Sickening apologetics

SWP member Naz Massoumi addressed the session entitled 'Iran - from revolution to rogue state', reports James Turley

Naz Massoumi - a young SWP comrade hailing from Bristol - addressed the session entitled 'Iran - from revolution to rogue state' and gave a short and relatively innocuous historical overview of the "islamic revolution" of Iran ... or so it seemed. The comrade raced through the conditions of Iran under the shah; the rise of the shoras, and then the "populist" Khomeini; the Iran-Iraq war, the neoliberal policies of Khamenei and Rafsanjani; and ultimately the rise and fall of the so-called 'reform' movement.

He posed the highly pertinent question of how comrades were to relate to the progressive forces previously hegemonised by neoliberals such as Khatami (the answer appeared to be something along the lines of 'what the SWP did with the anti-war movement'), but did not mention what our attitude to the Iranian state ought to be.

The dangerous (for the SWP) but unspoken implication of this was that solidarity ought to be directed to precisely those progressive forces, not to Iran as such (including, of course, the reactionary state hierarchy), as the official SWP line seems to be. Khamenei, Rafsanjani and Khatami were specified as neoliberals, although Ahmadinejad's socio-economic politics were not referred to. Comrade Massoumi may have pulled some punches, but his speech was by no means the kind of crass analysis we have come to expect from SWP speakers on this subject - rather, it seemed to have been pieced together from older SWP/International Socialists publications (someone ought to have told the comrade the line had changed).

Nevertheless, this departure from the SWP position may have been sufficiently vague to have gone unnoticed by many. But the same could not be said for the first speaker from the floor, a comrade from the Middle East who referred to the tens of thousands of massacred Iranian leftists, and declared that the emergence of the military-bureaucratic state had been a victory for imperialism. For him Ahmadinejad represented a continuation of previous policies - with the difference that now every part of the state machine is controlled by supporters of the military.

In response, we faced no less than four SWP top-table regulars - Jonathan Neale, Alex Callinicos, Elaheh Rostami Povey and Chris Nineham - trooping up to the podium to deliver their pathetic and frankly immoral apologetics. Iran was said to be the "most democratic state in the Middle East" and the usual favourable comparisons with Saudi Arabia were trotted out (Israel being mysteriously unmentioned). Rostami Povey made a truly mind-bending statement, arguing that the existence of a pro-democracy movement ipso facto meant there was democracy. Apparently people "talk politics on the bus" without fear of reprisal - well, that's all right then.

The sheer idiocy of all this is self-evident. Equally obvious is that the SWP leadership is fanatically keen on policing this particular issue - three leaders and one prominent spokesperson present, and all laying down the same line in the debate!

Sure enough, it paid off: comrade Massoumi found himself backtracking and scrabbling to put the massacres of communist prisoners "in context" - not, unsurprisingly, in the more illuminating context of many of those same victims' support for the reactionary followers of Khomeini: a mistake enthusiastically repeated by Callinicos, Povey and their ilk.