Misnamed and misdirected

It was somewhat strange sitting in the February 10 national Stop the War teach-in in London, which was attended by only 75 people, when the most obvious question that came to mind was 'What war?' A majority present seemed to think that if we keep our peckers up, then another war will soon be with us - and with it another opportunity to mobilise in opposition. At least the first speaker at the morning plenary session, feminist Tamina of the (formerly Maoist) Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan (Rawa), was able to scotch some of the nonsense talked on the left about fundamentalism, the bane of life for women in Afghanistan even before the Taliban took over. Fittingly, she started by blaming the existence of terrorists on "the countries that made them" - exemplified by bin Laden's friendly relations with the CIA in former times. Yet, while it is true that imperialism's enemy of today has frequently been a friend or client yesterday, this somewhat misses the point: bin Laden's reactionary ideology was formed in Saudi Arabia within the Wahabi religious tradition, no matter how the west might have petted him later. Tamina also seemed to go along with the Pakistani military government's so far verbal attack on the medressahs (religious schools in Afghan refugee camps) to the extent that these were "where more and more terrorists are trained "¦ they must be stopped". As for the interim government in Afghanistan, Tamina was not hopeful: Karzai may not be a fundamentalist, but most of those in his cabinet are; these Northern Alliance criminals are misogynist and anti-democratic, so real western anti-terrorist measures should have included suppressing the Northern Alliance too. In response to a question from the floor, Tamina declared that Rawa did not and could not have any demands on the interim government: it was for the "international community" to cleanse the government of fundamentalists first and in the meantime Rawa would wait and see what the imminent Grand Assembly did. Floor speakers raised the tired and discredited point that using the word 'fundamentalist' was problematic because it meant demonising muslims as a whole; it seems they are unable to differentiate between ordinary religious people and followers of a counterrevolutionary political tendency. These comrades seemed to think that those engaging in reactionary politics in the name of religion could safely be ignored - unless of course they are courted as potentially progressive, anti-imperialist allies. Clearly, fundamentalism harks back to an imagined past and aims to force people to live according to ritual practices, which is thoroughly reactionary and must be opposed firmly by revolutionaries. Tamina, as someone who has had to deal with fundamentalism first hand, had no problem calling it by its proper name and condemning it without hesitation. She gave Rawa's definition as "any organisation or element that is anti-democratic, anti-women "¦ terrorist "¦" And she considered the Northern Alliance to be as fundamentalist as the Taliban. More floor speakers were worried about condemning the medressahs, which they said provided otherwise non-existent education for the poorest. Surely these comrades would not be in favour of the BNP setting up its own schools or other facilities in deprived areas of the UK. Anyway, Tamina responded by reporting that Rawa had set up completely secular schools - one of which she had attended - in the Afghan refugee camps. Although Tariq Ali, Louise Christian, Suresh Grover, George Monbiot "and many more!" were billed to speak at the teach-in, only Bernard Regan had arrived by lunchtime, so he had the dubious honour of holding the fort for the rest of the morning plenary session. Perhaps the absent individuals think that the anti-war movement is relying more on SWP hysteria than solid analysis. Who can blame them? Comrade Regan, a supporter of The Militant in the USA, was introduced as a prominent member of the National Union of Teachers active in solidarity campaigns with Palestine and Cuba. He urged those attending not to be discouraged, as the situation facing us now compared to the end of last year. He wisely noted that the March 2 anti-war demonstration, which is still in process of being organised under the Stop the War banner, "won't have so many". He ain't kidding, despite Socialist Workers Party comrades' subsequent 'official optimism'. In fact, the danger is that numbers will be reduced to a few thousand, largely made up of the SWP and its periphery. Bernard was keen to suggest that the September 11 attacks gave the USA a splendid excuse to accelerate implementation of current aspects of its state policy. He identified imperialist interest in Afghanistan primarily in economic terms: looking at its natural resources such as minerals (which are, of course, present elsewhere in the world and more easily exploited) and the building of an oil line (which stands very little chance of happening). And in hopeful vein, he thought that the western coalition "may not hold" due to "inter-imperialist rivalries", considering that "this whole venture by the United States is driven in part by the situation in the USA". He gave Enron and K-Mart as examples of this crisis driving the US to war on Afghanistan. While economic growth in the USA was large, said Bernard, this was based on "paper speculation, paper exercises" of "fictitious capital". This will "lead to colossal crashes with disastrous consequences for workers across the globe". Continuing the theme, Bernard called the US military the "armed wing of the World Trade Organisation", asserting: "America will brook no opposition to its economic self-interest." After giving a brief plug for a projected demonstration in May in solidarity with the Palestinian people, comrade Regan swiftly changed hats and banged on about how courageous the Cuban position was in relation to opposing the war on terrorism. He concluded by condemning the Labour Party and trade union lack of opposition to the war and pointed out the ease with which attacks on civil liberties could be made as a consequence. SWP leaders, including John Rees and Lindsey German, who spoke from the floor, challenged none of what Bernard had said. These and other floor speakers padded out the proceedings until the lunch break. One surprising contributor who popped up was Gordon McLennan, former general secretary of the 'official' CPGB, who introduced himself as a pensioners' activist, a role he declared to be more important than his previous one (thanks, Gordon, we wondered what went wrong). In reality, the teach-in had nothing to do with an ongoing political process in Afghanistan, but was all about imperialism - by which the majority seemd to mean US foreign policy, not a phase, the final phase, in the development of the capitalist system and a prelude to global communism. But that is another story . Jim Gilbert and Phil Kent