From Solidarity 3/14, 11 October 2002
Joining up with fascists? No socialist would ever want to do that. Yet on 28 September the Stop The War Coalition, a coalition led by socialists, did something very close to that.
Stop The War co-organised the 28 September anti-war march with the Muslim Association of Britain. The MAB was given equal billing as demonstration organiser. The march, which would otherwise have said simply, to the US and UK governments, Don't Attack Iraq, had tacked onto it the MAB's Freedom For Palestine.
What is the Muslim Association of Britain? It is a particular political faction among Muslims in Britain. It is aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood, a big "Islamic fundamentalist" political movement in Arab countries. Just how close the MAB's ties are with the Brotherhood, we do not know, but their website links to the different branches of the Brotherhood in Arab countries, to the fundamentalist Jamaat-e Islami in Pakistan (and to no other sites in Muslim countries), and to texts from the Brotherhood's ideologues.
The Muslim Brotherhood are the moderate, reformist end of the Islamic fundamentalist spectrum. Their upfront public profile is built around welfare and religious education. They shun the brashness of the revolutionary Islamic fundamentalists (on the 28 September demonstration, MAB stewards restrained, or tried to keep inconspicuous, marchers from some of the shriller fundamentalist groups).
Yet the political aim is there: a state run under Islamic law, the population subjected to drastic rules based on the almost 1300-years-old Koran and reinvented traditions from over a thousand years ago.
Fascism is not the exact term for such politics, but there is a great deal in them that is similar to fascism. Where Islamic states have been installed, as in Iran, they suppress working-class organisation, socialist politics and civil rights as efficiently as fascism, and women's rights even more so.
Despite what the Anti-Nazi League says, not all fascists are Nazis. Mussolini's Italy was never as murderous as Hitler's Germany. Some fascist, or fascistic, parties in Europe today wear a moderate, peaceful face. The MAB are both "moderate" - and quasi-fascistic.
For sure most of the people mobilised by the MAB for the 28 September demonstration would have seen little more of it than its welfare-and-religion face. Many interpreted the MAB's vague slogan "Freedom for Palestine" as meaning a free Palestinian state alongside Israel, not the full MAB anti-Israel message, "Zionists out of Palestine", which was symbolised on the demonstration by a sticker saying "Keep Palestine Tidy" and showing a Star of David being binned.
To object to the MAB co-sponsorship is not to be hostile to ordinary Muslims who joined the march. Indeed, one reason for objecting to MAB co-sponsorship of anti-war activities is that it will make those activities unwelcoming to anti-fundamentalist or secular Muslims who know who the MAB are, and to unreligious ex-Muslims.
Already on 28 September it looked as if there were fewer anti-fundamentalist Muslims there than on the demonstrations against the Afghan war. There were certainly fewer Jews and fewer socialists from Muslim countries. To say that those socialists, Jews, and anti-fundamentalist Muslims are smaller numbers than those MAB brought, and that maximum numbers are all-important, is short-sighted.
To fight the war effectively, by working-class mobilisation, we must campaign on clear principles of democracy and international solidarity. We cannot do that hand-in-hand with the Muslim Brotherhood or its co-thinkers.
The fundamental argument is one of principle. We reject "popular fronts" - extended, substantial political alliances of socialist or working-class forces with bourgeois parties. We are in politics in order to encourage and mobilise the working class to carve out and develop its own independent political and social identity. We are against tying the campaigns of socialists and working-class forces, on any question, to alliances which let bourgeois parties dictate and limit the agenda.
If the Liberal Democrats or the Scottish National Party were opposing the war, we would be against socialists co-organising the anti-war campaign with those parties. The far-right politics of the MAB only dramatise the general principle, which applies also to liberal and un-fascist bourgeois parties: no popular front.
The Stalinised Communist Parties of the mid-1930s originated the "Popular Front", saying that the working class should ally with "anti-fascist" bourgeois parties in order to beat the fascist mobilisations in countries like France and Spain. Its utter ineffectiveness as anti-fascism was demonstrated a few years later when CP leader Maurice Thorez recycled it as a call for an alliance with "patriotic" (i.e. anti-German, anti-Nazi) fascists against the German occupation of France!
In 1932 the German Stalinists had allied with the Nazis in a referendum campaign to overthrow the state government of Prussia. That was before the "Popular Front" was proclaimed as a slogan, but the logic was the same: seek whatever apparently powerful ally you can to combat the "main enemy" (in Germany, the imperialist system of the Treaty of Versailles).
We have argued the case in measured and "moderate" terms. But in fact the alliance on 28 September was an outrage against socialist principle and a betrayal of the socialists, democrats, workers and women in Muslim countries who are the victims of those with whose co-thinkers the pseudo-left in Britain chose to hold hands. It should not happen again. The German Stalinists in the "red-brown referendum" of 1932, or the French Stalinists in World War 2, are no model for socialists to follow.