Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

June 22, 2009

A velvet revolution in Iran?

Filed under: Iran,sectarianism — louisproyect @ 6:36 pm

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.

69 Comments »

  1. Well said!

    Comment by Jenny — June 22, 2009 @ 7:16 pm

  2. “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.”

    For my part, I support the demonstrators and their emergent demands. My objections regarding the positions of certain elements in U.S. left have been that in general (a) folks have not been attempting a class analysis of the political situation in Iran, (b) support for the demonstrators and their emergent demands should be accompanied by denunciations of imperialist attempts to meddle in Iranian affairs, and (c) the understanding of the political economy of Iran has been banal but is now improving (e.g., Lenin’s Tomb).

    I hasten to add that point (b) is not a conspiracy-theory by any stretch of the imagination; a cursory review of Google News or LexisNexis will produce amble examples to anyone that wants to pay attention. Nor does embracing point (b) does not mean paying lip-service to anti-imperialism as some do; it entails identifying and critiquing the concrete attempts to interfere in Iranian affairs that are actually taking place, and have taken place. We need to see more of (b) sans apologias for Ahmedinejad.

    And while you rightly critique the Ahmedinejad-apologists (a claim you lodge against MRZine), you would do well to also critique the Mousavi sycophants (e.g., Dabashi).

    It is my opinion that Seymour is moving in the right direction.

    Comment by epoliticus — June 22, 2009 @ 7:32 pm

  3. I fully endorse Richard Seymour’s approach.

    Comment by louisproyect — June 22, 2009 @ 7:34 pm

  4. Good piece.I have to confess I often catch myself making some of the same errors as Petra etc,that is viewing this issue only through the lens of the “west” verses Iran.When of course it is much more complex and is in most part about everything else,as far as the Iranian people are concerned, but Iran’s foreign policy.
    So one one hand sure the Iranian gov has made some valid points and criticism in regards to the “West”,but when it comes to the well being & dignity of ordinary Iranians the story is very different.
    What’s happening in Iran is just the latest installment of the ongoing struggle, common to all working/ordinary peoples the world over,for democracy,dignity and basic human rights.
    The Iranian people deserve our uncompromising support and solidarity.

    Comment by dirk — June 22, 2009 @ 7:35 pm

  5. Louis,

    This is a wonderful and damning refutation of the position held by the “Global Class War” crowd such as the WWP and PSL. I just thought I’d let you know that we have posted this article on our site:
    http://www.riseoftheiranianpeople.com

    Solidarity,
    James

    Comment by James — June 22, 2009 @ 7:39 pm

  6. Regardless of how wretched all of the Islamic reactionaries running Iran are, does anyone care to deny that Soros, Ackerman and the rest of the “color-coded” counter-revolution crowd are at it again there? Every time some pro-West, pro “free market” candidate loses and cries foul, hoards of internet-addicted yuppies, usually well-to-do students, take to the streets in the name of “democracy” and garner tons of symapthetic press coverage in the West. Funny, the fans of “democracy” didn’t seem to mind the pro-US PAN party rigging the elections in Mexico a few years back even though the majority of Mexican workers and peasants did.

    While the imperialists were succesful in Serbia, Georgia and the Ukraine in ousting rulers who were a torn in their sides, they got their asses kicked in Venezuela when they tried the same thing. Now doubt their recent success in Lebanon has bouyed their confidence. And now with Obama in the Oval Office, the liberal left (see The Nation in particular) has no qualms about openinly lining up with the pro-imperialist side.

    One thing’s for sure, you won’t find many workers or poor in the pro-Mousavi demos. While A’jad may not be any great shakes, he at least will keep them on the dole as opposed to the “privitizers” supporting Mousavi. And living in a country like the US, where there is next to no dole (out side of Bob and pineapple) I can understand why Iranian workers would prefer a roof over their head and food on their plate over the “freedom” that allows a few petty bouregois “democrats” to masterbate at the mouth over the internet with their counterparts in the West. Those far leftists, and even Trotskyists, swooning over the “Iranian Revolution” ought to remember what came out of similar such developments in the USSR and Eastern Europe twenty years ago.

    Comment by MN Roy — June 22, 2009 @ 8:15 pm

  7. take to the streets in the name of “democracy”

    They would not be forced to take to the streets if they had the kinds of rights that Lenin fought for in the early 1900s. The Bolsheviks fought for democracy, as did the IWW who were famous for chaining themselves to a lamp-post in order to fend off cops who wanted to arrest them for making revolutionary speeches.

    Comment by louisproyect — June 22, 2009 @ 8:20 pm

  8. Yes, MN Roy, it’s become now become much bigger than that. Hell, Conservativesa are pressuring to Obama to bomb Iran and he hasn’t moved a muscle. What does that tell you?

    Comment by Jenny — June 22, 2009 @ 8:43 pm

  9. How the hell are you coming to the conclusion that they are seeking democracy? CNN may be insisting that but that does not make it so. Many claim to be demanding the right to watch MTV and get drunk. Not that I did not enjoy those two in my youth but to position this as a fight for democracy is illusory at best and extremly dangerous at worst.

    We should start with what we know to be true- (1) the US IS medling in this crisis, what that exactly means is up for debate; (2) the Islamic Republic of Iran is a very repressive regime (hardly needs stating); (3) there are real splits in the ruling elite of the IRI, which calls for a sober analysis so as to properly locate the key places where pressure can be placed so as to exploit this divide (although what is happening may verywell heal that divide as nothing makes ruling elites like eachother more than alittle rioting from below); (4) if this had happened in 2000 over the Bush/Gore election CNN and Fox would not have been calling it a democratic revolution or a protest, it would have called it an unAmerican riot (this means we need to step back from swallowing the MSM’s hook, line and sinker); (5) whatever the outcome, leftists will be in a worse position than before. Either the state will back down and religitimize the theocracy or they will not and legitimize an attack by the US/Isreal. The only way these two would not occur is if the protestors actually took it further and instigated a full fledged revolution, which was not going to happen once the forces of the state sided with the leaders and not the people.

    I am not sure it is very productive to simply see or argue about two camps here. I personally am not in either camp and would like to think that a Marxist analysis would lead many to the same nuanced position.

    Comment by brad — June 22, 2009 @ 9:04 pm

  10. Brad your obsesssion with America is understandable. You live there. But please. You are like a left wing version of George Bush. Talking only about yourself whilst pretending to speak about others. Yes Seymour’s line is correct.

    Comment by johng — June 22, 2009 @ 9:17 pm

  11. “Democracy?” Isn’t “democracy” what the imperialists and the gusanos are for in Cuba and in Venezuela? I don’t think that they go marching in the streets of Caracas (or writing editorials in The NY Times) demanding more exploitation and oppression for the working class. By the way, isn’t “democracy” what Yelstin was for in the USSR in 1991, or, for that matter, weren’t Kautsky, the Mensheviks and the right-SRs for the same thing back in Bolshevik days. I seem to recall that this Lenin fellow you claim to be so fond of quoting, always inquired when it came to “democracy,” “democracy, for which class?”

    Comment by MN Roy — June 22, 2009 @ 9:27 pm

  12. Comrade Roy, the word is democratic rights. Lenin’s “What is to be Done” is filled with appeals for the need to struggle for democratic rights, either in Imperial Germany or Czarist Russia. In Iran, this boils down to eliminating the theocracy.

    Comment by louisproyect — June 22, 2009 @ 10:03 pm

  13. Thank you, Lou. It’s good to see you’re on the side of the angels here. That quote from Trotsky is great.

    An excellent refutation of “Petras-think” here:

    http://jewssansfrontieres.blogspot.com/2009/06/iran-gucci-anti-imperialism-and.html

    Mike Ely’s blog Kasama has also had some excellent discussion:

    http://mikeely.wordpress.com/

    Comment by John B. — June 22, 2009 @ 10:19 pm

  14. […] Louis Proyect, The Unrepentant Marxist 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. […]

    Pingback by Response to lefties who support Ahmadinejad | — June 22, 2009 @ 10:49 pm

  15. Comrade Louis, while I’m not going to go nuclear, pun intended, over this with someone I probably agree with on almost everything else (including film noir), I’m surprised that someone with your knowledge of history would overlook the role of “democracy” or “democratic rights” as a stalking horse for counter-revolution, especially given the use of either slogan in US imperialism’s on-going conflict with Cuba and Venezuela, let alone Iran.

    Granted, we all hate the mullahs, although I recall Jack Barnes’ SWP being amongst Khomeini’s staunchest supporters, from the initial purging of the left down through the Iran-Iraq war, the color-coded counter-revolutions that the US and its NGO allies have sponsored from Serbia to the Ukraine to Georgia, all in the name of “democratic rights” have yet to bring anything of value to workers outside of more “free market” mayhem and its attendant consequences.

    Comment by MN Roy — June 22, 2009 @ 10:55 pm

  16. I’m confused here too. Why is the NYT and the rest of the western press taken at face value in this context, yet we cannot (and should not!) believe a word of their reporting on the invasion of Iraq, for instance?

    Comment by Z*k — June 23, 2009 @ 12:25 am

  17. Some of the reporting in the NY Times is crap and some is quite reliable. In the instances quoted above, they jibe with what I have been told by Iranian Marxists.

    Comment by louisproyect — June 23, 2009 @ 12:33 am

  18. Johng- I don’t live in the US but if you think that they aren’t involved in what is happening then you have missed the last 50 years of US neoimperialism, and I didn’t once talk about myself. Why can’t you respond to the actual content of my post? Over on Lenin’s Tomb I think it was you who said that the only correct response for the left is to support the protesters, which is a rediculous line to have and based on a complete reduction of the complexities of the situation to CNN soundbites.

    Louis- From what I gather it is Mousavi is much closer to the Mullah’s and more likely to increse the hold of the theocracy than Ahmadinejad. He also is much more likely to increase the privatization of public assets and general neoliberal policy. I am completely mistifyed by how the left is attempting to make this into a personality contest between the two candidates who are both in the pocket of the theocracy.

    Comment by brad — June 23, 2009 @ 1:43 am

  19. Brad: From what I gather it is Mousavi is much closer to the Mullah’s and more likely to increse the hold of the theocracy than Ahmadinejad.

    What?!?! Khamenei is the only cleric that matters and he backs Ahmadinejad to the hilt. More to the point, I am interested in engaging with Marxists in Iran, not geopolitical lesser-evilism.

    Comment by louisproyect — June 23, 2009 @ 1:48 am

  20. Sorry, Louis, but I refuse to jump on the “Free Iran” bandwagon!

    This fits a pattern – Soros/CIA sponsored revolts of the children of the upper classes of Third World countries – you’ve seen it before; Serbia, Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Lebanon, Venezuela and now in Iran.

    I didn’t support any of Mr Soros’ color coded pro imperialist “revolutions” then – and I refuse to support this one now.

    It’s not “communist” or “revolutionary” to support a pro austerity candidate who wants to starve the Iranian poor with welfare cutbacks and food price increases (and who was the architect of the mass murder of 30,000 Iranian communist political prisoners in 1988).

    The twitterati children of the Iranian rich support Moussavi because he will batter down the living standards of the Iranian workers (thus enriching their sweatshop owner fathers) and he will resubordinate Iran to America, so they can go visit (and make business deals) with their rich cousins in Los Angeles, shop on Rodeo Drive and 5th Avenue and go to Columbia, Harvard, UCLA or Bard College.

    It’s really clear which side revolutionaries should be on here – and it’s NOT the same side the New York Times is on!

    Comment by gangbox — June 23, 2009 @ 1:57 am

  21. Louis wrote: Khamenei is the only cleric that matters and he backs Ahmadinejad to the hilt. More to the point, I am interested in engaging with Marxists in Iran, not geopolitical lesser-evilism.

    While I am no expert on Iran from what I understand it is not only Khamenei that matters and even he is no big fan of Ahmadinejad. But that is not really the point- the point is that neither candidate lives up to your desired democracy candidate or moves beyond the theocracy.

    I still don’t understand why this is an either or choice. Why must we either support the status quo or the protestors? Maybe this has very little to do with Marxism and more to do with religion (the opiate) and tyranny. I really like to see the oppressed stand up as much as the next guy, but you and I both know that the outcome of this will not be the end of the theocracy, atleast not in the short term.

    Comment by brad — June 23, 2009 @ 2:39 am

  22. […] 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 Read more at https://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2009/06/22/a-velvet-revolution-in-iran/ […]

    Pingback by A velvet revolution in Iran? «…. Bernard-Henri Lévy: The Swan Song of…. | Total Info — June 23, 2009 @ 4:31 am

  23. Lou’s understandably “interested in engaging with Marxists in Iran, not geopolitical lesser-evilism” but does it automatically follow that freeing up the pornographers frees up the Marxists?

    Part of the problem is the social confusion that revolution plays on the age old enlightenment precepts of individual liberties.

    While it’s true that Lenin & Trotsky were unequivocal about censorhip in general, the particulars of 18 countries invading during Russian Civil War compelled a distinctly different practical response on how free “the Press” could be when enlightenment turned to barbarism.

    Isn’t it possible that Imperialism’s effort to encircle, thwart, strangle and threaten violence makes the Iranian toiler feel like they’re in something like a Civil War?

    Lenin & Trotsky also believed that in the big questions of “Who Gets What?” (Civil War being the sharpest expression) a certain obsession over the concept of Democracy was a product of the individualism championed by the propertied classes’ desire for privatization and was historically alien for the oppressed in general and the proletariat in particular, whose notion of democracy expressed in big trade unions were equally satisfied with either a single strike vote or the right to deny one a job if they didn’t join under “closed shop” dictums.

    They also argued that to the extent the proletariat actually achieved material gains through the history of the class struggle very few if any objective gains came throught the ballot or any other venue of formal democracy. Industrial Capitalism may have been codified with the help of some (structurally rigged) ballot boxes, but for the propertyless it was SitDowns, takeover of private property, and the historic General Strikes that weren’t necessarily approved by any ballots.

    But if it were a civil war in Iran — what side should a socialist take in the current conflict? There’s currently barricades in the streets of Tehran. Which side should the Marxists be on? What side would the Pentagon be on? Does your choice put you on the same side as the Pentagon? Have you ever been on the side of the Pentagon before? Or are such questions the crude use of the pluses and minuses that Trotsky referred to?

    Let’s say for arguments sake it became a Civil War next month wherein the highest virtue of each side becomes the murder of their opponents. The Pentagon, if it stuck to its tradition, certainly wouldn’t abstain from materially assisting one side of the civil war.

    Has the Pentagon ever materially assisted a political movement that had progressive significance?

    Like it or not a consderable amount of “geopolitical lesser-evilism” is bound to hold terrific sway. This debate on the left about Iran will ultimately differ very little from left debates like who would you support during Kronstadt; or was WWII a “good war”?; or would Hungary have become a fortress for imperialism in 1956?; or another fortress in Checzkslovakia in 1968? Were you for the victory of the Red Army in Vietnam or not? Or which side were you on in the Malvinas War? Is the world better off with the USSR gone? Were you for the victory of Iraq during the 1st Gulf War? If not then what about Gulf War II?

    Seems to me the 2 main sides in this current debate correspond roughly with the same 2 of those other debates but any third, more nuanced side taken won’t gain traction & will be drowned out in irrelevance or obliterated by Civil War.

    As for Marx in regards to the demands of German workers, it’s worth noting that when the German Kaisers faced political turmoil they didn’t have nearly the mighty external predator foe that Uncle Sam is to Iran.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — June 23, 2009 @ 4:36 am

  24. “What side would the Pentagon be on?”

    Interesting question… If I were Pen Tagon, what side would I be on? I’d probably mutter with embarrassment: Ok Pen, look what you did: You encouraged the opposition just to straighten the mullahs out, but the opposition took your bluff way too seriously and just called, as if it isn’t enough, Iranian people over-raised the pot and now we are on the verge of an unintended revolution. Instead of dealing with those pragmatist mullahs, now we are in danger of losing one of the continents of our ideological atlas and of running against some mysterious evil from the Pandora’s Box. Shame on you Pen…

    Comment by Mehmet Çagatay — June 23, 2009 @ 6:11 am

  25. “What side would the Pentagon be on?”

    Interesting question… If I were Pen Tagon, what side would I be on? I’d probably mutter with embarrassment: Ok Pen, look what you did: You encouraged the opposition just to straighten the mullahs out, but the opposition took your bluff way too seriously and just called, as if it isn’t enough, Iranian people over-raised the pot and now we are on the verge of an unintended revolution. Instead of dealing with those pragmatist mullahs, now we are in danger of losing one of the continents of our ideological atlas and of running against some mysterious evil from the Pandora’s Box. Shame on you Pen…
    Oops…forgot to say great post! Looking forward to your next one.

    Comment by Mehmet Çagatay — June 23, 2009 @ 9:07 am

  26. I’m not sure what the protesters were marching for and I doubt most in the West do either. Most likely it represent many tendencies. Talk about ‘supporting’ the protesters is somewhat meaningless in that context. Support what ?

    Everyone can be against beatings and repression , of course – Obama falls in that camp too.

    Comment by purple — June 23, 2009 @ 10:36 am

  27. #22 Karl Friedrich: “As for Marx in regards to the demands of German workers, it’s worth noting that when the German Kaisers faced political turmoil they didn’t have nearly the mighty external predator foe that Uncle Sam is to Iran.” Nonsense: until the run-up to 1914 the British Empire was the “mighty external predator foe” to all capitals and states which attempted to resist its demands.

    For campaigning and analysis on the same general line as Louis’ post and news from the movement not filtered by the NYT etc see Hands Off the People of Iran: http://www.hopoi.org/.

    Comment by Mike Macnair — June 23, 2009 @ 1:02 pm

  28. I do think that you are Sir, any different from those that you named and mentioned in the article.It’s particularly funny to me that “Marxist” James Petras quoting Financial Times,and if he enjoying aura that he is marxist than he is CL (Clueless Marxist).http://revolutionaryflowerpot.blogspot.com/

    Since I am Bosnian I’ve read some of your article concerning Bosnia and Karadzic and you fall in category with Chomsky;supporting tyrants such as Milosevic.I can freely to say that you are also CL,if not Hypocrite.

    I would like to say also,that no amount of knowledge,diplomas,degrees etc., can offset empathy and compassion toward humans – if you have one – and it’s particularly clear to me that your, so called, intellectual from US academia do not have it. At all.

    As for myself,my feeling regarding Iran, is this:http://angryarab.blogspot.com/2009/06/categorically.html

    BTW.From some of his works Lenin was showinst, when it comes in question so called, Balkan Question at that time.He did not have “class view”,he had religion view.

    Comment by Sarajevo — June 23, 2009 @ 1:40 pm

  29. This nuanced and interesting analysis is marred slightly by its assumption that reports of Peter Ackerman’s funding of student revolutionaries in Iran (and Venezuela) are accurate. They’re not. His organization, the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, gives no funding whatsoever to any activists or groups of any kind, only educational materials on civil resistance. Their tax status actually bars them by law from furnishing any money or material assistance. Stephen Zunes has numerous articles on left web sites explaining the limits of what these Western groups can do. The energy and intelligence behind what the Iranian street is doing comes from that street.

    Comment by Tom Paine — June 23, 2009 @ 1:41 pm

  30. “Their tax status actually bars them by law from furnishing any money or material assistance.”

    I imagine that if the American government ever discovered that Ackerman was providing secret funding for counter-revolutionaries in Venezuela, they’d throw the book at him.

    Comment by louisproyect — June 23, 2009 @ 1:49 pm

  31. Mike McNair’s post is absurd. The difference between Britain’s and Germany’s military might in Marx’s day while significant isn’t even comparable to the US & Iran today. As far back as 1960 Uncle Sam had 1000 nuclear missiles in Turkey. The end of the Cold War hasn’t removed one of them. That means Uncle Sam could wipe Iran out in an evening. In the history of British militarism they couldn’t have wiped out Germany in an evening — let alone a year.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — June 23, 2009 @ 3:13 pm

  32. Louis,

    You might have already heard of this, but I thought I’d pass it along:
    http://riseoftheiranianpeople.com/2009/06/22/strike-called-for-tuesday/
    Strikes were called. We’re updating with info as it comes in, but it seems that not much is coming out of the country at this time, unfortunately. However, I have a feeling that in the next few days this will pick up.

    Solidarity

    Comment by James — June 23, 2009 @ 4:56 pm

  33. It’s hard to tell from this far away what’s going on, but given the levels of mass participation we were seeing earlier in the week, and the difficulty the Mullahs have had in restoring order, something seems to be germinating in Iran, and I don’t think it’s as simple as western interference in the region. I don’t believe the memory of the Iranian mass is that short. They don’t live in the west, and they don’t have the luxury of ignoring what their experience with western experience has been, given what’s been going on just across their border for the last six years. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to argue that maybe there were some revolutionary currents among the working class of Iran who haven’t been heard from in awhile, and certainly much of what we’re seeing from sections of the labor movement in Iran who’ve been able to communicate via the net and elsewhere seems to suggest that. And for me, it also comes down to something Lenin said in his preface to Karl Marx’s Letters to Kugelman:

    “In September 1870, Marx called the insurrection (Paris) an act of desperate folly. But when the masses rose, Marx wanted to march with them, to learn with them in the process of the struggle, and not to give them bureaucratic admonitions. He realized that to attempt in advance to calculate the chances with complete accuracy would be quackery or hopleless pedantry. What he valued above everything else was that the working class heroically and self sacrificingly took the initiative in making world history. Marx regarded world history from the standpoint of those who make it without being in a position to calculate the chances infallibly beforehand, and not from the standpoint of an intellectual phillistine who moralizes: “it was easy to forsee… they should not have taken up arms” (Plekhanov).

    Marx was also able to appreciate that there are moments in history when a desperate struggle of the masses, even for a hopeless cause, is essential for the further schooling of these masses and their training for the next struggle…”

    Comment by MIchael Hureaux — June 23, 2009 @ 6:20 pm

  34. All these comparisons with the Paris Commune and Imperial Germany, not to mention the quotation culling from Marx, Lenin and Trotsky can’t hide the real comparisons that need to made…with the “color-coded” coups that the US and its NGO allies have pulled off (or failed to pull off) when ever and where ever some regime becomes a thorn in Uncle Sam’s side.

    Besides, we’re not talking about a mass movement of workers with a rotten leadership as existed in Poland in 1980-1981, let alone radical artisans and pre-industrial workers in Paris in 1871 or sans-culottes in the Paris sections in 1793. We’re talking about a section of the Iranian middle class backing one reactionary Islamist against another, and the one that they’re backing just happens to be the favorite son of Obama, Soros and Rafsanjani. As if those guys and the social forces that they represent offer anything desirable to workers.

    And once again, “democracy” has long been the stalking horse of counter-revolution from way back. You want to talk about the Paris Commune. Fine. The Commune was a workers’ democracy…in one city, up against a national assembly elected by the whole of France. Does that mean Marx shouldn’t have supported it? Hell no, he put class questions first and foremost.

    Should the Bolsheviks have turned over power to the Right SR-dominated Constituent Assembly because the latter body was based on universal suffrage whereas the soviets were class-based? I don’t think so and neither did many Russian workers at the time. Unless, of course, if you think that the Tsarist generals waiting in the wings behind the “democratic” petty-bouregois politicians offered a “democratic” alternative. Yet in the aftermath of the collapse of Stalinism, not a few advocates of classless “democracy” on the left now seem to think so, many of them within the USFI in general and the ex-LCR in particular.

    And remember Portugal back in 1975. The CIA, the Catholic Church and every other reactionary force in the country mobilized behind Mario Soares in the name of “democracy,” and Jack Barnes and the SWP cheered them on from afar.

    Finally, isn’t “democracy” the banner behind which marches the counter-revolution in Cuba and Venezuela? It’s not as if they, or their backers in the US, makes their case before “public opinion” by openly calling for restoring the exploitation of wage labor in Cuba or intensifying it Venezuela.

    Comment by MN Roy — June 23, 2009 @ 9:18 pm

  35. I can’t pretend to have answered this question satisfactorily to my own mind, but what’s the essential difference between these mobilizations and the 2004 mobilizations in Venezuela, when all of us defended the Venezuelan regime (which was not then, and really isn’t yet now, socialist)? Bolivarian vs Islamic Revolution?
    Both protest movements clearly have/had organic roots in the society that spawned them. Is it the repression of labor unions in Iran? How free women are? What is it that lets us disregard voting rights in one case and not in another?
    I have put my cards on the table here:
    http://www.maxajl.com/?p=1423

    I don’t write to be a contrarian or a sectarian. But at all moments the protesters, those active in the streets, were a demonstrable minority of Iranian society. Why suddenly endow them with legitimacy?

    Comment by max1284 — June 23, 2009 @ 10:41 pm

  36. I might get around to the differences between Venezuela and Iran and some point but right now, in answer to max1284, I will say this. The 2004 mobilizations in Venezuela grew out of anger with the expansion of democracy while the current mobilizations in Iran grow out of anger with its curtailment.

    Comment by louisproyect — June 23, 2009 @ 10:46 pm

  37. Louis – news flash – Ahmadinejad WON THE ELECTION!

    Even if you subtract the 3 million questionable votes – which may have reflected votes by migrant workers registered in their home villages but voting in the major cities they currently live in – he still creamed Moussavi by 8 million votes.

    What could me more “democratic” than the guy who WON the election taking office?

    Unless, of course, the spoiled rich twitterati brats of North Tehran can’t handle having their guy lose an election!

    Comment by gangbox — June 23, 2009 @ 10:59 pm

  38. I have no doubt that he won the election, Greg, but I don’t regard the elections as valid since candidates have to be vetted by an unelected Supreme Council. That is really what the protests are about in the final analysis, not fraud. Young people are sick of having no control over their lives.

    Comment by louisproyect — June 23, 2009 @ 11:02 pm

  39. So in response to each participant in the discussion, “what the protests are about in the final analysis” seems to change. Perhaps that’s “dialectics.” Now it’s the “unelected Supreme Council…(that) vet(s)…candidates.” While I would certainly agree with you that this is a hallmark of a thoroughly undemocratic system, (needless to say no socialist or labor candidates are allowed to participate), I don’t think that Moussavi or Rafsanjani would agree with us. Nor do I think that the “young people” supporting Moussavi would either, especially those of them that are supporting him over A’jad due to the latter’s image as a “populist” squandering the country’s resources on hand-outs to the poor.

    And why is that in a discussion amongst Marxists, the class character of these “young people” as well as that of their backers is constantly being played down? The fact is that these crowds are similar in composition and political program not only to the guilded youth opposing Chavez in Venezuela (whose hostility to the working class and what they see as Chavez’ “socialism” mirrors their class position), but to those that the imperialists backed in Serbia, Ukraine, Georgia and Lebanon. Or is it that the left is so desperate for something to chase after that any crowd will do, regardless of who they are and what they stand for?

    Comment by MN Roy — June 24, 2009 @ 12:52 am

  40. Comrade Roy, the students are mainly interested in personal freedom, not becoming investment bankers. I can’t get over Marxists trying to interpret a woman’s refusal to wear a hejab as proof of having counter-revolutionary leanings.

    Comment by louisproyect — June 24, 2009 @ 12:58 am

  41. But Lou, is Moussavi, who was allegedly pretty Draconian back in the day when he held more political sway, campaigning specifically for women’s rights? For less censorship? What exactly does he claim he’ll do different than the current regime? What would you guess he’d do differently?

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — June 24, 2009 @ 1:19 am

  42. Comrade Louis, just how is it that you know exactly what “the students are mainly interested in?” From reading the oh-so-objective NY Times or the establishment “left” Nation? I seem to recall hearing the same thing during the “velvet” revolutions that restored capitalism in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. And what happened there? They got capitalist “democracy” so that similar types to those protesting in Iran could “become investment bankers” and help ruin the lives of working people, who, under Stalinism, at least, had guaranteed jobs, housing and health care. Granted, I could care less if the Islamic Republic gets relegated to the dustbin of history, only the “opposition” is out to give it a yuppie face-lift. It’s not as if Moussavi or Rafsanjani are any more “democratic” than A’jad is.

    By the way, what happens when similar such crowds start protesting in Cuba, under the banner of “personal freedom?” What side will you be on then?

    Comment by MN Roy — June 24, 2009 @ 1:20 am

  43. How do I know what students are interested in? I read the newspapers. The NY Times reported that Venezuelan students did not want their country to become another Cuba. It reported that Iranian students want to listen to the music they prefer, etc. In your mind wanting the freedom to listen to rock-and-roll might be tantamount to believing in the need for private property, but I don’t see it that way. The woman who was shot dead in the streets of Tehran does not strike me as a counter-revolutionary. I take my stand with her. You are free to support the sniper who killed her.

    From today’s NY Times:

    Only scraps of information are known about Ms. Agha-Soltan. Her friends and relatives were mostly afraid to speak, and the government broke up public attempts to mourn her. She studied philosophy and took underground singing lessons — women are barred from singing publicly in Iran. Her name means voice in Persian, and many are now calling her the voice of Iran.

    Her fiancé, Caspian Makan, contributed to a Persian Wikipedia entry. He said she never supported any particular presidential candidate. “She wanted freedom, freedom for everybody,” the entry read.

    Her singing instructor, Hamid Panahi, offered a glimpse of her last moments.

    Comment by louisproyect — June 24, 2009 @ 1:38 am

  44. Karl, Mousavi’s wife campaigned by his side. By comparison, nobody has ever seen Ahmadinejad’s wife. I should mention, btw, that my wife used to work in a battered woman’s shelter in Istanbul. I think the concessions made to the horrible sexism in Iran by the pro-Ahmadinejad left is absolutely deplorable.

    Comment by louisproyect — June 24, 2009 @ 1:41 am

  45. Yeah, the bourgeois press is full of heart rendering stories to stoke the fires of their cause and demonize the A’jad regime. The same way they did with Noreiga, Milosevic and Saddam Hussein. And the same way they routinely do with Chavez and Castro. Only Marxists usually don’t fall for this kind of stuff. I mean how many stories did they run about innocent Israeli civilians being killed by Palestinian “terrorists” when Israel was bombing the hell out of Gaza (or Lebanon back in 2006)? And, no doubt, Israeli civilians are, in fact, innocent victims. Only that doesn’t make the Palestinian struggle any less legitimate or the Israeli state any more legitimate. The same goes here.

    As to rock and roll, I’ve been listening to it from way back in Beatle days. And I would be mad as hell if any American ayatollahs tried to stop me from listening to it or for that matter tried to stop anyone from listening to Lawrence Welk. Only I don’t think that Obama, Soros, Rafsanjani and Mousavi are too interested in what music people listen to. Again, I can remember hearing the same sort stuff about Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union and even Cuba. And not only do we know that that kind of stuff was a lot of baloney, but we also know that the imperialists weren’t (and aren’t) opposed to those regimes because they supposedly wouldn’t let their citizens listen to Elvis or Mick Jagger.

    By the way, I don’t seem to recall the NY Time that you seem to hold in such high regard giving such touching coverage to the murder of the Indymedia journalist Brad Will, let alone, to any of the Mexicans murdered by the pro-US PAN regime there. Nor do I recall them ever being too upset about the Afghan women murdered by their mullah friends when Bin Laden and Co. were considered “freedom fighters,” not just by them, but by many on the so-called “left.” Back then I took my stand with the PDPA. I hope you didn’t support the “snipers” who killed them.

    Comment by MN Roy — June 24, 2009 @ 2:03 am

  46. Lou — Obama’s wife campaigned by his side. I think the concessions made to the horrible bankers & militarists by the pro-Obama left is absolutely deplorable.

    I realize this is apples to oranges but the point is while I also find sexism deplorable anywhere I don’t think leftists are necesarily making any more concessions to repression in Iran than Lenin made to the Haile Selassie’s regime in Ethiopia when he defended it against against Italy despite the repression of communists there.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — June 24, 2009 @ 2:07 am

  47. Just out of curiosity, comrade Roy, have you ever *done* anything or is your revolutionary credentials based on the things you believe. Just between you and me, saying on the Internet that the NY Times is a boss newspaper is pretty inconsequential. Not that much different than a graffiti over a urinal.

    Comment by louisproyect — June 24, 2009 @ 2:16 am

  48. In the USA, candidates’ wives routinely campaign for their husband. But Mousavi is in Iran, not in the USA. I think you meant Trotsky rather than Lenin who died in 1924 or so.

    Comment by louisproyect — June 24, 2009 @ 2:18 am

  49. Louis–
    You write that “The 2004 mobilizations in Venezuela grew out of anger with the expansion of democracy while the current mobilizations in Iran grow out of anger with its curtailment.”
    As much as I’m keeping an open mind about this, by all appearances it seems that Ahmadinejad won a majority, even if not quite the majority he officially won (and I still have not seen convincing evidence of fraud, although I’m keeping a totally open mind).
    If either of the two possibilities above are correct, then the current mobilizations are the work of a minority vexed about an electoral outcome they do not like.
    How is that “anger at [democracy’s] curtailment”?

    Comment by max1284 — June 24, 2009 @ 2:29 am

  50. Max, don’t you know that there are no reformist papers in Iran? In 1999 the reformist paper Salam was shut down sparking a huge student protest. In the 2004 election the reformist candidates were not allowed to run. The Supreme Council nixed them. This has been going on for a *long* time. This is not democracy. In Venezuela there are very few barriers to political expression. This is what socialists favor.

    Comment by louisproyect — June 24, 2009 @ 2:33 am

  51. Louis–
    I don’t like the regime in Tehran any more than you. I agree that there are massive problems with it and with the social process there. I wish there had been a candidate espousing progressive economics and political liberalism. But don’t you think also that as socialists we must respect popular will, and let the Iranians figure out their own society?

    Comment by max1284 — June 24, 2009 @ 2:36 am

  52. So the poor woman killed today is being martyred on the blogs as if her tragic death should convince somebody in this debate differently? Nobody wants to see a beautiful innocent woman slain in the streets but how do you know it was sniper rather than something more random?

    But how she died is beside the point of trying to characterize her feelings. “She wanted freedom, freedom for everybody.” But freedom is a loaded word. Bush wanted freedom for Iraqis. I don’t see how that expression attributed to her furthers the debate?

    Don’t get me wrong. All the points you raise Lou are valid ones and cannot be easily brushed aside. I just don’t think it automatically follows that women activists like, say, Deirdre Griswold of Workers World whose fought sexism her entire life, are necessarily apologizing for Iranian sexism just because she finds the opposition to A’Jad questionably motivated. I think in the post-Soviet, post-911, Axis of Evil era the Iranian question is more complex.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — June 24, 2009 @ 2:43 am

  53. #46 Right Lou. I meant to say what Trotsky articulated as a Leninist position regarding Italy’s aggression toward Ethiopia in 1935. True enough, Uncle Sam’s aggression toward Iran so far has only been to… threaten to bomb it.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — June 24, 2009 @ 3:01 am

  54. It is a huge leap to claim that those people on the streets in Iran a protesting to end the theocracy as Louis cliams. It is particularly huge do to the fact that most claim to simply want to replace the current pres with thier guy and that the democracy that most on the street want is simply to have their votes counted and to have less fraud.

    Also, becareful what you wish for. What happens next month when the US or Israel start bombing Iran in the name of ‘democracy’ and in the name of the girl that was killed? Do we bomb our way to women’s rights? Isn’t that what Bush said he was doing in Afganistan- bringing them democracy and women’s rights.

    But then I must be against women’s rights or ‘democracy’ since I don’t give uncritical support to the protesters and actually take what they say they want at its word and don’t project my dreams onto their movement. It isn’t really that simple.

    Comment by brad — June 24, 2009 @ 3:37 am

  55. Our group (IMT) tried to get the local antiwar coalition to support the June 26th demonstrations in support of Iranian workers, called by Labour Start, we became more isolated than ever. Just about everyone including a 4th Int’l member, denounced us. The WWP type line is powerful amongst the stupid.

    Comment by Renegade Eye — June 24, 2009 @ 3:53 am

  56. ” I don’t like the regime in Tehran any more than you. I agree that there are massive problems with it and with the social process there. I wish there had been a candidate espousing progressive economics and political liberalism. But don’t you think also that as socialists we must respect popular will, and let the Iranians figure out their own society?”

    Isn’t that what we’re sort of doing already? We’re not advocating bombing Iran, we’re just hoping something if anything comes of it from Ahiminjad

    Comment by Jenny — June 24, 2009 @ 3:57 am

  57. P.S. Interview with pro Ahmidenjad cleric: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ali-a-rizvi/an-exclusive-interview-wi_b_219047.html

    Comment by Jenny — June 24, 2009 @ 4:33 am

  58. Renegade–
    My “line” [my thoughts, I suppose] seem to vaguely approximate the WWP line, which I’m sure you know. The response, if I were feeling acrimonious, is that the Al Giordano-type line is powerful amongst the dreamily optimistic.

    Jenny–
    Of course no one is advocating bombing Iran. And we’re hoping (yes, me too) that the protests elicit or catalyze positive change. But that is seeming less and less likely. There’s a point here: we need to be serious about how hard social change is, I think (and I don’t mean to come across as didactic or worse condescending, I’m sure you know better than I). And that means understanding why Ahmadinejad’s policies and rhetoric have garnered him legitimacy, and the way protests can quickly spin off in ways their initiators didn’t intend.
    One Iranian guy whose commentary I’ve been following is a Marxist, deeply supportive of the protesters, protesting himself. The security forces seem to be hunting him down, if Facebook is to be believed. Here’s the thing: the socialist agenda he, for example (this is solely a data-point) wanted was not going to come from this revolt. period. what if leftist encouragement pushed him to do something rash, got him killed? That’s one less Iranian Marxist to help build the movement, because we in the West got excited (I got excited), and encouraged from the sidelines.

    My question is, what if we go back to the beginning. Imagine Ahmadinejad won with a legitimate majority, and imagine we’d viewed the protesters as merely complaining about a legitimate election. Things would look far different, no? We would perhaps have hoped that aspects of the demands for political liberalism would’ve been implemented, but we wouldn’t’ve said a word about revolution. Yoshie’s point was that: solidarity is more than simply us hoping for the best for them.

    Comment by max1284 — June 24, 2009 @ 6:16 am

  59. The view of this author:

    http://www.counterpunch.org/amin06222009.html

    doesn’t strike me as either “stupid” nor an “apologist for sexism” nor an attempt “to reduce it to an imperialist plot to foment a ‘color’ or ‘velvet’ revolution.”

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — June 24, 2009 @ 11:00 am

  60. MN Roy:

    I wasn’t making any comparisions of Iran to any previous revolution. I was citing a quote culled from Marx and Lenin in which Lenin was affirming Marx’s belief that even a brief moment of real movement from the workers, regardless of its possiblity of success, was more educational than a dozen party programs. Marx was referring to the Paris Commune in the citation, but I certainly wasn’t looking to compare Iran to the Paris Commune. I used the quote because I thought the larger point was fairly obvious.

    Along that same line, Max1284, I don’t believe it was “dreamily optimistic” of Al Giordano, or the IMT to be combing carefully through what occurred in Iran to see how various factions of the labor movement were attempting to do. Nor do I believe it is “dreamily optimistic” to assert that what has been going on in Iran is a “pre-revolutionary situation”, as certainly the contradictions in that nightmare are bound to evoke such response from the populace, unless, of course, you’re suggesting that everything we’ve seen in Iran in the last few days was merely a creation of western interference. Certainly there is powerful evidence that affirms the usual suspects have played a role in what transpired there. But quite frankly, I don’t believe Twitter or the Internet are any more capable of building or sustaining the kind of momentum that was seen in the streets of Iran for almost a week than the working classes of Iran are. In fact, if I have to believe that English speaking upper middle class liberals are capable of generating that kind of support within the mass, than I may as well believe that there are militant working class factions that are capable of doing the same thing. Otherwise, why am I bothering with any of this?

    I believe the pre-revolutionary Iranian working class and rural poor were in it. I believe they played a confused but ongoing leadership role within the fightback we just saw in Iran, as there is much small evidence of this that came from the auto and oil workers. If I don’t believe that, than I must believe that the revolutionary proletariat relies solely on the energy or capacity of exchanges like the ones we have here, or worse yet, that the working class is incapable of feeling any outrage or making any movement unless a bunch of disaffected upper middle class twits who receive resource from overseas provocateurs stir things up.

    Comment by MIchael Hureaux — June 24, 2009 @ 1:30 pm

  61. Michael–
    There’s a difference between the IMT-type line and the Al Giordano-type line. The former, while I disagree with it, at least has bothered to think.
    Consider some excerpts: “Although many had hoped that the post-electoral struggle in Iran would be a one act play, this one seems more likely to be headed into a saga that is four or five acts long. Like many previous social movements throughout history, this has turned from a hundred yard dash into a marathon.”
    “In such situations, the resistance has to respond to the “low intensity warfare” of the regime with its own kind of “low intensity revolution” from below (think of the Zapatistas as an example, who burrowed into their territories successfully by forming autonomous zones and governments completely independent from the Mexican state). Attainable options might include that of civil resisters taking control of a secondary city outside of Tehran (as in Oaxaca, Mexico, 2006) which would force the state apparatus to spread its security troops even more thinly,”

    Seriously, what the fuck is he talking about? Forget the breathless cliches and mixed metaphors, not so much indicative of thoughtlessness, although that too, but of a mind that literally cannot even be bothered to think. Where’s the analysis here? Mobilizations in Tehran are attracting mere hundreds of protesters. The Zapatistas blended indigenous practice with a touch of the Marxist-Leninism of the Mexico City intelligentsia. What the fuck is the parallel to contemporary Iran? There is none. This is a dream.

    Now: Michael: you write, “Nor do I believe it is “dreamily optimistic” to assert that what has been going on in Iran is a “pre-revolutionary situation”, as certainly the contradictions in that nightmare are bound to evoke such response from the populace, unless, of course, you’re suggesting that everything we’ve seen in Iran in the last few days was merely a creation of western interference.”

    Now, you can stick to what I have written, a couple thousand words sprayed across the internet, or even just the commentary here, or resort to rhetorical constructions like “unless, of course, you’re suggesting…” If you prefer you latter, fine.
    Here’s the issue: why is what was going on in Iran a “pre-revolutionary” situation (one can pedantically call all of history a ‘pre-revolutionary situation,’ I suppose) and not Venezuela c. 2004? Again, there is an implicit value judgment on both the regime’s legitimacy and the composition of the protesters, the former about which we can guess at with some degree of precision, the latter somewhat harder to discern from afar.

    I have said not one word about Western interference except for abjuring it, a stance you presumably agree with.

    With that said, I think it’s reasonable to try to be cool and analytical in assessing the prospects of protest in Iran. Simple numerical evidence, like 85+% turnout and the majority/landslide for Ahmadinejad, militate strongly against seeing this as a revolutionary situation. The first number suggests that Iranians took the election extremely, extremely seriously. The second suggests that those who took the election seriously supported the incumbent. All of the analysis we’ve seen has stood on first stipulating fraud and in turn conjecturing about the consequences of that fraud and the regime’s illegitimacy. I’ve suggested that things look quite different when we don’t start the game off that way, and that talk of revolution is dreamy, having nothing to do with “foreign interference,” the “stupidity of the Iranian poor,” or any other construction.

    You write, “But quite frankly, I don’t believe Twitter or the Internet are any more capable of building or sustaining the kind of momentum that was seen in the streets of Iran for almost a week than the working classes of Iran are. In fact, if I have to believe that English speaking upper middle class liberals are capable of generating that kind of support within the mass, than I may as well believe that there are militant working class factions that are capable of doing the same thing.”

    Again that may be the kind of dichotomy a decaying James Petras deploys. It’s not one I’m dealing with. The Mousavi protesters were and are a part of Iranian society, no question, as are the bus workers, the garbagemen who briefly joined the demonstrations, etc. But not enough of it. And if instead of presuming the illegitimacy of the election we had instead presumed its legitimacy, I think this would have been easier to see.
    (Before anyone jumps on me, I’m using legitimacy in an attenuated sense. I don’t like the Iranian elections or the system, but Iranians believe in it enough to have turned out in incredible numbers and it’s their system to find legitimate or not, to like or not.

    “”I believe the pre-revolutionary Iranian working class and rural poor were in it. I believe they played a confused but ongoing leadership role within the fightback we just saw in Iran, as there is much small evidence of this that came from the auto and oil workers. If I don’t believe that, than I must believe that the revolutionary proletariat relies solely on the energy or capacity of exchanges like the ones we have here, or worse yet, that the working class is incapable of feeling any outrage or making any movement unless a bunch of disaffected upper middle class twits who receive resource from overseas provocateurs stir things up.””

    Sure, perhaps some were, but it seems–as it’s hard to tell–that most were not. It does not follow that if you “don’t believe that” then they rely on our “exchanges,” or that the “twits” need to stir them up. Again, this only makes sense when you stipulate the election’s illegitimacy, rather than the other way around.

    Comment by max1284 — June 24, 2009 @ 3:17 pm

  62. “Just out of curiosity, comrade Roy, have you ever *done* anything or is your revolutionary credentials based on the things you believe.”

    This is philistine.

    Comment by epoliticus — June 24, 2009 @ 3:38 pm

  63. It is not philistine. The Internet is filled with armchair revolutionaries. Spend 5 minutes on alt.politics.socialism.trotsky and you would think that you had landed in the Smolny Institute in 1917.

    Comment by louisproyect — June 24, 2009 @ 3:40 pm

  64. Good exchange, max1284. Honestly, I don’t know with any certainty what came down in Iran last week. But I do know that, regardless of whether Ahmahdinejad’s electoral victory was legitimate or not, that what we saw was a massive outpouring of anger against 30 years of clerical reaction that hasn’t been completely subdued as of yet. Obviously there isn’t enough of the mass to effect a qualitative transformation of the overall situation, but I do believe that those elements were out there, admittedly tiny from what evidence we’re able to garner from this far away. And I think we ought to be lending what support we can to any of those elements which may be what we in the anti-imperial opposition view as credible, and clearly it’s going to take a lot of questions and follow up questions to figure out who and where those folks are. I’m not interested in replaying my own stupidity around the stalinism piece just before the Soviet collapse twenty years ago. Ridiculous as those systems were, they still provided a valuable stumbling block to the imperial project, but nobody could have told me that back in 1989.

    I don’t deny that the Ahmahdinejad victory was “legitamate”, insofar as any boojwah or clerical victory in that political process can be seen as legitimate, and clearly the west needs to be prevented from interfering, whatever is going down in Iran. But too many people on the left, myself included, just flew to the conclusion that everything we’ve seen in the way of protest is western inspired, and that there are no real revolutionaries in the mix. I basically underscored that idea in my column at Black Agenda Report last week, but became less sure as the week wore on.

    As for the difference between this situation and Venezuela in 2004, from what I understand, and again, as an outsider thousands of miles away from the scene, the key difference is the level of working class engagement with Venezuelan governance that goes way outside of marking a ballot. Or so I’ve heard from a number of different sources. Is there that level of labor empowerment within Ahmahdinejad’s forces? From what I’ve heard, probably not. So that would be the difference, near as I can tell. But there does seem to be small sparks of opposition within the Iranian labor movement, which did not side with Ahmahdinejad around the issues of independent labor. Are there enough? Obviously not, and no doubt there are renegades in the mix. I don’t know. I really don’t know, and clearly it’s a mixed bag, and as you say, either/or thinking Petras style on any side of the question doesn’t help much.

    On the other hand, thank you for a stimulating response to my post and the opportunity to check my own “stuff”.

    Comment by MIchael Hureaux — June 24, 2009 @ 8:03 pm

  65. Thanks for the article. As some of the comments here illustrate, we in the west are so focused on viewing this through our own lens that we are missing what is really happening there. here’s another site that speaks to this: http://www.youthradio.org/news/the-shifting-lines-between-iran-and-the-west

    Comment by Mary — June 24, 2009 @ 8:13 pm

  66. Max: I myself don’t expect an amazing revolution, I just hope these protests could encourage, say, GLBT groups in Iran to advocate an end to executions and such like.

    Comment by Jenny — June 25, 2009 @ 12:01 am

  67. Jenny–
    I hope that they will too. But revolution is what everyone–
    including me–was talking about 7 days ago. We seemed to have got it badly wrong. We need to ask ourselves why.

    Michael–
    The graciousness of that reply says a great deal more, and more positively, about you than my response does for me, and thanks for that.
    You write, “And I think we ought to be lending what support we can to any of those elements which may be what we in the anti-imperial opposition view as credible, and clearly it’s going to take a lot of questions and follow up questions to figure out who and where those folks are.”
    I absolutely agree. I worry that our gushing about revolution was in this respect actually regressive, especially since Iranians are already understandably chary about the actions of people from the US.

    You write, “But too many people on the left, myself included, just flew to the conclusion that everything we’ve seen in the way of protest is western inspired, and that there are no real revolutionaries in the mix. I basically underscored that idea in my column at Black Agenda Report last week, but became less sure as the week wore on.”

    Again, I agree. I am following the Facebook feed of a young Iranian Marxist (I assume. Who really knows, right?). Security forces are hunting him down. He took part in the protests. What good could our encouragement of the Marxist Iranians–our allies in struggle–have done if he and one hundred like him end up imprisoned or exiled?

    You write, “As for the difference between this situation and Venezuela in 2004, from what I understand, and again, as an outsider thousands of miles away from the scene, the key difference is the level of working class engagement with Venezuelan governance that goes way outside of marking a ballot. Or so I’ve heard from a number of different sources. Is there that level of labor empowerment within Ahmahdinejad’s forces? From what I’ve heard, probably not.”

    Right, this is true, and in that sense popular participation is wonderful and beguiling in Bolivarian Venezuela (and I’ve been down there, twice, to see for myself). But there also the reformists, getting fat off CADIVI, buying cars and mansions, leeching wealth for their own purposes. This is in fact a major tendency (I don’t mean to suggest a majority tendency, obviously). We don’t condition our support for the project on that, though, or I don’t, at least.

    Ahmadinejad–again, conditionally, assuming he won either a majority/landslide–has a great number of poor supporters. He must, to have won the vote. I don’t at all understand the dynamics of post-revolutionary Iran, and have to rely on rough indicators; in this case, the election turnout, and the results. And if they’re accurate, most of Iran’s poor is behind Ahmadinejad, and it is them that the Iranian left must connect to. I don’t know much beyond that, except that supporting those acting in defiance of their democratic wishes can’t have helped the socialist cause.

    And again, thank you for your civility.

    Comment by max1284 — June 25, 2009 @ 2:55 am

  68. Max: it’s also possible protesters are taking advantage of what’s apparently happening behind the scenes: http://original.antiwar.com/sahimi/2009/06/23/irans-election-drama/

    Comment by Jenny — June 25, 2009 @ 5:29 am

  69. MN Roy, I loved your comments in this discussion.

    Comment by Maria Şerban — November 17, 2010 @ 4:19 pm


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: