Edward S. Herman
Over on MRZine you can read a 10,000-word attack by Edward S. Herman and his writing partner David Peterson directed at a statement on Iran made by the Campaign for Peace and Democracy. It is an application of a methodology that has by now become so familiar. Identify the latest target of American destabilization and then try to burnish the reputation of the government under siege. The CPD is the perfect foil for Herman and Peterson since it has a sorry “third camp” record inspired ideologically by leader Joanne Landy’s guru, the late Julius Jacobson. Jacobson put out “New Politics” for many years, a journal with a seething hatred for anything connected with the USSR. So by targeting the CPD, the job is much easier than it would be if they had to deal with the Iranian leftists in exile who are much harder to stigmatize as tools of the U.S. State Department. Indeed, if you go through their 47 footnotes, you will find none that cites an Iranian leftist, a rather breathtaking example of the use of blinders.
The article consists, as might be expected, of one example after another of U.S. meddling in Iranian politics. One paragraph should suffice to show what they are about:
The CPD ignores the existence, let alone the impact, of multiple, large, and overlapping governmental and nongovernmental programs devoted to developing the media and expertise necessary for “democratic movements” in other countries, and to “strengthen the bond between indigenous democratic movements abroad and the people of the United States,” as the National Endowment for Democracy describes its mission. Despite President Obama’s semi-apologetic admission in his speech at Cairo University the week before Iran’s election that the United States once “played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government,” USA Today reports that “The Obama administration is moving forward with plans to fund groups that support Iranian dissidents, . . . continuing a program that became controversial when it was expanded by President Bush.” Part of the purpose of the $15 million Near Eastern Regional Democracy Initiative, a Senate Appropriations committees spokesman told USA Today, “is to expand access to information and communications through the Internet for Iranians.“
The other goal of the article is to refute the idea that the elections were rigged. It repeats a number of points that were made early on, including a Western poll that reflected preference for Ahmadinejad. In my view, both things can be true. The elections were marred by fraud and Ahmadinejad was favored by a majority of voters. But the basic flaw in approaching the Iranian elections in this manner is that it accepts the existing parameters. In other words, it assumes that democracy exists because voters had a choice between a “populist” like Ahmadinejad and a “reformist” like Mousavi. They have their own 2-party system over there as well. Why an American leftist would get caught up arguing for the lesser evil over there beggars the imagination.
In Iran the Guardian Council, an unelected body, has the power to disqualify candidates who do not pass their religious/political litmus test. While voters could have chosen from 6 candidates in the latest election, they were out of luck if they preferred one of the 475 others that the clerics had excluded including 42 women. This of course does not even address the question of socialist or secular politicians who are barred from participating openly in Iranian politics. The revolt that began in June might have been sparked by anger over perceived charges of fraud, but they soon evolved into a challenge to the clerical system as a whole. Unfortunately for the street protesters, they will not be accepted as legitimate by characters like James Petras or Edward S. Herman as long as there is a single NGO funded by George Soros or a CIA agent on the ground in Iran that is still functioning.
Herman and Peterson’s methodology only works if you reduce the playing field to imperialist states and those that are under attack from imperialism. As such, these Znet geniuses are analogous in some ways to the Guardian Council in Iran which also decides who gets to play in politics or not. So you are bus drivers in Tehran trying to form a union? Sorry, Herman and Peterson have no interest in your plight as long as George Soros or Freedom House issues statements on your behalf. The implied prescription for the Iranian left is just to disappear, since they give aid and comfort to the “reformist” politicians who are clearly pawns of American imperialism.
There was a time when I identified with what Edward S. Herman was up to politically. During the war in the Balkans, I made the same kinds of points and still feel that they needed to be made for if you compare Ahmadinejad to Milosevic, there is no contest. It is sometimes forgotten that Belgrade had a lively political culture and that Milosevic abided by election results that required a run-off. It was the opposition candidate supported by U.S. imperialism who decided to organize a coup rather than take part in an election in which his victory was not assured. This is not to speak of the economic questions involved with the Serbs trying desperately to hold the crumbling edifice of Titoism together while it was being pounded by Western banks, sanctions, and bombs. The project eventually collapsed because the relationship of forces was so overwhelmingly against it, mirroring what had happened to Sandinista Nicaragua some years earlier. None of this has anything to do with Iran, however, a country whose current government descended from a clerical coup in the early 1980s that had as much animosity toward the left as NATO and the U.S. State Department. Thousands of leftists were murdered, jailed or tortured for simply defending the types of property relations that existed in Tito’s Yugoslavia. The fact that American imperialism resented Iranian control over precious oil resources was sufficient in some circles on the left to give the reactionary clerics a stamp of approval.
It took me a while to figure out that the “anti-imperialist” methodology was lacking, but I owe it to Jared Israel, the creator of the Emperor’s Clothes website, to help me crystallize my thinking. When he was on the Marxism mailing list, he began defending Putin’s war on the Chechens along the same lines as Serb intervention in Kosovo. It was a pretty mechanical exercise, dredging up all the reactionaries who had backed the Chechens in much the same way that Herman and Peterson ferret out tarnished backers of the “Green revolution” in Iran.
It was, of course, the same story in Zimbabwe. You could always find sanctimonious statements on behalf of the domestic opposition there, led by Morgan Tsvangirai, the Mousavi of Zimbabwe. As is the case in Iran, revolutionaries were forced to operate within a limited political space. In the best of all worlds, the Movement for Democracy would have called for land reform rather than opposing it. It would have rejected IMF style neoliberalism, as well. But given the crushing weight of Mugabe’s armed forces and cops, all serving to prop up a deeply corrupt system cloaked in “anti-imperialist” rhetoric, work inside the MDC had to be considered by the Zimbabwean left. Since revolutions almost always involve wresting more and more space for the working class to operate as an independent force, Marxists must consider struggles for greater parliamentary freedom even though our goal is not a parliamentary system. Lenin fought for a more representative Duma in Czarist Russia even though his final goal was to supersede it with workers councils, called Soviets.
On the Greenleft mailing list, there was a comment from Pakistani leftist Farooq Sulehria that caught my eye. It really captured the dynamics of this kind of struggle for democratic rights:
Like any social movement on mass scale, we see convergence of interests. Hence, rivals joining hands (Rafsanjani and Mousavi in fact Rafsanjani was pivotal in helping Khomenai get present position of strength).
The problem is: official Iranian media, official opposition (so called reformists) and western media reduced the whole movement to election fraud.
Yes, it became a pretext. Like recently in Pakistan, democracy movement unfolded by a highly unlikely event i.e. forced retirement of highest judge by General Musharraf. What started as a movement for the restoration of this judge, finally made Musharraf resign. And from day one, this movement was a movement for democracy and not for a single judge regardless what colour every participant was giving it. From far left to orthodox islamists as well as Bhutto’s party (at one stage) joined this movement.
This is what we need to understand. Many say, in Iran, they are seeking cover behind Mousavi. But with the passage of time, slogan raised is: death to dictator (and dictator is grant ayotollah) and a slogan from 1979 (with a slant): Ahmedinejad Pinochet, this is not Chile.