[Marxism] Significance of the SWP-USA's opposition to antiracist mobilizations set off by cartoons
ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Sun Mar 5 06:01:04 MST 2006
Katan Alder made some comments on the Militant's coverage, suggesting
that I had misread it and that it was not an adaptation to imperialist
propaganda as I said. Here is a more thoughtful analysis than either
Katan or I made (I wasn't trying to get into the issue) on the Militant
coverage of this issue.
The article is written by a Canadian socialist, Robert Johnson, and an
edited version was published in Socialist Voice.
I see no need for a specific debate on the Militant's position, though
some of the comments are relevant to the general aspects of our
discussions on the national question.
Katan may be interested in the list that has been established
specifically for discussion of matters concerning the SWP at
The February 27 issue of the Militant covers the international protests
against the racist anti-Muslim caricatures with a lengthy article by Sam
Manuel: "Imperialist powers use reactionary demands on banning Danish
cartoons to attack rights, boost support for war"
(http://www.themilitant.com/2006/7008/700804.html) and an editorial
"Censorship hurts working class"
The paper's stand on this issue illustrates how far the Socialist
Workers Party has retreated from revolutionary Marxism on the national
1. IMPERIALIST WARS AND RACISM DISAPPEAR
It is impossible to understand the protests without placing them in a
broader context. This includes:
* the rise of racism in Denmark spearheaded by the Danish
government and the record of Xenophobia and anti-Muslim racism of the
publishers of the newspaper where the caricatures first appeared. Their
publication was a deliberate provocation.
* recent EU decisions aimed at preventing or delaying Turkey's
adhesion to the EU because of its large Muslim population
* Afghanistan has been invaded and occupied by imperialism. Iraq
has been invaded and occupied by imperialism. Palestine is occupied by
the Zionists. In all of these countries imperialism has brought nothing
but death and destruction. The social fabric of these societies is being
destroyed. The U.S. has been building and reinforcing military bases in
other countries of the Middle East and Central Asia. The threat of a war
against Iran grows ever closer.
* In the imperialist countries the ruling class seeks to justify
its current and coming aggressions with a fierce ideological campaign,
an important component of which is a campaign against Muslims at home
and abroad. The campaign is multifaceted, but an underlying theme is
that Islam is an aggressive, backward, warlike religion and that its
adherents must be conquered and "civilized". Official racism is
concretized through the immigration laws, operations of the secret
police, secret trials, "rendition" for the purpose of torturing
prisoners, Guantanamo, etc. Rightist and openly racist forces are
emboldened in this context, take the bit between their teeth and push
* This is the reality that immigrants in this country who come
from the countries under attack face, as they do in the U.S. or Western
Europe. The situation is much worse for those who live under imperialist
occupation or threat of attack.
The protests against the caricatures occur against this backdrop. They
are an expression of deep outrage at all of these aggressions and
indignities heaped upon the toiling masses, many of whom happen to be
Muslims. At their most basic level they are a cry for dignity and
equality, and a sign that there are many among them who are willing to
fight against the warmongers and merchants of hate. This was the
dominant characteristic of the protests rather than any call for
censorship that may have been raised.
The Militant omits this entire context. The editors transform the
protests against racism and for justice into a mobilization in favor of
censorship. Behind the protests they see not the outraged and combative
plebian and proletarian masses but the manipulation of reactionary
Muslim regimes. The words racist and racism do not appear **even once**
in the editorial or the lengthy article by Manuel.
This turns reality on its head and amounts to what Malcolm X called
"turning the victim into the criminal."
The rally organized by the Muslim community on Feb. 11 in Toronto was
centered on the theme, "Hate speech is not free speech." It was an
impressive action in many respects - some 3,000 persons including many
young people rallying to defend their religion, their dignity and their
Even the reformist NDP has a better position than the SWP on this issue.
A Feb. 14 statement by the NDP circulated to this list was entitled "NO
TO ISLAMAPHOBIA (sic). NO TO ANTI-SEMITISM. NO TO RACISM OF ANY KIND."
It leaves much to be desired, to say the least. It is a typical
"even-handed" avoid-excesses-on-all-sides liberal piece of work. Yet for
all that, the NDP states unequivocally that the cartoons are "abhorrent
depictions" that should be protested and says that "(i)ntentionally
denigrating Islam or any other faith is offensive, destructive and
Given this stand, it would certainly be logical to invite the NDP to
speak at the next protest, and to expect to be able to draw NDP
supporters to participate in it. This would provide aid and comfort to
the embattled Muslim community; they have been attempting to forge a
broader front against racism, but their success has been limited to
The SWP, in contrast, stands in frontal opposition to the protests.
2. TWISTED, DISTORTED REPORTING, AS WITH IRAQ
Since the U.S. invasion, the Militant has continued to write about Iraq
at great length. The chief characteristic of this coverage is its
factional and distorted character. Facts from the bourgeois press are
used selectively; those that do not fit the party's schema are dismissed
or more often simply ignored. Contradictions in the coverage from one
week to the next are never explained. The paper's editors maintain a
steady drumbeat of attacks on all forces who are resisting the
occupation. From time to time they suggest that the occupation might be
a lesser evil compared to Saddam Hussein's rule in the past or the
victory of certain resistance forces in the future.
This issue's coverage of the antiracist mobilizations has the same
twisted character. Hercules would exhaust himself before managing to
unravel the logic and correct the factual errors it contains. I will
cite only the first paragraph of the front-page article by Manuel:
"WASHINGTON-Washington, London, and other imperialist powers are taking
advantage of often violent protests against controversial cartoons,
including one showing Prophet Muhammad with a lit bomb in his turban, to
expand popular support for their wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and
threats against Iran and Syria."
The cartoons are characterized as "controversial" rather than racist.
The choice of words is deliberate since the editorial in the same issue
also speaks of "controversial cartoons," and, as noted above, the
article and editorial never once use the word "racist."
Moreover, the editors choose to characterize the antiracist
mobilizations as "often violent protests." This again turns the victims
into criminals. The editors get all hot and bothered by a few instances
where embassies were torched and private property destroyed. Like the
imperialist press, they ignore the much more prevalent violence and
deaths that the repressive forces inflicted when pro-imperialist
governments attempted to quell the protests by force.
The question that comes to mind is, "What part of 'Free speech is not
hate speech"" do the editors not understand?
3. A REVISION OF MARXISM
The concluding paragraph of the editorial is particularly significant:
"The opposite is true. Muslims, like other believers, are divided into
classes. Among the swelling ranks of working people-from the Middle East
to North America, from Europe to Africa, Asia, and the Pacific-there is
a growing convergence among those who recognize the need to safeguard
and extend democratic rights in order to defend the life and limb of the
working class and its allies, and to fight for a world without class
exploitation, national oppression, or sex discrimination."
This must be read in the light of the rest of the paper's coverage of
the protests, which fails to place them in the context of the struggle
against imperialism and national oppression. As such it amounts to a
crude call for "Black and White, unite and fight." It denies the
oppression that Muslims (and not only Muslim workers) suffer as Muslims,
and the special responsibility of workers and socialists of the
oppressor nations to defend and to give all possible aid to their
struggle for liberation.
In recent posts Roger and I discussed why and how Marxists apply the
strategic line of "Workers and Oppressed Nations of the World, Unite."
This formed part of the historic program of the SWP, and the SWP helped
many of us on this list who come from the Trotskyist tradition learn how
to apply it.
The conclusion of the editorial points in the opposite direction and
contradicts not only the historic program of the SWP but also the
teachings of such revolutionaries as Malcolm X, Fidel and Che, Lenin and
An editorial represents the views of the editors of the paper, and hence
the leadership of the SWP.
4. SILENCE ON CUBA'S CURRENT POLITICAL COURSE
For several decades after the victory of the revolution in 1959 the
Militant was the best source of information in English on events in Cuba
and the views of the leaders of the revolution. Speeches by Fidel, Che,
Raoul, and other leaders appeared in the newspaper in a timely way; many
of these were then published in book form by Pathfinder Press.
This is no longer the case. The SWP and the Militant are still partisans
of the Cuban revolution, but their approach and coverage has become
highly selective and disconnected from the big issues of the day. The
books published by Pathfinder in recent years concern the history of the
revolution. Articles in the Militant, with few exceptions, deal either
with the same historical themes or with Cuba's humanitarian and
internationalist aid to various countries. Pathfinder Press has not
published a new "Fidel Speaks" for many years.
Yet for Cuba 2005 has been a "wonderful, triumphant year", as John
Riddell reports in Socialist Voice #67. Important advances have been
registered both domestically and internationally, and the forward motion
is continuing. But so far the Militant has been silent about these
important achievements. Fidel Castro and others have given many talks in
recent months about Cuba's view of the international situation and how
Cuba is doing everything it can to advance the international struggle. A
good deal of this material is available, in English, on the Web. These
talks have gone unreported in the Militant.
The reason for this silence is not hard to understand.
Mesmerized by its (false) perception of the power of U.S. imperialism
and dismissive of the masses in the Middle East, Latin America, and
elsewhere who are rising up in new waves of struggle, the SWP's view of
the world is very different from that of the Cubans. Moreover, our Cuban
comrades are acting boldly on their assessment of the objective
possibilities, and are reaching out to build the most powerful
anti-imperialist united front that they can. They explain what they are
doing in no uncertain terms, to all who will listen. All of this means
that as the objective situation improves for our class and the
possibilities for struggle grow, the chasm between what the Cuban
comrades are doing and saying, and what the SWP stands for, grows
The SWP's rejection of the national liberation struggle, so clearly
captured in their opposition to the international antiracist protests,
is also a rejection of the communist course of the Cuban leadership.
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