By Gilbert Achcar
1. Classical Marxism's theoretical ('philosophical') attitude towards
religion combines three complementary elements, the germ of which
can be already found in the young Marx's Introduction to Hegel's
Philosophy of Law (1843-44):
· First a critique of religion, as a factor of alienation.
The human being attributes to the divinity responsibility for
a fate which owes nothing to the latter ('Man makes religion,
religion does not make man'); he/she compels him/herself to respect
obligations and prohibitions which often hamper his/her full development;
he/she submits voluntarily to religious authorities whose legitimacy
is founded either on the fantasy of their privileged relationship
to the divinity, or on their specialisation in the body of religious
· Then a critique of religious social and political doctrines.
Religions are ideological survivals of epochs long gone: religion
is a 'false consciousness of the world' -- even more so as the
world changes. Born in pre-capitalist societies, religions have
been able to undergo -- like the Protestant Reformation in the
history of Christianity -- renewals, which necessarily remain
partial and limited so long as a religion venerates 'holy scriptures'.
· But also an 'understanding' (in the Weberian sense)
of the psychological role which religious belief can play for
the wretched of the earth.
"Religious misery is, at one and the same time, the _expression
of real misery and a protest against real misery. Religion is
the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world,
and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people."
From these three considerations emerges in the view of classical
Marxism, one sole conclusion set forth by the young Marx:
"The overcoming (Aufhebung) of religion as the illusory
happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness.
To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition
is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions.
The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism
of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo."
2. Nevertheless, Classical Marxism did not pose the suppression
of religion as a necessary precondition of social emancipation
(the remarks of the young Marx could be read thus: in order to
overcome illusions, it is necessary first to put an end to the
'condition that requires illusions'). In any case -- as with the
State, one might say -- the point is not abolishing religion,
but creating the conditions for its extinction. It is not a question
of prohibiting 'the opium of the people', and still less of repressing
its addicts. It is only about putting an end to the privileged
relationships that those who trade in it maintain with the powers
that be, in order to reduce its grip on minds.
Three levels of attitude should be considered here:
· Classical Marxism, i.e. the Marxism of the Founders,
did not require the inscription of atheism in the programme of
social movements. On the contrary, in his critique of the Blanquist
émigrés from the Commune (1874), Engels mocked their
pretensions to abolish religion by decree. His clear-sightedness
has been completely confirmed by the experiences of the 20th Century,
as when he asserted that 'persecutions are the best means of promoting
disliked convictions' and that 'the only service, which may still
be rendered to God today, is that of declaring atheism an article
of faith to be enforced'.
· Republican secularism, i.e. the separation of Church
and state, is on the other hand a necessary and imprescriptible
objective, which was already part of the programme of radical
bourgeois democracy. But here also, it is important not to confuse
separation with prohibition, even as far as education is concerned.
In his critical commentaries on the Erfurt Programme of German
Social Democracy (1891), Engels proposed the following formulation:
'Complete separation of the Church from the state. All religious
communities without exception are to be treated by the state as
private associations. They are to be deprived of any support from
public funds and of all influence on public schools.' Then he
added in brackets this comment: 'They cannot be prohibited from
forming their own schools out of their own funds and from teaching
their own nonsense in them!'
· The workers' party should at the same time fight ideologically
the influence of religion. In the 1873 text, Engels celebrated
the fact that the majority of German socialist worker militants
had been won to atheism, and suggested the distribution of eighteenth
century French materialist literature in order to convince the
In his critique of the Gotha programme of the German workers'
party (1875), Marx explained that private freedom in matters of
belief and religious practice should be defined only in terms
of rejection of state interference. He stated the principle in
this way: 'Everyone should be able to attend his religious as
well as his bodily needs without the police sticking their noses
in'. He added however:
"But the Workers' party ought, at any rate in this connection,
to have expressed its awareness of the fact that bourgeois 'freedom
of conscience' is nothing but the toleration of all possible kinds
of religious freedom of conscience, whereas it [the party] strives
much more to free the consciences from the witchery of religion."
3. Classical Marxism only envisaged religion from the viewpoint
of relationships of European societies to their own traditional
religions. It took into consideration neither the persecution
of religious minorities, nor above all, the persecution of the
religions of oppressed peoples by oppressive states belonging
to another religion. In our epoch, marked by the survival of colonial
heritage and by its transposition into the imperial metropolises
themselves -- in the form of an 'internal colonialism' whose original
feature is that the colonised themselves are expatriates, i.e.
'immigrants' -- this aspect acquires a major importance.
In a context dominated by racism, a natural corollary of the
colonial heritage, persecutions of the religions of the oppressed,
the ex-colonised, should not be rejected only because they are
the 'best means of promoting disliked convictions'. They should
be rejected also and above all, because they are a dimension of
ethnic or racial oppression, as intolerable as political, legal,
and economic persecutions and discriminations.
To be sure, the religious practices of colonised peoples can
appear as very retrograde in the eyes of the metropolitan populations,
whose material and scientific superiority was in line with the
very fact of colonisation. Nevertheless, it is not by imposing
their way of life on the colonised populations, against their
will, that the cause of the latter's emancipation will be served.
The road to the hell of racist oppression is paved with good 'civilising'
intentions, and we know how much the workers' movement itself
was contaminated by charitable pretensions and philanthropic illusions
in the colonial era.
Engels however had indeed warned against this colonial syndrome.
In a letter to Kautsky, dated 12 September 1882, he formulated
an emancipatory policy of the proletariat in power, wholly marked
with the caution necessary so as not to transform a presumed liberation
into a disguised oppression.
"The countries inhabited by a native population, which are
simply subjugated, India, Algiers, the Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish
possessions, must be taken over for the time being by the proletariat
and led as rapidly as possible towards independence. How this
process will develop is difficult to say. India will perhaps,
indeed very probably, produce a revolution, and as the proletariat
emancipating itself cannot conduct any colonial wars, this would
have to be given full scope; it would not pass off without all
sorts of destruction, of course, but that sort of thing is inseparable
from all revolutions. The same might also take place elsewhere,
e.g., in Algiers and Egypt, and would certainly be the best thing
for us. We shall have enough to do at home. Once Europe is reorganised,
and North America, that will furnish such colossal power and such
an example that the semi-civilised countries will follow in their
wake of their own accord. Economic needs alone will be responsible
for this. But as to what social and political phases these countries
will then have to pass through before they likewise arrive at
socialist organisation, we to-day can only advance rather idle
hypotheses, I think. One thing alone is certain: the victorious
proletariat can force no blessings of any kind upon any foreign
nation without undermining its own victory by so doing."
An elementary truth but still so often ignored: any 'blessings'
imposed by force equal oppression, and could not be perceived
otherwise by those who are subjected to them.
4. The question of the Islamic scarf (hijab) condenses all the
problems posed above. It allows us to outline the Marxist attitude
in all its aspects.
In most countries where Islam is the religion of the majority,
religion is still the dominant form of ideology. Retrograde, more
or less literal, interpretations of Islam serve to maintain whole
populations in submission and cultural backwardness. Women especially
and intensively undergo a secular oppression, draped in religious
In such a context, the ideological struggle against the use of
religion as a means of submission is key in the fight for emancipation.
The separation of religion and the state should be a demand prioritised
by the movement for social progress. Democrats and progressives
must fight for the freedom of every man and woman in matters of
unbelief, of belief and of religious practice. At the same time,
the fight for women's liberation remains the very criterion of
any emancipatory identity, the touchstone of any progressive claim.
One of the most elementary aspects of women's freedom is their
individual freedom to dress as they like. When the Islamic scarf
and, a fortiori, more enveloping versions of this type of garment,
are imposed on women, they are one of the numerous forms of everyday
sexual oppression -- a form all the more visible as it serves
to make women invisible. The struggle against the requirement
to wear the scarf or other veils is inseparable from the struggle
against other aspects of female servitude.
However, the emancipatory struggle would be gravely compromised
if it sought to 'free' women by force, by resorting to coercion,
not with regard to their oppressors but with regard to women themselves.
Tearing off religious garb by force -- even if it is judged that
wearing it denotes voluntary servitude -- is an oppressive action
and not an action of real emancipation. It is moreover an action
doomed to failure, as Engels predicted: the fate of Islam in the
ex-Soviet Union as well as the evolution of Turkey eloquently
illustrate the inanity of any attempt to eradicate religion or
religious practices by coercion.
'Everyone should be able to attend his/her religious as well
as his/her bodily needs' -- women wearing the hijab or men wearing
beards -- 'without the police sticking their noses'.
Defending this elementary individual freedom is the indispensable
condition of an effective fight against religious diktats. The
prohibition of the hijab paradoxically legitimises the act of
imposing it in the eyes of those who consider it an article of
faith. Only the principles of freedom of conscience and of strictly
individual religious practice, whether in relation to clothing
or anything else, and the respect for these principles by secular
governments, allow legitimate and successful opposition to religious
coercion. The Koran itself proclaims 'No coercion in religion'!
Moreover and at the risk of challenging freedom of education,
the prohibition of the Islamic scarf or other religious signs
in state schools in the name of secularism is an eminently self-defeating
position, since it results in promoting religious schools.
5. In France, Islam has been for a very long time the majority
religion of the 'indigenous' people in the colonies and it has
been for decades the religion of the great majority of immigrants,
the 'colonised' of the interior. In such a case, every form of
persecution of the Islamic religion -- numerically the second
religion of France, though it is very inferior to the others in
status -- should be fought.
Compared with religions present on French soil for centuries,
Islam is underprivileged. It is victim to glaring discrimination,
for example concerning its places of worship or the domineering
supervision that the French state, saturated with colonial mentality,
imposes on it. Islam is a religion vilified daily in the French
media, in a manner that is fortunately no longer possible against
the previous prime target of racism, Judaism, after the Nazi genocide
and the Vichy complicity. A great amount of confusion laced with
ignorance and racism filtered through the media, maintains an
image of an Islamic religion intrinsically unfit for modernity,
as well as the amalgam of Islam and terrorism, facilitated by
the inappropriate use of the term 'Islamism' as a synonym for
Of course, the official and dominant discourse is not overtly
hostile; it even makes itself out to be benevolent, its eyes fixed
on the considerable interests of big French capital -- oil, arms,
construction etc., in the Islamic lands. However, colonial condescension
toward Muslim men and women and their religion is just as insufferable
for them as open racist hostility. The colonial spirit is not
confined to the right in France; it has long been rooted in the
French left, constantly torn in its history between a colonialism
blended with an essentially racist condescension expressed as
paternalism, and a tradition of militant anti-colonialism.
Even at the beginning of the split of the French workers' movement
between social democrats and communists, a right wing emerged
among the communists of the metropolis themselves (without mentioning
the French communists in Algeria), particularly distinguishing
itself by its position on the colonial question. The communist
right betrayed its anti-colonialist duty when the insurrection
of the Moroccan Rif, under the leadership of the tribal and religious
chief Abd el-Krim, confronted French troops in 1925.
The statement of Jules Humbert-Droz about this to the Executive
Committee of the Communist International retains certain relevance:
"The right has protested against the watchword of fraternisation
with the insurgent army in the Rif, by invoking the fact that
they do not have the same degree of civilisation as the French
armies, and that semi-barbarian tribes cannot be fraternised with.
It has gone even further, writing that Abd el-Krim has religious
and social prejudices that must be fought. Doubtless we must fight
the pan-Islamism and the feudalism of colonial peoples, but when
French imperialism seizes the throat of the colonial peoples,
the role of the CP is not to combat the prejudices of the colonial
chiefs, but to fight unfailingly the rapacity of French imperialism."
6. The duty of Marxists in France is to fight unfailingly racist
and religious oppression conducted by the imperial bourgeoisie
and its state, before fighting religious prejudice in the midst
of the immigrant populations.
When the French state concerns itself with regulating the way
in which young Muslim women dress themselves and exclude from
school those who persist in wearing the Islamic scarf; when the
latter are taken as targets of a media and political campaign
whose scale is out of proportion with the extent of the phenomenon
concerned and thus reveals its oppressive character, perceived
as Islamophobic or racist, whatever the intentions expressed;
when the same state favours the well-known expansion of religious
communal education through increasing subsidies to private education,
thus aggravating the divisions between the exploited layers of
the French population -- the duty of Marxists, in the light of
everything explained above, is to be resolutely opposed.
This has not been the case for a good part of those who call
themselves Marxists in France. On the question of the Islamic
scarf, the position of the Ligue de l'Enseignement (the League
for Education), whose secularist commitment is above all suspicion,
is much closer to genuine Marxism than that of numerous bodies
that claim it as their source of inspiration. Thus, one can read
the following in the declaration adopted by the Ligue, at its
June 2003 general meeting at Troyes:
"The Ligue de l'Enseignement, whose whole history is marked
by constant activity in support of secularism, considers that
to legislate on the wearing of religious symbols is inopportune.
Any law would be useless or impossible.
"The risk is obvious. Whatever precautions are taken, there
is no doubt that the effect obtained will be a prohibition, which
will in fact stigmatise Muslims....
"For those who would wish to make the wearing of a religious
symbol a tool for a political fight, exclusion from state schools
will not prevent them from studying elsewhere, in institutions
in which they will have every opportunity to find themselves justified
and strengthened in their attitude....
"Integration of all citizens, independent of their origins
and convictions, passes through the recognition of a cultural
diversity, which should express itself in the framework of the
equality of treatment that the Republic should guarantee to everyone.
On these grounds Muslims as with other believers, should benefit
from freedom of religion in the respect for the rules that a pluralist
and deeply secular society imposes. The struggle for the emancipation
of young women in particular goes primarily through their schooling
and respect for their freedom of conscience and their autonomy:
let us not make them hostages to an otherwise necessary ideological
debate. In order to struggle against an enclosed identity, secularist
pedagogy, the struggle against discrimination, the fight for social
justice and equality are more effective than prohibition.
In its report of 4 November 2003, submitted to the Commission
on the application of the principle of secularism in the Republic,
the Ligue de L'Enseignement deals admirably with Islam and its
representations in France, of which only some excerpts are quoted
"The resistance and discrimination encountered by the 'Muslim
populations' in French society are not essentially due, as is
too often said, to the lack of integration of these populations
but to majority representations and attitudes which stem in large
part from an old historic heritage.
"The first is the refusal to recognise the contribution
of Arab-Muslim civilisation to world culture and to our own western
"To this concealment and rejection is added the colonial
heritage ... bearer of a deep and long-lasting tradition of violence,
inequality and racism, which the difficulties of de-colonisation,
and then the rifts of the Algerian war amplified and reinforced.
The ethnic, social, cultural, and religious oppression of the
indigenous Muslim populations of the French colonies was a constant
practice, to the point that it is echoed in limitations to its
legal status. It is thus that Islam was considered as an element
of the personal statute and not as a religion coming under the
1905 Law of Separation (of Church and State -- trans.). For the
whole duration of colonisation, the principle of secularism never
applied to the indigenous populations and to their religion because
of the opposition of the colonial lobby, and in spite of the requests
of the ulema (Muslim scholars -- trans.) who had understood that
the secular regime would give them freedom of religion. Why should
we be surprised then that for a very long time secularism for
Muslims was synonymous with a colonial mind-police! How should
we expect that it would not leave deep traces, as much on the
previously colonised as on the colonizing country? If many Muslims
today still consider that Islam should regulate public and private
civil behaviour, and tend sometimes to adopt such a profile, without
demanding the status of law for this, it is because France and
the secular Republic have ordered them to do it for several generations.
If many French people, sometimes even amongst the best educated
who occupy prominent positions, allow themselves to make pejorative
appraisals of Islam, whose ignorance vies with their stupidity,
it is because they subscribe, most often unconsciously while denying
it, to this tradition of colonial contempt.
"A third aspect gets in the way of the consideration of
Islam on a footing of equality: it is that Islam as a transplanted
religion is also a religion of the poor. Unlike the Judeo-Christian
religions whose followers in France are spread across the whole
social chessboard, and in particular unlike Catholicism, historically
integrated into the dominant class, Muslims, whether French citizens
or immigrants living in France, are situated for the moment in
their great majority at the bottom of the social ladder. There
the colonial tradition still continues, since the cultural oppression
of the indigenous populations was added to economic exploitation,
and since the latter has for a long time weighed very heavily
on the first immigrant generations, while today their heirs are
the first victims of unemployment and urban neglect. The social
contempt and injustice that strike these social categories affect
every aspect of their existence, including the religious dimension.
No one is offended by the scarves on the heads of cleaners or
catering staff in offices: they only become the object of scandal
when worn with pride by girls engaged in studies or women with
The lack of understanding shown by the main organisations of
the extra-parliamentary Marxist left in France of the identity
and cultural problems of the populations concerned, is revealed
by the composition of their electoral slates in the European elections:
both in 1999 and 2004 citizens originating from populations previously
colonized -- from the Maghreb or from sub-Saharan Africa in particular
-- have been outstanding by their absence at the tops of the LCR-LO
slates, by contrast with the PCF slates, a party so many times
stigmatized for its failures in the antiracist struggle by these
two organizations. In so doing they are at the same time depriving
themselves of an electoral potential amongst the most oppressed
layers in France, a potential which the results obtained in 2004
by an improvised slate such as Euro-Palestine demonstrated in
a spectacular fashion.
7. In mentioning 'those who would wish to make of the wearing
of a religious symbol a tool for a political fight', the Ligue
de l'Enseignement was alluding, of course, to Islamic fundamentalism.
The expansion of this political phenomenon in the West amongst
people originating from Muslim immigration, after its strong expansion
for the last thirty years in Islamic countries, has been in France
the preferred argument of those wishing to prohibit the Islamic
The argument is a real one: like the Christian, Jewish, Hindu
and other fundamentalisms aiming to imposed a puritan interpretation
of religion as a code of life, if not as a mode of government,
Islamic fundamentalism is a real danger to social progress and
emancipatory struggles. By taking care to establish a clear distinction
between religion as such and its fundamentalist interpretation,
the most reactionary of all, it is necessary to fight Islamic
fundamentalism ideologically and politically, as much in the Islamic
countries as in the midst of the Muslim minorities in the West
That cannot however constitute an argument in favour of a public
prohibition of the Islamic scarf: the Ligue de l'Enseignement
has explained this in a convincing fashion. More generally, Islamophobia
is the best objective ally of Islamic fundamentalism: their growth
goes together. The more the left gives the impression of joining
the dominant Islamophobia, the more they will alienate the Muslim
populations, and the more they will facilitate the task of the
Islamic fundamentalists, who will appear as the only people able
to express the protests of the populations concerned against 'real
Islamic fundamentalism is, however, heterogeneous and different
tactics should be adopted according to concrete situations. When
this type of social programme is administered by an oppressive
power and by its allies in order to legitimate the existing oppression,
as in the case of numerous despotisms with an Islamic face; or
when it becomes a political weapon of reaction struggling against
a progressive power, as was the case in the Arab world, in the
1950-1970 period, when Islamic fundamentalism was the spearhead
of the reactionary opposition to Egyptian Nasserism and its emulators
-- the only appropriate stance is that of an implacable hostility
to the fundamentalists.
It is different when Islamic fundamentalism plays the role of
a politico-ideological channel for a cause that is objectively
progressive, a deforming channel, certainly, but filling the void
left by the failure or absence of movements of the left. This
is the case in situations where Islamic fundamentalists are fighting
a foreign occupation (Afghanistan, Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, etc.)
or an ethnic or racial oppression as in those situations where
they incarnate a popular hatred of a politically reactionary and
repressive regime. It is also the case of Islamic fundamentalism
in the West, where its rise is generally the _expression of a
rebellion against the fate reserved for immigrant populations.
Indeed as with religion in general, Islamic fundamentalism can
be 'at one and the same time, the _expression of real misery and
a protest against real misery', with the difference that in this
case the protest is active: it is not 'the opium' of the people,
but rather 'the heroin' of one part of the people, derived from
'the opium' and substituting its ecstatic effect for the narcotic
effect of the latter.
In all these types of situation, it is necessary to adopt tactics
appropriate to the circumstances of the struggle against the oppressor,
the common enemy. While never renouncing the ideological combat
against the fatal influence of Islamic fundamentalism, it can
be necessary or inevitable to converge with Islamic fundamentalists
in common battles -- from simple street demonstrations to armed
resistance, depending on the case.
8. Islamic fundamentalists can be objective and contingent allies
in a fight waged by Marxists. However it is an unnatural alliance,
forced by circumstances. The rules that apply to much more natural
alliances such as those practised in the struggle against Tsarism
in Russia, are here to be respected a fortiori, and even more
These rules were clearly defined by the Russian Marxists at the
beginning of the 20th Century. In his preface of January 1905
to Trotsky's pamphlet Before the Ninth of January, Parvus summarised
"To simplify, in the case of a common struggle with casual
allies, the following points can be applied:
"1. Do not merge organisations. March separately but strike
"2. Do not abandon our own political demands.
"3. Do not conceal divergences of interest.
"4. Follow our ally as we follow an enemy.
"5. Concern ourselves more with using the situation created
by the struggle than with keeping an ally."
'Parvus is profoundly right' wrote Lenin in an article in April
1905, published in the newspaper Vperiod, underlining
"the definite understanding, however (very appropriately
brought to mind), that the organisations are not to be merged,
that we march separately but strike together, that we do not conceal
the diversity of interests, that we watch our ally as we would
our enemy, etc."
The Bolshevik leader would enumerate many times these conditions
over the years.
Trotsky tirelessly defended the same principles. In The Third
International After Lenin (1928), in his polemic about alliances
with the Chinese Kuomintang, he wrote the following lines particularly
apt for the subject under discussion here:
"As was said long ago, purely practical agreements, such
as do not bind us in the least and do not oblige us to anything
politically, can be concluded with the devil himself, if that
is advantageous at a given moment. But it would be absurd in such
a case to demand that the devil should generally become converted
to Christianity, and that he use his horns.... for pious deeds.
In presenting such conditions, we act in reality as the devil's
advocates, and beg him to let us become his godfathers."
A number of Trotskyists do exactly the opposite of what Trotsky
advocated, in their relationship with Islamic fundamentalist organisations.
Not in France, where Trotskyists, in their majority, rather bend
the stick the other way, as has already been explained, but on
the other side of the Channel, in Britain.
The British far-left has the merit of having displayed a greater
openness to the Muslim populations than the French far-left. It
has organised impressive mobilisations with the massive participation
of people originating from Muslim immigration against the wars
in Afghanistan and Iraq, in which the government of its country
participated. In the anti-war movement, it even went as far as
allying itself with a Muslim organisation of fundamentalist inspiration,
the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), the British arm of the
main 'moderate' Islamic fundamentalist movement in the Middle
East, the Muslim Brotherhood (represented in the parliaments of
There is nothing reprehensible in principle in such an alliance
for well-defined objectives so long as the rules laid out above
are strictly respected. The problem begins however with treating
this particular organisation, which is far from representative
of the great mass of Muslims in Britain, as a privileged ally.
More generally, British Trotskyists have tended, during their
alliance with the MAB in the anti-war movement, to do the opposite
of what was stated above, i.e. 1) mixing banners and placards,
in the literal as well as figurative sense; 2) minimising the
importance of the elements of their political identity likely
to embarrass their fundamentalist allies of the day; and finally
3) treating these temporary allies as if they were strategic allies,
in renaming 'anti-imperialists' those whose vision of the world
corresponds much more to the clash of civilisations than to the
9. This tendency was made worse by the passage from an alliance
in the context of an anti-war mobilisation to an alliance in the
electoral field. The MAB as such did not, to be sure, join the
electoral coalition Respect, led by the British Trotskyists, its
fundamentalist principles preventing it from subscribing to a
left programme. However, the alliance between the MAB and Respect
translated for example into the candidacy on the Respect slate
of a very prominent leader of the MAB, the ex-president and spokesperson
of the Association.
In doing this the alliance passed de facto to a qualitatively
superior level, unacceptable from a Marxist point of view: While
it can be legitimate indeed to enter into 'purely practical agreements'
that 'do not oblige us to anything politically' other than the
action for common objectives -- as it happens, to express opposition
to the war conducted by the British government together with the
United States and to denounce the fate inflicted on the Palestinian
people -- with groups and/or individuals who adhere otherwise
to a fundamentally reactionary conception of society, it is utterly
unacceptable for Marxists to conclude an electoral alliance --
a type of alliance which presupposes a common conception of political
and social change -- with these sorts of partners.
In the nature of things, participating in the same electoral
slate as a religious fundamentalist is to give the mistaken impression
that he has been converted to social progressiveness and to the
cause of workers' emancipation both male...and female! The very
logic of this type of alliance pushes those who are engaged in
it, in the face of the inevitable criticism of their political
competitors, to defend their allies of the day and to minimise,
even to hide, the deep differences that divide them. They become
their advocates, even their godfathers and godmothers within the
progressive social movement.
Lindsey German, a central leader of the British Socialist Workers
Party and of the Respect Coalition, signed an article in The Guardian
described as 'wonderful' on the MAB website. Under the title 'A
badge of honour', the author energetically defended the alliance
with the MAB, explaining that it is an honour for her and her
comrades to see the victims of Islamophobia turning towards them,
with a surprising justification for the alliance. Let us summarise
the argument: the Muslim fundamentalists are not the only people
to be anti-women and homophobic, Christian fundamentalists are
equally so. Moreover, women speak more and more for the MAB in
anti-war meetings (as they do in meetings organised by the mullahs
in Iran, it could be added). The fascists of the BNP (British
National Party) are much worse than the MAB.
"Of course, continued Lindsey German, some Muslims -- and
non-Muslims -- hold views on some social issues that are more
conservative than those of the socialist and liberal left. But
that should not be a barrier to collaboration over common concerns.
Would a campaign for gay rights, for example, insist that all
those who took part share the same view of the war in Iraq?"
This last argument is perfectly admissible if it only concerns
the anti-war campaign. But if used to justify an electoral alliance,
with a much more global programme than a campaign for lesbian
and gay rights, it becomes altogether specious.
10. Electoralism is a very short-sighted policy. In order to
achieve an electoral breakthrough, the British Trotskyists are
playing, in this case, a game that risks undermining the construction
of a radical left in their country.
What decided them, is firstly and above all an electoral calculation:
attempting to capture the votes of the considerable masses of
people of immigrant origin who reject the wars conducted by London
and Washington (let us note in passing that the alliance with
the MAB, was made around the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and not
around the Kosovo war -- and for a good reason!). The objective
in itself, is legitimate, when it is translated -- as has been
the case -- into the concern to recruit amongst men and women
workers and young people of immigrant origin, through a particular
attention paid to the specific oppression that they experience,
and through the promotion to this end of left men and women militants
belonging to these communities, notably by placing them in a good
position on electoral slates -- everything in short which the
French far left has not done.
But in choosing to ally electorally -- even though in a limited
way -- with an Islamic fundamentalist organisation like the MAB,
the British far left is serving as a stepping stone for the former
organisation's own expansion in the communities of immigrant origin,
whereas it should be considered as a rival to be ideologically
fought and restricted from an organisational point of view. Sooner
or later this unnatural alliance will hit a stumbling block and
will fly to pieces. Trotskyists will then have to confront those
whom they have helped to grow for the mess of pottage of an electoral
result, and it is far from sure that the results owe much to their
fundamentalist partners anyhow.
All we need to do is look at the arguments used by the fundamentalists
in calling for a vote for Respect (and for others, such as the
Mayor of London, the left Labourite Ken Livingstone, much more
opportunist than the Trotskyists in his relations with the Islamic
association). Let us read the fatwa of Sheikh Haitham Al-Haddad,
dated 5 June 2020 and published on the MAB website.
The venerable sheikh explains that
"it is obligatory for those Muslims living under the shadow
of man-made law to take all the necessary steps and means to make
the law of Allah, the Creator and the Sustainer, supreme and manifest
in all aspects of life. If they are unable to do so, then it becomes
obligatory for them to strive to minimise the evil and maximise
The sheikh then underlines the difference between a
"vote for one of a number of systems, and voting to select
the best individual amongst a number of candidates within an already-established
system imposed upon them and which they are unable to change within
the immediate future."
'There is no doubt', he continues, 'that the first type is an
act of Kufr [impious], as Allah says, "Legislation is for
none but Allah"', while 'voting for a candidate or party
who rules according to man-made law does not necessitate approval
or acceptance for his method'. Therefore 'we should participate
in voting, believing that we are doing so in an attempt to minimise
the evil, while at the same time maintaining that the best system
is the Shariah, which is the law of Allah'.
Voting being lawful, the question is then posed for whom to vote.
"The answer to such a question requires a deep and meticulous
understanding of the political arena. Consequently, I believe
that individuals should avoid involving themselves in this process
and rather should entrust this responsibility to the prominent
Muslim organisations.... It is upon the remainder of the Muslims
therefore to accept and follow the decisions of these organisations."
In conclusion, the venerable Sheikh calls on the Muslims of Great
Britain, to follow the electoral instructions of the MAB and ends
with this prayer: 'We ask Allah to guide us to the right path
and to grant victory for law of our Lord, Allah in the UK and
in other parts of the world.'
This fatwa needs no comment. The deep incompatibility between
the intentions of the Sheikh consulted by the MAB and the task
that Marxists set for themselves or should set for themselves,
in their activity in relation to the Muslim populations, is blatant.
Marxists should not seek to harvest votes at any price, as opportunist
politicians who stop at nothing to get elected do. Support like
that of Sheikh Al-Haddad is a poisoned gift. It should be harshly
criticised: the battle for ideological influence within populations
originating from immigration is much more fundamental than an
electoral result, however exhilarating.
The radical left, on one or another side of the Channel, should
return to an attitude consistent with Marxism, which it proclaims.
Otherwise, the hold of the fundamentalists over the Muslim populations
risks reaching a level which will be extremely difficult to overcome.
The gulf between these populations and the rest of the men and
women workers in Europe will find itself widened, while the task
of bridging it is one of the essential conditions for replacing
the clash of barbarisms with a common fight of the workers and
the oppressed against capitalism.