Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 16, 2008

MRZine and polling the Iranians

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 6:53 pm

An article posted on MRZine has unleashed a flurry of angry responses from Iranian leftists. Titled “What Do Iranians Think of Their Own Government?“, it originally appeared on the website of WorldPublicOpinion.org, a polling outfit. It begins:

Iranians largely express satisfaction with their government. Two out of three say that Iran is generally going in the right direction, though a plurality is dissatisfied with the Iranian economy. Half say they trust the government to do what is right most of the time, while another quarter say they trust it at least some of the time. Two-thirds express satisfaction with Iran’s relations with the world as a whole. Large majorities approve of how President Ahmadinejad is handling his job at home and his dealings with other countries, though this support is considerably lower among more educated and higher-income Iranians.

Since the article appears without any introduction by MRZine, the reader is not quite sure what to make of it. It is open to multiple interpretations. If it is meant to refute war propaganda about Iran needing to be “liberated”, it might have some value in the sense that Central America activists in the 1980s often pointed out how fair and democratic Nicaraguan elections were. How could Nicaragua be a communist dictatorship when pro-US parties were running openly against the Sandinistas?

The other interpretation is not so benign. It might indicate that the ostensible popularity of Ahmadinejad is an invitation for the Western left to throw its support behind the Islamic Republic. After all, how can it be so popular, especially among the poor, if it is not fostering an egalitarian economic program?

MRZine editor Yoshie Furuhashi posted an introduction to this article on the popular Lenin’s Tomb blog, where her musings on Iran have appeared on a fairly regular basis. She states:

Contrary to what much of the Western media, leftist as well as capitalist, would have us believe, the Iranian government apparently enjoys a high level of popular support, according to the latest World Public Opinion poll, which also clarifies the class base of support for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Would-be regime changers ought to take a hint and stop the economic sanctions, covert actions, “democracy assistance,” media propaganda, and other measures against Iran, all of which only undermine the Iranian people’s attempts to further democratize their government and make it truly reflect the will of the people. The Iranian government, in turn, should take a deep breath and lighten up: the best defense against imperialism is the deepening of democracy, including industrial democracy, and improvement of the economic lot of working people, not the My Uncle Napoleon syndrome.

When reading this paragraph, I felt tempted to say something along the lines of what my wonderful Turkish teacher says when I hand in a paper riddled with grammatical and spelling errors: “What beautiful mistakes. It gives us a great opportunity to deepen our understanding.”

To begin with, it is simply not the case that the Western media portrays Ahmadinejad as unpopular. The Guardian, a bastion of sophisticated Islamophobia, had this to say in June, 2006:

The popularity of Iran’s controversial leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is surging almost a year after he unexpectedly won a closely contested presidential election, Iranian officials and western diplomats said yesterday.

Attributing his success to his populist style and fortnightly meet-the-people tours of the country, the sources said that as matters stood, Mr Ahmadinejad was the clear favourite to win a second term in 2009. The perception that the president was standing up to the US on the nuclear issue was also boosting his standing.

“He’s more popular now than a year ago. He’s on the rise,” said Nasser Hadian-Jazy, a professor of political science at Tehran University. “I guess he has a 70% approval rating right now. He portrays himself as a simple man doing an honest job. He’s comfortable communicating with ordinary people.”

Even the 6/21/2006 Wall Street Journal wrote about what it saw as Ahmadinejad’s popularity:

Mr. Ahmadinejad is emerging as an Iranian version of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez: a pugnacious politician, buoyed by oil money, whose anti-elite message and defiance of the West is causing his popularity to soar. Mr. Ahmadinejad isn’t nearly as powerful as Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But his policies, which interrupt Iran’s tentative stabs at economic liberalization, have helped him wield more influence than many thought possible for an Iranian president.

I must add that I found out about this article by happenstance. I stumbled across it on Yoshie’s blog. Clearly, the purpose of her quoting the WSJ was to help bolster the case that the Iranian president and Hugo Chavez were two political leaders worthy of emulation. Elsewhere, Yoshie has written: “You’d never know that by listening to most liberals and leftists, but Iran’s economy is structurally more socialistic than Venezuela’s.” So maybe even Hugo Chavez could learn something from studying Iran. I just hope that he doesn’t begin to jail and torture strikers.

Since Yoshie takes strenuous exception to those socialists who refuse to back Ahmadinejad (except in a confrontation with the U.S. over matters such as the right to develop nuclear energy, for example), she can’t help but describe them as “regime changers”:

Would-be regime changers ought to take a hint and stop the economic sanctions, covert actions, “democracy assistance,” media propaganda, and other measures against Iran, all of which only undermine the Iranian people’s attempts to further democratize their government and make it truly reflect the will of the people.

Now it doesn’t help things to refer to people such as myself as being in favor of “regime change” since everybody knows that the term is associated with George W. Bush: “And that’s why two administrations — mine and President Clinton’s — have stated that regime change in Iraq is the only certain means of removing a great danger to our nation.”

It is what veterans of the Trotskyist movement call “making an amalgam”. Another example in Yoshie’s introduction is this: “Contrary to what much of the Western media, leftist as well as capitalist, would have us believe, the Iranian government apparently enjoys a high level of popular support…” This is the sort of thing that the CPUSA perfected in the late 1930s and usually reads something like this: “Contrary to what the capitalist press and the Trotskyites say…” In my opinion, this kind of amalgam-making should be avoided like the plague.

Finally, Yoshie gives some friendly advice to the Islamic Republic:

The Iranian government, in turn, should take a deep breath and lighten up: the best defense against imperialism is the deepening of democracy, including industrial democracy, and improvement of the economic lot of working people, not the My Uncle Napoleon syndrome.

When I read this, I wondered out loud where I had read something like this before. Proffering this kind of advice is not the sort of thing I would do, especially to a government 3000 miles away that is not accustomed to reading Lenin’s Tomb or Lenin, for that matter. Then, I slapped my forehead and cried out: “Oh, I know where”. I read it in the Nation Magazine all the time:

The trade debate is a challenge for Obama. For all Clinton’s talk, her record of past support for free trade with China makes her vulnerable in Pennsylvania and Indiana. But to exploit that vulnerability, Obama must be more than a critic of Clinton or even NAFTA.

Of course, the idea of counseling politicians in this fashion has a long tradition. Machiavelli wrote an entire book about it. I still feel that Gramsci had the best idea on how to make Machiavelli relevant. He argued that the revolutionary party is the “modern prince” and, as such, can serve as a vehicle to promote the hegemony of the working class and ultimately its seizure of power. That seems a lot more attractive than sifting through poll numbers that bolster the reputation of a politician whose main claim to fame in the 1980s was beating up socialists on Tehran’s campuses.

4 Comments »

  1. The first allegation one must take issue with is “the Iranian government apparently enjoys a high level of popular support…” No it doesn’t. In 2005 Presidential election, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad secured 19% of votes in the 1st round among the pool that didn’t include any candidate who represents a radical rupture in the direction of Iranian politics. If there is no rupture from a doxa there is no truth.

    The difference between Yoshi-type and “Central America activists in the 1980s” is while it was fair to indicate the existence of democracy since there was another option, it is a clear-cut hypocrisy to criticize the critiques of the existing state of affairs when even the possibility of a radical change has already been fettered.

    Anyhow, for socialists the yardstick to evaluate a political struggle should be its correlation with socialism, but not with “popular support”.

    Comment by Mehmet Çagatay — April 16, 2008 @ 8:45 pm

  2. The comrade from Turkey is correct.

    Funny how some on the left seem to not notice that Iran loves Maliki in Iraq. That is one thing the Chavez analogy doesn’t fit.

    Comment by Renegade Eye — April 17, 2008 @ 4:38 am

  3. This post was right on. I think some on the Left today, as expressed by Yoshie Furuhashi, are taking the mistaken path of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”.

    Comment by Dave — April 18, 2008 @ 10:52 pm

  4. If your entire case against Ahmadinejad is because he has ‘beating up socialists on Tehran’s campuses,’ I have to disappoint you and say that this is utter bullshit. Where is your source? The New York Times?

    Comment by Someone — May 26, 2008 @ 12:38 am


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