The main contributions of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels to theory were twofold. The first of these was Marx’s Theory of Surplus Value, which aims to demonstrate the exploitation of wage-earners under capitalism. The second was their joint theory of historical development, known as Dialectical Materialism. In this article, we will focus solely on the latter; for as Ex-Muslims, we are far more interested in how the Left views history than their criticism of market economies. In essence, Dialectical Materialism posits that:
1. All historical events are ultimately the product of class conflict;
2. This conflict exists independent of the will and actions of human beings.
The first of these assumptions is what drives Leftist apologetics for jihadist movements, which are wrongly presumed to be anti-capitalist in nature. The second assumption, being unfalsifiable, is what makes Marxism more of a religion than a philosophy. We will tackle each of these curious beliefs in turn. Before then, however, let us take some time to explain why Marxists are fundamentally mistaken in their interpretation of Islamic terror, i.e. that such acts are merely “a response to Western aggression”.
The plain truth is that for 1,400 years, Muslims have been killing non-Muslims to fulfil their dreams of imperial conquest; they have been driven by the belief that Islam is supreme and that martyrdom in its cause guarantees paradise. For the jihadist, it is not enough for Western forces to withdraw from the Middle East: rather, he understands that jihad is about waging war against non-Muslims until they convert to Islam, pay the jizyah, or are killed. In the words of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, former leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq:
We do not perform jihad here for a fistful of dirt or an illusory border drawn up by Sykes and Picot. Similarly, we do not perform jihad for a Western taghut to take the place of an Arab taghut. Rather our jihad is loftier and more superior. We perform jihad so that Allah’s word becomes supreme and that the religion becomes completely for Allah.
Indeed, it is worth remembering that one of the main reasons for which Osama bin Laden despised the United States and other Western powers is that they eventually discontinued and reversed their support for the Indonesian occupation of East Timor. East Timor, of course, is a Christian country which dared to assert its independence from Muslim-majority Indonesia in 1975. In what might be the greatest slapdown of Leftist apologetics for jihad ever captured on film, the late Christopher Hitchens makes this point:
The argument that poverty, mental illness or lack of education is the main driver of jihadist terror has little basis in reality. On the contrary, there are innumerable studies showing how the opposite is the case: it is college-educated Muslims from middle or upper-class backgrounds who are most likely to commit acts of terror. We will quote from just one of these studies here. In his seminal work Understanding Terror Networks, Marc Sageman of the Foreign Policy Research Institute offers the following insight:
The 400 terrorists on whom I’ve collected data were the ones who actually targeted the “far enemy”, the U.S., as opposed to their own governments. I wanted to limit myself for analytical purity to that group, to see if I could identify anything different from other terrorist movements, which were far more nationalistic.
Most people think that terrorism comes from poverty, broken families, ignorance, immaturity, lack of family or occupational responsibilities, weak minds susceptible to brainwashing – the sociopath, the criminals, the religious fanatic, or, in this country, some believe they’re just plain evil.
Taking these perceived root causes in turn, three quarters of my sample came from the upper or middle class. The vast majority – 90 percent – came from caring, intact families. Sixty-three percent had gone to college, as compared with the 5-6 percent that’s usual for the third world. These are the best and brightest of their societies in many ways.
Al-Qaeda’s members are not the Palestinian fourteen-year-olds we see on the news, but join the jihad at the average age of 26. Three-quarters were professionals or semi-professionals. They are engineers, architects, and civil engineers, mostly scientists. Very few humanities are represented, and quite surprisingly very few had any background in religion. The natural sciences predominate. Bin Laden himself is a civil engineer, Zawahiri is a physician, Mohammed Atta was, of course, an architect; and a few members are military, such as Mohammed Ibrahim Makawi, who is supposedly the head of the military committee.
Far from having no family or job responsibilities, 73 percent were married and the vast majority had children. Those who were not married were usually too young to be married. Only 13 percent were madrassa-trained and most of them come from what I call the Southeast Asian sample, the Jemaah Islamiyya…
As a psychiatrist, originally I was looking for any characteristic common to these men. But only four of the 400 men had any hint of a disorder. This is below the worldwide base rate for thought disorders. So they are as healthy as the general population. I didn’t find many personality disorders, which makes sense in that people who are antisocial usually don’t cooperate well enough with others to join groups. This is a well-organized type of terrorism: these men are not like Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, loners off planning in the woods. Loners are weeded out early on. Of the nineteen 9/11 terrorists, none had a criminal record.
Alas, Marxism prevents its adherents from accepting any of this. As admirers of such anti-colonial thinkers as C.L.R. James and Frantz Fanon, we are saddened that the Irish Left has failed to oppose Islamic imperialism. This is not for lack of trying on our part; indeed, on multiple occasions, we stressed to Paul Murphy and his comrades that if the Left isn’t willing to engage with the jihadist threat, they risk driving people to the Right. We implored Solidarity to work with Ex-Muslims in covering issues related to Islam.
Regrettably, these calls were ultimately met with indifference. Suspecting this would be the case, in March 2017, our spokesperson Kareem Muhssin took the precaution of recording his final plea to the party. Before delving into the intellectual poverty of Marxism, we might spare a few minutes to listen to this recording – to set the scene, if you will. What you are about to hear is from a Solidarity branch meeting held in Paul Murphy’s Dublin south-west constituency office, discussing the rise of the far-Right in Europe:
The Primacy of Economics
In the first instance, Dialectical Materialism proposes that the prime cause of all social phenomena is economics – that is to say, the method of production and exchange prevailing at any given period in time. Perhaps the clearest statement of this theory was provided by Engels in his lengthy rebuttal to Eugen Dühring, fittingly titled Anti-Dühring:
It was seen that all past history was the history of class struggles; that these warring classes of society are always the products of the modes of production and of exchange – in a word, of the economic conditions of their time; that the economic structure of society always furnishes the real basis, starting from which we can alone work out the ultimate explanation of the whole superstructure of juridical and political institutions as well as of the religious, philosophical, and other ideas of a given historical period.
Now treated as a practical approximation, clearly there is a large measure of truth in this statement. Take, for example, the emancipation of women in the early twentieth century. It was not the writings of John Stuart Mill that ultimately led to women being able to vote, but rather their mass employment in the arms industry during World War I, as these efforts would force Western society to recognise their equal status as producers.
A more recurrent example would be the success of jihadist movements owing to material support from the United States and its allies. From the mujahideen in Afghanistan to the “moderate opposition” in Syria, there has been a disturbing tendency for Western powers to back terrorist groups as a means to unseat their economic rivals. This has served to exacerbate Islamic imperialism; indeed, there can be little doubt that without the backing of the United States, ISIS would not have been able to overrun large swathes of Iraq and Syria. Writing in December 2017, Tom O’Connor of Newsweek states:
The Islamic State militant group (ISIS) got its hands on vast supplies of weapons by taking advantage of U.S. weapons transfers that may have violated international agreements between Washington and its allies, according to a new report. As much as 90 percent of ISIS’s arms and ammunition were found to have originated in Russia, China and Eastern European states. The jihadis were able to obtain much of this arsenal as a result of former President Barack Obama’s support for rebels in Syria, U.K.-based Conflict Armament Research reported after analyzing 40,000 items recovered by its investigators along ISIS front lines between July 2014 and November 2017. By purchasing “large numbers” of European arms and ammunition and then diverting them to nonstate actors in Syria without notifying the sellers, the U.S. reportedly “violated the terms of sale and export agreed between weapon exporters…and recipients.”
That economics is a major driving force of history is not in dispute here. What we are disputing, however, is its inherent preclusion of all other forces. Are we justified in reducing human history to a class war, or are there non-economic factors which are just as important? As a group, we lean towards the latter, starting with accidents of history.
Indeed, history is often shaped by rather trivial and fortuitous events. For example, it is probable that if Henry VIII had not fallen in love with Anne Boleyn, the United States would now not exist: for it was owing to this event that England broke with the Papacy, and therefore did not acknowledge the Pope’s gift of the Americas to Spain and Portugal. If England had remained Catholic, what is now the United States would most likely have been part of Hispanic America.
Another example concerns the Russian Revolution. According to Trotsky’s account, it was touch and go as to whether the German Government allowed Lenin to get to Russia. If the minister concerned had happened to be suffering from a hangover that morning, he might have said ‘No’ when in fact he meant ‘Yes’, thus seriously hurting the Revolution’s chances of success: for it is recognised by all that Lenin was essential to organising the opposition – not least when it comes to the takeover of the Petrograd Soviet and the recruitment of demoralised Russian Army troops to the Bolshevik side.
Perhaps the most obvious non-economic factor, and the one which socialists tend to neglect the most, is nationalism. Throughout World War I, the great majority of European wage-earners allowed themselves to be governed by nationalist feeling, and ignored the traditional communist exhortation: “Workers of the world, unite.” According to Marxist thought, these workers were misled by cunning capitalists, who made their profit out of the slaughter. This is only partially true, however, as immense numbers of capitalists were also ruined by the war.
In all likelihood, English and German capitalists could have made more profit by working together than they did out of rivalry, but the rivalry was instinctive. The capitalist class were in the grip of nationalist instinct just as much as the working class: for while the role of economics in war cannot be denied, ultimately, the nations of the world are defined by the common identity which results from a shared territory.
This brings us to religion, another crucial factor in shaping human history. The Marxist assumes that a man’s herd, in terms of herd instinct, is his class, and that he will naturally identify with those whose economic class-interest is the same as his. This is only very partially true, however, for religion has long been the most decisive factor in determining a man’s herd throughout history.
The Marxist fails to appreciate how our beliefs dictate our behaviour. As such, when the Catholic pauper gives his vote to the God-fearing capitalist instead of the unbelieving socialist, the Marxist concludes that he must have been led astray by pro-establishment propaganda. In reality, this is because many working class people value the advancement of their creed over their material well-being – as is the norm in the United States, where divisions in local elections occur primarily on religious lines, not policy.
A striking example would be that of the Iranian Revolution. Although originally a secular movement against the tyranny of the Shah, in the end, the Iranian people were content for the Ayatollah Khomeini to take over – with terrible consequences for the Iranian communists, who lent their support to Khomeini under the mistaken assumption that economics would prevail over religious belief. Indeed, groups like the Tudeh Party were so blinded by their hatred of Western imperialism that they couldn’t see the sword of Islam looming over them. To quote the historian and former communist Torben Hansen at length:
To my mind, the simple fact that they hated America was almost enough to justify a revolution. If imperialism’s power could be broken, it would pave the way for a new agenda. This is a central point in communism…
It is noteworthy how ill-equipped I was to find out what I was facing. A Leninist is unable to understand the patrimonial state where the entire society belongs to the ruler. From his perspective, the state is tantamount to the rule of capital. The police and the army are simply ruled by the banks, and the legislative, administrative and judicial branches of government are nothing but errand boys for the local Rockefellers. It was simply impossible to imagine that a shah or a sultan could own everything and everyone, both the believers and non-believers…
Once imperialism was removed, capitalism would follow: it was just that easy! I wasn’t in Iran long enough to follow up on this, but there were some nasty attacks on female demonstrators in the spring of 1980. I would have liked to discuss this with the women with whom I had spoken…
I assumed that it was just part of the culture. I thought that it would be gone next year and we wouldn’t have to worry about that sort of silly play-acting any longer. This notion was confirmed in the milieu I was frequenting in Iran, for there I met virtually no real Muslims. They drank vodka and there were bars. Of course, they were later destroyed. The belief was that religion shouldn’t be taken seriously. To be sure there were some mullahs, but religion would soon be a thing of the past…
The Fedayin took up sticks to fight the Hizbollah. The police came, but there were no more than 50 officers. They positioned themselves between the two groups. The policemen were simply smashed by Hizbollah. It was so awful that I thought that someone higher up in the system must have decided this. As far as I could tell, one of the policemen was killed. But we thought that Hizbollah were the extremists; we didn’t know that Khomeini was behind these events.
Finally, we come to the role of intellectualism in the technological advancement of our species. It is generally recognised that methods of production change mainly due to scientific discoveries and inventions. While these ought to be classified as intellectual causes, the Marxist would argue that such discoveries and inventions are made when the economic situation calls for them.
This, however, is at odds with history. Why, for example, was there practically no experimental science in the Greco-Roman world during the six centuries after Archimedes? Until the Barbarian invasion of Rome in 410 AD, the economic conditions were such as should have made scientific work easy; and yet, the work of Eratosthenes in 240 BC – determining the Earth’s circumference and diameter – was the last true experimental science of classical antiquity.
It was not economic necessity, but the Renaissance which gave us the science to develop modern industry. This intellectual causation of historical development is not adequately recognised by Marxism.
Class Conflict as a Cosmic Force
In the second instance, Dialectical Materialism posits that class conflict – that is, the conflict between productive forces and modes of production – exists independent of human volitions, and that this conflict results in a continuum of progress towards socialism. Here is how Engels put it in Socialism: Utopian and Scientific:
This conflict between productive forces and modes of production is not a conflict engendered in the mind of man, like that between original sin and divine justice. It exists, in fact, objectively, outside us, independently of the will and actions even of the men that have brought it on.
From that time forward, Socialism was no longer an accidental discovery of this or that ingenious brain, but the necessary outcome of the struggle between two historically developed classes – the proletariat and the bourgeoisie.
Now as strict materialists, this is a peculiar position for Engels and Marx to hold. That class conflict exists outside of man would have been a rational conclusion for Hegel, who contended that mind (aether) is the ultimate reality behind the universe. It is difficult, however, to see how this same conclusion can be drawn from materialism: for if matter is absolute, then class conflict is inherently confined to those who are engaged in it. It is beyond the remit of the materialist to assert the existence of class conflict as some kind of cosmic force; rather, such claims belong to the unfalsifiable world of religion.
The same goes for the inevitability of socialism. While this would be consistent with Hegel’s belief that the world develops according to a logical formula, it makes little sense for the materialist to propose. Indeed, if Hegel considered the development of history to be as logical as a game of chess, then Marx and Engels keep the rules of chess, while supposing that the pieces move themselves in accordance with the laws of physics, without the intervention of a player. Such a fantastical game of chess may appeal to those who believe in Providence, but in the real world, progress is anything but inevitable.
The Barbarian invasion of Rome in the fifth century did not give rise to more developed economic forms, nor did the destruction of the Albigensians in southern France in the thirteenth century, nor did the expulsion of the Moriscos from Spain in the seventeenth century. Before the time of Homer, the Mycenaean civilisation had been destroyed, and it was many centuries before a developed civilisation again emerged in Greece. The examples of decay and regression are at least as numerous and as important in history as the examples of development. The opposite view, which appears in the works of Marx and Engels, is little more than nineteenth century optimism.
The Marxist assumes that conflicts between communism and capitalism, while they may for a period of time result in partial victories for capitalism, must in the end lead to the establishment of communism. He does not envisage another outcome which is just as probable – namely, a return to barbarism.
Should our species descend into another world war, it is highly likely that large populations will be exterminated by weapons of mass destruction, both nuclear and biological. Such a war would make World War I and the Russian Civil War look like fisticuffs; and yet, the effects of those conflicts forced the Bolshevik government to revert to soft capitalism. Can it seriously be supposed that after such a devastating conflict, the remaining population would be in a mood to establish communism? Is it not considerably more probable that the survivors would be in a mood of gibbering and superstitious brutality, fighting and killing each other for the last turnip or potato?
The early Islamic conquests were much facilitated by the belief that the faithful who died in battle went straight to paradise. One can draw a parallel with the efforts of socialists, who are stimulated by the belief that there is a force called Dialectical Materialism who is fighting on their side, and who will, in His own good time, grant them victory. This is why Marxism ought to be regarded as more of a religion than a philosophy; indeed, its devotees exhibit a zeal for socialism not dissimilar to that of the jihadist for shari’ah.
By reducing human history to a class war, Marxism absolves people of the responsibility to think. While this may make it easier to organise politically, we should not expect the results of this activity to be positive; for delegating thought to others is the great enabler of totalitarianism. To put it bluntly, if we cannot work towards a more just world without moulding history in our favour, then we do not deserve one. To finish with a quote from Bertrand Russell on the selective interpretation of history:
History can be viewed in many ways, and many general formulae can be invented which cover enough of the ground to seem adequate if the facts are carefully selected. I suggest, without undue solemnity, the following alternative theory of the causation of the industrial revolution: industrialism is due to modern science, modern science is due to Galileo, Galileo is due to Copernicus, Copernicus is due to the Renaissance, the Renaissance is due to the fall of Constantinople, the fall of Constantinople is due to the migration of the Turks, and the migration of the Turks is due to the desiccation of Central Asia. Therefore, the fundamental study in searching for historical causes is hydrography.