Being clear about the SWP

What is Alex Harrowell on? He has taken it upon himself to take me to task for calling Respect-cum-Conservative defector Ahmed Hussain a “socialist jihadist“, describing me as “offensive, stupid, illiberal and anti-democratic, not to mention libellous.” Well, I’ve been called worse.

If I had been shooting a little less from the lip, I would have been more precise in my language and described Hussain as a socialist and an apologist for jihadism, but if this disagreement boiled down to pure semantics, it probably wouldn’t have got this far: the essential difference between a jihadist and one who makes excuses for them is a fine one indeed. Harrowell demands I show my evidence. It isn’t difficult:

So the war in Iraq will continue. But what attitude should the global anti-war movement take towards the fighting? Many activists are wary of backing the insurgents, both because figures such as al-Sadr are Islamists and because of the tactics—suicide bombings and hostage takings—that some groups have used.

But as Walden Bello of Focus on the Global South points out, “There has never been any pretty movement for national liberation or independence.”

During the great Algerian war of independence of 1954-62, liberation fighters waged an urban guerrilla war that frequently targeted civilians.

“What Western progressives forget is that national liberation movements are not asking them mainly for ideological or political support,” says Bello. “What they really want from the outside is international pressure for the withdrawal of an illegitimate occupying power, so that internal forces can have the space to forge a truly national government.”

Let’s be clear here: whatever the rights and wrongs of the Iraqi invasion – and I am certainly of the opinion that we should not have gone in, the effect was to remove a dictator. It quickly became clear that jihadists were seeking to exploit the situation and impose their own bloody version of government on the Iraqis, a system not supported by the vast majority. They aren’t revolutionaries, they aren’t freedom fighters – they are totalitarians. The SWP are also strong supporters of Hizbollah.

As for providing proof that the SWP advocate violent revolutionary struggle, do I really have to spell it out? Apart from both the links supplied above, there is the simple fact that the SWP is a Trotskyist organisation. Trotsky was a believer in revolution. There ain’t no such thing as an unviolent revolution. Is that really such a contestable fact? If the SWP don’t contest it, then why does Harrowell?

And then of course there is the brute fact (pun intended) of the bruises inflicted on my friends by SWPers for wicked crimes such as beating them in a student union election. For too many SWP members and other Trots, the revolution part is distinctly subordinate to the violent part.

Harrowell then outdoes himself:

But it’s worse than that; the very notion that, as Graham says, there is a “difference between the Lib Dem opposition to the war and the Respect opposition” is repellent. We both opposed it because it was wrong and it was stupid. It has however been a consistent tactic of the Right, and of the Government’s pet columnists, to accuse opponents of the war of being pro-terrorist. It’s always been easier to push this at RESPECT because its membership includes the far Left, who are not respectable, and brown people. But push it they would at the Liberals if there were only more of us.

Wow – I’m part of some grand rightwing conspiracy? News to me. I’m sorry, but there was a difference between the Lib Dem position and Respect/Socialist Alliance/SWP’s. They wanted British troops marched up to the Hague for war crimes; we wanted them home and safe. They sidled up in solidarity with Saddam Hussain; we didn’t. Once the war ended and the insurgency began, we lined ourselves up in solidarity with the democratically elected government; they sided with the insurgents. We are under no compulsion to join hands with the SWP in opposition to the “right” – in the vast majority of cases, we are on the opposite side. To accuse me of racism (that’s the clear implication of the “brown people” reference) is deeply offensive and a slur I would ask him to retract.

Not content with hurling every other name under the sun at me, he also has taken to accusing me of McCarthyism. How he is wrong is quite instructive: Joe McCarthy went around accusing everyone he didn’t like of having secret links with communism and plotting against America. The SWP are communists and are actively plotting against the British state – they don’t exactly make a secret of it. It is awfully inconvenient to Harrowell’s thesis then that I am not calling for them to be locked up or otherwise restricted, merely pointing out that which is blindingly obvious.

Valentine’s Day, a business trip on Friday and other stuff today have conspired to prevent me from writing the “15/2/03 – five years on” article I intended to. It is sad that this is the closest I’ve come to commemorating what was a very special day for me. The Liberal Democrats were absolutely right to go on that march. But do we owe the SWP a thing? Not a bit of it.


  1. James – I think you may be missing a ‘not’ in the following:

    “Let’s be clear here: whatever the rights and wrongs of the Iraqi invasion – and I am certainly of the opinion that we should [NOT] have gone in, the effect was to remove a dictator.”

  2. “It has however been a consistent tactic of the Right, and of the Government’s pet columnists, to accuse opponents of the war of being pro-terrorist. It’s always been easier to push this at RESPECT because its membership includes the far Left, who are not respectable, and brown people. But push it they would at the Liberals if there were only more of us”.

    How can anyone even begin arguing against dishonest language like that? Change the ideology and he could be writing for Spiked Online.

  3. So your evidence that Mr. Hussein is a jihadi is that Alex Callinicos once quoted Walden Bello. Fuck, that’s a rock-solid case if ever I saw one.

  4. Alex, that’s a tragically weak comeback. Hussain was a member of the SWP. He signed up to a party that has that article, and others like it, on its official website. It is the official party line.

    Unlike, well, a liberal party, the SWP demand much more stringent party loyalty than we do. You either buy the whole damn thing, or you’re out. It’s operations are paid for by people tithing themselves.

    Does Hussain believe all that? That would probably be too generous to a man who appears to lack any fundamental principles at all. But these are the policies he put his name to for years as an SWP member and Respect councillor.

  5. This is exactly the same logic as folk like David Horowitz use; Do you condemn Ward Churchill? Aren’t you one of them? It’s disgusting. By the way, the article by Callinicos you cite (and why are you insulting the man over something he didn’t write?) doesn’t actually contain anything “jihadist” or even Islamic in any way. There’s a horrible degree of partiinost here.

  6. Alex, I honestly don’t know what your agenda here, but bear in mind the degree to which you are seeking to constrain political discourse here. It is a fact that the SWP are a Trotskyist party that advocates revolutionary socialism. It is a fact that their official line is to line up in solidarity with what they term as the “resistance” in Iraq. These are both quite extreme, unambiguous views – it isn’t like a Lib Dem disagreeing with local income tax for example.

    What you are implying would also mean that, for example, it would be “disgusting” to describe a member of the BNP as a racist fascist, not because the BNP aren’t both, but because it is unreasonable to assume that that individual member was.

    On the subject of the BNP, they are also anti-war. Are you proposing we should not criticise them either on the basis that they are part of this cuddly broad anti-war movement that you seem so keen on?

    In the spirit of comradeship, I feel it is incumbent on me to point out you are being utterly ridiculous. Stop digging.

  7. The SWP backs the Iraqi resistance, in the awareness that the Iraqi resistance includes Jihadists. And, er, that’s it.

    I think you’re on very thin ice here. Were you aware that the Croatian forces which defended Vukovar included quite genuine neo-fascists, or that the Bosnian resistance to Serbian invasion included, well, jihadists?

  8. That quite clearly is not “it” because a) they also support Hizbollah and b) the difference between say Bosnia and Iraq is that in Iraq the insurgents are defying a democratically elected government which is not waging a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

    Frankly, the SWP’s support for the Iraq insurgency would be appalling whether it contained jihadists or not (“it’s okay, they’re only Ba’athists!”). Since it does, and since this in the context of is a single, throwaway line aimed at slagging off the Tories you are singling out here, I have to question why you insist on returning to a fortnight old debate. You aren’t quibbling with the fact that I’m right, just that it’s a little disproportionate and is mean to the SWP to point it out. Well boo-fucking-hoo.

  9. I’m returning to this thread because I think the error you’ve made is not only common but important and dangerous, and I think Alex did you a favour in pointing it out.

    I don’t share the SWP’s position on the Iraqi resistance (or on most other things), but I think it’s important to deal fairly with political enemies – more so, if anything, than dealing fairly with friends. So you call Ahmed Hussain a jihadist on the grounds that – let’s go through it again – he’s a member of a group which opposes the occupation of Iraq and the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and supports the Iraqi and Lebanese resistance movements without dissociating itself from the jihadist elements of those movements. You’ve got no evidence that the SWP actually holds jihadist positions, not least because it doesn’t; all you’ve got is guilt by association. And guilt by association means nothing: anyone – you, me, Alex, Vincent Cable – is vulnerable to guilt by association.

    The reason I call this an error, incidentally – rather than a scummy debating tactic, which it certainly is in some cases – is that I think a lot of people arguing like this don’t realise they’re doing it. It seems like a perfectly straightforward observation: Fred is associated with George, George has expressed support for Mildred and Mildred is a self-confessed Zoroastrian (or whatever), so if Fred wants to be taken seriously, why can’t he condemn Mildred and dissociate himself from George? It’s only if you put yourself in Fred’s shoes that you realise that the demands are potentially endless. Do you condemn X? Will you dissociate yourself from Y, who failed to condemn X? You may have dissociated yourself from Y, but why haven’t you condemned Z? And so on. Most of us, most of the time, are in the happy position of not being on the receiving end of this treatment, but politically active Muslims and vocal opponents of the war aren’t so lucky.

    Hussain is clearly an opportunistic Tory scumbag who wouldn’t know political principle if it ran out and bit him; the only good thing about this whole debacle is that it’s likely to damage both the Tories and the rump SWP RESPECT in Tower Hamlets. But even that shower don’t deserve to be smeared as jihadists.

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