Friday, July 31, 2009

Human Rights and National Sovereignty

From the perspective of historical materialism, the end of politics is communist society: "an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all." The ruling ideas today elevate either "national sovereignty" or "human rights" (narrowly defined, devoid of socioeconomic and international dimensions1) to the end in itself. However, for historical materialists, "national sovereignty" and "human rights" are means to the aforementioned end. This distinguishes historical materialists from simple-minded nationalists and from Amnesty Internationalists.

1 Article 28 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized" (emphasis added). Needless to say, there is no worse negation of Article 28 than imperialism, which is antithetical to human rights.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

It Could Happen Here

Normally, the Western mass media love the stories of any old conflicts -- from electoral disputes to ethnic conflicts to even workers' uprisings -- in Southern nations of interest to the West, but they don't appear to find this story so amusing, as is suggested by the terseness of the report.
The riot, at the Tonghua Iron and Steel Works in Jilin Province in northern China, broke out after a visiting steel executive from a related company threatened mass layoffs at the Tonghua steel mills as part of a major restructuring of the state-owned company, China Daily said.

The riot followed a pattern of massive demonstrations that have taken place in various parts of the country over the past few years, many involving citizens outraged over government corruption or threatened with layoffs or orders to relocate.

The China Daily report said Chen Guojun, the steel executive who was beaten to death, had threatened 3,000 Tonghua steelworkers with layoffs, which he had said could take place within three days. He also had signaled that larger jobs cuts were likely at the struggling steel mill.

The report said the rioters blocked the police, ambulances and government officials from reaching Mr. Chen before he died. (David Barboza, "China Steel Executive Killed as Workers and Police Clash," New York Times, 27 July 2009)
That is not surprising. Shortly before this incident in China, "Workers at collapsed French car parts maker New Fabris threatened on Sunday to blow up their factory if they did not receive payouts by July 31 from auto groups Renault and Peugeot to compensate for their lost jobs" ("French Workers Threaten to Blow Up Factory," Reuters, 12 July 2009). It could happen here.

Ahmadinejad to Face a Vote of Confidence?

Now, finally good news for Greens in Iran ("Ahmadinejad Throws Resignation Out as Majlis Weighs In," Press TV, 27 July 2009):
As pressure piles up on the Iranian president to return to parliament and obtain a vote of confidence for his Cabinet, more than 200 Iranian lawmakers add voice to the matter by questioning his approach toward domestic politics.

The majority of the 290 lawmakers, riled up over what they see as the president having excessively delayed the reversal of his first deputy choice despite the direct intervention of Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, required on Monday that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "rectify his conduct".
Just as Mohammad Mossadegh had trouble lining up and maintaining the support of the right (e.g., Kashani) and the left (e.g., Tudeh) of Iranian republicanism, so does Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Some things never change in Iran. By the way, do you know that Parivash Fatemi, the widow of Hossein Fatemi, who served as Mossadegh's Foreign Minister and was the driving force behind his oil nationalization program, says that Hossein Fatemi's aspirations were fulfilled in the ninth government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, characterizing Ahmadinejad as a man of "obvious courage and daring," whose love of his country and people makes him the second coming of Fatemi?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Iran's Ahmadinejad Tells Judges to Free Protesters

This just in from AFP today: "Iran's Ahmadinejad Tells Judges to Free Protesters." That doesn't mean, however, that the protesters will be actually freed within ten days as the president's letter to Shahroudi said they ought to be. Hossein Derakhsahn, an Iranian-Canadian blogger and supporter of Ahmadinejad, is still in prison, arrested by Rafsanjani's people shortly after his return home last year, even though Ahmadinejad has spoken up for him.

In Iran, the presidential power is very limited, especially in the matter of civil liberties, which has been demonstrated time and again, both during the Khatami and Ahmadinejad eras.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A Secret Conspiracy of International Leftists against Imperialism

Khanome Yoshie wrote this yesterday for your entertainment:

How Many Leftists Are "United for Iran"?

So, how many leftists are United for Iran?  "8,000 people at the event in Paris, 4,000 in Stockholm, 3,000 in Amsterdam, more than 2,500 in Washington DC, 2,500 in New York, 2,000 in London. . . ," says, the sponsor of the global day of action on 25 July 2009.  The low numbers1 (in marked contrast to the high turnouts of protests against Israel's recent assault on Gaza) suggest that few non-Iranian leftists bothered to show up.

While a number of leftists have made impassioned pleas for solidarity with Iran's Green Movement, (throwing themselves into an obligatory intra-left battle royal that has, alas, eclipsed any battle against the illegitimate authority of unelected clerics in Iran), most leftists still appear to find it -- how shall we put it? -- on balance inadvisable to join such protests against the Iranian government as United4Iran's, devoid as they are of an anti-imperialist point of unity emphasizing "Hands Off Iran" as much as -- nay more than -- criticisms of the Iranian government.

It should be also noted that international leftists were evidently unmoved by an offer of free "Free Iran" t-shirts courtesy of American Apparel.  We find that most meritorious.  Let it never be said that international leftists fail to valiantly resist hipster capitalism.

By the way, it has also come to our attention that a notorious unrepentant Marxist and self-appointed scourge of "flunkies for Ahmadinejad" apparently refused to attend any of the United for Iran protests, curtly dismissing the whole Dutch-linked2 enterprise as "Darfur-like crapola."

Well, that certainly settles it for us: shocking as it may seem to some, there still is a secret conspiracy3 of international leftists against imperialism, whether they are for, against, or just plain indifferent to the President of Iran.4  We hope that this little known conspiracy proves a dangerous one that will grow ever larger, someday putting the fear of the Twelfth Imam into the international capitalists.

1  The turnouts were so underwhelming that the Associated Press felt obliged to mention protests of 20 Iranians each in Brazil and Pakistan to make it sound as if it wasn't the Western Thing that the global South just didn't understand: "In the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, some 20 Iranians -- among them refugees and students -- gathered outside the local press club to protest the Iranian crackdown, yelling 'Death to the dictator!' . . . About 20 gathered in a small square in Sao Paulo, Brazil, to take part in a 30-minute rally" (Jill Lawless, "Protesters Call for End to Iranian Rights Abuses," 25 July 2009).

2  The primary sponsor of the United for Iran protests, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, is a project of the Dutch Foundation for Human Security in the Middle East.  Note that "the Netherlands and the United States are the only countries in the world that openly budget funds to promote political changes" in Iran, e.g., the Hague contributing "630,000 euros" to Freedom House in 2003 for the purpose of establishing Gozaar, "a platform for Iranian opposition figures."  That grant was "part of a larger Dutch project" aimed at "promoting media pluralism in Iran," for which "15 million euros" was budgeted thanks to a bill introduced by "Farah Karimi (Green) and Hans van Baalen (VVD) in the Lower House in 2004" (Thomas Erdbrink and Thalia Verkade, "Haagse subsidie tegen regime Iran," NRC Handelsblad, first published on 16 September 2006, updated on 22 August 2008, Trans. Yoshie Furuhashi).  Ms. Karimi, a former member of the Iranian Mojahedin, just so happens to be a board member of the aforementioned Foundation for Human Security in the Middle East.  For more information about the collaboration of Ms. Karimi with Mr. van Baalen of the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), "the most vocal supporter of private enterprise in the Netherlands," see Harm Ede Botje and Joël Broekaert, "Nederlandse steun mediaprojecten in Iran gaat door" (Vrij Nederland, 7 July 2007); and "Iran boos over hulp Den Haag aan radio oppositie" (NRC Handelsblad, 25 June 2009).

3  Objecting to the notion of an international left-wing conspiracy, some cavilers may dare suggest: Aren't most leftists just really too lazy to get up and protest against anything?  Isn't it actually the case that most of them are lacking in sympathy for and solidarity with the oppressed, such as Iranians and Darfurians?  We dismiss such baseless accusations out of hand, which can only originate in the ill wishers on the Right plotting the destruction of the Left.

4  For reasons unknown to us, the international media, across the political spectrum, have found Dr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad really irresistible, as demonstrated by the fact that he has never been out of the spotlight since his 2005 election, no matter how many disasters -- such as the ongoing global economic crisis -- that ought to steal at least a little bit of media attention away from him befall the international proletariat.  We suggest that, in addition to many other much-debated factors such as social classes, perhaps might have also put his rival Mr. Mir-Hossein Mousavi, a man of considerable charms himself, at electoral disadvantage, though we are also aware of the noted Iranshenas and Mousavi supporter Dr. Hamid Dabashi's observations on Mr. "Mousavi's poorly run presidential campaign": "ill-advised, ill-prepared, sentimental, full of necessary colour symbolism but lacking substance, a clearly articulated platform, economic detail, political programming or an attempt to reach out to a wider spectrum of his constituency.  His campaign was too elitist, tied in its visual paraphernalia to a northern Tehran sensibility and lacking appeal across an oil-based economy. . . .   [During the presidential debates, he] rambled along, read from written statements in a barely audible voice, ran out of things to say before his time was over."

For more information on the mixed bags of mixed nuts as well as unexpected beauties found on both sides of the current political divide in Iran, consult

Sunday, July 26, 2009

How Many Leftists Are "United for Iran"?

"8,000 people at the [25 July 2009] event in Paris, 4,000 in Stockholm, 3,000 in Amsterdam, more than 2,500 in Washington DC, 2,500 in New York, 2,000 in London. . . ," says, the sponsor of the global day of action. The numbers suggest that few non-Iranian leftists showed up (when leftists join and mobilize for protests en masse, Paris, for instance, sees hundreds of thousands -- sometimes millions -- of protesters easily). While a number of leftists have made impassioned pleas for solidarity with Iran's Green Movement, (throwing themselves into an obligatory intra-left battle royal that has eclipsed any battle against the power of unelected clerics in Iran), most leftists appear to find it inadvisable to join the protests against the Iranian government (such as United4Iran's) that don't have an anti-imperialist point of unity emphasizing "Hands Off Iran" as much as criticism of the Iranian government's conduct in handling the Green protests.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Economic Sanctions = Human Rights Violations

The dominant ideology in the West tells us that human rights mean only civil and political rights and liberties, largely negative liberties of being free from arbitrary powers of the state. This ideology discounts or excludes the rights of individuals and nations to freely develop and enjoy material conditions that allow them to survive and flourish, even though the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a compromise document between the Western powers and the then still existent socialist states, includes some of such rights, e.g. "the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay"; and "the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control."

This socioeconomic dimension of human rights is discounted by the dominant Western ideology because, first of all, the United States, the leading power in the West, refuses to grant them to its own citizens, and secondly, even those Western powers that are social democratic at home, such as the West European states and Japan, engage in economic imperialism -- ranging from exaction of odious debt payments to economic sanctions -- that denies such rights to the rest of the world.

In the recent airplane accidents, more than 180 Iranians perished -- nearly ten times the reported official casualties (some of whom were basiji and government supporters) in the post-election conflicts in Iran. Even the voice of the power elite New York Times suggests that their deaths may have in part come about due to the US embargo making it impossible for Iran to perform adequate maintenance of its fleet of US-made aircraft. And yet where are the protests against this economic human rights violation? Are the advocates of human rights who see human rights violations in the Iranian state's action but not in the US state's action (even though the latter has killed more Iranians than the former), as is the case with, true advocates of human rights?

Friday, July 24, 2009

25 July 2009

Two protests on 25 July 2009. One is a grassroots protest against the US-backed coup in Honduras, spearheaded by SOA Watch South Florida. The other is a slickly packaged campaign to "to demand respect for the human rights of the Iranian people and to demonstrate worldwide solidarity with the civil rights movement in Iran" (a topic pleasing to Western powers), spearheaded by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, which is a project of the highly suspect Dutch Foundation for Human Security in the Middle East. You know which one gets more corporate media coverage.


On one hand, the West wants to isolate Iran economically, which distances the Iranians from the West politically and culturally as well; on the other hand, the West wants to gain an ability to broadcast its propaganda into Iran. It's a little schizophrenic. It might be simpler if the West went ahead and ended economic sanctions on Iran. Then, a sizable number of Iranians, of their own free will, would probably import more of the junk that the West wants to dump on Iran, as has been shown by the popularity of many kinds of Western junk in such former official enemies of the capitalist West as China and Viet Nam.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Ayatollah Watch

Liberals are trying very hard to read tea leaves, assiduously canvasing clerical opinions: Ayatollah Watch. Now their only hope is that enough unelected clerics would side with Rafsanjani to rein in the elected layman Ahmadinejad -- ironic.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"New Middle Classes" in India and Iran

While it should be clear from a socialist point of view that, in the long term, the interests of the bulk of the Green Movement participants (who appear to be largely of the "new middle classes" whose income and status depend more on their education than their property) and those of the bulk of Ahmadinejad voters (the urban and rural poor, urban and rural petty producers, etc.) are in sync, it would take a great deal of effort to clarify their common interests to both sides in the short term.

That is because, in the short term, the "new middle classes" may actually benefit from the kind of restructuring of Iran's political economy and its relation to the rest of the world (liberalizing its economy and opening it up to the West, while moving away from the NAM) that Rafsanjani, et al. envision. This is not a problem unique to Iran, as Prabhat Patnaik notes below:
Since Left ideas typically get nourishment from the literati and the urban intellectual strata, even though these ideas reach their fruition in the struggles of the workers and peasants, who are the victims of globalization but are sociologically distant from the intellectual strata, the Left movement gathers momentum in situations where the urban middle class has also suffered from globalization and hence makes common cause with the workers and the peasants. But it faces problems in situations where the urban middle class is a beneficiary of globalization. In such cases, the resistance to imperialism and globalization often gets championed by forces other than the Left; or, if the Left remains committed to the interests of the "basic classes" and resists globalization, it often suffers through isolation from the intellectual strata and the urban youth and students. . . .

The current anti-imperialist upsurge in Latin America, which has brought Left or Left-oriented governments to power over much of that continent, is a consequence of the long years of crises that hurt, and hence radicalized, the urban youth, students and intellectuals. On the other hand, in much of central Asia, and now Iran, where the urban youth has not directly experienced the adversity inflicted by globalization, imperialism still retains the capacity to mobilize, or at least claim the sympathy of, vast numbers of the urban population in so-called "orange", "tulip" and "velvet" "revolutions" that are supposed to bring in modernity and democracy together with neo-liberalism. In India, since the adversity of workers, peasants, agricultural labourers and petty producers, under globalization, has been accompanied by high growth rates, and rapid increases in incomes and opportunities for the urban middle class, a degree of pro-imperialism among this class which includes intellectuals, media persons and professionals, and hence a degree of exasperation with the Left's continued adherence to old "anti-imperialist shibboleths", is hardly surprising.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Ahmadinejad Defies Ayatollah on Vice President

It turns out that Ahmadinejad's first new cabinet nominee (for the post of first vice president) is Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, who caused stir and anger among the "right wing" of Iran last year for his remark that the Iranians are friends with the Israelis: Borzou Daragahi, "Ahmadinejad Defies Ayatollah on Vice President" (Los Angeles Times, 22 July 2009).

In the Iranian diaspora as well as the Western media, Ahmadinejad is often characterized as "hard-line," "conservative," "anti-Western," etc. But I rather think that he is just his own man -- really one of a kind in Iran, very idiosyncratic, sometimes in good ways (as in this case), sometimes in bad ways (as in his statements on the Holocaust).

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Hamid Dabashi vs. As'ad AbuKhalil!

Watching Hamid Dabashi and As'ad AbuKhalil fight is not unlike watching Bette Davis and Joan Crawford fight. Such divas. BTW, as you may have noticed, by now there's more infighting among leftists than any fighting against mollahs. As for the main event -- the battle of mollahs, between Khamenei and Rafsanjani! -- they don't do any fighting themselves. Instead they let their followers do their fighting. Clever mollahs. I bet that's how mollahs defeated Marxists during the Iranian revolution.

Friday, July 17, 2009


If the Green Movement doesn't have what it takes to deliver what its liberal and leftist supporters and participants in and out of Iran yearn for, it probably has just enough base to strengthen Rafsanjani's hands in Iran's domestic politics. But the Shark is not worth dying for, imho. He'll eat you up at the first opportunity after having used you to regain his power.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

From Iran to China, Skipping Honduras

As far as the Western mass media are concerned, they went from Iran (electoral conflict in an oil-rich country) to China (ethnic conflict in an oil-rich region), skipping Honduras (a coup d'état in an oil-poor country dependent on foreign aid and remittances where the USG has a military base).

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Iran Jews in Israel Prefer Ahmadinejad

Alas, Mr. Mousavi can't get any break. This just in from the Jerusalem Post:
Jul 6, 2009 23:58 | Updated Jul 7, 2009 2:34
Iran Jews in Israel prefer Ahmadinejad

Despite unrest and violence following last month's presidential elections in Iran, some Jewish Iranians living in Israel and abroad say life in the Islamic republic is better under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad than it would be under challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi.

At a conference of Iranian Jews in Jerusalem on Monday, leaders of the Mashadi Jewish community said that despite Ahmadinejad's blustery rhetoric against Israel, Iran is a safe place for Jews to practice their religion.

"Ahmadinejad speaks badly about Jews, but he is preferable to Mousavi," said Shlomo Zabihi, a Mashadi rabbi. The current government is relatively stable and provides a safe environment for Jews, he said.

Monday's event marked the first meeting of the Global Mashadi Jewish Federation, an umbrella organization of community and religious groups preserving the historical and cultural identity of Jews from Mashad, Iran's second largest city, with a population of about 2.5 million.

During the 1979 Islamic Revolution, many Mashadi Jews fled to the United States, primarily New York City - where some 6,000 Jews with ties to Mashad now live. There are almost no Jews in Mashad today, though an estimated 25,000 still live in Iran, concentrated in Teheran.

"They've found it very safe and pleasant, no problems," said Bahman Kamali, founder of the federation. "Actually, the regime during [the time of reformist president Mohammad] Khatami and the regime now have been very good with Jewish people. There has not been any problem."

Kamali said Ahmadinejad's calls for the destruction of Israel were not the same as condemnation or encouragement of violence against Jews in the Diaspora.

"There's a distinction between the two because Iranians, they respect the religions that have books, Christianity, Judaism," Kamali said. "They respect people freely going to the synagogues and praying there without any problems."

He doesn't think the Jewish community in Iran will face persecution stemming from political unrest following the disputed elections.

"I'm not concerned about that," said Kamali, who downplayed the political involvement of his group. "The purpose of this conference is not political. It's only our heritage, that we are proud of to be from Mashad, Iran, and we would like to preserve that."

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.