T. Cliff

The Problem of the Middle East

Part VI
The Working Class Movement in the Arab East

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Chapter XXIII
The Rise of an Independent Proletarian Power in Egypt

Seeing that Egypt has twice the number of inhabitants that Palestine, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq have together, and also that she is the most developed of these countries, the Egyptian proletariat is the pioneer of the whole Arab East, and at a time of upheaval it is Cairo and Alexandria which will prove themselves the nerve-centres not only of Egypt, but also of the whole Arab East. The development of the consciousness, the organisation and the political struggle of the workers in Cairo and Alexandria therefore have decisive importance for the whole workers’ movement in the Arab East. The last year has borne witness to the rise of the workers’ movement as a decisive factor in the life of Egypt.

A new and important stage was reached by the Egyptian workers’ movement in July 1945 when 103 trade unions representing 80,000 workers arranged meetings and elected Muhamed Yussuf Ahmed Al-Mudarik to be their representative at the Conference of the World Federation of Trade Unions held in Paris in July 1945. The active members of the same trade unions at the end of September 1945 established an organization called ‘The Workers’ Committee of National Liberation – the Political Body of the Working Class.’

Because of the close connection between the economic and the political struggle, the militant workers who struggle for the class independence the trade unions must necessarily also struggle for the political independence of their organizations. The colonial worker cannot afford the ‘luxury’ of struggling for economic reforms while supporting the bourgeois parties. Furthermore because of the close connection between the social struggle and the national anti-imperialist struggle, the economic-political struggle of the proletariat is at the same time a national liberatory struggle. These two objective factors – the deep social and national antagonisms in the Arab countries, and particularly in Egypt – to a major extent explain the character of the Workers’ Committee; but not altogether. Its emergence is also influenced by the subjective factors of the weakness, on one hand, of the Stalinist groups, and the existence, on the other, of the Trotskyist group, whose influence has lately grown to be quite considerable. In the existing conditions in Egypt of deep social and national tension on the one hand and illiteracy and cultural backwardness on the other, a few score of revolutionaries can have a great influence through their connection with the small handful of people who lead the working class.

The Workers’ Committee is very militant, although its position lacks completeness and is vague on many points. Its ideological leanings may best be seen through the pages of its weekly Ed-Damir. The leitmotif of this paper is the economic and political independence of the working class. It declares a persistent struggle against the Egyptian government and ruling classes on every question. It does not refrain from attacking the leaders of the national movement and its stand on the national question is in open contradiction to the Stalinist theory of national unity. Ed-Damir of 3/10/45 says:

‘The Egyptian people, whose main aim is liberation from foreign imperialism, aims also at liberation from exploitation within its ranks.’

This line of thought is repeated in nearly every issue of the paper. The issue of 24/10/45 reiterates:

‘Imperialism … together with the Egyptian capitalists and landowners plots and plans against the Egyptian people. The people has no other way therefore that to struggle against British imperialism and local capitalist exploitation at the same time if it desires resurrection and liberation.’

The paper does not spare the Arab League either. It defines it as a ‘weapon of compromise’, and charges it with helping imperialism to subjugate the Arab East and representing the ruling classes in their designs against the people.

As far as its relation to the international workers’ movement is concerned, it prints news profusely about strikes all over the world – in the USA, in England, in Japan and Sidney etc. It wrote in enthusiastic support of the dockers’ strikes in England, particularly emphasising the fact <p. 196> that the dockers refused to respond to the appeals of the government and trade union leaders. As regards Soviet Russia, the paper remains silent, mentioning it neither for good nor bad. It has never cited and articles from Stalinist papers.

The words of Ed-Damir of 24th October that ‘the working class, which during the revolt of 1919 fought and was led has today become the fighter and leader’ proved absolutely true a few months later.

On 9 February 1946 the students arranged mass meetings and a large demonstration against imperialism to demand the evacuation of the Nile Valley. The police fired on the demonstration killing 23 in Cairo and 4 in Alexandria. The Trotskyists, who were very active among the students, issued a leaflet the next day, the gist of which was:

‘Students and Workers!! Unite, as the spectre of reaction is haunting the country. You, students, alone cannot overcome the Police; go to the workers and you will find enough power to meet the Police. Without a swift link with the workers our revolution will lose its popular grounds. Don’t appear before the Royal Palace, but go to the factories, to the workers, the true representatives of the People.’

In Alexandria the students turned towards the workers and arranged a large demonstration together with them. A few days later – on the 21st. February, ‘Evacuation Day’ – about 100,000 workers and students made a strike and demonstration in Cairo. The spirit of the demonstrators was clearly revealed in the fact that none of the traditional parties had any sway over them. When Ahmed Husayn, the leader of the fascist party ‘Misr al-Fatat’ tried to worm his way into the midst of the turbulent masses, he was greeted with cries of ‘Down with Fascism!’ and was forced to retire without speaking. The solidarity of Moslems, Christians and Jews was an oft-repeated slogans throughout the demonstrations. Sudanese students studying in Egypt who called for a common struggle against British imperialism were carried shoulder high.

he organised leadership of the demonstrations and strikes was the workers’ and Students Committee which came into being on the first day of the demonstrations. The committee is a realm democratically elected, representative of the masses. Before its birth the students of the Fuad University in Cairo had built a committee for the organisation of the demonstrations. Soon arrested, the students nevertheless replaced its membership and it carried on. At the same time the workers had elected their committee. It was decided to unite the two thus creating the council whose members were chosen in democratic elections from each faculty and trade union. In every quarter of Cairo special local quarter committees were also elected. The trade unions, especially those of the big foreign companies, had a decisive influence on the direction of the movement. In the Workers’ and Students’ Committee of Alexandria the Trotskyists have a majority.

Renewed demonstration took place at the end of March. In April a further element entered the ranks if the demonstrators – the unemployed. [1] On 1 May huge demonstrations took place, the masses this time using firearms.

Against the revolting masses imperialism and its lackeys used two different measures: the police and military, and the demagogy of the Moslem Brotherhood. We have already seen how miserably the Brotherhood failed in its attempts to erect a rival committee to the Workers’ and Students’ Committee and to find a foothold among the masses.

Egypt stands before the critical choice – socialism, or its only historical alternative, fascism which in the colonies is the agent of imperialism. It is up to the revolutionary Marxists of Egypt to take full advantage of the circumstances and lead the working class through a successful revolution to socialism.


1. 300,000 workers were dismissed from military camps and war industries at the beginning of 1946.

Last updated on 28.5.2011