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Afghanistan, Islam and the Revolutionary Left

by Peter Taaffe

The Gulf war and September 11

In the Gulf War some took the position in the first, initial phase of the war that it would be necessary to give ‘critical support’ to Saddam Hussein in the intervention in Kuwait. We were in this war on the side of the peoples of the Middle East, Iraqis, Kurds and others against the armed and subsequently brutal intervention of US imperialism in the region. However, in the industrialised countries, where the consciousness was different to that which existed in the Arab world, for instance, then our support did not take the form of support for the Saddam regime and its armed intervention in Kuwait. We implacably opposed the US, Britain and their allies going to war against Iraq. We demanded the end of the war, the withdrawal of US, British and other troops and put forward the slogan of let the Iraqi people, the Kurds and even Kuwaitis decide their own fate.

When our public representatives were challenged on TV or radio along the lines of ‘Are you in favour of the withdrawal or forcing out of Iraqi troops who have intervened in Kuwait against the wishes of the people of that state,’ we could not reply in a bald unskilful fashion. Our answer, in general, was to say, ‘Yes, but not by US or British bayonets but through a successful uprising of the workers and peasants of Iraq against Saddam, which could effect such a withdrawal and allow the peoples of the region to decide their fate democratically’. This was the only way that we could approach such an issue in the industrialised capitalist countries, given the repulsive, undemocratic and viciously dictatorial features of the Saddam regime, not least of which was the brutal suppression of the Kurdish people in the north and the Shias in the south. We could not take any responsibility during the Gulf War for Saddam Hussein, his regime or actions. We sought to separate this from our open support of the Iraqi and other peoples of the area in the resistance which they put up to imperialism’s ‘war for oil’ in the region.

At the same time, the difference in the outlook towards the Gulf conflict meant that revolutionary Marxists in the neo-colonial world would have somewhat different tasks, would have to pose things differently from the way this was done in the advanced industrial countries. There was a common position of all members and sections of the CWI in whatever sphere of the world they operated in expressing opposition and fighting against the imperialist attacks on Iraq. In the neo-colonial world, while there was distaste for the dictatorial features of the Saddam regime, nevertheless the hostility to imperialism meant that there was greater sympathy for Iraq on the principle of ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’.

This was enormously heightened in the Arab world where Saddam’s actions were also seen as a blow not only against imperialism but its local allies in the form of Israeli ruling class. Moreover, the justification by Saddam for the take-over of Kuwait – a legacy of the artificial Balkanisation of the Arabian Peninsula by imperialism – found a certain echo. This undoubtedly tended to push the disquiet felt towards the dictatorial Arab regimes into the background in mass consciousness. There was, in a sense, ‘critical support’ for Saddam because he appeared to be striking a blow against imperialism. For instance, rockets were fired from Iraqi territory which struck Israel. This was a reversal of what normally happened in the Middle East up to then, with Israel devastating Palestinian areas and Arab targets with their superior military hardware.

The slant of propaganda, the agitational demands that would be raised in this situation would be different to the way that Marxists would approach it in the advanced industrial countries. Even in the neo-colonial world however, including in the Middle East, it would have been wrong to give unqualified support to Saddam, who was seen by sections of the Arab masses as a ‘progressive dictator’, in this conflict. It would have been even worse to do this in the case of bin Laden and the Taliban, who could not be described as even ‘capitalist’. If anything, they were tribal or feudal in their outlook, programme and fantastical schemas for the world. Despite this, a somewhat different attitude did exist towards the attack on the twin towers in the neo-colonial world compared to Europe, Japan and the USA. Even in some industrialised countries like Greece, which in a sense because of its past and its location straddles the industrialised countries and the neo-colonial world, the attitude towards 11 September was different.

Attitude to US working class

Regret at the loss of innocent lives went together with a feeling that the arrogant US ruling class ‘brought this on themselves’. Marxists understand the reasons for this, the oppression and super-exploitation of the masses in the neo-colonial world, but we do not condone this attitude. We need to re-emphasise the fact that it was not the US capitalists who were, in the main, the victims of 11 September. In the main, it was ordinary US workers and middle-class people who perished. Our comrades in the neo-colonial world also have to counter the attitude that does exist amongst sections of the workers and peasants in Africa, Asia and Latin America, that the US population is one reactionary mass, that the working class does not exist or even if it does is complicit in the crimes of US imperialism worldwide. The terroristic acts of 11 September have provided the pretext for US imperialism to rampage through Afghanistan, to prepare for a possible invasion of Iraq, and to reassert its wounded power and prestige with the support, at least at the beginning, of the majority of the US population.

However, Marxists in this war do not have one programme in one country or sphere of the world and a different one elsewhere. In Britain, Europe, the US or in Afghanistan we are opposed to the war. In Afghanistan, it is necessary, of course, to resist the military attacks of the imperialists. The workers and peasants’ resistance would be separate and apart from the Taliban and even against it. The approach, the slant of the propaganda may differ, according to the different consciousness which exists in different countries.

After the attack on the Twin Towers, imperialism stoked up the fear of the US population for bin Laden and al-Qa’ida. They felt that these organisations threatened their existence. Moreover, this idea was reinforced in the interview that was given by bin Laden to a Pakistani journalist, reprinted in the Western press during the war, in which he ascribes to the whole of the US population the crimes of the US ruling class. "As ever [bin Laden] denied, and did not deny, involvement in the 11 September hijackings, saying that all Americans were responsible for the ‘massacring’ of Muslims in ‘Palestine, Chechnya, Kashmir and Iraq’ and that Muslims have the ‘right to attack… in reprisal’. ‘The American people should remember that they pay taxes to their government, they elect their president, their government manufactures arms and gives them to Israel and Israel uses them to massacre Palestinians. The American Congress endorses all government measures and this proves that the entire America [sic] is responsible.’" [The Observer, 11 November 2001]

Bin Laden and al-Qa’ida were pictured by Bush and Co. as a mortal threat to the very existence of the US. However, mere propaganda by the bourgeoisie is not enough to shape public opinion. The actions and statements of bin Laden and al-Qa’ida reinforced in the minds of the US population that they did indeed pose such a threat. Consequently, there was a profound patriotic wave during the war. But in its aftermath, as we predicted, there has been a growing questioning that US foreign policy and the actions of the US government, and by implication the US capitalists, created the conditions which led to the catastrophe of 11 September. Undoubtedly, this critical mood will grow but in no sense is there sympathy or support for al-Qa’ida or bin Ladism. They are perceived as a terrible and frightening result of US policy in the neo-colonial world.

And yet, the small, ultra-left groups would seek to convince us that during this war Marxists should advocate ‘critical support’, including common military action, with al-Qa’ida and the Taliban, in confronting US imperialism. They may say that this is a policy to be applied in the neo-colonial world but this idea is advocated in their journals which are sold primarily, in the case of some, in the advanced industrialised countries. Moreover, it is also wrong from a Marxist point of view to advocate this in the neo-colonial world as well. This is a programme not for the masses, not to reach workers and convince them of the ideas of Marxism, but to drive them away from Trotskyism. It is a programme for the small (often very small) meeting room and not for reaching and convincing workers.