Sunday, 8 November 2009

The prophet and the proletariat: Harman on imperialism and Islam

'The prophet and the proletariat', published in International Socialism in the 1990s, was one of Chris Harman's best works of political analysis. In it he examined the complexity of Islamist political movements, looking at everything in its proper historical context. He especially drew out the relationships between Western (in particular US) imperialism, national liberation movements and Islamist ideologies. In doing so he avoided simplification and caricature.

The analysis also informed political strategy in ways that proved indispensable, providing a powerful example of how correct theory can inform effective political practice for revolutionary socialists. In the aftermath of 9/11 the SWP, and its sister organisations, got it absolutely right. The British SWP set about initiating a mass movement in Stop the War, which could be broad at the same time as having a radical anti-imperialist core. The movement helped popularise previously obscure arguments.

The SWP's analysis of modern, post-Cold War imperialism was developed by Harman, John Rees, Alex Callinicos and others to help us understand a world in which just one superpower remained, but in which this American hegemony didn't guarantee the end to conflict many had predicted. It was essential to giving revolutionaries the strategic orientation needed when a new era of turmoil, instability and war began in September 2001. Revolutionary practice - shaping a mass movement with uncompromising anti-imperialism at its heart - was underpinned by perceptive revolutionary theory.

Harman's nuanced and sophisticated critique of political Islam - and his exposition of the suddenly all-too-relevant historical contexts conditioning it - was vital. He enriched our understanding and helped us steer clear of potential dangers, which not everyone avoided, and armed us with ideas for winning broader support in the movement.

See HERE for more about the picture above. The background to it reminds us that Harman's work on imperialism and resistance was perhaps even more important for socialists in the Middle East.

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