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The Unholy Alliance of Marxism and Islamism By: Bruce S. Thornton
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, September 02, 2002


As we pursue the war against Islamicist terrorists, it might seem that Marxism is a dead issue, a toothless old enemy haunting the university faculty lounge. Yet the anti-Americanism and anti-Westernism on which the radical Islamicists feed were long ago nurtured in the third world by the Marxist ideological spin put on the national independence movements in the former European colonial empires.

These movements breathed new life into a dying Marxist ideology. World War I had been a disaster for Marxism. Rather than rising up in solidarity against their capitalist overlords, the proletarians of Europe spent four years in the trenches slaughtering each other with nationalist fervor. A further blow to Marx's historical credibility was inflicted when Russia leaped from feudalism to revolution without stopping off at bourgeois capitalism. Intellectual duct-tape was clearly needed to keep the whole creaking Marxist contraption from collapsing.

The dictatorship of the proletariat was one such bit of patchwork that in the end merely rationalized the totalitarian thuggery of Leninism. Another was the invention of "colonialism" and "imperialism." The behavior of the Europeans in the rest of the world — grabbing territory and resources, just as human beings had done for millennia — was now redefined as some new unique evil peculiar to Western capitalist societies. If the European nations refused to follow the Marxist libretto, then the explanation could be found in "colonialism." Those fiendishly clever capitalists had co-opted their own proletarians and turned their colonial subjects into the true proletarians who now would be the vanguard of the revolution: "Natives of all underdeveloped countries, unite!" as Sartre put it, in his Preface to Fanon's Wretched of the Earth, recalling the famous communist call to the "workers of the world."

Through an act of intellectual ethnocentric arrogance, then, European leftists now defined third-world national revolutions as in reality socialist; again listen to Sartre: "In order to triumph, the national revolution must be socialist; if its career is cut short, if the native bourgeoisie takes over power, the new state. . . remains in the hands of the imperialists." In other words, self-determination for native peoples is fine — as long as they stick to the Marxist script. The result of this theoretical pollution was in most cases a disaster, as decolonialization went through various phases of left-wing inspired incompetence, brutality, mismanagement, and prostitution to the Soviet Union. As it had in Russia, communist theory provided the cover for native dictators and kleptocrats who plundered and beggared their countries. The destructive consequences of this process are still visible in Africa, where nations like Zimbabwe, once self-sufficient in food, are facing starvation.

But what about America? The greatest capitalist and bourgeois nation in history had no colonial empire to speak of. The Philippines were pretty small beer compared to the territory controlled by the French, English, Germans, Italians, and Belgians. The answer was to transform American minorities, particularly blacks and Indians, into the equivalents of third-world colonial subjects. Indians had already been idealized by centuries of noble-savage make-overs, so it was easy to slap a coat of anti-colonial paint on this wooden Indian and make him a stick for beating a racist, land-grabbing exploitative America. We begin to see now why so many race-activists are also leftists — they gain instant credibility with the gate-keepers of American intellectual life, most of whom are still enthralled with socialist mumbo-jumbo.

The leftist abracadabra of "colonialism" and "imperialism" ultimately distorts the tragic truths of history, implying that European behavior typical of humanity's penchant for violent appropriation of resources is somehow a new order of evil. In reality, the movements of peoples in search of resources, as well as the destruction of those already in possession of them, is the perennial engine of history. We have idealized beyond recognition the Sioux, now the valiant resistors who destroyed the minions of American greed at Little Big Horn. Yet the Sioux themselves had moved from the north into the plains and violently displaced the Omahas, Iowas, Arikara, Kiowa, Crows, and Pawnee who inhabited those lands. The violent history of America before the arrival of Europeans can be read in the skeletal remains of victims of massacre, scalping, dismemberment, and even cannibalism. In other words, Indians were like every other people on the planet: willing to use violence in the grim competition for resources.

So too were the Europeans, when they crossed the ocean and began to colonize the New World. Likewise with the European incursions into Africa and Asia. Why should we see them as essentially different from the Romans in Gaul, the Arabs in North Africa, the Huns and Mongols in eastern Europe, the Turks, the Bantu, the Khmer, the Aztecs, the Tokinese? Concepts like "colonialism" or "imperialism" don't change the fundamental nature of the eternal human drive violently to take land and resources from those who possess them.

If the Europeans and Americans were like the rest of humanity in violently appropriating resources, they were different in one fundamental respect: ultimately they viewed their own behavior as evil and a betrayal of the highest Western values. From the very beginning of European contact with the rest of the world dissenting voices criticized the cruelty inflicted on native peoples, from the Spanish priest Bartolomé de las Casas to Joseph Conrad in Heart of Darkness. The colonial empires were dismantled not just because the material cost of keeping them was too high, but so too was the moral. Unlike other imperial overlords, such as the Romans, the Europeans ultimately refused to inflict the sort of violence they were capable of inflicting to keep their overseas empires. Does anyone think Gandhi's strategy of non-violent resistance could have worked with any culture other than a Western one?

"Colonialism" and "imperialism" are verbal smokescreens used to disguise an ideologically skewed standard by which America and the West are judged uniquely evil and the rest of the world is idealized into noble-savage victims whose violence is justified or rationalized away as an understandable response to Western depredations. That is, these concepts justify an anti-Western and anti-American prejudice.

And that prejudice, that reflexive anti-Americanism spawned by a bankrupt ideology, is one of the greatest obstacles we face in destroying terrorism and fostering democracy. In the Middle East and Europe alike, the old bogeys of "colonialism" and "imperialism" continue to justify a hatred of the United States whose true origins are envy and resentment. Winning the war on terror will demand that we set straight the historical record and cut through Marxist cliches to reveal the truth: What distinguishes the West and America is not their evils, which are sadly typical of all humans everywhere, but their goods — the ideas of freedom and self-determination that are the property of all human beings everywhere — and the most important reasons why we fight.


Bruce Thornton is the author of Greek Ways and Decline and Fall: Europe’s Slow-Motion Suicide (Encounter Book}. He is 2009-2010 National Fellow at the Hoover Institution.


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