Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Iran, drawing clear lines

Two clarifications. WARNING: this post is a bit obscure. If you are not interested in left sectariana, please go straight to my previous, more concise post on Iran and the left.

1. In my last post, I wrote:
I continue to be sickened by the reactions of some sections of the left to the on-going uprising in Iran. Many on the left demonstrate some version of a Third Worldist or second campist ideology, which says that the Iranian theocracy is somehow heroic because it is defying the Western "imperialist" camp. A prime example of Third Worldist second campism is the American Monthly Review and its blog, MRZine.
I want to clarify this slightly. Monthly Review and its editors have not, as far as I am aware, taken a pro-Ahmadinejad line, and there seems to me a disparity between the MR position and the MRZine position. MR has for decades been a useful independent trad left/Marxist journal, mainly quite scholarly. It has always veered towards a Third Worldist/Second Campist politics, for instance cheerleading for Fidel Castro. In contrast, MRZine seems to play towards what I call the ZLeft. The ZLeft takes an outwardly libertarian anti-establishment form, but lacks any political analysis apart from hatred of America and the West, and is therefore easily seduced by any authoritarian thugs who "defy" America.

In this way, the ZLeft has become the useful idiot of both old style Stalinism (hence this defence of the WWP's pro-Ahmadinejad insanity heavily cites MRZine material) and new style Islamist theocracy. As well as second campism, the cultural code of anti-Zionism plays a major role in the ZLeft political formation. As Principia Dialectica (perhaps hyperbolically!) express it:
The Leninists [of Lenin's Tomb*] and their friends at the ‘Monthly Review’ foundation see Israel as the enemy, hence defence of Iran at all costs, as the most able strategic player in the fight against what they regard as the region’s lapdog for the eternal ‘Great Satan.’ MR zine’s coverage on the Iran affair is about playing the neutral card. In reality, this ‘position’ can only end in the ‘logical’ support for a clampdown against an Iranian democratic movement that seeks a thawing of relations with the US and Israel. The Leninists act as if Iran going nuclear would be some kind of parallel to good old Uncle Joe Stalin procaiming the existence of ‘the workers’ bomb’ in 1948! By supporting the status quo, by giving credit to the Amadinijad regime as the most resolute expression of ‘anti-Zionism’, the Leninist politbureau and MR zine fail to realise that conservative forces in Israel and Iran strengthen each other - in fact each rely upon a terrible dichotomy that must be broken.
It is, therefore, worth noting that not everyone at MR follows the pro-Ahmadinejad line. For example, Michael McIntyre, who has been published by MRZine, writes:
"Oddly enough, even though I suggested the obscure "catonism" as a better term than "fascism," my Iranian comrade in a recent email had no hesitation in referring to "the inexplicable defense of fascism by segments of the US left" (referencing, in particular, the garbage Yoshie has been posting at MRZine)."
Similarly, Michael Yates, a Monthly Review person, has an excellent piece on his blog about Iran. (See this discussion at Louis P's place.)

And it is worth noting that other strongholds of the ZLeft have published some sensible commentary, such as the CounterPunch and Dissident Voice pieces I mentioned yesterday, and this by Reese Erlich at Common Dreams.

I would also recommend this long piece by Louis Proyect. Proyect notes moonbat ex-Marxist James Petras claiming that the revolutionaries in Iran are just US stooges, and also notes that CounterPunch has generally taken a bad line: "Although Counterpunch started off printing articles that took the side of the protestors, it is now pretty much in the Manichean camp led by Paul Craig Roberts, their expert commentator on economics and Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under Reagan."

Like me, Proyect places Petras and co in the tradition of the second camp: "Of course, this methodology of dividing the world between two opposing camps is nothing new. The CP’s perfected it in the 1930s, labeling Trotsky’s criticisms of the Soviet Government as giving aid and comfort to the Nazis."


2. Last week, I linked to Zizek's piece on Iran. My friend N passed on some stuff from an e-mail discussion list, headed "Zizek still crap shock". I'm not sure of the author, but here's an extract:
Zizek's article is, indeed, terrible, in my opinion, though at least he clearly sees who and what Ahmadinejad represents, as well as the mistake of seeing the present events through the distorted lens of liberal secularism. Yet, thirty years on Zizek longs for the "Khomeini revolution," before it was "corrupted" -- by whom? Khomeini and the social and political forces he represented, that's for sure. Ahmadinejad is an "Islamo-Fascist" (certainly the political emodiment of capitalist reaction, in my view), but what about Khomeini and his political project? Khomeini was no romantic anti-capitalist, but rather the political embodiment of the clerical caste and the wealth and power it feared losing to the Shah's "white revolution." Khomeini's closest ideological ally was perhaps Ali Shariati (who died before the uprising against the Shah), who propounded a potent ideologial brew of Islamism, and the identity politics and "anti-imperialism" (sic.) of Fanon. It then became the ideology of Iranian nationalism, and its project of imperialist dominance in the Middle-East -- in opposition, of course to the American hegemon. Those currents of Twelver Shi'ism, and Sufism in particular, which were a powerful factor in the uprising against the Shah's regime and its Anglo-American backers, were ruthlessly suppressed by the Khomeini regime. Could such cultural elements of Iranian society be progressive in the present epoch, and foment a revolutionary assault on the power of capital? In the same way that the cultural remnants of the "Norman yoke" could propel revolutionary movements in England, or the memory of Thomas Munzer and the peasant wars could propel German revolutionaries hundreds of years later. But Sufism, and the work of thinkers like Henry Corbin in elucidating its own anti-capitalist potential, is diametrically opposed to the ideology of Shariati and Khomeini. Would anyone expect the stirrings of revolution in Iran to simply adopt the slogans of 1789 or 1917? Don't we have to look for indigenous cultural traditions wherever the signs of revolution appear? My point, however, is that while such traditions were present in 1979, and also today, they are not the ideological tradition of Shariati and Khomeini, which did and will do exactly what it promises: crush any revolutionary movement.


* To be fair to Lenin's Tomb, something which I'm not naturally inclined to do (the Tomb's Richard Seymour once called for my ankles to be severed), Seymour has developed a fairly good analysis, as in this piece from yesterday, which overlaps a bit with my own.

6 comments:

Entdinglichung said...

there is also plenty of crap on Iran on the post-Healyite "World Socialist Web Site" (WSWS) ... see e.g. http://wsws.org/articles/2009/jun2009/pers-j27.shtml

jams o donnell said...

Yegods Bob! I was particularly impressed at the imbecility of the WWP. I think my friends in Iran would have two words for them, involving sex and travel!

I clicked through to an item on China and Romania by Sam Marcy. Their standpoint beggared belief. Ten minutes with a Romanian friend who was involved in the 1989 and Marcy would have had a new arsehole torn for him!

James said...

You might also be interested in these pieces that we have published:

http://riseoftheiranianpeople.com/2009/06/16/a-reply-to-our-critics/

http://riseoftheiranianpeople.com/2009/06/17/the-uprising-in-iran-and-the-lessons-to-be-learned-2-the-nature-of-the-peoples-movement-and-why-we-support-it/

ModernityBlog said...

very good reading, Bob, but I would have thought you'd avoid mentioning the world 'Petras' after your exchange with the crew at JSF :)

Entdinglichung said...

on Shariati, Khomeini and Thomas Müntzer:

as far as I can remember from Yann Richard's study about the Shia in Iran, there are significant differences between the ideologies of Khomeini and Shariati, the latter was described as strongly anti-clerical while the core of Khomeini's agenda always was the "Velayat-e Faqih", the rule of the clergy, some compare Shariati with Latin American liberation theology, don't know if this is justified ... unlike Christian liberation theologists or thinkers like Mahmoud Mohamed Taha, Shariati's position on the separation of religion and state is at least unclear, Sufism (according to Richard) in Iran was during the last centuries numerically relatively weak, generally quietist and often in favour of the Shah regime and didn't play a role in the Khomeinist movement ... on Thomas Müntzer: he clearly was an apolyptical thinker advocating a just society but without any space e.g. for Catholics or Lutherans, the claim that he is a predecessor of socialism is simply wrong

radicalarchives said...

i (mistakenly) went to an immigrants rights/May Day demo in NYC which was organized by a front group for a front group of the WWP. There i met a couple who were promoting workers rights in Iran (on May Day, of all times to do so!). I asked if they had encountered hostility, and they seemed confused. The next day I looked at their blog and it seems the organizers manhandled them and kicked them out to the demo:

http://missionfreeiran.wordpress.com/2010/05/02/may-day-assault-from-the-reactionary-american-left/

http://missionfreeiran.wordpress.com/2010/05/03/photos-from-may-1-march-in-new-york-city/

The WWP: against workers rights on May Day!