Unity against islamist political movement

The question of islam is an issue that still generates more confusion than clarity. This is an abridged version of an important article by the late R Yürükoglu, former general secretary of the Communist Party of Turkey (TKP). The TKP is one of the co-sponsors of this year's Communist University.

Writers in numerous countries have been trying for years to find a suitable name for movements striving to establish an islamic state, a state based on sharia. Three names have come to the fore as a result of these attempts: 'radical islam', 'islamic fundamentalism' and 'islamist political movement'. The first two do not fully explain the phenomenon. The third, since it does not affront muslims and islam as a whole, and since it underlines primarily the political aspect of the movement, seems to be more correct. If we consider the islamist political movement as a phenomenon confined to the borders of Turkey, then we commit a serious error. It is a worldwide, international menace. Therefore, not only the causes of development of the movement, but also counter-measures, should be sought at national and international levels. Causes of development First of all, one point should be emphasised: the islamist political movement strives to mould religion and state as a single entity. The concept of the state based on sharia is a product of a Middle Ages mentality, a relic of that period. However, the causes of the movement's development should be sought and discovered in the present and in two ways: internationally and domestically. In all muslim societies throughout the world today, the islamist political movement is undergoing an important reactivation. However, it poses the most serious threat in countries going through the process of transformation from a peasant society to a modern industrial society. The new economic order and neoliberalism have produced a certain economic growth at the periphery, and a huge increase in the expectations of the masses. The popular classes in these peripheral countries have nothing but unemployment and poverty. Yet a small minority have begun to enjoy extraordinary and exaggerated wealth. The result of these circumstances today, when progressive ideology and politics have endured a terrible, nonetheless temporary defeat, has been a rise in the traditionalist reactions against the west, regarded as the source of this situation. With the collapse of the Soviet state-bureaucratic socialist system, Marxism, the only consistent, progressive ideology capable of responding to the aspirations of the workers throughout the world, has received a terrible political shock. A huge vacuum has been created worldwide. The eruption of religious ideology in underdeveloped and middle-developed countries that we are observing today takes advantage precisely of the existence of such a vacuum. Since the muslim religion is widespread in such countries, it has benefited from the largest share of this eruption. The rising islamist political movement in these countries is generally reflecting the reaction of the petty bourgeois masses against the established order. However, it is not channelling this reaction against capitalism and imperialism in a progressive direction, but in a reactionary one. One should not be duped by the 'anti-establishment' rhetoric of this movement, nor should one have any illusions about its potential for establishing an order in the interest of the working masses. Apart from the fact that with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Marxism - the only way for the emancipation of the working people - has temporarily lost its appeal, bourgeois-capitalist ideology too has been for a long time gripped by a deadly crisis. Not even the temporary difficulties endured by Marxist ideology have been capable of reviving capitalist ideology. Moreover, in muslim societies, such an ideology is represented by an already feeble bourgeoisie. When compared with its counterparts in the west, the bourgeoisie is weak, ruthless, crude and arrogant in such countries - countries where, leaving aside the global situation, the working class and its ideology are powerless, despite having attained considerable quantitative levels in certain countries. This weakness finds its root causes in the short history of the working class, in its poor tradition of organisation, and in the downward tendency in the mean level of class consciousness due to rapid swelling of its ranks from the countryside. Consequently, we may speak of a 'hegemony vacuum' on the social and political level in those societies where the islamist political movement looms as a threat. With their economy trapped within a chronic 'bottleneck-crisis-progress' cycle, and the positioning of the working class and the bourgeoisie as mentioned above, the only truly functioning organisation, with its long history of involvement in every aspect of society, is the mosque. The islamist political movement is the enemy of all progress, and is the main historical obstacle holding back the liberation of the Anatolian people from backwardness. Events in Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Egypt, Algeria, Sudan and Iran today illustrate clearly how we are up against a movement totally hostile to democracy in every respect. Blood flows freely wherever the islamist political movement enters the scene. In opposition 1. Whatever is written in the party programme, the aim of the islamist political movement is to establish an 'islamic state' - that is, a state based on sharia. It wants to unify religion and the state, to subordinate the state to religion. 2. It is an anti-secular movement. Secularism is regarded as an insult, as infidelity. As can be observed throughout the world, by increasing social tension, by creating conflict at every level of society and by aggravating this conflict, it splits the whole of society into the secular and the religious. 3. In order to be able to survive, this movement is a mortal enemy of class reality. Since it splits society into believers and infidels, it overshadows class reality, suppresses it and diminishes class potential. 4. It splits and dismembers democratic organisations and institutions at every level of society. 5. It organises: (a) those 'rootless' people who break away from the traditional lifestyle and congregate in cities, but cannot participate in production; (b) simple commodity producers, tradesmen and artisans: in other words, petty bourgeois producers; (c) small businessmen, small capitalists - in other words the non-monopoly bourgeoisie - which are the real invigorating force and often provide its leading cadre. Therefore, the class content of, for example, the Welfare Party in Turkey is small capitalists - ie, the non-monopoly bourgeoisie - and to a certain extent small tradesmen. 6. This movement is totally against such notions as 'enlightenment', democracy, secularism and individual liberties. 7. It is against not only the reality of class, but the reality of nation as well. It defends the notion of religious community. It does not recognise national boundaries. It is perfectly aware of the fact that, if its march is halted at some point, if it cannot conquer the entire world, then it will collapse. 8. Precisely for these reasons, it will not accept the legal framework of any state. State laws are simply elements of evil to be abolished. 9. It is anti-democratic in the real sense of the word. It cannot be otherwise. 10. It does not recognise the notion of 'citizen' in society. All social units other than the family are also rejected. 11. It is a jihadi movement. It has to wage war against, and shed the blood of, everybody who is not on its side or made a part of it. By definition and due to its structure it cannot be a peaceful movement. 12. It politicises the whole of society. (This may seem a good thing to some, but the real consequences appear only after it seizes power. We will come back to this shortly.) 13. It cries out for culture, morals and justice, but at every step in engenders lack of culture, immorality and injustice. 14. Right from the beginning it blunts and lowers society's potential for reflection. It replaces wisdom, enquiry and logic with the acceptance of the 'absolute', and absolute obedience. Apart from the great harm this causes to society, the organisational advantages that it thus conceals are enormous. Compared with its adversaries, it is extremely disciplined. 15. It engenders a cult of violence and denunciation throughout society. As has been observed concretely in Iran, small children through ignorance denounce their parents in the name of islam. 16. It is a totalitarian movement right from the beginning. It brings order to every aspect of social life by attempting to squeeze everything into a single 'right'. In social and political life 1. The modern, secular state is overthrown and replaced by a state organised according to the canonical rules of islam. 2. The structure of state authority is modified. Ideological (religious) sections assume the highest importance within the new authority. 3. A form of state that is in permanent crisis emerges. This crisis originates from the permanent conflict between the capitalist infrastructure and the superstructure (the new state). 4. In a similar manner a society undergoing permanent crisis and tension emerges. The excessive politicisation that it creates while in opposition gradually exhausts society and creates its antithesis. An apolitical society gradually develops. The persistent fall in the ratio of participation in Iran's elections is an indication of this. 5. It destroys the entire political system, and replaces it with the organs of the sharia, the canonical rule of islam. 6. It monopolises political power in the hands of a religious 'eminence' or a small religious caste or group of hodjas (the term originally meant 'teacher', but later came to mean 'religious leader'). This too has a very important reason. The social base, which supports it in opposition and carries it to power, consists of antagonist classes and strata. Since the tension created by the antagonism in this social base and power bloc is permanent, political centralisation in the hands of a small group or a single person becomes necessary. 7. The state, as an instrument of this centralisation, is enlarged in every possible direction and encroaches into every sphere. What finally emerges is an absolutist, totalitarian state. In the economic sphere 1. The fundamental duty of the state is to provide the external conditions of production. However, the emerging totalitarian anti-democratic state based on the canonical laws of islam, because of its own ideological formation, creates on the contrary fetters on the external conditions of production. 2. The working of the law of value in the economy is restricted. The exchange of goods is not based on value: it depends on arbitrary decisions. In addition to this, some parts of the economy are developed or obscured according to the view taken by religious ideology. Consequently, in the islamic state, a sort of anarchism develops in production and exchange. 3. Small capitalists, who make up the driving force and the leadership cadres of the islamist political movement, change once they seize the economy and the state, promoting themselves into a big bourgeoisie (this is what has happened in Iran). The islamic state in Iran froze the minimum wage for 10 years, and then was obliged to increase it by 300% on the 15th anniversary of its rule. On the other hand prices went up by 1,000%-3,000%. As a consequence, the intense exploitation of labour and accumulation of capital took place. Observing similar tendencies in other countries, we may say that the freezing of wages through an intensive inflationary policy is a characteristic of the islamic state. But the denial to society of an objective judicial framework and the widespread sentiment of insecurity due to the permanent dispute within the ruling bloc is hampering the employment of this accumulation for long-term investment. The potential for economic development is declining. The burden of an overbearing state on the economy is growing. The state has become more and more of a consumer, and public investments have declined at the same time. The islamist government in Iran has never been able to enforce monetary or legal measures efficiently. As a result of attempting to govern an industrialising or capitalist contemporary society with a 1,300-years-old legal code, the islamist bourgeois government is weakening the bourgeois state. Crying out for morality, culture and justice while in opposition, the islamist political movement drags the country, where it seizes power, back into the darkness of the Middle Ages. The approach of communists In Turkey our intelligentsia in general (and regrettably some class-conscious workers too) consider the question of the Welfare Party as that of freedom of faith, a question of democracy. What sort of an understanding of 'democracy' is this? It is precisely the 'abstract', supra-class concept of democracy of the petty bourgeois intellectual that is completely out of touch with reality. Freedom and democracy must have a framework and reference point. If these do not exist, then neither do freedom and democracy. To attempt to consider the question of the Welfare Party from the point of view of freedom of faith or as a question of democracy is an error right from the beginning. It is above all a methodological error. To discuss the subject from that point of view is precisely what the religious political movement wants. Are they not the ones who moan on every occasion about 'freedom of the believers' and 'our democratic rights'? The only correct approach to the problem of the pro-sharia party is not one that bases itself on the freedoms and democratic rights for the Welfare Party, for example, but the principles of the modern, secular, democratic state. A firm ideological struggle should be waged against the Welfare Party. A lucid response should be formulated and the hypocritical nature of this deceitful movement should be exposed. We all agree on these points, which should be pursued at all costs. However, the main theme of this struggle, its starting and finishing point, should be the secular state. All rights and freedoms are shaped precisely within the framework of this question. To recapitulate, the correct approach to the islamist party is based not on individual and palliative rights and freedoms with their ambiguously defined criteria. The framework for the existence and maintenance of freedoms and all democratic rights, the defining criterion, is the modern, secular, democratic state. Let us now briefly deal with three distorted attitudes in relation to the secular state. 1. The Welfare Party considers, on the one hand, that secularism is an insult, and views it as a profanity of imperialism, but, on the other hand, as the occasion arises in the press or on TV to exploit feelings, it cries, 'What sort of secularism is this? The state is meddling with the religion of the believers, seizing our headscarves and oppressing us.' By using such demagogy, it is not discussing secularism, but identifying secularism with its own 'rights'. It is reducing it to the 'freedom of belief of believers'. 2. Our intellectuals do not consider secularism as a social and legal framework within which all the democratic rights and freedoms are realised. They consider freedom and democracy to be without bounds or limits. They reject the relationship between necessity and freedom from a philosophical point of view, even if they are not aware of this fact. Their cowardice leads them to come to an understanding of a kind of 'absolute' freedom - a sort of anarchism. 3. The third distorted attitude is the common attitude of bourgeois politicians, irrespective of the political party they belong to. What we have lived through over the last few years in particular has shown us all that these politicians, these state officials, are far from capable of drawing the line between religion and secularism, between the state and the mosque. If one is to be consistent, then either one should forbid the mixing of religion with politics at all levels, or one should allow religion to mix with politics as it wishes. There is no middle road. You are either secular or anti-secular. However, our dwarf politicians, who are totally incapable of becoming statesmen, can identify themselves with neither of these. Forbidding the mixing of religion with politics at all levels? Bourgeois politicians do not want that. Because what they want is not a situation where state and politics rely on free will in the true sense of the word, but rather on the acceptance in general, with the support of religion, of the existing situation by society. The full-scale, even fanatical, interference of religion with politics and the state? Our bourgeois politicians do not want that either. They rather want religion to support the superficially secular state as it exists today. But the state should not find itself in a situation where it becomes dependent on religion. However, our blinkered politicians are incapable of seeing that, once you mix religion with politics (no matter how little), so that religion decides in a 'secular manner' how to react to political issues, now that is truly the biggest treachery, 'infidelity' and cruelty. Whoever uses religion in politics must necessarily give to religion the determining role in all issues. We may adapt an expression, used in a different context, here: 'Using religion a little bit is like being a little bit pregnant!' The baby is born sooner or later. And that means counterrevolution, a state based on the canonical codes of islam. The secular state The Welfare Party is a party founded on lies. It distorts the notion of secularism, defining it only as the "freedom of belief of the believers" - a one-sided definition. Secularism has three fundamental principles: 1. The foundation stone of the philosophy of the modern secular-democratic state is the total removal of religion from inside the state. Moreover, religious organisations must not receive a single penny from state funds. 2. The state, on the other hand, must interfere in no way with the freedom of belief of the believers. 3. The state as well as religion must be kept out of education (on the other hand, communities of believers may form their own schools using their own funds). These three fundamental principles were developed in particular by the great bourgeois thinkers and philosophers of the 'age of enlightenment' due to the necessities imposed by social progress, and thus the notion of secularism came into existence. All the civilised countries have accepted the notion of secularism. However, to what extent these principles have been put into practice in each country has been determined by the struggle between, on the one hand, the reactionary classes and strata, and, on the other, the classes and strata representing progress. Moreover, in each country this class struggle has marched in tune with the historical and economic realities of the country. How did Marx and Engels define secularism? Let us emphasise that the citations below are not ideas specific to Marxism or 'communism', but constitute a complete and consistent consideration of the notion of secularism, which has become institutionalised since the great French revolution of 1789. Marx and Engels summarise the notion of secularism, developed by the classical philosophers, in this way: "Complete separation of the church from the state. All religious communities without exception are to be treated by the state as private associations. They are to be deprived of any support from public funds and of all influence on public schools (they cannot be prohibited from forming their own schools out of their own funds and from teaching their own nonsense in them)" ('A critique of the draft Social Democratic programme of 1891' MESW Vol 3, p437). "'Elementary education by the state' is altogether objectionable. Defining by a general law expenditure on elementary schools, qualifications of teaching staff, branches of instruction, etc, and, as is done in the United States, supervising the fulfilment of these legal specifications by state inspectors, is a very different thing from appointing the state as the educator of the people! Government and church should rather be equally excluded from any influence over schools" ('Critique of the Gotha programme' MESW Vol 3, p28). Thus religion will be excluded from the state and members of the clergy will earn their living through the donations of believers. All educational establishments will be open to the public and will consequently be protected from the assault of religion and the state. The sciences too will be rescued as far as possible from class prejudice and government persecution. Is secularism atheism? Would the total exclusion of religion from the state - namely a complete liberation from religion - be harmful to religion? The islamist political movement strives to portray secularism as impiousness. But when we look at countries such as Sweden and United States, where secularism is fully implemented, we notice not only that religion survives, but it also enjoys a lively and active existence. This fact alone is the best reply to the lies of the pro-sharia movement. Therefore, as the state becomes more and more fully secular, as it becomes a more democratic state, the consequences of these developments pose no threat whatsoever to religion. The modern state has removed from the state apparatus such distinctions as profession, education, the family one is born into and social status. It has reduced them to 'non-political' distinctions which will always exist in society. In so doing, the state has rendered equal in its eyes people having many differences in civil society as well as their private lives. In so doing, the state has become a political state and has been able to proclaim its general nature in front of these thousands of differences. Only by rising above such categories as religion, belief, race, language, birth, profession and rank can a state declare itself to be the state of the entirety of that society, as well as its general nature. Thus political independence from religion abolishes privileged religion, but does not touch or interfere with religion itself. The secular state - that is to say, the political state, political liberalisation - is a giant step forward in the development of humanity, It is not the final form that we shall see in the liberation of human beings, but it is indeed the final form of human liberation under capitalism. Lessons Nowhere in the world has it been possible to fight against the islamist political movement by attacking islam itself. A struggle waged along those lines can only strengthen the hands of the enemy. The reasons for the development of this movement are not 'divine'; therefore counter-measures taken against it should not be 'divine' either. Once it seizes power, it will be extremely difficult to get rid of the islamist political movement: as we shall be up against a totalitarian state, which does not allow any opposition whatsoever, and is brutally intolerant of the slightest criticism of religion, it will be necessary to wait for it to exhaust itself (along with the people and the productive forces of the country). Nevertheless, by waging a wise, flexible and dynamic struggle, making use of the lessons drawn from world events of the last decades, it will be possible to eradicate the threat posed by the islamist political movement. What should we do to achieve this? 1. The leadership of the islamist political movement is autocratic in the true sense of the word. Leaving aside demagogy and hypocrisy, it does not truly reflect the demands of the people. It is we who should be doing that. In our country the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer. We must put forward a programme which would not only undermine this tendency by redistributing what already exists, but would also increase and spread wealth. 2. This movement is an enemy of freedom, democracy and human rights. We should be their defenders. But the democracy that we defend should in every aspect be different from the democracy that the liberal bourgeois politicians waffle about. Our democracy should defend not just the casting of votes once every four years, but active, mass democracy, participation at every echelon of the state and society. We must defend full social and political justice and liberties within the framework of the modern, secular and democratic state. 3. We must keep our people informed down to the tiniest detail about what is going on in countries where power has been seized by the islamist political movement. We must show everybody that 'hell is here, right now!' 4. We must study secularism in depth. We should explain thoroughly the separation of state and religion, the separation of religion and education, and why they are inseparable from democracy. Let people wear what they want: the turban, the caftan, etc. But where? At home, in private life, in faith associations, or while pursuing one's business affairs in state offices. But a state employee at work, a schoolteacher or a student in school should not be able to wear these. This demand is not an infringement of democratic rights, but a consequence of secularism, the cornerstone of modern democracy. It is a democratic demand. On the other hand, everybody should be able to engage in acts of religion without the police meddling in such activities. 5. We should form a widely based, secular, democratic movement starting from today. Participation in this broad bloc or front must not be based on any ideological preconditions other than the principles of the modern secular, democratic state. Muslims who defend secularism, trade unions, professional organisations, democratic associations, social democrats, communists and the centre-right parties, provided they defend secularism, should all be united within it. 6. The enemy we are confronting is an international movement. We too must base ourselves on international solidarity and cooperation. 7. The fundamental slogan of this movement 'for a secular-democratic Turkey' should be 'The pro-sharia Welfare Party must be banned!' We respect everybody's religion and belief. However, there is no 'democratic right' to work for religion to prevail over the state. Nor does anybody have any right to grant such a 'freedom', in the name of anything whatsoever. Those attempting to make religion prevail over the state are acting against all liberties, all democratic and human rights. Is there a freedom to kill people? Is there a freedom to steal? Are the fascist parties free in democratic countries? Therefore, this demand is a democratic one. Moreover, to implement legal measures against them is legitimate and democratic. 8. It is essential, however, that, such a ban must come about through huge popular support. Since a bureaucratic ban, based only on a majority vote in parliament, will not have convinced the people, the damage it will cause will be greater than its benefits. Therefore, we must work to ensure that the slogan 'The pro-sharia Welfare Party must be banned' is raised in every corner of the country. A serious struggle must be waged against those who will interpret the campaign around 'The pro-sharia Welfare Party must be banned' as a jihad against religion. We, as the secular, democratic forces of society, have respect for our people's beliefs. 9. We should distinguish those labouring people who have voted for it from the Welfare Party itself. 10. An intensive educational campaign on secularism, freedom of belief and the modern state, through evening courses, conferences and educational activities in the trade unions and associations, should be started. 11. Imam schools should be taken out of the education system of the state. Only those imam schools which are supported by the believers themselves may remain open. Conclusion Experience from all over the world shows that during the process of the islamist political movement's arrival in power there is much bloodshed. After it has seized control of the state, a very long time is inevitably necessary before it is toppled from power as a result of its own internal contradictions and the consequent tendency to become weaker. However, despite this, it can be observed that the islamist political movement to a great extent weakens the state throughout its period of power. All the productive forces, and first and foremost the people, are oppressed. Such countries become more and more divorced from modern world standards. In other words, these regimes do everything possible to force their 'just' order down society's throat. The country will collapse if they seize power. And what a collapse it will be. However, this should not be what is aimed at. Communists in particular would never wish such a course. Socialism, which is a system synonymous with justice, freedom, democracy and freedom from exploitation, will be achieved not by the destruction of the country, but by its development. Therefore we must swiftly eliminate all the economic, social and political factors which offer the islamist political movement the chance to seize power. For that purpose, first of all, ways and means must be found to unite, or to form a bloc or a front at every level and in every sphere of activity, with all the secular-democratic forces. Such a front will carry out basic work in working class neighbourhoods and quarters, in factories and schools, work based on concrete reality, enlightening and clarifying without 'revolutionary' brouhaha or petty arrogance. Expel the pro-sharia party out of the system through the cooperation of the people's movement. The notion of the modern secular-democratic state - originating with Heraclitus and Aristotle; enriched with the ideas of Machiavelli, Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu and the great French Revolution of 1789, and of Hobbes, Spinoza and Hegel; put into practice in the Paris Commune of 1871 - is part of the experience and cultural heritage of humanity. The islamist political movement and the pro-sharia state, on the other hand, truly breed on philistine ignorance. To wage an extraordinarily energetic struggle using every appropriate means against this ignorance is absolutely necessary and an historic duty. Otherwise, we fear that this evil will be the cause of many more tragedies l Postscript Since this article was written the Welfare Party has been banned, and two parties were formed in its place. One of those, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), won a two-thirds majority in the Turkish parliament in the November 2002 elections.