How I Became a Stalinist, Kind of

A number of my friends have watched in horror over the past few years as I have become more and more sympathetic with the Soviet Union’s policies between 1926 and 1953.

The shorthand for this period, of course, would be the “Stalinist period”.

Stalin

Despite my previous open and vigorous support from the “Leninist period” between 1917 and 1924, many of my acquaintances began to strongly protest only once I began to defend the post-Lenin Soviet Union.

In fact, even on this blog, you can watch my evolution on this topic very clearly.

However, as I’ve turned towards a more fundamentally materialist analysis of political economy and the more I’ve critically analyzed historical accounts and narratives, it’s become apparent to me that the Soviet Union through to 1953 is worth defending, at least critically.

We can start where my anarchist friends would draw their first line of trouble. They even get uncomfortable if I talk about Lenin. For them, the trouble seems to be authority – never mind the fact that “authority” becomes increasingly more difficult to define in a satisfactory way when we discuss political arrangements.

Lenin didn’t live up to very important post-Enlightenment (Euro-Amerikkkan) bourgeois values of the anarchists.

Here, I’m always reminded of Emma Goldman’s discussion with Lenin during the Civil War. She very famously asked, “What about freedom of speech? Where is the freedom of speech here?” And Lenin responded, “Do you understand that we’re in the middle of a war? We’re being attacked by all sides – we’ve been invaded by fourteen countries. We won’t allow counter-revolutionary propaganda.”

My anarchist friends (in the West) take Goldman’s position and I take Lenin’s.

These are our fundamental differences.

(By the way, anarchists in Russia are having very different conversations.)

The idealist politics of my anarchist friends reveals the core flaw in anarchism. There is no destruction of capitalism as long as there is no anti-capitalist organization. There is no victory as long as there is no authority. Anarchists in history have discovered this in their attempts to build non-state utopias in Makhnoist Ukraine or Revolutionary Catalonia, where effectively they had very authoritarian governments without calling them “governments”. This has also become clear in modern anarchist projects like Rojava, where the PYD has instituted a sort of one-party (mono-ethnic) state, without, of course, calling it a “state”.

So what is important about Lenin here?

Lenin (and the Soviet Union) represents the will to overcome this defeatist trend.

Russian revolutionary leader Vladimir Il

The resolve to, first and foremost, overthrow the dominant structures of capitalism and bourgeois class rule. The Leninist project was crystal clear about the need to embrace a materialist analysis of society and make conclusions that effectively flow from that premise. A materialist analysis is the thing that Trotskyists and anarchists are both lacking!

How does capitalism function?

Where can we find the bourgeoisie?

Where can we find the proletariat?

Who has, as Marx said, “nothing to lose” but their chains?

How do we organize these people to destroy global liberal capitalism?

Only by wielding the mechanics of the state do we have any hope in dismantling capitalism. The bourgeoisie are never going to willingly hand over power and give up their exploitation of the proletariat. These are central mechanisms to their existence. These are the central mechanisms of private control over the means of production.

This is why those who have always tried to do away with the state too early have found themselves reconstructing a state themselves (even if they’ve tried to hide behind semantics).

I was once an anarchist.

I was also once a Trotskyist.

Of course, one of the dominant narratives surrounding the Stalin period is the many millions of dead.

Personally, this was perhaps my largest hang-up with regards to Stalin. Despite getting beyond so much propaganda regarding other subjects (like the Russian Revolution!), I couldn’t seem to break free of this point on Stalin.

The whole thing seems unbelievably dreadful. Incomprehensibly reprehensible.

Until, of course, one really begins to dive into the Stalin period like a real historian, rather than someone reading a Wikipedia page with citations from “The Black Book of Communism” or hacks like Robert Conquest.

Once you engage with the evidence for the claims about Stalin, the whole edifice falls apart.

What was the population of the USSR in 1924 versus 1953?

What were the numbers of people who died in the Gulag system (let alone who were even in the Gulag!)?

How was legislation introduced, passed, and enforced in the Stalin period?

How did the bureaucracy function?

What was the role of the NKVD in this period and how many people were imprisoned/killed while Yezhov was leading the organization?

How about when Beria was in charge?

What about the Soviet role in other countries at this time?

Questions like this are what initially led me to embrace Trotskyism – all the fun of the revolutionary event without any of the consequences of defending the subsequent state-building process.

However, revolution is not an event; it’s a process.

Even if Trotsky advocated defending the “degenerated worker’s state” and the “deformed worker’s states” that followed the Stalinist line, most pseudo-Leftists are much more comfortable dealing with Trotskyists than they are with Stalinists.

The narrative of the tragic hero usually suffices to justify Trotsky’s position in the pantheon of pseudo-Leftist demigods.

However, Trotsky was also no teddy bear. And if you really look at history, the charges made against him in the Moscow Trials seem to be pretty accurate.

Regardless of the circumstances, all of us in the West have been fed endless anti-communist propaganda – the millions supposedly killed by totalitarian regimes. The dreadful living conditions behind the so-called Iron Curtain. The lack of “freedoms” and the evil of the proposition that everyone deserves a home, a job, and food.

yalta

After all, it is an undeniable fact that those who are currently in power have a vested interest in making sure that people associate Stalin and Mao with genocide.

It’s no wonder Stalin gets lumped in with Hitler, despite the fact that Hitler started the Holocaust and Stalin ended it.

Was the Soviet Union some sort of mystical paradise where nothing bad happened? Obviously not.

The Soviet Union was a country pulling itself up by its own bootstraps, almost literally.

In less than ten years, the USSR developed from a backward, feudal society into an industrial superpower that was able to defeat Nazi Germany in one of the most destructive events of all time. The magnitude of this accomplishment cannot be overstated.

Life expectancy doubled from around 35 years to 70 years. Literacy became nearly universal. Healthcare and education were free and available. Women were granted full legal and political equality. People of color were granted full legal and political equality. Electricity was extended beyond the cities. The population grew rapidly. The Caspian and Central Asian Republics were made fully equal republics to the Russian Soviet Republic.

What went along with this? In the Stalin era, hundreds of thousands of people were imprisoned (and we’ll never know how many of them were innocent). This is often used to demonstrate that the Soviet Union was hell on earth. No one seems to care that hundreds of thousands of people were locked away in many other countries at the same time (including the United $tates and throughout Europe).

Prison is never a fun place, and it certainly was no fun in the Soviet Union.

There is no denying that fact, as the social purpose of a prison is not to be a fun place. But if we’re going to determine the value of a state in its prisons, then it’s imperative that we do the same with regards to the USSR under Lenin and Trotsky, prisons in Makhnoist Ukraine, and the extensive prison system in Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War. How about the situation in Rojava right now?

The fact is (and this is an increasingly difficult fact for many pseudo-Leftists): the world is not a perfect place.

Nothing works exactly as you plan it and, following this, the Soviet Union had plenty of bad things going on.

There are also plenty of points we can use to criticize Stalin’s government. It was a government of people who made mistakes, who committed crimes, who were fallible. One thing to consider is that for almost thirty years, the Soviet Union was the only country even claiming to be socialist. While capitalism and imperialism had encircled the globe, the only active challenge to this paradigm was, in fact, Marxism-Leninism (pejoratively referred to as Stalinism).

One of the common challenges leveled by people who know nothing about communism is the bullshit cliché of “Communism looks good on paper, but it doesn’t work in real life, because of human nature.”

Many of these people also say that there are two socialisms – socialism in theory and “actually existing socialism”. The Soviet Union and “actually existing socialism” proved that socialism does work. People are not angels and, following that, we need socialist governmental structures in order to enact a socialist society.

Awful things happened under “actually existing socialism”. Do you want to know why? Because it was actual!

It’s important to remember that, beyond this, there are two “actually existing” socialisms. There was the socialism that exists/existed in countries like the USSR, China, Cuba, the DPRK, and East Germany and then there was the “socialism” presented in the West that was constructed through propaganda, lies, and misrepresentations.

Once you get past the second, the first “actually existing socialism” becomes clearer. In the USSR, people took chances, made errors, corrected or exacerbated those errors, etc. This is how things function in the real world. We shouldn’t shy away from the fact.

We shouldn’t say, “When there is a dictatorship of the proletariat, everything will be perfect!”

No. We should rather say, “We will learn from the errors made by our predecessors, but we too will make errors! And our successors will have to learn from our mistakes!”

Some anarchists say that the October revolution failed after the Bolsheviks took power over the Constituent Assembly. Some modern left communists say that the Soviet Union stopped being “socialist” after the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk took them out of WWI. Some Trotskyist say that the system “degenerated” after Trotsky lost his place in the government. Some Marxist-Leninists outside the country left their parties during the 30s based on reports they received from the Soviet Union. And many other parties split after Khrushchev gave his secret speech and started the process of de-Stalinization.

Different groups of people have both supported the Soviet legacy, while criticizing the rotten elements of the Soviet Union.

And, after all, Marxist-Leninists are apt to criticize Marx and Engels, Luxemburg and Liebknecht, Lenin and Stalin, Mao and Lin Biao. They were not perfect, flawless individuals. Indeed, many of the problems of the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China can be attributed to their mistakes.

The fundamental question, however, is: where do we locate the rotten elements of the Soviet Union?

I no longer locate those elements in the person of Stalin.

For, ultimately, today Stalin can be nothing more than a symbol. Joseph Stalin, like all historical figures, is nothing except a face, an image, a re-presentation.

When we construct our contemporary political paradigms, we are inevitably forced to choose the symbols that delineate the borders. When pseudo-Leftists choose to toss aside the Stalin (or even more dramatically, the Soviet project all together), they lose the ability to engage that legacy fully.

Such a simple position with regards to Stalin (either pro- or anti-) does nothing to enhance critical engagement with the communist legacy. Plenty of mouth-breathing half-wits love to go on and on about how dreadful the Soviet experiment was, despite knowing next-to-nothing about the 20th century. The Soviet Union and Stalin especially should reveal to us the necessity of taking a more sophisticated position on things that require an ounce of thought.

A few years ago, a friend pointed out to me (and this is, of course, simply anecdotal) that the Marxist-Leninist parties in the U.$. were full of people of color, whereas the Trotskyist parties were almost always just bespectacled white people selling newspapers.

I would argue that this general trend applies to anarchists as well (although without the newspapers).

And while this alone doesn’t indicate the superiority of Marxism-Leninism, it does show that there is some division between how different people see things, based on their association with a nation of oppressors and a nation of oppressed. Trotskyists, after all, still think that revolution is going to be led by the First World (as though white people in the First World could possibly be trusted with the task of building socialism).

blackp4nthers

Marxism-Leninism was the ideological underpinning to organizations like the Black Panthers, the American Indian Movement, the Brown Berets, and the Young Lords.

Marxism-Leninism was the only broad, multinational, successful attempt to overthrow capitalism, feudalism, and fascism in the 20th century. The gains made by the Russian Revolution are incalculable, because they were so far-reaching and often went unrecognized.

We must acknowledge and defend the legacy and successes of the Soviet Union, especially now in the 21st century, when Euro-Amerikkkan capitalism and imperialism have encircled the globe.

Over the years, I have tried, from multiple angles, to find a proper way to cast my own politics in relation to that legacy, but it was only through properly incorporating Stalin that my own political constellations crystallized. Today, I stand in defense of the Soviet Union and am willing to take responsibility for both the successes and the failures – only by doing so can we begin to overcome the current state in which we find ourselves.

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The Meaning of Dzerzhinsky

Felix Dzerzhinsky is a forgotten figure in the West. However, in the Post-Soviet space, his memory is alive and well.

dzerzhinskyDzerzhinsky was born in 1877 in present-day Belarus. He became a member of the Bolshevik Party in 1917, directly after being released from prison in Moscow.

He went on to become the leader of the Cheka (ЧК), the secret police for the burgeoning Soviet Union, and held various synonymous positions until his death in 1926.

So why is he important today?

For the past few years, the Russian government has been weighing its options in returning the statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky to its former position in front of the Lubyanka building in Moscow. (Although, it should be noted that the most recent referendum was called off.) And a division of the Russian National Guards was renamed in 2014 and is now called the Dzerzhinsky Division (Дивизия имени Дзержинского), mirroring the name of an old Soviet division.

Dzerzhinsky was, first and foremost, a Bolshevik. He was one of the leading figures of the October Revolution and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin. So it might be pertinent to ask why he is now being rehabilitated inside the Russian Federation.

After all, in 1991, as the USSR was being torn asunder by internal and external forces, Dzerzhinsky’s statue (lovingly nicknamed “Iron Felix”) was torn down.iron-felix-1991

Dzerzhinsky had become, in death, a symbol for all future Soviet state security forces. Under him, the Cheka became the GPU. After his death however, the GPU would become Stalin’s NKVD and the post-Stalin KGB.

The meaning of his name was inextricably tied to state violence and repression, regardless of whether he was associated with it or not.

The meaning of Dzerzhinsky almost immediately after his death took on a life of its own.

Today, in the Russian Federation, Dzerzhinsky is remembered with all sorts of Stalinist decorations. All of this in spite of the fact that Dzerzhinsky died right as Stalin was taking power.

Dzerzhinsky cared most about the unity of the communist party facing the capitalist/counterrevolutionary forces. That is why he made a two-hour-long speech against the United Opposition, after which he immediately died from a heart attack.

kalinin-trotsky-stalin-dzerzhinskys-funeral

Probably the only picture you’ll find of Trotsky and Stalin together – carrying Dzerzhinsky’s coffin.

What does it tell us that during this renewed period of lionizing Dzerzhinsky and re-accepting his Stalinized image into popular culture, the Russian government continues to repress Lenin?

How is it that Dzerzhinsky has become so totally de-Leninized? Dzerzhinsky no longer stands for revolution (or even revolutionary terror), but rather as some sort of acceptable stand-in for the later “stability” of the Stalin era.

Can we imagine Lenin without Dzerzhinsky? Can we imagine Dzerzhinsky beyond Lenin?

At the moment that talk emerges of re-erecting Iron Felix, the Russian press is also talking about removing Lenin from his mausoleum and burying him, insisting that the majority of Russians want him buried.

The rehabilitation of this specific representation of Dzerzhinsky is notable, because it defends the power of the state apparatus, whereas Lenin still represents state destruction, rather than state reconstitution. In other words, the meaning of Lenin retains its revolutionary edge.

dzerzhinsky-mugshot

It seems like Dzerzhinsky knew this would happen.

Lenin is that which Putin fears most.

Stalin, however, fits into the new official mythology particularly nicely. His appeals to Russian chauvinism, social conservatism, and nationalism are supported by the worst elements in society today – elements like the LDPR and the Orthodox Church.

Dzerzhinsky can only fit into this system through this Stalinization process.

Leninized Dzerzhinsky is equally feared, but a Stalinized Dzerzhinsky can be celebrated.

Even Stalin in 1937 criticized Dzerzhinsky as someone who “openly supported Trotsky against Lenin” and “wanted to use the GPU to protect Trotsky”.

Was Dzerzhinsky a Trotskyist or a Stalinist?

Was he revolutionary or counterrevolutionary?

Was he a defender of justice and the poor or simply a brutal mass-murderer?

Since his death, he has been all these things and more – occasionally simultaneously.

It seems to me that the best way to serve his memory and use this memory as a weapon is to re-Leninize him. The meaning of Dzerzhinsky ought to be inscribed with the life he lived.

Undoubtedly today in Russia, he is being heralded by those against whom he would passionately fight. Dzerzhinsky would never celebrate capitalism, especially not the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union. Had he lived longer, he would have certainly been purged by Stalin, along with the rest of the old guard in the Bolshevik party. If he was alive today, he’d probably be rotting in a Russian prison cell, labeled a terrorist.

However, since the 1920s, everyone from Stalin to Putin has successfully twisted and turned his image to suit their own desires.

The man seems to have been lost in the tornado of history.

Confessions of a Muslim Communist

At first glance, you might suspect some intense cognitive dissonance with me claiming to be a “Muslim Communist”, but I can assure you, dear reader, these ideas are not as opposed as they might seem.

In order to locate myself on this spectrum of political and religious thought, we have to go back a few years. We have to retreat to my adolescence and its discontents.

We have to talk about the first prophet that I ever followed.

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov was born in April in the year 1870 at the twilight of the Russian Empire. When he attended university in the late 1880’s, Ulyanov was transformed by the works of Marx, Engels, and Chernyshevsky. After he changed his name to Lenin in 1901, Vladimir went on to lead the Great October Revolution in Russia in 1917 and establish the Soviet Union. For the next four years, he and Leon Trotsky led the Red Army against the White Army (a collection of monarchists, nationalists, and proto-fascists) in a brutal civil war. His meteoric career was cut short by a series of strokes and by 1924 the communist leader was dead.

Lenin Mr. Skittles

When you think of the Soviet Union, you probably think of a gray, icy dungeon; a frozen hell where all there is to eat is one single potato, and even that is covered in mold and ice. The people are surrounded by chains and commissars and, in order to pass the time, everyone drinks vodka and builds nuclear weapons.

We all know the distorted image that Americans have of the Soviet Union.

But you can rest assured that I’m not here to sing the praises of the USSR.

However, when I was fifteen, I was more than happy to do so.

After all, the Soviet Union under Lenin was the first country in the world to decriminalize homosexuality (which would later be re-criminalized by Stalin and remains an issue to this day), it was the first country to legalize abortion and provide abortions on demand for free, and it was the first country to implement universal healthcare.

I was totally willing to overlook the pitfalls of the revolution as long as I could maintain my glossy-eyed reverence for Lenin and my deep and abiding love for the Communist movement.

To this day, I still have to catch myself occasionally, because once you slip into that mindset, it becomes far trickier to wiggle yourself free. Conviction turns into some sort of self-righteous rebellion and your ego takes over.

If you’re ready and willing to see the good things that the USSR accomplished, then you’re probably ready and willing to see the terrible things that the US has done. At this point, it becomes easier to simply flip allegiances and latch on to the absurd notion that 20th century Soviet-styled countries were borderline paradise.

Before you know it, you’re wishing Fidel Castro a happy birthday on your blog, despite your better judgement.

(To be clear, I don’t regret wishing Castro a happy birthday, but I wish I would have written something more balanced and critical, because I think that post doesn’t really reflect my genuine opinions about the government of Cuba.)

Stalinn

This actually reads “Thank you, dear Stalin – for the happy childhood!”

But if Lenin was my first prophet, then it wasn’t Stalin who served as my first khalifa (or “Caliph”, meaning “successor” or “vicegerent”). No, Stalin’s Russian chauvinism and bureaucratic despotism represented to me everything wrong with 20th century communism.

The only legitimate khalifa I would recognize would be someone with whom I felt a deep affinity in their opposition to such a deformed communism.

That title goes to the man with whom Lenin commanded the Red Army throughout the civil war – Lev Davidovich Bronstein, also known as Leon Trotsky (if you want to his life story, I highly recommend this excellent documentary).

Trotsky had joined with Lenin on the eve of the revolution and would stand by his side for the next 7 years (not without a few hiccups here and there). Following Lenin’s untimely demise, Trotsky fought against Stalin for control over the Communist Party. Stalin had successfully consolidated his power by 1926 through some political maneuvering and in 1929 Trotsky was thrown into exile. He spent the next 11 years writing, speaking, and organizing against Stalin’s “degenerated worker’s state“. He was assassinated in 1940 by one of Stalin’s agents in Mexico.

In the eyes of many, Trotsky was a man of theory while Lenin was a man of action. Trotsky was the esoteric and Lenin was the exoteric. Trotsky was the tragic hero and Lenin was simply the hero.

Trotsky

“Ladies.”

But, as time went on, I moved on to a more nuanced position regarding the “Great” October Revolution.

This isn’t to say that I don’t still have love for Lenin and Trotsky, because I do. However, I’m not the Trotskyist that I once was. On the flip side, I’m also certainly not trying to strengthen the pathetic argument that Marxism is some sort of religion with prophets and false prophets, blah blah blah.

I’m simply placing the lens upon my experiences as a former Trotskyist and a current Muslim.

The story of a prophet and his/her dispossessed rightful successor has played out countless times throughout the history of humanity.

And if you happen to know the story behind the Sunni-Shi’a split, then you’re probably already able to predict the parallels I’m about to draw. If not, dear reader, then away we go!

There exists a classical and incredibly potent story of a prophet and his/her dispossessed rightful successor. That is the story of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his progeny) and Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib (peace be upon him).

Briefly, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was born in or around the year 570. When he was 40 years old, he was visited by the Angel Gabriel and began receiving revelation. This revelation would be eventually compiled into what is now the Qur’an. Throughout the rest of his life he would fulfill the roles of father, grandfather, husband, statesman, general, diplomat, and (most importantly) messenger of God. He passed away when he was 63 and his death sent the young Muslim community into disarray.

Two main factions emerged almost immediately – the proto-Sunni and the proto-Shi’a.

The Stalinists and Trotskyists of their age (although neither group would like me characterizing them in those terms).

The people who came to be called “Sunni” pledged allegiance (or some form thereof) to the actual political successors to the Prophet (PBUH) in the following centuries. The Shi’a, on the other hand, believed that Imam Ali (a.s.) had been designated by the Prophet (and by extension, by God) to be the true successor. Just as the Trotskyists had been designated by Lenin (and by extension, by Marx) to be the true successor.

And since Imam Ali (a.s.) was the son-in-law and cousin of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and had been raised in his shadow, it’s easy to see why. Imam Ali (a.s.) is considered to be one of the most noble individuals to have ever lived. In his marriage to the Prophet’s daughter Fatima (a.s.), and their lineage, the Shi’a draw the people whom they consider to be the 12 imams – the 12 true successors to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

In fact, even the Sunni venerate Imam Ali (a.s.), albeit not recognizing his imamate and unrivaled claim to khalifa from the beginning. He instead fulfills the role of 4th Rightfully-Guided Caliph. And although his son, Hasan (a.s.) was the 2nd Shi’i Imam and the 5th Sunni Caliph, his brief political career is overshadowed by the preceding and succeeding civil wars.

(For a great, also brief, video about the life of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the religion of Islam, I recommend this video.)

Kofi Annan Imam Ali

The nexus between the story of the Russian revolutionaries and the early Muslim community might seem a bit tenuous at first, but I’d invite you to examine the haunting similarities between Imam Ali (a.s.) and Leon Trotsky.

Both men were considered to be almost too fitting for the role of successor.

In the case of Imam Ali (a.s.), the argument has often been made that if he had led the Muslim community, it would’ve collapsed into strife, simply because he was too noble in his decision-making. Whereas in the case of Trotsky, the other Bolsheviks were trying to prevent him from becoming a second Napoleon.

You see, the early Soviet leaders very much saw themselves as having taken up the mantle of the French Revolution of 1789.

Therefore, they constantly were analyzing the progress of the Russian Revolution against that of the French Revolution. And who killed the French Revolution?

Napoleon.

He was too clever, powerful, and charismatic. The others banded behind Napoleon in the counter-revolution and the establishment of the First Empire.

So the Bolsheviks looked around and thought to themselves, “Who is a potential Napoleon here?” For them, the answer was obvious.

Trotsky had studied literature, languages, culture, politics, and history. He was charming, attractive, and intelligent. He was the best public speaker among them and he had the broadest support throughout the ranks of workers. He had led the Red Army to victory and all the while wrote brilliant works of literary criticism like Literature and Revolution.

He was clearly the next Napoleon.

And it was this paranoia of Trotsky’s power that eventually led to a number of Communists standing behind Stalin, whom they initially believed would serve as the perfect mindless bureaucrat and just shuffle paperwork.

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Trotsky, being charismatic.

And although the 7th century Muslims probably weren’t scared of Imam Ali (a.s.) morphing into Napoleon, the tribal leaders certainly didn’t want him in power.

After all, he was from the same blood as the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), which means that once that bloodline was established in power, other factional groups were not going to be able to regain the control that they lost after the message of Islam decimated their Pagan political-economic systems.

Imam Ali (a.s.) says in Nahj al-Balagha: “Greed is an eternal slavery.”

Sounds fairly close to communism to me.

These two men share more than just their dispossession. They were both top-notch generals and warriors. They were both considered to be men of deep theory and sharp wit. They both spent their lives fighting against what they perceived as injustice. And they both were assassinated by former allies.

And Trotskyists and Shi’a Muslims have more in common than might initially meet the eye. They both obsess over the distortion of “correct” history – about rumored (and actual) last wills. They both read heavily into texts in order to grab at historical indications of their prophets designated the true successor. And they both mourn for the loss of the true, righteous path of the ideology.

If only my person had won out, everything would be different!

I do it too. How could you not?

Sometimes it’s easy for me to play with the histories of my two ideologies.

I can imagine Imam Ali (a.s.) commanding the Red Army in the war against the fascists.

Or Leon Trotsky pressing his head in the sand in submission to Allah and reciting duas in Russian.

The call to prayer echoing over Saint Petersburg, including the Shi’a line “ashhadu anna aliyun waliullah”.

Shaykh Lenin’s Mosque being constructed in Saudi Arabia around his tomb proclaiming his elevated place among the community of the believers.

Sufi mystics twirling on Red Square during the Victory Day Parade.

My two seemingly paradoxical viewpoints seamlessly blending into one another in my head. It’s never been difficult for me to justify both positions, even though everyone may look at me like I’m incredibly neurotic.

Perhaps it’s my need to identify with the dispossessed in order to feed into some self-righteous nonsense.

Maybe there’s something deeply psychological in the way I’ve read and interpreted the stories.

It might not be so accidental that a young Trotskyist would later identify with a minor sect of Islam.

Or maybe I’m not as neurotic as I seem.

sultan-galiyev

“Yes you are.”

That insanely handsome man in the photo was a Tatar Muslim Communist who became a prominent member of the Bolshevik Party during the early years of the revolution.

Mirsaid Sultan-Galiev serves as one of my clear historical reference points.

He was the theorist and strongest proponent of national communism. He fought for national self-determination for the Muslims of the former Russian Empire and supported a Marxist analysis of economics, while remaining committed to the Muslims of the world. Lenin and he were incredibly close, but after Lenin’s death he was purged from the Party and eventually killed by Stalin’s systematic persecution of early Bolshevik leaders.

But, for Sultan-Galiev, there was nothing inherently contradictory in the tenets of Islam and the tenets of Marxism.

In fact, in many ways, they complemented each other.

And he isn’t alone in this trajectory.

Abu Dharr al-Ghifari was a contemporary of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and sided with Imam Ali (a.s.) in the initial question of succession. We could call him a proto-Shi’i Muslim, while at the same time easily slipping him into the history of socialism.

Frantz Fanon, who although himself was not a Muslim, wrote extensively about Muslims struggling against the imperialist yoke of the West. In books like Black Skin, White Masks and The Wretched of the Earth, he formulates a new method of thinking about resistance to European/American hegemony. His account of the Algerian Revolution is considered to be one of the most important accounts of any revolution ever.

And Ali Shariati, the man considered to be the theorist behind the Iranian revolution, made a point of sewing together the fabric of socialism with the fabric of (Shi’a) Islam. His works on reinterpreting Shi’i history as well as his anti-imperialist positions make his works a light in the darkness.

Ali Shariati

Alright, that’s the most terrifying image of Ali Shariati.

Putting the words “communist” and “Muslim” together is fairly dangerous these days.

Some crackpot, right-wing lunatic is going to steal this blog post in order to defend their bizarre conspiracy theories about Barack Obama.

So I’ll leave you with this, dear reader:

Unfortunately, Barack Obama is neither a Muslim nor a Communist. A Muslim would not drone-bomb Pakistani children and a Communist would not have such dismal policies in helping impoverished people.

And, of course, there’s probably no convincing you of that if you’re one of the wretched idiots who still thinks that Obama is a socialist, Muslim, fascist, black-power, Kenyan Nazi.

But you can rest assured, dear reader, if Barack Obama was a Muslim Communist, then I would have voted for him.