Sunday, September 30, 2007

Iran and Latin America

Iran has a unique structure of political rule: bureaucratic-collectivist government, in which the Leader balances interests and ambitions of various political factions, which represent different constituencies and are often in open conflict with one another. It's unlike both liberal democracy and state socialism. Quite interesting, actually. I can't think of any other government so factionalized.

What's the main difference among the factions in foreign policy?

Ahmadinejad would rather side with Latin socialists of Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and so on than with the Western power elites; Rafsanjani, Khatami, Qalibaf, etc. would rather side with the Western power elites than with Latin socialists if only Washington let them. It is difficult to figure out where Ali Khamenei stands.

Reformists, whom many Western liberals and leftists love, think little of Latin socialists: "'Do you really assume people like Chavez (and) Ortega . . . can be Iran's strategic allies?' the reformist daily Etemad-e-Melli said in an editorial Tuesday addressing Ahmadinejad" (emphasis added, Ali Akbar Dareini, "Iran's Discontent With Ahmadinejad Grows," Associated Press, 17 January 2007).

Chavez said to Ahmadinejad: «Es usted uno de los grandes luchadores antimperialistas de esta hora, de este cambio de época que amanece en el horizonte del planeta» (Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias, "Ahmadineyad es uno de los más grandes luchadores antiimperialistas," 27 September 2007). I.e., "You are one of the greatest anti-imperialist fighters today, this time of change of epoch that is dawning on the horizon of the planet."

We do live in interesting times, when Bretton Woods II may be slowly but surely unraveling, indeed a change of epoch, though not of mode of production.

The question is whether the Iranian people think like Chavez or the combined factions of reformists, Rafsanjaniasts, and technocratic neo-conservatives. If most of them think like the former, Iran will be a key nation for Non-Alignment of the 21st Century; if they think like the latter, Iran will be just another nation in the global South.


Unknown said...

I think it is sometimes difficult to gague where exactly the Iranian people stand - because they'll be criticizing the government all the time. But that does not mean they want a "regime change" - that is a neo-con and a liberal-left myth.

Similarly, when I was in Venezuela last year at the WSF - everyone I met (outside of the WSF attendees, and i don't mean the oligarchy) were criticising Chavez... Obviously that did not mean they were against Chavez...

The question is, to what extent is the Ahmadinejad leadership bringing the people along - as Chavez is doing with his 5-8 hours of weekly TV shows. Ahmadinejad cannot do that in Iran, because he is not the only game (faction) in town - and if he tries to take all of the spotlight, he will be quickly drummed down (because of the way the factions have to be balanced). However, he has had frequent interviews with the Iranian TV stations, and also his frequent trip to the "provinces" have given him the kind of exposure he needs to get the message across.

Iran and Venezuela are obviously at different stages of their revolutionary history - Iran has been at it for some 27 years... Venezuela, I think a bare half a decade. As such the level of involvement and excitement will be different ...

Yoshie said...

I largely agree with you.

The difficulty for Ahmadinejad is that many of the things that Chavez has done, winning the hearts and minds of the poor majority in Venezuela (eradication of illiteracy, establishment of health care, provision of subsidized food, and so on), had already been done in Iran before he was elected.

The Iranian Revolution has already accomplished the basic things that social revolution in the global South must first accomplish. What can be done to take this revolution to a higher stage, within the same political and economic framework, when the Leader himself, as well as the seeming majority of Iran's power elite, is seeking to take the nation into a more neoliberal direction? That is a question that I have been thinking about, and there is no easy answer to this, but I will post on this again later, after sorting out what I know. In the meantime, I'd love to hear what you think about this.

redwood said...

I think first there needs to be some definition of what a "higher stage" would mean. In the Iranian context, because it is an Islamic Republic - this would include a spiritual "higher stage" --- and I guess, if one were to discuss in this in a non-religious terms, then we'd talk about some level of fulfilment of what it means to be a human being (including intellectual, basic material etc.).

While Islam, and especially Shi'a Islam frowns on luxury - there is no question that material needs must be met - so that humans can then move towards spiritual/intellectual development.

So, assuming that this is the definition of a "higher stage" - then this requires a sound economic basic. And to some extent Iran, as you pointed out, has done this - -- but the reversal of these accomplishments are also very real:

The neo-liberal economics have shown to be failures all over the world - and 1) it would mean making rotten deals with imperialist powers. Both would lead to a deterioration of Iranian economies - in the sense of richer getting very rich and middle class and working class ending up destitute. And also 2) it would lead to a re-emergence of a neo-colonial corporatism that would hold economic power over the vast majority of the population.

I think that what needs to happen in Iran is a renewal or, restatement of the goal of the spiritual goals of Islam. And compare those goals with the kind of havoc that neo-liberal economics have caused elsewhere. How that can be done within the present structure ... I'm not so sure...

but part of it has to be increased level of information - such as translated books, documentaries etc. available in Iran that would explain to the people how the neo-liberal policies are harmful... I remember an Iranian MP saying a few months back, that those advocating privatization are reading 1980s World Bank tracts...

Yoshie said...

Thank you so much for your comment, Altaf.

Iran, even within its existing framework of political economy, still has far larger room for political debate and social conflict than former socialist nations. That's a big plus.

The question is whether working people -- workers, farmers, small tradesmen, etc. -- can make use of governmental and non-governmental associations that already exist or can be newly created to come up with a clear alternative, based on their interpretation of Islam but also learning from other countries' experiences, to neoliberal capitalism.

Iranian workers and others are very good at organizing protests and strikes, but, from here, it looks to me that in most cases protests and strikes are organized based on enterprises or industrial sectors or professional identities, focused on immediate demands. I wonder if people can organize themselves on the basis of opposition to neoliberal economics as such.

Can we help Iranians go in that direction, maybe by increasing availability of criticism of neoliberal economics in the Farsi language on the Net?