National Sections of the L5I:

Islamism – an anti-imperialist force?

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The failure of social democracy, Stalinism and secular nationalism to break the hold of imperialism has led to the rise of radical Islamist movements in Arab countries, central Asia and around the world. In the Middle East and North Africa, Islamism rose at the expense of defeated secular nationalist forces.

Islamism was for decades an anti-soviet force – in the 1980s it acted as a tool of the USA in Afghanistan, Pakistan and beyond. But the seizure of power by Islamists in Iran, the arrival of US armed forces in Saudi Arabia, the impact of globalisation and above all of Israel’s repression of the Palestinians, all re-oriented Islamism into an anti-American force, one which adopted a radical “anti-imperialist” rhetoric and in certain countries even took the road of struggle against US and imperialist forces.

When Islamist movements like Hamas in Palestine take action against the imperialists and the Israeli occupation forces, the working class should take concerted actions with them and defend them against repression. In the West, Muslim organisations and communities including Islamists have rallied to the mass movements against the US-led “War on Terrorism". Here too, the working class should strive for common action with these movements against imperialist war and racism, defending the right of Muslim people to practice their religion without harassment and intimidation. In particular we must reject the Islamophobic, ‘Orientalist’ ideology currently being promoted by ultra-reactionaries and the Christian right in the USA and beyond, that Islam is inherently more reactionary than the other world religions and should be driven out of “civilised” society in a latter-day Crusade.

But at all times and in all countries, the precondition for common action with Islamist movements is that the working class organisations should accept no restrictions on their freedom of action, agitation or propaganda – including propaganda against the reactionary policies of the Islamists.

The overall strategy of the Islamists is socially reactionary. Hostility to women’s rights and to all democratic and secular freedoms makes them an enemy of the liberation of the poor, the exploited and the oppressed, despite their social demagogy. Attempts to impose Sharia law strike at the liberties of the people, their rights to vote, to associate, to organise and to practice any religion they choose ... or no religion at all. Where Islamists denounce the evils of modern western capitalism, they do so not from the progressive standpoint of socialist development and human freedom, but from the reactionary standpoint of the clergy and the old propertied and landowning classes. Their goal is a society steeped in exploitation and oppression. Even their support of welfare for the poor comes at a high price – clerical control over social relations and private life. Their attitude to working class organisation – parties, trade unions, associations – is one of absolute opposition, up to and including the use of death squads against us. We support workers’ self-defence against Islamic reaction and the overthrow of the Islamic regimes and their replacement by governments of workers and peasants.

Islamism’s most powerful appeal to the radical youth of the Middle East, and the African and Asian youth of Europe, is its anti-imperialist rhetoric and its denunciation of secular forces for compromising with imperialism and Zionism. But in the final analysis, even this is a fraud. By opposing methods of mass working class struggle, the Islamists attempt to block the only force that can break the hold of global capital and its local agents. Instead they often resort to indiscriminate terror against civilian populations. This aids the imperialists by providing them with a pretext for savage repression, while disorganising the masses, causing them to rely on elitist guerilla organisations for their salvation, rather than on their own power and democratic organisation. But revolutionary condemnation of Islamist terrorism has nothing in common with the hypocritical “civilised morality”, of state terrorists like Bush, Blair and Putin. For them, “terrorism” means all force used by people hostile to their interests. Compared with the actions of the USA in Iraq, of Russia in Chechnya, or of Israel in Jenin, Osama Bin Laden is a wretched amateur.

Wherever Islamists or fundamentalists are in power – Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan- they act as agents of the capitalist class and of compromise with imperialism. The only strategy that can secure freedom is one based on independent working class action, one which promotes the democratic rights and social emancipation of workers, women, poor peasants and youth, and which unites the struggle against imperialism with the struggle for the overthrow of the national capitalist class and its regime, whether nationalist, Ba’athist, military or Islamist.