The Iran crucible: reckoning with the effects of stealth propaganda

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(Prepared by the World Socialist Web Site*)

iranMilitiaEnterTehranU2EDITORS’ NOTE: Our coverage of Iran has sparked a multitude of responses, many irate, arguing (baselessly in our view) that we failed to understand the real issues being decided, that we failed to show enough respect or appreciation for the demonstrators (Mousavi supporters) in their “struggle for democracy”, plus some other inflammatory charges, many plainly intended as an insult. While preparing a reply we hit upon this note penned by editors affiliated with the World Socialist Web Site, a group that follows a Trotskyist position.  While we’re not Trotskyists, we do find many of their analyses on the money, so to speak, hence our republishing them on CJO.  Further, in this particular case,  they seem to be suffering from the same malady, the same type of attacks, so while we do not agree with a few  of the writers’ conclusions and premises, we thought our readers would gain by being exposed to the arguments as articulated in this editorial.  In our view WSWS.ORG has done a good job at grappling with the major questions defining the recent Iranian election, at least as it’s being debated in the West.  (Don’t fail to read the bonus feature at the conclusion of this piece, as it lays down the analytical framework explaining the Iran disturbances and processes in a manner unlikely to be found in the bourgeois media, including so-called left publications.)

Iran and the Mousavi phenomenon: who are the real suckers?

Dateline: WSWS, 27 June 2009

iranRioters2bThe World Socialist Web Site receives scores of letters each week which reflect a broad range of views—from the warmly supportive to the ferociously hostile. They all are read with interest. Occasionally we receive letters—whether supportive or hostile—that strike us as particularly significant because they express with exceptional clarity a definite and broadly-based political and social outlook.

Following the publication of the Perspective column of June 25, entitled “International issues in the Iranian crisis,” we received two such letters from one correspondent which angrily denounced our coverage of Iranian developments. The Perspective to which he objected examined the power struggle in Iran within the context of the long and bloody involvement of the United States in the affairs of that oppressed country. We explained the critical interests that underlay the massive propaganda campaign unleashed in the American media following the election.

The first letter declared:

You dishonor the brave people of Iran who are dying in the streets for the right of free expression. You don’t need to look to the New York Times for indications about the corrupt nature of the Iranian election, look to the people on the streets who are standing up against fascism. Nobody in their right mind believes that Ahmadinejad won 2/3 of the vote.

I once looked to your web site to offer a beacon of light, but now your support of the fascist dictators in Iran has shown me what a false and lying bunch you truly are, no better than the extreme right-wingers who are so ready to distort the truth for their own ideological advantage.

Somewhat later in the day, the writer sent a second letter:

Your ‘perspective’ is outrageous. There is no condemnation of the disgraceful and inhumane mowing down of peaceful demonstrators by the fascists in power in Iran. All we hear is the same tired blather about US imperialism. This is not Mossadeq. This is not the Shah or Saddam Hussein.

The world has moved to the point where people are fighting and dying on the streets for democracy and you are stuck in a time warp, mouthing the same old slogans. Shameful!

The political, intellectual and social essence of these letters is revealed in its contemptuous reference to the World Socialist Web Site’s “tired blather about US imperialism.” For our angry critic, the role of American imperialism is an insignificant factor in developments in Iran, of interest only to those “stuck in a time warp.”

In other words, “imperialism” belongs to the past. There is no reason to talk about it when examining contemporary events. Our critic does not tell us why this is so. The fact that the United States is presently waging war in three countries (Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan) that border Iran is dismissed as of no importance. Nor does it matter that Iran bestrides the strategically critical Persian Gulf and possesses immense reserves of oil and natural gas. We must also assume that the WSWS’s references to the CIA-sponsored 1953 coup against the Mossadeq regime and the subsequent quarter century of military dictatorship is also irrelevant “blather”—though we suspect that it remains very much on the minds of millions of Iranians who have not forgotten the Shah’s reign.

The letters reflect the response within broad sections of the liberal and middle-class “left” milieu to the propaganda campaign being waged by the US and Western media in support of the “democratic” oppositional movement in Iran. Of course, our critic does not care to examine the political credentials of the US-backed heroes of the hour, let alone the program they advance and the social forces to which they direct their appeal. That, too, would be “blather.”

Our critic refers to “fascism.” But he fails to offer any analysis whatsoever of the social forces upon which this is based. This is not an insignificant omission. Fascism, at least in the Marxist tradition, has been understood as a movement of the middle class. Even the most fervent opponents of the Ahmadinejad regime in the bourgeois (dare we use this term?) press concede that the anti-government forces draw their mass support from the urban middle class, particularly among those layers who are hostile to the populist economic policies of the government.

This does not mean that the protests against Ahmadinejad are “fascist.” One should be cautious in applying facile labels to heterogeneous social movements. It is apparent that the protests include elements who are sincerely opposed to the anti-democratic Islamic regime. But they are politically confused and are not oriented toward the working class. Their sincerity is no substitute for a socialist program. And, moreover, such elements are not calling the shots in the protest demonstrations.

Our critic declares that the demonstrators “are fighting and dying on the streets for democracy…” He fails to consider what these forces—or, more precisely, the factions of the ruling Islamic establishment that have organized the demonstrations—would do if they managed to gain the upper hand. He does not explain why the outcome of a transfer of power to Mousavi’s faction would be fundamentally different from what occurred in other “color” revolutions backed by the CIA and promoted by the American media. In Georgia, for example, the Saakashvili regime that came to power invoking democracy was recently involved in a US-financed proxy war against Russia and is presently suppressing mass protests.

While our reader insists that imperialist interests play no role in events unfolding in Iran, he might learn something if he took a look at an article that appeared in Friday’s New York Times. Under the headline, “Warily Moving Ahead on Oil Contracts,” a Times correspondent reports from Baghdad: “When Iraq puts development rights to some of its largest oilfields up for auction to foreign companies on Monday, the bidding will be a watershed moment, representing the first chance for petroleum giants like ExxonMobil to tap the resources of a country they were kicked out of almost 40 years ago.”

The report quotes a former ExxonMobil executive, Daniel Nelson, who told the Times: “My guess is that every international oil company in the world, knowing Iraq is blessed with terrific God-given natural resources, is interested in Iraq.”

Is it so difficult to imagine similar reports a year or two after the victory of CIA-backed factions in Iran?

We call attention to our critic’s letter because it reflects a significant political response to the Iranian crisis. It has frequently been the case that a crisis serves as the occasion for what appears to be a sudden shift in public opinion. However, it soon becomes clear that the “sudden” shift is the product of social and political processes that have been developing over a protracted period.

One of the most striking features of the Iranian crisis is, precisely, the unabashed solidarity of so many “progressive” and “left” publications and organizations with the media campaign in the United States and Europe. In the US, the self-styled progressives of the Nation magazine along with virtually all of the opportunist “left” groups have lined up behind the Obama administration and the American media in support of the “color revolution” in Iran. In Britain, the Socialist Workers Party has done the same. The New Anti-Capitalist Party of Olivier Besancenot in France has declared its support for “all those” who want to bring down the clerical regime in Iran, and is preparing to participate in a demonstration alongside supporters of the Sarkozy government.

In Germany, the Green Party has embraced the Iranian opposition headed by Mousavi and Rafsanjani, even as it prepares to enter into coalition with the right-wing Christian Democratic Union of Angela Merkel.

Of course, it is possible, and we certainly hope, that our critic, when he takes time to reflect on developments, will reconsider his position. But, quite independently of this individual, there is no question that substantial sections of the former liberal-left have moved sharply to the right, and the Iranian crisis is providing the occasion for a vociferous repudiation of old political commitments. The roots of this phenomenon lie in real social processes, related to the extreme polarization of class relations in all the major capitalist countries. This polarization is being further exacerbated by the global economic crisis.

Over a period of decades, the middle-class layers that dominated reformist, liberal and even “radical” organizations have seen their economic position and social status improve. They have grown complacent and satisfied, to the extent that their own complaints have been taken care of.

Their political outlook has become dominated by identity and what might be called “life-style” politics. This is one of the reasons why middle-class public opinion is so easily drawn to the protests of well-attired men and women in Tehran, whose social attitudes seem, at least on the surface, to be so close to its own. The growth of a significant level of social egotism within wealthier sections of the middle class has occurred at the same time that the living standards and social position of the working class have undergone a drastic decline.

Over time, these layers have grown increasingly remote and alienated from the working class, to the point of overt hostility. This has been reflected in numerous commentaries in the “left” press disparagingly comparing the “backward” and “devout” workers in Iran with the educated and economically better-off sections of professionals, businessmen and students who form the social base of the opposition.

What does this signify? The opposition to imperialism now shifts more directly and openly to the only consistently revolutionary force on the planet—the international working class. In Iran and internationally, the fundamental political task is the building of the independent revolutionary socialist movement of the working class.

The collapse of the liberal and ex-radical “left” is an unmistakable harbinger of the reemergence of the working class and the advent of a new period of class convulsions on a world scale.

Barry Grey and David North write for


International issues in the Iranian crisis

Dateline: 25 June 2009

President Obama’s declaration, in his June 23 press conference, that he was “appalled and outraged” by the Iranian government’s reaction to protests over Iran’s presidential election results represents an escalation of US pressure on the clerical regime in Tehran. This direct statement, which he suggested was motivated by pressure from Republican Senator John McCain and more right-wing sections of the US bourgeoisie, was welcomed in the US media as the renewal of a more aggressive stance towards Iran.

In the first two weeks after the Iranian election, the White House left the bulk of the propaganda campaign in favor of defeated candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi to the media. As is now clear, however, Obama’s initially muted rhetoric was more a question of tactics than of substance.

Numerous US analysts are writing that the Iranian regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has been decisively destabilized by post-election demonstrations. There are reports of conflicts and purges in the security services, as well as the arrest of the daughters of reformist kingpin Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, as the factions of the Iranian bourgeoisie compete for political and economic advantage.

US business intelligence service Stratfor writes: “Ahmadinejad’s second term will see even greater infighting among the rival conservative factions that constitute the political establishment…. Iran will find it harder to achieve the internal unity necessary to complicate US policy.”

The shift in Obama’s rhetoric signals a move to exploit to the fullest the divisions emerging in the Iranian ruling elite. To significantly shift, let alone change, the regime in Tehran would be seen as US imperialism’s biggest foreign policy triumph since the collapse of the USSR and the Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe.

For US imperialism, as well as its European allies, huge interests are at stake in the outcome of the Iranian crisis. Indeed, the intensity of the media propaganda campaign is the truest gauge of the extent of the interests—geo-political and financial—that are involved. This is an “aspect” of the Iranian crisis that the publications and organizations of the middle-class left—hopelessly gullible and stupid—take no notice of.

In considering the global implications of the Iranian events, it is worth reviewing a bit of history. Since the end of World War II, Iran has played a central role in the foreign policy of the United States. One of the first major conflicts to arise between the USSR and the US in the post-war period concerned the presence of Soviet troops in northern Iran. The Soviet Union chose to withdraw its forces rather than risk an armed collision with the US (backed by Britain).

The subsequent radicalization of the Iranian working class, the growing power of the local Tudeh (Communist) party, and demands for the nationalization of oil resources led to the infamous US-organized coup against the democratically elected government of Premier Mohammed Mossadegh. The Shah Reza Pahlavi, reinstalled on the “Peacock Throne” by the Central Intelligence Agency, looked after American interests in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East for the next quarter century. His regime was sustained by a ruthless security force, SAVAK, which tortured and murdered its opponents.

The relationship between the United States and the Shah’s regime was of the greatest strategic significance, a geo-political fact to which none other than Dr. Henry Kissinger testified at length in the first volume of his memoirs, White House Years. Composed in the aftermath of the Shah’s humiliating overthrow, Kissinger’s tribute to Reza Pahlavi reflected the former secretary of state’s bitterness over the consequences of the Iranian Revolution:

Under the Shah’s leadership, the land bridge between Asia and Europe, so often the hinge of world history, was pro-American and pro-West without any challenge. Alone among the countries of the region—Israel aside—Iran made friendship with the United States the starting point of its foreign policy…. Iran’s influence was always on our side; its resources reinforced ours even in some distant enterprises—in aiding South Vietnam at the time of the 1973 Paris agreement, helping Western Europe in its economic crisis in the 1970s, supporting moderates in Africa against Soviet-Cuban encroachment, supporting President Sadat in the later Middle Eastern diplomacy. In the 1973 Middle East war, for example, Iran was the only country bordering the Soviet Union not to permit the Soviets use of its airspace—in contrast to several NATO allies. The Shah absorbed the energies of radical Arab neighbors to prevent them from threatening the moderate regimes in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the Persian Gulf. He refueled our fleets without question. He never used his control of oil to bring political pressure; he never joined any oil embargo against the West or Israel. Iran under the Shah, in short, was one of America’s best, most important, and most loyal friends in the world (Boston: 1979, p. 1262).

The 1979 Revolution and the emergence of a nationalist regime profoundly changed strategic relations in the Middle East and Central Asia, to the disadvantage of the US and—it must be added—Israel. The United States responded to the loss of its Persian Gulf “gendarme” by encouraging Iraq, ruled by Saddam Hussein (who was made, as required, a US ally), to invade Iran. During the 1980s, the attitude of the US to Iran was deeply hostile, in as much as Iranian influence frequently undermined American initiatives in the Middle East. However, the complexity of Middle Eastern, Persian Gulf and global politics complicated US-Iranian relations, with the United States occasionally seeking a limited degree of accommodation with Tehran. But the relations, in the main, remained hostile.

In 1988, the United States Navy, in a particularly vindictive act, shot down an Iranian passenger jet over the Persian Gulf (the Vincennes Affair), resulting in the death of 252 Iranians (plus 38 non-Iranians). This crime played a significant role in the Iranian regime’s decision to end the Iran-Iraq War on terms favorable to Iraq.

There were (and are) many points of conflict between the nationalist regime in Tehran and the United States. The appeal of Iranian-style Shiite populism threatened the Sunni rulers of Shiite-majority areas in the southern Persian Gulf, such as Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern Province. The regime refused to allow US military installations in Iran, depriving the US of valuable military bases and listening posts directed north into the USSR. More recently, Iran emerged as a major backer of Islamist opponents of Israel, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Iran’s nuclear program has angered the United States—which believes that the acquisition of a nuclear weapon would enhance Tehran’s regional prestige—and frightened Israel, which views a nuclear Iran as an “existential threat.”

US-Iranian relations have global as well as regional implications. Iran has developed diplomatic ties and purchased substantial military equipment from Russia and China, which Washington now views as major strategic competitors. With its huge energy reserves and strategic location, it is the most natural destination for pipelines from China or India to the Middle East, as well as a potential rival of Russia as Europe’s main supplier of natural gas.

In the aftermath of 9/11, the Bush administration escalated US-Iran tensions, denouncing the Tehran regime along with Iraq and North Korea as part of the so-called “Axis of Evil.” That leading figures in the Bush administration advocated war against Iran was well known. However, the subsequent military disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan rendered such plans unviable.

Concurrent with a reconsideration of US policy in relation to Iran—that is, how to develop a longer-term policy for reestablishing US influence over Iran—factions of the Iranian political establishment began indicating to Washington that they were interested in closer collaboration. By opposing Sunni-extremist Taliban forces in Afghanistan and isolating Sadrist forces opposing the US occupation of Iraq, Tehran has helped limit the US occupation forces’ casualties.

However, despite these gestures on the part of the Iranian regime, it cannot satisfy the strategic aims of the United States without surrendering its own nationalist aspirations. The United States, in the final analysis, seeks the restoration of the sort of relationship it enjoyed with Iran prior to 1979. It wants a puppet regime in Iran.

Within the Iranian ruling elite, the question of relations with the United States looms large in internal conflicts. Those factions, associated with Mousavi, who favor the rapid reorganization of the Iranian economy on the basis of global market principles—in the interests of the wealthiest sections of the population—are prepared, in accordance with the logic of their program, to make substantial concessions to the United States. This is what has won them the support of the United States in the recent election and the resulting power struggle.

Whatever its immediate results in Iran, the crisis has created significant political instability, which Washington hopes to manipulate to its advantage. The competing factions of the Iranian bourgeoisie will tend more and more openly to strengthen their internal position by seeking accommodation with Washington. The only social force that can resist such a neo-colonial settlement in Iran is the working class.

David North and Alex Lantier write for WSWS.ORG.

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