Clerical fascism?

Submitted by Matthew on 20 February, 2013 - 7:44

Critics of Solidarity sometimes say that our description of Islamist political movements as “clerical fascism” is too simplistic, or too sweeping.

A recent report from Tunisia (Financial Times, 18 February) makes us think we are right after all. Ennahda, which currently leads a coalition government there with two smaller secular parties, is always described as “moderate” Islamist.

It operates under constraint — in one of the world’s most secularised majority-Muslim countries, one where there is a strong trade-union movement and a sizeable left, and where the population is mobilised and feisty after it overthrew the old Ben Ali dictatorship in January 2011.

Yet Ennahda’s “League for the Protection of the Revolution” has the defining characteristics of fascism — mobilising disoriented middle-class and “underclass” people on the streets against the labour movement and political rivals.

League leader Mostafa Tahari told the Financial Times that secular opposition parties, the trade unions, leftists, and critical media are “counter-revolutionaries”.

Said Aidi, a secular liberal politician beaten up by the League, comments: “The League claims it is a civil society group, but... it has never organised conferences or debates. It was always about violence”.

The League is widely held responsible for the assassination on 6 February of a leftish politician, Chokri Belaid, and for attacks on UGTT union offices across the country.

“Under the banner of peaceful protest”, reports the FT, “League members form intimidating mobs outside the meetings and offices of political opposition groups”.

The term clerical fascist was not invented by us. At the start it referred to a particular species of fascist movement in Europe in the 1920s and 30s: not the Nazis, nor Mussolini’s fascists in Italy, but the fascist movements in Croatia, Romania, Austria, Portugal, Spain, and Ireland whose authoritarian ideologies depended heavily on Catholic religion. Socialist writers in the 1940s such as the late Tony Cliff used the term to describe Islamist political movements in the 1940s and indicate a rough analogy between them and the European movements.

Even though Ennahda is in government, fascism has not yet triumphed in Tunisia. The labour movement is still strong and able to fight back.

That fightback can only be weakened by whitewashing the clerical fascists or pretending (as for example Socialist Worker does) that they are really some analogue of reformist workers’ parties.