Monday, July 5, 2010

Solidarity with Iran Facing Aggression and the Nature of the Regime

Fidel Castro, as is his custom, published his views on current developments in his June 26, 2010 column entitled Reflections. The thrust of Castro’s Reflections, printed last week, is crystal clear. Castro describes in detail the recent ongoing United States- Israeli naval build up in the Middle East, stressing that it is, “now a matter of calculating when the American and Israeli naval forces will be deployed off the coasts of Iran joining there the aircraft carriers and other US military ships already on watch in the region.”

In a matter of importance related to our discussion, Castro also makes short shrift of the opposition to the regime in Iran, exposing its class nature: “The US administration worked out a plan to promote a political movement that, based on capitalist consumerism, would divide the Iranians and overthrow the government. Such hope is now harmless.”

The Anti-imperialist Left
Even in the West, with all the weaknesses of the socialist movement, there fortunately persists a current of critical thought, best defined as the anti-imperialist left (AIL). The essential position of the anti-imperialist left is based on the contention that the United States acts as the global hegemonic force, imposing regimes of subservience and exploitation over great sections of the globe – wherever it can and for as long as it can.

As my reader might guess, the AIL is hardly a monolithic affair. As a matter of fact, Castro reignited a serious debate over important issues related to Iran, already the source of much acrimony and friction in the left.

The crux of the often heated debate involves the relation between the growing danger of US-Israel aggression against Iran and the serious charges regarding the reactionary and dictatorial record of the regime in that country.

The two opposing trends here are realists who stress the decisive importance of Iran’s international role and the democrats who call on the AIL to confront the Iranian regime’s record of repression. Naturally enough, there are shades and nuances both in theory and in practice. Even so, the opposing trends are quite recognizable in day to day political discourse.

Precisely, in the heat of the debate, it is vital to stress that all sections and streams in the AIL vigorously oppose US threats and preparations of war against Iran. It is important not to lose sight of this fact both on the theoretical level and in practical politics.

In practical day to day politics, the democrats are heavily engaged in exposing dictatorial repression in Iran and mobilizing support for the human and political rights of the opposition. The democrats insist on placing the issue of repression in Iran high on the public agenda.

The realists deny the progressive nature of the opposition in Iran and consider it linked, formally or not, to the interests of Iran’s enemies. For the realists the main objects of repression are linked to the opposition, which is mainly subversive.

The democrats argue that criticism of the regime and internal changes may be necessary to improve the capacity of the country to repel and overcome aggression. The weaknesses and repressive nature of the regime may even impair its ability to mobilize international sympathy and support.

Weaknesses in the Democratic Approach
This argument, lofty in intent, is essentially a matter of speculation. Even if we knew much more about Iranian society than we know, it is impossible to know the effects of this or that development on the overall strength and viability of the regime, especially in regards to its ability to resist provocations and foreign aggression.

We have no real evidence, as many democrats argue that U.S. intelligence prefers Ahmadinejad and the present rulers of Iran over the opposition, an accusation bandied about by people in the solidarity movement with the Iranian opposition. It is, of course, reasonable to assume that the Iranian opposition is a heterogeneous affair. But it would be naïve to doubt that it must include a major component of forces seeking to overthrow the present regime towards a rapprochement with the U.S. But it is also true that the opposition includes many noble, dedicated women and men of the radical left.

Even though it is correct to say that “in the long run” it is the internal dynamic that would determine Iran’s path. In the real world, here and now, the two fronts, the internal or the external front, are two separate arenas, much less interrelated than they would appear to be, especially in matters related to Iran’s ability to resist U.S.-Israeli aggression. Of course, the “home front” is important but that importance does not match the vital and all embracing importance of the international role of the regime, its will and ability to resist imperialism machinations. Of course, we cannot ignore the eventual significance of the internal dynamic, but we do argue that consistency and determination on the international front can create historical space for advancement on the internal domestic front, for greater democracy and human rights.

Chomsky Backs Fidel
An article published by Noam Chomsky two days after Fidel’s Reflections fully verifies Fidel’s analysis of the approaching storm. Of course, in his own inimitable fashion, Chomsky mobilizes overwhelming evidence for his central point. Iran is in danger of death and destruction not because it is a “terrorist entity,” but because of its deepening political influence in the region. No one could consider Chomsky, with his sensitivity to human rights issues, a friend of the Iranian regime which many have characterized as a regime in war with its own people.

I think that we in the independent left operating in circumstances of severe public debate, dominated by the imperial media monopoly on the prevailing discourse, must develop our own nuanced approach to the question at hand. It would be a crucial mistake if we fail to understand the justifiable reasons for Fidel’s blanket denunciation of the Iranian opposition and his characterization of it as ”a political movement based on capitalist consumerism.” On the other hand, there is an additional dimension, that on the level of human and civil rights, which demands a measured, serious response.

Fidel is telling us what we should already know. It is the duty of any progressive regime to identify in any given circumstances the forces with which it can develop cooperation and mutual advantage. Given the historical hegemony of imperialism over the years, it must be understood that this is a legitimate historical approach and a means of resistance. The principle is simple: the regime (our regime) must do and will do that which is essential to prevent isolation, to ensure security, to put bread on the table of its citizens. It must utilize all these opportunities as a matter of course.

I myself, and others of similar irrepressible sensitivities witness in Iran a series of sickening actions that jar the core our own values and political needs, legitimate in and of themselves. This might create false hope for the emergence of an opposition more to our taste. But is it so hard to understand, that Castro having seen the role of capitalist consumerism in the fall of the USSR, and on the basis of his own analysis of Cuban reality, sees the dreams of Westernized middle class for a “freer” society as one big trap? The U.S. is, as we know, ever ready to assist regime change, more democratic elections, a new lease on life for civil society – all for free.

Castro’s dismissive description of the Iranian opposition may be the basis of Cuban politics on this issue, and it may be basically correct, but it cannot serve all the requirements of those fighting against U.S. aggression in the heartlands of imperialism and its allies. The issue of human and civil rights, the protection against arbitrary arrest, torture and punishment cannot be ignored by the left, even in the rarified and tense atmosphere of an international campaign against the Iranian people and its leadership. Many things are happening which cannot be countenanced.

Strategy and Tactics on the Iran Issue
When we unavoidably relate to the glaring crimes of the Iranian regime, we are faced, whether we wish so or not, with a number of urgent practical and strategic questions. Since silence on this issue is not an option, but since we also refuse to reduce in any way our iron clad obligation to work with the forces in opposition to U.S.-Israeli aggression, we face the challenge of integrating the two elements, of conveying some sense of proportion between the importance of the two issues, and the choice of partners in the day to day political battle. There is, of course, no easy formula, but there are certain guidelines that might prevent serious distortions from the policy we seek.

The main front is the fight against U.S.-Israeli aggression, as long as the real danger persists. It is here that we are interested in the establishment of the widest possible front. The internal Iranian front is a secondary battle. We cannot prove this, but our instinctive sense is that the danger of war increases domestic chauvinism and disregard for human rights. An eventual relaxation in tension over a broad period should open the way for more respect for the rights of Iranians in all spheres. And as long as the danger of war is there, our main duty, is opposition to the war, which is in the final analysis the best thing that we can do for the people of Iran, including victims of repression in Iran.

Knowing that there is at the least some truth in the Castro point regarding the nature of the opposition, we should desist from undifferentiated, overall support for the opposition on the basis of liberal principles and democratic rights. We should support analytical and documentary reports to expose regime brutality. But we are not “fans“ of an entity identified in the media as the “democratic opposition” nor do we believe that the forces identified with the “democratic opposition” are a more humanitarian and just alternative.

Two categories: Iran’s international status, and Iran’s internal regime – reflect two important interrelated aspects of Iran’s existence. But they are not two dimensions of equal import and impact. The decisive axis of development, the major impact and influence stem from the first category, Iran’s international status. The Iranian issue has long lost any vestige of localism, of involvement in mere local interests. The battle around Iran has taken on immense importance as a critical stage in the weakening of U.S. hegemony in the Middle East and even on a wider scope.

For the above reasons, we reject the simple formula often suggested in thorny issues like this one, i.e., Fight aggression against Iran without relating to the character of the regime in that country and fight against the regime, as if there were no danger of aggression. However, the two issues, both admittedly important, are not on the same scale of importance and influence on the course of events.

An Echo from the Past
Marxist theory on the issue suggests that it may seem as if this is some sort of “replay” of past disputes. But it isn’t. The material conditions obtaining today and their political ramifications are simply vastly different. The communist movement no longer exists as an international force, and Trotskyism has no role in presenting an alternative to the communist option. Moreover the theories associated with Stalin and/or Trotsky no longer possess, without further contemporary development, a degree of internal consistency that can supply answers to any strategic dilemma. Inevitably, they have become, on the theoretical level, historical schools of thought, which do inspire different and often conflicting approaches to the very same issue. In short, the dispute that we are dealing with is not based on the different theories of Stalin and Trotsky.

Realists, who have experience with the various oppositions against authoritarian governments which chose to set out on an anti-U.S. path, have reason to be highly suspicious. The pressures in the opposition to be drawn into the vortex of US support are tremendous. Orange, velvet, yellow or green oppositional forces do tend to go the way of U.S.-sponsored “democracy”, even when they set out to do battle on the basis of the most sincere and naïve basis. The realist challenge to the democrats centers, more than on anything else, on the question of the real nature of the Iranian. Their approach is that the opposition grew and developed on the basis of U.S. spiritual and ideological foundations, with the hope for a more material equivalent not too far off in the future. My impression is that the realists, in rallying to the defense of Iran, are not so much in sympathy with its rulers as motivated by anxiety over the negative repercussions of the possible downfall of the present leadership.

Between Two Worlds
One of the more intelligent attempts, from a friend in Europe, to come to grips with the two different approaches argues that –

“Fidel stands for the raison d’état, like Chávez, by the way. Both Cuba and Iran are harassed by the US, and both suffer the effects of an embargo. Whether this implies to embrace the regime in Iran is another story. Neither Chomsky nor myself have interests of state which might blind our critical approach. Therefore my position is that as citizens, and this extends to the civil society at large, we may not support a reactionary theocracy, a clerical and military regime based on crony capitalism.

Any approach to Iran from the civil society should stress this paradox: Iran has the right to development but also to freedom, and a set of political liberties may be set aside temporarily on behalf of development, when the improvement of the people is delivered (like in China), and social and cultural overtures are promoted, and legal equality for all citizens is guaranteed.”

But despite the nature of the regime - a reactionary theocracy, a clerical and military regime based on crony capitalism - This doesn't allow imperialist intervention to change the regime, as the only consequence it brings is chaos, civil strife, and political and economic subjugation. Iran is living out very interesting contradictions, but they are internal, and Iranians must be left alone in order to experience their own autonomous resolution.”

Our friend is mindful of the source of the different views on the issue and he tends to justify both, depending on the level of the discourse. But this solution, despite the penetrating analysis of the difference in the circumstances of states on one hand and actors in civil society, is still quite unsatisfactory. There is something both wrong and inadequate in the attempt to separate the worlds of power and interests on one hand and that of critical minded activists, on the other. There is some faulty, rather quaint logic here that implies that we would have to change our position if, God forbid, state power would be thrust upon us. But, to be practical, the distinction, between the two worlds, though tempting, is not really viable. If we accept the validity of the “reasons of state,” we are not and cannot remain indifferent to the intense political struggle regarding the actions of those countries which enter into alliances with Iran. This means on our part the active defense of Cuba, Venezuela, etc precisely on the Iranian issue. This calls for active support for Iran trying to break out of isolation imposed by the US. “Reasons of state,” when the state involved is struggling against suffocation by the still very powerful hegemonic force, are valid political currency in the real political battles.

Human Rights – Yes! Alternative Regime – No
I do not sense that there is any serious contradiction between full support for Iran versus the United States plans for aggression and refusing, at the very same time, to condone many of the ugly violations of human rights and dignity.

But there is a contradiction between support for Iranian resistance and the claim that there exists a completely satisfactory alternative to the given regime in the form of a democratic opposition which could with sweep of its hand, as it were, enhance Iran’s prestige as a democratic entity – thus erecting a moral barrier to aggression against the country. With all due respect, the orientation on an alternative regime means faith in a new formation that would emerge rather quickly as the true and tested ally of the United States. Aggression might be avoided in the new circumstances precisely because now that we have pro-Western government, it has been rendered superfluous. The country and its assets would be in safe hands, just like Iraq today.

Castro and Chomsky have made the dangers crystal clear indeed. The bloody war in Iraq is far from being over. Afghanistan is a quagmire of quicksand. Turkey is opting for neutrality. Syria and Lebanon insist on their independence. Obama and the U.S. are running out of money and corporate U.S. has barred governmental access to the mint. Faced with significant, multiple regional defeats, the United States entertains dreams of a military fix that might reverse the trends. Israel is pinning its hopes on confrontation. War to protect the edifice of a crumbling hegemony seems to be, for the rulers of the U.S., a way out of the swamp.