How The Light Gets In

June 25, 2009 at 1:55 pm (anti-fascism, elections, Iran, Max Dunbar)

Let me say that this is not an attack on the left. I think that Lenny has written some excellent pieces on the Iran uprising and the position that John Wight holds seems to be a minority one shared only by Lenin’s crazy friend Yoshie ‘This Is Not A Revolution’ Furuhasmi and what’s left of the Respect leadership.

Marcus has already dealt with this but there are a couple of points Wight made that struck me. Here he is explaining why leftists should declare solidarity not with the protestors fighting on the streets for their freedom but with the uniformed thugs attacking and killing them.

Combined with a distinct lack of analysis of the social forces involved on either side of this dispute, this has led to many voices within the international left being raised in support of an opposition movement led by a section of the Iranian establishment motivated by sectional economic interests. It is a movement driven by students and Iran’s more affluent middle class.

That such a powerful and determined movement has erupted should come as no surprise. After all, history teaches us that the more privileged layers of a given society are every bit as capable of taking to the streets to struggle for their interests as the working class and the poor, especially in the wake of an election that doesn’t go their way. In this regard the examples of Chile in 1973 and Venezuela in 2002 spring to mind.

Read that last sentence again. Yes, Wight is drawing an equivalence between the Iranian uprising and the US-backed overthrow of Salvador Allende and attempted overthrow of Hugo Chavez. Do the Iranian demonstrators really have the CIA behind them? All Wight tells us is that ‘the main beneficiaries of what is currently taking place in Iran are presently sitting in Washington, Tel Aviv and London.’

This is how Wight deals with the sexual apartheid of the Islamic Republic:

No democracy is without its imperfections. Under the Islamic Republic Iranians, no matter where they happen to live throughout the world, have the right to vote in elections. Women are debarred from standing for office, which is certainly regressive in itself. However, this differs from democratic elections in the West only in the sense that debarment here is based on economic status rather than gender. In effect this ensures that only the wealthy within western societies have any meaningful chance of holding high office.

Wight doesn’t mention that potential candidates had to be vetted by the Guardian Council. Of the 475 people who put their names forward, just four were allowed to stand. For Wight’s analogy to work you have to imagine a UK where a) women are banned from running for office and b) all candidates have to be approved by a selection committee set up by the government that only lets a tiny minority of government loyalists through the process.

These are the only original points Wight makes – the rest of the piece consists of the same cliched arguments for theocracy.

1) Our son of a bitch

Kissinger’s theory of Islamic fundamentalism as a bulwark against Western imperialism. ‘[I]n its resistance to US hegemony, in its material aid to Arab resistance against Israeli expansionism, [the regime] certainly plays a progressive role both regionally and globally.’ The needs and desires of the people who actually have to live under a theocratic regime don’t enter into this calculus.

2) ‘Where’s the smoking gun?’

It’s an old tactic of Holocaust deniers to cite the lack of a written order from Hitler ordering the gassing of Jews as evidence that no, or few, Jews were gassed. Similarly, Wight can claim the absence of proof as proof itself, and state that: ‘no hard evidence has been produced proving that electoral fraud on anything like the scale suggested took place in Iran.’

The closed nature of the Islamic Republic means that we are unlikely to find a memo saying: ‘Let’s steal this election and kill anyone who disagrees. Signed: Ahmadinejad’. Because of this lack, we are to believe that the erratic voting patterns seen in this election, including entire cities and provinces voting against tradition, huge percentages changing political allegiance overnight, the lack of regional variations, the fact that turnout exceeded eligible voters, that this increase did not show a swing in support for Ahmadinejad, the fact that Khameini approved the results almost immediately instead of using his three-day consideration period, and that the election was followed by a communications blackout and a vicious crackdown on dissent – all this is to be ignored and Ahmadinejad’s victory taken on trust unless and until an Islamic Freedom of Information Act reveals the smoking gun.

3) Ahmadinejad – Hero of the Volk

It’s a staple of fascist propaganda that the leader is beloved by the common people closest to the soil and that anyone who disagrees is a liberal elitist out of touch with the man in the street. This form of propaganda is used to a lesser extent to defend elites in democratic countries. It presumes that the working class cannot think outside its economic interest and Wight has swallowed it whole: ‘Ahmadinejad… represents the interests of the poorer sectors, particularly in rural areas.’

Except that rural income has stagnated under Ahmadinejad. The Iranian working class has been hammered by unemployment, privatisation and the repression of trade unions.

Mousavi has nothing to do with these protests. I forget who said that the tipping point in a revolution is not when the state is at its most oppressive but when there is some relief or slackening, a rent in the fabric of dictatorship. For Iranian dissidents the election was that rent and they are tearing the canvas apart. The whole world is watching.

And that’s why, when I read about Iran, I don’t hear the words of Marx or Engels but those of Leonard Cohen: ‘There is a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in’.

iran

44 Comments

  1. Sue R said,

    It’s not just the draconian social policies, the rampant inflation and the brutal penal code inflicted on the people, it’s also the uncontrolled corruption reaching Nigerian levels where sertain highly placed families have pillaged the national treasury. I thought socialists were against all that sort of thing. When this is all over, when the dust has settled then a lot of people who are on the wrong side of the line are going to have to do a lot of hard thinking. I can’t imagine what will happen to them. I don’t think the WRP ever recovered from the accusations that it was receiving money from Gaddafi. Personally, I don’t know how some of them can live with themselves.

  2. Aguirre said,

    Sue, do you really think a monster like Wight would ever feel guilt over this? Here is a man actively supporting the murder of unarmed people and glorying in the shooting of a young woman with her whole life ahead of her.

    It is actually rare for me to look at a human being and think the world would be a better place without them. However Wight is one of those people: a genuinely worthless and evil human being, existing solely to enjoy the suffering of others, whilst hoping some day he can instigate greater suffering himself by attainng a position of power.

    If you ever wonder where the murders and psychopaths that almost ever revolutionary movement employed came from, then look at John Wight.

  3. johng said,

    The difficulty is that its not really a case of choosing between opposing imperialism and supporting the movement in Iran. There is, as you note, zero evidence beyond the ‘who benefits’ argument (which is a dumb argument to start with: I benefit from plenty of things I’ve had nothing to do with). And its not really a matter of choosing between a liberalism which abstracts from class inequality and a socialism which emphasises the importance of limiting individual property rights in the interests of justice. There is zero evidence for the spontanious sociology of the movement we find, not just amongst those mistaken people you are discussing, but also in much of the media (the secret of much of the argument is that those making this mistake are simply turning the liberal media’s presentation upside down without bothering to examine any empirical arguments whatsoever). The liberal media does this because it is taken with the idea of globalisation and the rise of a new middle class as a source of human liberation. One suspects that this is buttressed by simple conveniance. Most western journalists will spend most of their time in a country like Iran with people just like them. But to criticise this by swallowing the account whole, and refuse to engage with any argument that is not the opposite: well it reminds me of PC Snapper Organs who followed the Piranna brothers every move by reading the colour supplements. Iran is a country which has experianced massive capitalist development and urbanisation since the fall of the Shah. As a consequence there is a much larger group of very rich people and a much larger prosperous middle class then ever before. But these groups can be found on both sides of the current political divide. There are Revolutionary Guards who send their kids to private schools in the west. Rafsanjani is one of the richest individuals on the planet. Those behind the puppet Ahmendinajad will chide him publicly about his insulting remarks about those who have done well in the regime (as Khameini did in his recent speech). He was a populist mayor of Tehran who became popular because he pointed these things out. He was selected as a useful idiot who might divert mounting anger. Unfortunately he was also a true believer. Which meant that, as with the French Jacobins, he did not understand that everything the regime did would produce the opposite result (famously the Jacobins both fiercely defended private property but believed that this would lead to a small property holders democracy: of course they cleared the way for the wealthy rather then the small property holders, and became, as a consequence, more and more draconian in an attempt to manage a situation which they had created but did not understand). So you have a country called the Islamic Republic, based on piety and political virtue, in which levels of anomie and alienation are so great that a member of the Guardian Council admits that MOST of the population are prepared to believe the election was fixed. Ahmedinajad believes that IF ONLY people followed their religion properly, IF ONLY people were not corrrupt, none of this corruption and alienation would exist. Hence in his case a growing rigidity and a growing fanaticism about virtue, which not only does not address the root problems but makes the very suffering he claims to be addressing worse. It is as Olivier Roy noted, the classic pattern of Political Islam in power. So you have a few palliatives to the poor and ferocious repression if any of them try and organise to defend themselves against bosses, who just happen often, to be the same virtuous folk in political power. It was once an attractive ideology for many, because it SEEMED to address real suffering. If you are being exploited or rentracked or suffering the effect of corruption, and someone tells you this is against religion and if religious values were restored, then all this would end, it can seem to make sense. Particularly if you live in a society, as many did in the 1970s, and many do today in the rest of the Arab world, were the regimes are so brutal and the mosque is a place where you go to get help. The tragedy is that Ahmedinajad was once of this generation. Today he unleashes the police and thugs on demonstraters, on women who are not dressed properly, on minorties and all forms of ‘backsliding’ believing that the result will be a juster society. But it is not. It is a more and more unjust society, and the corruption continues to grow at the same time as the religious police make peoples lives more desperate and more miserable. But the trouble for a liberal as opposed to a socialist, is that socialists can argue about the underlying cause of the unhappiness that leads to the search for religious palliatives AND ensures that they are no answer. For Capitalism is not a system compatible with communities living lives according to political virtue. Part of the heightened crisis in Iran is precisely the astonishing gap between professed piety and actual behaviour, just as the fervour of the Jacobins was created by the gap between Republican ideals and the reality of an emerging system of extreme inequality which made fraternity a joke. The liberal rightly lambasts the unfreedom of the religious police. But what does the liberal say about the system which made their ideology so powerful?

    When it comes to imperialism in the region there are similar problems. For despite the claims of a new and revolutionary type of regime, Iran’s relationship with those most oppressed by the consequences of colonialism and western hegenomy is as deeply cynical as that of the old Arab Nationalist regimes. It does support movements of resistance to Israeli militarism. But only those movements which also support Iran. And when it came to Iraq, whilst Hezbollah in Lebanon were making great play of rejecting sectarianism between Sunni and Shia, the Iranian regime was exploiting these tensions in its waiting game with Iraq, like their Sunni fundementalist opposite numbers, more concerned to head off anything which might undermine their geo-political game in Iraq (all this was covered in detail on Lenin’s Tomb at the time). Trouble is you can’t really follow through this logic if you don’t believe the west has had an imperial relationship with the region, or if you don’t believe that part of that legacy is the position the Palestinians now find themselves in. Both of these points are demarcations between socialist understandings and liberal ones.

    Because a socialist understanding of imperialism is not simply about what the CIA does but the nature of the system we live in which produces hierarchies of class inequality within nation states, and hierarchies of national inequality between them. And its capitalism that does this. To seperate the argument or even counterpose them, in ways which both John Wight and many contributers on this blog do (just from the other side) inevitably produces complicity with oppression. Both arguments involve turning away from the project of what needs changing on a global level to stop the oppression which grows out of a global system of exploitation. Both will produce variants of the Jacobin dilemma.

    I strongly suspect that if Ahmedinajad survives politically (I doubt this: either from below or above he’s finished in my view: looking at his face during Khameini’s speech one sensed the confusion of the true believer) he will end up a Mubarak. In the end the path he is treading leads only there. But of course most readers on this blog will not understand quite what a damning judgement that is.

  4. British Insomnia Association said,

    Thank you for that John.

  5. voltairespriest said,

    “But of course most readers on this blog will not understand quite what a damning judgement that is.”

    As against SWP students world-renowned and credible experts on the region such as yourself, John?

  6. johng said,

    Somewhat more knowledgable then yourself I’d warrent.

  7. Sue R said,

    Mr G, you are fond of quoting Marx’s dictum that religion is the sigh of the masses, don’t you think that the events in Iran could be described as the howl of the outraged?

  8. Voltaire's Priest said,

    Somewhat more knowledgable then yourself I’d warrent.

    It’s “warrant”, and oh, bless your basesless arrogance.

  9. maxdunbar said,

    John

    If you could learn how to paragraph that would be great. Thx

  10. johng said,

    Actually it wasn’t a reference to knowledge about the middle east anyway. it was a reference to the difference between a liberal and a socialist. But I see that on this site people GENUINELY don’t get it.

  11. johng said,

    Oh and they were’nt paragraphs. they were bite sized points for the hard of understanding.

  12. Soc. of Deluded Arrogant Cunts said,

    Just to let you know John is now available for booking. He usually speaks at student unions, street corners and small pubs. This is for his own safety.

    It should be stressed that John is at the extreme end as regards our speakers. He is very deluded, very boring, and an utter cunt.

  13. John Meredith said,

    Johng, just out of interest, has anyone ever complained that anything you have written was too short or excessively pithy?

  14. Sue R said,

    Leave Joh alone. He’s raise the totally correct slogan of ‘Victory to the lower orders’. I for one am muchly impressed by him.

  15. sackcloth and ashes said,

    If you want to shut JohnG up, ask him if he passed his PhD at SOAS.

  16. League of Academic Failures said,

    Please DON’T ask John about that.

    Here at LOAF we encourage our members to forget about their academic catastrophies and take up a hobby. In John’s case boring the bollocks off people on political blogs and generally being a cunt (I also note he is a member of SODAC, which makes sense).

  17. skidmarx said,

    Let me say that this is not an attack on the left
    But seems to have turned into one on johng. Brief enough for ya?

  18. maxdunbar said,

    Well, people are entitled to talk about Iran instead of insulting/parodying JohnG, fun as it is.

  19. resistor said,

    Max, or any of the othe fantasist here who think Mousavi won, her’s a chance to win $10,000

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/6/25/746671/-$10,000-Reward:-Show-How-the-Iranian-Election-Was-Stolen

    ‘$10,000 Reward: Show How the Iranian Election Was “Stolen” by Robert Naiman

    I will pay $10,000 to the first person or organization that presents a coherent story for how the Iranian election was stolen that is consistent with knowable facts about the Iranian election process as it took place on June 12-13 and the information that has been published since, including the ballot box tallies that have been published on the web by the Iranian government.

    In order to collect the reward, you don’t have to prove your case beyond a shadow of a doubt. But your numbers have to add up. To collect your reward, it’s not sufficient to cite press reports or anecdotal evidence of election irregularities, or to claim as authority Western commentators or NGOs who have not themselves put together a coherent story. To collect your reward, your story has to tell how on June 12, a majority of Iranian voters voted for other candidates besides Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, yet this was transformed by the Iranian election authorities into a majority for Ahmadinejad.

    Here are the numbers you have to explain. According to the official tally, Ahmadinejad got about 24.5 million votes. Mir Hossein Mousavi got 13.2 million votes. That’s a difference of more than 11 million votes.

    So, when I say your numbers have to add up, I mean your story of stolen votes has to overcome that 11 million vote gap.’

    Before you try any of the rehearsed arguments, they are all refuted here.

    http://www.iranaffairs.com/iran_affairs/2009/06/iran-elections-claims-and-counterclaims-analyzed.html

    The woman in the photo asks, ‘Where is my vote?’ The answer is on the losing pile, something that socialists have had to put up with on many occasions. In the 80s I met very few people who voted for Thatcher. but mysteriously she was re-elected again and again.

    Ironic that the Shiraz ‘Socialist’ crew should line up behind the kleptocrat Rafsanjani and his front man, the butcher of the left, Mousavi. The Iranians prefer an honest idiot to a crook, the fix was that was their only choice.

  20. maxdunbar said,

    Having read the post you will understand that:

    – I know that there is no hard evidence to prove electoral fraud and that this evidence would be very hard to find, not least because of the closed nature of the regime.

    – I do not support Mousavi and to my knowledge, no one on this site does.

    I personally would not trust any election result that takes place under a system where 50% of the population are excluded from standing and the rest have to be vetted by government committee.

  21. charliethechulo said,

    No-one here has based our support for the demonstrators on the certainty that Mousavi won (though it seems overwhelmingly likely that he did): but on the right and duty of enlightened and progressive people (led by the working class) to overthrow fascism. “Resistor”, on the other hand, simply supports fascism. End of story.

  22. Cyrus said,

    Candidates are vetted in the West too — by party systems and corporate donations, a process far less transparent that in Iran. Also, in the US, the voting district lines are drawn by the two major parties, so as to ensure that no third party ever gets a foot in the door and ensuring that the vast majority of the election districts are “safe zones”.
    Some political writers have quipped that the US is the only democracy where the politicians vote for the people, rather than the other way around.

  23. maxdunbar said,

    There is truth in what you say, but it doesn’t justify an election where half the population is excluded from standing for office and only 4 out of 475 who applied were allowed to stand.

  24. resistor said,

    Even Max’s sources contradict him!

    ‘Wight has swallowed it whole: ‘Ahmadinejad… represents the interests of the poorer sectors, particularly in rural areas.’ Except that rural income has stagnated under Ahmadinejad. ‘

    Quoting Djavad Salehi-Isfahani who in the NYT writes

    http://roomfordebate.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/06/16/where-will-the-power-lie-in-iran/

    What if Ahmadinejad Really Won?

    ‘Mr. Ahmadineajd spent the last four years traveling across the country courting the rural and small town votes. There is even evidence that his programs to distribute income and wealth more evenly have begun to bear fruit. The so-called “justice shares” that entitle each individual to receive about $1,000 worth of equity in public companies pay out about $70 a year have been distributed to many in rural areas, and many more are waiting for their turn. Others are waiting to receive funds for housing and marriage from various funds that his administration has established.’

    Stop it now Max, you’re making a fool of yourself

  25. Voltaire's Priest said,

    Cyrus:

    Party supporters in the USA vote as to who is their preferred candidate in primary elections. The system is actually technically more democratic than most, in spite of the big old-party machines.

    Regime senior figures in Iran actively barred 471 of the declared candidates from running, and are currently persecuting the supporters of the three approved “opposition” candidates for disputing the result.

    So it’s really not the same.

  26. Voltaire's Priest said,

    Resistor:

    And here was me thinking you’d gone to the funny farm. Anyways, I see you still can’t read. Nice to know some things never change…

  27. Sue R said,

    I can’t wait to emigrate to the Republic of Iran, if it’s as great as Resistor says. Who’s going to join me? Where do I get the forms from?

  28. Harry Tuttle said,

    Voltaire’s Priest wrote:

    Anyways, I see you still can’t read.

    That’s not fair, I’m sure that nasty little scab has read Mein Kampf many times.

    From the same link resistor provided:

    After all, as the Moussavi camp has correctly pointed out, while Mr. Ahmadinajd’s policies have put money in poor people’s pockets, they have failed to provide more jobs for their young. If his critics are correct, the next four years will be difficult years for Mr. Ahmadinejad and may well see the undoing of his populist majority.

  29. voltairespriest said,

    Sue: you’d be seen by the regime as part of the Evil British Conspiracy ™ to keep Ahmadi out of power.

  30. maxdunbar said,

    I can’t wait to emigrate to the Republic of Iran, if it’s as great as Resistor says. Who’s going to join me? Where do I get the forms from?

    The thing is, it’s probably a wonderful country. I’d love to go.

  31. maxdunbar said,

    It’s possible that Ahmadinejad did win. But the results are extremely suspicious and I can’t share Resistor’s touching faith in a regime run by a holocaust denier that tortures trade unionists.

  32. resistor said,

    ‘It’s possible that Ahmadinejad did win.’

    No, all the evidence is that he did. For instance, he got more votes.

    ‘But the results are extremely suspicious’

    Why? Just because you don’t like the winner.

    ‘…and I can’t share Resistor’s touching faith in a regime run by a holocaust denier that tortures trade unionists.’

    I have no faith in the regime run by Ahmedinajad who is the former – or Mousavi who also did the latter.

  33. Jim Denham said,

    Even the Stalinist John Haylett, writing in the Morning Star, takes a more critical view of Ahmedinajad and the clerical fascist Iranian regime than the anti-working class apologist “resistor”:

    “it is a false dichotomy to suggest a choice between supporting Iran’s working people in their struggle for peace, human rights and social justice and the countery’s right to resist imperialist domination

    “National independence is best served by a society united for progress rather than groaning under repression.

    “The recent election has exposed fissures within the elite of the Velayat-e Faqih (Supreme Leader) regime, which may open possibilities for progressive forces.

    “Those forces ought to be able to count on active and principled solidarity from trade unionists and the left in Britain rather than being demeaned as dancing to imperialism’s tune.” (J. Haylett, ‘Morning Star’, 25/06/09; read the rest here:
    http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/index.php/features/shades_of_grey )

  34. maxdunbar said,

    Resistor

    – There is no hard evidence that Ahmadinejad won

    – The irregularities are covered in the body of the post, and are drawn from Chatham House and Juan Cole

    – No one here is supporting Mousavi or has any illusions about him

    • Liz said,

      There is no evidence of fraud that stands up to scrutiny. The Chatham House study is faulty and Juan Cole repeates allegations that have been shown not to be valid. In addition, Any comparison of electoral turnout in this versus other elections in Iran are automatically suspect because of one major confounding factor: these were the first elections following the first live presidential debates broadcast on TV. What effect does that have on the ethnic affinity vote? No one knows. But none of the allegations of fraud stand up to scrutiny as seen on IranAffairs.com

      • Liz said,

        Incidentally, for all the election fraud conspiracy theorists: I have yet to see a rational explanation for WHY the regime would have to resort to election fraud on such a massive scale, just to keep Mousavi from winning the elections, when Mousavi is very much a “regime insider” and certainly represents no threat to them.

  35. voltairespriest said,

    Now watch Resistor fail once again to understand that point…

  36. Harry Tuttle said,

    Liz wrote:

    Incidentally, for all the election fraud conspiracy theorists: I have yet to see a rational explanation for WHY the regime would have to resort to election fraud on such a massive scale, just to keep Mousavi from winning the elections, when Mousavi is very much a “regime insider” and certainly represents no threat to them.

    The explanation you’re looking for is here. The debate includes one Flynt Leverett, a right-wing realist, whose work the Iran Affairs article is largely based on. The one question

    • lizz said,

      Bed your pardon but the IranAffairs article predates Leverett’s.

  37. maxdunbar said,

    Liz

    I suppose that’s a good point – why bother to rig an election when you have absolute power and dissenters can just be murdered in the streets?

  38. Harry Tuttle said,

    Accidentally posted the previous comment before I was finished.

    Liz –

    The one issue Iran Affairs article does not fully explain is the media crackdown. The author merely argues that it was increased security in the wake of potential unrest. If that’s the case they why did the censoring began nearly three weeks before the election, targeting primarily the supporters of opposition candidates?

  39. Jenny said,

    Here’s a really good blog from an Iranian woman I came across thanks to Max: http://www.sidewalklyrics.com/

  40. sackcloth and ashes said,

    ‘The Chatham House study is faulty …’

    Explain why.

    ‘and Juan Cole repeates allegations that have been shown not to be valid …’

    Which are. And given that Prof Cole is the last person who can be accused of being a neo-con shill and an apologist for US imperialism, can you explain why he’s arguing that the elections were fixed.

    ‘I have yet to see a rational explanation for WHY the regime would have to resort to election fraud on such a massive scale, just to keep Mousavi from winning the elections’

    The ballot is already rigged insofar as candidates have to be vetted by Khamenei. But if you have a memory as long as I have, the one thing the theocrats don’t want to do is be conned (as they were by Khatami in 1997) into supporting a closet liberal. And as far as electoral probity is concerned, you don’t have to convince us, you need to convince these guys (not to mention the millions frustrated by the result):

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/middle_east/article6644817.ece

    PS: Resistor, you’re still a cunt.

    • lizz said,

      Candidates in every election are vetted — in the US through corporate donations and the Democrat/Republican dominance over drawing district boundaries. Prof Cole got carried away by the allegations of fraud without checking for the actual evidence. No one disputes that over 80% of voters turned out — is that common in a regime that is discredited and repressive as you claim?

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