Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Iran: Beyond Electoralism

To get what they want, both Ahmadi and Mousavi voters need to develop an ideology that lets them go beyond electoralism. Winning elections in a class society doesn't mean being able to make major changes, whether voters are looking for more economic justice (Ahmadi voters) or more freedom (Mousavi voters). This is true in any class society, but it's especially so in Iran, with its complex system of checks and balances.

In Iran, you have to win not only the presidency and a majority of the parliament but also a majority of the Assembly of Experts, an elected institution charged with electing or recalling the Leader of the Revolution, who in turn has the power to decide the composition of the Guardian Council.

Beyond the aforementioned elected offices, you have to win over or neutralize the power of those in civil society and the bureaucracy who do not subscribe to your agenda, whether cultural or economic. This applies to all societies.

In Iran, the bourgeoisie do not own the state as in the case of most other class societies, rather they are subordinated to it, but they still wield considerable influence over politics, and they can also use their economic power directly through the market rather than the state, e.g., causing capital flight, withholding investment, and so on. How to counteract that is no easy question.

Cultural obstacles to changes of the sort that Mousavi voters want are more diffuse than economic obstacles, crossing class lines. One Zogby poll of Iranians, conducted in 2006, revealed that 36% "want the country to become more religious and conservative," a slightly larger group than those who want it to become more liberal and secular (31%). It takes a lot of cultural work to convert those fence-sitters in the middle into political actors who actively support change, rather than passively giving consent to the status quo, and to neutralize the veto power of the 36 percent.

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