(Unholy Alliance: Muslims and Communists in Post-Transition States, edited by Ben Fowkes and Bulent Gokay)

Unholy Alliance: Muslims and Communists in Post-Transition States

The bibliography on the relationship between Communism and Islam is immense, reflecting the vastness of the field, because an adequate treatment of the relationship requires an examination of the internal histories of Russia and the Soviet Union, and the Muslim world outside, as well as both foreign policy relations, internal political groupings and intellectual trends. We have tried to limit this bibliography to books in English.

No satisfactory English-language treatment of the relationship between Muslims and Communists exists. Here we shall simply indicate what appear to be the most useful of the many specialized studies that have been published on aspects of the subject.

It seems most convenient to divide the bibliographical essay into a number of sections.


There are a number of  translated collections bearing on this subject. They all have their virtues (of general significance). They also have defects, from the point of view adopted here. One virtue of Marxism and Asia. An Introduction with Readings by Helene Carrere d’Encausse and Stuart R.Schram is the long introduction, which takes up a third of the book. One defect is that the book is one-sided. The authors, perhaps rightly, regard China and Chinese-Soviet relations as by far the most important theme, and can, for instance, only spare three (non-Chinese) pages for the whole period between the coming of the Popular Front in 1935 and the end of the Second World War in 1945. Then there are the two sets of documents by Jane Degras: The Communist International 1919-1943 Documents, 3 volumes (London: Oxford University Press, 1960-65); and Soviet Documents on Foreign Policy . The Communist International 1919-1943 is a large and thorough collection of public statements that covers the whole of Comintern policy but does not give much attention to the Muslim world. This certainly also reflects the much greater relative attention given to Europe in the sources themselves. A collection of documents starting in 1943 would look completely different, but such a collection does not exist. Jane Degras’s Soviet Documents on Foreign Policy  are mentioned here for completeness: they naturally range far and wide, as did Soviet foreign policy, but they have little to say about communists. A different approach was taken by Xenia J.Eudin and Robert C.North in their useful collection, Soviet Russia and the East, 1920-1927. A Documentary Survey (Stanford,  CA: Stanford University Press, 1957). They include documents on foreign policy, the activities of the Communist International and also domestic policy. The minutes of the first two congresses of the Communist International are available in English translations. The Fourth Congress minutes will soon be available as well.  For an English translation of the minutes of the Baku Congress of 1920 see John Riddell (ed.), To See the Dawn. Baku, 1920. First Congress of the Peoples of the East  (London: Pathfinder Press, 1993). The minutes of the 1922 Far Eastern Congress were issued in English and German. The English version is The First Congress of Toilers of the Far East (Moscow, 1922). The religious question within the Soviet Union is also relevant to our theme, and here there are  two documentary collections in English which mainly cover the Christian churches, but also include evidence on Islam: Corley, Religion in the Soviet Union. An Archival Reader prints newly discovered GPU reports. There are naturally Russian-language documentary collections on all these topics, and the originals of the documents mentioned above are mostly in Russian.


There is no entirely satisfactory general account in English. Earlier work has been rendered out of date by the newly available archival resources. Russian authors in particular have exploited these resources, producing many important studies of specific topics, as yet untranslated. A number of authors have tried their hand at producing a history of Muslims in Soviet Russia, but surprisingly have not really made much use of the new resources. Two recent surveys should be mentioned: Galina Yemelianova, Russia and Islam: a Historical Survey (New York: Palgrave, 2002) and Ludmila Polonskaya and A.V.Malashenko, Islam in Central Asia (Reading: Ithaca, 1994). For the period after 1941, Yaacov Ro’i has produced a detailed account of situation of Muslims, and of the religion of Islam, within the Soviet Union until its collapse in 1991 (Islam in the Soviet Union: from the Second World War to Gorbachev, London: C.Hurst, 2000). There is nothing comparable for the earlier decades. There is, however, a useful survey of developments in the early years in B.Wilhelm’s article ‘Moslems in the Soviet Union 1948-54’, in Richard H.Marshall, ed., Aspects of Religion in the Soviet Union (Chicago, ILL: Chicago University Press, 1971). It is still worth consulting several pioneering works by Alexandre Bennigsen and Chantal Lemercier-Quelquejay: Les Mouvements Nationaux chez les Musulmanes de Russie (Paris: Mouton, 1960); Sultan Galiev. Le père de la révolution tiers-mondiste (Paris: Fayard, 1986; Islam in the Soviet Union (London: Praeger 1967). There are relevant articles in the recent collection edited by Andreas Kappeler and others: Muslim Communities Reemerge (Durham, NC: Duke University Press,1994).

Our picture of the 1920s and 1930s has become clearer in some respects since A.G.Park’s excellent early study, Bolshevism in Turkestan (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 1957). A number of scholars have examined certain aspects of Bolshevik policy in detail, and in dealing with the Turkic areas of the Soviet Union they have not limited themselves to the Russian-language sources, which has allowed them in some cases to present the views of ordinary Muslims, and to bring out the distinctive conceptions advanced by Muslim intellectuals in non-Russian press. Adeeb Khalid (The Politics of Muslim Cultural Reform: Jadidism in Central Asia , Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1998) and Marianne Kamp (The New Woman in Uzbekistan. Islam, Modernity and Unveiling under Communism Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2006) are examples. Terry Martin, in The Affirmative Action Empire. Nations and Nationalism in the Soviet Union 1923-1939 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001) includes chapters on ‘Affirmative Action in the Soviet East’ and ‘The Latinization Campaign’. Shoshana Keller, To Moscow not Mecca. The Soviet campaign Against Islam in Central Asia, 1917-1941 (Westport,CONN: Praeger, 2001) and Douglas Northrop, in Veiled Empire: Gender and Power in Stalinist Central Asia (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004) essentially restate on the basis of archival research the conclusion arrived at by Gregory Massell many years before that the aim of the unveiling campaign of 1927 was to use women as a political lever to transform Muslim society, as a substitute for the largely absent proletariat of Central Asia (Gregory Massell The Surrogate Proletariat: Moslem Women and Revolutionary Strategies in Soviet Central Asia, 1919-1929, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1974).

Studies of specific areas Swietochowski, Tadeusz, Russian Azerbaijan: the Shaping of National Identity in a Muslim Community (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985)


There will inevitably be some overlap with section 4, as international communist policy was at all times intimately connected with Soviet foreign policy. The danger here is that the Cold War looms large in some of these accounts. The most well-informed book, providing a tremendous number of details about the policies of local communist parties up to the late 1950s,  is Walter Laqueur’s. Ivar Spector concentrates far more on the foreign policy aspect, although he does include a complete translation of the programmes of the communist parties of the East issued by the Comintern in 1934, which is useful as it illuminates the party line in the early 1930s, before the Popular Front era.

The pioneering work by Louis Fischer, The Soviets in World Affairs ,2 volumes (London: Jonathan Cape, 1930) is still of use. Many detailed studies have been written since 1930, among them:

Spector Ivar, The Soviet Union and the Muslim World 1917-1958 (Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 1959)

Laqueur Walter, Communism and Nationalism in the Middle East 2nd.edn., (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1957)

Lenczowski, George, Russia and the West in Iran, 1918-48. A Study in Big-Power Rivalry (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1949)

Behbehani, Hashim S.H. The Soviet Union and Arab Nationalism 1917-66 (London: KPI, 1966)

More recent studies include:

Fatemi, Faramarz S., The USSR in Iran (London: Yoseloff, 1980)

Ginat, Rami., The Soviet Union and Egypt 1945-1955 (London: Frank Cass, 1993)

Golan, Galia The Soviet Union and National Liberation Movements in the Third World (London: Allen and Unwin, 1988)

Nissmann, David B., The Soviet Union and Iranian Azerbaijan: The use of nationalism for political penetration (Boulder, COLO: Westview Press, 1987)

Rezun, Miron, The Soviet Union and Iran. Soviet Policy in Iran from the Beginnings of the Pahlavi Dynasty until the Soviet Invasion in 1941 (Geneva: Institut Universitaire de hautes Études Internationales, 1981)

Yodfat, A.Y.., The Soviet Union and Revolutionary Iran (New York, NY: St.Martin’s Press, 1984)


There is a plethora of studies on this subject, given its significance for relations between the Soviet Union and the United States and the West generally.

Walter Laqueur, The Soviet Union and the Middle East (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1959)

Walter Laqueur, The Struggle for the Middle East: The Soviet Union and the Middle East 1958-1970 (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1971)


There are some studies of individual communist parties in the Middle East and beyond, though far fewer than there are of Western communist parties. The evidence for these parties was often fragmentary and based almost exclusively on public statements and documents. A scholar who had the dedication and persistence to go beyond this was rare indeed. Mention should be made first and foremost of Hanna Batatu, whose history of the Iraqi Communist Party is conceived so broadly that his title does not even use the word ‘communist’: The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1978) This book is not just a history of the communist party but of the whole society. Two  more recent publications are books by Ilerio Salucci, A People’s History of Iraq: the Iraqi Communist Party, Workers’ Movements and the Left, 1924-2004 (Chicago, ILL: Haymarket Books, 2005) and Tareq Y.Ismael, The Rise and Fall of the Communist Party of Iraq (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008). Tareq Ismael has also written on communism in Syria and Lebanon (The Communist Movement in Syria and Lebanon , jointly with Jacqueline  S. Ismael, Gainesville,FL: University Press of Florida, 1998) and the Arab world as a whole (The Communist Movement in the Arab World  New York, NY: Routledge Curzon, 2005). For Palestine and Israel: M.Budeiri, The Palestine Communist Party 1919-48 ; Z.Lockman, Comrades and Enemies .

The initial stages of communism in Indonesia up to 1927 are covered by Ruth T.McVey, The Rise of Indonesian Communism (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1965). The brief heyday of the Indonesian Communist Party is treated in Rex Mortimer, Indonesian Communism under Sukarno: Ideology and Politics, 1959-1965 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1974). The suppression of the party in 1965 is the subject of A.C.Brackman, Communist Collapse in Indonesia (New York, NY: W.W.Norton, 1969). The whole story, including the disaster of 1965, is told by Leslie Palmier, Communists in Indonesia (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1973). . Earlier books, inevitably providing a less complete picture are: J. Van der Kroef, The Communist Party of Indonesia: its History, Programme and Tactics  (Vancouver: Publications Centre, University of British Columbia, 1965), Donald Hindley, The Communist Party of Indonesia 1951-63 (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1964) and A.C.Brackman, Indonesian Communism. A History (Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 1963).

For Iran there are two books by  S.Zabih, Communist Movement in Iran Berkeley, CA University of California Press, 1966.and The Left in Contemporary Iran (London: Croom Helm, 1986). The early attempts to establish communism in Iran were examined thoroughly by C.Chaqueri in  The Soviet Socialist Republic of Iran 1920-21. Birth of the Trauma  (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995). There are no full-length studies in English of the Turkish Communist Party, or of any of the communist parties of North Africa apart from Egypt, which has been covered by Tareq Ismael and R. El-Sa‘id (The Communist Movement in Egypt 1920-1988 ,  Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1990)

There are some studies of the attitude of particular communist parties to nationalist movements. Maxime Rodinson’s acute articles and lectures on a wide range of communist parties and their relation to Muslims are gathered together in Marxisme et monde Musulman (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1972)..The English translation, Marxism and the Muslim World (London: Zed Books 1979) unfortunately leaves out much of the material in the French version.  Emanuel Sivan’s Communisme et nationalisme en Algérie 1920-1962 (Paris: Presses de la Fondation National des Sciences Politiques, 1976) deals with the changing attitudes of  French communists to Algerian nationalism.

Very often  the activities of communists and their interaction with other movements and with  Muslims in particular have to be analysed on the basis of more general accounts. This applies in Indonesia (the former Netherlands Indies) for example. Takashi Shiraishi   in An Age in Motion. Popular Radicalism in Java 1912-1926  (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990) is intended as a corrective to what he calls the ‘orthodox historiography’ with its excessive stress on organizations at the expense of the popular movement. Michael C. Williams, Communism, Religion and Revolt in Banten deals with the 1926 communist rising there. George McT Kahin’s book Nationalism and Revolution in Indonesia (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1952) is still vital for the politics of the immediate postwar period.

For the Sudan there is Gabriel Warburg, Islam, Nationalism and Communism in a Traditional Society: the Case of Sudan (London: Cass, 1978).


* Emeritus Professor of Modern History, London Metropolitan University.

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