Five years of revolution and counter-revolution in Egypt – Brecht de Smet

In this piece originally published in the Review of African Political Economy, Brecht de Smet, author of Gramsci on Tahrir, considers the absence of transformation in the five years that have followed the ‘Arab Spring’ in Egypt.

Five years after the Egyptian 25 January uprising and the subsequent ‘18 Days’ of protest that shook the world the outcome of the revolutionary process is bleak. After the almost fascistic fever of anti-Brotherhood mass mobilizations in 2013, orchestrated by the ‘deep state’, the once vibrant politics ‘from below’ appear to have given way to the apathy and cynicism that characterized the Mubarak era. Opposition parties and revolutionary movements have largely been neutralized, either by vicious repression and calculated cooptation, or they have simply collapsed under the weight of internal political contradictions and personal strife.

De Smet GOTAs the structures of the deep state and the economy emerged relatively unscathed from their confrontation with mass popular movements, scholars came to reject the labeling of the events that took place since 2011 as a ‘revolution’. This interpretation was rooted in Theda Skocpol’s comparative methodology which “highlights successful change as a basic defining feature” of revolution (1979: 4). Such a ‘consequentialist’ approach is informed by a historian’s desire to compare and judge past events on the basis of the same, objective measure: their outcome. This means that a process can only be defined as a revolution post factum, when it has run its historical course. In Gramsci on Tahrir I criticize this ‘distant’ outlook from the perspective of revolutionary activists who do not have the luxury to wait out the process but find themselves in the midst of it, in want of a concept of their political practice that allows them to actively determine the outcome of the struggle. When protesters on Tahrir claimed that they were ‘making a revolution’, they did not claim to have transformed Egypt’s state and society structures: they demonstrated their developing desire, intent, and will to change the status quo. The study of revolution cannot satisfy itself with an investigation of the structures that are the outcome of mass struggle, it also needs to comprehend the construction of collective subjects and wills that aim to produce these structures and the absence of change in the face of a revolutionary mass movement. Continue reading

Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War

Leila Al-Shami reflects on five years of struggle in Syria, in which grassroots, democratic and revolutionary movements have endured airstrikes, state repression and Islamist militancy. Her new book on the subject, Burning Country, co-authored with Robin Yassin-Kassab, is out now.

The news from Syria is heartbreaking. Lives shattered by conflict, civilians deliberately starved, the rise of extremist Islamist groups and sectarian narratives, and the interference of foreign powers, pouring fuel on the fire. These are all aspects of a vicious counter-revolution which has attempted to crush the popular movement which emerged in 2011 to reject decades of tyranny and demand freedom and social justice.

Yassin-Kassab BCBut there is another story to be told too. The story of countless inspiring and courageous individuals and communities who have tried to keep the original values and goals of the uprising alive even in the most tragic of circumstances and in the face of the most savage repression. Their stories are often not told, and they rarely receive solidarity. This is why we wrote this book – to give voice to the voiceless.

In 2003 the West began invading countries in the Middle East, launching major wars and conducting experiments in social engineering ostensibly in the belief that it could bring democracy to the region on the back of American tanks. The attempt of course failed, and caused major de-stabilizations. Yet less than a decade later the people of the region themselves have put democracy into practice. This was not a democracy forced on them from above, not subjected to the constraints and whims of the world’s great powers, but something of a much more radical stripe – a democracy from below.

From the first days of the uprising local committees formed in neighbourhoods across the country. These horizontally organized forums were primarily composed of youth activists and included women and men from all backgrounds and all of Syria’s diverse ethnic and religious groups. In their committees, they organized demonstrations calling for the fall of the authoritarian regime, as well as civil disobedience campaigns including strikes in workplaces and universities and campaigns for the release of political prisoners.

Continue reading

‘The Tallest Tree in Our Forest’ – Paul Robeson, McCarthyism and the Oscars


Gerald Horne, author of the new biography of Paul Robeson, writes about his subject’s monumental accomplishments in the worlds of theatre, music and Hollywood, all in the face of a vociferous US apartheid system – and what he’d make of the Oscars today…

A major ritual takes places annually in the U.S.:  the nomination and awarding of ‘Oscars’ or awards for movie-making, particularly performances.  And regularly, there is an outcry—in  recent years a Twitter-storm—about the absence of nominations for African-Americans and other peoples of color in a nation that is increasingly diverse and elected its first black president in 2008.

To be sure, there are exceptions:  12 Years a Slave, directed by Britain’s own Steve McQueen, did quite well in the star-studded Oscar ceremony a few years ago but this tends to be the exception that proves the rule.

This unfortunate state of affairs would not have surprised Paul Robeson, who—among other accomplishments—was once among Hollywood’s brightest stars.

Born in New Jersey in 1898 and passing away in Philadelphia in 1976, Robeson was variously a star athlete, lawyer, singer, actor and an expert students of dozens of languages, including German, Russian, French, Spanish, Norwegian, Chinese, etc.  But he met his Waterloo when he dared to express support for socialism at a time during the Red Scare of the 1950s when his homeland, the U.S., was moving in a diametrically opposing direction.  His income dropped precipitously from the six figures to the four figures.  There were numerous attempts to inflict mayhem upon him.  His passport was taken way, preventing him from travelling abroad—particularly to London where he had presided during a good deal of the 1920s and 1930s—in order to pursue his livelihood.  Repeatedly, he was hauled before congressional investigative committees in Washington, D.C., as his inquisitors sought to prove that he was a member of the U.S. Communist Party, an affiliation he denied (it is possible that he had been a member of the British Communist Party).  Continue reading

Nathan Lean: Donald Trump and Islamophobia

Nathan Lean, author of The Islamophobia Industry, considers the incendiary remarks made by Republican Party candidate, Donald Trump, as just the latest and most flagrant example of an incipient Islamophobia in American society.
Lean TII

Donald Trump’s recent proposal to temporarily ban Muslim immigrants to the United States set off a firestorm of controversy. For his opponents in both parties, it was a golden opportunity to slam the GOP frontrunner and characterize his plan as excessive and un-American.

Jeb Bush described Trump as “unhinged,” while Marco Rubio said such a policy was “outlandish” and would “not bring Americans together.” Ted Cruz politely “disagreed,” while Mike Huckabee said that the plan was “unconstitutional” and “never going to happen.” Hillary Clinton branded the proposition as “dangerous.”

Yet, despite the referendum of disapproval for Trump’s remarks, they are not the real problem. They are simply the loudest expression of a persistent prejudice towards Muslims that exists within the wider political landscape. While it is easy to call out the blustery ones like Trump, Islamophobic rhetoric that is less brassy often goes un-rebuked. And that has real consequences, not the least of which is the normalization of Muslims as objects of perpetual scrutiny and scorn.

Take Trump’s colleagues in the GOP, for example. Carly Fiorina and Rick Santorum distanced themselves from the frontrunner’s remarks, but not from the anti-Muslim activist behind them. Both candidates, along with Ben Carson, are set to address Frank Gaffney’s National Security Action Summit in Las Vegas this week. Gaffney has a history of floating wild anti-Muslim conspiracy theories, including claims that President Obama has “submitted” to Islamic law and is actively cavorting with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Ted Cruz has attended events hosted by Gaffney’s group, and Mike Huckabee, who once referred to Muslims as “uncorked animals,” wedded his feelings of antipathy towards Islam with his feelings of antipathy towards Obama, saying last month that the president “probably” wants to make Americans memorize verses of the Quran.

Like Trump, Senator Rand Paul has expressed support for religious-based immigration bans. Following the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January, he suggested that not only should France limit Muslim immigrants, but other European countries “that had old colonies in predominantly Muslim areas” should consider the idea, too. Continue reading

Obituary: Neil Middleton (1931-2015)

Neil MiddletonIt is with great sadness that we learn of the death of Neil Middleton, influential writer, political campaigner, and former editorial director at Pluto Press.

Anne Beech, Managing Director at Pluto, recalls an inspirational and principled man:

I worked with Neil many many years ago at Penguin: a hugely kind , clever and passionate man and the best-read person I have ever met. We remained in touch throughout his time as editorial director at Pluto – and some of us will remember publishing several of Neil’s books on the development issues about which he was so passionate. I was proud to have commissioned them and delighted at the opportunity of working with Neil again. His death leaves the world of serious publishing sadly diminished.

A full obituary can be found online at the Irish Times.

December Sale! Pluto Xmas ‘Radvent’ Calendar


Is that… Marx dressed as Santa Claus?

Why yes it is. Pluto certainly won’t be the first to shamelessly appropriate the festive spirit this year, but we do endeavour to pull it off with kitsch aplomb…

To that end: RADVENT is here.

Starting tomorrow, and every day for the next 18 days, we will be offering one book at a special discount – 60% off the retail price, (or 50% off our normal web-price.)

We’ll be showcasing the very best of our publishing from 2015, from rebel history through to accessible economics, and everything in between. If you want to take advantage of our portmanteau-tastic Radvent offer, simply check in with our Facebook, Twitter and blog each day…


Immanuel Ness – Southern Insurgency: The Coming of the Global Working Class

Earlier this month at the Historical Materialism conference in London, we caught up with Manny Ness,  Professor of Political Science at CUNY, New York, co-editor of our new Wildcat book series, and author of Southern Insurgency: The Coming of the Global Working Class.

In this video Manny talks about his new book, and the exciting developments in workers’ movements around the world – specifically focusing on China, India and South Africa.


Immanuel Ness is Professor of Political Science at City University of New York. He is author of Guest Workers and U.S. Corporate Despotism and Immigrants, Unions, and the New U.S. Labour Market and numerous other works. He is editor of the International Encyclopaedia of Revolution and Working USA: The Journal of Labour and Society.


Southern Insurgency is available to buy from Pluto Press here.