On 7 April, at this year’s National Union of Students conference, Socialist Worker Student Society members, in alliance with the Islamist-dominated Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS), organised a walkout in protest at the speech given by the Iraqi socialist, Houzan Mahmoud, who had been invited to conference as a guest speaker.
At the same conference, numerous right-wing speeches by Blairites, Tories and others were met not with walkouts but properly with debate. What must this woman have done to inspire such hostility amongst sections of the student left? Is she one of the Blairite apparatchiks invited to conference by the NUS leadership, perhaps? Or a supporter of the US-backed government in Iraq?
In fact, Houzan is a Marxist — a trade union organiser, socialist, feminist and revolutionary opponent of the Iraqi government. Yet when FOSIS delegates left the hall in protest at her speech, SWSS delegates went with them.
FOSIS objected to the fact that Houzan opposes not only the occupation-sponsored Iraqi government, but also the fascistic Islamist and Ba’thist “resistance” gangs which have harassed and murdered trade unionists, women’s rights activists and socialists in Iraq. FOSIS objected to a woman who has rejected religious superstition in the name of Marxism, condemning the brutality of this so-called resistance.
Houzan is a member of the Worker-communist Party of Iraq. The WCPI sum up their position in this way: “We struggle to separate ourselves from both poles of this conflict [both the imperialist occupation forces and the reactionary, anti-working class resistance] and establish and consolidate a third camp as a humanist, liberationist and progressive alternative which stands up against both poles of reaction and terrorism.”
In that spirit the WCPI have been central to building up some of the new Iraqi unions and an unemployed organisation, the Union of the Unemployed (UUI).
As a result of the WCPI’s brave, principled stand they have become targets of both the US/British forces and the “resistance”. The UUI explains the nature of the resistance: “The ‘resistance’ of the ethnocentric groups isreactionary… ‘Occupation’ and ‘resistance’ are two poles of the same reactionary camp… the real basis for struggle against the USA’s new world order is the workers – and their programme of liberty and equality.”
The UUI understand the reality of the “resistance”. They understand that a “resistance” victory will not lead to national liberation and democracy, but to a terrible inter-ethnic civil war, the probable break-up of Iraq, the enslavement of women, crushing of the emerging labour movement and the secular democratic left.
Is that what the SWP wants in Iraq? And if not, why does the SWP champion the Ba’thists and fundamentalists — the very people who would murder or jail all Marxists and feminists, given any chance to do so? The SWP has forgotten what it is positively for (the labour movement, workers’ revolution, women’s liberation, a vast expansion of democracy) and is fixated only on what it opposes (Blair, the US and Israel). Such negativism has led the SWP to make alliances with reactionary critics of the existing order.
Socialist Worker even goes as far as printing articles by Sheikh Hassan al-Zarqani (see SW issue 1945), foreign affairs spokesman for the viciously bigoted right-wing Iraqi cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr.
Have you forgotten the lessons from Iran? During the late 1970s, much of the far left developed illusions in the Iranian Islamist movement led Ayatollah Khomeini. The left accepted the Ayotollah’s warm words about democracy and respect for women, and believed that his denunciation of the Iranian Shah and American imperialism meant they had some common cause with the Iranian religious right. And the result? Khomeini came to power and destroyed the left and the workers’ movement. And Islamist rule has meant the legalised, systematic brutalisation of women.
The SWP leadership have abandoned socialist politics and turned themselves into a “left” face for the right-wing Islamist FOSIS, which is linked to the Muslim Association of Britain, a British offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. The SWP’s politics have bent to accommodate these reactionaries. At this NUS conference, the SWP even helped to vote down a motion calling for a secular, state-funded education system and the abolition of religious schools – a bizarre action for a supposedly atheist, secularist organisation.
The SWP has helped a right-wing religious/political current, in the form of FOSIS and the MAB, gain increased influence in the structures of the student movement. And we are beginning to see where this might lead. At NUS conference, the deeply conservative leadership of FOSIS used their votes and influence to oppose policy on extending abortion rights (they came close to succeeding) and remove a clause demanding progressive taxation (their NUS national executive candidate Jamal el-Shayyal laughed openly at the left when this clause was removed from the text of a motion).
Perhaps the SWP leaders think they are being “clever” and using the Islamists to get a hearing from youth from a Muslim background. In fact, it is the SWP that is being used: helping the FOSIS right wingers to grow, poisoning the political environment as they do so.
Your comrades’ actions in Blackpool was not an accident, but a reflection of your organisation’s increasingly opportunistic and undemocratic politics. Because the SWP has so little internal democracy, you may not be aware of everything your leaders are doing in your name.
Did you know that while Socialist Worker condemned the union leaders’ recent decision to call off strike action over cuts in public sector pensions, SWP members on the Public and Commercial Services union executive voted in favour of cancelling the strike?
Or that Respect leader George Galloway, far from being an ex-Labour left-winger, opposes abortion rights, supported the introduction of tuition fees and the abolition of student grants in 1998, and only voted against the Blairite government five times between 1997 and 2001?
Or that the SWP has consistently opposed the call for Respect to advocate that MPs should receive only the average workers’ wage — in order to keep in with Galloway, who thinks that MPs should be paid even more that they are currently!
Comrade, it is time to make a balance sheet. Your organisation, the SWP, is pulling you further and further from independent working class politics and miseducating many young people into the idea that “the enemy of our enemy is our friend”. It’s important that SWP members who disagree with this dash to the right don’t remain silent.
Alan Clarke, Sacha Ismail, Dan Randall, Josh Robinson, Faz Velmi (AWL students)