[Marxism] Revolutionary Guards and the Iran-Iraq War (was Socialist Men, Muslims, and the "Woman Question")

Lou Paulsen loupaulsen at sbcglobal.net
Tue Jul 25 15:17:30 MDT 2006

LPr writes:

Yoshie, it is not worth my time to answer you because you are the only 
person on a 925 member mailing list that puts forward such views. 
[See, and then some people ask me why I don't post here any more!  What can I do against such odds :-)  ]
If there were only 3 or 4 other people making amalgams between 
Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez, I'd take the trouble to answer you. 
- - - - - - -
First off, I think it is U.S. imperialism that makes amalgams between Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez and Kim Jong Il for that matter.  There is no room in its plan for world domination for fine distinctions among leaders in the colonized world on the basis of class background and ideology.  If you are standing in the way, you are part of the axis of evil, and you had better get to know your co-axialists whether you like it or not, because that solidarity will be the only thing you have.
Second, when someone comes along and starts drawing lessons about Ahmadinejad from the activities of the Revolutionary Guard fully a generation ago (27 years), I think that people are not taking a dialectical attitude.  People change.  Organizations and institutions change.  Sometimes they even change into their OPPOSITE.  This is not my personal discovery.  I thought this was a truism.  I shouldn't have to remind Marxists of this.  
Thirty years ago we were marching against the Shah along with Iranian supporters of various forces in the armed struggle including those Mojahedin whose successors to the name have now become out-and-out imperialist lackeys, pals of Cheney and the like.  When the Communist Party of Iraq was suppressed by the Baath many decades ago they were one sort of thing; today their office is in the Green Zone and they are partners with the occupation government, and they are another sort of thing.
On the other hand, people evolve, or perhaps reveal themselves.  Before 1959, Fidel himself appeared to many in the US left as a bourgeois reformist, a lawyer who perhaps had some idealistic illusions but who was certainly not about to lead a real revolution in Cuba.  In fact, if you look back at the newspapers of my party from 1959, you will see just that idea.  Well, we were wrong.  We were thinking too schematically.  Fortunately we accepted reality rather quickly and learned something from the experience.  Some people in the US left have not caught on yet!  Some people in the US left are absolutely ready to draw the equals sign between Chavez and Ahmadinejad AND Fidel on the theory that they are all bourgeois sell-outs.
Marxism is dialectical, or should be, and dialectics is about, among other things, assessing things in relationship to the forces around them that are forcing them to move and adapt and change.  Given a different world, a different set of struggles, different plans by the US, you would have a different Ahmadinejad, beginning from the same sort of Islamic-bourgeois-populist starting point, and a different Iran, perhaps nicely woven into the imperialist web.  But in fact we have the world that we have; we have Iran (not just the one guy named Ahmadinejad) under the guns of the imperialists, facing sanctions from the imperialists, with war raging in Iraq and Palestine and Lebanon, meeting overtures from Venezuela and sending representatives to witness the firing of the DPRK's rocket tests.  This is having an effect.
Third, I think that Yoshie's piece on "Resolutionary Socialism" was very good, and in fact those ideas are very central both to my idea of what my own party's approach to the global struggle really is, and also to my idea of what Lenin was up to.  If you read the works of Lenin before 1914, you will find a whole lot of stuff about Russia and its economics and politics and how to make a revolution in Russia, but very little about other countries and their politics and parties and how to make revolutions in those countries and how the so-called revolutionaries there are screwing it up.  Lenin almost reminds me of Sherlock Holmes, who scandalized Watson by telling him that it was his policy to forget any information that wasn't useful for his work.  Sam Marcy's approach was always much the same.  During the period of his chairpersonship of WWP, we learned very clearly that our job was to build the struggle here; to fight war and racism and exploitation here; to educate the
 masses about the crimes of our own imperialism.  And, he would say, if we want to have some kind of effect on what people are doing in the name of socialism elsewhere in the world, THAT is the place to start.  People in the rest of the world are not going to listen to us because we are great Marxists.  They will listen to us if, and when, and to the extent that we have done something useful.
I won't speak for other strands of Marxism, but Leninism at least is about activity.  It is not about analyzing everything in the world; it is not about "supporting" or "critically supporting" or "opposing" or labeling as "progressive" or "reactionary" every government and party and politician and demand in the world and second-guessing everybody and everything like chess players analyzing last week's tournament games with Fritz.  It is about doing what is in front of you.  "Sufficient to the day [and the country] is the evil thereof."  And it is about DOING, not siding with or against or adjusting your "tilt" toward or away from Chavez or Ahmadinejad with some kind of political surveying instrument.  It is about supporting forces IN a particular struggle, AGAINST the imperialism against which they are struggling.  
Fourth, I think that Yoshie has her hand on a very very important issue which other Marxists on this planet would do well to think about: why is it that the suffering people of the Middle East who want to fight U.S. imperialism are turning to Islamist ideology and language and models, and not to socialist ideology and language and models?  If you look at things objectively, I think that you have to conclude that it has been supposed Marxists and supposed socialists who have screwed things up so badly and convinced them that socialism was a dead-end street, and there are two parts to this.  
Part A is the collapse of the USSR and the other European socialist countries after 1989, with plenty of blame to spread around among the old-line bureaucrats, the treacherous Gorbachevite bureaucrats, the Chinese side of the Sino-Soviet split, and, last but not least, all the "leftists" in Western Europe and the US and elsewhere who cheered on Yeltsin's counterrevolution in the belief that they were getting "democracy" out of it.  People don't, I think, realize that this has set the world back about a hundred fifty years in political terms, and that in some ways we are back in the world that Marx was experiencing when he was writing about the nations of the empire of Austria-Hungary and the Indian Rebellion and so on.  If you were writing about "bourgeois nationalists" in 1970, for example, you were writing about people whom the US was often relying on to serve as some kind of bulwark against the socialist tide.  "Bourgeois nationalists" today are likely to be
 imperialism's next target for assassination or destabilization, and if there is a decent bourgeois nationalist movement in some country it is like an oasis in the desert and we have to thank God for it.  The national struggle in the colonial world has never been completed - please note that there is a reason why Chavez calls his revolution "Bolivarian" - but in 1970 it was assumed that socialists were about to finish the job, and the main argument was about whether you would call it a "two stage revolution" or a "permanent revolution". Would that we had the opportunity to think about such things today!!
Part B: more particularly, considered as a group, supposed socialists have screwed up the issue of imperialism in the Middle East for nearly a century.  Our high point was the Baku Conference in, what, 1921? but things went downhill after that.  For example, the USSR agreed to turning over Iran to the British colonialists after World War II, and agreed to the establishment of Israel.  After that, because of this bad lesson and because of plain Eurocentrism, or racism, it took two generations before most socialists in the West were willing to consider the oppression of the Arab people to be any kind of serious matter.  Still, after the PLO made the Palestinian struggle impossible to ignore, the socialist countries did provide aid.  But they much preferred to provide it through bourgeois governments in the 1970 sense of the term, and this weakened the influence of the USSR among the revolutionary forces; but if you were an Arab revolutionary on the Chinese side of the split,
 you were hung out to dry by the right turns of the 1970's.  
As to Iran, one of the landmarks on the road to the present day took place in 1974 (I think), when the Shah celebrated the supposed 700th (I think - it was a nonsense number anyway) anniversary of the Pahlevi dynasty, and held a huge extravagant festival to which BOTH the USSR AND the PRC sent representatives, while hundreds of leftists were being tortured in the Shah's jails.  Both the USSR and the PRC were betting that the Shah would survive and would be a good person to cozy up to.  Well, they bet wrong.  If socialists here in the US and in Europe and in the socialist countries had been better friends to the Iranian people all along, things would be different there today, I bet you. 
So that's how we got to where we are today.  It's not that the masses in the Middle East freely chose Islamism over socialism.  It's that the masses in the Middle East have been discouraged over the years from taking the socialist road largely by the mistakes and worse of socialists.  Meanwhile, however, US imperialism has DRIVEN them to resist, so now from Mauretania to Indonesia you have millions of people seeking to struggle against imperialism who are using language and arguments from Islam.  It would be more CONVENIENT (<-----------this is sarcasm) if they would stop struggling entirely until we Marxists in the west have made our own revolutions and made socialism attractive and accessible again, and then they could be fit nicely into our model of how the world should be.  But actually, their struggle is not only the best thing THEY have going, it is the best thing WE have going for us.  Which of our parties is going to claim that it is causing as much trouble to the
 imperialist enterprise as Hezbollah and Hamas and, for that matter, Ahmadinejad are doing today?
Fifth, whenever I hear people complain about "religious groups" and such, I wonder if I have gotten onto a Weberian list instead of a Marxist list.  I thought that if Marxists agreed on nothing else, we at least agree on whether (a) "CONSCIOUSNESS DETERMINES BEING" or (b) "BEING DETERMINES CONSCIOUSNESS".  We are faced with people who are fighting imperialism in fact, using religious ideas and language.  Which is the important thing, the thing that will lead us to choose sides???  The ideas and language??? or the FACT??  Haven't we learned from the experience of centuries that "religion" is adapted to the needs of the contending classes of the time?  
Finally a note to Y.K.: I am with you on just about every point except the "Attack Saudi Arabia" part.  While it might be true that "Attacking Saudi Arabia puts the US government on defense", I kind of think that attacking the US government puts the US government even more on defense, and even though you want to attack Saudi Arabia for its collaboration with the US, some people are going to think you are attacking them for being Arabs and Muslims.  Furthermore it's not quite so simple because the neocons themselves are not very happy with Saudi Arabia these days, as I read it; tomorrow or the day after they might pull some kind of coup in Saudi Arabia in the name of "liberalization" and "reform", and you'd have to move fast to get back on the right side if you were already "attacking Saudi Arabia".
Just my personal take on things,
Lou Paulsen
member, Workers World Party    www.workersworld.net

Embryonic blog at

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