The post-election crisis in Iran has prompted individuals and groups on the left to reduce it to an imperialist plot to foment a “color” or “velvet” revolution. In doing so, they are following the lead of Ali Khamenei, the country’s most powerful leader and a man who has never run in an election himself. In a speech delivered to the country last Friday, Khamenei said:
The amateurish behavior of some people inside the country made them (the West) greedy. They have mistaken Iran with Georgia.
A Zionist-American millionaire claimed that he spent $10 million to change the regime in Georgia through a velvet revolution. [What exactly is a Zionist-American, btw? Is that an ethnic category or what?]This claim was published in the papers. Those fools thought the Islamic Republic is like Georgia. To which countries do you compare Iran to? The enemy’s problem is that they do not yet understand the Iranian nation.
As might be expected given its Manichean brand of Marxism that divides the world between the “imperialist” and “anti-imperialist” camps, the Workers World Party stood firmly behind Ahmadinejad. After denying that fraud took place, they made the elections sound like a referendum on the world revolution:
Ahmadinejad is closely identified with militant support for the mass-based resistance movements in Palestine and Lebanon, and also with the determined public defense of Iran’s nuclear power program. With a high vote for him, the Iranians thumb their noses at the imperialists. This also explains the strong hostility from the U.S. ruling class.
In Iran, the reelected president is also considered a populist who will fight for economic concessions to Iran’s poor—which explains his strong popularity outside the middle-class and wealthy districts.
James Petras, a retired Marxist professor who generally comments on the Latin American scene, offered his thoughts along the same lines as the WWP:
The demography of voting reveals a real class polarization pitting high income, free market oriented, capitalist individualists against working class, low income, community based supporters of a ‘moral economy’ in which usury and profiteering are limited by religious precepts. The open attacks by opposition economists of the government welfare spending, easy credit and heavy subsidies of basic food staples did little to ingratiate them with the majority of Iranians benefiting from those programs. The state was seen as the protector and benefactor of the poor workers against the ‘market’, which represented wealth, power, privilege and corruption. The Opposition’s attack on the regime’s ‘intransigent’ foreign policy and positions ‘alienating’ the West only resonated with the liberal university students and import-export business groups. To many Iranians, the regime’s military buildup was seen as having prevented a US or Israeli attack.
The scale of the opposition’s electoral deficit should tell us is how out of touch it is with its own people’s vital concerns. It should remind them that by moving closer to Western opinion, they removed themselves from the everyday interests of security, housing, jobs and subsidized food prices that make life tolerable for those living below the middle class and outside the privileged gates of Tehran University.
Blogger Steve Weissman focused on the role of George Soros wannabe Peter Ackerman in funding and organizing a counter-revolutionary student movement similar to the one that exists in Venezuela:
A Wall Street whiz kid who made his fortune in leveraged buy-outs, the billionaire Ackerman was — and is — chair of Freedom House, a hotbed of neo-con support for American intervention just about everywhere. In this pursuit, he has promoted the use of nonviolent civil disobedience in American-backed “color revolutions” from Serbia to the Ukraine, Georgia, and Venezuela, where it failed.
Ahmadi teaches medicine at Yale and co-founded the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, using initial grants of $1.6 million in 2004 from the U.S. Department of State, according to The New York Times. Washington reportedly continued its open-handed support in succeeding years, allowing the center to publicize the abuses of the Ayatollahs in English and Farsi.
Ahmadi and the center also ran regular workshops for Iranians on nonviolent civil disobedience. These were in Dubai, across the straits from Iran. Some of the sessions operated under the name Iranian Center for Applied Nonviolence and included a session on popular revolts around the world, especially the “color revolutions.”
Although Counterpunch started off printing articles that took the side of the protestors, it is now pretty much in the Manichean camp led by Paul Craig Roberts, their expert commentator on economics and Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under Reagan. Here’s from his latest offering:
The unexamined question is Mousavi and his motives. Why would Mousavi unleash demonstrations that are obviously being used by a hostile West to discredit the government of the Iranian Revolution that overthrew the US puppet government? Are these the actions of a “moderate”? Or are these the actions of a disgruntled man who kept his disaffection from his colleagues in order to gain the opportunity to discredit the regime with street protests? Is Mousavi being manipulated by organizations funded with US government money?
Of course, this methodology of dividing the world between two opposing camps is nothing new. The CP’s perfected it in the 1930s, labeling Trotsky’s criticisms of the Soviet Government as giving aid and comfort to the Nazis. Here’s what comrade Stalin had to say in a 1937 plenum report felicitously titled “Defects in Party Work and Measures for Liquidating Trotskyite and Other Double Dealers”:
At the trial in 1937, Piatakov, Radek, and Sokolnikov took a different course. They did not deny that the Trotskyists and Zinovievists had a political platform. They admitted they had a definite political platform, admitted it and unfolded in their testimony. But they unfolded it not in order to rally the working class, to rally the people to support the Trotskyist platform, but rather to damn it and brand it as an anti-people and anti-proletarian platform. The restoration of capitalism, the liquidation of the collective farms and state-farms, the re-establishment of a system of exploitation, alliance with the Fascist forces of Germany and Japan to bring nearer a war with the Soviet Union, a struggle for war and against the policy of peace, the territorial dismemberment of the Soviet Union with the Ukraine to the Germans and the Maritime Province to the Japanese, the scheming for the military defeat of the Soviet Union in the event of an attack on it by hostile states and, as a means for achieving these aims: wrecking, diversionism, industrial terror against the leaders of Soviet power, espionage on behalf of Japano-German Fascist forces-such was the political platform of present-day Trotskyism as unfolded by Piatakov, Radek, and Sokolnikov.
Speaking of Trotsky, he had to deal with Manichean tendencies in his own international movement. In an article titled “Learn to Think” that deserves to be read or reread by everybody trying to make sense of Iran, Trotsky wrote:
In ninety cases out of a hundred the workers actually place a minus sign where the bourgeoisie places a plus sign. In ten cases however they are forced to fix the same sign as the bourgeoisie but with their own seal, in which is expressed their mistrust of the bourgeoisie. The policy of the proletariat is not at all automatically derived from the policy of the bourgeoisie, bearing only the opposite sign – this would make every sectarian a master strategist; no, the revolutionary party must each time orient itself independently in the internal as well as the external situation, arriving at those decisions which correspond best to the interests of the proletariat. This rule applies just as much to the war period as to the period of peace.
Whatever Mousavi’s intentions, there is no question that the students in Tehran have their own agenda in this battle which is to extend democratic rights. Just about 10 years ago another confrontation broke out over the banning of a reformist newspaper:
BLOODY clashes erupted in Tehran yesterday for the third consecutive day between pro-democracy students and Islamic extremists, raising fears that a long-expected national crisis is under way in Iran.
At least 10,000 students crossed the line from suppressed anger to open defiance, staging a pro-democracy sit-in at Tehran University, in the heart of the Iranian capital. In the largest protest since the 1979 Islamic revolution, the students demanded the resignation of the country’s parliament and vowed not to end their struggle until President Mohammed Khatami took complete control of the country.
The demonstration was the largest in three days of unrest which began on Thursday evening when hardline vigilantes attacked a much smaller protest across town at the university dormitories.
About 500 students demonstrated against parliament’s approval of a new press law on Wednesday which severely restricts freedom of expression, and a court order banning the leading moderate Salam newspaper, which gives its backing to Khatami.
–Observer, July 11, 1999
Just as is the case today, cops, militias and vigilantes attacked the students without mercy and prompted larger protests as the NY Times reported a day later:
In a new sign of militancy, at least 15,000 Iranian students took to the streets of Teheran today in what has become a protest against a divided Government whose security forces remain in conservative hands.
Witnesses said it was the angriest protest since the Iranian revolution of two decades ago, and it presented the most formidable test yet of President Mohammad Khatami, the moderate leader who holds broad popular support but has yet to consolidate control over a fractured political structure.
At its surface, the demonstration was merely the outgrowth of several days of anger over the storming on Thursday night of a university dormitory by security forces and conservative vigilantes. But it also reflected a deep discontent over the fact that Mr. Khatami’s popularly elected Government remains, in large part, in others’ hands.
The protesters aborted an early plan to march to the city center. But after three days of mounting anger, they left no doubt they were dissatisfied with an announcement by Mr. Khatami’s Government that it would dismiss the officers who had ordered the raid, Iran’s police chief, Brig. Gen. Hedayat Lotfian, and his deputy, who was not named.
“We are not going to be satisfied until people at the top resign,” one student leader said. “Khatami has to do something or resign.”
The protesters said students had been killed by the police and the vigilantes during the demonstrations, and had demanded the dismissal of General Lotfian, who reports not to Mr. Khatami but to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the cleric who is Iran’s supreme leader.
“Either Islam and the law, or another revolution,” the marchers chanted today, in a reference to the 1979 revolution that toppled the Shah, Mohammed Riza Pahlevi.
And also just as is the case today, the students were not willing to subordinate themselves to the reformists. They told the Times that unless Khatami did something about the brutal cops who answered only to Khamenei and not to elected officials such as him, they would insist that he resign. Khatami understandably took umbrage at the students’ demand that he stand up to unaccountable police power and soon found himself on a collision path with them:
Hardline vigilantes backed by secret police opened fire on the pro-democracy demonstrators who were rampaging through Tehran yesterday in the worst street violence since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
It was the first time in six days of protests that law enforcement agents had turned their semi-automatic rifles on the unarmed students.
Last night, the reformist president of Iran, Mohammed Khatami elected in 1997 with the support of students, women and Islamic intellectuals turned his back on the protesters, saying that their actions threatened his reformist policies.
‘I am sure that these people have evil aims,’ he said. ‘They intend to foster violence in society, and we shall stand in their way we take the security of our country and our citizens very seriously.’
–Guardian, July 14, 1999
On the very same day the NY Times reported that the same grievances that exist today, according to some commentators, existed 10 years ago:
Mr. Khatami’s clear statement of disapproval for the demonstrations is likely to disappoint many ordinary Iranians, from housemaids to retirees, who saw both the demonstrations and even the crackdown as the beginning of a process of change, even a change in the regime.
“Iranian people are not necessarily logical,” said one engineer. “They are very emotional. They want an end to everything that they think has been a source of misery for them. It doesn’t matter to them at what cost, or whether it’s going to be followed by something much worse”
On the streets today, that emotional side was on display.
“I pray that we get rid of the savages who beat our children,” said one middle-aged woman as she watched baton-wielding men on motorcycles chase pro-democracy demonstrators. “Savages, hooligans, that’s what they are.”
She also said she had seen a dozen vigilantes beat two women with clubs outside the university late Monday night.
Another bystander said he had seen vigilantes attack a small group of young men who were chanting, “Khatami, we support you!” The demonstrators were badly beaten with long batons, the bystander said, and another man who was walking by was beaten as well.
“I just want to get rid of the filthy regime,” the man said. “Anything would be better than these clerics, even the worst criminals.”
The level of criticism underscores a deep frustration. Iran suffers from an economy in crisis, high inflation and unemployment, low investor confidence and the lack of many freedoms.
Sixty-five percent of the people are under 25, and they know little of the revolution and the sacrifices of Iran’s eight-year war with Iraq. But many of them do know the Internet and can watch American television beamed in by satellite. They want jobs and freedom.
“People are miserable! The clerics are acting like gods!” was one of the slogans of the day.
And like today, the supreme and unelected leader, understood the conflict in the same terms as the WWP, James Petras et al, as the Times article continued:
Radio and television repeatedly broadcast a speech delivered on Monday by Ayatollah Khamenei in which he blamed the demonstrations on unnamed “enemies,” particularly the United States.
The Government, which can send hundreds of thousands of people into the streets when it chooses, is expected to mobilize masses of diehard Islamic revolutionaries on Wednesday to proclaim their allegiance to the Islamic republic and condemn its enemies.
After 10 years of this sort of haughty, above-the-law behavior by an unelected Supreme Council, no wonder the students are risking life and limb once again.
One of the main problems facing the pro-Ahmadinejad left is its failure to adequately theorize the problem of democratic rights and which proceeds along these lines: If Peter Ackerman is funding “pro-democracy” activists in Iran and Venezuela, how can we dare attack Iran for closing down newspapers or beating demonstrators? We don’t want to end up on the same side of the barricades as Tom Friedman, do we?
For so much of the left which calls for the need for a vanguard party—in our circles the equivalent of mom, apple pie and the American flag—there is apparently some unfamiliarity with the importance of such demands for V.I. Lenin, especially in the text that some treat as holy writ—namely “What is to be Done”.
Why is there not a single political event in Germany that does not add to the authority and prestige of the Social-Democracy? Because Social-Democracy is always found to be in advance of all the others in furnishing the most revolutionary appraisal of every given event and in championing every protest against tyranny…It intervenes in every sphere and in every question of social and political life; in the matter of Wilhelm’s refusal to endorse a bourgeois progressive as city mayor (our Economists have not managed to educate the Germans to the understanding that such an act is, in fact, a compromise with liberalism!); in the matter of the law against ‘obscene’ publications and pictures; in the matter of governmental influence on the election of professors, etc., etc. Everywhere the Social-Democrats are found in the forefront, rousing political discontent among all classes, rousing the sluggards, stimulating the laggards, and providing a wealth of material for the development of the political consciousness and the political activity of the proletariat. [emphasis added]
I rather like this V.I. Lenin, whose chief concerns seem so diametrically opposed to the Marxist partisans of Ahmadinejad whose sole litmus test consists of the amount of calories an Iranian family enjoys each day. I would not be one to diminish such a criterion, but Lenin’s attention to matters such as laws against “obscene” publications and art, and governmental influence on the election of professors would likely cause him to retch at the material now circulating in defense of Ahmadinejad.
Finally, a word should be said about Kaiser Wilhelm II, whose feet the Social Democrats were holding to the fire. Despite his authoritarianism, he had a record on “bread and butter” issues that would have put the Iranian clerical populists to shame.
It should not be forgotten that his father Kaiser Wilhelm I and his Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck were responsible for some of the most advanced “pro-working class” legislation in European history. They pushed through the first Health Insurance Bill that covered 2 out of 3 workers, and followed up with a far-reaching Accident Insurance Bill in 1884 and an Old Age and Disability Insurance Bill in 1889. So the Kaisers were no pikers when it came to the “everyday interests of security, housing, jobs” that James Petras referred to.
I should add that German Marxists, including Karl Marx himself, had a battle on their hands trying to draw distinctions between the class they oriented to and that which Kaiser Wilhelm I oriented to. In “Critique of the Gotha Programme”, Marx did ideological battle with Ferdinand Lassalle, a “socialist” who also served as an informal adviser to Kaiser Wilhelm. I suppose that in consideration of this ancient history, we can only conclude that Marxism is forced to keep refighting old battles over and over again like in the movie “Groundhog Day”. Of course, Bill Murray finally figures out how to move forward and the movie ends on a high note. Let’s hope that we can achieve a similar success in our own terrain for the future of humanity depends on it.