Since about 1987, and until recently, the standard SWP line has been to support any force clashing with the USA as “anti-imperialist”.
The battles in Syria since 2011 have put that line into question; and the current clash between ISIS on one side, and the US, Iranian, Syrian, and Iraqi governments on the other, even more so. The SWP does not back ISIS.
Yet in an interview in Socialist Worker (28 June), Alex Callinicos claims a sort of good side to the ISIS victories. Because “the US has been weakened”, “movements from below can strike real blows — not just against US power or the power of particular ruling classes, but against the whole system.”.
Whilst this may be true, Callinicos fails to acknowledge that movements from below are also capable of striking real blows to the revolutionary movements of those countries. It is naïve and unhelpful to suggest that opposition to, or feelings of discontent toward a ruling class will successfully birth a revolution. It can also lead to the development of opportunist and sectarian politics, especially where an organised revolutionary socialist party is lacking.
There is also much fantasy about Callinicos’s excitement about the USA being weakened. He hints: “Wow! The USA is weaker, so with one more heave we, the SWP, can see them off”.
The USA is weakened; but it is still very strong. Simplifying such a complex situation is dangerous. Failing to identify countries which aren’t Britain, Russia the US, or any other “big name imperialists” as exactly that, imperialists, will lead to confused politics which do not reflect reality, and analyses which do not put working-class movements at their core.
The most interesting thing in Socialist Worker of 28 June, however, is another article which, apparently without the SW editors noticing, says crisply what is wrong with Callinicos’s weird optimism.
A Lebanese socialist, Bassem Chit, writes:
“The recent events in Iraq are not, as many wish them to be, an upsurge in revolutionary politics. They sadly mark a deviation towards more regressive and sectarian politics.
“And it is important to state that overwhelming dissatisfaction does not by its mere existence translate into a revolution, or an uprising. It can also become a breeding ground for sectarian and counter-revolutionary politics.
“This is most true in the absence of a unified popular movement, and more importantly, of an organised revolutionary party”.
Corey Oakley of the Australian group Socialist Alternative (a splinter from the SWP’s international network in the early 90s) has made the same point in SAlt’s paper Red Flag (1 July):
“If your political approach boils down to putting a tick wherever the US and Israel put a cross, you will quickly find yourself tied in knots. The driving force behind the misery inflicted daily on millions of people across the Arab world, brought to fever pitch in Iraq and Syria at the moment, is not an all-powerful US empire, but a complex system of conflict and shifting alliances between the ruling classes of states big and small.
“All of these ruling classes are driven by the same pragmatic capitalist logic: make alliances and fight wars based on what will improve your geostrategic position and secure the greatest economic and political advantage relative to your rivals.”