Postel on Iran

Via Norm, I’ve found a Platypus Review panel on the future of Iran. It’s worth reading the whole discussion just for Danny Postel, who wrote the excellent Reading Legitimation Crisis in Tehran. What I remember from that book was the impression that politically active Iranians were into liberalism rather than socialism. They need to sort out basic human freedoms before deciding how to restructure the economy. Postel quoted the journalist Afshin Molavi:

Iranian youth largely dismiss the radical ideas of their parents’ generation, full of half-baked leftism, Marxist economics, Third World anti-imperalism, Islamist radicalism and varying shades of utopian totalitarianism. ‘We just want to be normal,’ is typical of what hundreds of students have told me. ‘We’re tired of radicalism.’

Here Postel explains how the left went wrong in 1979:

Most leftists supported the Iranian Revolution writ large, but not specifically the Islamic fraction. They made a variety of arguments about needing to support the regime once the Islamists solidified their hegemony, and there was a lot of pretzel logic on the Left about how to relate to the new Islamic Republic. But during the Revolution itself most international leftists did not specifically support the Islamists. They either supported the Marxists, or they simply held some vague notion of the Iranian Revolution as a blow to the American Empire. Foucault is distinctive in this respect. He not only supported the Islamists but he was hostile to the secular forces in the Iranian Revolution. When Foucault was writing about the Iranian Revolution he was writing against the secular Western Left. What he loved about the Iranian Revolution is that it was no mere national liberation movement cum Marxist-Leninist revolution, but that it had a religious dimension. In one of his more poetic flights of fancy, he wrote that what the Iranian Revolution promised was not a new regime or new set of constitutional arrangements but a ‘new regime of truth.’ Precisely because the Western Left was so secular, according to Foucault, it was blind to the Iranian Revolution’s emancipatory potential.

Janet Afary and Kevin Anderson have dissected what was wrong with Foucault’s arguments. But it does bear repeating here that, in supporting the Islamist wing of the Revolution against the secular forces, Foucault was not in fact emblematic of the international Left, the Western Left. He got into all sorts of hissing matches with French Marxists like Simone de Beauvoir and Maxime Rodinson on account of his bizarre and problematic position. This is not to exculpate in any way the majority of the international Left, which did indeed get all sorts of things wrong about the Iranian Revolution, but not the way Foucault did. The international Left saw it purely through the prism of anti-imperialism and, for this reason, it failed to identify the Revolution’s reactionary, authoritarian elements, as expressed in its hostility to liberalism, feminism, human rights, and democratic values.

Some people have learned from this – some people have not.

Where there has been some affinity between Platypus’s perspective and my own is in our shared critique of the authoritarian Left, the myopic anti-imperialism of those like MRzine, the online organ of Monthly Review magazine, or an organization like international ANSWER, which held a demonstration in solidarity with the Islamic Republic of Iran in June here in Chicago, defending Hugo Chavez and his position that the demonstrations in Iran are tools for imperial intervention, that the elections were wholly legitimate, and that Ahmadinejad is a revolutionary comrade that deserves the Left’s support.

Postel on the Green movement:

We do not know exactly what the full-blown ideological spectrum within the Green Movement really is. What we do know is that one of the most recent slogans coming out of this movement is ‘Iranian republic, not Islamic Republic.’ Now, how can you argue against a slogan like that? Is this constrained or trapped by the logic of the Islamic Republic? How can leftists around the world not see millions of Iranians taking to the streets—trade unionists, women’s rights activists, dissident intellectuals, and civil society actors, particularly the trade union movement, which is at the core of left internationalism and has been for over 150 years—how can we as leftists see trade unionists in the streets of Iran participating in the Green Movement and not support them?

On feminism and resistance:

As to female liberation, the on-the-ground reality is that the main expression of the struggle for gender equality in Iran is a campaign called the Million Signatures Campaign. If you want to be a Marxist feminist and say that this campaign is only presenting liberal demands, and is therefore insufficient, you can do so. But this vibrant, promising, and profoundly emancipatory movement is the only game in town right now. Although they do not describe themselves in this way, it is a liberal campaign, in that they want to reform the legal architecture of the Islamic Republic so as to allow for greater gender equality and women’s rights. Is this enough? Will it lead to full emancipation and the end of capitalist exploitation and alienation? No. But to oppose it is reactionary.

And finally Postel takes on the lie that the Iranian resistance consists entirely of the Tehran bourgeoisie and that the workers love Ahmadinejad as long as he chucks them the odd farm subsidy (pay attention, Cardinal Newman!)

In response to the man who thought that the Green Movement was selling short the working class, I would ask why are there thousands of Iranian trade unionists in the streets supporting the democratic movement? The Iranian working class does not quite fit the ossified fantasy world that so many Marxist-Leninists inhabit. The Iranian trade movement sees itself and its interests as being intricately intertwined with the interests of other democratic struggles in Iran. So, for example, Iranian Trade-Unionists have very much embraced the slogan, ‘Workers’ rights are human rights.’ When Iranian Trade Unions are organizing and articulating their demands, they often frame them in the language of rights: the right to organize trade unions independent of state sponsorship or supervision; freedom of assembly; the right to publish independent magazines, newspapers, websites, etc.; the right not to be abducted in the middle of the night, tortured, and subjected to mock show trials. These are democratic rights, and it is no accident that the Iranian Labor Movement has found common cause with other democratic struggles in Iran.

Read it all.

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