Anti-war-movement and Islamism

This text was written by Arbeitsgruppe Marxismus (AGM – engl.: Working Group Marxism), one of the forerunners of RSO, in November 2001 and adopted as part of the political fundament of RSO in May 2007. Translation: Aria Nava (RSO Vienna).


 1. Under the designation Islamism we conceive forces, which construe and form the muslim religion as a political program and political movement. In their ideology they usually combine a rejection of western influences with a recourse to (mostly reactionary) elements of pre-colonial culture. They are always enemies of labour movement, women liberation and socialism. This applies for Islamist regimes in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan and Sudan as well as for Islamist movements in Egypt, Algeria, Palestine, Indonesia and Turkey.

2. IImperialistic foreign policy and the western intelligence apparatus contributed considerably to the rise of Islamism – in the establishment of the Saudi regime and the Taliban as well as in the implementation of the Iranian Islamism and the development of the Hamas-movement in Palestine. A crucial factor in this rise was also the failure of the bourgeois-nationalistic liberation movements, which weren´t able to keep their promises of a national way out of economic backwardness and poverty. Given the absence (or the elimination) of a strong anti-capitalistic Left the evolving vacuum in a number of half-colonial countries was filled with culturalistic-reactionary streams, for instance Islamism or Hindu-chauvinism in India (see to this range of topics our article “The West and Islamism”, German language).

 3. As much as Islamist streams are in many cases children of Imperialism, their political line is swinging between cooperation and conflict with the capitalist world order. That’s not a specific Islamist characteristic, but symptomatic for half-colonial elites, which are on the one hand as henchmen of the imperialistic exploitation system privileged, but on the other hand if they are under pressure (as it was the case in the neoliberalism of the last decades) they are occasionally revolting half-heartedly against their lords to get certain concessions out of it. Here they are considered that the mass movements used by them shouldn´t get out of control, also because they don´t want to question the existing social system from which they also benefit. That applies also for Islamists: Not just in Saudi-Arabia, but also where they act (ted) with a social-revolutionary demagogy (as in Iran, Afghanistan or Turkey) they don´t have a prospect that reachs beyond the capitalistic production- and property relations and that’s why they have to find over and over again deals with imperialism – also with varying coalitions like the Taliban in the mid-90s or then the Islamist Afghan North-Alliance.

 4. The Islamist propaganda phrases of the battle against the West und the return to the “own” cultural tradition, with which to lure naïve adherents are a ridiculous anachronism given the disparate und combined development in Imperialism. All countries are nowadays in one or the other form part of the capitalistic world order. Also the cultures of the half-colonial countries are irreversibly penetrated with influences of the western industrial societies. That concerns institutions of infrastructure and international economic alliances as well as weaponry and mass consumption. Saudi-Arabia and Iran provide the world market with petroleum and they tried to qualify for the soccer world championship. The Taliban are out on trucks and produce drugs for consumers in Western Europe and North America. Osama bin Laden participates in the Stock Exchange and sends out message videos for his fans. Thereby the agenda of the Islamic-traditionalist illusions isn´t abolished, but separated from reality and dissolved into (reactionary and often brutal) ritual acts.

 5. In their rejection of each form of religious superstition Marxists in the western countries shouldn´t push Islam in the foreground. On the contrary they have to position themselves clearly against the anti-Arabic and anti-Islamic racism, which is stirred up by the imperialistic establishment and they have to defend colleagues from these countries against assaults. In Europe and North America the political fight against religion has to be in the first place a fight against prejudices and claims to power of  Christianity, which was also responsible for the western colonialism – specifically a fight against the Catholic stupidity of ÖVP and CSU, a fight against Bush´s Christian highlighted crusade of “the Good” vs. “the Evil”.

 6. Imperialism has to be the main enemy for Marxists and the labour movement. Nevertheless there is the question how we should cope in the anti-war movement with Islamist currents, when they organize mobilizations against imperialistic aggression in Central Asia or when they participate in these mobilizations. Should we demonstrate along with these reactionaries? The answer to this question depends on the specific balance of power.

7. IIsolated groups of Islamists (largely organised in their adequate structures), which partly appeared towards the Left provocatively with Allah-akbar-shouts and which at least at demonstrations had no connections to a wider milieu of migrant labourers from Islamic countries – that was by trend the situation at anti-imperialistic demonstrations by the end of October 2001 in Vienna. We do not consider these small organized groups for inclusion or for an alliance and we even regard it as counterproductive, because it would upvalue these reactionaries.

 8. The situation is different, when the organized Islamists demonstrate mixed and interconnected with a major number of  (immigrated) workers, for instance Pakistanis in Britain or North Africans in France. Then it would be necessary to build also with Islamist forces a anti-imperialistic united front and to show in a shared/collective battle that the revolutionary Left can offer the more consistent perspectives for struggle against the imperialistic system, and to fight against the Islamists for the hearts and the brains of the demonstrating migrants. For Marxists the same approach is advisable as we have seen it in Vienna in the spring of 1999 in the process of the mobilizations of ten-thousands Yugoslavian workers during the NATO-aggression against their homecountry. Despite the massive presence of Cetnik-adherents it was necessary to join the rallies with an anti-imperialistic propaganda (and a critique of the Serbian nationalism) and not to abandon the vast majority of the unorganized participants to the nationalists. That the leftist freedom of propaganda related to this past movement couldn´t be sustained up to the end is also due to the fact, that a larger number of leftists faced with Serbian-orthodox icons and Cetnik-symbols left, also them, who are now trying to collaborate with smaller Islamist groups – as if the Afghan Islamism is more progressive than the Serbian nationalism, as if the committed crimes of the Taliban on women and the labour movement were less relevant than the violations of Serbian special police task force on Kosovar civilians.

 9. How should Marxists behave towards Islamist mobilizations in countries like Pakistan? As long as in a country of 120 Million people the Islamists arrange demonstrations with only a few thousands, as long as the big majority of the population is against the US-attacks but sceptical towards the Islamists, we consider it as more reasonable that the Pakistani labour movement organizes its own mobilizations against the war – as for example the LPP  (which descended from a Trotskyist tradition) is doing it. If the Islamist forces accomplish to win over larger parts of the population for their mobilizations, then common demonstrations could be legitimate and functional – as long as the freedom of propaganda for the Left is sustained. In general Marxists should march in anti-imperialistic alliances “under their own flags” and they should argue for class conflict methods and for an anti-capitalistic prospect.