The rise of Islamic Marxism lie in the rise of socialist in Iran during the progressive Nation Front government of Mohammad Mossadeq.
Traditional Islamic scholars have always declared Socialists to be ‘atheists.’ But many progressive Muslims have insisted that the teachings of Islam are compatible with principles of equality and the redistribution of wealth.
Some of these Muslim intellectuals called themselves ‘Islamic Socialists.’
Refusing to ally themselves with the capitalist-democracies of the West and cautious about openly supporting the USSR/communism due to the conservative nature of their respective societies, Islamic Socialists attempted to come up with a ‘third way.’
This third way was a more ‘spiritual form of Socialism’ combined with a ‘non-egoistic’ brand of secular capitalism.
One of the leading Islamic Socialist movements included ‘Arab Socialism.’ Developed in Syria, Arab Socialism combined traditional Arab Nationalism with Socialism.
Its strongest political expression was the Ba’ath Socialist Party.
Arab Socialists believed that only a socialist system of property and development could overcome the social and economic legacy of colonialism in the Arab world. Soon after the 1950s, The Ba’ath Party came into power in Syria and Iraq, whereas in Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser stamped his own version of Arab Socialism.
Other active advocates of Arab Socialism were Col. Qaddafi of Libya, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and Algeria’s National Liberation Front (NLF) that fought and won a war of independence against the French.With the defeat of Egypt and Syria by Israel in the 1967 war, the influence of Arab Socialism started to decline.
Arab Socialists were also opposed by Islamist organisations like the Muslim Brotherhood (of which Al-Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri was once a member).
Inspired by Arab Socialism, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) introduced Pakistan’s version of Islamic Socialism in 1967.
The PPP described its brand of Socialism as an ideology based on the ‘socialist ideals of Islam.’
The PPP's Islamic Socialism was opposed by an alliance of right-wing parties led by the Jamaat-i-Islami that used the slogan of ‘Nizam-i-Mustapha.’ This slogan and ‘philosophy’ was eventually adopted by General Zia-ul-Haq after he toppled the Bhutto regime in 1977.
There has also been a form of Islamic Socialism that was called ‘Islamic Marxism.’
Urban guerrilla organisations like Iran’s Mohjahedin-i-Khalq, Afghanistan’s Peoples Democratic Party (that ruled Afghanistan between 1978 and 1992), and influential scholars like Ali Shariati have all been described as ‘Islamic Marxists.’
The roots of Islamic Marxism lie in the rise of socialists in Iran during the progressive National Front government of Mohammad Mossadeq.
Mossadeq was toppled in 1953 in a royalist coup staged by the Iranian armed forces that were supported by Western intelligence agencies when Mossadeq nationalised British and American oil companies in Iran.
Marxists that were supporting Mossadeq accused the Iranian clergy of not doing much to help Mossadeq, even though the clergy too was anti-Shah.
Disillusioned by the clergy’s role, many young Islamic radicals joined hands with Marxists to form the Mojahedin-i-Khalq in 1968.
The organisation claimed to be a group of ‘Muslim mujahids’ who studied Marxism and found it to be very close to what Islam preaches regarding equality, egalitarianism and pro-proletariat revolutionary action.
The Mojahiden-i-Khalq managed to attract thousands of supporters, becoming the leading anti-Shah group in Iran.It also worked with the clergy led by Ayatollah Khomeini, and former Mossadeq supporter, Dr. Ali Shariati who, like the Mojaheden-i-Khalq, was also interpreting Marxism through Islamic symbolism.
Historians suggest that much of the groundwork for the 1979 Iranian Revolution was done by Mojahiden-i-Khalq and Shariati, but as the revolution drew nearer, the clergy started attacking Khalq for being ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing.’
‘Islamic Marxism’ reached a peak in Iran during the revolution but declined when hundreds of Khalq members were executed by the post-Shah Islamic regime.
The post-Cold War period saw most Islamic Socialist forces vanquished.
However, interestingly, many former Islamic Socialists claim that much of today’s Islamic radicalism is actually a consequence of Islamic Socialism.
They say such an outcome was expected the moment progressive Muslim activists started devising a ‘third way’ by fusing Islam with Socialism. Because rather than a ‘third way,’ Islamic Socialism became an apologist ideology for secular individuals in conservative Islamic societies. It had to consistently give ground to orthodox Islamists to prove its Islamic credentials.
But when they allied themselves with the radical Islamists against capitalism, they were ‘betrayed’ and vanquished by their Islamist allies, most of whom were being funded by the West and Saudi Arabia during the Cold War.
Also, Islamic Socialists’ hotchpotch economic policies stunted the development of the industrial bourgeoisie and thus strengthened the reactionary classes who inadvertently handed over to the Islamists the image of being the champions of Islamic nationalism.
Furthermore, the Islamic Socialists’ attempts to win over the orthodox Islamists and the clergy were futile because the clergy and the Islamists were mostly tied to the propertied classes.
This attempt also failed on a cultural level because the clergy was too obsessed with such issues as alcohol, veiling, cinema and music.
Islamic Socialism also attempted to ‘read into progressive ideas in the Qu’ran’ but this trend was soon hijacked by the Islamists who, according to Islamic Socialists, ‘distorted holy texts to legitimise feudalism, orthodoxy, and women’s oppression.’
Unfortunately, the masses were more likely to be influenced by the reactionary clergy than by the progressive interpreters of Islam, rending Islamic Socialism dead by the mid-1980s.