A recipe for suicide

by Farooq Tariq

Farooq Tariq is the general secretary of the Labour Party Pakistan. This article is a reply to a criticism of LPP policy on Afghanistan by the International Secretariat of the International Workers League (often known by its initials in French, LIT). That criticism is printed as an appendix to this article.

We welcome the criticism of LIT comrades. We had and will have more common ground working together to get rid of capitalism and feudalism internationally. We also understand the position of the LPP at this crucial period in the history of Pakistan. Only ruthless criticism of LPP policies and tactics at this time will ensure the right path.

The LPP is a new experience of regroupment of the left in Pakistan. There are different trends within the party, but all of us believe that the theory of permanent revolution is the only way forward to a socialist Pakistan and for other underdeveloped countries. A theoretical misjudgment, particularly at this time in history, can close the road of progress on which the LPP is riding at present.

We think that by opposing the imperialist war against Afghanistan, the LPP has taken the correct side in a struggle between oppressor and oppressed nations.

Unfortunately, the LIT criticism of the LPP and the road they have asked us to take would definitely ensure the premature death of a rising revolutionary current under a barrage of religious fundamentalism. The LIT advocates that the LPP fight side by side with the Taliban to ensure the defeat of US imperialism.

“... from our point of view, in this confrontation, the ‘barbarian’ Taliban represent progress precisely because they challenge the imperialist barbarism.”

What kind of an analysis of the Taliban is this? Only the LIT can come up with such a formulation.

Let us take some examples from the history of the left.

Stalinists in the 1930s fought side by side with the fascists to ensure the decisive defeat of the social democrats in Germany. What was the result? The victorious fascists not only started the second world war but also attacked Soviet Union.

The Tudeh (Communist) Party of Iran during the late 1970s argued that Khomeini represented an anti-imperialist force and that communists must join hands with his broad alliance. They did, and the shah was defeated, Khomeini was victorious, and the first act of this religious fanatic regime was to hang the leader of the Tudeh party, ban the party, and eliminate the rest of the left. Today, 22 years after this unholy alliance of communists and religious fundamentalists, there is still no social base for the left in Iran. This is despite the courageous efforts of many Iranian left groups to find a base in the country or outside it among ordinary Iranians.

Is religious fundamentalism an anti-imperialist force? This is a question we have to answer every day, and every time we say “No”, it is a reactionary force trying to turn history back. Their economic views are the same as the imperialists’. They both believe in private property and the right to earn as much as possible. Religious fundamentalists go even further than US imperialism, saying that it is God’s wish that determines who is rich and who is poor. The poor must be patient and ask God to help them. They are the new fascists and are a by-product of us imperialism. If US imperialism were to say today that it will oppose Israel, the fundamentalists would be more than happy to become friends of US imperialism. Its enmity for US imperialism is not ideological; it is the fact that the US sides with Israel and abandoned them after the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan that has made them angry.

This means that the LPP does not see the Taliban and imperialism as equal dangers and enemies. On the question of war, yes, the LPP wants the US attacks to be defeated, and that is unequivocal. But they will not be defeated by the military actions of the Taliban. They will be defeated only by building a mass anti-war movement among the working people of the world, above all the working people of the United States. This can be done only on the basis of a revolutionary defeatist position in the countries that are waging war against Afghanistan, by demanding an immediate end to the bombing and immediate withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan. Such a movement will not win a hearing from the working people of the US if it is seen to give any political support to the ultra-reactionary, totalitarian Taliban regime.

Consider the example of your own experience in the Malvinas (Falklands) war. Siding with the military dictatorship during the war, playing with the chauvinist feelings of the Argentine masses, the MAS [Spanish initials of Movement for Socialism] was able to achieve a mass base. After the fall of the military dictatorship, it assembled more than 100,000 Argentines in a football stadium, a show of strength for most of the left internationally. But the base had some miscalculations and false assumptions. It was not a real base for the party, but a very superficial one, and it did not take much time for history to teach the LIT the lesson not to base yourself on wrong fundamentals.

If we follow the advice of our LIT friends on the theme of “In the military camp of the dictatorship”, we can be popular. But we would have to say, “In the military camp of the Taliban”. That means we adopt all the habits of the Taliban. I assume you must be aware of these habits.

I was recently asked by a contact why, after nearly twenty-one years of the Struggle group and four years of the LPP, we have not won a mass base in Pakistan, while several new groups that emerged later are well known and doing very well. I told the comrade that these new groups are mainly religious fanatics. If we want, we can be popular as well. I can grow a beard, tell people that Allah has given me special powers to solve any of their problems, tell them that I have special powers and can cure any sick person just with my prayers. I could tell them to be patient and do nothing, just pray five times a day and God will deliver. Then I could be very popular, win votes and become a parliamentarian. I told him that it is not because of a lack of wisdom that we do not grow. It would all be possible, but we do not want to follow that road and promote fundamentalism. History is not with us now, but it will change and our ideas will become powerful.

We know very well that we could grow on the road of the LIT’s advice, and we were the first to say that religious fundamentalism is growing by leaps and bounds. But supporting religious fundamentalism is cutting your own feet with your axe, whatever the ideological justification for it.

The LIT comrades are out of touch with the realities and the consciousness of the masses. They want us to work with the forces that killed Dr. Najibullah, his brother and many more communists when they came to power. We had many disagreements with the Stalinist forces in Afghanistan, but we defended them against this danger of religious fanaticism. It was correct for us at the time to oppose the withdrawal of Soviet forces before the strengthening of the revolution, even a deformed one, precisely because of the danger of the religious fundamentalists.

If the Taliban are victorious, it will strengthen the masses in their fight against imperialism, the LIT argues. They got just one word wrong in this sentence: it will not be the “masses” that are strengthened, but religious fundamentalists. Right up until today, we are told by the religious fundamentalists every day that they defeated the Soviets. If now they could say that they defeated US imperialism, what effect would that have on the masses, in Muslim countries especially? The LIT comrades have no clue of that.

But what sort of victory for the Taliban are the LIT comrades talking about? If US imperialism is unable to capture Osama bin Laden, dead or alive, or if the Taliban remain in power for a time, is that what they mean by a victory for the Taliban? Or do they mean another successful terrorist attack on one of the imperialist countries in which thousands more die? Any such victories will not be an international appeal for the masses to rise up against US imperialism. In any case, there will be more US imperialist attacks on the innocent masses of the underdeveloped countries and more restrictions on and taking away of civil liberties that have been won by years of sacrifices by the masses of the advanced countries.

The so-called victory of the Taliban will only promote religious fanaticism, not revolutionary ideas. The victory of the Taliban means oppression of minorities, the snatching away of women’s rights, dictatorship. Non-Muslims have no right to live, but must become Muslims, and even statues have no right to exist under the Taliban. Is that the road our LIT comrades want us to follow?

Opposing the US war is the best and clearest form of supporting the oppressed Afghan nation’s right to self-determination. What does “military support to the Taliban regime” mean? Does the LIT propose that the LPP should start organising to send arms or volunteers to join the Taliban army? It does not follow from this principled Marxist position that the LPP should start organising arms or volunteers for the Taliban, nor should it join the fundamentalists’ demonstrations.

The Taliban regime and its supporters in Pakistan are committed to obliterating the left and the organisations of the working class. It is our duty not to help them. Marxist principles never dictate political suicide! This makes united front actions against the war with these forces problematic, to say the least. In any case, there is no Marxist principle that says the enemy of my enemy is my friend or that dictates seeking an alliance with reactionary opponents of imperialism.

What was Lenin and Trotsky’s position on this? The “Theses on National and Colonial Questions” adopted by the second Comintern congress (1920) stated:

With regard to the more backward states and nations, in which feudal or patriarchal and patriarchal-peasant relations predominate, it is particularly important to bear in mind:
first, that all Communist parties must assist the bourgeois-democratic liberation movement in these countries and that the duty of rendering the most active assistance rests primarily with the workers of the country the backward nation is colonially or financially dependent on;
secondly, the need for a struggle against the clergy and other influential reactionary and medieval elements in backward countries;
third, the need to combat pan-Islamism and similar trends, which strive to combine the liberation movement against European and American imperialism with an attempt to strengthen the positions of the khans, landowners, mullahs, etc;
fourth, the need in backward countries, to give special support to the peasant movement against the landowners ...
fifth, the need for a determined struggle against attempts to give a communist colouring to bourgeois-democratic liberation trends in backward countries ... The Communist International must enter into a temporary alliance with bourgeois democracy in the colonial and backward countries, but should not merge with it, and should under all circumstances uphold the independence of the proletarian movement even in its most embryonic form;
sixth, the need constantly to explain and expose among the broadest working masses of all countries and particularly of the backward countries, the deception systematically practised by the imperialist powers, which, under the guise of politically independent states, set up states that are wholly dependent upon them economically, financially and militarily. Under present-day international conditions there is no salvation for dependent and weak nations except in a union of soviet republics.

Note that nowhere does the Comintern here argue that communists in the colonial and semi-colonial countries are obliged to enter into temporary alliances with reactionary, medievalist elements against imperialism. It specifies the need for temporary alliances with bourgeois democrats. And Lenin (in his report on the theses) qualified this further, stating:

Communists should and will support bourgeois-liberation movements in the colonies only when they do not hinder our work of educating and organising in revolutionary spirit the peasantry and the masses of the exploited.

Such conditions do not exist in regard to the Taliban or their Islamist supporters in either Pakistan or Afghanistan. Thus there may be circumstances in which some forms of joint action or alliances with the reactionary foes of imperialism are possible or even necessary, but that is a concrete question to be considered responsibly by the comrades on the ground and not dictated foolishly from afar.

Because the country is poor, must we side with them without looking into the social character of the regime? I have not seen Trotsky quotes so misused by anyone as the LIT comrades try to do. Poor Trotsky would be very upset by these revolutionary gesticulations of the LIT. We are with the Afghan people, not with Afghanistan. Marx told us that the workers have no country. What is Afghanistan in historical terms? It has been an aggregate of different nations and tribes fighting with each other over the centuries. Is that the history of a “country” we want to defend? The Taliban are the Pashtun tribes exploiting the other nationalities. The Taliban are not only religious usurpers but also national oppressors.

When the Taliban came to power, one of the religious parties in Pakistan, Jamiat Ulemai Islam, said in a press release that it was quitting politics; it would fight only for an Islamic revolution. This is the leading party of the religious fanatics in Pakistan who support the Taliban. It is even more in favour of religious fanaticism today; there is no independent strengthening of anti-imperialist forces in a scenario such as the one the LIT wants us to believe.

The LPP rejects the LIT criticism and urges all the international left to reject this road to disaster. This position would destroy the remaining forces of Marxism in advanced countries, particularly the US. It is a recipe for suicide, and we do not want to take the road of suicidal attacks that Taliban supporters have adopted.

Appendix: LIT letter to LPP

Sao Paulo, October 23rd 2001.

To Comrade Farooq Tariq

From the Leadership of the LIT

Dear Comrades,

In the past years we have had the opportunity of getting to know your organisation and we were more than once surprised at the important agreements we had on several points. However, with respect to the current war of America against Afghanistan, we have an important disagreement with your position and we feel it is our duty to let you know about it.

All the revolutionary organisations are put to the test in this new war. But this test becomes decisive for the revolutionary parties of the countries directly involved in the conflict. We believe this to be the case of LPP. For geographic, historical, economic and political reasons, your country has a key position in this conflict. Taking this into account, the policy of the LPP, the leading organisation of the revolutionary left not only in Pakistan but also of the entire region, may become a point of reference for revolutionary Marxists all over the world and even for a significant part of the international working class. That is why we consider this discussion, which we hope will draw our organisations even closer, to be so important.

The character of the war

When facing a war, the first thing Marxists do is to define its character. You do precisely that, but, in our opinion, you do so in an incorrect way. Reading your texts we see that in your opinion there are two forces in this war: on one hand we have imperialism and on the other hand we have Taliban fundamentalism. Consequently you denounce very severely imperialism and you treat the fundamentalists in exactly the same way, characterising them (and you are right here!) as “... a reactionary, non-scientific movement aimed at reverting the society to centuries old social set up defying all the material and historical factors.” Further on you point to the fascistoid features of that movement.

Based on this analysis you arrive at the conclusion that workers should keep a position that would be independent from either one sector or the other and you crystallise this vision in a policy that goes against one and the other (“But workers can not gain by siding with any one. They can only lose their independent identity by supporting one against the other.”) We entirely agree that workers must have an independent policy. The problem is: which policy? And when we are about to answer this question, the analysis of the character of the war becomes crucial for if we are wrong as far as the analysis of the war is concerned, we shall inevitably err in the policy for it.

It is our opinion that you are wrong when you reduce the war to a confrontation between imperialism and Taliban fundamentalism. Obviously, this confrontation does exist, but it does not constitute the essence of the war. What does exist essentially is that we are in the midst of a war between an imperialist country (various imperialist countries as a matter of fact) and a very backward country (Afghanistan) that is just another victim of this imperialism.

On this topic, Trotsky, following Lenin’s footsteps, pointed out: “All present day humanity, from the British workers to the Ethiopian nomads, lives in the yoke of imperialism. This is not to be forgotten even for a minute. But this does not mean that imperialism will manifest itself in the same way in all the countries. It will not. Some countries are the leaders of imperialism, others are its victims. This is the fundamental division among modern states and nations.”

You will most certainly answer that all this is true but that in this particular case it is not just any backward country, but Afghanistan, ruled by the retrograde and semi fascist Taliban, This fact, however – the character of the regime of Afghanistan – does not change the essence of the conflict nor can it modify the position of revolutionaries with respect to the war.

Our teachers, fundamentally Lenin and Trotsky, have taught us that in any conflict between an imperialist power and a dependent country, the working class is to stand by the latter, preserving its own independence, and that this political position cannot depend on the political regime of this particular country.

Trotsky was categorical about that: “political regimes come and go quite frequently and quite surprisingly without altering the social foundations, without halting capitalist decadence. In which of these two processes should our policy be based? This question is as fundamental as the war itself. On the change of political regimes or on the social foundations of imperialism, that all political regimes share and that infallibly drive them together against the revolutionary proletariat? The strategically fundamental issue is our attitude towards the war and that cannot be subject to tactical considerations and speculations of the moment.”

In other words: in Trotsky’s opinion, our policy towards the war was not determined by internal regimes of the countries in conflict (which changed quite frequently) but by the relation of these countries with imperialism. And just to give an example, he said: “At present there is a semi-fascist regime in Brazil and a revolutionary cannot but regard it with loathing. But let us suppose that tomorrow England declares a military conflict with Brazil. Where should the working class find its place in this conflict? In this case, I, personally, would be with the ‘fascist’ Brazil against the ‘democratic’ Great Britain.” He also furnished an example that had plenty to do with the present moment: “... if a war broke out between Tunisia and France, progress would be represented by the barbarian monarch and not by the imperialist republic.”

As you can see, your policy is quite far from what Trotsky recommended. You do not say, as—in our opinion—you ought to: “In this war between Imperialism and Afghanistan we are in the same military camp as the retrogrades of Taliban” and consequently, you do not claim “Food, medicines, weapons and volunteers to confront imperialism in Afghanistan”. And the reason for which you do not say so is that you, unlike Lenin and Trotsky, regard the regime of Afghanistan (and not its relation with imperialism) to be the determining factor. That is why you are not for the military victory of Taliban. You say “peace” and you also say “no commitment to fundamentalists”.

Trotsky was right

When confronted with a war between an imperialist country and a backward country, Trotsky never defended a policy like yours. Even if it means running the risk of being tiresome, we are going to quote Trotsky once more: “in a struggle between a civilised, imperialist and democratic republic and a backward and barbaric monarchy of a colonial country, we, the socialists, are totally on the side of the oppressed country, in spite of its monarchy, and against the oppressing country, in spite of all its ‘democracy’.”

And history proved Trotsky right. The survival of imperialism is driving the world to barbarism. We do not believe that it will be necessary to go into further details here for we share the same insight. But this being the fact, your policy for the fundamentalists (“no commitment”) does not seem to make any sense. To the contrary, what is valid is to make agreements with whoever (monarchs, bourgeois, and even fascists) within the countries dominated by imperialism in order to confront imperialism. And this is also why Trotsky was right when he said that in a confrontation it was the “barbarian” king of Tunisia who represented progress and not “civilised” France. This issue becomes extremely important today because there is a powerful imperialist campaign going on trying to prove that this new war is a confrontation between civilisation (imperialist countries) and barbarism (the Taliban Afghanistan) and we can see that you, in a way, because of your policy, are falling into that trap. Not because you consider that imperialism represents “civilisation”, but because you regard the Taliban as representing barbarism while from our point of view, in this confrontation, the “barbarian” Taliban represent progress precisely because they challenge the imperialist barbarism. If imperialism wins this war, they will feel free to colonise the world, that is to say, to attack other nations in all the fields and so we will find ourselves closer to barbarism. On the other hand, if they are defeated by the Taliban and the Afghani masses, these masses will feel stronger to confront not only imperialism but also the Taliban, and the working class and the nations of the world will also feel stronger to confront their enemies.

Our experience in the Falklands war

We know that this is not a simple discussion for it is not easy to confront the fundamentalists daily, knowing that they on several occasions—as is clearly stated by comrade Sulehria in his text—solve their conflicts with the opposition by the simple resource of killing the opponent. This fact however cannot become a stumbling block on the way towards Marxist analysis and policies. It is here that we believe that our experience of the Falklands war in 1982 may help with the discussion. In 1982, the Argentine military dictatorship, the worst ever supported by Latin America, invaded the Falklands which had been usurped over a hundred years earlier by British imperialism. This event triggered an armed conflict between Argentina and Great Britain.

The Falklands war gave rise to an enormous controversy in the world left wing. Some took their stand directly on the British side, for, in their opinion, this was a war between “democracy” and “dictatorship”. Others, possibly the majority, took a stand similar to yours today: against Great Britain and against the military dictatorship. Only a minority—we were among them—decided to follow the advice given by Trotsky. This is how our international trend issued a statement titled “In the Military Camp of the Dictatorship” which, among other things, said: “In accordance with the Leninist Trotskyist tradition which supports the nationalism of the oppressed countries, regardless of their regime and government, against imperialism, the International Workers’ League—Fourth International, proclaims that we shall fight, if it be necessary, in the battlefield of the Argentine government.”

But this was not a mere statement. Our militants, running the serious risk of being killed by the dictatorship (over one hundred of our comrades had already been killed) went out to organise a great anti-imperialist movement while our comrades who were in prisons at that time, from their cells, demanded to be freed so that they might go to the Falklands, and fight there together with the oppressing army.

A significant part of the left wing thought that we were capitulating to the dictatorship. The masses, however, who by that time hated the military government, took their position, just as we did: in their military camp. This is how a powerful anti-imperialist movement was created, which outgrew its original purpose and, when the Falklands war was lost, they pulled the dictatorship. In the midst of this process, the PST (at that time it was the IWL section in Argentina) achieved great prestige and this was to lead it shortly afterwards to become (under the name of MAS) the leading revolutionary party of Argentina and Latin America.

LPP Facing a Challenge

Comrade Farooq Sulehria’s text points to the fact that within the working class “there exists a big gap” and that “Both left and fundamentalists can fill this gap!”. This is an important characterisation because that is precisely the great challenge of the LPP: to become the leadership of the working class, which has not been massively attracted by the fundamentalists. But it is also important to see that LPP will only be able to fill this gap if it takes the lead of the mobilisation against imperialism, which, in those days of war, means taking the lead of the struggle for the military defeat of the USA in Afghanistan. If LPP does not play this role, inevitably, what is now a gap in the working class, will be filled—sooner or later—by the fundamentalist trends. If this happens, it would be a historic crime because of what you say: because it is impossible for these trends to struggle against imperialism consistently for long.

There are many revolutionary trends who are right now looking up to LPP. We are among them. We are looking forward to the adjustments you will introduce in your policy and to the moment when you will summon to build a great international movement to defeat imperialism politically and militarily in Afghanistan. It will be a movement to try and turn Afghanistan into a new Vietnam for the USA. If you take the lead of this movement, we are prepared to follow you. Looking forward to your answer.

With revolutionary greetings

IS of the IWL (FI)