A Note on the Question of ‘Political Subjects’

Morad Farhadpour

       One way to express ‘the crisis of Marxism’ is to point out that since Marx’s time all victorious revolutions have happened in backward countries while in advanced capitalist ones revolutions have failed or, in most cases, failed to happen at all. It seems as though the agent and the goal (or ‘task’) of the revolution weren’t matched in ways that Marx expected—obviously this is just one, among many, ‘explanations’ offered. Due to the proclaimed impossibility of revolution (let alone its undesirability), in the past three decades this ‘crisis’ was only felt at the margins of Academia. But now, with the advent of The Arab Spring, The Green Movement, Occupation Movement, and other signs of a resurgent radical emancipator  action, questions concerning the time, agent, force…of the revolution have become, somehow, unavoidable !


        The pathetic and gory game of Bush vs. Bin-ladan is finished, particularly in the Middle-East, and people do think/act beyond the either-or of Neo(conservative)Liberalism and Religious(reactionary)Fundamentalism. The innovative, unforeseen, and collective response of masses, throughout the Muslim world, to the final fruit of Liberal Democracy, i.e. ‘The War on Terror’-- their political response to many different, complex, and obscure situations in the depoliticized age of global gossip via Twitter and Facebook – clearly demonstrates that the poorly analyzed Islamic Revolution of 1979 in Iran cannot be classified and forgotten as ‘a freak of history’ in the annals of Historical Materialism. That strange, multifaceted, and hugely complex process of mixing Islam with politics in the context of modern history, usually called Islamism, is still unfolding. Contemporary reactions to Islamism-- from Islamophobic racism and the misguided criticism of ‘Islamo-fascism’ up to many naïve and miss-informed attempts at rediscovering ‘Islam’s inherent emancipatory potentials’ – is itself a vast and heated topic for research.

         As far as leftist politics is concerned, (although considering the almost omnipresence of Islamism in today’s Real Politick and its role as ‘the enemy of the free world’, western Liberals should also be interested) the first and most important step is to make a distinction between Islamism and various forms of Muslim peoples politics. This distinction is itself an integral part of an attempt to elaborate the concept of “Muslim political subjectivity.” Such a project involves many challenges and pitfalls—not the least among them, avoiding any essentialist interpretation of Islam or any substantialization of Muslim nations, groups, or sects. It obviously requires lots of insights from history, theology, jurisprudence, anthropology, etc; however it is only Marxist politics that can save it from turning into another ‘interdisciplinary topic’ (readymade for all the future PhD students).

        The following problems are among the most immediate and important aspects/effects of dealing with the question/fact of the Muslims as political subjects or subject-effects:

(1)Every theory of subject has to traverse the gap between a material history (which also includes ‘spiritual’ or Giestige phenomena such as culture) and a pure subject that despite its effective presence is not a part of the situation. This subject which has been called ‘proletariat’ or ‘part of no part’ is also a universalist one because it dose not represent any one. Its’ enemy is not the bourgeois class but the system of places which makes classes possible. The fact that the last candidate for the position of proletariat, i.e. the western industrial working class, has utterly failed to become one, shows that the above mentioned gap is still very under-theorized. Even a totally universalist thinker such as Badiou has been forced to try to fill this gap through the introduction of concepts such as ‘reactive’ and ‘obscure’ subjects; however, it is in dealing with concrete historical cases of Muslim political subjectivity that the inadequacies of such concepts are revealed. Unlike Christianity, Islam is more a way of organizing the daily life of community and individuals than a set of subjective choices; that’s why in case of Muslim individuals or groups more of their material history enters the process of subjectivation . Although this increases the possibility of regression to ‘identity politics’, turning some fanatic or liberal reading of Islam into the sole content of any action, yet it also makes them into proper cases for new ways of theorizing the subject. This process of substantialisation has been happening to many religious, ethnic, or social groups, but right now it does seem that making the distinction between Islamism and Muslim politics is the best way to see how ‘the gap of the universal’ is introduced into a ‘substantial identity’ and instead of destroying it simply opens it toward all universal truths.

(2)Right now Islamism as number one enemy of ‘the free world’ and the heir of Russian Bolshevism is a strong force in the global power politics—thanks to the wars and invasions of American democracy. For many people in Muslim countries, such as those living in tribal areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, Islamism is the only alternative to being killed and robbed by Western Liberal Democracies. And when it comes to West itself, the presence of Muslim immigrants adds another side to this question of political subjects who also happen to be Muslim. Considering the global economic crisis, the rise of unemployment, the absence of any truly leftist option (thanks to 3 decades of neo-liberalism and de-politicization), the rise of far right is more than probable. Whether the turn to right is done by the self-proclaimed Fascists or is effected through ‘general consensus’, it is certain that Muslim communities and individuals are going to play an important role, whether as objects of hatred for the racist policies of Neo-fascists (which turns them into a fertile ground for terrorist propaganda and recruiting)  or as possible subjects of a radical struggle for liberty-equality. Muslim immigrants, whether they want it or not, are going to play an important role in European politics, but to expect them to turn into ‘pure, universalist subjects’ overnight and forego their identity just when they are being persecuted for it, is more than naïve idealism, it is an obvious case of ‘beautiful soul’ attitude. In recent years some of the most radical European thinkers have turned to Christian history and theology to fight the prevalent political apathy; this move can and has been criticized but the main point is to have an open mind when Muslims get involved in such attempts.

(3)Unlike Islamic politics Islamic states can and do exist. To make the distinction between Muslim politics and Islamism is the only possible way of dealing with the thorny problem of secularism in the Middle-East. Understanding Muslim political subjectivity, to see how they can get involved in different forms of political activity without recourse to Islamism, is an integral part of defining politics as a form of separation from the state. In almost every country in the Middle-East recent history has been a bloody fight between people’s politics and different ways of saving or rebuilding the bourgeois state, which is always, despite its secular or religious ideology, an authoritarian one. A radical politics based on people’s potential of power as opposed to state’s actual force, requires new ways of distancing. There are situations in which any struggle against the state becomes a way of creating distance between people and Islamism, and any attempt at creating people’s or Muslims’ politics turn into a fight against the state.      


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