Friday, 5 January 2018

How Trotskyist publication got it wrong about Iran

WSWS on Iran protests: Another missed chance to support a working socialist country

by Ramin Mazaheri for The Saker Blog
When perhaps the top daily news leftist website – the World Socialist Web Site – has the phrase “brutally exploited Iranian working class” in their first sentence, something is clearly out of balance.
Because if Iran’s working class is “brutally” mistreated, what is the working class in, say, the United States. Do they call it the “astronomically, incredibly, stupendously, racially exploited US working class”?
Because the increase in Iran’s Human Development Index since 1990 – a measurement taken by the United Nations, the best (and only) global political organisation in the world – is second only to South Korea. Does the UN’s HDI exclude the working class, or something? Of course not.
I like to bring up this statistic, and many others which prove the bonafides of Iranian Islamic Socialism, but it goes nowhere with so many people that I wonder: Is thing on? Habla usted ingles? The World Socialist Web Site is ardently Trotskyist, so they may prefer Esperanto: Kaj vi, Bruto? (And you, Brutus?)
The WSWS is a darn great site, and I’ve read it for too many years to count. They are exceptional in most every way, adored in the Third World, and are perhaps the most widely-visited truly leftist web site. They are so committed and so ideologically-rigorous that the “universal, permanent revolution” of Trotskyism compels them to end every article with one or two paragraphs that essentially say: “But this sucks and is a useless waste of our time because it’s not Trotskyism.”
Hey, I get it: At least they are not pushing capitalism, imperialism, identity politics, fake-leftism, etc.
But this article on the Iran protests is a good example of good, impassioned leftists going astray.
A problem with such ideological rigour is that it can descend into ineffectual, ivory-tower idealism, and even during times of crises when people are looking to the WSWS for guidance. For example, I can probably link to dozens and dozens of articles where the good-old WSWS decried an obvious political reality which suddenly transforms into “spurious” when the same idea comes out of the mouth of an Iranian:
The rulers of the Islamic Republic are trying to justify their brutal crackdown with spurious claims that the protests are being manipulated by Washington and its principal regional allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, as part of their incendiary drive for regime change in Tehran.
Which is it, WSWS? Call me biased – I am an Iranian civil servant, after all – but I think most non-dogmatic leftists will say that Iran is getting the same “capitalist-imperialist treatment” we have seen in Ukraine, Venezuela and about 9,000 other times in the past few hundred years.
Some people love it when you lose – they love dirty laundry
But WSWS is not fully on your side unless your are Trotskyist.
A problem with such ideological rigidity is that it violates a key socialist concept which Trotskyists are less supportive of than Leninists or Stalinists: auto-critique, also known as self-criticism.
In short, this idea is based around the concept that you do not air your dirty socialist laundry in public. China adheres to this quite strictly, and it is likely further helped by their concept of “not losing face” – do NOT criticise the Party in public. Iran does this very well, too, but more so when dealing with foreigners, as we love a good needling (and perhaps embarrassing) joke.
But make no mistake: this socialist concept insists that just because criticism is supposed to be done in private, criticism is ABSOLUTELY supposed to be done and not avoided – socialists are far more democratic than capitalists, after all.
What the WSWS could do, instead of jumping on Iran during a time of (not all that serious) crisis, is to practice some auto-critique and say…well, essentially what I am saying: “Hey, what about UN’s HDI statistic – let’s not forget about that hard-won fact! Hey, what about the West’s proven manipulation of normal, democratic protests – let’s not rush to judgment? Hey, what about the fact that the world assumes that at this very moment some White American cop is killing or torturing a Black teenager somewhere in the US – should we care what their opinion is?
That – pointing out the immoral, perpetual, inescapable crimes of capitalist societies – is what is needed ALL the time. Especially in a time of crisis. The USSR used to do this superbly.
But the WSWS does the same thing for Venezuela, China, etc. – nothing is ever good enough for them. They aren’t really trying to “win” – they are trying to be “right”.
Yeah, being right feels nice, but that means Venezuela topples and the gains of Chavismo get rolled back; that means the capitalist-imperialists defeat the one Muslim country actually fighting for Palestine, Syria & Iraq. Do they care that we have lost Kashmir, Afghanistan and Libya? Is the WSWS actually considering how we will ever get back the far-gone Egypt & Morocco?! Is Trotskyism outperforming Iranian Islamic Socialism in those countries?
Bah….what I just listed are real-life concerns. The WSWS ignores this when “the stuff hits the fan” in countries they should be supporting (and in countries they usually support). But a crisis is not the time to pile on, to say the very least.
Do Trotskyists realize that a key step is actually ‘building’ and ‘preserving’ socialist gains?
I wonder how much the WSWS really knows Iranian society, and I do know that they appear convinced that “universal revolution” is around the corner.
The (communist) Tudeh party had deep roots in the working class,” is a prime example.
Deep roots”? Islam had “deep roots”, not communism. I guess communism had “deep roots” if – let’s return to our first paragraph – if the WSWS will write that Islam had “super, mega-deep, core-embedding roots in the working class”. But, again, things are losing their balance and accuracy….
Communism in 1979 was one of the two main propelling ideologies, yes, but it was often limited to the intellectuals and the students. Islam definitely was not.
You certainly don’t need to be literate to understand socialism, but it did not help that less than 40% of Iranian women were literate in 1979 (but check those numbers now). With the advantage of hindsight, it should not be at all surprising that a relatively-new political philosophy did not sweep aside the very birthplace of monotheism (Zoroastrianism) and a place where Islam is a living, vibrant, daily force; a place where a recent poll says 76% of people want some religious teachings in their political policies, while just 5% said a (very West European secularist) “none at all”. Iran is not France or West Germany, the very birthplace of socialism, and I note that socialism even failed in those two places, too.
So the Trotskyists may like to imagine that Trotskyism was about to sweep Iran in 1979….if only those mullahs hadn’t gotten in the way! But that is not accurate and certainly not reflective of the democratic will. Socialism ran second fiddle in the Islamic Revolution, and thankfully so, when the alternative is to be influenced by imperialist capitalism.
If the WSWS wanted to actually help Iran, they would list the vast ocean of statistics and proofs which show the difference between pre- and post-1979 Iran; they would suspend their seemingly anti-Muslim (and anti-religion) attitude permanently, but at least give it a rest when the forces of imperialism are acting rather “spuriously”; they would be using this time to credit a country whose socialist bonafides far, far, far outweigh about 98.5% of the rest of the world.
What the WSWS gets right, kind of
I am an Iranian civil servant, so I don’t want to get into internal Iranian politics and my stance. Anyways, this is not a Farsi-language article, and it is targeted for non-Iranians. But I would like to give some very basic clarifications about the true nature of these protests – economic issues – and totally disregard the laughable “fake nature” of these protests – toppling a democratic government:
Regarding the economic demands of this protest:
Firstly, the blockade and sanctions. Secondly, the blockade and sanctions. Thirdly, I almost wish your country to have a blockade and sanctions and then you can tell me I’m making excuses!
But I’ll move on, but in an even-handed manner:
The WSWS website is correct that Iran has embraced some neoliberal capitalist reforms. This goes way back to the era of not only the war reconstruction effort of Rafsanjani, but also Reformist politician Khatami, so it is not all that new. Iran was not just rebuilding a country and promoting a totally unique and modern revolution, but it was doing so after the fall of the Berlin Wall! So much of these changes I attribute this to the global “socialism is dead” hysteria which went full-tilt in 1991, which was so contagious that it spared NO country.
And we all know that neoliberalism doesn’t work, so….
But if there is one country which is “exceptional” it is Iran, and allow me to explain: After a decade of hot war, 20+ years of Cold War, and an increasingly-brutal economic sanction campaign, many in Iran felt pro-capitalist reforms may be the only solution.
After all, Iran is not China: we do not “call the shots”.
Iran cannot be strangulated forever, the Reformist argued. Those who favoured Khamenei’s nationalist “resistance economy” have a fine idea with many adherents, but Iran is a democracy, after all – there is NO autocrat, most of our politicians are trying to win re-election, and – I’ll play along here – why would we assume all mullahs think alike on economic terms?
So when Rouhani came to France and Italy in 2015 and made dozens of billions of euros in business deals, I gave the bargaining team a ton of credit: I read the fine print and – in a highlight of my career – I reported the fine print for 17 continuous minutes in an interview on Press TV. Why so long? Because I was describing how this deal included technology transfers; that deal is a joint venture and not just a capitalist sell-off; this other deal is going to let us learn how to build this vital piece of infrastructure in our other cities, etc.
This deals were capitalist, ok, but they weren’t. They defied easy dogma, but they were – thankfully for the People in France and Italy as well – “mutually beneficial”, a key phrase you hear in Iran and China all the time but never in the West.
Opening up” our economy was also a way to win much, much, much needed political favor, as well, the Reformists argued. While Trotskyists may be already bristling, Iranians are trying to survive and have no time for the WSWS ancestor-worship of Trotsky. China has opened up, and inequality has indeed increased, but the lower class – the focus of socialism and Iranian Islamic Socialism – has been lifted at a time when the Western capitalist lower class has not.
So open up towards China and not the West!” many will cry.
The Iranian government did!
Iran has been making trade deals with China for some time, and we all know how hard it is for any nation’s industries to compete with their products. Their products have increasingly entered Iran markets and you can imagine the results. But – and I wasn’t privy to the discussions – I assume that Iran HAD TO make these deals to keep China on our side. If we lose China and Russia – goodbye UN Security Council protection and hello invasion. While there are capitalist interests in the democracy of Iran, I assume that these concessions were granted mainly because the blockade has been so terrible.
Will Rouhani’s economic Reformism work? I defer to an ignored point:
The West claims the protests are about “regime change” (LOL), but they ignore the glaring fact that he has been re-elected with a voter participation rate that far exceeds the “mature”, “stable” countries of the West.
Where is the WSWS with these rather basic observations? Why does an article dated January 4 not mention the pro-government protests on January 3 which were exponentially bigger than the anti-government protests? How is the WSWS aiding democracy there?
The WSWS probably accuses all religious people of not adhering to their principles strongly enough, but I can say for sure that I accuse the WSWS of not following their Socialist principles because with that article I can’t tell whose side they are on! And in a time of crisis, no less!!!
But the WSWS is far from the problem – after all, the article notes the capitalist nature of the Green Movement of 2009.
So I ain’t mad at ya, WSWS! As an Iranian I cannot be so dogmatic. It’s not that I work on a sliding scale – it’s that we are trying to keep winning. Good luck with the universal revolution – let me know when you get one country and I’ll push my Iranian comrades not to step on your neck with the capitalists come for you, which they will and like they are for us now, or haven’t you noticed?

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