Fachrizal Halim , Montreal | Thu, 10/08/2009 11:54 AM | Opinion
The image of communism in our history today is best viewed as an anathema to the Indonesian mainstream ideology of Pancasila.
It contains memories of betrayal, riots, and mass murder, following the coup attempt by the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) on Sept. 30, 1965. In relation to religion, communism is considered the archenemy of Islam, and therefore the ideology should be eliminated.
While all these images find references in our history, to hold the view that Islam and communism are always at odds may be untenable. There is a lot of evidence that shows Muslims cooperated with the communists to achieve a shared, ideal goal.
It is interesting how the PKI flourished and became the largest communist party outside the Soviet Union and China, despite the majority of Indonesians being of the Muslim faith.
We have no doubt that Marxist ideology and its dialectic materialism is incompatible with Islam.
For many communists, Islam is the object of ridicule, the best example of which can be seen in their mocking of the Islamic creed; "There is no God and Karl Marx is his Prophet." Doctrinal incompatibility, however, was not sufficient to prevent a strategic alliance of both parties.
Closer examination of major events such as the Bolshevik Revolution confirmed the cooperation, however pragmatic it was. Although the communists and the Russian Muslim leaders were aware there would be ideological conflict between communism and Islam, they did not see each other as enemies, but as potential allies of the revolution who had both been deprived by the exploitation of the Tsarist government.
One may look at a famous public message delivered by Lenin to Russian Muslims, which was published in December 1917; "All of you whose mosques and prayer houses used to be destroyed, and whose beliefs and customs were trodden underfoot by the Tsars and oppressors of Russia! From today, your beliefs, customs, your national and cultural institutions are free and inviolate.
Organize your national life freely and without hindrance. You are entitled to this. Know that your rights, like the rights of all peoples of Russia, are protected by the whole might of the Revolution and its agencies, the Soviets workers, soldiers', and peasants' deputies.
Support, then, this Revolution and its sovereign Government . Comrades! Brothers! Let us march towards an honest and democratic peace. On our banners is inscribed the freedom of all oppressed peoples."
One might even be surprised to note that on many public occasions, the Bolshevik leaders spoke favorably about Islam and sharia. Chief among these was their insistence there was no conflict between the Soviet system and Islam and promised the preservation of sharia courts in the regions of Russia.
Likewise, Muslims pinned their hopes on the Bolshevik leaders. Their voluntary cooperation with the revolution is best understood as an attempt to reconcile socialism and religion and to find a solution for Muslim political problems. Muslim intellectuals and political leaders believed that they could contribute to the Bolshevik reconstruction of Russian society.
This optimistic opinion was not only found among the masses, the traditional elite and the secularized intellectuals, but also among the ulema who then established a movement to combine sharia and communism under the slogan "For Soviet power - for sharia".
The cooperation between the Bolshevik leaders and the Russian Muslims was made possible by various factors; among others was the parallel vision between Islam and communism in dealing with the distribution of wealth and power following the triumph of Western colonialism in the Muslim world. To say Muslims were the most terrible victim of colonialism is to state the obvious.
And when the Muslim enthusiasm to overthrow colonialism amalgamated with the communist propaganda of anti-Western Imperialism, the two formed the best strategic alliance one could envision.
It is this same vision we need to consider in detail in order to understand why communist leaders in colonial Indonesia were able to spread their ideology among Muslim workers and peasants and later be successful in developing the first Communist Party in Asia.
Communism gained its huge support due to the ability of the leaders of the Indies Social Democratic Association (ISDV), the cradle of the Indonesian Communist Party, to cooperate with Sarekat Islam (SI) which had structurally similar goals to communism.
Never had the establishment of Pan-Islamism and the full application of sharia become the issue for SI members, as their main objective was to overthrow "sinful capitalism". Nevertheless, the SI's direct access to workers and peasants was too precious to be abandoned by the ISDV leaders.
Although later Stalin realized that communism was incompatible with Islam and some of the SI left wing criticized the organization as being too religious and forced it to split into a more secular socialist organization doesn't change the fundamental facts in the previous paragraphs that there had been a parallel quality between Islam and communism in their response to Western imperialism.
Even after the ISDV and the left wing of the SI transformed into the Indonesian Communist Party, their leaders still tried to win the Muslim masses and denied any incompatibility between their principles and Islam. For them, the antithesis to Islam was not atheism but foreign-imposed Christianity.
With all these historical overviews, we must have the courage to face our trauma of communism and change our view of its antagonism toward religion. I believe we as a nation have matured enough to accept the fact that even the communists played their part in deposing colonialism and shaping the Indonesia we enjoy today.
The writer is a PhD candidate at the Institute of Islamic Studies, McGill University, Montreal.