Islam & the Bolshevik Revolution


Mirsaid Sultan-Galiev, the architect of Muslim “national communism” PHOTO/Wikipedia

Imagine if Vladimir Lenin had enlisted Muslim comrades to the Bolshevik party’s Central Committee during the 1917 Russian Revolution, how different the history of the Soviet Union and even the world might have turned out. Today, Muslims may still have been arguing about the pros and cons of Marxism in all its hues rather than debating extremist interpretations of jihad and Sharia.

In fact, there was an immensely popular and charismatic ‘Muslim communist’, who for a short time became a member of the Soviet Communist Party and was revered by Lenin before being purged and executed by Stalin. Mir Said Sultan Galiev (1882-1940) advocated setting up an independent Muslim Communist Party and a Muslim Red Army to fight the European-backed White armies and thereby secure the revolution.

Galiev was the son of an impoverished Tartar schoolmaster born in a village near Kazan, today the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan. Galiev grew up poor. His father was incapable of feeding his 12 children. Nevertheless Galiev was already well read in Tartar, Russian and Arabic when he entered the teachers training school in Kazan.

By the time he graduated in 1911, he was reading revolutionary texts. He worked as a journalist and took part in Muslim nationalist politics. In 1917, he became a leading member of the Muslim Socialist Committee for Kazan and joined the Bolsheviks. He swiftly became the highest-ranking Muslim in its hierarchy, occupying several top posts.

Lenin appointed him to the Central Muslim Commissariat and chairman of the Military Collegium. In 1918 Galiev organised the defence of Kazan against the advancing White armies and recruited Muslims to the cause of the revolution. Lenin and Stalin frequently sent him to eastern battle fronts in order to raise the morale of Muslim divisions in the Red Army. All his life he remained immensely popular among Muslim and Russian communists.

Galiev became the architect of ‘Muslim national communism’. He advocated that the only guarantee against greater Russian chauvinism in the Bolshevik Communist Party was the creation of a separate Muslim communist party. He argued with Lenin that in the East (Asia), the nationalist struggle must supersede the class struggle because all Muslim colonised peoples were proletarians as all had been oppressed by European or tsarist colonialism.

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