by Ramin Mazaheri
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, then 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 very many people that I wonder: Is thing on? Habla usted ingles?
The World Socialist Web Site is ardently Trotskyist, so they may prefer Esperanto, but to them I would say: 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 many ways, 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: Every media has an editorial line to toe, and thankfully they are not pushing capitalism, imperialism, identity politics, fake-leftism, etc. Far from it, usually.
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. It is especially glaring 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…but 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.
Well 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 the 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, one 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 cultural concept of “not losing face”. They do NOT criticise the Party in public, abroad or at home. Iran does this very well, too, but more so when dealing with foreigners, as we love a good needling (and potentially embarrassing) joke to be so concerned about saving face in our own home.
But make no mistake: this socialist concept insists that just because criticism is supposed to be saved for 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 have done with this article, 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 – are we rushing to judgment before we know all the facts? 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 – so 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…then Gorbachev came along and renounced the class struggle.
But the WSWS does the same thing for Venezuela, China, etc. – I’m sure citizens of those countries feel similarly left to twist in the wind in their times of crisis.
The fact is, unless you are 100% Trotskyist, nothing is ever good enough for the WSWS. 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 physically fighting for Palestine, Lebanon, Syria & Iraq. Do they care that we have also lost Kashmir, Afghanistan and Libya? Is the WSWS actually considering how we will ever get back the far-gone nations like Egypt & Morocco?! Is Trotskyism outperforming Iranian Islamic Socialism in any of those countries?
Bah….what I just listed are real-life concerns. The WSWS ignores this when “the stuff hits the fan” in the very countries they should be supporting (and in countries they usually support).
But a crisis is not the time to pile on with the capitalist-imperialists, I think common sense makes quite clear.
Do Trotskyists realize that a key step is ‘preserving’ actual socialist gains?
I wonder how much the WSWS really knows Iranian society, and I do know that they consistently 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 now losing their balance, accuracy and efficiency….
Communism in 1979 was one of the two main propelling ideologies, yes, but it was often limited to the intellectuals and the students. Islam, however, definitely was not.
You certainly don’t need to be literate to want to understand or promote socialism, but it was a bit difficult when 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 responded to the question – “to what degree should our country’s policymakers take religious teachings into account when they make decisions” – with either “a lot” or “somewhat“, while just 5% responded with a (very West European secularist) “none at all”. (Question #8 in this poll.) 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 if 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 clearly and democratically ran second fiddle in the Iranian 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 positive differences between pre- and post-1979 Iran; they would suspend their seemingly anti-Muslim (and anti-religion) attitude permanently (much like Cuba has, and which places like Vietnam and Eritrea don’t need to suspend because they never started on that terrible “forced atheism” route); at least they could not join in on the Iran-bashing when the forces of imperialism are acting rather “spuriously”; they could 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 stances. 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 – as I 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 upon your country a blockade and sanctions so you can then tell me if I am making excuses!
But I’ll move on, and in an even-handed manner:
The WSWS website is correct that Iran has embraced some neoliberal capitalist changes. 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. Therefore, 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 Reformists argued. Those who favoured Khamenei’s nationalist “resistance economy” have a popular 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 with your nonsense – why would we even begin with the assumption that all mullahs think alike on economics?
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 on that 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; how that deal is a joint venture and not just a capitalist sell-off to foreigners; how this other deal is going to let us learn how to build this vital piece of infrastructure which we needed in our other cities, etc.
This deals were capitalist, ok…but they weren’t. They definitely were not neoliberal, free-market, sell-off-your nation to foreign high finance! They defied easy dogma, but they were – and thankfully for the People in France and Italy as well – “mutually beneficial”. That’s a key phrase you hear in Iran and China all the time but never in the West. We must use the tools of capitalism to build socialism (is this on, again?), but they must be mutually beneficial for both countries and their Peoples, no?
“Opening up” our economy was also a tactic 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. We are hoping that money talks with the Eurozone; that huge deals with Iran will pull them away from the American’s policy of murdering Iran.
Will this work? Well, France’s Total is now talking about pulling out of the key oil deal so…too soon to say. If they do China will take their part over, so no real worries, and I can’t say I’d be too surprised: the US is a larger market than Iran for France, and France is a capitalist country who has no ideology, no solidarity, and would step over their own mother to make a buck (but they won’t cross Angela Merkel).
China has opened up in a similar economic fashion (though they call more shots, due to their weight), and their inequality has indeed increased…but the lower class – the focus of socialism and Iranian Islamic Socialism – has been enormousy lifted, while at the same time 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. No blockade, and it’s far less likely any of these deals get made on anything less than a 50-50 basis.
Will Rouhani’s economic Reformism work? Well, what is certain is that Iranian voters appear to think so. 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”, “democratic” countries of the West.
Where is the WSWS with these rather basic observations which are not just sympathetic towards leftism, but entirely correct and objective?
Why does an article dated January 4 not mention the pro-government protests on January 3 which were multiple times larger (not quite “exponentially larger” I think) than the anti-government protests? How is the WSWS aiding any type of democracy, capitalist or socialist, here?
The WSWS probably accuses all religious people of not adhering to their principles strongly enough, but I can say without reservation 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. Which media can we count on for going that far left, at least?
So I ain’t mad at ya, WSWS!
As an Iranian I cannot be as dogmatic as you are. It’s not that I work on a sliding scale – it’s that we are trying to keep winning.
Good luck with the universal Trotskyist revolution. Please do let me know when you get one country. And when you do, I’ll push my Iranian comrades not to step on your neck with the capitalists come for you…which they will, and just like they are coming for us now, or haven’t you noticed? I think Trotsky would agree with this decision….
Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for Press TV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. His work has appeared in various journals, magazines and websites, as well as on radio and television. He can be reached on Facebook.