An initial attempt at a socialist and humanitarian response to the Paris massacres

November 15, 2015 at 6:29 pm (capitalism, democracy, Europe, fascism, France, Human rights, humanism, internationalism, iraq, islamism, Jim D, Marxism, Middle East, modernism, Racism, reactionay "anti-imperialism", solidarity, terror, turkey, war, workers)

What follows is a statement drawn up by myself. It is based in part upon the AWL’s statement in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. I have not discussed it or “cleared” it with anyone. Critical comments are welcome -JD:

To massacre ordinary workers enjoying a drink, a meal, a concert or a sporting event after work, is a crime against humanity, full stop.

What cause could the Islamist killers have been serving when they massacred 130 or more people in Paris? Not “anti-imperialism” in any rational sense — whatever some people on sections of the left have argued in the past — but only rage against the modem, secular world and the (limited but real) freedom and equality it represents. Only on the basis of an utterly dehumanised, backward looking world-view could they have planned and carried out such a massacre. Such people are enemies for the working class and the labour movement at least as much as the capitalist ruling class – In fact, more so.

Modern capitalism includes profiteering, exploitation, and imperialism, but it also includes the elements of civilisation, sexual and racial equality, technology and culture that make it possible for us to build socialism out of it.

Lenin, the great Marxist advocate of revolutionary struggle against imperialism, long ago drew a dividing line between that socialist struggle and reactionary movements such as (in his day) “pan-Islamism” [in our day, Islamism]: “Imperialism is as much our mortal enemy as is capitalism. That is so. No Marxist will forget, however, that capitalism is progressive compared with feudalism, and that imperialism is progressive compared with pre-monopoly capitalism. Hence, it is not every struggle against imperialism that we should support. We will not support a struggle of the reactionary classes against imperialism.”

We, the socialists, cannot bring back the dead, heal the wounded, or even (unless we’re present) comfort the bereaved. What we can do is analyse the conditions that gave rise to the atrocity; see how they can be changed; and keep clear critical understanding of the way that governments will respond. This must not be mistaken for any kind of attempt to excuse or minimise this barbarity or to use simplistic “blowback” arguments to suggest that it is simply a reaction to the crimes of “the west” or “imperialism.”

Immediately, the Paris massacre is not only a human disaster for the victims, their friends and families, but also a political disaster for all Muslims, refugees and ethnic minorities in Europe. The backlash against this Islamic-fundamentalist atrocity will inevitably provoke anti-refugee feeling and legislation, attacks on civil liberties and hostility towards all people perceived as “Muslims” in Europe: that, quite likely, was at least one of the intentions of the killers. The neo-fascists of Marine LePen’s Front National seem likely to make electoral gains as a result of this outrage.

The present chaos in the Middle East has given rise to the Islamic fascists of ISIS, and their inhuman, nihilist-cum-religious fundamentalist ideology.

Throughout the Middle East, the rational use of the region’s huge oil wealth, to enable a good life for all rather than to bloat some and taunt others, is the socialist precondition for undercutting the Islamic reactionaries.

In Afghanistan, an economically-underdeveloped, mostly rural society was thrust into turmoil in the late 1970s. The PDP, a military-based party linked to the USSR, tried to modernise, with measures such as land reform and some equality for women, but from above, bureaucratically. Islamists became the ideologues of a landlord-led mass revolt.

In December 1979, seeing the PDP regime about to collapse, the USSR invaded. It spent eight years trying to subdue the peoples of Afghanistan with napalm and helicopter gunships. It was the USSR’s Vietnam.

The USSR’s war had the same sort of regressive effect on society in Afghanistan as the USA’s attempt to bomb Cambodia “back into the Stone Age”, as part of its war against the Vietnamese Stalinists, had on that country. In Cambodia the result was the mass-murdering Khmer Rouge, which tried to empty the cities and abolish money; in Afghanistan, it has been the Islamic-fundamentalist regime of the Taliban. In Iraq the West’s bungled attempts to clear out first Saddam’s fascistic regime and then various Islamist reactionaries, and introduce bourgeois democracy from above, have been instrumental in creating ISIS.

Western governments will now make a show of retaliation and retribution. They will not and cannot mend the conditions that gave rise to this atrocity, conditions which they themselves (together with their Arab ruling class allies) helped to shape. Ordinary working people who live in war-torn states and regions will, as ever, be the victims.

Civil rights will come under attack and the efforts of the European Union to establish a relatively humane response to the refugee crisis will be set back and, quite possibly, destroyed.

These blows at civil rights will do far more to hamper the labour movement, the only force which can remake the world so as to end such atrocities, than to stop the killers.

Public opinion will lurch towards xenophobia. Basic democratic truths must be recalled: not all Middle Eastern people are Muslims, most Muslims are not Islamic fundamentalists, most of those who are Islamic-fundamentalist in their religious views do not support Islamic fundamentalist militarism. To seek collective punishment against Muslims or Arabs, or anyone else, is wrong and inhuman.

The first, and still the most-suffering, victims of Islamic fundamentalist militarism are the people, mostly Muslim, of the countries and regions where the lslamists are powerful.

The only way to defeat the Islamists is by the action of the working class and the labour movement in such countries, aided by our solidarity.

Refugees seeking asylum in Europe do not in any way share blame for this massacre. In fact, many of them are refugees because they are fleeing Islamic-fundamentalist governments and forces like ISIS. To increase the squeeze on already-wretched refugees would be macabre and perverse “revenge”.

We must remake the world. We must remake it on the basis of the solidarity, democracy and spirit of equality which are as much part of human nature as the rage, hatred and despair which must have motivated the Paris mass-murderers.

We must create social structures which nurture solidarity, democracy and equality, in place of those which drive towards exploitation, cut-throat competition and acquisitiveness and a spirit of everything-for-profit.

The organised working class, the labour movement, embodies the core and the active force of the drive for solidarity, democracy and spirit of equality within present-day society. It embodies it more or less consistently, to a greater or lesser extent, depending on how far we have been able to mobilise ourselves, assert ourselves, broaden our ranks, and emancipate ourselves from the capitalist society around us.

Our job, as socialists, is to maximise the self-mobilisation, self-assertion, broadening and self-emancipation of the organised working class.

We must support the heroic Kurdish forces who are fighting and defeating ISIS on the ground in Syria and Iraq, opposed by the Turkish government. We must demand that our government – and all western governments – support the Kurds with weapons and, if requested, military backup: but we will oppose all moves by the governments of the big powers to make spectacular retaliation or to restrict civil rights or target minorities or refugees.


  1. Jim Denham said,

    Ian McEwan on Paris:

    The death cult chose its city well — Paris, secular capital of the world, as hospitable, diverse and charming a metropolis as was ever devised. And the death cult chose its targets in the city with ghoulish, self-damning accuracy — everything they loathed stood plainly before them on a happy Friday evening: men and women in easy association, wine, free-thinking, laughter, tolerance, music — wild and satirical rock and blues. The cultists came armed with savage nihilism and a hatred that lies beyond our understanding. Their protective armour was the suicide belt, their idea of the ultimate hiding place was the virtuous after-life, where the police cannot go. (The jihadist paradise is turning out to be one of humanity’s worst ever ideas; slash and burn in this life, eternal rest among kitsch in the next).

    Paris, dazed and subdued, woke this morning to reflect on its new circumstances. Those of us who were out on the town last night can only wonder at the vagaries of chance that lets us live and others die. As the slaughter began, my wife and I were in a venerable Paris institution, a cliché of the modest good life since 1845. In this charming restaurant in the sixieme, one shares crowded tables with good-willed strangers, visitors and locals in a friendly crush. With our Pouilly Fume and filets d’hareng, we were as good a target as any. The cult chose the onzieme, the dixieme, barely a mile away and we didn’t know a thing.

    Now we do. What are those changed circumstances? Security will tighten and Paris must become a little less charming. The necessary tension between security and freedom will remain a challenge. The death-cult’s bullets and bombs will come again, here or somewhere else, we can be sure. The citizens of London, New York, Berlin are paying close and nervous attention. In January we were all Charlie Hebdo. Now, we are all Parisians and that at least, in a dark time, is a matter of pride.

    Ian McEwan
    14 November 2015

  2. John walsh said,

    Well said Jim . Thoughtful , humane analysis . Difficult days ahead for progressives the world over. Glad I’m an internationalist at times like these. We must never forget man& woman are good by nature. No infant has ever been born evil.

  3. Howard Fuller said,

    My response takes a slightly different direction. I’m not a “socialist” whatever that term even means these days. You, Coatsey and Phil BC are amongst the few I take seriously these days. I see Counterfire/Stop the War as the new fascists.

  4. Glasgow Working Class said,

    More mass graves of Assidi women being dug up and Britain sits on its arse while genocide happens. Our Mps are a disgrace. The excuse from our Mps that we need a long term plan before intervening is cowardice. We should be bombing now hitting their supply lines and degrading them.

  5. Jim Denham said,

    Robert Greenwood commented (on facebook):

    You are absolutely right to say that capitalism brings “the elements of civilisation, sexual and racial equality, technology and culture that make it possible for us to build socialism.” This afternoon my dearest buddy & I (both of us Marxists) visited the Stratford Westfield shopping mall. To many people on what remains of the so-called “left” this is where the duped masses all succumb to consumerism and waste their time & money. But this is a regressive & disdainful way to look at things. In fact nothing & nowhere embraces equality like the marketplace. If you want to see a large & diverse group of people (including Muslims) all rubbing along together, you could do worse than go to where we were this afternoon. And this is the very sort of thing that the terrorists hate & fear. Like you say, Jim, their rage is “against the modem, secular world and the (limited but real) freedom and equality it represents.” And there is no way that they are interested in diversity or multiculturalism. Their aim, such as it is, is utterly reactionary & solely monocultural. Maybe we can’t “bring back the dead, heal the wounded, or even (unless we’re present) comfort the bereaved,” but we can redeem history by refusing defeat or even appeasement and by continuing to exercise the freedoms & aspirations that the terrorists despise. We can make it so that these tragic deaths are not meaningless. A large part of this involves continuing, at every opportunity, to denounce the “useful idiots” who seek to apologise for such atrocities in the name of anti-imperialism and anti-racism.

  6. Jim Denham said,

    Comrade Matt writes:

    For those out their who prefer that anti-imperialism facile, Socialist Worker is stiil there. For their response to Paris see

    Luckily for SW, the perpetrators of the attacks had no politics, but are just bearers of low-grade sociological forces. They were, in fact, a mere reflection of the actions of the French government, “France is already at war. Its forces began bombing Syria just under seven weeks ago, and Iraq a year ago”. Thus this is righteous, if misdirected, anger “The massacres at the office of magazine Charlie Hebdo and at kosher supermarket Hyper Cacher in January were followed by a wave of vandalism on mosques and attacks on Muslims.”

    That’s a relief then, I was worried that these people might have a reactionary programme that the left might have to oppose.


    • Glasgow Working Class said,

      The attacks on the Charlie Hebdo office was apparently done for Charlie being blasphemous towards the prophet. But then they went onwards to kill Jews in a supermarket. Perhaps that was to appeal to lefties and PLO supporters. Who cares about free speech but they got a couple of Yids. They cannae be that bad.

  7. Rilke said,

    Strange that the SWP and STWC did not and does not now, take this line with the Red Brigades, ETA, UFV, and INLA or for that matter the Shankhill Butchers and Brevick. Maybe it is only non-Europeans killers who or simple-minded dupes of ‘imperialism’ while European murderers are sophisticated enough to be responsible for their deeds. Odd position that – could be classed as condescending enough to be racist.
    My fury is all spent with these disgusting and shallow people. Shocked and traumatised victims amd families are mourning their dead and all they can do is reel off a few slogans. I always thought and still,do in a way, that socialism begins in the small and persistent inclination and disposition to be kind, fair and loving to others and find and seek for that enlarged possibility in our history and social life not in the after-life offered by religious doctrine. But the more I listen to people who go by the name ‘socialist’ the more I hear slimy doctrine, crude blame and simple-minded vulgarity.
    Your post has sensitivity and some himan care in it and is worth reading for that alone.

    • Glasgow Working Class said,

      There was a time when all the left stood against fascism and the likes of the National Front. Now some on the left are supporting fascists. And the strange mind boggling thing is the fascists they support would slaughter them.
      So to some it up you have a death cult supporting a death cult.

  8. Political Tourist said,

    Arm the Kurds and then what, allow them to set up an independent state?
    Kurds good Jocks bad.
    No mention of arming the Iraqi army.
    Hard to believe Iraq once had a Labour Government long long ago.

    • Glasgow Working Class said,

      Was it led by Saddam?

      • Steven Johnston said,

        Yes, that’s the one!

  9. Jim Denham said,

    • Steven Johnston said,

      Imperalist wars? Blimey, what century are they living in? Racism? Surely the racists here are the ones that carried out the attacks.

  10. Glasgow Working Class said,

    Tonight on the Roger Melly wee Nicola Sturgeon was assuring the Scottish people that all the refugees coming to Scotland were vetted. A few weeks back she was calling Cameron inhumane for not letting tens of thousands into Britain inspite of Cameron stating clearly Britain was paying millions of taxpayers money to help refugees stay at home and a limted ammount who are being vetted would come to Britain. Cameron has taken the threat seriously she did not. The women is incompetant and I have to say should publicly apologise to the PM for her stupid remarks.

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