Monday, January 16, 2006

Discussing Marxism and Wilayat al-Faqih

I was talking to a left leaning friend of mine about Marxism. He claimed that there was never Marxist government anywhere in the world. It seems to be the common argument among Karl Marx’s apologists. The so called “communist” countries were never communists. That the Soviet Union, all its’ satellites, China, and Cuba were and are not Communists. The second well known argument, relating to the first argument, is that a Marxist society has not come. This is because Marxism, according to Marx, would be a natural evolution result from capitalism. So when a Marxist society comes, it will come from a Western industrialized country, not pre-industrial society like Russia or China. Apologists argue that socialism is the antithesis to capitalism and that from capitalist society, socialism will emerge.

Both arguments are weak feeble attempts at escaping reality. Between political idea and implementation, the implementation is never exactly identical to the political blueprint – but there are always enough elements to make the implementation the offspring of the idea. There are enough of Marx’s ideas in the Soviet Union to see that it is very much a Marxist state. The abolishment of private property and the dictatorship of the proletariat are two main aspects of Marxist government.

"Between capitalist and communist society there lies the period of the evolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat." - Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Program

"The dictatorship of the proletariat, i.e., the organization of the vanguard of the oppressed as the ruling class for the purpose of suppressing the oppressors, cannot result merely in an expansion of democracy. Simultaneously with an immense expansion of democracy, which for the first time becomes democracy for the poor, democracy for the people, and not democracy for the money-bags, the dictatorship of the proletariat imposes a series of restrictions on the freedom of the oppressors, the exploiters, the capitalists. We must suppress them in order to free humanity from wage slavery, their resistance must be crushed by force; it is clear that there is no freedom and no democracy where there is suppression and where there is violence." - Vladinir Lenin, State and Revolution

The argument that Marxism cannot grow out of a pre-industrialized society is another flaw argument. The key diagnosis of social problem of Marx for his time was not merely capitalism – but alienation resulting from capitalism. Socialism is supposed to be the remedy for alienation, not capitalism since it is simply the underlining cause. And if alienation is argued by Marx as the symptom of his time, it was argued by Lenin that alienation was the symptom of Russian society. Serfs were certainly did not enjoy the fruit of their labors – hence estrange from their labor. The mean of production were in the hand of land owning classes. The different between English proletariats in the 1848 and Russian peasants in 1917 were superficial in nature – their predicaments were the same. A remedy for one should work for the other.

One further criticism of Marx apologists is the obvious flaw of Marx’s economic determinism. Marx did not say if you do A, B will occur; and if you do not do A, B will not occur. Socialism, according to Marx, is predetermined. It will happen – as sure as the sun will set or that the earth will evolve around the sun. Marx apologists who argue that socialism will come from an industrial society neglect to see that in the West, industrialization had come and gone; and there is still no socialism. In fact we are in a post-industrialization phase.

The influence of Marx went beyond the Soviet Union, Communist countries, and self-described Communist movements. I was surprised to find elements of Marxism in modern Islamism, particularly with the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The term “revolution” in Islamic revolution is most evidenced of Western influence – particularly Marxist. This is of no surprise because Marxist approach and reasoning is very malleable. I am not suggesting that the Ayatollah Khomeini is a Marxist. He despises Marxism and its promotion of atheism. But he used Marxist approach, reasoning, and tactic to achieve an Islamic end.

“Islam and Revolution: Writings and Declaration of Imam Khomeini” is a collection of writing by Khomeini. Reading it, one can find Marxist terminologies and approach to the Islamic Revolution. Khomeini might find Communist atheism objectionable and dangerous. But he has no problem borrowing some of Marxist ideas to further his Islamic end. Khomeini’s idea of an Islamic state is heavily influenced by Marxism. Wilayat al-Faqih (Guardianship of the Clergies) is an Islamic version of dictatorship of the proletariat. The Guardian Council is the Islamic version of the Communist Politburo and the Supreme Leader is the Islamic version of the Communist Secretary General.

Freethought Mecca has an article “Islam & Communism in Iran” which I offer a illustrative few lines.

In the introduction I described Islam with a rather cruel, if not sophomoric choice of words, and rightly so, as totalitarian mythologies created by tribal nomads (be it Judaism, Christianity, or Islam) should be spared no sort of verbal abuse. Still, such language, when being used to describe Khomeini, does not give credit to the Ayatollah's subtle brilliance and political craftiness. This was not just a backwoods cleric who concentrated on nothing other than his beard length and stories about Muhammad's flying horse; rather this was a man who was able to blend populism, bits of Marxism, and even a small dose of nationalism with Shia Islam in order to create a new ideology.
First there is the influence of Marxism on Khomeini's ideology. With polemicists such as Ali Shariati, and groups such as the People's Mojahedin, Marxism was being promoted in various forms throughout Iran during the 1960's and 1970's. The idea of the poor uniting against the rich obviously agreed with Khomeini's ideology. His concept of the mostazafin (oppressed) and the zagheh-neshinha (slum dwellers) going against the mostakberin (oppressors) and the kakh-neshinha (palace dwellers) had obvious Marxist connotations.
Khomeini, at one point, admitted the influence of the Marxists on the clerics. Speaking of the late response of the clerics to the movements against the Shah, Khomeini wrote "[w]e cannot remain silent until college students force us to carry out our duty. [8]" It was also during this time that Khomeini spoke poorly of sarmayehdaran ("the capitalists"). Khomeini was even quoted as using the famous phrase "oppressed of the world, unite! [9]"
Khomeini is not the only one who incorporated Marxist ideas into Marxism. Sayyid Qutb, the most important theorist of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood incorporate Marxist concept of False Consciousness into this writing. Qutb’s student is Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the political theorist for Al-Qaeda. Therefore it is not unreasonable to see that today Islamic Fundamentalism is partly a Western product – a blend of an old Arab religion from the desert and newer German dialectic reasoning from old Karl Marx.

5 Comments:

Blogger Pedro said...

I've often wondered why people remain so dedicated to Marxist ideas, even 150 years later, after they have been proven so abominably awful time and time again.

I think it's purely out of a psychological need for people to believe that it's possible for a society to exist that has no problems. You are automatically more virtuous than everyone else if you seek to change society to make it better. And you don't have to make yourself better at all -- that's too hard, and it's not the point.

11:09 PM  
Blogger Dymphna said...

I remember writing a paper on Marx in college and being struck by the similarity between him and the Old Testament prophets. In fact, I called Marx "The Last of the Biblical Prophets."

5:52 AM  
Blogger sunguh5307 said...

This is a good opportunity to mention the Ronald Reagan quote:

'A communist is someone who follows the teachings of Marx and Lenin, an anti-communist is someone who understands the teachings of Marx and Lenin.'

Or something to that approximation. It's amazing how you see the current of Marxist populism running through popular culture and central to these authoritarian beasts. Attributed to Marx or not, it follows the traditional Marxist framework- if it looks like a fish, it's probably a fish.

Maybe Marx is just the modern articulation of some populist impulse that has plagued us throughout history. Hard to pin it down, but he's certainly been there for the massacres of the 20th century, and it looks like he'll be around to keep us company for plenty of time in the 21st.

9:11 AM  
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11:32 PM  
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11:31 PM  

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