With populism in the air at home and abroad, our old friend Coatsey draws our attention to this exposé of the horrible (but still supposedly “left”) CounterPunch magazine’s attempt to paint the racist Huey Long as some sort of progressive in the Hugo Chavez mould. Regular readers will know that here at Shiraz we don’t share the prevailing liberal-leftist adulation of el Comandante, but to compare him to the racist Long is simply an insult to Chavez (and a particularly ironic one: see below). It’s time that some leftist idiots realised that anti-capitalist rhetoric does not a socialist make.
Mike Whitney has posted an article on CounterPunch titled Our Chavez: Huey Long. There seems to be an effort in recent years on the part of some people to try to portray the sometime governor of Louisiana and U.S.Senator as a great champion of the people, no doubt because of his anti-capitalist rhetoric. Yet when one takes a closer look at his life, it becomes clear that things were not that simple.
During Long’s lifetime, most of the Left regarded him with deep wariness, if not outright hostility. There were good reasons for that. First of all, he governed Louisiana as a virtual dictator. He even organized a secret police force to keep watch on his opponents as well as on his followers.
Long was also a white supremacist. He maintained Louisisana’s Jim Crow laws. (Long would sometimes smear his opponents by spreading rumors that they had “coffee blood”. This gives a bitter irony to calling him “our Chavez”.) Long’s apologists point out that he didn’t talk about white supremacy in his speeches. This was perhaps because he didn’t need to. In 1935, Roy Wilkins interviewed Long for The Criis. They discussed an anti-lynching bill that Long opposed in the Senate…
Read the full article here
Secularism is one of the major political issues of our time. In the UK the rise of politicised religions, and the growing importance of religious lobbies, has entered the heart of public life. Demands of believers for special consideration, the increasingly important role of faith organisations in making and implementing state policy, have been met by a renewed interest in freeing public institutions from the dead-hand of holiness. As a militant secularist I can only welcome the latter, but there are deep problems emerging.
The increased visibility, and presence, of religion in the public sphere has divided the left. There are some who consider that religions may play a progressive role (as a voice of the oppressed) if attached to the right causes. Some parties (the SWP, Respect-Renewal) have worked with Islamist groups, and back violent religiously-inspired movements such as Hamas and Hezbollah. Seumas Milne (Guardian 27.3.08) asserts that militant secularists who criticise this stand are apologists for capitalism and war, bearers of a ‘liberal rage’ that ignores religions’ social context.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/mar/27/religion Casting the net as widely Islamophobia Watch responds with bile to any criticism of Islamist politics.
Secularists and atheists respond, rightly, that religion’s social context is that it is built into a system of power, funded by others’ labour, and, when institutionalised, is part of the class structure holding people down. Furthermore it is not only false (which a majority of the left concedes) but also carries the seeds of intolerance and, is patently weighted toward irrationality. It gives power to faith-leaders to control their flock, by-pass democracy and enforce discriminatory prejudices. Anyone looking at the Bible, the Qu’ran and other such Books, or theocracies, from Saudi Arabia to Iran, can see the point of such criticisms. They are not inevitable consequences of religion, but they address a bulky part of its reality.
The last few years have seen a flourishing industry in books about religion, attacking and defending it. The traditional left approach, which centres on explaining the causes of individual faith, movements of, say, millennialist protest, or enduring institutions such as Churches, in different historical periods (up to capitalism), have been side-stepped. Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Michel Onfray, have made much more radical assaults on the credibility of faith itself. In response there have been sophisticated defences, not of the Holy texts, but of something intangible, the religious experience of the ‘beyond’ (Charles Taylor), or the mystery of the Cross (Terry Eagleton). Eagleton in particular finds efforts to demolish the credibility of the Bible uncouth, and others (in the Church of England) decry the vulgar opposition between science and religious truths. Yet this continues to exist. Dawkins, in his television programme on Darwin (Monday 4th August), found school students sufficiently brainwashed by scripture to deny Evolution. This demonstrates that rational argument against faith is still a very urgent task. Not least as the government has, through confessional schools, let creationist ideas slip into the education system.
Both Blair and Brown are believers. Their Cabinets have been, not surprisingly, more than willing to listen to the demands of religious pressure groups. While they have ignored the well-organised Catholic-Protestant Fundamentalist lobby on Abortion and stem-cell research, they generally consult ‘faith-leaders’ and treat them with great respect. Recently they have engaged public funds in campaigns to promote ‘moderate’ versions of Islam. This dangerous move takes sides in what should be a private matter, and promotes some extremely dubious figures at taxpayers expense – as Harry’s Place (http://www.hurryupharry.org) has continually exposed. This weakening of the independence of the state towards religious affairs is paralleled in the so-called bastion of secularism, France. President Nicholas Sarkozy has repeatedly tried to influence the development of an Islam à la française. He has intervened to make the Conseil français du culte musulman (CFCM) a significant interlocutor, despite the presence of Muslim Brotherhood supporters (in the Union des organisations islamiques) on this body. In effect both governments have encouraged one version of Islamism (authoritarian and right-wing but not violent) against another (explicitly violent). Subsidies (for training Imams) are proposed in both countries. Sarkozy is even in favour of subventions for Mosques. One wonders if they will extend such practices more widely, favouring one variety of a religion over another. Certainly the UK leads the way in promoting the role of religious groups, even getting them to deliver universal welfare provision (the YMCA is a major player in the New Deal for the unemployed) and Church bodies are said to be involved in future transfers of the delivery of public welfare services to private religious groups.
A further disturbing development is the role of multi-culturalism, or as it now known ‘diversity policies’. Nick Cohen comments on demands for religious people to get “special treatment” in place of equality. The recent Court decision to uphold the right of Sarika Watkins-Singh to wear a bracelet affirming her Sikh identity opens the way to further demands on public institutions to accommodate religious dress and behaviour. The potential, given the elaborate rules governing all aspects of daily-life of some religions, for this to wreak havoc, is plain.
Cohen observes that special rights for religious people are at the expense of equality. One could add that the rules of Islamic purity which demand women to cover themselves are considered by liberals to be a private matter. But when they are promoted in places such as Schools and public services they divide people into the ‘pure;’ and ‘impure’ the saved and the dammed. Since these are state institutions it is only changes in state practice (minimum democratic demands) that can prevent such communalist division taking hold. All ostentatious signs of religious belief are inherently divisive, asserting superiority at the deepest level over non-believers. The growing trend for the registration of people’s religious convictions by employers is a step towards a fragmented society where each will be under the authority of those who leads these religions.
Secularism is the policy that public institutions should not take sides for or against religion, or for any particular religion. As such there are many religious people who are secularists, particularly from minority religions, who watch with horror the impact of state creeds, state Churches, or such monstrosities as Sharia Law. It is equally a political stand that actively campaigns not to prohibit religious-political expression, but to combat the idea that these should be the basis of government policy. Atheism, in which we militants usually believe, says of religion how dare you assert that there is a god?
On May 1968’s fortieth anniversary Shiraz Socialist publishes exclusive extracts from legendary Marxist Perry Anderson’s forthcoming memoirs, Apodic Aporiae (necessary doubts). Unlike many Anderson has never reneged on his class origins. He remains today as committed to the left as he ever was. With a rare personal voice Anderson sheds light on the key moments of 68, at home and abroad. These passages describe the unfolding of the événements. An English translation will soon be available. Andrew C
“Clachtoll Broch. The 1st of May, 1968. I knew something was afoot. That morning I hailed the Gillie, “Tha latha math ann an diugh.” “Aye, young Master, it is a-raining in the field.” A glint came into his eye. “The beaters say we dinna see the best of it yet.” Prescient words! Surely the best was to come.
Lunch. Tariq had just arrived. His palanquin was still outside. ‘Gorge Rouge’ Blackburn, had come, post-haste, from his London Red-Base. Tom Nairn was there, fresh from his triumphs in Tossing the Caber at the Sutherland Games. In the kitchen, the ‘chicks’ (unreconstructed were we, alas), Germaine Greer, Juliet Mitchell and Hilary Wainwright were preparing some amuse-gueules, and roast Osprey. As Homer might have described us, ές ‘Нλΰόίου πεδίου.
The wireless crackled. As hôte I deftly tuned to Radio Luxembourg. Our comrade ‘Danny’ was on the microphone. “Nous, on a demandé, la semaine dernière, qu’on puisse visiter les nanas dans leurs chambres. On nous a dit non! C’est la répression bourgeoise. Faut faire la révolution!” Outraged I forgave the failure, after the clause, ‘last week we asked’, to employ the subjonctif imparfait. The right to visit female students in their rooms denied? Truly an act of repressive intolerance. Had the doomed and inert capitalists bared their teeth at last? Danny would show them his own molars.”
“We took to Boat-train to Calais. Paris was ablaze. At the Gare du Nord a charming poulbout from Montmartre disrobed us of our bourgeois wallets. Inside les Deux Magots Sartre and Castor were ebullient. Radical discontinuity ruled. Wordsworth described well the atmosphere of a similar Revolution. As the lesser known line goes, ‘When Reason seemed most to assert her rights..’ While I mused, Guy Debord popped in, “It’s ze societie of the Spectacle, hein?” He shoved a paving stone under my chin, “On the beach, the stones to throw.” He paused, and spoke to a companion, Ian Bone, “Où sont nos pintes?” Althusser rose from a nearby table, “Only through theoretical practice will the class struggle be won.” As the rock reached his head he seized his sword-cane and poked Debord in the eye.
I was seized by doubt. Would there have to be a Niederwerfungsstrategie? What would be the calibration of means and ends? That evening from the occupied Sorbonne, I addressed an attentive audience of thousands. “Solidarity! A coherent and militant student movement has not yet emerged in England. But it may now be only a matter of time before it does. Hornsey Art School is in our hands as I speak. The LSE will soon fall. The Oxford Union is a Soviet under the joint leadership of Comrade Tariq and Comradette Benazir Bhutto. Hasta la Victoria, siempre! ” Deafening applause followed.”
“Looking back, forty years on, what have we learnt? Perhaps it’s the origins of the present crisis. Try the protasis, what if… It is revealing, the supine remains supreme. . For the if stands as fungible property, in a world where radical opposition has drained into new channels. A revolution in the revolution. Oneself? A Watchtower, Nairn, a Flag, the Saltire, Blackburn, a Pension Fund, Tariq, a Leading Liberal Democrat supporter, the ‘chicks’? Perhaps the deepest revolution of them all: soon to publish a joint soc-fem Cookery Guide, ‘Alternative Appetites’. The future? States dissolved. National democracy reborn. Alterglobalisation. There are no certainties here; so far, all that is possible are proposals and conjectures. Jottings more than theses, they stand to be altered or crossed out. The old Mole grubs on….”
This is a guest post from long-standing activist and left-wing blogosphere regular, Andrew Coates. May it be the first of many! VP
An “alliance against oppression” between progressive Muslims and the left is threatened by a “new generation of renegades” who have veered from socialism and liberalism to neo-conservatism. Over-generalising polemicist, Nick Cohen, second-rate novelist, Martin Amis, the author of elegant critiques of religion and half-baked backer of intervention in Iraq, Christopher Hitchens, former Caliphate admirer, Ed Husain, and the transparently genuine Andrew Anthony, are amongst those bundled into this group of outcasts. They have abandoned an “impoverished, beleaguered and demonised community”. Under the mask of secularism, and attacks on Islamist “fascism” they have retreated to “hierarchic and traditionalist thinking”. In plain language, Conservatism without the ‘neo’. Thus David Edgar (Guardian Review. 19.04.08). Seumas Milne has gone even further, Militant secularists are, “apologists for capitalism and war”. These traitors use “atheism as a banner of the global liberal capitalist order and the wars fought since 2001” (Guardian 27.3.08).
So the secular left is lumped together with backers of the American-led military interventions and globalising capitalism. A variety of charges are made. Christologist Terry Eagleton regards atheism as a vulgar intrusion into the mysteries of the Cross; John Gray welcomes the waning strength of loathsome ‘Secular fundamentalists’, Tobias Jones talks of secular ‘totalitarianism’. Christopher Brook. (New Left Review No 44. Mar/April 2007), states that militant secularists, those defending Enlightenment values, are “broadly sympathetic to the hawkish foreign policy of the ‘global war on terror’”. The Chair of the Stop the War Coalition (StWC), Andrew Murray, declared some time back that there was, “A serious political engagement by the left with the Muslim communities, united in opposition to war and support of civil liberties” (Guardian. 26.8.06). Milne could but concur: progressive religious forces are a central ally in the left’s struggle for justice.
There are two main answers to those who hold that religion can, at present, be positive political force in general and that Islamicism in particular is can be an ally of the left. And to their criticisms of secularism.
The first is that anyone who believes in the ‘religions of the book’ stands for documents that are less reliable than Heather Mills. We can leave the riddles of Being aside and point to the simple fact that the ‘divine’ they consider real, is not. This is the atheist argument. The secularist one is different. It is not the individual’s imagination, or claims to know that deities exist, that secularists criticise. It is religion as an institution, with public power, and privilege, and the dragooning of people into herds led by ‘community leaders’ (not elected, but with god’s authority). A neutral public space, in which religious politics are fought and removed, is the basis for secular freedom.
The second is that Islamism is not a cry of pain in the heartless capitalist world. It is part of the pain itself. The record stands for itself, from Indonesia, Iran to Algeria Islamists are right-wing, pro-capitalist adepts of violence. They reject human political rule and human rights for Divine Sovereignty and the revealed word of god. In brief, they are oppressors. As Peter Thatchell says, the left should stand with those who are the victims of these bullies, in the countries under the yoke of Political Islam. The planet is ever closer-knit: there are no Berlin Walls separating us from these lands and their politics. We ought never to ally ourselves with the off-shoots of global Islamicism in the UK, from the relatively moderate Muslim Initiative (who still believe in the rule of god), to the far-right Jamaat-i-Islami, passing through a kaleidoscope of other Islamicst formations. Edgar claims that some Muslims now think that human rights trump godly ones. This, it is true, is part of the noticeable evolution of former Islamists away from their former ideology. That is to break with Islamism. This process is not helped by coddling the Muslim religious right, as Murray, and Milne, the StWC, the SWP and Respect Renewal do: it is encouraged by frank democratic dialogue and criticism.
Instead of communalist appeals to religious ‘communities’ the left will only begin to rise again through a common identity against capitalist exploitation and oppression. That is called the class struggle, and ties not waged through Churches, Mosques and Temples and Synagogues. The existing liberal-warfare state has encouraged religious assertiveness, in education and a multitude of advisory bodies, and is privatising welfare to faith-groups. An alliance of religious leaders and the left (in reality one section of the left), is one of the greatest barriers to class unity and social justice. It splits, it mangles and it ruins the left’s democratic credentials.
Edgar is a hundred per cent right to criticise those who have dropped the left’s equalitarian principles for liberal economics. He cannot be answered by a ‘decent left’ which is mired in indecency by supporting the invasion and occupation of Iraq: an act of horror that has left tens of thousands dead, and millions of mutilated and crushed lives. Against the Friends of Religion and these ambiguous secularists could stand a new alliance: the Human Rights Left. This would be for the dignity of all human beings, rights (historical and which we try to make real), simply by virtue of being humans. No human right is derived from god.
This hostility to secularists is not new. Someone once said that, “Atheism is aristocratic. The conception of a great being who watches over oppressed innocence, and punishes successful crime, is democratic through and through.” Page 266 – 267. Fatal Purity. Robespierre and the French Revolution, Ruth Scurr 2006.)
That was Robespierre. Perhaps a good example of where religion can lead you