Theses on Islamism
By Michael Pröbsting and Simon Hardy (adopted by a congress of the League for the Fifth International in January 2011)
Note from the Editorial Board: The following resolution on Islamism was adopted by a congress of the League for the Fifth International (LFI) in January 2011. It was the last congress of the LFI before its majority led the organization successfully into centrist degeneration. A few months later, in April 2011, the majority expelled the left wing faction “Bolshevik Opposition” which fought to re-orient the organization to a consistent revolutionary strategy. This “Bolshevik Opposition” became the initiating force of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT).
The resolution goes back to a draft of Michael Pröbsting, the International Secretary of the RCIT, who was a member of the LFI’s international leadership for nearly two decades until his expulsion. Comrade Pröbsting wrote the draft originally in 2002. It was later actualized and edited by Simon Hardy.
Comrade Hardy was one of the younger members of the LFI’s international leadership at that time. Unfortunately his intelligence, dedication and sympathetic character did not go hand in hand with the necessary steadfastness and political comprehension to fight against the petty-bourgeois academic left-wing milieu in which he became increasingly absorbed as a spokesperson of the university student movement in Britain. He became a leader of a right-wing split from the LFI in April 2012 which renounces the tradition of Leninism and Trotskyism. It is symbolic of the political and theoretical decline of the LFI that both authors are no longer members of that organization. This might also help to explain why the LFI failed to publish the resolution – unanimously adopted by a congress more than two years ago – until today.
The resolution in its final, adopted form is a valid analysis of Islamism from a Marxist point of view and outlines a revolutionary programmatic response. We don’t want to deny that in the process of editing a certain tendency of overemphasis to descriptions took place at the cost of the class analysis. Such a tendency is unfortunately very common amongst so-called Marxist intellectuals. However these weaknesses are of a limited character and don’t remove the revolutionary content of the thesis.
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The Rise of Islamism
1. Over the last few decades political Islam repeatedly rose higher up the political agenda. In Iran, a reactionary, clerical, Islamist dictatorship came to power as a result of the defeat of the progressive forces during the revolution against the Shah. Despite its “anti-imperialist” stance and the overt hostility from the US and Israel - and to a lesser degree from Germany and France – for the majority of the Iranian masses it was predominantly an anti-secular anti-democratic and anti-working class dictatorship. The regime drowned in blood the militants of the labour and socialist movement and those of other progressive forces (women, national minorities, democratic movements).
2. These actions mirrored the most reactionary regimes of the last quarter of the twentieth century, such as the Pinochet Junta and had many of the features of fascism. The difference was that the Iranian regime maintained a verbal hostility to the US which the latter repaid by isolating Iran and fomenting an attack on it by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. But what the US opposed was not the dictatorial rule of the Islamic clergy but the revolt of a semi-colonial state which had under the Shah been a loyal ally and a gendarme for its interests in the vital oil rich region.
3. Indeed in Afghanistan the US and its allies – including the ultra-reactionary Wahabi regime of Saudi Arabia – armed and built up counter-revolutionary Islamist forces to wage a relentless war firstly against the Afghan Stalinist government and then it’s Soviet Allies. This reactionary war, and the final defeat of the Afghan government in the early 1990s, led to the building of a reactionary international network of Sunni Islamists, which became a rallying point for Islamist movements, groupings, organisations globally.
4. Of course, Islamism was and is an ideology, whose origins lie in an earlier period of the 20th century – basically the 1930s and 1940s. However the creation of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the victory of the counter-revolution in Afghanistan gave credibility to Islamism as major force, which could win against a supposedly superior enemy and, thereby, promise to put an end the humiliation of the Arab and Muslim world by imperialist domination and the depredations of the Zionist settler state (plus, in the case of Afghanistan, a Russian invasion).
5. This rise of Islamism as a political current with mass influence and following went hand in hand with the decline of preceding political forces and ideologies, which had promised to lead to liberation of the Arab and Muslim world from imperialist domination and national humiliation.
6. Arab nationalism and other national liberation forces in the Muslim world had failed. They had proved incapable of breaking the imperialist chains, of uniting the Arab world on a bourgeois nationalist and statist basis and they had repeatedly failed to stop the expansion of the Zionist state and betrayed the Palestine liberation struggle. They were forced into humiliating concessions to imperialism and its allies. Some, like Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, even offered to become successors of the Iranian Shah as an imperialist regional gendarme. To this end Saddam launched a barbaric war against Iran on behalf of the US and other imperialist states, pogrommed entire Kurdish towns, and denied workers and the majority religious community (the Shias) any form of democratic rights. Egypt under Saddat and Mubarak became a pensioner of the US and co-jailer of the Palestinians.
7. But it was not only the nationalists who failed. The “Communist”, in reality the Stalinist left, had failed too. Despite all their differences in coloration, from pro-Moscow to more Maoist shades, or from legalist to guerrillaist strategies, they all shared a stage-ist theory of the revolution. From the central importance of the struggle against imperialism and for national liberation they concluded that this democratic revolution had to bring about a regime, which would implement exclusively the tasks of the bourgeois revolution – i.e. an extended period of capitalist development before workers’ power and socialism could be even thought of. For this they advocated a strategic alliance with the national “anti-imperialist” bourgeoisie and reserved for it the leading role in the struggle. This repeatedly led to political disaster since the latter was too weak socially and economically to play the role assigned it. At best nationalist army officers, like Nasser, played a temporarily anti-imperialist role but at the price of installing a military bonapartist dictatorship which eventually turned on its Communist allies and on all independent workers organisations.
8. The pro-Moscow Communist Parties – where the Kremlin had a big stake in a regime (in Iraq, Egypt and Syria) for periods of time – were obliged to completely and openly sub-ordinate themselves to their “anti-imperialist” rulers, basically providing left support for them. In other cases, left Stalinist or Maoist forces led large oppositional movements or struggles, including heroic, partial victories. But as in the most tragic case – in the Iranian revolution – the enormous, heroic role they played in the overthrow of the Shah and the destruction on the army and SAVAK (the hated secret police) and the mass support they had gained, was destroyed because in one way or another (and with different degrees of “consistency”), they subordinated themselves to the leadership of the “national bourgeoisie”, i.e. the leadership of Khomeini.
9. These two developments – the decline and fall of secular Arab nationalism and of Stalinised Communism - were further accentuated after the collapse of the USSR and the restoration of capitalism there and in China. Bourgeois nationalism and the Stalinist forces lost major, global allies and sources of material support. The defeat of Iraq in the first US-war against the country led to the Arab nationalist and fake anti-imperialist regimes turning further to the right (Syria). The PLO signed the Oslo accords and the left in the PLO either supported this or put up an, at best, inconsistent opposition to this sell-out of the national liberation struggle.
10. The collapse of Stalinism opened a new period in world history. The Middle East and Central Asia – and therefore a large part of the “Muslim World” – became focus of the US strive to create its “new world order”. Whereas in the 1945-1989 period it had had to compete for influence in the region with the Soviet Union, accepting the existence of non-aligned or neutral powers with a certain amount of independence, now as the sole world superpower it sought to bring the whole region under its sway and weed out the “rogue states” which still defied its every wish (Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya). This sway included not only US bases in Saudi Arabia and the armed gendarme of the Zionist state but also the “soft power” of political and cultural dimension. Human rights and democratisation were drafted into service to “open up” the “closed societies“ of the Muslim world. One hope was to win the modernising intelligentsia, students and women, who had often been nationalists or even Communists from the 1950s to the 1980s, to the side of the US and the Europeans. But the real aim was to fully open up these countries to the imperialist multinationals, oil companies and western banks, Anyone who resisted was proclaimed backward and barbaric.
11. Thus traditional Islamic culture – became a focus of US imperialist criticism – with arrogant demands that it modernise (i.e. westernise) itself. The Islamist groups who as anticommunist jihadis, had proved such “useful idiots” for the US in Afghanistan suddenly became the enemy one of the US crusade to secure “freedom, democracy and capitalism” in the region and the world. The fight against “Islamic fundamentalism” became a catchword to justify US-wars and intervention, long before the War against Terror” was launched. But it only took the form of a global declaration of war against “terrorism” – meaning “Islamist terrorism” in aftermath of 9/11. This “war” has opened up a veritable Pandora’s box of evils – both for the populations of the Islamic countries but also for the imperialist powers themselves.
12. Whilst any scientific, objective – therefore any Marxist – analysis has to differentiate between Islamism as a political ideology and movement and Islam as a religion, between the different forms it takes, imperialist Anti-Islamism deliberately blurs all these differences into a chauvinist racist Anti-Muslim and Anti-Arab demagogy. In Western Europe and North America it has become a convenient cover for racist agitation against migrant communities from the Middle East, the Indian Sub-continent and East Africa. This has come to be known as Islamophobia and is primarily a variety of racism. The purpose of this poisonous ideology is to justify all and any imperialist intervention, and even occupation in the Muslim world, as well as chauvinist, racist repressive acts at home against national or religious minorities. Anti-Islamism has become a central component of imperialist ideology, including state racism, fascist, far right Christian and right-wing populist forces. It has largely replaced anticommunism as the central phobia in the US itself, and is likely to continue to perform this role, since the US has failed to create a new, relatively stable imperialist world order. On the contrary, its and its allies’ interventions have further de-stabilised the Middle East, Central Asia and areas stretching into the Indian subcontinent and Africa. This has undermined pro-imperialist regimes like Pakistan and sharpened the struggle for a re-division of the world between the US and its emerging rivals.
13. Finally, there is a fourth element, which feeds the growth of Islamism and a return to religion in conditions of economic and social crisis. This is the even more crucial role the crisis of working class leadership assumes under such conditions. Under globalisation, some counties of the “Islamic world” have seen outright social decline, if not a descent into barbarism (Afghanistan under the civil war, the Taliban, the US/NATO/war, Somalia since the failed US intervention). The reproduction of the society, even of viable social classes becomes more and more difficult, leading to a general devastation and decline of social life. In the petro-monarchies, the decline of the dollar and the almost exclusive reliance of state revenues on the oil-revenues – making them essentially rentier-states – have started to undermine the basis for the integration of the middle and lower classes by means of a dictatorial clientist and extremely parasitic system. Others like Pakistan, Egypt, Indonesia or Iran have seen even a growth of the working class under globalisation due to an almost feverish growth of the economy, albeit resting to a large extent on speculation. The new proletarians are, however, extremely exploited and often forced to live in outright poverty, thanks to the denial of political and trade union rights. All this meant that under globalisation we saw an increase of social inequality and tensions. This is sharpened enormously by the tendency to social decline in the post-2007 period and by the fact that all but a few of the semi-colonies in the Islamic World were hit much harder by the crisis than were the imperialist heartlands.
14. In such conditions, reactionary forces can and will muster, if the working class is not capable of providing leadership in the struggles of the popular masses of the town and countryside against exploitation, poverty, dictatorship and imperialism. Both radical Islamist mullahs as well as traditionalist ulemas will – as with in other religions - use the mosques and their charitable institutions and madrassas to pacify the masses. In many case, they will use them to rally the oppressed for reactionary causes and tie them to their “Islamic” leaders – the landlords, the bazaris, and “pious” industrialists. In some cases, however, they will and do rally them for a just cause like the struggle against national and imperialist oppression. Marxists must be able to identify these objectively and fall neither into their own version of Islamophobia - or islamist-phobia - nor into its opposite, a belief that Islamism is basically an anti-imperialist ideology and movement that will “objectively” be obliged to carry through a whole stage of the revolution, before generously handing over to the working class. In cases where their struggle is objectively progressive as was Hezbollah’s in the defence of Lebanon against Israeli attack or Hamas in a similar situation in Gaza, it will prove necessary for genuine revolutionaries to fight alongside them. The same applies to religious Islamist forces who play a role in the anti-war/occupation movement in the imperialist heartlands. But they will have to do so for strictly limited common objectives and without renouncing the independence of the working class and other progressive forces for a minute. But even this must not blind us of the overall reactionary character of the Islamist forces.
15. The above mentioned four factors – the failure of nationalism, of Stalinism, the US-offensive for a new world order and the global crisis - are crucial to understand the rise of Islamism and why if could become a major political force.
Development of Islamism
16. Islamism as a political movement must not be confused with Islam as a religion. Islamism is a political movement which uses selected aspects of Islam as a motivating factor for its supporters and as a political programme for power.However Islamists totally identify their political ideology with Islam and deny the separation of politics and religion. For them secularism and non-religious ideologies (nationalism, communism, liberalism) are all simply godless opposition to Islam.
17. Political Islamism is integrally related to but not identical with fundamentalist trends within mainstream Sunni Islam which have grown massively in influences since the 1970s. Shi’a Islam – a small minority within the worlds Muslims but a majority in Iran and Iraq has a different tradition but has been influenced by Sunni Islamism and since the Iranian Revolution of 1979 has in turn exerted and influences on it.
18. Islamic Fundamentalism or Salafism (from salaf as-salih or "righteous predecessors") is an attempt to return to what its ideologues imagine to be the practices of the first three generations of Muslims. Its origins go back to eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (CE) and were a response to the decadence and downfall of the three great Muslim empires of the preceding centuries - the Ottomans), the Safavids and the Mughals. An early founder of Salafism – prominent because of the adoption of his teachings as a state ideology by Saudi Arabia - was Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab (1703-1792). Wahabism is most widespread form of Salafism, owing to Saudi sponsorship worldwide of mosques and madrassas (schools for training imams and legal scholars).
19. With the downfall of the Islamic empires, Britain and France became colonising powers in the Islamic world. Whilst the colonisers did not persecute Islam, they replaced its legal and political institutions with secular ones, modernised but at the same time exploited its economies, and brutally suppressed uprisings against their rule (in India, Egypt and the Sudan).
20. The ruling classes of the Muslim world were rooted in landowning, in traditional merchant capital, yet the new colonies (disguised as League of Nations Mandates) were dominated by French and British banks and businessmen. Indigenous capitalist development was stunted. Since the Muslim ulema - or clergy - were drawn from and rooted in these classes - resentment and occasionally resistance to the western occupiers came in part from these strata. But it was the development of a modern working class, the (semi-)proletarisation of the peasantry and the creation of a modern intelligentsia (students, teachers, engineers, lawyers) by colonial capitalism that created a force that would eventually rebel against the colonialists.
21. Political Islamism owes its origins to the period between the Second and First World Wars. During the First World War the Anglo-French imperialists had wooed the Arab peoples of Arabia, Palestine, Syria and Iraq with the promise of “national liberation” from the Ottoman Empire. This produced an “Arab renaissance” in Egypt, Lebanon and Syria, particularly. But the British and the French swindled the Arab leaders, colonizing (under the thin disguise of League of Nations mandates) Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine and holding on to Egypt and their North African colonies. In Palestine the British encouraged large scale European Jewish settlement— just as the French had colonised Algeria. By the late 1920s alienation against this deceitful conquest led firstly to the growth of secular Arab nationalism such as the Ba’athists founded in 1940 by Syrian intellectuals Michel Aflaq and Salah al-Bitar but also to political Islamism too.
22. The founders of the two key organizations were born and raised in British colonies. Hassan Al-Bannah (1906-1949) founded the Al-Ikhwan Al-Muslim, the Muslim Brotherhood, in Egypt in 1928 Syed Abul A'ala Mawdudi 1903-1979) founded Jaamat-i-Islami in India in 1941. The founding nuclei were people from middle class backgrounds, scholars, professors, teachers, engineers etc. But the Islamists, as opposed to the nationalists and socialists, rejected not just colonialism but much of western secular culture, though not its scientific and technological achievements.
23. The Ikwan became radicalised by the 1936 Palestinian uprising against the British colonial authorities and the Zionist settlers. The Palestinian leadership was at first, and for a long time, traditionalist in its ideology and feudal religious in its ideology. The Brotherhood began to arm, to penetrate the Egyptian police and the army, to advocate insurrection against the British. Seeing the British as the main enemy and Germany and Italy as potential allies it copied features of European fascism, having a militia modeled on the SA or the Black shirts. Muslim Brotherhoods spread to Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Sudan and Iraq. In Egypt the Brotherhood expanded rapidly, having perhaps 500,000 supporters by the end of the 1940s. The social base of the MB was the lower middle class schoolteachers, technicians, clerks, artisans, and small merchants.
24. But enraged by Egypt’s humiliating defeat by the Israelis in the 1948 war its militants assassinated the Egyptian premier in 1948—and in revenge al-Banna was himself assassinated the following year. The Ikwan was illegalised and suffered severe repression. Nevertheless it supported Gamal Abdel Nasser and the Free Officers’ overthrow of the monarchy in 1953. But it rapidly fell out with the secular Arab nationalist regime and was heavily repressed throughout Nasser’s remaining years in power.
25. Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966) was key ideologist of member of the Muslim Brotherhood- editing its paper and heading its propaganda department. It was one of his shortest works Ma'alim fi al-Tariq or Milestones (1964) that became the founding text for jihadi Islamism. He argued that the absolute transcendent sovereignty of god in Islam invalidates the secular (godless) state. This applied equally to the nation state whose basis represented an irreligious division of the umma, the community of believers. Likewise the democratic state, based on the “sovereignty of the people, was an irreligious usurping of divine sovereignty. Qutb believed that the whole world - including the supposedly Muslim countries - had reverted to the period of ignorance (Jahiliyya) before Muhammed’s revelations.
26. An initially small vanguard of Islamists will fight against the new jahiliyyah, first ideologically and then physically: violent, revolutionary struggle was necessary to restore an Islamic umma. This jihad, in his interpretation of the term, was against the imperialists and their local agents. The sharia would be restored. Everything forbidden in the sharia would be banned- alcohol consumption, co-education, mingling of the two sexes at work or in leisure pursuits, etc. In a curious parallel with the Marxist (and anarchist) view of a stateless society Qutb’s umma would have no rulers and even the sharia would simply become a moral law ‘enforced” by everyone. Few of Qutb’s modern disciples have gone so far holding that a new Caliph or Amir, would be chosen by the umma through some sort of council or shura.
27. Qutb also denounced the exploitative nature of western capitalism- a product of corrupt religions like Christianity and Judaism. He did not see capital itself, or private ownership of the means of production, as the problem, but financial speculation, usury (lending for interest). From this flowed Qutb’s and following him many Islamists, disgusting anti-Semitism. Qutb asserted that "World Jewry" was and is engaged in conspiracies whose "purpose" is: “so that Jews may penetrate into body politics of the whole world and then may be free to perpetuate their evil designs. At the top of the list of these activities is usury the aim of which is that all the wealth of mankind end up in the hands of Jewish financial institutions which run on interest.” (.Milestones, p 110-111)
28. Qutb saw in imperialism’s interventions in and domination of the Arab and Muslim world, in its foundation and support for Israel, simply a continuation of the crusades – i.e. an attempt to destroy Islam. Those rulers in the Islamic worlds — like Nasser — who abolished sharia, replacing in with secular legal codes, who introduced western notions like socialism, nationalism, women’s rights, were enemies of Islam and allies of the crusaders.
29. Islamism developed therefore not just – indeed not primarily – as an anti-colonial movement but an as anti-secular movement. It seeks to "restore" the state and social institutions to one based on religious law (sharia) supposedly those in operation in the time of the Prophet Muhammad and his immediate successors. This idea of restoring either elements of the Muslim Umma - emirates, Islamic republic’s (Iran) or even a restored pan-Islamic Caliphate, constitutes a totally reactionary-utopian objective.
30. It is utopian since the economic, social and class condition of the first century AH/ seventh century CE cannot be restored even if the Islamists interpretations of the early days of Islam were true or uncontested, which they are not. It is reactionary since the measures the Islamists propose would constitute a ferocious restriction on democratic rights and liberties for women, workers and poor peasants, minority religions, sexual minorities etc, etc.
31. The practical experience of the "rule of god" turned out in practice be either the rule of a politicised religious hierarchy, as in Iran, or a monarch and his subservient ulema (Saudi Arabia). Were one of the islamsist movements to take power (and to some degree that was the nature of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan) it would be a totalitarian regime imposing supposedly divine laws against workers, women, the young, qualitatively no better than fascism.
32. Many states in the Muslim world have adopted an admixture of Islamism, elements of the sharia (Indonesia, Pakistan various Arab countries. Despite the claims of Islamic liberals (and even post modernist feminists) democratic and socialist freedoms are completely incompatible with any sort of religious basis for the state.
33. Marxists are not only intransigent materialists in their Weltanschauung but also secularists in their political programme. Religion must remain a strictly private matter as far as the state is concerned. If it is not so as it is formally at least in republics like the USA or France, the Marxist include the fight to separate it from state sponsorship or recognition. This is not to be confused with the persecution or suppression of religious belief, the closing of places of worship the banning of the public display of its symbols, of public propaganda for it. It simply means that there must be no official endorsement by the state of any religion in the spheres of law, education or other areas of official public life. If adult believers and wish to regulate their lives with other believers according to their own religious law that it’s their private matter. But those who do not must not be forced or coerced in any way to do so. Any such coercion coming from religious hierarchies, associations, etc must be forbidden by democratic law. The working class is true inheritor and only consistent defender of the freedom of worship, toleration, the secular and anti-clerical goals of all the great bourgeois revolutions.
34. Yet in the last quarter of the twentieth and the first decade of this century these highly socially regressive Islamist movements have in many countries ousted more modern "progressive" movements for the allegiance of the masses. The recent growth of political Islam is directly connected with two features of the modern world. Firstly it is linked with the role of imperialism in the Middle East and across Central Asia. Imperialism, originating and still largely based in the western countries, associated with Christianity and liberal democracy, is seen as an invading and intruding force in the culture and life of the Muslim world.
35. This reality is exploited by Islamists to promote their own version of a "clash of civilisations," a world view which depicts the religious fundamentalism and the totalitarianism of Islamism as a necessary and even revolutionary struggle against both capitalism and those quisling state leaders which are seen as defending imperialism. The essential point is that Islamic movements do not grow in a vacuum or because of some inherently "backward attitude". Connected to this is the existence of Israel, itself a product of imperialism. The forced creation of a highly militarised, expansionist and colonialist racist Zionist state in the Middle East, and how it was created (expulsion of the Palestinian Arabs) is one of the key factors in the creation and existence of Islamic resistance movements (Hamas, Hizbullah). Imperialism also created Islamic states like Pakistan, supported by Islamic movements.
36. Islamists drew their initial cadres from those sections of the educated middle class, enraged by imperialist domination of their country, disgusted by the compliance of the ruling elites who are equipped with an intellectual background to produce the theological and political positions of the movement. The middle classes in these situations are the pioneers of nation building, the backbone of the nationalist cause. In the Islamic world they are attracted to Islamism as the primary engine of social change, drawing on religious ideas to mobilise beyond their own social class.
37. However wherever they seek to build a mass movement, they attempt to draw in sections of the working class and lumpenproletariat. Workers, youth and the poor are drawn to Islamist movements by the brutal conditions imposed on them by globalisation and the corruption of the local regimes. The lack of a socialist and revolutionary movement leaves these forces to fall prey to the Islamic groups who offer a world view as well as tactics and strategy, linked to a final goal, which connects to cultural and historical beliefs, fused into a seemingly radical political project. For the poor and disposed across the global south, capitalism offers no way out, and political religious movements provide the "opium" and promise of radical change which is so appealing. They see capitalism as a western evil, imported from the imperialist world by the US army, rapacious capitalists and multi-national corporations, and defended by their corrupt rulers. Islamism, as a supposed anti-capitalism, appeals to these layers.
38. Islamism also appeals to people still trapped in a pre-capitalist mode of production, the villages and regions still trapped in feudalism or basic agriculture, here it acts as a political force within the village community to impose a morally authoritative set of laws and norms governing people’s behaviour. Islam has not had an "enlightenment period" in recent history, leaving it often highly anti-scientific and deeply conservative in its world outlook. Islamic movements after 1979 were built on the ruins of liberal Islamic values and looked to a utopian conservative age of Islam as the model on which to build new societies.
39. The backwardness of Islam and Islamic countries is not purely a reflection of the dogmatic interpretation of ancient religious views transplanted onto the present day. The lack of development and progressive social views is primarily the result of the systematic under-development of the semi colonial and third world nations by capitalism and imperialism. Intellectually they generally reject the legacy of the enlightenment and the traditions and principles that flow from it.
The class character of Islamism and its different shades
40. The Islamist spectrum is a wide one, ranging from those that are conservative-bourgeois parties seeking to maintain the influence of the ulema and the landlords alongside the capitalists and strictly constitutional in their methods, through petty-bourgeois populist currents opposed to imperialism using militant tactics of armed struggle or guerilla warfare, to the jihadi terrorist groups and even fascist and semi-fascist organizations. Obviously, there is no clear, for all time distinction between these. A populist current may develop into a fascist organization. An arch-reactionary, Islamist organization set up against secular, anti-imperialist movements may be forced to take up the national struggle in order to become and retain a viable political force. A petit-bourgeois reactionary Islamist movement may turn into a Islamic (not Islamist) bourgeois mass party, like the AKP in Turkey which has become the main party not only for sectors of the middle-classes and poor, but for the mainstream of the private capitalists in Turkey. Such evolutions and transformations of parties – both bourgeois and working class – have occurred many times over.
41. Despite these differences, there are nevertheless certain common features of all Islamist parties and movements. Most importantly, they all share the aim of creating a political regime based on religious law, a state without a separation of state and – one – religion, essentially a theocratic state. That means that the goal of all these Islamist parties and movements is ultimately reactionary.
42. All Islamist regimes testify this. They demonstrate what the rule of Islamist parties and movements mean for the working class, women, oppressed. There the reactionary character of any Islamist or other sectarian or religious fundamentalist movement is strongest revealed. The idealized, imaginary unity of the believers is a cloak to justify and bless the rule of the capitalist class, the landlords and rentiers. The institutions of the Islamic clergy ultimately become institutions of the state. This allows for an almost total control of the population by a religious national force and increased the hold of the state – and the ruling class which it defends – over the workers and peasants much more than the repressive forces on their own could do.
43. However the Islamist regimes also prove that ultimately, the Islamist parties, forces, states must and cannot be understood as just religious movements or forms nor by the religious goals they proclaim. Rather, they demonstrate that – as in other religious political movements – it is the needs and interests of a specific class or alliance of classes, which determine the function and, ultimately the form and content, of the ideology, not the other way round.
44. So the anti-western and arch-reactionary character of the Saudi state ideology has proved perfectly capable to justify one of the most important backers of US domination over the Middle East. It has proved perfectly capable of “support” Hamas against Fatah – indeed it did originally in order to contain the national liberal struggle on behalf of US imperialism - and at the same time to collaborate overtly with Israel. This reactionary character of the regime is not altered by the fact that it may come into conflict with imperialism.
45. The Iranian regime is another good example of this. Its demagogic anti-imperialism was particularly strong under Khomeini because the Shah had not only been a stooge of the US but, because he was a bonapartist modernizer like his father or Mustafa Kemal, he sought to weaken the influence of the Shia ulema and the bazzaari merchants, resting on and opening up to multinational capital. Against this Khomeini – as a representative of the reactionary wing of the ulema (and the bazari merchants and landowners) – developed the ideology of the veliyat-i-faqih (rule of the jurist) aimed against th Shah’s westernizing bourgeois secularism. But the Islamic Republic as it emerged after 1979 was a far more an empirical response to the forces – revolutionary and counterrevolutionary – unleashed by the Iranian revolution.
46. The conservative bourgeois politicians (the National Front) and the majority of the Grand Ayatollahs, themselves representing the highest levels of the traditional bazaari bankers and merchants and the rich landowners, were neither able nor willing to create the regime Khomeini aimed at; nor did they want to sever relations with the US. They wanted a constitutional monarchy and the maintenance of a degree of separation between the clergy and politics. Khomeini however utilised his charismatic hold over the impoverished urban masses, and the lower clergy to force back and remove his opponents within the political and clerical elite. But the radicalism and power of the left, the student youth, the power of the workers shown in strikes and factory takeovers, convinced Khomeini that a constitutional regime would be unable to control and suppress these forces and would in any case concede too much to western culture and penetration. Savage street battles and a “white terror” were needed to crush the left Stalinist and “Islamic Marxist” parties (the Iranian People's Fedai and the People's Mojahedin Mojāhedin-e khalq). For this purpose not merely the normal state machine but a fascistic mass movement - the Hezbollah squads was needed. The war conditions after Saddam’s attack on Iran and the US imperialists blockade created the ideal conditions to crush the left and their false strategy of concessions to him in the earliest phases enabled him to divide his opponents and set up a totalitarian regime.
47. Though conservative bourgeois forces in the form of “reformers” have to some degree relaxed the totalitarian nature of the regime, the bonapartist fascist core of the state machine has resisted democratization from above and below (the democracy movements of the students). Ahmediejad has to combine with the Islamist social welfare (based on mosque-based charity for the poor and “disinherited” of the shanty towns and villages ), with the brutal repression of the fascist basiji, gangs a continued demagogic anti-imperialism and support for Hezbollah and Hamas against Israel. Only the intervention of the working class as a revolutionary social force – led by a party which is anti-imperialist as well as anti-capitalist will be able to undermine the social basis of the dictatorship and unleash a revolution.
48. The fake character of the “anti-imperialism” of Islamist regimes is revealed in an even more barbaric way with regard to the Sudanese regime. It goes well hand in hand, with trying to become a semi-colonial ally for the emerging Chinese imperialism, selling the natural resources and control over the oil revenues of “its own” people in exchange for Chinese money and backing for the butchering of the Darfur uprising.
49. The Afghan Taliban regime also fell into this category. Their rapid downfall in 2001 was due in no small part to the popular alienation of broad masses outside the southern tribal Pakhtun areas, caused by their ultra reactionary social policies and brutal dictatorship. Their collapse under the blows of the USA was also due in part to their abandonment of them by their Pakistani and Saudi backers. However they were able to revive in their southern heartland and wage a successful guerrilla struggle against a foreign occupying forces and a patently corrupt puppet regime based on the warlords who the Taliban had driven out before.
50. Finally, it is necessary to distinguish between Islamist regimes and “Islamic states” or “republics” which have a hybrid form. States like Pakistan are essentially not theocratic states, despite labeling themselves “Islamic”. But they are states with a very high and significant part of law, state institutions, schools etc. tied and interlinked with Islam and clergy (in a similar way as Christian religions have been and are in a number of countries still tied to the state) – i.e. states, where the struggle for the separation of the state from the religious institutions is of enormous importance still.
51. The oppositional, Islamist movements and parties are naturally much more variant in form, composition, class base than those who have gained governmental power. They cover almost all shades of political life – from mass reform movements, to radical reactionary petit-bourgeois organizations (including fascist ones) to Islamists heading national liberal struggles, small elitist terrorist groupings or even semi-Islamist forces who are promising social liberation.
52. A major dividing line is obviously the question of what form the struggle for the goals of an Islamist movement shall take. A number of Islamist forces focus on strictly constitutional means, on the struggle for reform of the existing state apparatus. A number of these forces have a long history. Some have gained a large mass following over the past years, heading discontent and struggles against existing regimes.
53. These forces are often led by a section of the bourgeoisie while their cadres are normally recruited from the educated petty bourgeoisie. Their strategy is to broaden its influence through step-by-step conquest of political power (elections in professional bodies, municipal and parliamentary elections and finally the government), using their mass following and mobilizations in order to increase the pressure on existing regimes. This parliamentary orientation can be combined with a social-welfare role – from religious schools to health centers – which for the pauperised masses is often the only possibility of reducing their poverty. Such movements or political currents range from the Turkish Refah (the predecessor of the now ruling AKP) to the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt and Jordan. Also the Algerian Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) assumed such a character in the legal phase of its history 1989-1992.
54. The clerical leadership of the Iranian opposition is also an example for an Islamist political current, a proto-party who wants to reform an existing – albeit Islamic – state. However, its treacherous character can be clearly seen by its attempts to contain the democratic mass movements of the workers and middle classes in Iran and tries to prevent them from going beyond what it considers justified institutions of the Islamic state of Iran.
55. The limited forms of democracy, if not outright forms of dictatorship, but also the deep social crisis in most Muslim countries has often driven Islamist forces to turn to means of armed struggle. These can be directed against existing regimes or oppressors – sometimes, but not always in combination with legal structures. The ability to use mosques and their charitable foundations (awqāf) and Quaranic schools (madāris) as a base in countries where the state’s control of them is not, has enabled mass movements to develop. Such movements provide a degree of social welfare that the regimes, especially since the adoption of neoliberal economic policies, could not or would not. But for all this duplication of reformism they a generally hostile to independent working class organisation (real trade unions) and to all, secular and democratic forces, women, lesbian and gay activists or also national and religious minorities. As a result such parties are conservative capitalist parties even if they seek to restore or innovate a greater degree of religious tutelage over the state, education, welfare etc. In short they seek openly or covertly the de-secularsiation of the state – a reactionary goal to be opposed with all the force the working class and its allies can muster.
56. In the most extreme version, such forces, which resort to armed means of struggle, gather into reactionary mass movements of the enraged petit-bourgeoisie, rallying the lumpenproletariat and backward sections of the working class around them. These movements can assume an extreme reactionary, proto-fascist or fascist form. They often grow in periods of heightened social and political crisis – presenting themselves as a determined alternative of outright reaction to corrupt, “secular” regimes. But their main function is to use them as a battering against the working class and progressive mass movements of the oppressed. Since they are reactionary mass forces embedded an rooted in the communities, working class estates etc., they can ensure a much more totalitarian control and oppression of progressive, working class and democratic movements as the repressive state apparatus, the police and other security forces can do it on their own.
57. The Jihaddist-terrorist Islamists are often sharing similar goals – i.e. the creation of an Islamist dictatorship – but are not based on mass organizations. These are the reactionary armed underground organizations, which call for a jihad against the infidels. While some of them have the passive sympathy of sections of the marginalized intelligentsia and pauperized masses, they only build terrorist cells, covertly linked to certain fundamentalist mosques, madrassas and their imams. Their attacks are directed against symbols and representatives of imperialism, the ruling state apparatus, left-wing activists, feminists, tourists, those they other religious communities they regard as heretical or pagan. Among these groups are al-Qaida, Jihad Islami and al-Jama’a al-Islamiyya in Egypt or GIA in Algeria. Whilst these forces, engage in individual terrorist attacks on pro-imperialist Islamic or even Islamist regimes, the strategic aim of their actions is to “inspire” and win over sections of the ruling classes – the large landlords and the bourgeoisie - to wage a struggle against the “infidels”.
58. However, not all of the Islamists engaged using methods of armed struggle are semi-fascist or fascist or jihaddist-terrorist forces. There are also mass Islamist parties and movements who have become the leadership or at least major leading forces of mass struggles against Imperialism, national oppression or dictatorships. This does not mean that the Islamist forces heading such struggles become genuine progressive forces. Their ultimate, strategic political and social goals – i.e. the nature of the political regime they want to build – remain reactionary.
59. But the progressive and justified nature of the struggles they are engaged means that revolutionary working class forces will have to fight Islamist alongside organizations – including engaging in common actions and longer lasting united fronts. However as with all united fronts the struggle is not only against a common enemy but also within this struggle for leadership of it.
60. Despite movements like the Lebanese Hezbollah or the Palestinian Hamas being able become the dominant force of national liberation struggles, it would be utterly wrong to see Islamist organisations as organically embodying these struggles. Indeed, when Hamas was founded, it was directed against the secular bourgeois nationalist and left wing Palestinian liberation organizations. It was rather the predominance of the national oppression of the Palestinian people over their social life, which – together with the betrayal of the liberation struggle by the PLO-leadership – that pushed Hamas to become a force actively engaged in the struggle against the occupation and the Zionist state.
61. Hezbollah on the other hand, has not only been able to lead a successful defence against Israel, but is also tied to the highly impoverished Shiite sections of Lebanese society. Its Islamism has taken a more moderate and rational character compared to other Islamist forces. This is the result of the situation in Lebanon itself, which makes it necessary for Hezbollah to strike agreements and alliances with forces from other communities, if it wants to play a ruling role in Lebanese politics. This in turn imprints on its version of Islamism.
62. Finally, there is also a current of populist, “socialist” Islamist or Islamic forces. They claim to put the struggle against imperialism and large scale capitalist and landowner oppression and social injustice in the centre of their agitation. They identify themselves with several Islamic peasant social-revolutionary movements in the epochs after Mohammed and the four “rightly guided” caliphs. Theologically they differentiate between an “Islam of the oppressed“ and an “Islam of the oppressor“. In Iran Ali Shariati(1933-77) opposed between a Red Shi’ism of the workers and peasants to a Black Shi’ism of the clergy and the rulers. He was heavily influenced by Third Worldist Marxism, which he learned as a student in Paris.
63. In some respects this current is similar to the more radical sides of Liberation Theology of the 1970s and 1980s. Shariati’s ideas influenced the Iranian People’s Mujahidin, who developed a hybrid between Islamism and Stalinist ideology. It social base was similar to the Maoist organisations, the urban and rural intelligentsia. Whilst such trends do collaborate with the workers movement and the left and sometimes are not really Islamist organisations, their politics are hampered by the populist and popular frontist character of their politics, which will lead them to the political subordination to supposedly progressive or “anti-imperialist” sections of the bourgeoisie or even to collaboration with imperialism.
64. An overview of the different shades of Islamist currents and organisations demonstrates, that any idea or a “global” or international unity of Islamists is a fiction – a mythologisation both, the imperialist and Islamist ideologues engage in for reactionary purposes. In reality, the different Islamist organizations do not only vary in their attitude to national liberation struggles, to regimes, being in government or opposition, using terrorist or constitutional means. They are also national organizations, resting of specific social classes (or sections of them). Therefore, it is the global and national class struggles, which push Islamist currents, organizations or movements in different directions, may lead an Islamist organization to become a merely Islamic one.
65. The different shades of Islamist forces are not watertight or mutually exclusive categories. There are transitional and composite forms that can evolve from one type to another. Whilst some may be direct expressions of ruling classes and control a state apparatus on their behalf, others may base themselves on the desperate middle classes and petit-bourgeoisie. Some may even play a leading role in progressive struggles.
66. The political programme of Islamism and all Islamist organisation, however, is reactionary and utopian. Islamism is anti-democratic, wishing to put political decision-making not in the hands of the popular masses (let along the working class!) but in religious scholars who can interpret the Islamic laws correctly. Islamism is a tacit rejection of popular sovereignty. The creation of a caliphate and the fusion of mosque and state, with the accompanying attacks on women's and gay rights, and the rights of non-Muslim or sectarian minorities, would constitute a reactionary regime similar to fascism if not a form of clerical fascism that required overthrowing by the working class.
Marxism and religion
67. The rigid and dogmatic views of religious movements conflict fundamentally with the ideas and viewpoint of socialists and the progressive social movements as religious leaders attempt to inculcate obscurantist and utopian views within the people. Socialism is rational and scientific, based on the self-emancipation of all of humanity and our freedom from all forms of oppression.
68. Therefore, any revolutionary, communist organization will always conduct a struggle against religious believes and other idealist convictions. Communists will not only defend the right to publish and advertise atheist books, meetings etc. Any communist organisation will itself base its theory and politics on historical and dialectical materialism and therefore include a critique of all and any religious, i.e. idealist, thought. It will conduct a systematic ideological struggle against religion and any other backward ideology, which ultimately blinds and obscures the political consciousness of the working class and all the oppressed – even if they may be a confused call of the oppressed against injustice, misery, inequality.
69. Whilst dialectical materialism is our philosophical foundation including therefore atheism, this does not mean that atheism is part of our programme for socialist revolution - i.e. we would not reject any determined class fighter, who accepts our discipline and our programme, just because of his/her religious believes. Whilst the theoretical foundations of the party are and have to be consistently materialist, we do not demand that those workers and oppressed who want to fight for socialist revolution and the party's programme themselves have to be consistent materialists or even atheists as precondition for joining the struggle. What we insist however, it that all members of the party support a consistent democratic programme on religion – i.e. the separation of church and state and fight for this, irrespective of their personal religious or atheist convictions.
70. Unlike the bourgeois anti-religious doctrinaires and many anarchists, for us atheism is not the only, indeed not the most important part of our struggle. Indeed, as historic materialist, we know that the social roots of religion – being an opium for the people as well as of the people – will not be overcome and ultimately wither away by anti-religious propaganda, but only, if the class divisions of society and the blind, irrational character of the social relations themselves will be overcome and replaced by a truly human, communist social formation. Therefore, it would indeed be wrong, self-defeating and inhibiting the development of working class consciousness, if we would exclude religious workers from our ranks, if they are prepared to accept and fight for programme of socialist revolution. To the contrary, a determined fight against oppression, alongside religious peoples fighting this oppression, will be the best means today to break them from their religious misleaders and illusions. Therefore where religious organizations have a hold over sections of workers and peasants, it may be necessary for communists to propose common action against capital and landlordism to weaken the hold of these forces and to advance the class struggle. These united front tactics with religious forces are no concession to religion, but on the contrary in advancing the struggle against capital are at the same time advancing the fight against the suffering on which all religious illusions ultimately depend.
71. The discussion of the Communist International (particularly at its Second and Fourth Congresses) and the anti-imperialist united front tactic are invaluable foundations for the development of a Marxist tactic towards Islamic and Islamist forces. The general reactionary nature of Islamism must not blind from the fact that Islamist forces can lead struggles against imperialist, dictatorship or reaction, which we must support. Whether and which concrete tactic or action we support depends on concrete circumstances. Likewise one needs to differentiate between the real social meaning of religious ideology, between the interests of the different classes and layers which rally to the banner of political Islam; between the call for the rule of Allah from the mouth of the Imam – behind which is the defence of the privileged position of the ulema) – and the same slogan from the mouths of the desperate petty bourgeois or marginalized youth – which can be a confused call for food, jobs and housing and freedom from police repression.
72. Therefore, socialists do not make atheism the precondition for united front action with mass religious forces. However neither should socialists pander or subordinate their own views on social issues to religious beliefs. The goal of any united front with mass Islamic and Islamist forces is both to defeat imperialist militarism or other reactionary forces as well as to mobilize many peasants, the urban poor and workers under the influence, against landlordism and capitalism. Ultimately socialists aim to break populist movements along class lines, winning the working classes and poor to the programme of socialism.
73. Marxist revolutionaries are utterly opposed to anti-Muslim racism, which has become an important ideological weapon of imperialist reaction in the Western world. We defend the right of Muslims to practice their religion or to build Mosques and we defend the right of women to wear the veil, hijab or burka if they do so voluntarily. We call the workers movement to rally to the defence of Muslims where they are faced with oppression. In this way the workers movement can demonstrate to the migrants and religious minorities that it is the most democratic and progressive force and by this challenge the leadership of Islamists. Socialist defence of Muslims right to practice their religious believes goes hand in hand with the struggle against any enforcement of women or youth to subordinate to religious behavior against their will.
Islamist organizations and the struggle for socialist revolution
74. The very nature of the Islamist organizations means that in most cases, the workers movement and all progressive forces will be in struggle with and against them.
75. We are for the overthrow of all the Islamist regimes – be they puppets and allies of US and other imperialist powers (like the Saudi state) or be they so-called “anti-imperialist” regimes (like Iran).
76. In the struggle against such regimes and all Islamist forces, we fight for the separation of the state and the religion, i.e. for a truly secular and democratic state: against all religious laws state; no to all state funding and privileges for no to sharia law; no to religious schools and religious teaching in school; against all coercive religious dressing, …
77. We fight against all forms of oppression and discrimination against women, lesbian, gay and transgender, against all national, ethnic and religious minorities.
78. We fight for the independence of the workers organisations and all organisations of the oppressed – unions, political parties etc. from Islamic and Islamist state control. We fight to break workers unions or peasant organisations away from Islamic or Islamist parties – just as from any other bourgeois or religions parties.
79. In countries where we face mass reactionary Islamist forces or jihaddist groupings attack the workers movement, women and other oppressed, we must not rely on the bourgeois state to protect these, nor do we call on the bourgeois states to ban the Islamists. Whilst some states may claim to be fighting Islamism for pro-democracy reasons, the crushing of a political movement by the use of the police, intelligences services and the army only strengthens the power of the state to crush all political movements. Therefore, socialists promote the working class and progressive organisations (women, gay rights etc) to defend themselves and defend democratic rights.
80. The struggle against Islamism and Islamist organizations or regimes is not primarily and solely on religions questions. An Islamic regime is always also a regime to ensure the class rule of the capitalists and the semi-feudal landowners. Therefore our attitude to Islamist parties and regimes always has to take into account the concrete role Islamist organisastion play in a specific struggle.
81. This will include at times that Islamic states or forces clash with imperialism or its allies. We oppose all sanctions of imperialist states like against Iran and demand the lifting of these. It is complete hypocrisy that this is in order to secure democracy in Iran. Likewise, when a country like Afghanistan is attacked by imperialism and occupied, we unconditionally defend the right of the Afghan people and state to defend itself. We have to expose the imperialist lie that such a war was waged for the liberation of the Afghan people, to bring freedom and democracy, whilst in reality it was conducted to increase the imperialist strangulation of Afghanistan and to ensure a reordering of the imperialist domination of the whole region. We fight for the immediate withdrawal of the imperialist troops and for their defeat in this reactionary war. Whilst we give not political support for the reactionary leadership of the resistance against imperialism, we recognise the need to join in action to apply the tactic of the anti-imperialist united front towards such force.
82. Generally speaking, where Islamists head national liberation or other justified struggles (peasant uprising, struggle against dictatorship) or where an Islamist state it attacked by Imperialism, we support these struggles. This includes the application of the anti-imperialist united front. In all these cases, the application of the tactic must be distinguish from the actual striking or a united front agreement with Islamist forces since this will not only necessitate a clearly, defined agreement for common action against a common enemy, but also based on the freedom of organisation of our own forces and the freedom of criticism – including overt criticisms of temporary Islamist allies. Given the anti-working class nature of the Islamist forces, the call for joint action, will often not be heard or even rejected by them. But this does not make the application of the anti-imperialist united front superfluous, but rather means that the rejection of joint action or of freedom of criticism by Islamist has to be exposed in the eyes of the masses, demonstrating that in the end of the day, the Islamist put their religious sectarianism above the needs of a joint struggle.
83. The workers movement, oppressed has to be clear that any such alliance – if at all possible – will only of a temporary and limited character. We must warn and prepare them in advance for the case the Islamist may and eventually will turn against the progressive, democratic forces, religious minorities, … and that we have to be prepared for this.
84. Therefore, the temporary alliance must always be combined with the struggle for consistent programme directing the workers and peasant to take power, to from a revolutionary workers and peasants government.
85. In order to undermine and break the Islamists influence amongst the poor, the peasantry, the urban petit-bourgeoisie and even sections of the working class, it will not be sufficient to fight for consistent democratic demands and to be prepared for common actions against Imperialist reaction.
86. A major reason for the growing influence of Islamism is also the fact that it claims to be able to overcome the misery and degradation of the poor, of the rural and urban labourers by introducing a non-corrupt, proper and honest regime based on divine, Islamic values and law.
87. As we can see in all Islamist states (and likewise in countries where Islam is the state religion), this is a complete and fantastic lie. But in order to expose this, a courageous programme is necessary to solve the burning, resolve questions of the democratic revolution – in many countries the agrarian question – and to address the poverty and misery of the workers and the semi-proletarians, the urban poor.
88. The Islamist may demand “good” - i.e. Islamic – conduct from the rich. But, the Islamists “solve” these questions by backing the landlord against the peasant. They back the capitalists – be they industrialists, merchant capital or other – against their employees. “At best”, they will introduce the clergy as a “mediator” between the classes – and at the same time inhibiting or even banning any independent organisations of struggles of the workers and peasants. Instead of fighting of real, meaningful change – for the expropriation of the large landlords in the countryside, for the nationalisation of large industries, credit and commerce, for a programme of public works paid by taxing the rich (imperialist monopolies, large landowners, capitalist) they will just offer charity, breadcrumbs from the kitchen table of the ruling classes.
89. The bourgeois nationalist, but also the Stalinist and left reformist forces have failed to address these problems. They separate the struggle against Islamism, the understanding of its roots and the tactics towards it from the struggle for revolutionary liberation of the workers and the oppressed. This lead either to an adaptation and political subordination to the “secular”, sometimes also pro-imperialist forces in the name of defending “democracy” against Islamism – or in some other cases to portraying the Islamists as carrying out a “national democratic” revolution, being the legitimate leaders of a bourgeois revolution.
90. The history of the 20th century, however, has proved, that a programme which wants to limit the revolution in the semi-colonial country to the unresolved democratic tasks and to a democratic stage, will fail. The major democratic tasks can only be resolved and carried out, if the working class leads the revolution, establishes a workers and peasant government based on council and an armed militia to replace the bourgeois state apparatus. Only a revolutionary action programme, based on the strategy of permanent revolution and the internationalisation of the revolution will allow the working class to re-organise society in order to overcome backwardness, misery, exploitation, oppression and thereby eradicate the bases of backward looking reactionary ideologies and political forces like the Islamists.