The socialist debate on the TalibanTrotskyism slips on the supposed anti-imperialism of the Taliban
Anti-imperialism and the class struggle
by Joseph Green
(from Communist Voice #28, January 2002)
. It might seem strange that any leftist could doubt the reactionary nature of the Taliban. This ultra-fundamentalist regime springs from mujahedeen circles which were funded for over a decade by the CIA to fight a dirty war in Afghanistan in the 80s and early 90s. But since Sept. 11, there have been some groups who don't believe that both sides in the US-Taliban war are reactionary. Instead they hold that the Taliban is carrying out an anti-imperialist struggle. They generally have to accept that it is reactionary domestically, but hold that it is carrying out a progressive, anti-imperialist struggle internationally. This includes such groups as WWP in the US, the SWP in Britain, and various "left" Trotskyist groups. Some of these groups also believe that the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, however misguided and unfortunate, were some sort of anti-imperialist or progressive act.
. But it isn't always easy to see what the larger groups involved in coalition-building, such as the WWP in the US and the SWP in Britain, actually believe on this question. Certain smaller "left" Trotskyist groups may declare outright that they stand for the "military victory" of the Taliban, but the coalition-builders avoid such declarations. Instead they write almost exclusively about broad demands, like an end to the war and stop racism and stop repression. Their stand on the Taliban or the Sept. 11 attacks is mainly reflected by their opposition to slogans outright condemning these things. So often one finds that discussions about their stand degenerate into people wondering if they really say this or that, or really mean this or that.
. Thus it is useful to examine an open debate on this issue. The CP of Great Britain is a party that broke away from its pro-Soviet past, although it still thinks the late Soviet Union was "bureaucratic socialism", if not desirable socialism. Its paper, the Weekly Worker, has a lively correspondence section where the issue of the Taliban has been vigorously debated. While the CPGB opposes both the Taliban and Western imperialism, the Weekly Worker accepts letters with varying viewpoints. (The Weekly Worker may be found at < http://www.cpgb.org.uk>.) Following this introduction are two letters from this debate, from Trotskyists of different trends, one (Ian Donovan) arguing against the Taliban and one (Bob Pitt) arguing that anti-imperialists must desire the victory of the Taliban.
. Pitt's letter vehemently supports the Taliban, and talks of the "progressive content" of a Taliban victory. He enthusiastically compares the struggle of the Taliban to a progressive anti-colonial revolt.
. He also deals with why people haven't heard more about such pro-Taliban views. He makes it clear that groups such as the British SWP hold these views, but hide them in their mass work. He supports such secrecy, writing that it would be a mistake to "organize an anti-war movement around slogans such as 'Victory to the Taliban' or even 'Defend Afghanistan, defeat US imperialism' ". (He thus indicates that what he, and others of like mind, mean by "defending Afghanistan" in the current Afghan war, is defending the Taliban. ) It's not because he doesn't believe in these slogans, but because few other people agree with them, and because they would alienate the liberal, trade-unionist and reformist forces.
. So Pitt holds that the only slogan should be "Stop the war". For that matter, although Pitt doesn't draw the point out further, it isn't simply a question of what slogan should be used in some big demonstration. Groups such as the British SWP lower most of their agitation to this same general level. Pitt likes to present matters as if the pro-Taliban stand is the sign of real militancy against imperialism. . But Pitt, the SWP of Britain, and WWP water down the content of anti-war work to something that is, broadly speaking, acceptable to the liberals.
. Pitt also makes it clear that the issue isn't just the attitude to the Taliban, but towards the attacks of September 11. He points out that the SWP and SLP don't want anyone to condemn the terrorist attacks of September 11.(1) They will say things about the tragedy of September 11, but they draw the line at actually condemning it.
. Many people might believe that when a group, such as the WWP, talks about how horrific September 11 was, that this means condemning it. It may thus surprise them to hear that, say, WWP activists opposed, at some coalition planning meeting, that a demonstration include a condemnation of September 11 as one of its principles. But this distinction between regret and condemnation is typical of many pro-Taliban groups. Pitt points out that "groups such as the Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Labour Party, while making it clear that they oppose terrorism and deplore the loss of civilian lives, have avoided using the word 'condemn' in relation to the September 11 events. " Pitt clearly supports this policy and seems to think that it is "racist arrogance" to condemn the September 11 attacks because this would supposedly mean stopping the masses from "enter(ing) into struggle against imperialism".
. Ian Donovan, in reply, argues vigorously that one has to look at the class nature of the Taliban in particular, and of the fundamentalists in general. He looks more concretely at their general political role in the world than Pitt does, and raises many issues that Pitt sweeps under the rug.
. However, despite their differences, both Donovan and Pitt, being Trotskyists, share some common assumptions. For example, they both accept Trotsky's stand on the anti-colonial struggle. Pitt argues that this stand shows why it is correct to see the Taliban's struggle as anti-imperialist, while Donovan argues that Trotsky was writing in a different historical situation. It doesn't occur to them that Trotsky might have been just plain wrong on this question, as on so many other key questions of Marxist theory.
. In this respect, they debate the relevance of Trotsky's stand concerning Ethiopia. Trotsky didn't just advocate that Ethiopian resistance to the Italian invasion of the mid-30s was correct. He went further, and was full of praise for the supposed revolutionary virtues of the Emperor Haile Selassie (the "Negus"). Pitt chose the case of Ethiopia in order to make an analogy between Haile Selassie and the Taliban. In "On Dictators and the Heights of Oslo", which has his main comment on Ethiopia, Trotsky wrote that certain politicians say that the Italian invasion was just "a conflict between two rival dictators", Haile Selassie and the fascist Mussolini, which should be of no concern to class-conscious workers around the world. Trotsky contradicted this, and said that Ethiopia should be supported. So far, so good. But he did so by writing that "A dictator can also play a very progressive role in history", and going lyrical over the wonders of a "victory for the Negus".(2) Although Trotsky claims to be discussing the "social foundations" of different dictatorships, he has no comment whatsoever on the different classes in Ethiopia or Haile Selassie's relation to them. Pitt takes this to mean the reactionary nature of the Taliban today is just as irrelevant as Trotsky found the tyranny of Haile Selassie to be in its day.
. In fact, Haile Selassie was a modernizer of sorts, but for the sake of strengthening an autocratic regime. The peasants, who were the vast majority of the population, labored under backward, feudal, oppressive conditions. This was also a regime of Amhara chauvinism that suppressed the other, non-Amhara, peoples of Ethiopia. It was not surprising that Haile Selassie could not repeat the Ethiopian victory of the Battle of Adwa of 1896, where Ethiopian independence was maintained by defeating an invading Italian army. It was the job of communists, if they really wanted to help build the anti-colonial movement, to point out the class factors involved in Ethiopian weakness,. Even if, somehow, Italy had suffered immediate defeat, one of the tasks of communists would have been to debunk the idea that the Selassie regime provided a model for anti-colonial struggle elsewhere.
. But Trotsky didn't even try to deal with the class issues involved in Ethiopia. He couldn't do so (and later, after Selassie's defeat, he never, as far as I am aware, reconsidered his stand and drew any lessons from this defeat). Moreover, it isn't at all clear that support for Ethiopia followed from any of Trotsky's general principles, such as "permanent revolution" or denial of "two-stage revolution". Trotsky instead argued, in effect, that in this case, all these things should be thrown aside. Many contemporary Trotskyists take this to mean that any regime at all in any lesser country in contradiction with an imperialist country should be supported.
. Ian Donovan won't criticize Trotsky for being the source of this mechanical rule. Instead he advocates that it only applied in the days of old-style colonialism (or to any presently remaining cases of direct denial of national independence). He points out that the development of the bourgeoisie in the former colonial world, and makes a number of important observations. But he goes overboard and establishes a new mechanical rule. This rule is that a backward country should never be supported in a struggle against an imperialist power, unless it is a case of a struggle to "overthrow imperialism as a system", which would require overthrowing the capitalist ruling classes themselves.
. But what about situations such as, for example, Nicaragua resisting the U. S. -organized contra war in the 1980s? More generally, what about democratic revolutionary struggles that wouldn't break the dependent countries free of the economic bonds of imperialism, but would nevertheless improve the social conditions and pave the way for a more extensive and organized class struggle by the proletariat? Such struggles still exist. This is not what the Taliban was doing in Afghanistan; it's not what Iraq's Saddam Hussein is doing; it's not what Serbia's Milosevic was doing. But such struggles do keep coming up. One has to make a concrete assessment of the actual politics behind each war and of the class relations in each country, and not simply apply a mechanical rule.
. Now, in practice, no matter what his theory, Donovan undoubtedly supported various progressive struggles in the dependent countries, such the overthrow of the dictator Somoza and resistance to the contras. But his Trotskyism gives him no consistent basis to do so. His Trotskyist perspective leads to the view that, under current world conditions, to support anything but the breaking of the economic chains of imperialism is opportunism. From his Trotskyist perspective, anything else is "two-stage revolution", a horrible crime for a Trotskyist.
. So Donovan probably would have to convince himself that these struggles were really breaking out of the entire economic system of imperialism. He would have to paint them in socialist colors. (He wouldn't necessarily call them "socialist", as this would violate the Trotskyist principle that there can't be "socialism in one country". But he would have to present these struggles as somehow overcoming capitalism or imperialism, although without achieving socialism. ) This would be a mistake, because painting up these struggles as essentially socialist means overlooking the specifically socialist tasks that are needed to preserve proletarian independence in the midst of these struggles, such as maintaining the independence of the proletarian trend, both organizationally and ideologically, from the governing party.
. Thus, as far as their theory goes, both Pitt and Donovan end up championing mechanical rules. Pitt's rule leads to backing any reactionary regime, so long as it is in contradiction with the US. Donovan's rule leads to denying that any struggle of a dependent country could be progressive, other than the outright overcoming of capitalism. Both rules stem, ultimately, from Trotskyism's inability to make a concrete analysis of the class issues in the dependent capitalist countries. Both rules contradict the Leninist position which, back in the colonial days as well as today, put emphasis on a concrete assessment of the class developments inside the colonial and dependent countries.
. But, theory aside, Donovan points out how Pitt's depiction of Taliban anti-imperialism amounts to utter fantasy. Pitt in turn gives one a good feeling for what the section of pro-Taliban apologists among the coalition-building groups are saying. It is important to know that there are pro-Taliban apologists, because this explains some of the events in the anti-war movement and because the pro-Taliban stand undermines the struggle against the "war on terrorism", and undermines solidarity with the class-conscious activists around the world. It is also important to refute such apologetics as part of overcoming the crisis of revolutionary theory in the left. <>
(1) There may be a question as to what the stand of Arthur Scargill's SLP of Britain actually is. Apparently it began as Pitt says, but, according to the article "SLP split" in the Weekly Worker of Nov. 8, a majority of the National Executive Committee overruled Scargill on Sept. 22, and condemned the attacks of Sept. 11. But what was the result? Almost a month later, the SLP circulated among its membership an internal Information Bulletin which contained the NEC statement condemning the attacks. But, the Nov. 8 Weekly Worker says, it doesn't seem that the the SLP had yet made its new stand public. (Pitt, too, doesn't seem to have seen any change in the SLP's stand.) For that matter, Scargill's original statement on the Sept. 11 attacks was still on the SLP web site, www.socialist-labour-party.org.uk.. And so it is as of early Jan. 2002. It is interesting that this site is run by a diehard pro-Stalin grouping in the SLP. On this question, and not just this question, Stalinism and Trotskyism have a good deal in common. (Return to text)
(2) "On Dictators and the Heights of Oslo/A Letter to an English Comrade, April 22, 1936,"
Writings of Leon Trotsky [1935-56], Pathfinder Press, pp. 317-8. (Text)
|. The following letter from the British Trotskyist Bob Pitt, editor of the journal What Next?, appeared in Weekly Worker #404 ( Thursday, October 18, 2001), journal of the Communist Party of Great Britain. Pitt ended his letter with the claim that those socialists who failed to support the Taliban were engaged in "sectarian propagandism", and so his letter appeared under the title Sectarian propagandism: Bob Pitt argues that it is perfectly principled for socialists to defend the Taliban against imperialism. Material about What Next? may be found at<www.revolutionary-history.co.uk/otherstu/wnext.htm>,|
. Ian Donovan utilises the thoroughly dubious concept of "reactionary anti-imperialism" in order to justify a 'plague on both your houses' attitude towards the current war being waged by US and British imperialism against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan (Weekly Worker October 4). His arguments are confused, incoherent and based on a sectarian method which renders him incapable of understanding what is going on in the world, let alone doing anything to change it.
. Ian quotes a section of the 'Preliminary draft theses on the national and the colonial questions' from the Second Congress of the Communist International in 1920, in which Lenin emphasises "the need to combat pan-islamism and similar trends, which strive to combine the liberation movement against European and American imperialism with an attempt to strengthen the position of the khans, landowners, mullahs, etc". It is hardly surprising that Lenin should propose such a policy for the Comintern, which aimed to build a worldwide organisation of workers' parties on a secular basis. But is Ian really asking us to conclude that, in the event of a pan-islamic movement taking power in a small, underdeveloped country and then coming under attack from a major imperialist state, Lenin would have advocated that revolutionaries should remain neutral in that conflict or called on communists in the small, undeveloped country to work for the defeat of their own government? In the immortal words of John McEnroe, you cannot be serious.
. It is apparently OK for Ian to quote this passage from the revolutionary archives, along with another one from Lenin about "not supporting the struggle of the reactionary classes against imperialism", in order to clinch his argument that "for communists there can be no question of 'defending' the Taliban". But those of us who might be inclined to cite contrary passages from the writings of prominent Marxists are condemned in advance as "quotation-mongers" and "biblicists". Ian predicts sneeringly that texts such as Trotsky's comments on the attitude socialists should have adopted towards the Italian attack on Abyssinia in 1935 will be "dusted off" in order to provide authority for an anti-imperialist, defencist line on the current war against Afghanistan. Well, let's oblige him.
. The example of Italy's invasion of Abyssinia is far from irrelevant, given that the regime in that country -- a feudal monarchy headed by the emperor Haile Selassie -- was just about as "reactionary" as you could get. The leaders of the Independent Labour Party in Britain, arguing that socialists could not be for the victory of such a government, took a neutral position on the war. Trotsky's response was withering: "If Mussolini triumphs, it means . . . the strengthening of imperialism and the discouragement of the colonial peoples in Africa and elsewhere. A victory of the Negus [Haile Selassie], however, would mean a mighty blow not only at Italian imperialism but at imperialism as a whole, and would lend a powerful impulsion to the rebellious forces of the oppressed people. One must really be completely blind not to see this" (emphasis added).
. This position, of seeing the victory of oppressed countries over their imperialist oppressors as progressive, irrespective of the political character of the political leadership in the oppressed country, was an elementary principle for Trotsky. Writing in 1938, he remarked in passing: "We shall not even dwell on the fact that in the event of a national war waged by the bey of Tunis against France, progress would be on the side of the barbarian monarch and not that of the imperialist republic. " Not for him the formalistic notion of "reactionary anti-imperialism".
. One would expect Ian to argue that Trotsky was fundamentally mistaken on this point, and that his position amounted to "supporting the struggle of the reactionary classes against imperialism". However, Ian doesn't do this. Rather, he shifts his ground and argues that, since the world has changed and the leading capitalist powers no longer possess formal colonial empires, such old-style anti-imperialism is no longer appropriate.
. This seems to me to be a pretty flimsy argument. As Ian himself concedes, imperialism has not ceased to exist -- the major capitalist states continue to dominate the world, even if they pursue their economic, political and military-strategic objectives by means other than direct colonial conquest. By such methods -- which include financing and arming brutal dictatorships, systematically bombing countries whose governments defy the will of the US, imposing economic sanctions in an attempt to bring recalcitrant regimes to their knees -- the US ruling class has devastated the lives of millions across the globe. Why then should it be that a victory by "reactionary" anti-imperialist forces over the world's major oppressor power has lost all progressive content?
. It might seem unlikely that the mighty US military machine could possibly suffer defeat at the hands of the ill-equipped Taliban. However, remembering the fate of the Soviet armed forces in the 1980s, if the US sends ground troops into Afghanistan such an outcome can by no means be excluded. Millions of people throughout the 'third world', and in the Arab and muslim countries in particular, would celebrate such a defeat. It would inspire all of those opposing imperialist oppression throughout the world and have a salutary effect on the US ruling class, making it less ready to attack small, apparently vulnerable countries in the future. One must really be completely blind not to see this.
. Ian's attitude towards the September 11 attacks in the US is coloured by the same contemptuous dismissal of anti-imperialism. It is because they recognise the existence of a mass anti-imperialist sentiment across the third world, and the need for socialists to get a hearing among those holding such views, that groupings such as the Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Labour Party, while making it clear that they oppose terrorism and deplore the loss of civilian lives, have avoided using the word 'condemn' in relation to the September 11 events. Ian denounces this as a "liberal [sic] tendency to simply tail third world nationalism".
. He should read the article by Farooq Tariq of the Labour Party Pakistan, 'Why Pakistan peasants won't condemn New York carnage', in the Socialist Outlook 'Stop the war' supplement [an edited version of this article was also carried in Weekly Worker September 20 -- WW]:
. "Six days after the Tuesday attacks on American cities," the writer recounts, "it seems that generally many are happy and feel pride that at last someone has done the job they should be doing. It shows an utter hatred of American imperialism among the general masses . . .
. "One villager told me that the incident of America is like a peasant getting up in a village to fight against the feudal lord with no weapons. No one in the village ever thought of fighting against the feudal lords before. But when this peasant wins the fight, peasants in the whole village will be very happy. America is a big feudal lord of the world which has lost the fight at the hands of someone without any resources, and we must celebrate. Whenever I raised the issue of innocent Americans losing their lives, the normal reaction was: yes, we sympathise, but what about those millions of Palestinians, Sudanese, Vietnamese and others who have lost their lives at their hands?"(1)
. Because this sort of mass anti-imperialism fails to condemn terrorism when it is directed against an oppressor state, because it is sometimes influenced by militant islamic fundamentalism, in short because it lacks commitment to the sort of 'civilised' values upheld by western self-styled Marxists like Ian, he believes that it lacks any progressive features. According to this view, the masses will be permitted to enter into struggle against imperialism only once they have abandoned their 'backwardness' and adopted a socialist ideology which measures up to Ian's own rigorous standards. He would call this principled revolutionary politics; I would call it racist arrogance.
. Does this mean that socialists should attempt to organise an anti-war movement around slogans such as 'Victory to the Taliban' or even 'Defend Afghanistan, defeat US imperialism'? No, it doesn't. The best contribution that Marxists in Britain can make to the defeat of imperialism is to build a mass movement with the aim of mobilising public opinion against our own government's participation in the assault on Afghanistan. This means working with trade unionists, Labour Party members, CND supporters, Greens and others, few of whom will agree with a defencist position in relation to the Taliban forces fighting against the US. The most appropriate slogan for such a movement is 'Stop the war'.
. But Ian will have none of it. He accuses anti-imperialists of trying to build a movement against the war "on the political foundations provided by pacifists and reformists, to whose politics they generally defer in practice". Of course, Ian may well be rushing around his area of south London energetically building a mass anti-war movement on firm revolutionary foundations -- on the basis of "preparations for the overthrow of capitalism itself", as the October 11 issue of the Weekly Worker recommends. Then again, it could just be that his idea of contributing to the building of an anti-war movement is to write lengthy articles polemicising against other sections of the far left and perhaps appear on the occasional demonstration selling his organisation's newspaper.
. Ian's method may be a travesty of revolutionary politics, but it does at least have the merit of consistency. Just as he refuses to take sides in a bloody war waged by the world's leading imperialist power and its allies against a small oppressed country, so he abstains from the task of building an effective movement against that war in his own country. Ian would call this method Marxism; I would call it sectarian propagandism. <>
(1) Pitt omits the conclusion of Farooq Tariq's article, thatas carried by Socialist Outlookgoes
"It is very clear that we, the progressive forces, are among the very few who see we have to
condemn terrorism, whether at individual or state level. " CV (Return to text)
|. The following letter appeared under the above title in Weekly Worker #405 for Thursday, October 25 2001. For a couple of years, Ian Donovan was the publisher/editor of his own Trotskyist theoretical journal Revolution and Truth.. (Its contents can be found at <members.aol.com/RevolutionTruth>. ) For the last year, many of his articles can be found at the CPGB website.|
. Bob Pitt's recent article, replying to my critique of much of the Stalinist and 'orthodox' Trotskyist left's inability to oppose the current USA-UK 'war against terrorism' without becoming more or less critical cheerleaders for the reactionary 'anti-imperialism' of the islamists, reflects much of the kind of capitulation to alien class ideologies that has crippled the left for decades. Incredibly, comrade Pitt -- editor of the journal What Next? -- considers that the very concept that any form of political movement that emerges in a backward country that claims to be opposed to imperialism, could ever conceivably be reactionary 'thoroughly dubious', and thereby lays the theoretical basis for his de facto position that the 'anti-imperialist' war of any movement in a backward country, no matter what its programme and aims, is 'progressive'.
. With this kind of outlook, it is hardly surprising that in the Kosova war of 1999, comrade Pitt was one of those who supported the 'victory' of the grotesquely chauvinist, anti-Albanian Milosevic tyranny against the overwhelming majority of Kosova's people themselves. It will be recalled that Serb rule in Kosova resembled nothing as so much, in terms of the deprivation of all de facto citizenship rights of the majority ethnic group in a country in which they were the overwhelming majority, as the apartheid tyranny in South Africa, among the most obscene products of the colonialism comrade Pitt professes undying hatred of.
. But it is easy for comrade Pitt to express hatred of an old-style colonialism that today hardly exists. For comrade Pitt, as with so many, the pretence that colonialism still 'really' dominates the world as it did in Trotsky's day, serves to cover the fact that it is he and his like, who cheer for every vile reactionary 'third world' analogue of fascism from the comfort of their Labour Party branches, knowing full well it is unlikely they will ever face the consequences of the movements they cheer. The comrade hasn't a clue of how to distinguish the oppressor from the oppressed, and more generally, his arse from his elbow.
. Bob Pitt, as is characteristic of the biblicists, quotes Leon Trotsky's polemic against the leaders of the Independent Labour Party's 'plague on both your houses' position on Mussolini's 1934 annexation and colonisation of Haile Selassie's Abyssinia. Yet it is quite amusing that comrade Pitt seems unable to actually read and place in elementary context, the very passage that he quotes: "If Mussolini triumphs, it means the strengthening of imperialism and the discouragement of the colonial peoples in Africa and elsewhere. A victory of the Negus, however, would mean a mighty blow not only at Italian imperialism but also against imperialism as a whole, and would lend a powerful impulsion to the rebellion of the oppressed people. One really must be completely blind not to see this. " (emphasis added)
. One really must be 'completely blind' not to be able to see the difference between the context when this was written, and the modern day. Which 'colonial peoples' would be encouraged to revolt against their colonial overlords by a victory of the Taliban in the current war?
. Would it be the Indians? Would they be encouraged to revolt against the rule of the British Raj, by such a victory? Oops, sorry, colonial India has been ruled by its own bourgeoisies, in modern day India, Pakistan, and latterly Bangladesh, for several decades. Would it be the Arab peoples of the Middle East, encouraged to rebel against the overlordship of the British and French? Hardly! They, too, have been ruled by their own bourgeoisies for many a year. Would it be the subjects of the European colonial empires in Africa, who would be encouraged to throw off their colonial masters by such a victory? Sorry, comrade Pitt, you are again several decades too late. Though France from time to time intervenes in Africa in pursuit of residual colonial interests, in general the days of overt national conquest and rule of entire peoples, of all classes from bourgeoisie to nascent proletariat, from the peasantry to even the decaying remnants of pre-capitalist classes, by the imperialist powers, by advanced capitalist occupiers, has long gone.
. Of course, comrade Pitt is not stupid, and does not believe that his hoped-for victory of islamists would encourage an uprising of the peoples of former colonies against their non-existent colonial masters in the cause of a self-determination which was achieved decades earlier. What is implicit in his mis-citation of Trotsky is that the victory of the Taliban would propel the masses of the ex-colonial, underdeveloped world towards some sort of struggle against the imperialist world system itself: ie, towards its overthrow.
. But this belief is actually a version of the Menshevik theory of 'two-stage revolution': since it is not possible to overthrow imperialism as a system without the overthrow of the very ruling classes, bourgeois or in the case of Afghanistan, pre-capitalist and arguably pre-feudal, that comrade Pitt advocates that the oppressed masses should support in struggle 'against imperialism'. One can only conclude from this kind of strange reasoning that either comrade Pitt believes that his hoped-for victory of these ruling classes in such a war would lead directly to the overthrow of these very same ruling classes by the proletariat. Or else that comrade Pitt believes that the likes of the Taliban and other such reactionary elements are themselves capable of playing some kind of world-revolutionary role. In response to either of these propositions, the only response appropriate is 'You cannot be serious' a la McEnroe.
. In reality, the outright victory of the islamic fundamentalists in the current war would almost certainly lead to the overthrow of the brittle military regime in Pakistan, and its replacement by a fully fledged islamist regime. It is also highly likely that similar movements would come to power in some or all of the former Central Asian republics of the ex-USSR. Many secular Arab states, including both the pro-western ones like Jordan and Egypt, as well as even the 'radical' ones, such as Syria and Iraq, would inevitably face a massively increased fundamentalist threat, and could be overthrown. The fundamentalist, but hollow, corrupt and pro-western regime in Saudi Arabia could quite likely be replaced by a more militant and aggressive form of fundamentalism.
. India itself could be plunged into a full scale communal war, as its huge moslem minority could be propelled towards radicalised islamism by such a fundamentalist surge, and at the same time provoke an equally severe hindu-reactionary backlash. This in particular, would pose the danger of a nuclear-armed fundamentalist regime in Pakistan confronting a nuclear-armed, fearful and more and more hysterical hindu chauvinist regime in India -- a frightening prospect, that could quite conceivably lead to tens of millions of Indians and Pakistanis being wiped out in a regional nuclear holocaust.
. Comrade Pitt may well consider, from half a world away, that the risk of such a prospect is a price worth paying for the 'defeat' of imperialism according to his scenario, but frankly anyone seriously seeking to put forward an internationalist perspective of revolutionary struggle in the Middle East and Asia can only view such a prospect with horror.
. The whole point of the Comintern's unconditional demand for national (state) independence for colonial peoples was to remove the national question from the agenda, and in the process prove to the masses that they would have to overthrow their own indigenous oppressors to achieve liberation. This is diametrically opposed to the policy of comrade Pitt, who again, from the safety of his comfortable European home and his Labour Party branch, lectures the masses who groan under the grotesque tyranny of the islamists that they have to support their oppressors' 'anti-imperialist' crusades long after the imperialist bourgeoisie abandoned colonialism as a method of rule, or else, presumably, be branded as traitors to the 'anti-imperialist' cause and, again presumably, worthy of the treatment such oppressors regularly dish out to those they consider traitors.
. In reality, once actual state independence was achieved against these empires: ie, decades ago, the question of the political and class natures of the indigenous regimes that ruled them became just as immediate, burning a question of working class politics in the backward countries as it is in the advanced countries. Any war waged by the regime of a backward country is a continuation of its politics by other means. In the case of the Taliban regime, its war against imperialism is a continuation of the politics of islamic fundamentalism by military means. Any support for its wars amounts to a disguised form of support for its politics. And support for the politics of such extreme reaction is as suicidal for workers and the oppressed in countries such as Afghanistan as it is for workers in the advanced countries. Yes, one really has to be blind not to see this.
. Comrade Pitt tries to lay hold of the Labour Party of Pakistan (LPP) in order to bolster his case, in regard to their observations about the refusal of the islamic-influenced Pakistani masses to condemn the terrorist massacre at the World Trade Centre on September 11. He thereby also incorporates the LPP into his apologia for the Scargillites' and SWP's refusal to condemn this atrocity, and thereby alibis this 'mass anti-imperialism' as reflective of an 'utter hatred of American imperialism' among the Pakistani masses. His implication is clear. This sentiment has in some ways a leftist or socialistic, or at least a progressive content.
. Sorry, but no, actually. There has been little change in the mass consciousness of these sections of Pakistani society since the days of the 1980s. Then billions of dollars of 'aid' and American weapons were flooding through Pakistan into Afghanistan to fund the mojahedin 'holy warriors' in the counterrevolutionary war to destroy the secular and left-nationalist regime of the Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan; it was 'backed' in a treacherous manner by the Stalinist USSR.
. There was little 'hatred of American imperialism' among the fundamentalist-influenced sections of the masses in Pakistan in those days. The reason was simple. US imperialism was funding the fundamentalists' counterrevolutionary war against the PDPA. The 'hatred of American imperialism' Bob is cheering for today is little different from the 'hatred' that the islamic fanatics expressed for the secular PDPA, for the fact that in the west, as was true under the PDPA, women are relatively liberated, and the law of the sharia does not run in general.
. There is a fundamental difference between this kind of reactionary 'anti-imperialism', which really amounts to an ideology of extremist bigotry, and the kind of progressive hostility to the exploitative world economic-political system that is imperialism as even marginally class-conscious elements understand it. The fact that comrade Pitt does not see the difference between these two very different political outlooks show that frankly he has great difficulty in understanding what real class consciousness actually is.
. Comrade Pitt descends into ranting with his contention that anyone who refuses to back the Taliban regime in its 'anti-imperialist' struggle is motivated by 'racist arrogance', and his bizarre romanticisation of the Taliban as being some kind of 'noble savages'. This is the only way I can comprehend his baiting of those allegedly 'civilised Marxists' such as myself who refuse to cheer for the muslim world's analogue of European fascism as being progressive.
. One wonders whether he similarly romanticises the 'savage' torture, castration and public impaling of the last PDPA president of Afghanistan, Najibullah, by the Taliban, an act reminiscent of the actions of (for example) the arch-fascist Romanian Iron Guard. Here we, of course, find the real Pakistan LPP on our side. Not his. One wonders how comrade Pitt would characterise the LPP's written statements that "Religious fundamentalists are the new kind of fascists and must be opposed in every aspect. The LPP believe in no compromise or alliance with these religious fanatics on any issue". The LPP has incidentally organised demonstrations around a series of demands that explicitly oppose equally the imperialists and the fundamentalists.
. And one wonders what comrade Pitt thinks of the statement put out in the midst of the USA-UK bombing by the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) which baldly declares that the "Taliban should be overthrown by the uprising of the Afghan nation". RAWA goes on to observe, correctly, that: "In the time of the Taliban's medievalist domination, no Afghan and no honourable and mindful muslim will be deceived by the 'nationalistic' gestures of Taliban who invite the Afghan people and even the whole muslim world for jihad against America. Any person, group or government that supports the Taliban, no matter under what pretext, is the enemy of the Afghan people" (Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan statement).
. Even within the context of a world-view that is obviously and understandably coloured by both bourgeois democratic illusions and the consciousness of a wider oppression of 'third-world' peoples by the worldwide imperialist system (which cannot simply be equated with the old-style national oppression of colonialism, and cannot be uprooted without the worldwide overthrow of capitalism), these comrades understand perfectly well from their own bitter experience that the 'anti-imperialist' jihad of the Taliban and their like is pure poison to the oppressed people of Afghanistan.
. They also have an accurate understanding of the imperialists' 'alternative': "Now the 'Northern Alliance' groups lie in ambush like hungry wolves so they, while riding the guns of the US, can assault and swarm into Kabul and in proportion to the depth and width of their 'conquests', besides committing vandalism like the years before, gain ground in order to bargain for position in the second 'emirate', and as a consequence again spoil the aspiration of the people for the establishment of a stable and democratic government acceptable to all" (ibid).
. Unlike smug cheerleaders for islamist reaction like comrade Pitt, these comrades who have experienced this kind of 'anti-imperialism' first-hand have no hesitation in telling the truth to the masses, irrespective of any mass infatuation with this 'anti-imperialist' reaction. Despite all the imperfections and illusions these groupings undoubtedly manifest, they have more in common with comrade Trotsky's injunction to "tell the truth to the masses, no matter how bitter it may be" than comrade Pitt's miserable perspective.
. For comrade Pitt, like so many opportunists, has not got the courage of his own ostensible convictions. After fulminating at the 'racist arrogance' of those who refuse to support the fundamentalists' reactionary jihad, comrade Pitt then goes on to add:
. "Does this mean that socialists should attempt to organise an anti-war movement around slogans such as 'victory to the Taliban', or even 'defend Afghanistan, defeat US imperialism'. No it does not.
. "The best contribution that Marxists in Britain can make to the defeat of imperialism is to build a mass movement against our own government's participation in the assault on Afghanistan. This means working with trade unionists, Labour Party members, CND supporters, greens and others, few of whom will agree with a defencist position in relation to the Taliban forces fighting against the US. The most appropriate slogan for such a movement is 'stop the war'. "
. So here we have the quintessential expression of opportunist hypocrisy. Marxists who refuse to endorse the Stalinists' and Trotsky-epigones' ludicrous and reactionary defence of the Taliban are accused of 'racist arrogance'. Pacifists, ordinary trade unionists, anti-war Labour Party members and others who likewise refuse to defend the Taliban are to be buttered up and accommodated, and their illusions pandered to, in the cynical belief that the mass anti-war movement will 'objectively' aid the Taliban anyway, so explicit statements of support for the Taliban are not necessary.
. And meanwhile comrade Pitt, who has just elaborated an 'anti-war' strategy worthy of some 1970s Brezhnevite hack, imagining that the anti-war movement is 'really' a tool of our (in this case, the Taliban's) side, despite the beliefs of its participants, then accuses those who seek to build a revolutionary anti-war movement opposed to the Taliban, of sectarianism, of seeking to build some imaginary and chimerical 'pure' anti-war movement separate from the existing movement.
. Comrade Pitt is deluding himself again. Unlike those who deviously have to hide their 'Taliban defencism' from the "trade unionists, Labour Party members, CND supporters, greens and others, few of whom will agree with a defencist position in relation to the Taliban forces fighting against the US", communists who have a revolutionary attitude of opposition to both the imperialists and the fundamentalist/terrorist reactionaries, are able to openly proclaim our views within the framework of the existing anti-war movement.
. In particular, we are able to simply say to such people, "on the question of 'defence' of the Taliban, you, and not the opportunist (and sectarian) Taliban supporters, are right. Of course, you are wrong insofar as you are pacifists, reformists, etc, and we will continue to fight for the anti-war movement to adopt a revolutionary defeatist, anti-pacifist position to both imperialism and its reactionary enemies. We will unite with you in campaigning against the war, even though we have not managed to convince you that we are correct. But we will not give up seeking to convince you and the movement as a whole of the need to adopt a revolutionary position". This is all perfectly straightforward and transparent, unlike comrade Pitt's perspective of deliberately not fighting to win the anti-war movement to the pro-Taliban position that he professes to believe in.
. As Oscar Wilde once said, 'hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue'. Comrade Pitt acknowledges the reality that his position on the 'defence' of the Taliban regime is repulsive and irrational by simply refusing to fight for it. Let comrade Pitt argue that our counterposed perspective is 'sectarian propagandism' if he likes. Anyone who examines the practical role that our comrades have been playing can see that his criticisms are frivolous, where they are not cynical and simply hypocritical.
Ian Donovan <>
Last changed on January 27, 2016.
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