Friday, 19 June 2009

DISCUSSION ON THE IRANIAN OPPOSITION

Sons of Malcolm's Sukant Chandan discusses Iran's
current crisis with a friend - Dominic Kouros Kavakeb


Dominic's piece is below my reply which follows:


Thanks Dominic for your very thoughtful piece on current
events in Iran. I think it’s an important contribution
amongst ourselves as to understand the unquestionably
complex and at times confusing events which have been
unfolding in Iran of late.

There is much with which I agree in your piece. However, I
also sense some contradictions in your piece, and some
other points which I would like to bring up and engage you
and others reading this with.

I want to come across brotherly and in a spirit of
anti-imperialism solidarity in my comments. If I inspire
any negative feelings, please excuse me, it’s certainly not
my intention.

I would like to start by stating that I am no natural
friend of the Iranian regime. I have many problems and
differences with it. I am not going to list these here, but
my differences with the regime are sometimes quite deep and
glaring.

Nevertheless, believing as I do in the maximum
non-sectarian unity on an anti-imperialist internationalism
basis, I cannot ignore that Iran is a very important state
which is contributing massively to the international
struggle against imperialism and for a new multi-polar
world, a struggle that we need to understand and engage
with more and more to contribute to the re-building of that
internationalism that we lost since the 1980s.

“… since the early 90’s, which has had to deal with its own
strengths and weaknesses. The reform movement has always
been extremely broad in nature, encompassing figures such
as Hashemi Rafsanjani, the current chair of The Assembly of
Experts and former President to women’s rights activists
and left wingers. Despite its breadth and in fact most
probably because of this, the reform movement has always
lacked a clear leadership and direction.”

You are right to highlight Rafsanjani in the reform camp;
but in my understanding, he is one perhaps one of the most
problematic figures in the regime who has a massive
economic estate and protects some of the most corrupt
mullahs in the country, something which President Nejad has
attacked, but more of this later.

The point I am making is that we need to have a clear idea
of what different sections of the opposition stand for,
ie., where do they stand on Palestine (and Zionism), on
economic rights for Iran’s poor, for relations with the
West and the East, what is their attitude towards the
Non-Aligned Movement, UN reform, SCO, etc. Only then can we
really dissect the pros and cons of the opposition. But
like you say, it seems the opposition are united only in
their opposition to Nejad. So what IS the big problem with
Nejad? More on this issue in a second.


“… Economically Mousavi favours further neo-liberalisation,
although this is not something Ahmadinejad is specifically
adverse to. The difference may be where Mousavi is happy to
trade with the west, Ahmadinejad not so. To a degree this
determines their stances on foreign policy. Mousavi
ridiculed Ahmadinejad for the way in which he’s made Iran
look childish in the face of international diplomacy. The
President retorted with the idea that regardless of whether
or not Iran does what the West wants, they will always face
threats. It is impossible to beat The United States at
their own game (i.e. within the arena of the UN).”

This is a very important section of your article, in my
opinion perhaps the MOST important, as it starts to delve
into what the nature of the crisis in Iran is all about,
and what the main two camps – Nejad and Mousavi – stand for
and against. I think this aspect, and the attitude towards
regional and international issues are the two most
important points that we have to look into, make sense of
and that which can inform our political positions on the
current crisis in Iran.

In my understanding the strategies and policies of these
two camps are quite different. Mousavi seems to represent
the more elite elements in the regime, and the more
affluent urbane (esp in Tehran) sections of society. As you
say, Mousavi is in favour of privatisation and liberalising
the economy. Also standing in Mousavi’s camp, perhaps the
biggest patron is the highly problematic Rafsanjani. On the
regional and international positions, Mousavi represents a
softer approach to the West, and perhaps not as much solid
and forthright support for Lebanese Hizbullah and Hamas and
Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

One should also keep in mind that what the West fears most,
perhaps more than anything else about Iran, is it’s nuclear
program. If Iran reached a stage of technology where it
could convert civil use to military use, that would be the
end of western and Zionist hegemony of the region. Mousavi
is obviously seen by the West as the man/camp able to
scupper this. Mousavi is more susceptible to putting the
Iranian nuke program in the hands of some western dominated
‘international’ body, whereas Nejad is going it all by the
Iranians self.

Nejad has distinguished himself in clear and militant
support for the Palestinian Revolution and the Lebanese
resistance. Nejad is a great proponent of an
anti-imperialist international alliance, allying closely
with China, Russia, Cuba, Bolivia, Brazil and of course his
great friend and ours –President Chavez of Venezuela.

On these regional and international issues we outside of
Iran must place special importance; when I say ‘we’ I mean
those of us who believe in internationalism based upon the
independence, development and social justice of the
oppressed masses and nations of the world, those subject to
sanctions, invasions, occupations, covert dirty tricks etc.
If we believe in this internationalism then these are the
most important issues upon which we must judge the two
different camps.

I don’t need to stress that Iran has been under sanctions
ever since 1979, has seen the region beset by Western
intervention, stunting the economic development of the
region, creating divisions, occupations and wars. Those
asserting their independence in the world against ‘the
great satan’, ie., the heroes of the Palestinian
Revolution, an the Lebanese Hizbullah are close allies of
Nejad and Iran. Furthermore, Nejad’s Iran has been the
leading force behind trying to get the regions powers to
come to the defence of the Palestinians, and as such, to
the defence of themselves, as there is no progress for the
region without an end to US Hegemonic control of the region
which is exercised foremostly through its attack dog – the
zionist state. Iran is surrounded by two imperialist
occupations – in Iraq and Afgahnistan, and have been
threatened with a preemptive nuclear strike for some years
now.

On the other hand we have Mousavi and his camp, whose
slogan is ‘Iran first’, which is a veiled attack on the
anti-imperialist militancy of Nejad. Yes, we have problems
with Nejad’s comments on certain things, esp the holocaust,
but this is a detail and not a strategic problem with
Nejad. It is rumoured that Mousavi might lessen support for
the Palestinian Revolution and Hizbullah; I am not so sure
about this, but one thing is clear: the West know who their
preferred candidate is, and I don’t need to say that the
West are fundamental to the problems of the region, and
their friends are not ours.

What is possibly some of the most interesting aspects of
Nejad rule is his populism. Nejad has in a most vociferous
and surprising manner attacked the corruption and elitism
of ruling sections in Iran, including attacking corrupt
mullahs. He has given increased economic rights to some of
societies poorest, and is an incredibly humble and modest
president – something which is striking to everyone.

It is also true at the sametime that his economic strategy
hasn’t perhaps benefitted the economy on the whole as it
has led to inflation. But those who follow the reformist
press in Iran like myself, know that all the criticism
against Nejad’s policies are not to have better policies
for the poor, but intended in defending some of societies
privileged sections; as the reformist camp support
neo-liberal policies. For those of us who believe in a
leadership which seeks to empower some of the poorest in
society, on a platform of anti-corruption of the elites,
with a clear militant anti-imperialist internationalism,
then Nejad is your man, and his is your camp. ‘But what
about the socialist and left opposition, the too want
rights for the poor!’ I hear some cry, more on this in a
moment.

“What has been the state response, besides Ahmadinejad’s
bizarre trip to Russia to celebrate his victory?”

Why was it ‘bizarre’? Nejad’s trip to Russia and to the
Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is all part of the
important anti-imperialist (‘multi-polar world’) rise
across the world. The SCO is the closest thing to an
anti-imperialist bloc which in the future can push the West
out of Asia, and this process is in progress right now with
this article outlining these developments.

So I would argue far from Nejad’s trip being ‘bizarre’, it
shows him in one of his elements – being amongst those who
are leading the rise of a new multi-polar world, ie, and
end to US/western hegemony, which is the grand prize for
which we have been struggle for since nearly seven
centuries.

And as Nejad has gone over for the SCO conference, it is
maybe another dig at Mousavi – saying to him ‘this is where
my primary allies are, and I am not one for pussy-footing
with the west’.

“Yes there has been repression of the most brutal kind.
We’ve all seen the images of blood stained University
halls, motorbiked thugs chasing protestors and street
clashes … “In addition foreign media has been restricted,
the internet and mobile phone calls limited and other
repressive techniques that can only be inflicted by state
apparatus.”

You mention the brutal repression, but don’t mention the
context in which they have taken place. I would put this
repression into context of the provocations of some of the
students who wanted to burn down the Basij base. It’s
tragic and sad, but not surprising that those who want to
burn down the building of the revolutionary guards, then
see the guards hitting back, it has to be said AFTER they
were besieged. Who were these students? What is the sense
in these provocations? Tragic deaths are the result, and a
deepening of the sense of confrontation, which I don’t
think is to anyone’s advantage in Iran.

Students are mainstays of the banned opposition movements,
and there has been a long history of student based
anti-regime elements, and the regime clamping down on them.
It’s been terrible that students have been attacked on
their campuses and some reportedly killed, but we have to
also put some responsibility at least on those students who
are out to overthrow the regime, which results in the
regime coming down hard on some students.

As for the restrictions on the foreign media etc, I think
Obama let it out of the bag when he successfully for
Twitter to keep them online when they were going to be shut
today for maintenance work. I don’t think any of us are so
naïve as to be blind to the fact that mainstream Western
media outlets are arms of the western states and serve
their states, not the Iranians. And seeing that the
Iranians have plenty of examples as to the dirty role of
these agencies in many other peoples affairs,, then no-one
can accuse them, let alone those advocating
non-western-intervention in Iran, that they have strict
restrictions on them.


“One thing that is absolutely clear is that any repression
of any protest is unacceptable. People have the right to
protest and political expression and any attempts to halt
this must be rejected.”

So would you support the protests of people burning down
government buildings? The seriousness of the situation in
Iran is partly highlighted when you go on to state:

“The simple answer is that as far as the imperialists are
concerned, this could be the perfect opportunity to
dismantle Iran as an obstacle to the domination of the
Middle East. The Iraq war has only strengthened Iran as a
regional power; all the worse that it is prepared to stand
up to the West. Very few countries are as vocal as Iran on
issues such as Palestine and very few countries, if any,
can or will not provide the support that the resistance
across the Middle East needs.”

So seeing that this is the perfect opportunity for the West
to push their strategies in regard to Iran (which I agree
with of course) it is natural for their direct and indirect
allies to do all that they can in Iran to make things hard
for the regime. I am sure you know that there are many
kinds of groupings in Iran which are in a war with the
state and have backing by the West (the MKO is an obvious
example), and many others who are supported, based,
financed etc by the West. In this context, I think the
Iranian sate is much more relaxed than I thought they might
be, with very little police around on the Mousavi protests,
apart from when after there was some skirmishes, especially
around the Guards base issue.


“… The simple answer is that as far as the imperialists are
concerned, this could be the perfect opportunity to
dismantle Iran as an obstacle to the domination of the
Middle East. The Iraq war has only strengthened Iran as a
regional power; all the worse that it is prepared to stand
up to the West. Very few countries are as vocal as Iran on
issues such as Palestine and very few countries, if any,
can or will not provide the support that the resistance
across the Middle East needs.

“We must be clear that we will not allow the West to hijack
this movement and use it to its advantage. Since 1989
western powers have used genuinely democratic movements to
further their own aims, as seen across Eastern Europe and
beyond. The same cannot and must not happen with Iran. …
The Iranian people are displaying that they are not ‘too
oppressed to fight back’ or in any way too weak to fight
their own battles. They do not want western intervention
and they do not need western intervention.”

“The Iranian left needs to play a better role and provide
some organisation to the movement. … Victory to the Iranian
people; against both their oppressors in the regime and the
global imperialist project.”

The question of the Iranian and anti-imperialism in the
context of Iran is a very important issue that needs a lot
of debate. My position is that the Iranian left are
playing, for the most part, directly or indirectly the job
of the West. I saw an Iranian leftist (perhaps some of you
know who he is, as I recognise him, but don’t know his
name) on Newsnight the other day, giving an Iranian voice
to the West’s attitude towards Iran.

Some socialists in the West are supporting the left who are
active in the Mousavi camp. This is very ironic, because
here you have a ‘left’ allied to a political camp of the
corrupt elites, and those who want to water down the
Iranian state’s anti-imperialism. This is not new, as this
has happens and is happening in many areas around the world
from Venezuela, Zimbabwe, China, Lebanon, Iraq and many
other places, where the left are allied to the west’s
allies who are often some far from socialistic groupings.

If the Iranian left were a major mass force in Iran; if
they had a good anti-imperialist practice and position; if
they had a good chance at capturing power: perhaps people
should seriously consider supporting them. But it seems
they are very marginal, so establishing one’s position on
Iran from an anti-imperialist perspective based merely on
these minute leftist elements is at best missing the whole
nature of this clash in Iran, and at worst is avoiding some
hard decisions and allowing the West to take the political
advantage in terms of how current events in Iran are
reported and (mis)understood.

It’s also very dangerous to the left groups in Iran itself
to think that they are getting support from those in the
West, as it may add to their sense of confidence in
confronting the state, which will lead to more arrests,
jail and unfortunately deaths for some more.

I don’t know how much you have thought about your
concluding slogan:

“Victory to the Iranian people; against both their
oppressors in the regime and the global imperialist
project”

But for me it raises some problems: when the main clash is
between two camps, why should we not discuss this central
issue rather than be drawn into subsidiary issues about
opposing the West and the oppressors in the regime?

Also those amongst the left who are supporting the Mousavi
camp because some Iranian left-wingers are in and around
that camp, fail to recognise a much more important issue
which effects the Iranian masses and poor and the masses of
the people in the region, and in relation to which, the
world anti-imperialist movement. For those in the left who
believe in social justice on a national and international
scale, Nejad’s camp is advocating this, in the face of
resistance of the Mousavi camp.

Finally, we have to constantly revise and understand the
contradictions within the struggles of the peoples of the
South, such as the one taking place in Iran, and also the
machinations of the West and especially the USA and UK.
This is especially important as we have entered into a
crucial phase of the anti-imperialist struggle, where the
US and the West have taken a massive beating thanks to the
twin tracks of resistance in Palestine, Iraq, Lebanon,
Somalia, Afghanistan etc, and the rise of the third world
economies led by China, but also Brazil, Venezuela, Iran
etc. If Obama is a good guy personally, he is being used by
the elites to further their aims by other more crafty and
subtle means, but trying to enforce their retreating
hegemonic position all the same.

Obama’s speech in Cairo, far from a new positive era with
the region, has led or perhaps has problematically
contributed to the current crisis in Iran, in the sense
that Mousavi’s camp and followers think they can throw out
the militants (Nejad etc) now they have a ‘good guy’ to
deal with in Obama. And also Obama’s speech has egged on
those Tehrani elites who think they got a nod from Obama to
get rid of that little upstart and friend of the resistance
– President Nejad.

The anti-imperialist approach, as expressed by Tupac Amaru,
Simon Bolivar, through to Malcolm X, Che Guevara, Leila
Khaled, Lumumba and today with Hizbullah and Chavez is
never to stop intensifying your struggle; increase one’s
assertiveness and confidence in material, spiritual,
cultural and armed strength is the ONLY path to complete
liberation. In this, I know who I am with in Iran, despites
all the hype from the west, a hype which I don’t trust; and
I take this position despite my differences, sometimes
serious, with the Iranian regime.

Look forward to yours and others thoughts and reflections
on this issue.

Sukant Chandan



'Iran. 1979 and 2009.'
By Dominic Kouros Kavakeb

The Iranian Revolution of 1979 was a mass event, a popular
uprising of a scale rarely seen before. 30 years on, the
Iranian people are out in their millions once again but the
questions remain, what is this really about and where is
this movement going?

Last week the Iranian Presidential elections took place
with the incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad being most strongly
challenged by former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi. A
close election was widely expected, yet the final result
was in Ahmadinejad’s favour by 63% to Mousavi’s 34%. This
immediately led to widespread suspicion amongst Mousavi
supporters that the vote had been rigged to exaggerate the
current Presidents votes.

The purpose of this article is not to attain whether or not
there was indeed electoral fraud. The point is to examine
this new wave of protest and the situation as a whole.
However, for purposes of clarity it is necessary to state a
few things. Firstly, Ahmadinejad was expected to win. A
telephone poll was conducted by an international group,
independent from the regime and had Ahmadinejad as wining 2
to 1. Personally, I expected Ahmadinejad to win albeit with
slightly less of a majority. The main arguments from those
who suspect fraud are based on how the result was
announced. In addition Ahmadinejad’s support seemed to
spread far more evenly than previously expected, with him
winning in areas that were considered Mousavi territory. So
it is clear that we cannot be sure whether or not the vote
was fixed.

What is an indisputable fact is that over the past 5 days
millions of people have taken to the streets to protest. In
anytime this is a deeply encouraging, inspiring and very
exciting moment. Much of the talk on the Iranian street is
about the 1979 revolution and how the same atmosphere has
gripped the country. It is probably true to say that the
first people out onto the streets were disgruntled Mousavi
fans from the middle class who would benefit from the
neo-liberal economic policies proposed by Mousavi as well
the social freedoms; however this is no longer the case. As
time has passed the movement has become much more than this
and now encapsulates all layers of Iranian society. Indeed
the control Mousavi has from this movement is entirely
questionable and in all probability actually rather
limited.

It would seem that the election was result was the spark
that the lit the fire of Iranian society, which had been
building up for many years. Iran has had a very strong
reform movement, since the early 90’s, which has had to
deal with its own strengths and weaknesses. The reform
movement has always been extremely broad in nature,
encompassing figures such as Hashemi Rafsanjani, the
current chair of The Assembly of Experts and former
President to women’s rights activists and left wingers.
Despite its breadth and in fact most probably because of
this, the reform movement has always lacked a clear
leadership and direction. This is mirrored by the current
events where you have massive protest, yet very little
coordinated direction.

It is also important to be able to understand the
limitations of the reform movement in terms of their
demands. The majority of the movement does not challenge
the Islamic regime itself nor the principles of the ’79
revolution. Watching the live debate between Ahmadinejad
and Mousavi at times it was almost as if they were trying
to ‘out Khomeini’ one another. Both spoke about their
dedication to the revolution and how they were the true
interpreters of Khomeini’s message. So where do the real
differences lie? This question will give us some insight
into the feelings of the Iranian people. Economically
Mousavi favours further neo-liberalisation, although this
is not something Ahmadinejad is specifically adverse to.
The difference may be where Mousavi is happy to trade with
the west, Ahmadinejad not so. To a degree this determines
their stances on foreign policy. Mousavi ridiculed
Ahmadinejad for the way in which he’s made Iran look
childish in the face of international diplomacy. The
President retorted with the idea that regardless of whether
or not Iran does what the West wants, they will always face
threats. It is impossible to beat The United States at
their own game (i.e. within the arena of the UN).

Mousavi was seen by many as being a candidate who would
open Iranian society and provide the freedoms that are
enjoyed by the bourgeois in the west. Therefore when he
lost it is easy to see why so many were so angry, although
that does not explain the large scale popular protest that
we have seen. It seems as if every section of society with
any qualm against the regime has come out to use this
opportunity, in a usually repressive state, to protest.
This is a window of chance for those who want change and
they are determined to use it. It is also important to note
that many of the protestors are not explicitly against the
Islamic regime. Having spoken to come of my family in Iran,
they are angry about the election and want to see change,
but within the foundations of the revolution. This is not a
movement that is challenging Islamic rule, in the abstract.

What has been the state response, besides Ahmadinejad’s
bizarre trip to Russia to celebrate his victory? Yes there
has been repression of the most brutal kind. We’ve all seen
the images of blood stained University halls, motorbiked
thugs chasing protestors and street clashes. In addition
foreign media has been restricted, the internet and mobile
phone calls limited and other repressive techniques that
can only be inflicted by state apparatus. However, the
official line is strangely subdued. The Grand Ayatollah Ali
Khamenei is due to give a speech tomorrow following Friday
prayers, and many expect to see a few surprises. Anyone who
attempts to simplistically align Ahmadinejad with the
religious elite is making a grave error. It is true that
Khamenei formally endorsed Ahmadinejad for a second term
but the reality is not so straight forward. Ahmadinejad’s 4
year term was marked by constant bickering between the
executive and the religious sections of the ruling class.
The fear amongst the religious establishment was that the
President was going too far to antagonise the west and
subsequently was damaging the trade deals that have been in
place since the 90’s. During the campaign period Khamenei
himself came forward to discredit a claim by Ahmadinejad
that Mousavi’s wife and campaigner, Zahra Rahnavand, is not
a real Doctor. So it is clear that are real splits opening
up inside the regime, which certainly does not bode well
for its long term survival.

One thing that is absolutely clear is that any repression
of any protest is unacceptable. People have the right to
protest and political expression and any attempts to halt
this must be rejected. Reports from the last couple of days
actually show a shift in the attitude of the Iranian police
towards the protestors. Rather than be used by the state as
a tool of repression they have begun to protect the
protestors from the feared Basiji and the other thugs.
Robert Fisk wrote yesterday in the Independent of the
Police holding back the armed thugs from attacking the
demonstrations; a moment last seen when the Iranian armed
forces turn on the Shah in the 1979 revolution.

However, we must also understand Iran in a global context.
This situation is very different to a General Strike in
France where we can analyse this as the state vs. the
people. As already outlined such an analysis is far too
simplistic. We have to question why the situation in Iran
is grabbing so many headlines and the attention of the
world. When in Egypt the state rigged the elections and
massive protests erupted, why did this not receive the same
coverage? The simple answer is that as far as the
imperialists are concerned, this could be the perfect
opportunity to dismantle Iran as an obstacle to the
domination of the Middle East. The Iraq war has only
strengthened Iran as a regional power; all the worse that
it is prepared to stand up to the West. Very few countries
are as vocal as Iran on issues such as Palestine and very
few countries, if any, can or will not provide the support
that the resistance across the Middle East needs.

We must be clear that we will not allow the West to hijack
this movement and use it to its advantage. Since 1989
western powers have used genuinely democratic movements to
further their own aims, as seen across Eastern Europe and
beyond. The same cannot and must not happen with Iran. The
vast majority of Iranian people themselves reject Western
influence in their affairs; the revolution of 1979 was
based around sweeping aside foreign rule. The collective
memory of the ghost of 1953 when Iranian Nationalist leader
Dr Mossadeq was overthrown in a CIA coup has not been
forgotten. Western powers must stay firmly out of this
affair. For years the liberal imperialists have argued that
we must intervene in countries with human rights abuses,
because the people of these nations are not capable of
doing it themselves. If this new movement in Iran proves
one thing it is that this formulation is false. The Iranian
people are displaying that they are not ‘too oppressed to
fight back’ or in any way too weak to fight their own
battles. They do not want western intervention and they do
not need western intervention.

So what will happen next? I honestly don’t know. Clearly we
have a series of events on a scale not seen in Iran since
1979. However, for all of the parallels this is not 1979
again. Protestors on both sides are chanting Islamic
slogans and we will not see an overthrow of the Islamic
Republic. There may well be changes in personnel, policies
and other reforms but I expect it to go no further, at
least at this stage. The Iranian left needs to play a
better role and provide some organisation to the movement.
But like 1979 the Iranian left is cutting itself off from
society. They are not central to these protests and would
rather see the Western powers launch an invasion than any
continuation of the current regime. At lot rests on what
the Supreme Leader has to say tomorrow, so we shall have to
wait and see.

Regardless, this is an exciting moment for Iran. This wave
of protest is unconditionally a good thing and healthy for
Iranian society. It is the product of years of social and
political unrest combined with the current economic crisis.
Victory to the Iranian people; against both their
oppressors in the regime and the global imperialist
project.

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