Aug 9, 2006

On Islamic radicalism and the left

Don Hamerquist sends the following comments on "Defending my enemy's enemy":


I’m in general agreement with this piece and I also largely agreed with your earlier criticism of the common left perception that the Bush Administration is fascism in development. [This refers to a separate essay that hasn't been published yet.]

When pushed, both Workers World and the Spartacists will reduce the so called ‘war on terror’ to a surrogate for some other ruling class strategy - a more aggressive pursuit of imperialist interests and/or the imposition of ‘fascism from above’ in the imperialist center. To the contrary, I think that there is a growing consensus within the ruling class that global capitalism is seriously threatened from the right – a threat that is painted as fascist with increasing frequency. I think that this is not only public relations and propaganda, it is how the ruling class ideologues see the world. Further, I think that the feeble mass response in North America and Europe to greatly expanded opportunities for solidarity and struggle is largely explained by the popular acceptance of major elements of this changing capitalist worldview. It is important to open up discussion in these areas.

The feeble organized metropolitan left is dominated by positions that don’t see Islamic radicalism as a serious and unique threat to the global capitalist system.These range from simplistic “war for oil” determinism to elaborate visions of an inter-imperialist challenge to U.S. global hegemony from new capitalist centers in China and India. Islamic radicalism is most commonly viewed as a some kind of “manufactured external threat”, as Professor Adel Safty, (ZNET 7/6) puts it. The basic problem with these positions is the obvious fact of a clear international ruling class consensus about the nature and magnitude of this particular threat. This consensus frequently overrides ruling class differences on the proper response to the threat, e.g., with respect to the war in Iraq. It also tends to overrides national and regional divergences in political and economic interests between blocs of capital and different ideological conceptions of the requirements for capitalist social equilibrium. I think that it is far more important to delineate this ruling class consensus, which includes important intellectual and governmental “dissidents”, such as Friedman and Barnett, not to mention the current governments of France, Spain etc., than it is to concentrate on alleged excesses and irrationalities in the Bush administration policy and posture.

I have some problems with your paper’s use of Worker’s World and Spartacist League positions. This is a serious debate and we should look for the strongest representatives of alternative positions. For Workers World, revolutionary analysis begins and ends with Lenin’s assertion that litmus test of a revolutionary is opposition to one’s own imperialism. The Sparts are what they always have been. Unless you want to debate Bordiga vs. Gramsci or Radek vs Bela Kun, its better to ignore them. I’d suggest Tariq Ali and Gilbert Achcar as serious and substantial advocates of the anti–Imperialist front politics of which Workers World is more a caricature. Less ideologically defined liberal/left positions criticizing a view of Islamic radicals as just “part of the movement” can be found on Juan Cole’s “Informed Comment” website, and, perhaps, more significant, on the “Baghdad Burning” website. These positions are substantive, not corrupt as, for example, Hitchens is, but they do lead towards a similar anti-fascist united front position that would include “reasonable” segments of the global capitalist ruling class. Both positions are clearly susceptible to reformist politics, but they are held by revolutionaries as well.

While writing this I’ve seen some postings about your piece that demonstrate the inexhaustible capacity of the left to repeat certain errors. Revolutionaries have to be willing to fight, but they also have to think. Some leftists can manage one, but not the other, at any given moment. Lots botch both. Our particular framework of analysis is not conducive to simple answers to the ‘What Is To Be Done’ question. This makes it doubly important that we fight against the difficulty becoming an excuse for passivity or inactivity. In this country, passivity amounts to support for the global ruling class.

However, there is a century of experience with struggles where the left suspended its critical and ethical faculties, supporting and participating in activity in conflict with its analyses, principles, and objectives. The results have been uniformly disastrous. To those who, without knowing who we are or what we do and have done, argue that our positions are illegitimate because they might ‘demoralize the movement’ and undermine the resistance to imperialism, I have to say that I’ve heard that before…a lot. I’ve accepted it more times than I like to remember. People I’ve worked with have spent lifetimes in jail – some have been killed – in large part because of this mindset. Others that I could name that have advanced the position are now professors, congressmen, pillars of the capitalist community and members of governments.

I intend to write in more detail about both the politics of global capitalism and the emergence of a neo-fascist challenge to that system, but I realize that it helps maintain some momentum in the discussion to respond fairly quickly, if briefly.

Don H.



I am, as I usually find myself, for the most part in agreement with Don's argument, specifically with his reservations about celebrating the victories of movements whose stated goals are fundamentally opposed to ours. However, there are issues involved here I would like to see explored in more depth.

Pointing out that there is a ruling-class consensus that the threat of "islamo-fascism" is a real danger is an important point. However, that is not exactly the same as stating that it is a threat "from the right". I am not so sure at this point that the ruling class is differentiating in its critique between Nasrallah, Ahmadinejad, and bin Laden on the one hand, and Chavez, Obredor, and Castro on the other. To be sure, there is a propaganda advantage for the ruling class to lump all its opponents together, much the same as was done when Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin were all called 'totalitarians'.

But at the same time, the apparently lazy analysis of the US segment of the ruling class (from Bush to Friedman, most obviously) is a political force to be reckoned with, one that can almost be said to transsubstantiate as a material force. We've seen how US propaganda has already driven together such apparently divergent groups as Sunni Wahabbinists and Shiite resistance fighters... even bringing Hugo Chavez to meet with Ahmadinejad and declare support. There are two ways of viewing this: one, which it seems Don is taking, is that the left, as usual, is abandoning rational thought in favor of mindless anti-imperialism; the other, that the ground is shifting under us, that the demands of anti-imperialist struggle are transforming apperently right-wing fascist movements into something quite different. Cabral wrote about how armed struggle changes old politics and creates new ideas. "My enemys enemy" is maybe not my friend, but given long enough, and under enough duress...

In any case, the true test of theory is practice. Now that Hizbollah has de facto control of a small country, what will it do? Will it carry out the public face it has presented of standing up for Shiites, Sunnis, Druze, and Jews alike? Or will it pursue a sectarian initiative for state control? We will see...

I can't make any pronouncements for sure. Admittedly I'm writing this in the moment, celebrating the defeat of Americanism/Zionism and wanting to see the good in the moment. But I'd like to see these questions addressed in more depth.

max said...

I have posted some (critical comments) of your "enemy's enemy" piece on my blog at: I posted your article which received some other critical feedback and then decided to write my own.

I guess while i really enjoy your blog and you bring a lot of tight analysis to the table, i feel like on this post your just a little out of touch (in that radical US leftist kind of way) with whats happening on the ground in Lebanon. Your three way fight analysis seems to me to be grounded in kind of a mid-west US anti-facist activism, which as i understand it you obviously come out of so that would make sense.

Im just not sure you can translate that analysis to a group like Hizbullah without taking into account the role of specifically US intervention in the Middle East and the way that they have prevented secular democratic and left movements from blossoming in that part of the world.

Anyway its meant of course in a comradly way but since its kind of an emotional time for many of us right now im sure parts of it do not come across quite that way.

Frank Partisan said...

I loved this post.

The same discussion is occuring on my blog. It is the same discussion, different players. Many who read my blog, are third path followers from the UK.