Marxism and Islam

Sam Pawlett rsp at
Wed May 3 01:46:05 MDT 2000

[This was posted to another list but might be of interest here.]

 >It is a fact that in many "Third World"
> countries,
> >especially in Middle Eastern countries, it was religious movements that
> first
> >reacted to and rejected colonialism.

Often in combination with Marxist ideas.

> Marxists and Marx himself welcomed
> >colonialism in non-western countries.

What? Where? Which Marxists? Some Marxists may have welcomed imperialism
(as they defined it) but colonialism...?

> >Third, my understanding is that a major concern of socialist policy is the
> >wellfare of the oppressed classes. In many "Third World" countries,
> especially
> >in the Middle East, the oppressed classes tend to have a religious ideology
> >while the ruling classes hold a secular (and in some cases socialist)
> >ideology.

The secularism of the M East ruling classes is often a veil for Western
consumption e.g. Sadat was a zealous supporter of the Afghan jihad, he
let thousands of holy warriors out of prison who had been put there by
Nasser. Their 'socialism' is a thin veneer too and reflects the Bandung
era leaders of these countries when state socialism was in vogue as a
development strategy. Are Iraq and
Syria  socialist? Eeeeekkkk...

  So far there has been no discussion of Islam and the relationship
between Islam and marxism/socialism. An important question given that
there are between 1-2 billion Muslims of various kinds in the world.
Islam has been the achilles heel of many Marxist movements and attempts
to implement some kind of socialism. The Muslims,at best, would say that
socialism has been a horribly repressive system that did not understand
and did not care to understand their religion and culture.

  There are several questions here: can socialism/marxism be reconciled
with the teachings of the Koran and the institutions of various Islamic
sects e.g. sharia law, Ramadan, madrasas etc? How Marxists are supposed
to relate on a political level to Muslims and organize with them?

 The experience of the Marxist Muslims before,during and after the
Russian revolution shows that there can be a kind of Marxist Islam. This
was up until Stalin had them executed for nationalist deviationism.
Intellectuals like Mir Said Sultan Galiev (1880-1939) believed that
Marxism and socialism must adapt to Islam and not vice versa as most of
the Bolsheviks believed. Galiev called for a Muslim Communist Party and
a seperate Muslim Red Army that would enjoy fraternal status with the
USSR but would subordinate communism to the national question.This was
the only way to ensure that the party would be sensitive to local need
and culture. It should not be forgotten that some 300,000 Muslims
volunteered for service in the Red Army during the civil war, though the
Muslim units were disbanded by 1923. The Bolsheviks disagreed with
Galiev and stood by their universalist line with disastrous results e.g.
the public veil burning ceremonies of Stalin's and Khruschev's time only
incited the populace even more. Ironically, the more the state tried to
smash Islam the stronger it got. The explosion of Islamic activity
during the Gorbachaev years was no accident.

Galiev's ideas are more relevant than ever as the complete failure of
neo-liberal capitalism to provide an alternative for the millions of
desperate, impoverished Muslims of the world as well as the
intellectual and political bankruptcy of sectarian
Marxism-Leninism&Maoism have
Muslims seeking radical change into the fundamentalist camp. Many
voluteers in groups like Islamic Salvation Front are atheists and former
Maoists.Right now,
Fundamentalist Islam is the only movement that can unite various tribes
and ethnic groups together and express their anti-imperialist sentiments
as a whole. Yet the
fundamentalists and the modernist, rationalist Muslims are opposed to
each other (sometimes violently) suggesting a Marxism sensitive to local
cultures and tradition as the solution out of the impasse.

Sam Pawlett

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