Marx and the Muslim Brothers

Published on Political Affairs pa, by Thomas Riggins. August 18, 2013 (Linked with our new blog: politics for the 99%).

Is political Islam the modern replacement for socialism?

How should one respond to the claim, made by Sheri Berman a political science professor at Barnard College, that Islamists such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt are “Marx’s contemporary successors”? [Oped- New York Times 8-10-13: "Marx's Lesson for the Muslim Brothers"] 

This seems like an outrageous assertion and I doubt that there are many Islamist madrases where hadiths from the life of Karl Marx are discussed. Lets take a closer look at professor Berman’s article to see the reasoning behind this statement.

She begins her article with the well known remark, allegedly adapted from Hegel by Marx about history repeating itself first as tragedy and again as farce. Marx puts it this way: “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” Berman says this remark (it is from The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte) was made in response to the revolution of 1848 and the overthrow of Louis Phillip the last French king (King of the French). The title of Marx’s work refers to the month of Brumaire in the French Revolutionary calendar adopted to celebrate  the new era of liberty (and to get rid of the Christian calendar). Napoleon Bonaparte seized power in a coup d’etat on the 18th of Brumaire Year VIII of the Republic (November 10, 1799).

This 1848 revolt ushered in a Republic (the Second Republic, 1848-1852) the French are on their Fifth now) but this republic, which the French masses had hoped would be a radical democratic and progressive government, was actually a conservative and even reactionary compromise that liberals made with the conservative forces because they feared the demands being made by the workers. The Communist Manifesto was written at this time.

The first president of the Second Republic  was Louis Napoleon Bonaparte (1808-1873: the undistinguished nephew of  L’Empeuror)– he was the son of Louis Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother). In 1851 he staged a coup against the republic and later became the Emperor of the French as Napoleon III (Napoleon II, the son of Napoleon I died  from consumption in exile in Austria  at the age of 21 in 1832).

The “tragedy” in Marx’s remark is the reign of Napoleon I (his downfall) and the “farce” is the coming to power of Napoleon III. Berman sees a pattern in the coup staged by Louis Bonaparte — the dictatorship of Napoleon III came to be because “Conservatives were able to co-op fearful liberals and install new forms of dictatorship”– i.e., the Second Empire. Basically that is what happened.

Berman goes to say that these “same patterns are playing out in Egypt today.” Three groups seem to be at work according to Berman– LIBERALS ( not otherwise specified but must include the progressive petty bourgeoisie, secularists of almost- all types, the working class and  independent unions, progressive Christians (Copts), progressive Muslims, etc.,)– AUTHORITARIANS (the compradore bourgeoisie, the armed forces, the supporters of Mubarak– both secular and religious, conservative Christians, and some Islamists, etc) and ISLAMISTS (in this context this group must be the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters). We are told that the “Islamists” are “playing the role of socialists” — i.e., the role the socialists played in 1848. Zut alors! … //

… Trying to force the events in Egypt into the Procrustean bed of 1848, Berman writes that during the 1848 uprising the “liberals” feared that “workers and socialists might win” so they joined with the conservatives thinking “the restoration of authoritarianism as the lesser of two evils.”

“This,” she tells us, “is almost exactly what is playing out in Egypt now.” The only difference is that the Egyptian situation is exactly the opposite of what happened in 1848. In Egypt the “liberals” were not reacting to a socialist threat. An authoritarian reactionary Islamic movement came to power by running on a fraudulent democratic platform– the “liberals”, the Egyptian left, the working class, and the vast majority of the people coalesced together to fight this usurpation of the 2011 Egyptian Democratic Revolution. The armed forces supported the masses as the “lesser of two evils.” How the armed forces will react in the future, once the Islamist threat is contained and eliminated, will depend on how unified the masses are and how determined they are to push through a really democratic and inclusive constitution.

What is Dr. Berman’s analysis of why “liberals” act the way they do? Does she discuss what material interests they represent, what classes they represent and the relations of their interests and ideas to those of others they may be able to ally with or must needs come into conflict with? The answer is no. “Liberals” act the way they do because they “like order and moderation and dislike radical social experiments.” They also “fear”  those who engage in “extremist rhetoric, mass protests and violence.” Which is just what the “liberals” did to get rid of Mubarak!

She compares the coming of “democracy” to Eastern and Southern Europe after the implosion of the Soviet Union to the middle east.  In Europe “extremism and religion weren’t major factors” (forget the genocidal  wars in the Balkans) and anyway the European Union “was there to help.” The poor Egyptians don’t have a European big brother to guide them (and won’t do what the Americans tell them)–”there is no strong democratic neighbor to guide them.” Maybe Bibi over in  Jerusalem could help out?

This “liberal” fear and or dislike of “radical social experiments” is as true today, we are told, as it was for “liberals” in 1789 and 1848 “and it’s true of Egyptian liberals today.” Oh my! It was the French “liberals” that brought about 1789 and there are not many people who have read up on the great French Revolution that would not call it a “radical social experiment.” The whole point of a “tragedy” vs “farce” comparison is the contrast between the courageous, radical and revolutionary liberal bourgeoisie of the French Revolution of 1789 and the pusillanimous, conservative and counter-revolutionary liberal bourgeoisie of 1848.

After a few more irrelevant paragraphs concerning Marx’s analysis of 1848 and the development of socialism in Europe and the errors the “liberals” made because they did not understand how to handle contradictions among the people– she decides the Egyptian liberals should realize that just as all European socialists were not “proto-Stalinists” and that many were total sell outs (”socialists” who “wanted  social and economic reforms, but not ones that were mortal threats to capitalism or democracy”) so not all Islamists “want to implement a theocratic regime. ” Liberals should work with these moderates or ” Egypt’s political future will be troubled.”

The problem is she nowhere discusses what “Islamism” means. Islamism is a political and religious tendency, made up of moderate elements and also forces of extremism (restoration of the Calafate!), which seeks to create political states based on religion: “The Islamic Republic of ——-.” No state is meaningfully “democratic” if it favors one religion over others and thus treats some citizens as “more equal than others.” The Muslim Brotherhood claimed to be moderate yet once in power brought about its own downfall by trying to impose its Islamic doctrinaire positions on the population at large which led to a massive revolutionary upheaval joined by the armed forces.

The imperialist powers and their press call this the imposition of an undemocratic military dictatorship but the Egyptian masses have yet to make this determination. How the masses and the military relate to one another in the coming months will determine the next stage of the Egyptian Revolution that commenced in 2011. Marx, by the way, has nothing to do with the Muslim Brotherhood.
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