Matt Stoller: The Egyptian Labor Uprising Against Rubinites

By Matt Stoller, the former Senior Policy Advisor for Rep. Alan Grayson. His Twitter feed is @matthewstoller

Via Wikileaks, we learned that the son of the former President of Egypt, Gamal Mubarak, had an interesting conversation in 2009 with Senator Joe Lieberman on the banking crisis. Gamal is a key figure in the forces buffeting Egypt, global forces of labor arbitrage, torture, and financial corruption. Gamal believed that the bailouts of the banks weren’t big enough – “you need to inject even more money into the system than you have”. Gamal, a former investment banker trained at Bank of America, helped craft Egypt’s industrial policy earlier in the decade.

Our purpose is to improve Egyptians’ living standards. We have a three-pronged plan to achieve this: favoring Egypt’s insertion into the global economy, reducing the state’s role in the economy, and giving the private sector greater freedom.

Deregulation, globalization, and privatization. This should be a familiar American recipe, commonly associated with former Treasury Secretary and Goldman Sachs chief Bob Rubin. That Rubinite rhetoric has been adopted by the children of strongmen shows the influence of Davos, the global annual conference of power brokers. Gamal, far more polished than his father, understood that the profit and power for his family lay in cooperating with foreign investors to squeeze labor as hard as possible.

This strategy was targeted at the global labor arbitrage going on since the 1970s, with Egypt’s role as one cheap labor in-sourcer. It’s no surprise that the Mubarak family has $40-70B stashed away in the global tax safe havens coddling the superrich. This wealth was extracted from the youth and women in Egypt’s new factories making low-cost goods for export. This is why the revolution was spearheaded by youth and women, and why the nationalist business elite, with its deep ties to the military, sided with the protesters. Mubarak’s inner circle aligned themselves with international investors and set themselves against domestic business and military interests.

In other words, this is a revolt against Rubinite economic policy. Even the rhetoric Gamal used in pushing his policies echoes that of Rubinites. This Orwellian model of discourse frames corrupt decision-making to confiscate wealth from ordinary people as “tough-minded” because it’s “unpopular.” Here’s Gamal:

Bringing change is always a harsh task. You must sometimes accept unpopularity. But if you are really convinced that you are making the right decision, you must stick to it. Modernization is worth this price. If not, we will have to be honest both with ourselves and public opinion and acknowledge that we failed. I am perfectly aware of what the consequences of such a failure could be, and I am doing my best. I know that our action will later be examined scrupulously. This is what we call a “result-oriented culture.”

You can smell the McKinsey presentation. Here’s Obama’s budget director, ex-Citigroup executive Jacob Lew who made millions on the housing bubble, justifying his cuts to the social safety net (such as low income heating assistance, which means some poor people will freeze to death):

These three examples alone, of course, represent only a small fraction of the scores of cuts the president had to choose, but they reflect the tough calls he had to make.

And here’s George W. Bush, justifying his decision to invade Iraq:

And so what I’m telling you is that sometimes in this world you make unpopular decision because you think they’re right.

The political architecture of the Mubarak regime was directly pulled from the neoliberal shadow government model, right down to the political rhetoric of toughness as a mask for theft. Paul Amar has by far the most persuasive account of the Egyptian revolution. Amar goes beyond the absurdist Facebook revolution narrative, and points out that what is going on is in effect a youth-driven labor uprising, combined with fights between Mubarak-centric Rubinite elites and the domestic nationalist business community tied to the military. Mubarak had made tight alliances with the Islamic right, while slashing the social safety net and bringing in international investors to open low wage manufacturing (this is part of Mubarak’s son’s Bank of America training, more on that below).

This uprising is just the culmination of strikes that began a few years ago in response.

This revolt began gradually at the convergence of two parallel forces: the movement for workers’ rights in the newly revived factory towns and micro-sweatshops of Egypt especially during the last two years, and the movement against police brutality and torture that mobilized every community in the country for the last three years. Both movements feature the leadership and mass participation of women (of all ages) and youth (of both genders). There are structural reasons for this.

First, the passion of workers that began this uprising does not stem from their marginalization and poverty; rather, it stems from their centrality to new development processes and dynamics. In the very recent past, Egypt has reemerged as a manufacturing country, although under the most stressful and dynamic of conditions. Egypt’s workers are mobilized because new factories are being built, in the context of a flurry of contentious global investment. Several Russian free-trade zones and manufacturing settlements have opened up, and China has invested in all parts of the Egyptian economy. Brazil, Turkey, the Central Asian Republics and the Gulf Emirates are diversifying their investments. They are moving out of the oil sector and real estate and into manufacturing, piece-goods, informatics, infrastructure, etc. Factories all over Egypt have been dusted off and reopened, or newly built. And all those shopping malls, gated cities, highways and resorts have to be built and staffed by someone. In the Persian Gulf, developers use Bangladeshi, Philippine and other expatriate labor. But Egypt usually uses its own workers. And many of the workers in Egypt’s revived textile industries and piece-work shops are women. If you stroll up the staircases into the large working-class apartment buildings in the margins of Cairo or the cement-block constructions of the villages, you’ll see workshops full of women, making purses and shoes, and putting together toys and computer circuitboards for sale in Europe, the Middle East and the Gulf. These shop workers joined with factory workers to found the 6 April movement in 2008.

The torture and repression had a specific cause, as did the reaction against it.

In the place of food subsidies and jobs they have offered debt. Micro-credit loans were given, with the IMF and World Bank’s enthusiastic blessing, to stimulate entrepreneurship and self-reliance. These loans were often specifically targeted toward women and youth. Since economically disadvantaged applicants have no collateral to guarantee these loans, payback is enforced by criminal law rather than civil law. This means that your body is your collateral. The police extract pain and humiliation if you do not pay your bill. Thus the micro-enterprise system has become a massive set of police rackets and “loan shark” operations. Police sexualized brutalization of youth and women became central to the “regulation” of the massive small-business economy. In this context, the micro-business economy is a tough place to operate, but it does shape women and youth into tough survivors who see themselves as an organized force opposed to the police-state. No one waxes on about the blessings of the market’s invisible hand. Thus the economic interests of this mass class of micro-entrepreneurs are the basis for the huge and passionate anti-police brutality movement. It is no coincidence that the movement became a national force two years ago with the brutal police murder of a youth, Khalid Saeed, who was typing away in a small internet café that he partially owned. Police demanded ID and a bribe from him; he refused, and the police beat him to death, crushing his skull to pieces while the whole community watched in horror.

What is going in Egypt represents a remarkable new political coalition striking deep at the heart of the Washington consensus. Social media mattered, in that it was the language by which the youth expressed themselves and their hatred of the torture inflicted upon them to extract maximal profit. This alliances, of a domestic business-military community, women’s groups, and a youth-driven labor movement, has parallels in the 1930s New Deal coalition and the 1850s anti-slavery coalition. It is also interesting that the pre-Facebook blogosphere of 2004-2005 played an important role in unmasking torture and delegitimizing the authority of the state, including the justice system and the media.

Seen in this context, Egypt is part of a global conflict of financial oligarchs fighting with leftist human rights activists, unions, and domestic industries. Egypt’s going to need the money stashed away and stolen by the Mubarak family; getting to that money requires an international crackdown on superrich tax havens. Furthermore, the links between Mubarak corruption and various Rubinites are probably as extensive as the torture trade between the CIA and Egypt. The extent of the cover-up of the Mubarak regime’s behavior will be the way to judge what happens going forward. Obama’s mild-mannered and largely irrelevant statecraft simply reflects the paralysis of the foreign policy establishment as the extent of its complicity in the overall economic and political strategy of this repressive regime is revealed.

Of course, it’s quite possible that the Mubarak-style repressive franchise isn’t done. Already, the Egyptian military is trying to ban the labor and professional organizing at the heart of the uprising. Like Obama’s promises of hope and change in 2008, Egypt in 2011 is full of promise, with ambiguous tidings.

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  1. Gentlemutt

    I think this is a wonderful job of connecting the dots relative to the damage wrought to humans by the smug we-know-whats-best-for-you Robert Rubin crew, and the utility their dirigisme plays for dictators and authoritarians all over the world.

    That said (hat tip to Larry David), Mr. Stoller does go a bit too far when he writes:

    “Mubarak’s inner circle aligned themselves with international investors and set themselves against domestic business and military interests.”

    Mubarak was military; his most powerful supporters were military. There are factions, of course, and supporters of freedom can only hope the genuinely pro-democratic element in the Egyptian military leadership now wins out. But in no way was Mubarak running a dictatorship for 30 years without tending to the (personal) interests of the people who run the Egyptian military. That is why military leaders are generally quite rich in Egypt.

      1. Parvaneh Ferhadi

        I’d think that might be also due to the fact that he is old and frail – and may be dying right now, if I am to believe some Arab media. In the grand scheme of things, Mubarak is expandable and the military is and was the real power in the country.
        It remains to be seen whether actual change is coming to Egypt or whether they just rearranged the deck chairs.

        Good article, by the way.

    1. Matt

      Note that the situation in Egypt was a bit more complicated than most – the military still owns an awful lot of factories that now produce consumer goods. Apparently this was set up a few decades back, as the army was shrinking and no longer needed the massive infrastructure; they switched production to avoid possible unrest caused by mass layoffs. I believe there was more info in a recent NYT bit, but I can’t find the link at present.

      So in a sense, enacting Rubinite policies *is* pissing off the military – it’s taking cash out of their wallets, which is often a strong motivator…

  2. /L

    the tough calls he had to make.

    It’s an Orwellian world, how they make it sound as the ones that are hurt is those who make the decisions that poor elderly disadvantaged shall freeze.

    But I doubt that the Mubarak family has amassed such amount of wealth that they are significantly richer than Bill Gates or Warren Buffet. 40 – 70 billion is by any standard a lot, even just a couple of scanty billions is a lot of money.

    1. Cedric Regula

      My only hope is that Forbes magazine can get the final tally and then we will know for sure if civil servants can accumulate more net worth than Carlos Slim, Warren Buffet, or Bill Gates. That means Rubin has been wrong all these years which should be very motivational for civil servants in DC and around the world.

      Course Rubin got his cumulative $120M(I read that, but don’t have the documentation)job and Peter Orszag just got a $15M teaser package after leaving civil service, so maybe they think self-privatization ain’t bad either.

  3. Ignim Brites

    Very interesting report. One thing that is missing is identification of the organizations mobilizing the laborers. Maybe that is in the the links.

    1. Ignim Brites

      The Paul Amar piece referenced is quite good. He identifies two labor organizations as being important in the resistance to Mubarak; Independent Trade Union Federation and the April 6 Youth Movement. Just for future reference.

  4. Jessica

    Thank you for posting this. Had not known any of this. If I depended on the main-stream media, I might not ever.

  5. DownSouth

    Gamal Mubarak said: “Modernization is worth this price.”

    How many times have we heard that?

    We heard it from Joseph Stalin. And we heard it again in Arundhati Roy’s absolutely outstanding must read from yesterday’s “Links.” Roy documents some disturbing occurrences in India’s current drive to “modernize.”

    I’ve asserted that Stalinism and neoliberalism spring from the same philosophical source: Johann Gottlieb Fichte. But here I think an exploration of the similarities and differences between Stalinism and neoliberalism, in practice, is in order.

    Here is a bullet list I found on the internet called “Joseph Stalin and the Modernization of Russia.”

    Get a whiff of some of the characteristics of Stalin’s “modernization”:

    • Stalin created his Five Year Plan – The first one in 1928-33

    • Plans would now have the force of government orders

    • More peasants suffered as the food was taken to feed the cities created some famine

    • The Kulaks were obliterated by Stalin, beginning the Purge period

    • Those described as actively hostile were put into concentration camp, while their families were deported North to Siberia. The wealthy were banished

    • The party officials and the police watched over every aspect of Russian life.

    • 13 million men and women were added to the cities during the first five year plan

    • Blame for any failures of quotas were put on the workers, who were called enemies who were trying to sabotage Stalin and the Soviet People.

    Here’s another item I plucked from the internet, and again, get a whiff of these:

    • Joseph Stalin, leader of the Soviet Union, set in motion events designed to cause a famine in the Ukraine to destroy the people there seeking independence from his rule. As a result, an estimated 7,000,000 persons perished in this farming area, known as the breadbasket of Europe, with the people deprived of the food they had grown with their own hands.

    • But when Lenin died in 1924, he was succeeded by Joseph Stalin, one of the most ruthless humans ever to hold power. To Stalin, the burgeoning national revival movement and continuing loss of Soviet influence in the Ukraine was completely unacceptable. To crush the people’s free spirit, he began to employ the same methods he had successfully used within the Soviet Union. Thus, beginning in 1929, over 5,000 Ukrainian scholars, scientists, cultural and religious leaders were arrested after being falsely accused of plotting an armed revolt. Those arrested were either shot without a trial or deported to prison camps in remote areas of Russia.

    • Back in the Ukraine, once-proud village farmers were by now reduced to the level of rural factory workers on large collective farms. Anyone refusing to participate in the compulsory collectivization system was simply denounced as a Kulak and deported.

    • A propaganda campaign was started utilizing eager young Communist activists who spread out among the country folk attempting to shore up the people’s support for the Soviet regime. However, their attempts failed. Despite the propaganda, ongoing coercion and threats, the people continued to resist through acts of rebellion and outright sabotage.

    • Soviet troops and secret police were rushed in to put down the rebellion. They confronted rowdy farmers by firing warning shots above their heads. In some cases, however, they fired directly at the people. Stalin’s secret police (GPU, predecessor of the KGB) also went to work waging a campaign of terror designed to break the people’s will. GPU squads systematically attacked and killed uncooperative farmers.

    • In Moscow, Stalin responded to their unyielding defiance by dictating a policy that would deliberately cause mass starvation and result in the deaths of millions.

    • Much of the hugely abundant wheat crop harvested by the Ukrainians that year was dumped on the foreign market to generate cash to aid Stalin’s Five Year Plan for the modernization of the Soviet Union and also to help finance his massive military buildup. If the wheat had remained in the Ukraine, it was estimated to have been enough to feed all of the people there for up to two years.

    • It was the official policy of the Soviet Union to deny the existence of a famine and thus to refuse any outside assistance. Anyone claiming that there was in fact a famine was accused of spreading anti-Soviet propaganda. Inside the Soviet Union, a person could be arrested for even using the word ‘famine’ or ‘hunger’ or ‘starvation’ in a sentence.

    • The Soviets bolstered their famine denial by duping members of the foreign press and international celebrities through carefully staged photo opportunities in the Soviet Union and the Ukraine. The writer George Bernard Shaw, along with a group of British socialites, visited the Soviet Union and came away with a favorable impression which he disseminated to the world. Former French Premier Edouard Herriot was given a five-day stage-managed tour of the Ukraine, viewing spruced-up streets in Kiev and inspecting a ‘model’ collective farm. He also came away with a favorable impression and even declared there was indeed no famine.

    • Back in Moscow, six British engineers working in the Soviet Union were arrested and charged with sabotage, espionage and bribery, and threatened with the death penalty. The sensational show trial that followed was actually a cynical ruse to deflect the attention of foreign journalists from the famine. Journalists were warned they would be shut out of the trial completely if they wrote news stories about the famine. Most of the foreign press corp yielded to the Soviet demand and either didn’t cover the famine or wrote stories sympathetic to the official Soviet propaganda line that it didn’t exist. Among those was Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Walter Duranty of the New York Times who sent one dispatch stating “…all talk of famine now is ridiculous.”

    • Outside the Soviet Union, governments of the West adopted a passive attitude toward the famine, although most of them had become aware of the true suffering in the Ukraine through confidential diplomatic channels. In November 1933, the United States, under its new president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, even chose to formally recognized Stalin’s Communist government and also negotiated a sweeping new trade agreement. The following year, the pattern of denial in the West culminated with the admission of the Soviet Union into the League of Nations.

    • Stalin’s Five Year Plan for the modernization of the Soviet Union depended largely on the purchase of massive amounts of manufactured goods and technology from Western nations. Those nations were unwilling to disrupt lucrative trade agreements with the Soviet Union in order to pursue the matter of the famine.

    • By the end of 1933, nearly 25 percent of the population of the Ukraine, including three million children, had perished. The Kulaks as a class were destroyed and an entire nation of village farmers had been laid low. With his immediate objectives now achieved, Stalin allowed food distribution to resume inside the Ukraine and the famine subsided. However, political persecutions and further round-ups of ‘enemies’ continued unchecked in the years following the famine…

    For anyone who has delved much into what happened in neoliberal Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Egypt, India and many others, the happenings in Stalinist Russia have a familiar ring to them.

    But I think there might be one key difference. One of the seminal tenets of modernism, derived by using statistical physics to model man’s economic and social life, is that collective utility should be maximized at any and all costs. And Stalin’s brand of “Modernization” evidently had some success in this regard. As the linked bullet list indicates, Stalin’s plans “did gain some positive industrial results.” But can the same be said for neoliberalism?

    But regardless of outcome, once one adopts collective utility, i.e. “The Wealth of Nations,” as one’s God, it opens up the door for all sorts of arbitrary judgments*. Robert H. Nelson, writing in Economics as Religion, explains it this way:

    Almost without thinking about it, virtually all economists automatically distinguish between what might be described as “valid” social costs and “invalid” costs. In making this distinction, economists automatically communicated a powerful set of social values, implicitly endorsing those values.

    For example, in considering the economic burdens of transition from one state of economic equilibrium to another, a valid cost of dynamic adjustment for a current economist would include such things as the expense of hiring moving vans for furniture and other household items. The process of economic transition means that some workers have to move their place of residence from once city to another to find a new job. These represent real commitments of social resources. An invalid coast—-or at least a cost that economists of Samuelson’s time, or of today, almost never incorporate into their economic thinking—-would be any “psychic pain” experienced by that same worker in the process of making the same move…

    Economists automatically exclude these and many other types of costs from their analyses. When several smaller farms are consolidated into one larger and more productive farm, thus helping in fact to improve the overall efficiency of U.S. agriculture, economists do not consider the bruised feelings of the smaller farmers themselves, or the possible distress at their plight that might be felt by neighbors when the smaller farmers are forced out of business..


    Consider free trade, something on which most economists today agree. The loss of American industry and jobs, as production of clothing items, televisions, computers, and many other goods and services shifts overseas, is disruptive and painful to many of the people who love their jobs or are otherwise adversely affected. Their personal feelings in this regard, however, are considered by economists to be outside the bounds of economic analysis for the purposes of assessing the real economic benefits of free trade. Economists ask only the narrower question: given that new foreign goods will come in as inexpensive imports, will American consumers benefit overall from the shifting patterns of economic production and consumption associated with foreign trade?


    In deciding to incorporate some costs into their thinking while excluding others, economists have quietly and with little explicit recognition introduced a powerful set of value distinctions… To give any weight to the psychic pain or other stresses of transition and dislocation, as the economy moves from lower to higher stages of productivity, is to stand in the way of economic progress.

    * In the moment of action, annoyingly enough, it turns out, first, that the “absolute,” that which is “above “ the senses—-the true, good, beautiful—-is not graspable, because no one knows concretely what it is. To be sure, everyone has a conception of it, but each concretely imagines it as something entirely different. Insofar as action is dependent on the plurality of men, the first catastrophe of Western philosophy, which in its last thinkers ultimately wants to take control of action, is the requirement of a unity that on principle proves impossible except under tyranny. Second, that to serve the ends of action anything will do as the absolute—-race, for instance, or a classless society, and so forth. All things are equally expedient, “anything goes.” [Including collective utility.] Reality appears to offer action as little resistance as it would the craziest theory that some charlatan might come up with. Everything is possible. Third, that by applying the absolute—-justice, for example, or the “ideal” in general (as in Nietzsche)—-to an end, one first makes unjust, bestial actions possible, because the “ideal,” justice itself, no longer exists as a yardstick, but has become an achievable, producible end within the world. In other words, the realization of philosophy abolishes philosophy, the realization of the “absolute” indeed abolishes the absolute from the world. And so finally the ostensible realization of man simply abolishes men.
    –Hannah Arendt, “from Denktagebuch,” September 1951

    1. Parvaneh Ferhadi

      Very good post!
      Let me just add a hypothesis here. I think – but am not sure – you touched on it but didn’t say so explicitly.

      Stalinism has nothing to do with Communism (or Socialism for that matter). It is much closer to (State) Capitalism. What Stalin applied was nothing else then the Shock Doctrine by artificially creating disasters that would allow him and his backers to push through his agenda.

      So, in fact what we had in the past was not two opposing systems (Capitalism/Communism) but in fact where two varieties of the same system (namely Capitalism), one which emphasised individual freedom and the other collectivism, who doled out which one of the two was more fit to survive.

      1. Perfect Stranger

        It’s certainly so; very well explained in Mark Mazower’s book “Dark Continent: Europe’s Twentieth Century”.

      2. DownSouth

        There were a litany of Western thinkers—-Hobbes, Weber, Locke, Burke, Napoleon, Lenin, Stalin, de Maistre, Hayek, Friedman, etc.—-who believed violence and coercion were justifiable in order to achieve higher political ends.

        Fitche’s particular contribution to this tradition was that violence and coercion could be used to “liberate” or “free” mankind. Furthermore, once mankind achieves universal freedom, “Freedom in fact can transform man and the world to make politics superfluous.” This is how Michael Allen Gillespie explains Fitche’s philosophy in Nihilism Before Nietzsche. During the transition, however, “The goal of universal human emancipation requires the comprehensive administration of things and total education of human beings. The latter is the key to overcoming the contradiction between absolute freedom and universal coercion.” “[T]he human will can change the world, and moral satisfaction thus comes only from the constant use of one’s freedom to effect such a transformation.” “[I]f nature and especially human nature should prove more resistant to change than Fitche believes, then greater coercion and tyranny may be necessary. Moreover, such tyranny can be morally justified, with torture interpreted as the means to emancipation.”

        I think everyone is familiar with how Fitche’s philosophy showed up in Bolshevik and Communist doctrine. However, they may not be so familiar with how it informed neoliberal doctrine. So to make my point, here’s a passage from Greg Grandin’s “The Road from Serfdom” that shows Fitche’s influence on Friedrich von Hayek’s thought:

        Like Friedman, Hayek glimpsed in Pinochet the avatar of true freedom, who would rule as a dictator only for a “transitional period,” only as long as needed to reverse decades of state regulation. “My personal preference,” he told a Chilean interviewer, “leans toward a liberal dictatorship rather than toward a democratic government devoid of liberalism.” In a letter to the London Times he defended the junta, reporting that he had “not been able to find a single person even in much maligned Chile who did not agree that personal freedom was much greater under Pinochet than it had been under Allende.” Of course, the thousands executed and tens of thousands tortured by Pinochet’s regime weren’t talking.

        Hayek’s University of Chicago colleague Milton Friedman got the grief, but it was Hayek who served as the true inspiration for Chile’s capitalist crusaders. It was Hayek who depicted Allende’s regime as a way station between Chile’s postwar welfare state and a hypothetical totalitarian future. Accordingly, the Junta justified its terror as needed not only to prevent Chile from turning into a Stalinist gulag but to sweep away fifty years of tariffs, subsidies, capital controls, labor legislation, and social welfare provisions — a “half century of errors,” according to finance minister Sergio De Castro, that was leading Chile down its own road to serfdom.

        So I suppose where I’m going with all this is that I believe the old right-left paradigm is breaking down. Humans evolve culturally, politically and socially. They learn from trial and error and imitation, and are perhaps even capable of creative thought. So the old definitions and theories that might have worked yesterday sometimes no longer work. In fact, I’d not only question the use of violence and coercion to achieve freedom, but the use of violence and coercion to achieve any political goal. Here’s Stephen Toulmin in Cosmopolis:

        At this point, the underlying confusion between power and force in Hobbes’ account of the modern state is crucial. In a moment of cynical joviality Josef Stalin once asked, “How many divisions has the Pope?” The fact is that, in the eyes of decent human opinion, moral challenges are never answered by displays of force. The day that Amnesty International takes possession of a machine gun, let alone an atom bomb, its ability to gain a hearing and influence events will be at an end. Institutions with bigger and bigger guns have, in practice, less and less claim to speak on moral issues with the small voice that carries conviction. Here lies the effectiveness of Jonathan Swift’s image of Lilliput. Stalin failed to see that the military triviality of the Pope’s Swiss Guard increases his claim to a hearing, rather than undermining it; while Amnesty International’s moral authority is that much greater, just because it is a Lilliputian institution.
        To this day, the patterns of our lives are shaped politically by the actions of State authority; yet, morally, rulers of contemporary states are open to outside moral criticism of kinds that have not been widely available since before 1650. Even the most forceful superpowers can no longer ignore the fact… Lilliputian organizations cannot compel immoral rulers to apologize on their knees, as Henry II had to do; but they do subject rulers who refuse to mend their ways to damaging embarrassment in the eyes of the world. If the political image of Modernity was Leviathan, the moral standing of “national” powers and superpowers will, for the [post-Modern] future, be captured in the picture of Lemuel Gulliver, waking from an unthinking sleep, to find himself tethered by innumerable tiny bonds.

  6. Jack Rip

    This post introduces a new historical method no one has ever used before. Uprising were quite common under dictatorships. We had the Iran unsuccessful uprising, bread riots in several other places including Egypt, the Polish uprising that eventually brought down the Soviet Union and the Czech uprising in 1968. The typical explanation was oppression and shortage of food. The Egyptian uprising doesn’t seem any different.

    Well, we were all wrong. Bob Rubin, the devil incarnate, caused all these uprisings. For my two cents, putting Wall Street into Egypt is outrageously wrong; it is downright rediculous. Gamal Mubarak is reviled because he stole billions, because he was arrogant and because sons of dictators are typically even sleazier than their dads.

    There is no Wall Street in Egypt, there is no deregulation because they never had regulations and there is no globalization because Egypt has nothing to sell to the world. Because of these reason there was an uprising; there was no there there and that with oppression was too much.

    1. Siggy

      Was a time when Egypt sold very good long fiber cotton to the world and especially the US. Then came the army and Nasser. This is a country of some 80 million people whose arable land is less that 3% of the country’s land area. This is a country that is essentially a desert save for the Nile valley and its delta. This is a country that cannot support a population of 80 million, even 40 million would be a strain. This is a country that has lived in despair since before Nasser and given its excess labor supply will continue to remain in despair.

      This is a country whose youth are semi literate and who are as intelligent as youth anywhere else. They are different because they live in a circumstance of poverty and oppression because they are too numerous relative to the land area they occupy. As they have nothing, they have nothing to lose and in that they are extremely dangerous to to their neighbors and the world.

      If you are an Egyptian youth, where lies a best path to security and a tolerable living standard? For most it lies with the military. And so it is that from the ranks of the military will come this country’s next leader. And now dear heart, where shall this next paragon, oracle, lead his fellow arabs? What miracle of science will correct the circumstance of less than 3% arable land, or dwindling oil production or arable land lost to commercial and residential development.

      Will this next leader find a way to employ the unemployed? Will it be possible to create industries that pay wages that will support a decent standard of living? Or will this next leader have an epiphany and determine that it is in the best interests of the country to evaporate 40 or 50 millions souls and which souls shall be sacrificed?

      A question we should all be considering is just who is it that has orchestrated this relatively bloodless coup. Who decided that at 82, good old Hosni should fade away and oh yes, give him a few billion for his stewardship?

      So now the military is in power. Since Nasser was it ever not in power?

      1. KFritz

        Evidently 80 million people are surviving for the moment! But I think similar thoughts about Egypt. Readers are invited to look @ the Google satellite map of Misr. Imagine 80 million crowded into that green strip! And the Ethiopians and Sudanese are discussing limiting Egypt’s access to Nile water.

      2. lambert strether

        Re: “Orchestrated”

        I think there’s a corrosive cynicism on the left (granted, for some definition of left) that views outcomes as always dictated by ruling class machinations. Of course, it’s helpful to try to decode what the shadow government (a nice talking point) is doing; no strategy otherwise. However, that worldview denies the people (granted, for some definition of “the people”). It is important to ask what the powers that be are doing. It is even more important to ask what WE are doing.

        1. Maju

          Some “conspiracist left”, not “the left”. Of course we are all tired of inside jobs like 9-11 and other less impressive ones but one thing is obvious: the CIA/Mossad does not get the masses to the streets and does not operate in order to remove their most pampered dictator in the area.

          This is a revolution, full stop and, as Piotr Kropotkin acknowledged for Russia in 1917, it’s like a tsunami and nobody can control it – at best hope to ride the wave and arrive in good shape to the aftermath.

    2. DownSouth

      I often wonder what it’s like to inhabit a mental world where one lacks the cognitive abilities to locate events within a larger philosophical, intellectual and historical framework.

      Sometimes, though, I have to envy people like you. Paul Wood, in his essay for the Guggenheim Museum’s catalog on its exhibition The Great Utopia: The Russian and Soviet Avant-Garde recounts the story of the Russian poet and playwright Vladimir Maiakovskii. Maiakovskii, when he realized the great Soviet utopia was an unachievable dream, could not deal with this reality and so committed suicide. However, less perceptive artusts, or perhaps more mercenary ones, like Rodchenko, Lissitzky and Klutis, fell under the spell of the “colossal ideological power of the dictatorship” and continued to work for Stalin in the 1930s. As Wood explains:

      [T]he Five-Year Plans were, seemingly, successful: the Soviet Union built while the capitalist world largely stagnated. Designers had an important place, and were presumably gratified to serve what Lissitzky in 1930 still saw as the development of “a Socialistic society.”

      So while the more astute artists with a more highly developed morality like Maiakovskii became despondent and refused to cooperate with the dictatorship, committed suicide or were murdered by the regime, less perceptive artists like Lissitzky flourished.

      The new wave of revolutions are uprisings against Stalinism and its identical twin, neoliberalism, the only distinguishing characteristic between these two being that they are wearing different hats. Therefore the new revolutions are not like the Russian Revolution of 1917. And the “typical explanation” for this new wave of revolutions is not “oppression and shortage of food,” as you claim. As Jonathan Schell explains:

      Most were aimed at establishing conditions of freedom rather than solving social questions. (In consequence, these social questions were unfortunately left on the table in the new world of market globalization, which, having proved unable or unwilling to deal with them, now faces a powerful backlash, in South America and elsewhere.) Most tended to look no longer at the French, Russian, or Chinese models of revolution but rather at one another or the American Revolution, which suddenly recovered international attention and respectability. All were largely nonviolent, deliberately foregoing revolutionary violence, not to speak of terror.

      1. leroguetradeur

        “I often wonder what it’s like to inhabit a mental world where one lacks the cognitive abilities to locate events within a larger philosophical, intellectual and historical framework.”

        This is what it is like. One fails to understand that history and economics are specific. One fails to grasp that what really counts are not broad movements and trends which only exist in one’s own mind and at the level of the names given to them.

        One thinks that the whole Hegelian – Marxist claptrap and its modern descendants are writing stuff that makes sense and has some application to the real world or the real history of real societies.

        An extreme form of this would be to think one can look up Stalinism on the web, and reach the conclusion from the generalizations one reads there that it was a form of neo-liberalism.

        Its a very dangerous state of mind.

        1. DownSouth

          Red-baiting is certainly on the upswing, and we’ve seen a flurry of it in the comments section here on NC. Your comment is a perfect example, as is Peripheral Visionary’s below. But these certainly are not unique, as we’ve seen numerous other instances recently, such as the comments by dave and econimus on <a href="this thread. What do we have here? A new McCarthyism?

          When backed into a corner, the defender of the status quo always trundles out that trusty old piece of artillery that forms his last line of defense: accuse, denounce, attack or persecute an individual or group as communist, socialist, Marxist or anarchist, or sympathetic toward communism, socialism, Marxism or anarchism. Having so painted his enemy with the face of evil, the right-winger can thus disarm his opponent and never have to counter the actual arguments of his opponent.

          As to the vision thing, there a number of things that can inspire and motivate people besides, as you put it, the “Hegelian-Marxist claptrap.”

          Take labor unions for instance. As Reinhold Niebuhr observed in The Irony of American History:

          The American labor movement was almost completely bereft of the ideological weapons, which the rebellious industrial masses of Europe carried. In its inception it disavowed not only Marxist revolutionary formulas but every kind of political program. It was a pragmatic movement, born of the necessity of setting organized power against organized power in a technical society. Gradually it became conscious of the fact that economic power does try to bend government it its own ends. It has, therefore, decided to challenge a combination of political and economic power with a like combination of its own.

          But alas, as Niebuhr goes on to point out, “The absence of collectivist or revolutionary ideology among the workers does not save them from charges of being revolutionaries.”

          And what about the stuff of revolutions? Other things besides “Hegelian-Marxist claptrap” have inspired revolutions.

          Take the racial revolution in the United States, for instance. The vision and inspiration for it was religious, as articulated by Martin Luther King, Jr. in his essay “Nonviolence and Racial Justice”:

          The determination of Negro Americans to win freedom from every form of oppression springs from the same profound longing for freedom that motivates oppressed peoples all over the world.


          [T]he method of nonviolence is based on the conviction that the universe is on the side of justice. It is this deep faith in the future that causes the nonviolent resister to accept suffering without retaliation. He knows that in his struggle for justice he has cosmic companionship. This belief that God is on the side of truth and justice comes down to us from the long tradition of our Christian faith.

          And whereas MLK and Gandhi received inspiration from their profound religious faith, what we saw in the later revolutionaries of Russia and Eastern Europe was a secular variant of what Gandhi had called “truth force.” Vaclav Havel rejected the labels “opposition” and “dissident” for himself and his fellow activists. Of those labels he writes:

          People who so define themselves do so in relation to a prior “position.” In other words, they relate themselves specifically to the power that rules society and through it, define themselves, deriving their own “position” from the position of the regime. For people who have simply decided to live within the truth, to say aloud what they think, to express their solidarity with their fellow citizens, to create as they want and simply to live in harmony with their better “self,” it is naturally disagreeable to feel required to define their own, original and positive “position” negatively, in terms of something else, and to think of themselves primarily as people who are against something, not simply as people who are what they are.

          Under the orderly surface of the life of lies, therefore, there slumbers the hidden sphere of life in its real aims, of its hidden openness to truth. The singular, explosive, incalculable political power of living within the truth resides in the fact that living openly within the truth has an ally, invisible to be sure, but omnipresent: this hidden sphere.

          More recently scientists have begun to jump on the bandwagon, envisioning how a more just and equal society might evolve, such as this from the biologist and anthropologist David Sloan Wilson in Darwin’s Cathedral:

          The social sciences are full of scenarios about the lives and minds of our ancestors prior to the advent of civilization. Rousseau imagined a noble savage corrupted by society. Hobbes imagined a brutish savage that must be tame by society. Freud imagined a guilty savage whose patricidal act somehow became embedded in racial memory. Economists imagine a selfish savage, sometimes even referred to as Homo economicus, who becomes civilized only by appealing to self-interest. It is worth asking why these origin myths are necessary when they have no more basis in fact than the garden of Eden. My guess is that they play a practical role in the belief systems that create and sustain them, much as the distorted versions of history in the Four Gospels. In any case, we are on the verge of being able to replace them with a more authentic picture of the lives and minds of our ancestors. More work is required to refine the concept of guarded egalitarianism and the innate psychology that supports it, but its rough outline provides a starting point for the study of all modern social institutions, religious and otherwise.

          Why is the vision thing so important? It’s important because if we cannot imagine change, or if we believe change is not possible, then we become resigned to the status quo. That’s why defenders of the status quo always strive to demonstrate that “the way things are” is “natural,” thus sowing the seeds of inevitability and defeatism. As Hannah Arendt wrote in Crises of the Republic:

          Rage is by no means an automatic reaction to misery and suffering as such; no one reacts with rage to an incurable disease or to an earthquake or, for that matter, to social conditions that seem to be unchangeable. Only where there is reason to suspect that conditions could be changed and are not does rage arise. Only when our sense of justice is offended do we react with rage, and this reaction by no means necessarily reflects personal injury, as it demonstrated by the whole history of revolution, where invariable members of the upper classes touched off and then led the rebellions of the oppressed and downtrodden.

    3. Karen Bernier

      Jack Rip: “Bob Rubin, the devil incarnate, caused all these uprisings. For my two cents, putting Wall Street into Egypt is outrageously wrong; it is downright rediculous.”

      Why are you going out of your way to defend the multi-billionaire Robert “bobtail” Rubin, one of the most powerful men in the United States? He already has all of Wall Street, Washington and the MSM on his side, what more does he need? Not like he needs you to defend him as well. What do you expect? For everyone in the country to bow down and worship him? Would that make you happy?

      The bastard already got his way in literally everything for eight years when he singlehandedly ran Clinton’s budget policy. According to Robert Kuttner: “A mark of Wall Street’s ubiquitous power in defining the limits of the politically thinkable is that its power is hardly noticed. The personification of this power is Robert Rubin.”

      And so, “Jack the Rip”, as far as I’m concerned, for all the damage he’s caused to this country, Robert Rubin should be tried, and found guilty. Then hanged. By the neck. Until pronounced dead.

      And he should have to hang there for a very long time, swinging in the wind, before that happens.

  7. Peripheral Visionary

    “Seen in this context, Egypt is part of a global conflict of financial oligarchs fighting with leftist human rights activists, unions, and domestic industries.”

    I rather suspect he is completely unaware of the simple fact that the Egyptian government employs 70% of the workforce. How does that fit into the neo-Marxist “financial oligarchs versus activists and unionists” framework? It doesn’t, that’s how.

    The unfortunate fact is that Egypt, like much of the rest of the Middle East, is already an extremely heavily socialized state, effectively a vast welfare state, where profits from the few productive industries (and rents from the Suez Canal, and of course foreign aid) come exclusively through the government and are then distributed to the rest of the population. Egypt does not resemble 19th Century Europe nearly so much as it resembles 21st Century China, with an insider network of government officials and their allies in business owning nearly all of the means of production; the primary difference is the proportion of the population that is employed directly by the government vs the proportion of the population that is employed indirectly by the government through government-controlled industries.

    I fully support the Egyptian democratic movement, but I fear that its people are in a rude shock when they discover what a state their economy is in. For anyone who has been paying attention, that should not be a surprise; the revolution was driven, not by conditions for the working class (as per standard neo-Marxist dogma), but rather by a lack of employment for the poverty class. Shortage of employment is not a problem not easily fixed when a solid majority of the population already have jobs given to them by the government, but running around shouting that it is all the fault of a global cartel of “financial oligarchs” certainly is not going to make it better.

    1. DownSouth

      The quote you cite certainly raised an eyebrow on my part too. I think it would have been much more accurate to eliminate the word “left” altogether and simply say: “Egypt is part of a global conflict of financial oligarchs fighting with human rights activists, unions, and domestic industries.”

      In using the word “left” Stoller opened up the barn door to neoliberal true believers like you to posit your counter-myth, which you immediately drove an 18-wheeler through. So we have error vs. error, wrong vs. wrong.

      But just to lay the counter-myth to rest, and hopefully move us beyond the realm of modernist thinking, there’s this from Jack Shenker:

      And yet a newly-published report from the Egyptian government’s investment authority, GAFI, is one of the most significant and explosive pieces of writing to appear anywhere in the Middle East in recent years.

      It doesn’t mention the Muslim Brotherhood, or antisemitism, or artificial hymens, and so far it has garnered precisely zero coverage in the international press. What it does do is address an issue which day in, day out, shapes the lives of the vast majority of Egypt’s population and hundreds of millions of others beyond its borders.

      The report systematically destroys the myths and distortions that have driven the country’s economic policy for the last two decades – the same myths and distortions which have set the development path for numerous other countries in the Global South – and shatters the illusion that soaring economic growth rates have anything to do with widespread, sustainable social prosperity.

      Since 1991, the year Egypt yoked itself to an IMF structural adjustment programme and embarked on a series of wide-ranging economic reforms, the country has been something of a poster child for neoliberal economists who point to its remarkable levels of annual GDP growth as proof that “Washington consensus” blueprints for the developing world can work.


      So Egypt is now a glitzier, more prosperous land with pharaonic-style riches to match its pharaonic-style leader (now entering his 29th year in power). Except, as the GAFI report inconveniently points out, 90% of the country has yet to see any of the bounty. Foreign investment has been largely channelled into sectors like finance and gas which create few new jobs. While national resources like natural gas have been sold at subsidised rates to the tycoon owners of iron and fertiliser factories, the cost of ordinary commodities like bread and cooking oil has spiralled. In fact since the IMF began hauling Egypt’s economy into modernity, Egyptians have got steadily and dramatically poorer: when structural adjustment began 20% of the population were living on less than (inflation-adjusted) $2 a day; today, that figure stands at 44%. In the past decade, when GDP growth was at its strongest, absolute poverty has climbed from 16.7% to almost 20%. Chomsky called neoliberalism “capitalism with the gloves off”; it’s hard, looking at this jumble of statistics, to discern anything but a shameless hit-and-run job perpetrated by a tiny band of Egypt’s business elite.
      Of course this isn’t the first time that conservative economic theory has proved to have a catastrophic effect on the lives of ordinary people, especially in poorer countries, but this report – sponsored by the very government it criticises – is a particularly powerful example of just how dangerously flawed the idea is that making the rich richer can be a engine of society-wide economic progress.

      1. Matt Stoller

        I used “left” because that’s what Jadaliyya used. Their argument is that this revolt is the flowering of relationships cultivated in the 1990s between religious groups and secular leftists.

        I never really understood the ‘government is Socialism and therefore left’ model of argument. That’s a theoretical model that has never made sense in practice. Lawrence Goodwyn didn’t hesitate to call the populist movement in the 1880s and 1890s leftist, but he scoffed at the idea that they sought any sort of Marxist undertaking of broad socialization of the economy. That’s just not how social movements work, it’s never been how they worked.

        The rhetorical problem we’re dealing with is that there’s a shadow governance model of collusive elite networks that set the norms and rules for social order. Some of them are in government, some of them are not, but the formal institutional relationships and the formal legal frameworks are basically not important. What is important is power and access to resources. The organizers in these fights, on both sides, know that the academic jargon is a smokescreen. That Egyptians work “for the government” just isn’t a meaningful concept.

        Perhaps populist is a better term. I use that word. Certainly social networks are a populist form of media.

    2. Jeffrey Feldman

      There’s nothing “neo-Marxist” in this post–the word “oligarch” certainly doesn’t make it neo-Marxist, nor is “labor,” de facto, a hallmark of Socialism (Adam Smith uses it). If you look again, you’ll see there is no foundational critique of capitalism system in this piece. In fact, there is no foundational critique of capitalism anywhere in the American left right now. What we get instead are correctives–urgent correctives. The goal is better capitalism, healthy capitalism, regulated capitalism, balance capitalism, etc. Call it what you will, but it’s capitalism.

      But there’s another level in this piece which has less to do with political economy and more to do with the public sphere.

      Whether or not you believe the decisions made at Davos are translated into the life of Egyptians is a question about how economic policy decisions are ultimately enforced and maintained. A room full of people who represent 99.9% of the world’s wealth Are influential in the lives of everybody on this planet when they come together to act in ways that have consequences specifically in economies and government. That’s a given. But how? How do those acts of power become powerful in the lives of individuals in Egypt? Beirut? Topeka?

      So, the larger question here is when–if ever–will we be able to hear/know the real terms and arguments that drove the protests in Egypt, and not just the “just-so” vague notions of freedom and yearning? When–if ever–will we be able to distinguish, on the basis of what the protesters where actually saying, between what people were thinking in Egypt, Yemen, Lebanon, etc. And–most importantly–if we never learn what actually drove the protests in Egypt, will they become the exact opposite of what they seem: not an inspiration for liberty, not an improving of the world, but a stifling force that keeps a certain economic ideology in place even here at home. Answer: When a functioning public sphere does its job and reasserts the critical balance of information and positions against government and private industry.

      It’s call for a series of very large investigative projects that will result in a much broader push back against what has become government monopoly (aided by private wealth) on the information that drives both state policy and the public’s acceptance of those policies under the guise of common sense.

  8. Matt

    >>Our purpose is to improve Egyptians’ living standards. We have a three-pronged plan to achieve this: favoring Egypt’s insertion into the global economy, reducing the state’s role in the economy, and giving the private sector greater freedom.

    Deregulation, globalization, and privatization.<<

    I thought conservatives and Republicans like these things? I mean, you guys invented deregulation and privatization. Why are you now complaining about them and calling them leftist? Republican politics has gotten very confusing.

  9. Matt

    Also, its humorous to see conservative/Republicans outraged that bankers and financiers have clout. Do I understand correctly that Stoller is now in favor of strong labor unions as a counter balance to authoritarianism? When did that ideological shift happen on the right?

    It seems like the right is making up its ideology on the fly, with no memory of its history.

  10. Maju

    “Seen in this context, Egypt is part of a global conflict of financial oligarchs fighting with leftist human rights activists, unions, and domestic industries”.

    Yup. I have been tagging all my entries on the Arab Revolutions as “class war” for a reason.

    There are a lot of differences between the southern and the northern coast of the Mediterranean in cultural traditions, political detail and living standards but it is clear that the essence of the popular uprisings in Greece and Tunisia, in France and in Egypt are exactly the same: the elite is not delivering to the People, so the People tries to remove the elite and get better managers and decision-making system that can deliver in terms of a fair distribution of the available wealth.

    Sadly, the Peoples in Europe or North Africa, or almost anywhere else for that matter (except possibly some parts of Latin America and India) lack a clear political and organizational leadership or even good ideas on how to get that fair distribution of the available wealth. The dominant ideology is still Capitalism but this one cannot deliver (not at all, not anymore).

  11. Sufferin' Succotash

    The Right lost its one semblance of an ideology when the Soviet Union fell apart 20 years ago, namely anticommunism.
    Since then there have been only election strategies and Chamber of Commerce handouts.

  12. /L

    About Muslim Brotherhoods influence from inside neo-liberal Egypt revolutionary:

    “Ok, first of all, the Muslim Brotherhood has maybe 4 million people including supporters, families & sympathizers. Not a threat.
    about 5 hours ago via web Retweeted by 40 people “

    “Secondly, The MB were already burned in the last election. Had Mubarak not fixed it, they would’ve lost many seats anyway
    about 5 hours ago via web Retweeted by 18 people “
    Mahmoud Salem

    Great work happening on the google spreadsheet documenting Mubarak’s wealth. The wiki-page will be up tonite!

    Here is the link to the spreadsheets again:

    The Army is taking pictures and recording videos of the protesters in Tahrir. Should we be worried? #jan25
    12:24 PM Feb 13th via web

    3awadalla @Sandmonkey This happened to us while were in Korba on Friday night celebrating. We were astonished too. They has SLR cameras!
    12:26 PM Feb 13th via web in reply to Sandmonkey Retweeted by Sandmonkey and 22 others

    If u r in heliopolis come and join us in korba. At starbucks. Alcohol for everyone. #jan25 7:10 PM Feb 11th via Twitter for BlackBerry®

    @WilYaWil join us at starbucks elkorba. Drinks all around

    We just handed out beer to everyone in the street. Revolution korba is toasting mubarak’s departure :) #jan25

    @LaraHuneidi come jiin us at starbucks korba. We are getting drunk #jan25

    Islamists revolution?

    1. Cedric Regula

      I don’t know if Steve Forbes drinks or not, but I think the spreadsheet has a ways to go yet.

      But I still think Mub is headed for Beverly Hills if he isn’t there already (ya, there is Monte Carlo, Dubai, etc…so I can’t say for sure anymore).

      I’m reasonably sure Forbes is going ahead and updating his flat tax idea to show how it will fit on a post card and also a small stone tablet even if chiseled in hieroglyphics. Meanwhile, we have put Egyptian foreign aid on our list of tax cuts this year.

      Don’t despair. If Islam takes up drinking and gains a sense of humor, maybe things won’t turn out so bad afterall.

  13. lambert strether

    Good to see Paul Amar going more mainstream (2010-02-04). Of course, Egypt isn’t really like America at all (Oh, wait…)

    I think it’s also important to remember (and Amar makes this clear) that the Egyptian revolution was some years in the making, and that labor struggles were key to forging the real-world social networks that made Tahrir Square possible. (In other words, I’m guessing there was so much self-organizing going on in the square not because there was “the leading role of the party,” but because so many of them had organized together before.)

    Finally, it’s important to contrast the reality of a slow-building and highly “real life”-networked revolution with a strong labor component with two mainstream media memes: 1) “The Facebook [or Twitter] Revolution,” and 2) “It’s just a military coup.” Both these deny the Egyptian people their agency, though in different ways, and completely erase the role of unions. (The case could be made that if Twitter and Facebook had been “have-to-haves” instead of “nice-to-haves,” shutting down the Internet would have shut down the revolution. In fact, that did not happen, as the revolutionaries shifted to other time-tested technologies, in particular SMS text messaging (ultimately shut down too), and print, and word of mouth.)

  14. Orley Allen

    Dear Matt,
    Thanks for this brilliant and incisive piece. To judge from Comments, its really amazing how nobody gets this. Encore! Let’s all “Walk Like An Egyptian”!

  15. Jim

    Reading the Stoller analysis and the responses to it was fascinating.

    Stoller and some commentators are trying to identify and define the key players and competing interests which compose the largely bureaucratic authoritarian structure of power that presently runs Egypt.

    Other commentators (Jeffrey Feldman) seem to be trying to get a handle on the internal social relations and motivations of individual protesters and their respective protest groups.

    Still others (i.e Down South) seem to be struggling with supposed linkages between neoliberalism and Stalinism as well as the even deeper issue of the challenges of philosophical skepticism and post-modernism to modernity.

    In my opinion these deeper philosophical issues are of crucial importance since they influence how we theorize politically and consequently how we view what is happening in Egypt.

    In a comment by Down South (9:07A.M.) he quotes Hannah Arendt: “Insofar as action is dependent on the pluality of men, the first catastrophe of Western philosophy, which in its last thinkers, ultimately wants to take control of action, is the requirement of a unity that on principle proves impossible except under tyranny.”

    Or put another way–both the certainty of the State (taking control of action) under Stalinism and the certainty of the Market(taking control of action) under neoliberalism lead, respectively, towards tyranny.

    And if neither the market or the state is seen as foundational can democracy best be theorized as being antifoundational?

    In this antifoundational perspective democracy is seen as both presupposing and institutionalizing the indefinite postponement of a final point of equilibrium between competing visions of truth and competing structures of power.

    Thus doing precedes knowing or put another way

    Authority is grounded in consent and consent is the assertion of will.

    Will forced out Mubarak but it still is an open question as to whether that will can lead to democracy.

    The movement is all.

    My comment will be focused on the issue of philosophical skepticism

    1. DownSouth

      • Jim said: “Thus doing precedes knowing…”

      Wasn’t that one of Goodwyn’s main conclusions from The Populist Moment, and one of the reasons we should always give doers like Stoller a full hearing?

      • Jim said: “equilibrium between competing visions of truth and competing structures of power.”

      Isn’t that a throwback to Renaissance humanism, or to the American Revolution and thinkers like Madison and Jefferson (see Lance Banning’s essay “James Madison, the Statute for Religious Freedom, and the Crisis of Republican Convictions” and David Little’s “Religion and Civil Virtue in America: Jefferson’s Statute Reconsidered” for wonderful discussions of this), when greater doubt and diversity of opinion were allowed? As Toulmin observes in Cosmopolis, “After 1600, the focus of intellectual attention turned away from the human preoccupations of the late 16th century, and moved in directions more rigorous, or even dogmatic, than those the Renaissance writers [Erasmus, Rabelais, Montaigne, Shakespeare] pursued.”

      So beginning in the 17th century and with the advent of Modernism you had philosophers looking for “the truth,” as Gillespie explains here:

      The connection to Montaigne is illuminating: it is an almost universal characteristic of human nature that human beings think they know when in fact their thinking is mostly muddled and misguided. Their presumption leaves them prey to rhetoric (including poetry) and enthusiasm that in turn produce misery and destruction. What is necessary, according to Descartes [the father of Modernism], is not more intelligence and learning, as humanism suggested, but a method to conduct intelligence to the truth. It is exactly such a method he believes he can supply.

      As Gillespie goes on to explain, both Montaigne and Descartes expected others “to undertake a thorough self-examination.” The crucial question, of course, is what they imagined the consequence of such self-examination would be. Gillespie continues:

      Montaigne…seems to have believed that the result would be a flowering of human multiplicity, because he did not believe that any two humans would ever reason alike. This was the inevitable conclusion of a humanism that began with a notion of human individuality in Petrarch and developed this notion to its conclusion in the Promethean individualism of Pico and others. Descartes, by contrast, was convinced that anyone who is freed from the prejudices of the world and uses his good sense will arrive at exactly the same conclusions he did.

      The Cartesian [Modernistic] quest for certainty and eternal truth has led to partial truths, gross simplifications and absolutism, which in turn has resulted in “misery and destruction,” just like Montaigne predicted.

      One thing Robert Hughes picked up on in Culture of Complaint is that the only thing true believers on either side of the cultural or political divide “dislikes more than the other is the one who tells both to lighten up.” This is perhaps the motivation behind such vicious attacks as this one against Reinhold Niebuhr that appeared here on NC or this one that appeared on Corrente. Chomsky demonstrates that he is completely ignorant of the history of Jewish, Christian and Western theology and philosophy, but this puts no damper on his rhetoric and enthusiasm.

      Without delving into the five different competing positions on the topic of sin and grace—-Pelagian, Scotist, Augustinian, Karlstadtian and Lutheran—–let me just say that Niebuhr’s position was closest to that of Augustine (and Erasmus). And, as Arthur Schlesinger Jr. goes on to explain of Niebuhr’s beliefs regarding original sin and grace here, they result in doubt and uncertainty. This doubt and uncertainty is unaceptable to Modernists like Chomksy in search of uncertainty and universal, eternal truths. Here’s Schlesinger:

      Original sin, by tainting all human perceptions, is the enemy of absolutes. Mortal man’s apprehension of truth is fitful, shadowy and imperfect; he sees through the glass darkly. Against absolutism Niebuhr insisted on the “relativity of all human perspectives,” as well as on the sinfulness of those who claimed divine sanction for their opinions. He declared himself “in broad agreement with the relativist position in the matter of freedom, as upon every other social and political right or principle.” In pointing to the dangers of what Justice Robert H. Jackson called “compulsory godliness,” Niebuhr argued that “religion is so frequently a source of confusion in political life, and so frequently dangerous to democracy, precisely because it introduces absolutes into the realm of relative values.” Religion, he warned, could be a source of error as well as wisdom and light. Its role should be to inculcate, not a sense of infallibility, but a sense of humility. Indeed, “the worst corruption is a corrupt religion.”

  16. john bougearel


    Once again you have put out another great analytical summary. Thank you for that.

    Unfortunately we won’t have to wait to judge what the end results for Egyptian citizens will be. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. See the link you pointed to:

    “CAIRO Feb 13 (Reuters) – Egypt’s new military rulers will issue a warning on Sunday against anyone who creates “chaos and disorder”, an army source said.

    The Higher Military Council will also ban meetings by labour unions or professional syndicates, effectively forbidding strikes, and tell all Egyptians to get back to work after the unrest that toppled Hosni Mubarak.”

    This makes it clear the dictatorial rule remains in place and nothing is going to change for Egyptian citizens.

    What has changed is the mobilization of Egyptian citizens virtually creating overnight political coalitions that strike against the Washington Consensus through social media.

    Similar overnight political coalitions have recently popped up in Britain with the decentralized UK Uncut movement.

    Social media is playing an important role of citizens ability to push back on the Washington Consensus and the Shock Doctrines, but they are still impotent at toppling this world order for the time being.

    Encouraging though

    1. Doug Terpstra

      “This makes it clear the dictatorial rule remains in place and nothing is going to change for Egyptian citizens.”

      You are describing the up-and-down fits and starts of history as it relentlessly arcs toward justice. There are undoubtedly desperate machinations underway now within the Egyptian military, the Neoliberal elites’ last great hope to impose its unsustainble power imabalance.

      But this will ultimately fail. To the horror of Leiberman, Israel, and elites everywhere, the internet has empowered cyber-community on its implacable path toward real democracy, the kind attempter champions here frequently. We in the US may learn to walk like Egyptians in 2012.

      From Alan Maki, a labor activist in Minnesota:

      “We know the Egyptian people through their militant non-violent struggle have won an important victory in forcing Mubarak from power.”

      “But, what we don’t know is what this creep Barack Obama has been doing behind the scenes with the CIA and Israel to control the situation and undermine the struggles of the Egyptian people.”

      “Nor do we know how many political assassinations have been carried out over the last three weeks but we know the number is in the hundreds and we know the ‘hit list’ was compiled under the direction of the CIA.”

      “In spite of all of the admonishments from Barack Obama that the Egyptian people must remain ‘non-violent’ and ‘peaceful,’ Mubarak leaves office one of the wealthiest men in the world with over 70 billion dollars stolen from the Egyptian people and most of it courtesy of U.S. tax-payers as he maintained himself in power for thirty years using the most brutal and murderous means; apparently not having been lectured about being ‘non-violent’ and ‘peaceful’ by his American and Israeli manipulators pulling his rotting strings.”

      “I also note there is a completely different standard being applied to Mubarak than what Saddam Hussein received—Hussein got the hangman’s noose; Mubarak leaves office with a fortune… just like every member of the U.S. Congress and presidents.”

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  17. Paul Tioxon

    I guess not too many people saw the movie “Syriana”, it bears looking at closely, and checking out the fictionalized Clooney character who is base on the real life Robert Baer. Baer shows up quite frequently, relative to say, Noam chomsky, in the media. The plot of the movie is a template for the entire US policy towards the Arab middle east.

    The Rubinite analysis touches on world system analysis. During an MSNBC interview in the street, workers, more middle aged guys from factories were complaining that they were owed pay by new factory owners, foreign capital that scooped up their place of work. The take over artists out the Oiver Stone first Wall St movie are global, since the Berlin Wall fell. Egypt has a global asset that you can’t beat in the canal. It also has a lot of people, approaching that critical mass of hundred million, giving it a real opportunity for internal market demand and maybe some other goodies in the wto. But, yea, internal politics pressured by global capitalism, such as it is, makes for a perfect storm. This whole area is frozen in time, back forty years at least, and even the dinosaurs on the McLaughlin Group can ask the insightful question, “If the CHinese under the CCP can have better lives and even better futures to look forward to, why can’t we” when they see an overwhelmingly young revolution in the streets of Cairo. As the American press never wants to mention, there is a third choice other than conservative no change, liberal some change, and that is that the people get sick and tired and revolt, and get a whole lotta change. Well, that ship has sailed, around the world it seems, like the wave in a baseball stadium, it is making its way back to where it started. ETA Norte America, sooner than you think.

  18. Pat

    Everything about the Constitution seems to be reinterpreted by a lobbyist driven Congress and Supreme Court except the standard of Congressional immunity…..and it’s overdue for that standard to be flipped so that no one is really above the law.

  19. Antje Hass

    this article is a must read and I wished everybody would know about this , in order for us to make right decisions in the coming elections . A lot is at stake not only for the Egyptians but also for for all of us !!

    A n t j e

  20. deeringothamnus

    A couple of people brought up the issue of overpopulation. That is a core cause of environmental and social problems, including global warming. Why has this all important issue dropped off the map of public discourse? Eventually, this problem will take care of itself in a very ugly way, possibly including extinction.

  21. indio007

    In case no one noticed the fresh paint on Egyptian tanks .They got rebranded for CNN. They weren’t driving Egyptian owned tanks, they where driving The US’s . The US keeps a depot in Egypt among other places. I don’t think the Army stole the keys either.

    The Suez is one of the top ten most strategic locations on Earth. You think the US will leave that to chance. I can guarantee we had soldiers on the ground. Advising of course.

  22. 60sradical

    The global disaster that neo-liberalism has wraught cannot be fathommed by us fat Americans. How many of the Rubin-like beasts should face Intenational Tribunals? How can we, so-called intellectuals, stop ourselves from screaming at an unaswering universe every single day for the rest of our lives? The sheer barbarity of friggin neoliberalism!
    But wait! There is more! Lying in the bowels of Washington and surrounding areas exist the most perfidious, noxious creatures. They are insecure of their manhood(most of these creatures are male),therefore, they virtually worship the masculine! They are soft, white creatures with soft hands who are terrified by physical harm to their unmuscled bodies. They beam with pride at their juvenile sophistry and specious arguements. They relish in arguement, yet are terrified by physical battle of any type. They are raconteurs, epicurians, and most of all, worshipers of the Likud in Israel- going all the way back to Vladimir Jabotinsky–Begin’s hero.
    These are the neo-cons, of course. And they still have a powerful influence beind closed doors to this day.
    Two books(among many)to consider: “They Knew They Were Right” by Jacob Heilbrunn, 2008 and “Leo Strauss and the Politics of the American Empire” by Anne Norton 2004. I have a feeling that Yves read the Norton book.

  23. deeringothamnus

    The revolution in Egypt is an evolving, world wide process to overthrow a trans national group of kleptocrats who use their governments to subvert capitalism, efficient markets, free trade, and democracy.

    The protests in Italy against Berlusconi are part of this same process. The US is ripe.

  24. gepay1

    There can be no apology for Stalin’s actions. The only good that came out of Stalin’s forced acquisition of heavy industry was that the Soviet Union had the industrial capacity to defeat the Nazis in WW2. The Nazis were initially hailed as liberators by many in the Soviet Union but these illusions were quickly dispelled. The Nazis were up to the task of being even more odious than the Commissars.
    Being a conspiracy theorist, it seems more than likely that Germany was allowed to rearm after WW2. Hitler was encouraged to take over Germany by the ‘powers that be’ as a better option than communists who were just as ‘popular’ in the chaos of the Weimar Republic. Then Hitler was encouraged to push for ‘lebensraum’ in the east. Hitler did however escape his leash even while doing some of what the elites in the West wanted.
    I agree with Stollers basic thesis. Of course the ‘New world order’ is much bigger than Rubin. Mubarak took over in a coup as he assassinated Sadat whose CIA run bodyguards seemed to have disappeared like the US Air Force on 911.
    Whatever, I hail the people of Egypt and hope they know the hard part has just begun.

  25. Mike B)

    Where you stand on the left/right political spectrum relates to the division of control and/or ownership of property. Property usually comes in two different forms: land (aka Nature) and capital. Property is what most people call, “the economy”. Property in this sense is not your underwear, your cat, your glass, your room or your personal belongings in general, including your car and home. Property is for example: a factory, an apartment complex, a TV station, a supermarket corporation, a small business, a coal mine, a pizza franchise, a petrol station, a bank. These places, unlike your home or your cat are where wealth and more property are created.

    Property is created by everyday people like you and me. Even if it is just land, property in this sense is the mutual recognition amongst people living in a society that this or that is owned and/or controlled by this or that person or group of people and is suitable for sale. The recognition that property is for sale is codified in laws of the State. Ownership and control of the property people create and own is political because it involves “The First Principle” of politics: the power to control people or make people do things.

    Most property these days is created by employing labour and using its skills to produce commodities for sale with a view to profit. Employers hire workers to use their skills to produce goods and services, which they then own and sell as commodities for profit. In combination with the natural resources which exist and are owned as property and the various pieces of land and buildings owned by landlords, these goods and services constitute the wealth of society.

    The wealth of society is measured by dollars. This means that a lot of useful activities and things are not counted as important i.e. they are not valued in money. For example: parenting has no exchangeable value, because that activity doesn’t make anybody else money or, doing the dishes around the house or, mowing your own lawn. However, outside the home, a group of workers may sell what they are able to do to an employer who owns a pizza parlour. The employer buys their skills and time. This becomes their wage or salary in short, their way of making a living. Once their time and skills are purchased, the workers engage in the labour associated with making and delivering pizzas. The profit created by making and delivering the pizza belongs to their employer. The wealth, which is represented in the wages which the workers get from selling their skills and time to the employer, belongs to them.

    Who has control over the wealth produced by workers is the question which defines peoples’ political stance as being on either the left or right. The political position of the right is that the wealth employers accumulate should remain in their hands, to do with as they please. On the other hand, the leftist position is that the people who produce wealth should be allowed to at least have some ownership and/or control of the property they produce.

    Most societies have a mix of ownership for this property/wealth. The government decides who gets what in this mix or, to go back to our first principle : the government has the political power to control or make other people do things in some way or another. In most modern societies, the government is based on the “rule of law”. In democratic republics, the rule of law and the laws themselves are created and administered by elected politicians along with their appointed officials in the government’s bureaucracy : for instance, the Ministry of Defence or the Ministry of Education or the judiciary e.g. the Supreme Court. In some democratic republics, some of the judiciary is elected by the people.

    Democratic republics get the power to govern from the governed themselves. Everyone is supposed to be “equal under the law”. The laws are made by politicians elected by the people and largely enforced by the acquiescence of the people to the law. This is known officially as, “The Rule of Law”. It differs from the old “Rule of Kings”, where the aristocracy was above the law–as they were officially sanctioned by God e.g. “Dieu et mon Droit”. When anyone breaks the law, they are supposed to be met with the force/power of the government, that is, the people the government employs to enforce the law: the police, prison workers and the military. So, politicians represent the people who elect them. But first, they must be selected. The selection of politicians to run for office is a fairly complicated and expensive matter, but this is where the left/right control of wealth begins to tell as people who have control of more wealth, tend to be able to amplify their voices in the selection process more than people who do not have as much wealth.

    Politicians and the political parties tend to represent either the right or the left. The key word is “tend”, as none of the political parties or elected politicians are ever absolutely left or right. Politicians of the right will tend toward political decisions which end up being in the interest of the people with wealth/property, allowing them to retain control and ownership over what they have legally accumulated. Politicians of the left tend toward passing laws which result in a greater sharing of the wealth between worker-producers and the people who own the wealth which is being produced. Simply put, the further left a politician goes, the more wealth she or he will want to divert back to the poorer sections of the community and by extension, the working producers of the wealth. The more right the politician is, the more he or she will refrain from proposing or passing legislation which interferes with wealth holders. The rightist justification will usually be framed in a manner which makes it seem that more of the community will eventually benefit, if these property holders do more of what they do best : employ workers to create more wealth.

  26. A Real Black Person

    “The revolution in Egypt is an evolving, world wide process to overthrow a trans national group of kleptocrats who use their governments to subvert capitalism, efficient markets, free trade, and democracy.”
    The protests in Italy against Berlusconi are part of this same process. The US is ripe.”
    There’s no evidence that the world isn’t going to turn away from capitalism any time soon. Even it were contemplating it, those doing the contemplating wouldn’t be kleptocrats. Kleptocrats need other people’s wealth to plunder. In third world countries, for example, the wealth tends to come in the form of capital or humanitarian aid. Kleptocrats would not fare well if a complete international trade were to end.

  27. A Real Black Person s

    The revolution in Egypt is an evolving, world wide process to overthrow a trans national group of kleptocrats who use their governments to subvert capitalism, efficient markets, free trade, and democracy.
    The protests in Italy against Berlusconi are part of this same process. The US is ripe.”
    There’s no evidence that the world IS going to turn away from capitalism any time soon. Even it were contemplating it, those doing the contemplating wouldn’t be kleptocrats. Kleptocrats need other people’s wealth to plunder. In third world countries, for example, the wealth tends to come in the form of capital or humanitarian aid. Kleptocrats would not fare well if a complete international trade were to end.

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