Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

June 29, 2009

Red Roza from Tehran

Filed under: Iran — louisproyect @ 11:03 pm

(from Andreas Malm and Shora Esmailian’s “Iran on the Brink”)

Two years into Roza’s university studies, debate among the students ceased. Disappointment with Khatami and his unfulfilled promises muffled their voices. Roza kept reading on her own, spending her afternoons in the university library. One day, as she skimmed through a dictionary of political ideologies, she reached “S” and read the entry for socialism. She was astonished: “This was what I had always believed in, without knowing it!” Excited, she searched the Internet for “socialism” in Farsi: the hits were uncountable. Even more excited, Roza sent emails requesting further information to all the Iranian socialist groups she could find (15, at the time), but only one responded to her questions – an Iranian man living in a Scandinavian country. An intensive correspondence followed, as he advised her about further reading; now she calls him “my mentor”.

At home, by her bed, she gingerly lays out the books she has been able to buy: Capital in Farsi, Mandel’s Introduction to Marxist Economic Theory, a bulky volume on the history of the Tudeh party. They are in mint condition:

They were so expensive I don’t dare to make any notes in them. I use a notepad instead, and reading Marx is very difficult, so I do what I used to do in chemistry: I set up formulas. When I had first become a socialist, I wanted to get the message out, I wanted all my student mates to know. I touted the books, scribbled slogans in the toilets, pasted a picture of Marx on my folder so it would be clearly visible for anyone passing by in the corridor… until my mentor told me: “Are you mad? Don’t you know that being a socialist carries the death punishment in Iran? Are you not aware that the regime executed thousands of Leftists in the 1980s?” I decided to be more discreet.

In the early months of 2004, word of a planned May Day demonstration in Tehran was circulating. On a blog, Roza had come across some like-minded students in her city and they decided to go. For months, Roza spun a yarn for her parents to get their permission. At the demonstration, “the first communist I met, I fell in love with. I was walking around there in the crowd at the industrial zone, enraptured … .” Some of her high hopes were, however, quickly dashed. Enrolling in Komiteye Hamahangi, she was challenged by men and their patronising attitudes: “‘Who are you, are you a real worker?’, they would say. And when I asked about the revolution they would not respond. I would ask ‘What do you mean by “abolishing wage labour”, what is it supposed to look like in real life? Either one works and gets some money for it, or one works and gets a bag of rice and a chicken – what is it that you want?’ They didn’t specify.”

Roza has some criticism for those she calls “middle-class feminists” as well. When she married her “communist”, Roza ensured herself of absolute equality in the marriage contract – equal right to divorce, shared custody in case of divorce, the right for her to travel or work without permission from the husband – but this, she states emphatically, is not all there is to feminist politics: “The middle-class feminists here are only interested in equality with their own men. They don’t bother to contact working women, to try find common ground with them, even though they are suffering a much worse oppression. Poor women here are completely dependent on their men and can do nothing if they are raped or beaten. They have no economic safety net whatsoever.”

After her encounter with organised feminism and socialism in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Roza took up writing herself. Her computer is now filled with Marxist classics downloaded from the Farsi-language division of the Marxist Internet Archive, as well as her own short stories, essays and commentaries on subjects ranging from the Khatonabad massacre to the merits and demerits of Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi. No money to buy a printer, her eyes ache from all her onscreen work.

In 2004 and 2005, Roza Javan reached some fame in the virtual networks of the Iranian diaspora and the progressive communities inside the country. She’s the webmaster of two sites in Farsi; one feminist, one socialist: “Many students are curious about socialism and enter into intellectual trajectories similar to mine, now that they have no illusions left about reformism. But they are starved, they have no food for their thoughts! They don’t know where to turn, there is no organisation capable of reaching out to them, it is difficult to find others of the same mind. Dictatorship means stalemate.”

“Brain-drain” is one of the most universally recognised problems of Iran, and the government is anxious to stem the tide of students, numbering in the thousands, who leave the country every year immediately after examinations. Emigration is the most popular route out of the post-reformist deadlock. To Roza, however, it is unthinkable: “As a young girl, my biggest dream was to take off the hijab, put on a short skirt, and run with the wind in my hair. Not even such a small dream can come true in this country. But I will stay. We need a new revolution to get our freedom.”

At the time of this writing, in spring 2006, Roza Javan and her husband live somewhere not far from the capital. She runs her two websites, but keeps a low profile, feeling the heat from recent political developments. Her pseudonym alludes to Rosa Luxemburg. Javan means young: the young Rosa.

Two important articles on Iran

Filed under: Iran — louisproyect @ 6:25 pm

Iran and Leftist Confusion

by Reese Erlich

When I returned from covering the Iranian elections recently, I was surprised to find my email box filled with progressive authors, academics and bloggers bending themselves into knots about the current crisis in Iran. They cite the long history of U.S. interference in Iran and conclude that the current unrest there must be sponsored or manipulated by the Empire.

That comes as quite a shock to those risking their lives daily on the streets of major Iranian cities fighting for political, social and economic justice.

Some of these authors have even cited my book, The Iran Agenda, as a source to prove U.S. meddling. Whoa there, pardner. Now we’re getting personal.

The large majority of American people, particularly leftists and progressives, are sympathetic to the demonstrators in Iran, oppose Iranian government repression and also oppose any U.S. military or political interference in that country. But a small and vocal number of progressives are questioning that view, including authors writing for Monthly Review online, Foreign Policy Journal, and prominent academics such as retired professor James Petras.

They mostly argue by analogy. They correctly cite numerous examples of CIA efforts to overthrow governments, sometimes by manipulating mass demonstrations. But past practice is no proof that it’s happening in this particular case. Frankly, the multi-class character of the most recent demonstrations, which arose quickly and spontaneously, were beyond the control of the reformist leaders in Iran, let alone the CIA.

Let’s assume for the moment that the U.S. was trying to secretly manipulate the demonstrations for its own purposes. Did it succeed? Or were the protests reflecting 30 years of cumulative anger at a reactionary system that oppresses workers, women, and ethnic minorities, indeed the vast majority of Iranians? Is President Mahmood Ahmadinejad a “nationalist-populist,” as claimed by some, and therefore an ally against U.S. domination around the world? Or is he a repressive, authoritarian leader who actually hurts the struggle against U.S. hegemony?

Full: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2009/06/28-10

Tehran, June 2009

Kaveh Ehsani, Arang Keshavarzian and Norma Claire Moruzzi

June 28, 2009

(Kaveh Ehsani is assistant professor of international studies at DePaul University. Arang Keshavarzian is associate professor of Middle East and Islamic studies at New York University. Both are editors of Middle East Report. Norma Claire Moruzzi is associate professor of political science and gender and women’s studies at the University of Illinois-Chicago.)

The morning after Iran’s June 12 presidential election, Iranians booted up their computers to find Fars News, the online mouthpiece of the Islamic Republic’s security apparatus, heralding the dawn of a “third revolution.” Many an ordinary Iranian, and many a Western pundit, had already adopted such dramatic language to describe the burgeoning street demonstrations against the declaration by the Ministry of Interior that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the sitting president, had received 64 percent of the vote to 34 percent for his main challenger, Mir Hossein Mousavi. But the editors of Fars News were referring neither to the protests, as were the people in the streets, nor to the prospect that the unrest might topple the Islamic Republic, as were some of the more wistful commentators. Rather, the editors were labeling the radical realignment of Iranian politics that they wish for. This realignment would complete the removal of the old guard, as did the “first” revolution of 1978-1979, and consolidate the rule of inflexible hardliners, as did the “second revolution” symbolized by the US Embassy takeover of 1979.

Whatever history’s verdict on the desiderata of Fars News, neither the institutional structure nor the political culture of the Islamic Republic will emerge unchanged from the crisis following the 2009 election. The stakes are nothing less than these: Should the protesters persevere, the limited traditions of political and civil rights and citizen participation in the Islamic Republic may be considerably strengthened. Should Ahmadinejad and his supporters prevail instead, the political system in Iran may lose all remaining meaningful traits of a republic.

As in 1979, or in 1997, when the “reformist” cleric Mohammad Khatami captured the presidency, or in 2005, when Ahmadinejad won his own (highly contested) landslide victory, the Western media has been caught off guard by events on the Iranian stage. The crudest analysts insist upon seeing an epic battle between the government and “the people” — but neither of these actors is unitary. Others, writing from left, right and center, extrapolate theories from the supposed characteristics of the dramatis personae. Hence “the opposition,” urban, educated, technologically savvy and broadly supportive of Mousavi, is said to be arrayed against the poor, exaggeratedly pious peasants and plebeians who back Ahmadinejad. Such interpretations are also far too simple. They fail to explain why the election campaign was so competitive and why the popular reaction became so virulent once the scale of the fraud employed by the regime to fix the election for Ahmadinejad became evident.

The conflict over the 2009 election has sent multiple, cross-cutting fracture lines both through the core of the regime and through Iranian society.

Full: http://www.merip.org/mero/mero062809.html

1905: Lessons for Iran

Filed under: Iran — louisproyect @ 5:36 pm

Father Gapon

From V.I. Lenin, “Revolutionary Days”:

In reviewing the events of Bloody Sunday one is struck by the combination of naive patriarchal faith in the tsar and the fierce armed street fighting against the tsarist rule. The first day of the Russian revolution brought the old Russia and the new face to face with startling force and showed the death agony of the peasants’ age-old faith in “Our Father the Tsar”, and the birth of a revolutionary people, the urban proletariat. No wonder the European bourgeois newspapers say that Russia of January 10 is no longer the Russia of January 8. No wonder the cited German Social—Democratic newspaper[1] recalls how seventy years ago the working-class movement started in England, how in 1834 the English workers held street demonstrations to protest against the banning of the trade unions, how in 1838 they drew up the “People’s Charter” at monster meetings near Manchester, and how Parson Stephens proclaimed “the right, of every man that breathes God’s free air and treads upon God’s free earth to have his home and hearth.” And the same parson called on the assembled workers to take up arms.

Here, in Russia, too, a priest found himself at the head of the movement; one day he appealed for a march with a peaceful petition to the tsar himself, and the next day he issued a call for revolution. “Comrades, Russian workers!” Father Georgi Gapon wrote, after that bloody day, in a letter read at a meeting of liberals. “We no longer have a tsar.

Today a river of blood divides him from the Russian people. It is time for the Russian workers to begin the struggle for the people’s freedom without him. For today I give you my blessing. Tomorrow I shall be with you. Today I am busy working for our cause.”

This is not Father Georgi Gapon speaking. This is the voice of those thousands upon thousands, of those millions upon millions of Russian workers and peasants who until now could believe naively and blindly in the Tsar Father and seek alleviation of their unbearable lot from Our Father the Tsar “himself”, who put the blame for all the atrocities and outrages, the tyranny and plunder, only on the officials that were deceiving the tsar. Generation after generation of downtrodden, half-civilised, rustic existence cut off from the world tended to strengthen this faith. Every month of life of the new, urban, industrial, literate Russia has been undermining and destroying this faith. The past decade of the working-class movement has produced thousands of advanced proletarian Social-Democrats who have consciously broken with this faith. It has educated scores of thousands of workers in whom the class instinct, strengthened in the strike movement and fostered by political agitation, has shattered this faith to its foundations. Behind these scores of thousands, however, stood hundreds of thousands, millions, of toiling and exploited people, proletarians and semi-proletarians, suffering every insult and indignity, in whom this faith could still survive. They were not ready for revolt, they could only beg and plead. Their feelings and their mood, their level of knowledge and political experience were expressed by Father Georgi Gapon; herein lies the historic significance of the role played at the beginning of the Russian revolution by a man who, but yesterday unknown, has today become the hero of the hour in St. Petersburg and, as a result, in the entire European press.

It is clear now why the St. Petersburg Social-Democrats, whose letters we quoted above, at first treated Gapon, as they could not help doing, with distrust. A man who wore the cassock, who believed in God and acted under the august patronage of Zubatov and the secret police, could not but arouse suspicion. Whether he was sincere or not in rending his cassock and cursing the fact that he belonged to that vile social-estate, the priesthood, which robs and demoralises the people, no one could say with certainty, beyond those who knew him well personally, that is, a mere handful. Only the course of historical events could decide this, only facts, facts, facts. And the facts decided in Gapon’s favour.

Will Social-Democracy be able to gain the lead of this spontaneous movement? our St. Petersburg comrades asked themselves with concern, seeing the swift irresistible growth of the general strike, which is involving unusually broad strata of the proletariat, seeing the magnetism of Gapon’s influence on the “backward” masses who were so ignorant that they could be swept off their feet even by an agent-provocateur. And the Social-Democrats not only did not encourage any naive illusions with regard to the possibility of peaceful petitioning but, on the contrary, opposed Gapon in argument, openly and firmly defending all their views and their tactical line. History, which the working-class masses were making without Social-Democracy, has confirmed the correctness of these views and the tactical line. The logic of the proletariat’s class position proved stronger than Gapon’s mistakes, naïvetés, and illusions. Grand Duke Vladimir, acting on behalf of the tsar and invested with all the power of the tsar, undertook by his executioner’s exploit to demonstrate to the working-class masses the very thing that the Social-Democrats have always demonstrated and will continue to demonstrate to them through the printed and spoken word.

The masses of workers and peasants who still retained a vestige of faith in the tsar were not ready for insurrection, we said. After January 9 we have the right to say that now they are ready for insurrection and will rise. By his massacre of unarmed workers “Our Father the Tsar” himself has driven them to the barricades and given them their first lessons in barricade fighting. The lessons of “Our Father the Tsar” will not be lost.

It remains for the Social-Democrats to see to it that the news of the bloody days in St. Petersburg is spread as far and as wide as possible; to rally and organise their forces still better and popularise still more energetically the slogan they have long since advanced: general armed uprising of the people.

Leon Trotsky, “1905”:

The forms taken by the historic events of January 9 could not, of course, have been foreseen by anyone. The priest whom history had so unexpectedly placed for a few days at the head of the working masses imposed the imprint of his personality, his views and his priestly status on the events. The real content of these events was concealed from many eyes by their form. But the inner significance of January 9 goes far beyond the symbolism of the procession to the Winter Palace. Gapon’s priestly robe was only a prop in that drama; the protagonist was the proletariat. The proletariat began with a strike, united itself, advanced political demands, came out into the streets, drew to itself the enthusiastic sympathy of the entire population, clashed with the troops and set off the Russian revolution. Gapon did not create the revolutionary energy of the workers of St. Petersburg; he merely released it, to his own surprise. The son of a priest, and then a seminarian and student at the Aeligious Academy, this agitator, so obviously encouraged by the police, suddenly found himself at the head of a crowd of a hundred thousand men and women. The political situation, his priestly robe, the elemental excitement of the masses which, as yet, had little political consciousness, and the fabulously rapid course of events turned Gapon into a “leader.”

A spinner of fantasies on a psychological subsoil of adventurism, a southerner of sanguine temperament with a touch of the confidence man about him, a total ignoramus in social matters, Gapon was as little able to guide events as he was to foresee them. Events completely overtook him.

The liberals persisted for a long time in the belief that the entire secret of the events of January 9 lay in Gapon’s personality. It contrasted him with the social democrats as though he were a political leader who knew the secret of controlling the masses and they a doctrinaire sect. In doing so they forgot that January 9 would not have taken place if Gapon had not encountered several thousand politically conscious workers who had been through the school of socialism. These men immediately formed an iron ring around him, a ring from which he could not have broken loose even if he had wanted to. But he made no attempt to break loose. Hypnotized by his own success, he let himself be carried by the waves.

But although, on the very next day after Bloody Sunday, we ascribed to Gapon a wholly subordinate political role, we all undoubtedly overestimated his personality. With his halo of holy anger, with a pastor’s curses on his lips, he seemed from afar almost to be a Biblical figure. It seemed as though powerful revolutionary passions had been awakened in the breast of this young priest employed at a Petersburg transit prison. And what happened? When the lights burned low, Gapon was seen by every one to be the utter political and moral nonentity he really was. His posturing before socialist Europe, his pathetic “revolutionary” writings from abroad, both crude and naive, his return to Russia, his conspiratorial relations with the government, the pieces of silver dealt out by Count Witte, Gapon’s pretentious and absurd interviews with representatives of the conservative press, and finally, the wretched betrayal which caused his end – all these finally destroyed any illusions concerning the Gapon of January 9.

We cannot help recalling the shrewd words of Viktor Adler, the leader of the Austrian social democrats, who, on reading the first telegram which announced Gapon’s departure from Russia, said: “A pity … It would have been better for his name in history if he had disappeared from the scene as mysteriously as he had come upon it. We would have been left with a beautiful romantic legend about the priest who opened the floodgates of the Russian revolution. There are men,” Adler added with the subtle irony so characteristic of him, “whom the role of martyrs suits better than that of party comrades.”

June 28, 2009

Iran not a Twitter revolution

Filed under: Iran — louisproyect @ 11:44 pm

June 27, 2009

Chagnon among the Yanomamo

Filed under: anthropology,evolutionary psychology,Yanomami — louisproyect @ 5:59 pm

When I first got word of the Jared Diamond/New Yorker magazine scandal, I could not help but think of Napoleon Chagnon and the Yanomami. Just around the time that the Marxism list was launched, a big fight broke out among anthropologists over Chagnon’s fieldwork with the Amazon rainforest Indians provoked by the publication of Patrick Tierney’s “Darkness in El Dorado: How Scientists and Journalists Devastated the Amazon”. Sides were drawn in the profession between those pro and con Chagnon, who at least unlike Jared Diamond had professional qualifications in the field. In doing some preliminary research on the Chagnon-Tierney dispute, I have learned that some experts in the field without any apparent axe to grind have faulted his research.

I plan to revisit the controversy in light of what I have learned about evolutionary psychology, particularly through my reading of Jared Diamond’s “The Third Chimpanzee” but want to start off by posting some excerpts from the fifth edition of Chagnon’s “Yanomamo”, a book that was titled “Yanomamo: the fierce people” in its initial publication in 1977. Given all the controversy his research has generated, it is understandable why he would have dropped the fierce people, especially since the global perception that they are facing extinction. It would be like writing a book in 1940 titled “The Aggressive Jew”.

The excerpts below are not intended to be an introduction to Chagnon’s work, but only passages that struck my eye for obvious reasons except for the last, which I will explain beforehand. For a useful presentation of Chagnon’s approach, I have made available an article from the 1988 Science magazine titled “Life Histories, Blood Revenge, and Warfare in a Tribal Population” at http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/chagnon.pdf.

1. Chagnon meets the Yanomamo:

My heart began to pound as we approached the village and heard the buzz of activity within the circular compound. Mr. Barker commented that he was anxious to see if any changes had taken place while he was away and wondered how many of them had died during his absence. I nervously felt my back pocket to make sure that my notebook was still there and felt personally more secure when I touched it.

The entrance to the village was covered over with brush and dry palm leaves. We pushed them aside to expose the low opening to the village. The excitement of meeting my first Yanomamo was almost unbearable as I duck-waddled through the low passage into the village clearing.

I looked up and gasped when I saw a dozen burly, naked, sweaty, hideous men staring at us down the shafts of their drawn arrows! Immense wads of green tobacco were stuck between their lower teeth and lips making them look even more hideous, and strands of dark-green slime dripped or hung from their nostrils—strands so long that they clung to their pectoral muscles or drizzled down their chins. We arrived at the village while the men were blowing a hallucinogenic drug up their noses. One of the side effects of the drug is a runny nose. The mucus is always saturated with the green powder and they usually let it run freely from their nostrils. My next discovery was that there were a dozen or so vicious, underfed dogs snapping at my legs, circling me as if I were to be their next meal. I just stood there holding my notebook, helpless and pathetic. Then the stench of the decaying vegetation and filth hit me and I almost got sick. I was horrified. What kind of welcome was this for the person who came here to live with you and learn your way of life, to become friends with you? They put their weapons down when they recognized Barker and returned to their chanting, keeping a nervous eye on the village entrances…

As we walked down the path to the boat, I pondered the wisdom of having decided to spend a year and a half with these people before I had even seen what they were like. I am not ashamed to admit that had there been a diplomatic way out, I would have ended my fieldwork then and there. I did not look forward to the next day—and months—when I would be left alone with the Yanomamo; I did not speak a word of their language, and they were decidedly different from what I had imagined them to be. The whole situation was depressing, and I wondered why I ever decided to switch from physics and engineering in the first place. I had not eaten all day, I was soaking wet from perspiration, the bareto were biting me, and I was covered with red pigment, the result of a dozen or so complete examinations I had been given by as many very pushy Yanomamo men. These examinations capped an otherwise grim day. The men would blow their noses into their hands, flick as much of the mucus off that would separate in a snap of the wrist, wipe the residue into their hair, and then carefully examine my face, arms, legs, hair, and the contents of my pockets. I asked Barker how to say, ‘Your hands are dirty’; my comments were met by the Yanomamo in the following way: They would ‘clean’ their hands by spitting a quantity of slimy tobacco juice into them, rub them together, grin, and then proceed with the examination.

2. The Yanomamo make a fool of Chagnon:

At first I tried to use kinship terms alone to collect genealogies, but Yanomamo kinship terms, like the kinship terms in all systems, are ambiguous at some point because they include so many possible relatives (as the term ‘uncle’ does in our own kinship system). Again, their system of kin classification merges many relatives that we ‘separate’ by using different terms: They call both their actual father and their father’s brother by a single term, whereas we call one ‘father’ and the other ‘uncle.’ I was forced, therefore, to resort to personal names to collect unambiguous genealogies or ‘pedigrees’. They quickly grasped what I was up to and that I was determined to learn everyone’s ‘true name’, which amounted to an invasion of their system of prestige and etiquette, if not a flagrant violation of it. They reacted to this in a brilliant but devastating manner: They invented false names for everybody in the village and systematically learned them, freely revealing to me the ‘true’ identities of everyone. I smugly thought I had cracked the system and enthusiastically constructed elaborate genealogies over a period of some five months. They enjoyed watching me learn their names and kinship relationships. I naively assumed that I would get the ‘truth’ to each question and the best information by working in public. This set the stage for converting my serious project into an amusing hoax of the grandest proportions. Each ‘informant’ would try to outdo his peers by inventing a name even more preposterous or ridiculous than what I had been given by someone earlier, the explanations for discrepancies being “Well, he has two names and this is the other one.’ They even fabricated devilishly improbable genealogical relationships, such as someone being married to his grandmother, or worse yet, to his mother-in-law, a grotesque and horrifying prospect to the Yanomamo. I would collect the desired names and relationships by having my informant whisper the name of the person softly into my ear, noting that he or she was the parent of such and such or the child of such and such, and so on. Everyone who was observing my work would then insist that I repeat the name aloud, roaring in hysterical laughter as I clumsily pronounced the name, sometimes laughing until tears streamed down their faces. The ‘named’ person would usually react with annoyance and hiss some untranslatable epithet at me, which served to reassure me that I had the ‘true’ name. I conscientiously checked and rechecked the names and relationships with multiple informants, pleased to see the inconsistencies disappear as my genealogy sheets filled with those desirable little triangles and circles, thousands of them.

My anthropological bubble was burst when I visited a village about 10 hours’ walk to the southwest of Bisaasi-teri some five months after I had begun collecting genealogies on the Bisaasi-teri. I was chatting with the local headman of this village and happened to casually drop the name of the wife of the Bisaasi-teri headman. A stunned silence followed, and then a villagewide roar of uncontrollable laughter, choking, gasping, and howling followed. It seems that I thought the Bisaasi-teri headman was married to a woman named “hairy cunt.” It also seems that the Bisaasi-teri headman was called ‘long dong’ and his brother ‘eagle shit.’ The Bisaasi-teri headman had a son called “asshole” and a daughter called “fart breath.”

And so on. Blood welled up to my temples as I realized that I had nothing but nonsense to show for my five months of dedicated genealogical effort, and I had to throw away almost all the information I had collected on this the most basic set of data I had come there to get. I understood at that point why the Bisaasi-teri laughed so hard when they made me repeat the names of their covillagers, and why the ‘named’ person would react with anger and annoyance as I pronounced his ‘name’ aloud.

3. The Yanomamo as “specimens”.

(I doubt that Chagnon consciously intended to dehumanize the people he was studying, despite his initial horror at their appearance, but I was struck by his comparison to them as the slime that lives within crustaceans below. That speaks volumes about the mindset of certain anthropologists.)

In this chapter I will discuss the daily social life and social organization of the fanomamo from several vantages, for there are, indeed, a number of acceptable land widely used approaches to the understanding of social organization in primitive (societies. I will focus primarily on the fascinating problem of village fissioning lamong the Yanomamo and how this reflects the ‘failure of solidarity,’ the inability lof villages to be held together by kinship, marriage, descent from common ancestors, and the ephemeral authority of headmen such as Kaobawa. It would appear that primitive societies can only grow so large at the local level—the village in this lease—if internal order is provided by just these commonly found integrating mechanisms: kinship, marriage, and descent.

I will also counterpose two points of view that are widely found in the field of I anthropology. One of the approaches is the “structural” approach, which focuses on 1’ideal models’ of societies, models that are constructed from the general rules of (kinship, descent, and marriage. These are highly simplified but very elegant [models, but they do not address the actual behavior of individuals in their day-to-Iday kinship roles, their actual marriage practices, their life histories, and why [individuals simply cannot ‘follow’ the ideal rules. The second approach is the statistical models’ approach, which is usually based on large numbers of actual I behavioral and genealogical facts, but yields less elegant, less simplified models. However, such models conform more to reality. I prefer the latter, for they lead to a more satisfactory way to understand individual variation and therefore the ability to predict social behavior. To be able to engage in this approach, one must, of course, [know what the “ideal” patterns are that people’s behavioral choices deviate from. A poignant way of illustrating the difference in these approaches is an anecdote I once heard the famous French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss use to justify his interest in ideal models and ‘structures.’ He likened social and cultural anthro–pology to a kind of science that studies crustaceans. It is legitimate, and even meritorious, he said, to concern oneself with the shell of the organism itself. ‘ Levi-Strauss preferred to consider the shells: They are attractive, symmetrical, pleasant to handle, and pleasant to think about. But he acknowledged that there were other ways of studying this life form. One could focus on the slimy, amorphous, rather unpleasant animal that lives in the shell—such as an oyster or snail. That, too, was a legitimate and meritorious endeavor, and he had no objection if others pursued that kind of approach. The issue, of course, has to do with the extent to which the shell and the amorphous animal inside it make much sense when considered alone and separately. My own view is that the animal inside the symmetrical shell is not as amorphous as it appears and itself has some structured integrity. I also believe that there has to be some kind of causal relationship between the animal and the type of structure it generates in the form of an elegant shell. The shell in this analogy is ‘social structure.’ The amorphous animal inside it is ‘social behavior.’ Once the question is posed, ‘What causes the animal to produce the elegant, symmetrical, shell?’ then a great variety of possible answers—and theoretical issues—comes into play. These are questions about causes of human behavior and, in turn, how that behavior—acts, thoughts, sentiments found among individuals in particular cultures—is shaped by and reflects realities such as demographic facts, physiological differences between males and females, and the evolved nature of the organism itself.

June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley and the perils of success

Filed under: music — louisproyect @ 3:22 pm

It was probably 1956 when my classmate Joan Seleznow invited me to listen to the new 45’s her father had been stocking in his hardware store. Now these weren’t pistols, but 7-inch pop records that were played at 45 rpm, as opposed to the 12-inch 33-rpm mostly classical records.

I remember the records to this day. She first put on Little Richard’s “Good Golly, Miss Molly” and followed up with Fats Domino’s “Blueberry Hill”. I told her that I loved the sounds. They were nothing like the insipid songs that were featured on the weekly television show “Hit Parade” like “How Much is that Doggy in the Window”.

But she saved the best for last: Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog”. I didn’t know it at the time but Big Momma Thorton, who recorded the song before Elvis, was an African-American like Fats Domino and Little Richard. That being said, the song was written by a couple of Jews, Mike Stoller and Jerry Leiber.

A few months later I joined the RCA record club and got Elvis Presley’s 33-rpm debut album, which had “Hound Dog” and his other greatest hits that still had the immediately recognizable influences of African-American rhythm-and-blues and white country-and-western.

26 years later. I was at a Christmas party thrown annually by ACI, the consulting company I worked for before going to Kansas City to get a factory job under the direct orders of the Socialist Workers Party. When that project failed, I came back to New York to live a life free of politics. A couple of hours after the party began a professional DJ began playing the latest hits, music that I was largely unfamiliar with since my tastes ran mostly to jazz and classical.

As I was sitting in a chair nibbling on an hors d’oeuvres and thinking about politics (I never succeeded in becoming apolitical), the strains of an irresistible pop tune came over the powerful sound system. It was Michael Jackson’s “Rock with You”. I was hooked on the spot and bought “Off the Wall”, the album that contained this song and which was considered his breakthrough record, as well as one that marked a departure from the more explicitly African-American sounds of his Motown work.

Elvis Presley was only 42 when he died in August 16, 1977, 8 years younger than Michael Jackson. But in some ways both were dead spiritually and artistically long before their physical death. It is not just a coincidence that both succumbed to heart failure, if you see the heart as a metaphor for the soul.

But for the two superstars, the heart was broken by essentially the same kinds of abuses to the body. In Elvis’s case, obesity and prescription pain killers. In Michael Jackson’s case, it is very likely that anorexia and prescription painkillers did him in. In some ways, anorexia is the obverse of obesity in the sense of reflecting an unhealthy relationship to food.

Elvis’s reliance on painkillers was well established. He kept a physician’s handbook next to his bed and thumbed through its pages looking for the latest medication that his doctor would prescribe without qualms. He took these drugs to help him to sleep and very likely to ward off the depression that accompanied his sense of failure. But in Elvis’s mind, the fact that he had a prescription differentiated him from the ordinary junky who had scrounge up his next fix on the street. So much so that after enlisting in Richard Nixon’s antidrug campaign, he showed up for a photo op stoned totally out of his mind on painkillers.

Michael Jackson had been addicted to painkillers going back at least to 1993, when he canceled a tour in order to go into rehab. Given his spaced out demeanor in interviews over the years, one must only conclude that he was whacked out on drugs much of the time—not to speak of his retreat from reality overall.

A couple of years ago I had a wisdom tooth pulled and got a prescription for Vicodin in case I had any lingering pain, which thankfully I had no use for. But later on after overdoing it with my barbells, I developed a backache that I thought the Vicodin might relieve. Boy, did it ever. An hour after taking a pill, not only did the pain go away, I felt a sense of bliss that I had never experienced with pot or cocaine. Who knows, if I were as rich and powerful as Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson, I might have found some unscrupulous doctor to write me prescriptions at my pleasure.

That is the lesson of success, I suppose. The more you enjoy, the more temptations lie in your path. For the two superstars, it was not just drugs. They were able to construct Xanadus at Graceland and Neverland that shielded them from reality.

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

This was just the kind of poem that only Samuel Coleridge, a fellow junky, could do justice to.

From within these Xanadus, the two Kubla Khans of pop music could satisfy every whim, from drugs to feasting—or in Jackson’s case not eating at all. They could also satisfy their sexual fantasies by exploiting their celebrity to lure nubile girls or young boys into bed

In Albert Goldman’s gripping but hostile biography of Elvis, we learn that he would send out his crew to Las Vegas or Nashville hangouts in search of virginal-looking women. The older he got, the more obsessed he became with screwing virgins. He had a neurotic aversion to sexually experienced women, particularly those who had given birth. Not long after Priscilla Presley gave birth to Lisa Marie, Elvis stopped having sex with her.

In some ways, I can believe that Michael Jackson did not have sex with the 12 year olds who shared a bed with him. So obviously in full retreat into a Peter Pan fantasy world (even to the point of calling his mansion Neverland), Jackson might have gotten sufficient pleasure just from this kind of infantile “pajama party” wish fulfillment. But even if he did have sex with underage boys, one must question society’s willingness to condemn him and not Elvis Presley. If Elvis got a 16 year old girl drunk and then had sex with her, there is nothing particularly “normal” about that either.

The picture that emerges about Presley and Jackson is one of the tendency of power to corrupt. Lord Acton’s dictum was applied mostly to states, but it applies to individuals as well. They surrounded themselves with sycophants who never had the nerve to tell the Kings that they were jeopardizing their health. Telling the truth might have cost someone a job.

But isn’t that what bourgeois society is about ultimately? Both Jackson and Presley came from working class families. Joseph Jackson was a crane operator at US Steel in Gary, Indiana while Elvis’s father was a sharecropper before becoming a truck driver. The two pop stars not only climbed their way out of their class roots, but became as wealthy as many ruling class figures at their pinnacle.

Elvis was fortunate enough to have a shrewd manager in Colonel Tom Parker who invested the singer’s income wisely even as he squandered his natural talents as a singer.

But Michael Jackson was not so fortunate. Once his career took a nosedive, he continued to spend money as if he was still on top. They report that he might have had $500 million in personal debt the day he died, which puts him in good company considering the state of the American economy.

It would appear that cultural and economic decay go hand in hand.

June 24, 2009

8 Behind the Wheel

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 5:40 pm

About 5 years ago, when I first began kicking around the idea of retiring, a friend suggested that I supplement my social security income by writing for money, especially movie reviews. Since I have written 418 movie reviews on the Internet and have been a fairly long-term member of New York Film Critics Online, a group composed mostly of professional reviewers, I suppose that I could have gotten my foot in the door at one or another print or web based publication.

But after seeing the initial reviews of Michael Bay’s “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” on Rotten Tomatoes, I was reminded why that idea did not seem that attractive on further reflection.

Village Voice:
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a bewildering, noisy, sloppy, cynical piece of work, a movie that sneers at the audience for 147 minutes and expects us to lap it up as entertainment — and be grateful.

A cinematic avalanche in which Michael Bay eschews anything resembling plot or characters and instead screams at the audience’s eyes for two and a half hours.

I think I would rather take a job as a Walmart’s greeter than be assigned to sit through movies like this.

By contrast, I watched a movie titled “8 Behind the Wheel” last night courtesy of the producer, director and screenplay writer Trace Burroughs. I would estimate that the movie cost less to make than an hour’s worth of production costs when “Transformers” was being made. But in terms of quality, there is no comparison. “8 Behind the Wheel” is far scarier than any Hollywood horror movie since the characters are so ordinary (including a pizza delivery girl), but once you get inside their heads, you realize how sick they are. Not that sickness in itself is sufficient to entice you to watch a movie. In the case of this low-budget movie, the appeal is in how Burroughs takes various forms of sexual and homicidal obsessions and turns them into something that at its most inspired approaches Dostoyevsky’s “Notes from the Underground”.

Dispensing with convention, the 8 characters are involved in very little dialog between each other and very little action, which is understandable since they are driving automobiles all by themselves late at night in what appears to be a fairly desolate suburban landscape. As they drive along, they begin to think to themselves about a number of preoccupations in a stream of consciousness manner that becomes more and more disturbing as the film progresses, not the least of which includes the ravings of a serial killer to himself as he seeks his next victim.

Just as is the case in the bigger budget “coincidence” movies like “Babel” or “Crash”, these characters are related to each other in some fashion and are destined to cross paths at the end of the movie. By the time that moment arrives, it is practically anti-climatic since most of the drama has already transpired within their isolated heads.

Four articles of note on Iran

Filed under: Iran — louisproyect @ 3:59 pm

Once again Iran has captured world attention. The 10th presidential election period has presented a new element in Iran’s politics not seen in the previous exercise of universal suffrage in the country: massive mobilization of the people. This became evident throughout the election period in the larger than usual crowd gatherings at election rallies in support of the current president, Mr. Mahmud Ahmadi-Nejad, and his main challenger, Mr. Mir Hussein Mousavi. All social strata were drawn into this process to one degree or another. The election turnout has reportedly surpassed 80 per cent.

The electoral process in Iran set the people in motion on divergent paths; live TV political debates among the candidates became heated, but absent from the debate was any substance with regard to empowering the people to deal with social, economic, and political problems. The need for the organization of students, youth, women, national-ethnic groups, and working people of the city and the countryside that would unite the entire country’s political tendencies is the only recourse for maintaining national unity. Action organizations like shoras (councils) can act based on broad consensus in the interest of the country’s sovereignty and meet the needs of populations in economic, social, political and cultural areas. Instead of offering any real prospect for self-organization of populations, each candidate claimed to be a better manager, a better servant of the people of Iran.

The debates did not have any national or international focal points. Each challenged the other’s statistical numbers and figures with regard to inflation or this or that economic indicator; credentials of various known personalities and the validity of university degrees of others were questioned or defended. There were personal attacks and finger pointing before TV audiences, estimated at one point as high as 50 million in a country of nearly 70 million.

Full: http://babakzahraie.blogspot.com/

* * * *

Nearly all of the world’s people, who are overwhelmingly wage laborers and peasants, endure oppression. Of course, societies vary considerably in both the degree and openness of this oppression. Sweden is no doubt a less repressive nation than is the United States, and the latter is less coercive than is Saudi Arabia. Nonetheless, the lot in life of most persons is to be subjected to the control, in one way or another, of a minority of their fellow human beings.

Ordinarily, we suffer abuse in silence, fearful of what might happen to us if we protest or not able to pinpoint exactly who or what is making us miserable. However, sometimes the power of the minority breaks down. It may suddenly lose legitimacy, or it may be defeated by an organized struggle. Then all hell can break loose. The grievances held in check for so long are brought into the open, and the multitude demands that they be addressed. Violence is not uncommon in such circumstances. When China’s peasants helped the Chinese Communists defeat their landlord exploiters, and when it was no longer possible for their former superiors to punish them, they took sometimes horrible vengeance against the land owners who for centuries had treated them little better than animals.

Iran is a tyrannical society. It is organized theocratically, run by religious zealots, who use their power, backed by armed might (regular military forces and special militias dedicated personally to the religious elite), religious authority, and the prestige they have inherited from their role in the overthrow of the Shah, the long war with Iraq, and defiance of the United States and its allies, to elicit or compel obedience from the worker and peasant majority. Unions are illegal; women are especially oppressed; government spies and morality police keep a strict watch over personal behavior; media are tightly controlled and sometimes blocked; and certain groups are favored economically—notably the Revolutionary Guards—to keep their loyalty.

Full: http://blog.cheapmotelsandahotplate.org/2009/06/23/190/

* * * *

Despite efforts by Iran’s leaders to keep photographers off the streets during post-election protests this month, many vivid images have emerged. The one posted here, above, is the one I found most chilling, poignant and evocative.

By now, many outsiders can identify the man whose picture is on the right-hand side of this protest sign. He is Mir Hossein Mousavi, the reported loser in this month’s presidential election. The elderly gentleman in the other picture is unfamiliar to most non-Iranians. He and his fate, however, lie at the historical root of the protests now shaking Iran.

The picture shows a pensive, sad-looking man with what one of his contemporaries called “droopy basset-hound eyes and high patrician forehead”. He does not look like a man whose fate would continue to influence the world decades after his death. But this was Muhammad Mossadeq, the most fervent advocate of democracy ever to emerge in his ancient land.

Above the twinned pictures of Mossadeq and Mousavi on this protest poster are the words “We won’t let history repeat itself.” Centuries of intervention, humiliation and subjugation at the hand of foreign powers have decisively shaped Iran’s collective psyche. The most famous victim of this intervention – and also the most vivid symbol of Iran’s long struggle for democracy – is Mossadeq. Whenever Iranians assert their desire to shape their own fate, his image appears.

Full: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2009/jun/19/iran-protests-mousavi-mossadeq

* * * *

The dilemma faced by commentators of all kinds, not just bloggers, on the Iranian protests can be summarised by a single, annoying portmanteau word: instapunditry. The pressure to take a view prematurely in such a situation can only produce a series of stock responses, either based on CNN filtered news, or speculation from various samizdat-style websites, or material provided by the Iranian media itself. And after all, while these protests had precedent in previous student and workers rebellions, the sheer scale of upheaval had no precedent in the entire history of Islamic Republic. How to relate to that?

It has been possible to be both eloquent and consistent only be relying on an analysis made for a different situation that seems to fit. Thus, right-wing bloggers have tended to interpret the events in terms of the ‘colour revolution’, involving a relatively smooth transfer of power from a weakened, no longer hegemonic ruling bloc, to a pro-US faction. symbolised by a striking advertising symbol – the purple finger, the green fingers, etc. A few left-wing commentators look at it the same way, but simply reverse the value significations. It is a handy ready-made template, and if it were an accurate reading, then the protesters would have been little more than useful idiots for a comprador elite. But there is little evidence that anything like this is happening. The most we have seen is some bizarre rumours about Israel trying to promote a ‘twitter revolution’ (probably put about by Twitter, you know). Similarly, prefabricated ideas about Ahmadinejad representing the uneducated poor and Mousavi representing the articulate middle class, have been ubiquitous on all sides. And just the same, they have turned out to be wrong.

Full: http://leninology.blogspot.com/2009/06/pitfalls-of-premature-eloquence.html

June 22, 2009

A velvet revolution in Iran?

Filed under: Iran,sectarianism — louisproyect @ 6:36 pm

The post-election crisis in Iran has prompted individuals and groups on the left to reduce it to an imperialist plot to foment a “color” or “velvet” revolution. In doing so, they are following the lead of Ali Khamenei, the country’s most powerful leader and a man who has never run in an election himself. In a speech delivered to the country last Friday, Khamenei said:

The amateurish behavior of some people inside the country made them (the West) greedy. They have mistaken Iran with Georgia.

A Zionist-American millionaire claimed that he spent $10 million to change the regime in Georgia through a velvet revolution. [What exactly is a Zionist-American, btw? Is that an ethnic category or what?]This claim was published in the papers. Those fools thought the Islamic Republic is like Georgia. To which countries do you compare Iran to? The enemy’s problem is that they do not yet understand the Iranian nation.

As might be expected given its Manichean brand of Marxism that divides the world between the “imperialist” and “anti-imperialist” camps, the Workers World Party stood firmly behind Ahmadinejad. After denying that fraud took place, they made the elections sound like a referendum on the world revolution:

Ahmadinejad is closely identified with militant support for the mass-based resistance movements in Palestine and Lebanon, and also with the determined public defense of Iran’s nuclear power program. With a high vote for him, the Iranians thumb their noses at the imperialists. This also explains the strong hostility from the U.S. ruling class.

In Iran, the reelected president is also considered a populist who will fight for economic concessions to Iran’s poor—which explains his strong popularity outside the middle-class and wealthy districts.

James Petras, a retired Marxist professor who generally comments on the Latin American scene, offered his thoughts along the same lines as the WWP:

The demography of voting reveals a real class polarization pitting high income, free market oriented, capitalist individualists against working class, low income, community based supporters of a ‘moral economy’ in which usury and profiteering are limited by religious precepts. The open attacks by opposition economists of the government welfare spending, easy credit and heavy subsidies of basic food staples did little to ingratiate them with the majority of Iranians benefiting from those programs. The state was seen as the protector and benefactor of the poor workers against the ‘market’, which represented wealth, power, privilege and corruption. The Opposition’s attack on the regime’s ‘intransigent’ foreign policy and positions ‘alienating’ the West only resonated with the liberal university students and import-export business groups. To many Iranians, the regime’s military buildup was seen as having prevented a US or Israeli attack.

The scale of the opposition’s electoral deficit should tell us is how out of touch it is with its own people’s vital concerns. It should remind them that by moving closer to Western opinion, they removed themselves from the everyday interests of security, housing, jobs and subsidized food prices that make life tolerable for those living below the middle class and outside the privileged gates of Tehran University.

Blogger Steve Weissman focused on the role of George Soros wannabe Peter Ackerman in funding and organizing a counter-revolutionary student movement similar to the one that exists in Venezuela:

A Wall Street whiz kid who made his fortune in leveraged buy-outs, the billionaire Ackerman was — and is — chair of Freedom House, a hotbed of neo-con support for American intervention just about everywhere. In this pursuit, he has promoted the use of nonviolent civil disobedience in American-backed “color revolutions” from Serbia to the Ukraine, Georgia, and Venezuela, where it failed.

Ahmadi teaches medicine at Yale and co-founded the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, using initial grants of $1.6 million in 2004 from the U.S. Department of State, according to The New York Times. Washington reportedly continued its open-handed support in succeeding years, allowing the center to publicize the abuses of the Ayatollahs in English and Farsi.

Ahmadi and the center also ran regular workshops for Iranians on nonviolent civil disobedience. These were in Dubai, across the straits from Iran. Some of the sessions operated under the name Iranian Center for Applied Nonviolence and included a session on popular revolts around the world, especially the “color revolutions.”

Although Counterpunch started off printing articles that took the side of the protestors, it is now pretty much in the Manichean camp led by Paul Craig Roberts, their expert commentator on economics and Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under Reagan. Here’s from his latest offering:

The unexamined question is Mousavi and his motives. Why would Mousavi unleash demonstrations that are obviously being used by a hostile West to discredit the government of the Iranian Revolution that overthrew the US puppet government? Are these the actions of a “moderate”? Or are these the actions of a disgruntled man who kept his disaffection from his colleagues in order to gain the opportunity to discredit the regime with street protests? Is Mousavi being manipulated by organizations funded with US government money?

Of course, this methodology of dividing the world between two opposing camps is nothing new. The CP’s perfected it in the 1930s, labeling Trotsky’s criticisms of the Soviet Government as giving aid and comfort to the Nazis. Here’s what comrade Stalin had to say in a 1937 plenum report felicitously titled “Defects in Party Work and Measures for Liquidating Trotskyite and Other Double Dealers”:

At the trial in 1937, Piatakov, Radek, and Sokolnikov took a different course. They did not deny that the Trotskyists and Zinovievists had a political platform. They admitted they had a definite political platform, admitted it and unfolded in their testimony. But they unfolded it not in order to rally the working class, to rally the people to support the Trotskyist platform, but rather to damn it and brand it as an anti-people and anti-proletarian platform. The restoration of capitalism, the liquidation of the collective farms and state-farms, the re-establishment of a system of exploitation, alliance with the Fascist forces of Germany and Japan to bring nearer a war with the Soviet Union, a struggle for war and against the policy of peace, the territorial dismemberment of the Soviet Union with the Ukraine to the Germans and the Maritime Province to the Japanese, the scheming for the military defeat of the Soviet Union in the event of an attack on it by hostile states and, as a means for achieving these aims: wrecking, diversionism, industrial terror against the leaders of Soviet power, espionage on behalf of Japano-German Fascist forces-such was the political platform of present-day Trotskyism as unfolded by Piatakov, Radek, and Sokolnikov.

Speaking of Trotsky, he had to deal with Manichean tendencies in his own international movement. In an article titled “Learn to Think” that deserves to be read or reread by everybody trying to make sense of Iran, Trotsky wrote:

In ninety cases out of a hundred the workers actually place a minus sign where the bourgeoisie places a plus sign. In ten cases however they are forced to fix the same sign as the bourgeoisie but with their own seal, in which is expressed their mistrust of the bourgeoisie. The policy of the proletariat is not at all automatically derived from the policy of the bourgeoisie, bearing only the opposite sign – this would make every sectarian a master strategist; no, the revolutionary party must each time orient itself independently in the internal as well as the external situation, arriving at those decisions which correspond best to the interests of the proletariat. This rule applies just as much to the war period as to the period of peace.

Whatever Mousavi’s intentions, there is no question that the students in Tehran have their own agenda in this battle which is to extend democratic rights. Just about 10 years ago another confrontation broke out over the banning of a reformist newspaper:

BLOODY clashes erupted in Tehran yesterday for the third consecutive day between pro-democracy students and Islamic extremists, raising fears that a long-expected national crisis is under way in Iran.

At least 10,000 students crossed the line from suppressed anger to open defiance, staging a pro-democracy sit-in at Tehran University, in the heart of the Iranian capital. In the largest protest since the 1979 Islamic revolution, the students demanded the resignation of the country’s parliament and vowed not to end their struggle until President Mohammed Khatami took complete control of the country.

The demonstration was the largest in three days of unrest which began on Thursday evening when hardline vigilantes attacked a much smaller protest across town at the university dormitories.

About 500 students demonstrated against parliament’s approval of a new press law on Wednesday which severely restricts freedom of expression, and a court order banning the leading moderate Salam newspaper, which gives its backing to Khatami.

–Observer, July 11, 1999

Just as is the case today, cops, militias and vigilantes attacked the students without mercy and prompted larger protests as the NY Times reported a day later:

In a new sign of militancy, at least 15,000 Iranian students took to the streets of Teheran today in what has become a protest against a divided Government whose security forces remain in conservative hands.

Witnesses said it was the angriest protest since the Iranian revolution of two decades ago, and it presented the most formidable test yet of President Mohammad Khatami, the moderate leader who holds broad popular support but has yet to consolidate control over a fractured political structure.

At its surface, the demonstration was merely the outgrowth of several days of anger over the storming on Thursday night of a university dormitory by security forces and conservative vigilantes. But it also reflected a deep discontent over the fact that Mr. Khatami’s popularly elected Government remains, in large part, in others’ hands.

The protesters aborted an early plan to march to the city center. But after three days of mounting anger, they left no doubt they were dissatisfied with an announcement by Mr. Khatami’s Government that it would dismiss the officers who had ordered the raid, Iran’s police chief, Brig. Gen. Hedayat Lotfian, and his deputy, who was not named.

“We are not going to be satisfied until people at the top resign,” one student leader said. “Khatami has to do something or resign.”

The protesters said students had been killed by the police and the vigilantes during the demonstrations, and had demanded the dismissal of General Lotfian, who reports not to Mr. Khatami but to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the cleric who is Iran’s supreme leader.

“Either Islam and the law, or another revolution,” the marchers chanted today, in a reference to the 1979 revolution that toppled the Shah, Mohammed Riza Pahlevi.

And also just as is the case today, the students were not willing to subordinate themselves to the reformists. They told the Times that unless Khatami did something about the brutal cops who answered only to Khamenei and not to elected officials such as him, they would insist that he resign. Khatami understandably took umbrage at the students’ demand that he stand up to unaccountable police power and soon found himself on a collision path with them:

Hardline vigilantes backed by secret police opened fire on the pro-democracy demonstrators who were rampaging through Tehran yesterday in the worst street violence since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

It was the first time in six days of protests that law enforcement agents had turned their semi-automatic rifles on the unarmed students.

Last night, the reformist president of Iran, Mohammed Khatami elected in 1997 with the support of students, women and Islamic intellectuals turned his back on the protesters, saying that their actions threatened his reformist policies.

‘I am sure that these people have evil aims,’ he said. ‘They intend to foster violence in society, and we shall stand in their way we take the security of our country and our citizens very seriously.’

–Guardian, July 14, 1999

On the very same day the NY Times reported that the same grievances that exist today, according to some commentators, existed 10 years ago:

Mr. Khatami’s clear statement of disapproval for the demonstrations is likely to disappoint many ordinary Iranians, from housemaids to retirees, who saw both the demonstrations and even the crackdown as the beginning of a process of change, even a change in the regime.

“Iranian people are not necessarily logical,” said one engineer. “They are very emotional. They want an end to everything that they think has been a source of misery for them. It doesn’t matter to them at what cost, or whether it’s going to be followed by something much worse”

On the streets today, that emotional side was on display.

“I pray that we get rid of the savages who beat our children,” said one middle-aged woman as she watched baton-wielding men on motorcycles chase pro-democracy demonstrators. “Savages, hooligans, that’s what they are.”

She also said she had seen a dozen vigilantes beat two women with clubs outside the university late Monday night.

Another bystander said he had seen vigilantes attack a small group of young men who were chanting, “Khatami, we support you!” The demonstrators were badly beaten with long batons, the bystander said, and another man who was walking by was beaten as well.

“I just want to get rid of the filthy regime,” the man said. “Anything would be better than these clerics, even the worst criminals.”

The level of criticism underscores a deep frustration. Iran suffers from an economy in crisis, high inflation and unemployment, low investor confidence and the lack of many freedoms.

Sixty-five percent of the people are under 25, and they know little of the revolution and the sacrifices of Iran’s eight-year war with Iraq. But many of them do know the Internet and can watch American television beamed in by satellite. They want jobs and freedom.

“People are miserable! The clerics are acting like gods!” was one of the slogans of the day.

And like today, the supreme and unelected leader, understood the conflict in the same terms as the WWP, James Petras et al, as the Times article continued:

Radio and television repeatedly broadcast a speech delivered on Monday by Ayatollah Khamenei in which he blamed the demonstrations on unnamed “enemies,” particularly the United States.

The Government, which can send hundreds of thousands of people into the streets when it chooses, is expected to mobilize masses of diehard Islamic revolutionaries on Wednesday to proclaim their allegiance to the Islamic republic and condemn its enemies.

After 10 years of this sort of haughty, above-the-law behavior by an unelected Supreme Council, no wonder the students are risking life and limb once again.

One of the main problems facing the pro-Ahmadinejad left is its failure to adequately theorize the problem of democratic rights and which proceeds along these lines: If Peter Ackerman is funding “pro-democracy” activists in Iran and Venezuela, how can we dare attack Iran for closing down newspapers or beating demonstrators? We don’t want to end up on the same side of the barricades as Tom Friedman, do we?

For so much of the left which calls for the need for a vanguard party—in our circles the equivalent of mom, apple pie and the American flag—there is apparently some unfamiliarity with the importance of such demands for V.I. Lenin, especially in the text that some treat as holy writ—namely “What is to be Done”.

Why is there not a single political event in Germany that does not add to the authority and prestige of the Social-Democracy? Because Social-Democracy is always found to be in advance of all the others in furnishing the most revolutionary appraisal of every given event and in championing every protest against tyranny…It intervenes in every sphere and in every question of social and political life; in the matter of Wilhelm’s refusal to endorse a bourgeois progressive as city mayor (our Economists have not managed to educate the Germans to the understanding that such an act is, in fact, a compromise with liberalism!); in the matter of the law against ‘obscene’ publications and pictures; in the matter of governmental influence on the election of professors, etc., etc. Everywhere the Social-Democrats are found in the forefront, rousing political discontent among all classes, rousing the sluggards, stimulating the laggards, and providing a wealth of material for the development of the political consciousness and the political activity of the proletariat. [emphasis added]

I rather like this V.I. Lenin, whose chief concerns seem so diametrically opposed to the Marxist partisans of Ahmadinejad whose sole litmus test consists of the amount of calories an Iranian family enjoys each day. I would not be one to diminish such a criterion, but Lenin’s attention to matters such as laws against “obscene” publications and art, and governmental influence on the election of professors would likely cause him to retch at the material now circulating in defense of Ahmadinejad.

Finally, a word should be said about Kaiser Wilhelm II, whose feet the Social Democrats were holding to the fire. Despite his authoritarianism, he had a record on “bread and butter” issues that would have put the Iranian clerical populists to shame.

It should not be forgotten that his father Kaiser Wilhelm I and his Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck were responsible for some of the most advanced “pro-working class” legislation in European history. They pushed through the first Health Insurance Bill that covered 2 out of 3 workers, and followed up with a far-reaching Accident Insurance Bill in 1884 and an Old Age and Disability Insurance Bill in 1889. So the Kaisers were no pikers when it came to the “everyday interests of security, housing, jobs” that James Petras referred to.

I should add that German Marxists, including Karl Marx himself, had a battle on their hands trying to draw distinctions between the class they oriented to and that which Kaiser Wilhelm I oriented to. In “Critique of the Gotha Programme”, Marx did ideological battle with Ferdinand Lassalle, a “socialist” who also served as an informal adviser to Kaiser Wilhelm. I suppose that in consideration of this ancient history, we can only conclude that Marxism is forced to keep refighting old battles over and over again like in the movie “Groundhog Day”. Of course, Bill Murray finally figures out how to move forward and the movie ends on a high note. Let’s hope that we can achieve a similar success in our own terrain for the future of humanity depends on it.

Democrats are the new Republicans

Filed under: comedy,Obama — louisproyect @ 2:48 pm
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