It is very difficult to build up a mass-based popular movement in opposition to the ruling class under modern conditions. It is often a lot easier to join up with smaller movements and thus construct a coalition who are opposed to the ruling class. Trouble is, the positions of these movements usually do not perfectly agree with your own. Therefore, you have to be very careful in choosing your partners. You must also be more or less realistic. A tiny party cannot unite with a large party on equal terms, so for, say, the Zimbabwean Trotskyist movement to join forces with the Movement for Democratic Change, something which actually seems to have happened, is for the Trotskyists to surrender to the MDC without accomplishing anything except to give the neoliberals a feeble gloss of leftism.
The trouble is that one must also be realistic in recognising that some forces are unacceptable in some ways and acceptable in others. The Creator was recently accused of being an apologist for the ANC (not on this weblog, where since nobody reads to the end of a post, nobody even knows that it’s possible to make comments). This is true up to the point that the Creator endorses those elements of the ANC and its policy which are not corrupt or evil. To generically denounce something as despicable when it is not altogether so may be rhetorically reassuring, but it is often strategically unwise when it leads to lost opportunities.
But an opportunity may be opportunism. Sometimes, without even realising it (one may support a party or endorse a strategy not because it is right, but because it is familiar). What to do? The only solution is in ruthless self-criticism which, in turn, must be promoted organisationally through democracy and free debate. No, this is no joke, and it particularly applies to those organisations which are rooted in Marxist theory. The danger there is that the theorists may take complete control by virtue not of their wisdom, but their familiarity with theoretical classics. In a situation like that, theory would easily become the enemy of practice; a party might miss an opportunity because Poulantzas said it was impossible in 1962. (Quote chapter and verse, utter anathemata, and the thing is done. No reference to pragmatic reality needed.)
Hummph. What is all this on about?
Not, oddly enough, about the Zuma affair. There, of course, you had leftists seizing what seemed to be an opportunity to win a victory by getting Mbeki kicked out of the ANC Presidency, cheered on by their leaders. In order to do this they had to line up with big businessmen and their hangers-on. Once the leftists had provided the cannon-fodder, business seems to have co-opted Zuma and virtually all his friends, including most of the leaders of the left, leaving the actual membership of the left either standing open-mouthed at their own imbecility, or frantically scrabbling for reasons why endorsing neoliberalism and plutocracy is really a leftist policy. But that’s not unusual.
Nor, oddly enough, about the RESPECT affair. There you seem to have had a leftist party sternly standing up for their principles and walking out of a coalition which included non-leftists, leaving other leftists behind to flail around. (Of course this principled stand was not so simple; as is often the case, the danger was that the potential success of the coalition endangered the dominance of the leftist party, and perhaps of the broader leftist elements of the coalition — but walking out destroyed almost all hope of this.) Now, therefore, you have two parties, each pretending to uphold the principles of the original coalition, putting up competing candidates in the current British local elections. All that they seem to agree upon is a) that the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, must be denounced and must not be voted for by any adherent, and b) that it is absolutely vital that Ken Livingstone be voted in for the Mayorship in the election. But this is not unusual either.
No, the Creator is talking about Muslims.
In the broadest sense, the struggle for socialism is a world struggle. Capitalism is an internationalist ideology which dominates the globe both through its capture of governments and of multinational corporations. Its adherents are everywhere in charge and on the march to extend their control. As it happens, their control leads to growing immiseration and the danger of planetary catastrophe. It must be reversed. But because our society valorises money and success, and capitalists control most of the money on the planet and are the most successful structure on the planet, capitalists easily co-opt their opponents or divert their activities to innocuous pursuits like making movies and raising points of order at meetings.
In this world struggle there are also people pointing guns at the heart of the Empire. These people are almost invariably Muslims and virtually always Middle Easterners in some sense; al-Qaeda, Hizbollah, Hamas, the Chechen, Iraqi, Afghan and Somali resistances, the Iranian government, and smaller groups elsewhere like the Muslim Brotherhoods and the remnants of the Algerian resistance army formed after the military coup there. It’s astounding how much more resilient Islamic resistance is than resistance elsewhere.
However, the reason for the resistance existing is that these countries are of great strategic importance and that the West wishes to control them — but also, that these countries (with the exception of Algeria) have gone through less social transformation than almost any other part of the world has. Virtually the whole of the Middle East was first ground flat under Turkish colonialism, then ground flat under Franco-Anglo-American colonialism, and finally American neo-colonialism installed corrupt, exploitative traditionalist governments virtually everywhere in the region. A few of them have adopted neoliberalism; most of them haven’t even got that far. It’s no wonder that they feel resentful and unhappy with their lot; those people who think it has something to do with the decline of Islam in the last millennium are probably mistaken. The Middle East would be a powder-keg even if the majority of the population were Scientologists.
But they are followers of Islam, which has advantages and disadvantages for them. An advantage is that Islam provides a highly structured, all-embracing context for resistance, especially against non-Muslims. It is a society which valorises resistance and which nominally promotes ideals which can be used to focus that resistance, and where the community can be more united than in most Western societies.
A disadvantage is that Islam has historically been dominated by quite conservative leaders and values and has thus been used for oppressive purposes — and as a result, present-day Islamic resistance often focuses its attention on a myth of the past which is violently opposed to most of the best ideals of the modern world. Khomeini’s Iran, and still worse the Taliban’s Afghanistan, were oppressive states which bear some comparison with Margaret Atwood’s dystopian Christianised United States in The Handmaid’s Tale. Arguably, that is potentially what you get if you found your political programme on a medievalised fantasy around a false belief in an imaginary supreme being who supposedly provided the answer to all questions in a book written more than a thousand years ago.
Ah, that seems a little harsh, but the Creator has to point out that Islam rejects Ahura Mazda and is thus, regrettably, not based on the Truth.
Anyway, the consequence is that the most powerful resistance against Western imperialism, and thus against capitalist dominance, is a force which does not necessarily endorse the ideals of the Left. Note that this does not mean that it has to reject those ideals. A religion of the book has to be flexible or it could not adapt over time, and thus reinterpretation of the book is necessary. But the book comes first; a leftist cannot challenge the Koran by, er, waving a copy of Capital about. A Muslim who becomes a leftist is still a Muslim, and might be reattracted to reactionary Islamic ways. (Of course backsliding leftists are not unheard of either.)
This doesn’t make it impossible to try to engage Islam and try to persuade its supporters that they should consider adopting some of the developments of the modern world which seem useful. It simply means that it cannot be assumed that such efforts will succeed. Therefore it is possible to argue that leftists shouldn’t align themselves with Islamic movements because they might not in the end support the left. Probably it is more true to say that leftists shouldn’t simply assume that where Islamic movements are powerful and appear to be serving leftist interests, they are therefore going to be easy to convert to leftism. That is a potentially fatal error which seems to have been made by several leftist movements in the Middle East.
In the West, leftists and Muslims feel oppressed and leftists support Muslim rights on the basis of multiculturalism; whether Muslims reciprocate by supporting the left is far from certain. Yet this obviously does not mean that the left should not abandon its ideals and ignore the Western oppressive campaign against Islam (or rather, against those aspects of Islam which it does not control — the West is happy to see those Muslims who endorse its rule, and will buy them Korans and camel saddles).
Internationally, the struggle against oppression by followers of Islam is undeniably something to be supported without hesitation. Any struggle against oppression should be supported. Any such support should also be qualified by the understanding that if it devolves into something undeserving of support, that support will be withdrawn. Leftism should not be monolithic in its support. One might argue, for instance, that support for Hizbollah undermines democracy in the Lebanon. The argument collapses on investigation, for Hizbollah is by no means as undemocratic as its enemies claim, while democracy in the Lebanon is often a facade for power-struggles between factions backed by foreigners who are not sinister Iranians in robes and therefore do not have to face the hostility of the Western media.
But the hostility to support for Islamic-based resistance is also something to struggle against. South Africa, for instance, has faced condemnation for inviting Hamas for political discussions with members of its government, and for refusing to condemn Iran’s peaceful nuclear programme (although the South African government’s position on this weakened over time, partly in the forlorn hope of receiving a UN Security Council bribe). This condemnation, which basically implies that everybody should bow down before the desire of Western capitalist imperialism to rule the world’s resources while trampling on the inhabitants of resource-rich areas, is garbage. People who make such a condemnation are at best tools of imperialism, and at worst, racists or religious zealots (generally of the Christian or Jewish brand-name).
In defense of the Islamic struggle, the left must refuse to be intimidated. This Islamic struggle is resistance to a force which threatens the planet. The fact that many of its participants are struggling in the long term for something which leftists do not endorse, does not mean that their actual fight does not serve good ends — in the same way that leftists could not ignore Gaullists in the struggle against the Nazi occupation of France. There will be time enough to resolve our differences if we ever come near to winning the battle.
(Coming soon: the Creator shamelessly apologises for the ANC by stabbing John Pilger in the back.)