[Marxism] "Winning" and "losing" in Iran, the USSR and the US (was: Independence is Not Nothing)

Lou Paulsen loupaulsen at sbcglobal.net
Wed Aug 9 14:35:59 MDT 2006

> >And in those cases (China, Vietnam, Iran, India) who would dare say that
> >the sacrifices of the revolutionary struggle were in vain! National
> >independence in a world of globalized capitalism is still of immense
> >importance.
> >
> >Carrol

Louis Proyect:
> The Fedayii did not die in vain fighting to overthrow the Shah. If that is
> what Yoshie is trying to say, then I have no problem with that. However,
> with her apologetics for the gang in power, I had the uncomfortable feeling
> that she was excusing their repression. In fact, that is what she has been
> doing, come to think of it. For her, the Iranian left was just a bunch of
> losers--like the Trotskyists in the USSR. Too bad they didn't have a
> Machiavellian like Yoshie to advise them how to win power.

I said it on PEN-l, too, but getting attached to the Lost Cause
doesn't do anyone any good.  To take a recent example, lots of us --
including you and I -- supported the Nader/Camejo campaign.  It got
nowhere.  ....
Leftists have an obligation to win -- for if we can't win, we can't
help anyone else.

I have been on Yoshie's side most of the way here, but my first reaction was that this remark "bends the stick" a few degrees too far; my second reaction, about ten minutes later after I wrote most of what is below, was that maybe I just don't understand Yoshie's writing style some of the time.  I think Yoshie is probably not saying what Louis is saying she is saying, but I can see why it might look that way; Proyect accuses Yoshie of justifying the Islamic Republic's persecution of the left, and she answers that "Leftists have an obligation to win"...
Most of us are writing from a very fortunate and privileged position - that of being socialists in the imperialist world.  In the first place, this has made it a lot easier for us to survive.  In the second place, it makes it a lot easier for us to figure out what positions we are supposed to take, what we are supposed to say, and who to say it to.
Compare this to the situation of the Iranian left.  Prior to the fall of the Shah, there were probably tens of thousands of adherents of socialist and working-class formations in Iran, including the Tudeh, the OIPFG (Fedayeen), and the Mojahedin.  If they had known that the Shah, that noted monarchist U.S. puppet, was about to be overthrown and replaced by something more or less independent of U.S. imperialism, they would all have rejoiced.  But if they had been perfect prophets, they would have known that over the next ten years the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois side of that revolution would chew them up, split them apart politically, physically crush and kill them, and drive them into exile or worse.  
It took a lot of heroism to be a revolutionary in Iraq under the Shah, but I think it took even more heroism to be a revolutionary in Iran in the first decade of the Islamic Republic, because it was so hard to figure out what to do.  In retrospect, I am not sure that ANY strategy by the Iranian left would have caused them to "win" more than they did win.  I found a webpage this morning with about 60 links to different Iranian political groups, including the groups that descended from the various splits in the OIPFG and others.  Among them I suppose they tried every strategy imaginable - joining the Islamic Republic government, joining it critically, forming a bloc with Khomeini, forming a bloc with Bani-Sadr or Ghotbzadeh, armed struggle against the Islamic Republic government, supporting the war with Iraq, opposing the war with Iraq, solidarizing with each other, turning other leftists in, denouncing imperialism, appealing to imperialism for help against the clerics, and
 on down the list.  I don't think a single one of them "won".  
Ultimately, the working class was not able to tip the revolution forward into socialism, nor was the US able to subvert it, and so, in predictable consequence, the anti-socialist national bourgeoisie consolidated its power and terrorized, banished, or exterminated the revolutionary and socialist left.  I am very glad that I am dealing with my own petty problems of living and organizing the working class in Chicago, and have not yet been seriously posed with questions like, "should I go into exile, or stay here in my own country and speak the truth and then get arrested and tortured and killed pretty quickly, and when I do speak the truth, how do I avoid actually contributing to the government, which wants to take my life, getting overthrown -from the right-, i.e., by agents of the imperialist bourgeoisie?"
Trotsky wrote that the failings of the Stalin regime were the price that the Russian working class paid for being first to make a socialist revolution.  By analogy, the suffering of the left and working-class forces in Iran after 1979 were probably the price that they paid for being the first country, or one of the first, in the Middle East to carry out a national bourgeois anti-imperialist revolution on a long-term basis.  (Iraq is the other one you might think of, and they're paying their price right now, but was the revolution as thorough, and was Iraq as independent?)
It might be that, if you had a perfect knowledge of history, you could determine that the defeat of the left in the USSR in the 1920's and 1930's, and later in China in the 1970's, and the crushing of the Iranian left in the 1980's, and for that matter the collapse of the European socialist governments in 1989-1991, were all truly inevitable.  Suppose you did know that.  Would it mean that all these leftists were fundamentally wrong, because "leftists have an obligation to win"?  I don't think it's reasonable to impose an "obligation to win" on communists.  I think that it's reasonable to impose an obligation to tell the truth, and to advance the struggle as far as one can, and to not create unnecessary divisions, and beyond that I just hope that there is some sort of "conservation of energy" law in place, even approximately, so that even if one doesn't win the world is still better off.  For example, the forces in Iraq and in Iran which opposed the Iran-Iraq war both got
 persecuted, maybe even to extinction.  But that doesn't mean that this was a bad choice, or that Iraqi or Iranian communists should have pretended to be uncritical Ba'athists or Republican Guard and muffled any criticisms they had of this so destructive war.  Maybe the only way of being productive was actually to go into exile and do anti-imperialist work!  I really don't know.  (Compare Lenin on "They should not have taken up arms" and the like.)
As far as not "getting attached to the Lost Cause," I agree with that in so far as it means that one has to live in the present and not in the past generation.  We are still running into "Trotskyists" in the US who are almost like the Society for Creative Anachronism*, who write as if the year were 1938 and all the problems of that day were fresh and alive.  But they aren't.  The year isn't 1982 any more either.  And, yes, we DO want to win, not just be docents in a museum of leftist history.  That's why we have to deal with the forces that are really here today on the basis of their present-day nature, not on the basis of grudges (or, if that sounds like too trivial a term, "punishments for past crimes").  I don't think this amounts to "excusing" what they, or their political ancestors, did in the past.  In any case, if "judgments" and "punishments" for the past actions of the Iranian bourgeois revolution are in order, they are the task of the Iranian working class, which
 they will carry out in their own time, and not ours.
Lou Paulsen
- - - -
* Note for those outside the US: this is an organization of people who dress up like people from past historical periods; for example, they might re-create a battle from the U.S. Civil War, using authentic reproductions of the costumes, weaponry, supplies, etc.

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