James Turley calls for a stand against oppression, exploitation, and the imperialist order
Two things were striking about the recent protests in Iran - firstly, their sheer scale, which will not be forgotten quickly either by the regime or its opponents; and, secondly, the brutality of the repression, with horrific images of motorcycle-mounted bassij militiamen and protestors shot in the streets.
In this situation, the natural - and correct - instinct of progressive-minded individuals, be they liberal or communist, anarchist or anything else, is to proclaim solidarity with the masses against the thugs beating them down. The repression, apart from anything else, has the ring of an admission of guilt to the charges that triggered it; and it is fairly plain that the millions in the streets are arrayed against a bureaucratic apparatus that deserves to die at least as much as any other.
And, indeed, the left outside Iran has largely taken the side of the protestors - so much so, that the exceptions stick out dramatically. George Galloway, of course, is one; the Marcyite academic James Petras has raised something of a storm in America, as has the online edition of the Chï¿½vista-Stalinist Monthly Review. Such individuals will look even more richly stupid when the Islamic republic is finally overthrown.
That this is not going to happen immediately is increasingly clear, however. The protests have wound down. While beyond the control of Mir-Hossein Moussavi and the ï¿½reformistï¿½ faction of the Iranian state, the movement threw up no clear pole of attraction as an alternative to it, and thus a return to relative social peace was inevitable. We are not, of course, back to zero - the social movements, many of which had already become very radicalised, have no doubt grown to an extent, and much will depend on the ability of these layers to map out a serious strategy for power and form permanent political organisations. In Iran, and in the Middle East more generally, there is still everything to play for.
This is true for the denizens of the Middle East, but it is also true for the USA and other imperialist powers, and their allies in the region. Joe Biden, the US vice-president, recently said that America would not stand in the way of an Israeli response to unspecified security threats; Barack Obama, while stating this was ï¿½absolutely notï¿½ a green light for an Israeli attack, endorsed Bidenï¿½s comments as a statement of fact - who are we, indeed, to question the security interests of another state (unless that state is Iran, and it wants nuclear weapons)?
The threat of military action has not gone away, then - and Iran remains subject to sanctions, which before the advent of bloodless bureaucratic prose, were simply called siege warfare. Before we get to the stage of actual military hostilities, further international sanctions and blockades are likely. This kind of action does not punish governments. It persistently damages infrastructure; and, above all, it kills. Not mullahs or politicians, but ordinary working class people - and thousands of them. In Iraq, we know that hundreds of thousands of children died as a direct result of sanctions on the Baï¿½athist regime (and how many more can we add to the tally after six years of war?).
This is the necessary context for discussing the kind of solidarity we need to offer the Iranian people. Too many on the left have simply not considered it necessary to do more than fight against warmongers for too long; of those, a great many (including the Socialist Workers Party, the most powerful advocate of that anti-war strategy) have turned out on the right side with regard to the recent events. Yet the abiding sense is that these reactions are almost Pavlovian, and not really integrated into anti-imperialism (which, ultimately, is about abolishing the oppressive hierarchy of states, however possible).
On July 13, a campaign group was launched in London, entitled Iran Solidarity. It pledges to support the efforts of the protesting masses against the Iranian state: ï¿½the dawn that this movement heralds for us across the world is a promising one - one that aims to bring Iran into the 21st century and break the back of the political Islamic movement internationally. This is a movement that must be supported.ï¿½1
The entire preamble of the campaign statement is directed at the Islamic regime. There are then 10 demands, all of which are placed on the Islamic regime - for perfectly supportable things, such as an end to torture, release of political prisoners and so on, to say nothing of complete separation of religion and state. After the demands, there is, however, the slightly worrying statement: ï¿½Moreover, we call on all governments and international institutions to isolate the Islamic Republic of Iran and break all diplomatic ties with it.ï¿½
Only then, after all this, does it cross the minds of the organisers to mention the threat of war: ï¿½We are opposed to military intervention and economic sanctions because of their adverse effects on peopleï¿½s lives.ï¿½ Very nice for you, comrades - but the fact that it is buried at the bottom of as much dirt as can be dug up on the Islamic Republic says something about the political priorities operating here.
Iran Solidarity, though it has gained a certain amount of signatories from elsewhere, is largely a product of the Worker-communist Party of Iran, an idiosyncratic third-camp organisation that works overwhelmingly from exile and is now split into at least three segments, the largest of which is behind Iran Solidarity. Like many exiled communist groups, the WCPI operates largely through myriad front organisations, and a goodly portion of the groups that have signed up to the Iran Solidarity declaration are in fact WCPI fronts. The national organiser appears to be WCPI central committee member Maryam Namazie, a semi-prominent ï¿½human rightsï¿½ campaigner based in Britain. There is little doubt who is in charge.
And the WCPI demonstrates that rather depressing tendency for ï¿½third campï¿½ organisations to drift into the first camp. It is, to say the least, inconsistent on the matter of sanctions. As a result of the recent protests, leader Hamid Takvaee has written an open letter to the International Criminal Courtï¿½s chief prosecutor, demanding that Supreme Leader Khamenei answer for his crimes. ï¿½The Worker-communist Party of Iran has begun collecting peopleï¿½s grievances against Ali Khamenei,ï¿½ he writes, ï¿½and would be willing to hand over the necessary evidence to help with the prosecution.ï¿½2 This is highly dubious territory.
If Iran Solidarity wants to be taken seriously, then, it should start by clearly aligning itself against imperialism. It is an illusion to suppose that meaningful support can be offered to progressive opposition in Iran without taking this distance. To extend solidarity is to stand together against oppression and exploitation, and there is no greater source of this in Iran than the imperialist order. An American or Israeli bombing campaign would cost many thousands of lives, and cause massive economic dislocation. There is already the matter of sanctions. Meaningful solidarity means standing against this. It certainly means giving over a good chunk of your 10 demands, fairly high up the list, to fighting imperialism.
On a deeper level, the Iranian state remains reliant in crucial respects on foreign patronage; all factions of the Islamic state are enthusiastic in their application of IMF measures, and all are involved in complicated diplomatic deals centring on Iraq and Afghanistan, where Iran supports puppet governments. The Iranian state is intertwined with imperialism - to concentrate on it and ignore the system of hierarchy between states is to slide into supporting one global ï¿½factionï¿½ against another. The abortive third-campism of this front is not just (very) bad anti-imperialism - it is bad anti-Islamism as well, which fails to examine the objective side of its complicity in international state relations, focusing instead on its moral failings and the many crimes and abuses of the Iranian state.
This fits into a broader pattern of the WCPIï¿½s politics - a monomaniacal obsession with religious fundamentalism, comparable to the likes of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Namazie constantly calls for a ban on the burqa; and the Iran solidarity statement wants Iran to be brought into the ï¿½21st centuryï¿½, a common jibe at ï¿½medievalï¿½ fundamentalists. This is not secularism - to call for a ban on the burqa is to call for the state to interfere in matters of private religion, and is thus a violation of secularism. In western societies, as presently constituted, this amounts to an intervention on the side of the hegemonic religion, Christianity.
As for the 21st century, the fact is that Islamic fundamentalism is a very important (and relatively recent-vintage) aspect of its political life. Ours is also the century of the stealth bomber and sarin gas, waterboarding and environmental catastrophe. To reduce these matters to questions of who is the most ï¿½rationalï¿½ - as Dawkins and Hitchens do - is simply to misunderstand what role religious ideologies actually play in the world. That the US, a state run in part by its own cabals of religious loonies, has managed to don the mantle of reason against the ï¿½barbarian hordesï¿½ of radical Islam is a reminder of where this stuff can lead.
Solidarity with the oppressed of the world is a standing task for revolutionaries - but for those in Iran and elsewhere, solidarity from useful dupes who will not oppose the oppressions and ambitions of more powerful states is a poisoned chalice. They know to avoid it - and so should we.