The SWP have had another go at theorising their opportunism by appealing to the classics. In the 4 March issue of Socialist Worker, Anindya Bhattacharyya claims that the SWP’s attitude to Muslims and Islam as a religion mirrors the approach Marx outlined in his famous essay On the Jewish Question. According to Bhattacharyya, the opposition to civil rights for religious Jewish people by philosopher Bruno Bauer which was the primary target of Marx’s polemic “prefigure[s] the arguments put by some today for downplaying, ignoring or colluding with Islamophobia”.
Who is being talked about here? Later in the article, we are told: “Contrary to the claims of pro-war secular liberals, Marx did not consider belief in the free market and the worship of private property to be in any way superior to religious thinking.” This garbles everything. We are not told what is meant by “superior to”, or by “religious thinking”: the result is a sentence which distorts the facts, but is difficult to critique without looking like a gung-ho neo-liberal.
In fact, Marx opposed both capitalism’s worship of private property and backward-looking alternatives to it in the name of consistent democracy and human solidarity. At the same time — and this is what Bhattacharyya fails to acknowledge — he did regard capitalist society as a step forward from the patriarchal social relations of which medieval religion was a central part, because capitalism contains within it the seeds of a different, more democratic society.
What is the SWP’s answer to those who criticise religious medievalism not, like the B52 liberals, because they support capitalism, but because, like Marx, they support a positive socialist alternative?
Moreover, does Bhattacharyya really think that we have laws in Britain which openly discriminate against Muslims, denying them civil rights on the basis of their religion in the same way that the Prussian state treated Jews? Or that anyone on the left, pro-war or not, advocates such a thing? The SWP’s ludicrous attempts to find a authority for their pandering to religious obscurantism in Marx will weaken rather than strengthen the real fight against racism in Britain.