The attack on the Egyptian Revolutionary Socialists member Taha Magdy poses in a most brutal fashion the failure of the strategic orientation over many years of the SWP, which has influenced the Revolutionary Socialists.
In The Prophet and the Proletariat (1994) the late SWP leader Chris Harman argued: “The left has made two mistakes in relation to the Islamists in the past. The first has been to write them off as fascists, with whom we have nothing in common. The second has been to see them as ‘progressives’ who must not be criticised...”
Harman concluded that revolutionary socialists should sometimes work with Islamists “against imperialism and the state”. Their watchword would be: “with the Islamists sometimes, with the state never”.
The AWL argued that this approach was bankrupt from the start. Over the years the SWP has drifted into approaching the Muslim Brotherhood as analogous to social democratic parties with whom revolutionaries should make a “united front” — as “progressives”, although to be criticised. The Brotherhood, said Socialist Worker (23 June 2012) as it recommended voting for it, “represents the right wing of the revolution. It is not the counter-revolution”.
When the Brotherhood took power, the SWP rejoiced that the ensuing “contradictions” would speed revolution. “[Egypt’s] new, democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood government is already caught in the contradictions of power... This was brilliantly exposed by Egypt’s Revolutionary Socialists when they called on the new government to stand by its pre-election policies” (SW, 24/11/12)
Yet, as SWP founder Tony Cliff had written in 1946, the Brotherhood are clerical fascists.
By late November, the RS recognised: “all the masks fell from Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood organisation... They and the remnants of the old regime are two sides of the same coin, which is tyranny and enmity towards the people”. Morsi was trying to become “a new pharaoh”.
The RS noted that “the efforts of Morsi and his group to win a large majority... through the votes of the Salafists have led to a polarisation along a secular/religious axis”. The Brotherhood have set up an “Islamist Coalition” with the Salafists to rally support against the popular rebellion.
There can be no alliance with the Islamists, no softness on them. They are the other “side of the same coin” as the old regime.
Yet the SWP persists with its confusion. Anne Alexander (5 December) states: “The crucial question is, which side is continuing the revolution?” Mursi and the Brotherhood were the “right wing of the revolution”, she suggests, and are backsliding. Presumably if Mursi tacks “left” again, the SWP will once again support him politically.
But “the revolution” is not a disembodied ruse of reason. The working class is the revolutionary agent and has to take a stance on the other actors, particularly its enemies. A clean break with the SWP’s popular frontism is necessary. Independent working class politics should be the watchword in Egypt, as it is elsewhere across the globe.
Croydon: what error?
In Socialist Worker of 1 December, the SWP explained: “Respect’s Lee Jasper has tapped into anger around police racism and other issues in the Croydon by-election.
“But Socialist Worker cannot campaign for him, following Respect leader George Galloway’s disgraceful and well-publicised comments on rape”.
SW called instead a vote for Labour. When the article was put on its website, however, that sentence was changed, with the comment: “This was an editorial error. Socialist Worker is not endorsing any of the candidates in the Croydon North by-election”.
What was SW editor Judith Orr’s “error”? For the 2010 general election, the SWP said: “The majority of voters will be in constituencies where there is no alternative. By calling for a vote for Labour in these areas, we are also standing alongside millions of workers casting a class vote” (Socialist Review, Feb 2010).
On the SWP’s own account, there was “no alternative” in Croydon. Why not apply the 2010 line? Is it just typical SWP mealy-mouthedness and half-thinking? That they have seen through Respect, but still can’t quite bring themselves to recognise that it is “no alternative”?
The SWP trashed the Socialist Alliance in order to set up Respect with George Galloway in 2004, and ran Respect in uncritical alliance with him until Galloway booted them out in 2007. Galloway was no better then than now.
His visible collaboration with Saddam Hussein’s regime for a decade was at least as “disgraceful” as his foul comment on rape in the Assange case.
Socialist Worker of 15 December carries an explanation of the electoral policy, in the oblique form of a letter from veteran SWPer Shaun Doherty.
"Our general approach is to vote left if possible and to vote Labour where there isn’t a credible alternative.
In these by-elections it would be wrong to call for a vote for Labour at a juncture when they have committed themselves to cuts and have found themselves in a cleft stick over the benefit cuts.
But it would have been wrong to endorse Respect given George Galloway’s comments on rape. In Croydon we were not able to call for support for any of the candidates.
This does not mean, however, that in future by-elections or the next general election we will adopt the same position. We have to base our electoral position on the political circumstances current at the time".
Puzzling. That Labour has committed itself to cuts and found itself "in a cleft stick" on big issues is not exceptional, but general.
In 2010, when SW backed a Labour vote in the majority of constituencies, where TUSC or others weren't standing, Labour was not only "committed to cuts" (smaller and slower than the Tories'), but already carrying them out.
We can hope and work for a big turnaround in the Labour Party and the affiliated trade unions, but by far most likely is that at the next general election Labour will have roughly the same "smaller and slower" cuts line as now. What will Socialist Worker say then?