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ISLAM AND THE BOLSHEVIK REVOLUTION Ahmed Rashid, Dawn

Published November 13th, 2017

Imagine if Vladimir Lenin had enlisted there. While Lenin tolerated Galiev, Basmachis, meaning bandits. Within a year
Muslim comrades to the Bolshevik party’s Stalin did not. Galiev’s most cogent idea the whole of Central Asia was aflame. A local
Central Committee during the 1917 Russian was for a separate ‘Muslim Red Army’, Uzbek chief massacred Soviet troops in 1918,
Revolution, how different the history of the which would be recruited on a populist sparking the flame of revolt in Uzbekistan. In
Soviet Union and even the world might have leftist ideology rather than communism. Tajikistan a landlord Igash Beg mobilised
turned out. Today, Muslims may still have The army would be sensitive to Islamic 20,000 fighters and fighting continued until
been arguing about the pros and cons of traditions and so galvanise the majority 1931 when he was executed by the Red Ar-
Marxism in all its hues rather than debating of Muslims to fight for the revolution. my.
extremist interpretations of jihad and Sharia. Even though Galiev was an atheist him-
In fact, there was an immensely popular and self, he believed that Marxism and Islam Between 1917-1920 the Kazakh nomads set
charismatic ‘Muslim communist’, who for a could coexist, insisting that the CP use up their own nationalist government called
short time became a member of the Soviet gradualism to educate the Muslim masses Alash Orda led by Ali Khan Bukeykanov, a
Communist Party and was revered by Lenin and slowly win them over to com- prince and descendent of Genghis Khan.
before being purged and executed by Stalin. munism. Scholars estimate that the Kazakhs lost 1.5
Mir Said Sultan Galiev (1882-1940) advo- million people or one-third of their population
cated setting up an independent Muslim By 1923, with Lenin seriously ill, Stalin between 1917 and 1930. In the deserts of
Communist Party and a Muslim Red Army accused Galiev of treason and conspira- Turkmenistan, the resistance by the Turkmen
Paramount CSS Academy

to fight the European-backed White armies cy. Galiev was removed from the party nomadic tribal cavalry was led by the charis-
and thereby secure the revolution. and arrested, as were all communists who matic Mohammed Qurban Junaid Khan, a
believed in ‘Sultan-Galievism’. He was wealthy landlord, who led his last charge
Galiev was the son of an impoverished freed briefly in 1924 and then rearrested against the Red Army aged 70 in 1927.
Tartar schoolmaster born in a village near in 1928 and sentenced to death for
Kazan, today the capital of the Republic of ‘nationalist deviation’. He was finally The depopulation of Central Asia may have
Tatarstan. Galiev grew up poor. His father shot on Jan 28, 1940. Much of his written been avoided if Lenin and Stalin had listened
was incapable of feeding his 12 children. work, speeches and essays were de- to Galiev — that millions of Muslims appre-
Nevertheless Galiev was already well read stroyed. Galiev’s demands for greater ciated the end of tsarist oppression and sup-
in Tartar, Russian and Arabic when he en- decentralisation and democracy within ported the Bolshevik message of ‘peace,
tered the teachers training school in Kazan. the Communist Party and greater sensi- bread and land’. However, they could not
tivity to Islam could have changed the support an inflexible Marxist ideology that
Mir Said Sultan Galiev became the architect attitude of millions of Muslims to the prevented them from being Muslim.
of ‘Muslim national communism’. revolution, especially in Central Asia. In the decades to come, revolutionary leaders
By the time he graduated in 1911, he was from Mao to Fidel Castro became much more
reading revolutionary texts. He worked as a Significantly, Galiev’s ideas about initial- flexible about how to interpret Marxism. The
journalist and took part in Muslim national- ly implementing a populist rather than a success of every revolutionary movement
ist politics. In 1917, he became a leading communist armed struggle were later depended on interpretation and innovation not
member of the Muslim Socialist Committee taken up by Mao Zedong in China espe- dogged dogma.
for Kazan and joined the Bolsheviks. He cially during the famous Long March and
swiftly became the highest-ranking Muslim Ho Chi Min in Vietnam. Sultan Galiev was a heroic figure before his
in its hierarchy, occupying several top posts. time. This essay is based on the writer’s 1994
Lenin appointed him to the Central Muslim Galiev remains a little known figure even book The Resurgence of Central Asia, Islam
Commissariat and chairman of the Military today. On my frequent journeys to Cen- or Nationalism which has been republished
Collegium. In 1918 Galiev organised the tral Asia since 1988, I have told Galiev’s as a classic by the New York Review of
defence of Kazan against the advancing story to rapt Central Asian audiences Books.
White armies and recruited Muslims to the who barely knew his name.
cause of the revolution. Lenin and Stalin
frequently sent him to eastern battle fronts in As Galiev had warned, the communist
order to raise the morale of Muslim divi- failure in winning over the Muslims of
sions in the Red Army. All his life he re- Central Asia led to fierce anti-Soviet
mained immensely popular among Muslim resistance which continued until the
and Russian communists. Galiev became the 1930s as a jihad. Jihadist movements led
architect of ‘Muslim national communism’. by Muslim tribal chiefs, mullahs, land-
He advocated that the only guarantee against lords and intellectuals sprang up in all the
greater Russian chauvinism in the Bolshevik regions we know today as the separate
Communist Party was the creation of a states of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turk-
separate Muslim communist party. He ar- menistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.
gued with Lenin that in the East (Asia), the In 1916, the whole of Central Asia had
nationalist struggle must supersede the class risen in revolt against the tsar’s attempts
struggle because all Muslim colonised peo- at forced recruitment into the Russian
ples were proletarians as all had been op- armies fighting the First World War.
pressed by European or tsarist colonialism. Terrible reprisals were carried out against
the population. The civil war after 1917
Lenin insisted on Marx’s thesis that the and the 1923 famine bled the people
world revolution could only be won with the further. Millions more were killed as a
support of the European proletariat, and the result of the forced collectivisation of
backward masses of the Muslim world were nomads and farmers in the 1930s.
secondary. Galiev believed in reversing the
order, stating that the revolution in the East The Fergana valley was the heart of the
would come first and undermine capitalism anti-Soviet insurgency by the jihadis or,
in the West making revolution possible as the Russians called them derogatively
100TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmed, Daily Times
Published on November 8th, 2017

Lest we forget, the Russian Revolution led by the socialism came into being.
Bolsheviks under Vladimir Ilywich Lenin was one of The Chinese Revolution of 1949 and the liberation
the greatest events of the last century. The French struggles of Vietnam and other Southeast Asian coun-
Revolution (1789) transformed the world and set in tries were examples of the international attraction of
motion processes which to this day are at the core of Communism.
the notion of citizenship and individual rights.
The Russian Revolution is that turning point in his- However, a major flaw in Marxism and subsequently
tory when more than 2000 years of philosophy, his- in Leninism has been to assume that once the workers
tory and culture based on the notion of some natural or their party captures power somehow the state is
inequality among human beings was called into transformed into a organisation only serving the inter-
question and thus began a movement aiming to chal- ests of the people.
lenge all social and political orders that are based on
the right of the privileged to rule over others. The state remains always a power instrument and it
The origins of the Russian revolution, its connection must be kept under control through checks and bal-
with Marxism and the practice of its state are sub-
Paramount CSS Academy

ances. In this regard the Western democratic theory of


jects of continuing controversy. the state is more realistic. Therefore, the democratic
Did Lenin and his comrades correctly interpret Karl state has survived and developed through a system of
Marx and Friedrich Engels in making a revolution on multiple controls including an open society, rule of the
the periphery of Western Capitalism — Czarist law and free press and thus self-correction and reform.
Russia? The Soviet Union ultimately become too bureaucratic,
with extreme organisation of the economy and with
Was the state which Lenin established and Stalin strict limits on the freedoms of individuals to write and
consolidated a correct application of Marxist theory? publish and there was no political opposition to chal-
Would the Russian Revolution fare better if Trotsky lenge the policies of the government.
had succeeded Lenin? Why did Communism fail in
Russia? I shall not go into these questions but only It over-spent itself economically and therefore its econ-
note what I think has been the historical impact of omy was greatly weakened. Such weaknesses resulted
that Revolution. in the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991. It
broke my heart but made me more realistic about what
The Russian Revolution carried out by Lenin and is possible and what is not.
consolidated by Stalin transformed Russia from a
largely bureaucratic empire of peasants into an in- During 1917-1991 the Soviet Union played many posi-
dustrial giant and became the centre of an interna- tive roles and helped national liberation movements. It
tional movement against colonialism and unbridled also established and practised a welfare system of great
capitalism. generosity.
It began a movement aiming to challenge all social It is a pity that Putin and his ilk did not celebrate the
and political orders that are based on the right of the Russian revolution but I am sure among the older citi-
privileged to rule over others It is widely noted that zens of that country there are many who remember it
in Western Europe conservative and other govern- with deep nostalgia and sadness.
ments started welfare initiatives to forestall their
workers opting for the revolution.

Marxism was interpreted in a revolutionary manner


by Lenin and in a democratic manner by the German
theorist Bernstein. The followers of Benstein invest-
ed in the democratic and parliamentary way to build
a welfare state which combined substantive equality
with substantive freedom. In Scandinavia, especially
Sweden, the latter type of socialist movement
emerged and created Social-Democratic welfare
states.

The Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) elim-


inated poverty, established free medicine and highly
subsidised housing, free education and job security.
It became a model for others to emulate and Marxism
-Leninism became the battle cry of oppressed classes
all over the world. There is hardly any third world
society which did not have intellectuals converting
to Communism and an international movement for