British politicians refer to Isis as 'extremists' and deplore the 'radicalization' of young people and the mainstream media, from the liberal Guardian and BBC to the more conservative Express and Sun, largely follow suit. Yet the layers of hypocrisy here are many. For one thing, many of the politicians currently decrying the 'extremism' of Isis supported the British state's own bloody adventure in Iraq - the 2003 invasion that destabilized the Middle East and contributed to the vortex of violence now sweeping the region. The mainstream media, meanwhile, were mostly supportive of the deadly invasion of Iraq, reporting the attack and occupation in decidedly neutral tones. The title of a Panorama documentary forthcoming on the BBC - Isis: Terror in Iraq - reminds us that for the mainstream Western media, 'they' are always the extremists. The democratic state, by contrast, is the epitome of moderation, however monstrous its atrocities (let's not forget that Obama's drone strikes have killed more people in the Middle East than Isis - and Western politicians show little concern about Saudi Arabia, which outdoes Isis on the head-chopping front). We are dealing here with what the psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas calls 'violent innocence', a self-idealizing projection of terrorism onto the Other. As David Hume put it nearly three hundred years ago in his Treatise on Human Nature, 'When our own nation is at war with any other, we detest them under the character of cruel, perfidious, unjust and violent: But always esteem ourselves and our allies equitable, moderate, and merciful.'
From the genuinely radical perspective of the working class, any group that slaughters working class people in pursuit of its political and economic objectives - whether it be the caliphate-craving jihadi cell that detonates explosive devices in the market place or the 'democratic' state that bombs and tortures civilians - is 'extremist'. Indeed, both jihadists and imperialist nation states - 'religious fundamentalists' and 'market fundamentalists' - display a callous disregard for human life. In this sense, it should not surprise anybody that the British jihadist Nasser Muthana (above, right), currently in Iraq fighting with Isis, once expressed an ambition to be the British Prime Minister.
But if all bourgeois groups are extremists, who or what is 'radical'? The adjective is overused these days. Politicians and journalists often talk of 'radical' reforms to the system that are precisely the opposite (a few years ago, for example, David Cameron announced that the Conservative party in Britain would introduce 'radical reform' to the welfare state - reform that is resulting in more and more working class people losing their so-called 'benefits' and falling into poverty). Alternatively, the word is used to describe violent expressions of Islamism ('radical Islam'). But those who want to make the world a better place ought to have a very different understanding of 'radicalism'.
As Marx said, to be radical is to 'grasp things by the root'. This means understanding that capitalist society is premised on the struggle between the ruling class, with its multiplicity of competing nations, 'races' and sects, and the working class, which, as the only 'universal class', struggles for the liberation of all humanity. Nationalism and its mirror image, 'anti-imperialist' terrorism, foster only division and hostility: nation against nation, Shia against Sunni, etc. True radicals reject the poisonous ideologies of both the nation state and its terrorist adversary. The class struggle is the only really radical struggle, because the abolition of capitalism will utterly transform the structure of society, paving the way for the creation of a society based on solidarity and co-operation.