In the last two issues of Solidarity we have been debating with Iranian socialists Maryam Namazie and Arashe Sorkh about political alliances against Islamism. We publish here a response from Maryam to left critics and a note from Arashe. Martin Thomas replies to Maryam.
I find the criticism of being allied (!) with or even in coalition with the rightwing because some loathsome rightwing organisations also had speakers at [25 March “march for free expression”] quite astounding. The march wasn’t organised by the rightwing, had a very sensible statement of purpose, and many other good speakers.
With this logic, I would be allying myself with Stephen Green of Christian Voice for debating the notion of religion and the public sphere on BBC TV’s Heaven and Earth programme the day after. And maybe also allying with the BBC — known for its manufacturing of consent... Follow this logic, and I would have allied myself with the political Islamic movement had I spoken at an anti-war rally (which I would have if I had been allowed).
This unfortunate stance only helps maintain this left’s irrelevance by giving it the excuse it needs to turn its back on the power struggles taking place on crucial issues over the fate of society.
They rather scurry off and leave the scene to be dominated by the right — even when no such hegemony exists!
My dear friends, the strike-breaking, reactionary rightwing is incapable of defending free speech and expression as those freedoms cannot be defended in a vacuum.
Rather than stepping in to unequivocally defend these freedoms, you scurry off and vacate the scene, call on others to do so as well and label all who speak or attend as allying with the right! Please do not give away the efforts of others to the rightwing to excuse your own inaction!
I on the other hand believe it my duty to fight at the forefront of the political scene and confront other tendencies and perspectives where I can.
I recently looked again at the “Freedom of Expression march” and wish to point out the following:
1. It is not fair to say that this event is organised by the Freedom Association. They are there only alongside others. Activists from very different politics are going to only speak at the same rally. I don’t think [participation] means any kind of solidarity with them.
2. Maryam’s blog has clearly expressed is opposition to the BNP and to the “deport the Muslims” kind of organisations.
3. I think to participate there and to give an speech is actually a very good thing to do!
4. There is one important issue that you have raised and I think we should be more aware of. We should write more against “racism against the Muslim community”. This kind of racism does exist (last year, as a 17 year old student in England, I have myself experienced it) and it is our task to put an end to it.
Dear Maryam, The “March for Free Expression” in Trafalgar Square on 25 March (not a march, in fact, but a static rally) was initiated by one Peter Risdon. Risdon describes himself as a “libertarian”, which in this context means “free-marketeer”.
In order to present the venture as one “of no particular political leaning”, Risdon cited as co-organiser one Patrick Vidaud, allegedly a “socialist”. Vidaud stayed in the shadows.
The first organisation to back the venture and have a speaker scheduled for the platform was the Freedom Association, notorious for its strike-breaking at Grunwick in 1977. The other political-activist organisations which had come in by 25 March were the Libertarian Alliance and “various branches of UKIP” (the United Kingdom Independence Party). (It also got endorsement from the National Secular Society and the British Humanist Association).
Though Risdon’s own blog (freebornjohn.blogspot.com), and the links he promotes there, like “Gates of Vienna”, suggest that he may have been putting on a liberal face for show, for this venture he emphasised from the start that it was not to be “anti-Muslim”. He didn’t want the BNP there.
But there are other forms of right wing than the BNP.
Your speech, in itself, was fine. But to make it there, for the benefit for that political operation, was wrong.
“We are in politics in order to encourage and mobilise the working class to carve out and develop its own independent political and social identity. We are against tying the campaigns of socialists and working-class forces, on any question, to alliances which let bourgeois parties dictate and limit the agenda”.
We wrote that (Solidarity 3/14, 11 October 2002) when explaining our hostility to the Stop The War Coalition inviting the Muslim Association of Britain (British offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood) as co-sponsor of the march against the Iraq war on 28 September 2002.
And we continued: “The far-right politics of the MAB only dramatise the general principle, which applies also to liberal and un-fascist bourgeois parties: no popular front”. We also protested when Stop The War put Charles Kennedy of the Liberal Democrats on their platform on the next demonstration, 15 February 2003.
The same principle applies also to activity against political Islam.
A working-class alternative to Bush-Blair has to be poles apart from the Islamists’; therefore, an alliance with them on the basis of agreeing to denounce Bush and Blair blocks, not helps, movement towards positive working-class political independence.
And a working-class alternative to political Islam is poles apart from that of the strike-breaking, British-nationalist Freedom Association, or from that of the more highbrow Libertarian Alliance — whose leader, and speaker at the rally, Sean Gabb, bills himself on his website as “Libertarian, Conservative, Patriot”.
As you put it yourself: “The strike-breaking, reactionary right wing is incapable of defending free speech and expression as those freedoms cannot be defended in a vacuum”.
To join with them in their venture, then, is to hurt, not to help, our cause.
To debate with right-wingers; to appear on BBC TV — that is quite different. There, one is no more asserting a political alliance with the right-wingers, or with the TV bosses, than one is with Richard Branson by taking a train.
If the 25 March event had been a mass gathering, and you had the chance to speak there against both the Islamists and the “strike-breaking, reactionary right wing”, then you might take it — as you might take a chance of space on a Stop The War platform to denounce both Bush-Blair and the Islamists.
But your 25 March speech said nothing at all directly against the “libertarians, conservatives, patriots”. And it was a small middle-class rally. Action or inaction on freedom of expression are not defined by being there or not!
(Besides, I’ll remind you that a previous debate we had with you was about your insistence on withdrawing from the Stop The War Coalition in 2002 as soon as it first voted down proposals to oppose the Taliban as well as Bush-Blair).
Maybe Arashe Sorkh has himself replied to his attempt to differentiate between the March for Free Expression and the Manifesto against the New Totalitarianism signed by you, by abandoning that attempt and going over to support for the March for Free Expression. The details are different; the basic issue is the same. Just as the problem with your speech on 25 March was not the words in it, so also the problem with the Manifesto is not its words on paper but the alliance, or political bloc, it is a “manifesto” for.
We have said that, to defend a mosque against racist assault, we would act together even with MAB. On the same principle, we would act together even with free-market “libertarians” to defend a secularist meeting attacked by Islamists — if (improbably) the free-marketeers turned up for such a defence, rather than calling the cops.
But neither the 25 March rally, nor the Manifesto, is such a case of one-off, practical, “military” alliance, implying no political solidarity. They are declarations of political alliances, of “propaganda blocs”. They are means for the sponsors or signatories to announce a political coalition, and to flag it up publicly so that it can gain support and momentum. They are claims that the negative agreement against the Islamists defines solid common ground to build on.
It does not. To stand there is to stand on quicksand. Against political Islam — for independent working-class politics!