fruitlessly, as all these eruptions and insurrections are unplanned and are not guided by a proletarian leadership able to convert the destructive force of rebellion into the creative power of socialist construction. The recurrent eruptions of the agricultural masses are evidence of the point that Egypt’s social tension have reached, as well as of how far the objective conditions for liberation of the masses have ripened, and of the absence so far of a force that would undertake the realization of this endeavour. The outbursts of rebellion that pent up within the masses are of various degrees and kinds: from setting fire to the feudal landlord’s granary, murdering the “umara” (the local village sheikhs who are agents of the banks, the trading companies, the estate owners and the government), murdering policemen and soldiers, to attempts at an agrarian reform. For the time being, the class struggle of the masses is in its lower stages. The number of granary arson cases in 1928–29 was 5,760, in 1929–30 – 6,700, and in 1931 – 7,820. The incidence of “umara” murders in 1931 was 744, in 1932 – 711, and in 1933 – 752.

Clearly, the struggle will be long and much blood will be spilt until the toiling masses recognize the way by which alone will come the full abolition of the conditions that oppress them.

The centrality of bread and hunger to Egypt’s history of militancy continued through the 20th century. 1977 saw the “bread intifada”, uprisings against Sadat’s government. The prequel to that moment was told in 1976 by Phil Marfleet in the SWP’s International Socialism and again in IS (by Phil again?) in March 1977. The article is written in the vein of the IS’s Third Campism, its utter rejection of Stalinism and authoritarian Third Worldism – rather sad, given their courting of those things in more recent years.

***

Egypt has also been a centre of the libertarian socialist movement for as long as many parts of Europe, with Errico Malatesta being based in Alexandria for some time, and a thriving Greek and Italian anarchist workers movement, as described in this article.

A very little known chapter in the history of struggle in North Africa is the number of veterans of the Spanish Civil War who found their way to the Maghreb, including to Tunis. This article by Nick Heath is a thumbnail sketch of one such, anarchist Giuseppe Pasotti who died in Tunis in 1951.

***

One of the great dangers of the current uprisings is that bourgeois nationalism, as we used to call it, and, even worse, political Islam, will emerge as the most significant forces in the revolution, and turn on the emancipatory forces. This is an old dialectic in the class struggle in the Middle East. An article from the ortho-Trotskyist Fourth International from 1946 by J Damien (possibly the pen-name of Spanish ex-POUM militant Sebastian Garcia?) captures this very well:

What is the Moslem Brotherhood? It is the most backward organization in Egypt. It is supposed to group together about 300,000 disillusioned, very fanatical petty-bourgeois. It has no program except to overthrow the Constitution and replace it with the Koran. It has no political experience so that, for the time being, it can be maneuvered by the Court’s agents. The American and the Russian propagandists in the Middle East have shown great interest in the Moslem Brotherhood and seem to consider it as a possible winning horse. The Russians have made a fuss of their Islamic policy in their Moslem Republics. But there are no indications for the moment that the youth and the proletariat are ready to follow the MB, which is definitely too backward even for the British. Apparently the MB will be used as a sort of pending menace and instrument of blackmail in the hands of the Court’s politicians. Whether it will free itself from such hands or not is a question that cannot be answered now.

The forces of the left are in the making. Since 1940 the Socialist idea has been successfully infused into the proletariat. One advantage of the situation is that there is no such thing as a social-democratic party in Egypt. Trotskyism and Stalinism face each other without intermediate parties. Numerically the Stalinists are stronger, but extraordinary as it may seem, they are not united. There are three Stalinist movements, one of them on the verge of an open split with Stalinism (the Trotskyists have repeatedly offered the Stalinists to form a “Left Front” against the Moslem Brotherhood and the imperialists). A regrouping of the forces of the Left – one of the Stalinist groups detaching itself and collaborating with the Trotskyists – is not excluded for the near future.

The task of the Left in Egypt is immense. Its cadres are still tiny. Even if the Left is too weak to guide the Egyptian workers to victory within the next few years, it is already strong enough to shake the actual instruments of the people’s servitude; religious prejudice and political ignorance.

It is tragic that this clarity of vision from the left has failed so profoundly in the intervening years, with the cult of “national self-determination” and “anti-imperialism”, and more recently “anti-Zionism” taking its place.

***

Of interest in relation to some of the above: the SWP’s Duncan Hallas on his experiences in Egypt after WWII.

Also:

Via BfB: Egypt: Centre for Trade Union & Workers Services: The labour movement is in the heart and soul of the Egyptian revolution. Mohammed Ezzeldin on the roots of the revolutionary movement. Atef Said on Egypt’s long labour history. Juan Cole: Egypt’s class conflict. Stroppy: women of Egypt 12. Tom Streithorst: Hobbes vs Kropotkin on the streets of Cairo. Tunisia: Andrew Coates: why was Ben Ali’s party in the Socialist International?

Images via Stroppy.
Published in: on February 2, 2011 at 6:38 pm  Comments (9)  
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