At the time of writing the wave of outrage over the killing of 73 young football supporters in Port Said on 2 Feb 2012, a year to the day after the Battle of the Camels in Tahrir Square, is still raging around the Interior Ministry in Cairo. Legend has it, that in the early 1970s the then Foreign Minister of Maoist China, Zhou En Lai, was asked what he thought of the French Revolution and replied "it is too early to tell". Certainly the effects of the Egyptian Revolution are far too early to tell. As we enter Year II, the anniversary has been marked by monster demonstrations in Tahrir Square, followed by the provocation of yesterday's massacre.
The evidence of who did what, when and why is still being filtered out from the flood of rumour, emotion and bad faith that is still flowing around the event. Whether the full truth of the matter will ever be established or whether, instead, like the bombing on Piazza Fontana in 1969 Italy, it becomes an epoch-changing event for whom the true responsibles are never found, is yet to be determined. But that is not the subject of this post, rather it is a reflection of the historic role of the ultras and what that tells us about class, conflict, revolutions and politics.
Commentators say that the Egyptian ultras phenomenon, despite importing certain forms from Italy, etc in recent years, is a product of the Mubarak era. Despite its brutally repressive stasis, the regime was characterised by some as allowing certain very restricted "safety valve" areas, where steam could be let off from social pressures. Along with a - for the region - relatively liberal press, allowing the intelligentsia to say things (within limits), other areas included Islam and the mosque, and football. The football violence phenomena allowed young Egyptians to blow off steam, where possible to direct their pugnacious instincts against supporters of other teams, rather than the state. And finally to provide a useful training ground for recruiting baltagiyyah thugs.
If we accept the ultras as a product of the Mubarak era, then their role in the Jan 25th revolution, and since, is interesting. In effect their antipathy to the cops, along with the general impact of the situation on the wider population, drew them into the struggle against the police and other foot-soldiers of the regime. In continuing to fight against military rule, they are in one sense, fulfilling that classic characteristic of the proletariat as a negative class, in that they are effectively fighting to end the social relations that created them.
But their negation of the "existing conditions" is not based on a consciousness-centred, "political" transcendence of current ways of thinking, in contrast to the liberal and left would-be revolutionaries of the RYM, etc. That is, we can distinguish between a transcendant moment of negation - the left/liberal minority for "continuing the revolution" - and an immanent one. It is notable that the efforts of the transcendant negation to keep the Tahrir square protests going and mobilise the wider Egyptian working class against the collaborationist antics of the MB, have largely been unsuccessful in moving any substantial proportion of the class of late. The MB's showings in the election being a reflection of that failure in many ways.
However this current outbreak appears to have, if only temporarily, re-ignited a wider confrontation between workers and the Interior Ministry and other institutions of SCAF rule.The relative power of the transcendant and the immanent negation need to be recognised. While, of course, having no illusions about any necessarily "progressive consciousness" within the immanent contradiction.The problems and contradictions around the relationship between the self-declaredly "politically conscious" elements of the transcendant negation and the movement of the forces of immanent negation and the wider class as a whole, should probably occupy more of the thinking of revolutionaries than the usual inter-lefty potshots about the supposed errors in each other's programmes.