2001-09 Islamism and Capitalism [CWO]
From Revolutionary Perspectives (CWO) issue 23 (autumn 2001)
We are reproducing below the analysis of the material basis of Islamism made by a sympathiser who was brought up in the Muslim world.
Islamism and Capitalism
In the early 1900′s, the first cycle of capitalist accumulation was moving to an end, both logically on the global level, and operationally in the western countries. The perspective of the Marxist description of the crisis was realised through the colonial wars of the major rival European imperialist powers (and US capital was on its way to join the club). The tendency towards the fall of the rate of profit had to be countered by the integration of the colonial market into the world capitalist one and, at the same time, gaining access to potential and actual raw materials (1).
In line with the arrival of the crisis, the imperialist strategy became one of penetrating more and more into the pre-capitalist world, and the expansion of the capitalist world market. This expansion proceeded neither as a peaceful interaction between the rival capitalist powers nor was peace sent towards the countries that were trapped in the net of imperialist and inter-imperialist conflict as objects of colonialisation and semi-colonialisation. On the contrary, the whole process of capitalist expansionism, which was marked by re-mapping of world, concretised itself in war, terror and bloodbaths, which finally and logically culminated in the First World War. One of the achievements of World War I, beside major capital devaluation, was the disintegration of the pre-capitalist Ottoman Empire. The re-division of the colonial world by the European imperialist powers, at the end of the war, was strikingly apparent and the whole Moslem world fell, directly and indirectly, under the military and politico-cultural control of the western capitalism.
From the historical point of view, the exploitation of the pre-capitalist Moslem area in the Middle East and other parts of Asia had been going on for centuries before World War I. Napoleon conquered Egypt from Ottoman Empire in 1798, but it was taken back by Mohammed Ali, who was technically representing the Turks. Historically again, the process of primary accumulation of capital practically begins to take place in these countries between the two World Wars. The process of modernisation (capitalisation) in Iran, Turkey, Egypt, India, Malaysia, Indonesia… appears in one way or another in a similar way in the same period of time. The path towards modernisation and development was paved by its statification and the application of a large degree of state terror against the tiny working class and broad masses of the pre-capitalist structure in the given society. The task of the local ruling classes in facing the penetration of outside world was to create a nation-state from scratch concerning the lack of the genuine capitalist mode of production in the area. Mass deportation, massacres, and starvation were what the masses generally in the periphery, and in the Moslem world particularly, had to encounter for the integration of their little world into the big capitalist world.
Within this context, the influence and engagement of the modern capitalist world with the Moslem world has created the historical and objective conditions for the ruling classes (nationalist/capitalist, landowners/aristocracy, traditional and modern petty-capitalist) to exploit Islam and its relation with the masses as a mobilisation factor. The ruling classes in the quest to gain more or defend their own class interest utilised this mobilisation power of Islam against imperialist powers or for a change of imperialist masters in different period of time. The problematic of how and who has the right to exploit raw materials, e.g., strategic ones as oil and gas, labour power, the local market… in the periphery has been and still is the main cause of dispute and conflict among local and external powers and currents, which in turn, of course, belong to the same ruling family classes who run the existing capitalist world.
The socio-political reaction of the Islamic periphery to the process of transformation, from pre-capitalist to capitalist, appeared with both an Islamic and secular form of articulation: pan-Islamism versus pan-Turkism, pan-Iranism, pan-Arabism, pan-Afghanism… The secular one strove to establish a nation state based on the existing western model of capitalist life style. The Islamic one contributed the reactionary perspective of an Islamic management for running the capitalist life style. Along with these two political currents, the social democratic movement, considering its size and scale, played an immense roll in influencing politically the transformation phase of society from pre-capitalism to capitalism(2). Perhaps, the secular project for modernisation won the first round in the power struggle for mapping the periphery zone to the capitalist heartland. The task was supposed to be carried out by the newly emerged state machinery, which was and is the only force capable of fulfilling any socio-political project in these countries where the classical capitalist class did not exist until then. Thus, primary capital accumulation began to take place and in coherence with this process of the construction of capitalist structure: a public education system, national military service, a secular juridical system, a registration system. Iran and Turkey concretely mirror the rise of this kind of state-capitalism in the region: the 600-year-old Ottoman Empire and the Islamic caliphate were ended in 1923. Ataturk and his lieutenants, inspired by the writings of Ziya Gökalp, himself inspired by Emile Durkheim’s The Human Division of Labour, sought a society in which all class conflict and parochial loyalties were suborned to citizens’ functional or occupational roles: “solidarism” i.e., the building of an integrated, conflict-free society, characterised an outlook that spread throughout the Middle East.(3) Reza Khan (Shah), who was inspired by Kemalism in Turkey, declared the end of constitutional liberalism, which had in turn replaced Gajar dynasty in 1909, to crown himself as a new king late in 1926. He continued with the installation of modern state-capitalist forms, which evolved into the monstrous machinery that is the only socio-political body capable of maintaining the line of capitalist dominance.
But, in parallel with this modernisation project by the state, pre-capitalist formations remained operative on all levels in the society; the traditional market, e.g. Bazaar, stayed economically and politically as a power point in organising Islamic capitalists, petty-capitalists, non-capitalist affluent strata and other middle classes(4). The ancient community of clergies with strong links to the Bazaar managed to stay unshattered by the wave of the modernisation, which weakened and shackled it without managing to abolish it completely: the interruption in the course of the local cycle of accumulation due to high magnitude of the recession and crisis of the capitalist world on the economy constitutes the main obstacle to the full abolition of pre-capitalist socio-economic and cultural existence. So, in contrast to the western capitalism and re-formatted Christianity, the Islamic periphery has to contain two modes of production and cultures in its heart. In spite of this mosaic existence, the Islamic periphery’s integration into orbit of the world market and later global production determines generally capitalism’s overall dominance over social production. This is where the return of Islamism appears as an option to the western style state-capitalism: a perspective-less society’s trajectory from darkness to darkness.
Islam was born in seven century AD. It emerged from the socio-historical condition of the Arabian Peninsula, which was deeply divided by tribal structures on the one hand, and moving towards a deeper dislocation of the old fabric of tribalism facing outside influence on the other. The young Muhammed travelled with his uncle, following the commercial caravan to Yemen, Syria and the Middle East, where he probably met people and new ideas. He played a significant role by introducing Islam firstly as a moralist code and secondly as political unifying instrument for the country still marked by Bedouin life and sharp clan and tribal antagonism; the reason behind Mohammed’s success in introducing the new religion must be sought in the objective conditions of the Arabia peninsula. Neither the abstract ideas nor the moral codes implemented Islam among the people of Arabia. The concrete elements in his preaching about Islam’s universality, solidarity, tolerance, equality and kindness in opposing and replacing the barbaric instinct of revenge and separation of tribes played the main role in the acceptance of Islam.
Even if Islam was progressive in its historical surrounding in a historic time period, the passage of time and Islam’s main fundamental dogma (e.g. demand of total obedience from its followers, unequal role definition between men and women(5), to give two small examples), as any other religion, has transformed it to an irrational and reactionary system of thoughts in the modern world. Contrary to Christianity, Islam did not go through a long process of secularisation and enlightenment. The struggle against Feudalism and related social structures, state and church took very violent, ideological and physical forms. Behind the church, the doctrine of Christianity was attacked. The Moslem world remained relatively untouched in a historic sense and succeeded even in the era of capitalism to guard its old identity due to the inability and unwillingness of capitalism to eliminate the pre-capitalist structures of the society: consequently God did not die in the Orient (6).
Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and also the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of spiritless conditions. It is the opium of the people (7)
Nowhere and at no time in the history of mankind, has this true and tragic description of the relationship between man and religion crystallised itself so clearly and drastically as it does in the modern capitalist world and its Islamic periphery.
The initial idea of Islamism goes actually back to the starting phase of colonialism in 18th century. The ruling kings and classes in Persia (Gajar dynasty, Naser al-Din Shah) and Egypt (Mohammed Ali) were interested in, and, at the same time, afraid of the modern world’s progress. The Ottoman Empire was where the idea of pan-Islamism was formulated by Seeyed Jamal al-Din, later the so-called “al Afghani”: he travelled from Iran to India, Egypt, Afghanistan, Europe and the Ottoman empire, and returned to Persia to be deported back to the Ottoman empire prior to his death. He tried to convince the existing kings and the Sultan to support ideas about the Ummat (community) of Islam in order to push back influence of western (non-Muslim) power and succeed with the development project. Despite the reactionary idea of re-creating the ancient Islamic community (Ummat e mosalman), he worked and propagated to unite the religious and secular forces of the society in the camp against Western powers: Imperialism. In contrast to most of the pan-Islamists of the 20th century, he argued for the power of Islam in mobilising the masses against the foreign powers, but underlined the negative affect of it in holding back development in the region.
In the period after the Russian revolution, a wave of an anti-imperialist movement swept across the east. The movement, as a reflection of the actual economic changes in the process of accumulation (commodity versus financial capital), displayed the initial sign of the end of direct colonial imperialist dominance. The anti-imperialism wave as tool and method of a historically handicapped nationalism came to surface partly as consequences of the re-division of the Old World and, at the same time, of an inspiration from the Russian revolution.
In the Moslem countries, the nationalist movement is guided in its early stages by the religious-political slogans of the pan Islamic movement, and gives the great power diplomats and officials the opportunity to exploit the prejudices and ignorance of the broad masses and turn them against the national movement (British imperialism dabbles in pan Islamism and pan Arabism and plans to transfer the Caliphate to India; French imperialism pretends to “Moslem sympathies”). However, as the national liberation movements grow and mature, the religious-political slogans of pan-Islamism will be replaced by political demands.(8)
As history has shown us, the Islamism was not replaced by the assumed nationalism. It actually evolved into an ideology capable of maintaining the capitalist order with non-capitalist ideological and cultural measures. There are two main reasons for the IIIrd international’s failure to realise the outcome of Islamism as an ideological-political perspective of the ruling classes: 1) The defence of the capitalist question of self-determination and national liberation; and 2) it was not able to see and verify capitalism’s failure to completely demolish and replace the pre-capitalist mode of production. Concerning the first point, the modern and traditional ruling classes consciously raised and utilised the question of self-determination and national liberation in their camp to break from the old colonial structure and rearrange new set of relations with the imperialist structure. This was another historic moment again verifying the validity of Rosa Luxembourg’s theory versus Lenin’s on the same question. “Today the nation is but a cloak that covers imperialistic desires, a battle cry for imperialistic rivalries(9)”. Because, in the final analysis, every one of the nation-states, regardless of the ideology (Islamism, Saudi Arabian, secular: Egypt) the Islamic periphery was build by the direct or indirect support and involvement of the imperialist powers. On the second point, it reminds us of similarities of today’s erroneous idea about the dominance of capital as an abstract entity. Without having a genuine analysis, we dismiss the relation between Islamism and the co-existence of capitalism and pre-capitalist modes of production.
A- Contrary to some assumptions that Islamism is the pure reflection of the capitalist mode of production, it is not. It is the confusing expression of the co-existence of at least two modes of production. On ideological and political level, Islamism has certainly similarities with Fascism (inherited from capitalism), but it is theologically-based ideology, and despite it is in fact the masterpiece of the capitalist order, it is ironically in contradiction with the same order in certain levels. It is not a gender- or race-based ideology, as it is the case for Fascism in the centre.
B- Historically, the Islamic periphery has not gone through the modernisation phase, building of the nation-state and nationalism has not been completed in the region. Probably, this process will never be completed due to the fact of the permanent crisis of the existing dominant global order, and the current global tendency towards regionalism.
C- The battle for the control of the most strategic raw materials, oil and gas, have been the main reason behind all of the imperialist conflicts and the internal power struggles in the Middle East and the capitalist Islamic periphery since the turn of twenty century.
D- The only way out from these conditions, for the broad dispossessed masses and the working masses, is to be mature, from communist point of view, and implement an internationalist perspective in the camp against the existing order for emancipation from yoke of the capital and Co.
1- Western Europe and the United States Economic History, Dudley Dillard
2- Abrahamian, Iran Between two Revolutions
3- A Political Economy of the Middle East, Alan Richards and John Waterbury.
4- Nikki R., Keddie, Roots of Revolution.
5- Verses from the Koran:
2.228. Women who are divorced shall wait, keeping themselves apart, three (monthly) courses. And it is not lawful for them that they should conceal that which Allah hath created in their wombs if they are believers in Allah and the Last Day. And their husbands would do better to take them back in that case if they desire reconciliation. And they (women) have rights similar to those (of men) over them in kindness, and men are a degree above them. Allah is Mighty, Wise.
2.282. But if he who oweth the debt is of low understanding, or weak or unable himself to dictate, then let the guardian of his interests dictate in (terms of) equity. And call to witness, from among your men, two witnesses. And if two men be not (at hand) then a man and two women, of such as ye approve as witnesses, so that if the one erreth (through forgetfulness) the other will remember.
4.11. Allah chargeth you concerning (the provision for) your children: to the male the equivalent of the portion of two females.
4.34. Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded. As for those, from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart; and scourge (beat) them. Then if they obey you, seek not a way against them Lo! Allah is ever High Exalted, Great.
Equally, in numerous hadiths on which are based the Islamic laws, we learn of the woman’s role – to stay at home, to be at the beck and call of man to obey him (which is a religious duty), and to assure man a tranquil existence. Here are some examples of these traditions: The woman who dies and with whom the husband is satisfied will go to paradise. A wife should never refuse herself to her husband even if it is on the saddle of a camel.
6- Maxim Rodinson, Muhammed
7- Karl Marx, Collected Works, volume 3, p-175.
8- Theses, Resolutions and Manifestos of the First Four Congress of the III International, p. 411.
9- Rosa Luxembourg, Junius, The Crisis in the German Social Democracy.