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Comment: A question to the left on Iran: Can the people make history or not?

By Mike Ely

June 19, 2009 -- Kasama Project -- There is a self-deceptive politics (among some leftists) that seeks to prettify all kinds of reactionary forces that (for one reason or another) are in opposition to US imperialism — including Islamic reactionaries, Kim Jung Il, “hardline” revisionists of the Li Peng and Eric Honecker type and so on. And in the process they have a real, almost startling, hostility toward sections of the people who rise up in important if still-inarticulate ways.

My sense is that such politics arise from a despair over actually developing our own revolutionary forces — and a resigned assumption that we have no other alternative but to fall behind any forces (ugly, oppressive, reactionary or not) who (one way or another) seem to be on the United States' shit list.

This is not a uni-polar world with only one defining contradiction. Yes, we understand (and must understand) that the US acts as a central pillar of world capitalism … but it is hardly the only pillar or the only reactionary force.

Opposition protest at Azadi Square, Tehran, June 15, 2009.

As someone who remembers this Iranian regime murdering our comrades and drenching the people in blood, it is hard not have a far more nuanced sense of such events. I remember so vividly attending parties of celebration with our Iranian communist comrades,  from the Iranian Student Association (ISA) at colleges in the US,  as they went back to Iran (in 1979) to dive into the revolution — so full of hopes and energy.

And I know now, with real sadness that has never gone away, that many of them ended up in the prisons and torture cells of Khomenei, or were wasted on the frontlines of the war with Iraq.

I suspect there is a whole generation of radical activists in the US who don’t know how Iran’s Islamic Republic murdered and tortured communists and leftists in large numbers after the 1979 revolution — to consolidate a very conservative-reactionary god-state. And these victims included many who had based their politics (naively) on forming a “united front against imperialism” with those bloody mullahs-in-power.

The importance of revisiting such history is the importance of not repeating it — and not misunderstanding who the theocrats are, and what they are capable of. And at a moment when they are exposed, hated, de-legitimised, targeted among the people themselves, overwhelmingly because of their own crimes, it would be terrible politics to rally to the Islamic theocrats defence simply because they are also being targeted by the United States and Israel externally. In some ways, those external pressures are part of that “perfect storm” that may reawaken politics within Iran.

We have opposed (and must seek to oppose much more powerfully) the US imperialist threats against Iran — and its whole long-term push to fully dominate the central oil fields of the Middle East. We know that the US and Israel will pursue their geopolitical strategies here. And we must understand and oppose those moves.

In many ways the only hope the US has had for a “victory” in Iraq involved (somehow) causing a “regime change” in Iran. In the corporate media, all the talk is about Israel’s fear of nuclear weapons, but there is another more-unspoken issue: the Iraq war has long ago morphed into a US-Iranian power struggle over the control of Iraq (and of this region). And so for the US there are very high stakes in the eruptions in Iran.

More than one possible outcome

But our brains are capable of grasping more than one thread and dynamic at a time — it is not just possible (but inevitable) that great events draw into them the attentions of MANY and DIFFERENT players with many different interests. The US hopes to have a pro-US government emerge from all of this. We all know that. They are intevening in countless ways — seen and unseen. This is undoubtedly true.

But who says that a pro-US outcome is the only possibility? Who says this means that the current government should be supported? Who decided that the people of Iran have no agency, no hopes, no possibility of upsetting that whole table of “choices”?

The world is full of very reactionary governments and forces who are in sharp hostility — but there is certainly no reason to believe that we (or the people generally) always just have to choose to side with one reactionary force over another. Sometimes the clash of oppressive forces create great openings through which radical, secular and even revolutionary forces can emerge, learn, organise and act.

The politics of “lesser evil” is often a politics of lowered sights — a politics so despairing of the possibility of revolution that real, living, hairy, complex revolutionary possibilities don’t even enter the thinking. They are there, but you don’t even see them.

In essense, this simplistic approach is an approach that pulls toward a cynical view of people, of their ability to learn and develop politics in complex situations, and which seems rooted in a rather strange attraction to any ugly force in the Third World that seems somehow “hard line”. What kind of a world will that create? What kind of evaluation is that of the forces (who are actually in the field)?

`Class understanding'?

Some have argued that supporting the people in Iran’s streets lack a certain “class understanding”. Presumably that is because the demonstrations in Iran have drawn in the urban middle class (but not so many of Iran’s working class and even less of the peasantry). But is that how we understand class? If “the workers” support a US war and “privileged college students” oppose it — should we be confused by that? Is that kind of crude reductionist “class analysis” we want to uphold?

If Iranian students and urban middle classes are the first to strike out against a brutal and theocratic regime, even if they bring their prejudices and illusions with them — is that so bad or unusual?

History is packed with examples to discuss. (Is the Chinese Revolution imaginable without the heavily urban, heavily educated intellectual movement the 1919 May Fourth Movement. Were the trade union apparatuses automatically correct in the French May-June 1968 events?)

It is a good thing when university students take to the streets against a repressive government (with or without some workers). It is a good thing when secular, urban youth and women march against a theocratic regime that enforces medieval morality, and the veil, and much more (with or without some peasants). It is a good thing when people find their voice in a society that stifled them. And such openings are the path by which radical politics stirs even more widely — including precisely among the working people (who are sometimes slower to move).

A class analysis has many components: One is to approach the countless political questions of our world from the communist point of view of ending all oppression (a view that ultimately is in the interest of those most oppressed and stripped of property). It also looks at the actions of all class in terms of the revolutionary process.

And, finally, what is the “class understanding” in a view that seems to say we are limited to a choice between various capitalist and feudal forces, i.e. that the people of Iran are  forced to pick between US or their own ugly, hated ruling class. Is that a “class analysis”?

Revolutions in real life

Someone said to me: “People opposing these demonstrations have no sense of how revolutions unfold in real life.”

I think there is a lot to this. Often revolution emerges from cracks like this. And revolutionary forces (that will have a role in the future) reach new audiences and forces in events like this. And the forces who drag the people into political life — the Rafsanjanis and Moussavis of history — aren’t always the one who inherit the results.

Will forces within the Iranian establishment try to tame this movement with compromises? Yes. Will they order that demands remain within frameworks of the current system? Yes. Will they send marshals in green armbands into the mass marches to isolate and threaten the more radical, secular and revolutionary forces? Of course.

A great movement is not defined by those who “called it into being”. It is not limited by the forces who officially or temporarily claim to lead it. Its course is not set by those who try to control it. And in all of this, we look for, we popularise the most radical, secular, revolutionary and intransigent forces who ultimately represent the best interests of the people.

In many ways, the people churn up their own interests and programs in great upheavals. They congeal into organisations and trends that will influence a whole generation for decades. They will form the kinds of verdicts (in their own hearts and minds) that forge “a revolutionary people” — for greater challenges and even more sophisticated actions in the future.

We have given up on that future if we were to adopt a narrow, shortsighted politics of always picking between this or that bourgeois player on the scene.

Kasama has just posted this from Reza Fiyouzat:

The Iranian people sensed a deep fracture within the ruling establishment – something that was clearly expressed in astonishing language and tone, in the televised-for-the-first time live debates between the candidates – and they have ceased their chance to use the divide between their rulers to their own advantage.

The people may have taken to the streets under the excuse of the elections, and may have been encouraged by the rhetoric of the ``reformist'' camp in favor of some breathing room in the suffocating political and cultural atmosphere imposed on them, but they have forced the debate further. They are openly, and in millions across the country, questioning the legitimacy of the establishment, represented at the moment by Ahmadinejad. The people, in short, have moved beyond Mousavi and the reformists, but are still willing to go along with the tactics formulated by reformist leaders; for the moment.

This jibes with both my impression of these events, and my hopes for these events — though we will all learn over time the details of what is happening far below the visible screen. But I do know this: if you look at Iran, any future hope for radical change lies among the people in the streets, not in the bloody military and religious forces running the government.

[Mike Ely is a participant of the Kasama Project, which is seeking to reconceive and regroup a revolutionary movement within the United States. This article first appeared on the Kasama Project's website and has been posted at Links International Jourmal of Socialist Renewal with the author's permission.]


Campaign Iran: Support democracy struggle, not Western hijack

June 21, 2009

In light of the current events in Iran, Campaign Iran has decided to issue a statement regarding our position on the elections and the subsequent wave of protests.

Campaign Iran is an organisation which works solely with the aim of halting the threat of war and the continuing sanctions on Iran. Therefore, we clearly do not express an opinion on individual candidates within the Iranian election, nor any particular preference.

However, as an activist based campaign we always support the right of protest and condemn the repression of any demonstrations in Iran from the state. We support democracy and human rights in Iran and believe that the current movement which has taken to the streets vindicates our position that the Iranian people, and only the Iranian people, have the ability and the right to make change in Iran as they best see fit. It is clear that the democracy movement can fight its own battles and we support their struggle.

Through the revolution of 1979 Iranian society rejected the colonial mindset of foreign influence and still carries this position today. Those who argue for a ‘war of liberation’ can look both to the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In addition we strongly believe that the current situation must not be used as an excuse for war or further sanctions. We fear that any instability within the country could be used as a pre-text to launch an attack on Iran and we, along with the Iranian people, stoutly reject such an eventuality. We stand against the hijacking of this movement from any western power, in order to weaken Iran as an obstacle to imperialism.

We call on international anti-war activists to support the right of Iranians to protest and bring about change, free from the influence of Western leaders. We must continue to play our role and limit the threat of war which only serves to strangle any movements for change.

Tudeh Party of Iran on Coup d'etat

Statement of the Central Committee of The Tudeh Party of Iran on Coup d'etat of a deceitful and backward regime against the will of millions of Iranians

Millions of rigged ballots for Ahmadinejad

To our vigilant compatriots!

Your great participation in tens of millions has once again turned the tenth presidential election into a referendum against the backward-looking and deceitful regime. Million of Iranians stood in long queues holding green flags as a sign of protest against the bankrupt despotic rule of the Spiritual Leader and his cronies. This has shaken the mendacious regime to such an extent that its leaders, fearful of the repetition of 2nd Khordad (Khatami's election in 1997), have ordered their repressive forces in the major cities to crush the will of the majority by organising a quasi-military coup. The attacks by the security forces against the thousands of young people pouring into the streets protesting against the regime's charade, along with the forced closure of Mousavi's campaign headquarter and combined with the threats issued by the Revolutionary Guards to suppress any protest, are all indicators of a heavy defeat suffered by the regime's leadership on the 12th of June.

Both presidential candidates, Mousavi and Karroubi, have declared the poll's results as null and void, stating that they will not leave the stage. The obvious poll rigging and fixing of millions of ballots in Ahmadinejad's name which was followed by Khamenei's confirmations of the election results shows that the spiritual leader and his armed militias are the organisers of the state sponsored violence against the will of millions of Iranians. This electoral charade indeed points to a turning point in the way the regime intends to deal with its opponents and it clearly demonstrates that even the so-called "insider critics" will not be allowed even limited political activities.

Khamenei's threatening statement is effectively a warning to the presidentialcandidates, demanding their surrender in the face of the reaction and to abandon the arena.

In recent weeks the Tudeh Party of Iran has repeatedly warned against the sinister plans of the repressive forces preparing to crush the people's will. We asked all national forces and those struggling for liberty to unite in a common cause in opposing the regime's plans.

We must not let the powerful might of the people, which has enraged and petrified the reactionaries, to be eroded and must prevent people's retreat in disillusionment, giving the arena back to the reactionary forces. All social and political forces of the country should declare the poll's results as void and use all means to voice their protests against this deception perpetrated by the Spiritual Leader and his armed cronies. By broadening and organising the struggle we must put the ruling regime under pressure. Accepting these election results would be a betrayal of the people's vote and would be tantamount to collusion with a deceitful and backward regime.

Our vigilant Compatriots!

The leaders of this regime have ruled by brute force and by betraying the goals of the Revolution, now they are about to carry out a coup d'etat against the people. The powerful presence of millions of Iranians and their protest can thwart this disgraceful machination and save our country from a serious danger.

Central Committee of Tudeh Party of Iran
13th June 2009

A question for Mike Ely

The Iranian government is "reactionary"? What are the most reactionary governments in the Middle East? Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt. In fact, what country in the whole Middle East is more democratic and anti-imperialist than the Islamic Republic of Iran? Syria? Morocco? Turkey? Need I continue?
There is a media campaign against Iran since 1979 because the Iranian government is anti-imperialist and nationalist. Mousavi's campaign was one step in undermining this anti-imperialism and in installing a much more pro-imperialist government.
I would think that the US Congress vote to support Mousavi's demonstrators would be taken as a sufficient certification of what his movement represents.

Why would we be "prettifying" the Iranian government by pointing out simple factual information - that the US media anti-Islamic Republic campaign is based on seeking to overturn the gains of the 1979 revolution?
Were we prettifying Saddam Hussein when we opposed the US invasion of Iraq?
Why this double standard when it comes to Iran?

Here is a comment by Phil Wilyato, author of the 2007 book "In Defense of Iran"

"The fundamental contradiction between the two leading candidates has to do with their respective bases of support and, more importantly, their different approaches to the economy.

Ahmadinejad, himself born into rural poverty, clearly has the support of the poorer classes, especially in the countryside, where nearly half the population lives. Why? In part because he pays attention to them, makes sure they receive some benefits from the government and treats them and their religious views and traditions with respect. Mousavi, on the other hand, the son of an urban merchant, clearly appeals more to the urban middle classes, especially the college-educated youth. This being so, why would anyone be surprised that Ahmadinejad carried the vote by a clear majority? Are there now more yuppies in Iran than poor people?

Why is there so little discussion of the issue of class in this election? Is it because so many professional and semi-professional commentators on Iran are themselves from the same class as Mousavi's supporters, and so instinctively identify with them? Myself, I'm a worker, and a former union organizer. When I watched the videos and viewed the photos of the pro-Mousavi rallies in Tehran and other cities, I didn't feel elated – I felt a chill. To me, this didn't look like a liberal reform movement, it felt like a movement whose real target is a government that exercises a “preferential option for the poor,” to use the words of Christian liberation theology.

How about the economy?

A big issue in Iran – virtually never discussed in the U.S. media – is how to interpret Article 44 of the country's constitution. That article states that the economy must consist of three sectors: state-owned, cooperative and private, and that “all large-scale and mother industries” are to be entirely owned by the state. This includes the oil and gas industries, which provide the government with the majority of its revenue. This is what enables the government, in partnership with the large charity foundations, to fund the vast social safety net that allows the country's poor to live much better lives than they did under the U.S.-installed Shah.

In 2004, Article 44 was amended to allow for some privatization. Just how much, and how swiftly that process should proceed, is a fundamental dividing line in Iranian politics. Mousavi has promised to speed up the privatization process. And when he first announced he would run for the presidency, he called for moving away from an “alms-based “ economy (PressTV, 4/13/09), an obvious reference to Ahmadinejad's policies of providing services and benefits to the poor.

In addition to their different class bases and approaches to the economy, Ahmadinejad presents an uncompromising front against the West, and especially against the U.S. government. This is a source of great national pride, and has produced some positive results. For example, President Obama has now actually admitted, at least in part, that it was the U.S. that in 1953 overthrew the democratically elected government of Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh.

The whole idea that tossing Ahmadinejad out of office would make it easier to change U.S. policy toward Iran is, in my opinion, very naive. Was Dr. Mossadegh a crazy demagogue? No, but he did lead the movement to nationalize Iran's oil industry. If Mousavi, as president, were to strongly state that he would refuse to consider any surrender of Iran's sovereign right to develop nuclear power for peaceful energy purposes, that he would continue to support the resistance organizations Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, that he would continue to try and increase Iran's political role in the Middle East, and that he would defend state ownership of the oil and gas industries, would the Western media portray him as a reasonable man?"

Lenin's Tomb blog on Iran

Monday, June 22, 2009

A question of solidarity.


With the protesters, or with the state? The charge of some on the left is that by backing the protesters, one is de facto drafted into the camp of the crooked neoliberals behind Mousavi's campaign. Moreover, it is claimed, since there has been no proof as yet of an electoral fraud, it is also to support a movement that rejects the popular will. Such is the gist of the post that appears immediately below this one and, though I don't think the manner of putting this argument reflects well on those who are making it, this does need to be discussed. We admit that there can be no conclusive verdict on fraud in the Iranian elections short of a full and impartial investigation conducted by the Islamic Republic itself. That such an investigation is not forthcoming, and that the only concession in this direction was prompted by the protests, suggests that the interests of veracity in this matter are best served by the popular revolts we have seen. And if we decline to join those who are absolutely convinced that fraud was perpetrated, until matters become far more clear than they presently are, we equally refuse to align with those who take the contrary position as an article of faith.

The truth is, almost everything we are hearing on this topic from either side of the argument is hearsay and speculation. We are told that a poll predicted the results, though it seems it didn't, and was at any rate taken before the campaign had really begun. We are told that secret pre-election polling by the Iranian government predicted a massive win for Mousavi, though we have no way of telling how true this is, any more than we can verify the document circulating that purports to be a letter to Khamenei from the interior ministry confirming Mousavi's win. We are told that many of the regional results are hard to credit, but also that any statistical analysis at this point is inconclusive. A preliminary analysis by a team led by Iranian historian Ali Ansari for Chatham House suggests that in two provinces, the supposed turnout was higher than 100%. The report asserts that to believe the results we have to make improbable assumptions about Ahmadinejad's support. In many areas, he gained not only all conservative votes, all new votes, and all centrist votes but additionally almost half of previously reformist voters. Again, highly suggestive (and I do recommend a thorough reading of the document), but not conclusive proof. One could go on - secret polls, open polls, documents, pre-election violence, alleged irregularities, etc. Plenty of grounds for concern, nothing conclusive. Still, uncertain about the status of the recent elections, we are surely quite capable of discerning the grievances that led people - perhaps an overwhelming majority, we don't know - to support the Mousavi candidacy, and which now leads them to risk their physical integrity by taking to the streets even after veiled threats from Khamenei.

What do the protesters want? We know what Mousavi wants. There is no doubt that Mousavi stands for neoliberal economic policies, while also offering some political liberalisation to inspire progressive supporters. Mousavi, who bore substantial political responsibility for pushing through the nationalisation programme in the 1980s, now supports further privatization, and is in favour of constitutional amendments to make this easier. We also know that while Ahmadinejad initially expressed reservations about the agenda of liberalising state enterprises, one of his major planks of reform during his term was the proposal to privatise 80% of state assets, half of the shares of which were to be distributed through the stock market, and half to be distributed to those with low incomes. According to Kaveh Ehsani, despite the decision to distribute shares to the poor, the likely result is the radical reconstitution of wealth and political power on the Russian model post-1990. In 2007, under Ahmadinejad, the scale of privatization reached a record high, with total sales of $5bn. So, the main difference between the candidates on this question has been over the nature and pace of the reforms. It is also true that Mousavi wants to rein in the expansionary spending policies that have characterised Ahmadinejad's government, in a bid to cut inflation. It has been a complaint of some analysts that Ahmadinejad's spending amounts to 'bribery', and of his internal critics that it was unsustainable splurging that led to stagnant growth and such high inflation rates that any benefit to the poor from such spending was immediately negated. In truth, what Ahmadinejad's development projects have entailed mainly enriching those sectors of Iranian capital most closely imbricated with the state. His opponents think it more pragmatic to divert those oil profits into developing a more sizeable private sector. That is the basis of this division.

Ahmadinejad's clientelism obviously is not genuine defence of working class interests, nor has it been particularly effective as palliation. Apart from the fact that the suppression of trade unionism does tend to somewhat diminish the bargaining power of labour a bit, the redistribution hasn't really benefited Ahmadinejad's supposed supporters in the rural poor whose incomes have stagnated. Absolute poverty has not declined under Ahmadinejad, although it did under previous administrations - even under the neoliberal Khatami - while relative poverty has certainly increased. (It's possible that a slight change in inequality in 2007 favours Ahmadinejad's regime, but equally possible that the change is nothing to do with Ahmadinejad's policies, any more than the problems caused by high oil prices are necessarily his fault). Overall, there is little to suggest that workers or even the very poor have a deep material interest in electing Ahmadinejad, any more than his opponent.

Does this mean that the protesters, or those who voted for Mousavi, wanted a neoliberal strategy rather than the conservative 'populism' of Ahmadinejad? Does that range of options exhaust the range of popular opinion? There has been an assumption thus far that Ahmadinejad does well among the poor and working classes, while Mousavi's supporters are 'middle class'. But one begins to see a problem with such terms as soon as you investigate what is meant by 'middle class'. According to this analyst, 46% of the Iranian population is now middle class - but he defines "the middle class as being in a household with at least $10 per person per day expenditures (PPP dollars) and with at least a basic education (primary)." Now, if this reflects the common way in which the term is used, then marxists should be saying that what is actually happening is that large sectors of the working class backed the Mousavi camp. Indeed, we have already seen the most politicised and organised sectors in the trade union movement also back the protesters (they declined for obvious reasons to back any one candidate). So, at the very least, the lazy assumptions about the class basis of the vote and of the protests merit re-examination. In fact, the same analyst argues that a substantial layer of this supposed middle class vote comprises young unemployed people. If you're unemployed, by my book, you probably shouldn't be called 'middle class'. As far as this layer goes, we're talking about young, educated workers who are suffering in the economy and who lack the democratic right to do anything about their situation. They see no future from themselves in the current set-up. That is certainly a class grievance, but it can hardly be reduced to a petulant middle class cultural complaint - it's not the Gucci crowd, because you can't buy Guccis on $10 a day. While we appreciate the scepticism that some people entertain about these protests, and understand the reasons for this, the condescending claims and gratuitously nasty language about them does not bear examination. It actually redounds to the massive discredit of those using such rhetoric when the protesters are being murdered in the streets, with far less money and social power to their being than any of those who are deriding them as yuppies.

Further, from all that we are able to glean about the protests and their demands, the focus is overwhelmingly on changing the undemocratic nature of the Iranian state, going much further in their demands than Mousavi or his elite backers are prepared to go - abolishing the apparatus of repression, stopping the death penalty, stopping political imprisonments, democratising the state, abolishing the Council of Guardians. All these are the demands that we have seen repeated during this period, and none of them were adocated by Mousavi. The idea that the protests are just a flash mob for the crooked neoliberal sector of the elite is unsustainable. The question of whether, in practise, all these protests do is strengthen one faction of the ruling class will be decided to a large extent by the protesters themselves. There is a huge generational shift underlying these protests, and that means that even if the present wave were to fizzle out - which I don't think is likely - it is likely to recur in even more militant forms. So, the question is whether the protesters can take the independence in ideas and action that they have already exhibited and turn it into lasting movement. It is true that the left should have no illusions about this. There is no necessary reason why such a movement will take on a leftist hue. It hasn't so far. Only by engaging in the movement could the left hope to shift it in that direction. Far more important, however, is that the democratic demands and the bravery of those pushing for such changes, are worthy of support and solidarity in themselves. It isn't good enough to say that because Mousavi is a neoliberal, therefore the protests deserve no support. It isn't good enough to sniffily denounce the 'western left' on behalf of the supposedly univocal figure of the Iranian worker, the poor, or - as in the post below - Muslims. Especially since Muslims, the Iranian working class, many poor Iranians, can not be counted on as allies of either Ahmadinejad or the Iranian state.

June 19 statement from the Tudeh Party of Iran

The Communiqué of the Central Committee of the Tudeh Party of Iran- Number 5

The language of force and threat will not stop people in their rightful struggle!

The Vigilant People of Iran!

Amid the escalation of the protest movement in the recent days and the continuing mass demonstrations in large and small cities in Iran, in this week’s Friday mass prayers in Tehran (19th June) the Supreme Leader (Velayat-e-Faqih) not only distorted the truth and openly defended the coup d’état of his own puppets and overtly supported Ahmadi-Nejad’s administration, but also threatened the people and the presidential candidates of the 10th elections. His position and his emphasize on this point that the election and its outcome is considered the “absolute victory” of the regime and “illegal novelties” are not allowed [referring to the call for annulment of elections], indicate the fact that the powerful movement of people has seriously petrified the regime, and the regime is exploiting all it resources and power to curb this movement. What Ali Khamenei stated in the Friday’s prayers in Tehran as the official policy of the Velayat-e-Faqih regime, was not unexpected. This policy has in fact been followed and meticulously implemented since the first day of mass protests and demonstrations. Bloody suppression of people, vast and purposeful arrests, attempts to weaken the strength of the movement in various ways, and efforts to divide the reformist and freedom-fighters and to disconnect the resistant pro-reform individuals from the popular movement, are various elements and parts of the aforementioned policy.

Reform seeking, Freedom-loving and Progressive Parties and Forces!

The current powerful protest movement has challenged the ruling reaction and despots. The eternal power of people is the most  Significant support for realizing the people’s demands, i.e. to annul the election outcome and to scrap “approbation supervision”. It was for a reason that in his sermon on Friday the Supreme Leader stressed on this factor, i.e. the power of people, more than anything else, and by openly threatening the pro reform leaders asked them to part themselves from the people and send them home. There is a very important point in this stance, or devious tactic of the Supreme Leader, which could not be neglected. The goal of the perpetrators of the coup d’état under the leadership of the Supreme Leader is to create a divide between the reform seekers who by their splendid resistance so far, have effectively helped to reinforce the popular movement and to defeat the plots of the ruling reaction. That’s why the people and millions of perturbed Iranians rightfully call for perseverance and unity and strengthening of the alliance and solidarity among the pro reform forces and freedom fighters. Any divisive action must be avoided by all means; calls for demonstrations or any shape and form of protest must be coordinated and united, and any kind of dispersion must be confronted with.

The power of the movement is in its united action. The plot of the Supreme Leader to divide the pro reform forces and to distance them from each other could only be defeated by coordination, unison and united action. The seemingly tough plots of the Supreme Leader and the coup d’état perpetrators under his leadership must be defeated vigilantly and by relying on the power of the masses. It is this  relentless and powerful presence of masses in protest to the clear violations of the laws and rights by the regime that will force the regime to retreat. The piercing voice of rightful protest of the people movement is echoed more than ever, both internally and across the world.

The will of our combative people calls for this voice to be resonated louder and louder.

The Combatant People of Iran,

The Supreme Leader has threatened to suppress. These types of threats are not new to our people. They know the true suppressive nature of the regime and it is with this knowledge that they have stepped into this struggle for rights. The experiences of all the nations around the world in struggle, including the heroic people of Iran, prove that suppression, killing, and using force is not an indication of power. By using violence and killing people, dictators show their weakness. The official position and policy of the Supreme Leader which was outlined in this Friday’s prayers is not an exception to this point. The Supreme Leader threatening to suppress the people and the reformist candidates (Mousavi and Karrubi) in no way stems from a strong position. The position of the Supreme Leader and the coup d’état agents, despite the vast resources that they have in their disposal against the powerful wave of people, is extremely weak.

Therefore, with a combination of peaceful struggle and resistance through various avenues, including demonstrations and sit-ins that are rooted in the popular and revolutionary traditions of our nation, the reaction could be forced to retreat.

Hand in hand and united we will continue the struggle and confrontation with the Supreme Leader and dark-minded coup perpetrators to demand the annulment of the recent presidential elections, scrapping “approbation supervision”, freedom of those who were arrested in the recent events and also other political prisoners, trial and punishment of those who ordered the killing of people and those who  executed the killings, and reporting and putting to trial of those who planned and executed the elections coup.

Central Committee of Tudeh Party of Iran
19th June 2009

The Tudeh party’s analysis of the election result is here (PDF)

left on Iran

At moment in Iran there is no mass radical left alternative due to 30 years of Iranian government oppression and muss murdered of socialist activist in Iran.
We have seen many bad experiences in Iranian history by those counter revolutionary people such as reformist and religious people those who are a tool for Imperialists country.
I among all radical left in Iran do the best to build radical left in Iran
But this time I do my best to not work with those reformists.
” Socialist or dead”

A Reply on Iran

My essay " A question to the left on Iran: Can the people make history or not?" appears above, and in response, a thoughtful challenge has been posted called "A Question for Mike Ely" (AQME).

I would like to answer some of the key issues raised by this AQME commentary. I will excerpt pieces of AQME below and follow each with a response.

"The Iranian government is "reactionary"? What are the most reactionary governments in the Middle East? Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt. In fact, what country in the whole Middle East is more democratic and anti-imperialist than the Islamic Republic of Iran? Syria? Morocco? Turkey? Need I continue?"

Mike Ely:
My understanding is rather sharply different. All of the countries you mention, including Iran, are deeply emeshed in the imperialist system. I don't see any of them as any "more anti-imperialist" than the other.

In all of them, except for Israel, the people suffer terribly from the dynamics of that imperialist system. Israel, an artificial settler state, is a different creature -- it is dependent on imperialism for its very existence, and is propped up to serve as a key proxy power enforcing the odious "stability of this strategic region. (After the fall of the Shah of Iran, the U.S. has sought as strategic "three legged stool" regioinally -- rooted in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel, with Egypt heavily-funded into a corrupt passivity.)

There is a long history of states in this region aligning first with one, then with another imperialist power -- jumping blocs, shifting alliances. For example, Saddam Hussein's Iraq over the 70s and 80s switched sides in the international conflict between the U.S. and Soviet dominated war blocs.

Iran was very closely aligned with the U.S. before 1979 (under the Shah). After the emergence of the Islamic theocracy, those ties weakened. Iran was no longer seen as a stable U.S. "strategic partner," and it no longer played a direct role as an American military proxy (as the Shah did in Oman etc.)

But covert relations continue between Iran and both the U.S. and Israelis -- based on a common growing strategic opposition to Iraq's government. I have written elsewhere reminding readers of the crucial role that this covert Israeli-Iranian connect played in the famous Iran-Contra scandal of the Reagan years.

In subsequent years, the Iranian theocrats have strengthened their strategic relations with a second tier of imperialists (specifically Russia, Germany and France) -- relations built through trade that mocked U.S. calls for embargo, marked by European opposition to U.S.-Israeli war threats, and based on common strategic interests.

There is nothing anti-imperialist about any of this. It is the political superstructure of an economy integrated into the imperialist world markets.

Some people equate public "anti-U.S." rhetoric in the third world with "anti-imperialism." And using similar methods, they once painted the Soviet bloc of the 1970s as "progressive," and since have attempted prettify oppressive states like North Korea's feudo-revisionist monarchy, Serbia's chauvinist Milosovic regime in the 1990s, or Iran's oppressive theocracy now.

But we don't live in a uni-polar world where the U.S. is the only imperialist operating. Imperialism is a economic world system -- it has (historically and inevitably) different conflicting centers within it, and minor states have always found themselves pressured to align with one against the other -- in the constant rivalries.

The current Iranian government has (especially since the U.S. occupation of Iraq) come into sharp strategic conflict with the U.S. But that hardly makes them "anti-imperialist" in any sense that matters -- and it certainly doesn't change their acutely reactionary character vis-à-vis their own people.

"There is a media campaign against Iran since 1979 because the Iranian government is anti-imperialist and nationalist."

Mike Ely:
The media campaign against Iran was conducted because the rise of Iran's Islamic republic broke an important strategic alliance that the U.S. had relied on to dominate the Middle East.

The weakening of such alliances, at that time (1979), was part of a rising global crisis within the world system -- as U.S.-Soviet rivalry both polarized international relations and (also, secondarily) gave some smaller states more "room" to play off one power against the other.

That previous "room" was affected by the collapse of the Soviet Union -- and the U.S. believed it has a historic opening to make outrageous and unprecedented demands for unipolar hegemony over the whole world. Some smaller countries found outside that hegemony were dubbed "rogue states" and "the axis of evil" -- but under the surface of Bush's rhetoric, the main challenge to American hegemony has (all along) centered on the emerging strength of capitalist China, the slowly-gathering strategic recovery of Russia, and the long-term strategic interests of Western Europe.

Iran's rhetorical defiance of the U.S. cannot be seen apart from the larger divisions and emerging rivalries within the world imperialist system.

"I would think that the US Congress vote to support Mousavi's demonstrators would be taken as a sufficient certification of what his movement represents."

Mike Ely:
No. You can't look at some paper resolution of the U.S. Congress and deduce (certify) the nature, meaning or essence of complex events and movements. The world is not that simple. And this highlights the ways certain arguments are rooted in a negation of thinking and analysis.

First, The U.S. hopes for "regime change" in Iran -- especially to help consolidate U.S. control in Iraq. And (from that perspective) supports the uprising in Iran. But that does not define that uprising, or determine its character.

Second, you continually equate the upsurge in iran with Mousavi and his program. As if "what his movement represents" defines the demands and potential of a defitant popular uprising. This is a serious misunderstanding. The events the election called into being need not end up serving one side or another within the Iranian establishment (or serving the U.S. imperialists either).

Third, the U.S. has historically supported many movements that undermine governments or rival powers. Not all of them were crude U.S. proxies. (The Nicaragua contras come to mind as an example of paid CIA proxies.)

But this is not always the case that the U.S. only supports forces that are inherently and profoundly pro-U.S. or "pro-imperialist." World War 2, in particular, is full of counter examples. The U.S. supported many movements that opposed Japanese and German imperialism -- and supported them with arms and funds. And many of them turned out to be rather revolutionary -- including Ho Chi Minh's Viet Minh in Vietnam and Mao's communist forces in Yenan. It also included radical nationalist forces in Indonesia and the Philippines. By your method, the simple fact of U.S. support would "certify" that they represent something "pro-imperialist."

Here is the essence of it: Imperialist powers like the U.S. seek to undermine and destabilize government that don't serve their particular strategic interests. That subversive process (which amounts to forms of covert political and economic warfare) often encourages internal political movements of various complextions. And the conflict also often encourages political turmoil among the masses of people -- that can generate openings for all kinds of political expression (including radical, revolutionary expressions).

It is not true that the undermining of the Islamic Republic can only serve U.S. interests. It may very well help drag millions of Iranian people into political life -- and create openings for politics and events that serve none of the existing governments and powers.

"Why would we be "prettifying" the Iranian government by pointing out simple factual information - that the US media anti-Islamic Republic campaign is based on seeking to overturn the gains of the 1979 revolution?"

Mike Ely:
The very idea that there are "gains" of 1979, that the U.S. wants to "overturn" is rather bizarre -- and goes far beyond mere "prettifying."

The revolution of 1979 was a broad, popular revolutionary movement against the brutal U.S. agent, the Shah of Iran. That revolution ended when the Islamist forces came to dominate it. It was crushed by their consolidating theocracy. Progressive, secular, revolutionary and communist forces were persecuted and driven from the political stage by harsh repression.

Though the Iranian Islamists used (and still use) "revolutionary" rhetoric -- they imposed a brutal theocratic state, imposing truly feudal thinking and odious social conditions on the people by fascist means.

What possible "gains" can you be talking about? The veil? The sexual segregation of life? The creation of fundamentalist surveillance networks and vigilante committees that snoop into people's intimacies and thoughts? The harassment of women on the street for not covering enough, or for showing makeup, or for being out alone? The intense restriction of thought and culture -- and the promotion of only the slavishly conformist and submissive cultural expressions? The Koranic law conserning rape, or theft, or thought, or education? The rounding up, torture, humiliation and execution of any progressive or communist they could capture?

"Were we prettifying Saddam Hussein when we opposed the US invasion of Iraq?"

Mike Ely:
Some people did prettify Saddam Hussein -- and still do -- using assumptions, methods and misrepresentations similar to the AQFME piece. The fact is that Saddam Hussein was a creature of imperialism -- one of the U.S. henchmen who, like Noriega, or Diem, was cut loose and targeted when he fell afoul of his original masters.

The burden on us (particularly here in the U.S.) is to oppose, with special focus, moves designed to strengthen and consolidate the most oppressive and powerful empire in world history -- U.S. imperialism. And there is a great deal to be done in regard to war threats (and war justifications) against Iran.

However sharply and firmly opposing the U.S. invasion of Iraq -- and now the real threats against Iran -- does not require the slightest misrepresentation of often-ugly regimes as somehow "progressive" and "anti-imperialist."

It is possible to simply say "we must not support big dogs brutalizing small dogs."

"Ahmadinejad, himself born into rural poverty, clearly has the support of the poorer classes, especially in the countryside, where nearly half the population lives. Why? In part because he pays attention to them, makes sure they receive some benefits from the government and treats them and their religious views and traditions with respect. Mousavi, on the other hand, the son of an urban merchant, clearly appeals more to the urban middle classes, especially the college-educated youth... Why is there so little discussion of the issue of class in this election?... I'm a worker, and a former union organizer. When I watched the videos and viewed the photos of the pro-Mousavi rallies in Tehran and other cities, I didn't feel elated – I felt a chill."

Mike Ely:
There is no reason we should adopt such crude reductionist class politics. Often hangmen and butchers are elevated from among the poor -- while lofty revolutionaries often emerged from among the more educated.

The changes the world needs will not be wrung out of surly revenge populism or a trumpeting of the most backward sentiments among the rural poor. It will come from a fusion of history's most enlightened thinking with the radicalism of a movement truly serving the oppressed.

You write that Ahmadinejad treats "religious views and traditions with respect." Is that what you call a theocracy? "Respect" for the poor?

Here in the U.S., the ugliest Christian fundamentalist forces also play at populist "cultural wars" -- raging against the "elites" of New York, and the supposed anti-biblical arrogance of the college educated. Anti-semitism has always played on a hatred of the rich and cosmopolitan. Similar "respect" for the most backward of America's rural culture would leave women barefoot and pregnant, and Black people facing separate water fountains.

I spent years as a communist organizer in the coalfields of America's rural bible belt and understand well how fundamentalist religion is exploited for sinister purposes. And I feel no "chill" when anti-government actions erupt first among the urban and educated. That's how new politics and movements often erupt.

Perhaps your view of socialist politics requires a kneejerk hostility toward the middle classes, toward college students, or toward bohemians and yuppies. But there is no reason to embrace those prejudices.

"A big issue in …is how to interpret Article 44 of the country's constitution. That article states that the economy must consist of three sectors: state-owned, cooperative and private, and that “all large-scale and mother industries” are to be entirely owned by the state…. In 2004, Article 44 was amended to allow for some privatization. Just how much, and how swiftly that process should proceed, is a fundamental dividing line in Iranian politics. Mousavi has promised to speed up the privatization process. And when he first announced he would run for the presidency, he called for moving away from an “alms-based “ economy (PressTV, 4/13/09), an obvious reference to Ahmadinejad's policies of providing services and benefits to the poor."

Mike Ely:
You see the struggle between state capitalism and privatization as some big dividing line. But capitalism reorganizes itself constantly -- with different trends and fashions emerging to serve the restructuring of the moment.

Ahmadinejad's policies provide some "services and benefits" to the poor? Perhaps. That kind of paternalistic trickledown is a quite common technique for the political stabilization of resource-rich capitalist countries -- certainly Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are good examples. Or Saddam Hussein's Iraq. So what? Does such that make them less reactionary? More anti-capitalist? More defensible? Less odious?

"The whole idea that tossing Ahmadinejad out of office would make it easier to change U.S. policy toward Iran is, in my opinion, very naive."

Mike Ely:
I have not heard anyone put forward this naive argument -- i.e. I suspect it is a straw man.

My personal enthusiasm for the upsurge in Iran is that it carries with it possibilities for the development of a new revolutionary generation there -- which may accomplish much in the future.

Further: The 1980s combination of U.S./CIA support for the Afghanistan fundamentalists killers and the rise of Islamist theocracy in Iran did much to boost reactionary fundamentalist politics over secular leftist politics in major parts of the world. And I believe that the popular discrediting of Iran's Islamic dictatorship will help undermine and reverse that influence of politicized Islam globally -- and help open more openings for more secular and revolutionary popular movements.

And finally, as a basic stand rooted in a whole structure of analysis, I believe we should affirm that it is just when people rebel against reactionaries. And people rising up should not stand alone.

Let history judge...

Dave Riley -- Iran in the crosshairs -- COMMENT

Fortunately John Wright dots many main points in the history post 1979 -=- except that he forgets to mention that a section of the Iranian opposition fought on the side of the Iraqi invading forces during the Iran/Iraq war.

While Bob Morris seems pre-occupied lately on this blog with bagging the far left organisations in the US, I think his POV is substantially correct.

The same sort of argument broke out recently over Zimbabwe and the Mugabe regime internationally

Nonetheless, the obscurantism in play is that the argument gets mixed up with a sort of presumed attitude to Political Islamism and Bob, I’m sure, would want to merge this attitude and rule of thumb to the Iranian government with his take on the government of Palestine in the form of Hamas.

That’s a mistake in my book. We cannot pick the protagonists of history and demand that in each case they fulfil some pre-determined politically correct stereotype. On the same basis, I’m sure Bob would be opposed to the 1789 French revolution on the grounds, like Charles Dickens , of excess…or the North’s savagery during the US Civil War..or the English revolution of the 1600s.

But the world aint so neat and this is especially true of the complications presented by and Iran and while I agree with Bob, John Wright’s argument is more consistently political although he misses the key point that masses of people are mobilising and demanding change.

Bugger me, what a conundrum that is! Masses of people demanding change! (You’ll note in contrast, Bob, how much the Palestinians support Hamas.)

That Chavez is onside with the Iranian government is a complication of world geo politics and the challenge of aggregating the Third World against imperialism. The same has occurred recently over Sri Lanka — and I doubt that Wright will argue that Venezuela is correct there in covering mistakenly for the slaughter. (But hey, thats’ also what this blog has been doing in a sort of liberal mishmash take on Sri Lanka which I so strongly object to. And Bob complains about the far left on Iran!)

Anyway, as Tariq Ali has long argued the Islamist regime in Iran has been on notice for some time and while they should survive this upsurge, their days are now numbered . The people who once organised the largest political upsurge in human history — the 1979 revolution — will again have their day in the sun.

reply to Ely

I suggest you learn more about Iran by reading such books as "In Defense of Iran" by Phil Wilayto, an American Marxist. Your understanding of women's rights, and other social gains of the revolution is pretty lacking. I know American Maoists, in addition to the ISO and the CP, are in the left vanguard attacking Iran, but if you would want to step back and learn more about Iran, his book would be helpful.

Israel was dealt one of its biggest defeats in 2006 in Lebanon. It was statemated by Hezbollah. The main foreign backer of Hezbollah is Iran. But I guess to you that was not any anti-imperialist struggle. Probably you also would consider Cuban miliary aid to the Angola in combatting apartheid South Africa as just part of inter-imperialist rivalries?

Lets take Women's Rights as an Example

Thanks for writing Stan.

You suggest a book to me, as if I am ignorant. Ok. But really that is more of an insult, and not much of an argument.

Why don't you actually elaborate on these so-called "social gains of the revolution." List them. Elaborate on them. If you are seriously suggesting that the theocracy has advanced women's rights -- then back up that claim with at least a sketch of evidence.

You are right in this: I don't believe that Iran's funding of Hezbollah makes them "anti-imperialist" -- any more than the Saudi monarchy's anti-Israeli stance and funding of Hamas makes those vultures "anti-imperialist." Life is simply not so simple or binary.

Iran is entwined with imperialism -- both economically, as a significant capitalist oil producer, and politically, as a state with energetic interactions with western Europe, Russia and China.

But lets start with your boldest assertion -- that women have had "gains" under the Iranian theocracy. School us.

some women's gains from Iranian revolution

You will find this information in "In Defense of Iran" by Phil Wilayto.
In 1970 only 25% of Iranian women could read and write. By 2007 the figure was 80.3%, compared to 88.7% of men.
In 1970, female school enrollment was 60%. By 2000, 90%.
Under the shah, about a third of university students were women. By 2008, 65-70% of university students were women.
Furthermore, public education in Iran is free, up to and including the university level, which is coeducational. (Most public schools after preschool grades are separated by gender.)
Working women in Iran are entitled to 90 days of maternity leave at 2/3rds pay, with the right to return to their previous jobs."

These are excerpts from chapter 4 of his book.

Can people make history or not?

It is precisely at this time that new and old Marxists should acquaint themselves with writings of former masters to grasp the historical method employed to counter the ultra-left opposition that has surfaced to damn the 'so-called' sudden eruption in Iran. Marx's own writings on the western european revolutions of 1848. Lenin's writings on 'Two tactics on social democracy(communism)in the democratic revolution', Russia(1905), and Trotsky's writings on permanent revolution re: the contradictory nature of national revolutionary struggles in the epoch of the death agony of capitalism would help the student understand where we are coming from politically. The above by Mike Ely is a v. important article to counter the false and disarming position demonstrated by the WSWS website in the US.

Theocracy and modernization

We were talking about the Iranian theocracy, and Stan Smith made the bold assertion that there were major gains for women as the result of the rise of the Iranian mullah state.

At my urging, he was willing to present his evidence, which appears in this thread. The heart of it is this:

"In 1970 only 25% of Iranian women could read and write. By 2007 the figure was 80.3%, compared to 88.7% of men. In 1970, female school enrollment was 60%. By 2000, 90%. Under the shah, about a third of university students were women. By 2008, 65-70% of university students were women."

First of all, to even talk about gains for women under the theocracy requires a blind eye to the intense suppression and social inequality enforced by the mullahs. The details are widely available, but it includes intense sexual segregation, the reservation of leading posts for men, severe restrictions on what women can do in public, roaming bands of vigilantes who confront and threaten women who don't conform to extreme norms (covering, no makeup, no hair showing, no shape showing etc.), and much more.

The fact that Stan chose not to discuss these larger social issues at all (abortion? sexuality? extreme punishment for so-called "adultery," association of virginity with family "honor") , is (to put it mildly) to step over the actual issues around women to reach for a subsidiary point.

Let's just assume that the statistics Stan gives here are good approximations of education and literacy trends.

Such changes in the literacy of women are not (fundamentally) "gains of the islamic revolution" -- they are common across many countries around the world over these last thirty years, and have to do with general changes in the economy. (In the world as a whole, more than fifty percent of the people now live in cities, a huge change over thirty years.)

Iran has been modernizing (in the sense of urbanizing, developing a more technological workforce, needing a more literate population.) But this has been ongoing since WorldWar 2 (not merely 1979), and is rooted in its oil economy, and funded by the wealth of that oil economy, and driven by the needs of modern production.

Let me put it like this: all of these trends Stan mentions (expanded education, entrance of women into universities etc.) started under the Shah of Iran (who was a vicious tyrant and servant of the U.S.).

And in fact precisely some of those social changes under the shah (in regard to women, and undermining "traditional" sex roles) were spurs to the rise of the outraged Islamist forces. Then under the mullahs, the imperatives of the developing economy again pushed forward these same trends.

Now if Stan wants to claim these things are "gains of 1979" -- perhaps we should apply his method and call them "gains for women thanks to the Shah and then the mullahs" -- and we can find ourselves praising all the reactionary rulers for the economic modernizations that has happened in major oil producing countries. (And when we are done, perhaps we should similarly document the rise of female literacy in Saudi Arabia over the same period. Should we call it "Gains of Wahabism in the land of Mecca and Medina" or just "gains under the House of Saud"?

Stan pointed to changes in the education of women that has been compelled by the development of the capitalist economy (here as elsewhere)-- but which has developed in sharp opposition to the teachings and mores of the Islamic Revolution.

The accompanyments of women working (and reading!) and earning money have (everywhere) been movements that demand equality and women's liberation in other realms. And in several important ways, the current upsurge has been fueled precisely by the rise of large urban and educated groups. And the theocracy finds itself in such sharp opposition to precisely those groups (including precisely so many women) because of the sharp conflict between women's changing status in the economy and the medieval norms that the theocracy arrived to reimpose.

A question to the left on Iran: Can the people make history or n

Mike Ely, Thank you, Thank you.
From an Iranian living in USA ( in exile ). I am so totally frustrated by the " left" in this country. your respond is very insightful. unfortunately, over years I have come to this believe that these " lefts" get financial aid from the regime of Iran. i can not find any other reason as to why they are so bluntly denounce the movement in iran, not just now but in the past many years.
thank you for you article. i translated to Farsi.

Can people make history or not?

Thank you Mike Ely
I get frustrated reading wsws analysis of the uprising in Iran. Thanks for your great article.
we will win

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