Who the Friends of Religion are and why they fight the Secular Left

April 25, 2008 at 6:00 am (Andrew C, religion, Respect, SWP)

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


  1. Jim Denham said,

    Welcome aboard, Andrew! You’ve just saved me the trouble of writing on this very subject (see below). Many thanks, comrade!

  2. johng said,

    In a situation where imperialist wars are justified with spurious appeals to liberal principles, and where secularism is invoked to justify bigotry directed against religious minorities, its hardly surprising that some are looking critically at the principles as well as the people who misuse them. Its also true (and this is whats really irritating about the kind of argument which Andrew uses here) that one section of the left has responded to this appropriation of liberal and secular arguments by entirely forgetting that Marx was himself a critic of both (viz. on the Jewish Question) and that Marxism as a systematic theory owes a lot to his critique of the limitations of both bourgoise athiesm and indeed the associated ‘crass materialism’ which he condemns, which in effect creates an imaginary world of physical objects but no social relations. The analyses of religion and its functions is subordinate to the analyses of the kind of society which produces both the functions and the institutions. To fail to see this is not only a departure from Marxism but also a departure from a secularism which understands that religion plays different roles in different situations, and is capable of distinguishing between religious bigotry directed at minorities and the revolutionary overthrow of religious institutions in the 18th century. Any theory which cannot distinguish between these things is not only incompatible with Marxism: its incompatible with any genuine secularism either. The foul scenes of young muslim women being harrassed and humiliated by nasty sexist racist bigots in French Schools (‘let me see your ears madame, now that looks nicer doesn’t it) is a memory I’ll carry with me forever. Anyone not horrified by such scenes has no right to call themselves a socialist.

  3. johng said,

    And of course Robspierres idea of creating an imaginary religion to replace the old was a product of the impossibility at that stage in history of abolishing conditions which required illusions. We have not passed that stage yet as ‘secularism’ has become a kind of religious idea for some, a substitute for an analyses of social relations, and compatible with the bizarre belief that political equality and social inequality walking hand in hand will lead us to the promised land.

  4. twp77 said,

    I thought David Edgar’s piece in the Guardian was excellent. Given the current world situation and the daily racism experienced by many Muslims in Britain today the defence of conservative bigots like Hitchens and Amis under the supposed guise of “defending secularism” reminds me of the nonsense arguments opposing affirmative action in the States which created the myth of “reverse discrimination”. So we are being asked to believe that it is the so-called “secularists” (I say so-called because I don’t believe they are actually representative of most secularists) who are really being attacked by the far left and “Islamofascists” (one of the most ridiculous terms I have ever seen).

    Anyone who calls themselves a Marxist must reject the black and white notions of religion as put forward in Hitchens’ “God is Not Great” and Dawkins’s “The God Delusion”. Dawkins in particular bases his whole argument on the premise of biological determinism as the explanation for belief in God – in other words it’s in the genes. This is utter nonsense and is as much tripe as his “selfish gene” theory. Marxists don’t view history, human belief systems or anything else in society as emenating from biology. They view it as taught and learned behaviour which is perpetuated by the base of the system – unequal economic and property relations – up into the superstructure of the state – institutions and so forth.

    In addition both Hitchens and Cohen have created a nigh hysterical world view which has very little at all to do with Marxist theory. It is all about the good vs evil battle with the good being the “Brights” (as Daniel Dennett so brazenly calls atheists) and the evil and stupid being anyone who believes in religion, epsecially if they are a Muslim and can be classed as the great boogeyman – the Islamofascist.

    JohnG is absolutely right to point to Marx’s “The Jewish Question” as an example of Marx’s critical view of religion which far from being an hysterical end of the world sermon about religion threatening enlightenment ideals, actually seeks to take apart such complex things as belief, identification and community under the capitalist system. This calm and historical approach is utterly lacking in Hitchens, Cohen, Dawkins and Dennett – some of who might claim to be Marxists. However, if they were at one time, they certainly need to go back and look at Marx to get an appreciation for how phenomena in capitalist society like religion comes about, why it matters, and why it should be understood and not dismissed as mere “delusion”.

  5. Clive said,

    I find the Left’s inability to ‘walk and chew gum’ as whoever it was said on this issue very depressing. I thought Edgar’s piece was pretty shoddy. Of course the Left needs to stand for egalitarian principles, and of course part of that is defending Muslims from a pervasive and pernicious racism which is targeted at them.

    But that shouldn’t mean we can’t criticise both religion (where appropriate and in the right tone – which is a big discussion), and political movements like the various Islamisms.

    Btw, on another point, there is much to dislike about Dawkins. But it simply is not true that he thinks religion is ‘in the genes’ – why would he bother writing a book, in that case? I agree the Left needs to b a bit more subtle that Dawkins et al – more sympathetic to the reasons people look to religion. But the essence of what they say, as opposed to how they say it, is surely broadly right.

  6. runia said,


    Dawkins says that religious belief is a meme; a dominant idea which is passed through generations in a similar way to genes. He doesn’t argue that it is in our genes.

    In any case I think there is *to some extent* a biological reason for religious belief. As Hitchens said “Our problem is this: our pre-frontal lobes are too small and our adrenaline glands are too big and our thumb finger opposition isn’t all that it might be and we’re afraid of the dark and we’re afraid to die”
    If humanity is ever going to grow up and see that the universe did not come into existence for our benefit and appreciate the amazing reality of how we got here and how the universe works, overcoming religious and other superstitions is essential.

    How is the selfish gene theory tripe? What do you think has driven evolution of species if not groups of genes unconciously ‘designing’ better and better machines to survive and reproduce?

    Dawkins does sometimes reduce politics to biology in ridiculous ways, such as his ridiculous article about preserving Saddam Hussein’s brain.
    Generally speaking, I think anyone who comes down entirely on one side or the other in the nature/nurture debate is a dogmatist.

    Some things Cohen and Hitchens say are off beam and indefensible, such as supporting Boris Johnson and John McCain respectively.
    They do both, however, draw an important line against those supposed to be on the left who form alliances and support for fascistic movements who base themselves on Islam, whatever you want to call that.
    As Clive said, it ‘s possible to walk and chew gum. One can hold the line against clerical fascists and defend Muslims against bigotry.
    In fact the biggest victims of Islamist clerical fascism in the world are Muslims. It is important to stand with them, not their oppressors.

    The thoroughly rotten, bankrupt approach of people like johng is crystalised in the obscenity of ‘socialists’ and ‘democrats’ marching through London chanting ‘we are all Hezbollah’. This corrosive for the left and anyone who stands against that will get my support.

    In my opinion, The God Delusion, God is not Great and What’s Left are all excellent, necessary books which everyone should read.

    The principles of universalism, inclusion, integration and secularism as opposed to reletavism, ghettoisation, seperation and superstition are vital for all of our future.

  7. Jules said,

    What JohnG and TWP said.

  8. runia said,

    On the Selfish Gene, and apologies to Clive, Dawkins replies to a critic here in this interesting debate.


  9. Dustin the Turkey said,

    “Marxists don’t view history, human belief systems or anything else in society as emenating from biology. They view it as taught and learned behaviour which is perpetuated by the base of the system – unequal economic and property relations – up into the superstructure of the state – institutions and so forth.”

    It’s great to know that on top of all his other expertise, the bearded one in Highgate Cemetary was also an expert in genetics back in the 19th century.

  10. Jim Denham said,

    Edgar’s shoddy and dishonest piece conflates the likes of Hitchens (ex-left, pro-war), M. Amis ( never -left, anti-war) and …Ed Husain! As Andrew Anthony quite rightly commented:
    “If you can really view someone who leaves an imperialistic, antisemitic, anti-democratic, ultra-religious party like Hizb ut-Tahir and comes out in favour of democracy and tolerance as a defector moving rightwards, then it shows your political – not to mention, moral – compass is in urgent need of repair.”

    But one very, very simple a-b-c point needs to be made about Edgar’s contention that to criticise Islamism is to “abandon the poor” (poor Muslims, that is): the Marxist left has never had any difficulty (in principle, that is: the practice can be very difficult), in combining solidarity with workers, whilst being able to criticise backward ideas that exist within the working class. White working class racists who were militant trade unionists in the 1970’s and 80’s are a good example: we joined them on the picket line, and even attempted to sympathise with the underlying reasons for their racism – but we make no political concessions to that racism. So what’s so difficult about applying *precisely* the same approach to Muslim workers who are influenced by Islamism? If criticising Islamism means “abandoning the poor” (Muslim working class), then (presumably) criticising the BNP means “abandoning the poor ” (white working class).
    This is a-b-c stuff and I’m simply amazed that a sophisticated semi-Marxist like Edgar (and other comrades, it seems) cannot grasp it .

    Finally, John G: you’ve tried many times before to try to get round the simple FACT that Marx was a militant atheist. You always fail. You cannot deny the facts of the case, even by quoting (out of context) one of his weakest pieces (“On the Jewish Question”). Marx was an atheist and a materialist. His famous quote about the “sigh of the oppressed” was *not* intended to be an expression of sympathy towards religion, but an attempt to understand its material basis – the better to oppose it.
    As I said: a-b-c stuff.

  11. johng said,

    I’ve never ever tried to get round the fact that Marx was a militant athiest. I’m a militant athiest so I have no reason not to be. What you try and get round is what Marx actually wrote and believe and prefer the kind of superstitious idealist dreck turned out by the likes of Dawkins which is utterly incompatible with historical materialism. And his sigh of the oppressed statement was an attempt to argue that if the criticism of religion was the beginning of radicalism it was not its end.

    Have you ever read Marx Jim?

  12. Jim Denham said,

    Eh…yes John. I have actually read a little bit of Marx. But less of the the post-modernist, Foucaultite relativist “dreck” you base your ignorant, anti-Marxist impressionism upon. And if you’re a “miltant atheist”, why the hell do you think it’s OK for other people to have to slave under the yoke of superstitious, irrational beliefs. Oh, of course! They’re brown people from third-world cultures, right? So they’re not ready for advanced ideas like atheism, that people like you can understand, eh? (that last bit is tongue-in-cheek, btw: just to demonstrate the essentially patronising nature of John G/SWP-type relativism). I repeat: this is a-b-c stuff for Marxists, but John G simply ain’t no Marxist. By all means disagree with Marx, John. But don’t try to do so by pretending to *be* a Marxist…

  13. Django said,

    Edgars proved by his comments on Ed Hussain, beyond any doubt whatsoever, one of two things:

    a) he is a clueless piece of shit, actually unaware of Hussain’s background and writing.

    b) he is an evil piece of shit, who thinks hussain’s journey away from extremisn is a BAD THING.

    I was overjoyed by his piece, as it illuminates the mindset of this type of ‘leftist’ just perfectly. There is little more needs to be said (this coming in the same week as Terry Jones’ lovely comments on the Iraqi insurgency).

    Grim stuff.

  14. runia said,

    A question for John and Jim.
    If either of you were convinced by the other of his view on what Marx thought about religion, would it change your attitude to religion?

  15. reader said,

    religion is never progressive, but religous movements can be in the leadership of progressive struggles for national liberation. the extent to which these movements are coerced into the framework of organised religion is the extent to which they aren’t progressive. but we shouldn’t see this as some idealistic battle of “secular” versus “liberal” ideals, instead it’s about material control of these struggles under a priveliged clerical caste. In the same way, any anti-imperialist struggle which is coerced under a stalinist or even “national bourgeois” leadership, is progressive to the extent that iopposes imperialism, but not to the extent that it is coerced by that leadership.

    unfortunately groups like the AWL can’t get this right, because they have a degenerate Schactmanite concept of imperialism, which means they ignore basic Leninist and Trotskyist concepts of ***critical support*** for anti-imperialist struggle: independent working class organisation to present a united front in the fight against imperialism, but to fight for the leadership of the progressive anti-imeprialist struggle of the progressive masses – who right now are under stalinist/clerical/bourgeois leadership.

    Admittedly groups like the SWP ahve botched this strategy and are now popular frontist, but this doesn’t excuse the abandonment of your duty to stand by anti-imperialist struggles.

    And at the end of the day all these post-modernist attempts to redefine imperialism are idealistic and not mateiralist. Imperialism is not some vague concept of “oppression” – if it was then “imperialism” and “oppression” or “exploitation” would mean the same thing.

    Imeprialism is very specific: a small handful of states gain huge surpluses by exporting/dumping their capital to/on the rest of the world, and this gap between the former and latter has widened over the past 3 deacdes and is now clearer than ever. “Imperialism” is not some kind of mythical moral judgement, it is a concrete economic system, and imeprialists are as clearly identifiable from semi-colonials tates as the borugeoisie is from the proletariat.

    So you should drop your “militant athiesm” and instead base yourself on backing any struggle against real material oppression, whatever rhetoric it uses. This is a materilaist approach, but it seems many ont he left today are idealists.

  16. reader said,

    and I want to add the biggest irony of all time (possibly): Jim Denham’s group, because of its misunderstanding of what imeprialism is, SUPPORTED the fundamentalist Mujahideen against the Soviet Union, just like the SWP.

    At least the SWP’s populist nationalism is consistent. The AWL on the other hand will just back whoever suits western economic interest at the time – “militant athiesm” went out of the window some time ago it seems. Why? Probably not because they are consciosuly pro-imperialist, rather just out of their opportunist pandering to western prejudice.

  17. Clive said,

    Dawkins’ views on religion and his arguments about evolution are obviously connected, but they are not simply the same thing. It’s possible to broadly agree with Dawkins on evolutionary theory (which I think probably a majority of evolutionary scientists do), and disagree with his approach to engaging religion in debate.

    Either way I think to describe the mainstream of modern evolutionary theory as ‘idealist dreck’ is a little presumptuous. If you mean his views on religion are ‘idealist dreck’, I’m not sure what you mean, exactly. If it’s just that Dawkins and others try to deal with religion purely as bad ideology, rather than understand its social roots – yes, that’s true. But that’s not really ‘idealism’, surely. Dawkins on religion is more of a ‘militant vulgar materialist’ (or something) than an idealist.

    I think the whole endeavour to denounce scientific ideas – which Dawkins’ on ‘selfish gene’ etc certainly are – as wrong because they’re not Marxist, or what have you, is actually rather peculiar. They might be (partially) wrong, or one-sided or whatever (undialectical, etc). But you have to do better than just say it’s ‘incompatible with Marxism’.

    Thanks runia for the reference to an old debate in which Dawkins obvoiusly wiped the floor with me (in terms of the debate, I mean; I don’t concede the whole argument).

  18. johng said,

    Jim, what you say has nothing to do with Marxism. Its also not even rational (in the sense that trying to talk to you is like talking to a religious fundementalist). The question of what Marx said or did not say is, its true, less important then whether he was actually right or not. Its just that I think he was right whilst Jim argues quite consistantly the opposite of his position, whilst claiming to be a Marxist, which is irritating.

    It is of course nonsense to suggest that ‘religion can never be progressive’. The great efflorence of religious belief in the five hundred years before the common era, stretching from the development of monethiesm in what is now the Arab world, through to Buddhism in the far east, and a host of other massive shifts in the realm of both politics and belief, from the vast land masses of the far east through to western asia were obviously part of a massive driving foward of both productive forces as well as an expansion of moral vocabulary making possible ideas we now know as humanism to appear in the chinks and crevices of agricultural societies otherwise riven with oppression and the most brutal exploitation imaginable. Eventually this pushing fowards of human possibility was driven back producing a great collapse, with these ideologies becoming institutionalised and closed to change whether it was christianity in the west or Buddhism, Hinduism etc in the East. But again again we see a massive driving foward with the rise of Islam, and the rapid and stupendous spread of this new ideology as a result of the advances in productive forces it made possible from Cathay to Andalusia in the space of just a few hundred years (imagine for a moment these distances in a time before any form of mechanised travel. This was the first globalisation). As this second great efflorence waned the torch lit by these developments is passed onto Europe through Scicilly (St Thomas Aquinas travelling from there to the seminaries of Paris which saw the birth of Humanism in Europe for the first time) leading to the great renaissence of the Italian city states and the beginnings of a three hundred years war of ideas and social clashes which were eventually issue in the reformation.

    Any Marxist trying to make sense of this incredible story of our history, the history of our humanity, which links all of us togeather, in often unexpected ways, and who we are now, can only look with contempt at all this ridiculous and absurd talk about ‘memes’ and similar tosh. And if a section of the ‘left’ can be so uninterested in the actual history of humanity as opposed to the absurd civilizational charecatures so popular today, why should anyone trust them with the future?

  19. reader said,

    ^^^ I agree with that, I should have phrased myself better. I meant that religion can’t be progressive today, in the epoch of imperialism, where there is only one step forward: to international socialism.

  20. Clive said,

    In as far as I follow john’s point here, I don’t particularly disagree. Religion, or more broadly false systems of belief, have played a progressive role in history (sometimes at the same time as not, that being, well, dialectics or something). It’s true, for instance, that religion played a role in the fructification of the Enlightment – though criticism of religion (or large aspects of it) rather more so, I think.

    I also accept that religious people can do good, progressive things in the world today; and sometimes it’s their religious beliefs which motivate them to do those things, so in that sense their beliefs are progressive.

    And obviously you can have progressive struggles which for the moment are dominated by not-so-progressive ideologies, but we should support those struggles nonetheless.

    None of this seems to me to have any bearing on a) what attitude the Left should have to *particular* movements and ideologies which are religiously inspired (Islamism, for instance, but also, say, Hindu nationalism, or Christian political movements); b) what we actually think about God and the supernatural, and whether we bother to say to religious people what we think, or just try to suck up to them.

    Dawkins and others, it seems to me, often take a very counterproductive stand. (There’s a video knocking about of Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett andSam Harris, which after a while you just feel is a group of terribly clever people complaining about the spiritual idiocy of the great unwashed. Or I did.) That follows from their failure to address the roots of religion.

    But what they *say* – attitude aside – about whether or not God exists, whether the scientific method ‘works’ and helps us understand the universe better than ‘faith’ and all that – surely that’s absolutely basic.

  21. Jim Denham said,

    Answer to a very good question from runia (#14):

  22. Jim Denham said,

    An answer to John G: you are an ignorant, anti-Marxist relativist. You clearly haven’t the simplest understanding of materialaism or dialectics. You are an apologist for reaction. Worse: you are an apologist for human ignorance.

    Try this:
    “If Jews could be relieved of the burden of their present life of huckstering”… Judaism would quickly fade away…actually, that’s closer to *my* view of religion, than yours…but it’s still not very nice. And it’s from the only Marx text that you *ever* quote on this issue.
    I prefer the mature Marx and Engels, for instance the last chapter of *Anti Duhring*, in which Engels (with Marx’s full endorsement) describes religion as a freakish projection of the forces overshadowing human existance.

    Oh yes, John: you still haven’t answered my point about why it is OK for a “sophisticated” white European academic like you to be a “militant atheist”, but not a Pakistani or Bangladeshi person, born into a Muslim family?

    Oh, and while you’re at it, John (if you’re going to reply): please explain why we (socialists, that is) should have a different attitude towards Islamism amongst Pakistani and Bangladeshi workers, than we would have towards racism and fascism amongst white workers?

  23. modernity said,

    [Andrew, a stimulating article. I hope you do more on this topic]

    I think that this type of discussion can get confused because so many of the issues are interrelated but they do need separating, that is:

    1. the origin of religion and its contemporary social manifestations
    2. secularism in modern societies
    3. anti-imperialism, Iraq and the Middle East
    4. the decline of the Left in Britain and results of that weakness
    5. contemporary political alliances and justifications

    1. going along with Clive and Runia on this, there have been recent research papers which tried to explain away aspects of religious belief in terms of an evolutionary strategy (assuming that we all here agree with evolution as a fact? I hope we do). e.g. a cave-person leaping a ravine into a set of bushes would find a degree of “faith” helpful to fill in the blanks (not knowing the consequence of jumping, requires “faith”) or to fill gaps in their perception of the world, etc. Some of the recent work by evolutionary biologist is clearly specialist and we won’t know definitively why religion came into existencebut there is a fair amount of new research and it would be silly and premature to dismiss it.

    then, of course, we can see the purpose and use of religion in societies (which is entirely different from the above) and how it has been used for social control and societal manipulation, that’s all fairly basic and we shouldn’t exclude that from our current analysis.

    2. secularism takes many forms but, the desire to create a common social space where are religious affiliation doesn’t privilege an individual or doesn’t disproportionately disadvantage them is understandable, along with a desire to separate the Church and State. These attitudes are sometimes hard for us to understand, but have considerable historical precedence in the privileging of modern Protestant belief in England, the persecution of non-adherence and a logical desire not to favour one group of people in society merely because they hold to the belief in a Deity.

    Surprisingly many people who argue for secularism actually hold religious beliefs but see the disadvantage of 1) an established church (religious establishment) 2) the privileges that follow with an established religion 3) invariably that leads to the persecution of religious minorities, etc

    I accept that there are arguments against crude forms of secularism, but I think we should look at the evidence of instances of “religious expression” and how that shaped beliefs we get a better picture of the negative consequences. There are three examples close to home, Scotland, where religious difference has metamorphosed into crude tribalism, sectarianism in the Six Counties and the social dominance of the Church in Ireland from the creation of the Irish Free State through to the Republic.

    I think that when we examine them objectively we won’t find much positive. In fact that anti-secularism has also often impeded the development of socialist ideas (until recently), many Irish socialists in the post-war period, who fought against religious domination, were blacklisted in Ireland and thus had to make their way to Britain or starve.

    So it’s a complex picture and we need to understand secularism as product of history and social interaction, not as an abstract bogeyman.

    3. I think there is a tendency to overly simplify the issues with the invasion of Iraq, violent Islamists and Muslims in general, reducing it down to a simplistic battle of daemonic neo-cons invading the “Muslim lands”** of the Middle East, which relates to point 4 and 5.

    [**not an expression I would ever use, I heard it recently from a notable anti-imperialist, who seemed oblivious to the follow-on, which echoes in the nasty notions put forward by the BNP and others that there are somehow “Christian lands”, as if a piece of earth is somehow imbued with a direct religious connection, and worse that socialists should go along with such nonsense.]

    4. The decline of the Left since the late 1980s has made many vulnerable to alternative ideologies and belief systems, and along with the failure of Left groupings to achieve any critical mass they have, sadly, gravitated towards poles of attraction. One of those poles has been political Islamism, there has been an almost surreptitious adoption of some of its ideas and premises, as distinct to what you might have found before the late 1980s.

    5. Clearly, our current political preoccupations tend to shape how we view the world, and that certainly is true in light of the invasion of Iraq.

    The advent of the antiwar movement led to a sea-change in attitudes, millions of people against Bush and Blair, how could they be wrong? A mass movement just waiting for the right leadership, yet the leadership was frequently led by events and in keeping together such a wide coalition tended to pander to its members.

    After pandering to them there was the process of justifying it, which brought about the development of Respect. I don’t need to go into details but critics of the project previously who argued that it was communalist, indulged small businessman, etc, subsequently they were proven right, but don’t take my word for it, look at the Socialist Unity blog and the details of Respect’s collapse.

    I would just make one final point, I think that those temporary alliances necessitated some socialists standing on their head politically, and a lot of the arguments nowadays that you see are merely retrospective justifications.

    I don’t say that in bad faith, but politicos do how a strange way of rationalising their actions, covering them with dogma and doing under a 180° turn, but maintaining nothing has changed.

    Bizarre, but I suspect that probably explains why the Left in Britain are so small, good at convincing themselves on issues but not terribly good in the wider world, where reality is a premium.

    I’ll come back to some of the points when my brains a bit clearer.

  24. Dr Paul said,

    Here’s a gem from Dawkins at http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/oct/01/internationaleducationnews.religion

    ‘In an interview with the Guardian, he said: “When you think about how fantastically successful the Jewish lobby has been, though, in fact, they are less numerous I am told — religious Jews anyway — than atheists and [yet they] more or less monopolise American foreign policy as far as many people can see. So if atheists could achieve a small fraction of that influence, the world would be a better place.”‘

    How much ignorance in such a small space. Is he really a good ally of the left?

  25. modernity said,

    Dr Paul wrote:

    Is he really a good ally of the left

    who said he was?

    I would have thought that after 1953 (the death of Stalin) that the Left would get out of this looking up to leader’s mentality, be it Hitchens, Cliff, Healy, Dawkins or Sam Harris, etc

    fine, some of these “intellectuals” make some good points, but they ain’t saints or minor deities who are infalable, nor should they be treated as such

  26. johng said,

    No of course Clive. None of what I said tells you what to do in the face of particular movements. It wasn’t intended to. It was rather intended to suggest a) that it is simply hogwash to state that religion has never played a progressive role in history and b) that dawkins book is a load of ahistorical pseudo-scientific drivel that has nothing in common whatsoever with a Marxist approach to these questions.

    Particular religious movements need to be understood in relationship to their actual history and development, their actual relationship to social change, etc. The kind of argumentative strategy which starts off from the view that a) religion is bad b) islamists often have backward ideas on a range of questions, and c) fascists are bad and also have backward ideas, therefor islamists are fascists is entirely ridiculous. Such views are generally dependent on entirely ahistorical readings of the history of Islam, (so for example elliding distinctions between, for example, social reform sects of the 18th century, radical and millenial currents involved in the Indian mutiny, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in the early part of the 20th century, the Iranian revolution (which produces new models of organisation and ideology going beyond confessional and sectarian divides), the so-called ‘Islamic renaissence’ sponsered by the Saudi’s and indirectly, by the US, to counter the Iranian revolution (also a longer history of the utilisation of pan-Islamic forces during the cold war to counter pan-Arab Nationalism) and then religiously fundemnetalist but politically quietist sects and currents which have some presence in Britain’s Asian community (but not an overwhelming one) etc, etc. Its a massively complex and various history which its become the fashion to bundle up into one and demand in a money or your life tone what you attitude is to ‘it’. There isn’t an ‘it’ as it happens.

    However what the left has had to deal with in relationship to struggles in the middle east is the eclipse of secular politics in terms of *oppositional* politics in the region. The reasons why this has happened (its really a phenomenan of the 1970s although some might argue about its deeper roots in the failures of the 40’s and 50’s) are key in making normative judgements about it. The politics of denunciation which generally involve small groups of western leftists sitting around asking each other whether they approve of this that or the other development, or indeed condemn it, recall Marx’s discussion about the new type of German philosophy who wrote dissertations against the idea of drowning. As do most of the above arguments. Why has this happened and what should the left do about it? Is it likely that the military occupation of what was the most advanced country in the region in terms of industry and literacy by US and British imperialism likely to create a ‘breathing space’ for secular forces both in Iraq and outside it, or is it likely to make the situation worse, both inside and outside of Iraq?

    Answers on the back of a postcard and send to HM government.

  27. johng said,

    Oh and Jim, your quotes from Marx about huckstering are actually satirically directed at the hegelian analyses of religion which saw christianity as a superior religion to judaism because more universal and spiritual (the common coin of the philosophy of the day). Marx argues toungue in cheek that this actually makes judaism more universal because the world is material and involves huckstering etc but you won’t change that by attacking judaism abolish capitalism etc, etc, so then you’ll abolish judaism (boom, boom, snigger, snigger). Its a mark of how little you have bothered to follow marxist discussions of religion that you can embarress yourself in this way, and rather disturbing that you quote anti-semitic stereotypes approvingly unaware that this was actually satirical, not of judaism, but of a style of hegelian philosophical argument. The reason is simple. Its because you do not in fact have a Marxist understanding of religion but an Understanding like that of Bruno Baur. And there is no confusion here. Because the understanding of Bruno Baur expressed bourgoise athiest and secularist attitudes to religious minorities. Which you have been fervently campaigning in favour of over the last five years, and unsurprisingly, as Marx would have predicted, this has bought you perilously close to bigotry: because you have confused philosophical questions (the criticism of criticism) with material social relations.

  28. Clive said,

    It’s true of course that religion has taken on a much stronger role in the Middle East (or rather, in certain Arab countries where secular politics prevously were strong); and that this is often especially true of oppositional politics.

    But to put this horribly crudely I’m sure: this is a bad thing. (There are different currents; some are worse than others, etc. But as a broad generalisation).

    This is not simply the opinion of dotty western Leftists. I recently was in Cairo, as a matter of fact, and it was the opinion of everyone I spoke to about it. They were not the far left, or what have you, but they certainly weren’t western leftists, either. One of them considered the Brotherhood to be worse than the Nazis, because they claim authority from God, which you can’t argue with. I don’t accept his point, but it’s an opinion worth reporting.

    I am not in a position to judge exactly how, tactically, Egyptian (say) leftists should relate to the Brotherhood. (If for instance the Brotherhood are an organised force in the recent strikes – I haven’t seen anything which says they are – it would be foolish not to co-operate with them on some level; I know the stuff about the RCL relating to the Brotherhood ‘base’ in the anti-war movement – maybe it’s sensible). This is a question of making the basic assessment, though. You don’t have to elide the Brotherhood to the Iranian revolution – though surely only an idiot thinks there is simply no similarity at all! – to think their growth and position in Egyptian society is a fucking problem. (Ask a gay man. To put this again I’m sure horribly crudely).

  29. modernity said,

    JohnG wrote:

    Is it likely that the military occupation of what was the most advanced country in the region in terms of industry and literacy by US and British imperialism likely to create a ‘breathing space’ for secular forces both in Iraq and outside it, or is it likely to make the situation worse, both inside and outside of Iraq?

    again, you need to separate the ideas and not conflate approaches to secularism with a particular group’s support of elements in the Middle East

    what action happens is something like this, a leadership sits and ask a few questions:

    “1. what is the worst thing in the world? Imperialism, the US, UK, etc
    2. who are opposed to this? groups in the Middle East
    3. therefore, we need to support these groups”

    that’s roughly the process of analysis that takes place, a rather crude oppositionism, which is induced by the weak state of the Left and the need to clutch onto large opposition groups (irrespective of their politics)

    once that’s taken place the whole paraphernalia of intellectual justification is erected around it, with or without the use of Marx.

  30. Time and Dynamics said,

    This is great. Biology is governed by social theory. Come in Trofim Denisovich Lysenko, your dinner is ready.

  31. johng said,

    Modernity again, your views about how marxists arrive at their positions is utterly erronious but you seem religiously attached to the idea that the basis of the anti-war movement is ‘my enemies enemy is my friend’ despite this having no basis in fact.

    Clive I don’t think its a ‘good thing’ either and I’ve never met anyone on the left who does. The fact is it IS a reality and its neccessary to discover why this quite recent phenomenan is so important. Here it is neccessary to make a distinction between the fact that a given region is charecterised by a population generally more attached to religious ideas then say people in northern Europe and America (ie most of the world, most of actually existing capitalism, this being not at all incompatible with successes for the left) and a situation where religion as a political movement has started to supplant secular alternatives (in the middle east probably the last thirty years, posing real difficulties for the left).

    One possible context for this are the failures of a previous generation of secular politics to solve the secular problems confronting those countries. Another reason has to do with the inability of capitalism itself, along with its attendent forms of politics, to solve really basic problems for the population in these parts of the world. Any account which doesn’t begin with these questions, as opposed to noting that the Muslim Brotherhood are not liberal democrats and hence are bad, is worthless from a Marxist point of view.

    Your friend in Egypt may believe that the Muslim Brotherhood are worse then the Nazies. The fact is that one suspects that most of the population are too busy groaning under the oppression of Mubarak to notice this. The dilemma of liberal intellectuals in third world countries often revolves around wanting to protect freedoms which in their society only exist for a tiny minority anyway, and are unable to connect their undoubted general progressive ideas to a progressive plan for society at large (liberal democracy is not progressive if it’s freedoms are the exclusive possessions of a few intellectuals, rather like a gated community or a private park). In this situation the mass of the population will not be attracted to their ideas and will intend gravitate towards organisations which appear to take their problems seriously as opposed to groups and individuals telling them that their problems are trivial or not the main issue.

    This is the tragedy of the liberal intelligentsia in much of the post-colonial world, and it is in a real sense a tragedy for them, and its rather sad to see socialists reproducing it from their armchairs in the west in appropriately more farcical modes.

  32. johng said,

    metaphorical treatment of social relations as biological relations (ie the use of “memes” in the discussion not only of religion but the evolution of ideology) is idealism not materialism, and nonsense not biology. this has nothing to do with lysenkoism.

  33. Pabs47@hotmail.com said,

    Marx was indeed, Johng, a militant atheist – we all know , and should agree on that at least – but in later life he seems to have considered the whole issue of religion as settled, and not really worth discussing. Engels’ sociological and historical material, of great interest, on early Crhistianity and later millennianarist sects, and, following that, Kausky”s historical work on Christianity, set the pattern for much Marxist analysis: it analysed faith in social terms rather than engaging in arguments with its principles. That is why Dawkins (despite his ‘memes’ theory, which relies on an unclear causal mechanism to say the least)), Dennett, and, in France, Michel Onfray (who is rooted on the left: his book is translated into Rnglish btw) are important. Sam Harris is less so, a lot of quotation mongering, some strong points, but ultimately obscure ruminations about being (I reveiwed him for Tribune and said this at length). As for Hitchens…..God is Not Great, contains many brilliant passages, and like Runia I am not going to be told by the likes of Edgar that everything Htichens says is off limits for the left. These are modern versions of the writings of Bradlaugh and others published in the original Thinker’s Library series, and welcome for their ability to discuss religion in terms a mass audience can relate to (as their print-runs prove). In other words we don’t just need *explanations* of belief in god, but solid arguments against it.

    Modernity and others observe that secularism, that is a political arrangement, is, on the left, not clearly worked out, and that the principles behind it, while desirable, have not had a very clear form. This I think is true. There is some agreement about advanced republicanism being the best political vehicle for the left. It is ‘last’ form of bourgeos demcoracy before socialism according to Engels, and the best launching pad for it in much, pre-pro-Islamicist and religious left days , of the socialist movement. There are obvious reasons: clarity of interests, no privileged groups (as Modernity says, there are religious secualrists, not just Christians, but Muslims in Bangladesh – though the latter have been weakened as Taslima Nasrin pointed out in Shame), and democracy not divine authority.

    The problem is that religious groups can stand for election and have, in the past, wroke havoc, and in the future, as Ed Hussain describes from his direct experience (he makes references to Marxist cultural theory and historians so he is a complex type anyway), is bleak is the Islamicists get their way . Religiousparties could become much more influential, as communalism spreads and Christian values (as the BNP supports) clash with other religiously based parties. The only answer to that is: if they can play the democratic game then we can also do so. That is, to defeat and remove them – by the vote and mass campaigns.

    Still, my main point is that an alliance with Islamicists is not the same as an alliance of the diverse oppressed, or culturally specific groups. As JIm says, these people are poison and have to be fought every inch of the way. Marg bar Khomeni etc….!

  34. modernity said,

    JohnG wrote:

    Modernity again, your views about how marxists arrive at their positions is utterly erronious but you seem religiously attached to the idea that the basis of the anti-war movement is ‘my enemies enemy is my friend’ despite this having no basis in fact.

    tsk tsk, failing even in basic logic and being able to accurately represent my views, you’ll have to do better next time

    1. “how Marxist arrive at their positions”

    we could, of course, discuss Palm Dutt, etc and see how he and others used “Marxism” to arrive at certain positions which just happen to coincide with what his political masters in the USSR wanted? Funny that? alternatively we could move on to the Fourth international and how “Marxism” would often be used as the intellectual battering ram to settle personal scores.

    and in terms of the Middle East there is not a universal consensus amongst Marxists, even those in the region, so implying that there is, is a bit dishonest.

    I think that Marxism in Britain is often used as a political covering by some people.

    the method seems firstly to arrive at a conclusion, then hunt around for evidence and arguments to backup that predetermined conclusion.

    if you disbelieve me, look at SU blog, you’ll see any amount of guff packaged up in some pseudo Marxist phraseology but when you pick apart the arguments they don’t stand up to scrutiny or evidential reasoning

    so I would argue that much of the impetus for these political groupings is perceived political gains, the rest is just how to package it up for the “masses” and their own supporters.

    2. “the basis of the anti-war movement is ‘my enemies enemy is my friend’”

    I have never said that, clear enough? NEVER said it.

    the basis for the antiwar movement was a genuine feeling of revulsion against the (potential) invasion of Iraq, it was a widespread feeling amongst millions that something here was very wrong, and maybe they couldn’t articulate it but nevertheless that was how people felt.

    but, that is not the case with the StWC leadership, who as we know are semi-professional politicos and keen to expand their influence, having done so in the past via various front organisations (R&F, ANL, etc), so the leadership’s motivation is entirely different

    that was my point

    and you have to ask why it fell apart and why with an audience of millions of people those “anti-imperialist” arguments were not convincing, except to the same old faces?

    I suspect that the crude oppositionism that dominated the leadership of the StWC gradually worn people out, but whatever the reason, the fact that it went from millions to 10s of 1,000s cannot be denied, and you have to ask yourself the question: why?

    what exactly put off millions of people from the StWC?

    still, let’s get back to the topic of secularism

  35. johng said,

    What on earth was that? Yes Marx had settled views entirely opposite to the ones you hold, and none of the Marxist works you cite had the slightest thing in common with the modern authors sited beyond the fact that neither believed in God (the most unimportant thing about Marx’s contribution given that this is a commonplace). The argument about Republicanism is of course related to the desire in 19th century Europe to have regimes were the old clutter and contradictions of feudalism are swept away leaving a straight class confrontation between the two major classes of society. They did not involve attributing to Republican regimes or liberal secularism the semblence of socialism (such incredible confusion!). The questions we face today are entirely different to this and do not involve any confrontation of feudalism with capitalism or anything like that. In most of the world what we see is the failure of both capitalism and political systems associated with it: capitalism is not being born. Its old and senile. Try and keep up with the times. Then we have these wierd attempts to deny that its possible for religious minorities to be oppressed (the only way of understanding your remarks), the conflation of this recognition with a support for communal politics, and finally a wretchedly pedestrian liberal misdiagnosis of political islam. I actually think liberal secularists who cannot tell the difference between secularism and bigotry are poisen and I don’t think socialists should involve themselves in alliances with them.

  36. Andrew Coates said,

    Johng, your view on secularism are ill-considered and no answer at all to the secular and human rights left.

    Secular reforms are very important, as is the principle of secularism. Once you have shed all the metaphysics about the horrors of bourgeois individualism, it;s a lot better being an individual than a sheep in a flock ruled by devout shepherds.

    Why does republicanism (in its secular form) matter? The Second International, in, for example, the Erfurt Programme, put by contrast, such measures in the context of the overall development of the rights of the working class, the exploited, and the oppressed. I believe they were Marxists, in fact the platform was inspired by the later Engels’ views. Your description of republicanism-as-ideology could apply to, on the one hand, extreme Blaquists, and, on the other, the kind of ‘socialist’ known in France as ‘radical socialists’ (a joke, as old as the identical one about the SWP, said that they were neither radical nor socialist). It does not apply to the mass workers’ movement.

    One of the principal reasons why Leninism never became thoroughly enracinated in Europe was its neglect (and contempt for) of this democratic core of socialism. Not to mention its notion of the ‘actuality of the revolution’ – a parallel to your pure example of faith (belief in things unseen), that capitalism is ‘old and senile’. One assumes that since it’s about to kick the bucket it’s not worth bothering about demcoracy, or indeed the class struggle: all will fall apart just like this.

    Are you by any chance a Bordigist? That is is their view, as Bordiga himself would have put it so.

    Two points (1) As I said, in a globalising world (finance flows, communications, networks, multitudes, class itneraction, international political structures, new forms of imperial power, capital movements, etc etc – it;s barely worth listing them since we all know this), political struggles are immediately internationalised. islamicism is an international movement which oppresses the masses in some lands, and terrorises them in others. Standing up against them is an internationaliist duty, not a chauvenist reaction (which is the stand of the Islamophiles who think there is one standard off rights and freedoms for non-Europeans, such as said Islamicists, and another for Europeans). There are no exceptions for human rights. (2) It is certainyl possible for religious minorities to be oppressed – or did this accusation just slip out like someone with Tourret’s symptom? In Europe there is no official oppression of religious minorities. In countrie where any kind of Sharia alw oeprates (however diluted) religious oppression is universal. Such as that of the Bahis in Iran. Are you saying that Muslism are perscuted in Europe for their religion? This is not the case. The state may be ehavy handed and all tis efforts to restruct demcoracy should be resisted. But persecution? Your having a laugh.

  37. Jim Denham said,

    John G still hasn’t answered my very simple question: why is it OK for him, as a sophisticated European, to be an atheist (a “militant” one, at that)…but not for a brown-skinned Asian person from a Muslim background?

  38. modernity said,

    [ I think some SWPers are a bit preoccupied with doing a damage limitation exercise on the Left List’s recent leaflet, see http://www.socialistunity.com/?p=2175 ]

  39. johng said,

    Sorry Jim but WTF are you talking about? Where have I ever said its ‘nots ok’ for a brown skinned person from a muslim background to be an athiest? Absolutely nowhere. Presumably you mean that I attack people who link ostensibly progressive ideas to completely reactionary projects like imperialism. You might have noticed that I don’t differentiate on the basis of skin colour on this question.

    Modernity, I do not accept at all that the basis of the anti-war movement leadership taking a principled position on the question of imperialism, and refusing to equate islamist organisations with US imperialism had the slightest thing to do with ‘my enemies enemy is my friend’ and rather then simply reproducing the dogma of HP on this you might one day choose to think for yourself.

    Andrew, secular reforms are important, but its equally important that socialists do not forget what Marx actually wrote about religion and not simply reproduce standard bourgoise ideology on the question, and try and pass it off as Marxism. Otherwise, as with large sections of the French left, you become entangled with the oppression of your own state directed at minorities and transfrom ideas about progressive secularism into a grotesque kind of national chauvinism, embedded in a deeper celebration of capitalist ideologies and occassionally unpleasent triumphalism about ‘the west’, the hallmark of reaction since the middle of the 19th century.

    I happen to believe that the dark history of the French left, in particular in relationship to the colonial question (which it has to be said contrasts quite sharply with the much better record of the British CP) is deeply entangled with a very unfortunate synergy between Stalinist popular frontism and a broader tradition of being incapable of seperating bourgoise radical traditions from traditions of working class struggle.

    In respect of Human Rights the whole point is that capitalism in most of the world simply can’t deliver them. This is why the politics of the CP’s in the middle east were so deeply self destructive (and very unfortunately in some cases remain so) when on the basis of stalinist stages versions of history they expected societies problems to be solved by one progressive bourgoisie or the other. It is simply an illusion to believe that global capitalism is compatible with human rights and democracy for most of the world’s population or that the politics of the 18th century has anything to teach us about the politics of the 21st.

  40. modernity said,

    JohnG wrote:

    Modernity, I do not accept at all that the basis of the anti-war movement leadership…rather then simply reproducing the dogma of HP on this you might one day choose to think for yourself.

    let’s be very clear, you are NOT anti-war, you are just against ONE side in these conflicts

    I was wondering when you’d chuck in a stupid reference to HP

    it is one issue that you can’t get into your head, those of us who were anti-war left the StWC, and you can’t come up with a POLITICAL answer to that issue

    I’ll tell you why (and I was just ONE of many refuseniks) revulsed by the crude pro-“what’s the hullabaloo” about Iraqi trade unionists getting killed by the insurgents and the StWC’s vulgar nihilism

    so give us an answer?

    why did Millions walk away from the StWC?

    is it your answer that HP used a mindray on them? or can you come up with a political analysis that stands up to a moment’s scrunity?

    no, of course, you can’t and that’s why you, the SWP and the StWC leadership are so unconvincing

  41. johng said,

    Millions did not walk away from StW movement because it refused to equate Islamists on an equal level with US imperialism. You should cast your mind back to the period before 9.11. Al Qaida and Bin Laden had very little support anywhere. Political Islam more generally, which should not be identified with Bin Laden, outside of a few local conflicts were Islamist ideology had become closely tied to national struggles (Lebanon, Palestine), or where society was in a state of complete disintergration (Algieria) was in decline almost everywhere. It was warned by those in the anti-war movement that the attempt to find military solutions to what was in reality the occassion for a police operation and at the same time an opening up towards political solutions to other conflicts, would simply give Bin Laden the stage he needed to hegenomise the declining groups of Islamists who at the tail end of the 90’s were in deep crisis (recall the pathetic stories of many looking for wars to fight in but finding none). This is exactly what has happened.

    It was absolutely sensible therefore to refuse to equate Bin Laden with US imperialism in the ridiculous way which some suggested. The anti-war movement has of course NEVER even implied that it supported ‘Bin Laden’ although it does support those who resist the unjustified aggression against existing nationstates which that anti-war movement opposed. How could it not? Not to do so, IS to support the occupation of Iraq as the deeply confused position of the AWL on the question demonstrates (genuinely confused in my view I’m not making a polemical assertion). Having largely won public arguments about US imperialism (a tremendous step foward for the left globally incidently) the movement went into decline largely because people saw that the arguments were won but also that winning arguments changes nothing. All anti-war movements have this experiance. It was true of the anti-vietnam war movement as well. However its true that the anti-Vietnam war movement had a long term effect on the ability of US imperialism to deploy troops and the anti-war movement has had a similar impact on the current conflict. We still face significant threats of another war but both the British government and the US administration are well aware that if they do push ahead with their plans public opinion won’t back them and the anti-war movement will come back even more sharply. They know this even if you don’t. The significance of blogs like HP is the sheer fury and anger that the radical agenda was able to pick up such broadbased support. Those of us who back such an anger regard this as an occassion for satisfaction and happiness.

  42. ‘Not a cry of pain, but the pain itself’ « Max Dunbar said,

    […] a cry of pain, but the pain itself’ Just seen this fantastic piece by Andrew Coates that serves as a fine riposte to the recent nonsense expressed by the pro-faith […]

  43. Time and Dynamics said,

    @ Gameboy


    My reference was to genetic science. Really, this is all highly entertaining – like listening to gibbons discussing quantum theory.

  44. modernity said,

    JohnG wrote:

    the movement went into decline largely because people saw that the arguments were won but also that winning arguments changes nothing. All anti-war movements have this experiance.

    of course, anyone remotely connected to reality and experienced in the StWC would realise what a glib and unpenetrating answer that is, because it doesn’t reflect people’s real experiences and the available evidence

    the facts are somewhat different, as demonstrated by these quotes:

    1. Mike Marqusee:

    “Contrary to Andrew and Lindsey’s assertion, nowhere have I accused the STWC of “keeping quiet” about anything. I do, however, have criticisms of some things done and some not done by the Stop the War Coalition. In this I am hardly alone among anti-war activists, nor does it make me an enemy of the Coalition. Our anti-war movement faces serious challenges. Personal sideswipes won’t answer genuine concerns.”


    2. Mark Steel:

    “But instead of analysing how to address this sentiment, the SWP seemed to repeat the tone that suited the frenetic weeks before the war. Every march and protest was depicted as a triumph. And there was no acknowledgement of the process in which Stop the War meetings and rallies became smaller, and almost devoid of anyone under forty.”


    3. Mick Rix:

    “If you think my actions were a betrayal, I will be quite honest, I think your public statement, without consultation, is a worse act of betrayal, for I have made a tame critique over the StTW statement, you made a public and unwarranted attack on working class, trade unionists and socialists, also the Iraqi trade union movement and their representative. I have resigned because I do not agree with your right to attack socialists, trade unionists and anti-war supporters, and our Iraqi comrades. I think betrayal is at your door”


    that is just a few public samples of the wider discontent with the StWC leadership’s nihilism, which refutes your assertions, JohnG

    Clearly, one could make the case that any anti-war movement would decline over time, 50 years, a 100 years, etc, in the same way that ANYTHING might decline over time.

    But it is of little analytical use, since it doesn’t tell us WHY and under what circumstances, such a pat answer does not convey any subtlety, any nuance or tell us about the tensions and struggles within that movement, and thus it is largely worthless

    So the real questions about the Millions walking away from the StWC will go unanswered.

  45. reader said,

    modernity: why should the STWC abandon heroic Iraqis takin up arms to fight the rape fo their country?

    So what if it cost the STWC the chance to recruit a few liberals?

    British Guardian readers will not “stop the war”, it is the Iraqi resistance who will “stop the war”. The role of us in the west is to defend their right to do so, to cou nter propaganda against them, and to show solidarity whenever possible. So why don’t you drop your arrogance that the msot important thing that matters is the sensibilities of the “millions” at home. It isn’t. The Iraqi resistance is fighting the troops our government sent and whill do so however much you bleat. Live with it.

    And as for not being “anti-war”…you could say that to anyone who isn’t a pacifist. I don’t thinks omeone who is attacked should be lectured with pacifism, personally. Do you? Do you equate imperialist invader with third world country defending its sovereignty? If not then what’s the basis for your meaningless jibe “you’re not anti-war you’re just on the other side” etc.

  46. johng said,

    Who has supplied any serious genetic argument about the basis of ‘religion’? No one.

  47. modernity said,

    I’m not terribly interested in the “reader’s” comments as they don’t engage with any of my arguments, and more importantly they disregard the evidence

    if people will take the trouble to read the sources provided they will notice one thing: none of the above could be classified as liberals, in fact one was an SWP member until recently, Mark Steel, as for the others Mick Rix has a long history is a solid trade unionist, and Mike Marqusee is a long-term socialist activist

    but it does illustrate a wider point, anyone critical of the nihilistic leadership of the StWC is automatically attacked, accused of heinous crimes and almost being aligned to George Bush, this could not be further from the truth, but it illustrates a methodology, valid criticism is not welcome not accepted, and a rather closed minded “we know best” approach takes over

    that explains why millions of people are not going to be led by the cranks and nihilists who led the StWC and think that they “know best”

    the final word goes to Mike M;

    “Lumping me in with Nick Cohen and David Aaronovitch is the kind of dubious sleight-of-hand frequently practised by Cohen and Aaronovitch themselves – masters of the guilt by association technique.”

  48. johng said,

    Modernity would you like to respond to any of my arguments or simply pontificate endlessly about the heinus crimes of the largest British social movement seen this century?

  49. modernity said,

    JohnG wrote:

    “…would you like to respond to any of my arguments or simply pontificate endlessly…”

    I have

    you made an assertion concerning the StWC

    I have refuted it by evidence

  50. reader said,

    Mark Steel is a horrible little person, I remember his smug speeches on STWC rallies, not surprised that little petty bourgeois fool writes for The Independent, he’s a classic dinner party luvvie. comedians and politics don’t mix. I think of Ben Elton. Wankers.

    regarding this:

    {that explains why millions of people are not going to be led by the cranks and nihilists who led the StWC and think that they “know best”}

    nobody is stopping “the millions” from starting their own coallition. if they so outnumber us anti-imperialists, why don’t they? It’s not lke the STWC monopolises the means of protest is it? The STWC is just a bunch of badly funded ordinary folk getting together and through hard work making a real movement. To be hoenst I’m tired of being treated like the rulign class when most of us are of more modest means than smug “shiraz socialists”…the very name of the blog smacks of “never had it so good”.

    So I’ll tell you why the wronged “millions” don’t do the same: it’s because they don’t care enough. That’s the hard truth. There is no coincedence that the few of us who are anti-imperialists in Britain end up being the few who consistently protest. Nobody was barred from forming their own STWC, which by modernity’s logic should have dwarfed ours. Yet they haven’t and it hasn’t. Why? Probably because it’s only the small hardcore of anti-imperialists in this country who care enough. So be it. But don’t blame us for your own lack of staying power, we have a right to express our support for the resistence, you have the right to express your own third campist liberal position. We didn’t “chase you off” any more than you had the ability to do the same to us.

  51. modernity said,

    The Reader wrote:

    “The STWC is just a bunch of badly funded ordinary folk getting together “

    yeah? I suppose that the honourable Alexander Theodore Callinicos is “ordinary” if you’re the offspring of the aristocracy?

    along with Andrew Murray, trade union flunky and inveterate Stalinist, not forgetting professional politicos (have they ever had a real job?) Lindsay German, John Rees, etc

    what percentage of them has been to University? 100%? gone to Oxbridge? a lot

    the leadership is not ordinary, at all

    you wrote:

    “Mark Steel is a horrible little person,”

    strange, how the StWC leadership once lionised Mark Steel, now he has split from the SWP he is fair game for attacks? isn’t that how all SWP critics are handled?

    I am surprised that you didn’t call him a “Titoistic fascist”?

    you wrote:

    “…we have a right to express our support for the resistence… ”

    ahh there we have it, support the resistance! That’s the issue

    what a charming euphemism for people who would attack street markets, kidnapped students, murder trade unionists, blow-up municipal services, etc and generally make the Iraqi working classes life a misery

    I can imagine if you wrote a leaflet how that would come out:

    “Listen, you millions who thought it was about being anti-war, ahh you don’t care enough, it is about supporting those who would blow up buses, etc that’s what we are at

    and any similarity to people blowing up buses and tubes in London is coincidental!

    support the “resistence”! bombs make peace”

    so it is hardly surprising that once those real sentiments are articulated then millions of people don’t want to be associated with salivating juveniles who seem to think that blowing people up is part of the political process and a jolly good thing too

    one follows from the other, and thanks “reader” for making my point about nihilism for me

  52. johng said,

    I’m sorry Modernity but you presented no ‘evidence’ at all. what ‘evidence’ have you presented aside from the fact that some members of the SWP had a university education? What kind of silly nonsense is that? Reader incidently is talking moralistic bollocks. As with the anti-vietnam war movement protests rise and fall, their effects leading the way to the next rise. If Reader was right there would be no point in being involved in politics other then the self satisfaction of ones own correctness. That may be enough for some, but not for most people.

  53. reader said,

    {support the “resistence”! bombs make peace}

    there is no “peace” without justice. It’s one thing to support attacks on civilians, obvisouly no-one should, but you should support attacks on coallition troops, otherwise what you think the invasion was wrong but that the Iraqis shouldn’t resist it, “oh I hope those nice secular enlightened westerners who are raping my mum will go home someday, but I won’t fight them that owuldn’t be internatioanlsit and it might offend soft hearted Guardian readers in britain”. PATHETIC.

    anyway the point is: why don’t those who “millions” who oppose the war and the resistence make their own STWC? Who is stopping them? You conveniently ignored that question.

    I’ll answer it for you: because they can’t be bothered.

    Stop blaming the STWC for your own uselessness.

  54. modernity said,

    JohnG wrote:

    “I’m sorry Modernity but you presented no ‘evidence’ at all. what ‘evidence’ have you presented aside from the fact that some members of the SWP had a university education”

    sigh, that is the problem with discussing complicated issues with SWPers, they are so damn thick

    let go through it, again

    1. in response to my comment of April 26, 2008 at 10:08 am, JohnG erroneously ascribed the view to me of “you seem religiously attached to the idea that the basis of the anti-war movement is ‘my enemies enemy is my friend’ despite this having no basis in fact. “ when I have never contended such and my comment of April 26, 2008 at 11:52 am explains as much

    2. which led to my key point of ” I suspect that the crude oppositionism that dominated the leadership of the StWC gradually worn people out, but whatever the reason, the fact that it went from millions to 10s of 1,000s cannot be denied, and you have to ask yourself the question: why?

    3. and my follow up point of April 27, 2008 at 11:48 am why did Millions walk away from the StWC?

    4. the nub of JohnG’s answer to that questions was “…the movement went into decline largely because people saw that the arguments were won but also that winning arguments changes nothing. All anti-war movements have this experiance…”

    5. in my comment of April 27, 2008 at 1:37 pm I present evidence from three leading StWC activists which contradicts JohnG’s glib reply

    That’s the evidence, the arguments put forward by Mike Marqusee, Mark Steel and Mick Rix.

    I even highlighted the key quotes is in bold

    So for those SWPers incapable of using a PC, I suggest they look at the right of their keyboards press the Page up [Pgn Up] and Page Down [Pgn Dwn] keys and then re-read the exchange.

    My central point is that JohnG’s reply is of little analytical use, since it doesn’t tell us WHY and under what circumstances all of this occurred, his pat answer does not convey any subtlety, any nuance or tell us about the tensions and struggles within that movement, and thus it is largely worthless.

    Or shall I spell it out again, for the benefit of SWPers?

    I apologise for being distracted by the SWP member, the “reader”, I won’t let it happen again 🙂

  55. johng said,

    OK lets see now. I erronously attributed to modernity that the motivation of the StW was that my ‘enemies enemy was my friend’. Turns out this is entirely wrong. He just means the entire leadership of the StW which supports the current position of the StW. He then complains that I have no explanation for why millions ‘left’ the StW (actually what happened was that the largest demonstration in British history was not replicated) and when I responded by suggesting that the central reason for this was that the government went to war anyway responds with the damning evidence that three people have disagreed with this position. Apparently he believes its because some people did not support the position of making trade union solidarity work central to the StW movement. This is on the face of it rather implausible given that despite ebbs and flows, StW is still significantly larger then the AWL who advocate such a position or even the assorted hordes of Harry’s Place who pretend to as an excuse for not opposing the occupation.

    Is this what you mean by ‘evidence’ ? I’m glad that your educating me in the art of ‘complicated discussions’ which seems to involve attributing views which nobody holds to people and then becoming outraged when they patiently explain that no, this position has nothing to do with what they think (although given Modernities position it would be very conveniant if we did, and I understand that I really do. Unfortunately though its untrue which is sometimes a disadvantage).

  56. reader said,

    {I apologise for being distracted by the SWP member, the “reader”, I won’t let it happen again}

    wrong, I am not an SWP member, I am a STWC member, there is a clear distinction. There are legitimate criticisms of the STWC leadership – one would be that like you, they keep repeating how the good old “British public” – undistinguished between class lines – is an agent of change here. They even state how by millions of us marching we prevented Iran from ebing bombed. 😀 That’s obviously disgusting and an insult to all the dead Iraqis, Afghans and Palestinains who we as a public have failed to stand up for adequately.

    But what I don’t agree with are your criticisms that the STWC is too hardline. Wrong.

    And you keep ignoring the central question of why all the “third camp” opponents of the war didn’t form their own movement that dwarfs ours- and yes I call it “our” STWC even though I’m not a member of the SWP, get your sectarian head round that!!!

    So no you can’t answer the questionb because even though there are millions of liberal anti-resistance “anti-war” people out there, none of them gave a fuck ebough to form their own movement, and the third camp organisations like the AWL remain tiny and irrelevant.

    Now this is not surprising because people who think “the war is wrong but Iraqis should just sit there until the invaders go home instead of fighting back” is probably too incoherent to tie their own laces, let alone organise a demo. Pacifism is a one way street, the ruling classes never listen to happy clappy liberal preachers, their treacherous calls to “disarm, disarm, disarm” only affect and harm the already oppressed. Sick.

  57. modernity said,

    JohnG wrote:

    “…He then complains that I have no explanation for why millions ‘left’ the StW (actually what happened was that the largest demonstration in British history was not replicated) and when I responded by suggesting that the central reason for this was that the government went to war anyway responds with the damning evidence that three people have disagreed with this position…”

    yet again you can’t read my statements and render them accurately

    JohnG, you are functionally illiterate, as I have explained my points several times but you can’t digest them

    let’s go over this slowly again:

    my contention is : “I suspect that the crude oppositionism that dominated the leadership of the StWC gradually worn people out,”

    the evidence:

    Mike Marqusee’s point of “I do, however, have criticisms of some things done and some not done by the Stop the War Coalition. In this I am hardly alone among anti-war activists, nor does it make me an enemy of the Coalition. “

    and when Marqusee raises criticisms, what happens to him? he’s attacked, people lie about his views, which is the same pattern as used by SWP members above

    then onto Mick Rix

    “I also believe that the vast majority of union delegates at the Labour Party who hold strong views on the war, and the vast majority are anti-war, should also receive an apology for the vitriol that has been whipped up against them.”

    Rix complains about the vitriol which is being aimed at union delegates, but instead of accepting any of his criticism Rix is attacked again.

    A pattern is forming here.

    So far from some inevitable decline, leading members have criticised how a section of the StWC conducted business, but instead of comradely and fraternal exchanges what are they greeted with?

    crude mischaracterisation of their views, attacks on their character and no admission of fault by the StWC leadership.

    Now, if people were to look back at political history they would see that this type of vilification is not uncommon

    but the downside is it very off-putting, and whilst the acolytes of the SWP might tolerated for a period of time, the rest of humanity doesn’t, which probably explains, in part, why the StWC haemorrhage members.

    That was my original point.

  58. johng said,

    Modernity thats two people. It would be very strange if people didn’t have criticism’s of a mass movement. Its pretty diverse in its views. No vitriol from StW was directed at anyone over this business. I challenge you to find any vitriol at all directed at any of the individuals mentioned produced or published by StW. And I also challenge you to give the smallest shred of evidence that what was a huge issue for five minutes on Harry’s Place (a site viciously hostile to the anti-war movement and anyone who takes part in it) had even the slightest resonance with wider layers of the movement. You won’t be able to. Because in neither case is there any such evidence.

  59. modernity said,

    there you have it, the evidence is presented but is dismissed with a wave of the hand

    you could almost construct a checklist of how these arguments will go with SWPer and dimwitted hangers on

    “1. if it gets too difficult asked for concrete evidence
    2. when the evidence arrives, ignore it
    3. if the evidence is presented again, say that it says the exact opposite
    4. if still pressed by the evidence, ignore it once more
    5. find some specious reason to dismiss the evidence
    6. when faced with overwhelming evidence, runaway
    goto 1 ”

    it reminds me of those occasional discussions I have had with cranky religious acolytes, who displayed a similar contempt for evidential reasoning and logic, no matter what you say to them it never seems to get thru

    but I’ve made my point, so let’s get back to the question of secularism.

  60. johng said,

    Can I ask again what ‘evidence’ you presented Modernity? Aside from two people who disagreed with the StW coalition. I don’t see that as evidence. These discussions remind me a little bit of these impressions of Christopher Walken.

    I think left wing discussion would be much improved if everyone had to make their points in the style of christopher walken.

  61. modernity said,

    JohnG wrote:

    I don’t see that as evidence.

    and even if you did, you wouldn’t admit it

    that’s the nature of the low level politicking that you and others represent

    as you say, you’re a “militant athiest” so could you tell us, as a militant atheist, do you

    1. agree with “faith” schools?
    2. if so, think that they should be funded by the State?

    yes or no answers will suffice

  62. Waterloo Sunset said,

    And you keep ignoring the central question of why all the “third camp” opponents of the war didn’t form their own movement that dwarfs ours- and yes I call it “our” STWC even though I’m not a member of the SWP, get your sectarian head round that!!!

    Hmm. Does this answer your question? http://www.sue.be/politics/swp/

  63. johng said,

    ”yes’ or ‘no’ answers will suffice’

    This from the political sophisticate modernity. there is a difference between people who seriously want to debate issues and people endlessly attempting to smear people they disagree with modernity. its really quite sad that you’ve been indoctrinated on right wing political blogs for so long that you can no longer tell the difference.

  64. johng said,

    Ah Waterloo. Its the SWPs fault. Who’d a thunk it?

  65. Andrew Coates said,

    Modernity is right. The most significant aspect of the decline of the StWC was not, however, the fact that ‘millions walked away’, but that a whole layer of activists did as well.

    I can give a concrete example. In Ipswich we had a massive anti-war movement. The core organisers were as follows: one chap from the SWP) who died a couple of years after the Feb demo so I can;t say what his views would be, two Quaker leftists (one my age, the other in her early twenties, who is a bit of an anarchist) for whom I have very fond feelings since they *never* tried to impose their views but stood with quiet dignity against all forms of violence, one Green, myself and one of my closest comrades, both she and myself are primarily involved in the Trades Council. We were the ones who stood on the Corn Hill week after week, and organised coaches, and all the rest.

    Why did we drift away? MIke’s critique was circulated more widely than people think, and affected the Quakers quite a lot. But it was the sight of the StWC foundering that drove people off: It has neither an ethical basis, nor a realistic political one. It failed the defend the Iraqi secular left; trade unionists, feminists and gays. Pople like Tariq Ali started calling the Kurds ‘quisilings’ (as did others, sotto voce), and, above all it romanticised the resistance. There appeared to be some kind of poisonous wishful-thinking going on, that somewhere there was a ‘good” resistance, that Islamism was merely a mask for genuine anti-imperialism, that (to return to Ali) there was nothing wrong with the ‘violence of the oppressed’ (despite the evidence that every anti-colonial struggle that engaged in uncontrolled violence left societies deformed by its legacy).

    I would like to add that, having just read Mike Maqusee’s memoir onbeing an anti-Ziionist Jew, that he, for all his normal good sense (he is someone I greatly admrie and have worked with), makes a wholyl false analogy between British Islamism and previous battles for oppressed minorities (black, feminists, gay). THis is completely misjudged: these are not home-grown movements, but branches of well-structured, ideologically hardened totalitarian organisations, which are not the ‘voice’ of the poor and downtrodden, but of the pious Muslim bourgeoisie, whoa re out to intimade and threaten anyone who disagrees with them.

  66. Waterloo Sunset said,

    Ah Waterloo. Its the SWPs fault. Who’d a thunk it?

    Nice try. But don’t you think that the fact those criticisms are ones that were circulated within the SWP at the time makes them at least worth engaging with? It’s harder to put this down to simple sectarianism.

    Of course, you do have the valid “yeah, but Ger’s a complete fucking cock” defense. Use it. Seriously, you’ll feel better for it.

    But the problem is that Ger wasn’t reined in by your leadership at the time. And according to Ger at least, the tactics used against the likes of Steve Goodard were merely a repeat of what was being done in London.

    Besides, it was in response to a question about why others didn’t try to start their own anti-war groups. As we see clearly from this, it was tried in some places, to be faced with bureaucratic maneuvring, as opposed to debate.

    I’m not saying it was just the SWP who were doing that, but you were a major player in it. Ironically, some of the other main people (at least in Brum) then went on to use exactly the same tactics against you in the Respect split.

  67. entdinglichung said,

  68. modernity said,

    JohnG wrote:

    there is a difference between people who seriously want to debate issues

    if you can, then ENGAGE with the issue of “faith” schools, because as you are a “militant athiest” that shouldn’t be too hard, should it?

    JohnG, over to you, be as long as you please

  69. modernity said,


    please do give us your thoughts on “faith” schools?

  70. martin ohr said,


    sadly from attending too many nut conference I know the swp teachers line on faith schools only too well, it would be a total miracle if johngs position was any different from the following:

    “I’m totally against faith schools however given the current proliferation of coe, catholic and jewish schools it would be islamophobic to be against the muslim community having their own faith schools. While I wish to see an end to all religous schools given that there is no possibility in the short-term of ending existing faith schools then I’d support the creation of new muslim schools in the state sector”

  71. modernity said,

    hmm Martin,

    I could believe that, why don’t they simply go for the obvious alternative:

    the complete disestablishment of ALL faith schools, along with the whole religious paraphernalia ?

  72. Red Maria said,

    Maybe because they don’t think faith schools should be the sole preserve of the super-rich.

  73. Red Maria said,

    Or maybe because they think there are other more important matters than bitching about faith schools worthy of their consideration. Who knows? You’d have to ask them.

  74. modernity said,

    Red Maria wrote:

    Or maybe because they think there are other more important matters than bitching about faith schools worthy of their consideration.

    in fact the issue wasn’t about faith schools, but JohnG understood that

    my question concerning faith schools was to illustrate the hypocrisy and the contradictions of the SWP’s position on this issue, particularly in light of JohnG self-proclaimed status as a “militant atheist”

    because, in general, most militant atheists wouldn’t be in favour of faith schools, the idea of religiously indoctrinating children is an anathema to most atheists and more so if they are militant

    that is why JohnG chosen not to respond, since it highlights the SWP’s intellectual inconsistency on these issues

    of course, SWPers can natter on about abstracts and Marx, etc but get them down to real bread-and-butter issues and they become incredibly reluctant to spell out their politics, the logic of them and how that relates to general principle, for the obvious reason that the discrepancies become so stark

    still that’s the SWP for you

    However, I can understand why theists would be in favour of faith schools, continued indoctrination of their favourite beliefs, etc it might be slightly barbaric but at least it has the merits of consistency from them. The same cannot be said to be true, if however, you were an atheist and specifically if you are a militant one.

    So the question highlights the disparity between what the SWPers tell you, and their real views and how they conduct their politics

  75. johng said,

    The funniest thing about modernity is the way he always changes the subject when he’s lost an argument and then accuses the other person of changing the subject. It is, to coin a phrase, a bit bonkers.

  76. johng said,

    “he complete disestablishment of ALL faith schools, along with the whole religious paraphernalia ?”

    because that doesn’t address the existing discrimination against muslim’s.

    My difficulty Waterloo sunset is that Sue Blackwell was in my view politically wrong on these questions, in relationship to the question of islamophobia and the rest. It doesn’t mean I think that the argument wasn’t badly handled in birmingham though. some of this i suspect was ger’s fault and some of it I suspect was the attempt to polarise these arguments by people who really did have rotten politics. all framed by the traditional weakness of the SWP in that city.

  77. voltaires_priest said,

    Oh, what a load of cock. John, you’re well aware of Ger’s modus operandi – which led him eventually to be expelled from the SWP. Now come on, be a big boy and admit it. It wouldn’t have made any difference whatsoever if Ger had been able to access more SWP apologists for his actions when he was West Midlands organiser, at that time presumably with the approval of the CC.

  78. modernity said,


    tell us your views then, stop ducking the issue of religion, do you approve of “faith” schools or not?

    take as many words as you please to spell out a nuanced and subtle approach to the topic, if you can

  79. runia said,

    Red Maria,

    Leaving the question of the existence of state religious schools to one side, what do you think about councils funding children’s transport costs to go to state religious schools when their local school is secular, but not funding children’s transport costs to go to state secular schools when their local school is religious?

  80. modernity said,

    strange, how some of the “religious” Left seem to feel so uncomfortable defending their own strongly held views?

  81. Red Maria said,


    It is absolutely reasonable for councils to fund children’s transportation to religious schools, which, let it remembered may not be local. It should not be unduly burdensome for parents to exercise their rights under the 1944 Education Act and 1998 European Human Rights Act to send their children to religious schools. The prohibitive costs of transportation may be one such burden, lack of supply another. There is a huge unmet need for religious schools which can only be rectified by a radical expansion of the sector.

    I would apply the same principles to secular education. Parents should not be forced to send their children to religious schools simply because they are local if that is not what they want. Therefore, councils should fund transportation to secular schools if there are none available locally.

  82. johng said,

    Voltaire what I’ve said I actually believe. You can disagree with it, but its what I think happened. I’m not particularly interested in suddenly declaring that someone has always been an evil spawn of satan just because I disagree with them now (I think thats silly). Frankly I think he was unneccessarily heavy handed in the argument for all sorts of reasons, not all of them down to him, and I probably would have a position on the connection between that and the present but your side was far more wrong then anything Ger did. And that is my position.

    On Faith Schools I think suggesting that we’ll ignore the question of discrimination against religious minorities by saying that we want all schools to be secular is a bit like responding to a tibetan activist asking whether you favour a boycott by saying, hell, I’d abolish the olympics. In the end I am not in favour of forcing minorities to do things they don’t want to do, I’m in favour of creating a terraine where you can win the argument with them.

    The key difference between myself and others here is that I think the question of majorities and minorities is as important as the question religion and secularism and that the latter does not answer questions about the former (although it claims to). Socialists need a different position. And this was also Marx’s position.

  83. johng said,

    Its really funny the way Modernity states something absolutely untrue (that those sections of the left prepared to work with people influenced by religion are ‘the religious left’) and then goes on to think it strange that they’re not the ‘religious left’. Again, quite seriously, its the product of spending so much time on blogs where smearing people is mistaken for political argument. Its not. Its silliness.

  84. Red Maria said,

    Ahhh, the religious left. That would be the Bishops Conference of England and Wales, described by one hoity-toity Catholic newspaper editor as having been “hijacked by leftwing activists working under the patronage of bishops who are in many cases doctrinaire socialists”. And Rowan “I’m a typical hairy leftie” Williams.

  85. modernityblog said,

    JohnG wrote:

    Its really funny the way Modernity states something absolutely untrue (that those sections of the left prepared to work with people influenced by religion are ‘the religious left’ 😉 and then goes on to think it strange that they’re not the ‘religious left’.

    yet again you accuse your interlocutors of arguing in bad faith, when it is merely your illiteracy and inability to read basic statements which confuses you

    the situation is thus:

    1. you have a pile of atheists
    2. those atheists believe that anti-imperialism is more important than their own disbelief in a deity
    3. so when in any alliance with communalist groups this “pile of atheists” instead of sticking up for their own views, but not gratuitously offending religious sentiment, capitulate completely
    4. and in the capitulation it means that they go along with segregated meetings, coercing their comrades into wearing scarves on demonstrations, talking about shibboleths, etc
    5. then this “pile of atheists” starts supporting Faith schools and other religious initiatives, which prior to their conversion to the quasi-religious doctrine of “anti-imperialism” they wouldn’t have even considered
    6. but when cornered this “pile of atheists” either, one accuse their political opponents of Islamophobia, two, state that they are in league with neocons, three, duck the arguments completely
    7. which is all an intellectual mess, and that’s why simple issues of Faith schools too complex for them

    on top of that the communalist allies of the “pile of atheists” have utter contempt for them, probably on the basis that to give up a deeply held view (atheism-the disbelief in deities) and subjugating differences just to keep the communalist happy appears shallow and untrustworthy, which of course it is

    look at it another way,

    suppose there is an individual that goes on about being religious, says how they are militantly religious yet does none of those activities we would reasonably expect a religious person to do, shows no piety, no humility, etc shows a disdain for religious principle and conducts themselves in a way that bears no relationship to continuous or accepted religious practice, a bit like Jimmy Swaggart, the TV evangelist, without the sex or Jim Bakker.

    In an instant, most intelligent people would recognise that for the hypocrisy that it is, preaching one thing and doing another.

    But imagine instead that the individual is an atheist, states how militantly atheistic they are, however does none of the actions commensurate with being an atheist, as with the above example, you are left to suppose are they merely hypocritical? or just foolish enough to think people will believe their lies?

    So pandering to religious sentiment doesn’t fool anyone, it just indicates how far some rather dodgy politicos are prepared to go to meet their political ends

    JohnG, in case you hadn’t guessed it (your habit of skim-reading means that you don’t take in and comprehend the ideas of others), this pile of atheists that I mentioned is the SWP and their close political allies.

  86. johng said,

    Modernity almost everything you say is based on hysterical lies and smears and precisely the kind of islamophobic rot that means people must stick up for minorities in this country that you seem obsessed by whipping up hate campaigns against. Incredible. I don’t tend to go up to any other religious minorities and challenge the way they dress every time I speak to them and I’m damned if I’m going to adopt such a revolting bigoted way of behaving in the name of a so-called ‘secularism’ which is in reality just communalism (I have met communalists modernity real ones, and your arguments are communal).

  87. modernity said,

    JohnG wrote:

    Modernity almost everything you say is based on hysterical lies and smears and precisely the kind of islamophobic rot that means people must stick up for minorities in this country that you seem obsessed by whipping up hate campaigns against.

    so you didn’t even read anything that I wrote, how typical of you?

    will you accuse me of Islamophobia directly, or just by innuendo?

    and because you clearly didn’t read my above comments I would give you a shortened version:

    I think it is perfectly consistent for theists to argue for “faith” schools, however, it is richly hypocritical of atheists to argue for faith school’s and the privileging of religious belief over others

  88. Red Maria said,

    Modernityblog, you are confusing, or deliberately blurring the distinction between, atheism and anti-religion. There’s nothing hypocritical whatsoever in an atheist supporting faith schools. If there is any hyprocrisy it comes from those soi-disant secularists who claim to support freedom of religion while dishonestly terming the rights of religious believers “privileges” so as to argue for their erosion. Genuinely self-confident atheism has no need of such mean-spiritedness.

  89. reader said,

    {5. then this “pile of atheists” starts supporting Faith schools and other religious initiatives, which prior to their conversion to the quasi-religious doctrine of “anti-imperialism” they wouldn’t have even considered}

    That gives it away. Modernity couldn’t care less about “secular values” or “communalist politics” (whatever that even means, the phrase is a bit like “collectivist”, i.e. a worthless liberal smear aganst those who oppose liberal individualism), this really comes down to “modernity” having a deep held emotional grudge against anti-imperialists and refusing to accept that LEnin’s theory of imeprialism holds true and is the defining and overriding characteristic of modern day capitalism. To be honest there is no point debating him, because all disagreements come down to this basic, childish, emotionally-driven rejection of science, evidence and logic on his part.

    Why is this? Well, if you visit his blog, youw ill see that he is a militant supporter of Israel, proudly “flying the flag”. This is why he finds anti-imperialism repulsive, because it clashes with his own irrational and emotional national chauvinism. He has come to an ideological arrangement with imperialism as a system, and he will use any means to slander those who get in the way of the US empire’s ability to operate properly. You won’t get nay sense out of this clown John G and Red MAria, I suggest you stop wasting your time.

  90. martin ohr said,

    Red Maria: “There’s nothing hypocritical whatsoever in an atheist supporting faith schools.”

    RM, in principle you might be correct, in the context of the UK this means supporting state funding of religous indoctrination of children.

    Someone earlier quoted the human rights act, but there is no established universal right to force your children to be taught -and let’s be blunt about what happens in religious schools- lies and prejudice at school.

    Johngs attitude is so obviously flawed it hurts to read it; as an atheist his answer to end state funding of religious schools is to have more of the same. It’s a little like the old SWP line on Northern Ireland:Troops Out (but first more troops in to disarm the protestants) Or Bushes line on withdrawal from Iraq.

    One good thing that the history of the SWP tells us is that the line will change soon enough. Pandering to religous bigots will suddenly not be seen as the way to built the party and anyone who dares to remind the SWP of their previous position will be denounced as a sectarian.

  91. modernity said,

    Red Maria wrote:

    There’s nothing hypocritical whatsoever in an atheist supporting faith schools.

    I accept that an individual atheist might for some spurious reasons support “faith” schools

    and please don’t accuse me of bad faith I was trying to draw out an argument, I understand that indoctrinated religious loonies such as yourself have difficulty thinking for yourself but make an effort, please

    imagine this, socialists arguing for something that they don’t believe in (which is the parallel with atheists arguing for faith schools), eg. socialist teachers arguing for the expansion of grammar school, when they themselves don’t believe in grammar schools or selection, that would be inconsistent and hypocritical

    that’s the point I’m trying to get at

    how can you argue for something that you yourself don’t believe in?

    thus for groups of atheists to argue for the privileging of religious belief (via State funding, special laws, etc), when they themselves don’t believe in religion, is starkly hypocritical

    and that’s why JohnG couldn’t answer the question concerning faith schools with any lucidity, because he doesn’t believe it

  92. Jim Denham said,

    I’ve just read John G’s comment at # 31. Never mind whether he’s a “Marxist” or not (clearly he isn’t): he *is* an utter reactionary, and enemy of human enlightenment and progress, by *any* criteria. condemned out of his own relativist mouth.

  93. modernityblog said,


    could you tell us your views on the blasphemy laws in Britain?

    would you, as a militant atheist, argue for their repeal or strengthening them? which is it?

  94. Jim Denham said,

    Also: just read “reader’s “stuff: a fascist?

  95. modernityblog said,

    Nah Jim, I think the “Reader” is just a youthful nihilist, maybe ex-SWP or something, he’s not too bright either way.

  96. voltaires_priest said,

    Voltaire what I’ve said I actually believe. You can disagree with it, but its what I think happened.

    And why let the fact that it’s utter bollocks get in the way of such a pious belief, eh?

  97. reader said,

    hahaha, welcome to the world of the AWL, if you htink waving an Israeli flag is distasteful, you must be a fascist 😀

    I’m waiting for Jim Denham’s degeneration to be complete when he starts lecturing us about how the stars and stripes are progressive.

    it won’t be long Jim Denham: Schactmante is as Schactman does.

  98. modernityblog said,

    [anyway, Jim, I was wrong “reader” is some half baked ex-Trot who has an axe to grind with Max Shachtman, maybe an ex-WRP or Spart? who knows?]

    but returning to the question at hand:

    should socialists support the blasphemy laws in Britain?

  99. Waterloo Sunset said,

    Birmingham STWC- John, to a large extent, I’m not that interested in whether you agree with Sue on the question of Islamphobia. That’s not as dismissive as it may appear. It’s merely a recognition that your view on this is pretty close to the SWP’s collective line. I’d assume you’re in the SWP because you genuinely believe that it’s the party with the best program for achieving a socialist society. I’d expect you to agree with most of their analysis, in the same way I’d expect a Red Action member to be a squadist.

    I’m asking you if you agree with the political tactics used. Do you agree with Sue’s view that the method used to put this analysis across was undemocratic? Do you think that packing meetings and bringing in amendments to the constitution at the last meeting is an acceptable tactic or do you think it should have been done by attempting to win the argument? And, finally, as the SWP is a democratic centralist party, does responsibility for Ger’s behaviour (which you accept was at least partly wrong) lie with him alone?

    Religion/Secularism- I’m somewhere between Mod and John’s position on this I think.

    On one hand, I don’t think you’re right (Mod) that it is hypocritical for militant atheists to support faith schools as such. Surely the only belief that actually defines an atheists is a disbelief in gods (and arguably the supernatural generally). Anything else is a perfectly valid position to hold, but I don’t think you can argue that people somehow aren’t atheists if they don’t pass seperate litmus tests. It seems to be a rather obvious “No True Scotsman” fallacy to me. If an atheist who supports faith schools is hypocritical, does that also apply to any atheist who doesn’t support the French ban on religious symbols in school? What about Mao’s active suppression of religion? Where and how are you drawing the line?

    And John’s position seems to be (correct me if I’m wrong John), that under the current social conditions, to openly come out against faith schools is a mistake, as it feeds into a current moral panic about Muslim schools specifically. I disagree with that approach, despite thinking that the encroachment of creationism into teaching is a far more pressing issue, but I don’t think it’s hypocritical or inconsistent.

    Where I part company from John is that I think he’s entirely missing the fact that secularism is better for eveyone not in the dominant religion, which includes Muslims. Arguing for the abolishment of faith schools (or at the very least the state subsidy of them) is a better tactic to take I think. I don’t actually think it would be completely unsupported by Muslims either. This is personal anecdote, but I’ve certainly talked to Muslims who’s main issue at the moment is the double standards being applied.

    I also think the SWP’s analysis of Islamophobia (and imperalism) has led them into problems. In particular, the support of groups with reactionary politics both at home and abroad. (The PJP are a good example of this domestically and I think Atzmon is also related to this process). Largely, I think that “anti imperialism” has led sections of the left to abandon a class analysis of society. Reader perfectly illustrates this for us:

    LEnin’s theory of imeprialism holds true and is the defining and overriding characteristic of modern day capitalism.

    Not a characteristic. Not even a major characteristic. The “defining” characteristic. And if it’s “overriding” it necessarily overrides the class struggle.

    I’m not convinced that’s in any way Marxist. I’ll leave it to other people to argue who has the correct interpretation of Lenin. (The answer is, if anyone was wondering, Kollontai).

  100. modernityblog said,

    Thank you WS,

    finally someone has engaged with the arguments

    and thinking about it, I was probably wrong to use the word hypocritical for individuals, but I think it is certainly an anomaly, when someone could make such a fuss about being a militant atheist and then be so reluctant to spell out their views on faith schools, as JohnG conspicuously did

    but I would agree with you on one issue (it surprised me as to why JohnG found it so hard to answer) it is perfectly possible to construct an argument to suggest that “within the current climate and circumstances faith schools should be supported for all religions” even if the person arguing that case is an atheist, I think it’s a very weak argument, a slippery one but you could make it, as Martin Ohr pointed out.

    Incidentally, my approach wasn’t primarily based on Britain, or at least the mainland, I was thinking of the rather negative consequences that “faith” schools have had in the Six counties and in some ways heightened sectarianism, but that’s another argument

    my point was to extract an answer from JohnG on these topics, after he beat his chest and proclaimed his militant atheism, because there are parallels between arguing a position that you believe, one of political expedience and one of utter opportunism

    I think that the latter two categories apply to the SWP’s position.

    Again I think Martin Ohr is than the SWP line will change again, I suspect that they will go into some ultra left mode, etc and that could explain the reluctance of SWPers to commit on this issue, because their words would be thrown back at them soon enough

    but there’s a wider point, in taking a position (and I’m talking an organisation here) people have to consider the logic and consistency of the arguments, are they arguing a localised issue, a wider political principle or something that applies world-wide

    because once you go down the route of faith schools in Britain, do you support blasphemy laws? What about the separation of Church and State?

    and if so, does it apply only to Britain? or to the Six counties? or maybe even America?

    since if the latter (for the sake of consistency) then it would mean that socialists (atheists, anarchists, etc) in America would be reduced to arguing for largely fundamentalist Christian faith schools and welcoming the increasing dominance of fundamental Christianity in American society (yes, I know it is there already, imagine it could be much worse), etc

    because once you start down that path, for the sake of consistency and logic, then you have to ask where do these views apply and to what extent?

    This is my point.

    are they merely parochial views? or does some sense of internationalism exist?

    it can get very messy, that’s why I welcome people spelling out their full views and holding to them

  101. reader said,

    {Not a characteristic. Not even a major characteristic. The “defining” characteristic. And if it’s “overriding” it necessarily overrides the class struggle.}

    anti-imperialism cannot override class struggle, because as, in Lenin’s words, imperialism *is* simply monopoly capitalism, then resisting imperialism is resisting monopoly capitalism.

    now if you are a Schactmanite you believe that there exists, to this day, a kind of “reactionary anti-cpitalism”, represented by “autocratic collectivism” or whatever the hell that theory was called.

    modernity thinks that I have an “axe to grind” with Schactman, but that is as stupid as saying that someone who criticises “islamism” has an axe to grind with Mohammed. I have an axe to grind with the modern day proponents of Schactmanism, who distort Marx’s view of “reactionary anti-capitalism” to claim that there STILL exist significant pre-capitalist property relations whcih can progressively be wiped out byt he continuing expansion of capitalism.

    this belief is not very different from stalinism and it is a disgusting left-cover for imperialism.

  102. Red Maria said,

    Martin Ohr wrote:

    “RM, in principle you might be correct, in the context of the UK this means supporting state funding of religous indoctrination of children.”

    In the context of the UK this means religious schools are not a privilege but a right. It means supporting the widest possible access to them so that they are not the sole preserve of the super-rich. It means that Roman Catholic schools are more ethnically diverse than their non-religious counterparts.

    “Someone earlier quoted the human rights act,”

    Me, actually.

    “but there is no established universal right to force your children to be taught …”

    …. ballet, swimming, the virtues of eating their greens or any of the other things many cruelly authoritarian parents consider a good thing for their hapless offspring.

    ” -and let’s be blunt about what happens in religious schools- lies and prejudice at school. ”

    One can only speculate as to which murky recesses of your psyche have dredged up such lurid hallucinations but clearly you don’t have any actual experience of contemporary religious schools. The lies and prejudice are all yours, I’m afraid.

  103. Jim Denham said,

    Reader: you simply don’t get elementary Marxism, or how it is applied in the world today. do you? I would agree with you (as opposed to, say the SWP), however, that it is now impossible to be genuinely “anti imperialist” without being anti capitalist. However, it is quite clear (eg: look at Islamism and modern-day Stalinism) that it is quite possible to be a reactionary “anti-imperialist”, and there are plenty of them around. And, incidentally, reactionary “anti imperialism” does not depend for its existance upon pre-capitalist property relations, but (as a matter of fact), there are still plenty of places in nthe world wherethese exist. That’s a simple fact,

    Maria: the indocrination of children with superstition is child abuse; plain and simple.

  104. reader said,

    {Reader: you simply don’t get elementary Marxism, or how it is applied in the world today. do you?}

    Is that so? What I get, and it’s pretty elementary, is that overaccumulated capital has to be exported once capitalism in one country has developed beyond the bounds of the nation state. Clearly it has to be exported somewhere, and not be offset by an equal amount of imported capital. So therefore, clearly, for cpaitalism to function, the world must be structurally divided into permanent exporters of capital – imperialist states – and permanet importers of capital – semi-colonies.

    Your group’s “hyper-imperialism” theory seems to ignore basic marxism, in fact. You think that multinational corporations are behind hyper-imperialism but aren’t loyal to any one state. Yet, basic marxism states that the bourgeoisie cannot exist without its own state through which it monopolises its own market. This has to happen before capital is exported abroad. Also if a bourgeoisie did not have its own state its capital would simply be expropriated by every state it was present in, and redistributed to the national borugeoisie. So your idea of a supra-state multinational elite is insane, it ignores elementary marxism, as no bourgeoisie can exist without a state.

    Instead, you should acknowledge that all multinationals are based in specific states and that their export of capital to other states is exactly that: an export of capital by one state to another, a colonisation of one market by another. Economic colonsiation. In other words: imperialism.

    {I would agree with you (as opposed to, say the SWP), however, that it is now impossible to be genuinely “anti imperialist” without being anti capitalist. However, it is quite clear (eg: look at Islamism and modern-day Stalinism) that it is quite possible to be a reactionary “anti-imperialist”, and there are plenty of them around.}

    I agree that the semi-colonial bourgeoise is not anti-imperialsit. It instead is at all times in a certain amount of contradiction with imperialism by necessity, and to resist it it must lean on the masses at home. Do we stand for the defeat of a mass movement just because we dislike the leadership then? Come on Jim, this is elementary trotskyism. Of course the semi-colonial bourgeoisie is not anti-imperialist any more than Tony Woodley is anti-capitalist, but when they call concrete anti-imperialist action, we are duty bound to support that action, without politically endorsing the regime. Your group is fully aware of this tactic, as you yourselves have used critical but not political support for all kinds of reactionaries, like, umm, the Mujahideen!

    The reason for critically supporitng anti-imperialist actions is pretty clear: opposing the dumping of capital by the imperialist monopolies is an action that in itself improves the material basis of a society, and therefore to stay neutral is reprehensible. Obviously I wouldn’t ever promote the illusiont hat a state can actually succesfully withdraw from domination by imperialism in a capitalist world, and obviosuly the onyl solution is worldwide socialist revoltuion, but measures to obstruct imperialist exploitation of a country have to critically supported as part of any transitional programme.

  105. Red Maria said,

    Jim, you have to ask yourself at what point your hyperbole shades into staring loopiness. I would suggest describing all religious parents as child abusers is it. If you are right, there are millions of child abusers deserving of the most condign punishment scandalously roaming free in the UK right now. If you really believe your own rhetoric, you yourself stand condemned for having attended religious funeral services – children may have been, indeed probably were, present and you did nothing about it! – which amounts to material co-operation in this disgusting crime. I think this deserves some pause for thought, don’t you?

  106. incubus said,

    Fuck Hamas and Hezbollah!

    Anti-Imperialism means support for religious obscurantist butchers? Let the Israeli capitalist vermin murder them all. Fuck Islam, fuck Judaism, fuck Christianity. Not only are the little comprador bourgeoisies of the world not “anti-imperialist” they actively seek out any alliance with any greater power that is willing to play their benefactor. The central lesson of Lenin’s work Imperialism is that all capitalists are imperialists.

  107. My Resignation from the British Freedom Party said,

    […] […]

  108. Brendan said,

    Denham is an apologist for murderous politicised sectarian religion backed by imperialism i.e. zionism. At least Hez bollah and Hamas are religious leaders of nation states that are under attack from imperialism. Hands off those nations. The only three movements that want nation state hood for their religions, as opposed to being religious leaders of their nations, are zionism , al qaida and christian zionism. The only `marxist’ who supports any one of those three is Denham and he supported Bin Laden’s crew during their war against the soviet union.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: