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Iran, Ciphers and Social Facts

Reading liberal and left-wing com­men­tary on what’s going on in Iran, I’ve been rather shocked. Everyone–including this writer–transforms into a savagely incisive Iran scholar equipped to pon­tif­i­cate on Iranian society, its domestic political insti­tu­tions, the velayat-e faqih, the social com­po­si­tion of Ahmadine­jad sup­port­ers and Mousavi sup­port­ers, etc. etc., enlight­ened by studious Twitter research, perusal of YouTube videos, a glance at Juan Cole’s blog, and for the extremely careful, a quick read through the last 50 pages of A People Inter­rupted.

The axis around which com­men­tary spins isn’t what the Iranians want, or what they think will be good for their society. For radicals the search is on for that rare animal, Rev­o­lu­tion. Said beast looks a tad like another species in his genus, Reform, and a bit less like two other related species, Protest and Riot. See, when dusky Middle East­ern­ers get agitated, we hope for the best: We Hope for Democracy. Mea culpa. Trouble is, things are a touch more com­pli­cated than that. Consider this aston­ish­ingly naive, dogmatic, and idiotic comment:

That said, the tactical and strategic supe­ri­or­ity of organized non­vi­o­lent revolt, of the kind seen in this video — in contrast to yesterday’s scattered street skir­mishes and battles — is what offers the Iranian resis­tance its fastest and cleanest path to victory.

What this scene tells us is that at the grass­roots level, there are many Iranians that “get” how it works. And that means that yesterday’s wave of violent repres­sion by the state can already be chalked up as an Epic Fail. It didn’t succeed a whit in quelling the revolt.

The piece from which it is extracted doesn’t comment on the social com­po­si­tion of the pro­test­ers. Nor their demands. Nor what per­cent­age of Iranian society they represent. Changes in who is protest­ing or why they’re protest­ing are sidelined. Calls from students for strikes are cast as har­bin­gers of socialist rev­o­lu­tion. Such writing is a simple and idle cel­e­bra­tion of protest. This isn’t analysis. It’s cheer-leading, scribbled away on a computer terminal “Somewhere in a country called America,” words like “resis­tance” and “revolt” in lieu of pom-poms and chants, ulti­mately, it being perhaps a vicarious variant of activis­tism.

This isn’t to say labor has been quiet. The Iranian bus workers’ union released a statement dis­avow­ing support for any candidate but calling for sup­port­ing the pro­test­ers. This is brave, because if there is a crackdown, they may well be subject to it, as will the students whose tweets have per­co­lated around the internet, whose faces have appeared on a million YouTube videos, who will need sol­i­dar­ity of a somewhat different sort when the crackdown begins. Mousavi is also cir­cu­lat­ing a call for a general strike. There are “uncon­firmed reports” of a general strike involving 30 percent of the workforce (betting odds are that they’ll stay unconfirmed).

Here’s what else we know and what’s rel­a­tively undis­puted: Khamanei threw in his lot with Ahmadine­jad on Friday, sup­port­ing the election results at a rally that appar­ently drew in excess of a million people. On Saturday, amid violent repres­sion, mere thousands of par­tic­i­pants came out into the streets (the number 3,000 has been widely reported. Earlier in the week, millions were out in Tehran and Isfahan). The state hasn’t yet unleashed a hundredth of its repres­sive instru­ments. Among the many killed, one name has taken on par­tic­u­lar salience: Neda Agha-Soltan, an Iranian young woman killed Saturday.

Richard Cohen writes of her funeral. One woman he inter­viewed comments, “I’m scared that all the blood shed for this cause may be wasted.” Today, a thousand pro­test­ers came together in Haft-e-tir Square in central Tehran. They were swiftly dispersed. Basij out­num­bered pro­test­ers by 3:1 or 4:1. Imagine 5,000 pro­test­ers disputing an election in Herald Square. It’d merit a news-story, perhaps. Robert Fisk calls the pro­test­ers cause “hopeless.” Other Iranians report that “The people know that this is not about regime change. Most people want Iran to remain an Islamic Republic. But they feel that perhaps there is a way open to them now to improve things a little from within the system. At least to keep alive the repub­li­can elements of the system that [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad’s years in power have been eroding.”

On Sunday, Mousavi called the elections ille­git­i­mate and said that they should be tossed out. A week ago, he’d claimed victory before the votes were even counted. Today, mere hundreds gathered, alacritously dispersed by basij. Fraud? Maybe, except this datum on the Guardian Council stu­diously ignores Iranian voting procedure, wherein Iranians can vote wherever they wish, and this analysis suggests that claims of fraud are fraudulent.

Mousavi, meanwhile, is an execrable figure, by all accounts except for the ones getting the most media coverage, deeply involved in repres­sion, although now a paladin of pro­gres­sive change. It doesn’t seem that Iranian hopes for him had been so high: ““We thought that perhaps, being so well-established in the regime would give him the ability to really change things.”

Green Rev­o­lu­tion? Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.

NB: This piece lavishes some attention on the Western left, when the focus should be osten­si­bly Iran. Again and again, I can’t help but think that Iran is for the Iranians to figure out. The Western left–since we is us–is for us to figure out. So that includes trying to tell the truth about Iran. But since our readers are prin­ci­pally and unfor­tu­nately ourselves, it means offering meta-critique too, the two best of which I’ve seen are at Jews Sans Fron­tieres and Lenin’s Tomb, neither of which I agree with fully, but both thought­ful and considered.

the tradition of all past gen­er­a­tions weighs like an alp upon the brain of the living

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9 comments to Iran, Ciphers and Social Facts

  • Mousavi is an accident of history. When tyhe masses are moving, and without a rev­o­lu­tion­ary party, a Mousavi, Peron, Nasser come to the front.

    Hopefully Mousavi will call for a new government.

    This is 1905 Russia, not 1917 yet.

    • Renegade–
      It may be. But I haven’t seen evidence for it yet. My general, perhaps ill-considered impres­sion is that the regime and the Islamic Rev­o­lu­tion have a great deal more legit­i­macy than is commonly supposed, although true, the unleash­ing of violence has certainly sapped some of it.

  • […] draft of history” being written in Iran. Speaking to this point, Max Ajl on his blog, Jewbonics: “Reading liberal and left-wing com­men­tary on what’s going on in Iran, I’ve been rather […]

  • I am not a Mousavi enthu­saist, but as an Iranian, I have found the so called pro­gres­sive voices com­pletely and utterly dis­s­a­point­ing after the election. The hate they (and I) harbor for the main stream media has gone to their head. Because their analysis was basically a 180 degree reversal of what they heard on the MSM, when the truth, at least the amounts of it we know so far, is neither this or that.

    For whatever reason I can’t under­stand, these alle­ga­tions of fraud are only attrib­uted to Mousavi’s camp. That’s when ALL THREE can­di­dates except Ahad­mine­jad, vocally and strongly condemned both the interior ministry and the guardian council for running a strongly prob­lem­atic election.

    I’ve trans­lated some of the charges they put forth here:

    And not only did Ahmadine­jad declare victory early as well, but A WEEK BEFORE the election, Keyhan (the state newspaper closest to his ilk) actually WROTE that he would win by 64%. So I’m not sure how Mousavi’s dec­la­ra­tion of victory means he’s lying.

    • Max

      I will look into these claims carefully. I thank for for not levying the accu­sa­tion that I’m an Ahmadine­jad supporter (for one thing, I literally do not know what that could mean. Iran isn’t my country). I hope you appre­ci­ate that I’m inter­ested in getting at what really happened. I agree that articles like James Petras’s and Paul Craig Robert’s haven’t been helpful. I don’t aim to be lumped in with them.
      But I’ve also been unsat­is­fied with pro­gres­sive com­men­tary on the election, from those screaming about a a Velvet Coup (my impres­sion is that Mousavi’s policies were unsavory and should have been rejected on their merits), to those blath­er­ing about “Rev­o­lu­tion,” and to those screaming about “sol­i­dar­ity”; they will forget Iran in a month.

  • I didn’t want to name any names, but yes, as an Iranian, as a protester, and as a non-Mousavite, I was really dis­ap­pointed with Roberts and Petras.

    I too only want to get to the bottom of things. I thought it hys­ter­i­cal that Dabashi kept saying this is a “social belief” (or whatever he said about the fraud). From an Iranian per­spec­tive, it makes a little sense at least. I know what he means. But sitting on Al Jazeera and saying that is really stupid.

    You’re last paragraph could have been mine. This was neither a velvet rev­o­lu­tion or any other kind of rev­o­lu­tion … even if many were hoping it to be. And all of those screaming Iran’s name right now will either forget us in a week, or go back to trying to find a way to bomb us to rubble and ash.

    • In my opinion, Dabashi has truly shamed himself through­out this affair. I artic­u­lated my position at the Q-and-A of an event with him last night, and his position was basically blowing smoke and obfus­cat­ing. I tried to ask him, what of the “social fact” that many Ahmadine­jad sup­port­ers must too think that THEIR votes matter (or that Ahmadinejad’s victory was the relevant “social fact”? But asking this question tarred me as an Ahmadine­jad supporter, and hence, endless evasions.
      I’d like to ask you your opinion of this piece by Mark Weisbrot:
      and also if you could send me an e-mail @, I’d like to ask you some questions about what’s going on in Iran. I plan to write a longer piece about this for a broader audience and would really appre­ci­ate your per­spec­tive.

  • Max, I have responded to your comment over at American Leftist, although I doubt that it doesn’t say anything that you don’t already know. I am also con­sid­er­ing elab­o­rat­ing on that response in even more depth in a sub­se­quent blog post, but that won’t happen until sometime early next week. As for Pedestrian’s dismay with “pro­gres­sive voices”, I have addressed that subject quite directly in my post entitled, “The Ostriches”, the one that you responded to with a comment.

  • oops, a little con­vu­luted grammar there, but I think you know what I mean

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