SWP apologetics for reactionary anti-imperialism

Eddie Ford comments on Socialist Worker's recent coverage of the unfolding situation in Somalia

Marxists start from the needs of the world revolution. From this perspective - the only one for genuine communists - United States imperialism is our main enemy. Thus it follows that it is legitimate to enter into episodic or conjunctural alliances with secondary enemies against the main enemy. This is an essentially tactical question - and tactics can vary enormously depending on the time and place.

But identifying and locating the main enemy does not therefore mean succumbing to the illusion that your secondary enemies have become friends and comrades - or that you are somehow honour-bound to suspend the fight against them. Let alone forget your programme and overall strategic plan. In the struggle for universal human freedom, we are obliged to do battle with all enemies that stand in the way of that goal.

However, it is increasingly the case that many on the left do not share this outlook. Instead, they opt for the opportunist and utterly unMarxist notion that 'My enemy's enemy is my friend'. Of course, the Socialist Workers Party is more guilty of this than most - and that is to put it very mildly. Indeed, to judge by its recent behaviour it appears that the operative principle of the current-day SWP is that 'My enemy's enemy must be my friend' - particularly with regards to forces of political islam.

This is graphically revealed in Socialist Worker's recent coverage of the unfolding situation in Somalia. In an article revealingly entitled "Defeat of the warlords in Somalia is a setback for US strategy", we are told that "for the first time for many years there is a sense of relief and hope among many people in Somalia" - as the "takeover of the capital, Mogadishu, June 4 by the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) [actually the Supreme Islamic Courts Council or Conservative Council of Islamic Courts - EF] removed a political class of clan-based extortionists and dealers in everything from drugs to people, known as 'warlords'".

Almost as if the SWP leaders were PR men for the islamists, the article triumphantly argues: "Key to the success of the UIC was the fact that it was already an established and accepted presence in local communities, with a demonstrated social welfare policy. Apart from bringing security to areas under its control, through its own militia and justice system, it had also set up farms, schools, water points, health clinics and orphanages. Although the UIC did not initially have strong popular support, there was a feeling that it upheld moral standards and discipline, and had a unifying and familiar ideology in islam. This ensured the UIC received popular backing during the battle for Mogadishu .... But there is no doubt imperialism has suffered a blow" (my emphasis, July 15).

Disgracefully, the SWP is acting as attorney for the UIC. No mention of course of the political ideology and programme that underpins it - which is to impose some form of sharia law on the country as a whole. Nor of the fact that for all its alleged claims to be a 'unifying' national force, all but one of the 11 'courts' that make up the UIC are associated with just one clan - the Hawiye, who dominate the capital but are divided into sub-clans. Presumably, the SWP are indifferent to the fate of those democrats and secularists in Somalia who are less than keen on the "moral standards and discipline" upheld by the UIC. And, comrades, what about the working class and their tasks?

Then again, we should not be too surprised by the SWP's pro-UIC stance. History is repeating itself - but more criminally than tragically. A few years back, Socialist Worker had similar words too for the Taliban - once again feeling the urge to put to a positive spin on a counterrevolutionary development. So we were led to believe: "The Taliban's treatment of women reflects both the underdevelopment of the villages the Taliban had come from and the trauma of the war years. Like every other guerrilla group, they were composed of men who had spent years in fighting units. Taliban leaders feared that their soldiers would behave as some previous mujahedin groups had on taking a city. The war years had seen repeated abuse and rape of women. They said that forcing women into seclusion was a means of protecting them" (October 6 2001).

In this grim passage, the SWP makes the Taliban almost sound benign - its attitudes towards women being merely an unfortunate by-product of "underdevelopment" and "the trauma of the war years". And doubtlessly the Taliban, just like the UIC, were admirable upholders of "moral standards and discipline".

Unlike the SWP, which continues its drift towards opportunist (un)popular frontism as part of its concerted campaign to "make a difference", communists are quite clear and open in our attitude towards reactionary anti-imperialists. While we are prepared to enter into temporary alliances with them, we always remain on our guard and never let up in our criticism of their programme.