Watching the great events unfolding in Egypt, I was reminded of a story that Leon Trotsky recounts in his autobiography My Life.
It's the story of an electrician called Ivan Andreyevich Mukhin who made a big impression on the young Lev Bronstein (he had yet to take the name of Trotsky).
In his biography he recalls Mukhin graphically explaining the meaning of a socialist revolution:
‘It’s very simple. I put a bean on the table and say, “This is the Tsar.” Around it, I place more beans. “These are ministers, bishops, generals, and over there the gentry and merchants. And in this other heap, the plain people.” Now, I ask, “Where is the Tsar?” They point to the centre. “Where are the ministers?” They point to those around. Just as I have told them, they answer. Now, wait,’ and at this point Mukhin completely closed his left eye and paused. ‘Then I scramble all the beans together,’ he went on. ‘I say, “Now tell me where is the Tsar? the Ministers?” And they answer me, “Who can tell? You can’t spot them now” ... “Just what I say. You can’t spot them now”. And so I say, “All beans should be scrambled”.’
I was so thrilled at this story that I was all in a sweat. This was the real thing, whereas we had only been guessing and waiting and subtilising ... Mukhin’s navy-beans, destroying the mechanics of the class system, were the revolutionary propaganda.
‘Only how to scramble them, damn them, that’s the problem,’ Mukhin said, in a different tone, and looked sternly at me with both eyes. ‘That’s not navy-beans, is it?’ And this time he waited for my answer.
But I don’t think we are seeing ‘the scrambling of the beans’ in Egypt, not at present anyway.
The Egyptian people want the American-backed dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak to end and they also want the political system that he built and controls dismantled.
The Egyptian people want regime change but that does not amount to the overthrow of capitalism. It is not a socialist revolution.
The crucial question that has yet to be answered is whether this political struggle will develop into an economic struggle - which will result in a direct confrontation with capital.
The fact that over 40 percent of the Egyptian population live on less than $2 a day suggests that this is a real possibility.