Fools Rushdie in
When Gareth Jenkins writes that "only in siding with Muslims against the racism directed...could those opposing any ban on the Satanic Verses hope to get a hearing", he is spot on (Feature, Socialist Review, November 2012). I was a student at the Polytechnic of North London at the time Satanic Verses came out. The Islamic Society put up a motion at a student union meeting calling for the book to be banned - the Socialist Worker Student Society opposed it. I had read the novel - and loved it - and was the first speaker against the motion.
Our arguments were as Gareth outlines - attacking the Tories and the media for anti-Muslim racism and defending the novel and Rushdie as anti-racists. In doing so we undercut right wing and the late and very unlamented Revolutionary Communist Party attempts to turn the debate into an anti-Muslim rant. For what it was worth we won our position in the well-attended meeting. Of more significance, SWSS members were invited to the next Islamic Society meetings for what was a friendly and warm debate.
In retrospect the Satanic Verses affair was a key moment in my and many comrades' rethinking and relearning a Marxist position on religion as opposed to a liberal secularist one. I often wonder though whether I would still enjoy the novel as much today - I gave up Rushdie after The Ground Between Her Feet. His decline as a writer is both a great loss and, I think, an almost inevitable result of what happened to him. I do look forward to the film release of Midnight's Children, albeit with unease.
(There is a review of Midnight's Children on page 32)
Homage to Catalonia
The Catalan elections on 25 November underlined the picture of radicalisation across the Spanish state that Joel Sans described last month (Feature, Socialist Review, November 2012).
After a million and a half Catalans demonstrated for independence in September, right wing Catalan-nationalist leader Artur Mas called early elections to hold a referendum on creating a "Catalan state". This created shockwaves due to large size of the Catalan economy and the political fragmentation it could encourage in Spain and Europe.
In his party election propaganda Mas was presented as Moses, leading thousands of Catalan flags to the "promised land" - this despite being in a party that has held up anti-Catalan PP governments in Madrid. Anything less than an absolute majority, Mas said, would be a failure.
Mas fell on his smug face. His Convergia i Unio (CiU) party lost 100,000 votes and is now having to try to form a coalition with the more pro-independence and left wing ERC, whose vote more than doubled. This will make it harder for CiU to manipulate any independence process.
The vote for the Catalan wing of United Left, a more left wing version of reformism, also rose after the massive cuts carried out by both CiU and PP were put back at the centre of debate by the European-wide strike on 14 November.
The most exciting development, however, was the election to parliament of three anti-capitalist radical nationalists. The CUP-AE is a grassroots-activist movement, organised through assemblies, and has played an active role in local campaigns, including for Unite Against Fascism and Racism (which itself celebrated a fall in the Catalan fascist vote for the first time!).
The new MPs say they will be a "trojan horse for the popular classes" in parliament. Their election campaign involved a range of social activists and gave expression to the mood of rebellion, winning support from many participants in the mass "indignados" movement, including non-nationalists. Candidates on their list included three members of the SWP's sister organisation, En Lluita, which held meetings and produced a publication with the rest of the normally fragmented revolutionary left - something that can be built on.
The dominant radical nationalism in the CUP means it will fight hard for self-determination - a key democratic demand. However, it is less interested in promoting movements spanning the whole of the state and beyond. This can create strategic difficulties for the struggle against central government driven austerity - which is still on the rise and now entering a wave of hospital occupations. Nevertheless, the CUP-AE's success is a fantastic boost for the struggle.