You have to love Peter Tatchell. Not only is he a man of immense personal courage, but he may be the most truly Trotskyist man in England. Having achieved just about all of his goals at home, courtesy of the most gay-friendly government in history, Tatch has intuited that you can’t have gay liberation in one country. Hence his recent quixotic trip to Russia in the company of Right Said Fred, who proved to be too sexy for the Kremlin. I eagerly anticipate his next jaunt, when he should be heading out to Zimbabwe with the Village People in tow.
I know lots of people find Tatch deeply annoying, but he knows that and is prepared for it. In fact, annoying people is an integral part of his MO. Now, compare and contrast one of my favourite British left sects, the Alliance for Workers Liberty (S. Matgamna prop.). The Soggy Oggies have a rather eccentric semi-Zionist position on the Middle East, and the less than charming habit of branding anyone who disagrees with it anti-Semitic. Some people have guessed that this is overcompensating for their extremely goyishe membership profile, but I don’t believe that – after all, they have at least one Irish member and still don’t have a decent position on Ireland. My point is that the anti-Semitism gambit is one the AWL can get away with in certain circumstances – talking to their own supporters, or Zionist activists, or in student debating societies. But I’ve been struck, on the odd occasions when I’ve been to Marxism in London, by AWLers turning up at an SWP conference where they buttonhole SWP members and call them anti-Semites, and being genuinely surprised when they get a hostile reception. I’m more surprised they don’t get lamped.
This is a roundabout way of considering the question of Marxism and religion. Actually, most Marxists have a pre-Marxist, mechanical materialist view of religion, but we’ll pass that by. What interests me is that, as people who don’t take religion seriously, they tend to forget that religious people do take religion seriously. The fond belief that you can attack a religion without offending the people who adhere to it comes under this heading.
Peter Tatchell understands this perfectly well. Tatch has got quite a bit of stick lately for having a bee in his bonnet about Muslims, but that’s understandable – Tatch believes that conservative Muslims don’t much like gays, and he isn’t wrong. By way of contrast, let us take the Socialist Workers Party, who for the last several years have been frenetically trying to build alliances with, well, conservative Muslims.
This requires quite a bit of hypocrisy for an organisation that is formally extremely PC on issues like gay rights. Fortunately, hypocrisy isn’t a problem for an outfit whose middle-class cadre combine a swinging bohemian lifestyle in private with a po-faced puritanical stance in public. It isn’t the case that SWP members – with the possible exception of some particularly young and dopey recruits – regard Islam as a special progressive religion. On the contrary, most SWP members believe in private that Islam is a basically reactionary force – it’s worth going back to the SW archives and looking at what they said on the original Rushdie affair.
There are some rhetorical devices that can be used for getting around this, mostly justified, in a way the late Monty Johnstone would have recognised, by a ruthlessly pragmatic resort to “tactics”. One is to simply shut up about the issue, and they’ve done some of that. For example, the abuse of children in after-school madrassas – a standing scandal in British Muslim communities – is unlikely to be taken up by those leftists whose strategy is to orient on the mosques. Another is to switch targets, which might mean abstract attacks on “religion” in general; or another religion, which is why the Irish edition of SW regularly attacks Catholicism with a gay abandon you wouldn’t expect from the people who jumped up and down outside the French Embassy in support of hijab. This, of course, assumes the Muslims aren’t bright enough to see through a rhetorical subterfuge. And also that an alliance based on deceit is one that’s going to last.
Personally, I prefer the Tatchell method. He gets up plenty of noses, including mine from time to time, but he has the benefit of being honest.
Rud eile: While on the subject of religion, I’m glad to see that this month’s Hibernian is in cracking form. We have a beginner’s guide to GK Chesterton; a trenchant defence of the Latin Mass; quite a long article on porn; a sideswipe at the Orange Order; and a lurid description of the torments that await us sinners in the next world. Yikes!