Originally published in Marxism Alive # 11, 2005

Islamism has become a world phenomenon influencing masses of countries where imperialism is more aggressive today. This phenomenon is an essential part of the process of workers’ reorganization in the Middle East, Asia, Magreb, and also among the immigrant workers in imperialist countries. 

The occupation of Iraq and the war of national liberation that followed make this issue and the discussion it spawns among the world left red-hot on the agenda. This article is an attempt at deepening our insight into such a complex and decisive issue for the world geopolitics of our days.

Getting wrong ideas

A distinctive feature of the world situation is – there can be no doubt – the way the mass leaders have swung right, how they got integrated into the bourgeois regimes and how they cooperated with imperialism. The left in the Middle East or Asia is no exception to this “general rule”. The danger of an Islamic seizure of power, made to look like fascism was the ideal excuse for such a political capitulation of the Arabic left. This capitulation has another aspect. Hiding parallel to the magnification of Islamism and its reactionary tendencies is the responsibility of imperialism for the situation of destitution of the masses. Their integration into the political regimes, justified by the need to “fight against Islamism” additionally disguises or conceals the domination that imperialism exerts via local governments.

{module Propaganda 30 anos}There are many examples of left wing or nationalist militants who accept seats in ministries or become governors using that excuse. It is enough to have a look at Algiers, Palestine or Iraq to see how a fair amount of the left wingers refuse to have united actions with Islamic fighters while they do not seem to have any second thoughts about participating together with imperialism in military juntas (Algiers), in governments that persecute those who fight against Zionism (Palestine) or in occupation governments planted by imperialism (Iraq).

These “revolutionaries” of the Arabic or Islamic countries, who are the top enemies of any unity of action with fundamentalists, express – in our opinion – the “opportunist gale” sweeping across the planet. The particularity of the Arabic or Moslem countries cannot conceal the fact that the essence of the debate is the same all over the world: the revolutionary standpoint in the face of imperialism.

Islamist phenomenon

Islamite trends have been in existence ever since the early XX century, particularly after the Moslem Brothers emerged in Egypt in 1938. But after 1980, after the Iranian revolution, they became a thriving phenomenon in the Moslem world and among the immigrant workers in imperialist countries. We are talking of a “political phenomenon” for we have to see that there are totally different organizations, even if some call themselves the same way. For example, Hamas of Palestine is part of the Intifada and struggles against Zionism, but Hamas in Algiers (at present MSP) supported the coup, the repression and is part of the governments of the Algerian dictatorships. The Talibans claim to be Islamite, and so do the Hezbollah, the Algerian FIS, the Palestinian Hamas, Al Qaeda or the ruling Turkish party Refah. Even entire states, such as Saudi Arabia or Iran. But only the trends that are openly confronting imperialism have gained prestige in the mass movement of the Moslem countries and really shape the so-called “Islamist phenomenon”. After Stalinism and the former Pan Arabic bourgeois nationalism went burst in the 1960s-1970s they occupy a space in the resistance to imperialism and proimperialist governments. What are their main trends?

* They are bourgeois and petty bourgeois leaderships leaning for support on different economic sectors and wings of Moslem hierarchy (Shiite and Sunni) and they take the Koran as a collective milestone in the face of the imperialist recolonisation. They lean for support on the toiling masses in their mobilizations and protests, seeking space against the exclusion they suffer in the colonies and semi colonies due to the world process of centralization of capitals and the imperialist pillage. Essentially, they are bourgeois sectors confronting imperialism inasmuch as they are excluded as capitalists.

* Ideologically, they propose “Islamic states”: Bonapartist regimes and dictatorships with a religious cloak, seeking to disassembly and confront any revolutionary process. They persecute workers’ and young peoples’ activists and any trend reluctant to accept their political plans and their reactionary doctrine. Sometimes, they acquire fascistoid features (Taliban). Due to their bourgeois and theocratic nature, they are never consistent in their struggle against imperialism.

The debate on the left

A political discussion has started among the world left on the policy to adopt when these trends clash with imperialism. There are those who believe that what we have here are two equally reactionary sectors and that the policy should be “to call for peace”. For example, the demand “Neither Bush nor Taliban” during the Afghanistan war. Others equate it to fascism and in this way they can justify even military coups against it, as in Algiers.

It is within this framework – assert many organizations – that, unlike many bourgeois and petty bourgeois trends in other colonial and semicolonial countries, where accords for united action and struggle in the same military camp against imperialism can be reached, the guideline is “no accord” where Islamist trends are concerned. These trends will argue that fundamentalism is anti-imperialist only because it wishes to drive everything back to the medieval or feudal times. They would actually be medial or feudal parties. They do not move along the path of bourgeois progress but of “Asiatic reaction” and we must fight against them with the same power as we fight against imperialism. This is a totally mistaken position. Just as Lenin and Trotsky used to teach, when there is a confrontation between a weak country and imperialism, especially if the former has been attacked, we shall stand for the defeat of imperialism and, therefore, the triumph of the attacked country, regardless of how reactionary its leadership and its regime may be.

We could say that fundamentalism is similar to bourgeois nationalism. Consequently, preserving political independence and class independence, refraining from granting any political support to these leaderships, we shall call for united action with the Islamic trends that confront imperialism.

We are also definite about the repudiation of the policy of the negotiations that defend the indiscriminate slaughter of popular sectors simply because they are under the orders of “enemy or infidel governments” and that inspire the Moslem masses with a wrong idea on how to confront imperialism. The indiscriminate use of terrorism the in the way of Al Qaeda and its followers can only help imperialism to win over the masses for their policy, just the way it was evidenced on 11 September. We fight against the leaders by making everything hinge round the needs of class struggle and the struggle against imperialism and against the lackey governments. We must debunk their inconsistency, their charlatanism, their submission to the bourgeois interests, their false egalitarianism as part of this combat and we shall do it from the standpoint of the struggle of the workers and not from that of “fight against religion”.

Two opposed criteria for a characterization

Trends cannot be characterized politically by their ideology, even if the ideology is one of the components of that characterization. The essential thing is the class character of the trend, its policy and its programme, what they say and what they do in class struggle, their relation with the prevailing social system, imperialism and its links with the mass movement. We should not search for the determining element in the superstructure (ideology), but in the structure (class struggle). The scenario, where all those factors appear in the spotlights, is in the exceptional moments, such as revolutions or wars.

The errors such focuses may lead to

The analysis these sectors make of the wahabism, the ideology defended by Osuma Bin Laden, is a very interesting example. It is said to be “a religious movement of return to the origins of Islam” and one of the most fanatic visions of it. This is, generally speaking, a correct statement, but it hardly helps to understand the current clash with imperialism of a man linked for a long time to the Saudi bourgeoisie and imperialism. If both, the Saudi monarchy and Bin Laden are wahabites, why is this ideology the ideological support for the confrontation against UAS and for others it is the justification of the acceptation of colonial domination?

Actually, this “ideological” superficiality expresses the euro-centric education of great part of the left. The concept of wahabism is a European invention, of the European diplomats, to be more precise. Abd al-Wahab was the creator of the so-called “nayi” revolution, a process that, in the XVIII century achieved the first and real political and economic unification of the Arabic peninsula. The agreement between Abd al-Wahab and prince Mamad Ibn Saudi represented an attempt of a sector of an emerging bourgeoisie of the Emirate of Nach at expanding and unifying politically and economically the Arabic peninsula and thus responding to the stultifying domination of the Ottoman empire and the emerging British empire.

Wahabism became the ideological weapon of the movement of the Arabic peninsula, the theoretic and theological version of the social unification and of the political and economic centralisation. As a reform movement that produced a veritable revolution, wahabism allowed for the intrusion of Arabia into history. That is why some historians called Abd al-Wahab “the Luther of Arabia”. On the political level, wahabism began a Bonapartist monarchic regime, where the prince is the “first fighter, the first believer, the first merchant” 

Saudi Arabia

As time went by, together with tides and ebbs of history, the Saudi monarchy became direct agent of the British imperialism first and of the American imperialism after that, adopting the shape of a country that live off the oil revenues. The tremendous increase of this income between 1973 and 1983 was the material base for a major expansion.

As from 1981, the economic decline began: thousands of building companies and commercial firms broke and thousand of small and mid investors were ruined. Decadence began, accompanied by events that greatly affected the Arabic peninsula, such as the First Gulf War. It was then that Saudi Arabia recognised the State of Israel.

The regional role of the decadent Saudi bourgeoisie in the midst of the recolonising raid of imperialism in the Middle East and the accelerated deterioration of the living condition in the country brew the breeding broth for social protest and the emergence of bourgeois and petty bourgeois trends that that rise against the colonial puppet government. Facts such as the oil agreements with USA and the cession of territories for American troops to stay become elements that can trigger crisis and confrontations: social and in the bourgeoisie itself.

Bind Laden appears to the eyes of entire sectors of the Arabic masses as the heir of the “real” Abd al-Wahab, the one of the nayi revolution. Religiosity is nothing but the outer layer for the social indignation and Bin Laden, like Abd al-Wahab, a “nationalist”. As a matter of fact, it is not the Americans or the Zionists who are the main target for Al Qaeda, but the Saudi royal family. It should, therefore, be enough to get rid of prejudice and of “the outer shell of the things” to see that Bin Laden and his “modern” version of Wahabism are just a particular expression of bourgeois nationalism.

Revolution and counterrevolution in Iran

In 1979, the Iranian revolution shook the world: the bloodthirsty Shah Pavlevi regime was overthrown by the masses. All over the world and particularly among the Arabic nations and the Moslem toiling masses, this revolution gained approval and spurred anti imperialist and anti Zionist feelings. Parallel to the defeat suffered by imperialism, there was another top-level consequence: it caused a qualitative change in the Islamist movement. It is a pity that those who sustain the idea that Islamism is feudal did not take the trouble to study passionately this tremendous revolution, including the counterrevolutionary process that followed it. The Ayatollahs finally reached power (and have been in power for the past 25 years) together with the sharia and “Islamic economy”.

The revolutionary process that led to the fall of the Shah was enormous, with great student’ and workers’ struggles, especially among oil workers. In February 1979 the regime finally fell in the middle of a complete crisis of all the institutions, the armed forces and the abhorrent police of the Savak. Imperialism was losing its regional guardian in the middle of an ascent of revolutionary struggles, with workers’ organisation, the shoras, mushrooming and thousands of students and young people mobilised. The anti imperialist awareness was so powerful that even the Shiite clergy used language and expressions normally belonging to the left or to the national liberation fighters. Oil industry, the principal energy industries, foreign trade and banks were nationalised. A fair share of the distribution was also nationalised to ensure availability of basic products for the families and the Shah’s properties were expropriated. The Iranian left exerted strong influence. The “people’s Mujaidine were outstanding among the youth; the defined themselves as Islamic Marxists and we dubbed “red Shiites”. Ayatollah Khomeini, representative of the Shiite clergy, of the Bazaar and industrial bourgeoisie linked to the national trade, had a task to accomplish: re-establish a bourgeois state and close the unleashed revolutionary crisis.

Since 1990, the imperialist counterattack was concentrated on fuelling the war between Iraq and Iran. Nearly a million Iranian perished in that bloodbath. It is with this scenario that the Ayatollahs could accomplish their counterrevolutionary task. The war came together with the total capitulation of the Iranian left to Khomeini and the clergy. After that, the persecution and the extermination of any opposition to the ayatollahs’ regime began.

Is Iran feudal or capitalist?

Iran defines itself as an Islamic Republic. Their constitution is guided by the sharia and compels the State to work for “Islamic economy” and “Islamic banking system”, which forbids the riba (usury). The key issue in this debate is: What is Iran today, after 25 years of the Ayatollahs’ rule? Is it a semicolonial capitalist country or a feudal one? Or is it in transition towards feudalism? The Shiite clergy is nothing but a political apparatus of a bourgeois sector that rose to the top riding on the crest of the wave of the social protest against the looting that imperialism was committing in the days of Shah Pavlevi. This Shiite clergy is still divided today and in deep crisis, expressing the different bourgeois sectors struggling for some space of their own on the market confronting the imperialist recolonising whirlpool, or those who, like Jatami, humbly request some space a junior partners next to the imperialist master.

Their “Islamic economy” and their “Koran principles have been nothing but particular mechanisms for achieving the obligatory accumulation of capital. Let us have a look at some examples. The Foundations of the Disinherited and Martyrs that emerged with the property confiscated from the Shah were accumulating properties and now include many types of activities: industry, commerce, hostelry, airlines, and transport. Today they are among the biggest economic monopolies operated by the state, including the military ones and, according to some specialists, they control over 40% of the Iranian national gross produce. The interests of this sector produce rubs with the “liberating” policies and privatising projects encouraged by Jatami and backed by the multinationals in a discussion that is far from feudal.

Also, the Saving Accounts without interests have been, on the one hand, source of very good business and financing of the Bazaar bourgeoisie and, on the other hand, a mechanism for channelling the savings of the rural population and monetarising the relations of entire sectors marginalized because of the backwardness of the. It therefore becomes apparent, in these 25 years, the Ayatollahs have been busy accumulating values that are neither feudal nor pious.

Islamism after the Iranian revolution

The Iranian revolution generated qualitative changes in Islamism. First and foremost, it implied a radical cut with the pro imperialist fundamentalism encouraged by the Saudi monarchy. During a great pat of the XX century, Islamic trends were born and thrived sponsored by imperialism itself in order to counter the influence of the Marxist left and the Pan-Arabic nationalism. During the 1960s and 1970s, many of these groups were born, mainly at universities, linked to the power as genuine fascist bands dedicated to persecuting and murdering left wing or nationalist activists. In Morocco, for instance, the famous Association of Islamic Youth, responsible for – among other things – the murder of the leader of Socialist Union of Popular Forces, Omar Benyelun. Something similar can be said of the Algerian and Tunisian Islamists at the same time.

The Iranian revolution marks a qualitative change. When the masses enter onto the stage in the entire area, the wave after wave of struggles and uprisings forced those groups to seek new sites for themselves, to get dissolved or to disappear. Others were born in the heat of this movement, but with an absolutely opposite political sign. Thus Islamism appears as if it were a phenomenon in colonial and semicolonial countries confronting – in their own way – imperialism, and this is precisely what earned them approval from the toiling masses who see how their poverty accrues day by day with either complicity or obvious failure on behalf of the traditional leaders.

Secondly, Islamism acquired real mass character. The great revolutionary wave was to cause a sharp fall in the prestige of the traditional Bonapartist Arabic leaders and of the guerrilla leaders. The ill repute of Sadat, Saddam, Assad, Boumedien, the Saudi monarchs or even Arafat himself, is based on their incapacity to either annihilate Israel or give freedom and welfare to their countries, because most of them have overtly capitulated to imperialism.

Thirdly, it represented, fortunately, a genuine Diaspora of the Islamic trends. In the midst of their increasing weight among the toiling masses, the refusal of the ayatollahs to extend the revolution generated a veritable Diaspora. To put it in another way: Islamism as a political trend got more divided and decentralised than ever.

Palestine: neither Zionism nor Hamas?

A good example of the process made an impact on many of those groups is Hamas (Palestinian Movement of Islamic Resistance). Born in Palestine, on the Gaza Strip, during 1987, the First Intifada, still rather unimportant if compared to the other Palestinian organisations. It is not a secret that this organisation was encouraged by the Iranian clergy and at different times received support from Libya and Saudi Arabia. What is significant is that it was born with the blessing for the Isaac Shamir administration. Zionism encouraged an Islamic trend  in order to outweigh the Palestinian nationalist and Marxist organisations. But after the second Intifada (2000) the liquidating role of Arafat and Al Fatah leaderships, their reluctance to fighting for the destruction of the State of Israel and the submission of the Arabic and European bourgeoisie encouraged the growth important trends such as Hamas, that radicalised their position and became a reference for thousands of fighters in the Arabic world.

In other articles of the same edition one can find the analysis of the treason of the Arafat leadership and an even greater leap with Abu Mazen, president of the ANP (National Palestine Authority). Sami, a young leader of the first Intifada offers an interesting vision of the leaders known as Tunisians: “when they were abroad, we thought they were respectable people. Actually, they only came to do business, to make money. We are not like we are; they are individualists. They know this will not last long, so they get busy doing business and invest abroad (…) An area by the beach in Gaza is fixed up, the put up little houses for rent for the holidaymakers. A very smart restaurant opens, Le Moulin, catering expensive dishes, organise bingo sessions and dancing parties. These are very excusive places where this restricted social circle seeks refuge and can be visited by certain Gaza citizens near to the ANP milieu.”

They are accompanied by great bourgeois families from Nablus (support base fro ANP) who are pressing for the end of Intifada and send their children to study in USA or Europe. An entire generation of young people, the ones of the first and the second Intifada, “are bewildered by the failure of the Palestinian nationalism and by the errors of their rulers”.

With all this happening, Hams thrives in the poorest refugee camps and claim for themselves the banners of the struggle for the destruction of the State of Israel and the “recapture of the entire Palestine”  and the “recovery of the unity of the first Intifada”. As an alternative, the ANP offers “to employ massively the young people of the first Intifada in the law enforcement to secure the power (…) access to the military profession or to the police force is an alternative to unemployment”. In 2003, the Palestinian police had 50 000 members (the Oslo agreements admitted 9 000). Their mission is to repress all those who refuse to comply with the orders from the ANP. The Islamites became the target of the most brutal repression as well as militants of the FPLP and even Al Fatah.

The population of many refugee camps and suburban neighbourhoods increasingly sympathises with the persecuted and mosques become places of meetings and homage to those killed in action.

Among them, the Islamists appear as the most resolute in their confrontation – in their way – of the Zionist state (imperialist enclave in the Middle East) and they achieve deeper and deeper bases among the Palestinian people. But for those who are consistent with the point of view that Islamism is a pro-feudal trend or even fascist, there would be no chance at all of reaching any agreement with Hamas to fight against Zionism and imperialism The only possible demand would be: Neither Zionists nor Hamas”, actually adopted by most of the proimperialist left, who shamelessly place the sign of equality between the Hamas and Sharon, between the oppressor and those who, in their own way, fight side by side with the oppressed.

The tragic Algerian experience

In December 1991, Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) won the first round of the legislative elections in Algiers and their absolute majority in the second round was an almost foretold fact. A short time later, in January 1992, President Chadli Benjedid resigned and Algerian army took over, suspended the elections, illegalised the FIS and unleashed repression. Thousands of militants and sympathisers of the FIS were interned in concentration camps in the Sahara desert. The Algerian left, the same one that had so often exposed military coups, opted either for restful silence or for support for the military, as did the Communist party (PAGS) who had been crying out for the ilegalisation of the FIS. The repeated argument was: “FIS is fascist”. The lovers of democracy above anything else and elections as a universal panacea proved to be resolute encouragers of the sword, anything in the name of “fight against Islamic fanatics”

But was FIS fascist? It is enough to clear the surface and the media intoxication that this organisation was nothing but an enormous bourgeois electoral apparatus, born to lead the Algerian social revolt on to the pastures of elections and institutions. It was an attempt of a sector of the decadent Algerian bourgeoisie, with the cooperation of sectors of the enormous state apparatus, to maintain their territory in the midst of an economic, social and political crisis. On the other hand, the coup was an imperialist bet, especially of the European imperialism, to make the application of the neoliberal plan viable and to close the crisis that was inaugurated with the 1988 social uprising.

We must remember that, in 1996, the fall of the price of raw oil brought about dramatic consequences in a country where the oil revenue could represent as much as 89% of the income. The country lost about 50% of the income and was sinking in an economic crisis. The FLN, representative of the army, and the parasitic state bureaucracy living of the oil revenues, got engaged, with the blessing of the IMF, in the process of “liberalisation”. Economic and political reforms found their way to the agenda, privatisation of the financial system, the opening of the subsoil for the benefit of the oil multinationals, devaluation of the dinar, adjustments in prices, freezing of wages, closure of state-owned enterprises and layoffs (unemployment reached 17%) and foreign debt rocketed to 20 000 million dollars.

Against this background, on 4 October, a wave of strikes summoned by the UGTA (main trade union force in Algiers) was accompanied by a demonstration of students and young people from the poor suburbs. Ministries, banks, stores and luxury shops were attacked and destroyed. The government declared state of siege, repression began and so did confrontations with police; the outcome was about 500 killed and thousands under arrest.

The transition

In the midst of a deep internal division, the regime tried to lead a “transition” to recompose the situation. The different clans of the FLN and the army, with the direct cooperation of those who would later become leaders of FIS. Political associations were legalised  and Constitution was reformed. Municipal and legislative elections  were part of the process of “opening”. In March 1989, against this setting of crisis, social uprising and lack of leadership that the FIS is born. With the toiling masses in the middle of the stage, in the middle of the economic and institutional crisis , the formation of FIS was encouraged initially from the regime itself so as to try and “incorporate” sectors that were protagonists of the social discontentment.

In 1990 the municipal elections, the first election since independence in which several parties took part, FIS won with 55% of the votes while FLN was sinking stridently. All its policy was centred round the forthcoming legislative and a summons to the Constituent Assembly. As a token of good faith, they promised to call for a strike of cleaners to be suspended and to get its militants to clean the streets.

The first Gulf War

The first Gulf war was a test for all the Algerian trends. At the beginning, the FIS supported Kuwait, which is to say Saudi Arabia and USA against Iraq. It was Luisa Hanune’s PT, an organisation related to Lambertism, who – in September 1990 – called for the first demonstration in Alger against imperialist intervention in Iraq. Its success caused a change in the standpoint of several parties in Algeria : the FLN, the PT itself and other parties and personalities constituted the Committee of Support for the Iraqi people, that – soon after that – organised a new demonstration with over 200 000 people.

Among workers and youth, sympathy for the Iraqi people was massive. The grassroots of the FIS were totally baffled and started asking questions about their own party. This popular pressure made FIS change their position altogether and, together with other forces they moved a million people to demand weapons and training camps to go to fight in Iraq. This standpoint generated divisions inside the FIS and the price was a split with their Saudi godfathers and a death sentence imperialism passed on them.

While demonstrations against imperialist intervention in Iraq were becoming increasingly massive, the regime became more and more submissive to the IMF. Legislative elections were held in the middle of a rampant social crisis and under state of siege, with thousands of activists in jail, including some of the top leaders of the FIS. That is why, some political forces (including PT) called for the boycott of the elections. What did the leaders o the FIS do in this situation? They participated in the elections and called on their grassroots to do so, too. Was that behaviour proper in a fascist organisation? This policy shows what they were essentially: an electoral apparatus to canalise social anger. And they really stake everything on it, even if they had to pay the price of losing part of their grassroots: between municipal elections and the first turn of the legislative, FIS lost over a million and a half votes. In spite of that they still won easily. Then the coup came.

Women’s rights

One of the most frequently used arguments to justify the military coup and the repression of the FIS that their reaching power was supposed to mean “a threat to women’s rights”. Once again, a small dose of truth is used to give credibility to a great lie. In 1984, four years before the FIS was born the “lay” FLN administration passed the Family Code, according to which no Algerian woman could marry without the approval of her tutor, necessarily male, a relative or a judge if she had no family. A resolution favourable to a request of divorce presented by a woman is practically impossible. Beating is not sufficient cause. A woman can buy her freedom, but the price will be settled by the court and the husband. If it is the man who wants divorce, it is granted automatically, with right to keep in the marital homestead, something that spelled catastrophe for the thousands of women who wander in the streets. A woman is to obey her husband, her father and her father-in-law.

Since this law was passed, thousands of women have walked out into the streets to protest against it. But the “defence of Algerian women against integrism” was one of the cynical arguments to give support to the very same coup-making military men that passed the Code. Just a few days ago, the pro imperialist Algerian regime “defended democracy” by ratifying its basic contents.

The GIA and the civil war

After the military coup. Algeria went through a de facto civil war. As many as 150 000 deaths are estimated to have occurred in those 12 years. The FIS crumbled down because of the repression. But “Islamists” were blamed for the raids, the crimes in the villages or indiscriminate kidnapping and murder of foreigners. The GIA (Islamic Armed Group) was presented as the continuation of FIS.

This was, no doubt, one of the most shocking manipulations by the media. It is true that CIA emerged from a split in the FIS after the military coup. What the Algerian government, the European imperialism and their media concealed was that GIA actually “declared war on FIS” and made it a target for their attacks. In January 1994, they boasted that they had “executed seventy traitors” from FIS and in 1995, in Paris, they killed the exiled founder of the FIS, Imam Saharaui. Several researchers have revealed that GIA was militarily infiltrated. Everything seems to indicate that GIA wound up by being a sort of franchise under whose shield isolated groups, infiltrated to the marrow, could move.

There is another material factor that operated throughout that particularly cruel Algerian civil war. A parallel market, known as trabendo, has been hatching out based on smuggling and increased with the process of recolonisation as a form accumulation for a displaced sector of Algerian bourgeoisie.  The trabendo generates between 30 and 60% of family incomes. A journalist pointed out: “A pillage economy allows local chieftains, leaders of Islamite guerrilla and military men to grab hold of new resources and so maintain a level of violence (…) so, part of this immense population in social, political and economic crisis finds in the headquarters apart from just a job, a way of progressing socially.

Iraqi resistance

There is no doubt that Iraqi resistance is today the key to any revolutionary practice in the face of the war in Iraq. And here again the same question is posed: can the Iraqi Islamite be labelled as “fascists”? The first problem is for Iraqi Islamites are divided and confront each other, literally, with weapons in hand. Two organisations claiming to be Islamite are the main supports for the imperialist occupation: the Islamic Party of Predication (Hizb Al Deawa al Islam) where the Prime minister, Ibrahim Al Yafari and the Superior Council of the Islamic Revolution belong. On the other hand, organisations that define themselves of the Islamic faith, such as the Mehdi army, led by the Shiite clergyman Muqtada al Sadir and Sunni groups fight against the invader with weapons in hand. Can anyone, with any degree of seriousness call fascists those who fight for the independence of their country and to drive the invader imperialism out of the country?

Other articles of this number of Marxism Alive analyse the character of the resistance and express our differences with and criticism of such trends as al Zarqavi and develop a discussion with Gilbert Achcar, leader of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International who, using arguments similar to those we have analysed and criticised, refuses to give unconditional support to the resistance against the invader. The conclusion of this debate is that Achcar’s standpoint accompanies, with left-wing arguments, the standpoint of French imperialism and serve this policy. Unconditional support for the military resistance against the invader is the starting point for any position that pretends to be revolutionary.

Social roots of Islamism

Western media, especially in the imperialist countries, systematically identify millions of Moslem workers and young people with “religious fanatics”. Echoing this, most of European left explains the Islamist phenomenon with such terms as “backwardness and ignorance of the people in those countries”. If the development of Islamism were based only on these factors, why did the masses not restrain themselves to attending prayers in the Mosques? Why, instead of passive religious development, Islamism is associated today with a tremendous upsurge of struggles, the irruption of millions into the public life, insurrections and revolutions?

A cultured left-winger or a liberal bourgeois would not miss the chance of quoting Karl Marx’s famous saying “religion is the opium of the people”. But it will be enough to read the quotation to begin to envisage the phenomenon globally: “Religious misery is, on the one hand, expression of the real misery and, on the other hand, a protest against the real misery. Religion is the sigh of an oppressed child, the heart of a heartless world as well as the spirit of a situation that lacks spirit. It is the opium of the people.”

It is all about seeking for the roots of the phenomenon in its material base. That is why Lenin added, “The deepest root of religion in our times is the social oppression of the toiling masses, their seeming helplessness in the face of the blind forces of capitalism, that day after day inflicts sufferings and martyrdoms on the workers a thousand times worse than any extraordinary event, such as wars or earthquakes. Fear created gods. Fear of the blind forces of capital (blind, because it cannot be foreseen by popular masses) that at every step threatens to drive the proletarian or the small owner to disaster, “unexpected” , “sudden”, “accidental” ruin that turns him into a beggar, pauper, dragging him to prostitution, causing his starvation: this is the material root of contemporary religion that the materialist ought to take into account above anything else if he doe not wish to remain an apprentice of materialist.”

What can explain the phenomenon of Islamism is the brutality of the agonising imperialism, the countless expression of barbarism, bankruptcy of Stalinism and the former bourgeois nationalism, and the never-ending doggedness and heroism of the masses and their constant fighting spirit. That is why, to situate the combat against Islamist leaderships in the territory of “struggle against religion” will unavoidably led us to helping imperialism and the Ayatollahs that happen to be ruling.

If I has to summarise this long debate in just a few lines, even running the risks of any schematic definition, I should say:  the so-called Islamic phenomenon that has emerged in recent decades is, essentially, a distorted expression of nationalism. As far as revolutionaries are concerned, the relations with these trends are to be guided, in general terms, by the same parameters we use for national bourgeoisie or petty bourgeoisie leaderships when they collide with imperialism.. As far as we are concerned, the expansion of this Islamic religious feeling among millions of workers and young people of the world has deep social roots and any revolutionary propaganda against religion will be subordinate to the central task: the struggle of the exploited masses against the exploiters.