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.


  1. Iran on the brink? Think COLOUR REVOLUTION….


    You link to Gowans blog..do you ever read him?

    Comment by brian — July 11, 2009 @ 1:09 pm

  2. ah rosa….she may like to consider what became of people like her in the US and other western countries, which are now run by political parties almost entirely right wing.
    In iran they at least have a left wing leader…but the effect of this colour revolution is to create another poland.

    Comment by brian — July 11, 2009 @ 1:50 pm

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