March 25, 2016


The Marxist roots of Islamic extremism (Damon Linker, March 25, 2016, The Week)

Radical critics often seek to spark dramatic change, but they can't see a direct path from the status quo to the vastly improved world they hope to bring about. This gives rise to the idea of searching for a catalyst within the present that can serve as a launching pad for total revolution. [...]

That's where "heightening the contradictions" comes in. In abstract terms, it means working to intensify the things about capitalist society that will ultimately produce its overthrow. In concrete terms, it means allowing and even encouraging things to get worse in the hopes that people will be inspired by their misery to undertake radical action.

The crucial importance of heightening the contradictions explains the otherwise inexplicable hostility Marx and Friedrich Engels display in the closing passages of The Communist Manifesto toward non-communist socialists for embracing "reform" instead of revolution. The same impulse can be seen in all of Marx's most influential successors, from Vladimir Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg on down to the pantheon of Third World revolutionaries who inspired political insurrection across the globe throughout the mid-20th century. All of them rejected individual ("bourgeois") rights as well as the legitimacy of the liberal welfare state, no matter how generous, on the ground that it functions as a bribe that buys off the working class with half-measures, leaving the contradictions of the present order intact, with no way out, and no end in sight.

Much better, in the short term at least, is the immiseration of the working class so that it will rise up and take the radical actions needed to overthrow the system as a whole.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, there haven't been a lot of doctrinaire communist revolutionaries running around. But that doesn't mean that the idea of heightening the contradictions has disappeared. On the contrary, it has spread like a virus to other forms of anti-liberal political extremism.

Radical Islam, for example, is a highly potent mixture of motifs drawn from the Muslim past and Marxist-Leninist ideas imported through the writings of such polemicists as Sayyid Qutb and Abul Ala Maududi. The two most ambitious and powerful Islamist groups -- the Islamic State and al Qaeda -- do not seriously believe that their acts of terrorism against the West will lead the EU or the United States to surrender.

Their strategy is more patient and indirect (a Marxist would call it dialectical). They want their attacks to provoke a far-right anti-Muslim backlash within Western countries that will in turn inspire persecuted Muslims within those countries to become radicalized and willing to undertake ever-more spectacular attacks against their host societies. Attack, crackdown, worse attack, more draconian crackdown, on and on, with the West eventually weakening enough that a resurgent Islam can rise as a triumphant global power.

Make things worse to make things better: a classic case of heightening the contradictions.

Posted by at March 25, 2016 6:44 PM