January 2009


Nadeem Farooq Paracha , popularly known as NFP is the closest to “Hippie,socialist,anarchist” Youth icon Pakistani Left wing youth will ever had. He is perhaps the only journalist in Pakistan who i respect unconditionally these days. NFP calls himself a old fashioned “socialist”.His political positions on issues are far more advance than the traditional Left of Pakistan. Apart from politics NFP is the most original cultural theorist. I have seen his work on development of “Pop music” in Pakistan and read his articles on issues of culture and have been impressed. NFP has also done a great work on history of Youth politics in Pakistan and its one of his most important contribution. PPP is one strange phenomenon for Pakistani Left, their relationship with PPP is either scarred by Ultra-Leftism or sheer Oppertunism and class-colaboration.What needs to be understood is that PPP is the traditional mother party of Pakistani working class but it neither was nor will ever be a revolutionary Party. NFP speaks about Benazir Bhutto. An emotional subject for most of Us. The article was taken from “Dawn” with Thanks.SA

By Nadeem F. Paracha
In 1986 when Benazir Bhutto arrived to the thunderous cheers of a mammoth gathering in Lahore, I too travelled by train with a dozen fellow students from my college to witness the spectacle.

The late Benazir Bhutto’s first death anniversary was observed on Dec 27, 2008. I decided to follow it on the news channels. The moving programmes left an emotional lump in my throat.

But the emotion was not of sadness alone. It was also of resigned pessimism and a bit of anger. As the channels paid glowing tributes to Benazir, and anchormen and even politicians from the right-wing parties unloaded long speeches about how she was being so dearly missed, I couldn’t help let out a cynical chuckle. Because I am convinced, had the woman been alive today, the same media would have been smearing her with all kinds of taunts.

I remember how awfully she was treated by the media in the 1990s, but more so, I also remember the squarely reactionary and snide remarks by anchormen about her when she returned to Pakistan last year with the help of a “deal” with Musharraf.

Thinking this I boycotted the viewing of television for the rest of the day, and instead decided to have a chat with my chawkidar whose late father was a big Bhutto supporter in Bahawalpur. After all, Benazir’s legend was born in the struggle, passion and love of the common man, and not in the seasonal studios of television talk shows.

Benazir Bhutto was a vital figure for my generation. In the 1980s, she was to us what her father had been to the youth in the late 1960s. Our romance with Benazirism reached a milestone when she arrived in Lahore in April 1986 from London where she had been forced into exile by the Ziaul Haq dictatorship. He had failed to implicate her in the 1981 plane hijacking case undertaken at the behest of her brothers, Mir Murtaza and Shanawaz Bhutto.

The hijacking of the PIA plane, pulled off in the name of Al Zulfikar, involved a group of militant youth belonging to the PPP’s student wing, the People’s Students Federation (PSF). As a reaction, by 1985, a number of PSF members, all belonging to the poor, downtrodden families, were eliminated. The oldest of them was in his 20s and the youngest was said to be only 17. None of them had been part of the hijacking drama.

Hundreds of PSF cadres and youth belonging to other progressive student groups were hauled up, severely tortured and humiliated. I am an eyewitness to a spat of disappearances from the college where I studied between 1984 and 1988, and from where I too was picked up in 1985.

I was taken to the then notorious “555 thana,” in Karachi’s Saddar area. I was grabbed by my unruly Che Guevara hair, kicked, punched and abused, then taken on a tour of the thana’s “special rooms” where two cops showed me the sight of a college comrade hanging upside down from the roof and bleeding from the nose. “See,” shouted a cop. “This is what we do to anti-Islam dogs and communist agents like you!”

I was lucky because at the investiture of the first Benazir Bhutto government in 1988, we saw the sudden scenes of young men (and some women) exiting from jails, looking twice their age and both physically and psychologically tortured. Most of them had been kept in torture cells for more than six years! Their parents had given up on them, and thought they were dead.

In 1986 when Benazir arrived to the thunderous cheers of the mammoth gathering in Lahore, I too travelled by train with a dozen fellow students from my college to witness the spectacle. It was a scene legends are made of, as we struggled in the thronging milieu of simple, emotional, working class Pakistanis, to catch a glimpse of a frail young woman shouting out rhetorical challenges at the dictator and his army of Maududi-quoting officers and people-bashing mujahids.

Her father’s populism and oratory had bagged him his share of what are called jiyalas, the highly emotional men and women, mostly from the downtrodden classes, to whom the PPP is almost like a religion. That great April 1986 rally saw the birth of the Benazir jiyalas. And I have no problem in confessing that as a volatile intermediate college lad I became one as well. Especially after the day of the rally when PPP activists came together in the streets of Lahore and four young PSF members were shot dead by the cops.

Our group was chased all the way to the Lahore Railway Station, and we had to literally jump inside a moving Karachi-bound train from the train’s windows! Many of us carried these memories well into the 1990s. During the tumultuous “decade of democracy” in which Benazir became a favourite target of the official desk-top jihadis (such as former ISI bigwigs), and their religious and industrialist lackeys; my generation of Benazir sympathisers became awkward PPP apologists.

But never once did we doubt the astute political and intellectual acumen and the promise Benazir symbolised. A promise I saw being celebrated on Dec 27, 2008, but unfortunately, many years too late.

AAGN001278I recently discovered
a very interesting blog, its called (mass)think!. The blog is a
treasure for those who are concerned with “radical philosophy”. Avant-garde
works regarding Marxism, Post-structuralist theory, radical feminism and Gender
theory are available to read and learn, on the top of it are the Aesthetics and
Arts which illuminate ones being. This story written by Ryan and Aless on
(mass)think! Which can be reached here
is important because it aesthetically deconstructs the romantic discourse of
love in western tradition of metaphysics and aesthetics which pre-conceives
essentialist notion of gender as spirit of love. The relationship between myth and
knowledge and its ramifications on culture manifest through the title “Romio
and Julio”. This in turn establishes a non essentialist, non temporal link between
the pre-modern and the post modern. Those who are interested in contemporary approaches
to textuality and narrativity will find it to be a treat. With Judith Butler’s contribution
into non essentialist understanding of Gender and sexuality as primarily “performative”,
the story is interplay of logic, rhetoric, passions and desire. Enjoy

Shaheryar Ali

Romeo and Julio

Ryan and Aless, (Mass)think!

“Let’s leave. Tonight.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Do you have any idea how
much it kills me whenever you get jealous of me? Talking to a girl, or talking
about them? Don’t you think I see? Don’t you think I saw just now—And that
wasn’t even a friend!”

“You don’t know what you’re
talking about.”

“I can’t have any more of it.
I won’t have any more! I wanna be with you. I wanna try it. So let’s go. Leave.
Just go for it!”

“You have a girlfriend.”

“So? I’ll break up with her.”

“You’re crazy . . .”

“So what? Isn’t that,
according to you, the hallmark of love? Its inexplicability, its irrationality
. . .”

“You’re not even gay.”

“Wasn’t it you who told me
that sexuality is but a performance, that it’s just a convenient, how did you
call it, ‘molar’ way to represent in collectivity the everyday actions we
perform, that in truth we are all polymorphously perverse, capable of anything,
capable of connecting to everything, that over the years we’ve just been
rigidified by social codes that normalize us so we forget our multiple
potentialities and become the boring, monomaniac machines that we are?”

“You
don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“So you’re saying all those
late-night phone calls, all those conversations . . . All those theories were
not meant to convince me? Make me believe?”

“I . . . simply articulated
what I believed . . .”

“Look, I don’t know if I’m
gay—but as you said, it doesn’t matter. I know what I feel for you. I know, at
the end of the night, I wanna call you. I know, at the end of the day, despite
all the other people around me, I wanna come home to you . . . Wasn’t it you
who said that we’re all capable of anything? Everything? Of being both sexes.
Of being all the sexes! It doesn’t matter what we do now, who we sleep with. It
matters who we can do what with. How we feel. My body parts can learn. In fact,
they’re able. They just need to be awakened. And they will. My heart knows . .
.”

“What are you saying?”

“I wanna try it, see if my
parts can resonate with yours. There is no other person that I admire, no other
person that I . . .—I’m not gonna let the way I’ve been sexually trained to
hinder what I feel for you, limit me—most of all, hurt you . . .”

“It’s crazy. I’m leaving
tomorrow. I got a job . . .”

“So? Forget it. F**k it! I’m
leaving my girlfriend.”

“I . . .”

“Leave your commitments.
Let’s just go! Leave. Leave everything behind . . . Isn’t that what people do?
For love . . .”

“No, no . . . I’m not this
disturbed anymore. A year ago, I might have done this—”

. [kiss] . .

“I know what you feel. I felt
what you want. What do you say?”

“Yes, yes . . . Let’s go . .
.”

Shaheryar Ali

Famous Pakistani academic Dr Robina Saigol has written an influential critique of Nation State from feminist perspective. It is known as “Militarization, Nation and Gender: Women bodies as arenas of violent conflicts”. The study explains quite brilliantly the ideological structures which lead to crimes against women during violent conflicts. Pakistan is the specific focus of this study. I am reminded of it after I discovered the fate of Miss Zarina Murree a Baluch woman who went missing along with 429 persons since December 2005 according to Asian Human Rights Commission Report. She is reportedly being abused as a “sex slave” by Pakistan Army. I came to know about her, thanks to the inspiring blog “Grand Trunk Road” which writes about the duality of response on the predicament of two women. The suspected Islamic Fascist terrorist Dr Aafia Siddiqui and Miss Zarina Murree. The entry can be read here .I will deal with this problem at multiple levels trying to deconstruct the hegemonious discourse on Terrorism. Why a poor school teacher like Miss Zarina Murree would be abused as a “sex-slave” by Mujahid army of Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Dr Saigol explains this phenomenon in general term:

“Recent feminist theories of nationalism have pointed out that the Qaum (nation) is essentially feminine in construction. The nation is narrated on the body of women who become an emotionally-laden symbol of the nation, self, the inner, spiritual world and home. One’s motherland or maadar-e-watan, as it comes to be called, becomes invested with the kind of erotic attraction felt towards women, especially in the figure of the mother. The country comes to be appropriated, represented and contained within words which have strong romantic, erotic as well as maternal connotations. The desire for this land/woman/dharti is constructed as masculine desire; the desire to possess it, see it, admire it, love it, protect it and die fighting for it against rivals.

Since the desire for women gets transferred on to the nation and women’s bodies come to signify the nation, communal, regional, national and international conflicts come to be played out on women’s bodies. These bodies thus become arenas of violent struggle. Women are humiliated, tortured, brutally raped, and murdered as part of the process by which the sense of being a nation is created and reinforced”

Thus by kidnapping and than sexually molesting a poor Baluch teacher, Pakistan’s Army is trying to reinforce the ideology of “Islamic Republic of Pakistan”. This a reply to the traitor Baluchs. The ironic fact is the history of Islamic republic taught at school traces the history of Islamic state from the invasion of Sindh by Muhammed Bin Qasim, the Umayyad , who as the myth goes invaded Sindh to defend the “honour” of a Muslim girl. Like all other myths of Islamic Republic’s ideological history this honour laden justification of Arab imperialist assault on Sindh is deconstructed by great Sindhi poet and famous conscientious objectors to 1965 Indo-Pak , Sheik Ayaz in his poem which is the lament of the native girl of Sindh abused by invading Arabs. When Yvonne Ridley, former Taliban prisoner and now a pro Taliban activist and Respect Party affiliate who could very much be suffering from “Stockholm Syndrome” broke the news of Dr Aafia Siddique being sexually molested at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan, ritualistic drum beating started. The fact that its very hard to dismiss Dr Sidiqque’s links with Al-Qaida and Islamic fascism was ignored. There is a case of abuse of Dr Siddique’s rights and all extra judicial punishments, torture and abuse must be condemned but this is clearly a case of “double discourse”. All the discourse of civil rights, human rights, woman rights, good governance etc in Pakistan favors the ideological interests of Islamic Republic. Thus suspected and alleged sexual molestation of Dr Siddique, an Urdu speaking girl from middle and upper middle classes who is involved in Jihad is the drummed up at all levels in Pakistan from media to text messages on mobile phones asking the young muslim men to follow the example of Muhammed Bin Qasim and deliver the “daughter of Islam” from infidels. Liberals and progressives follow this ideological discourse bound by their ethos of “human rights” and “civil rights”, the fact that Dr Siqqique if was successful in her Jihad would result in a system which doesn’t recognizes even the concept of human rights is ignored by most lefti human rights activists. Whilst they must raise a voice against state abuse they must make sure that their interest is only in the fact that Dr Siddique be brought in a court of Law where she gets a fair trial. Just as Ajmal Kasab has the legal right to fair trial. Nothing more than that. Unfortunately we saw Iqbal Haider becoming party to the the emotional drama created by the Right. He should  have kept in mind, what image they created of other abuse victims. Mukhtar Mai, the Saraiki woman raped on orders of village counsel is a “whore” according to moral punjabi middle class. Dr Shazia Murree, the Baluch doctor raped by Captain Hamad was declared a “slut” and government narrated the stories of “condoms” in her home with a question why did a good girl had “condoms” in her home??

The great respect to woman, civil rights and human rights expressed by Islamic Republic and its ideological apparatus the media and the chattering class in cases of suspected Taliban and other ideological allies clearly vanishes when such atrocities are done to “others” of Islamic Republic by establishment. Thus the documented use of rape as a war tactic by Pakistan Army and Jamate Islami in 1971’s Bangladesh’s war of Liberation is dismissed as “Indian propaganda”, similar use of rape as a tactic to curtail MRD in 1980s in interior Sindh and Saraiki region of Punjab is never spoken of. The rape and genocide of Baluch people by Pakistani state again fails to gain any mass support or even media attention. Why this happens. Dr Rubina Saigol writes in “State and the Limit of Counter-Terrorism: The Case of Pakistan and SriLanka”

“The foundational myth of Pakistan is the two-nation theory, which

posits Muslims and Hindus as two mutually exclusive, separate and

irreconcilable nations. This ideology divided the freedom struggle

against British rule as early as 1909 with the Morley-Minto Reforms in

which the principle of separate electorate was acknowledged by the

British government. It subsequently remained the main slogan of the

Muslim League and led to the division of independence by religion.

Within the two-nation paradigm, two states emerged, a Hindu India and

a Muslim Pakistan, although Indians generally see their country as secular.

The emergence of Pakistan within a struggle divided by religion meant

that religious identity came to be the defining characteristic of Pakistani

citizenship. This implied that other, sometimes older, sources of identity

in language, region or culture had to be suppressed if not entirely erased.

The construction of Pakistani identity as Muslim required the forgetting

of the identities of Bengali, Sindhi, Punjabi, Pathan or Baloch”

This is the root of all the double discourse in Pakistan. This is the bases of Bengali Genocide, this is base of failure of democracy and this is the base of Rape of Zarina Murree. Dr Saigol is one of those few academics from Pakistan who recognizes the fact that most of the problems of Pakistan like failure of democracy and Islamic Fascism are result of the “state” itself. She also traces the roots of Taliban terrorism in two nation ideology of Pakistani state. Just have a look at the report of Asian Human Rights Commission here .

The Asian Human Rights Commission has received further details in the case of Ms. Zarina Marri, a 23-year-old schoolteacher from Balochistan province, who has been held incommunicado in an army torture cell at Karachi, the capital of Sindh province and used as a sex slave, please see our statement; http://www.ahrchk.net/statements/mainfile.php/2009statements/1843/——–“
Sanakhawan e Taqdees e Mushriq Kahan hein?

SanaKhawan e Taqdees e Mushriq Ko Lao——–

shalome1

Shaheryar Ali

We live in strange times when it is easy to hate and difficult to love. The spirit of enlightenment, the goddess of liberty is now under attack in Universities of France herself. We live in the age of “Late Capitalism”, this is the age of rampant capitalism, the age of extreme alienation. With the extreme alienation things start loosing their “corporeal beings”, concrete ideas take the form of ghostly phantoms, and reality seems to merge with fantasy. The expression of this phenomenon can be seen everywhere, Salman Rushdie’s most original protest against colonialism, the hegemonic dualities created by the immigrant experience, the identity crisis, the de-humanizing experience of disillusionment from both cultures, the old and new, the very division of self brought about by modernism, through colonialism and immigration, the lament and cry of pain and anguish became the object of hostility of those for whom it was done. The ghostly or hallucinatory expression termed as “magical realism” represent this epochal phenomenon in literature.

Extreme fluidity of the narrative, the interplay of contradictory streams of meaning, the nauseous experience of existence in the hostile universe is not the monopoly of literary giants; rather it has become an everyday experience of life. The monstrous war between two illegitimate children of Capitalist imperialism Zionism and Islamic fundamentalism is one of such events. While some want us to believe that heartless fascists, the prophets of Gaza are champions of progressive cause others wants us to believe that the blood thirsty child killers , the Zionists are fighting the war for the very survival humanity against the forces of darkness. The people are being killed. They are victims of this age of confusion. The Islamic Republic, just like the Zionist state was a “liberal” act of British imperialism to provide the national homeland to “Muslims” in India. The “ideological” state has been one of the most loyal allies of United State’s imperialism rivaled only by its distant cousins Israel and Egypt. The Pakistani middle classes who take these ideological fallacies of state quite seriously have got a new hero in recent times, Adolf Hiter. Angered by the scenes of Zionist barbarism in Gaza and fuelled by the anti-Semitic rhetoric of Pakistani Islamist and Liberal dominated media the middle classes are chattering about the “great vision” of Adolf Hitler in his recognition of “Jewish evil” and his great efforts to save humanity from it.

The Jewish evils of course being the good old theories of Jews controlling “all the banks” and “state institutions” of USA etc.: their inherent “racism”, “their intolerance”, “their non acceptance of our great holy prophet” etc. In this discourse Pakistan and Islam becomes the “greatest, best and most tolerant and humanist ideologies and state which ever existed in this cosmos. The ideological paradise of the Islamic Republic in which the Pakistani middle and chattering classes live and play the eternal victim of every thing which exists in this universe ; Big bad India, USA, Jews all the cunning, evil enemies who want to destroy humanist and tolerant Pakistan, the “divine land”, the “land of the pure”. We who are the critics of Islamic Republic occasionally remind the chattering classes about the things which don’t fit in their “ideological paradise”, things lost in the “collective amnesia” of divine state and Pure of pure. We are so much threatened by perceived “Indian hegemony” that we find our selves permanently scarred by “Gandhi, the Movie” but we don’t bother 3 million Bengalis butchered by us and thousands of Bengali women raped by our macho Jawans

“Where are the Pakistani Jews?” I just ask this question. The picture you see above is that of “Magain Shalome Synagogue”. The synagogue was built by the small but vibrant Jewish community of Karachi in 1898. The Jews of Karachi enjoyed tolerance and acceptability as British subjects in India. In 1936 one of the leaders of the Jewish community, Abraham Reuban became the first “Jewish councilor” of the city corporation. The city also had a number of “support organizations” like “Young Man’s Jewish Association”, the “Karachi Bene Israel Relief Fund” and “Karachi Jewish Syndicate”. In 1947, Jinnah got his laboratory of Islam and for Pakistani Jews the clock started ticking. As the people, who have been victim of tyranny for thousands of years Jews knew the warning signs. Partition of India on religious lines and formation of a “Laboratory of Islam” was a bad omen. The Pakistani Aliya had started. Jews started leaving for India and Iran. The “night of broken glass” for Pakistani Jews was a night in 1948 when State of Israel was proclaimed. Karachi which was home to Jews for decades suddenly became hostile. The anti Jew pogroms started. The mob attacked and torched the “Magain Shalome” synagogue. Every thing was broken, the windows, the ornaments. The Mujahids also desecrated the Holy Ark and Bible.

The community still tried to live with the illusion of “Jinnah’s words”, “you are free to go to your temples and your mosques—” , the anti Jewish pogroms and anti-Semitic rhetoric intensified with the Arab , Israeli wars, the synagogue remained the point of hatred of the mob. 1948, 1956 and 1967 were the periods where small Bene Israeli community of Pakistan faced the rage and hatred. The Magain Shalome resurrected itself after every fire till nobody was left to pray. Those who called themselves anti-Zionists pushed Jews from every land which was their home, pushing them to look for their mythical homeland, The Zion. Peshawar had a Jewish community as well, with two synagogues. Along with Bene Israeli community, “Bukharin Jews” also called Peshawar their home. Now none is left. A whole community vanished , along with their language, culture, art and most important their ‘stories”. I once read a novel which had a haunting line, “You scratch a Jew and you will get a story”. I have now no one to ask too; all that is left are few graves and Stars of David on certain buildings in both cities. The Magain Shalome Synagogue was finally demolished in 1980 when Fascist General Zia ul Haq was ruler of Pakistan to make a shopping plaza. The Jews from Karachi now live in Ramle, Israel. They have made a “Magain Shalome” there. 200 or so Jews still live in Karachi; they have disguised themselves as “Parsies”.

Such are the fascist societies where people are forced to live as some one who they are not, weather Jews or Homosexuals.

Picture: Naveed Riaz Karachi

Magain Shalome was built by Shalome Solomon Umberdeker and his son Gershone Solomon; Karachi’s last synagogue was demolished in 1980

A fellow Pakistani blogger “Grand Trunk Road” has recently written about a conversation he had with one of Pakistani Left. He is amazed to see that Left in Pakistan is putting forward a position that Islamic Fundamentalism is some how “anti imperialist” and because of this reason it should be supported. Regardless of the fact that such a non sense can be called “Left”, this is a fact. Not only majority of Pakistani Left is of this opinion but so called “advance” European Left, has similar opinion about Hamas. This is the result when ideas degenerate. Nothing can be farther from texts, tradition and practice of the Left than these murderous positions. Haven’t we learnt from this exact blunder in Iran? Conceding the revolution to Iranian Mullah’s for the same reasons of “transitional phase” resulted in formation of one of the most monstrous regimes in human history. Genocide against Baluchs and Kurds is going on. Left has been purged. Torture, hangings and murders are order of the day in Iran. Philosophers and intellectuals are either in jail or murdered. Trade unions and Leftists are on hit lists. The GTR article can be reached here

There exists a more genuine and more leftist position on this issue. The “International Marxist Website” has published a series of article against this position. I think it is a far better and correct left wing position that what Tariq Ali and others are saying

Here is Part 2 of the article:

Shaheryar Ali

Why Revolutionary Marxists should not support Islamic fundamentalists – Part Two

By Maziar Razi

Chris Harman sides with reactionary Islamic Fundamentalists

If Tony Cliff parts from the basic ideas of revolutionary Marxism and revises Trotsky’s permanent revolution, Chris Harman, by extending Tony Cliff’s deviation, sides with counter-revolutionary Islamic fundamentalists. This position potentially places the SWP leadership in a united bloc with reactionaries.

Chris Harman discusses the theoretical root of his support for the Islamic Republic of Iran and fundamentalism:

“As Tony Cliff put it in a major piece of Marxist analysis, if the old ruling class is too weak to hang on to power in the face of economic crisis and insurgency from below, while the working class does not have the independent organisation to allow it to become the head of the movement, then sections of the intelligentsia are able to make a bid for power, feeling that they have a mission to solve the problems of society as a whole”

‘The intelligentsia is sensitive to their countries’ technical lag. …In a crumbling order where the traditional pattern is disintegrating, they feel insecure, rootless, lacking infirm values. Dissolving cultures give rise to a powerful urge for a new integration that must be total and dynamic if it is to fill the social and spiritual vacuum that must combine religious fervour with militant nationalism. They are in search for a dynamic movement which will unify the nation and open up broad vistas for it, but at the same time will give themselves power…”

Ayatollah Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini
Ayatollah Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini

Chris Harman concludes:

“Although these words (by Tony Cliff) were written about the attraction of Stalinism, Maoism and Castroism in Third World countries, they fit absolutely the Islamist intelligentsia around Khomeini in Iran. They were not, as many left wing commentators have mistakenly believed, merely an expression of ‘backward’, bazaar-based traditional, ‘parasitic’, ‘merchant capital’. Nor were they simply an expression of classic bourgeois counter-revolution. They undertook a revolutionary reorganisation of ownership and control of capital within Iran even while leaving capitalist relations of production intact, putting large scale capital that had been owned by the group around the Shah into the hands of state and parastate bodies controlled by themselves  ‑ in the interests of the ‘oppressed’, of course, with the corporation that took over the Shah’s own economic empire being named the Mustafazin (‘Oppressed’) Foundation.” (emphasis added).

“The interesting thing about the method by which the group around Khomeini ousted their opponents and established a one party regime was that there was nothing specifically Islamist about it. It was not, as many people horrified by the religious intolerance of the regime contend, a result of some ‘irrational’ or ‘medieval’ characteristic of ‘Islamic fundamentalism’. In fact, it was very similar to that carried through in different parts of the world by parties based on sections of the petty bourgeoisie. It was the method used, for instance, by the weak Communist Parties of much of Eastern Europe to establish their control after 1945. And a prototype for the petty bourgeois who combines ideological fervour and personal advance is to be found in Balzac’s Pére Goriot–the austere Jacobin who makes his fortune out of exploiting the shortages created by the revolutionary upheaval.”

“The victory of Khomeini’s forces in Iran was not, then, inevitable, and neither does it prove that Islamism is a uniquely reactionary force against which the left must be prepared to unite with the devil (or rather, the Great Satan) of imperialism and its local allies. It merely confirms that, in the absence of independent working class leadership, revolutionary upheaval can give way to more than one form of the restabilisation of bourgeois rule under a repressive, authoritarian, one party state. The secret ingredient in this process was not the allegedly ‘medieval’ character of Islam, but the vacuum created by the failure of the socialist organisations to give leadership to an inexperienced but very combative working class.” (The prophet and the proletariat, Chris Harman, International Socialism Journal, issue 64, Autumn 1994)

Following Tony Cliff’s revision of the permanent revolution, Chris Harman absurdly compares Khomeini’s regime to “weak communist parties in East Europe” or Jacobins! By doing so, Chris Harman shows that not only is he clueless about the history and class nature of Islamic fundamentalists in Iran, but he also misrepresents Tony Cliff’s deviated position.

All this is not at all surprising if one looks briefly at another major error in the ideas developed first by Tony Cliff and later built on by his followers. Cliff drew the conclusion that the degeneration of the Soviet Union had led to the establishment of “state capitalism”, and later applied this to Eastern Europe and other regimes where capitalism had been abolished and a planned economy had been put in its place.

Having stated that these regimes were just another form of capitalism, it appears clear why they see no fundamental difference between a regime such as that in Cuba and the Islamic fundamentalist regime in Iran. Here one can also begin to see why they develop illusions in the Islamic regimes. Thus they look at the superficial aspects that could lead one to see Castro’s Cuba and Khomeini’s Iran in the same light. As they both have come into conflict at various times with US imperialism then there must be some similarity between them. Instead of looking at the essential aspect of the way the economy works, they look at the outer trappings.

Genuine Trotskyists have always defended the planned economy of the Soviet Union in the past and what still remains of it in Cuba today. They fought the Stalinist degeneration, the bureaucracy with all its monstrous features, while defending the centrally planned state owned economy. In Iran the system cannot be compared to that of the former Soviet Union, but if – as the SWP thinks – the Soviet Union was merely a variant of capitalism one can understand how easy it is to fall into the blunder of seeing in the stabilisation of capitalist relations under Khomeini a similar process to what happened under Stalin. It is like confusing oil with water. The two are very different. Down this road one can see how the process of prettifying Islamic fundamentalism can start.

Reactionary role of clergy ignored by Chris Harman

Unlike Chris Harman’s belief, Khomeini’s clique has been part and parcel of the ruling class in Iran for decades. Neither the IRI’s leaders, nor its social base have been formed by the “intelligentsia”! The main bulk of the leadership have been big landlords (like Ali Akbar Rafsanjani – the president of the IRI for two terms, and one of most influential and prominent figures today); and the social base of the regime was formed mainly by discontented shanty towns dwellers, urban petty bourgeois and the peasant migrants, etc. Given the predominance of the urban petty bourgeois and the peasant migrants in the early stages of the mass movement, the call of the clergy for “Islamic Justice”, “Islamic economics”, “Islamic army”, and “Islamic state” could immediately find a willing mass base.

The point Chris Harman should realise is that, if the bourgeoisie is in power and the state is a bourgeois state, then obviously the fundamental question, according to Marx, Lenin and Trotsky is the destruction of that state and replacing it with a workers’ state which can carry out the bourgeois democratic tasks. By this logic, any bourgeois state is utterly reactionary and must be toppled by a revolution. But the SWP argues to the contrary and believes that any “enemy” of imperialism in any underdeveloped country, in the absence of revolutionary proletariat, is objectively “progressive” and is potentially a positive step in the process of growing over to the socialist phase.

It is obvious that, if the class character of the state has already become bourgeois (unlike the character of the national bourgeoisie over 100 years ago), then it follows by definition that it has a social base within the bourgeoisie and is therefore also actively supported by at least the upper layers of the petty bourgeoisie. Today, in any of the underdeveloped capitalist countries, in the event of a revolutionary crisis which could threaten bourgeois class rule, one must expect to find in the camp of counter-revolution not only the entire bourgeoisie, but also the upper layers of the petty bourgeoisie, and some of the so called “intelligentsia” are no exception to this rule.

In the Iranian revolution of 1979 precisely this scenario took place. The entire resources of the international and national bourgeoisie, orchestrated by the CIA, were mobilised to transfer power to Khomeini as the representative of the capitalist clergy, to safeguard and save the bourgeois state. The shock troops of the counterrevolution were made up of this layer, i.e. the petty bourgeoisie.

What Chris Harman misses completely in his analysis of the IRI, is the fact that it is well documented that long before the February 1978 insurrection, important sections of the army, the secret police and the bureaucracy lined up behind Khomeini. US imperialism also intervened directly to bring about a negotiated settlement between the chiefs of the armed forces and the bourgeois-clerical leadership, not to mention many of the biggest bourgeois entrepreneurs who gave Khomeini huge sums of money to organise his “leadership”.

Given the broadness of the mass movement and its radicalism, the only way that the bourgeois counter-revolution could have succeeded in defeating the revolution was by “joining” it. This could have been possible only by supporting a faction within the opposition to the Shah that could ensure a degree of control over the masses. This was one of the most (if not the most) important factors in placing Khomeini at the head of the mass movement.

The reasons why the Shiite clergy, especially Khomeini’s faction, was well suited for this task should be obvious. The clergy has always been an important institution of the state, well trained in defending class society and private property. After all, the Shiite hierarchy has been the main ideological prop of the state. Khomeini himself had come from a faction which had already proven its loyalty to the ruling class by helping it in the 1953 coup.

It was also the least hated instrument of the state, because it was not a structural part of what it was supporting. Unlike the Catholic Church, it had always kept its distance from the state. Especially because of the post-White Revolution period of capitalist development, the clergy had been relegated to a secondary position. Indeed, because of this, a growing faction within the hierarchy had been forced into a position of opposition to the Shah’s regime. This could now be utilised as a passport inside the mass movement.

Given the weakness of the bourgeois political opposition, which was not allowed to operate under the Shah, the clergy, with its nationwide network of mullahs and mosques, provided the strong instrument-cum-party necessary for “organising” and channelling the spontaneous mass movement. It could also provide the type of vague populist ideology needed to blunt the radical demands of the masses and to unite them around a veiled bourgeois programme.

To deny, therefore, even today, as the SWP leadership does, that Khomeini’s counter-revolutionary drive coincided with its efforts to place itself at the leadership of the revolution, is to go against all the facts now known to millions of Iranians themselves. To deny also that from the beginning it was helped in these efforts by the ruling classes and their imperialist backers is to misunderstand the main course of events in the Iranian revolution.

It is, therefore, a total mystification to characterise the Iranian revolution as a popular anti-imperialist revolution led by “petty bourgeois intelligentsia” or to state that “They [the regime] undertook a revolutionary reorganisation of ownership and control of capital within Iran“. This interpretation completely misses out the specific counter-revolutionary role of the bourgeoisie and its political tool within the revolution.

The political and economic crisis of the 1976-78 period, which set the scene for the mass unrest, was made up of different and contradictory factors. Alongside the mass movement of protests against the Shah’s dependent capitalist dictatorship, there were also important rifts inside the bourgeoisie as a whole, both within the pro-Shah sections and between the pro and anti-Shah sections.

These bourgeoisie oppositions to the Shah’s rule were transformed as the revolutionary crisis grew and deepened: there was, firstly, a movement for the reform of the Shah’s state from within the top “modernist” bourgeoisie, which favoured the limitation of the Royal Family’s absolute powers and was for a certain degree of rationalisation of the capitalist state. The requirements of further capitalist development themselves necessitated these reforms.

This faction had already formed itself within the Shah’s single party (rastakhiz – Resurgence) before the revolutionary crisis. It had the support of an important section of the technocrats and bureaucrats inside Iran, and of influential groups within the US establishment. As the crisis deepened, this faction became increasingly vociferous in its opposition to the Shah. It began to use the threat of the mass movement as leverage in its dealings with the Shah. The ousting of Hoveida’s government and the formation of Amouzegar’s cabinet was a concession to this faction. The development of the mass movement was, however, pushing other bourgeois oppositionists to the forefront.

This faction knew that, in order to ride the crisis out, it had to hide behind bourgeois politicians less associated with the Shah’s dictatorship. In no other way could it hope to enjoy a certain degree of support inside the mass movement. The re-emergence of the corpse called the National Front and the rise of newly created bourgeois liberal groupings, (e.g. the Radical Movement) were linked to this trend.

There was also an opposition to the Shah from within the more traditional sectors of the bourgeoisie (the big bazaar merchants and the small and medium sized capitalists from the more traditional sectors of the industry).

The White Revolution and the type of capitalist growth which followed it had also enriched these layers. Nevertheless, they were more or less pushed out of the main channels of the state-backed capital accumulation and hence out of the ruling class.

The structural crisis of Iranian capitalism in the mid-1970’s had resulted in the sharpening of the attacks by the Shah’s state on these layers which still had control over a section of the internal market. This hold had to be weakened, to allow the monopolies to resolve their crisis of overproduction. The consumer goods oriented and technologically dependent industrialisation meant a strong tendency for bureaucratic control of the internal market through the state.

To these layers, opposition to the Shah’s rule was a matter of a life and death struggle. They could in no way be satisfied with the type of reforms that were being proposed by the other factions. They demanded a more radical change within the power structures. Whilst the reformist factions vehemently opposed any radical change that could shake up the power of the ruling class as a whole, this faction’s interests were in no way harmed by demanding no less than the removal of the Shah’s regime.

As the mass movement grew, it became obvious that this faction could decisively outbid the others. Through the traditional channels of the bazaar economy, it could draw on the support of the urban petty bourgeoisie and the enormous mass of the urban poor linked to it. This faction had, in addition, many links with the powerful Shiite hierarchy. Ever since the White Revolution, the traditional bourgeoisie and the Shiite clergy had drawn closer and closer together.

An important lesson drawn by a section of the bourgeoisie after its defeat in 1953 was precisely that, without an Islamic ideology and without the backing of the mullahs, it could never ensure enough mass support to enable it to pose as a realistic alternative both to the Shah and to the left. Bazargan’s and Taleghani’s Freedom Movement represented this trend. This “party” was now offered an opportunity to save the bourgeoisie in its moment of crisis.

The formation of Sharif Emami’s cabinet represented a move by the Shah’s regime to also include this faction in whatever concessions it had to give. “The government of national conciliation” as it called itself, could, however, neither satisfy the two bourgeois factions, nor quench the mass movement which by now had gathered a new vitality because of the gradually developing general strike.

Throughout this period, Khomeini was popular because he appeared to be consistently calling for the overthrow of the Shah. But at the same time he was preparing to reach an agreement with the regime. In fact it was precisely in this period that, with the help of powerful forces within the regime itself, Khomeini’s “leadership” was being established over the mass movement. By September 1978, a certain degree of control was exercised which could have allowed a compromise at the top. What put a stop to this was the developing general strike.

The stage was thus set for the opening of the pre-revolutionary period of September 1978 to February 1979, marked by the further isolation of the Shah’s regime, demoralisation of the army and the police, the radicalisation of the masses and the complete paralysis of the entire bourgeois society because of the very effective general strike.

US imperialism and the pro-Shah bourgeoisie were now forced to go a lot further in giving concessions to the mass movement. The removal of the Shah from the scene and the establishment of the Bakhtiar government was in its time and in itself a very radical concession by the dictatorship. It was hoped that in this way the reformist faction, which was already made to look more acceptable, would be strengthened and thus force the more radical faction into a compromise. It was, however, already too late for such compromises. The mass movement was becoming extremely confident of its own strength and the prevailing mood was that of not agreeing to anything less than the complete ousting of the Shah. Furthermore, any politician who tried to reach a compromise with the Shah, immediately lost all support. In fact, even the National Front was forced to renounce Bakhtiar.

This explains the so-called “intransigence” of Khomeini’s stand. By denouncing Bakhtiar (with whom his representatives in Iran were nevertheless holding secret negotiations) and supporting the mass movement, he was strengthening his own hand vis-à-vis both factions of the bourgeois opposition. He was forcing the more popular figures within these factions to accept his “leadership” and preventing them from reaching any compromises without his involvement.

The military circles and the imperialists were also by this time prepared to give up a lot more. There was a growing restlessness within the army. The pro-Shah hard liners were preparing for a coup against Bakhtiar. This would have completely finished off the army and with it the last hope of the bourgeoisie in maintaining class rule.

It was becoming obvious that a compromise had to be reached with Khomeini. And that was exactly what took place. Secret negotiations between Beheshti and Bazargan on the one side and the heads of the army and the secret police on the other side were held in Tehran. The arbiter was the US representative General Huyser, whose job was to ensure that the army would keep its side of the bargain. Major sections of the ruling class had been pushed by the course of events, and the encouragement of the Carter administration, to accept sharing power with the opposition. What was hoped was a smooth transition from the top to a Bazargan government.

Bazargan had emerged as the acceptable alternative because he was the only one who could bring about a coalition involving both major bourgeois factions, whilst at the same time being more associated with the, by now, more powerful Khomeini leadership. Khomeini was also forced to accept such a deal because this provided the best cover for the clergy’s own designs for power.

At that time the clergy could not make any open claims to political power. Khomeini, to alleviate the fears of the bourgeoisie, and to keep his own options open within the mass movement, was constantly reassuring everybody that once the Shah was gone he would go back to Qom and continue with his “religious duties”. Khomeini was thus allowed to return to Iran from exile and his appointed provisional government was preparing to take over from Bakhtiar.

The February insurrection was, however, not part of the deal. Some of the now staunch supporters of the Shah within the chiefs of the armed forces who opposed the US backed compromise, tried to change the course of events by organising a military coup. This resulted in an immediate mass response and insurrection, which was initially opposed by Khomeini. But his forces had to join in later, because otherwise they would have lost all control over the mass movement and with it any hope of saving the state apparatus.

The only way to divert the insurrection was therefore to “lead” it. The army chiefs and the bureaucracy were prepared to give their allegiance to Khomeini and his Revolutionary Islamic Council, since this alone could save them from the insurrectionary masses. It was thus that the Bazargan’s Provisional Revolutionary Government, as it was called, replaced Bakhtiar’s. The blessings of Khomeini, therefore, ensured the establishment of a new capitalist government over the head of the masses. In this way, it is obvious that what appeared as “the leadership of the Iranian revolution” basically played, from the beginning, the role of an instrument of bourgeois political counter-revolution, imposed from above in order to roll back the gains of the masses and to save as much of the bourgeois state apparatus as was possible under the given balance of social forces. The ruling class was as yet in no position to resort to further repression.

Khomeini was, however, not offering all these services to play second fiddle. He was simply preparing for the takeover of all power at a more favourable moment. He represented a faction of the clergy that had been bent on establishing a more direct role for the Shiite hierarchy ever since the Mosadegh period. This faction, in cooperation with the then head of the secret police, made a move in the early 1960s for power, but failed. History was now providing it with an opportunity that it could not allow to slip away, especially given the fact that the bourgeois class was extremely weakened and hardly in a position to put up any resistance. The latter, with the approval of the imperialist master, had called on the clergy to save it in its moment of dire need by sharing power. What followed next in the post-revolutionary period can only be understood if the designs of the clergy for power are taken into account.

In the beginning, the clergy did not have the necessary instruments for exercising power. The Khomeini faction did not even have hegemony inside the Shiite hierarchy. Many clerical heads opposed the participation of the clergy in politics. It could not rely on the existing institutions in the state either, since they were entirely unsuitable to clerical domination. Amongst other reasons, the bureaucracy itself was all opposed to clerical rule anyway. Even the Prime Minister designate, who was the most “Islamic” of all the bourgeois politicians, resisted any attempts by the mullahs to dominate the functions of the state. A period of preparation was thus necessary.

With the direct backing of Khomeini, this faction first organised a political party, the Islamic Republican Party. This was simply presented as one newly formed party among others. Later on, however, this party squeezed out all the others and later replaced the Shah’s single party. Through the networks of pro-Khomeini mullahs, it established an entire organisation of neighbourhood committees and Pasdaran units supposedly to help the government to keep law and order and to resist the monarchist counter-revolution.

Revolutionary Islamic Courts were also set up to punish the Shah’s henchmen. These courts quickly executed a few of the most hated elements of the old regime, but only in order to save the majority from the anger of the masses. The Imam’s committees, the Pasdaran Army and the Islamic Courts, rapidly replaced the Shah’s instruments of repression.

All these moves were initially supported by the bourgeoisie, which realised that it was only through these measures that it could hope to finish off the revolution and begin the “period of reconstruction.” The newly created “revolutionary institutions” were serving the Bazargan government well, constantly reassuring it of their allegiance to it. Later on, however, they became instruments of the clergy in ousting the bourgeois politicians from the reins of power and indirectly dominating the state apparatus.

Khomeini also forced an early referendum on the nature of the regime to replace the Shah: monarchy or the Islamic Republic? Despite the grumbling of the bourgeois politicians, they had to accept this undemocratic method of determining the fate of the state, because the other alternative was the formation of the promised constituent assembly. The election of such an assembly during that revolutionary period would of course have posed many threats to bourgeois rule.

The referendum was thus held and of course the majority voted for the Islamic Republic. The mullahs knew that the masses could not very well vote for the monarchy! It was later claimed that, since 98 percent of the people had voted for an Islamic Republic, hence the constituent assembly must be replaced by an assembly of “experts” (khobregan) based on Islamic law. The small assembly, which was therefore packed with mullahs, had of course a majority who suddenly brought out a constitution giving dictatorial powers to Khomeini as the chief of the experts.

The clause of velayat-e faghih (the rule of the chief mullah) was resisted by the bourgeois politicians, but the clergy pushed it through by a demagogic appeal to the anti-imperialist sentiments of the masses and through the controlled mass mobilisations around the US embassy. The masses were told that now that we face “this major threat from the Great Satan” we must all vote for the Islamic Constitution. With an almost 40% vote, this became nevertheless the new constitution.

Hence, Khomeini’s clerical faction co-operated with the various bourgeois groupings in joint efforts by the ruling class to prevent the total destruction of the bourgeois state and in diverting and suppressing the Iranian revolution, whilst at the same time, always strengthening its own hand and trying to subordinate other factions to its own rule. It used its advantageous position within the mass movement to bypass the bourgeois state whenever it suited its own factional interest. But it was also forging a new apparatus of repression that was being gradually integrated into the state as the competition with other factions was being resolved in its favour.

Contrary to the deviated analysis of the SWP leadership, at that time Ted Grant had a clear understanding of the nature of the Khomeini leadership and the role that it played and side with masses of people. This is what he wrote at the time:

“It is probable that Khomeini will come to power. All the pleas of Bakhtiar that the state cannot allow the Church to play a direct and commanding role in politics will be in vain.

“But once having come to power the futility of the reactionary and medieval ideas of abolishing interest while not altering the economic oasis of society will be shown to result in chaos. Maintaining intact commercial and industrial capital while abolishing interest or usury is entirely utopian. Even in medieval times, when the doctrine of both the Christian and Muslim church was against usury, nevertheless it continued to exist in many forms. It would have disastrous consequences while capitalism remained, on the economy of Iran, and inevitably would have to be abandoned.

“Khomeini has declared that he does not wish to establish a reactionary military dictatorship or to establish a semi-feudal dictatorship. It is this element in their programme where the Mullahs have claimed to stand for freedom and democracy, which has been a powerful source of attraction to the mass of the middle class, and of course to sections of the workers as well.

“But the utopian programme of Khomeini can in no way solve the problems that face the Iranian people at the present time.

“Khomeini has made it clear that he will accept nothing less than the abolition of the monarchy. The Regency Council which has been set up by the Bakhtiar government will not be able to maintain control, or to keep the seat warm for the Shah. Even the abdication of the Shah would no longer be sufficient. Now it is a question of the abolition of the monarchy.”

And again:

“Support for Khomeini will melt away after he forms a government. The failure of his programme of a Muslim theocratic republic to solve the problems of the Iranian people will become apparent.

“The masses of the people have their aspirations not only for democratic rights but for higher standards of living. The trade unions in Iran will have an explosive growth. Already they are mushrooming as workers feel the elementary need for organisation. They will attain a mighty scope in the period that lies ahead. Just as in Portugal, where 82% of the working class is now organised in trade unions, so similar results will be achieved in Iran in the coming months and years. Possibly the majority and even the bulk of the working class in Iran will become organised.

“Capitalist democracy under modern conditions with the crisis of capitalism on a world scale cannot establish itself for any length of time in Iran. The workers have already learned and will learn even more in the course of the developing struggle. If the masses are defeated and a capitalist Bonapartist military dictatorship is established it would not be stable, as we have seen with the Latin American capitalist military-police dictatorships, and the dictatorship in Pakistan.

“Even in the worst resort, reaction would prepare the way for revenge on the part of the masses, at a not too distant date. It would be 1905 in Russia over again.

“But such a denouement is not at all necessary. If the forces of Marxism succeed in gaining support in Iran, then it could result in a brilliant victory on the lines of the revolution in Russia of 1917.” (The Iranian Revolution, Ted Grant, February 9, 1979)

Unfortunately the Marxists were too weak and could not play the role envisaged by Ted Grant. The Stalinists tail-ended the Khomeini regime, creating illusions in his democratic and progressive credentials rather than exposing him for what he was. Had there existed a powerful Marxist alternative things would have turned out very differently. In 1979 the Iranian workers could have come to power, providing the spark for revolution eastwards across the whole of the Middle East and westwards into Pakistan and India and beyond.

Chris Harman, on the other hand, in his The prophet and the proletariat and the rest of the SWP leadership subsequently misrepresent the history of the 1979 revolution in Iran and the class nature of the Khomeini regime. By doing so, they have gone even further than Tony Cliff in revising Trotsky’s ideas on permanent revolution. They have also added confusion upon confusion by totally misunderstanding first the nature of the Soviet Union and consequently the nature of such regimes as that created under Khomeini and that still survives today. Thus they mislead their own supporters and anyone who comes under the influence of their theories and thereby betray the interests of Iranian and international working class.

Conclusion

The main political dangers of the SWP’s position are as follows:

Firstly, the SWP discredits the fundamental ideas of Trotskyism, Leninism and Marxism by revising the theory of permanent revolution.

Secondly, the SWP will be forced to present the repressiveness of this regime as a secondary issue. Thus, in practice, it will side with a reactionary regime which has brutally eliminated the leaders of democratic movements of workers, students and women. With such a position any SWP supporters in Iran (fortunately there are none at the moment) would end up collaborating with a semi-fascist regime against the genuinely progressive forces.

Thirdly, the supporters of the SWP in Europe end up by forming united fronts with supporters of Islamic groups such as Hezbollah and this would make it practically impossible for progressive forces in opposition to the present Iranian regime to enter into any activities with them. That is why the SWP is under constant attack by the genuine currents of opposition to the regime in Iran and cannot recruit even one progressive person to its organisation or ideas.

Fourthly, the SWP will be used by Hezbollah activists in Europe and within the Islamic Republic of Iran to their own advantage to undermine the just struggles of the Iranian working class and socialists in Iran. Thus the SWP does a disservice to all genuine socialists struggling against Islamic fundamentalism. Attempts will be made to identify genuine socialists within the opposition to this dictatorial regime with the mistaken positions of the SWP and thus the credibility of all socialists is put at risk.

For these reasons, the SWP leadership (or other organisations with a similar line of intervention in Europe and North America) should be exposed and isolated. So long as they side with or support the most reactionary regimes in modern history (under any pretext) genuine revolutionary Marxists should not enter into any joint activities with them.

December 2008

[This article is based on the interventions of comrade Maziar Razi at the IMT World Congress, in Barcelona, August 2008. The article has been written for Marxist.com.]

A fellow Pakistani blogger “Grand Trunk Road” has recently written about a conversation he had with one of Pakistani Left. He is amazed to see that Left in Pakistan is putting forward a position that Islamic Fundamentalism is some how “anti imperialist” and because of this reason it should be supported. Regardless of the fact that such a non sense can be called “Left”, this is a fact. Not only majority of Pakistani Left is of this opinion but so called “advance” European Left, has similar opinion about Hamas. This is the result when ideas degenerate. Nothing can be farther from texts, tradition and practice of the Left than these murderous positions. Haven’t we learnt from this exact blunder in Iran? Conceding the revolution to Iranian Mullah’s for the same reasons of “transitional phase” resulted in formation of one of the most monstrous regimes in human history. Genocide against Baluchs and Kurds is going on. Left has been purged. Torture, hangings and murders are order of the day in Iran. Philosophers and intellectuals are either in jail or murdered. Trade unions and Leftists are on hit lists. The GTR article can be reached here

There exists a more genuine and more leftist position on this issue. The “International Marxist Website” has published a series of article against this position. I think it is a far better and correct left wing position that what Tariq Ali and others are saying

Shaheryar Ali

Why Revolutionary Marxists should not support Islamic fundamentalists – Part One

By Maziar Razi

Introduction

The question of Islamic fundamentalism has been one of the central tactical issues facing Marxists over the past few decades. In fact the origin of this dilemma and discussion dates back to three decades ago and the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) in February 1979.

24&25 on flickr)
Hezbollah and Hamas soldiers

Those on the “left” who argue the need to support the Islamic fundamentalists, in general, and the IRI regime, in particular, fall into three categories. Firstly, there are confused so-called lefts (anarchists and radical petty bourgeois trends); Secondly, there are governments, that although in their own countries have carried out important radical reforms, such as Venezuela, or have even carried out radical social transformations, such as Cuba, have established diplomatic and economic ties with the IRI and Hezbollah seeking some kind of third front, an “anti-imperialist” alliance; Thirdly, there some so-called Trotskyists and their allies (e.g., the Socialist Workers Party “SWP” and Respect in Britain) who have a flawed analysis about Islamic fundamentalism.

The first two categories have based their position in regards to the fundamentalists on “the enemy of our enemy is our friend” theory. That is to say, that they are either not sure about the class nature of these Islamic trends, and support them at face value (apparently as they are showing resistance to imperialists policies); or they are well aware of the reactionary nature of fundamentalism but for the sake of diplomacy and strengthening the “anti-imperialist bloc” they pursue a very dubious position by siding with a reactionary and semi-fascist state and its allies (for which they will pay a big price once the essential errors of this diplomacy are exposed internationally).

The purpose of this article is to deal mainly with the third variant, which is best expressed by the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) of Britain. This is an organisation that claims to be “internationalist” and “Marxist”. We have to state quite clearly that the position adopted by the British SWP is based on a deep-rooted and theoretical misconception. Therefore their views have to be analysed in more detail. They claim that the defence of a reactionary regime, such as the Iranian, is justified on the basis of “Trotskyism”. In reality they have abandoned genuine Trotskyism and with it the essence of the permanent revolution.

The SWP does the unthinkable

On the basis of a false theoretical justification (which will be dealt with in this article), the SWP is de facto acting as a “spokesperson” of a reactionary regime in Europe. Their main slogans in anti-war demonstrations have included, “We are all Hezbollah now!” In their newspapers they support the Islamic Republic of Iran without highlighting the level of repression against workers and students which is unprecedented in recent history. Only when forced do they admit that workers are being repressed. Their approach to this has more to do with bourgeois diplomacy than with a genuinely revolutionary Marxist approach. They have watered down their criticisms of the regime for the sake of unity with a whole series of dubious Islamic fundamentalist groups. This process of adaptation became accentuated particularly in the SWP’s collaboration with George Galloway in the formation of the Respect party in Britain. We will look into this later.

In 1994 Chris Harman wrote a lengthy document, The Prophet and the Proletariat, in which he attempted to defend a Marxist position on the question of Islamic fundamentalism. Harman explained that, “many of the individuals attracted to radical versions of Islamism can be influenced by socialists – provided socialists combine complete political independence from all forms of Islamism with a willingness to seize opportunities to draw individual Islamists into genuinely radical forms of struggle alongside them.” So far, so good.

It was in that same document that Harman wrote an oft-quoted piece:

“On some issues we will find ourselves on the same side as the Islamists against imperialism and the state. This was true, for instance, in many countries during the second Gulf War. It should be true in countries like France or Britain when it comes to combating racism. Where the Islamists are in opposition, our rule should be, ‘with the Islamists sometimes, with the state never’.”

Here Harman was already on a slippery road to opportunism, for although at the time he attempted to maintain a more balanced approach, it clearly indicated the tendency that was to develop later, as he confused the “Islamists” with the people governed by the Islamists. It is one thing to be with the working people of Iran against imperialism, it is another to side with the regime itself. Instead, more and more, as time has gone by the SWP has in practice played down the reactionary nature of “Islamism”.

We have to state clearly that the Islamic regime in Iran is a mortal enemy of the working class and youth. However, this does not just apply to the “Islamists” in Iran. Wherever Islamist regimes have come to power they have installed reactionary anti-working class regimes, and where they are not in power they play a reactionary role within the movement. In the past (see the Tudeh party in Iran at the time of Khomeini’s coming to power) it was the Stalinists who depicted the Islamic fundamentalists in a positive light. It is ironic that now a group that claims the mantle of Trotsky should be leaning in the same direction.

On the Iranian regime we can have no doubts about its reactionary and brutal nature. For what has the Iranian regime (this blood-soaked regime!) done to the workers and youth of Iran? In the past 30 years in power it has executed 50 times more socialists, communists and workers’ leaders than during the 37-year rule of the Shah and his CIA-trained hangmen and torturers! In 1987, during just two days, the regime executed more than 12,000 left-wing activists in prison. It has recruited 400,000 Basiji thugs from the villages and let them loose on women in Iranian cities. The regime’s thugs flog anyone who does not observe the “Islamic Dress Code” in the streets. They throw acid on women’s faces. They forcefully enter people’s homes to search for alcoholic drinks and music CDs. They have killed and imprisoned most of the leaders of the labour movement that is demanding the workers’ unpaid wages (for anything from 6-12 months) or basic trade union rights. The list is too long. Are these not the real issues that a “revolutionary” organisation should be concerned with?

The SWP in its publications admits that workers are arrested and so on, but it shies away from looking at the overall situation faced by the Iranian workers over a period of years. It allows itself to be sucked into the question of whether Iran has a right to develop Nuclear weapons

“So what is Iran doing wrong? As a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran is well within its right to develop nuclear energy for civilian purposes and has done so under the watchful eye of International Atomic Energy Authority.” (11 February 2006, Socialist Worker online)

They publish this as if the nuclear programme of the regime is purely for peaceful reasons, when it is clear that the Iranian regime is preparing to add itself to the list of nuclear powers, as a counterweight to the threats of US imperialism. Nobody should have any illusions about this. Of course, we cannot support the manoeuvres of western imperialism, in particular the USA, when they use Iran’s nuclear research as an excuse to lean on the regime and get it to act according to their interests. The task of dealing with the Iranian regime, and its nuclear research, belongs to the Iranian working class and no one else.

In another article we read:

“The Iranian president Mahmud Ahmadinejad’s denunciations of Israel have proved popular in the Arab world. The Lebanese Islamist movement Hezbollah, Iran’s ally won even greater acclaim when it defeated Israel in last year’s war.” (21 August 2007, Socialist Worker online).

This may be a statement of fact, but surely the role of a “Marxist” critique should be to expose the demagogy of someone like Ahmadinejad and not to present him in positive light?

This kind of prettifying of the present Iranian regime (i.e. rendering a service to a reactionary regime), may explain why the Iranian authorities have given the green light to the SWP leaders’ books being translated and published in Iran! We have to remember that in Iran any independent writer, translator or publisher has to get the permission of Vezarat-e Ershad-e Eslami (the Islamic Guidance Ministry) before any book or magazine sees the light of day. This so-called ministry consists of some influential clergy who act as a censorship body (Mr Khatami, the ex-president of Iran, was a member of this ministry). Any book or article which does not correspond closely with the “Islamic” code of conduct is censored.

To the surprise of many socialists and Marxists in Iran who have witnessed severe censorship and even arrests and closure of their offices for publishing or translating any Marxist work ‑ and in a country that has the highest level of censorship and repression against intellectuals and students in the world(!) – many books written by the SWP leadership have received permission from the Vezarat-e Ershad and have been published by official publishers. The major books by Alex Callinicos that have been translated and published in Iran are: Social theory: historical introduction; Against Postmodernism: a Marxist critique; Marxism and the New Imperialism; Trotskyism, Marxism and Philosophy; The revolutionary ideas of Karl Marx, and An anti-Capitalist manifesto. Books by Chris Harman include: A people’s history of the world and Explaining the crisis: a Marxist re-appraisal. In addition, official reformist newspapers like Iran and Shargh have published many articles by these two gentlemen.

What this reflects is the following. While in their articles the SWP leaders continue to pay lip service to the need for socialism, Marxism and so on, in practice they make a whole series of opportunist concessions to the Islamic fundamentalists. Having given such “critical” or “moral” support to the IRI, the least the Iranian regime can do is allow the publication of some of the SWP’s works! It is clear that the regime sees no problem in this kind of so-called “Trotskyist” grouping. Meanwhile many genuine militants continue to be arrested, harassed and victimised.

One of the main leaders of the SWP, Alex Callinicos, gave an interview in October 2006 published here in which he said the following:

“To the extent to which they [the Islamists] translate words into action, as Hezbollah have against Israel, then, on this central issue they cannot be described as ‘ultra-conservative’. Of course, when it comes to social and economic issues the picture is different – the Muslim Brotherhood, for example, supports privatization in Egypt. But even here one has to be careful. Both the Brotherhood and Hezbollah have cultivated a popular base among the urban poor through their welfare programmes, something that one can’t imagine American Republicans or British Tories doing.”

Thus reactionary parties are presented as being better than the Tories in Britain or Republicans in the USA. Here we see how they are already making concessions to the “Islamists”, but this comes as no surprise if we read the following, by the same Alex Callinicos in April 2002, available here:

“…Of necessity, these movements unite a wide range of political forces in common action. The anti-capitalist movement prides itself on its unity in diversity (…)”

“The same pattern is to be found in many different countries. The Movement for Democratic Change in Zimbabwe brings together liberals, trade unionists, civil rights campaigners and revolutionary socialists who are united by their opposition to the Mugabe regime. (…)”

“The best example is the Stop the War Coalition (StWC). As already noted, this brings together people of diverse politics around a very clearly defined set of issues ‑ opposition to the ‘war on terrorism’ and to the associated attacks on civil liberties and on ethnic minorities. The very success of the StWC is a consequence of this narrowness of focus. Its initiators on both the revolutionary and the reformist left quite rightly resisted attempts to broaden it out or to divert it into other issues ‑ for example, opposition to Islamist terrorism ‑ that would have divided and paralysed the coalition.” [Our emphasis]

“The Anti Nazi League is another example of a classic united front. Its enormous success since its inception in 1977 has lain in the ANL’s single-minded focus on mass mobilisation against organised fascists. Attempts to transform it into a broad campaign against racism that, for example, opposes all immigration controls have always been rejected. Such a change would cut the ANL off from the very large numbers of people who believe, wrongly, that non-racist immigration controls are both possible and desirable but who are willing to fight the Nazis. An ANL with a broader anti-racist platform would have a much narrower base. Deprived of its focus on mass action against the Nazis, it would in all likelihood degenerate into yet another talking shop of the type that already litters the anti-racist scene in Britain.”

In the above quote we can see an important element that lies at the heart of the SWP’s opportunism towards Islamic fundamentalism. In order to create the widest possible base for any campaign they water it down to one element, which leads them into alliances with utterly reactionary forces.

Callinicos wrote on the Socialist Alliance in 2002 (when they still had big illusions in the Socialist Alliance, which has since then collapsed!):

“This explains the peculiarly hybrid character of the Socialist Alliance. It is hybrid programmatically in the sense that it leaves open the issue of reform and revolution. To adopt an explicitly revolutionary programme, as some groups within the Alliance argue, would be to slam the door on Labour Party supporters who have rejected Blairism but who have yet to break with reformism. Keeping left social democrats out of the alliance for the sake of revolutionary purity would leave potentially hundreds of thousands of disaffected Labour supporters to drift around waiting for the next revival of the Labour left, or (perhaps more likely) to withdraw into cynical apathy. Far better to draw them into common activity with revolutionaries within the Socialist Alliance, where they are much more likely to be won away from reformism.”

Here their opportunism emerges quite clearly. Callinicos explains how the SWP operate. Since then the Socialist Alliance collapsed but they continued with the same tactics inside Respect later on, making all kinds of concessions to Islamic fundamentalist prejudices. The most blatant example of this was what was later to emerge in Respect (before it split) when its main spokesperson George Galloway even came out against abortion to appease the reactionary religious bigots that were supporting him!

It is clear that the SWP’s position on this question degenerated further when they formed Respect together with other political forces, some of them clearly of a reactionary Islamic nature. They bent particularly to the extreme opportunism of George Galloway. What happened with Respect is a good example of where this kind of opportunist position can lead. In the end, when Respect split, the real Islamists stayed with Galloway and broke with the SWP! The SWP were left with very little as a result and in fact lost members to Galloway.

“Respect” appealed to the Muslims as if they were one homogeneous bloc and not as a minority with class divisions within it. Thus they pandered to Islamic prejudices in order not to frighten the more reactionary elements away. Thus the SWP became victims of their own opportunism. The SWP position is clearly that fundamentalist Islam, or political Islam as they call it, is an anti-imperialist movement which should be supported both in the Middle East and in the advanced capitalist countries. The way they present it in their texts reflects the fact that at the back of their minds they feel a certain embarrassment at adopting such opportunist positions. Their behaviour in practice is another matter.

The method is one whereby very diverse political tendencies, from socialists to reactionary Islamic fundamentalists, are brought together around one single issue, and the “socialists” refrain from raising issues that might disturb the sensitivities of the fundamentalists. Instead of winning Islamists to socialist ideas what we have here is socialists prettifying the fundamentalists and opportunistically adapting to them.

In trying to justify their position the SWP try to use the authority of Lenin and the Bolsheviks. In the December 2003 issue of Socialist Review Dave Crouch wrote an article, ‘Bolsheviks and islam: religious rights’. This is an attempt to depict the present SWP’s opportunist adaptation to Islamic fundamentalism as a continuation of Bolshevik traditions.

Crouch reassures us that “atheism was never included in the Bolsheviks’ programme”, when in actual fact the programme of the Bolsheviks had a special section on religion and also dealt with anti-religious propaganda. The SWP leaders steer very clear of going into the question of religious beliefs and prejudices.

Theory of the permanent revolution

The question which has to be answered is this: what lies behind the justification of the SWP’s deviation or what is at the root of its position towards fundamentalism? The SWP considers itself as a Marxist, Leninist and Trotskyist internationalist organisation:

“Internationalism is at the heart of any genuine socialist politics. Capitalism is a world system, and can only be effectively challenged by an international revolutionary movement. The founders of the revolutionary socialist tradition played a leading role in such movements – Marx in the International Working Men’s Association, and Lenin and Trotsky in the Communist International.” (The SWP’s official web site).

“The central theme of Trotsky’s theory remains as valid as ever: the proletariat must continue its revolutionary struggle until it is triumphant the world over. Short of this target it cannot achieve freedom” (Permanent Revolution by Tony Cliff. First published in International Socialism Journal, first series, number 12, spring, 1963).

Before dealing with the SWP’s revision of the theory of permanent revolution and their stance in regard to Islamic fundamentalism, which is directly derived from this revisionist position, the actual concept of the permanent revolution has to be examined.

The theory of permanent revolution was originated by Trotsky based on the experience of the 1905 revolution (written in The Permanent Revolution and Results and Prospects), and became the basis of the October 1917 revolution in Russia which simultaneously abolished the semi-feudal semi-capitalist regime of the Tsar and expropriated the bourgeoisie and the landlords.

The actual living experience of the Russian revolution contradicted a belief that had been held by many Marxists up till then. Marxists such as Kautsky and Plekhanov believed that only advanced industrial countries were ready for socialist revolution. They argued that countries would achieve workers’ power in strict conformity with the stage to which they had advanced as a social formation and technologically. Backward countries could see their future image mirrored in the advanced countries. Only after a long process of industrial development and a transition through a parliamentary bourgeois regime could the working class mature enough to pose the question of socialist revolution. Lenin also saw the forthcoming revolution as bourgeois, but he went a step further than the others in understanding the reactionary nature of the Russian bourgeoisie before it had even come to power, and hence the need for an independent policy of the working class.

All the Russian Social Democrats – Mensheviks as well as Bolsheviks – believed that Russia was approaching a bourgeois revolution, resulting from a conflict between the productive forces of capitalism on the one hand, and autocracy, landlordism, and other surviving feudal structures on the other. However, the Mensheviks concluded that the bourgeoisie would necessarily lead the revolution, and would take political power into their own hands. They thought that the Social Democrats should support the liberal bourgeoisie in the revolution (form the left tendency of it), at the same time defending the special interests of the workers within the framework of capitalism by struggling to achieve social reforms and minimum demands.

Lenin and the Bolsheviks agreed that the revolution would be bourgeois in character and that its aim would not pass the limits of a bourgeois revolution.

“The democratic revolution will not extend beyond the scope of bourgeois social-economic relationships… This democratic revolution in Russia will not weaken but will strengthen the domination of the bourgeoisie.” (Lenin: Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution, 1905).

However, after the revolution of February 1917 Lenin discarded this view. In September 1914, he was still writing that the Russian revolution must limit itself to three fundamental tasks:

“the establishment of a democratic republic (in which equality of rights and full freedom of self-determination would be granted to all nationalities), confiscation of the estates of the big landowners, and application of the eight-hour day.”

Where Lenin fundamentally differed from the Mensheviks was in his insistence on the independence of the labour movement from the liberal bourgeoisie and on the need to carry the bourgeois revolution through to victory against their resistance. In opposition to the Menshevik-sponsored alliance between the working class and the liberal bourgeoisie – Lenin called for an alliance of the working class with the peasantry. Where the Mensheviks expected a government composed of liberal bourgeois ministers after the revolution, Lenin envisaged a coalition comprised of the workers’ party and a peasant party, a “democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasantry”, in which the peasant party would have the majority. The “democratic dictatorship” would establish a republic, expropriate the large landowners and enforce the eight-hour day. Thereafter the peasantry would cease to be revolutionary, would become upholders of property and of the social status quo, and would unite with the bourgeoisie. The industrial proletariat, in alliance with the proletarian and semi-proletarian village population, would then become the revolutionary opposition, and the temporary phase of the “democratic dictatorship” would give way to a conservative bourgeois government within the framework of a bourgeois republic.

Trotsky was as convinced as Lenin that the liberal bourgeoisie could not carry out any revolutionary task consistently, and that the agrarian revolution, a fundamental element in the bourgeois revolution, could only be carried out by an alliance of the working class and peasantry. But he disagreed with Lenin about the possibility of an independent peasant party, arguing that the peasants were too sharply divided amongst themselves between rich and poor to be able to form a united and independent party of their own.

In Results and Prospects in response to Lenin’s formulation he wrote:

“For this reason there can be no talk of any sort of special form of proletarian dictatorship in the bourgeois revolution, of democratic proletarian dictatorship (or dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry). The working class cannot preserve the democratic character of its dictatorship without refraining from overstepping the limits of its democratic programme. Any illusions on this point would be fatal. They would compromise Social Democracy from the very start.”

“…it will be clear how we regard the idea of a ‘proletarian and peasant dictatorship’. It is not really a matter of whether we regard it as admissible in principle, whether ‘we do or do not desire’ such a form of political co-operation. We simply think that it is unrealisable…All the experience of history,…shows that the peasantry is completely incapable of playing an independent role. The proletariat grows and strengthens together with the growth of capitalism. In this sense, the development of capitalism signifies the development of the proletariat toward the dictatorship. But the day and hour when the power passes into the hands of the proletariat depend directly not upon the state or the productive forces, but upon the conditions of the class struggle, upon the international situation, finally, upon a series of subjective factors: tradition, initiative, readiness for struggle …”

“In an economically backward country, the proletariat can come to power sooner than in the economically advanced countries. In 1871 it had consciously taken into its hands the management of social affairs in petty bourgeois Paris – in truth only for two months – but it did not for one hour take power in the robust capitalist centres of England and the United States. The conception of some sort of automatic dependence of the proletarian dictatorship upon the technical forces and resources of the country is a prejudice derived from an extremely over-simplified “economic” materialism. This view has nothing in common with Marxism. The Russian revolution, in our opinion, creates such conditions under which the power can pass over to the proletariat (and with a victorious revolution it must) even before the policy of bourgeois liberalism acquires the possibility to bring its state genius to a full unfolding.”

“The proletariat grows and strengthens together with the growth of capitalism. In this sense, the development of capitalism signifies the development of the proletariat toward the dictatorship. But the day and hour when the power passes into the hands of the proletariat depend directly not upon the state or the productive forces, but upon the conditions of the class struggle, upon the international situation, finally, upon a series of subjective factors: tradition, initiative, readiness for struggle …”

“The Russian revolution, in our opinion, creates such conditions under which the power can pass over to the proletariat (and with a victorious revolution it must) even before the policy of bourgeois liberalism acquires the possibility to bring its state genius to a full unfolding.”

The 1917 revolution in Russia proved all of Trotsky’s assumptions to be correct. The bourgeoisie was counter-revolutionary; the industrial proletariat was the revolutionary class; the peasantry followed the working class; the anti-feudal, democratic revolution grew over immediately into the socialist; the Russian revolution did lead to revolutionary convulsions elsewhere (in Germany, Austria, Hungary, etc.). And finally, alas, the isolation of the socialist revolution in Russia led to its degeneration and downfall.

But this concept of the permanent revolution, which was previously accepted by SWP, was revised by Tony Cliff.

Theory of the permanent revolution as revised by the Tony Cliff

Tony Cliff, the SWP’s main theoretician, summed up the theory of the permanent revolution as follows:

“The basic elements of Trotsky’s theory can be summed up in six points:

1-A bourgeoisie which arrives late on the scene is fundamentally different from its ancestors of a century or two earlier. It is incapable of providing a consistent, democratic, revolutionary solution to the problem posed by feudalism and imperialist oppression. It is incapable of carrying out the thoroughgoing destruction of feudalism, the achievement of real national independence and political democracy. It has ceased to be revolutionary, whether in the advanced or backward countries. It is an absolutely conservative force.

2-The decisive revolutionary role falls to the proletariat, even though it may be very young and small in number.

3-Incapable of independent action, the peasantry will follow the towns, and in view of the first five points, must follow the leadership of the industrial proletariat.

4-A consistent solution of the agrarian question, of the national question, a break-up of the social and imperial fetters preventing speedy economic advance, will necessitate moving beyond the bounds of bourgeois private property. “The democratic revolution grows over immediately into the socialist, and thereby becomes a permanent revolution.”

5-The completion of the socialist revolution “within national limits is unthinkable … Thus, the socialist revolution becomes a permanent revolution in a newer and broader sense of the word; it attains completion only in the final victory of the new society on our entire planet.” It is a reactionary, narrow dream, to try and achieve “socialism in one country”.

6-As a result, revolution in backward countries would lead to convulsions in the advanced countries.”

He then questions the relevance of the permanent revolution in this way:

“While the conservative, cowardly nature of a late-developing bourgeoisie (Trotsky’s first point) is an absolute law, the revolutionary character of the young working class (point 2) is neither absolute nor inevitable…up to now experience has shown both the strength of revolutionary urges amongst industrial workers in the emergent nations, and their fatal weaknesses. An automatic correlation between economic backwardness and revolutionary political militancy does not exist”.

“Once the constantly revolutionary nature of the working class, the central pillar of Trotsky’s theory, becomes suspect, the whole structure falls to pieces. His third point is not realised, as the peasantry cannot follow a non-revolutionary working class, and all the other elements follow suit. But this does not mean that nothing happens…”

“Those forces which should lead to a socialist, workers’ revolution according to Trotsky’s theory can lead, in the absence of the revolutionary subject, the proletariat, to its opposite, state capitalism. Using what is of universal validity in the theory and what is contingent (upon the subjective activity of the proletariat), one can come to a variant that, for lack of a better name, might be called the ‘Deflected, state capitalist, Permanent Revolution.'”

“In the same way as the 1905 and 1917 revolutions in Russia and that of 1925-27 in China were classic demonstrations of Trotsky’s theory, Mao’s and Castro’s rise to power are classic, the purest, and most extreme, demonstrations of ‘Deflected Permanent Revolution”.”

It is interesting to note the formulation that, “Once the constantly revolutionary nature of the working class, the central pillar of Trotsky’s theory, becomes suspect, the whole structure falls to pieces.” Here the lack of a revolutionary leadership, a revolutionary party like Lenin’s Bolshevik party, is confused with the lack of “revolutionary nature” of the working class. Once one goes down this road utter confusion is the end result.

In conclusion Tony Cliff writes:

“For revolutionary socialists in the advanced countries, the shift in strategy means that while they will have to continue to oppose any national oppression of the colonial people unconditionally, they must cease to argue over the national identity of the future ruling classes of Asia, Africa and Latin America, and instead investigate the class conflicts and future social structures of these continents. The slogan of ‘class against class’ will become more and more a reality.” (Permanent Revolution by Tony Cliff. First published in International Socialism journal, first series, number 12, spring, 1963).

In a nutshell, Tony Cliff argues that, Leon Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution is outdated because the “revolutionary character of the working class is neither absolute nor inevitable… Once the constantly revolutionary nature of the working class, the central pillar of Trotsky’s theory, becomes suspect, the whole structure falls to pieces.” And a new force, the “intelligentsia” will “fill the social and spiritual vacuum”! And the task of “revolutionary socialists in the advanced countries” would be to “cease to argue over the national identity of the future ruling classes of Asia, Africa and Latin America”!

In other words, Tony Cliff very clearly announces the centrality of working class in the anti-capitalist movement as null and void! And shifts towards defending the petty bourgeoisie leadership such as Maoist or Stalinist “intelligentsia” in “Asia, Africa and Latin America”.

This “new” line is not only a break from the traditional Trotskyist position in the permanent revolution, but it is a revision of Marxism as well.

Trotsky’s theory was a development, application and expansion of Marx’s analysis of the 1848 revolution. Even before that revolution, the Communist Manifesto had predicted that because of the ‘advanced conditions’ and ‘developed proletariat’ of Germany, ‘The bourgeois revolution in Germany’ would be ‘but the prelude to an immediately following proletarian revolution’. (Marx, Selected works, Vol 1, London, 1942, p 241). And after the defeat of 1848 Marx stated that, faced with the incapacity of the bourgeoisie to carry out the anti-feudal revolution, the working class had to struggle for the growth of the bourgeois revolution into the proletarian, and of the national revolution into the international revolution. In an address to the Central Council of the Communist League (March 1850) Marx said:

“While the democratic petty bourgeois wish to bring the revolution to a conclusion as quickly as possible and with the achievement at most of the above demands, it is our interest and our task to make the revolution permanent, until all more or less possessing classes have been displaced from domination, until the proletariat has conquered state power, and the association of the proletarian, not only in one country but in all the dominant countries of the world, has advanced so far that competition among the proletarians of these countries has ceased and that at least the decisive productive forces are concentrated in the hands of the proletarians.”

And Marx ended his address with the phrase: ‘their (the workers’) battle-cry must be: the permanent revolution!’ (K Marx, Selected works, London, 1942, Vol III, pp 161-168.

Tony Cliff fails to understand that the struggle of Trotsky and Marx against the petty bourgeoisie in defence of the proletarian revolution was based on a long-term strategy and its objective perspective, and not a tactical issue for a short period. Tony Cliff’s interpretation of Trotsky’s permanent revolution is totally false.

Trotsky argued that because of the weakness and reactionary nature of the bourgeoisie in Russia, the belated bourgeois democratic tasks of the revolution (such as land reform, democratic rights, the question of forming a republic etc.), as well as the socialist tasks (such as workers’ control, planned economy etc,), both fall on the shoulders of the revolutionary proletariat. Indeed, during the Russian October Revolution the bourgeois democratic tasks were completed in a few months. But those socialists tasks related to the revolutionary transition of society into a socialist one (even though they did not eventually materialise) opened up an era of “permanent revolution”: not in the sense of the transition “from the democratic revolution to the socialist”, but in the sense of the revolutionary process of transition to socialism itself and the need for the expansion of the revolution internationally (based on two other aspects of Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution).

In other words, what Trotsky meant was that the two sets of tasks (bourgeois democratic and socialist) will be achieved with one leadership (the proletariat). There is no Chinese wall between the first and second set of tasks. There is no change of leadership in carrying out these combined tasks. Furthermore, the theory of “uneven and combined development” indicates that the two sets of tasks facing underdeveloped countries must in fact themselves be combined historically. This means that, one cannot separate out the two types of tasks into two historical sets and then claim that the first set must be resolved completely before history is ready for the second set (as in the Stalinist two stage theory of revolution). In the epoch of imperialism achieving the belated democratic tasks needs the destruction of capitalist property relations.

Furthermore, when Trotsky talks about “bourgeois revolution”, what he means is that the tasks of the revolution are “bourgeois” (tasks that were traditionally achieved under the leadership of the bourgeoisie in the 18th and 19th centuries). Trotsky did not mean that this is a “stage” during which the bourgeoisie or an “intelligentsia” wing of it will remain in power (because of the weakness of the proletariat); and that the “communists” should defend it until the proletariat becomes stronger in the next stage! On the contrary, it means that what guarantees the accomplishment of the bourgeois democratic tasks is the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. And if for whatever reason the proletariat is weak and not ready to take power the task of the revolutionaries is not to follow the dubious “intelligentsia”! The task of revolutionary Marxists is to patiently work towards strengthening the proletariat by daily intervention amongst them. The “get rich quick” policies, belongs to petty bourgeois and opportunist trends within the workers’ movement.

Tony Cliff like any other opportunist petty bourgeois tendencies within the workers’ movement, instead of helping the working class to achieve their historical and objective tasks, becomes tired of long term and patient class struggle and promotes illusions in the petty bourgeois “intelligentsia” leadership. Tony Cliff end sup by de facto denying the centrality of the workers’ perspective of carrying out a socialist revolution, by revising the theory of the permanent revolution. By doing so he in practice breaks with revolutionary Marxism.

December 2008

[This article is based on the interventions of comrade Maziar Razi at the IMT World Congress, in Barcelona, August 2008. The article has been written for Marxist.com.]

Pinko Playwright  Weds Sex Goddess ,[The Culture of the Cold War: by  Stephen J  Whitfield]were the headlines in Bigoted American Press when greatest Playwright  of the century Arthur Miller married actress Marylin Monro and  soon  was called to testify in what we now know was  one of the  worse witch hunts of history after the Spanish inquisition. McCarthy’s anti-communist witch hunt was one of the worse and most oppressive times in United States, lots of innocent lives were destroyed. Friends were played against friends, Black listing destroyed the careers of some of the best writers, actors, directors and artists in United States. The conflict of loyalties in the McCarthy witch hunt has been subject of some of the best Art and Literature which has been produced in United States and else where.

Whilst many broke under state pressure and betrayed their friends , who lost their jobs and careers, many committed suicide, some brave people stood up against bigotry. Miller was one of them. He wrote “The Crucible” one of the best Play of all times in which he explains the “Anti communist” mania in United States using the imagery of Salem Witch -trials. Pakistan itself had a very oppressive red scare which started in Liaqat Ali Khan’s time by “Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case” where Urdu’s greatest poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz was arrested . Communist Party of Pakistan was banned. Faiz Ahmad Faiz immortalized the moments of his arrest and humiliation for being a communist in his epic Urdu poem “Aaj Bazar mein Pa ba jolan Chalo” “Lets cross the market with chains around the feet”.

Later writer and political activist Shaheed Hassan Nasir was tortured to death in Lahore fort, for being a commie pinko. Numerous writers and artists were jailed and exiled for being communists alleged, real or suspected. Great Urdu poetess Fehmida Riaz who herself had to go to exile vividly describes the sad events in a court room of Karachi where young student leader Nazeer Abbasi was brought as a tortured , broken corpse in her poem “Aewaan e Adalat mein—“. The anti communist hysteria and witch hunt continues , irony is by those who nod their heads in spiritual ecstasy on listening to Faiz Ahmad Faiz “Hum jo Tareek Rahon mein maare gaye” ” We were those who were murdered on dark passages” , the poem Faiz wrote for The Rosenbergs, who were the victims of Anti-communism themselves.

Shaheryar Ali


Arthur Miller, “Are You Now Or Were You Ever?”
from The Guardian/The Observer (on line), Saturday, June 17, 2000

Are you now or were you ever…? The McCarthy era’s anti-communist trials destroyed lives and friendships. Arthur Miller describes the paranoia that swept America – and the moment his then wife Marilyn Monroe became a bargaining chip in his own prosecution

Saturday June 17, 2000

It would probably never have occurred to me to write a play about the Salem witch trials of 1692 had I not seen some astonishing correspondences with that calamity in the America of the late 40s and early 50s. My basic need was to respond to a phenomenon which, with only small exaggeration, one could say paralysed a whole generation and in a short time dried up the habits of trust and toleration in public discourse.

I refer to the anti-communist rage that threatened to reach hysterical proportions and sometimes did. I can’t remember anyone calling it an ideological war, but I think now that that is what it amounted to. I suppose we rapidly passed over anything like a discussion or debate, and into something quite different, a hunt not just for subversive people, but for ideas and even a suspect language. The object was to destroy the least credibility of any and all ideas associated with socialism and communism, whose proponents were assumed to be either knowing or unwitting agents of Soviet subversion.

An ideological war is like guerrilla war, since the enemy is an idea whose proponents are not in uniform but are disguised as ordinary citizens, a situation that can scare a lot of people to death. To call the atmosphere paranoid is not to say that there was nothing real in the American-Soviet stand-off. But if there was one element that lent the conflict a tone of the inauthentic and the invented, it was the swiftness with which all values were forced in months to reverse themselves.

Death of a Salesman opened in February 1949 and was hailed by nearly every newspaper and magazine. Several movie studios wanted it and finally Columbia Pictures bought it, and engaged a great actor, Frederick March, to play Willy [the central character].

In two years or less, with the picture finished, I was asked by a terrified Columbia to sign an anti-communist declaration to ward off picket lines which the rightwing American Legion was threatening to throw across the entrances of theatres showing the film. In the phone calls that followed, the air of panic was heavy. It was the first intimation of what would soon follow. I declined to make any such statement, which I found demeaning; what right had any organisation to demand anyone’s pledge of loyalty? I was sure the whole thing would soon go away; it was just too outrageous.

But instead of the problem disappearing, the studio actually made another film, a short to be shown with Salesman. This was called The Life of a Salesman and consisted of several lectures by City College School of Business professors – which boiled down to selling was a joy, one of the most gratifying and useful professions, and that Willy was simply a nut. Never in show-business history has a studio spent so much good money to prove that its feature film was pointless. In less than two years Death of a Salesman had gone from being a masterpiece to being a heresy, and a fraudulent one at that.

In 1948-51, I had the sensation of being trapped inside a perverse work of art, one of those Escher constructs in which it is impossible to make out whether a stairway is going up or down. Practically everyone I knew stood within the conventions of the political left of centre; one or two were Communist party members, some were fellow-travellers, and most had had a brush with Marxist ideas or organisations. I have never been able to believe in the reality of these people being actual or putative traitors any more than I could be, yet others like them were being fired from teaching or jobs in government or large corporations. The surreality of it all never left me. We were living in an art form, a metaphor that had suddenly, incredibly, gripped the country.

In today’s terms, the country had been delivered into the hands of the radical right, a ministry of free-floating apprehension toward anything that never happens in the middle of Missouri. It is always with us, this anxiety, sometimes directed towards foreigners, Jews, Catholics, fluoridated water, aliens in space, masturbation, homosexuality, or the Internal Revenue Department. But in the 50s any of these could be validated as real threats by rolling out a map of China. And if this seems crazy now, it seemed just as crazy then, but openly doubting it could cost you.

So in one sense The Crucible was an attempt to make life real again, palpable and structured. One hoped that a work of art might illuminate the tragic absurdities of an anterior work of art that was called reality, but was not. It was the very swiftness of the change that lent it this surreality. Only three or four years earlier an American movie audience, on seeing a newsreel of Stalin saluting the Red Army, would have applauded, for that army had taken the brunt of the Nazi onslaught, as most people were aware. Now they would look on with fear or at least bewilderment, for the Russians had become the enemy of mankind, a menace to all that was good. It was the Germans who, with amazing rapidity, were turning good. Could this be real?

In the unions, communists and their allies, known as intrepid organisers, were to be shorn of membership and turned out as seditious. Harry Bridges, the idol of west coast longshoremen, whom he had all but single-handedly organised, was subjected to trial after trial to drive him back to his native Australia as an unadmitted communist. Academics, some prominent in their fields, were especially targeted, many forced to retire or fired for disloyalty. Some were communists, some were fellow travellers and, inevitably, a certain number were unaffiliated liberals refusing to sign one of the dozens of humiliating anti-communist pledges being required by terrified college administrations.

But it is impossible to convey properly the fears that marked that period. Nobody was shot, to be sure, although some were going to jail, where at least one, William Remington, was murdered by an inmate hoping to shorten his sentence by having killed a communist. Rather than physical fear, it was the sense of impotence, which seemed to deepen with each week, of being unable to speak accurately of the very recent past when being leftwing in America, and for that matter in Europe, was to be alive to the dilemmas of the day.

As for the idea of willingly subjecting my work not only to some party’s discipline but to anyone’s control, my repugnance was such that, as a young and indigent writer, I had turned down lucrative offers to work for Hollywood studios because of a revulsion at the thought of someone owning the paper I was typing on. It was not long, perhaps four or five years, before the fraudulence of Soviet cultural claims was as clear to me as it should have been earlier. But I would never have found it believable, in the 50s or later, that with its thuggish self-righteousness and callous contempt for artists’ freedoms, that the Soviet way of controlling culture could be successfully exported to America.

Some greatly talented people were driven out of the US to work in England: screenwriters like Carl Foreman and Donald Ogden Stewart, actors like Charlie Chaplin and Sam Wanamaker. I no longer recall the number of our political exiles, but it was more than too many and disgraceful for a nation prideful of its democracy.

Writing now, almost half a century later, with the Soviet Union in ruins, China rhetorically fending off capitalism even as in reality it adopts a market economy, Cuba wallowing helplessly in the Caribbean, it is not easy to convey the American fear of a masterful communism. The quickness with which Soviet-style regimes had taken over eastern Europe and China was breathtaking, and I believe it stirred up a fear in Americans of our own ineptitudes, our mystifying inability, despite our military victories, to control the world whose liberties we had so recently won back from the Axis powers.

In 1956, the House Un-American Activities Committee (Huac) subpoenaed me – I was cited for contempt of Congress for refusing to identify writers I had met at one of the two communist writers’ meetings I had attended many years before. By then, the tide was going out for Huac and it was finding it more difficult to make front pages. However, the news of my forthcoming marriage to Marilyn Monroe was too tempting to be passed. That our marriage had some connection with my being subpoenaed was confirmed when Chairman Walters of the Huac sent word to Joseph Rauh, my lawyer, that he would be inclined to cancel my hearing if Miss Monroe would consent to have a picture taken with him.

The offer having been declined, the good chairman, as my hearing came to an end, entreated me to write less tragically about our country. This lecture cost me $40,000 in lawyer’s fees, a year’s suspended sentence for contempt of Congress, and a $500 fine. Not to mention about a year of inanition in my creative life.

My fictional view of the period, my sense of its unreality had been, like any impotence, a psychologically painful experience. A similar paralysis descended on Salem. In both places, to keep social unity intact, the authority of leaders had to be hardened and words of scepticism toward them constricted. A new cautionary diction, an uncustomary prudence inflected our way of talking to one another. The word socialism was all but taboo. Words had gotten fearsome. As I learned directly in Ann Arbor on a 1953 visit, university students were avoiding renting rooms in houses run by the housing cooperative for fear of being labelled communist, so darkly suggestive was the word cooperative. The head of orientation at the university told me, in a rather cool, uninvolved manner, that the FBI was enlisting professors to report on students voicing leftwing opinions, and – more comedy – that they had also engaged students to report on professors with the same views.

In the early 50s, along with Elia Kazan, who had directed All My Sons and Death of a Salesman, I submitted a script to Harry Cohn, head of Columbia Pictures. It described the murderous corruption in the gangster-ridden Brooklyn longshoremen’s union. Cohn read the script and called us to Hollywood, where he casually informed us that he had had the script vetted by the FBI, and that they had seen nothing subversive in it. But the head of the AFL motion picture unions in Hollywood, Roy Brewer, had condemned it as untrue communist propaganda, since there were no gangsters on the Brooklyn waterfront. Cohn, no stranger to gangsterism, having survived an upbringing in the tough Five Points area of Manhattan, opined that Brewer was only trying to protect Joe Ryan, head of the Brooklyn longshoremen (who, incidentally, would go to Sing Sing prison for gangsterism).

Brewer threatened to call a strike of projectionists in any theatre daring to show the film. Cohn offered his solution to the problem: he would produce the film if I would make one change – the gangsters in the union were to be changed to communists. This would not be easy; I knew all the communists on the waterfront- there were two of them (both of whom in the following decade became millionaire businessmen). So I had to withdraw the script, which prompted an indignant telegram from Cohn: “As soon as we try to make the script pro-American you pull out.” One understood not only the threat but also the cynicism: he knew the mafia controlled waterfront labour. Had I been a movie writer, my career would have ended. But the theatre had no such complications, no blacklist – not yet – and I longed to respond to this climate of fear, if only to protect my sanity. But where to find a transcendent concept?

The heart of the darkness was the belief that a massive, profoundly organised conspiracy was in place and carried forward mainly by a concealed phalanx of intellectuals, including labour activists, teachers, professionals, sworn to undermine the American government. And it was precisely the invisibility of ideas that was frightening so many people. How could a play deal with this mirage world?

Paranoia breeds paranoia, but below paranoia there lies a bristling, unwelcome truth, so repugnant as to produce fantasies of persecution to conceal its existence. The unwelcome truth denied by the right was that the Hollywood writers accused of subversion were not a menace to the country, or even bearers of meaningful change. They wrote not propaganda but entertainment, some of it of a mildly liberal cast, but most of it mindless, or when it was political, as with Preston Sturges or Frank Capra, entirely and exuberantly un-Marxist.

As for the left, its unacknowledged truth was more important for me. If nobody was being shot in our ideological war but merely vivisected by a headline, it struck me as odd, if understandable , that the accused were unable to cry out passionately their faith in the ideals of socialism. There were attacks on the Huac’s right to demand that a citizen reveal his political beliefs; but on the idealistic canon of their own convictions, the defendants were mute. The rare exception, like Paul Robeson’s declaration of faith in socialism as a cure for racism, was a rocket that lit up the sky.

On a lucky afternoon I happened upon The Devil in Massachusetts, by Marion Starkey, a narrative of the Salem witch-hunt of 1692. I knew this story from my college reading, but in this darkened America it turned a completely new aspect toward me: the poetry of the hunt. Poetry may seem an odd word for a witch-hunt but I saw there was something of the marvellous in the spectacle of a whole village, if not an entire province, whose imagination was captured by a vision of something that wasn’t there.

In time to come, the notion of equating the red-hunt with the witch-hunt would be condemned as a deception. There were communists and there never were witches. The deeper I moved into the 1690s, the further away drifted the America of the 50s, and, rather than the appeal of analogy, I found something different to draw my curiosity and excitement.

Anyone standing up in the Salem of 1692 and denying that witches existed would have faced immediate arrest, the hardest interrogation and possibly the rope. Every authority not only confirmed the existence of witches but never questioned the necessity of executing them. It became obvious that to dismiss witchcraft was to forgo any understanding of how it came to pass that tens of thousands had been murdered as witches in Europe. To dismiss any relation between that episode and the hunt for subversives was to shut down an insight into not only the similar emotions but also the identical practices of both officials and victims.

There were witches, if not to most of us then certainly to everyone in Salem; and there were communists, but what was the content of their menace? That to me became the issue. Having been deeply influenced as a student by a Marxist approach to society, and having known Marxists and sympathisers, I could simply not accept that these people were spies or even prepared to do the will of the Soviets in some future crisis. That such people had thought to find hope of a higher ethic in the Soviet was not simply an American, but a worldwide, irony of catastrophic moral proportions, for their like could be found all over the world.

But as the 50s dawned, they were stuck with the past. Part of the surreality of the anti-left sweep was that it picked up people for disgrace who had already turned away from a pro-Soviet past but had no stomach for naming others who had merely shared their illusions. But the hunt had captured some significant part of the American imagination and its power demanded respect.

Turning to Salem was like looking into a petri dish, an embalmed stasis with its principal moving forces caught in stillness. One had to wonder what the human imagination fed on that could inspire neighbours and old friends to emerge overnight as furies secretly bent on the torture and destruction of Christians. More than a political metaphor, more than a moral tale, The Crucible, as it developed over more than a year, became the awesome evidence of the power of human imagination inflamed, the poetry of suggestion, and the tragedy of heroic resistance to a society possessed to the point of ruin.

In the stillness of the Salem courthouse, surrounded by the images of the 1950s but with my head in 1692, what the two eras had in common gradually gained definition. Both had the menace of concealed plots, but most startling were the similarities in the rituals of defence, the investigative routines; 300 years apart, both prosecutions alleged membership of a secret, disloyal group. Should the accused confess, his honesty could only be proved by naming former confederates. The informer became the axle of the plot’s existence and the investigation’s necessity.

The witch-hunt in 1692 had a not dissimilar problem, but a far more poetic solution. Most suspected people named by others as members of the Devil’s conspiracy had not been shown to have done anything, neither poisoning wells, setting barns on fire, sickening cattle, aborting babies, nor undermining the virtue of wives (the Devil having two phenomenally active penises, one above the other).

To the rescue came a piece of poetry, smacking of both legalistic and religious validity, called Spectral Evidence. All the prosecution need do was produce a witness who claimed to have seen, not an accused person, but his familiar spirit – his living ghost – in the act of throwing a burning brand into a barn full of hay. You could be at home asleep in your bed, but your spirit could be crawling through your neighbour’s window to feel up his wife. The owner of the wandering spirit was obliged to account to the court for his crime. With Spectral Evidence, the air filled with the malign spirits of those identified by good Christians as confederates of theBeast, and the Devil himself danced happily into Salem village and took the place apart.

I spent 10 days in Salem courthouse reading the crudely recorded trials of the 1692 outbreak, and it was striking how totally absent was any sense of irony, let alone humour. I can’t recall if it was the provincial governor’s nephew or son who, with a college friend, came from Boston to watch the strange proceedings. Both boys burst out laughing at some absurd testimony: they were promptly jailed, and faced possible hanging.

Irony and humour were not conspicuous in the 1950s either. I was in my lawyer’s office to sign some contract and a lawyer in the next office was asked to come in and notarise my signature. While he was stamping pages, I continued a discussion with my lawyer about the Broadway theatre, which I said was corrupt; the art of theatre had been totally displaced by the bottom line, all that mattered any more. Looking up at me, the notarising lawyer said, “That’s a communist position, you know.” I started to laugh until I saw the constraint in my lawyer’s face, and I quickly sobered up.

I am glad that I managed to write The Crucible, but looking back I have often wished I’d had the temperament to do an absurd comedy, which is what the situation deserved. Now, after more than three-quarters of a century of fascination with the great snake of political and social developments, I can see more than a few occasions when we were confronted by the same sensation of having stepped into another age.

A young film producer asked me to write a script about what was then called juvenile delinquency. A mystifying, unprecedented outbreak of gang violence had exploded all over New York. The city, in return for a good percentage of profits, had contracted with this producer to open police stations and schools to his camera. I spent the summer of 1955 in Brooklyn streets with two gangs and wrote an outline. I was ready to proceed with the script when an attack on me as a disloyal lefty opened in the New York World Telegram. The cry went up that the city must cancel its contract with the producer so long as I was the screenwriter. A hearing was arranged, attended by 22 city commissioners, including the police, fire, welfare and sanitation departments, as well as two judges.

At the conference table there also sat a lady who produced a thick folder of petitions and statements I had signed, going back to my college years, provided to her by the Huac. I defended myself; I thought I was making sense when the lady began screaming that I was killing the boys in Korea [this was during the Korean war]. She meant me personally, as I could tell from the froth at the corners of her mouth, the fury in her eyes, and her finger pointing straight into my face.

The vote was taken and came up one short of continuing the city’s collaboration, and the film was killed that afternoon. I always wondered whether the crucial vote against me came from the sanitation department. But it was not a total loss; the suffocating sensation of helplessness before the spectacle of the impossible coming to pass would soon help in writing The Crucible.

That impossible coming to pass was not an observation made at a comfortable distance but a blade cutting directly into my life. This was especially the case with Elia Kazan’s decision to cooperate with the Huac. The surrounding fears felt even by those with the most fleeting of contacts with any communist-supported organisation were enough to break through long associations and friendships.

Kazan had been a member of the Communist party only a matter of months, and even that link had ended years before. And the party had never been illegal, nor was membership in it. Yet this great director, left undefended by 20th Century Fox executives, his longtime employers, was told that if he refused to name people whom he had known in the party – actors, directors and writers – he would never be allowed to direct another picture in Hollywood, meaning the end of his career.

These names were already known to the committee through other testifiers and FBI informants, but exactly as in Salem – or Russia under the Czar and the Chairman, and Inquisition Spain, Revolutionary France or any other place of revolution or counter-revolution – conspiracy was the name for all opposition. And the reformation of the accused could only be believed when he gave up the names of his co-conspirators. Only this ritual of humiliation, the breaking of pride and independence, could win the accused readmission into the community. The process inevitably did produce in the accused a new set of political, social and even moral convictions more acceptable to the state whose fist had been shoved into his face, with his utter ruin promised should he resist.

I had stopped by Kazan’s house in the country in 1952 after he had called me to come and talk, an unusual invitation – he had never been inclined to indulge in talk unless it concerned work. I had suspected from his dark tone that it must have to do with the Huac, which was rampaging through the Hollywood ranks .

Since I was on my way up to Salem for research on a play that I was still unsure I would write, I called at his house, which was on my route. As he laid out his dilemma and his decision to comply with the Huac (which he had already done) it was impossible not to feel his anguish, old friends that we were. But the crunch came when I felt fear, that great teacher, that cruel revealer. For it swept over me that, had I been one of his comrades, he would have spent my name as part of the guarantee of his reform. Even so, oddly enough, I was not filling up with hatred or contempt for him; his suffering was too palpable. The whole hateful procedure had brought him to this, and I believe made the writing of The Crucible all but inevitable. Even if one could grant Kazan sincerity in his new-found anti-communism, the concept of an America where such self-discoveries were pressed out of people was outrageous, and a contradiction of any concept of personal liberty.

Is all this of some objective importance in our history, this destruction of bonds between people? I think it may be, however personal it may appear. Kazan’s testimony created a far greater shock than anyone else’s. Lee J Cobb’s similar testimony and Jerome Robbins’s cooperation seemed hardly to matter. It may be that Kazan had been loved more than any other, that he had attracted far greater affection from writers and actors with whom he had worked, and so what was overtly a political act was sensed as a betrayal of love.

It is very significant that in the uproar set off by last year’s award to Kazan of an Oscar for life achievement, one heard no mention of the name of any member of the Huac. One doubted whether the thought occurred to many people that the studio heads had ignominiously collapsed before the Huac’s insistence that they institute a blacklist of artists, something they had once insisted was dishonourable and a violation of democratic norms. Half a century had passed since his testimony, but Kazan bore very nearly the whole onus of the era, as though he had manufactured its horrors – when he was

surely its victim. The trial record in Salem courthouse had been written by ministers in a primitive shorthand. This condensation gave emphasis to a gnarled, densely packed language which suggested the country accents of a hard people. To lose oneself day after day in that record of human delusion was to know a fear, not for one’s safety, but of the spectacle of intelligent people giving themselves over to a rapture of murderous credulity. It was as though the absence of real evidence was itself a release from the burdens of this world; in love with the invisible, they moved behind their priests, closer to that mystical communion which is anarchy and is called God.

Evidence, in contrast, is effort; leaping to conclusions is a wonderful pleasure, and for a while there was a highly charged joy in Salem, for now that they could see through everything to the frightful plot that was daily being laid bare in court sessions, their days, formerly so eventless and long, were swallowed up in hourly revelations, news, surprises. The Crucible is less a polemic than it might have been had it not been filled with wonder at the protean imagination of man.

The Crucible straddles two different worlds to make them one, but it is not history in the usual sense of the word, but a moral, political and psychological construct that floats on the fluid emotions of both eras. As a commercial entertainment the play failed [it opened in 1953]. To start with there was the title: nobody knew what a crucible was. Most of the critics, as sometimes does happen, never caught on to the play’s ironical substructure, and the ones who did were nervous about validating a work that was so unkind to the same sanctified procedural principles as underlay the hunt for reds. Some old acquaintances gave me distant nods in the theatre lobby on opening night, and even without air-conditioning the house was cool. There was also a problem with the temperature of the production.

The director, Jed Harris, a great name in the theatre of the 20s, 30s and 40s, had decided that the play, which he believed a classic, should be staged like a Dutch painting. In Dutch paintings of groups, everyone is always looking front. Unfortunately, on a stage such rigidity can only lead an audience to the exits. Several years after, a gang of young actors, setting up chairs in the ballroom of the McAlpin Hotel, fired up the audience, convinced the critics, and the play at last took off and soon found its place. There were cheering reviews but by then Senator McCarthy was dead. The public fever on whose heatwaves he had spread his wings had subsided.

The Crucible is my most-produced play. It seems to be one of the few surviving shards of the so-called McCarthy period. And it is part of the play’s history that, to people in so many parts of the world, its story seems to be their own. I used to think, half seriously, that you could tell when a dictator was about to take power, or had been overthrown, in a Latin American country, if The Crucible was suddenly being produced in that country.

The result of it all is that I have come, rather reluctantly, to respect delusion, not least of all my own. There are no passions quite as hot and pleasurable as those of the deluded. Compared to the bliss of delusion, its vivid colours, blazing lights, explosions, whistles and liberating joys, the search for evidence is a deadly bore. My heart was with the left. if only because the right hated me enough to want to kill me, as the Germans amply proved. And now, the most blatant and most foul anti-semitism is in Russia, leaving people like me filled not so much with surprise as a kind of wonder at the incredible amount of hope there once was, and how it disappeared and whether in time it will ever come again, attached, no doubt, to some new illusion.

There is hardly a week that passes when I don’t ask the unanswerable question: what am I now convinced of that will turn out to be ridiculous? And yet one can’t forever stand on the shore; at some point, filled with indecision, scepticism, reservation and doubt, you either jump in or concede that life is forever elsewhere. Which, I dare say, was one of the major impulses behind the decision to attempt The Crucible.

Salem village, that pious, devout settlement at the edge of white civilisation, had displayed – three centuries before the Russo-American rivalry and the issues it raised – what can only be called a built-in pestilence in the human mind; a fatality forever awaiting the right conditions for its always unique, forever unprecedented outbreak of distrust, alarm, suspicion and murder. And for people wherever the play is performed on any of the five continents, there is always a certain amazement that the same terror that is happening to them or that is threatening them, has happened before to others. It is all very strange. But then, the Devil is known to lure people into forgetting what it is vital for them to remember – how else could his endless reappearances always come as such a marvellous surprise?

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