Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 2, 2009

More on MRZine/Iran

Filed under: Iran — louisproyect @ 2:39 pm

For those following the controversy surrounding MRZine’s tail-ending of the Iranian government, it should be understood that this was not always the editorial position. I have access to the Monthly Review archives going back to 1993 and a search on Iran revealed three articles, excerpted below. As should be obvious, they are in sharp distinction to the current line.

‘Muslim’ women and ‘Western’ feminists: the debate on particulars and universals.
By: Shahrzad Mojab
December 1998

Just as Reza Shah forcibly removed the veil, the Islamic state has used extreme forms of coercion in order to impose it on all women, Muslim and non-Muslim. Disciplining the woman’s body through dress codes is now a priority of the state inside and outside Iran. Using diplomatic power, the Islamic regime promotes the veil globally, from the Olympic games to UNESCO. Imposed through state violence, the veil has turned into a means of sexual apartheid. If the use of hijab (head cover for women) signified anti-monarchist action for some Muslim women in 1979 Iran, today resistance to theocratic despotism takes the form of refusing the veil. Just as Reza Shah forcibly removed the veil, the Islamic state has used extreme forms of coercion in order to impose it on all women, Muslim and non-Muslim. Disciplining the woman’s body through dress codes is now a priority of the state inside and outside Iran. Using diplomatic power, the Islamic regime promotes the veil globally, from the Olympic games to UNESCO. Imposed through state violence, the veil has turned into a means of sexual apartheid. If the use of hijab (head cover for women) signified anti-monarchist action for some Muslim women in 1979 Iran, today resistance to theocratic despotism takes the form of refusing the veil

Clerical Oligarchy and the Question of ‘Democracy’ in Iran.
By Saeed Rahnema, Haideh Moghissi
March 2001

For more than twenty years the Islamic regime in Iran, along with its extensive repressive apparatuses, has created an impressive array of ideological and economic mechanisms of control to construct an Islamified civil society and build consensus for the establishment of a theocratic state. Through massive propaganda and the manipulation of religious beliefs the Islamic ruling bloc has succeeded in maintaining its monopoly of power against all external and internal odds. Political repression eliminated, jailed, and exiled the progressive secular forces that had initiated the revolution in 1979. Ideological indoctrination maintained a strong following for the clerical regime.

However, faced with social, political, and economic realities, a growing number of Iranians, even those who were once devoted supporters of the Islamic regime, have turned against it. The Islamic Republic is in deep political crisis. The Islamists’ economic policies have failed, the per capita income is less than half of what it was before the revolution, and the gap between the rich and the poor has drastically widened. The regime, which assumed power in the name of the dispossessed, is increasingly losing its popularity among the most dispossessed Iranians, and public unrest and dissatisfaction are on the rise. The Islamists’ moral crusades have also nm out of steam as people increasingly and openly express their disapproval through any means they can. The Islamification policies, primarily targeting women and youth, have produced the opposite of the intended result. Not only has the regime been unable to push women back into the home and reestablish the gender order of bygone days, but its policies have produced an unprecedented increase in gender-awareness and resistance by women. Likewise, the authority of the Islamic rulers faces a formidable challenge from Iranian youth, now over 65 percent of the population. Born and raised under Islamic rule, the youth in Iran have turned their backs on the political and moral regime established by the clerics. “Youth distancing themselves from the revolution and faith” has been a recurring concern of the Islamists. Political suppression, particularly the series of assassinations of prominent intellectuals and nationalist leaders, which came to be known as chain assassinations, have severely discredited the regime. A disgruntled public, which has remembered the unfulfilled promises of the 1979 revolution, grasps every possible opportunity to show it despises what the Islamists stand for. Iranian voters have repeatedly expressed their discontent with the regime by voting against the fundamentalists’ favorite candidates in parliamentary and presidential elections. Internationally, with the exception of the Hezbollah in Lebanon, the regime’s early policy of “exporting the revolution” failed to link it to other Islamic movements.

Backgrounds to the Parliamentary Elections in Iran
By Morteza Mohit
March 2001

The elections for the Sixth Parliament (Majlis) in Iran in February 2000 were not only a shock for the ruling clergy, but also an eye-opening event for the U.S. mass media and its believers who have for years portrayed the Iranian people as a horde of uncivilized, bearded, religious fanatics who did not deserve, and could not comprehend, the Shah’s modernization plan. Consequently, we saw a new twist in international reporting. The elections were reported as “the most democratic,” and the young voters as dancing lovers of Internet Cafes, Baywatch, rap music and Pizza Hut.

To get beyond this smoke screen, we should first ask the question: Was this election truly the most democratic? The short answer is that it was the least democratic election. To understand why this is so we have to take a look at the power structure of the Islamic Republic and the system’s top-down decision-making process.

At the top of the decision-making pyramid we have a Supreme Leader (Valli-e-Faghih) who is supposed to be the representative of God. Therefore, he practically and legally has the last word and the veto power on any important national or international decisions made by the government. He is not just the spiritual leader of the nation but also the ultimate political decision maker of the country. He controls the military, the police, radio and television and the judiciary system. Some of the most important commercial and industrial foundations are also directly or indirectly under his control.


Apparently the new editorial position has driven one board member to resign, as reported by Doug Henwood on his own mailing list:

I’ve just been informed (by someone who wants to remain anonymous) that Barbara Epstein resigned from the board of MR because of the nonsense that Yoshie has been posting to MRZine about Iran. When she made her complaints known to the board, they made it clear that they supported Yoshie’s work, so Epstein felt that she had no choice but to quit. She’s not interested in campaigning against what she still regards as a venerable institution, but she feels that Yoshie’s position on Iran has so discredited the organization that she couldn’t abide a formal association anymore.

Though I’m just the messenger on this, I completely agree with Epstein. Defending a regime that has jailed and killed thousands of socialists and Marxists is a disgraceful thing for a socialist/Marxist publication to do.

The impact is not just being felt at the top. Under the article that I called attention to in my last post, there is a comment that the Monthly Review editors can ignore at their own risk:

I fully agree with Doug Henwood. This article is the latest one in a very long row of shameless (indirect) apologias for Ahmadinejad and his assorted thugs. This last one month or two has been a huge disappointment for me, now I see MRzine in a completely different colour. I used to translate their articles and advise people to read Monthly Review, as an emblematic and trustworthy voice of the US left, now I have come to regret even that, and will surely not do so in the future.

I guess MRzine would also support Russia (re)invading the Baltic states, coz that’s “against US imperialism” too. with the Stalinist Lidia as a cheerleader, probably…

easterneuropean | 08.01.09 – 5:52 pm | #

Since MR is obviously not interested in whether its line on Iran alienates its readers, there is little doubt that a crisis is in store for this magazine that has been around for more than a half-century. You simply cannot push a line that antagonizes what I assume to be the overwhelming majority of its readers. This will be reflected both financially, as people do not renew their subscriptions, and politically as the magazine begins to be viewed as “cranky” along the same lines as Workers World and James Petras.

One might speculate on the current leadership’s failure to be accountable to its subscriber base. Paul Sweezy and Harry Magdoff came of age during a massive working class movement in which they played a role as theoreticians trying to respond to the urgency of the moment.

The current man in charge, one John Bellamy Foster, is a highly regarded sociologist with scant experience in the mass movement. His chief lieutenant John Mage was an attorney for the USSR and a member of the Lawyer’s Guild. The editor of MRZine, who is largely driving this “turn” toward the IRI, was a member of Solidarity briefly and has spent the past 5 years trolling mailing lists with her curious brand of neo-Foucauldian politics.

Not a very inspiring team.

Finally, it should be recorded that John Mage, evidently a skilled lawyer at one time, has mounted a defense of MRZine as supposedly an impartial source of information on Iran. If I were an attorney myself, I would regard this task as more difficult than the one on behalf of Bernie Madoff. This is what Mage wrote on the Leftist_Transpotters mailing list, a forum devoted to gossip about the left–a most appropriate locale for Mr. Mage. He is responding to Kevin Murphy, the most recent winner of the Isaac Deutscher prize and a rather fervent Stalinophobe:

> Another blithering third-worldist knucklehead duped into supporting

> a regime of executions, torture, and slaughter against its own people.


> Fortunately, in the U.S., the knucklehead block is limited to the

> Wally Worlders, MR, James Petras, and a few dinosaurs on Louis

> Proyect’s list. Am I missing any others?


> Kevin Murphy

FALSE spot!

MR has not been “supporting” the Iranian “regime.”

Ignored are our posting opinion and factual matter on MRZine critical

of the Iranian government and its response. Such as – among others –

Asmi Bishara “Iran: An Alternative Reading” (Iranian system is

“totalitarian”), linking to Abbas Barzegar in the Guardian (“the

Iranian government has pursued a self-defeating policy of blocking

international press access”), posting an excellent opinion piece by

Arshin Adib-Moghaddam (“These brave men and women on the streets of

Tehran, Shiraz, Isfahan, and other cities are moved by the same

utopia that inspired their fathers and mothers three decades ago: the

utopia of justice”), videos of the large “day of mourning” protest

June 18th, videos of the doctors and nurses protest in Tehran of June

16th (protesting “the deaths of seven people last night, reportedly

shot by basij.”), and the Amnesty International “Iran: Recommended

Action” urging viewers to appeal to the Iranian government to respect

the rights of those arrested, stop using basij, and “to stop

unlawfully restricting the freedoms of association, assembly and

expression, including the freedom to seek, receive and impart

information and ideas.”

“Supporting” the Iranian “regime”?

We have been attacked for posting on MRZine material that some don’t

want to see (and won’t on the US media), such as – among others – the

facts as to the opinions of Chavez, Lula, the position of the Chinese

government, the actual (and very important) statement by Khameini

week age Friday, or what in one case – deemed particularly heinous –

the fact that Iranian TV was asserting that 8 Basijis had been killed

“during Teheran unrest.”

And, yes, opinion pieces such as that of Michael Veiluva (“IRAN:

Message to US Peace Groups: A Little Humility Please”) suggesting

that the lap-top bomber US “peace” groups look at what company they

find themselves in … again.

Oh noes, perhaps MR thinks the CIA is involved in events in Iran…

what knuckleheads.

But, does that mean we’re “supporting” the Iranian “regime”?

We do not doubt that some of our critics are merely lazy, and not

looking at MRZine to see for themselves. Others I do not care to

characterize (but fuckingfailbuckets would be a good start).

But here I would have expected a little more care.

John Mage


  1. John Mage is right.

    Comment by sks — August 3, 2009 @ 4:52 am

  2. Louis,
    Well I hope you are wrong about this soiling the future of the magazine. I don’t care that much for MRzine anyway, but the magazine I find very useful. Lets hope they see their way out of this.

    Comment by Sheldon — August 3, 2009 @ 5:06 am

  3. Still supporting the israelis and US on Iran, Louis?
    You may yet find yourself cheering the return of the shah…

    Comment by brian — August 3, 2009 @ 5:30 am

  4. Still supporting the israelis and US on Iran, Louis?
    You may yet find yourself cheering the return of the shah…

    Oh come on now, try harder.

    Comment by dksu — August 3, 2009 @ 6:38 am

  5. Whatever their other failings may be, perhaps the readers of MR have other things on their minds than echoing the line of the State Department…like the US-backed coup in Honduras which has claimed the lives of not a few worker and peasant activists. Only since this is an Obama/Clinton backed-coup it will garner no opposition from the liberals, nor from the “leftists” who take their cue from them. As for Kevin Murphy, he wrote a great book on Russia, gave a great speech defending it (and the Russian Revolution) but he is also a supporter of the British Cliffites, (the SWP), who “supporti(ed) a regime of executions, torture, and slaughter” during Khomeini’s war against Iraq in its last phase as being “anti-imperialist.” I believe that statistics would show that this phony “anti-imperialist” war was responsible for far more “executions, torture, and slaughter” than A’jad’s thugs may caused in the streets of Teheran.

    Comment by MN Roy — August 4, 2009 @ 3:28 am

  6. What we see here is a lack of faith in progressive forces and the prospects for meaningful social change and revolution. That’s the root of the problem.
    If the Islamic Republic falls, like our comrades in Iran want, I have confidence that the space opened in civic society will benefit a politicized Iranian working class.The defense of a capitalist, psuedo-theocratic regime that has no problem aiding imperialism when its in its own strategy interest is reprehensible and an excellent barometer of the state of the “left” today.

    Comment by Bhaskar — August 4, 2009 @ 9:31 am

  7. http://hopinewsfromiran.wordpress.com/2009/08/06/show-trials-and-apologetics/

    This article may interest you, the crap that is spewing out of MR is almost unbelievable.

    Comment by hopinewsfromiran — August 6, 2009 @ 7:00 pm

  8. It is a disgrace that this sort of pseudo-radical “Third-Worldism” is fronting in the disguise of internationalist socialism.

    I hope you will continue to bring up this issue. An unprincipled “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” can be very destructive. Have we learned nothing from Iran?

    Comment by Dave Z — August 6, 2009 @ 9:23 pm

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