Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 31, 2009

MRZine sinks to new lows

Filed under: Iran — louisproyect @ 2:43 pm

Apparently forced to deal with the almost unanimous opposition to Ahmadinejad by Iranian leftist intellectuals in the West as well as the obstreperous native Iranian commentators on its website, MRZine has printed a breathtakingly demagogic and stupid article by one Bizhan Pouya that links its ideological adversaries to:

  • CIA-sponsored television stations beaming out of Los Angeles
  • George Soros’s Open Society Institute
  • the National Endowment for Democracy
  • the Iranian monarchy in exile
  • Cuban gusanos

Given enough time, I suppose that MRZine will begin accusing the “left” (their scare quotes, not mine) of digging a tunnel into Iran from Iraq so that CIA agents led by Hamid Dabashi can sneak through. If the Moscow Trials could have raised this kind of charge against Leon Trotsky, can the finger-pointing accusers at MRZine be far behind?

Yoshie Furuhashi, MRZine’s editor, must feel betrayed to see Ervand Abrahamian, once upon a time a supporter in her eyes of Shi’ite rule (Ervand Abrahamian: Why the Islamic Republic Has Survived), winding up in the CIA, George Soros, NED camp—at least on the basis of his recent London Review of Books article:

By denouncing children of the revolution as foreign-paid ‘counter-revolutionaries’, Khamenei, Ahmadinejad and their allies have alienated a considerable proportion of the population – maybe even the majority – and could end up transforming reformists into revolutionaries. By moving away from democracy towards theocracy, the regime has removed an important component of its original legitimacy. Some would argue the country has ceased to be a republic and has become a military-backed theocracy – a Shia imamate equivalent to the medieval Sunni caliphates.

Pouya begins his article by mocking Maziar Razi, a London-based Iranian, who has the audacity to criticize Hugo Chavéz for backing Ahmadinejad’s re-election. Razi, a longtime Trotskyist, is condemned out of hand for writing “from the comfort of his flat in London.” This hoary demagogic device goes back to the 1930s at least and was used against the Trotskyists all the time. On one hand you have an effete, rootless cosmopolitan like Leon Trotsky giving interviews to the bourgeois press; and on the other hand, you have the stolid Joseph Stalin universally beloved by the humble workers and farmers of the world’s only Communist country. Who would want to support this “leftist” Leon Trotsky giving aid and comfort to the enemies of the Soviet Union? Of course, the same kind who would back the CIA and George Soros against another stolid leader universally beloved by the workers and farmers of Iran.

Pouya really pours it on with the decadent Western imperialist imagery. The anti-Ahmadinejad leftists“have either been greatly influenced by the West or have been educated in Europe or the United States and tend to be devoutly secular.” They become enraged when “rootless villagers” tell them “how to dress and behave in public”. Oddly enough, this kind of rhetoric evokes the culture wars attack on Barack Obama from the Sarah Palins of the world. No wonder Tariq Ali found it so easy to compare Islamic fundamentalists to the Christian right in the U.S.A. in “The Clash of Fundamentalisms”. People like Bizhan Pouya made it easy for him.

Pouya is most annoyed with the protesters who insist on harping on “freedom” and “democracy” rather than bread-and-butter issues:

Freedom and democracy for Iran is the main (if not the sole) slogan of these Don Quixotes.  This is such a middle-class (or even upper-middle-class) slogan.  Before anything else, the working people need jobs, living wages, affordable healthcare, and free education for their children.  Of course, if you point out to our “leftists” that the Monarchists or the counterrevolutionary Cuban gusanos also operate under the same slogan, they respond: “Naturally, our understanding of freedom and democracy is much deeper than theirs”; or, “We really mean what we say, but they don’t.”

Now despite comrade Pouya and Furuhashi’s sneering at democracy, most of us understand democratic rights as a means to the end of a living wage. Without the right to organize a trade union, an elementary democratic right, a living wage is pretty hard to come by. The workers at Khodro, Iran’s largest car manufacturer went on a hunger strike lately to demand better wages and conditions. They called for:

  • Prohibited entry of security guards to workstations;
  • An end to mandatory over-time;
  • Increases in productivity benefits;
  • Wage increases in line with cost of living adjustments;
  • An end to temporary contracts allowing for the hiring of workers on a permanent basis;
  • An end to the expansion of subcontracting companies; and
  • Participation of workers’ representatives in key decision making committees.

These same workers also backed the protests against Ahmadinejad, in clear defiance of MRZine’s edict that workers not ally themselves with “leftist” friends of the CIA and George Soros.

But despite Pouya’s tendency to associate democracy and freedom with everything evil, that’s not quite the way that Lenin saw it. In “What is to be Done”, Lenin advocated a much different approach:

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.

Can you imagine that? Lenin getting worked up over the right to publish “obscene” publications and pictures? Didn’t he know that when artists or intellectuals are told “how to dress and behave in public”, they should straighten up and fly right? After all, the state has the right to enforce morality or else we’ll end up with a bunch of unruly, impious people rioting in the streets. The only thing these enemies of Islamic (or Christian) order will understand is a truncheon and a swift kick in the teeth.

As contrary to Marxism all of this hostility to democratic rights is, it pales in comparison to Pouya’s account of the failings of the Iranian left inside the country. Everything is reduced to the left’s failure to do “grass roots” organizing:

The unfortunate truth is that, in contrast to these “revolutionary” Marxists’ intimations and inferences, there really are no organized leftist or Marxist groups inside Iran rallying workers, students, or other sectors of the Iranian society. Contrary to such claims, I suggest that, since the 1953 CIA coup which toppled the democratically elected government of Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh, there has been no successful effort on the part of the Iranian Left to engage in grassroots organizing (with some minor exceptions), and that Iranian leftist intellectuals, by virtue of their class roots in my opinion, have no idea what grassroots organizing is and have little understanding of the interests, needs, or desires of the Iranian working masses.

Furthermore, Khomeini and his followers succeeded because, unlike the leftists, “the religious forces, on the other hand, were able to conduct serious grassroots organizing and win power.”

You’ll notice that Pouya reduces everything to the ability to do “grassroots organizing” as if the 1300 year history of Islam in Iran and the willingness of the Shah to allow the mosques relative freedom are beside the point. He also ignores the fact that the Shi’ite clerics took part in the overthrow of Mossadegh, something that might undermine the case he is making for clerical rule.

But the worst thing about his muddled history is that it fails to mention the biggest failing of the guerrilla groups, as well as the Tudeh Party (official Communist Party), and that was adaptation to the clerics, the same line that he is advancing today. Fortunately, one of the best histories of this period can be read at least partially on Google Books. Written by Maziar Behrooz, “Rebels with a Cause: the Failure of the Left in Iran” is must reading for those on the left today who are bamboozled by charlatans like Bizhan Pouya.

Although parts of the book can be read on Google, unfortunately you cannot read the passages which hold the various left groups up to close scrutiny. However, there is an article by Behrooz that can be read online that contains the same material on the Fadayan, one of the main guerrilla groups, that appears in the book. It was titled “Iran’s Fadayan 1971-1988: a case study in Iranian Marxism” and appeared in the 1990 “Jusür”, an Iranian journal.

The Fadayan was a small military/political organization that had over 500,000 supporters around the country in 1979. It was made up exactly of those middle-class intellectuals that Pouya derided but its class composition did not differ radically from the July 26th Movement at its inception or Lenin’s Bolsheviks for that matter. Its inability to transcend its rather narrow social base must be studied by the left in order to avoid the same kinds of mistakes in the future.

The Fadayan can best be described as Debrayist and had much in common with the urban guerrilla groups operating in Latin America. They sought to be a “detonator” that would facilitate broader political change and to an extent they were vindicated on this. Along with other armed groups, they definitely accelerated the decomposition of the monarchy. Ideologically, they had Maoist leanings but lacked any formal connections to Beijing.

With the overthrow of the Shah, groups such as the Fadayan could finally come out in the open and help organize the mass movement. They were in a unique position to lead since they were the largest Marxist group outside of the Tudeh Party. Almost immediately, the Fadayan was divided along factional lines, one group favoring confrontation with Khomeini who had openly stated his goals in creating a theocracy and the other—a majority–favoring the same kind of position on display in MRZine today.

One of the first confrontations with the Islamic government took place in Turkman Sahra where peasants’ councils had emerged. The Fadayan, notwithstanding Pouya’s allegation that the Iranian left had never taken part in grassroots struggles, found itself in the leadership of these councils. Unfortunately, the struggle in the Turkman Sahra region was far more advanced than in the rest of Iran and the Fadayan leaders became isolated. Four top council members and Fadayan leaders were murdered in Tehran during negotiations with Khomeini’s lieutenants. This, of course, was consistent with the Islamic Republic’s hostility to sweeping land reform. The majority faction in the Fadayan decided to back down from defending the councils after this attack, while the minority advocated continued struggle. Eventually, the minority split and formed a new organization based on the need for revolutionary socialist opposition to Islamic rule.

The majority group argued that the Islamic republic was petty bourgeois in character and, therefore, progressive and anti-imperialist. The IRI (Islamic Republic of Iran) was viewed as passing through a non-capitalist path towards socialism under the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini and therefore deserved support. In other words, the same kind of confusion existed back in the early 1980s over whether Iran was like Venezuela.

Ultimately, the line of the Fadayan converged with that of the Tudeh Party that had capitulated totally to the IRI. The Tudeh newspapers were filled with glowing accounts of how Ayatollah Khomeini was resisting imperialism. It anticipated a growing rapprochement between Iran and the USSR, in clear violation of Marxist politics as well as common sense.

Under the pressure of the powerful Islamic state apparatus, the Fadayan continued to fragment. While the only course that made sense was along the lines of independent class action, the Maoist training of its leaders persuaded it to continue along the fruitless path of intra-class alliances with the bazaari bourgeoisie and the clerics.

By 1981, freedom for the Marxist left had come to an end in Iran. Repression plus a failure to come to terms with the class nature of the clerical regime led to one crisis after another. The majority group continued to support the policies of the IRI, including suppression of the Kurdish minority. In August 1981, the leadership issued a statement to the ranks calling upon them to help root out the “counter-revolution”, which included the Kurds. Their support for the government’s chauvinist policies won them a letter of appreciation from Colonel Sayyad-Shirazi who was leading military efforts against the Kurds.

When a pro-Kurd leftist group attacked and occupied the city of Amol, the majority group had this to say:

The Iranian People’s Fadayan (Majority) and the forces of the Tudeh Party of Iran, from the early moments of the attack by counter-revolutionary intruders, participated, shoulder to shoulder with the people, the Basij, and the security forces, in their suppression and defeat.

It should be obvious at this point that the Fadayan majority was guided by the same suicidal logic put forward by MRZine, which fortunately has no influence in Iran today except with the theocratic rulers who reprinted one of their pro-Ahmadinejad pieces in the official press agency website in the same spirit as Colonel Sayyad-Shirazi tipping his cap to the Fadayan majority in 1981.


  1. the political line of MRZine on Iran is similar to that of the post-stalinist daily Junge Welt in Germany

    Comment by entdinglichung — July 31, 2009 @ 3:21 pm

  2. “It should be obvious at this point that the Fadayan majority was guided by the same suicidal logic put forward by MRZine.”

    First time tragedy, second time farce, I guess. Here’s a statement from workers in one of Iran’s growing number of underground labor organizations:

    Iranian print workers speak out
    July 30, 2009

    Comment by Phil Gasper — July 31, 2009 @ 3:55 pm

  3. Having tailed after Khomeini up until the bitter end, the Stalinst Tudah remains consistent, today chasing after Musavi’s wing of the mullahcracy, not A’jad’s. And while the Fedayeen and the other Iranian guerialla groups may have been “petty-bouregois” in composition, they based their politics on what they saw as “communism,” albeit in its Stalinist, stagist guise, not on illusions in “Western style democracy” and the “free market.”

    As for the American left, it is amazing how they can spill so much ink over Iran and say little or nothing about the US-backed coup in Honduras or about Obama’s screwing the poor and elderly with his phony health care “reform.” It’s not surprising coming from the likes of the ISO’s “Socailist Worker,” which is consistently been more critical of Fidel Castro than Obama.

    Comment by MN Roy — July 31, 2009 @ 7:55 pm

  4. The U.S. oligarchy will support democracy (Yes, even democracy, when necessary.) in service of its own ends. The U.S. oligarchy will use democracy as a tool to be put down after having served its own interests.

    U.S. support of a democratic movement is not indicative of the quality of the movement but says more about the U.S. position toward the foreign oligarchy to which the foreign democratic movement is opposed. Like in the case of Ahmadinejad.

    Examples: Reagan’s support of unions in Poland while suppressing them in the U.S.; and Obama’s speech in Cairo speaking of rights and freedoms inherent in democracy while violating and supporting previous violations domestically.

    Comment by Glenn — July 31, 2009 @ 9:18 pm

  5. Maybe if most of these left groups didn’t have a track record of supporting “democratic” counter-revolutions starting with Yeltsin’s, they wouldn’t be open to the kind of charges being leveled against them. Louis has written elsewhere about the job the imperialists did on Yugoslavia throughout the 1990s, but almost all of these groups supported either Bosnia or Croatia, ie, the imperialist side, echoing their propaganda about “Serb-Stalinist genocide.” When I was in Solidarity in the early 1990s, the leadership of that group even called for the US to bomb Serbia in defense of “multi-ethnic,” i.e., Islamic fundamentalist, Bosnia. Thus they all hailed the CIA/Soros coup that brought down Milosevic as some sort of mass revolution. The British SWP even toured some of the student organizers who turned out be paid agents who trained their counterparts in the Ukraine for the so-called “Orange Revolution.” Perhaps their enthusiasm for what they now chose to call the “Iranian revolution” has something to do with their looking for surrogate struggles abroad to support since they know that there aren’t likely to be any in their own country due to the left’s nearly universal support of Obama. And while many of these groups don’t openly support Obama, few will attack him out of fear of alienating themselves from the pro-Obama “progressive” milleau that they operate within.

    Comment by MN Roy — August 1, 2009 @ 12:48 am

  6. Amazing! The struggle for power between different wings of the Iranian establishment has managed to rehabilitate Trotsky in
    Louis’s eyes. It wasn’t that long ago that Louis Proyect was accusing Trotsky of Blanquism for his analysis of the 1923 German crisis. Let me get this straight,it’s ok for the Castro brothers to create a Castrist dynasty in Cuba but it is impermissible for the Iranian government to refuse to give up power after a controversial election that they may have actually won. Louis why don’t you advise the Castro brothers that as the communists they claim to be they should adhere to Marx’s and Lenin’s positive assessment of the Paris Commune’s insistence that leaders be elected and subject to recall. I agree with your anticlerical stance but if you insist on democracy in Iran why would you exempt Cuba? Both Cuba and Iran face the threat of intervention by Imperialism. When are you going to get to analyze the current crisis in the USA and state what’s to be done? Maybe you still believe that nothing is happening in the USA as you did in the 1980’s when PATCO was demolished and whole sectors of American Industry were destroyed while you worked for Wall Street.

    Comment by Lex the Impaler — August 1, 2009 @ 3:20 am

  7. I think the protest against the situation is low key, is more to do with Zalaya being low key.

    Some elements of the left are uncomfortable with slogans for democracy, except when it comes to their own rights. They have no problem with calling North Korea “Democratic Korea.” The Taliban are social reformers as well.

    Keep up the fight. These Iran posts have been spot on.

    Comment by Renegade Eye — August 1, 2009 @ 3:21 am

  8. Louis– this was an excellent piece

    MN Roy wrote:
    “multi-ethnic,” i.e., Islamic fundamentalist, Bosnia.”

    This is absolutely nonsense. The resistance in Bosnia was certainly *not* “Islamic fundamentalist” and there was nothing false about the characterization of Bosnia as “multi-ethnic”.

    Comment by leftofgreenland — August 1, 2009 @ 9:06 am

  9. my apologizes that last post was from me.

    Comment by Bhaskar — August 1, 2009 @ 9:07 am

  10. When are you going to get to analyze the current crisis in the USA and state what’s to be done?

    I don’t think that I can add anything that hasn’t already been said by Leo Panitch, Doug Henwood, John Bellamy Foster et al. Inn terms of what is to be done, that has to develop out of a living movement and not what I would like to see. I’d like to see worker’s councils and a general strike but I tend to keep my dreams private.

    Comment by louisproyect — August 1, 2009 @ 12:13 pm

  11. Bosnia was multi-ethnic but so was nearly every state in Africa. The problem in Bosnia was that the Muslims wanted to dominate the state. In most settings, the Muslims in Europe are underdogs but in a state that was once part of the Ottoman Empire, the Muslims tended to be privileged and urban against the rural Serbs.

    Comment by louisproyect — August 1, 2009 @ 12:16 pm

  12. I’m sure you remember Lenin’s claim that revolutionary theory requires a revolutionary movement. I don’t think he meant that a revolutionary response to capitalism would organically grow out of “..a living movement..”. Lenin’s claim implies a party that analyzes the situation based on a tradition. I wasn’t asking you to speculate about worker’s councils and general strikes but to state what Besancenot’s anticapitalist party was doing that made you such big fan and how you see applying their methods to the USA where you live. You say that you can’t add to what Panitch and others have to say about the financial crisis but you feel competent to comment on Iran when you don’t speak the language. You ignore my question why after 50 years of Castros in power Cuba has failed to implement one of the first things the Paris Commune did and that both Marx and Lenin praised them highly for. You abhor the North Korean dynasts and yet you laud the Cuban ones, why? Please don’t insult my intelligence with the embargo argument, everyday I read comments from USA officials and Israelis how they will bomb Iran and tighten economic sanctions. I haven’t hear such noises made about Cuba in decades. What are you calling for in Iran, new elections, an end to clerical authority, What?

    Comment by Lex the Impaler — August 1, 2009 @ 4:40 pm

  13. Thank you for the excellent analysis.

    Pouya is a charlatan indeed. As is Yoshie Furuhashi, and all the rest of the treacherous pretend-left in the U.S. Their arguments are such a bunch of sophism, they should be awarded honorary theocratic degrees.

    Interesting that in the trial of the reformists (for treason; tyrant’s favorite ‘crime’) going on right now, starting Saturday, August 1st, the regime is using exactly the same kind of BS (connection to Soros, western media, etc. etc.). Some of the accusations by the prosecution are posted on the Revolutionary Road blog (link below). Makes for very frustrating, yet revealing reading. They put Stalinist show trial to shame.

    But, more to the point … Here is a great interview with a working class activist in Iran, on Revolutionary Road blog:
    http://shooresh1917.blogspot.com/2009/08/first-podcast-with-nasser-asqari.html (the podcast in Persian, but rush transcript is provided in English; excuse the bumpy grammar.)

    Below the interview, you will also find the workers’ statement on the occasion of May 1st, 2009, for which the regime (this beacon of socialism and social justice for the workers) arrested scores of people. Imagine that: just for commemorating May 1st!! Is it any wonder that the people are saying ‘enough is ENOUGH’?

    Comment by reza — August 1, 2009 @ 5:59 pm

  14. […] Louis Proyect on MRZine’s turn towards political Islam […]

    Pingback by Bhaskar’s Book-Marxs — The Activist — August 7, 2009 @ 5:21 am

  15. […] with NLR's imprimatur we won't have to watch frothing reactions to the idea that the "Green Movement" even had a class composition, and if so, something more […]

    Pingback by Ahmadinejad, Jewish? Ahmadinejad, Popular? | Jewbonics — October 4, 2009 @ 9:27 pm

  16. >>In most settings, the Muslims in Europe are underdogs but in a state that was once part of the Ottoman Empire, the Muslims tended to be privileged and urban against the rural Serbs.

    But Muslims were no longer privileged after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire you dumb fuck.

    Comment by هههههZههههه — February 9, 2011 @ 10:28 am

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