Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

SWP Backs ‘Revolutionary’ Moslem Brotherhood and Faces Torrent of Criticism.

with 22 comments

The Moslem Brotherhood: What a Logo!

“Socialists cannot give support to the Islamists either. That would be to call for the swapping of one form of oppression for another, to react to the violence of the state by abandoning the defence of ethnic and religious minorities, women and gays, to collude in scapegoating that makes it possible for capitalist exploitation to continue unchecked providing it takes “Islamic” forms. It would be to abandon the goal of independent socialist politics, based on workers in struggle organising all the oppressed and exploited behind them, for a tail-ending of a petty bourgeois utopianism which cannot even succeed in its own terms.”

Chris Harman.  The Prophet and the Proletariat. 1994.

Controversy has been growing on the left about the SWP’s present support for the Egyptian Moslem Brotherhood. Many are familiar with its history of vicious anti-Semitism, hatred of the workers movement, religious bigotry, anti-communism, anti-feminism, and opposition to secularism.

In Socialist Appeal Alan Woods said that the SWP’s Egyptian co-thinkers (Revolutionary Socialists Group) had issued a statement giving qualified support for Mohammed Morsi of the MB.

“This article is so scandalous that I had to read it twice and look up the SWP website to make sure it was not a hoax. But no, it is not a hoax. The Egyptian Revolutionary Socialists (Cliffites) are supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in the second round of the elections and calling them to form a broad national unity government against “fascism”.”

The Alliance for Workers Liberty has said this (Neither Plague nor Cholera),

The MB is not a new, fluid formation created by the uprising against Mubarak. Far from it. It has a long history, going back to 1928. In 1946 Tony Cliff, who would later found the SWP, called it “clerical-fascist”: that is how most left-wingers thought of it.

In the 1960s, with the contribution to its ideology of Sayyid Qutb, it became more, not less, insistent on imposing the rules and institutions of an imaginary ideal Islamic past on workers, women, lesbians and gays, free-thinkers, and religious minorities.

Illegal or semi-legal for many years in Egypt, and well-rooted now in the wealthy classes, it has learned canniness and tactical flexibility. It knows when and how to display itself as “moderate”.

They conclude,

Neither Mubarak’s henchman, nor the Muslim Brothers, but independent working class politics!”

But the SWP has continued on the path 0f aligning with the MB.

They announced this week that,

The Muslim Brotherhood represents the right wing of the revolution. It is not the counter-revolution.

It saw the fall of Mubarak as an opportunity to work with Scaf so the Muslim Brotherhood could take a role in government.

So since 11 February 2011 the Brotherhood has been a conservative organisation. But Shafiq is the counter-revolution.

That is why we are mobilising for protests against the military coup alongside the Brotherhood. Most political forces are taking part.

Says Socialist Worker.

Counterfire’s John Rees similarly talks as if the Muslim Brotherhood are some kind of (partially misguided) allies,

The left must now say to the Muslim Brotherhood that the time for turning every event in the revolution to their electoral advantage, no matter what the effect on the fate of the revolution as a whole, is over.

The revolution is at stake and it will take more than a vote for Morsi to defend it. Now is the time for all those who are genuinely in favour of the revolution to make a stand. And that stand must begin in Tahrir. Now.

Jack Conrad of the Weekly Worker (A blunder of historic proportions) says,

“Voting for the Muslim Brotherhood was a vote for a party of counterrevolution, not the revolution.”

He  traces the background to this stand by the SWP.

What was the basis of their call to vote for Mursi?

Sadly, for the Socialist Workers Party the choice was immediately “clear”: Mohammed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood had to be supported. “A vote for Mursi is a vote against the legacy of Mubarak and for continuing change in Egypt. Now it is time to put Mursi to the test – and to continue struggles over jobs, wages, union rights and for radical political change,” wrote Socialist Worker’s Phil Marfleet.

Conrad  offers a fine analysis of the founding figures of the MB such as Hassan al-Banna (1906-47) – Tariq Ramadan’s grandfather. Under him the “MB was run according to the Führerprinzip (‘leader principle’) and Al-Banna openly expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. He looks at its purist ideology and  political history. Conrad says, “Winning hearts and minds has always been seen as a necessary precondition for re-establishing the caliphate: first in Egypt and other Muslim countries, eventually over the whole globe.”

This is a strategy, we have argued, with echos on the European Nouvelle Droite, of a Gramscianism of the Right. That is  struggle for hegemony in civil society in order to create a coercive society from ‘micro-powers’ that will regulate first the faithful, and then all society.

For the Weekly Worker, the “MB pays lip service to democracy. However, a fully consolidated MB regime would be an MB dictatorship with all that that would entail for independent trade unions, a free press, women’s rights, the Coptic minority, etc. Moreover, almost needless to say, an MB regime would not combine Islam and socialism, but Islam and monopoly capitalism. MB voices advocating egalitarianism have been bureaucratically silenced over recent years. Mursi explicitly pledged himself to preserve the so-called “free market” and rescue the tottering Egyptian economy by drawing on the $3.2 billion International Monetary Fund loan facility (agreed with MB participation). Naturally, MB’s present-day economic ‘renaissance’ would involve restructuring according to Islamic principles – in truth that can only mean further privatisations, further cuts and further suffering by the Egyptian masses.”

Our own analysis parallels this (The Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic Constitutionalism 2011)

After looking at various tendencies within the MB and their developing positions on democracy,  the conclusion is that,

“The modernised, Constitutional Islamism they represent is not fundamentally democratic, it is bounded by the limits of the Divine Message. One can see the importance this plays in the MB’s priorities by their absence from the workers’ struggles that have been waged against the economic projects of the Mubarak regime, aimed at furthering the liberalisation of the economy. This is equally the case for the liberal opposition, which indeed has pushed for an even more aggressive turn to the privatised market-state. Those liberals, who originate from the Judges’ Club, and those MB members committed to a democratic framework, are temporary partners with the left, on the great issue of Egyptian revolutionary reform. Any convergence, as Yassamine Mathar argues,  is temporary. They are not allies on the substance of a social republic, which is both open to all, and secular, and the bearer of the rights of the people and workers against the sovereignty of god and the market. Worse, such collaboration in Egypt stands in the way of the international labour and socialist movement, whose interests are opposed to Islamism in all its forms.”

Comrade Conrad answers those who admire the Muslim Brotherhood’s ‘charitable’ activities, that make part of the Egyptian population dependent on their religious good will,

“thanks to their wealth and Saudi patronage, MB can provide a non-state, alternative system of healthcare, social security, religious education and source of credit in Egypt.”

In other words, the MB uses money to bind people to not just faith but its project of protecting the source of that wealth: capitalism.

His alternative?

“The forces of the working class, socialism and communism are pitifully weak in Egypt. But to have called for a vote for Mursi and an MB-dominated government can do nothing to strengthen those forces. The working class cannot gain strength by opting for the lesser evil – let alone tying itself to MB in the hope that it will, almost in spite of itself, create the benign conditions needed to continue the fight for better living conditions, trade union rights and radical democratic change.”

The SWP’s support for Islamism in Egypt may have little practical effect on the country’s politics. Major conflicts are taking place there and it would perhaps, in our view, be best to support, simply and modestly, the demands comrade Comrade Conrad suggests. That is putting democracy and the labour movement at the centre. We might, if we are on the democratic Marxist left, consider the independent  revolutionary bloc said to be forming – completely 0utside the Muslim Brotherhood – around the Nassarist Hamdeen Sabbah.

But what of the wider implications of the SWP stand? Does this mean that in other conditions the SWP is prepared to support right-wing Islamists? In Europe? Are these part of a potential ‘revolution’? Can we ignore their anti-democratic character because in some fashion they are part of a ‘movement’ against the state? Against ‘imperialism’?

Looking at the rich backers of the Moslem Brotherhood and other Islamists – including the most ‘radical’ Salafists’ – and we can see that this is an alliance with pious Islamic capitalism. Not a united front that has anything to do with workers and progressive movements.

Unkind people may apply Conrad’s analysis of submission to Islamic law to the SWP’s subordination to the MB,

psychologists have long claimed that sadomasochistic pleasure can be gained from submitting to and/or enforcing authority: “the first defining trait of a sadomasochistic dynamic” being the “existence of a hierarchical situation”.

Nobody else gets much joy out of this stand.

Update: Shiraz Socialist carries an interesting debate from the American (former) allies of the British SWP on this.

Written by Andrew Coates

June 22, 2012 at 10:52 am

22 Responses

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  1. More criticism of the SWP’s position: http://www.militantstudent.com/international/439-egypt-revolutionary-socialists-egyptian-elections-marxism-opportunism (Thanks Jim).

    “Far from defending a revolutionary, or even a progressive democratic standpoint, the Muslim Brothers stand for a reactionary, anti-working class policy mixed up with the worst kind of religious obscurantism. Morsi, the Brotherhood’s candidate, claims to be the only true Islamist in the race and has declared that his party platform amounts to a distillation of Islam itself. The NYT reports that, after an initial attempt to appear moderate, the MB campaign appeals sharply to the right”

    Andrew Coates

    June 22, 2012 at 4:09 pm

  2. sometimes, I am tempted to use a Freudian approach to explain the antics of the SWP


    June 22, 2012 at 4:38 pm

    • Todestrieb (Death Drive), or not, the SWP seems usually to confine itself to supporting irrelevant small groups (as they have in the present Greek crisis) which nobody cares about anyway.

      The present move seems to be conducted under the illusion – pretty blatent with ex-SWP Rees – that they should become real ‘players’ in a revolutionary situation. Failing that they can pretend and act as if they are.

      Oh and more generally, FYI comrades, if this post is cross-posted elsewhere (you know where) this is on the Coatesite principle that information and comment is free.

      We have no fear of freedom. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fear_of_Freedom)

      Andrew Coates

      June 22, 2012 at 5:14 pm

  3. Nice logo but I prefer the Salvation Army’s logo.


    June 22, 2012 at 9:09 pm

  4. Clearly your lash-up with Harry’s Place (we know where, but you seem embarrassed to mention by name) is a sign that you want neo-con scumbags to fuck the Left in every available orifice. You are a fuckwit (I would normally find this impermissibly impolite a comment to leave on someone’s blog about them, but I can’t think of any other appropriate response.Sorry).

    The Economist has a similar position, though wishing to tame the Muslim Brotherhood for capitalism, rather than exposing it in front of the workers. Are they BDSM freaks, or does this just prove that the SWP are hired agents of capital (given that you wouldn’t draw the rational conclusion, that you’re on the side of those who don’t give a shit about democracy)?

    It’s good that the SWP’s long engagement with the Egyptian left means that they have a good understanding of the dynamic operating there, and we don’t have to rely an your Islamophobic friends at Harry’s Place (and elsewhere, obviously) to interpret events.


    June 23, 2012 at 11:35 am

    • Thank you Skid, your comment, with its interest in both genital and anal sex, is a tribute to the SWP.

      Andrew Coates

      June 23, 2012 at 12:44 pm

  5. Andrew far be it for me actually defend a Trot sect-but being criticised by the AWL is hardy unusual, for such an ineffective organisation they do seem to excel at attacking everything that every other left grouping does, and as for the CPGB, they seem to see themselves as a rival for the AWL’s throne but with a little more humour thrown in- apart from when they are attacking their own comrades for deviation- any groupette that spends it;s time publishing denunciations of two members who leave clearly has a membership issue. And since when has Alan Woods been a reliable weather vane for sane left wing thought?

    The SWP does deserve kicking on a regular basis, for no other reason than they seem to enjoy it, but I would advise finding slightly more, er, mainstream left wing allies to pull into the fight. There are enough solid Lesbian and Gay, and Women’s Rights activists who find the SWP’s blind spots on ‘anti-imperialist’ reactionary beard’s other politics absolutely appalling who have much more street cred than the washed up sectarians you quote.

    Pete Shield

    June 23, 2012 at 5:54 pm

    • I know the people involved and their strengths as well as their weaknesses (and the same could be said of myself).

      The AWL and the Weekly Worker (Socialist Appeal are more interested in other subjects though write well on Pakistan) have been pretty consistent on the issue of the SWP’s stand on Islamism.

      ‘Jack Conrad’ did write an exceptionally good article.

      Other critics take time to write their views, and do not have weeklies to put them in.

      That is why I cited these sources Pete.

      Andrew Coates

      June 24, 2012 at 10:15 am

  6. I agree with the article – the SWP’s position is atrocious – although I think some of the remarks are over egging the consequences of the mistake. SCAF are going to be running the show regardless of the outcome.

    I have to wonder why you cross post this at Harry’s Place though. They are only opposed to islamism when it’s an obstacle to US foreign policy goals. They won’t say anything about pro-US islamists in Syria or Libya for example. They’re also Blairites at best – what have they got to do with Jack Conrad or Alan Woods or even the AWL?


    June 25, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    • Thanks Andrew. I didn’t cross-post it. They asked me if they could use it. They are not one person but a number and some of them are awful, some good, if moderate, on the left. On that basis would you disgree with them posting it?

      The Guardian publishes some leftists, yet they called for a Lib-Dem vote in the election and are hardly opposed to capitalism, or indeed

      Andrew Coates

      June 25, 2012 at 4:47 pm

  7. I don’t have a problem in principle with them using your pieces, but if I were to write an article for them (or for the Guardian for that matter), I would emphasise points where I disagree with their overall position. I would tailor the article to suit the publication. The problem with HP is that the most leftwing person on the site (Gene) is also the most inclined to adapt to pro-US islamism and pro-Saudi positions so sometimes their leftwingers are worse than their rightwingers. Their default is islamism is something inherently anti-western as opposed to basically opportunistic. This is their core belief – that the West is the source of enlightenment to counter the backward orient, as opposed to the reality that the West often backs some of the most reactionary forces in it’s own interests. And so there are issues which are not central to the Egyptian elections but are nevertheless there in the background over US involvement and treaties with Israel. By not bringing these up it makes it look as though you are on board with their overall agenda.


    June 25, 2012 at 5:43 pm

    • The thing I disagree with them the most is their support for Israel, not their attacks on the opponents of Israel.

      Andrew Coates

      June 26, 2012 at 10:36 am

  8. By the way there was a good little discussion of this on Urban 75 which is worth checking out:


    June 25, 2012 at 6:05 pm

  9. […] SWP Backs ‘Revolutionary’ Moslem Brotherhood and Faces Torrent of Criticism. (Tendance […]

  10. You think that they are consistent opponents of anti-semitism and islamism? I think they use and abuse these issues to further their agenda. They will often make accusations on the flimsiest of evidence but at other times they will take the words of islamists at face value if, for example, it means pushing Saudi conspiracy theories about Iranian military involvement in Syria.
    Check this out:
    These kidnapped Iranian civilians were paraded on camera giving forced confessions of being Revolutionary Guards and HP just lapped it up. You can’t trust HP as being consistent opponents of Islamism any more than you can trust the SWP (less in fact). It’s not a matter of agreeing with them on islamism and disagreeing with them on Israel because their way of approaching both issues is to whip up hysteria when it’s convenient and sweep inconvenient facts under the carpet.


    June 27, 2012 at 6:43 pm

  11. I used to live near to John Archer (Leader of the English Lambertists) and spent quite a bit of time with him as we were in the same Labour Party ward and it was also the time of the miners’ strike. I once asked him if he ever met Trotsky and he told me that he had recieved a telegram once. He had publilshed an article criticising Trotsky for publishing an article in a Hearst newspaper in America. Trotsky sent a telegram immediately saying, ‘Would write on lavatory walls if I had to.’. John Archer told me he felt very ashamed at that.

    Sue R

    June 28, 2012 at 8:42 pm

  12. […] article is a shocking indictment of the SWP's support for radical Islam over the last frew years: SWP Backs ‘Revolutionary’ Moslem Brotherhood and Faces Torrent of Criticism. | Tendance … Sign in or Register Now to […]

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  14. […] Muslim Brotherhood, its strong links with Western intelligence forces and dubious Trotsykist groups notwithstanding, is the Arab world’s original, most subversive, and most dangerous terrorist […]

  15. […] Muslim Brotherhood, its strong links with Western intelligence forces and dubious Trotsykist groups notwithstanding, is the Arab world’s original, most subversive, and most dangerous terrorist […]

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  17. […] Muslim Brotherhood, its strong links with Western intelligence forces and dubious Trotsykist groups notwithstanding, is the Arab world’s original, most subversive, and most dangerous terrorist […]

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