Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Islamism, the reactionary and imperialist response, following the closure of the miserable bourgeois cycle in the Middle East

Let us start by reminding that the positions of communism have nothing to do with bourgeois anti-clericalism, whatever form this may have taken or may assume: liberal, anarchist, masonic, “socialist”. Communism links the fight against religion to the actual practice of the class movement, which tends to remove the social roots of religion forever, whatever they may be. When the revolutionary French bourgeoisie clashed with the old feudal régime, it had to fight religious ideology because, in order to let the capitalist mode of production progress, it had to promote its own science and thus do away with the ideologies that opposed it; by replacing religious faith with the Goddess of Reason and raising the banner (equally metaphysical in a society divided into classes) of Freedom, Equality and Brotherhood, the French Revolution is still the classical model of bourgeois revolutions, in this context too. Germany also had to attack the privileges of Catholicism, seizing many of the Church’s possessions and imposing a lay society. From Japan to Turkey, Iran to Egypt, Spain to Mexico, many other bourgeois revolutions have attacked religion. As to the countries of the Middle East, the attack on the Islamic religion was made primarily on the mosques and the Koranic schools. A different age…

On the other hand, bourgeois revolutions do not all arise and develop in the same way. There is a great difference, for example, between revolutions from above(Germany, Japan) and revolutions from below (France), between revolutions at the dawn of the bourgeois age and “revolutions” in the parasitic and decadent phase of its existence (the age of imperialism and anti-colonial struggles). The bourgeois anthems to Reason and Science (in the age of Enlightenment) have grown silent and the embrace with religious ideologies in all parts of the world has become closer and closer. The fact that from the dawn of the bourgeoisie at the end of the Middle Ages the struggle against the old society took place in a religious context (Protestantism against Catholicism, reformers against sectarians, heretics against fundamentalists of all kinds) is of no embarrassment to communism. It is clear to the latter that religious and idealist disguise is an essential component of the complex development human society goes through and on this ground, too, the communist method of investigation has had ample confirmation. At the bottom of the economic structure it is not religious disputes that take place but real and very material class wars. The constitution of the Calvinist church was democratic and republican in every way and thus bourgeois, writes Engels in his Introduction toThe Development of Socialism from Utopia to Science (formerly, a part of the longer text known as Anti-Dühring). The clergy itself reflected and still reflects the class division of the dawning bourgeois society: during the French Revolution, for example, its lowest ranks took sides against the nobility and the monarchy. In On the Origins of Christianity, Engels again writes: “both the French communist revolutionaries and, in particular, Weitling and his followers, look towards primitive Christianity.” And it should not be forgotten that the Russian Revolution of 1905 (the “first revolution”) began with a mass petition to the Tsar led by pope Gapon. 

Marx and Engels understand that the religious factor (the religious superstructure) is extraordinarily complex in a society divided into classes. From the study of its historical complexity derives an extraordinary vein of political realism, since this is a factor that will only disappear slowly, together with classes and the State, once communism has eliminated the roots of oppression in all social relations between people. It is no coincidence that in Book One of Marx’s Capital, when speaking of the value of commodities, he states that in order to find a corresponding analogy, we should look at the religious superstructure!

To return to today, we can see that in the regions of the Middle East the very idea of “nation” (bourgeois by definition) is impregnated with religious spiritualism, still anchored to a pre-modern vision: the concept of “Jewish nation” is as mystic as that of “Islamic nation”. Yet western-style bourgeoisies also reveal this attachment to the “religion of the fathers” (though the capitalist mode of production, its ideology, the revolution against the ‘ancien régime’, the Napoleonic wars, have all left their mark on the “form of the national bourgeoisie”), repaying the conservative forces of a religious nature in its social organizations with great favours. Images of popes, lay and religious presidents, monarchs and caliphs triumph in cities, not only in the Middle East, and crowds of people kneel down before them singing their praises. At the same time monetary and financial wealth, Church property embedded in the territory, the management of poverty, health and the education of young people by means of charity, favours and money granted by the State, make the powerful ecclesiastic hierarchies just as manyauthentic organized monopolies.

The old pre-capitalist relations of production, driven into the background a long time ago, have an extraordinary capacity for self-preservation and would be a hindrance to capitalist development if they were to operate in their most extensive form, free of constraints. However, capitalism, which is not only a mode of production but also an economic and social formation, has succeeded in absorbing, integrating and using the legacy of the past. The new relations of production, with the new figures that appear, whilst unable to get rid of the old superstructures completely, are nonetheless capable of perfecting them and adapting them to the dynamics of social control they are destined for. Mysticism, by giving a new form to the material and social premises behind modern capitalist nations, instils its essence into the social reality of class exploitation. And in the praises of the holy Italic (or Argentinian) nation coming from the Catholic pope, we hear the cry of “Gott mit uns!” (“God with us!”) of the war to come.

Encouraging the European bourgeoisies to carry through their revolution, Marx and Engels certainly did not stop to quibble over the rationalist and atheist purity of the bourgeois revolution since they were far more interested in overthrowing the old feudal conditions and taking advantage of the dynamics of history to push the proletariat towards power (permanent revolution) snatching it from the grasp of the bourgeoisie, which was then “revolutionary”. Today, presumed European or Arab bourgeois revolutions, more or less disguised in lay habits, would certainly not gain their blessing just because the same habits were worn by the bourgeoisie in its infancy. Having left the age of utopia behind it and become a science of class, socialism does not leave the “red flag of the oppressed”, belonging to the proletariat, in the hands of the bourgeoisie, however young or decrepit it may be.

As a State, for example, Israel is a European political formation of eminently bourgeois nature and origin: however, in terms of its superstructure, it shares the same reactionary ideology of the Islamic and Catholic States. Those who discover presumed progressive and revolutionary elements in Islam (there are so many new converts!) forget that there has never been a real bourgeois revolution in the Middle East, that the bourgeoisies that have arisen and been imported there have come to the end of the line and that today there is no longer any trace of the anti-colonialism and pan-Arabism of the end of the Nineteen Fifties, both of which have failed. And the national claims of the Palestinians at the beginning of the Nineteen Seventies (once a lever for a possible “revolutionary” process) came in that miserable Bantustan in which all the Palestinian political forces, both lay and religious, massacre one another and, first and foremost the proletariat, after having forced it into this blind alley. To see pan-Islamism with all its present-day variations, as the battering ram that attempts to attack the imperial fortress (a Bin Laden or an Isis, for example) and then pushes the proletariat of the Middle East once again into an alliance with the miserable Arab bourgeoisie, fanatic or lay, violent or pacifist, is pure madness.

The spread of religious ideology can be explained by the expropriation of traditional agricultural and craftwork (the agricultural, village economy, sustained by old patriarchal-feudal figures) with no accompanying industrialization. The nationalist movements (Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Algeria, Tunisia) were fuelled by the proletarianization of the post-war period and the failure of the agrarian reforms attempted later in the Nineteen Seventies. What pushed them still further were the affirmation of a modern agriculture (freed from the burden of small-scale subsistence farming) and industrialization financed by oil, together with the relaunching of manufacturing managed by the lower and middle classes with the inevitable corollary of unemployed or under-employed workers and landless, uprooted and urbanized peasants. The bubble of work in commerce and bureaucracy and a service sector providing social assistance changed the face of the Middle East, flooding cities like Damascus, Amman, Beirut, Cairo, Jerusalem with social uncertainty and poverty but also relatively over-populating them with Palestinian refugees from the various camps, each time the boots tramped forward on Israel’s triumphant march. 

All attempts to industrialize the territory thanks to the spin-off from technology linked to the extraction, refining and transport of oil, were harnessed by the big oil companies (and not only: motorways, pipelines, tankers). Attempts to import oil-drilling, refining and transportation technology on a large scale and to create a country’s own industry in that field came to nothing: dependence on the large oil companies has never ceased.

Whilst the Asian countries have entered the circle of hell of capitalist production stemming from the new technologies, the curse of land rent has weighed like a ton of bricks on the whole of the Middle East. At this point social assistance and religious structures (wealth, power, organizational and dissuasive power, support, possibility of establishing an educational path), detached from any link to the land and village communities, have caught the masses and proletariat of the Middle East in their web, submerged as they were by the fiercest proletarianization and urbanization, with no industrialization worthy of the name, directing them towards an attitude that looked more to the past than to the future. The alliance between the dawning bourgeoisies and Islamism with all its internal divisions formed a reactionary glue, useful against the proletariat but certainly not against imperialism. 

At the same time, the delay in the formation of a “nation” in the modern sense and the lingering of tribal, family and religious links has driven the proletarian masses back to the past. The “national” bourgeoisie has not carried the proletariat with it in the direction of organizing production and trade unions, which are nonetheless spreading spontaneously, though only around the large centres of transport and the ports. More than anything, the absence of a class party, a communist programme, holds back the proletariat from taking advantage of the gap opening out onto the future.

Today the dominant bourgeoisie is mainly that of the administrative and military apparatus and financial techno-bureaucracy linked to political and religious power. An overwhelming part of it consists of middle classes that have never risen to the level of a real, united, national bourgeoisie: half classes which, in the name of an old “united culture” attempt to hide their political and economic dependence on the West – half classes that boast a claim to “a human face” in the face of the relentless march of capital, thanks to the existence of a religious ideology.

The current division between moderate countries, closer to the West since they are great oil producers, and hostile countries, excluded from the levels of production and consumption, no longer corresponds to the dynamics of the dawning bourgeoisie that witnessed the attempt of the great States to pursue a path of “national” independence or claims to a common destiny (Pan-Arabism). From the recurring economic crises what increasingly emerges is the world-scale competition between these same States, which, for fear of being overthrown by the proletarian masses, upholds the status quo of the lay or religious bourgeoisie, which, despite everything, holds the power. 

For a certain period the coups d’état, the “palace rebellions” of the first half of the last century under the pressure and colonial and imperial leadership of France, England and America, seemed to have vanished, whilst the Nineteen Seventies laid bare the nerves of the whole system and the so-called national struggle was concealed. Khomeini’s “Islamic Revolution” in 1979 preceded by workers’ uprisings, started to have a profound effect on the Middle East in cities, factories, oil wells and refineries. Mixing capitalist modernity and financial parasitism, religious fundamentalism once more emerged into the light of day.

At one time it maintained this paradox: the more the economic crisis induced by the wars and the endless struggle in Palestine advanced, the more rapidly the inversion towards the past accelerated. Possible compensation for disappointments and the misery of the present was sought in it; the causes of disorder were looked for in “modernization” and not in the capitalist mode of production and its contradictions. The “negation of modernization” became a political factor binding together the poorest of the masses: yet these masses were the end result of proletarianization and capitalist modernization, not of the lack of it; this is why thepetit bourgeoisie became reactionary: because on the one hand it feared that it might fall into the ranks of the proletariat and, on the other, it feared the outbreak of the class war which was looming large on the horizon. Contrary to this, the national bourgeoisie in Iran (like Israeli one) succeeded in managing a modern type of industrial development and avantgarde technology, paying homage to Islam (and Judaism) as a means for controlling the proletariat and challenging capitalist competition: conferring an institutional guise upon religion.

The petit-bourgeois resort to fundamentalism obviously led to taking up once again the religious principles on which Islam was founded. For example, it led to the condemnation of modern usury (interest rates) under which it suffered at the hands of a gigantic, parasitic apparatus that had been won over by the “productive religion” of the West; it led to new reflections on Koranic charity as a form of redistribution of wealth, in a perspective of equality and equity. In other words, the demand for modern forms of income redistribution came to light, a sort of new, Middle-Eastern welfare (an authentic social democracy of a religious nature). “Militant” Islam corresponded to the social need of “believers”, who gathered in the mosques in a symbolic declaration of the “holy war” against “non believers” (who, to put it bluntly, were their western competitors!). 

The middle classes drew political sustenance from these social mechanisms, in order to promote fundamentalism, to join the ranks of those who defended homes, local territory, tribal forms, religious details, ancient customs. The impoverished thus became “raw material” both for imperialist, bourgeois politics and for the home-grown variety. Western, so-called “humanitarian aid” made it possible for real needs to be drowned in the assistentialist marshes of the refugee camps, the masses of people camping on the outskirts of Arab cities under the control of extremist fringe-groups and UN troops. The initial modernization had pushed out the old monarchical-feudal, religious middle classes and replaced them with new middle classes educated along western lines and largely present today in all Arabic bureaucratic and judicial organizations. The “enemy” was the West: its culture, its modernity and thus its immorality. And the West, in turn, retorted by accusing the Muslim countries of barbaric deeds, lack of democracy and religious mysticism. If, then, western representative democracy was now in a state of coma and on the other hand the “consultation chambers” in the Middle East, made up of lawyers, tribal representatives, families and so on, a throwback to earlier times, were unable to deal with internal social chaos, the only thing all the “competitors” could do amidst all this uncertainty was to place themselves in the hands of almighty God. 

The economic crisis of the early Nineteen Nineties and the war against Iraq have caused all the old ideologies, whose aim is the social control of the proletarian masses, to be rediscovered both in the West and in the Middle East. If, in the West, racism and nationalism have emerged and there is more and more talk of starvation pensions, minimum wages, insufficient social buffers, lack of social assistance, and the causes of ill-being are sought for in immigration – briefly, if the whole democratic scaffolding is unable to cope with the impact of social, political and economic emergencies, and bourgeois sociologists are wondering what will become of the democracy of tomorrow, then it is clear that the need for more a more minute form of social control, using the new technologies of espionage, is becoming increasingly urgent. The nature of the middle-eastern States and the imperialist bourgeoisies thus incorporates increasingly reactionary ideologies. Rascal parliamentary democracies (theocratic, social-democratic, lobbyist) and more or less tribal representation are still in place and urgently require the intervention of some new “middle-eastern spring” or other, to follow through to the end, sweeping away the immense accumulation of old and new, lay or religious trash. In the hope that it will be possible to run with the very old hare and hunt with the very modern hounds. 

If, at the end of this hellish scenario, the Arab and non-Arab bourgeoisies are not amply clad in religious habits (Sunnite, Shi’ite, Wahhabi, Salafite) all fighting one another, appearing to the masses in a new militant uniform; and if, at the end of a lengthy process, the Islamic organizations of Hamas in Palestine, Hezbollah in the Lebanon, Baat in Syria, Wahhabi in Saudi Arabia, Jihad of al Qaeda or nowadays Isis in vast areas of the Middle East have taken root and found new vigour, all this shows that the fault lines in the Middle East are spreading visibly. It can easily be seen that there are no fewer massacres amongst the same religious factions as there are between opposing ones, that the wars between Arabs have not been and are no less violent than those between Arabs and the West. It is therefore not a case of religious wars or wars between civilizations, but of fights between the immense economic interests at play in this enormous area of the world. What is more, history confirms that as to “effusio sanguinis” (bloodshed), men of God are no amateurs: especially when their arsenals are full of weapons!

Proceeding along the path of the so-called “Iranian revolution” taking root in the workers’ struggles in Teheran and Isfahan at the end of the Nineteen Seventies, and followed at the beginning of the Eighties in Europe by those in the shipyards of Poland, the metalworks of Italy and the mines of England, the scenario changes. If, in 1981, the assassination of Sadat, the heir of Nasser’s national battle, by the Muslim Brotherhood becomes the paradigm of a fanatical fight against the peace agreements between Egypt and Israel; if in Algeria the FNLA (the Algerian National Liberation Front), which had thrown out the French and had become a miserable, bureaucratic, military structure, is attacked by armed fundamentalist movements such as the GIA (Armed Islamic Group of Algeria), who from 1991 to 1995 had demanded an Islamic Republic like Iran’s, all this merely reveals the conclusion of a long bourgeois cycle heading for the abyss. From here onwards a new cycle begins that intersects with the world crisis of overproduction opening up after the long period of “American” over-accumulation at the end of the XXth century and the second Iraqi war of 2003.

Once again it is the defensive economic struggles that launch the signal: the struggles of the Egyptian textile workers and the demonstrations for bread (Mahalla, Suez, Cairo) and of the Tunisian workers stir the masses, urging them against the existing dictatorships (Mubarak in Egypt, Ben Ali in Tunisia) – struggles that are to be cut down by a new dictatorship in Egypt and widespread control in Tunisia, accompanied by the consensus of the petit bourgeoisie, summoned up “en masse”. The so-called “Arab springs”, the “beautiful revolutions” the middle classes are so fond of, mark the conclusion, with the immediate defeat of the proletariat, of the militant movements that had set in motion such enormous masses of people, dispersed by the Egyptian army in the fields and in the factories. And so, between 2009 and 2011, the struggles, now lacking their working class roots, extend to Libya (against Ghedaffi) and to Syria (against Bassar al-Assad). The needs of the proletariat, when merging with the interests of the middle classes protesting against corruption, general poverty and the “scandalous” wealth of the régimes, lose their own strength and are dispersed.

As a whole, these events nonetheless demonstrate that the processes of class war, still kept strictly under control, continue to brood in the guts of middle-eastern society. The real tragedy is that they do not find the class party on their path, the only one that can give a response to the many demands arising from the proletariat’s living and working conditions and from the desperation of the same middle classes which, as they sink into the social abyss, look for an answer in fundamentalist positions. As no solution is to be found, the course of history overflows on the one hand into a social marshland and on the other ends up down the blind alley of a war that envelopes the whole of the Midle East and involves North Africa. Only new earthquakes, profound new economic crises, can create opportunities for revolution – the epicentre of which is not to be found in the Middle East itself but deep in the heart of the imperialist world.


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