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Luxemburg on Tahrir Square: Reading the Arab Revolutions with Rosa Luxemburg's The Mass Strike

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Abstract

The protests on Tahrir Square in Cairo have come to symbolize the Arab uprisings of 2011. They have proven that Arab political life is more complex than the false choice between authoritarian rule or Islamist oppositions. The popular uprisings witnessed the emergence of “the Arab peoples” as political actors, able to topple entrenched authoritarian leaders, challenging repressive regimes and their brutal security apparatuses. In our contribution we want to analyze the political dynamics of these uprisings beyond the salient immediacy of the revolutionary events, by taking, as our guide, Rosa Luxemburg's pamphlet The Mass Strike (2005 [1906], London: Bookmarks). An interesting theoretical contribution to the study of revolution, Luxemburg's book provides us with tools to introduce a historical and political reading of the Arab Spring. Based on fieldwork and thorough knowledge of the region, we draw from evidence from the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions and the more gradual forms of political change in Morocco.

Re-reading the revolutionary events in Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco through the lens of The Mass Strike offers activists on the ground insights into the dialectic between local and national struggles, economic and political demands, strike actions and revolution. The workers protests in Tunisia and Egypt during the last decade can be grasped as anticipations of the mass strike during the revolution; the specific mode in which workers participate as a class in the revolutionary process. This perspective enables an understanding of the current economic conflicts as logical forms of continuity of the revolution. The economic and the political, the local and the national (and one may add the global), are indissoluble yet separate elements of the same process, and the challenge for revolutionary actors in Tunisia and Egypt lies in the connection, organization and fusion of these dispersed moments and spaces of struggle into a politicized whole. Conversely, an understanding of the reciprocity between revolutionary change and the mass strike allows activists in Morocco to recognize the workers' movement as a potentially powerful actor of change, and trade unionists to incorporate the political in their economic mobilizations.

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