Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Fundamentalism, Capitalism and Assumptions of the Outmoded

Two laboratory assistants worked in the genetic research lab
at Tehran’s Royan Institute, a jewel of Iran’s science program.

Not to give readers the wrong impression, but the Revolutionary Communist Party (usa) has a useful response to the International Socialists' line on Islamophobia on their Revolution dot com website: U.S. Imperialism, Islamic Fundamentalism... and the need for another way.

i say "useful" and that's a quality i'm appreciating more and more in reading certain things. The idea isn't that i necessarily agree with a piece, or don't even have specific strong disagreements - it's simply that an article or essay that spells out a position clearly, explaining how conclusions were arrived at and the author's train of thought is... well... useful. If only in giving you something to sink your teeth into and agree or disagree with.

Specifically, in regards to this key position by RCP head honcho Bob Avakian:
What we see in contention here with Jihad on the one hand and McWorld/McCrusade on the other hand, are historically outmoded strata among colonized and oppressed humanity up against historically outmoded ruling strata of the imperialist system. These two reactionary poles reinforce each other, even while opposing each other. If you side with either of these ‘outmodeds,’ you end up strengthening both.
While i agree with Bob's conclusion - that siding with either of these poles means strengthening both - i question the terms by which he describes these protagonists.

For one, the relationship between McWorld and McCrusade - if one wants to use those terms - could itself be examined in some depth, showing splits and differences. While Bush and the neo-cons may be seen as the leaders of McCrusade, the borders of McWorld are unclear. Is someone logging in to check out Youtube in Kabul joining McWorld? What if they are logging in to check out the latest video uploads from the Iraqi Resistance? And what if they steal a few minutes after that to check out their fave xxx website?

But leaving aside that question, i am still not convinced that right-wing religious movements in the Third World represent "outmoded classes" defending feudalism. Or perhaps i should ask, has anybody told these guys that they're outmoded yet?

i think this description - shared by many people critical of right-wing anti-imperialism - implies a certain shyness regarding what capitalism is, what patriarchy is, what imperialism is. Historically, the implication is that for all its sins, capitalism represented a "step forward" for feudal Europe, and as such undermined an "outmoded" patriarchal superstitions. We've been brought up with tales of Galileo and Darwin, of a conflict between a hidebound Church and forward thinking scientist-entrepreneurs, and so we have this assumption that theocrats and vulgar patriarchs are somehow opposed to "progress", are defending the "past", and as such must - in the contemporary Third World as in Enlightenment europe - represent "outmoded" classes. Classes which, as Sunsara Taylor explains, "represent old ruling strata in these societies." (my emphasis)

Within europe though, i am thoroughly unconvinced that this was the case. First of all, capitalism in europe incorporated both the cultural and economic profits of the witch-hunt, feeding on the massacre of european women which occurred under the aegis of the supposedly "outmoded" church. Furthermore, as Sylvia Federici has detailed in her book Caliban and the Witch, the rise of mercantilist capitalism involved the violent suppression of popular culture and a real war against women. It was "progressive" european capitalism which resembled the kind of cultural totalitarianism today associated with "outmoded" fundamentalism. Because all these constraints, all this repression, all this destruction of people's culture, were necessary parts of the creation and regimentation of a dependable and exploitable working class.

(While i have not looked into it enough, i can say that a similar process seems to have played out here in Quebec as late as the 19th century, where the suppression/co-optation of popular insurrection was followed by a period of rapid industrialization which coincided precisely with the rise of a vicious and ultra-authoritarian Roman Catholicism, one which has subsequently and incorrectly been described as an inheritance from before the British invasion. But more on that another day!)

First off i remain unconvinced that groups and regimes as diverse as the FIS, Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, the Islamic Republic or Iran and the Taliban all represent the same class forces. There seems to be a real mix there, one which should not be glossed over just because we don't like any of these folks.

Secondly, are all of the classes and political programmes represented by these groups "outmoded" and backwards-looking? As i described above, i think many people feel that once you've proven that these organizations incorporate superstition and patriarchal repression into their programme, you've made that case. But as i have argued, this position is overly simplistic and glosses over the sympathetic relationship between capitalist economic development and cultural and patriarchal repression. It remains willfully blind to the possibility that within this fundamentalist potpourri there may be currents which represent - at one and the same time - both heightened patriarchal repression and a forward-looking programme of capitalist development.

In the end those who believe that fundamentalism can only be regressive teeter on a tightrope, always at risk of falling to one side - conceding that Group X is forward looking and thus must not be so bad after all - or to another - regretfully concluding that imperialism must be playing a positive role as it is opposing the outmoded Group X. Many are those who have fallen.

Much of the "left" statements defending the Islamic Republic of Iran fall into the first category. It is enough to show that Iran has an impressive nuclear programme, a lot of women graduating from university, a commitment to science and industry... and suddenly Khomeini-ist fascism is reduced to a cultural episode, the brutal repression of the working class is a necessary sacrifice for an "anti-imperialist" State, anti-semitism is a hallmark of militancy and dead queers are an uninteresting diversion exaggerated by unprincipled imperialists.

Similarly, for those who fall into the second category it is enough to show that the united states and israel are fighting against this or that right-wing gang to not only prettify imperialism, but capitalism itself. The next stage along that path is the argument that the left and anti-colonial movements are intrinsically anti-semitic and authoritarian. In Germany this error has reached a point that an "anti-german" tendency has lined up to support Bush's war on the Middle East, accusing all who oppose imperial carnage as belonging to the lineage of fascism.

More needs to be said about this, but first more needs to be thought! These are just some sleepy and unfinished observations that i wanted to get out there, perhaps as a reference to some future study. i will be trying to come back to it all soon enough...

Anti-German "anti-fascists" hold
banner calling for solidarity with Israel


  1. Hey there,

    I tried to post a comment the other day and failed. I really like this post, especially the tightrope analogy, which makes a lot of sense as a simple explanation.

    One quibble, though: I don't think you do justice to the diversity or quality of opinion emanating from the anti-German movement. Lots of these folks are committed anti-fascists and revolutionaries, even though I disagree strongly with the implications they draw from their understanding of world politics. Also, I don't know of anyone in the anti-German scene who thinks that all anti-imperialists "belong to the lineage of fascism."

    Otherwise, though, this is great stuff.

  2. There's some debate on all this at the Red Flags blog.