Latest negotiations: war by other means

Following the Geneva talks, the threat against Iran is as real as ever, argues Ben Lewis

Those concerned about the prospect of Iran being bombed back into the stone age may have been encouraged by the recent attempts at diplomacy and negotiations between the US, Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia and Iran over the weekend of July 19-20.

After all, it is the first time there have been formal high-level diplomatic talks between the US and Iran since the Iranian revolution of 1979 - although, of course, secret negotiations and deals have been rife throughout this whole period. That the negotiations took place in Geneva, for example, is quite ironic. Switzerland has been pivotal in secret agreements - such as the one whereby Israel has actually flouted sanctions by importing Iranian crude oil indirectly via that country.1

Within the context of Barack Obama attempting to prove himself a reliable statesman by dropping in on occupying forces in Iraq, and with Gordon Brown’s speech to the knesset underlining his readiness to “stand firmly by Israel’s side” and call for “further sanctions and isolation” if Iran does not halt its alleged nuclear weapons programme, it is quite clear that the Geneva talks have not reduced the threat of a military strike. Things are precariously balanced and even the slightest incident, accident or diplomatic faux pas could trigger another bout of destruction and slaughter.

Ruling class contradictions

These talks may, however, reflect some of the tensions brewing within the US ruling class in a situation that is increasingly getting out of hand. While Israeli hawks are upping the ante, there are deep divisions within the US over how to react. In light of the potentially disastrous ramifications that a US-led or US-backed attack could have in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Hormuz Strait, the lack of enthusiasm for it amongst some sections is quite understandable and these latest developments do represent a nod in their direction.

The reasons presented for the continuing threats are farcical. The possibility of an Iranian nuclear weapons programme is nothing but a pretext for actions to further the interests of US imperialism: they certainly include dealing with this particular ‘rogue state’ (whose influence has expanded precisely because of US intervention against Iran’s regional rivals - Saddam Hussein and the Taliban). In this context, Brown’s vaunting of the “unbreakable partnership” based on “liberty, democracy and justice” between a nuclear Israel and nuclear UK is the most blatant hypocrisy.

However, as we saw in the threadbare justifications for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the ruling class will always come up with serviceable lies for their imperialist adventures. While Iran maintains that its nuclear programme is solely for peaceful purposes and fully within the remit of its national rights as a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, the general consensus is that Tehran is a long way from nuclear weapons capability. Indeed, a CIA intelligence report from December 2007 - much to the embarrassment of the hawks - actually suggested that Iran’s nuclear weapons programme had been junked in 2003.2

Carrots, sticks and soft war

The current carrot being offered to Tehran in the form of a diplomatic mission to Iran is therefore inseparable from the continued soft war - evident in the two-week ‘freeze for freeze’ ‘offer’ (read ultimatum) delivered by the US on July 19. In reality this forces Iran to play ball or face further sanctions from the so-called ‘international community’. On the one hand, however, it has been presented as a concession to the US ‘doves’, but, on the other hand, given that Iran is unlikely to agree to this farcical proposition, it allows US and Israeli hawks to highlight the regime’s unreasonableness and unreliability.

For communists, war and peace cannot be seen as completely distinct or unconnected phenomena - they are opposites in a unity. Clausewitz’s maxim that “war is the continuation of policy by other, violent means” is apt. It is quite clear that the ‘offer’ forms an integral part of plans to topple the current Iranian regime and replace it with a much more pliant, US-friendly one. If Iran does not agree to suspend uranium enrichment, then further sanctions targeting its banking system, combined with a possible embargo of petrol and diesel, are on the imperialist agenda. This will further worsen conditions for the Iranian people, not least workers, who have been hit by the systematic non-payment of wages and severe fuel shortages.

The ‘diplomatic mission’ is merely a gesture on the part of the US and its allies. But ‘anti-imperialist’ Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has welcomed it as a “move which would expand human relations”. However, the establishment of a diplomatic presence in Iran would allow the US to more easily exert its influence - nurture potential allies, fund certain initiatives, provide resources, etc. In other words, the application of more pressure on Iran fromwithin - alongside the economic squeeze from without.

It is incumbent upon the anti-war movement both in the imperialist heartlands and in Iran to expose these developments for what they are - there can be no imperialist peace without imperialist war and we should not engender any illusions in imperialist missions, negotiations and deals, any more than in sanctions, wars and occupations. They are not in the interests of the Iranian, American, British or global working class.

NPC and Casmii

As we reported last week, the launch of the National Peace Council (NPC) by figures in and around the discredited and politically marginal ‘reformist’ faction in Iran could precisely be one of the ways that the CIA will look to manipulate and manoeuvre in order to gain further allies for regime change.

Following the sham of the majlis elections in March - where not even the ‘reformists’ seemed to believe that it was possible for people to vote through change - there will be those looking for other ways of getting their hands on the levers of power. Anybody who thinks that figures like Rafsanjani and Khatami would not be willing to reach an accommodation on US terms need only look at how these super-rich clerics actually opened the way for the imposition of the IMF’s structural readjustment programme with their economic ‘reforms’.

That some in and around the Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran (Casmii) are presenting these developments as something that could offer a welcome, peaceful solution for the Iranian people should start alarm bells ringing for all anti-war activists - not least since this follows Casmii’s blatant switch from acting as apologists for Ahmadinejad to giving support to the regime’s ‘reformist’ wing.

So too should the statements that Casmii is issuing. Its latest one, entitled ‘Message of peace and friendship to the people of United States of America: request for the Congress and president of USA”, wants to take Bush at his word when he talks of his “deep respect and affection for the Iranian people”. This “group of independent Iranians” calls on the US administration to stop its secret funding of Iranian ‘pro-democracy’ groups - a move which would “pave the way to strengthen our bonds for people-to-people cooperation between America and Iran, without interference of governments of both sides”.3

The statement continues by calling for a “non-partisan panel of scholars to study ways and means of easing sanctions, so that independent and genuine Iranian civil society and scholars can cooperate with their US counterparts” (there are quite a few “scholars” who support the NPC) through “non-confrontational dialogue and committed advocacy”. These pathetic sentiments echo people like Iranian Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi and their ‘solution’ for the Iranian people - subservience to the US-dominated system of “international law”.

The National Iranian American Council - one of Casmii’s allies in the US - is much more explicitly pro-imperialist. Like Ahmadinejad, it “welcomes US plans to establish an interests section in Iran”, as this “will help to facilitate much needed people-to-people exchanges and reverse the decline in American soft power in Iran”.

Dr Trita Parsi, NIAC president, is quite clear about what he means by American “soft power” in Iran: he argues that this “long overdue” step demonstrates “that the US does not have any enmity with the people of Iran” and that, “despite poor relations between the US and Iran, most Iranians tend to hold favourable views of America, American values and the American people. Iranians were the only people in the region to hold spontaneous candle-lit vigils in support of America after the attacks on 9/11.”4

It is utter nonsense to imply that the so-called peace vigils were a “spontaneous” movement that quickly gathered momentum from the Iranian people themselves. Just as with the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq - where the Iranian government issued sweets and organised celebrations at the prospect of seeing its bitter enemies defeated - these initiatives came from above. Whereas it is true that most Iranians do not have any particular enmity against the American people (and indeed enjoy American popular culture such as films and music smuggled into Iran), what is evident is that many still see the US state as a meddling force, which alongside Britain has a rotten history of intervention in the Middle East - from the CIA-backed overthrow of the democratically elected Iranian government of Mohammed Mossadeq in 1953 to the current disastrous occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is precisely US interference, whether through overt military action or ‘soft power’, that many Iranians are opposed to - interference which has been used by the current Tehran regime to rally support for itself, as a means of countering its ever increasing unpopularity.

Casmii split?

The Socialist Workers Party enjoys a working relationship with Casmii, but has not yet formally reacted to these latest developments and its potential switch to liberal pro-imperialism. It continues to operate within Campaign Iran, which was formed in November 2006 as a merger of the SWP-led Action Iran, Iran Solidarity and Casmii.

Yet it seems that this alliance, although it has not been openly stated or admitted, has hit the rocks. According to the posting on Facebook by SWP cadre Hanif Leylabi, in response to last week’s Weekly Worker articles, “Casmii decided that due to political differences we would organise as separate organisations. Hence the reason why we have different websites and why Abbas is billed as a Casmii speaker, whereas Elaheh Somayeh Alys, myself, etc are billed as Campaign Iran speakers”.

Well, this is news to many. Google Campaign Iran and the first link you get is to the Casmii site. A new, separate blog was set up for Campaign Iran in March 2008, but a parting of the ways has certainly not been announced anywhere. Campaign Iran has not even hinted of it in any of its email bulletins.

Another SWPer told me: “I think we split around February 2007. That could be completely wrong, but roughly I think it’s right. I think we sent out an email to our lists at the time to explain it all but it wasn’t a massive thing considering the merger didn’t exactly last very long!”

It does seem rather odd - the two campaigns have, at least from what they say publicly, more or less the same politics on Iran. Even now, the Campaign Iran blog has regular postings from the Casmii site. Moreover, the ‘different website’ of which comrade Leylabi speaks was launched in March 2008, which does seem to imply that Casmii and Campaign Iran fell out much more recently.

I asked the SWP comrade why there was a split, and he said: “I truly can’t remember that well. I recall Casmii having a slightly sectarian attitude towards Stop the War Coalition and thinking that Iran is the centre of the universe. Basically they had no understanding of the wider anti-war movement, which was a problem.”

Campaign Iran now faces a clear choice, made much easier now that it no longer formally operates within Casmii: will it come out openly against the Tehran regime as well as against imperialism? Will it also condemn the reformist ‘neoliberals’ as offering no alternative to the Iranian working class?

According to comrade Leylabi, “… the SWP doesn’t oppose independent working class organisation in Iran. It supports it. But we believe that the best way we can help is by stopping a war, because we are fighting our ruling class: we are not fighting the clerics.”

Yet the working class in Iran is “fighting the clerics” - while simultaneously opposing imperialism’s schemes. One does actually wonder just how the SWP has supported “independent working class organisation in Iran”. Socialist Worker, in spite of its resources and relatively large pool of journalists, has written next to nothing on developments within the Iranian working class, such as the Tapeh sugar workers’ strike or the imprisonment of (openly Marxist!) anti-war students.

The anti-war movement we must fight for

In the absence of class politics and strategy, populism and pacifism will have a clear run and lead the movement down all sorts of blind allies - vacillating between the ‘anti-imperialism’ of Ahmadinejad, hopes in the pro-capitalist, pro-IMF ‘reformists’ and the possibility of ‘peace’ within the framework of international law and the United Nations.

It is only the politics of international class independence that can provide any real hope. The imperialist system of states is soaked through with blood and its existence is predicated on control, violence and the plundering of the world’s resources - under whatever pretext. Comrade Leylabi could not be more wrong when he attempts to set up a false dichotomy between “stopping a war” and promoting international class politics because we in Britain are not fighting the mullahs ourselves. Our struggles are international or they are nothing.

What latest developments underline is that it is the secular opposition of women, workers and students who are the genuine anti-imperialists - not the neoliberal mullahs, Ahmadinejad or Khatami. Will the SWP finally admit it was wrong to uncritically tail initiatives like Casmii and the illusions they sow? Or will it maintain diplomatic silence in the name of a false and compromised show of ‘unity’?

With the situation more finely balanced than ever before, the need for class politics is becoming increasingly urgent.


1. See www.hopoi.org/irannews-oil.html
2. www.iht.com/articles/2007/12/03/america/cia.php
3. www.campaigniran.org/casmii/index.php?q=node/5643
4. www.niacouncil.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1175&Itemid=59


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