Egypt: Will anyone stand up for democratic socialism?

JAMES BRYAN asks why it took so long for the Socialist International to expel Mubarak’s party.

When faced with adversity we often find out who our real friends are. Despite being deserted by his own people, Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak can for now put his trust in the police and the top-tier of the military. In the rest of the world he can count on his fellow autocrats from the alma mater of the Cold War and, until 31 January, could claim at least the nominal solidarity of the Socialist International, and therefore of our own Labour Party.

According to the Ethical Charter of the Socialist International, the member parties affirm their “total commitment to the values of equality, freedom, justice and solidarity which are the foundation of democratic socialism”. Fine words. Words that chime with the Labour Party’s contemporary clause 4 and to which the Party can proudly subscribe, but words not so fine as to be taken all that seriously by many of the parties signed up to it.

In the letter of expulsion addressed to the nameless ‘general secretary’ of Egypt’s National Democratic Party (NDP), the Socialist International cites concerns at “the lack of developments in relation to democracy”. Aside from the evasive and slightly euphemistic language that describes a lack of democracy as if it were a vitamin deficiency in an otherwise healthy body, this letter fails to address those areas where the NDP is also lacking.

From the start of Mubarak’s rule the NDP has stood for the democratic socialism of the truncheon and the private swimming pool. The gross disparities of wealth and the lack of opportunities in Egypt prove there has been a lack of development in relation to socialism. The cartelised state industries that have ensured the economic domination of the political elite for decades are the classic symptom of a hypocritical racket.

That it should take all this and a popular revolt to get a corrupt party ostracised, and that the fine words of a country’s official left should ever be taken on face value, is unsettling. But worse still, it helps justify old slanders against the left that accuse it of being complicit with tyranny and fundamentally undemocratic.

When the Conservative Party threw its lot in with the European Conservatives and Reformists group in the European Parliament it was rightly criticised for so easily breaking bread with the unreformed right in eastern Europe, but we should take care that the obvious double standard does not go unnoticed.

Do these affiliations mean anything, or are they merely the comforting vestiges of more optimistic days? More importantly, who in Egypt can claim the mantle of the democratic left and make something of that Ethical Charter?