[Marxism] What the Empire Learned from the Lesson of Iran

Yoshie Furuhashi critical.montages at gmail.com
Sat Aug 12 08:17:15 MDT 2006

People who own the empire, people who actually run the empire, and
people who think they ought to run the empire (because they think they
are smarter and more competent than the ones who are running it, but
who can never hope to take power in their lifetimes) have radically
different conceptions of the empire's interests and what goals it
should aim for.

It's like that joke from Yes, Prime Minister:

Jim Hacker: "I know exactly who reads the papers: The Daily Mirror is
read by people who think they run the country; The Guardian is read by
people who think they ought to run the country; The Times is read by
people who actually do run the country; The Daily Mail is read by the
wives of the people who run the country; The Financial Times is read
by people who own the country; The Morning Star is read by people who
think the country ought to be run by another country; and The Daily
Telegraph is read by people who think it is."
Sir Humphrey: "Prime Minister, what about the people who read The Sun?"
Bernard Woolley: "Sun readers don't care who runs the country, as long
as she's got big tits."

The newspapers -- like the Guardian, the New York Times, and so forth
-- read by people who think they ought to run the empire tend to
endorse the view that reforms -- or many reforms combined with
judicious use of force -- can help the rulers run their empire better
than aggressive use of force combined with few reforms.  That is
indeed sometimes the case, but history doesn't tell us that the former
works better than the latter on average.

The case of the Shah of Iran is instructive.  He was a reformer --
most importantly, the land reforms during the Shah's White Revolution
had increased the proportion of independent farmers from less than 5%
to 76% of the rural population, sending massive numbers of former
peasants to urban areas, on the eve of the Iranian Revolution (Ervand
Abrahamian, Iran between Two Revolutions, Princeton University Press,
1982, p. 429) -- who used force within the limits tolerated by Jimmy
Carter, a liberal POTUS . . . till Carter withdrew his support, and
look what happened!  The result is the only revolution that began in
the sixties and seventies that has managed to nationalize natural
resources, modernize society (raising education*, lowering the
fertility rate**), industrialize***, and control the commanding
heights of national economy**** and still remains standing, posing the
biggest challenge to the multinational empire's plan for the Middle

Those who run the empire remember that history vividly, while those
who think they ought to run the empire -- mainly liberals out of power
-- have forgotten about it for it contradicts their narrative.

* "While the overall enrollment rate for boys is 98 per cent, it
varies significantly between provinces. For girls, the range is
between 99 per cent in Tehran and 84 per cent in Sistan and
Baluchestan. The enormous gains in the educational status of the
Iranian population can be attributed to massive government's
investment in public education (on average 45 per cent of the
government's social affairs budget since 1989)" ("At a Glance: Iran
(Islamic Republic of),"

** "The average marriage age for women has increased from 18 years of
age before the Revolution to 21" (William O. Beeman, "The New Islamic
Woman Flourishes in Iran," Pacific News Service," 27 February 2001,
and the fertility rate has dramatically declined, to the benefit of
women: "Having dropped from around 5 to just under 3 between 1989 and
1996, Iran's total fertility rate has again plunged -- this time to 2.
Iran, an Islamic country, has followed a unique and rapid path to
replacement-level fertility.  The speedy fertility decline, which has
surpassed demographers' projections, coincided with the revival in
late 1989 of government efforts to slow population growth through a
national family planning program" (Allison Tarmann, "Iran Achieves
Replacement-Level Fertility," Population Today, May/June 2002,

*** Iran Khodro is the largest vehicle manufacturer in the Middle
East, an import substitution success story!

****  Compare Iran and Venezuela:

Iran: "The World Bank reports that the government consumed 14 percent
of GDP in 2003. In the same year, according to the International
Monetary Fund's Government Financial Statistics CD–ROM, Iran received
53.83 percent of its total revenues from state-owned enterprises and
government ownership of property. However, the Economist Intelligence
Unit reports that 'major sectors (such as oil and gas, transport,
telecommunications, industry, and banking and finance) remain
overwhelmingly under the purview of the state and its entities. The
state directly owns well over 500 companies, and there are another
1,000 or so semi-public companies.' Based on the apparent
unreliability of the reported figure for government consumption, 1
point has been added to Iran's government intervention score"; and
"All banks were nationalized following the 1979 revolution. Iran's
constitution requires that the banking sector be fully state-owned.
According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, 'The central bank issued
a licence in August 2001 to Bank-e-Eqtesadi Novine (Modern Economic
Bank), making it Iran's first private bank since the sector was
nationalised in the aftermath of the 1979 revolution…. Other private
banks established in Iran include the Karafarin Bank, which received a
full-service banking licence in December 2001, and Saman Bank, in
August 2002.' Private banks are extremely small, however, and the
state dominates banking activity. The ability of banks to charge
interest is restricted under Iran's interpretation of Islamic law.
'The bulk of commercial banks' loan portfolio,' reports the EIU, 'is
taken up with low-return loans to state agencies and parastatals….'"
("Index of Economic Freedom 2006 -- Iran,"

Venezuela: "The World Bank reports that the government consumed 7.5
percent of GDP in 2003. In the same year, according to the
International Monetary Fund's Government Financial Statistics CD–ROM,
Venezuela received 49.36 percent of its total revenues from
state-owned enterprises and government ownership of property"; and
"According to First Initiative, 'The banking sector is the most
substantial part of Venezuela's financial system, consisting of 50
commercial banks, with foreign banks controlling about half of the
banking sector's assets (2003). It is highly consolidated, with 60% of
deposits held by the six largest banks in the country…. [T]he
insurance sector [also] has seen increased levels of foreign
participation and consolidation, with the top 20 companies holding
approximately 95% of all premiums in 2003.' The government permits 100
percent foreign ownership in banking and financial services" ("Index
of Economic Freedom 2006 -- Venezuela,"


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