Becoming part of the problem

[Green Left Weekly, #470, November 7, 2001]

Every demonisation campaign undertaken by US imperialism has taken its toll as various prominent left-wingers have been taken in — or caved in — and have swung over to support US policy.

It happened in the lead-up to World War II when the 1939 Hitler-Stalin pact suddenly made identification with the Soviet Union (even with anti-Stalinist qualifications) extremely unpopular and a whole layer of adherents and fellow-travellers of both Stalinism and Trotskyism moved right and became supporters of US imperialism. In the late 1940s and '50s, the Cold War produced another crop of penitent leftist converts to the superiority of US imperialism.

During the 1990-91 Gulf War there was a similar phenomenon as prominent left figures like the British writer Fred Halliday moved right and became supporters of Washington's war against Iraq.

Today, the expatriate British writer Christopher Hitchens has disappointed many readers of his books and articles in the US Nation magazine by coming out in support of Washington against "Islamic fascism". He berates those left intellectuals — such as Noam Chomsky, Edward Herman, Edward Said and John Pilger — who argue that the primary roots of the September 11 bombings of the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon are to be found in the unjust world order defended by US foreign policy.

In a widely-circulated September 24 article on the Nation website ("Of Sin, the Left and Islamic Fascism"), Hitchens argues that, nothwithstanding its past positions, "the [previous US] sponsorship of the Taliban could be redeemed by the demolition of its regime and the liberation of its victims" — that is, by Washington.

This is an utter fantasy: Bush and his advisers intend no such thing. While it is by no means excluded that the Taliban regime will still be there after the US offensive, it's more likely that a slightly sanitised version of the same regime will be installed, composed of sundry drug-dealing warlords and "moderate" Taliban figures. The victims, especially the brutally oppressed and excluded female half of the population, are likely to be little better off.

Washington's foreign policy is not about liberating the oppressed masses from tyranny; it's about US "national interests", that is, the interests of the US capitalist ruling class.

As an aside, it's worth mentioning that the only regime which attempted to bring women into the mainstream of society by providing them with access to education and work was the previous Soviet-backed government of the Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan. It was precisely to destroy this government and its reforms that Washington armed and bankrolled the reactionary, brutal, women-hating, drug-dealing, Islamic-fundamentalist mujaheddin "freedom fighters". Osama bin Laden was a key figure in this counter-revolutionary crusade.

If it’s anything more than a comforting epithet, Hitchen's notion of "Islamic fascism" is profoundly misleading. Fascism arose in two of the most developed capitalist countries in Europe — Italy and Germany. It was a mass movement of the desperate middle classes, set in motion by big capital to crush powerful workers' movements.

The Taliban are brutal and anti-democratic but to suggest that their ramshackle regime in a devastated Third World country is comparable to Mussolini's or Hitler’s highly developed police states is absurd. The only function of such characterisations is to give political cover to the major enemy of the world's people today, the US capitalist ruling class, by making it appear that there is something even worse.

But both Marxist theory and historical experience show that any "socialist" who departs from the position that the fundamental enemy of the human race since the end of the 19th century is imperialist capitalism, especially US imperialism, is in serious danger of becoming part of the problem and of being enlisted in Washington's drive to defend its global empire.