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‘Long live Soviet power, long live the sharia!’

The Socialist Workers Party’s monthly magazine Socialist Review has an article entitled Bolsheviks and Islam: Religious Rights.

I’ll leave it to others better qualified to comment on the historical accuracy or otherwise of the piece because I haven’t got a clue and I don’t think it makes a jot of difference to the current situation either – religious freedom for Muslims is not under threat in Britain, we haven’t just had a socialist revolution and don’t need to rally people to support our soviets.

But observers of the sectarian left will note the political significance of the article.

At a time when the SWP are receiving some criticism for their alliances with political Islam, the article is giving the ultimate seal of approval to such an approach – the Bolshevik precedent.

Historians agree that a majority of Muslim leaders supported the soviets, convinced that Soviet power meant religious liberty. There was serious discussion among Muslims of the similarity of Islamic values to socialist principles. Popular slogans of the time included: ‘Long live Soviet power, long live the sharia!’; ‘Religion, freedom and national independence!’ Supporters of ‘Islamic socialism’ appealed to Muslims to set up soviets.

The Bolsheviks made alliances with the Kazakh pan-Islamic group the Ush-Zhuz (which joined the CP in 1920), the Persian pan-Islamist guerrillas in the Jengelis, and the Vaisites, a Sufi brotherhood. In Dagestan, Soviet power was established largely thanks to the partisans of the Muslim leader Ali-Hadji Akushinskii.

In Chechnya the Bolsheviks won over Ali Mataev, the head of a powerful Sufi order, who led the Chechen Revolutionary Committee. In the Red Army the ’sharia squadrons’ of the mullah Katkakhanov numbered tens of thousands.

At the Baku Congress of the Peoples of the East in September 1920, Russian Bolshevik leaders issued a call for a ‘holy war’ against Western imperialism. Two years later the Fourth Congress of the Communist International endorsed alliances with pan-Islamism against imperialism.

There is no greater method of winning support of a sect membership to a controversial tactic than to declare it to be a replication of the strategy of Lenin and Trotsky. Even better when the only opposition cited to such an approach is that of Stalin’s.

Given the undemocratic, totalitarian structure of the SWP I tend to look at the organisation and its publications with the same approach Sovietologists took to Stalin’s USSR – you look for signals, messages being sent out to the cadres.

It is pretty clear what the purpose of this article is.