Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 4, 2014

Particle Fever; The Iran Job

Filed under: Film,Iran,sports — louisproyect @ 8:43 pm

“Particle Fever” would be compelling enough in its own right as a you-are-there documentary that follows the leading scientists of the Large Hadron Collider project as they move inexorably toward the experiments that will reveal whether the Higgs Boson (the God particle) exists or not. But when you factor in that the film was produced and directed by nuclear physicists with uncanny filmmaking abilities, including a knack for including graphics and animation that makes the most fearsomely abstract things concrete, you are in for a rare film-going experience, as exciting in its own way as the class trip I took to the Hayden Planetarium when I was in junior high school.

A hadron is a composite of subatomic particles (quarks) that have mostly been identified, except for the one that is at the hub: the boson. It is commonly referred to as the Higgs boson, after the British physicist who theorized its existence back in 1964. Don’t ask me to try to explain this (as if I could) but the boson is viewed as the critical sine qua non for the creation of the universe. As the film barrels along at an exciting pace, we learn that if the experiment fails to prove its existence, some physicists will conclude that reality consists of multiple universes each with its own set of discrete laws of physics. While that sounds like a good plot for a Star Trek episode, some of the physicists interviewed in the film—including uber-physicist Nima Arkani-Hamed, who is a multi-universe adherent, fear that it will make the task of a unified theory of matter impossible.

The film explains that there are two kinds of physicists, theoretical and experimental. Both came together to make the Hadron Collision work. The collider itself is one of the greatest engineering feats of modern history, consisting of a seventeen mile magnetized tunnel in a seven-story building beneath the ground in Switzerland that is designed to hurl subatomic particles through the tunnel in opposite directions like greyhounds on performance enhancing drugs until a switch is turned on to make them collide in four separate locations in the tunnel to be examined by high-powered computers networked around the world.

The film consists largely of physicists at work either in the US or in Switzerland putting the finishing touches on the eagerly awaited experiments and explaining to laypeople like us in the movie theater what it is they are trying to accomplish. Their sense of excitement is infectious, especially so from Monica Dunford, a startlingly young woman who works on the experimental side. You see her with a hardhat on her head tightening bolts and connecting wires on the mammoth collider in the final stages before countdown. When she is not at work, she is off running marathons or mountain climbing. Leave your stereotypes of nerds at the door. All of the principals are exceedingly well adjusted and don’t take themselves too seriously.

One of the key interviewees is David Kaplan, a 56-year-old theoretical physicist who held research positions at the U. of Chicago and Stanford’s Linear Accelerator Center. He looks about 30 years younger and wears his hair in a ponytail. He is also the producer of the film.

The director is Mark Levinson who has a PhD in particle physics from U. Cal Berkeley. He was the producer/director/writer of a narrative film titled “Prisoner of Time”, about the lives of dissident artists after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

As compelling as the interviews are, the film reaches an even higher level with the graphics and animation developed by MK12, a studio that did the FX for “Stranger than Fiction”, a comedy starring Will Farrell. Their talents are served better here.

When asked how he made the transition from particle physics to filmmaking, Levinson replied in a way that reminds us of how inadequate CP Snow’s notion of “Two Cultures” was:

The transition actually seemed remarkably straightforward to me. What entranced me about physics was the profound beauty and elegance of the theories, and the magic and mystery in the fact that abstract symbols encoded deep truths about the universe. I made the transition to film when I recognized an alternate avenue for exploring the world around us, in the human dimension, that also seemed mysterious and magical. For many years, I harbored the hope that I could find some project that could weave together the two seemingly disparate strands of my life. The start-up of the Large Hadron Collider provided the perfect combination of both a profound scientific and human endeavor. One of the characters in Particle Fever speculates, “Why do we do science? Why do we do art? It is the things that are not directly necessary for survival that make us human.”

“Particle Fever” opens tomorrow at the Film Forum in New York.

Like “Particle Fever”, “The Iran Job” benefits from an appealing protagonist—in this case a 28-year-old journeyman (as he frankly describes himself) basketball player from the Virgin Islands named Kevin Sheppard who was not good enough to make to the NBA but good enough to work professionally overseas, including Iran.

He has signed a contract to play for Shiraz AS for one year on a tryout basis. If he produces results, they will renew his contract. Since American basketball players are so highly regarded, they will pay him double the going rate. He and a 7-foot Serbian named Zoran “Z” Milicic, hired to play center, are the maximum number of foreign players allowed on Iranian professional basketball teams.

The style of “The Iran Job” is almost DIY and consists mostly of the filmmakers following Sheppard around as he practices, leads the team as a point guard as they advance their way toward the playoffs, and develops a friendship with three young Iranian women who chafe at the restrictions put on them by a paternalistic clerical state. When they are sitting around Sheppard’s apartment making small talk and teasing each other, the women have to go to the bathroom and hide whenever there is a knock on the door since they might be arrested for un-Islamic behavior. When they drive around with him, they risk getting busted by the morality police who have the power to investigate whether they are up to no good. They also had to put up with a temporary ban on women attending sporting events. No wonder the three women became activists in the Green Movement.

Throughout it all, Sheppard remains an extremely likable and self-effacing character, exchanging high fives with a merchant who says he likes Black people and used to smoke pot when he lived in the US. Without being prompted, the merchant breaks into “’Everythings Gonna Be Alright”—a Bob Marley song.

The film is an eloquent statement about the need to stop demonizing Iranians and to finally put an end to a system that is as restrictive toward women in its way as foot binding. During one of their bull sessions, one of the women insists that Islam has nothing to do with keeping women in their place. It is a clerical dictatorship speaking in the name of Islam that is at fault.

As an indication of what a gifted filmmaker is capable of, director Till Schauder (his wife Sara Nodjoumi, an Iranian-American, produced) told Indiewire how he filmed under obviously difficult conditions:

Journalist visas were denied so we had to shoot under the radar. We decided it was safer for me to go on my own, entering as a German tourist. I packed an HDV camera – small enough for an unassuming backpack. If I got into trouble I could say I’m just a tourist filming the sites. I used that line a few times until (before the presidential election) I was detained. Shooting like this was challenging. I didn’t have the best equipment, nor a crew. But it was a blessing in disguise, and crucial for building trust and intimacy with the film’s subjects.

It is so interesting that someone who has something to say can be ten times as interesting using a camera that probably cost less than one minutes worth of production on some of the offal that earned prizes on Sunday night at the Academy Awards.

“The Iran Job” is available from http://www.filmmovement.com, the Netflix for the cognoscenti.

December 22, 2013

The Past; Wadjda

Filed under: Film,Iran,Islam,middle east — louisproyect @ 6:45 pm

In many ways, the biggest impacts made by Iran and Saudi Arabia this year were not on the battlefield or at the diplomatic roundtable but in film. “The Past”, made by Asghar Farhadi, was Iran’s official selection for the 86th Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. I always have had problems with the designation “foreign” when it comes to film since it smacks of Hollywood corporate narcissism, more so in this instance since I nominated “The Past” for the N.Y. Film Critics Online best picture of 2013. Period. “Wadjda” was the first film ever directed by Haifaa al Mansour, who grew up in a small town in Saudi Arabia and now lives in Bahrain. The film depicts the struggle of an 11-year-old Saudi girl to own a bicycle in violation of patriarchal religious norms. It is a tale reminiscent of “Offside”, the 2006 Iranian film about young women trying to sneak into a football stadium to watch a World Cup qualifying match. Ironically, despite all the bitter rivalries over whether Sunni or Shias represent Muslim orthodoxy, the two authoritarian states have much in common when it comes to women’s rights or the lack thereof.

Let me make a bold statement. On the basis of only two films, the 2011 “A Separation”, and “The Past” that opened at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema on Friday, I would regard Asghar Farhadi as the finest film director today. “A Separation” won an Oscar for the best foreign film of the year in 2011, and like “The Past” was the best film period. Unlike another brilliant Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who directed “Offside” and was arrested for opposing the government in 2009, Farhadi’s films are much more personal and less likely to give offense to the authorities. That being said, he is still very much a political filmmaker even if his message is more subtle. “A Separation” dramatized the class and cultural differences between a middle-class, secular-minded family and the pious housekeeper they hire.

Set entirely in Paris, “The Past” is even less about Iranian society. While focused on domestic conflicts like “A Separation”, it is still a politically engaged film. This is one instance where I would not dream of giving away a surprise ending but suffice it to say that the film is very much about the experience of the “foreigner” in a racist society.

In the opening scene, Marie (Berenice Bejo) is picking up her estranged husband Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) at the airport, where he has just arrived from Tehran. Separated from her for some time, he has come to Paris to sign some papers for their divorce and to appear in court with her to finalize matters.

Despite the obvious tension that still exists, she convinces him to stay at her house instead of a hotel. Upon arriving there, he is puzzled by the hostility of Fouad (Elyes Aguis), the 8-year-old son of Samir (Tahar Rahim), the man she plans to marry. Marie’s daughter Lea, who is the same age as Fouad, is happy to see her dad. Another daughter Lucie (Pauline Burlet), a product of another marriage prior to the one with Ahmad, is in her late teens and just as troubled as Fouad in her own way. Marie alludes to the problems she is having with Lucie that become clearer as the film unfolds.

Within a half hour of Ahmad’s arrival, Fouad throws a violent temper tantrum and locks himself in his room. He cries out that he wants to go back to his dad’s apartment. (Samir has only partially moved in with Marie.) As is the case with “A Separation”, this is a family setting all sorts of records for dysfunctionality and a reminder of Tolstoy’s epigraph to “Anna Karenina”: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Eventually we learn of the source of the disquiet. Samir’s wife lies in a coma, the victim of a failed suicide attempt after discovering that he has been having an affair with Marie. Like a late 19th century Gothic tale updated for the current epoch, “The Past” is a drama about the most evil spirits imaginable—those summoned up by our own psyche.

While this is a film that is remarkable on all accounts, it was a stroke of genius for Asghar Farhadi to make a highly melodramatic story about the lives of ordinary people. Marie is a pharmacist and Samir is a dry cleaner, just the sort of people you meet everyday when you are out shopping. As any smart writer understands ever since the beginning of the 20th century, the best tragedy comes out of the lives of ordinary people, not kings and queens. When Ali Mosaffa was asked in a press notes interview whether the film was a French or an Iranian story, his answer was very much on point: “I think the strength of the script is that it’s neither French nor Iranian. It’s a human story.”

Like “The Past”, “Wajda” is about ordinary people. Wajda is a 10-year-old girl who lives in the suburbs of Riyadh with her mother, who is trying to convince her husband not to take a second wife.

Wadjda is the quintessential “tomboy”, the sort of girl I went to elementary school with and found much more interesting than those preoccupied with Barbie dolls. Wadjda wears high-top sneakers that look like Converses and enjoys listening to pop music cassettes. All in all, she will remind you very much of Marjane Satrapi, the spunky Iranian girl who turned her battles with the clerics into the comic book “Persepolis”.

Wadjda wants more than anything to ride a bike. I know what it feels like for a 10-year-old to be determined to own a bike. When I was exactly that age, I threw such a tantrum that my parents drove through a hurricane to go to a Sears 25 miles from our home to pick me up a Huffy two-wheeler. In Wadjda’s case, the adversary is not a storm but the backward authorities that consider bikes for boys only. In essence, Wadjda’s lonely and stubborn battle is the same as women two and three times her age fighting for the right to drive a car in Saudi Arabia.

It is also, unsurprisingly, the same sort of challenge that the director faced as a woman making a movie in Saudi Arabia, where there is not a single movie theater because of Wahhabist backwardness.

Every step was difficult and it was quite an adventure. I occasionally had to run and hide in the production van in some of the more conservative areas where people would have disapproved of a woman director mixing professionally with all the men on set. Sometimes I tried to direct via walkie-talkie from the van, but I always got frustrated and came out to do it in person. We had a few instances of people voicing their displeasure with what we were doing, but nothing too disruptive. We had all of the proper permits and permissions so overall it went relatively smoothly.

“Wadjda” played at various theaters in the middle of 2013. Look for it soon on Netflix or Amazon streaming.

November 26, 2013

Crystal-ball gazing ain’t what it used to be

Filed under: Iran,Syria — louisproyect @ 3:41 pm

Eric Draitser: no Nostradamus

Eric Draitser, “The war on Iran begins…in Syria”, August 28, 2013

In the decades since the revolution of 1979 which created the modern Islamic Republic of Iran, the US policy toward that country has been antagonistic and belligerent to such a degree that Iran has been forced, out of sheer necessity, to rely very heavily on its few regional and international allies. And so, given the political posture of Bashar Assad, like that of his father before him, Damascus has been viewed as Iran’s key political partner, providing Iran with a crucial ally along the border with Israel and a bridge to the Hezbollah organization in Southern Lebanon. Additionally, a multi-ethnic society like Syria with a dominant Shiite-Alawite demographic presents itself as a natural friend to Shiite Iran. However, the importance of this relationship does not stop at mere similarities.

When one looks at the players involved in the war in Syria, it becomes clear that the Sunni monarchies – Saudi Arabia and Qatar primarily – have committed to the war in order to ensure their own continued hegemony, especially in terms of energy production. Qatar, being one of the world’s wealthiest gas exporters, views the growing relationship between Iran and Syria, especially the gas pipeline deal, as an existential threat to their own standing. The Saudis, long since mortal enemies and rivals of the Shia Iranians, also have come to view Syria as merely a battleground in the larger proxy war with Iran.

And then of course, there’s Israel. Perched comfortably on Syria’s border, Israel has played a key role in stoking tensions and fomenting unrest on the other side of the Golan Heights. Not only did Israel carry out a number of blatantly illegal bombings inside Syria’s borders, there have been dozens of mainstream accounts, including videos, of Israeli Special forces commandos inside of Syria. Naturally, Israeli intentions are to further their own interests which for decades have been centered on the destruction of Iran, their main regional competitor and rival.

 * * * *

NY Times November 25, 2013

U.S. and Saudis in Growing Rift as Power Shifts

By ROBERT F. WORTH

WASHINGTON — There was a time when Saudi and American interests in the Middle East seemed so aligned that the cigar-smoking former Saudi ambassador, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, was viewed as one of the most influential diplomats in Washington.

Those days are over. The Saudi king and his envoys — like the Israelis — have spent weeks lobbying fruitlessly against the interim nuclear accord with Iran that was reached in Geneva on Sunday. In the end, there was little they could do: The Obama administration saw the nuclear talks in a fundamentally different light from the Saudis, who fear that any letup in the sanctions will come at the cost of a wider and more dangerous Iranian role in the Middle East.

Although the Saudis remain close American allies, the nuclear accord is the culmination of a slow mutual disenchantment that began at the end of the Cold War.

For decades, Washington depended on Saudi Arabia — a country of 30 million people but the Middle East’s largest reserves of oil — to shore up stability in a region dominated by autocrats and hostile to another ally, Israel. The Saudis used their role as the dominant power in OPEC to help rein in Iraq and Iran, and they supported bases for the American military, anchoring American influence in the Middle East and beyond.

But the Arab uprisings altered the balance of power across the Middle East, especially with the ouster of the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, a close ally of both the Saudis and the Americans.

The United States has also been reluctant to take sides in the worsening sectarian strife between Shiite and Sunni, in which the Saudis are firm partisans on the Sunni side.

At the same time, new sources of oil have made the Saudis less essential. And the Obama administration’s recent diplomatic initiatives on Syria and Iran have left the Saudis with a deep fear of abandonment.

Full: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/26/world/middleeast/us-and-saudis-in-growing-rift-as-power-shifts.html

October 26, 2013

Documenting the Egyptian and Iranian revolutions

Filed under: Egypt,Film,Iran — louisproyect @ 9:04 pm

If John Reed had been equipped with a digital camera rather than a typewriter in Mexico in 1913 or Russia in 1917, I doubt that he could have produced a film that surpasses “The Square” that opened yesterday at the Film Forum in New York (it arrives in three different locations in California on November 1.)  Directed by Jehane Noujaim, a 39-year-old Egyptian-American whose best known previous credit was the al-Jazeera documentary “The Control Room”, was on location in Egypt from the inception of the Tahrir Square occupation to the overthrow of Morsi. Not only was she on location, she appeared to be in the middle of the most decisive events, at times involving triumph and other times defeat. And even more decisively, she extracts the maximum drama and visual impact out of each moment, making her arguably one of the finest documentary filmmakers on the scene today.

The film “stars” a group of Egyptians who were on the front lines of the revolution, including a young man named Ahmed Hassan who narrowly escaped with his life in a skirmish with the Egyptian military. When he was 8 years old, he was selling lemons on the street. His hope is only that Egyptians can live in a society where there are democratic rights, opportunity for all, and free from corruption. Throughout the film he voices both his elation at feeling that moment might be arriving and despair at realizing that it might be some time in arriving.

His old friend Magdy is a bearded Muslim Brotherhood member who defies the instructions of his leaders to take part in Tahrir Square protests. He has earned credibility with Ahmed for withstanding torture over the years in pursuit of what he perceived as a better Egypt under Islamic rule even though Ahmed has little interest in a Muslim state. His vision is one of an Egypt in which Muslim, Christian, and nonbeliever can stand together in pursuit of the common good.

The film includes a couple of notables, who despite their celebrity take risks equal to Ahmed and Magdy. One is Khalid Abdalla, the Egyptian-British actor who starred in “The Kite Runner”. He is seen in Skype conversations with his father who has been a long-standing opponent of the Mubarak dictatorship. We also meet Ramy Essam, the singer who is the unofficial voice of the revolution. After the overthrow of Mubarak, he is picked up by the cops and tortured in the Egyptian museum—a site that is the nation’s counterpart to the notorious soccer stadium in Chile where Victor Jara was murdered.

Among the courageous women profiled in the film is Aida El Kashef, the young filmmaker who is friends with Ramy Essam and who used her camera to expose the brutality and lies of the dictatorship.

The film consists of three acts:

–The overthrow of Mubarak

–The rise to power of the Muslim Brotherhood

–The growing disenchantment with the Brotherhood and the military coup that exploited those feelings.

Like a Shakespearean play, the characters are constantly in dialog weighing their decisions on the street corner or in living rooms. There is tension throughout since the stakes are so high. When the Muslim Brotherhood assumes power, Ahmed lashes into Magdy who has little in the way of a defense of a constitution that gives Morsi more power than Mubarak ever had. But when the army topples Morsi, Ahmed rushes to Tahrir Square to close ranks with the Muslim Brothers.

The film also includes a couple of military figures who are hoisted on their own petard as they reveal to Jehane Noujaim how little they believe in democracy even as their top officers are announcing on Egyptian television that they are with the protesters.

In the final paragraph of the synopsis found in the press notes, we encounter a statement that not only serves as a compass for the directions of a successful Egyptian revolution but one that should be carefully noted by the Western left so frequently demoralized by its own failure to achieve a swift and decisive victory:

Our goal for audiences is to experience the evolution of a revolution in the 21st century and understand what these activists are trying to say: civil rights and freedoms are never given away, they are fought for. Historically, this has always been the case, from the Civil Rights movement to the fight against Apartheid.  But how does this fight begin and sustain itself and ultimately become successful? This film shows that true change in a society does not begin with a majority, but the relentless and ongoing commitment of individuals to those principles of change.

While by no means as politically and artistically realized as “The Square”, “The Green Wave” that becomes available as a DVD and through ITunes on November 5th (check http://www.thegreenwave-film.com/ for information) is a good companion piece.

Unlike Jehane Noujaim, Ali Samadi Ahadi, the 41-year-old Iranian filmmaker who has lived in Germany since the age of 12, was not in Iran during the events depicted in “The Green Wave”. Like “The Square”, “The Green Wave” begins in jubilation and ends in despair. The 2009 election campaign of Mir-Hossein Mousavi united every Iranian tired of the brutality and the crony capitalism of the Islamic Republic, which behind its pious pretensions had much more in common with Mubarak than might be apparent at first glance. And even more to the point, it might make sense to think of the election campaign as a harbinger of the Arab Spring even as many on the left tend to regard the Green Movement in Iran as some kind of imperialist plot.

Despite his absence from the battlefield, Ahadi manages to produce a coherent documentary out of three separate strands:

–Footage of rallies and protests that were obviously taken by activists given their often-unfocused quality. What they lack in visual acuity is made up for by their impact as living history.

–Animated representation of the experience of young bloggers who worked on the Mousavi campaign and suffered repression for their “impious” behavior.

–Interviews with leading critics of the Ahmadinejad dictatorship such as Nobel Prize winner Shirin Ebadi who went into exile in 2009. Despite the tendency of some leftists to depict any opponent of Ahmadinejad as an imperialist tool, Ebadi’s credentials are impeccable. She was a supporter of Mossadegh and even backed Khomeini initially. She is also an outspoken critic of Israel and supported a California BDS bill.

But unlike “The Square”, the emphasis is entirely on human rights rather than revolutionary strategy. Almost every moment of the film is devoted to exposure of state brutality, including summary executions, torture, and beatings on the street.

Despite the glum conclusion of the film, the promise of the Mousavi campaign might be finally realized in the election of Hassan Rouhani last month who has released political prisoners, defended equal rights for women, and called for greater political freedom. Whether or not this will whet the appetite for greater change in Iran is uncertain at this point, given the body blow the mass movement suffered in 2009.

When watching these films, I found myself pondering the question why revolutions are vanquished time and time again. In a pattern that is repeated over and over, the “people” unite against a hated dictator only to suffer a new period of suffering often under an ostensibly democratic and popular government. This is generally regarded as the “Arab Winter” today but the phenomenon can be just as easily perceived in Burma where the nation’s “Nelson Mandela” is now seen as a too-willing partner of the army and indifferent to pogroms against Muslims.

Perhaps it is time to retire the “new Nelson Mandela” meme while we are at it since South Africa is probably the best symbol of unrealized revolutionary hopes anywhere in the world.

It seems that in almost every instance of such uprisings, the “people” come to the fore in a kind of nationalist desire for redemption and rebirth but without a class dimension and often placing hopes in a military that is on “the side of the people”, the classic example being the Kerensky government in Russia.

For those educated in the Trotskyist tradition, it is easy as pie to come up with an answer. The revolution has to be “Bolshevik” in character with the working class in the driver’s seat. Unfortunately, groups established upon such principles tend to be ignored by the masses since they rest on the assumption that the masses will gravitate to them on the virtue of their profound thoughts.

I wonder if the answer is to synthesize the popular hopes of the Arab Spring with a class orientation that is more implicit than explicit. Keep in mind that the Bolsheviks called for “Peace, Bread, and Land”—not a proletarian dictatorship. Also, keep in mind that the July 26th Movement in Cuba formulated its demands in terms of fulfilling democracy and social justice rather than Communism. When Cuba did become communist (for lack of a better word), it was only as a result of the dialectics of defending democracy and social justice.

At any rate, I recommend these two films for anybody interested in deepening their understanding of revolutions in the 21st century, particularly in nations with a strong Islamic presence. Karl Marx never had to grapple with such complexity and it is up to us to come up with answers that make sense and can move the struggle forward—remembering to leave your dogma at the front door with your shoes.

February 1, 2012

Is Iran conspiring to terrorize American citizens?

Filed under: imperialism/globalization,Iran,war — louisproyect @ 3:30 pm

James R. Clapper: liar and war profiteer

Today’s Washington Post has an article alarmingly titled “Iran, perceiving threat from West, willing to attack on U.S. soil, U.S. intelligence report finds“.  My first reaction was to say to myself, “Uh-oh, here we go again.”

The article has a link to testimony before Congress by one James R. Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence who states:

The 2011 plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the United States shows that some Iranian officials—probably including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei—have changed their calculus and are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States in response to real or perceived US actions that threaten the regime. We are also concerned about Iranian plotting against US or allied interests overseas.

This, of course, is just one more example of what Malcolm X called turning the victim into the criminal and the criminal into the victim. With the assassination of one Iranian scientist after another carried out by America’s cat’s paw in the Middle East—the Mossad—one must appreciate Iran’s willingness not to retaliate in kind, despite the allegation about the “2011 plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador”.

The N.Y. Times was a bit more skeptical than the Washington Post when it came to this plot, describing its architect as follows:

But Mansour J. Arbabsiar, 56, the man at the center of an alleged Iranian plot to kill a Saudi diplomat in Washington, seems to have been more a stumbling opportunist than a calculating killer. Over the 30-odd years he lived in Texas, he left a string of failed businesses and angry creditors in his wake, and an embittered ex-wife who sought a protective order against him. He was perennially disheveled, friends and acquaintances said, and hopelessly disorganized.

Mr. Arbabsiar, now in custody in New York, stands accused by federal prosecutors of running a global terrorist plot that stretched from Mexico to Tehran, and that was directed by the Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. Many of his old friends and associates in Texas seemed stunned at the news, not merely because he was not a zealot, but because he seemed too incompetent to pull it off.

“His socks would not match,” said Tom Hosseini, a former college roommate and friend. “He was always losing his keys and his cellphone. He was not capable of carrying out this plan.”

Reminiscent of Judith Miller’s articles in the N.Y. Times, it is shocking that the Washington Post can ignore the obvious improbability of such a plot when it writes:

As described by U.S. officials in October, the convoluted scheme was to rely on assassins from a Mexican drug cartel to carry out the killing at a restaurant in Washington.

U.S. officials said the plot was devised by an Iranian American with ties to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. But the plan was foiled when the would-be operative mistakenly hired a paid informant of the Drug Enforcement Administration to carry it out. Iranian officials have denied any role in the plot.

It was “so unusual and amateurish that many initially doubted that Iran was responsible,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in Tuesday’s hearing. “Well, let me state for the record, I have no such a doubt.”

One of course would understand why Dianne Feinstein would “have no such a doubt” since she supported Bush’s war in Iraq back in 2002 based on the same kind of trumped up “intelligence”. As the 9th wealthiest member of the Senate, it might be expected that she would be gung-ho for wars in the Middle East. Her husband Richard Blum is the CEO of the Perini Corporation that is a prime military contractor as investigative reporter Peter Byrne revealed in an article titled “Senator Warbucks“:

As chairperson and ranking member of the Military Construction Appropriations subcommittee (MILCON) from 2001 through the end of 2005, Feinstein supervised the appropriation of billions of dollars a year for specific military construction projects. Two defense contractors whose interests were largely controlled by her husband, financier Richard C. Blum, benefited from decisions made by Feinstein as leader of this powerful subcommittee.

Each year, MILCON’s members decide which military construction projects will be funded from a roster proposed by the Department of Defense. Contracts to build these specific projects are subsequently awarded to such major defense contractors as Halliburton, Fluor, Parsons, Louis Berger, URS Corporation and Perini Corporation. From 1997 through the end of 2005, with Feinstein’s knowledge, Blum was a majority owner of both URS Corp. and Perini Corp.

While setting MILCON agendas for many years, Feinstein, 73, supervised her own staff of military construction experts as they carefully examined the details of each proposal. She lobbied Pentagon officials in public hearings to support defense projects that she favored, some of which already were or subsequently became URS or Perini contracts. From 2001 to 2005, URS earned $792 million from military construction and environmental cleanup projects approved by MILCON; Perini earned $759 million from such MILCON projects.

Obama’s Director of National Intelligence has the same cozy relationship to the military industry as reported by McClatchy, a publisher that stands hand and shoulders over the newspapers of the big bourgeoisie as indicated by their receiving an I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence in 2008. Their reporter filed a report on July 26, 2010 titled ” Clapper’s ties to contractors now loom large” that describes the same sort of incestuous relationship:

Four months after James R. Clapper left his federal job as head of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in June 2006, he joined the boards of three government contractors, two of which had been doing business with his agency while he was there.

It was not the only revolving door entered by Clapper, who is now President Obama’s nominee to be director of national intelligence.

In October 2006 he was hired full time by DFI International, which was trying to boost its consulting with intelligence agencies. In April 2007, when he returned to public service as the chief of the Pentagon’s intelligence programs, DFI paid him a $50,000 bonus on his way out the door, according to his financial disclosure statement. Five months later, DFI landed a contract to advise Clapper’s Pentagon office, though company officials say they do not recall collecting any revenue from the deal.

There was nothing illegal or unusual about any of those moves in Washington, where former officials frequently land jobs with private contractors.

Now, however, Clapper is poised to become intelligence chief at a time when Congress is asking questions about the explosive growth of private contracting in the $75 billion U.S. intelligence operation. With lawmakers calling on the Obama administration to reduce the outsourcing, a logical question is whether a veteran of the close alliance between government and contractors — Clapper strongly defended the practice in response to a Washington Post series last week — is best-suited to bring that system to heel.

Not only is Clapper someone with a vested interest in war profiteering, he is also an old card at fabricating “intelligence”. In 2003, Clapper ran something called the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. In that capacity, he assured the world that the weapons of mass destruction that were not found in Iraq because they had been spirited out of the country before the inspectors could locate them as the NY Times reported on October 29, 2003:

The director of a top American spy agency said Tuesday that he believed that material from Iraq’s illicit weapons program had been transported into Syria and perhaps other countries as part of an effort by the Iraqis to disperse and destroy evidence immediately before the recent war.

The official, James R. Clapper Jr., a retired lieutenant general, said satellite imagery showing a heavy flow of traffic from Iraq into Syria, just before the American invasion in March, led him to believe that illicit weapons material “unquestionably” had been moved out of Iraq.

“I think people below the Saddam Hussein-and-his-sons level saw what was coming and decided the best thing to do was to destroy and disperse,” General Clapper, who leads the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, said at a breakfast with reporters.

This was even too much for agency spokesman David Burpee, who said “he could not provide further evidence to support the general’s statement.”

One of the things I have stressed over and over is that President Obama is essentially carrying serving as Bush’s third term. I should add that if Mitt Romney replaces Obama next year, he will be carrying out Obama’s second term. As Kurt Vonnegut put it in “Slaughterhouse Five”: “And so it goes”.

In 2007, Clapper was nominated by President George W. Bush to be Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and approved without objections by Democratic Party legislators. So it is no wonder that he was Obama’s choice to run National Intelligence this year. He really knows how to pick ‘em.

December 27, 2011

The Iraq war in retrospect

Filed under: imperialism/globalization,Iran,Iraq,Libya — louisproyect @ 7:47 pm

The latest issue of Frontline, a leftist Indian newspaper, has an article by Vijay Prashad titled “Exit America” that deals with the question of whether the war in Iraq was “dumb”, an allusion to then State Senator Barack Obama’s comment in 2002:

What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.

Forced by circumstances of his elevation to supreme representative of the American ruling class, Obama no longer uses words like “dumb” and tries to put the best possible spin on how things turned out. Vijay writes:

Obama, who had made his own position clear in 2002, could not revisit them in 2011: he is now the Commander in Chief and would find it awkward to belittle the sacrifices of troops who were sent to fight a false war. At most Obama could acknowledge the debate before the war, with the lead-up “a source of great controversy here at home, with patriots on both sides of the debate”. The Iraq war was not perfect, he accepted, but its outcome was good, with the troops leaving behind “a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people”. American liberalism is not capable of any more than that.

Meanwhile, the notion that the troops have left behind a “sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq” has been demolished within hours after Obama uttered these words. The Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has ordered the arrest of his Sunni vice-president, Tareq al-Hashemi for supporting “terrorist activity”. Al-Hashemi then fled to sanctuary in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in the north, an act that prompted al-Maliki to brandish threats against the Kurds as well.

As it turns out, al-Maliki’s crackdown was in part a reaction to intelligence he received from an apparently friendly government in the region. Now your first reaction would be to conclude that Iran or Syria furnished this information as part of their membership in the Shia “axis of good” network in the Middle East, the last bastion of resistance to the imperialist/Sunni cabal made up of Qatar, al-Jazeera, Saudi Arabia and the CIA. Well, it turns out that al-Maliki’s informer was none other than Libya, as the NY Times reported: “The Iraqi government said the arrests had been prompted by a tip from Libya’s transitional government that said documents revealed Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi was working with insurgents to stage a coup.”

What the fuck? I thought that the Libyan government was made up of Sunni jihadists. That’s the point made by MRZine when it published a photo showing al-Qaeda flags on a courthouse in Benghazi. Hasn’t Pepe Escobar proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the “revolution” against Qaddafi was a plot hatched by French intelligence and jihadists? All this is beginning to sound murkier than a John le Carré novel, don’t you think? And what the hell was Qaddafi doing, making alliances with Sunni insurgents who he had tortured in Libyan prisons as part of his obligations to the CIA?

Now it can turn out that all that intelligence was nothing but bullshit designed to justify al-Maliki’s crackdown. But it is not bullshit to say that the political elites in Libya are on fairly good terms now with Iraq’s:

Head of the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC), Mahmoud Jibril, arrived on Thursday to Iraq in a short surprise visit. Jibril met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki, French Foreign Minister Hosheyar Zebari and a number of Iraqi officials. During the meeting, Maliki discussed the reconstruction of Iraq, a source told Alsumaria.

Jibril stated that he agreed with Maliki to exchange ambassadors between both countries as soon as possible and benefit from Iraqi expertise especially in the oil sector.

Of course someone with a proper anti-imperialist training would point out that what Jibril and al-Maliki have in common is that they got where they are courtesy of American military power. What further proof can you have that someone is an agent of imperialism if Cruise missiles were pointed in the direction of their enemies?

Things get a bit more complicated, however, when you consider that al-Maliki has also targeted the MEK camp in Iraq, a presence that the government Iran considers deeply inimical to its own security.  We are obviously compelled to support al-Maliki in this initiative considering what Rostam Pourzal told MRZine readers in 2006:

In Iran, where the militia has been known since its inception in 1965 as Mojahedin, or jihadists, MEK lost all credibility after it became a proxy of Iran’s archenemy, Saddam Hussein, in 1986.  Anne Singleton, a former insider and now an advocate for penitent MEK activists in Europe, has labeled the militia “Saddam’s private army” in her book-length memoirs by the same title.

A day before the Berkeley forum took place, the far-right daily Washington Times was busy promoting MEK’s annual convention in the US capital.  Perhaps you remember a similar cozy relationship the Moonie newspaper had with Nicaragua’s Contra mercenaries and with UNITA, the rebel army that terrorized Namibia on behalf of the Reagan Administration and apartheid South Africa.  A Reagan-era Pentagon official and leading architect of the Iraq invasion, Richard Perle, was the keynote speaker at MEK’s 2004 convention.

And, of course, any anti-imperialist worth his or her salt would have to back al-Maliki’s crackdown on a friend of the Baathist Party in light of the fact that Richard Perle spoke at their convention.  To really succeed in this brand of politics, it is necessary to put a minus where someone like Perle puts a plus. And for those stodgy old Marxists hung-up on dialectical contradictions, the only advice is to wise up and get with the program.

Now it is a possibility that the left makes a mistake by thinking in these terms, I am afraid. I have vivid recollections of those arguments made on behalf of the Sunni guerrillas some years ago, when the slogan “support the resistance” became a kind of litmus test.

In 2005, ISO’er Sharon Smith wrote an article titled “The Right to Resist Occupation” that claimed:

SUPPORT FOR the right of Iraqis to resist occupation must extend beyond an abstract principle for the U.S. antiwar movement.

While recognizing “the right of the Iraqi people to resist as a point of principle,” Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies–in widely circulated notes for a speech to the steering committee of United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) on December 18–argued, “We should not call for ‘supporting the resistance’ because we don’t know who most of them are and what they really stand for, and because of those we do know, we mostly don’t support their social program beyond opposition to the occupation.”

To be meaningful, however, supporting the “right to resist” must include support for that resistance once it actually emerges.

To be fair to the ISO, they were not half as bad as someone like George Galloway who in his debate with Christopher Hitchens described the Sunni guerrillas as some of the greatest patriots since the days of the heroic NLF.

Unfortunately, nobody on the left could have guessed how willing the Sunni fighters would have been to cut their own deals with imperialism in a pacified Anbar Province:

Much of the local population here has always wanted the US to give them handouts, but it’s different now, American officials say. Over the past few years, the strategy here was to clear an area of danger and then swoop down with reconstruction projects in an attempt to win over the populace. That was because Anbar was still dangerous, still peppered with Al Qaeda and other Sunni extremists. The US would see a project finished, only to be destroyed.

Now, say Marine officials, they’ll only spend money on a project that tribal sheikhs want only if those sheikhs get buy-in from the local and provincial governments that will ultimately own and maintain it.

“We don’t want this to be about us spending American money for the sheikhs,” says Brig. Gen. John Allen, who oversees political and economic reconstruction for Multi-National Forces-West. “We want this to be about American money that makes a difference in bringing government along and making the sheikhs part of the government.”

In other words, the Sunni resistance melted away as soon as the imperialist pocketbook opened up.

Back in the 1960s, the SWP resisted every effort made by SDS or independent leftists to make slogans like “Support the NLF” part of a mass mobilization. Primarily, the thinking was that anything that kept Americans from participating on the basis, for example, that the NLF was trying to kill their draftee son, was objectively against the interests of the NLF. A demonstration of 200,000 under the banner of “Out Now” was far more effective than one of 20,000 around the slogan “Victory to the NLF”. When you stop and think about it, such a slogan made little sense since it was not directed against the American government. It functioned more as an emotional expression of how you felt about imperialism—clearly understandable given the tenor of the times. Surely we should be capable of more nuanced thinking nowadays.

Returning to the original question posed by Vijay, maybe the best way to look at things is not from the perspective of “dumb” or “intelligent”. Looking at how things turned out in retrospect, they certainly seem dumb. Iraq appears destined to be as close to Iran as the U.S. is with Britain. A war against Iran likely will spark economic and military retaliation by the Shia states.

If you think, however, in terms of how Wall Street operates, the foreign policy calculations of Washington make a little bit more sense. Did Jon Corzine make a dumb decision when he bet that the EU would be forced to back up the government bonds of a Greece or a Spain? If he were correct, then MF Global would have been catapulted to the ranks of a junior Goldman-Sachs. If he weren’t, then the worst outcome would have been MF Global coming to an ignominious end. That would have not gotten in the way, however, of Corzine getting his golden parachute worth $12 million (even though he would have been last on line getting paid by the defunct hedge fund.)

Imperialist foreign policy is the same kind of high stakes casino as well but one that allows you to hedge your bets. You seed the Egyptian army with billions of dollars while simultaneously funding some of the activists who organized the Tahrir Square protests through the NED and Soro-type NGO’s. You back Qaddafi until the signs become abundantly clear that the movement against him has achieved the critical mass necessary to topple him, just as the case with al-Assad.

The only way to throw a monkey wrench in this kind of operation is to build our own movement globally that seeks to promote working class and revolutionary oppositions that cannot be so easily bought off. That requires breaking with bourgeois oppositions to imperialism, even as we organize to defend their countries from imperialist attack. As daunting a task as this might seem today, it is the only intelligent course of action open to those who want to live in a world of peace and plenty, namely the 99 percent globally.

October 14, 2011

Me, my mom, and Lazlo Toth

Filed under: antiwar,humor,Iran — louisproyect @ 6:57 pm

About ten years before my mother’s death at the age of 87, a friend of hers told me on a visit to mom in upstate NY, while she was out of the room, that she was “slipping”. When I asked her to give me some examples, she said that her driving had deteriorated—a function largely of cataracts. She had also begun to lose her temper more and more easily. And the biggest problem apparently was her obsession with Israel, writing letters to the local newspapers on practically a daily basis with the latest hasbara talking points she discovered on the Internet using the Macintosh computer I bought her. The bad driving and the hair-trigger temper I could discount but the Zionism surely was a sign that she was losing it.

As I march inexorably toward my own “slipping” moments, I wonder when people will begin to take notice of me. My eyes are considerably worse than hers were when she was my age. I just got my driver’s license renewed—a stroke of luck—but I will not drive after dark. On losing one’s temper, I am probably even crazier than her considering my inability to tolerate a lot of the bullshit I read on the Internet or hear on television or radio. With the age of email upon us, I can’t resist giving some jerk a piece of my mind. Mostly the recipient is smart enough to ignore me, since I am obviously a bit “off”. Frankly, if someone like me wrote me a hostile email, I’d ignore it. I guess I often get a reply because I don’t write the conventional “you are such an asshole” thing but tend to be more sarcastic than anything else. I also use my Columbia email address to get attention. For some reason, big muck-a-mucks take my email address seriously even though there are lots of idiots at the university, starting with President Lee Bollinger and the dean of the business school Glenn Hubbard.

Don Novello as Father Guido Sarducci

About ten years ago I reported on some exchange I had with some politician or academic “expert” who got on my wrong side to the PEN-L mailing list which prompted economist Max Sawicky to compare me to Lazlo Toth, a persona adopted by Don Novello, to goad big shots into replying to his goofy letters. Novello was better known for his Father Guido Sarducci character on Saturday Night Live back when it—like Woody Allen movies–was funny. A typical Toth exchange looks like this:

Air Canada

From: Lazlo Toth …… November 19, 1977

To: Commanding Officer, AIR CANADA

Dear Sir: I recently flew on your airline and I must say I was more than somewhat disappointed! First of all, the stewardess asked me if I wanted to see the movie. I said, “No, thank you.” Later, when I asked for some earphones, she said, “I thought you didn’t want the movie?” She thought right, I didn’t want the movie, I just wanted to listen to some music, I told her. She said the music was only for people who paid for the movie! “Otherwise, how would we know you weren’t listening to the movie,” she said. How about the honor system? In my country they don’t go around accusing paying customers of cheating! I could afford to fly to Canada, do you think I couldn’t afford $2.50 for a lousy movie? Besides, that’s $2.50 in Canadian dollars — cheaper still! I saw a lot of people watching the movie who didn’t pay for it! Why don’t you charge to watch the movie instead of to listen to it? Why can you watch a movie for nothing but have to pay to listen to some records? It’s just not fair! Next thing you know, you’ll probably be charging people to look at record albums! Also, my tomato soup was ice cold! I thought it was because I was the only one polite enough to wait until everybody got served before I started eating, but when I told the stewardess my soup was cold, she said it wasn’t tomato soup, that it was tomato juice! How was I suppose to know it was tomato juice? What was the soup spoon there for then? I wasted two or three minutes eating it like that! Why don’t you label those things? If you can label “salad dressing,” why not juice and soup? I knew the salad dressing was salad dressing — what else could it have been — jello? Come on! Why do you label something that doesn’t need a label and not label the thing I mistook for something else? I think that by labeling the soup and the juice and starting free music you can make a giant step towards better understandings between both of our countries. Things are unstable enough without these things getting in the way, too. Your neighbor,

To: Lazlo Toth …… December 29, 1977

From: A.R. Godbold, Manager, Customer Relations, Air Canada

Dear Mr. Toth: We were very sorry to learn of your disappointment in some aspects of our service during your travel with us in November, but appreciate your giving us your observations. Recorded music is available on some of our flights at no charge; however, on flights where music is provided in conjunction with a movie, it is felt that, in fairness to all passengers, the charge for the movie must be levied on all passengers making use of the earphones. Soup is very seldom served by the airlines, because of the difficulties inherent in its provision, and it is regretted that this was not clarified with you. Thank you for your interest in writing. Yours very truly,

When I got up yesterday morning I spent my customary 30 minutes or so listening to AM radio. If WBAI was half as good as it was in the 1980s, that’s what I would listen to. No such luck, I’m afraid. So I listen to a few minutes of Boomer and Carton, a sports talk show, until I get tired of discussion about Alex Rodriguez’s contract. Then I’ll give the aging, crapulent shock jock Don Imus a few minutes until the right-wing guest he is schmoozing with becomes too much to bear. After Imus got fired by WFAN (he was replaced by Boomer and Carton), he moved over to WABC and became oriented to the reactionary pigs there. Ornery as ever, Imus will call Rush Limbaugh a fat, drug-taking idiot but will bend over backwards to be courteous to Sean Hannity.

Last stop on the AM express is the Mark Riley show on WWRL a black-owned and black-oriented station that used to be devoted to Air America programming until that liberal garbage dump went under. Riley is an African-American and in Obama’s back pocket just like Al Sharpton who has a show on the same station at 9pm. Mostly I listen to the show for the men and women calling in from the Black community, about half of whom are disgusted with Obama.

Barry Blechman

That day I turned to Riley’s show when he was in the middle of an interview with Barry Blechman, the director of the Stimson Center. Blechman was making the case that Iran was guilty of conspiring to kill the Saudi ambassador. Feeling some pressure to maintain a progressive veneer, Riley asked Blechman to explain some of the obvious inconsistencies—like why Iran would want to deal with a used car salesman who was in no position to line up Mexican drug cartel gunmen, let alone his next month’s rent.

Blechman assured him that there was hard proof of Iran’s involvement, starting with the wire transfer of money to said used car salesman. That was enough to set my hair on fire.

When I got to work an hour or so later, I dashed off this email to Blechman:

You said that the wire transfer of money proved that Iran was behind the plot to kill the Saudi ambassador. Aren’t you aware that wire transfers from Iran to American banks are prohibited? How in the world did you get into the position of speaking as an expert? Or is your role the same as Judith Miller’s?

I had a feeling that this would get under his skin, as would later be borne out:

Dear Mr. Proyest, [sic]

        Thanks for your comment; it’s nice to know that someone was listening.   According to the sworn affidavit of the FBI official submitted in support of the indictment, two transfers of $49,960 each were made from Iran to an unnamed US bank.  Now you may believe that FBI officials will swear to information they know is false in legal proceedings, but I don’t.  One explanation might be that knowing of the plot, the government permitted the transfers to be made, even though they are prohibited by sanctions legislation.

The actual 21-page indictment can be found at http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/10/11/us/Iran-Plot-Indictment-Doc-Viewer.html?ref=us. It may answer some of your questions of fact.    Barry Blechman

My reply will surely irritate him further, hopefully enough to prompt another email:

“Now you may believe that FBI officials will swear to information they know is false in legal proceedings”

Well, I for one am not shocked that gambling is going on at Rick’s place either.

As far as the wire transfer is concerned, this is absurd on the face of it—leaving aside the question of the sanctions legislation. Haven’t you ever seen a good spy movie? Payments are not made by wire transfers. They are made in cash transported around in a good, solid aluminum briefcase by a character named Abu Hassan. You know the kind of dirty Arab or Iranian I am talking about—they get killed by Bruce Willis or Arnold Schwarzenegger in the bloody finale.

Btw, have to chuckle about your credentials as a nuclear disarmament expert running something called the Stimson Center. That’s like an environmentalist running the James G. Watt Center.

“…in [July] 1945… Secretary of War Stimson, visiting my headquarters in Germany, informed me that our government was preparing to drop an atomic bomb on Japan. I was one of those who felt that there were a number of cogent reasons to question the wisdom of such an act. …the Secretary, upon giving me the news of the successful bomb test in New Mexico, and of the plan for using it, asked for my reaction, apparently expecting a vigorous assent.

“During his recitation of the relevant facts, I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of ‘face’. The Secretary was deeply perturbed by my attitude…”

- Dwight Eisenhower, Mandate For Change, pg. 380

In a Newsweek interview, Eisenhower again recalled the meeting with Stimson:

“…the Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.”

- Ike on Ike, Newsweek, 11/11/63

Look to this space for updates to the great Lazlo Toth/Unrepentant Marxist-Barry Blechman debate.

April 12, 2011

Lessons of Egypt for Iran

Filed under: Iran — louisproyect @ 4:55 pm

March 10, 2011

In response to Edward S. Herman and David Peterson

Filed under: Iran,journalism,sectarianism — louisproyect @ 6:52 pm

Yesterday I was informed that Edward Herman and David Peterson had responded a few months ago to my February 20, 2010 article titled The Latest Idiocy from Edward S. Herman and David Peterson.

There was a time when I would have paid closer attention to what the two had to say but have tuned them out because of their repetitiveness and prolixity. Basically, their methodology is the same one used by Michel Chossudovsky, MRZine, and some bloggers who have learned to put a minus where the U.S. State Department puts a plus as Leon Trotsky commented:

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.

A few words about these two would probably be in order. Herman is an 85-year-old Professor Emeritus of Finance at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, something that amounted to a kind of day job I guess. (His first book was Principles And Practices Of Money And Banking.) He is best known for co-authoring “Manufacturing Consent” with Noam Chomsky. Unlike Chomsky—an anarchist—Herman has never written anything that amounts to a program for revolutionary change. His main preoccupation is with the propaganda system that American imperialism uses to make war on its enemies.

Somewhere along the line Herman hooked up with someone named David Peterson, who is a lot younger from what I can gather. About all I know about him is that he describes himself as an independent journalist based in Chicago. My guess is that he has never been involved with socialist politics. And if he has, the tracks are well covered.

As I said, the two are never at a loss for words. Their reply to me is contained in the third part of a 33,000 word article titled Iran and Honduras in the Propaganda System: How the Left Climbed Aboard the Establishment’s Bandwagon in obvious defiance of the stricture that brevity is the soul of wit.

After fortifying myself with a second cup of extra-strong coffee, I waded into their 3-part article to see what had motivated them to write such a tome. I suspect that they are incapable of writing fewer than 20,000 words but I am not sufficiently motivated to do the necessary research to verify this.

The main thrust of their article is to demonstrate that the U.S. has a double standard when it comes to Iran and Honduras.

The Honduran military executed its coup d’état against President Zelaya only 16 days after the presidential election in Iran, in the middle of a tsunami of U.S. and Western media coverage of Iran’s election and its aftermath, which saw the opposition’s claims of vote fraud5 spark massive public demonstrations against both the official results and Iran’s clerical regime itself, and also saw large and sustained expressions of solidarity with Iran’s “democratic movement” dominating the metropolitan centers of the West.  Yet, when the coup in Honduras took place against its democratically-elected and populist president, nothing comparable was to be observed in U.S. and Western media interest in this event and its aftermath, much less in public displays of solidarity on behalf of Honduras’ ousted president and its anti-coup protestors.

They liken Iran’s most recent election to the ones that took place in Nicaragua in the 1980s, equating a demonized Ahmadinejad to a demonized Daniel Ortega. As someone who was part of a delegation in Nicaragua to observe the election of 1984, I wonder where the authors get the audacity to compare the two. In Iran the election was between two candidates who had been sanctioned by the Guardian Council, a small group of clerics that operate independently of the will of the people. Furthermore, in Iran there is no freedom for political groups or newspapers that would challenge the right of clerics to set the terms of democracy. Imagine if people like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell had the ultimate say on who could run for office in the U.S.A. And if you had started a socialist newspaper, you risked imprisonment or death. These are the brutal realities behind Iran’s electoral system that could barely interest Herman and Peterson. Perhaps if questions of class interested them a bit more, they would be a bit more sensitive to them.

When they get down to brass tacks in part three, they group me with Joanne Landy and Danny Postel, two individuals who would be shocked to discover me as a bedfellow. Landy was a member of the Council of Foreign Relations at one point, and used to attend events with Katrina Vanden Heuvel. Just my kind of folks. I won’t say anything much about Postel except to take note that he orients to the Iranian liberal intelligentsia while I am close to Marxist bloggers. I guess it is all the same to the nearsighted anti-imperialists Herman and Peterson.

To start off, the two intrepid anti-imperialist sleuths misunderstimate me, as George W. Bush would say: “As the U.S. wars of the post-Soviet era caused a peeling-off of leftist after leftist, the Marxmail administrator and blogger Louis Proyect resisted, remaining staunchly anti-imperialist.” Sorry, comrades, I am not just an “anti-imperialist”. I am an anti-capitalist, and—with all due respect to people like Naomi Klein–I am not just an anti-capitalist. I am an unrepentant Marxist. This means that while I am willing to take the side of Iran on the question of opposing sanctions and supporting its right to develop nuclear power (and arms, for that matter), I will not back any government that jails and tortures bus drivers for trying to start a union. Maybe Edward Herman got the idea when teaching finance at Wharton that it is sometimes necessary to keep labor costs down when raising capital for a bond issue but that is alien to me. It is all the more alien when trade unionists in Egypt and Wisconsin are fighting for their own rights as well. Don’t Iranian workers also have such a right? Or does that matter to people like Herman and Peterson who only understand the conflicts between states and not those between classes?

Apparently, I violated my oath to the anti-imperialist cause when “the eruption of election-related turmoil struck Iran in June 2009, and the Western establishment threw its collective weight behind the ‘Green Wave’ opposition.” They claim “Proyect suddenly did an about-face, and enlisted in the cause.”

Well, this is utter nonsense. I began to pay close attention to the brutality and neoliberal character of the Islamic Republic back in 2006 when Yoshie Furuhashi, the editor of MRZine who published Herman and Peterson’s article, began her fulsome praise of Ahmadinejad not long after giving up on socialism. Who would want to mess around with small groups like Solidarity when Ahmadinejad was deploying vast numbers of Basiji. Something told me that this was a pile of crap and I was determined to get to the bottom of that.

This led me to write a multi-part review of a book titled “Iran on the Brink” in 2007, a book I recommend highly, especially to Herman and Peterson who evidently are rather virginal when it comes to Marxist analysis of Iran. Here’s an excerpt from part one of my review:

“Iran on the Brink” provides historical background on revolutionary movements in Iran, starting in the early 20th century. Attempts to break with colonial domination and the native comprador bourgeoisie kept being thwarted, the most notable example being the coup against Mossadegh in 1953 that led to the Reza Shah dictatorship that was finally overthrown in 1979.

The authors focus on the emergence of shoras that arose spontaneously in factories and oil refineries around the country shortly after the Shah’s cronies fled the country. The shoras started out as strike committees but were then transformed into workers control bodies. They very much reflected the kind of aspirations seen in Venezuela today and target number one of Khomeini and his followers, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad included. A worker at a shoe factory spoke for all Iranian workers when he said:

Nowadays you don’t need to tell a worker to go and work. He works himself. Why? The reason why he didn’t work [under the Shah] was because he was under the boss’s thumb. He couldn’t speak out. Now, he’ll say: “the work is my own. I’ll work.”

Unfortunately, the shoras failed to become the new state power, just as Soviets had become in 1917. Unlike Russia, the Iranians lacked a revolutionary party that could coordinate the shoras nationwide and press the struggle forward. This is not to say, however, that there weren’t groups in Iran that aspired to Lenin’s mantle. There were more than eighty of them, in fact. Unfortunately, the only thing that united them was sectarianism mixed with an eagerness to adapt to political Islam. In 1979, the Iranian left was still stuck in the same mode that would destroy the left in so many countries, namely a dogmatic understanding of what it meant to be a “vanguard”. The particular irony is that Iranian workers would have been more receptive to the leadership of a revolutionary party than anywhere else in the world.

Among the most prestigious of the revolutionary organizations was the Fediyan that had conducted a guerrilla struggle against the Shah since 1971. Its main rival was the Tudeh, the official Communist Party. Both groups were heavily influenced by Stalinist top-down methods and were hardly in a position to engage with so profoundly a bottom-up phenomenon like the shoras. It should be added that the Tudeh did have an interest in the shoras, but it could be described as the kind of interest that the Democrats had in Ralph Nader. The Tudeh’s goal was to replace the shoras with conventional trade unions of the sort that they had operated in historically. Eventually, the Tudeh made a bloc with the Majority faction of the Fediyan that shared its hostility to the shoras and its belief that political Islam was progressive. With the two most powerful groups on the left holding such beliefs, one might conclude that the rise of Khomeini-ism had more to do with the bankruptcy of the left than its own dubious merits.

Khomeini soon developed a substitute for the shoras that was called the shora-ye eslami, or “Islamic council”. Rather than operating on the basis of class struggle, the new bodies would stress Muslim brotherhood. This was a brotherhood that first and foremost would put a ban on strikes, effective in March 1980. Strikes were now considered haram, or sinful. Just to make sure that nobody lapsed into sinful behavior, the government set up Revolutionary Guards (Pasdaran) that would break strikes and enforce discipline within the workplace. One metal factory worker described the kind of punishment Pasdaran meted out to the unruly:

They flogged one of my colleagues to death. They accused him of having cursed Imam Ali. First they brought him to prison, but then they dragged him to the factory and bound him to a machine. All production was stopped and we were ordered to appear in front of the scene. I could only stand to have my eyes on him for two lashes. Then blood was gushing from his wounds. He died after 50, 60 lashes. He was about 50 years old.

At any rate such workers could matter less to Herman and Peterson. They are completely absorbed by the fact that Ahmadinejad is being demonized by the N.Y. Times.

Moving right along, I am found guilty of not writing about Honduras:

Although chiding the present writers for our alleged inattention to class, Proyect—in strict parallel with Danny Postel, the Campaign for Peace and Democracy, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, the New York Times, and the State Department—had nothing whatever to say about Honduras, where the class nature of the 2009 coup and regime change is far clearer than it has been for the conflict in Iran.

I don’t quite know how to break it to these two jerks, but the fact that I have not written about Honduras should not be interpreted as support for the American-backed coup. I am not trying to compete with Counterpunch or ZNet. If you are looking for radical news analysis of current events, those are the places you are advised to go. My blog was launched with the intention of writing about whatever interests me at the moment, ranging from my struggles with glaucoma to musings on African music. And I have no plans to change that any time soon.

September 19, 2010

Christian Amanpour interviews Ahmadinejad

Filed under: Iran — louisproyect @ 7:36 pm
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