Islamism is fascist

September 23, 2013 at 8:09 pm (AWL, Champagne Charlie, fascism, Guardian, Human rights, islamism, Marxism, Middle East, reactionay "anti-imperialism", religion, stalinism, Stop The War, SWP)

Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013: Peshawar, Pakistan_Pakistani women grieve over the coffins of their relatives, who were killed in a suicide attack on a church. Christian mourners outside the church in Peshawar protest against the Islamist attack

In the light of the Nairobi terror attack and the massacre of Christians in Pashawar, Pakistan, it’s high time the so-called “left” faced up to an elementary truth: Islamism (as distinct from the religion of Islam) is a form of fascism, and must be fought as such. It’s to the eternal  shame of “left” groups like the SWP (not to mention liberal “mainstream” publications like the Guardian) that they’ve repeated the mistakes of 1930’s Stalinism (Third Period and Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) in promoting and prettifying fascists as somehow “progressive”.

The only far left group in Britain to openly describe Islamism as clerical fascist in recent years has been the AWL. Here’s their Martin Thomas in 2008, on the subject:

Political Islam as clerical fascism

Examining Gilles Kepel’s comprehensive history, Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam (Harvard University Press).

“Left-leaning Arab intellectuals have traditionally regarded the [Muslim] Brothers as a populist movement… [with] similarities to the workings of European fascism during… the 1930s…
“In the eyes of leftist intellectuals, both among Muslims and in the West, Islamist groups represented a religious variety of fascism…

“But gradually, as Islamist numbers increased… the left discovered that Islamism had a popular base; consequently Marxist thinkers of every stripe, casting around for the mass support so critical to their ideology, began to credit Islamist activists with socialist virtues…”

Kepel reports this shift of attitudes in a dispassionate way. But the facts assembled in his book give a verdict. The recent granting of political credit to political Islam by would-be Marxists reflects those leftists’ loss of self-confidence, in an era of bourgeois triumphalism, rather than any shift to the left by the Islamists.

Political Islam, or “Islamism”, as a political movement or congeries of movements, is distinct from Islam as a religion. Before the late 70s, in modern times, if a government called itself “Islamic” or “Muslim”, that was a vague gesture rather than a ferocious commitment. The only large exception was Saudi Arabia, a peculiarly archaic state.

Modern political movements, using modern political mechanics to convert society to an Islamic state, absolutely governed and permeated by revivalistically-rigorous Islamic doctrine, were levered into life and prominence in a sequence of three big turning points, 1967, 1973, and 1979.

The theory had been prepared before then. Hassan al-Banna and Mawlana Mawdudi, the founders of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Jamaat e-Islami in India (later Pakistan) began activity in the late 1920s. Sayyid Qutb, a Muslim Brotherhood ideologist who has become the main literary inspiration for “harder” Sunni political Islam, wrote his books in the 1960s and was hanged by Egypt’s secular government in 1966. Ruhollah Khomeiny formulated his thesis of direct political rule by senior clergy in 1970.

But the movements were weak. In Iraq, for example, the Shia-Islamist movements which now dominate politics there had originated in 1958-63, but until the 1970s were small circles of clerics and theological students, concerned mostly with pious discussion among themselves. They kept a low profile as much because they knew their ideas would seem uncongenial to the wider population as for fear of repression.

“The first Islamist onslaught”, writes Kepel, “was against nationalism. The 1967 defeat [of the Arab states by Israel, in the war of that year] seriously undermined the ideological edifice of nationalism and created a vacuum to be filled… by Qutb’s Islamist philosophy”.

The rise of political Islam was also (so it seems to me, though Kepel does not spell this out) based in part, paradoxically, on the relative successes of Arab nationalism. Over the two decades before 1967 the Arab states had won political independence, and legislated land reforms and nationalisation.

Many of the cadres of political Islam would be young men from rural backgrounds who – thanks to the “successes” of nationalism – had become the first generation from their families to go to university, to live in big cities, and, often, to travel the world as migrant workers, especially in the Gulf.

Paradoxically, the cadres of consciously backward-looking political Islam would come from among the most “modernised” or “Westernised” people in their countries. They had been roused up and tantalised by nationalism and its promises – but also dashed down by them. “Qutb spoke to the young, born after independence, who had come along too late to benefit from the vast redistribution of spoils that followed the departure of the colonial occupiers”.

Bourgeois nationalism must always create disappointments. What led to special tumult in the Arab world, rather than a “moderate” disillusion and “settling-down”, was the peculiar attachment of Arab nationalism to an unrealistic (indeed, reactionary) objective, the destruction of “Zionism” (the Israeli Jews), and the peculiarly extreme conjunction, created by the oil economies, of seething poverty with vast wealth controlled by various species of bureaucratic “crony capitalism”.

In 1973 the Arab states warred with Israel again, coming out of it a bit better, but not well enough to rehabilitate the nationalists. Oil prices and oil revenues increased hugely. The Saudi regime started pouring funds into promoting Islamic rigorism internationally.

“Prior to 1973, Islam was everywhere dominated by national or local traditions rooted in the piety of the common people”, with a “motley establishment” of clerics who “held Saudi-inspired puritanism in great suspicion”.

Now, “for the first time in 14 centuries, the same books (as well as cassettes) could be found from one end of the [Muslim world] to another… This mass distribution by the conservative Riyadh regime did not… prevent more radical elements from using the texts… to further their own objectives”.

In the 1970s, and into the 1980s, “conservative governments on the Saudi model [and often with US approval] encouraged Islamism as a counterweight to the Marxists on university campuses whom they feared”. There was “re-Islamisation” from above, even in countries where grass-roots Islamist movements were weak or repressed.

World-wide, far beyond the Arab domain, “all Muslims were offered [and many, not just political Islamists, accepted] a new identity that emphasised their religious commonality while downplaying differences of language, ethnicity, and nationality”. The Organisation of the Islamic Conference (an alliance of states) was set up in 1969; the Islamic Development Bank, in 1975.

In 1979, political Islam took power in non-Arab Iran, and became the banner of a long war, with popular support, in non-Arab Afghanistan, against the USSR’s attempt to subjugate that country militarily.

The Shah’s brutal modernisation “from above” in Iran had created mass discontent. While in most Sunni countries, the religious establishment was diffuse and heavily controlled at its higher levels by the state, in Shia Iran the clerics had an organised hierarchy outside state control.

In Sunni political Islam, the main leaders had been (and would continue to be) laymen. Khomeiny created the first political-Islamist movement using clerics as cadres, and proposing not just an Islamic state, but a state ruled by clerics.

He also introduced social demagogy, otherwise a thinner seam in political Islam than in the European fascism, or even clerical-fascism, of the 1930s. “Neither Mawdudi nor Qutb gave any explicit social content to their theorising”.

The Iraqi ayatollah Baqi as-Sadr, uncle and father-in-law of the current Mahdi Army leader Muqtada al-Sadr, had in 1961 published a book on “Islamic economics”; but the main distinctive upshot has been the rise of “Islamic banking”, now a reputable sideline in the City of London.

All Islamists thought that “the coming reign of the sharia… would be built upon the ashes of socialism and of a Western world completely devoid of moral standards”; but it was Khomeiny who introduced a specific appeal for an “Islam of the people” and to the “disinherited” (mustadefeen).

Still, for Khomeiny, as Kepel notes, “the disinherited” was “so vague a term that it encompassed just about everyone in Iran except the shah and the imperial court… includ[ed] the bazaar merchants opposed to the shah”. The main actual measure for the poor of Khomeiny’s Iran would be distribution of state subsidies to the families of Islamist “martyrs”.

Socially, Kepel sees political Islam as resting on two distinct groups – the “devout middle class”, both traditional-mercantile and modern-professional, who feel mistreated by corrupt secular-nationalist state bureaucracies; and the young urban poor such as the Algerian “hittistes” (from the word hit, meaning wall: young unemployed men leaning against walls).

That small-bourgeois/ lumpenproletarian alliance has also generally been the social base of fascism.

Political Islam, however, has a vast range of variants, from middle-class movements confining themselves to mild pressure-group politics (Kepel cites the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, friendly to the monarchy) to plebeian “takfiris” for whom all outside their own ranks, even pious Muslims who deviate slightly, deserve terrorist chastisement.

Kepel sees the search for a middle way and a broad alliance, necessary to any successful political-Islamist movement, as ultimately unviable. He concludes that political Islam reached its high point around 1989 – with the USSR’s retreat from Afghanistan, the temporary triumph of an Islamist regime in Sudan, the rise of Hamas and Islamic Jihad among the Palestinians, and Khomeiny’s death-decree against Salman Rushdie – and has mostly declined since. He cites the defeat of the Islamist-terrorist “ultras” in Algeria and Egypt as evidence.

The trend, he argues, must be for the devout middle class to be co-opted and pulled towards parliamentary democracy, on the lines of the Turkish Islamists, and for the “ultras” to be isolated.

In 2008, eight years after Kepel published the first edition of his book, his conclusion looks implausible. Political Islam has had some defeats, but its success in Iraq shows it still has great vitality.

Kepel’s error, I would guess, is shaped by a certain disdain: he just cannot believe that many people, in the Arabic and Muslim cultures which he loves, can be lastingly seduced by such crudities and brutalities.

What is true, surely, is that those cultures contain many strands utterly alien to political Islam. The assertion, common on the left, that hostility to political Islam implies de facto hostility to most Muslims, is untrue.

On those strands, a working-class socialist movement can build, answering the social questions which political Islam so obscures, on condition that the socialists acquire the self-confidence to brand the clerical-fascists for what they really are.


  1. Robert R. Calder said,

    Public opinion is not the word of the almighty —
    it’s corrupted by people following not evidence
    but what they think they ought to believe.
    If its being in appearance a “popular movement” made you doubt your objection to any movement, how could you justify the existence of a small opposition party in face of a massive majority?

    If most people seemed to think the important aspect of a political party isn’t policy but who regardless of capacity is in it, most people would be wrong (the same mass neurosis as the celebrity cult, paying undue and exclusive heed rather to the numerous than the famous — the losers in an election are not necessarily wrong).

    It’s not a matter of how many Germans or Italians or Dubyaites could be and were actively wrong, it’s the number of neutrals liable to be drifted in if the people who ought to be maintaining the counter-current slip into the mass delusion. After 1945 it was normal among communities of non-heroic Germans to refer to some neighbours as having been Nazis, because there was a difference between active Nazis and quiet unheroic people not given to lawbreaking. The quiet unheroic are the betrayed, and too many of them can become mourners and mourned.
    People aren’t so much seduced despite brutalities, they pay limited heed to brutalities because wider factors incline them to accept false us and them dichotomies, as in anti-communist tolerance of Nazism, or anti-Nazi tolerance of Stalinism.

  2. Mike Killingworth said,

    Both sides in the debate so far have missed the point. Revolutionary socialism saw itself as the fulfilment of modernity – as indeed did Nazis, and Italian fascists still do.

    “Islamists” – possibly a label that conceals as much as it reveals – propose the opposite: the wiping out of modernity from human experience. In the meantime, they will use it against itself, flying planes into skyscrapers and so forth.

    They propose that Islam can only be practised in an Islamic country. To them, Islam is not only a faith, a series of personal and social rituals, it is not merely a Divine promise that mankind knows all it needs to (“the gate of knowledge is shut” as they say, even if they don’t altogether mean it) – it is also a system of government. It is this totality which leads al-Qaeda and its clones to murder or to holy war (take your pick).

    Robert Calder, in his reply, shuffles up to but doesn’t quite embrace two salient truths.

    First, with every day that passes, a greater proportion of humanity are Muslims, and a greater proportion of Muslims are Islamists. (Thomas doesn’t appreciate this either, but then a man who can’t decide whether it’s the urban bourgeoisie or the supposed proletariat in Muslim lands which will stifle Islamism probably can’t be expected to.)

    Second, in order to be human I have to know who I am. And in order to do that I have to have a concept of “otherness” – and if you are Other, then my natural instinct is to fear you. The Islamist recipe, as I noticed earlier, is to reify modernity as this Other (and its popularity stems from its being a psychologically credible alternative to the projection of Otherness onto neighbouring tribes, within or beyond the – usually Western-designed – national boundary of any particular Muslim state).

    Islamism will fail as socialism has failed, and for the same reason. In Freudian language, no Eros without Thanatos. The political programme which will turn us all into saints remains to be devised, either in the modern or the Islamic worlds.

  3. Andrew Coates said,

    Q&A: Al-Shabab defends Nairobi attack.


    AJ: This attack is happening at Westgate Mall, which, when the attack started, was full of shoppers. Why is al-Shabab attacking a place that is full of civilians?

    SA: The place we attacked is Westgate shopping mall. It is a place where tourists from across the world come to shop, where diplomats gather. It is a place where Kenya’s decision-makers go to relax and enjoy themselves. Westgate is a place where there are Jewish and American shops. So we have to attack them.

    On civilian deaths, Kenya should first be asked why they bombed innocent Somali civilians in refugee camps, why they bombed innocent people in Gedo and Jubba regions. They should be asked that first before us.

    AJ: Al-Shabab claims to work to protect Muslims and Somalis in particular. Some of the people killed in this attack suggests otherwise.

    SA: History supports our claim. We are the only ones protecting Somalis and Somalia. We are the only group fighting Somalia’s historic enemies. We are the only one who can say “no” to Somalis’ enemies.

    On the loss of lives, there were Kenyan soldiers firing back at our fighters. There was an exchange of gunfire. There is no evidence it was our bullets that killed them.

    We released all Muslims when we took control of the mall. Witnesses have backed us on this.”

    Al Jazeera.

  4. Clive said,

    My understanding is that to prove you were a Muslim you had to answer the question: What was the name of Muhammed’s mother? Several Muslims I was talking to at the weekend told me they wouldn’t be able to answer that.

    • jimmy glesga said,

      Would mrs Moh have been a life saving answer.

  5. Leon J Williams said,

    All religion is fascist is nature, it is the idea of following and worshipping someone/something that is better/greater than you.
    Religion doesn’t allow the individual to be who they are, it dictates that they must follow the line.
    Religion preaches intolorance and unacceptance.

    Whether it is woman, blacks, other religions, homosexuality, alcohol, seafood, pork whatever etc all religions are fascist.

    • Mike Killingworth said,

      Good to know that there is nothing in the universe greater or better than Leon J Williams. Or perhaps not.

    • R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

      Yep – all those Jewish and Catholic and Protestant and whatever believers who filed into the gas chambers and execution pits mumbling their last pitiful prayers really were no better than their murderers….

  6. R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

    So Israel is not an apartheid state however many similarities one might identify – but Islamism ‘is’ fascism despite lacking many of the key characteristics scholars assign to a fascist movement?

    The main reason we are wrong to describe Israel as an apartheid state is because despite all the growing similarities, the real differences between Israel and South Africa are of such significance that everything we learned about opposing and bringing down an apartheid state in South Africa is really not very much help at all in dealing with Israel.

    Much the same applies to Islamism = fascism (and not least because the Islamic world has in fact been very productive of mostly secular regimes and movements which are far closer to the fascist model and against which Islamism is generally an opposing force),

    And bringing the ‘clerical’ qualifier into it doesn’t help either as ‘clerical’ is a hugely problematic term to employ in any description of Islam (which has no priests and no churches) and modern Islamism surely has even less in common with the regimes of Franco and Dolfuss than it does with those of Hitler and Mussolini.

    Words are weapons – indeed pretty much the only weapons we have left at this miserable fag-end of history – and throwing around specific historical terms as mere insults dilutes their analytical power and worse leads us into false responses.

  7. Sue R said,

    Roger, can we just say that ‘Islamism is jolly nasty and we wouldn’t want t live under it and it’s not nice for the people who do.’? Would that suffice?

    • R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

      None of which is usefully conveyed by Islamism = Fascism.

      (Unless of course you follow AJ Ayer’s argument that all ethical statements are just lengthy ways of shouting Booh! and Hooray! in which case it does indeed make very little difference what you call people as long as you place sufficient venom in the way you say it so everyone knows which side you are on).

      What we should actually be doing is establishing that Islamism is monstrously evil in its own right and in ways which are both very new and centuries if not millennia old (the key tenets of Twelver Shi’ism for instance originating in the Omayyad and Abbasid Caliphates which were contemporary with our own Anglo-Saxon and Norman kings) and for the most part are quite alien to all of our modern Western categories.

      I am sure I have quoted Tolstoy’s line on happy families all being alike while unhappy families are all unhappy in their very own special way.

      This applies to ideologies and states and movements as well.

  8. Clive said,

    As a general rule, Roger, I share your feeling that calling things ‘fascist’ isn’t useful. And maybe that’s true for many of the Islamist movements. But I think the thing which ‘fascist’ or ‘fascistic’ does convey is this: that these are *mass*, popular movements with a profoundly reactionary nature, whose coming to power involves the smashing of leftist and working class movements and democracy more generally.

    This is even true, to a significant degree, of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which during the year before its removal by the army had become more and more undemocratic, more reliant on street violence, etc. So though the regime clearly wasn’t fascist, there was something fascistic about the movement in power.

    Consequently, it seems to me, what’s different about Islamism=fascism (though obviously not all Islamist movements, and not Nazi-style fascism) and Israel=apartheid, is that it provides you with a reasonably reliable political orientation. That is, Islamist movements should be regarded as the bitter enemies of the socialist, working-class etc movements, and so on; whereas defining Israel as ‘apartheid’, I think, leads to a very misleading sense of how to oppose the oppression of the Palestinians (eg general boycotts, calls for a unitary state, rejection of the idea that there are distinct nations in Israel/Palestine, etc).

    • R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

      I am not denying that there are similarities and even very significant similarities between islamism and fascism.

      But correlation is not causation.

      I’d also question that classical fascism – and particularly its Mussolinian variant – is ‘profoundly reactionary’ and I have multiple books on my shelves with titles like ‘Fascist Modernities’ which argue that we are dealing with a form of modernism however perverted.

      And this I think is key: Islamism despite its embrace of some elements of modern technology (in the widest sense to include organisational concepts) has roots far deeper and older than fascism.

      Wahhabism originated in the eighteenth century not the 1920s and was a conscious reactionary throwback to the imagined and mythologised Ummah of the 620s.

      The Twelver Shi’ism that inspired the Iranian Revolution was largely formed by the 11th century.

      Even the most determined (and to my mind historically dubious) attempts to create a genealogy for actual fascism cannot take us back further than the reaction against the French revolution by de Maistre, Bonald, Donoso y Cortes etc.

      In contrast Islamism may be a new word but it describes a very old and very deep evil.

      And had Mussolini and Hitler been stopped in their tracks and Fascism and Nazism never became more than an historical footnote we would probably still be facing much the same Islamist threat.

      So we should not have to resort to crude and misleading name-calling just to wake up pseudo-leftist idiots to Islamism being our enemy.

      And in any case what the pseudo-left idiots in the West think is pretty much irrelevant to the struggle against Islamism in countries like Egypt where ‘fascism’ has next to no resonance (and I suspect much of what resonance it has may actually be positive…).

      • Clive said,

        There are different kinds of Islamism, obviously. But most of them are ‘modernist’ – and certainly the product of modernity – whether of the Muslim Brotherhood type, (filtered through Qutb or not) the Mawdudi type, etc. Even the Iranian version, as articulated by Khomeini, is a lot more than just Twelver Shi’ism as it was for centuries.

        Generally the phenomenon is the product of the impact of ‘modernity’, ie capitalist development, on various social layers (usually layers of the middle class, though in Iran it was slightly different).

        The programme of restoring the Caliphate is nonetheless ‘reactionary’ in a more literal sense than fascism (ie turning back the clock, if that’s what you mean). But by ‘utterly reactionary’ I meant smashing the working class and other democratic movements and institutions.

        Thus it is not, I think, ‘crude misleading name-calling’ at all to draw the parallel between Islamism and fascism.

        In fact it is *pedantry* which strikes me as more unhelpful.

      • R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

        Clearly Qutb, Khomeni etc were innovative in certain respects – but their core ideology is literally and completely reactionary in a way that no serious Western political current can be.

        What is most fascinating and disturbing about real fascism is precisely how monstrously new and modern and innovative it was – and all the archaic Gothic lettering on posters, ruralist Blut and Boden rhetoric or dressing up statuesque blondes as Valkyries in torchlit parades (and Mussolini’s much more muted invocations of the Roman Empire) was never more than window dressing aimed at obfuscating how radical and revolutionary a project this was.

        Modern Islamism on the other hand is simply what happens when you arm the most reactionary Islamic sects with modern weapons and communications technology.

        And in stark contrast to real fascism it is the modern (one can hardly say modernist) elements that are the window dressing and instrumental means to a profoundly reactionary project.

        This doesn’t matter that either the reactionary trappings of fascism or the modernist trappings of Islamism are unimportant – in both cases they are vital to their success.

        But we should not mistake those trappings and instruments for the core project itself.

  9. Sue R said,

    I would like to ask Roger if he thinks that one of the reasons why Islamism is not (clasical) fascism is that it has no theory of economic development. It seems to me (and I have no facts, figures or statistics to back this up) that Islamist groupings are not indterested in building up a country’s industry, but in merely confirming the existing economic holdings. On the other hand, Hitler and Mussolini definitely had an industrial policy, and schemes for the unemployed and all the flotsam and jetsam of industrial society. Islamism is not interested in legislating for the growth of society, either economically or educationally. For example, when the Muslim Brotherhood took over in Egypt, I waited with bated breath to see what schemes they would introduce for the unemployed and small farmers (ie make work schemes and cheap credit), but there was nary a whisper. I kept thinking back to the days of the Portugese Revolution in the 70s, when reforms of all types were made thick and fast. Yet, there was nothing in Egypt. (This didn’t stop the SWP from considering the MB as ‘revolutionary’ though). Let’s face it, these people HATE industrial society, they hate freedom of assemby, they hate uncontrollable crowds. Fascists, however, are pro-industrial society, it’s just that they want it organised in a way that favours them and the bosses. Trouble is, people forget the basic tenet of Marxism which is that at the end of the day ‘all history is the history of the class struggle’ and it is the ownership of the means of production that determines the classes. Politics is the icing on the cake but not the whole cake.

    • Mike Killingworth said,

      Didn’t Marx also say that “politics is determinant in the last instance”?

      People forget that for much of his life he made his (comfortable bourgeois) living as a journalist, and it’s probably unwise to treat anything a journo says as Holy Writ 150 years or so after the event…

    • R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

      Indeed the fundamental point about Islamism is that it is profoundly reactionary in that it aims to re-create a historical fantasy of the original Ummah of the Prophet and his companions,

      Even the most ardently reactionary of Western rightists generally only wanted to go back to the Renaissance or the later middle ages – for Islamists it is 622 – their year zero – or nothing.

      And as I said real classical fascism (i.e. that of Mussolini, Hitler and their immediate collaborators and imitators) is profoundly and deeply modernist aiming not at the restoration of an imagined golden age but a new one formed of blood and iron.

      But the sheer reactionary radicalism of the Islamists means that they don’t really have any position on industrial society as the Koran and Hadith have nothing to say about any economic matter more complex than the trading of camels.

      So Iran – which is an Islamist society albeit one that is atypical due to its Shia and Persian characteristics – has in what is now a third of a century not remodelled its economy in any obviously Islamist way as remodelling economies (other than through the imposition of some Koranic laws which as in the case of usury laws have to be elaborately evaded) is not what Islam demands.

      And in Egypt one could hardly discern any distinctive economic policy at all during the MB interlude – and indeed given Egypt’s terrifying position demographically and economically it is kind of difficult to imagine any reform programme whatsoever saving them from famine and collapse – only perpetual subsidies from the Gulf states and perhaps the West can do that.

      AFAICT the impact of Islamism in power (of which we only have a handful of highly problematic examples) is profoundly conservative as it aims to change hearts and minds and revolutionise personal rather than economic or social relationships.

      As for real fascism I suggest you look at Tim Mason’s work as he was a real Marxist expert on Nazism who was driven to distraction and perhaps even an early death by his inability to explain it’s ‘primacy of politics’ in terms of class.

      I also recommend again (as I am sure I’ve praised it before) Adam Tooze’s The Wages of Destruction which is the best general survey of Nazi economics.

  10. finbar said,

    Surly Islam ,is a religion like other religions, full of relief for those who believe that their religious belief, will ease their life!s misery or miss they go to their reward.

    Should a socialist care?.

  11. finbar said,

    OOps forgot ,socialists do care about humanity..

  12. Sue R said,

    I don’t think Marx did make a ‘comfortable’ bourgoise living as a journalist. he was reliant on Engels subsidizing him. He was a trained philosopher as well, writing his doctorate on Hegel’s ‘Philosophy of Right’. (Do try and restrain your catty instincts, Mike, it does you no favours.).

    • Mike Killingworth said,

      I accept that I should have remembered the subsidy from Engels (who owned a factory, didn’t he?). I am not sure whether that makes my point more or less catty.

    • R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

      Nope – Marx’s thesis was on the Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature.

      And Engels’s support of Marx was rather less generous than usually depicted and in fact often took the form of his writing articles for the New York Tribune etc which were then published under Marx’s name.

      Jenny’s inheritance from her aristocratic mother appears to have been rather more significant finally letting the growing family escape from poky rooms in Dean St (now above the awful Marco Pierre White’s Quo Vadis restaurant) to a terraced house in what was then the wild northern suburb of Kentish Town.

      Even out in suburbia Marx’s lifestyle doesn’t seem to have been any more lavish than that of the archetypal London bank clerk as chronicled in The Diary of a Nobody (highly recommended BTW and also very well dramatised by BBC radio a couple of years ago if you can find it online).

      Like Mr Pooter he never went hungry (although his utter inability to manage his own finances meant that Jenny was regularly reduced to pawning her jewelry to keep that food on the table), could afford a maid, had to use the public omnibus or train and walk to get to his work in the British library rather than hailing a Hansom Cab etc, etc.

      There is incidentally a nice little article on Marx’s London homes here: – a couple of which appear somewhat less grand than the Pooter’s ‘The Laurels, Brickfield Terrace, Holloway).

  13. Sue R said,

    Just compounding it, aren’t you? It’s all to do with tone. (And, I don’t mean Tony Blair.).

  14. Sue R said,

    Marx’s wife, Jenny, was a minor aristocrat, so she would be insulted to be discribed as bourgois. Surprised y ou haven’t brought that up.

    • Mike Killingworth said,

      I have to leave something for you to put in the pot…

    • R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

      Jenny ironically uses the word ‘bourgeois’ of her home circumstances in letters – and manages to spell it correctly as well.

      As for ‘minor aristocrat’ due to the continental nobility not practicing primogeniture (the English custom of a first son inheriting everything rather than as in Germany baronies, principalities etc being perpetually divided and subdivided between all the sons until you got miniature statelets with names like Saxe-Coburg-Gotha) the term aristocracy meant something very different in Germany.

      However the von Westphalen’s were actually a very prominent Prussian family that had royal blood (albeit Stuart Scots royal blood from a Wishart grandmother – which incidentally might well explain Marx’s otherwise rather bizarre passion for the reactionary Tory romantic Sir Walter Scott who he used to read with extravagant dramatic flourishes to his daughters) – and Jenny’s brother Ferdinand was the Interior Minister of Prussia to whom police agents would submit reports about Marx’s revolutionary activities in London.

      As for Marx himself as the son of a lawyer and landowner he was considered sufficiently aristocratic or at least respectable at university to fight a duel with a member of the Borussia Korps (a student fraternity – think the Bullingdon Club but with sabres – and not as Francis Wheen erroneously describes it in his Marx biography a military unit).

  15. Sue R said,

    Is there no limit to your knowledge, Mr Roger? By the way, my Grandfather was German but I can quite categorically state that there is not one tincture of certified aristocratic blood coursing through my veins (at high pressure). He did used to say that seeing as he was from the Rheinland, that an ancestress was most likely raped by Charlemange as he bore a strong resemblance to that Holy Roman Emperor, but that is pure conjecture.

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