This article was originally published in Greek on January 7, 2018. By P. Pap for avantgarde. Translated by PK
Persian Spring is over (at least its first stage)
At the time these lines are being written, tens of thousands of people are on the streets of Iran – expressing their resolve to defend their country against the schemes of the US and their client states. The Commander-in-Chief of the Revolutionary Guards has announced that the recent plot against Iran has been defeated. (By the word “plot”, he did not refer to the demonstrations; he referred to those who hid behind the demonstrators in order to advance their reactionary agenda.)
Before that, Iran saw something that was described by many Western media as «a wave of massive anti-government demonstrations» or even «an insurrection against the regime». A closer look reveals a somewhat different reality. Anthony Cordesman, top strategic analyst of the important American CSIS think tank, aptly notes that «many see what they want to see in latest round of unrest, particularly those who want the regime to fall». The NY Times report with great sadness about Tehran being “notably quiet” and describe the disappointment of the (few dozens of) university students whose demonstration did not attract more people. They describe the gatherings as «relatively few … drawing only a few hundred at a time». The Wilson Center admits with sorrow that «despite the protests, little will change in Iran». Geopolitical Futures writes that «at this point, considering their small size and that Iran’s economy has been far worse than this in recent years, we don’t yet think that the Islamic Republic is in danger of falling».
Of course, a number of photos supposedly depicting massive anti-government demonstrations circulated – photos from different places and different times. Photos from a pro-government demonstration, the uprising in Bahrain, even scenes from a film were mispresented as photographs of anti-government demonstrations in Iran. Well, at least they did not use photos from the Tahrir Square again…
Conclusion 1: no massive anti-government or anti-regime demonstrations took place in Iran. The only ones who “saw” such demonstrations were the MEK, an anti-regime organization of the Iranian diaspora and a pet of secret services of the Empire, deeply embedded in their plans; the son of the Shah; and an overly excited, dreamer part of the Left that has celebrated one “triumph” after another since the ‘90s.
Conclusion 2: No serious person expected this movement to overthrow any regime. Apart from the aforementioned Left.
Conclusion 3: This kind of Left seems hell-bent on proving that it is more Catholic than the Pope. We wonder why that is.
But if one were to take the general feeling here in the West at face value, one would have to reach a conclusion that looks like the following:
The people rise up and organize mass peaceful rallies against the regime. (The –by far– more massive rallies that are not against the government are buried.)
Humanitarian concerns arise all around the Western civilized world, as dictators have not gone through the Enlightenment and, therefore, are prone to start massacring their own people.
Violence breaks out, shots are fired, policemen and civilians drop dead.
With a game of words, the victims are all blamed on the regime.
A Western audience –which might be incapable of finding the country on a world map– arms itself with its moral superiority and embarks on yet another civilizing mission in order to bring Democracy and human rights to it.
What if the last elections had a 70% turnout (much higher than most Western countries), with 41 million people casting their ballots? These people mean nothing. They do not represent The People. Those who mean something are the few dozens who tore up the poster of the dictator. These are The People, who demand freedom, democracy and other nice words.
The usual company of Western leftists –with how many successes against their own bourgeois class, really?– discovers internationalism and takes up the task of overthrowing the bourgeois class of another country, which happens to be an enemy of its own country. (Little do they worry that their internationalism is aligned with the internationalism of Trump, Haley and Netanyahu – yet again.)
This play has been repeated countless times and the pattern is sadly predictable. One more color revolution has begun, presaging a new imperialist intervention.
A little sociology (what playground Marxists call “Marxism”)
Given the Western aggression towards Iran and the recent shameful and obviously false propaganda campaigns against Syria, one ought to be very cautious about the validity of the reports of Western media. This time they talk about economic problems that have driven the people out in the streets. Inflation, unemployment, inequality, corruption. Let us examine these claims.
The blue line represents inflation, which was close to 50% in 1995 and close to 35% in 2014. So the idea that the current inflation of 10.1% could trigger some kind of rebellion is simply ridiculous.
Let us now look at unemployment in Iran. It is 11.4%. Only such rates are nothing unusual in the country: in 2010, unemployment was 13.5%, and in 2015 it was 11.1%. So the idea that the current unemployment of 11.4% could trigger some kind insurrection is also ridiculous.
Let us examine inequality. It is measured with the Gini index (0 absolute equality, 100 absolute inequality). The Islamic Republic of Iran has a Gini index of around 37. Greece has a similar score, while the United States have a score of 41, the Zionist state about 43, and the United Kingdom 32.5. The highest index values are found in Africa and Latin America, with scores ranging between 50 and 60, while the lower ones are around 25. The level of inequality in the Islamic Republic is not a very high one. (Source: World Bank)
As far as corruption is concerned, there is something called the «corruption perceptions index», on the basis of which Iran ranks high in corruption (it is the 131st least transparent in 176 countries). But this indicator is clearly biased. In order to get a picture of the scale of bias, this list names the DPRK as the most corrupt country on the planet, while the 20 most corrupt countries include Venezuela, Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Libya. (source)
The above do not negate the fact that the Ruhani government is indeed a liberal government, which has indeed taken anti-popular measures. And despite the fact that the current levels of unemployment and inflation are not unprecedented, the people who are hurt by them have every right -and should- fight against them. The initial demonstrations were indeed caused by legitimate economic grievances. There is also discomfort because, prior to the elections, Ruhani whipped up expectations that the nuclear agreement -with the subsequent relaxation of sanctions- would bring a revitalization of the economy and create more jobs. These expectations have not been met so far.
But let us look at some data about the Iranian economy and society that are unlikely to be mentioned by the western media. The fall in oil prices, the failure of the Islamic Republic to protect its transactions through derivatives and the cost of the shadow economy that developed on the ground of the sanctions took a toll on the Iranian economy, but the main problem is the sanctions. Indicatively, let us mention that Iran exported 2.5 million barrels of oil per day in 2011; by the end of 2013, this number had fallen to 1.1 million.
In 2011 the Iranian export revenues were $99 billion. In 2012 they fell to $68.3 billion, in 2013 to $48.8 billion, in 2014 they slightly increased to $50.7 billion, in 2015 they dropped to $29.4 billion (combined with the crash in oil prices), and in 2016 they slightly recovered to $36.2 billion.
What keeps the Iranian economy behind is the sanctions. These are not caused by the Iranian leaders, but by the imperialists. If one is concerned about the standard of living and the economic grievances of the Iranian people and wants to mobilize for this, the place one should find him-/herself is the US Embassy and the offices of the European Union – and demand that all sanctions against Iran be lifted immediately.
Some other sociological data that we will not hear from the Western media are about the achievements of the Iranian Revolution. An important indicator of how well a people live is the Human Development Index (HDI), which is a function of life expectancy, literacy, education and quality of life. This index has skyrocketed since the Revolution: from 0.542 in 1975, it was 0.739 in 2012. This is a tremendous achievement for a colony that only won its independence 39 years ago.
A few notes on the action of imperialism (what playground Marxists call «conspiracy theories»)
Let us begin by placing Iran on the map. The image is from 2012, but one easily can get the big picture: Iran is a country encircled by US bases.
Let us continue with the memoirs of four-star general Wesley Clark. The general says that ten days after September 11th, the Pentagon was already making plans for the invasion of Iraq and invokes a document containing the notorious “seven countries in five years” plan, with Iran being the final target. He said more or less the same at Democracy Now in 2007. Let us also note that Iran was included in Bush’s “Axis of Evil” in 2002 (along with Iraq and the DPRK).
In 2009, the Brookings Institute published a very interesting and thorough pamphlet titled «Which Path to Persia? Options for a New US Strategy Towards Iran». Note that Chapter 6 of this study is titled «The Velvet Revolution: Supporting a Popular Uprising», and Chapter 7 is titled » Inspiring an Insurgency: Supporting Iranian Minority And Opposition Groups».
In October 2017, the CATO Institute also published an interesting pamphlet on the subject, examining similar alternatives.
The Trump administration have been doing everything in their power to forge an anti-Iranian axis. In February, Trump labeled Iran as «the biggest sponsor of terrorism in the world». Then came his trip to the Middle East in May, after which Tehran was struck by a terrorist attack.
On June 2nd 2017, the New York Times wrote about the «Dark Prince» or «Ayatollah Mike», the nicknames by which Michael D’Andrea, the new head of the CIA covert operations against Iran, is known. His many credentials include the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh (Hezbollah’s No. 2 man) in 2008 in Damascus and thousands of extrajudicial drone killings in Pakistan. The newspaper noted: «Mr. D’Andrea’s new role is one of a number of moves inside the spy agency that signal a more muscular approach to covert operations … ‘He can run a very aggressive program, but very smartly,’ said Robert Eatinger, a former C.I.A. lawyer who was deeply involved in the agency’s drone program.”
On the same day, the Wall Street Journal published a report about the «new mission center created by the CIA to turn up the heat on Iran», commenting that this action reflects the government’s decision to turn the country into a higher priority target for American spies.
Let us also mention that the chief of the CIA is Mike Pompeo, an anti-Iranian hawk and one of the toughest opponents of the Obama approach towards the issue.
In addition, a meeting between US and Israeli officials took place in December 2017 to discuss “a strategy to counter Iran’s aggression in the Middle East”. It turned out that «[T]he U.S. and Israel see eye to eye the different developments in the region and especially those that are connected to Iran. We reached at understandings regarding the strategy and the policy needed to counter Iran. Our understandings deal with the overall strategy but also with concrete goals, way of action and the means which need to be used to get obtain those goals.» On January 1st 2018, we learned that the United States had given the green light to the Zionist state to assassinate the head of the Revolutionary Guards.
The above proves beyond any doubt that Iran is at the crosshairs of imperialism, and that the American foreign policy has recently become even tougher towards it. We do not know whether there are any crooks who wish to question this fact, but we seem to remember some who characterized the –equally well-known and documented– imperialist aggression towards Syria as «imaginary», even claiming that the United States were in… some kind of alliance with Assad against the… revolution.
Revolutions do not happen without political leaderships or without planning. The fact that a person is affected by a problem does not necessarily mean that this person also knows the solution to the problem – a Greek unemployed man may think that it is immigrants who are to blame for his unemployment. When one sees people taking the streets, one ought to first ask under which agenda they are mobilizing; who leads; who finances; which ideology prevails. The above are so simple that they should be self-evident. Alas, this is hardly the case.
So what is going on in Iran? Who are the people demonstrating? What is this movement that we see in the streets, with which Trump, the MEK, the playground Left and various useful idiots rush to declare their solidarity?
In fact, there is no single movement. There are at least three or four. The first one consists of Principlist (dedicated to the principles of the 1979 Revolution) Islamists who are suspicious of the liberal reforms and the pro-Western (by the Iranian standards) attitude of President Hassan Ruhani. It seems that it was them who led the movement we saw on the streets in the first few days. This movement expressed economic demands based on actual problems and opposition to an existing liberal economic policy of the government, most likely in the context of an internal struggle between the two main political camps in the country (a struggle that is not limited to the economic level, but extends to foreign policy, the role of religion etc). The Kayhan, a Principlist newspaper close to the Intelligence Ministry, acknowledged that people have grounds for economic complaints and that they are right to be on the street. Even the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, was critical of the government’s economic policy. One day before the demonstrations began, he said that the country was facing high prices, inflation and recession, and called on the authorities to address the problems. He did not speak against the protests as long as they were peaceful; he intervened only several days after the outbreak of violence, on January 2 (after five days of protests), saying that «enemies have been using various tools to deal blows to the Iranian nation and the Islamic establishment in the course of the latest developments in the country».
The second movement, the Reformists, is the evolution of the Green Movement of 2009, which contributed to the ascension of Ruhani to President. The reformist movement pushes for liberal reform, and recently it contributed to the lifting of the obligation of women to wear the hijab. This movement did not take the streets this time, distancing itself from the demonstrations. Ruhani himself, however, acknowledged that there were real economic problems and reasons for people to demonstrate, and described the initial demonstrations (before the outbreak of violence) as «an opportunity, not a threat».
In order to get an sense of the differences in terms of economic policy between the Principlists and the Reformists, one can read the following passage by Cordesman: «The World Bank and IMF have both found that Ahmadinejad left office having created a nightmare of poorly managed governance and development, debt, food and fuel subsidies, expansion of the state sector, and barriers to private industry and development–effectively becoming one of the most incompetent single leaders in Iran’s history.» Ruhani’s reforms are moving in the opposite direction.
These two movements are pushing for the policies they see fit within the context of the Iranian state – they are not interested in overthrowing the Islamic Republic. Regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with their policies, the people have every right to go out on the street and press for what they think is better. The Iranian government and the Iranian Constitution recognize that right, after all.
There is also a third movement, which, unlike the first two, is interested in just that: overthrowing the Iranian regime with the help of imperialism and on behalf of imperialism. The leaders of this movement are based mostly outside of Iran, and have become pets of the secret services of various countries of the Empire, embedded fully into their plans. It maintains a small network of supporters within Iran, but the bulk of it is abroad. The basic organization of this movement is the MEK, the «Mujahideen of the People», which hides behind the front of the «National Resistance Council of Iran», based in France. In 2012, Haaretz wrote that the organization had murdered Iranian nuclear scientists on behalf of the Zionist state with the US government being aware of that. The MEK can be found in every serious document of imperialism, described as a potential proxy army on the ground during an attack against Iran and as a potential Quisling regime for the day after.
A brief scroll down in the website of the MEK will reveal a number of articles with titles such as “United States Stands with People of Iran”, “Iranian protesters ‘ready to die’ for regime change, thank Trump but want more support”, “Trump is right about Iran” etc. And there is also the son of the Shah, an active political figure of the diaspora (based in –what a surprise!– Washington) with his followers. We support the merciless repression of these agents of imperialism and we smile with the news about the busting of their cells.
And then there are the various minorities of Iran. Protests in the Kurdish areas of Iran are a different movement that is not linked to the above. For example, when the Freedom Party of Kurdistan calls on the international community (ie NATO) to help it against the regime, everyone can understand that it does not mobilize the people under an agenda that is related to economic problems.
There have been several reports that reactionary slogans have been raised in the demonstrations. Next to the slogans expressing nostalgia for the dictatorial monarchy of the Shah, calling for «Death to the Dictator» (apparently Khamenei) and «Death to Ruhani», there are videos showing (small) crowds chanting «We are of Aryaee [Aryan] race, we don’t worship Arabs”, «Death to Hizbullah», «Leave Syria, think of us», «I give my life for Iran, not Gaza and Lebanon». Who chanted these slogans? And who opened fire against police and demonstrators?
It is extremely unlikely that the first movement, that of the Principlists, has raised such slogans, as it remains committed to the principles of the 1979 Revolution. The second movement, that of the Reformists, would under no circumstances chant «Death to Ruhani» nor call for the overthrow of the regime. The people who raised those slogans probably come from the third movement (pro-Monarchists and MEK), who found the chance to hide behind the protesters in order to advance their reactionary agenda. In all the related videos, the crowds that chant these slogans are small; but manipulating images in order to fabricate a “reality” to be presented to the outside world is not a difficult task for one with the appropriate means (access to the Western media).
It is telling that, when the authorities asked the protesters to leave the streets after the outbreak of violence, the protesters did so. The people of Iran have drawn lessons from what is happening in the region. They saw what happened in Syria, where the Islamist insurrection took cover under a real movement for political reform that was out in the streets at that moment. Yes, a number of people are unhappy and have legitimate economic grievances, but they did not take the streets in order to overthrow their government or the Iranian regime – and neither to become useful idiots of the MEK, the Zionist state and the US. It was probably the same people who participated in the massive demonstrations that followed, condemning the intervention of the US and the Zionist state in their country.
If anybody from the overly excited Left wishes to specify which one of these movements they support, we look forward to hearing from them. But let them keep in mind that the answer «I support the Iranian people who are rising up to overthrow the regime» has already been taken – by the MEK.
Reactionary vs progressive, or how words can lose all meaning
Several Western Marxists have been competing with each other in painting the Iranian regime in “reactionary” colors. They probably think that reviling the regimes of the countries that find themselves at the crosshairs of “their own” bourgeois class will win them a medal of class independence. What they really manage to do is back their own bourgeoisie, aligning themselves with it at the level of propaganda. The word «dictatorial» (which comes from the virulently anti-communist academia of the Cold War, that divided the planet into liberal democracies and dictatorships) is also widely used.
With what exactly do they compare the Iranian political regime? Do they compare it with the regimes of the surrounding countries? Are they trying to say, for example, that Iran is reactionary in comparison with Saudi Arabia? In comparison with the Zionist state, maybe? Do they compare it with the regimes of their own countries, for which they have never used such characterizations?
We ask: is it reactionary that a nation of 80 million people does no longer live under the imperialist yoke?
Is it reactionary that the surplus produced by the Iranian working class is not stolen away by foreign imperialists?
Is it reactionary that Iran has no US military bases? (It is the only such country in the region.)
If one looks into the currents of Islam in the Middle East, one will basically see three of them. Wahhabism from Saudi Arabia, the Muslim Brotherhood and Shi’a Islam with Iran as a political and religious center. The first two currents utilize sectarianism and try to foment religious division and strife, and this is exactly the reason why they have such a long history of collaboration with the imperialists against the secular Arab nationalists and Pan-Arabism. The third current takes a firm stand against sectarianism and religious intolerance and calls for unity of Muslims regardless of doctrine against the Zionist state and America. Is this reactionary?
Is it reactionary that Christmas trees are decorated in Baghdad and that the leaders of the Axis of the Resistance congratulate Christians on Christmas?
Is it reactionary that Iran sends arms and aid to (Sunni) Palestine?
Is it reactionary that Iran has contributed -not only in words, but in deeds, and in deeds that have cost blood- to the crushing of ISIS and the other imperial-“Jihadist” “rebels” in Syria?
Is it reactionary that Iran supports Hizbullah, without which Lebanon would now be a province of the Zionist state?
Is it reactionary that Iran supports the Ansarullah (Houthis) in Yemen?
Is it reactionary that the Axis of Resistance has not allowed imperialism to turn the Middle East into its playground?
OK, but women are forced to wear the hijab, and this is reactionary, a liberal would say. Alas, this in no longer the case, women are free to not wear a hijab if they so choose.
The political regime of Iran is of course an authoritarian bourgeois one, and if we were in Iran, we would be in the opposition. The communist program cannot but fight for a socialist Middle East on the ruins of all the bourgeois regimes. But the question in the Middle East at this point is not socialism or capitalism (if somebody thinks that this is the question, we urge him/her to show us the political forces that are interested in bringing about socialism, so that we can support them too). The question is whether the Middle East will be under the heel of the Empire or not. The dilemma is either anti-imperialist resistance or recolonization.
Reactionary vs progressive – restoring the meaning of words
Here is a list of things that are truly reactionary:
Workers of the Global South working like slaves and the surplus that they produce being stolen away not only by their own bourgeoisie, but by Wall Street and the City, too.
The more than a quarter of a century long crusade of the Empire to reassert its hegemony in the Middle East and the planet, which has resulted in millions of dead people, untold destruction and now threatens to set the planet on (nuclear) fire.
The US having 800+ bases around the globe, from where the operations to repress any progressive movement –let alone a revolutionary one– will begin. (By the way, let the overly excited comrades tell us, have the US ever supported a progressive movement? They haven’t, have they? Well, there is a reason for that.)
The Empire’s divide and conquer doctrine.
The forces that the Empire uses as proxies in the context of its divide and conquer doctrine: the most obscurantist factions of political Islam that utilize sectarianism and foment division along religious lines.
The Zionist state and the tactics of Apartheid and ethnic cleansing that it employs against the Palestinians.
The most obscurantist monarchy of the planet and an ally of the Free Western World, Saudi Arabia, which has been waging an almost genocidal war against Yemen with the support of the Empire for almost three years.
Another word we hear around a lot is the word «undemocratic», used in the West to describe the rogue states (Iran, DPRK, Syria, Cuba, Venezuela, etc.), as if countries that find themselves at the crosshairs of imperialism and under constant siege can survive without maintaining a state of emergency.
What is really undemocratic is State Department officials declaring that they do not respect the national sovereignty of any country and that they reserve the right to intervene wherever and whenever they like – and actually doing so. This is the big picture. And in this picture, the states that resist are in fact the real defenders of democracy against the global despotism of Wall Street, as Gowans notes.
The tasks of the Communists
Communists in Iran have a very difficult job. On the one hand, they need to maintain their political independence and program and not capitulate to the clergy or any part of the Iranian bourgeoisie. At the same time, they must recognize that their number one enemy is imperialism that threatens both the country and the forces of resistance in the entire Middle East. We are very reserved when criticizing the Left in the countries that find themselves at the crosshairs of imperialism – to the extent that it has not turned into a mouthpiece for NATO and has not been formed during the days of the unrest (as was the case with a so-called Syrian «Left» that various crooks promoted). We understand how difficult it is to take the correct –internationalist, that is, one corresponding to the interests of the global revolution– position in the face of the various national pressures.
Communists in the West have much simpler tasks. We are fortunate to be confronted with a single enemy, and one which happens to be nearby: “our own”, domestic bourgeois class. We need to defend the right of Iran to self-determination against the imperialist aggression, in which “our” country participates. But an imperialist intervention does not begin in a direct military manner. The Empire has greatly improved its methods. Before the bombs comes a colorful revolution (usually rooted in real problems of the population), followed by the well-known demonization campaigns against the leadership and the people of the “enemy”. In the West, this has been tied historically to the missions and the high duty of “civilizing the barbarians”. International law has been shaped accordingly, including concepts such as the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) and the «humanitarian intervention». These are deeply racist ideologies that poison the mind of the domestic proletariat, and we must totally and actively oppose them. We also need to counter the «humanitarian» propaganda campaigns that will undoubtedly follow. We need to undermine the level of confidence that the domestic proletariat feels towards its bourgeoisie by exposing its humanitarian lies as what they really are: pretexts for imperialist robbery and subjugation of other peoples under its heel. We must demand the immediate lifting of the sanctions that are hurting our class brothers and sisters in Iran, and are responsible for their economic problems and grievances.
In Greece we need to struggle against the foreign policy of the government, which is trying to strategically upgrade the country at the expense of the peoples of the region, allying itself with the Zionist state, selling arms to Saudi Arabia and escalating its provocations against Turkey. Let us mention here that the ships that bombed Syria last April sailed off a Greek port. Let us also mention that this crime did not draw any significant opposition or protest. Of course! With a large part of the Left parroting the enemy’s propaganda about the «dictator who is murdering his own people», who was there to mobilize?
The various communists in Greece and the West would do well to finally stop hiding behind the statements of the Tudeh. They have different tasks from that party. And if they do have, as they claim, any good suggestions on what the Iranian proletariat ought to do, they should translate them in Farsi and send them to it. The Iranian proletariat cannot read them it in Greek, and it is a terrible shame to miss out on such wisdom…
Every progressive development in the Middle East and the planet requires the defeat and dissolution of the Holy Alliance of our days, which has had its headquarters in Washington since 1945. There are forces in the Middle East that do more than enough to this end. The Axis of Resistance (Muqawama), the major force that fights to liberate Palestine and to prevent the Middle East from becoming a NATO-dominated area, is emerging stronger after a tough battle against the forces of the Empire. The imperial-‘Jihadist’ ‘rebels’ have been crushed in Syria. ISIS has been wiped out in Syria and Iraq (until at least the Empire spawns ISIS Vol2). Imperialism is thwarted by discord and confusion, with its internal contradictions deepening.
It is time for the conscious proletariat of the West to finally stand up to its tasks. The first step in this direction involves drawing conclusions from the bloody stream of regime change operations that we have witnessed over the last 7 years. Unfortunately, the articles written by the Left on Iran so far shows that we probably still have a long way to go; nevertheless, we are optimistic.
PS1. Those who decide to attend rallies in «solidarity with the Iranian people» outside Iranian embassies would do well to take the flag of the pre-revolutionary (and colonized) Iran of the Shah with them. It is the one with the lion. They would also do well to not act surprised when the genuine social subject from Iran next to them unfolds a Zionist or a US flag. Even with the devil and his grandmother, comrades; whatever is necessary to overthrow the dictatorship!
PS2. Class struggle is not only waged by workers. It is also waged by bosses, states, secret services. The colorful revolutions that imperialism uses are an excellent means of class struggle, from which our class camp can learn much – things like updated art of the insurrection and what it means to act as a subject. Contrary to the predominant view in the Left about how these things are done, the Empire does not restrain itself to simply issuing calls for the Cuban wannabe start-up enterpreneurs to “take the situation into their own hands”.