Setting the stage for Egypt’s uprising

One of the largest strike waves in Middle East history swept across Egypt in the years before the mighty demonstrations that erupted in Tahrir Square in January 2011, part of the ‘Arab spring’. As a new mood of protest begins to develop, DAVID JOHNSON reviews two timely books outlining how the confidence to resist vicious security forces had grown from those earlier workers’ movements – and had weakened the regime.

Contesting Authoritarianism: labor challenges to the state of Egypt

By Dina Bishara

Published by Cambridge University Press, 2018, £21.99

Trade Unions and Arab Revolutions: challenging the regime in Egypt

By Heba F El-Shazli

Published by Routledge, 2019, £115

How did Egypt’s workers break the shackles of state, management and corrupt trade union leaders? How did independent unions emerge in some areas while other workers stayed in state-run organisations? These are vital questions for workers in many parts of the world with similar restrictions on the right to organise – not least in Egypt itself. Gains briefly won after the 2011 uprising were snatched back, particularly by the Muslim Brotherhood’s President Mohammed Morsi and current President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s dictatorial regime.

Both books, written by Egypt-born academics now based in American universities, examine these questions. They contain much valuable information, drawing on published material and interviewing participants in key strikes and in the formation of independent trade unions. The interviews were mostly conducted between 2011 and 2013, prior to al-Sisi stamping down on the movement.

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More tales from Gilead but few answers

The Testaments

By Margaret Atwood

Published by Chatto & Windus, 2019, £20

Reviewed by Helen Pattison

The Testaments won’t disappoint Margaret Atwood fans, who were left with a cliff-hanger at the end of The Handmaid’s Tale. Loose ends are tied up and we get a deeper look at some character backgrounds, such as Aunt Lydia’s.

The Handmaid’s Tale was originally published in the 1980s and outlined a dystopian future, the growth of an authoritarian regime. Wide ranging attacks are imposed on women, essentially making them second-class citizens in the new society called Gilead, in present-day USA, leaving them unable to have bank accounts, or learn to read or write. A falling birth rate also sees the creation of handmaids, an extremely oppressed section of women forced through rape to help the infertile elite have children.

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Letter & reply: Eve went to the magistrates’ court

I’ve just read Sarah Sachs-Eldridge’s excellent review of Helena Kennedy’s book, Eve Was Shamed (Socialism Today No.231, September 2019).

It begins with the denial of justice for women who experience violence. Then it considers the jail sentencing of women: “The most common offence by women is shop-lifting… 84% of inmates are there for non-violent offences. There has been a big increase in the jailing of women for non-payment of the TV licence. In 2015, 76% of women in jail had sentences of less than a year”.

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Editorial: Stand firm against the pro-capitalist politicians

Socialism Today No232 October 2019Have the September shenanigans in Westminster fatally undermined the chances of a Corbyn-led government being elected this autumn? And, as pertinently, what do they say about the character of such a government if it were to come to power in the midst of the political crisis and looming economic turbulence now confronting British capitalism?

Jeremy Corbyn’s first concession as Labour leader to the pro-capitalist Blairites who dominate the Parliamentary Labour Party was to agree, within days of his victory in 2015, that he would support a remain vote in all circumstances in the then forthcoming EU referendum. While a referendum, reducing issues to a simple government-set binary choice, is not an ideal terrain for the workers’ movement to fight for its collective interests, it could still have been an opportunity to give a working-class lead to the cry of rage at the capitalist establishment and its austerity agenda which the 2016 vote for leave at root represented.

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Building a new left in PCS

On 12 December the ballot will close for the general secretary election of the civil servants’ union, PCS. For almost two decades the union had been led by the left. Crucial to maintaining that position has been the role of the ‘broad left’ organisation, Left Unity. In this election, however, there are two candidates who are members of Left Unity: the current general secretary, Mark Serwotka, and Socialist Party member, Marion Lloyd.

This reflects a move to the right at the top of PCS and a resulting change in the character of Left Unity. Prior to the election of Mark Serwotka in 2000, PCS and its forerunner CPSA were led by an extreme right-wing leadership with links to the security services. Enormous positive changes took place after the left took control, with the Socialist Party playing a key role. A democratic lay-led culture and a leadership determined to fight in its members’ interests became the hallmarks of PCS.

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Preventing free speech on campus

The academic year has again begun with universities forced to act in accordance with the government’s Prevent strategy. Prevent was first introduced in 2006, as part of the Blair-led Labour government’s ‘anti-terrorist’ measures. It was changed by the Tories in 2011 and, four years later, put on a statutory basis. This compelled public bodies to have “due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”.

As there’s no evidence that Prevent has stopped any acts of violence but plenty that it is racist and has lessened freedom of speech, opposition to it has grown from many organisations. These have included the National Union of Teachers passing a resolution in 2016 for it to be scrapped and the University and College Union calling for it to be boycotted. The National Union of Students is against it, too, and runs a campaign called Students Not Suspects, currently promoted by NUS president Zamzam Ibrahim.

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Greta Thunberg and the school-strike movement

No One is Too Small to Make a Difference

By Greta Thunberg

Published by Penguin, 2019, £2.99

Reviewed by Tessa Warrington

No One is Too Small to Make a Difference is a short collection of speeches and the first book by 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. Thunberg rose to prominence in 2018 as the youthful face of the international Fridays for the Future school-strike movement against climate change. What started as an individual protest, with Thunberg handing out flyers in front of the Swedish parliament, chimed with the angry mood of young people the world over.

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Neoliberalism: consequences and alternatives

Brutal neoliberalism and austerity are fuelling mass anger – the growth in Trump-style populism one of the consequences. In response, a recent book advocates a return to New Deal-style reforms and the post-war policies of state regulation – points echoed by Bernie Sanders and others. But, as TONY SAUNOIS explains, capitalism’s room for manoeuvre is far more limited today, making the case for socialism all the more urgent.

Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism

By Robert Kuttner

Published by WW Norton & Company, 2019, £12.99

Robert Kuttner’s book is one of many by commentators and academics in recent years giving a devastating balance sheet of the consequences of neoliberal policies. Yet, like many, he has not been able to draw a rounded analysis and alternative from the data he has published. He graphically contrasts two eras of global capitalism: the post-second world war boom up to the mid-1970s; and what has followed since. In particular, he gives a stark account of what the neoliberal era has meant worldwide – economically, socially and politically. He reveals the increasingly authoritarian and undemocratic features of modern-day global monopoly capitalism. The book largely centres on developments in the US and the EU. He rightly regards the latter as a neoliberal, pro-capitalist institution.

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Germany’s new Chicago Boys

The deep crises in the world economy and political establishments are not only reflected in attempts to resurrect Keynesian-style policies. Other capitalist economists are proposing that an even harsher neoliberal model should be applied – looking back to the 1970s and 80s. That is the subject of a book by German economist, Rainer Zitelmann, reviewed here by PETER TAAFFE.

The Power of Capitalism: a journey through recent history across four continents

By Rainer Zitelmann

Published by LID, 2018, £19.99

This book by Rainer Zitelmann is quite clearly written as a justification for a further shift towards the right in German capitalism’s economic policies, a process already underway and reinforced by the growing crisis of the economy. It can also be used on a much wider scale by bourgeois economists in other countries. It is likely that Germany will tip into recession in the third quarter of this year, the country’s central bank has warned. It has gone from the powerhouse of Europe to an economic laggard, weighed down by turmoil in the automotive industry, the US-China trade war, and the prospects of a chaotic UK exit from the European Union.

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The alt-right threat

Across Europe we have seen a resurgent right making electoral gains. In the US, white supremacists have grown increasingly confident after the election of the right-populist Donald Trump. A new book aims to explain this phenomenon but, PAULA MITCHELL argues, a materialist approach is necessary to understand the alt-right, its roots, limits and perspectives.

The Alt-Right: what everyone needs to know

By George Hawley

Published by Oxford University Press, 2019, £10.99

The US alt-right came to prominence during Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign. Steve Bannon, former editor of alt-right website Breitbart, was chief executive of Trump’s presidential campaign and, latterly, White House chief strategist. Bannon and others linked up with the organisers of the Football Lads Alliance in Britain, pledging money to build a new street movement.

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