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Centre for Islamic Pluralism


by Stephen Suleyman Schwartz

Muhammad Ibn 'Abd El-Krim El-Khattabi, leader of the Rif Berbers

An Historical Survey
by Stephen Suleyman Schwartz

Center for Islamic Pluralism

Washington * London * Köln * Sarajevo


1718 M Street NW #260

Washington, DC 20036 USA
BM 2394, London, WC1N 3XX, UK
Islam and Communism in the 20th Century
An Historical Survey
by Stephen Suleyman Schwartz

Published in the USA in 2009

by the Center for Islamic Pluralism
1718 M Street NW #260
Washington, DC 20036 USA
BM 2394, London, WC1N 3XX

First English edition June 2009

An abbreviated version of this paper was originally published in German as

“Kommunismus und Islam im 20. Jahrhundert:
Ein Historischer Überblick,”
in Jahrbuch für Historische Kommunismus-Forschung 2009, Aufbau, Berlin

Design: Asim Mesihi


ISBN 978-0-9558779-3-3
Library of Congress Cataloguing in Publication Data.
A catalogue record for this book is pending with the Library of Congress

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data.

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

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Cover photograph:
Muhammad Ibn 'Abd El-Krim El-Khattabi, leader of the Rif Berbers

Islam and Communism in the 20th Century

An Historical Summary

The present study is mainly concerned with scholarly examination of Hallaj, by the French
relations between international Communism scholar Louis Massignon,2 identifies the Sufi with
and the Islamic umma, or global community, the threat of an Islamic social revolution. In
rather than Moscow’s policies toward Soviet Massignon’s account, which may be skewed by the
Muslims. The former topic has been neglected French scholar’s own anti-Jewish prejudice, the
by historians and experts, while the latter has intoxicated metaphysics involved in Hallaj’s
been treated in considerable detail. purported heresy fades into the background in a
Muslim Baghdad in which public corruption was
As in Christianity and Judaism, communistic, ubiquitous and supposedly complicated by the role
millenarian, radical-political, and revolutionary of Jewish bankers. Some Sufis claim Hallaj was
socialist movements have a notable presence in the killed for disclosing state secrets to the people.
history of Islam. Typical examples of each One of the disciples of Hallaj, Ahmad Al-Amuli,
phenomenon may be cited. The legacy of pre- told the court official Hamid bin Abbas that the
Islamic Iranian religious communism – the alleged transgressions in religion of Hallaj were
movement known as Mazdakism, a variant of nothing compared with the acts of theft and cruelty
committed by the rulers; Al-Amuli was then
Manichæism which briefly flourished in the 6th
tortured, but, like his mentor, refused to submit.
century C.E. – is reflected in aspects of Iranian
The present-day critic of radical Islam
Shi’ism. Mazdakism adopted social collectivism
Khalid Durán viewed Hallaj as a saint of the poor,
and principles of public welfare.
and one Sufi source describes him as the patron of
Radical Sufi or Islamic spiritual movements
outlaws.3 Some have taken him as a model of
with tendencies toward millennialist, utopian,
subversive and libertarian4 conduct. Hallaj was,
antinomian, and other forms of anti-authoritarian
however, also a topic of verses by no less than
dissidence included Turkish Alevism, the Kizilbash
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini who wrote, “I forget
variant of Shi’ism, and Hamzeviyya in the Balkans.
my own existence and proclaim, ‘I am the truth,’
Their doctrines stirred peasants, and occasionally,
And like Mansur Hallaj I volunteer myself for
city dwellers, to rebellion against the Muslim
hanging.” Khomeini’s
authorities, and memory of their traditions of
identification with Hallaj
protest is often easily found in the Islamic world.1
embodies the
In addition, a body of scholarship on Sufism in
revolutionary aspect of
general, produced by Christian, Jewish, and
the dour Iranian cleric’s
Muslim scholars, has perceived in it a social protest
personality, but also might
movement, from its beginnings in Islam.
indicate Khomeini’s view
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomein

For example, the outstanding Sufi Husayn

of himself as a martyr to
bin Mansur Hallaj (858-922 was executed in
Baghdad allegedly for heresy; he has traditionally
been portrayed as having faced persecution for
declaring, “Ana ul-haqq”, or, “I am truth as a
manifestation of God.” But the definitive Western

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CIP Islam and Communism in the 20th Century —An Historical Summary

Islamic Modernism and Revolution manner according to the 1930s Trotskyist author
Later prominent expressions of radical-political C.L.R. James:
reformism in Islam include the activities of 19th “The revolutionary movement in the states of
century “Salafis” such as Jamalal’din Al-Afghani Europe and Asia has manifested itself so
(1838-97), a Muslim ideological adventurer formidably of late that we can discern quite
clearly the outlines of a new and incomparable
comparable in many respects to Mikhail Bakunin
higher stage in the international struggle of the
(although Bakunin is a problematical figure in this proletariat… The class-conscious workers of
context, for his Pan-Slavism and inspiration of an Europe now have Asiatic comrades and their
anti-Muslim spirit in the Balkans in the 1870s).6 A number will grow by leaps and bounds.”10
more developed example of Islamic reformism was
found in the Committee of Union and Progress
(CUP or Itihaclar), the leading force in the internal
political transformation that occurred at the end of
the Ottoman imperial state in the early 20th
century.7 The CUP included members of Turkish
Freemason lodges whose organization was

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

promoted by the Western powers, a historical
development which left an unfortunate legacy of
anti-Masonic “conspiracy theory” in Turkish and
wider, global Islamic consciousness. In the
aftermath of the failed 1905 revolution in Russia,
Leon Trotsky and others argued that the 1906 Lenin summed up his view on this issue in 1917,
constitutionalist movement in Persia and the 1908 when he wrote, on Bolshevik foreign policy:
Young Turk revolution led by the CUP both “The Russian revolution, which as early as
reflected the impact of the Russian upheaval on the 1905 led to revolutions in Turkey, Persia and
tsarist empire’s eastern neighbors. China, would have placed the German and
The Bolsheviks had become involved in the British imperialists in a very difficult position if
Persian constitutional revolution, with the it had begun to establish a truly revolutionary
alliance of the workers and peasants of the
Georgian-born activist Grigory “Sergo”
colonies and semi-colonies against the despots,
Ordzhonikidze (1886-1937) crossing the Russo- against the khans, for expulsion of the Germans
Persian border to assist Iranian revolutionaries in from Turkey, the British from Turkey, Persia,
organizing armed detachments.8 Khrastyu India, Egypt, etc.”11
Rakovski (1873-1941), the Bulgarian-born
revolutionary socialist active in several countries, The Turkish convulsion brought trade union
and a long-time associate of Trotsky, wrote on the organizations to the Ottoman territory, most
occasion of the Young Turk Revolution: remarkably under the leadership of Sephardic
“After Russia and Persia, Turkey now Jewish workers, as in the major European Ottoman
enters the revolutionary movement”9. The trope of port of Selanik, which had a large Jewish majority.
a chain of revolutions beginning in Russia in 1905, A separate and special instance of Sufi
continuing in Persia and Turkey, and resulting in libertarianism, uniquely combined with da’wa or
the Chinese upheaval of 1911 was also the subject missionization of non-Muslims, support for the
of theoretical meditations by Vladimir I. Lenin, Ottoman state, Islamic heterodoxy, and progressive
outlining the opening of the anti-imperialist political attitudes is offered by the history of the
movement in the colonial nations as an adjunct to Bektashi Sufi order. Bektashis formed the chaplain
the socialist labor movement in the developed corps of the Ottoman military units known as
countries. Lenin wrote in 1908, in a “quite casual” Yeniçeri (Janissaries) or “new men,” originally

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against the German occupiers of the country, in

protest against anti-Jewish measures; a street and
metro station in Amsterdam are now named for
him. The strike, which took place during the Hitler-
Stalin pact, was the first important solidarity action
with the persecuted Jews to take place in Western
Europe. It put forward the slogan, “Against
National Socialism and National Bolshevism –
International Class Struggle!” In April 1942
Yeniçeriler (Janissaries): The term in Turkish, yeniçeri means new troops, Sneevliet and other leaders of a small and
indicating what they were originally, an alternative to the regular army. independent anti-Stalinist entity called De Deerde
made up of Christian converts to Islam. The Front (The Third Marx-Lenin-Luxemburg Front)
Bektashi order has been centered in Albania since were arrested and executed by the German
the suppression of Sufism by Mustafa Kemal, occupation authorities in Holland.13
founder of the Turkish Republic, in 1925; it The Indonesian aspect of the revolutionary
comprises the only indigenous Shia Muslim movement in the Dutch colony is best related by
community in Europe. Bektashism has played a Tan Malaka (1894-1949), who followed Sneevliet
major role in the Albanian national movement, as into the Comintern. Indonesians were the earliest
well as advocating women’s equality and popular substantial group of Muslims outside Soviet-
education. Its followers account for as much as a controlled territory (i.e. the Caucasus and Central
quarter of all Albanians, or two million people, and Asia), and neighboring Turkey and Iran, to
although shunned by some, but not all Sunnis for associate themselves with Moscow. Tan Malaka
their nonconformism, the Bektashis are among the had cooperated with a Muslim nationalist
best-organized and most influential Sufi orders.12 movement counting millions of members, Sarekat
The first major Islam (SI or Islamic Union). A revolutionary
Hendrik Sneevliet, alias Maring

example of “Islamic faction, Red Sarekat Islam, was born from the
socialism” appeared ranks of SI in the Javanese city of Semarang. In a
during the second decade memoir, Tan Malaka eloquently recalled his view
of the 20th century, of the intersection of Islam and Communism, and
parallel with the first the necessity of an alliance between Pan-Islamists
world war, in the Dutch and Communists: “When I stand before God, then
East Indies, which later I am a Muslim, but when I stand before men, then
became Indonesia. The I am no Muslim, for God has said there are many
Indies Social Democratic Satans among men.”14 Thus, Islam could resolve
Association (Indische spiritual issues but could not assure justice in the
Sociaal-Democratische face of exploitation and other evils in human
Vereeniging or ISDV) was created by Dutch radical society. Examination of the Indonesian example
socialists living in the colonial territories, the most puts in question the general typology of Muslim
notable being Hendrik Sneevliet, alias Maring radical religiosity as “Islamist.” The national
(1883-1942). Sneevliet became a leader of the movement in what would become Indonesia was
Third (Communist) International (CI), representing Islamic but did not favor religious purification or
the CI in China, and then emerged as a left- an Islamic state.
oppositionist aligned with but independent of the
Trotskyist movement in the 1930s. He is Marxist Attitudes Toward Muslims
considered a national hero in the Netherlands for The CI was the first of the revolutionary
his involvement with the February 1941 strike internationals to make a serious approach to the

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CIP Islam and Communism in the 20th Century —An Historical Summary

Muslim umma; both the International Working came about in the Balkans, a theatre of war
Men’s Association of Marx and the Socialist between Austria-Hungary and Russia. Luxemburg
International that succeeded it were either “white and the Austrian Marxists condemned Slavic
racist”, in present-day terminology, or Western- demands for the breakup of the existing empires
imperialist in their main attitudes – their support for into small, ethnically-defined states, arguing
Irish revolutionary claims being the only notable instead for conversion of the multiethnic and
exception. Historians of Bolshevism typically date multireligious Habsburg and Ottoman domains
the new strategy to the Soviet-sponsored 1920 into socialist federations. Criticism of tsarist
Congress of Peoples of the East, held in Baku, but complicity in assaulting the Ottoman dominions
ascribe it to Russian ambitions in the East. In a and murdering local Muslims en masse –
speech at the 1920 Congress, Karl Radek, the particularly the Turks and Albanians slaughtered by
former comrade of Rosa Luxemburg in the Social the Serbs in the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, which
Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and resulted in the Serb conquest of Kosova and other
Lithuania (SDKPiL) and confidant of Lenin, components of a disintegrating “Turkey in Europe”
charged that “the British capitalists resolved to – was also forthcoming from “proto-Bolsheviks”
break [Ottoman] Turkey into pieces as soon as such as Trotsky, who served as a war correspondent
possible… British capital condemned Turkey to in the Balkan conflict.17
death”, Radek declared, with the aim of better Similar condemnation of Slav atrocities
uniting the British colonial possessions in Africa against the Balkan Muslims and Albanians (the
and India.15 latter community including a significant Christian
Marxist sympathy for the Ottomans and population) was put forward by the Serbian Social
their successors against the British did not, Democratic Party (SSDP), most of whose members
however, begin with the CI. Karl Marx himself would be absorbed into the Communist Party of
collaborated with the British politician David Yugoslavia (KPJ) when it was founded in 1919.
Urquhart (1805-77), defender of the Ottoman order One of the first public figures to sound the alarm
in the Balkans (after participating in the Greek about the brutality of the Serb invasion of Kosova
independence movement) and scourge of pro- in 1912-13 was a leader of the SSDP, Dimitrije
Russian interests in Britain. Marx and Urquhart Tucović (1881-1914).18
were united in accusing Lord Palmerston of selling Trotsky wrote on Serb atrocities in Kosova
out to Moscow.16 for the liberal Russian dailies Kievskaya Mysl’
In terms of extensive practical encounters, (Kiev Thought), Dyen’ (The Day), and Luch (Ray).
prior to 1917 the main experience of the It is probable that Tucović, who was his friend and
revolutionary Marxist movement with Muslims comrade, was the source of one of Trotsky’s most

Karl Radek, Bolshevik functionary (1885-1939) Above: the partition of European Turkey 1908-13 Historical Prizren, center of Ottoman Kosova

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Marxist attitudes toward Muslims CIP

shocking dispatches. In “Behind the Curtain’s society for their campaign of ‘liberation.’
Edge”, published by Kievskaya Mysl’, Trotsky Recently, during the period of the armistice, you
placed in quotes a first-hand account of Serbian made a political journey to the Balkans... Did
military atrocities: you not hear during your travels... about the
monstrous acts of brutality that were committed
“‘The horrors actually began as soon as we
by the triumphant soldiery of the allies all along
crossed the old frontier... The sun had set, it was
their line of march, not only on unarmed
starting to get dark. But the darker the sky
Turkish soldiers, wounded or taken prisoner,
became, the more brightly the fearful
but also on the peaceful Muslim inhabitants, on
illumination of the fires stood out against it.
old men and women, on defenseless children?
Burning was going on all around us. Entire
...Did not the facts, undeniable and irrefutable,
Albanian villages had been turned into pillars of force you to come to the conclusion that the
fire – far and near, right up to the railway line... Bulgars in Macedonia, the Serbs in Old Serbia
Dwellings, possessions accumulated by fathers,
[Kosova], in their national endeavor to correct
grandfathers, and great-grandfathers, were data in the ethnographical statistics that are not
going up in flames. In all its monotony this quite favorable to them, are engaged quite
picture was repeated the whole way to simply in systematic extermination of the
Skopje.’” Muslim population? ...Is it not clear to you that
the silent connivance of the ‘leading’ Russian
The remainder of this long account consisted of an parties and their press... makes it much easier
extraordinary series of murders, tortures, for the (Bulgarians and Serbs) to engage in their
massacres, and thefts committed by Serbian Cain’s work of further massacres of the people
soldiers and officers. Balkan Muslims and of the Crescent in the interests of the ‘culture’ of
Albanians were not the only victims; Bulgarians the Cross?”21
and Sephardic Jews were also despoiled by the
Serb forces. The authoritative historian of the once- In the succeeding text, “Results of the ‘Question
distinguished Sephardic community of Manastir About the Balkans’”, Trotsky’s polemic reached an
(Bitola) in Macedonia, Mark Cohen, describes intensity rare even for him. Addressing himself
Serbian atrocities as an incentive for early
immigration of the Manastir Sephardim to the
Tsarist Russian encouragement to Serbian
aggression was a preoccupation of many
commentators, and radical criticism of the Russian
role was extremely sharp. Trotsky lashed at
examples of “ethnic cleansing” – a term that had
just then been coined by the Serbs20 – and the
complicity in it of Russian tsarist and democratic
nationalist politicians including the liberal Pavel
Milyukov, in two extraordinary texts, published in
Dyen’ in January 1913: “An Extraparliamentary
Question to Mr. P. Milyukov”, and “Results of the
‘Question About the Balkans’ .”
In the former, Trotsky wrote:
“Mr. Deputy! ...You have frequently, both in the
columns of the press and at the tribune of the Leon Trotsky (1879-1940), Russian revolutionary, was a war
Duma, assured the Balkan allies... of the correspondent for the Kiev newspaper Kievskaya Mysl’ in the Balkans
and reported on the atrocities committed against the Albanians and
unaltered sympathies of so-called Russian Turks of Macedonia and Kosova during the Serb invasion of 1912

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CIP Islam and Communism in the 20th Century —An Historical Summary

again to Milyukov, he wrote: same name], no longer exists. There is nothing

“Since the ‘leading’ newspapers of Russia... but corpses, dust, ashes. There are villages of
either hushed up or denied the exposures 100, 150, 200 houses, where there is no longer
published in the democratic press, a certain a single man, literally not one. We collect them
number of murdered Albanian babies must be in bodies of forty to fifty, and then we pierce
put down, Mr. Deputy, to your Slavophile them with our bayonets to the last man. Pillage
account. Get your senior doorman to look for is going on everywhere. The officers told the
them in your editorial office, Mr. Milyukov!” soldiers to go to Prizren and sell the things they
He continued: had stolen.” The Radničke Novine editor added,
“Indignant protest against unbridled behavior “Our friend tells us of things even more
by men armed with machine guns, rifles, and appalling than this, but they are so horrible and
bayonets was required for our own moral self- so heartrending that we prefer not to publish
defense. An individual, a group, a party, or a them.”
class that is capable of ‘objectively’ picking its
nose while it watches men drunk with blood, In later articles published by Radničke Novine,
and incited from above, massacring defenseless summarizing the Balkan Wars, the acquisition of
people is condemned by history to rot and Kosova, and particularly the suppression of the
become worm-eaten while it is still alive.”22 Albanians, Tucović wrote among other things:
“It is at the very least now necessary to look
The SSDP leader Dimitrije truth in the face and, setting aside all prejudices,
Tucović had volunteered for
Dimitrije Tucović (1881-1914)

recognize that the struggle that the Albanian

service in the Serbian army, and people are today conducting is a natural,
had marched in its ranks into inevitable historical struggle for a different
Kosova, on the belief that political life from the one they had under
socialists needed to be with Turkey, and different from the one imposed on
their people wherever they them by their ruthless neighbors, Serbia,
were. He had been won to Greece, and Montenegro. [Emphasis in
socialism as a middle-school student, a original.] A free Serbian people must value and
characteristic East European phenomenon of the respect that struggle as much for the freedoms
time, and his internationalist beliefs were sincere of the Albanians as for their own, and deny
every government a means to carry out a policy
and profound. Almost immediately, he began
of aggression.”23
writing about the horrific character of the Serbian
“We have carried out the attempted
conquest of Kosova in the Belgrade socialist
premeditated murder of an entire nation. We
newspaper Radničke Novine (Workers’ Journal). were caught in that criminal act and have been
His statements were extraordinary for their candor obstructed. Now we have to suffer the
and their author’s authentic solidarity with the punishment... In the Balkan Wars, Serbia not
Albanians. only doubled its territory but also its external
When Prishtina, the capital of Kosova, was enemies...
occupied by the Serbs, Radničke Novine printed the “Our lordly people dreamed of foreign
following as a letter from a soldier: lands and foreign freedoms, but we who had
“My dear friend, I have no time to write to you been heralds of national liberation brought with
at length, but I can tell you that appalling things us, instead, the banner of national
are going on here. I am terrified by them, and enslavement... The basis for all of the
constantly ask myself how men can be so misfortunes we now suffer and which we will
barbarous as to commit such cruelties. It is continue to suffer in the future lies in the fact
horrible. I dare not (even if I had time, which I that we invaded a foreign land.”
have not) tell you more, but I may say that “Voltaire said the poor always like to
Luma [an Albanian region along the river of the speak of their past... This is clearly true of the

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tiny Balkan states, which wanted to create their Tucović insisted:

future on the basis of the past. Some recall the “Relations with foreign nations, and therefore
rule of Tsar Dušan, they dream of a Greater with the Albanians, must be built on a
Serbian state... The memory of that ‘illustrious’ democratic, civil, and humane foundation of
past is inseparably linked to territorial tolerance, cooperative existence, and labor.”
expansion by the ruling classes...”
“Serbian overlords are trying to turn a Alone in its uncompromising rejection of “Greater
national minority [Kosova Serbs] into a Serbia”, the SSDP which Tucović led was a tiny
majority by means of a police state, and they are
political formation, founded in 1903. Other notable
preparing their subjects not to be free citizens
internationalists in the party included Kosta
but submissive subjects. The regime of
extraordinary police measures... is inspired by Novaković, who also served as a combat soldier in
the reactionary desire to advance one nation and the Serbian army, Dušan Popović, Dragiša
subdue another... On the other hand, it gives rise Lapčević, and Triša Kaclerović. Novaković,
to new urges... provoking intolerance and hatred Lapčević and Kaclerović were all elected to the
between peoples. Serbian parliament. Their party had links with the
“The Serbian bourgeoisie desires Russian Bolsheviks prior to the 1917 revolution
freedom for its own nation at the price of and the formation of the CI, and with the similar
freedom for other nations... We want freedom Bulgarian left socialist tendency known as
for our nation without denying the freedom of Tesnyaki or “Narrows,” as well as with Trotsky,
others. This goal can be achieved in the Balkans
then affiliated to no party, and other independent
only by the formation of a political entity in
Russian Marxists. Tucović and Lapčević were
which all nations would be completely equal...
without regard to who ruled what region Serbian delegates to the 1910 congress of the
centuries ago.” Tesnyaki, a major regional political event of the
Tucović was an extraordinary figure. A capable Popović, editor of Radničke Novine, wrote
soldier, although he was a firm antimilitarist, he of the 1912 Albanian campaign:
remained a reserve officer in the Serbian army, and “The details concerning the operations of the
was killed in action in the first months of World Serb armies are frightful. They plunder, lay
waste, burn, plow up, massacre, and destroy
War I. He was not only an enemy of Serbian
everything, down to the roots... It is no wonder
imperialism, he was also a real friend of the that our peasant masses have such barbaric
Albanian people. He believed, in effect, and with instincts since this state never saw to it that they
considerable reason, that the Serb, Montenegrin, were educated and civilized; nor should we be
and Albanian inhabitants of north Albania formed a shocked at the narrow and meagre political and
single, interrelated regional community, embracing spiritual horizons of our military commanders
two nations, Serbo-Montenegrin and Albanian, and who are trained to regard the brutal and cold-
three religions, Catholic, Orthodox, and Muslim. blooded murder of tens and hundreds of
But he saw this in a way completely Albanians, their wives and children, as heroic...
different from certain Serb chauvinists, who The slogans in which such ideas and views are
declared the population of Kosova to be no more expressed come from the highest social and
political strata in Serbia. It is not merely a
than “Albanized Serbs.” In reality, Tucović argued,
question of a protest by Serbian workers against
it was the other way around: Karađorđe, leader of
the Albanian policy of the Serbian bourgeoisie;
the Serb national uprising of 1804 and progenitor we must rescue the image of the Serbian people
of a Serb monarchical house, the Karađorđevićes, in the eyes of cultured and democratic
was, Tucović said, of Albanian origin. Above all, Europeans. We must show that there are people
Tucović defended Albania’s right to independence, in Serbia, many people, who oppose this, and
and the Albanian-majority character of Kosova. that at the head of this opinion stands the

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CIP Islam and Communism in the 20th Century —An Historical Summary

working class and Social Democracy.” imperialist policy, Hartwig, the minister of
Russia to Belgrade, blessed Belgrade’s policy of
Lapčević wrote at the same time, with great annihilation. The Orthodox Russian tsar urged
prescience: his Orthodox Serbian brothers, King Petar and
“Through the politics of our government his son Aleksandar, to kill a whole people and to
conditions have been created so that for a great spread the Orthodox faith in the Balkans. At
many years (perhaps even decades!), there will least 50,000 Albanians were forced to become
be repeated clashes and suffering between two refugees and flee to Turkey and Albania to save
unfortunate nations... Serbia has ordered its their lives. This annihilation thinned out the
armies to subdue and enslave... Our soldiers Albanian nation in Kosova, but in no way
have marched with guns and cannons but have changed the Albanian character there. The
not only created dishonor for their land, which objective of these massacres of Albanians in
once had a tradition of revolution and liberation, Kosova was to replace them with Serbs and to
but they have also created conditions for eternal colonize and Serbianize it. However, until the
discord. We shall constantly have conflict and end of 1912, as long as there was resistance on
misfortune if Serbia does not change its the part of the Albanians, the colonization
policies.” progressed rather slowly. Only a few Serbs
settled in the Kosova region at the start.”
Nearly 20 years later Kosta Novaković recalled:
“The invasion of Albania by the Serbian army Novaković wrote these lines in Liria Kombëtare
was a Serbian imperialist attempt to capture the (National Liberation)24 an Albanian-language
ports of Shkodra, Durrës and Shen-Gjin… The periodical printed in Geneva, which, supported by
Serbian imperialist government left nothing the CI, backed Kosovar Albanian rebels against
undone against Albanians during its occupation. Serbian domination in the late 1920s.
It issued orders for scaffolds to be erected in a A CI-directed front, the Balkan Federation,
dozen parts. It massacred, killed and plundered came to include the leading Kosovar revolutionary
the impoverished Albanian population. And it groups. It should be noted that the social-
persecuted only the poor… revolutionary Internal Macedonian Revolutionary
“When they invaded Kosova, the Organization (IMRO/VMRO), which like Serbian
Serbian imperialists proclaimed that they were
Social Democracy contributed many cadres to the
going to regain the historical rights they had in
1389. Basing themselves on these ‘historical
CI, was also, originally, an internationalist
rights,’ Italy or France, Greece or Turkey, could formation. VMRO projected a future Macedonia in
demand half of Europe, because they had held which Slav Muslims, Albanians, and local Turks
those parts at one time. Indeed, France could would have equal rights with Christian
demand a piece of Russia, because once in 1812 Macedonians, Bulgarians, Serbs, Greeks, Gypsies,
Napoleon went as far as Moscow. and Sephardic Jews. The official language of
“Kosova is a purely Albanian territory; independent Macedonia, to foster unity between
it has only 10-15 per cent Serbs. The Serbian these disparate peoples, was to be Esperanto.
imperialists employed the tactics and methods Decades later, during and after the period of Titoite
of medieval warriors or colonial invaders: the Communism, the VMRO became almost
annihilation of the population under the pretext exclusively Slavist in outlook. But at the beginning
of military operations, the disarming of people,
of the history of the KPJ, in the 1920 elections in
and the suppression of the armed resistance.
Thus… 120,000 Albanians – men, women,
monarchist Yugoslavia, then known as the
boys, old folk and children, were wiped out; Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (KSHS),
hundreds of villages, more in Kosova and fewer the KPJ received a major share of votes in
in Macedonia, were bombarded and most of Macedonia, and in the same year the Macedonian
them completely destroyed. It should be pointed metropolis of Skopje experienced a general strike
out that the representative of the tsarist Russian or “commune.”25 Throughout this period,

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Macedonia no less than Kosova was in world exceeded the expressions of anti-imperialist
considerable insurrectionary upheaval, with whole solidarity with the Ottoman Muslims previously
districts liberated from the control of monarchist enunciated by Marx, the Serbian Social Democrats,
and Great-Serbian Belgrade. and Trotsky. A Turkish Communist Party was
Political activists from Muslim-majority briefly prominent in the country’s political life, but
Bosnia-Hercegovina played a significant role in the was curbed by Mustafa Kemal. Franz Borkenau
early history of the KPJ. Josip Cizinski, alias Milan described the fate of the Turkish Communists in
Gorkić (1904-39), a member of the Czech minority this period as “a catastrophe”, writing “The
community born in Bosnia, was a dominant figure Comintern had to choose between Kemal and the
in KPJ activities, although not Muslim.26 A Turkish Communists. For the first time the interests
Muslim-born former head of the KPJ in of Russian foreign policy actually involved the
Hercegovina, Mustafa Dedić, became one of six existence of a communist party. The Russians chose
members of an executive committee of Yugoslav Kemal in preference to Turkish communism… in
Trotskyists living in Russia, formed in 1929.27 the later congresses and meetings of the Comintern
no Turkish delegates took part… The decision
The Baku Congress of 1920 and Its about Turkey was taken while Lenin was formally
Aftermath and actually at the head of the Soviet state.”28
With much of Eastern Europe aflame with revolt, at Soviet approaches to Muslim communities
the Baku Congress of 1920 the CI revealed that its had predictably begun within the borders of the
interest in an alliance with Turkish and other former tsarist empire, now Soviet territory. In some
geographically “near” elements in the Muslim regions, mainly in the Caucasus, where tsarist

Azeri communists painting slogans for the conference. Congress of the Peoples of the East. Baku, September 1920
South Caucasus 1917 Republic of Azerbaijan, 1919-1920

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CIP Islam and Communism in the 20th Century —An Historical Summary

aggression had been cruel and caused continuous Muslim combatants with moral help from elements
resistance, Communism was welcomed and elsewhere in the umma. Muslim dissidence was fed
adopted an Islamic vocabulary (e.g. shura or by the legacy of jadidism, an Islamic reformist
“Islamic consultative body” for “soviet” or effort among the Turkic communities of the
“council”) during the Leninist period. The Leninist Russian empire, as well as the Turkestan rebellion
administration also granted religious privileges to of 1916 against tsarist orders for military
previously-suppressed Caucasian Sufi shaykhs. conscription. The 1916 insurrection is commonly
During the Baku Congress, of an known as the Basmachi movement, and is
impressive total of 1,891 attendees, 1,275 had filled unfortunately neglected by Western historians.
out personal questionnaires. Given the new Soviet Having begun as opponents of tsarist imperialism,
policy in the Caucasus, it is unsurprising that the Turkestani rebels maintained their resistance to
Chechens, who had been active combatants in Slavic domination after the establishment of Soviet
defense of Islam through much of the 19th century, rule. Soviet political agents treated the Basmachi in
were the sixth largest delegation, with 82 present Central Asia and another movement, the Musavat
(plus 13 Ingushes, a national group related to and in Azerbaijan, as equal, Pan-Turkic enemies of the
typically associated with Chechens), numerically new regime.
following 235 Turks, 192 Persians, 157 Armenians, It is noteworthy that the questionnaires for
104 Russians, and 100 Georgians. The Daghestani the Baku Congress listed only three Arabs,
revolutionary Jalalad’din Korkmasov declared to surpassed by 12 Jamshidis and 11 Hazaras (both
the Congress, “heroic struggle… has dyed Muslim ethnic groups living mainly in Afghanistan
Daghestan in the color of its own blood, shed for and Iran), and eight Kurds. The final Manifesto of
the glorious Red Flag… what is at stake is the the Congress listed Arabia, Syria, and Palestine as
world revolution. What faces us is a great world countries represented by delegates. As in the
war… even before the [Baku] Congress… before aftermath of 1905, outside Moscow’s annexed
the call issued by our leaders, we began ghazawat, territories, Russian political developments
29 a holy war.” 30 exercised a greater influence over the Muslim states
In the Central Asian regions where tsarism bordering on the former empire than in the broader
had been much more successful as a military power umma. Until the late 1940s, Soviet policy toward
but had left much of local Muslim governance in Muslims manifested a reversal of the common
place, Communism was perceived, with attitude of the Western powers, which treated Islam
considerable justification, as an “ethnic Russian” as “the Arab religion”, and therefore as mainly a
and antireligious phenomenon, and was resisted by factor in dealing with the colonized Arab peoples,

In the summer of 1918, Mensheviks and right Social-Revolutionaries staged

a counter-Revolutionary coup and seized power in Baku. They invited
British forces into the city and arrested 26 leading members of the lawful
Soviet of Peoples' Commissars, mainly Bolsheviks and a few left Social-
Revolutionaries. Then, on 20 September 1918, on orders from the British,
the Commissars were taken out to a remote location in the desert where
they were shot and beheaded. Painting by Isaak Izrailevich Brodsky Soviet Desert Police commandant cross-examines an Uzbek Caravan leader

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The Baku Congress and its Aftermath CIP

Central Asia and the Caucasus: focal point of ‘The Great Game’

Dance of a bacha (dancing boy), Samarkand, ca 1905 - 1915

Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii
Bukhara, Uzbekistan: Left, the Mir Arab Madrasah; right, the Kalan
Masjid; between them the ‘Tower of Death’
Training Azerbaijani soldiers for the Red Army (under General Frunze)
Red Army troops advancing into the Pamirs

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CIP Islam and Communism in the 20th Century —An Historical Summary

other finance, that of Thyssen, Krupp, Stinnes…!’

He thus got those fascists to applaud the class
struggle.” This idiom was identical to the better-
known rhetoric of Ruth Fischer.33

Meanwhile, the lure of the Orient had become a

Victor Serge Larisa Reisner Ruth Fischer Hermann Remmele powerful motif in Soviet literature. The Soviet
Muslim communities produced numerous works in
and secondarily with the Indian Muslims. For the
vernacular languages exalting the regime, but little
Russians, relations with the Turks and Iranians were
is of enduring worth. By contrast, the legendary
more important, at the beginning, than with the
woman Bolshevik Larisa Reisner (1895-1926)
Nevertheless, elements of confrontation joined her then-lover Fyodor F. Ilyin, known as
between Soviet politics and the movement for Raskolnikov (1892-1939), in a diplomatic
Jewish colonization in Palestine, in which Arabs adventure in Afghanistan in 1920, when the
would be subject to considerable Russian Leninist regime tried to assist the anti-British policy
blandishments over time, are visible early in CI of Amanullah Khan (1892-1960), the Afghan
history. The Baku Manifesto included the monarch from 1919 to 1929. Reisner composed a
following: “What has Britain done for Palestine? kind of prose-poetry about Central Asia, resembling
There, at first, acting for the benefit of Anglo- the Sufi classics, in which she observed, “Between
Jewish capitalists, it drove Arabs from the land in a flat earth and a flat sky, smoke drifts into
order to give the latter to Jewish settlers; then, nothing… Smothered silence for hundreds of
trying to appease the discontent of the Arabs, it miles… All fades on the steppe, where stones are
incited them against these same Jewish settlers.”31 made of moonlight and clouds petrified in
Only three years later, in 1923, the ex-anarchist and emptiness.” She also described “Tashkent blazing
future Left Oppositionist Victor Serge, functioning like a dark emerald” – a simile few would find
as a CI journalist in Germany, expressed the appropriate today, given the shabbiness and
common hostility of both the German Communists demoralization of the capital of independent
(KPD) and the rising National Socialist movement Uzbekistan.34 She further discerned “a silence
to the Jewish petty-bourgeoisie. In that period, CI which makes the birds dumb and the trees stop
representatives like Ruth Fischer and Karl Radek growing… High in the pale sky a snowstorm of
(in the notorious Leo Schlageter case) expressed fighting white eagles… But… in the long, hopeless
their solidarity with ultra-nationalist extremists in clay wall, raised from the earth and splashed by the
Germany. Much commentary on this example of breath of tired laden donkeys and camels – who can
Communist flirtation with fascist Jew-baiting has deny that here, in that exhausting, pitiless wall there
treated it as a temporary aberration, but Serge’s is a green window, from which one may see a
writing shows others beside Fischer and Radek garden hidden from view like a jewel inside a
conforming to the posture of the CI. Serge reported ring.”35 She later wrote brilliantly on the failed
that in Breslau, then in Germany, and today German Communist revolution of 1923.36 Reisner
Wroclaw in Poland, young fascists had incited the also became the lover of the ill-fated Radek, who
looting of Jewish shops; according to Serge, the along with Ilyin-Raskolnikov was a victim of the
mob “had given a good lesson to some vicious Stalinist purges, and it is not unlikely that had she
grocers.”32 Serge further praised Radek and lived she would have become involved with the
Hermann Remmele, a German Communist leader, Left Opposition (LO). The first wife of Josip Broz-
for their speechifying and debates with fascists, Tito, Pelagea Denisova-Belusova, was a member of
writing, “‘You are fighting Jewish finance,’ said the Trotskyist group and remained one until she was
Remmele to the fascists. ‘Good, but also fight the purged by the Stalinist apparatus.37

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Soviet Communism and Muslim Liberation Movements CIP

Another Soviet writer with a heterodox second world war they were forced to look toward
reputation, Andrei Platonov (1899-1951), wrote in Beijing – and to accept wide-scale Han Chinese
his novella Dzhan with considerable insight on the colonization. Although tsarist and Soviet Russians
difficult situation facing the Soviet Central Asian alike colonized the Soviet Muslim republics, they
peoples; a Turkmen is its tragic hero. 38 made no such attempt in Eastern Turkestan.
The Soviet authorities sought to transform According to one authority on Soviet nationality
Soviet Central Asia into a “display window” for policy, pro-Soviet Turkestanis, especially Turkic-
modernization of the Muslim East, a policy that speaking Muslim Uighurs, “took upon themselves
achieved some minor victories, perhaps best the tasks usually reserved for Russian and
symbolized by the construction of a mass metro Ukrainian settlers.”39
transit system in Tashkent. In addition, from 1933 to In 1924-25, the CI encountered its first
1943, de facto Soviet control was extended to important ally from the Arab world in the person of
Eastern Turkestan (called Xinjiang by the Chinese), Abd el-Krim (c. 1882-1963), the Berber leader of
which has a Muslim majority. Eastern Turkestanis resistance in the Moroccan Rif to Spanish and
viewed this as a progressive development, saying French imperialism. In 1927, the Soviet Union was
today that when they were under Soviet the first government in the world to recognize the
administration they turned to (and even considered totalitarian Wahhabi supporter Abd Al-Aziz Ibn
themselves part of) Europe, but with the Sa’ud as ruler of Hejaz.40 CI support for the Arabs
reestablishment of Chinese authority during the in the Palestinian anti-Jewish riots of 1929 has been
Turkmen villagers Andre Platanov, author of Dzhan (1930)

Left: a Bukharan Uzbek; right, an Afghan Uighurs of Eastern Turkestan (Xinjiang)

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CIP Islam and Communism in the 20th Century —An Historical Summary

a subject of considerable historiological comment. Messali Hadj and his movement became associated
CI commentary on the riots was, however, with the French Trotskyists after the PCF failed to
contradictory, with the Berlin Communist daily protest the suppression of the Algerian organization
Rote Fahne praising the Arabs and branding Jewish in 1937; the Trotskyist Fourth International was
defenders as fascists, while the CI weekly proud to continue the line of the CI in mobilizing
International Press Correspondence detailed the the colonial masses.42 L’Étoile was later known as
suffering of the Jewish victims.41 the Parti du Peuple Algérien (Party of the Algerian
The latter outcome was predictable in that People, or PPA), the Mouvement pour le Triomphe
Jewish settlers then comprised the overwhelming des Libertés Democratiques (Movement for the
majority of Palestinian Communists. With the turn Triumph of Democratic Liberties, or MTLD), and
of the CI toward the People’s Front strategy, the Mouvement National Algérien (Algerian
heralded by a Russo-French military pact, after National Movement, or MNA.)
1935, the position of the Soviet Union became even
more convoluted and self-contradictory. The Arabs in the Spanish Civil War
election of the Front Populaire to power in France Independently of CI action, and at the same time as
in 1936, in which the French Communists (PCF) the PCF had turned against colonial protest, the
were represented, led the PCF to oppose Arab European and American left adopted an anti-
nationalism in the French North African Muslim viewpoint based on the involvement of
possessions. The first substantial modern Algerian Moroccan troops in the Spanish counter-
revolutionary group, l’Étoile Nord-Africaine (The revolutionary movement led by Gen. Francisco
North African Star, hereinafter l’Étoile) was led by Franco in 1934-39. Franco had been a commander
Ahmed Ben Messali Hadj (1898-1974), who of Moroccans in the Spanish Foreign Legion
cooperated with the CI and PCF in the 1920s. during the 1920s, and led Moroccans into the
Muhammad Ibn 'Abd El-Krim El-Khattabi, leader of the Rif Berbers Ahmed Ben Messali Hadj, founder of the Mouvement National Algérien

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Arabs in the Spanish Civil War CIP

Asturias region of Spain to suppress the 1934 French Soudan, also served in the Franco forces.
proletarian commune briefly established there. The But as many as 1,000 Arabs, Berbers,
introduction of colonial forces into Asturias was Africans, and non-Soviet Asians, presumably
profoundly shocking to the Spanish left, in that Muslim if only by birth, also fought in the Soviet-
Asturias was the only Spanish region that had never controlled International Brigades (IB) as well as in
been conquered by Muslims. While the Spanish the party and trade-union militias on the
right claimed to defend the country’s traditional Republican side in the Spanish war.43 The PCF,
Christian religiosity and culture, it did not hesitate notwithstanding its bad record on Algerian
to allow Moroccans to invade Asturias in decolonization, opened recruiting offices for Spain
liquidating a revolutionary uprising. in Oran, as well as in the French-controlled
Employment of the contemptuous term Moroccan cities of Casablanca and Agadir, and in
moros or “Moors” to refer to the Moroccans Tangier, then under international jurisdiction. The
serving with the Spanish Nationalists became, and PCF even pondered the organization of an “Arab
today remains, a staple of Western leftist discourse, Legion” to fight in Spain. But while some Algerian
as well as the Francoist narrative, on the Spanish Arabs, along with Franco-Algerian Communists,
conflict, which became an open war in 1936. joined the IB, the attempt to create a substantial
Moroccan Islamic clerics (ulema) declared the unit failed because of the superior appeal of l’Étoile
Spanish struggle to be a jihad against atheist Nord-Africaine, members of which had attempted
Communism, in which martyrs would be unsuccessfully to get to Spain for enlistment in the
guaranteed entry into Paradise. African volunteers Republican army. L’Étoile, through its periodical
from then-Spanish Guinea (now Equatorial Al-Umma, decided to emphasize propaganda
Guinea), as well as Senegal and Mali in then- against the Francoists, especially targeting the

Franco’s Moroccan troops enter the city of Oviedo, October 1934

First meeting of the Committee of (Anti-Fascist) Militias in Barcelona on
July 21, 1936. Of its members, the leading elements were six anarchists, plus
the Catalan Left and other republicans with five, the POUM with three
representatives, and Catalan peasants with one. In addition, four were
socialist trade unionists and the Stalinist Communists had one official

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CIP Islam and Communism in the 20th Century —An Historical Summary

International Brigaders arriving in Albacete Hashim al-Atasi, President of the National Bloc on a short visit to Geneva
on April 8, 1936, to meet with the Syrian-Palestinian Congress. Front row
Berbers of the Rif, rather than direct recruitment to (from left to right): Ihsan al-Jabiri, unknown, Hashim al-Atasi, Shakib
Arslan, Saadallaah al-Jabiri. Back row (from left to right): Dr. Abd al
the Spanish Republican forces. L’Étoile Kader al-Jabiri, Urfan al-Jabiri and Awnallah al-Jabiri.
participated in a 1935 European Islamic conference career in engineering.48 In Spain, Communist and
in Geneva, alongside the Syrian Druze emir, anarchist propagandists appealed to Moroccans, in
Islamic modernist, and occasional contributor to the Franco army as well as in the colony of Spanish
Communist periodicals in French, Shakib Arslan Morocco, by describing the Islamic umma as an
(1869-1946)44, grandfather of the present-day anti-imperialist force, much as CI supporters had
Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt (b. 1949). intimated at Baku in 1920.
Arslan, who knew Spanish Muslim history The Palestinian Arab Communist Nayati
well, wrote, “The fire of civil war in Spain has been Sidki (1905-?), in Moscow when the Spanish war
lit between the two big parties: the conservatives, began, was sent by the CI to Spain to conduct
and, joined with them, priests, bishops, the greater propaganda directed at the Moroccans, and
part of army officers (sic)45, monarchists, and preached, with visible success as reported by the
moderate republicans (sic)46; and [against them], Soviet journalist Mikhail Koltsov, that those
the workers, Communists, the poor, the peasants serving Franco were enemies of Islam. Sidki was,
who demand land, the extremist Republicans, those however, treated badly by the Spanish Communist
in rebellion against the past.”47 While his leaders, who preferred to see all Muslims as
knowledge of contemporary Spanish politics was brethren of Franco’s Moroccan cohorts. Sidki left
imperfect, Arslan’s Islamic modernism seems to Spain after realizing that only the Spanish
have naturally merged with the radicalism of the anarchists – who, even more than the CI, viewed
Spanish non-Muslim masses. the umma as a universal area of rebellion against
Egyptian Arabs were included in the British oppression – the anti-Stalinist Partit Obrer
Battalion of the IB. Some hundreds of Palestinian d’Unificació Marxista (POUM), in the militias of
Arabs and Armenians (the latter, and perhaps some which Orwell served, and the Catalan nationalist
of the former, of Christian origin) joined the left supported liberation of Spanish Morocco from
Palestinian Jewish majority in the Naftali Botwin imperialist control. Sidki published a volume on
Company of the IB. Palestinian Arabs also served the Spanish war in Arabic in Damascus in 1938, but
in other sections of the IB, along with small was excluded from the Syrian Communist
numbers from other Arab lands. An Iraqi- movement by its Stalinist leader, Khaled Bagdash
American, N. Anwar, who had been a leading (1912-95), who aggravated the humiliation by
functionary of the Syrian and Lebanese CP, fought appropriating Sidki’s book on Spain as if it were his
in the IB and joined the Spanish CP, later returning own work. Sidki was the first Arabic author to
to the U.S. where he pursued his professional comment significantly on the wartime murder of

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Arabs in the Spanish Civil War CIP

Moroccan volunteers with the International Brigades

Left, POUM leaders: Julián Gorkín (editor of the daily La Batalla, second
from left) and Andreu Nin (political secretary of the POUM, second from

Andreu Nin, later co-founder of the

Buenaventura Durruti, CNT militant POUM, while in Russia
Juan Garcia Oliver, CNT militant Joaquin Maurin, Gen Sec., POUM

1934, Puerto de Santa Maria prison: Generalitat government ministers: Lluís

Companys, Joan Lluhí Vallescà, Joan Comorera (later Soviet agent), Martí
Barrera, and Ventura Gassol, arrested after the insurrections of that year

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CIP Islam and Communism in the 20th Century —An Historical Summary

the Andalusian poet Federico García Lorca, whose establishment of Communist Parties that would
work bears a strong Islamic stamp. Sidki composed draw members from or cooperate with the
new memoirs in Arabic between 1958 and 1975. nationalist milieux, in the belief that, given
Some 50 to 100 Albanian IB members, historical development, the appeal of Communism
representing the only Muslim-majority nation in would replace that of narrow nationalism.
Europe, refused assignment to the South Slavic Thus, the CI did not actively seek to divide
detachments of the IB, which were commanded by the Irish, Macedonian, Catalan, Chinese, or
Serbian officers, and the Albanians were included Indochinese national movements (except, in the
in the Italian Garibaldi Battalion. Unfortunately, latter cases, ordering their opposition to
the Albanians were involved in the suppression of Trotskyists). Through much of the 1930s, while on
the 1937 anti-Stalinist demonstrations in Barcelona one side of the globe the Chinese Communists
known as the “May events,”49 recorded by Orwell. sought an alliance with the Guomindang, on the
In allowing themselves to be so used, the Albanians other the KPJ cooperated with the Croatian rightist-
may have directed fire not only at Orwell but also nationalist Ustaša. By contrast, the Zionist,
at an Algerian anarchist, Michenet Es’said Ben Ukrainian, and other national movements with
Amar. Bosnian, Macedonian, and other Muslims constituencies inside the Soviet Union were targets
from Yugoslavia, including a handful of Kosovar of extreme ideological enmity by the Soviet
Albanians, for their part, had no objection to regime. A similar pattern is visible in the Muslim
serving in the South Slav ranks of the IB. Some umma: Central Asian and, under Stalin, Caucasian
Turkish citizens, who may have been either Muslim resistance trends were subjected to
Muslims, Sephardic Jews, or Greek or Armenian repression, while the CI and the Soviet Communist
Christians, also enlisted in the IB.50 leadership dealt benignly with the competing forms
of Arab nationalism – perhaps also because of
Soviet Communism and Muslim Liberation Soviet anti-Jewish ideology, disguised as an
Movements aggravated anti-Zionism. The Soviet Union
The aforementioned Shakib Arslan later became supported the pro-Nazi regime of Rashid Ali,
associated with the notorious Haj Amin Al- established by a military coup in Iraq, early in 1941
Husseini, installed by the British, in usurpation of – i.e. during the Hitler-Stalin pact.
the rights of the local ulema, as “mufti” (chief With the German invasion of Russia and
Islamic jurist) of Jerusalem, and eventually Soviet alliance with Britain, and then the U.S.,
employed as an agent of Hitler’s Germany. Like however, the Soviets began an accelerated program
other prominent 20th century ethnic liberation for establishment and expansion of Communist
movements, Arab nationalism had two wings Parties in the Arab world, with the immediate goal
between which it vacillated: one leaning toward of countering Axis influence. In furtherance of
socialist anti-imperialism, the other toward the rival Soviet war aims, the French Resistance movement
imperialism of the Germans and other included many Arabs living in the metropole. But
“revisionist”51 powers. For anticolonialist some of the new Arab Communist Parties were
movements in Latin America, the Middle East, and largely made up of Sephardic or Italian Jews (the
the Far East – the latter two areas including many latter living around the eastern Mediterranean)
Muslims – German and Japanese ambitions often rather than Muslims. In Egypt, where a Communist
appeared to represent, rather than fascism and Party operated briefly in the 1920s, several further
imperialism, a major counterweight to Britain, efforts to organize a CP were fostered by the CI in
France, and the Netherlands. The CI, when the 1930s, yet the Soviet-controlled movement was
engaging with such movements, at first seldom only effectively created during and after the second
intervened to support the dominance of the leftist world war. Egypt also produced a significant
factions – rather, Moscow preferred the Trotskyist movement.

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An Egyptian Trotskyist and surrealist contradictions typical of an openly imperialist,

group, Art et Liberté (Art and Liberty), established rather than a social-revolutionary strategy. These
in 1939, founded the first Arabic-language socialist dissonant elements included reinforcement of the
newspaper in Egypt, At-Tatawwur (Evolution). visible distinction between aggressive imperialism
The leading personality in the group was a Copt, in the border nations, such as Iran, Afghanistan, and
Georges Henein (1914-73), who remained an anti- the Muslim regions of the Caucasus and Balkans,
Stalinist.52 Henein’s Cairene radical milieu and more cordial alliances with radical Arab states
originally included the enigmatic Henri Curiel and movements. From the Islamic viewpoint, the
(1914-78), a Sephardic-Italian Jew who became a Russian borderlands, which suffered most from
prominent Egyptian Communist. Curiel was a Soviet interference, were countries in which Islam
close relative and recruiter of the Soviet spy George had long overcome Christian power, and which
Blake (b. 1922), who escaped from prison in were considered hereditary rivals or enemies of
Britain and reportedly still lives in Russia. Curiel Slavic Orthodox expansionism. By contrast,
eventually served as the operational chief of Soviet Egyptian, Syrian, Lebanese, and Palestinian Arab
clandestine operations in Europe, residing in Paris, societies included large and often prosperous
with special connections to the Arab countries and Orthodox Christian minorities, giving them a
Africa; he was prominent in supporting the certain status as allies for Russian ambitions. This
Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) and the may be one of several paradoxical explanations, in
African National Congress (ANC) in their periods addition to that of a greater appeal of
of illegality. After his cover was “blown” in the fundamentalist Islam among Arab Muslims, for the
French conservative weekly Le Point in 1976, relative success of Communism per se in the non-
Curiel was assassinated in Paris. The case has never Arab components of the umma and its general
been solved.53 failure among Arabs.
Perhaps because of his Coptic, i.e. Christian The proclamation of independence by
Orthodox, background, Henein, remarkably Israel in 1948 followed the decolonization of Syria
enough, perceived that a Soviet-backed revival of and (imperfectly) Lebanon, both former French
Pan-Slavism in 1945 had reestablished an colonies, and was succeeded by the Free Officers
expansionist nationalism supported by Orthodoxy coup of Gamal Abd Al-Nasr and his comrades in
and redolent of tsarism. A direct line may be drawn Egypt. The Soviet government and the Communist
between that 1945 development and the Soviet Parties had temporarily supported Israel as an
invasion of Afghanistan in 1978, followed by opponent of British influence in the Middle East,
atrocities against Balkan and Caucasian Muslims. but the Soviets quickly decided that aid to the
This last phase began with the expulsion of Arabs was a more promising option. In addition,
Bulgarian Turks and compulsory Slavization of Zionist sentiment among Soviet Jews was
indigenous Bulgarian Muslims in the 1980s, the considered deeply threatening to Stalin’s regime.
incitement of the Armenians against Azerbaijan Blatantly anti-Jewish show trials were held after
during the collapse of the Soviet Union, the horrors the second world war in Budapest (against László
suffered by the Chechens, and the wars of Rajk [1909-49] et al)54 and Prague (vs. Rudolf
aggression against the Bosnian Muslims and Slánský [1901-52] et al). Venomous Judeophobia
Muslim-majority Kosova. In the latter cases, on the pretext of anti-Zionism characterized Soviet
Russian antipathy to Balkan Muslims is visible as Communist policy until the end of “really existing
this paper is completed, in the position of Vladimir socialism,” and post-Soviet Communist parties
Putin’s regime supporting Serbia against Muslim such as the CP of the Russian Federation (KPRF),
Bosnians and Kosovar independence. headed by Gennady Zyuganov, have perpetuated
Soviet activity in the Islamic umma during anti-Jewish rhetoric.
and after the second world war was riven with Arab components of several Communist

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CIP Islam and Communism in the 20th Century —An Historical Summary

aspects of this emerged in Western leftist and

rightist opinion; the former at first ascribed the
leadership of the popular movement to the Tudeh,
while the latter feared that the revolution would
lead to Soviet control of Iranian and even Arabian
energy resources. Both proved wrong.
The Iraqi CP was a key supporter of the
regime of Abd al-Qerim Qassem in Iraq from 1958
to 1963. It was ferociously repressed by the
Ba’athist governments that followed Qassem’s
overthrow, and, in yet another Middle Eastern
paradox, the U.S.-led overthrow of Saddam in
2003 has led to its large-scale rebirth.
Elsewhere in the Muslim umma, the
Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI), originating
with the ISDV of Sneevliet, became the world’s
largest CP out of power between the achievement
of Indonesian independence in 1949 and the bloody
Left to right: Hassan el-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood,
liquidation of the party, with hundreds of thousands
assassinated ib 1949; Henri Curiel, founder of the Egyptian Communist
Party, assassinated in 1978
of its supporters killed, in 1965. Tan Malaka, its
factions in Israel gained a significant niche as most remarkable figure, was murdered in 1949.
political representatives of the “Arab sector” in The PKI has never been restored to legality and its
Israeli institutions. But in Israeli Jewish life, present or potential strength cannot be adequately
Communism also long persisted as a powerful assessed. It also now works mainly abroad.
force. Communist Parties led by and recruiting A Communist Party of the Sudan was
large numbers of born Muslims burgeoned, during founded in 1946 and was a leading element in the
the second world war, in Iran (the Party of the country’s military government under Jaafar Al-
Masses or Tudeh, founded in 1941, while the Nimeiry, until the CP briefly overthrew the latter in
country was partitioned between the Soviet Union 1971; Al-Nimeiry was restored to rule, and the CP
and Britain) and Iraq (the Iraqi Communist Party was suppressed. Its current level of mass support,
was originally established in 1934). in the complicated environment of a country under
The Tudeh was a major factor in the social the failed “shariah” regime of Hassan al-Turabi,
agitation preceding the overthrow of Mohammad with considerable north-south and other regional
Musadeq in Iran in 1953. It was banned by the conflicts, is difficult to gauge.
government of the Islamic Republic created by the
1979 Revolution, and appears extremely weak, In the 1950s, the three major figures in the
now mainly working outside the country. Because “nonaligned bloc” of anti-colonialist states
Iran borders on Russia, and given the partition and represented two countries with overwhelming
implantation of various pro-Soviet statelets on Muslim majorities and one with a significant
Iranian territory (including Iranian Azerbaijan in Muslim minority: Sukarno of Indonesia, Nasr of
1920-21 and 1941-46), as well as the role of the Egypt, and Tito of Yugoslavia. Political
secular and Islamic left in the Khomeini development in the core Arab countries fell to
Revolution, the history of Iranian Communism is Nasr-style elites incapable of effecting significant
extremely complex. At the commencement of the social progress. Communist Parties continued their
Iranian Islamic Revolution, the Soviets were activity in Syria and Lebanon, with varying
viewed outside Iran as sympathetic to it. Comical prospects, and do so today. But fear of Nasr’s

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Soviet Communism and Muslin Lineration Movements CIP

11 May 1958,
Khosrow Roozbeh,
the leader of the
intelligence branch
of the Military
Organization of the
Tudeh Party, was
executed by a firing
squad of the Shah of Iran, who had
established dictatorship through the
1953 CIA-SIS-backed 28 Mordad
coup d'état against the Musadeq Josip Broz Tito Gamal Abd Al-Nasr Sukarno
government. Refusing to be
blindfolded, Roozbeh shouted to the
firing squad: "Long Live the Tudeh were of major importance until Nasr’s
Party of Iran! Long Live
Communism! Fire!"
death), were governed by “national
influence, especially after Egyptian aid proved bourgeois forces;”
decisive in the liberation of Algeria, led to the • In countries “struggling for national
creation by Saudi Arabia of the Muslim World liberation from imperialism” (including
League (MWL) in 1962, as a buffer against Nasrist Algeria, Guinea, and Mali, which are
expansion. The MWL united Saudi Wahhabism, Muslim in their majority), a “national
the Ikhwan ul-Muslimun or Muslim Brotherhood, bourgeoisie” had yet to emerge.
and Pakistani jihadists, and much later was In a clear understanding of this
important in the organization and financing of the categorization, only two criteria were applied to all
anti-Russian Afghan mujahidin as well as their such countries: subordination to or pronounced
successors in Al-Qaida. sympathy with Soviet international strategy, and
The Indonesian bloodbath of 1965 the erection of single-party states.
The former South Yemen had the
temporarily ended the period of euphoria in the
distinction of being the only Arab country to
Islamic wing of the anti-colonialist movement,
become a fully-defined Soviet satellite, between
coming, in the same year, between the overthrow of
1970 and 1990, until the state was integrated with
Ahmed Ben Bella, elected president of the
the Yemen Arab Republic. The Yemeni Socialist
revolutionary Algerian government, and the
Party was recognized by Moscow as a Marxist-
kidnapping and disappearance in France of Mehdi
Leninist cadre organization. South Yemen troops
Ben Barka, a popular Moroccan leftist supported
were sent to Cuba for military training, and some
by the Soviets.
utilized their experience in later joining jihadist
combat elsewhere. One of the most striking
Soviet Manipulation of Post-Colonial narratives about the lives of Arab mujahidin in
Regimes Afghanistan and their introduction into the 1992-95
Nevertheless, the decline of Muslim revolutionary Bosnian war is that of Al-Battaar Al-Yemeni, an
enthusiasm was quickly followed by another phase example promoted in the propaganda of the
of Soviet manipulation, based on the expansion of Palestinian-born Abdullah Azzam (1941-89),
two well-established tactics: support for Nasr and mentor of Osama bin Laden:
incitement against Israel. During the Khrushchev “Al-Battaar was in the Communist army of
and early Brezhnev periods, the Soviet camp and Yemen and they sent him to Cuba… to train in
the countries friendly with or receiving substantial tanks. He learnt the ins-and-outs of tanks until
aid from the Soviet Union fell into three groups: he knew nearly every thing about them. When
• “People’s democracies” (e.g. Bulgaria) he returned to Yemen, he became a good
practicing Muslim and, instead of returning to
were ruled by Communist cadres;
the Communist Army, he went to Afghanistan
• “National democracies on the road to and fought there for some time. After that he
socialism” (e.g. Egypt, where Soviet returned to Yemen.
economic and military aid and advisers

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CIP Islam and Communism in the 20th Century —An Historical Summary

“When he heard about the Jihad in Wadi Haddad [1927-78], and Nayef Hawatmeh [b.
Bosnia, he traveled there. He had the in the late 1930s], all from Orthodox Christian
opportunity to go and he took it. In Bosnia, he family backgrounds. Hamas, the Islamic
set about training all the brothers about tanks. Resistance Movement derived from the Palestine
He taught the brothers how to lie under a
branch of the Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood), did
moving tank, in order to build their confidence
not emerge as a rival to the PLO and the para-state
whilst dealing with the Serb tanks on foot. His
ultimate dream was to take a tank in the fighting Palestinian Authority until the 1980s.
as booty (ghaneema) and use it against the The global radicalization of the 1960s
enemy. He wanted to be the first one to capture produced a revival of the Turkish left as well as
a tank for the Mujahidin… the brothers caught various Kurdish radical groups, but in neither case
a tank and they called him on the radio. He was did Soviet-controlled Communists assume a
injured in his hand at the start of the operation prominent role, although Turkey fell into a period
but, with his hand bandaged... he did not go of significant violence between its left and socialist
away, nor did he rest but he went with his injury trends and the religious and nationalist right. A
back to the front line. While helping to remove
competent historiography of this phenomenon is
an injured brother from an enemy bunker, Allah
absent in English. Turkish secularism continues to
took him as shaheed [martyr for Islam] when a
mortar bomb exploded next to him. exercise a considerable influence in the country’s
“One brother… said, ‘O al-Battaar! We political life, not least among Alevis, who both in
do not deserve martyrdom. We are not good Turkey itself and in the Turkish diaspora in Europe
enough to be shuhadaa [plural for ‘martyrs’].” are markedly oriented toward the radical left.56 In
the same region, Greek governments after 1974
While it is often claimed that Western support for participated in the “Orthodox alliance” with the
the Afghans fighting against Russian intervention Soviets by opposing U.S. influence in the eastern
after 1979 enabled “blowback” with the emergence Mediterranean, but also assisted the Palestinians as
of al-Qaida, this episode illustrates how Soviet well as Kurdish radicals. Ex-Yugoslavia provided
penetration of the Muslim world had already guerrilla training of Palestinians, while the former
produced a more direct effect.55 Anterior to the Communist regime in Romania did the same for
emergence of the Afghan mujahidin, Westerners the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK).
were wrong in believing that the Soviets would use The narrative of Al-Battaar Al-Yemeni
Iran to seize control of the Persian Gulf region; indicates the single most important fact about the
rather, sudden fear in Moscow at the radical- link between Communism and Islam in the 20th
Islamist victory in Tehran contributed to the series century: the complete collapse of Soviet policy,
of decisions in furtherance of a Sovietized and even of the Soviet social system, following the
Afghanistan, which resulted in the disintegration of adventure initiated in Kabul by Leonid Brezhnev.
the Soviet Union. This penultimate chapter in Soviet history began at
After the 1967 Israeli-Arab war the Soviet a moment when, late in the day as it was for the
Union reinforced its anti-Israel profile and became Leninist system, Communism seemed solidly
a major sustainer of “rejectionist” Arab states and established as a permanent element of the global
armed movements such as the Palestine Liberation political landscape. If anything, the Russians
Organization, Popular Front for the Liberation of appeared to have tipped the worldwide balance of
Palestine, etc. The Soviet government had already forces decisively to their advantage when their
extended support to the PLO at its organization in Vietnamese clients harried the U.S. and its allies
1964. All of the original Palestinian radical groups out of Southeast Asia. Yet at the same time the
were secularist or Marxist, with many led by internal crisis of the Soviet system advanced,
Christians rather than Muslims (e.g. Georges largely misunderstood in the West, through the
Habash [1926-2008, dead as this text was written], 1970s. The Russian Communists would soon be

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Soviet Manipulation of Post-Colonial Regimes CIP

Mujahideen, Kunar province. 1985 PKK women guerrilla fighters, Kurdistan

compelled to find an internal enemy that could be Soviet-defined position for a country like
manipulated to unify their people and an external Afghanistan, as “struggling for national liberation
target against whom to mobilize their Slav subjects. from imperialism” to a full-fledged “people’s
The “new” foe was the same both within and democracy.” This radical attitude would undermine
without: Islam. Muscovite confidence in the rule of Taraki and his
No sooner had they gained an impressive close comrade Hafizullah Amin (1929-79). Amin
apparent victory over the West in Indochina than wrote incoherently but insightfully:
the Communist ship ran aground on the shoals of “If we had waited to follow the same class
history. The year 1978 included three decisive pattern of working-class revolution through a
indicators of the future: the seizure of power in national democratic bourgeoisie, then we would
Kabul by Nur Muhammad Taraki (1913-79), a have followed such a long and thorny road that
literary figure and leader of the People’s it would have required not only years but
Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) in April,
the commencement of the final agony of the
Iranian monarchist regime with bloody repression As the same time, it is believed by some that the
of student demonstrations in September, and the Soviets had found “national liberation” leaders
election of a Pole, Karol Wojtyla, to the Roman imitating Nasr unreliable and had decided to return
papacy, in October. Each of the three countries in to a policy of activist intervention by Leninist
which these dramatic events were focussed parties.
bordered the Soviet Union, and each had played a The Iranian exploits of the Tudeh in 1953
special role in Communist international politics. were then still well-remembered, but the Islamic
Further, each of these states saw events in 1978 that Revolution completely transformed the global
were, or appeared, shockingly novel to the world. political sensibility of the Muslim umma. The
Afghanistan had long been considered a reassertion of nationalism in Poland in 1956 had
zone in which Soviet and Western power competed inaugurated the long transition or “de-
for influence, but was the first country to undergo Stalinization” in the East European people’s
an open Communist coup since the immediate republics, delayed in the aftermath of the Tito split
aftermath of the second world war. Unlike Cuba in 1948 and suppression of the East Berlin labor
and South Yemen, as well as the later Soviet and uprising in 1953. And Wojtyla was the first non-
Cuban satellites in Ethiopia, Guiné-Bissau, Angola, Italian to be elected Pope since the 16th century.
Moçambique, Grenada, and Nicaragua, Moscow was therefore beset on its frontiers by
Afghanistan under the PDPA attempted to leap unpredictable phenomena: the Marxist radicalism
ahead of the usual progression of widening Soviet of Taraki, who removed his Soviet-subsidized but
influence. Taraki sought to move from the typical “neutral” predecessor, Muhammad Daud Khan; the

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CIP Islam and Communism in the 20th Century —An Historical Summary

appearance of an incomprehensibly new ideology alarmed by events in Iran, where Khomeini had
in Iran, and the rebirth of a Poland that, a traditional been carried into the summits of authority after the
foe of Russian power, was inspirited by the flight of Shah Reza Pahlavi. The Parchamis were
unexpected global importance granted it by said to be more moderate in their attitude toward
Wojtyla’s ascension to the throne of Peter. Islam than their Khalqi victims, but the arrival of
The PDPA, which was less than 15 years Karmal was insufficient to calm the mujahidin,
old in 1978, was split between ethnic and class whose ranks had swelled as Afghan refugees
factions: the Khalq or “Masses” tendency led by poured into Pakistan, where they were organized
Taraki and Hafizullah Amin, made up of rural, poor and armed, soon with the generous support of the
Pashtuns, and the Parcham or “Banner” grouping U.S. and Saudi Arabia. Afghanistan was, in a
under Babrak Karmal (1929-96), associated with certain sense, a parallel to Poland, in its capacity to
urbanized, elite speakers of Dari, a dialect of Farsi. resist Russian subjugation, although Afghan culture
Hafizullah Amin has been widely described as the was Islamic and, by comparison with that of the
real power behind Taraki. Khalqi-Parchami rivalry Poles, unworldly. Both the Poles and Afghans
was so extreme that it often veered toward, and were, nevertheless, imbued with sentiments of
later was expressed in, outright intraparty violence. ineluctably intense religious duty in defying Soviet
The Khalqis, as illustrated by the previous citation power.
from Hafizullah Amin, were notable in their zeal For that reason alone, Afghanistan could
for social reorganization, and their immediate not be stabilized as a Soviet possession. Karmal
measures included adoption of the title handed over power to Muhammad Najibullah
“Democratic Republic of Afghanistan,” with a (1947-96), a Parchami Pashtun, in 1986, but the
startling Communist-style red national flag, Soviet order in Afghanistan was doomed. The
hostility to Islamic religiosity and customary habits PDPA changed its name to the Party of the Nation
in one of the least-developed and most tribal (Hizb-i Watan) and Najibullah went even further
societies in the world, and recourse to brutal than Karmal in seeking to appease Islamic
repression, including executions. It is less resistance to the Soviet-backed government. By
paradoxical than illustrative that the Stalinist PDPA 1987, however, Mikhail Gorbachov had decided on
of Taraki was more radical in its approach to the withdrawal of Russian troops from
Afghanistan in the late 1970s than the Bolsheviks Afghanistan. Yet Russian military and financial
Ilyin-Raskolnikov and Reisner had been in assistance to Najibullah continued until 1990,
supporting Amanullah Khan during the great age of fighting the Khalqis as well as the divided (and
Leninism. (Ilyin-Raskolnikov himself had become therefore often weak) mujahidin. Najibullah’s
a near-Trotskyist by 1937 and was probably government outlasted that of Gorbachov; the latter
assassinated by NKVD agents in 1939 after his oversaw the Soviet state until its definitive
dismissal from a post as Soviet ambassador to breakdown in autumn 1991, while Najibullah held
Bulgaria.) The Taraki regime proved brief in on to power for a half-year more, resigning in April
duration; in September 1979 Taraki was 1992. The revolutionary regime in Afghanistan,
overthrown and killed by his fellow-Khalqi, with its bloody, gangster-style quarrels and
Hafizullah Amin. But the Afghan peasants were eventual replacement by the fundamentalist
already deeply disaffected with the new regime, Taliban, represents the most ignominious and
and the mujahidin had begun combat against the squalid chapter in the history of Soviet
Soviet-style modernization of the country. expansionism, and expresses the utter decadence of
At the end of 1979, Hafizullah Amin was the Leninist system.
killed in turn, as Russian troops marched into It is seldom noted that “blowback” from the
Kabul and installed the Parchami Karmal in power. Soviet incursion into Afghanistan produced
Moscow appeared to have become especially something new in Soviet history. It provoked

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Concluding Observations CIP

Muslim opposition to Moscow in Soviet Muslim restore or improve public benefits, including
republics such as Uzbekistan, from which army permanent employment, state-subsidized
conscripts were sent to Afghanistan to fight, as well education, and free health care as provided under
as leading to interference with the Chechens and the Soviet regime. Above all, a new khilafah would
other oppressed Muslim nationalities of the allegedly save the Muslims from the post-Soviet
Caucasus by “Arab Afghans” – i.e., jihadist insecurity of globalization. HuT employs a
volunteers from Arab countries that had joined the revolutionary vocabulary, organizes according to
Afghan resistance. The Afghan war wrecked any the traditional conspiratorial cell system, and has
credibility the Soviets had gained in the umma, apparently attracted to its ranks some Western
devastated the Soviet system, and convinced the leftists who became Muslim. It is perhaps the only
jihadists that, having destroyed the world’s second phenomenon to have effectively merged Islam and
leading political power, the combat capacity of the the legacy of Communism, notwithstanding its
“Islamic awakening” could not be restricted. ferocious denunciation of the former atheist regime
in Russia.
Concluding Observations In a parallel fashion, Central Asian post-
Concluding considerations have more to do with Soviet allies of Vladimir Putin such as Islom
the character of radical Islam than of Communism. Karimov in Uzbekistan have replaced the Leninist
cult of rulership with a similar exaltation of Islamic
With the collapse of Soviet Communism, many
figures such as the 9th century religious scholar
academics, intellectuals, and political or media
Imam Bukhari, and the Sufi Bahaud’din
figures worldwide have alleged that the U.S. Naqshband and the ruler Amir Timur (known to the
“needs” jihadism as a “necessary enemy,” filling West as Tamerlane), both of whom lived in the 14th
the role formerly occupied by the Communist century. But while Karimov has maintained the
movement. The argument is much more accurate pattern of governance of Soviet Communism,
when applied to Russian, post-Communist politics. including a one-party state, controlled media, a
Similarly, some analysts interpret jihadism as a pervasive police surveillance, and bloody
form of social protest, based in the economic repression of dissidents, his government embraces
problems of the Muslim countries. Much Western neither a revolutionary ideology, nor a socialist
discussion of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood program, nor internationalism of either the pan-
typifies this attitude. In my view it is more Islamic or Soviet type. The same model is visible in
appropriate to describe the present-day convulsions Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, to a greater or lesser
in the Muslim world as products of inevitable degree, and, more benevolently, in Kazakhstan.
modernization and development, and jihadist Tajikistan and Kyrgyzia, among the former Soviet
movements as reactionary phenomena comparable Muslim republics, have made significant steps
toward authentic
to the Black Hundreds in tsarist Russia. I have
democratization – the former
written at some length on “Islamofascism” as the
after a war with Islamist
best construct for understanding jihadism.58 radicals, the latter following
One movement that has embraced a the “Tulip Revolution” in
“theoretical” and currently non-violent jihad, the 2005.
Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HuT) or Islamic Liberation Party, After almost three
was founded by the Palestinian Taqi’ud’din Al- decades, marked by conflicts
Nabhani (1909-77), and is banned in some in Afghanistan, the Caucasus,
countries, but has focused a serious effort in ex- and the Balkans, the majority
Soviet Uzbekistan and its neighbors. HuT calls for of Muslim believers around
establishment of a global Islamic khilafah or the world despise anything
caliphate, in a manner that seems to promise ex- associated with Communism.
Soviet Muslims a new social system that would In this regard, the hopes

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CIP Islam and Communism in the 20th Century —An Historical Summary

expressed at the 1920 Baku Conference have and beginning of the 21st. This latter-day
resulted in total failure. With political change disinformation has become extremely troublesome for
advancing in countries as diverse as Turkey, Iran, experts on Islam as well as observers of radical Islamist
and Saudi Arabia, we may anticipate the emergence ideology and extremism. In addition, the very concept
of an entirely new intellectual-religious “left” in the of “Salafism,” based on an equation of recent
Muslim umma. But we must also expect that the interpretations with the original Islam of the Prophet
rise of Putin may render the conflict between the Muhammad (saws), his Companions, and the first
West and radical Islam merely episodic, and return generations of his successors, is anathema to traditional
the globe to a polarization between the West and Muslim scholars as an impermissible innovation in
the Russian empire. In such a context, the history of religion or bid’a. This opinion holds that no
Communism as an expression of Russian contemporary individual should be compared with the
ambitions would, along with the relations between Prophet, the Companions, the four Righteous Caliphs
Communism and Islam, be irrelevant except to who succeeded him, or the early Islamic jurists and
other scholars. A useful volume on the 19th century
Salafis is Weismann, Itzchak, Taste of Modernity:
Sufism, Salafiyya, and Arabism in Late Ottoman
NOTES Damascus, Leiden, Brill, 2001.
1 A remarkable expression of the memory of Muslim 7 An important and neglected source on the Young Turk
popular social radicalism, transformed into literature, is movement and the transformation of the Ottoman
provided by the novel The Fortress (Tvrđava), by the dominions is The Memoirs of Ismail Kemal Bey, ed.
Bosnian Muslim author Meša Selimović (1910-82), set Somerville Story, London, Constable, 1920. Ismail
in Bosnia in the 18th century. Originally published in Kemal Bey, also known as Ismail Qemali, was an
ex-Yugoslavia in 1970, The Fortress, tr. by E.D. Goy Albanian who assumed a leading role both in Ottoman
and Jasna Levinger-Goy, Evanston, Northwestern diplomacy and in the Albanian national movement.
University Press, 1999; Tvrđava has also been 8 See Khlevniuk, Oleg V. In Stalin’s Shadow: The
translated into French and Italian. The better-known Career of “Sergo” Ordzhonikidze, Armonk, NY, M.E.
work of Selimović, Derviš i smrt (The Dervish and Sharpe, 1995, p. 10.
Death), originally pub. in 1966, has been translated into 9 See Rakovsky, Christian, “The Turkish Revolution”,
German. originally published in French on August 1, 1908. Tr. by
2 Massignon, Louis, Hallaj: Mystic and Martyr, Ted Crawford and included in The Balkan Socialist
Princeton, Princeton U.P., 1994. Tradition, special issue of Revolutionary History
3 On Hallaj, Massignon, and Durán, see my volumes (London), 2003, p. 106. The latter extensive and
The Other Islam: Sufism and the Road to Global garrulous collection is marred by its attempted defense
Harmony, New York, Doubleday, 2008, and The Two of Serbian aggression in Kosova in 1998-99.
Faces of Islam, New York, Doubleday, 2002. 10 Lenin, V.I., “Inflammable Material in World
4 “Libertarian” is employed in its original sense of Politics,” in Collected Works, Moscow, Progress
freedom-loving or anarchist, rather than in the narrow Publishers, 1973, v. 15, pp. 182-188.
economic context the term has acquired in the U.S. and 11 Lenin, V.I., “The Foreign Policy of the Russian
other Western countries. Revolution,” in Collected Works, Moscow, Progress
5 The Wine of Love: Mystical Poetry of Imām Khomeinī, Publishers, 1977, v. 25, pp. 85-87. Also see James,
tr. by Ghulām-Ridā A’wani and Muhammad C.L.R., World Revolution 1917-1936: The Rise and Fall
Legenhausen, Tehran, Institute for Compilation and of the Communist International, London, M. Secker and
Publication of Imām Khomeinī’s Works, 2003. p. 53. Warburg, 1937, pp. 62-63.
The cited verse is adapted by Stephen Schwartz.. 12 For example, while Albanophone Sunni clerics in
6 Ample literature is available, in many languages, on Macedonia oppose and refuse any recognition of the
19th century Salafism, which should not be confused Islamic identity of the Bektashis, the Sunni clergy of
with the assumption of the term “Salafi” by Sunni Albania proper maintain official, friendly relations with
Muslim fundamentalists, including Saudi Wahhabis, the them. In Kosova, Sunni-Bektashi relations are
Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan), Pakistani ambivalent, notwithstanding the leading role of
jihadists, and the Taliban, at the end of the 20th century Bektashis in the Kosovar struggle against Serbia. In the

26 CENTRE FOR ISLAMIC PLURALISM (CIP) www.islamicpluralism.eu

Notes CIP

Albanian diaspora, Sunni and Bektashi clerics maintain Balkan Wars 1912-13, Monad Press, New York, 1980.
a cordial attitude of cooperation. 18 Tucović, Dimitrije, et. al., Srbija i Albanci, Pregled
On Bektashism in the evolution of the Turkish Politike Srbije Prema Albancima od 1878 do 1914
republic, Küçük, Hülya, The Role of the Bektashis in Godine (Serbia and the Albanians, An Examination of
Turkey’s National Struggle, Leiden, Brill, 2002. On the Policy of Serbia Toward Albanians from 1878 to
Bektashism in Albania, see my book The Other Islam 1914), published by Časopis za kritiko znanosti,
(note 2.) Although a significant corpus of scholarly Ljubljana, 1989. This collection includes texts of
literature on Bektashism has appeared in English, Tucović, Dušan Popović, and Dragiša Lapčević cited
French, and other languages in recent decades, most here.
authoritative works on Bektashism remain available 19 Cohen, Mark, Last Century of a Sephardic
only in Albanian, and are as yet untranslated. Volumes Community: The Jews of Monastir, 1839-1943, New
(listed in chronological order of publication) such as York, Foundation for the Advancement of Sephardic
Popovic, Alexandre and Gilles Veinstein, eds., Studies and Culture, 2003. Another useful volume on
“Bektachiyya,” Revue des Études Islamiques [Paris], this topic is Lebel, Jennie, Tide and Wreck: History of
1992; Mélikoff, Irène, Hadji Bektach: un mythe et ses the Jews of Vardar Macedonia, tr. from Serbian by Paul
avatars, Leiden, Brill, 1998, and Bougarel, Xavier, and Munch, Bergenfield, New Jersey, Avotaynu, 2008.
Nathalie Clayer, Le Nouvel Islam balkanique, Paris, 20 Durham, Edith, Albania and the Albanians, London,
Maisonneuve & Larosse, 2001 are seriously flawed. by Centre for Albanian Studies, 2001.
their authors’ general lack of thorough knowledge of 21 Trotsky, Leon, The Balkan Wars, op. cit., pp. 285-
Albanian language, culture, and history. The volume of 286.
Bougarel and Clayer is also markedly Islamophobic. 22 Ibid, pp. 287-295..
13 Sijes, B.A., De Februari-staking (The February 23 Tucović, Dimitrije, “Serbia and Albania,” in The
Strike), Amsterdam, H.J.W. Becht, [1978]. One of few Balkan Socialist Tradition, special issue of
valuable sources in English on Sneevliet is Poretsky, Revolutionary History, periodical cit., p. 225.
Elisabeth, Our Own People, Ann Arbor, University of 24 See Novaković, Kosta, “The Colonization and
Michigan Press, 1970. Poretsky’s work is a memoir of Serbianization of Kosova,” Liria Kombëtare (Geneva),
her husband, the defected and assassinated Soviet secret July 13, 1931. Cited in Schwartz, Stephen, Kosova:
agent Ignacy Porecki-Reiss (1899-1937), who was Background to a War, London, Anthem Press, 2000, p.
associated with Sneevliet when he turned against 55.
Stalinism. Sneevliet is also discussed in works on the 25 On the Serbian Social Democrats, Kosovar Albanian
history of Chinese Communism and in the post-exile revolutionaries, the Macedonian revolutionary
writings of Trotsky. movement, and the KPJ, Banac, Ivo, The National
14 Tan Malaka, From Jail to Jail, tr. by Helen Jarvis, Question in Yugoslavia, Ithaca, Cornell U.P., 1988, the
Athens, Ohio University, 1991, p. 92. Although outstanding work on the topic. An important volume on
supportive of pan-Islamism, Tan Malaka himself was Soviet and CI attitudes toward Albanians, including
more sympathetic to a southeast Asian revolutionism Kosovars, in the 1920s as well as during the
embracing Pilipinos and Chinese along with consolidation of the regimes of J.B. Tito and Enver
Indonesians and other Malays. He acquired a Trotskyist Hoxha, is Lauka, Islam and Eshref Ymeri, Shqipëria në
reputation although there is no evidence he was ever Dokumentet e Arkivave Ruse (Albania in Documents
involved with the Trotskyists, or that Trotsky was aware from the Russian Archives), Tirana, Botimet Toena,
of him. 2006. Also see my article, “Enverists’ and ‘Titoists:’
15 Congress of the Peoples of the East – Baku, Communism and Islam in Albania and Kosova, 1941-
September 1920, Stenographic Report, tr. by Brian 1999: From the Partisan Movement of the Second
Pearce, London, New Park Publications, 1977, p. 41. World War to the Kosova Liberation War,” in The
Originally published in Russian, Petrograd, Publishing Journal of Communist Studies and Transition Politics,
House of the CI, 1920. special issue on Muslims and Communists, March
16 Riazanov, D.B. Marx and Anglo-Russian Relations 2009.
And Other Writings, tr. by Brian Pearce, London, 26 Banac, Ivo, With Stalin Against Tito, Ithaca, Cornell
Francis Boutle, 2003. University Press, 1988, p. 64.
17 Trotsky, Leon, The War Correspondence: The 27 Schwartz, Stephen, “Ante Ciliga: 1898-1992,”

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CIP Islam and Communism in the 20th Century —An Historical Summary

Journal of Croatian Studies (New York), 1992; published 43 See Sánchez Ruano, Francisco, Islam y Guerra Civil
in Croatian as “Ante Ciliga (1898-1992): Život no Española, Madrid, La Esfera de los Libros, 2004. This
povijesnim raskrižjima,” in Društvena Istraživanja volume is ample but must be used with caution when its
(Zagreb), number 2-3, 1995. The English version is author strays from Spanish, Moroccan, and French
accessible at www.revolutionary-history.co.uk/[reviewed matters. An earlier and tendentious work that nonetheless
January 2008]. confirms the statistical level of participation of North
28 Borkenau, Franz, The Communist International, African Arabs as fighters for the Spanish Republic is
London, Faber & Faber, 1938, pp. 293-294. Bensalem, Abdellatif, “Los Voluntarios Arabes en las
29 Ghazawat meaning “raiding,” rather than jihad Brigadas Internacionales (España, 1936-39),” Revista
(effort), is the standard Islamic term for wars of internacional de sociología [Madrid], October-
conquest. December 1988.
30 Congress of the Peoples of the East – Baku, 44 Cleveland, William L., Islam Against the West,
September 1920, Stenographic Report, op. cit., p. 67. Austin, U. of Texas P., 1985, is a biography of Shakib
31 Ibid., p. 167. Arslan, but treats Messali Hadj superficially and
32 Serge, Victor, Witness to the German Revolution, tr. speculatively.
Ian Birchall, London, Redwords, 2000. p. 34. 45 Notwithstanding contemporary reportage, the
33 Serge, ibid. majority of Spanish military professionals honored their
34 Porter, Cathy, Larissa Reisner, London, Virago, oaths to the Republican regime, and did not join the
1988, p. 116 Franco insurrection.
35 Porter, Cathy, ibid, pp. 118-120. 46 Very few moderate Republicans sided with the
36 Reisner, Larisa, Gamburg na barrikadakh, a classic in Francoists in the Spanish war.
the bibliography of the CI, tr. by Richard Chappell, as 47 Arslan, Shakib, quoted in Alonso, N. Paradela, El otro
Larissa Reisner, Hamburg at the Barricades and Other laberinto español: Viajeros arabes a España entre el
Writings on Weimar Germany, London, Pluto Press, siglo XVII y 1936, Madrid, UAM, 1993.
1977. 48 Sánchez Ruano, op. cit.
37 Schwartz, Stephen, “Ante Ciliga: 1898-1992”, op.cit., 49 On Albanians in the IB, see Uli, Prenk, and Qemal
p. 191 Sarajeva, Asim Vokshi, Tirana, “8 Nentori,” 1982. Their
38 Platonov, Andrei, The Fierce and Beautiful World., tr. experience is also evoked in a popular novel, Hasta la
Joseph Barnes, New York, Dutton, 1970. Vista by Petro Marko (1913-91), first published in Tirana,
39 Kolarz, Walter, Russia and Her Colonies, New York, Ndërmarrja Shtetërore e Botimeve, 1958. Marko was
Praeger, 1952, p. 297. jailed under the Enver Hoxha regime in the late 1940s.
40 See my Two Faces of Islam, op. cit. He is considered a major Albanian modernist and Hasta
41 Kistenmacher, Olaf, “From ‘Jewish Capital’ to the la Vista has remained in print. According to the
‘Jewish-Fascist Legion in Jerusalem’: The Development Albanologist Robert Elsie, writing in Albanian
of Antizionism in the German Communist Party (KPD) Literature: A Short History, London, I.B. Tauris, 2005,
in the Weimar Republic, 1925-1933,” published by the the leading Albanian poet Migjeni (Millosh Gjergj
online journal Engage, issues 2 and 3, May and Nikolla, 1911-38), who was of Slav ethnic origin and had
September 2006, accessible at Trotskyist associations, also wanted to go to Spain to
www.engageonline.org.uk/journal/ [reviewed January fight but was prevented from doing so by his acute
2008]. tubercular condition, which led to his early death.
42 Messali Hadj, “Response to M. Deloche of Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, describing the “May
l’Humanité” (1937), in Messali Hadj par les textes, ed. events” in Barcelona, is a modern classic available in
Jacques Simon. Algiers-Paris, Editions Bouchéne, 2000, many languages.
tr. by Mitch Abidor, accessible in English at 50 Kapor, Čedo, Za Mir i Progres u Svijetu (For World
www.marxists.org/archive/messali-hadj[reviewed Peace and Progress), Sarajevo, Sarajevska Skupština
January 2008]. Trotskyists were also notably active and Međunarodnih Dobrovoljaca Slobode 1936-39, 1999,
prominent in French-occupied Vietnam and British- includes a list of several hundred Yugoslav veterans of
controlled Sri Lanka (then-Ceylon), and supported the the Spanish war, including both Slavic Muslim and
independence movement in the U.S. possession of Puerto ethnic Albanian names.
Rico. 51 I.e. “revisionist” in the sense of revision of the global

28 CENTRE FOR ISLAMIC PLURALISM (CIP) www.islamicpluralism.eu

Notes CIP

Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, describing the “May is included in Schwartz, Stephen, Sarajevo Rose: A
events” in Barcelona, is a modern classic available in Balkan Jewish Notebook, London, Saqi Books and The
many languages. Bosnian Institute, 2005. Bosnian translation: Sarajevska
50 Kapor, Čedo, Za Mir i Progres u Svijetu (For World Ruža: Bilješke o Jevrejima na Balkanu, Sarajevo, Tugra,
Peace and Progress), Sarajevo, Sarajevska Skupština 2006.
Međunarodnih Dobrovoljaca Slobode 1936-39, 1999, 55 This text is unsigned but originated with Azzam
includes a list of several hundred Yugoslav veterans of Publications, the primary global jihadist propaganda
the Spanish war, including both Slavic Muslim and agency prior to the events of 11 September 2001, and
ethnic Albanian names. remains accessible at www.as-sahwah.com/ [reviewed
51 I.e. “revisionist” in the sense of revision of the global January 2008].
order after the first world war, rather than of Bernsteinian 56 A useful ethnographic study of present-day Alevism in
reformist Marxism, or as the term was applied by the Germany is Sökefeld, Martin, Struggling for
Maoist Chinese against Moscow after 1960. Recognition: The Alevi Movement in Germany and in
52 On Henein, see Renton, David, Dissident Marxism, Transnational Space, New York and Oxford, 2008. Also
London, Zed Books, 2004. see the important work by Vermeulen, Floris F., The
53 On Curiel, see Breytenbach, Breyten, The True Immigrant Organising Process, Amsterdam, Amsterdam
Confessions of an Albino Terrorist, New York, Farrar University Press, 2006.
Straus and Giroux, 1985, and Schwartz, Stephen, 57 Ewans, Martin, Afghanistan: A Short History of Its
Intellectuals and Assassins, London, Anthem Press, People and Its Politics, New York, HarperCollins, 2002.
2000. Curiel’s papers are held at the International Notwithstanding its considerable importance as a
Institute for Social History in Amsterdam, with useful political event, the history of pro-Soviet rule in
notes accessible at www.iisg.nl/publications. Afghanistan remains poorly documented.
54 Rajk was not Jewish. A fresh review of the Rajk trial 58 See my The Two Faces of Islam, op. cit.

‘Green, how I love you, green! Green wind. Green branches. The ship on the
sea and the horse on the mountain.”
Federico Garcia Lorca (1898 - 1936)— from the poem "Romance Sonambulo"
Oil on canvas, by Emily Tarleton

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CIP Islam and Communism in the 20th Century —An Historical Summary

30 CENTRE FOR ISLAMIC PLURALISM (CIP) www.islamicpluralism.eu

Centre for Islamic Pluralism


Marje Sistani urges Muslims in West
By Mohamed Ali

MONTREAL, Canada: Iraq's Al-Marje Al-Alaa Ali Sistani sent a message

to Muslims in Western nations, urging them to obey the laws of the
countries in which they live.
The fatwa was delivered at a Montreal news conference of
prominent Shia Muslims on behalf of Ayatullah Sayyed Ali As-Sistani.
"Muslims have undertaken to obey the laws of the country of their
residence and thus they must be faithful to that undertaking," the
statement read.
It condemned all acts of violence and encouraged imams to keep
a watchful eye on what's going on inside their mosques.

Centre for Islamic Pluralism (CIP)

BM 2394, London,WC1N 3XX, UK
1718 M Street NW #260, Washington, DC 20036, USA
ISBN 978-0-9558779-3-3