In practically every part of the world, dissatisfaction with the existing neo-liberal regimes and the economic system they uphold, is being displayed. From the advanced capitalist countries, to the less-advanced ex-colonised countries, people across the globe are up in arms both metaphorically and literally. Mass opposition to the systemic economic and social inequalities that the capitalist mode of production has inaugurated, is producing not only large-scale demonstrations and uprisings, but also armed groups. Many of the latter are prepared to fight and die in order to bring about changes to the way countries and communities are governed. In all this upheaval, there is an almost universal recognition that the present mode of existence for the ordinary citizens of the world is in dire need of change.
There is however, no agreed vision of what form those changes should take. Indeed, even in the most ‘advanced’ capitalist countries, the most potentially militant visions of what form of economic production and governance should replace the existing neo-liberal capitalist ones are currently not anti-capitalist ones. For in Europe and North America, the ascendant dissident views are in fact to be found among the category known as religious ‘fundamentalisms’. As the unfolding 20th and 21st century economic and social crisis has steadily increased competition for jobs and resources among members of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist communities, there has been among them, a resurgence of religious identities and fundamentalist views on how to combat the oppressive symptoms caused by capitalism.
Since they presently dominate the news, the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa are useful as examples. These have been dominated by movements and armed groups dedicated exclusively to replacing the existing political, often pro-secular regimes. Not, however, with anti-capitalist forms of self-governance, but with Islamic fundamentalist ones. Of course, the current proliferation of such armed groups killing in the name of their sectarian version of God rest predominantly upon the often hopeless and alienating socio-economic situations they face individually and collectively. Nevertheless, the current form their struggle most often takes against these situations, is mediated and justified by previously developed fundamentalist religious ideas.
For example, after directly observing the mid-twentieth century socio-economic situation in North America, an influential thinker within the early development of the Muslim Brotherhood movement commented on western capitalist policies;
“..any objectives other than the immediate utilitarian ones are by-passed and any human element other than ego is not recognised. Where the whole of life is dominated by such materialism, there is no scope for laws beyond provisions for labour and production. The result is class struggle which becomes inevitable and visibly evident.” (Savyid Qutb ‘Islam and Universal Peace. Quoted in ‘Fundamentalisms Observed’ by Marty and Appleby.)
Similar views are currently expressed across a wide geographical and cultural range of peoples, from Egypt, Syria, Libya, Algeria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Lebanon, Iran, Yemen, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Burma, Congo, Nigeria. and Turkey, just to mention a few. In the more advanced capitalist countries, particularly in the United States of America, the injustices and exploitation gave rise to the black separatist movement of the Nation of Islam, a resurgence of Christian Zionism, and many other forms of Protestant fundamentalism.
All of these fundamentalist religious trends, articulated by the Bakkers, Farrakhan‘s, Vasil’ev‘s, Bonnke‘s, Kook‘s, Savakar‘s, Bodhiraksa‘s, and many, many others of the fundamentalist world, are deeply critical of the contingent immorality and injustice introduced by the capitalist mode of production. But none of them draw anti-capitalist conclusions. They all see many of the social, cutural and political symptoms, but their ideologies prevent them from examining the economic causes. On the continents of South America and Africa, religious fundamentalism (Protestant and Catholic) has also been the most successful ideological development in mobilising opposition to the dominant elites and their economic, military and political inter-connection with the dominant Anglo-Saxon sources of neo-liberal capital.
In each of these multifarious movements there is a clear identification of the way the present capitalist mode of production dominates the whole of life and creates societies focussed upon the acquisition of money and the advancement of corrupt elites. It also creates new class divisions and class struggles around labour and production. But the solution envisaged by Qutb and others such as Al- Banna, to this historic capitalist-introduced problem, was for the oppressed to struggle for a return to the fundamentals of Islam.
This particular Islamic thinker (Qutb) was imprisoned and cruelly tortured by the government of Nasser and began to articulate the beginnings of a militant resurgence of Islam. One requiring the identification of unbelievers and the complete allegiance of believers to Islam. It was only a short step from such mid-twentieth century militant scholarly interpretations of Islam for later followers to obtain weapons and attempt to enforce their will upon communities – which they did! This is a trend which now stretches across continents from Africa to Asia.
But as indicated earlier, a return to religious fundamental forms of governance in order to escape the wealth inequalities, corruption and injustices of capitalism is not restricted to the middle eastern and Asian ex-colonised countries. In North America and Europe many of those most oppressed by the system of capitalism are also not turning to anti-capitalist analysis, proposals and activism, but to religious forms of identity with publicised hopes for a return to religious forms of communal governance.
In North America in particular, the fundamentalist tap-root dates back almost to the origins of capitalisms domination of the United States. However, the last huge capitalist crisis in the 1930’s led to a massive upsurge in protestant Bible studies (Bible Colleges and Radio stations) which was further strengthened or ‘born again’ as opposition grew in response to post Second World War economic, cultural and social developments. The legacy of this development is ever present in the 21st century.
Perhaps not surprisingly, in the former Soviet Union, the anti-capitalist viewpoint has all but died out completely and now Orthodox Christianity and Islam compete for ascendancy as the supposed standard bearers of humane conduct for their disenchanted and disinherited citizens. A glaring litmus test of the domination of this reactionary pro-religious trend in modern Russia was supplied by the substantial and orchestrated demonstrations against Pussy Riot activists (Katia – Masha and Nadia) who peaceably gyrated in front of the alter in ‘Christ the Saviour’ church. In the former land of so-called ‘Marxism’, the Orthodox Church and the Russian State eagerly collaborated in the persecution of female activists simply demonstrating against patriarchy and the Patriarch.
All these late 20th and early 21st century retrograde developments across the globe should be cause for considerable concern among anti-capitalists and revolutionary-humanists. For, despite, the current world-wide capitalist crisis, the project for a post-capitalist society is further removed from working class and mass social consciousness than it has been at any time since its articulation in the form of ‘socialism’ in 17th and 18th centuries.
And of course, the palpable failures of state socialism and state communism in their various guises from their social democratic forms in Europe and the middle east, to the Communist regimes of the former Soviet Union along with its satellite countries and China have turned countless workers away from such so-called anti-capitalist alternatives to capitalism.
This suggests that a considerable task of sustained endurance faces us. We need to convince those few who are willing to listen, of the following.
3. That religion and religious fundamentalism offer no way forward because;
a) Religion does not seriously challenge or seek to go beyond the capitalist mode of production or patriarchal domination.
b) Religious fundamentalisms are a recipe for direct sectarian competition and warfare among people over territory and resources.
c) Religious fundamentalism puts governance of communities into the hands of an elite who believe in the existence of invisible entities and continued elite male domination.
For all the above reasons religion cannot be treated as a harmless personal issue to be defended or even championed, as some on the left, out of misguided political correctness, have done. Religion and religious fundamentalism are a public issue and the first (religion) is a solid foundation for the second – fundamentalism! Furthermore, religion is based upon a dangerous illusion, that an invisible male super-entity, has opinions and rules which only a male elite can decipher or interpret.
For when these religious fundamentalists become radicalised and equip themselves with guns and bombs they become a serious existential threat to increasing numbers of communities throughout the world. With millions, if not billions of practicing and subscribing members, these religious fundamentalists have fertile recruiting grounds among those who share their ideology and who are suffering from hardship and exploitation.
So as I suggest the promotion of a modern version of post-capitalism represents a lengthy and difficult task. It is a task which is not helped by those anti-capitalists who think the solution is to shun theory and dive into practice hoping that crisis-driven activism supported by selected passages or programmes from the writings of Lenin and Trotsky will solve a multitude of problems and convince millions to sign up to the anti-capitalist project. Given the current proliferation of fundamentalism and sectionalism among the working classess, much more is needed.
Indeed, the sectarian nature (subtle or blatant) of much of the current anti-capitalist left also stands in the way. For this mirrors in a miniscule way the sectarian nature of religious fundamentalism. They simply replace absolute belief in an inerrant god and their scriptures with absolute belief in one or other versions of an inerrant Leninist or Trotskyist type vanguard along with its basic programme – and they also often shun all those who fail to sufficiently agree.
Given the scale of the problem, it may or may not be the case that many failures of religious motivated change will need to occur before masses of people are again driven by circumstances to consider alternative and more radical non-sectarian, inclusive revolutionary movements. However, the above noted tasks retain their validity whatever the outcome of the current multi-dimensional crisis. These tasks will require modern revolutionary-humanists and non-sectarian anti-capitalists to critically re-visit all the theories we have inherited and flush out all the distortions and deviations they have accumulated over the last 100 years. The working classes, white-collar and blue, indeed have the numbers, however, as Marx, noted;
“…but numbers weigh only in the balance, if united by combination and led by knowledge.” (Marx ‘Inaugural Address of the Working Man’s International Association.)
Needless to say that ‘unity of combination’ also requires an end to sectarianism among the anti-capitalist left and sectionalism among the working class. And ‘knowledge’ in the modern context – as in the past – requires an absence of dogma along with a critical and self-critical comprehension of the past and present practices of us anti-capitalist activists. Contrary to the modern distaste for theoretical effort among some activists, there is, I suggest, an urgent need for much more of it. The latter is a theme which will be developed in the next post on this blog.
Roy Ratcliffe (January 2014.)