By Anne Field
Another Sunday. Another issue of the Sunday Times. Another attack on Unite (on pages 1, 4, 16, 17 and 33).
But this time Jerry Hicks – the founder, leader and mouthpiece of the “Grass Roots Left” in Unite – has given a helping hand. According to the front-page article:
“Hicks said this weekend: ‘Was Falkirk an aberration or a modus operandi? There are serious questions that need to be answered about these tens of thousands of non-members of the union who were sent ballot papers.’”
The reference to “tens of thousands of non-members” receiving ballot papers relates to Hick’s complaint to the Certification Officer , alleging that in the Unite general secretary election held earlier this year 160,000 ballot papers were sent to former members not entitled to vote.
Unite’s response is that the members’ subscriptions had lapsed but they were still entitled to vote. Under rule 4.1 of the union’s rulebook members can be up to 26 weeks in arrears before being removed from the membership lists.
“Hicks says that it is not credible that nearly 160,000 members were in recent arrears of membership,” continues the Sunday Times article. But in a union with 1.4 million members it is entirely credible. Annual membership turnover in a union is 25%.
(See para. 9 of the recent government report: “Amendment to the TULRCA 1992: Trade Unions’ Registers of Members: Impact Assessment”.)
But the issue here is not – yet another – complaint by Hicks to the Certification Officer. It is his statement: “Was Falkirk an aberration or a modus operandi?”
The starting point for that statement can only be that Unite committed vote-rigging abuses in recruiting its members to the Labour Party in Falkirk. The sole question for Hicks is whether it was “an aberration or a modus operandi.”
This was no slip of the tongue by Hicks. In an earlier statement about Grangemouth Hicks wrote on his website of Unite’s “infantile, unfunny comic capers of infiltration through recruiting members to the Labour Party.”
Hicks’ line of argument is: Unite engaged in vote-rigging in Falkirk – isn’t it credible, therefore, that it engaged in the same malpractices in this year’s general secretary elections?
In fact, one of the comments on Hicks’ website is much more straightforward and makes explicit was Hicks merely insinuates:
“An investigation should have been launched to establish who in Unite cheated which resulted in McCluskey winning. Another investigation should be launched by the police into data protection issues over the use of Unite membership lists.”
(Clearly, one must assume that Hicks and his supporters were 100% supportive of Labour Party officials handing over the dodgy ‘Falkirk dossier’ to the police.)
Hicks is very proud of the Sunday Times coverage of his complaint to the Certification Officer. On his website he boasts:
“Jerry Hlcks (sic) challenge to validity of Unite General Secretary election makes ‘Sunday Times’ front page. The ‘Sunday Times’ (01/11/13) (sic) front page article ‘Union Boss Len McCluskey Elected by Phantoms’ carries my complaint to the Certification Officer.”
Hicks is either too thick or too callous, to be quite blunt about it, not to recognise that the Sunday Times front page article is nothing but another vicious witch-hunting attack on Unite, drawing parallels between supposed malpractices in Falkirk and supposed malpractices in Len McCluskey’s re-election.
It is also another disgraceful attack on Stevie Deans. The article makes a ‘linkage’ of Stevie-Deans-Unite-convenor (nearly lost everyone their jobs), Stevie-Deans-Falkirk-Labour–chair (vote-rigging) and Stevie-Deans-election-campaigner-for-McCluskey (vote-rigging).
Solidarity with his own union in the face of this witch-hunt? Solidarity with a fellow union member who has been hounded out of his job and his union and Labour Party positions?
Of such solidarity there is not a word in Hicks’ piece. Instead, narcissism trumps solidarity. “The media are responding to our (sic – should read: my) press release of 9th September,” claims Hicks.
No. The Sunday Times was not responding on 10th November to a press release issued by Hicks on 9th September. It was engaged in an ongoing witch-hunt.
And Hicks’ complaint to the Certification Officer, backed up by Hicks’ allegations about Unite’s role in Falkirk Labour Party, was just another ‘peg’ on which to hang the ongoing witch-hunt.
If there is hard evidence of vote-rigging in this year’s Unite general secretary elections, Hicks is perfectly entitled to raise it. Socialists would defend him for doing so, even if the right-wing media were to exploit such a complaint for its own ends.
But that is not the case here.
Hicks is endorsing gutter-level accusations about vote-rigging by Unite in Falkirk Labour Party in order to try to lend some credibility to allegations about vote-rigging in the Unite general secretary elections.
The Sunday Times picks up on these allegations. In three articles on five pages it attacks Unite and its links to the Labour Party. Hicks’ response is not to condemn the witch-hunt but to say: “Hey look, they’re talking about me!”
(Footnote: Hicks makes allegations about Unite’s recruitment practices in Falkirk Labour Party and about non-members of Unite being given a vote in the general secretary elections.
But according to Hicks’ website, the Grass Roots left national conference, held the day before the appearance of the Sunday Times article, was open to “members of Unite the union, their families and friends.”)
Ross Harper adds:
Well, just fancy that!
Enter Jerry Hicks, stage right, furiously backpedalling.
It’s all been a terrible mistake, he now claims in a new post on his website. See: http://www.jerryhicks4gs.org/
He has made no linkage, he says between events in Falkirk and his complaint to the Certification Officer. Good heavens, no!
And brother Hicks piously stresses that he is “opposed to any attempt to use my complaint in any witch hunt against my union.” Good to hear it, Jerry!
Mind you, there’s still a few things that Hicks needs to explain:
1) The article which he posted on his website this morning made NO criticism of the Sunday Times article. So why did he not say this morning what he is saying now? Could it be that he is saying it only now because of the flak he’s received, because of people ‘unfriending’ him, and because of the nasty things that have been written about him?
2) Hicks does not deny having said “Was Falkirk an aberration or a modus operandi?” This quote is, in any case, entirely consistent with what he has said elsewhere on his website about Falkirk, i.e. that Unite was engaged in “infiltration” of Falkirk Labour Party.
3) Hicks says that he has made no linkage between events in Falkirk and his complaint to the Certification Officer. Problem, for him, is that he claims that Unite was involved in “infiltration” in Falkirk (which the average person would consider to be vote-rigging) and that people who were not members of Unite received ballot papers during the general secretary election earlier this year, presumably in order to help Len McCluskey win (which the average person would consider to be vote-rigging). So it’s pretty pathetic for Hicks to claim that he is making no linkage between the two.
4) Hicks does not deny having said what the Sunday Times says that he said. Let us be charitable and suppose that the Sunday Times has run two different statements together from Hicks into a single quote. But what did Hicks think the Sunday Times was going to do? And this is someone who wants to be a union general secretary (where you need to know how to deal with the media)!
5) Hicks now writes: “I am opposed to any attempt to use my complaint in any witch hunt against my union.” But what about his allegation of “infiltration” into Falkirk Labour Party (and his rhetorical question about whether it was a one-off or established practice)? How can such allegations be used for anything other than a witch-hunt against Unite?
6) Even now Hicks cannot bring himself to utter a single word of support for Stevie Deans (although I very much doubt that Stevie would welcome support from such a source).
The next time Hicks throws his hat into the ring in another general secretary election, Unite members should remember this scurrilous fiasco.
According to the front page of today’s Sunday Times
“THE boss of Britain’s biggest union, involved in a vote-rigging inquiry in Falkirk, faces investigation over alleged irregularities in his own election.
“The allegations over the election of Len McCluskey as general secretary of the Unite union centre on claims that almost 160,000 of those balloted were not members.
“His rival for the job, Jerry Hicks, has complained that the election was unlawful because people who had left the union were included in the ballot. Hicks said dead former members were among those who were sent voting papers.
“The Certification Office — the union regulator, which has the power to order McCluskey’s election to be rerun — confirmed this weekend that it has launched an investigation. An official complaint is expected to be submitted to Unite in the next few weeks.
“Hicks said this weekend: ‘Was Falkirk an aberration or a modus operandi?’ There are serious questions that need to be answered about these tens of thousands of non-members of the union who were sent ballot papers.”
So it appears that the SWP-supported Hicks (who lost the last general secretary election to McCluskey by 80,000 votes earlier this year) has not only reported the union to the Certification Officer, but is now co-operating with the Murdoch press (and so, with the Tories and Blairites) in the witch-hunt against Unite in the wake of Falkirk and Grangemouth.
By the way, I’d put money on the fact that if there were any significant membership irregularities at the time of the general secretary election, they came from the old Amicus side of the merged union – precisely the constituency Hicks was appealing to in his campaign.
But for now, Mr Hicks has some ‘serious questions that need answering’ – like what the hell does he think he’s doing going to the Certification Officer and the Murdoch press instead of raising any legitimate concerns he might have within the union itself? Unite under McCluskey has many faults, but it is a relatively open and democratic organisation, where any such concerns would be taken seriously and investigated. But it would appear that Mr Hicks is more interested in attacking McCluskey, even by means of joining in the right-wing witch-hunt against the union itself.
There’s a name for people who do that. It’s “scab.”
P.S: As Anne Field and Andrew Coates note in BTL comments below, Hicks seems very proud of his coverage in the Murdoch press: http://www.jerryhicks4gs.org/
By Ross Spear (taken from Facebook). It should go without saying that us Shirazers don’t necessarily agree with all of the author’s opinions, and we didn’t seek his permission before publishing this, as it was already in the public domain:
How To Argue
The crisis inside the SWP has long been peppered with calls to conduct the debate in a comradely fashion inside the organisation. What goes unsaid is just how difficult this has been made. It takes two to tango, and the leadership has expended considerable effort destroying any possibility of a reasoned debate on the events of the past year. Its interventions on the subject are more akin to the smear tactics found in tabloid newspapers than the kind of debating you would expect to have amongst comrades. I take here the Charlie Kimber/Alex Callinicos article in the most recent ISJ as an example of this sort of behaviour. I stress that this is only that of an example, for the writings of the SWP leadership on the crisis are riddled from top to bottom with the wilful distortions that characterise their approach to ‘debate’. That this is their modus operandi only goes to show that their aim is not to convince their opponents so much as it is to discredit them. They aim to publicly sow confusion in order that the relevant facts are accorded a degree of ambiguity in the minds of their readers.
For anyone closely involved in the SWP crisis the various diversions, distortions and omissions are always plain to see. For those looking on at a distance this is likely not always so clear, thus why the opposition has been forced in to a rear-guard action so as to publicly set the record straight at every twist and turn. David Renton has already comprehensively dismantled the claims in the first part of the article that refers to the two cases. 65% of the article, however, is not concerned with this but deals with refuting what Callinicos and Kimber believe to be the mistaken politics of the opposition. They seek to take the debate “onto a political terrain where the issues can genuinely be clarified.” What emerges, however, is precisely the opposite.
Their main claim is that the opposition is subject to the deviation of ‘movementism’. That is to say that it, or at least a sizeable component of it, has renounced class politics and, specifically, the primacy of the working class as the agency of socialist change. This is what underpins the current split within the organisation, and is a common thread running through each split since the 2007 Respect crisis. It is through this lens that Kimber and Callinicos understand the opposition.
Argument by diversion
In reality, there is little indication that any drift towards ‘movementism’ is a defining aspect of the opposition. It is certainly not a unifying element of this heterogeneous bloc, which is unified solely in its disagreement with the systematic covering up of rape accusations. The opposition remains unified by this, and probably this alone, in spite of any protestations by Kimber and Callinicos to the contrary. In order to achieve their ideal target of an argument with ‘movementists’ they pursue diversionary tactics, away from what the opposition is talking about and towards what Kimber and Callinicos would like to talk about. They are unable to produce a sustained argument that would vindicate the SWP in its handling of two serious disputes, thus they move us on to something that they are confident talking about: the importance of the working class. The structure of the piece betrays this, for they quickly put forward their (incorrect) version of how the allegations were handled before launching in to a lengthy diatribe about movements, class and the united front.
If this is intended to be read and digested by the opposition then they merely waste paper, for that is not the dispute we are having. But this is not, of course, the purpose of the article. The diversion here is so absurd that one struggles to think that Kimber and Callinicos believe their own fantasy. There is certainly a time and a place for putting the arguments of revolutionary socialists as to the importance of the working class out in public, in order to convince people of our ideas. An article seeking to understand why a large portion of the SWP’s membership is resistant to the endemic sexism present in its handling of rape allegations is not it.
Argument by distortion
This diversion is achieved by way of presenting two pieces of evidence, provided to the reader as if they were telling examples of SWP members gone bad. For the first, they paraphrase the view of Richard Seymour: “Neoliberalism has entered the very soul of the working class, crushing class solidarity and identification, engendering acceptance of market relationships and hollowing out resistance.” According to Kimber and Callinicos the claim put here by Seymour is that neoliberalism “has totally gutted working class power.” It must be left up to Seymour to clarify his own ideas, but based on Kimber and Callinicos’ own summary he has said nothing of the sort. It is a well-known fact of the last thirty years that social attitudes have changed considerably (in what thirty year period do they not?) and that the working class has been on the back foot in the class struggle. Identifying the nature of this is the first step to changing it. Kimber and Callinicos are surely not yet so far fallen from revolutionary socialism that they would deny Marx’s postulate that the ruling ideas are those of the ruling class – and yet this is all Seymour’s claim really amounts to. Thus Seymour is presented as a heretic to revolutionary socialism not by the use of supporting evidence but by asking the reader to make a leap of faith, to trust in Kimber and Callinicos to know what he is really getting at. The authors travel swiftly from what he did say to what they would have liked him to have said, and then they comprehensively rebut that instead.
Their second target is Renton, whose crime is to contend that “’Core’ public sector workers… having final salary pensions arguably have as much in common with MPs and bankers as they do with the nine out of ten workers who rely on private pensions or no pensions save the state pension.” Once more a jump is made by Kimber and Callinicos, who transform this statement – that the minority of workers who have decent pensions have something significant in common with other social strata that do also – in to a moral claim on Renton’s part that these workers are somehow bad because they have attained this level of security. Renton is said to be ‘directing fire’ at groups of workers. Unfortunately for Kimber and Callinicos, the quoted passage does not make the argument that they go on to counter. They are once more left to argue against a target that they have constructed themselves. If I make the observation that those who have been to Russell Group universities and become workers have something in common with lots of non-workers, like MPs, I am not ‘directing fire’ but making a potentially valuable statement about a certain lived experience. That this is a fact does not make those involved any less working class, but may nonetheless be of use in understanding the lived experience of workers if socialists wish to lead them. The ruling class has consciously pursued stratification within the working class, attempting to break down its bonds of solidarity. The least we owe them is to acknowledge this. Read the rest of this entry »
The Socialist Workers Party’s first pre-conference bulletin of 2013 has already been quite widely leaked, which in itself tells you a lot about the state of that organisation. I’ve been dipping into the 88-page document over the last week or so and was particularly struck by the following contribution from Andrew “ozzy” Osborne – not because it’s particularly insightful or sophisticated (it’s not) but because of its obvious sincerity and almost heartbreaking sadness. I was also particularly interested in the comrade’s account of the way the SWP Unite fraction reacted to being overruled / outvoted despite all its leading members disagreeing with the Party leadership’s wish to support Jerry Hicks in the Unite GS election. It should go without saying that I have not spoken to “ozzy” (who I don’t know anyway) about reproducing his piece here, but as it’s already effectively in the public domain I don’t believe that’s an issue. Nor have I had any contact with the ’In Defence Of Our Party’ (IDOOP) faction of which “ozzy” is a member:
ME AND THE PARTY…..A PERSONAL JOURNEY OF 9 MONTHS AT THE END OF THE STRUGGLE.
A funny thing happened to me in January of 2013, I voted against the Central Committee on two issues (once against the entire CC once against the CC Majority group) at the party conference having never done this before; January 2013 was a bit of an eye opener for me.
One issue was a strategic/tactical issue and one was a question of principle.
I voted against the CC regarding the “should we support Jerry Hicks position” myself, Frank W, Gill G, Ian A and Julian V were the 5 members of the SWP unite fraction committee who opposed the CC at the conference.
My position (the position of the 5 members of the SWP unite fraction) was massively defeated. My vote at that conference on the acceptance of the disputes committee report was also defeated by a wafer thin margin as was my vote on the Central Committee.
At a recent meeting at Marxism Alex Callinicos asked a question of a comrade “what do you do if you lose the vote??” I think the actions of the unite fraction leadership provides a useful example of what comrades in the tradition of the International Socialists who understand democratic centralism do when you lose a vote on a question of tactics and strategy, the vote was taken by the highest democratic body of the party and we were obliged to follow it, there was no more discussion, it was not required….We campaigned our collective asses of(f) and secured Jerry Hicks 118 branch and 19 workplace nominations, 9 branch nominations were from my county of Cambridgeshire.
When the election was put to the membership of Unite Jerry received 79,819 votes an absolutely amazing result. During the campaign I coordinated the
activities of the unite fraction and from that the industrial intervention of the party nationally over this important trades union election campaign. It wasn’t just me; Gill secured her branch nomination for Jerry speaking in opposition to Frank W (Unite EC Health sector) who resigned from the party in protest at the parties support for Jerry. Ian A set up Jerry’s website for the campaign, was at most of the face to face meetings with Jerry during the campaign and secured the workplace nominations of 4 Fujitsu sites as well as his his own branch,Julian put the case for Jerrys nomination at his branch which we lost as it’s a bit of a united left (unite broad left – backed Len during the campaign) stronghold but secured his workplace nomination.
Over the period from the SWP conference of January 2013 till the close of the campaign and the result announcement on the 13th of April there were 320 emails all related to the general secretary election campaign on the swp-unite-fraction email group, there were also skype teleconferences and more phone calls than I care to remember. Maps locating major unite workplaces in most regions of the country were produced and used to direct the intervention of the party nationally. The united left and Len McCluskeys campaign actually did shit a brick once they realised the fact that the SWP was incredibly organised and taking the election campaign very seriously. I was sent an email from Steve Turner the unite Executive policy director and Len McCluskeys campaign manager during the election campaign on the 15th of March which was titled “SWP activities in your area – BE AWARE” I almost fell of(f) my chair as I laughed so hard.
During the election Jerry Hicks campaign was attacked on twitter and other social media sites disgracefully by Len and the united left as being “rape apologists” and the question was put why should unites female members vote for a candidate supported by the SWP, these attacks were disgraceful but despite my protestations the SWP did not respond seriously to these allegations. We did get an article written by Julie S from the CC in the guardian as a right of reply to an article by Laurie Penny but without meaning to offend Julie S (who I have a great deal of respect for) this article was not the defence of the party position we needed.
During the campaign (the period from January to April) I had to temporally shut down the SWP unite fraction email list twice due to comrades using it to factionalise, my actions were not one of a comrade trying to damage the party rather that of a comrade trying to build the party organisation in the country’s biggest trades union.
Then we come to the second issue on which I opposed the central committee at the January 2013 conference on the question of the disputes committee, prior to the January 2013 conference I had signed the CC statement and was not involved in any factional issue. My position changed after the January 2013 conference session on the disputes committee, let me be frank, I’m a big bloke with a thick skin but when I walked out of the venue for a fag break on evening of the 6th of January 2013 I was actually in tears and gave serious consideration to keeping on walking, I didn’t walk but resolved then and there to do all I could to fix the problem which evidently had occurred. I was a member of the In Defence Of Our Party faction (IDOOP) prior to the special conference in March and I have signed the statement of intent to form a faction at this year’s conference.
A lot of mud and rubbish is slung around at comrades who oppose the CC around the disputes committee report, some of which is that we don’t want to build the party, sell the paper or that we have moved away from democratic centralism, I would urge comrades to look a mine and the unite fraction leaderships example. We understand democratic centralism and do want to build the socialist workers party but don’t judge us by our words judge us by our actions. Words are cheap actions are solid gold. I have said all I am going to say on this subject unless the CC responds to me directly.
This pre conference period will be tough for many comrades I would urge all comrades in unite and in the wider party to listen to my words and judge me by my actions. Join me in opposing the current leadership. We have had a tough year as a party. We can get through this if we do a couple of things, firstly apologise to the two women who raised issues with a former member of the SWP, and secondly be a tribune of the oppressed.
Andrew “ozzy” Osborne (Cambridge)
Above: just one victim among many
Remember all those outspoken, courageous lone voices, who dared speak the unsayable truth unto power after the Drummer Rigby attack? You know, the people who wrote in the Guardian, the Independent and the New Statesman, explaining that there was, in effect, a conspiracy of silence, hiding the fact that terrorists have motives and agendas, usually in reaction to the many crimes of the West?
As we commented at the time:
Those fearless, insightful people who dare break with the establishment consensus and put forward the only real explanation for terrorism – ‘blowback’ – are rarely heard, such is the conspiracy of silence and denial they’re up against. Very occasionally, the wall of silence is breached and their profound thoughts on the subject get published . Here, here, here here and here for instance.
The Pilgers, Milnes, Greenwalds and Mehdi Hasans: such brave, outspoken people. Why are they so uncharacteristically silent?
Where are they, now that we need them in the aftermath of the Kenyan massacre? Surely they can’t be leaving fearless truth-telling to the likes of the SWP and Tory “libertarian” and isolationist Simon Jenkins?
Nairobi shopping mall horror is the high price of war
by Ken Olende
The shocking attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Kenya’s capital Nairobi was not just mindless terrorism. More than 60 shoppers died and nearly 200 were injured in the well-planned attack, claimed by Somali Islamist militant group al Shabaab.
Kenyan troops were central to the invasion of neighbouring Somalia in October 2011. Al Shabaab or its sympathisers have carried out more than 50 reprisal attacks in Kenya, killing at least 70 people.
Previous assaults on a much smaller scale were near the Somali border, in the coastal city of Mombasa, which has a large Muslim population. Others were in the Eastleigh area of Nairobi, where many Somali migrants live.
Its previous biggest attack had been in Uganda. A series of bombs killed 60 people there on the night of the World Cup final in 2010. But when the casualties were among the poor, the attacks had little international impact.
Westgate was chosen for this operation because, as Kenyan socialist Zahid Rajan put it, “It is the venue of choice for wealthy people across the racial divide”. To most better-off Kenyans the malls like Westgate were seen as a haven from the embittered, violent country. One eyewitness tweeted, “When the first gunshot was fired, we ran into the mall instead of away”.
Zahid told Socialist Worker, “There has been a fantastic humanitarian response to the scale of the tragedy. “People are volunteering to help. A special bloodbank has been set up in the city’s main park. “The attackers may have thought they would divide Muslims from other Kenyans, but this hasn’t worked.”
Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta has posed as a champion of national unity since the attack. But Kenya has pulled out of the international criminal court because he was due to appear before it, accused of organising communal violence at the time of the 2007 election.
Central authority collapsed in Somalia with the fall of US-backed dictator Mohammed Siad Barre in 1991. Al Shabaab was part of the Islamic Courts movement that restored some kind of government in 2006. This was overthrown by a US-backed invasion and the group has since moved to more extreme forms of Islamism.
After the invasion by Kenyan and Ethiopian troops in 2011 it said that it supported the ideas of Al Qaida. Even Rob Wise of the US Center for Strategic and International Studies think-tank comments that it was “a relatively moderate Islamist organisation”, which was driven towards Al Qaida by invasion.
He added that since 2008 al Shabaab has “increasingly embraced transnational terrorism and attempted to portray itself as part of the Al Qaida-led global war on the West.” The horror in Kenya is a direct product of Western intervention.
Christian mourners outside the church in Peshawar protest against the Islamist attack
In the light of the Nairobi terror attack and the massacre of Christians in Pashawar, Pakistan, it’s high time the so-called “left” faced up to an elementary truth: Islamism (as distinct from the religion of Islam) is a form of fascism, and must be fought as such. It’s to the eternal shame of “left” groups like the SWP (not to mention liberal “mainstream” publications like the Guardian) that they’ve repeated the mistakes of 1930′s Stalinism (Third Period and Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) in promoting and prettifying fascists as somehow “progressive”.
The only far left group in Britain to openly describe Islamism as clerical fascist in recent years has been the AWL. Here’s their Martin Thomas in 2008, on the subject:
Political Islam as clerical fascism
Examining Gilles Kepel’s comprehensive history, Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam (Harvard University Press).
“Left-leaning Arab intellectuals have traditionally regarded the [Muslim] Brothers as a populist movement… [with] similarities to the workings of European fascism during… the 1930s…
“In the eyes of leftist intellectuals, both among Muslims and in the West, Islamist groups represented a religious variety of fascism…
“But gradually, as Islamist numbers increased… the left discovered that Islamism had a popular base; consequently Marxist thinkers of every stripe, casting around for the mass support so critical to their ideology, began to credit Islamist activists with socialist virtues…”
Kepel reports this shift of attitudes in a dispassionate way. But the facts assembled in his book give a verdict. The recent granting of political credit to political Islam by would-be Marxists reflects those leftists’ loss of self-confidence, in an era of bourgeois triumphalism, rather than any shift to the left by the Islamists.
Political Islam, or “Islamism”, as a political movement or congeries of movements, is distinct from Islam as a religion. Before the late 70s, in modern times, if a government called itself “Islamic” or “Muslim”, that was a vague gesture rather than a ferocious commitment. The only large exception was Saudi Arabia, a peculiarly archaic state.
Modern political movements, using modern political mechanics to convert society to an Islamic state, absolutely governed and permeated by revivalistically-rigorous Islamic doctrine, were levered into life and prominence in a sequence of three big turning points, 1967, 1973, and 1979.
The theory had been prepared before then. Hassan al-Banna and Mawlana Mawdudi, the founders of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Jamaat e-Islami in India (later Pakistan) began activity in the late 1920s. Sayyid Qutb, a Muslim Brotherhood ideologist who has become the main literary inspiration for “harder” Sunni political Islam, wrote his books in the 1960s and was hanged by Egypt’s secular government in 1966. Ruhollah Khomeiny formulated his thesis of direct political rule by senior clergy in 1970.
But the movements were weak. In Iraq, for example, the Shia-Islamist movements which now dominate politics there had originated in 1958-63, but until the 1970s were small circles of clerics and theological students, concerned mostly with pious discussion among themselves. They kept a low profile as much because they knew their ideas would seem uncongenial to the wider population as for fear of repression.
“The first Islamist onslaught”, writes Kepel, “was against nationalism. The 1967 defeat [of the Arab states by Israel, in the war of that year] seriously undermined the ideological edifice of nationalism and created a vacuum to be filled… by Qutb’s Islamist philosophy”.
The rise of political Islam was also (so it seems to me, though Kepel does not spell this out) based in part, paradoxically, on the relative successes of Arab nationalism. Over the two decades before 1967 the Arab states had won political independence, and legislated land reforms and nationalisation.
Many of the cadres of political Islam would be young men from rural backgrounds who – thanks to the “successes” of nationalism – had become the first generation from their families to go to university, to live in big cities, and, often, to travel the world as migrant workers, especially in the Gulf.
Paradoxically, the cadres of consciously backward-looking political Islam would come from among the most “modernised” or “Westernised” people in their countries. They had been roused up and tantalised by nationalism and its promises – but also dashed down by them. “Qutb spoke to the young, born after independence, who had come along too late to benefit from the vast redistribution of spoils that followed the departure of the colonial occupiers”.
Bourgeois nationalism must always create disappointments. What led to special tumult in the Arab world, rather than a “moderate” disillusion and “settling-down”, was the peculiar attachment of Arab nationalism to an unrealistic (indeed, reactionary) objective, the destruction of “Zionism” (the Israeli Jews), and the peculiarly extreme conjunction, created by the oil economies, of seething poverty with vast wealth controlled by various species of bureaucratic “crony capitalism”.
In 1973 the Arab states warred with Israel again, coming out of it a bit better, but not well enough to rehabilitate the nationalists. Oil prices and oil revenues increased hugely. The Saudi regime started pouring funds into promoting Islamic rigorism internationally.
“Prior to 1973, Islam was everywhere dominated by national or local traditions rooted in the piety of the common people”, with a “motley establishment” of clerics who “held Saudi-inspired puritanism in great suspicion”.
Now, “for the first time in 14 centuries, the same books (as well as cassettes) could be found from one end of the [Muslim world] to another… This mass distribution by the conservative Riyadh regime did not… prevent more radical elements from using the texts… to further their own objectives”.
In the 1970s, and into the 1980s, “conservative governments on the Saudi model [and often with US approval] encouraged Islamism as a counterweight to the Marxists on university campuses whom they feared”. There was “re-Islamisation” from above, even in countries where grass-roots Islamist movements were weak or repressed.
World-wide, far beyond the Arab domain, “all Muslims were offered [and many, not just political Islamists, accepted] a new identity that emphasised their religious commonality while downplaying differences of language, ethnicity, and nationality”. The Organisation of the Islamic Conference (an alliance of states) was set up in 1969; the Islamic Development Bank, in 1975.
In 1979, political Islam took power in non-Arab Iran, and became the banner of a long war, with popular support, in non-Arab Afghanistan, against the USSR’s attempt to subjugate that country militarily.
The Shah’s brutal modernisation “from above” in Iran had created mass discontent. While in most Sunni countries, the religious establishment was diffuse and heavily controlled at its higher levels by the state, in Shia Iran the clerics had an organised hierarchy outside state control.
In Sunni political Islam, the main leaders had been (and would continue to be) laymen. Khomeiny created the first political-Islamist movement using clerics as cadres, and proposing not just an Islamic state, but a state ruled by clerics.
He also introduced social demagogy, otherwise a thinner seam in political Islam than in the European fascism, or even clerical-fascism, of the 1930s. “Neither Mawdudi nor Qutb gave any explicit social content to their theorising”.
The Iraqi ayatollah Baqi as-Sadr, uncle and father-in-law of the current Mahdi Army leader Muqtada al-Sadr, had in 1961 published a book on “Islamic economics”; but the main distinctive upshot has been the rise of “Islamic banking”, now a reputable sideline in the City of London.
All Islamists thought that “the coming reign of the sharia… would be built upon the ashes of socialism and of a Western world completely devoid of moral standards”; but it was Khomeiny who introduced a specific appeal for an “Islam of the people” and to the “disinherited” (mustadefeen).
Still, for Khomeiny, as Kepel notes, “the disinherited” was “so vague a term that it encompassed just about everyone in Iran except the shah and the imperial court… includ[ed] the bazaar merchants opposed to the shah”. The main actual measure for the poor of Khomeiny’s Iran would be distribution of state subsidies to the families of Islamist “martyrs”.
Socially, Kepel sees political Islam as resting on two distinct groups – the “devout middle class”, both traditional-mercantile and modern-professional, who feel mistreated by corrupt secular-nationalist state bureaucracies; and the young urban poor such as the Algerian “hittistes” (from the word hit, meaning wall: young unemployed men leaning against walls).
That small-bourgeois/ lumpenproletarian alliance has also generally been the social base of fascism.
Political Islam, however, has a vast range of variants, from middle-class movements confining themselves to mild pressure-group politics (Kepel cites the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, friendly to the monarchy) to plebeian “takfiris” for whom all outside their own ranks, even pious Muslims who deviate slightly, deserve terrorist chastisement.
Kepel sees the search for a middle way and a broad alliance, necessary to any successful political-Islamist movement, as ultimately unviable. He concludes that political Islam reached its high point around 1989 – with the USSR’s retreat from Afghanistan, the temporary triumph of an Islamist regime in Sudan, the rise of Hamas and Islamic Jihad among the Palestinians, and Khomeiny’s death-decree against Salman Rushdie – and has mostly declined since. He cites the defeat of the Islamist-terrorist “ultras” in Algeria and Egypt as evidence.
The trend, he argues, must be for the devout middle class to be co-opted and pulled towards parliamentary democracy, on the lines of the Turkish Islamists, and for the “ultras” to be isolated.
In 2008, eight years after Kepel published the first edition of his book, his conclusion looks implausible. Political Islam has had some defeats, but its success in Iraq shows it still has great vitality.
Kepel’s error, I would guess, is shaped by a certain disdain: he just cannot believe that many people, in the Arabic and Muslim cultures which he loves, can be lastingly seduced by such crudities and brutalities.
What is true, surely, is that those cultures contain many strands utterly alien to political Islam. The assertion, common on the left, that hostility to political Islam implies de facto hostility to most Muslims, is untrue.
On those strands, a working-class socialist movement can build, answering the social questions which political Islam so obscures, on condition that the socialists acquire the self-confidence to brand the clerical-fascists for what they really are.
Editorial from Stupid Wanker, paper of the Stupid Wankers Party (UK):
Horror in Kenya: Bitter fruit of Kenyan (and US and British and Israeli) policy
The full horror of the attacks in Kenya was breaking as Stupid Wanker went to press. Very many innocent people had been killed or injured.
Nobody knew for sure on Saturday who was responsible. If it was people from Somalia it will be because they believe, wrongly, that it is the only way to respond to the horrors they have suffered from the Kenyan and other governments. The tragic scenes in the Westgate shopping centre are the bitter fruits of policies pursued by the Kenyan state, backed all the way by the US, Britain, Israel and NATO.
Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta spoke of terrorist outrages today. Yet the state he heads has been responsible for burying men, women and children under piles of rubble. He sent hundreds of soldiers to attack Somali civilians night after night. They killed hundreds of civilians and innocent members of al-Shabaab -’collateral damage’ in the war against so-called “terror.”
Two years ago Kenya, with US and NATO backing, attacked Somalia. Children, hospital patients, old people—all these and more had as little warning that they were to be attacked as did those who died in Kenya this week. Kenyatta, backed by David Cameron, launched these attacks on the people of Somalia. His father headed a brutal one-party state in Kenya, based upon corruption, brute force and appeals to ethnic loyalty.
In Israel the US supports Benjamin Netenyahu, a war criminal. Israel has murdered thousands of Palestinians. Faced with the might of the US, some people can become so desperate that they try to fight back against this military giant with the limited weapons they have to hand.
They do not have Cruise missiles—so they take to attacking an Israeli-owned Kenyan shopping centre instead. It is not a method that can break US, Israeli or or Kenyan power. Some ruling class Kenyans would have suffered from the attack. But many more innocent civilians were killed. Saturday’s raid was born of desperation at the supreme arrogance and contempt of the rulers of the most powerful capitalist state on Earth.
In 1998 the US responded to a bomb attack on its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania by blowing up the only medicine factory in the desperately poor country of Sudan, and by bombing Afghanistan. It will be looking for similar revenge now. That will drive more people to hate the US.
It is the responsibility of everyone who is revolted at the lethal world order the US and its allies sit at the top of to offer a way forward. It needs to be based on the mass collective power of ordinary people across the world, and targeted precisely at our rulers.
H/t: Socialist Worker
Interestingly, this statement has been published in the UK by the Socialist Workers Party. We don’t agree with all of it, but (unlike much of the UK left) it is uncompromisingly anti-Assad, and includes the following slogans:
* No to all forms of imperialist intervention, whether by the US or Russia.
* No to the intervention of Hizbollah, which warrants the maximum of condemnation.
We Stand Behind the Syrian People’s Revolution – No to Foreign Intervention
Statement by Revolutionary Socialists (Egypt), Revolutionary Left Current (Syria), Union of Communists (Iraq), Al-Mounadil-a (Morocco), Socialist Forum (Lebanon)
More than 150,000 people have been killed, hundreds of thousands injured and disabled, millions displaced inside and outside Syria. Cities, villages, and neighbourhoods have been fully or partially destroyed using all sorts of weapons, including warplanes, scud missiles, bombs, and tanks—all paid for by the sweat and blood of the Syrian people. All this was done under the pretext of defending the homeland and achieving military balance with Israel—whose occupation of Syrian land is, in fact, being protected by the Syrian regime, which has failed to reply to its continuing aggression.
Yet, despite the enormous losses mentioned above, befalling all Syrians, and the calamity inflicted on them, no international organisation or major country—or even a lesser one—felt the need to provide practical solidarity or support the Syrians in their struggle for their most basic rights, human dignity, and social justice.
The only exceptions were some Gulf countries, more specifically Qatar and Saudi Arabia. However, their aim was to control the nature of the conflict and steer it in a sectarian direction, distorting the Syrian revolution and aiming to abort it, as a reflection of their deepest fear that the revolutionary flame will reach their shores. So they backed obscurantist takfiri groups, coming, for the most part, from the four corners of the world, to impose a grotesque vision for rule based on Islamic sharia. These groups have engaged, time and time again, in terrifying massacres of Syrian citizens who opposed their repressive measures and aggression inside areas under their control or under attack. Look at the recent example of villages in the countryside of Latakia province.
A large block of hostile forces, from around the world, is conspiring against the Syrian people’s revolution, which erupted in tandem with the uprisings spreading through a large section of the Arab region and the Maghreb for the past three years. The people’s uprisings aimed to put an end to a history of brutality, injustice, and exploitation and attain the rights to freedom, dignity, and social justice.
However, this did not only provoke local brutal dictatorships, but also most of the imperialist forces seeking to perpetuate the theft of the wealth of our people, in addition to the various reactionary classes and forces throughout those areas and in surrounding countries.
As for Syria, the alliance fighting against the people’s revolution comprises a host of reactionary sectarian forces, spearheaded by Iran and confessional militias in Iraq, and, regrettably, Hizbollah’s strike force, which is drowning in the quagmire of defending a profoundly corrupt and criminal dictatorial regime.
This unfortunate situation has also struck a major section of the traditional Arab left with Stalinist roots, whether in Syria itself or in Lebanon, Egypt, and the rest of the Arab region—and worldwide—which is clearly biased towards the wretched alliance surrounding the Assad regime. The justification is that some see it as a “resilient” or even a “resistance” regime. They say this despite its long history—throughout its existence in power—of protecting the Zionist occupation of the Golan Heights, its constant bloody repression of various groups resisting Israel, be it Palestinian or Lebanese (or Syrian), and remaining idle and subservient, since the October 1973 war, concerning Israel’s aggressions on Syrian territories. This bias will have serious ramifications on ordinary Syrians’ position regarding the left in general.
The United Nations and the Security Council, in particular, was unable to condemn the crimes of a regime, which the Syrian people rejected continuously and peacefully for more than seven months, while the bullets of the snipers and shabbiha [armed militia’s supporting the ruling Ba’ath party] took demonstrators one by one and day after day and while the most influential activists were being detained and subjected to the worst kinds of torture and elimination in the prisons and detention centres. All the while, the world remained completely silent and in a state of total negativity.
The situation persisted with little difference after the people in revolution decided to take up arms and the emergence of what became known as the Free Syrian Army (FSA)—whose command and soldiers came, to a large extent, from the regular army. This led to the horrific escalation of crimes by the regime.
Russian imperialism, the most important ally of the Ba’athist regime in Damascus, which provides it with all sorts of support, remains on the lookout to block any attempt to condemn those crimes in the Security Council. The United States, on the other hand, does not find a real problem in the continuation of the status quo, with all the apparent repercussions and destruction of the country. This is despite the threats and intimidation utilised by the US president, every time someone in the opposition raises the question of the use of chemical weapons by the regime, up until the latest escalation, when it was considered crossing a “red line”.
It is clear that Obama, who gives the impression that he will go ahead with his threats, would have felt great embarrassment if he did not do so, since it will not only impact negatively on the president, but also on the image of the mighty and arrogant state that he leads in the eyes of subservient Arab countries and the entire world.
The imminent strike against the Syrian armed forces is led by the US in essence. However, it occurs with the understanding and cooperation of allied imperialist countries, even without rationalising it through the usual farce, known as international legitimacy (namely the decisions of the UN, which was and remains representative of the interests of major powers, whether in conflict or in alliance, depending on the circumstances, differences, and balances among them). In other words, the strike will not wait for the Security Council due to the anticipated Russian-Chinese veto.
Unfortunately, many in the Syrian opposition are gambling on this strike and the US position in general. They believe this would create an opportunity for them to seize power, skipping over the movement and of the masses and their independent decision. It should not be a surprise, then, that the representatives of this opposition and the FSA had no reservations on providing information to the US about proposed targets for the strike.
In all cases, we agree on the following:
- The western imperialist alliance will strike several positions and vital parts of the military and civilian infrastructure in Syria (with several casualties, as usual). However, as it was keen to announce, the strikes will not be meant to topple the regime. They are merely intended to punish, in Obama’s words, the current Syrian leadership and save face for the US administration, after all the threats concerning the use of chemical weapons.
- The US president’s intentions to punish the Syrian leadership does not stem, in any way or form, from Washington’s solidarity with the suffering of children who fell in the Ghouta massacres, but from its commitment to what Obama calls the vital interests of the US and its homeland security, in addition to Israel’s interests and security.
- The Syrian army and its regional allies, led by the Iranian regime, will not have enough courage, most probably, to fulfil what seemed to be threats by their senior officials that any western attack on Syria will ignite the entire region. But this option remains on the table, as a final option with catastrophic results.
- The imminent western imperialist assault does not intend to support the Syrian revolution in any way. It will aim to push Damascus into the bargaining table and allow Bashar al-Assad to retreat from the foreground, but keeping the regime in place, while greatly improving conditions to strengthen the position of US imperialism in the future Syria against Russian imperialism.
- The more those participating in the continuing popular mobilisation—who are more aware, principled, and dedicated to the future of Syria and its people—realise these facts, their consequences, results, and act accordingly, the more this will contribute to aiding the Syrian people to successfully pick a true revolutionary leadership. In the process of a committed struggle based on the current and future interests of their people, this would produce a radical program consistent with those interests, which could be promoted and put into practice on the road to victory.
No to all forms of imperialist intervention, whether by the US or Russia.
No to all forms of reactionary sectarian interventions, whether by Iran or the Gulf countries.
No to the intervention of Hizbollah, which warrants the maximum of condemnation.
Down with all illusions about the imminent US military strike.
Break open the arms depots for the Syrian people to struggle for freedom, dignity, and social justice.
Victory to a free democratic Syria and down with the Assad dictatorship and all dictatorships forever.
Long live the Syrian people’s revolution.
Revolutionary Socialists (Egypt), Revolutionary Left Current (Syria), Union of Communists (Iraq), Al-Mounadil-a (Morocco), Socialist Forum (Lebanon) Published on Saturday 31 August 2013
The Revolutionary Socialists are the (UK) SWP’s associated group in Egypt, but take a much more critical view of the Muslim Brotherhood (although, perhaps under pressure from the the SWP, they did call for a vote for Morsi and the Brotherhood in last year’s elections).
Here’s their statement on today’s massacre:
Down with military rule! Down with Al-Sisi, the leader of the counter-revolution!
The bloody dissolution of the sit-ins in Al-Nahda Square and Raba’a al-Adawiyya is nothing but a massacre—prepared in advance. It aims to liquidate the Muslim Brotherhood. But, it is also part of a plan to liquidate the Egyptian Revolution and restore the military-police state of the Mubarak regime.
The Revolutionary Socialists did not defend the regime of Mohamed Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood for a single day. We were always in the front ranks of the opposition to that criminal, failed regime which betrayed the goals of the Egyptian Revolution. It even protected the pillars of the Mubarak regime and its security apparatus, armed forces and corrupt businessmen. We strongly participated in the revolutionary wave of 30 June.
Neither did we defend for a single day the sit-ins by the Brotherhood and their attempts to return Mursi to power.
But we have to put the events of today in their context, which is the use of the military to smash up workers’ strikes. We also see the appointment of new provincial governors—largely drawn from the ranks of the remnants of the old regime, the police and military generals. Then there are the policies of General Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi’s government. It has adopted a road-map clearly hostile to the goals and demands of the Egyptian revolution, which are freedom, dignity and social justice.
This is the context for the brutal massacre which the army and police are committing. It is a bloody dress rehearsal for the liquidation of the Egyptian Revolution. It aims to break the revolutionary will of all Egyptians who are claiming their rights, whether workers, poor, or revolutionary youth, by creating a state of terror.
However, the reaction by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists in attacking Christians and their churches, is a sectarian crime which only serves the forces of counter-revolution. The filthy attempt to create a civil war, in which Egyptian Christians will fall victims to the reactionary Muslim Brotherhood, is one in which Mubarak’s state and Al-Sisi are complicit, who have never for a single day defended the Copts and their churches.
We stand firmly against Al-Sisi’s massacres, and against his ugly attempt to abort the Egyptian Revolution. For today’s massacre is the first step in the road towards counter-revolution. We stand with the same firmness against all assaults on Egypt’s Christians and against the sectarian campaign which only serves the interests of Al-Sisi and his bloody project.
Many who described themselves as liberals and leftists have betrayed the Egyptian Revolution, led by those who took part in Al-Sisi’s government. They have sold the blood of the martyrs to whitewash the military and the counter-revolution. These people have blood on their hands.
We, the Revolutionary Socialists, will never deviate for an instant from the path of the Egyptian Revolution. We will never compromise on the rights of the revolutionary martyrs and their pure blood: those who fell confronting Mubarak, those who fell confronting the Military Council, those who fell confronting Mursi’s regime, and those who fall now confronting Al-Sisi and his dogs.
Down with military rule! No the return of the old regime! No to the return of the Brotherhood! All power and wealth to the people
The Revolutionary Socialists 14 August 2013