By Sacha Ismail
The 2 September issue of Socialist Worker contains a lengthy article by Anindya Bhattacharyya attacking the use of the term “Islamofascism” to describe Islamist movements like Hizbollah.
Bhattacharyya locates Bush and other neo-conservatives’ use of the term in a drive to find a new enemy to fill the role played by Stalinism during the Cold War. The condemnation of Islamism as “fascistic” and “totalitarian” is linked to the idea “that Communism and fascism were twins” and the theories of totalitarianism wielded by Western Cold Warriors in their struggle against the USSR.
Clearly Marxists oppose the liberal idea that any attempt to radically remould society is incipiently totalitarian, and that extreme left and extreme right pose an equal threat to human freedom. But we do so because we reject the idea that Stalinism had anything to do with the socialist project of working-class self-liberation, not because we think the “communist” regimes were not so bad after all.
It was Trotsky, hardly an apologist for capitalist imperialism or a knee-jerk Stalinophobe, who described Stalin’s regime in the late 1930s as differing from the political apparatus of fascism only “in more unbridled savagery”.
In a rare attempt by the SWP to relate to debates within the Trotskyist tradition, Bhattacharrya notes Max Shachtman and his followers’ abandonment of Marxism for pro-war social democracy and ultimately neo-conservatism, implying that Shachtman’s betrayal was a result of a too critical attitude to Stalinism.
The ridiculousness of this claim is highlighted by the continued struggle of many of Shachtman’s comrades for a socialist movement sharply opposed to both capitalism and Stalinism, in some cases for many decades after Shachtman’s defection. The Shachtmanites’ problem was not excessive hostility to Stalinism, but abandonment of belief in the possibility of a working-class alternative.
What was true of Stalinism then is true of Islamism now. We cannot build an effective opposition to capitalism and imperialism by pretending the Islamists are anything other than what they are — totalitarian reactionaries.
The Islamists differ from classical fascism. But to deny that, in their relationship to the organised working-class and the oppressed, these movements are fascistic is to let them off the hook politically.
Islamists of the stripe that the SWP are now apologists for — Hamas, Hizbollah, Muslim Brotherhood — are murderously hostile to gay people, are in favour of all sorts of fundamental restrictions on women’s lives and, most importantly, want to impose clerical rule — that is totalitarian rule — on society. Where such rule exists — in Iran for instance — it savagely beats down the working class.
What would the SWP’s founder Tony Cliff, who in 1946 unhesitatingly called the Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt “clerical fascists”, make of Socialist Worker’s claims if he was alive today?
Bhattacharrya’s attitude seems to be that since our rulers condemn Islamism we are obliged to defend it. Calling the Islamists totalitarian is “a pointed ideological weapon of the ruling class — a weapon that the anti-war movement needs to confront.” Thus the SWP continues its headlong dash away from independent working-class politics.
According to www.korea-dpr.com, the official website of the semi-feudal Stalinist hellhole hilariously known as the “People’s Democratic Republic of North Korea”, 50 people gathered to hear the speakers at a recent event held in Southall by UK Friends of Korea. Among these were representatives of a set of die-hard Stalinist groups with an even more dizzying proliferation of acronyms than the Trot left (SLP, CPB, CPGBML, RCPBML...) Oh, and Southall Respect.
Seems that the Stalinist organisational methods and increasingly Stalinist politics promoted by the SWP have succeeded in attracting a fantastic calibre of activist to local Respect branches. No doubt the SWP will shrug off its Southall collaborators’ genuflection to the Great Leader with the claim that Respect is a broad coalition and local groups are autonomous. But apparently opposing immigration controls, fighting sell-outs in the unions and supporting the Iraqi workers’ movement are beyond the pale, while adulation for Kim Jong-Il is just fine.
Talking of Great Leaders, I was surprised to see that George Galloway’s article on Lebanon in the Guardian on 31 August called, pretty clearly, for two states in Palestine. Galloway wrote:
“A comprehensive settlement now would of course look much like it has for decades: Israeli withdrawal from land occupied in 1967; respect for the legal rights of Palestinian refugees to return; the emergence of a real Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capita... In exchange there would be Arab recognition, normalisation and, in time, acceptance of Israel into the Middle East as something other than a settler garrison of the imperial west.”
What’s going on here? For most Respect members, and certainly those connected with the SWP, recognition of Israel’s right to exist is beyond the pale. When the coalition was being founded, the SWP’s Lindsey German specifically denounced those “people who won’t defend George Galloway and regard the state of Israel as somehow a viable presence.” What will she say about her colleague using his media soapbox to promote precisely the kind of settlement she denounced in his name?
In part, Galloway is probably being disingenuous. The demand for the “right of return” (as opposed to individual freedom of movement across borders) has long been code for the abolition of Israel; perhaps he hopes that he can sound respectable while tipping a wink to his Islamic chauvinist and kitsch-left friends that he isn’t really for two states.
Certainly the rest of the article, in which Galloway repeatedly compares Israel to apartheid South Africa would suggest that. If you really believe that Israel’s rule in Palestine is a regime of apartheid, then the call for two states is nonsensical.
Galloway may be putting forward a different position from the Respect mainstream to test his strength against the SWP — as he did, for instance, when he called for a points system for immigration last year. It’s unlikely that the SWP will say anything, however. Calling for two states is fine if you’re a money-grubbing, socially conservative right-wing Labourite, but bang out of order if you’re a working-class revolutionary.
Permanent Revolution, the group created when Workers Power started drinking the Kool-Aid and expelled most of its older members and experienced trade unionists, has held its first conference. Unfortunately, the report on their website suggests they’ve maintained WP’s tradition of pompous posturing:
“Our discussions went on despite interruptions caused by the decaying infrastructure of British capitalism. A widespread power cut meant that the building where the conference was held had to be evacuated for most of the second day. We carried on our discussions in the open air, so that our first steps to setting up our new tendency were made in the full heat of the hottest British summer in living memory.”
Those of you who thought the heat was something to do with the weather, and not the passionate intensity of Mark Hoskisson’s support for the Iraqi resistance, should stand corrected.