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.’
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’.