Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 26, 2013

Documenting the Egyptian and Iranian revolutions

Filed under: Egypt,Film,Iran — louisproyect @ 9:04 pm

If John Reed had been equipped with a digital camera rather than a typewriter in Mexico in 1913 or Russia in 1917, I doubt that he could have produced a film that surpasses “The Square” that opened yesterday at the Film Forum in New York (it arrives in three different locations in California on November 1.)  Directed by Jehane Noujaim, a 39-year-old Egyptian-American whose best known previous credit was the al-Jazeera documentary “The Control Room”, was on location in Egypt from the inception of the Tahrir Square occupation to the overthrow of Morsi. Not only was she on location, she appeared to be in the middle of the most decisive events, at times involving triumph and other times defeat. And even more decisively, she extracts the maximum drama and visual impact out of each moment, making her arguably one of the finest documentary filmmakers on the scene today.

The film “stars” a group of Egyptians who were on the front lines of the revolution, including a young man named Ahmed Hassan who narrowly escaped with his life in a skirmish with the Egyptian military. When he was 8 years old, he was selling lemons on the street. His hope is only that Egyptians can live in a society where there are democratic rights, opportunity for all, and free from corruption. Throughout the film he voices both his elation at feeling that moment might be arriving and despair at realizing that it might be some time in arriving.

His old friend Magdy is a bearded Muslim Brotherhood member who defies the instructions of his leaders to take part in Tahrir Square protests. He has earned credibility with Ahmed for withstanding torture over the years in pursuit of what he perceived as a better Egypt under Islamic rule even though Ahmed has little interest in a Muslim state. His vision is one of an Egypt in which Muslim, Christian, and nonbeliever can stand together in pursuit of the common good.

The film includes a couple of notables, who despite their celebrity take risks equal to Ahmed and Magdy. One is Khalid Abdalla, the Egyptian-British actor who starred in “The Kite Runner”. He is seen in Skype conversations with his father who has been a long-standing opponent of the Mubarak dictatorship. We also meet Ramy Essam, the singer who is the unofficial voice of the revolution. After the overthrow of Mubarak, he is picked up by the cops and tortured in the Egyptian museum—a site that is the nation’s counterpart to the notorious soccer stadium in Chile where Victor Jara was murdered.

Among the courageous women profiled in the film is Aida El Kashef, the young filmmaker who is friends with Ramy Essam and who used her camera to expose the brutality and lies of the dictatorship.

The film consists of three acts:

–The overthrow of Mubarak

–The rise to power of the Muslim Brotherhood

–The growing disenchantment with the Brotherhood and the military coup that exploited those feelings.

Like a Shakespearean play, the characters are constantly in dialog weighing their decisions on the street corner or in living rooms. There is tension throughout since the stakes are so high. When the Muslim Brotherhood assumes power, Ahmed lashes into Magdy who has little in the way of a defense of a constitution that gives Morsi more power than Mubarak ever had. But when the army topples Morsi, Ahmed rushes to Tahrir Square to close ranks with the Muslim Brothers.

The film also includes a couple of military figures who are hoisted on their own petard as they reveal to Jehane Noujaim how little they believe in democracy even as their top officers are announcing on Egyptian television that they are with the protesters.

In the final paragraph of the synopsis found in the press notes, we encounter a statement that not only serves as a compass for the directions of a successful Egyptian revolution but one that should be carefully noted by the Western left so frequently demoralized by its own failure to achieve a swift and decisive victory:

Our goal for audiences is to experience the evolution of a revolution in the 21st century and understand what these activists are trying to say: civil rights and freedoms are never given away, they are fought for. Historically, this has always been the case, from the Civil Rights movement to the fight against Apartheid.  But how does this fight begin and sustain itself and ultimately become successful? This film shows that true change in a society does not begin with a majority, but the relentless and ongoing commitment of individuals to those principles of change.

While by no means as politically and artistically realized as “The Square”, “The Green Wave” that becomes available as a DVD and through ITunes on November 5th (check http://www.thegreenwave-film.com/ for information) is a good companion piece.

Unlike Jehane Noujaim, Ali Samadi Ahadi, the 41-year-old Iranian filmmaker who has lived in Germany since the age of 12, was not in Iran during the events depicted in “The Green Wave”. Like “The Square”, “The Green Wave” begins in jubilation and ends in despair. The 2009 election campaign of Mir-Hossein Mousavi united every Iranian tired of the brutality and the crony capitalism of the Islamic Republic, which behind its pious pretensions had much more in common with Mubarak than might be apparent at first glance. And even more to the point, it might make sense to think of the election campaign as a harbinger of the Arab Spring even as many on the left tend to regard the Green Movement in Iran as some kind of imperialist plot.

Despite his absence from the battlefield, Ahadi manages to produce a coherent documentary out of three separate strands:

–Footage of rallies and protests that were obviously taken by activists given their often-unfocused quality. What they lack in visual acuity is made up for by their impact as living history.

–Animated representation of the experience of young bloggers who worked on the Mousavi campaign and suffered repression for their “impious” behavior.

–Interviews with leading critics of the Ahmadinejad dictatorship such as Nobel Prize winner Shirin Ebadi who went into exile in 2009. Despite the tendency of some leftists to depict any opponent of Ahmadinejad as an imperialist tool, Ebadi’s credentials are impeccable. She was a supporter of Mossadegh and even backed Khomeini initially. She is also an outspoken critic of Israel and supported a California BDS bill.

But unlike “The Square”, the emphasis is entirely on human rights rather than revolutionary strategy. Almost every moment of the film is devoted to exposure of state brutality, including summary executions, torture, and beatings on the street.

Despite the glum conclusion of the film, the promise of the Mousavi campaign might be finally realized in the election of Hassan Rouhani last month who has released political prisoners, defended equal rights for women, and called for greater political freedom. Whether or not this will whet the appetite for greater change in Iran is uncertain at this point, given the body blow the mass movement suffered in 2009.

When watching these films, I found myself pondering the question why revolutions are vanquished time and time again. In a pattern that is repeated over and over, the “people” unite against a hated dictator only to suffer a new period of suffering often under an ostensibly democratic and popular government. This is generally regarded as the “Arab Winter” today but the phenomenon can be just as easily perceived in Burma where the nation’s “Nelson Mandela” is now seen as a too-willing partner of the army and indifferent to pogroms against Muslims.

Perhaps it is time to retire the “new Nelson Mandela” meme while we are at it since South Africa is probably the best symbol of unrealized revolutionary hopes anywhere in the world.

It seems that in almost every instance of such uprisings, the “people” come to the fore in a kind of nationalist desire for redemption and rebirth but without a class dimension and often placing hopes in a military that is on “the side of the people”, the classic example being the Kerensky government in Russia.

For those educated in the Trotskyist tradition, it is easy as pie to come up with an answer. The revolution has to be “Bolshevik” in character with the working class in the driver’s seat. Unfortunately, groups established upon such principles tend to be ignored by the masses since they rest on the assumption that the masses will gravitate to them on the virtue of their profound thoughts.

I wonder if the answer is to synthesize the popular hopes of the Arab Spring with a class orientation that is more implicit than explicit. Keep in mind that the Bolsheviks called for “Peace, Bread, and Land”—not a proletarian dictatorship. Also, keep in mind that the July 26th Movement in Cuba formulated its demands in terms of fulfilling democracy and social justice rather than Communism. When Cuba did become communist (for lack of a better word), it was only as a result of the dialectics of defending democracy and social justice.

At any rate, I recommend these two films for anybody interested in deepening their understanding of revolutions in the 21st century, particularly in nations with a strong Islamic presence. Karl Marx never had to grapple with such complexity and it is up to us to come up with answers that make sense and can move the struggle forward—remembering to leave your dogma at the front door with your shoes.

February 1, 2012

Is Iran conspiring to terrorize American citizens?

Filed under: imperialism/globalization,Iran,war — louisproyect @ 3:30 pm

James R. Clapper: liar and war profiteer

Today’s Washington Post has an article alarmingly titled “Iran, perceiving threat from West, willing to attack on U.S. soil, U.S. intelligence report finds“.  My first reaction was to say to myself, “Uh-oh, here we go again.”

The article has a link to testimony before Congress by one James R. Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence who states:

The 2011 plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the United States shows that some Iranian officials—probably including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei—have changed their calculus and are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States in response to real or perceived US actions that threaten the regime. We are also concerned about Iranian plotting against US or allied interests overseas.

This, of course, is just one more example of what Malcolm X called turning the victim into the criminal and the criminal into the victim. With the assassination of one Iranian scientist after another carried out by America’s cat’s paw in the Middle East—the Mossad—one must appreciate Iran’s willingness not to retaliate in kind, despite the allegation about the “2011 plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador”.

The N.Y. Times was a bit more skeptical than the Washington Post when it came to this plot, describing its architect as follows:

But Mansour J. Arbabsiar, 56, the man at the center of an alleged Iranian plot to kill a Saudi diplomat in Washington, seems to have been more a stumbling opportunist than a calculating killer. Over the 30-odd years he lived in Texas, he left a string of failed businesses and angry creditors in his wake, and an embittered ex-wife who sought a protective order against him. He was perennially disheveled, friends and acquaintances said, and hopelessly disorganized.

Mr. Arbabsiar, now in custody in New York, stands accused by federal prosecutors of running a global terrorist plot that stretched from Mexico to Tehran, and that was directed by the Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. Many of his old friends and associates in Texas seemed stunned at the news, not merely because he was not a zealot, but because he seemed too incompetent to pull it off.

“His socks would not match,” said Tom Hosseini, a former college roommate and friend. “He was always losing his keys and his cellphone. He was not capable of carrying out this plan.”

Reminiscent of Judith Miller’s articles in the N.Y. Times, it is shocking that the Washington Post can ignore the obvious improbability of such a plot when it writes:

As described by U.S. officials in October, the convoluted scheme was to rely on assassins from a Mexican drug cartel to carry out the killing at a restaurant in Washington.

U.S. officials said the plot was devised by an Iranian American with ties to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. But the plan was foiled when the would-be operative mistakenly hired a paid informant of the Drug Enforcement Administration to carry it out. Iranian officials have denied any role in the plot.

It was “so unusual and amateurish that many initially doubted that Iran was responsible,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in Tuesday’s hearing. “Well, let me state for the record, I have no such a doubt.”

One of course would understand why Dianne Feinstein would “have no such a doubt” since she supported Bush’s war in Iraq back in 2002 based on the same kind of trumped up “intelligence”. As the 9th wealthiest member of the Senate, it might be expected that she would be gung-ho for wars in the Middle East. Her husband Richard Blum is the CEO of the Perini Corporation that is a prime military contractor as investigative reporter Peter Byrne revealed in an article titled “Senator Warbucks“:

As chairperson and ranking member of the Military Construction Appropriations subcommittee (MILCON) from 2001 through the end of 2005, Feinstein supervised the appropriation of billions of dollars a year for specific military construction projects. Two defense contractors whose interests were largely controlled by her husband, financier Richard C. Blum, benefited from decisions made by Feinstein as leader of this powerful subcommittee.

Each year, MILCON’s members decide which military construction projects will be funded from a roster proposed by the Department of Defense. Contracts to build these specific projects are subsequently awarded to such major defense contractors as Halliburton, Fluor, Parsons, Louis Berger, URS Corporation and Perini Corporation. From 1997 through the end of 2005, with Feinstein’s knowledge, Blum was a majority owner of both URS Corp. and Perini Corp.

While setting MILCON agendas for many years, Feinstein, 73, supervised her own staff of military construction experts as they carefully examined the details of each proposal. She lobbied Pentagon officials in public hearings to support defense projects that she favored, some of which already were or subsequently became URS or Perini contracts. From 2001 to 2005, URS earned $792 million from military construction and environmental cleanup projects approved by MILCON; Perini earned $759 million from such MILCON projects.

Obama’s Director of National Intelligence has the same cozy relationship to the military industry as reported by McClatchy, a publisher that stands hand and shoulders over the newspapers of the big bourgeoisie as indicated by their receiving an I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence in 2008. Their reporter filed a report on July 26, 2010 titled ” Clapper’s ties to contractors now loom large” that describes the same sort of incestuous relationship:

Four months after James R. Clapper left his federal job as head of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in June 2006, he joined the boards of three government contractors, two of which had been doing business with his agency while he was there.

It was not the only revolving door entered by Clapper, who is now President Obama’s nominee to be director of national intelligence.

In October 2006 he was hired full time by DFI International, which was trying to boost its consulting with intelligence agencies. In April 2007, when he returned to public service as the chief of the Pentagon’s intelligence programs, DFI paid him a $50,000 bonus on his way out the door, according to his financial disclosure statement. Five months later, DFI landed a contract to advise Clapper’s Pentagon office, though company officials say they do not recall collecting any revenue from the deal.

There was nothing illegal or unusual about any of those moves in Washington, where former officials frequently land jobs with private contractors.

Now, however, Clapper is poised to become intelligence chief at a time when Congress is asking questions about the explosive growth of private contracting in the $75 billion U.S. intelligence operation. With lawmakers calling on the Obama administration to reduce the outsourcing, a logical question is whether a veteran of the close alliance between government and contractors — Clapper strongly defended the practice in response to a Washington Post series last week — is best-suited to bring that system to heel.

Not only is Clapper someone with a vested interest in war profiteering, he is also an old card at fabricating “intelligence”. In 2003, Clapper ran something called the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. In that capacity, he assured the world that the weapons of mass destruction that were not found in Iraq because they had been spirited out of the country before the inspectors could locate them as the NY Times reported on October 29, 2003:

The director of a top American spy agency said Tuesday that he believed that material from Iraq’s illicit weapons program had been transported into Syria and perhaps other countries as part of an effort by the Iraqis to disperse and destroy evidence immediately before the recent war.

The official, James R. Clapper Jr., a retired lieutenant general, said satellite imagery showing a heavy flow of traffic from Iraq into Syria, just before the American invasion in March, led him to believe that illicit weapons material “unquestionably” had been moved out of Iraq.

“I think people below the Saddam Hussein-and-his-sons level saw what was coming and decided the best thing to do was to destroy and disperse,” General Clapper, who leads the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, said at a breakfast with reporters.

This was even too much for agency spokesman David Burpee, who said “he could not provide further evidence to support the general’s statement.”

One of the things I have stressed over and over is that President Obama is essentially carrying serving as Bush’s third term. I should add that if Mitt Romney replaces Obama next year, he will be carrying out Obama’s second term. As Kurt Vonnegut put it in “Slaughterhouse Five”: “And so it goes”.

In 2007, Clapper was nominated by President George W. Bush to be Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and approved without objections by Democratic Party legislators. So it is no wonder that he was Obama’s choice to run National Intelligence this year. He really knows how to pick ’em.

December 27, 2011

The Iraq war in retrospect

Filed under: imperialism/globalization,Iran,Iraq,Libya — louisproyect @ 7:47 pm

The latest issue of Frontline, a leftist Indian newspaper, has an article by Vijay Prashad titled “Exit America” that deals with the question of whether the war in Iraq was “dumb”, an allusion to then State Senator Barack Obama’s comment in 2002:

What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.

Forced by circumstances of his elevation to supreme representative of the American ruling class, Obama no longer uses words like “dumb” and tries to put the best possible spin on how things turned out. Vijay writes:

Obama, who had made his own position clear in 2002, could not revisit them in 2011: he is now the Commander in Chief and would find it awkward to belittle the sacrifices of troops who were sent to fight a false war. At most Obama could acknowledge the debate before the war, with the lead-up “a source of great controversy here at home, with patriots on both sides of the debate”. The Iraq war was not perfect, he accepted, but its outcome was good, with the troops leaving behind “a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people”. American liberalism is not capable of any more than that.

Meanwhile, the notion that the troops have left behind a “sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq” has been demolished within hours after Obama uttered these words. The Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has ordered the arrest of his Sunni vice-president, Tareq al-Hashemi for supporting “terrorist activity”. Al-Hashemi then fled to sanctuary in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in the north, an act that prompted al-Maliki to brandish threats against the Kurds as well.

As it turns out, al-Maliki’s crackdown was in part a reaction to intelligence he received from an apparently friendly government in the region. Now your first reaction would be to conclude that Iran or Syria furnished this information as part of their membership in the Shia “axis of good” network in the Middle East, the last bastion of resistance to the imperialist/Sunni cabal made up of Qatar, al-Jazeera, Saudi Arabia and the CIA. Well, it turns out that al-Maliki’s informer was none other than Libya, as the NY Times reported: “The Iraqi government said the arrests had been prompted by a tip from Libya’s transitional government that said documents revealed Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi was working with insurgents to stage a coup.”

What the fuck? I thought that the Libyan government was made up of Sunni jihadists. That’s the point made by MRZine when it published a photo showing al-Qaeda flags on a courthouse in Benghazi. Hasn’t Pepe Escobar proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the “revolution” against Qaddafi was a plot hatched by French intelligence and jihadists? All this is beginning to sound murkier than a John le Carré novel, don’t you think? And what the hell was Qaddafi doing, making alliances with Sunni insurgents who he had tortured in Libyan prisons as part of his obligations to the CIA?

Now it can turn out that all that intelligence was nothing but bullshit designed to justify al-Maliki’s crackdown. But it is not bullshit to say that the political elites in Libya are on fairly good terms now with Iraq’s:

Head of the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC), Mahmoud Jibril, arrived on Thursday to Iraq in a short surprise visit. Jibril met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki, French Foreign Minister Hosheyar Zebari and a number of Iraqi officials. During the meeting, Maliki discussed the reconstruction of Iraq, a source told Alsumaria.

Jibril stated that he agreed with Maliki to exchange ambassadors between both countries as soon as possible and benefit from Iraqi expertise especially in the oil sector.

Of course someone with a proper anti-imperialist training would point out that what Jibril and al-Maliki have in common is that they got where they are courtesy of American military power. What further proof can you have that someone is an agent of imperialism if Cruise missiles were pointed in the direction of their enemies?

Things get a bit more complicated, however, when you consider that al-Maliki has also targeted the MEK camp in Iraq, a presence that the government Iran considers deeply inimical to its own security.  We are obviously compelled to support al-Maliki in this initiative considering what Rostam Pourzal told MRZine readers in 2006:

In Iran, where the militia has been known since its inception in 1965 as Mojahedin, or jihadists, MEK lost all credibility after it became a proxy of Iran’s archenemy, Saddam Hussein, in 1986.  Anne Singleton, a former insider and now an advocate for penitent MEK activists in Europe, has labeled the militia “Saddam’s private army” in her book-length memoirs by the same title.

A day before the Berkeley forum took place, the far-right daily Washington Times was busy promoting MEK’s annual convention in the US capital.  Perhaps you remember a similar cozy relationship the Moonie newspaper had with Nicaragua’s Contra mercenaries and with UNITA, the rebel army that terrorized Namibia on behalf of the Reagan Administration and apartheid South Africa.  A Reagan-era Pentagon official and leading architect of the Iraq invasion, Richard Perle, was the keynote speaker at MEK’s 2004 convention.

And, of course, any anti-imperialist worth his or her salt would have to back al-Maliki’s crackdown on a friend of the Baathist Party in light of the fact that Richard Perle spoke at their convention.  To really succeed in this brand of politics, it is necessary to put a minus where someone like Perle puts a plus. And for those stodgy old Marxists hung-up on dialectical contradictions, the only advice is to wise up and get with the program.

Now it is a possibility that the left makes a mistake by thinking in these terms, I am afraid. I have vivid recollections of those arguments made on behalf of the Sunni guerrillas some years ago, when the slogan “support the resistance” became a kind of litmus test.

In 2005, ISO’er Sharon Smith wrote an article titled “The Right to Resist Occupation” that claimed:

SUPPORT FOR the right of Iraqis to resist occupation must extend beyond an abstract principle for the U.S. antiwar movement.

While recognizing “the right of the Iraqi people to resist as a point of principle,” Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies–in widely circulated notes for a speech to the steering committee of United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) on December 18–argued, “We should not call for ‘supporting the resistance’ because we don’t know who most of them are and what they really stand for, and because of those we do know, we mostly don’t support their social program beyond opposition to the occupation.”

To be meaningful, however, supporting the “right to resist” must include support for that resistance once it actually emerges.

To be fair to the ISO, they were not half as bad as someone like George Galloway who in his debate with Christopher Hitchens described the Sunni guerrillas as some of the greatest patriots since the days of the heroic NLF.

Unfortunately, nobody on the left could have guessed how willing the Sunni fighters would have been to cut their own deals with imperialism in a pacified Anbar Province:

Much of the local population here has always wanted the US to give them handouts, but it’s different now, American officials say. Over the past few years, the strategy here was to clear an area of danger and then swoop down with reconstruction projects in an attempt to win over the populace. That was because Anbar was still dangerous, still peppered with Al Qaeda and other Sunni extremists. The US would see a project finished, only to be destroyed.

Now, say Marine officials, they’ll only spend money on a project that tribal sheikhs want only if those sheikhs get buy-in from the local and provincial governments that will ultimately own and maintain it.

“We don’t want this to be about us spending American money for the sheikhs,” says Brig. Gen. John Allen, who oversees political and economic reconstruction for Multi-National Forces-West. “We want this to be about American money that makes a difference in bringing government along and making the sheikhs part of the government.”

In other words, the Sunni resistance melted away as soon as the imperialist pocketbook opened up.

Back in the 1960s, the SWP resisted every effort made by SDS or independent leftists to make slogans like “Support the NLF” part of a mass mobilization. Primarily, the thinking was that anything that kept Americans from participating on the basis, for example, that the NLF was trying to kill their draftee son, was objectively against the interests of the NLF. A demonstration of 200,000 under the banner of “Out Now” was far more effective than one of 20,000 around the slogan “Victory to the NLF”. When you stop and think about it, such a slogan made little sense since it was not directed against the American government. It functioned more as an emotional expression of how you felt about imperialism—clearly understandable given the tenor of the times. Surely we should be capable of more nuanced thinking nowadays.

Returning to the original question posed by Vijay, maybe the best way to look at things is not from the perspective of “dumb” or “intelligent”. Looking at how things turned out in retrospect, they certainly seem dumb. Iraq appears destined to be as close to Iran as the U.S. is with Britain. A war against Iran likely will spark economic and military retaliation by the Shia states.

If you think, however, in terms of how Wall Street operates, the foreign policy calculations of Washington make a little bit more sense. Did Jon Corzine make a dumb decision when he bet that the EU would be forced to back up the government bonds of a Greece or a Spain? If he were correct, then MF Global would have been catapulted to the ranks of a junior Goldman-Sachs. If he weren’t, then the worst outcome would have been MF Global coming to an ignominious end. That would have not gotten in the way, however, of Corzine getting his golden parachute worth $12 million (even though he would have been last on line getting paid by the defunct hedge fund.)

Imperialist foreign policy is the same kind of high stakes casino as well but one that allows you to hedge your bets. You seed the Egyptian army with billions of dollars while simultaneously funding some of the activists who organized the Tahrir Square protests through the NED and Soro-type NGO’s. You back Qaddafi until the signs become abundantly clear that the movement against him has achieved the critical mass necessary to topple him, just as the case with al-Assad.

The only way to throw a monkey wrench in this kind of operation is to build our own movement globally that seeks to promote working class and revolutionary oppositions that cannot be so easily bought off. That requires breaking with bourgeois oppositions to imperialism, even as we organize to defend their countries from imperialist attack. As daunting a task as this might seem today, it is the only intelligent course of action open to those who want to live in a world of peace and plenty, namely the 99 percent globally.

October 14, 2011

Me, my mom, and Lazlo Toth

Filed under: antiwar,humor,Iran — louisproyect @ 6:57 pm

About ten years before my mother’s death at the age of 87, a friend of hers told me on a visit to mom in upstate NY, while she was out of the room, that she was “slipping”. When I asked her to give me some examples, she said that her driving had deteriorated—a function largely of cataracts. She had also begun to lose her temper more and more easily. And the biggest problem apparently was her obsession with Israel, writing letters to the local newspapers on practically a daily basis with the latest hasbara talking points she discovered on the Internet using the Macintosh computer I bought her. The bad driving and the hair-trigger temper I could discount but the Zionism surely was a sign that she was losing it.

As I march inexorably toward my own “slipping” moments, I wonder when people will begin to take notice of me. My eyes are considerably worse than hers were when she was my age. I just got my driver’s license renewed—a stroke of luck—but I will not drive after dark. On losing one’s temper, I am probably even crazier than her considering my inability to tolerate a lot of the bullshit I read on the Internet or hear on television or radio. With the age of email upon us, I can’t resist giving some jerk a piece of my mind. Mostly the recipient is smart enough to ignore me, since I am obviously a bit “off”. Frankly, if someone like me wrote me a hostile email, I’d ignore it. I guess I often get a reply because I don’t write the conventional “you are such an asshole” thing but tend to be more sarcastic than anything else. I also use my Columbia email address to get attention. For some reason, big muck-a-mucks take my email address seriously even though there are lots of idiots at the university, starting with President Lee Bollinger and the dean of the business school Glenn Hubbard.

Don Novello as Father Guido Sarducci

About ten years ago I reported on some exchange I had with some politician or academic “expert” who got on my wrong side to the PEN-L mailing list which prompted economist Max Sawicky to compare me to Lazlo Toth, a persona adopted by Don Novello, to goad big shots into replying to his goofy letters. Novello was better known for his Father Guido Sarducci character on Saturday Night Live back when it—like Woody Allen movies–was funny. A typical Toth exchange looks like this:

Air Canada

From: Lazlo Toth …… November 19, 1977

To: Commanding Officer, AIR CANADA

Dear Sir: I recently flew on your airline and I must say I was more than somewhat disappointed! First of all, the stewardess asked me if I wanted to see the movie. I said, “No, thank you.” Later, when I asked for some earphones, she said, “I thought you didn’t want the movie?” She thought right, I didn’t want the movie, I just wanted to listen to some music, I told her. She said the music was only for people who paid for the movie! “Otherwise, how would we know you weren’t listening to the movie,” she said. How about the honor system? In my country they don’t go around accusing paying customers of cheating! I could afford to fly to Canada, do you think I couldn’t afford $2.50 for a lousy movie? Besides, that’s $2.50 in Canadian dollars — cheaper still! I saw a lot of people watching the movie who didn’t pay for it! Why don’t you charge to watch the movie instead of to listen to it? Why can you watch a movie for nothing but have to pay to listen to some records? It’s just not fair! Next thing you know, you’ll probably be charging people to look at record albums! Also, my tomato soup was ice cold! I thought it was because I was the only one polite enough to wait until everybody got served before I started eating, but when I told the stewardess my soup was cold, she said it wasn’t tomato soup, that it was tomato juice! How was I suppose to know it was tomato juice? What was the soup spoon there for then? I wasted two or three minutes eating it like that! Why don’t you label those things? If you can label “salad dressing,” why not juice and soup? I knew the salad dressing was salad dressing — what else could it have been — jello? Come on! Why do you label something that doesn’t need a label and not label the thing I mistook for something else? I think that by labeling the soup and the juice and starting free music you can make a giant step towards better understandings between both of our countries. Things are unstable enough without these things getting in the way, too. Your neighbor,

To: Lazlo Toth …… December 29, 1977

From: A.R. Godbold, Manager, Customer Relations, Air Canada

Dear Mr. Toth: We were very sorry to learn of your disappointment in some aspects of our service during your travel with us in November, but appreciate your giving us your observations. Recorded music is available on some of our flights at no charge; however, on flights where music is provided in conjunction with a movie, it is felt that, in fairness to all passengers, the charge for the movie must be levied on all passengers making use of the earphones. Soup is very seldom served by the airlines, because of the difficulties inherent in its provision, and it is regretted that this was not clarified with you. Thank you for your interest in writing. Yours very truly,

When I got up yesterday morning I spent my customary 30 minutes or so listening to AM radio. If WBAI was half as good as it was in the 1980s, that’s what I would listen to. No such luck, I’m afraid. So I listen to a few minutes of Boomer and Carton, a sports talk show, until I get tired of discussion about Alex Rodriguez’s contract. Then I’ll give the aging, crapulent shock jock Don Imus a few minutes until the right-wing guest he is schmoozing with becomes too much to bear. After Imus got fired by WFAN (he was replaced by Boomer and Carton), he moved over to WABC and became oriented to the reactionary pigs there. Ornery as ever, Imus will call Rush Limbaugh a fat, drug-taking idiot but will bend over backwards to be courteous to Sean Hannity.

Last stop on the AM express is the Mark Riley show on WWRL a black-owned and black-oriented station that used to be devoted to Air America programming until that liberal garbage dump went under. Riley is an African-American and in Obama’s back pocket just like Al Sharpton who has a show on the same station at 9pm. Mostly I listen to the show for the men and women calling in from the Black community, about half of whom are disgusted with Obama.

Barry Blechman

That day I turned to Riley’s show when he was in the middle of an interview with Barry Blechman, the director of the Stimson Center. Blechman was making the case that Iran was guilty of conspiring to kill the Saudi ambassador. Feeling some pressure to maintain a progressive veneer, Riley asked Blechman to explain some of the obvious inconsistencies—like why Iran would want to deal with a used car salesman who was in no position to line up Mexican drug cartel gunmen, let alone his next month’s rent.

Blechman assured him that there was hard proof of Iran’s involvement, starting with the wire transfer of money to said used car salesman. That was enough to set my hair on fire.

When I got to work an hour or so later, I dashed off this email to Blechman:

You said that the wire transfer of money proved that Iran was behind the plot to kill the Saudi ambassador. Aren’t you aware that wire transfers from Iran to American banks are prohibited? How in the world did you get into the position of speaking as an expert? Or is your role the same as Judith Miller’s?

I had a feeling that this would get under his skin, as would later be borne out:

Dear Mr. Proyest, [sic]

        Thanks for your comment; it’s nice to know that someone was listening.   According to the sworn affidavit of the FBI official submitted in support of the indictment, two transfers of $49,960 each were made from Iran to an unnamed US bank.  Now you may believe that FBI officials will swear to information they know is false in legal proceedings, but I don’t.  One explanation might be that knowing of the plot, the government permitted the transfers to be made, even though they are prohibited by sanctions legislation.

The actual 21-page indictment can be found at http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/10/11/us/Iran-Plot-Indictment-Doc-Viewer.html?ref=us. It may answer some of your questions of fact.    Barry Blechman

My reply will surely irritate him further, hopefully enough to prompt another email:

“Now you may believe that FBI officials will swear to information they know is false in legal proceedings”

Well, I for one am not shocked that gambling is going on at Rick’s place either.

As far as the wire transfer is concerned, this is absurd on the face of it—leaving aside the question of the sanctions legislation. Haven’t you ever seen a good spy movie? Payments are not made by wire transfers. They are made in cash transported around in a good, solid aluminum briefcase by a character named Abu Hassan. You know the kind of dirty Arab or Iranian I am talking about—they get killed by Bruce Willis or Arnold Schwarzenegger in the bloody finale.

Btw, have to chuckle about your credentials as a nuclear disarmament expert running something called the Stimson Center. That’s like an environmentalist running the James G. Watt Center.

“…in [July] 1945… Secretary of War Stimson, visiting my headquarters in Germany, informed me that our government was preparing to drop an atomic bomb on Japan. I was one of those who felt that there were a number of cogent reasons to question the wisdom of such an act. …the Secretary, upon giving me the news of the successful bomb test in New Mexico, and of the plan for using it, asked for my reaction, apparently expecting a vigorous assent.

“During his recitation of the relevant facts, I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of ‘face’. The Secretary was deeply perturbed by my attitude…”

– Dwight Eisenhower, Mandate For Change, pg. 380

In a Newsweek interview, Eisenhower again recalled the meeting with Stimson:

“…the Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.”

– Ike on Ike, Newsweek, 11/11/63

Look to this space for updates to the great Lazlo Toth/Unrepentant Marxist-Barry Blechman debate.

April 12, 2011

Lessons of Egypt for Iran

Filed under: Iran — louisproyect @ 4:55 pm

March 10, 2011

In response to Edward S. Herman and David Peterson

Filed under: Iran,journalism,sectarianism — louisproyect @ 6:52 pm

Yesterday I was informed that Edward Herman and David Peterson had responded a few months ago to my February 20, 2010 article titled The Latest Idiocy from Edward S. Herman and David Peterson.

There was a time when I would have paid closer attention to what the two had to say but have tuned them out because of their repetitiveness and prolixity. Basically, their methodology is the same one used by Michel Chossudovsky, MRZine, and some bloggers who have learned to put a minus where the U.S. State Department puts a plus as Leon Trotsky commented:

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.

A few words about these two would probably be in order. Herman is an 85-year-old Professor Emeritus of Finance at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, something that amounted to a kind of day job I guess. (His first book was Principles And Practices Of Money And Banking.) He is best known for co-authoring “Manufacturing Consent” with Noam Chomsky. Unlike Chomsky—an anarchist—Herman has never written anything that amounts to a program for revolutionary change. His main preoccupation is with the propaganda system that American imperialism uses to make war on its enemies.

Somewhere along the line Herman hooked up with someone named David Peterson, who is a lot younger from what I can gather. About all I know about him is that he describes himself as an independent journalist based in Chicago. My guess is that he has never been involved with socialist politics. And if he has, the tracks are well covered.

As I said, the two are never at a loss for words. Their reply to me is contained in the third part of a 33,000 word article titled Iran and Honduras in the Propaganda System: How the Left Climbed Aboard the Establishment’s Bandwagon in obvious defiance of the stricture that brevity is the soul of wit.

After fortifying myself with a second cup of extra-strong coffee, I waded into their 3-part article to see what had motivated them to write such a tome. I suspect that they are incapable of writing fewer than 20,000 words but I am not sufficiently motivated to do the necessary research to verify this.

The main thrust of their article is to demonstrate that the U.S. has a double standard when it comes to Iran and Honduras.

The Honduran military executed its coup d’état against President Zelaya only 16 days after the presidential election in Iran, in the middle of a tsunami of U.S. and Western media coverage of Iran’s election and its aftermath, which saw the opposition’s claims of vote fraud5 spark massive public demonstrations against both the official results and Iran’s clerical regime itself, and also saw large and sustained expressions of solidarity with Iran’s “democratic movement” dominating the metropolitan centers of the West.  Yet, when the coup in Honduras took place against its democratically-elected and populist president, nothing comparable was to be observed in U.S. and Western media interest in this event and its aftermath, much less in public displays of solidarity on behalf of Honduras’ ousted president and its anti-coup protestors.

They liken Iran’s most recent election to the ones that took place in Nicaragua in the 1980s, equating a demonized Ahmadinejad to a demonized Daniel Ortega. As someone who was part of a delegation in Nicaragua to observe the election of 1984, I wonder where the authors get the audacity to compare the two. In Iran the election was between two candidates who had been sanctioned by the Guardian Council, a small group of clerics that operate independently of the will of the people. Furthermore, in Iran there is no freedom for political groups or newspapers that would challenge the right of clerics to set the terms of democracy. Imagine if people like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell had the ultimate say on who could run for office in the U.S.A. And if you had started a socialist newspaper, you risked imprisonment or death. These are the brutal realities behind Iran’s electoral system that could barely interest Herman and Peterson. Perhaps if questions of class interested them a bit more, they would be a bit more sensitive to them.

When they get down to brass tacks in part three, they group me with Joanne Landy and Danny Postel, two individuals who would be shocked to discover me as a bedfellow. Landy was a member of the Council of Foreign Relations at one point, and used to attend events with Katrina Vanden Heuvel. Just my kind of folks. I won’t say anything much about Postel except to take note that he orients to the Iranian liberal intelligentsia while I am close to Marxist bloggers. I guess it is all the same to the nearsighted anti-imperialists Herman and Peterson.

To start off, the two intrepid anti-imperialist sleuths misunderstimate me, as George W. Bush would say: “As the U.S. wars of the post-Soviet era caused a peeling-off of leftist after leftist, the Marxmail administrator and blogger Louis Proyect resisted, remaining staunchly anti-imperialist.” Sorry, comrades, I am not just an “anti-imperialist”. I am an anti-capitalist, and—with all due respect to people like Naomi Klein–I am not just an anti-capitalist. I am an unrepentant Marxist. This means that while I am willing to take the side of Iran on the question of opposing sanctions and supporting its right to develop nuclear power (and arms, for that matter), I will not back any government that jails and tortures bus drivers for trying to start a union. Maybe Edward Herman got the idea when teaching finance at Wharton that it is sometimes necessary to keep labor costs down when raising capital for a bond issue but that is alien to me. It is all the more alien when trade unionists in Egypt and Wisconsin are fighting for their own rights as well. Don’t Iranian workers also have such a right? Or does that matter to people like Herman and Peterson who only understand the conflicts between states and not those between classes?

Apparently, I violated my oath to the anti-imperialist cause when “the eruption of election-related turmoil struck Iran in June 2009, and the Western establishment threw its collective weight behind the ‘Green Wave’ opposition.” They claim “Proyect suddenly did an about-face, and enlisted in the cause.”

Well, this is utter nonsense. I began to pay close attention to the brutality and neoliberal character of the Islamic Republic back in 2006 when Yoshie Furuhashi, the editor of MRZine who published Herman and Peterson’s article, began her fulsome praise of Ahmadinejad not long after giving up on socialism. Who would want to mess around with small groups like Solidarity when Ahmadinejad was deploying vast numbers of Basiji. Something told me that this was a pile of crap and I was determined to get to the bottom of that.

This led me to write a multi-part review of a book titled “Iran on the Brink” in 2007, a book I recommend highly, especially to Herman and Peterson who evidently are rather virginal when it comes to Marxist analysis of Iran. Here’s an excerpt from part one of my review:

“Iran on the Brink” provides historical background on revolutionary movements in Iran, starting in the early 20th century. Attempts to break with colonial domination and the native comprador bourgeoisie kept being thwarted, the most notable example being the coup against Mossadegh in 1953 that led to the Reza Shah dictatorship that was finally overthrown in 1979.

The authors focus on the emergence of shoras that arose spontaneously in factories and oil refineries around the country shortly after the Shah’s cronies fled the country. The shoras started out as strike committees but were then transformed into workers control bodies. They very much reflected the kind of aspirations seen in Venezuela today and target number one of Khomeini and his followers, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad included. A worker at a shoe factory spoke for all Iranian workers when he said:

Nowadays you don’t need to tell a worker to go and work. He works himself. Why? The reason why he didn’t work [under the Shah] was because he was under the boss’s thumb. He couldn’t speak out. Now, he’ll say: “the work is my own. I’ll work.”

Unfortunately, the shoras failed to become the new state power, just as Soviets had become in 1917. Unlike Russia, the Iranians lacked a revolutionary party that could coordinate the shoras nationwide and press the struggle forward. This is not to say, however, that there weren’t groups in Iran that aspired to Lenin’s mantle. There were more than eighty of them, in fact. Unfortunately, the only thing that united them was sectarianism mixed with an eagerness to adapt to political Islam. In 1979, the Iranian left was still stuck in the same mode that would destroy the left in so many countries, namely a dogmatic understanding of what it meant to be a “vanguard”. The particular irony is that Iranian workers would have been more receptive to the leadership of a revolutionary party than anywhere else in the world.

Among the most prestigious of the revolutionary organizations was the Fediyan that had conducted a guerrilla struggle against the Shah since 1971. Its main rival was the Tudeh, the official Communist Party. Both groups were heavily influenced by Stalinist top-down methods and were hardly in a position to engage with so profoundly a bottom-up phenomenon like the shoras. It should be added that the Tudeh did have an interest in the shoras, but it could be described as the kind of interest that the Democrats had in Ralph Nader. The Tudeh’s goal was to replace the shoras with conventional trade unions of the sort that they had operated in historically. Eventually, the Tudeh made a bloc with the Majority faction of the Fediyan that shared its hostility to the shoras and its belief that political Islam was progressive. With the two most powerful groups on the left holding such beliefs, one might conclude that the rise of Khomeini-ism had more to do with the bankruptcy of the left than its own dubious merits.

Khomeini soon developed a substitute for the shoras that was called the shora-ye eslami, or “Islamic council”. Rather than operating on the basis of class struggle, the new bodies would stress Muslim brotherhood. This was a brotherhood that first and foremost would put a ban on strikes, effective in March 1980. Strikes were now considered haram, or sinful. Just to make sure that nobody lapsed into sinful behavior, the government set up Revolutionary Guards (Pasdaran) that would break strikes and enforce discipline within the workplace. One metal factory worker described the kind of punishment Pasdaran meted out to the unruly:

They flogged one of my colleagues to death. They accused him of having cursed Imam Ali. First they brought him to prison, but then they dragged him to the factory and bound him to a machine. All production was stopped and we were ordered to appear in front of the scene. I could only stand to have my eyes on him for two lashes. Then blood was gushing from his wounds. He died after 50, 60 lashes. He was about 50 years old.

At any rate such workers could matter less to Herman and Peterson. They are completely absorbed by the fact that Ahmadinejad is being demonized by the N.Y. Times.

Moving right along, I am found guilty of not writing about Honduras:

Although chiding the present writers for our alleged inattention to class, Proyect—in strict parallel with Danny Postel, the Campaign for Peace and Democracy, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, the New York Times, and the State Department—had nothing whatever to say about Honduras, where the class nature of the 2009 coup and regime change is far clearer than it has been for the conflict in Iran.

I don’t quite know how to break it to these two jerks, but the fact that I have not written about Honduras should not be interpreted as support for the American-backed coup. I am not trying to compete with Counterpunch or ZNet. If you are looking for radical news analysis of current events, those are the places you are advised to go. My blog was launched with the intention of writing about whatever interests me at the moment, ranging from my struggles with glaucoma to musings on African music. And I have no plans to change that any time soon.

September 19, 2010

Christian Amanpour interviews Ahmadinejad

Filed under: Iran — louisproyect @ 7:36 pm

May 21, 2010

No One Knows about Persian Cats; Women without Men

Filed under: Film,Iran — louisproyect @ 6:16 pm

There are two films playing in New York City that are directed by Iranians. Playing at the IFC Center (I downloaded it on Time-Warner, where IFC films are generally available), No One Knows About Persian Cats is first rate. Directed by Iranian-Kurd Bahman Ghobadi, this is the story of rock musicians in Tehran trying to avoid the authorities. It is perhaps the best explanation of why so many young people rose up against the Islamic thought police last year.

I had high expectations for Shirin Neshat’s Women without Men since she is a long-time expatriate leftist opponent of the Islamic Republic, especially since the movie is set in 1953 during the coup against Mossadegh. Unfortunately the movie is hampered by a screenplay based on a magical realist novel by Shahrnush Parsipur.

If Persian Cats consisted of nothing but the musical performances that are interspersed throughout the film, it would be worth the price of admission. They serve as a kind of introduction to the varieties of the country’s music, much as Fatih Akin’s Crossing the Bridge did for Turkey. Unlike Turkey, however, the young musicians are hounded underground by the authorities as if they posed as much danger to the system as political subversives. In a way, there is a basis for their fears considering rock-and-roll’s long-time anti-authoritarian impulses.

The movie stars a young musician named Ashkan and his girl-friend Negar, who are played by Ashkan Kooshanejad and Negar Shaghaghi—musicians and lovers in real life. Ashkan’s goal is to tour London but unless he secures a fake passport and visa, he is out of luck. The plot of this movie revolves around this quest and their efforts to line up sidemen who turn out to be real-life underground musicians in Tehran.

Ashkan and Negar rely on the help of Nader (Hamed Behdad), a fast-talking hustler (but not dishonest one) who introduces them to a fake passport maker and various musicians. Nader is a comic character who functions like a spark plug in the film. His manic energy and braggadocio reminded me of Mickey Rooney in one of his “let’s do a musical in the barn” movies. In one of the movie’s most memorable scenes, Nader tries to talk himself out of 75 lashes and a stiff fine in a cop’s office. His apartment has been raided and alcohol and foreign DVD’s turned up, a grave offense to the authorities. He says that the alcohol was only meant for an Armenian friend (a Christian ethnic group) and the DVD’s were for his personal use. All 10,000 of them, asks the cop?

Perhaps some of you saw an excerpt from the movie when it went viral. It is a performance by rapper Soroush Lashkary who uses the stage name Hichkas. It is great:

Playing at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema, Women without Men was shot in Morocco. The director Shirin Neshat has a background as a visual artist and this, her first film, had me captivated by its images even if the story left me confused and frustrated most of the time. It is obvious that Neshat has much more interest in imagery than story-telling since the film lacks exposition and meaningful dialog. To what extent this is the fault of the original material it is impossible for me to say.

One particular element of Neshat’s movie left me totally annoyed. In the beginning of the film, Munis—one of the five featured women victimized by male chauvinism—has jumped off a roof because her religious fundamentalist older brother has made her life impossible. Without explanation, Munis then shows up again in the middle of the movie as an anti-Shah activist whose devotion to the cause might have something more to do with her attraction to a young and handsome Communist Party member. The NY Times described this as a “magical realist trope”. Well, okay. Why not have her transformed into an 18 foot serpent that devours the Shah’s thugs while we are at it.

Despite the backdrop of the coup, the movie contains very little political dialog even among the Communists, who devote themselves to passing out leaflets on doorsteps in the dead of night. Neshat’s main interest, and ostensibly that of the novel, is to dramatize the suffering of women in a traditional society. Such a movie, of course, needs to be made especially in light of this one’s shortcomings.

April 1, 2010

An Iranian socialist replies to Yoshie Furuhashi

Filed under: Iran — louisproyect @ 2:47 pm

Yoshie says in an article titled Jacobinism with Islamic Characteristics on her blog Critical Montages:

The power elite of Iran don’t care about Islam as such (Islam, after all, is diverse, and some varieties of it, as conceived by Nader Hashemi, Mohsen Kadivar, Ahmad Sadri, and the like, are perfectly compatible with liberal democracy). What they care about is their revolution and their republic and their ideology (in which Islam does play a part but an increasingly smaller one). As IRGC General Mohammad Ali Jafari reportedly said:

حفظ نظام جمهوری اسلامی ایران از ادای نماز واجب‌تر است

They love their politico-economic order much more than prayers.

Yoshie tells us that the Iranian ruling class doesn’t care that much about Islam but cares about their ideology, their 1979 revolution, and their republic. Yoshie tells us the ruling class loves their politico-economic order (you bet, especially the economic order).

Yoshie doesn’t know that revolution cannot be restricted to the ruling class. Would caring about the 1979 revolution require the Iranian government to kill those revolutionary citizens who stand up to guns for social justice? Would liking the politico-economic order require the government of Iran to imprison worker-activists such as Mansoor Osanloo or Farzad Kamangar? It’s as if the late Shah, who killed 1979 revolutionaries, had hypothetically claimed that he is restricting political activism and killing activists to take care of the Constitutional Revolution which occurred several decades before 1979 revolution.

The 1979 revolution took place thirty years ago and people from different sociopolitical backgrounds (leftists, secularists, Islamists, Islamonationalists, etc) participated in it and made it possible with their blood and sacrifices. Thus the revolution does not belong to the ruling class as Yoshie or Rafsanjani claim. Rafsanjani and many other political figures of Iran make such statements to justify their financial and political monopolies, and to justify why Iranians are divided to insiders (khodi-ha) and outsiders (gheire-khodiha). The insiders are those who, as Yoshie describes, supposedly care about the 1979 revolution and like the politico-economic monopoly while the outsiders are the second class citizens who are ironically in the streets of Iran trying to use the experiences of 1979 revolution to demand sociopolitical justice similar to what they demanded in 1979 revolution or even before that in the Constitutional revolution.

The revolution took place thirty years ago and was followed by the rise of a counter-revolutionary government. It’s simply fabricated propaganda to call the government of Iran revolutionary: a government that has used international crises such as the American hostage crisis, the Iran-Iraq war, and more recently the fuss around nuclear energy and the Holocaust slogans to confiscate power, imprison and kill political activists, to prevent workers from forming unions, etc. Yoshie naively finds the cause of independent workers like Masoor Osanloo illegitimate because Freedom House published a letter in their support. Mansoor Osanlo sought for his fellow coworkers an independent union and wages equal to the poverty level (instead of one third the poverty line) and as a result is now imprisoned in the notorious Gohardasht jail. Yoshie, could you explain for us why the ruling class of Iran, to protect the “revolution,” imprisons class conscious workers such as Farzad Kamgar and Mansoor Osanloo? Do the workers endanger government’s revolutionary ideals? Could you explain why, Yoshie?

In this video, Mansoor Osanloo, says “I participated in 1979 revolution to have independence, freedom and social justice”.

As we see, contrary to what Yoshie, Rafsanjani, or Shariatmadari tell us, Iranian people claim ownership of the 1979 revolution and often ask what happened to those goals for which they sacrificed their freedom and lives. The government tries to protect itself from the “danger” of workers, human rights and women’s rights activists, non-state journalists, etc. not for the sake of the 1979 revolution but for their financial interests and political power.

Yoshie says “What they care about is … their republic.” Whose republic? The Iranian government’s republic? To save the republic from the citizens of Iran? Is that why many people, such as worker activists, housewives and journalists, are imprisoned to save the republic for the elite? Which kind of republic belongs to the ruling elite and must be protected from people of all social classes? Which kind of republic murders hundred and imprisons thousands in response to peaceful protests against a fraudulent election?

Yoshie calculates from the back of her napkin that 20% of Iranian people are liberal—without providing the napkin or, hell, just a few of her equations. I am grateful that such a super confident person like Yoshie didn’t tell us 21.012% of Iranian people are liberals and she just gave us a rounder number from her back of the napkin calculation. Yoshie’s equations have nothing to do with the sociopolitical events of Iran. For instance, in 1997 almost 80% of the eligible voters participated in the presidential election and 70% of them voted for Mohammad Khatami although Khatami was censored in TV pre-election programs in favor of a principalist candidate named Ali Akbar Nategh Noori. Khatami’s main promises were the liberalization of the country’s political atmosphere, more freedom for the media and the arts, and more social freedom. In 2001, Khatami was again reelected although people lost their faith in the possibility of meaningful reform from within the establishment. The martyrs and imprisoned of the Green Movement are from different social classes and econo-political beliefs but they all meet each other when it comes to sociopolitical justice and freedom. Iranian leftists try to bring economic justice into the agenda of the Green Movement instead of following Yoshie’s suggestion which is asking everyone to be apolitical and wait a couple decades so that the passing of time takes care of the injustices in Iran.

It’s very orientalist of Yoshie to think that it takes the majority of Iranians a couple decades to discover the pain of having a dear one in jail, being tear gassed, being batoned, or knowing someone who has been brutally killed. Would it take a couple decades for Mansoor Osanloo’s wife to feel the pain and injustice of having her innocent husband imprisoned? Would it take a couple decades for the family of Ramin Ramezani, a Green movement protester and working class soldier who was killed during the election protests, to feel the pain of injustice? Would it take a couple decades for the mother of Farzad Kamangar, a teacher, to feel the injustice of having her innocent son in death row? I don’t think so. Yoshie’s mistake is underestimating the Iranian people and thinking only 20% of them have problems with human rights violations, economic disparities and government corruption.

Imposing harsher economic sanctions or invading Iran would be outrageous since it would cause huge human suffering for the people of Iran. Economic sanctions or military invasion of Iran by US-Israel would have a negative effect on the democratic movement of Iran, and would in fact empower the hardliners and destroy the justice and democracy movement of people. The economic sanctions on Iran is meant to remove the regional influence of the Iranian government. It seems that the suffering of the people of Iran has been considered unimportant by the imperialist states. The worst immorality of the “international” community is the transparent lie that harsher sanctions or an invasion would be meant to help Iranian people or members of the Green Movement. The imperialist states fail to explain how the economic hardships caused by the sanctions, or the deleterious results of an invasion (destruction of infrastructure, damaging of environment with hazardous chemicals and loss of human lives) would help Iranian people in their struggle for sociopolitical justice and democracy.

Thus the economic sanctions or invasion of Iran is morally outrageous and strategically disastrous since it ruins the Iranian people’s movement for justice and causes huge human suffering, and not because, as Yoshie says, in a couple decades the percentage of Iranian liberals will grow. The international aggression in the forms of economic sanctions or invasion is unrelated to the growth of liberals in Iran and is not aimed at helping Iranian people with their struggle for justice or liberalization of the politics in Iran. These aggressions are purely based on imperialist motives. Activists need to oppose international aggression against Iranian people without prettifying the domestic violence against the people.

Yoshie tells us that the Iranian government’s ideology is not instilled from above and has organically grown out of Iranian history. Yoshie again makes another hollow claim without showing us the supposed calculations on her napkin. If the ideology of the Iranian government has grown organically out of Iranian history and is not instilled from above, then why has the government needed all sorts of sociocultural restrictions on Iranian people? Why did the government, one year after the revolution, shut down the universities for three years (1980-1983) and exile, expel, and imprison many scholars and students whose ideology differed from the ruling elite? As Asef Bayat explains: “… Iran experienced an ‘Islamic revolution’ without developing a pervasive ‘Islamist movement’ – one that could ‘socialise’, and connect the expectations of the people to the visions of the Islamist leadership. In the absence of such an Islamist movement, ‘Islamisation’ was then inaugurated primarily after the revolution: by the Islamic state, from above, and often through coercion and compulsion. In consequence, from the very first days of the Islamic Republic the process provoked dissent. Today’s crisis is the legacy of that disjuncture over the very meaning of the revolution.”

It’s time to stand firmly behind Iranian people and support them in their struggle against both international and domestic aggression and atrocities, instead of portraying them either as powerless puppets of US-Israel or masochists/senseless ones who enjoy or are numb to the domestic human abuses. It’s time to stop taking away the history of the socio-political struggle of Iranian people and to stop portraying them as blank canvas on which the imperialist states can write their wishes.

March 30, 2010

Answering an email about Iran

Filed under: Iran — louisproyect @ 5:26 pm

Yesterday I received an email that has the merit at least of encapsulating all of the arguments from the “anti-imperialist” supporters of President Ahmadinejad, including Yoshie Furuhashi, Edward Herman/David Peterson, Sam Marcy’s followers of one stripe or another, James Petras and others not important enough to mention. The letter appears below. My reply is interspersed in italics. I would only preface the letter with an observation that “Margo White” is probably a phony identity. Frankly, I never understand why people conceal their true identity since one of the greatest pleasures I get out of writing crank letters to people like Avishai Margalit is the knowledge that they will wince at the sound of my name.

Mr. Proyect,

Not knowing you at all, I risk overstepping here. However, as an American with a long and deeply rooted understanding of Iran (I lived there before, during and after it’s revolution 1977-82), I am always alert to the ongoing, increasingly disguised, machinations of the US elites to regain control of that country, one way or another.

It is, therefore, in that context that I want to suggest several concerns. One is that I agree with you, the Leveretts are questionable sources of ‘peoples’ support in Iran. They are clearly well connected in US establishment circles and, as such, cannot possible be on the side of the Iranian people.

Well, that at least puts you one step ahead of MRZine which features the Leveretts on almost a daily basis.

However, while I agree with your skepticism about the Leveretts, I am astounded that you offer Mina Khanbarzadeh as a “real Marxist”! Read her articles! She is a supporter of the very same ‘Green Revolution’ nonsense that is sponsored by Soros, aka, CIA-US. Where on earth do you get the idea that she’s a ‘real marxist’??

I get that idea from reading her articles. (By the way, her last name is Khanlarzadeh.) Here, for people who have never had the pleasure of reading her laser-beam critiques of the Ahmadinejad government and its useful idiots in the West, are some of her greatest hits:

A reply to Edward Herman and David Peterson

Some thoughts on the Leveretts

The Green Movement

I should add that Mina’s views on the Green Movement can hardly be interpreted as uncritical support. She wrote in the article above:

Some believe that the Green Movement aims to revive justice and the citizens’ socio-political freedoms, and that the class discourse takes the movement off its path and is in conflict with the principles of the movement. This claim is erroneous since individuals from different classes are active in the movement, and obviously class demands do exist in the movement, even if not expressed explicitly. To explain what I mean, let’s look at the women’s movement: one of the weaknesses of the women’s movement is that it is presented as a class-less phenomenon, and the demands of working class and poor women are less frequently heard in the women’s movement. Doubtless, changing of discriminatory laws will be to the eventual benefit of all women from all social classes; however, the issue remains that in order to expand the movement to different social strata there is no way other than to include class in the movement’s discourse.

Now if only the Quran-thumping Yoshie Furuhashi or the prolix Herman/Peterson duo (the Batman and Robin of the radical left?) could muster the analytical power to interject class into their own discussions of Iran. Everything in their world is reduced to the White House and the Iranian government, bus drivers of Tehran be damned.

Most of all, Mr. Proyect, while I have great respect for anyone who was supportive of CISPES and other progressive organizations in the 70s’ and 80s’, I am nonetheless astonished that anyone could fall for the “Green Revolution” business and claim that this is consistent with progressive politics. It is a US sponsored movement, aimed at destabilizing Iran, making it appear that Iran cannot govern itself and must have, therefore, some kind of ‘regime change’ facilitated by the US. It is the same old brutal US power play for the Eurasian landmass. Learn some history!

I have learned from history, namely from Leon Trotsky. Although I found his efforts to build a new International largely a mistake, I do think his analysis of Stalin’s USSR to be useful for how to relate to Iran’s Islamic Republic, not that the bazaari capitalist mode of production deserves the kind of fan club gushing found at MRZine. During the 1930s, Trotsky defended the Soviet Union against imperialist attack even while he was dissecting the bureaucratic crimes of Stalin and his epigones. In fact, he was a better defender of the Soviet Union than the CPUSA, which argued from the same perspective of Furuhashi and company in the 1930s. It did not serve the Soviet Union’s defense for it to have put its top military leaders on trial for collaborating with the Nazis in the Moscow Trials. It does not serve Iran’s defense for Ahmadinejad to invite a Ku Klux leader to Iran for a conference on whether the holocaust took place.

Furthermore, I have a somewhat different agenda than the “anti-imperialist” brigade so anxious to burnish Ahmadinejad’s reputation in the West, like latter-day followers of the feckless Foucault who fell in love with the Ayatollahs because they were radical but not Marxist. My purpose in life is to unite Marxists worldwide, although I have no delusions of grandeur that I am some kind of Leon Trotsky. My aims are more modest. On the Marxism list I moderate, I am anxious to make connections with the Iranian left that is not content to serve as a tail on the kite of political Islam. These comrades, although small in number, have the future in mind for unless socialism triumphs on a worldwide basis, humanity has no future.

As I will point out in an article I have pending on the Fourth International, Leon Trotsky decided to launch this movement in the most inauspicious conditions. In fact, as Isaac Deutscher relates in “The Prophet Outcast”, the Polish delegation warned that it was doomed to fail since Stalinism and fascism were such powerful forces (it should be mentioned that Deutscher—as he relates in a footnote—wrote their proposal.)

Today, after nearly 30 years of neoliberal assault, the tide is turning. A general strike in Turkey and Greece, the rise of a revolutionary Maoist movement in India and Nepal, the growth of the radical movement in Latin America are all signs that the long period of reaction is finally coming to end, no doubt a reflection of the fact that capitalism is not working. As people come to Marxist conclusions during these stormy days, my goal is to offer solidarity to them and to create a means of communication so that our movement can take shape globally. There is nothing more important to me.

Most of all, the ONE lessons that all these Americans who are currently posturing as ‘friends of the Iranian people’ have failed to learn is to STAY OUT OF IRAN. It is not the business of Americans, progressive or otherwise, to ‘take sides’ in Iran’s internal politics. If you had ever bothered to live there and really KNOW the people and their country, you would appreciate and RESPECT the extraordinary complexity and sophistication of their politics and their system — and honor their RIGHT to sort things out for themselves.

It doesn’t MATTER, Mr. Proyect, if you or I — or any other Americans — like the Islamic Republic or not. It is the IRANIANS who will sort it out, or not. It’s THEIR country.


Margot White, JD
human rights attorney

I am for staying out of Iran if that means opposing Israel’s designs on nuclear facilities or punitive sanctions. But I will be god-damned if I stop condemning the jailing and torture of bus drivers trying to start a trade union in Tehran.

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