Monday, June 22, 2009

Which side are you on?

The crisis in Iran rumbles on. It is an irrelevancy whether the incumbent or the loyal opposition won the Iranian presidential "election". The charade which took place under the watchful eye of the Islamic theocracy was in no way a democratic exercise - no one can "win" an election conducted under a system of government repression and religious intolerance, whichever candidate received the most votes. To consider this the main issue is to ignore the other great camp involved in the ongoing struggle - that of the Iranian people themselves, by definition unrepresented by other faction of the autocratic Islamic regime, however much some now identify with one side's victory.

The position of revolutionary socialists must be support for the Iranian people and support for their uprising against the Islamic Republic, regardless of the election results. We cannot and should not give support to the moderate elements of the Iranian ruling class centred around the butcher Mousavi; but it is not his installation as president of Iran that we seek, it is the complete transformation of Iranian politics and society. Whether they know it or not, this is the logical conclusion to the mass movement of the Iranian demonstrators emerging as we speak: the recapturing of the state by civil society and the growth of national democratic structuers and an independent space for the development of the Iranian workers' movement.

The confusion hampering the British left's response to the Iranian revolt is understandable. Ahmadinejad is often lazily touted as an anti-imperialist figure, the beloved of Iran's rural poor. His popularity, not to mention the specific policies of his rule (regardless of how welcome his redistributive domestic agenda may be, compared to the alternative) is, if not unimportant, then a small matter when compared to the other side of the coin. The Iranian state remains a cruel and oppressive regime, its army and police and medieval ideology an obstacle not simply to the prospect of a humane and democratic socialist society, but also of the basic human rights - whether to trade union organisation or cultural expression - which serve as the threatened but surviving bedrock of the modern liberal state.

A friend of mine who helped set up a proxy server for the protestors, while looking through images of Iran's popular culture before the downfall of the Shah, was pleasantly surprised by the familiar, even Western images he saw. Although in the glorious perspective of an English liberal student he hoped "we'll get Iran back into miniskirts and cocaine" as a result of the current struggle (having 'missed out' on the 1980s, he's hoping Iran undergoes the full-blown revolution of discos and yuppies) there was considerable truth to his remark that Iran is "more modern and revolutionary give than most give them credit for". Prior to 1979, and even now despite the last thirty years of fundamentalism, Iran's status as one of the most economically developed and culturally 'Westernised' societies in the Middle East is obvious. The Islamic Republic has not changed this; despite its problems, Iran is more than suited to liberal democracy, a possibility brutally cut short by the Islamists during the revolution.

But a full-blown Westernisation of Iran is not the 'best' the people can hope for. The choice does not lie between the thugs of Ali Khamenei and complete integration into the world market as a 'democratic' supplier of oil and regional support to the United States. Indeed, it is to the early days of the Iranian revolution that we in the left can look for hope that Iran will realise the falsity of this choice. Then, the shuras emerged as embryonic centres of popular power and decision-making. Perhaps in their massive mobilisation against the regime's lies, the people of Iran will once again realise that the same strength which allows them to defy the regime can also be wielded to run society itself - that the democracy of the street and the mass meeting can not only topple governments, but replace them.

Nevertheless, the immediate hope of the left throughout the international community must be the fall of the mullahs, and the disarming of its police forces and its soldiers by the people. So long as the protests enjoy the support of hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, they can risk ignoring the possibility of direct repression - but to resolve the conflict it is necessary that the weapons of the Islamists are neutralised. Too often, the 'support' extended by Western revolutionary socialists to struggling peoples in the Global South does not extend beyond words, however important they may be. But there are things we can do. Whether that is to help make internet access and communication available to the demonstrators, send messages of support to the Worker-communist Party of Iran's 24 'New Channel TV' (via, lobby our MPs and governments to isolate the regime (not ignore its problems, as Obama's administration has done, in the expectation of the uprising's defeat and his unwillingness to hamper future negotiations over Iran's nuclear programme) or to join protests against the Islamic Republic outside its embassies in our own states, we have a responsibility to lend a helping hand.