Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

June 24, 2009

Four articles of note on Iran

Filed under: Iran — louisproyect @ 3:59 pm

Once again Iran has captured world attention. The 10th presidential election period has presented a new element in Iran’s politics not seen in the previous exercise of universal suffrage in the country: massive mobilization of the people. This became evident throughout the election period in the larger than usual crowd gatherings at election rallies in support of the current president, Mr. Mahmud Ahmadi-Nejad, and his main challenger, Mr. Mir Hussein Mousavi. All social strata were drawn into this process to one degree or another. The election turnout has reportedly surpassed 80 per cent.

The electoral process in Iran set the people in motion on divergent paths; live TV political debates among the candidates became heated, but absent from the debate was any substance with regard to empowering the people to deal with social, economic, and political problems. The need for the organization of students, youth, women, national-ethnic groups, and working people of the city and the countryside that would unite the entire country’s political tendencies is the only recourse for maintaining national unity. Action organizations like shoras (councils) can act based on broad consensus in the interest of the country’s sovereignty and meet the needs of populations in economic, social, political and cultural areas. Instead of offering any real prospect for self-organization of populations, each candidate claimed to be a better manager, a better servant of the people of Iran.

The debates did not have any national or international focal points. Each challenged the other’s statistical numbers and figures with regard to inflation or this or that economic indicator; credentials of various known personalities and the validity of university degrees of others were questioned or defended. There were personal attacks and finger pointing before TV audiences, estimated at one point as high as 50 million in a country of nearly 70 million.

Full: http://babakzahraie.blogspot.com/

* * * *

Nearly all of the world’s people, who are overwhelmingly wage laborers and peasants, endure oppression. Of course, societies vary considerably in both the degree and openness of this oppression. Sweden is no doubt a less repressive nation than is the United States, and the latter is less coercive than is Saudi Arabia. Nonetheless, the lot in life of most persons is to be subjected to the control, in one way or another, of a minority of their fellow human beings.

Ordinarily, we suffer abuse in silence, fearful of what might happen to us if we protest or not able to pinpoint exactly who or what is making us miserable. However, sometimes the power of the minority breaks down. It may suddenly lose legitimacy, or it may be defeated by an organized struggle. Then all hell can break loose. The grievances held in check for so long are brought into the open, and the multitude demands that they be addressed. Violence is not uncommon in such circumstances. When China’s peasants helped the Chinese Communists defeat their landlord exploiters, and when it was no longer possible for their former superiors to punish them, they took sometimes horrible vengeance against the land owners who for centuries had treated them little better than animals.

Iran is a tyrannical society. It is organized theocratically, run by religious zealots, who use their power, backed by armed might (regular military forces and special militias dedicated personally to the religious elite), religious authority, and the prestige they have inherited from their role in the overthrow of the Shah, the long war with Iraq, and defiance of the United States and its allies, to elicit or compel obedience from the worker and peasant majority. Unions are illegal; women are especially oppressed; government spies and morality police keep a strict watch over personal behavior; media are tightly controlled and sometimes blocked; and certain groups are favored economically—notably the Revolutionary Guards—to keep their loyalty.

Full: http://blog.cheapmotelsandahotplate.org/2009/06/23/190/

* * * *

Despite efforts by Iran’s leaders to keep photographers off the streets during post-election protests this month, many vivid images have emerged. The one posted here, above, is the one I found most chilling, poignant and evocative.

By now, many outsiders can identify the man whose picture is on the right-hand side of this protest sign. He is Mir Hossein Mousavi, the reported loser in this month’s presidential election. The elderly gentleman in the other picture is unfamiliar to most non-Iranians. He and his fate, however, lie at the historical root of the protests now shaking Iran.

The picture shows a pensive, sad-looking man with what one of his contemporaries called “droopy basset-hound eyes and high patrician forehead”. He does not look like a man whose fate would continue to influence the world decades after his death. But this was Muhammad Mossadeq, the most fervent advocate of democracy ever to emerge in his ancient land.

Above the twinned pictures of Mossadeq and Mousavi on this protest poster are the words “We won’t let history repeat itself.” Centuries of intervention, humiliation and subjugation at the hand of foreign powers have decisively shaped Iran’s collective psyche. The most famous victim of this intervention – and also the most vivid symbol of Iran’s long struggle for democracy – is Mossadeq. Whenever Iranians assert their desire to shape their own fate, his image appears.

Full: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2009/jun/19/iran-protests-mousavi-mossadeq

* * * *

The dilemma faced by commentators of all kinds, not just bloggers, on the Iranian protests can be summarised by a single, annoying portmanteau word: instapunditry. The pressure to take a view prematurely in such a situation can only produce a series of stock responses, either based on CNN filtered news, or speculation from various samizdat-style websites, or material provided by the Iranian media itself. And after all, while these protests had precedent in previous student and workers rebellions, the sheer scale of upheaval had no precedent in the entire history of Islamic Republic. How to relate to that?

It has been possible to be both eloquent and consistent only be relying on an analysis made for a different situation that seems to fit. Thus, right-wing bloggers have tended to interpret the events in terms of the ‘colour revolution’, involving a relatively smooth transfer of power from a weakened, no longer hegemonic ruling bloc, to a pro-US faction. symbolised by a striking advertising symbol – the purple finger, the green fingers, etc. A few left-wing commentators look at it the same way, but simply reverse the value significations. It is a handy ready-made template, and if it were an accurate reading, then the protesters would have been little more than useful idiots for a comprador elite. But there is little evidence that anything like this is happening. The most we have seen is some bizarre rumours about Israel trying to promote a ‘twitter revolution’ (probably put about by Twitter, you know). Similarly, prefabricated ideas about Ahmadinejad representing the uneducated poor and Mousavi representing the articulate middle class, have been ubiquitous on all sides. And just the same, they have turned out to be wrong.

Full: http://leninology.blogspot.com/2009/06/pitfalls-of-premature-eloquence.html


  1. Thanks for posting my little essay. I got so angry reading some of the foolish things being said in support of the Iranian government that I thought I had better say something.

    Comment by Michael Yates — June 24, 2009 @ 6:12 pm

  2. Dear Michael,

    It’s too bad that MRZine appears to have become a fount of support and information for the Iranian state. I mean, why is the last Friday sermon by the Supreme Leader on your site? And why so little positive coverage of the street protests, which go far beyond the program of Mousawi to encompass important democratic demands?



    Comment by wilbur — June 25, 2009 @ 10:58 pm

  3. I don’t want to speak for Michael, but MRZine is more of Yoshie Furuhashi’s blog than a voice of MR politics. She was hired by John Mage, whose judgment I have found suspect over the years. When she first took over and started writing this pro-Ahmadinejad crap, a group of Iranian exiles wrote an open letter condemning it.

    Comment by louisproyect — June 25, 2009 @ 11:25 pm

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