21 July 2011

What Is To Be Done?

(Originally posted to Facebook 29 March 2010)

"Authoritarianism will never last long. The gentlemen in power must submit to the wishes of the people, or they will be swept away." - Ayatollah Montazeri

"The velvet elimination of the subsidies in Iran was a historical lesson for the Greens: This is how you revolutionize things and carry out velvety acts." - 24-yr old Iranian political activist

"An injury to one is an injury to all." - slogan of the Wobblies

The State of the Iranian Nation

One day the other week, I posted on my Facebook Wall somewhere between 15 to 20 stories that have been written or conferences that have taken place since 12 June 2009. They all had some version of the same title: “Iran at a Crossroads”. The earliest of these date back to the week after the stolen elections, the latest being the conference most recently held by NIAC (National Iranian American Council). I’d been looking for information for the last one and discovered all the rest, and thought someone should make a point to people who think they have all the answers about events which they are nowhere near being in the middle of.

And yes, I realize others have also used the title to this essay in their own writings on Iran and other subjects. I am making fun of them, myself, and Lenin, who stole the title for his own essay so-named from an earlier Russian, Leo Tolstoy.

Iran is not at a crossroads, a turning point, a fork in the road, a watershed moment, or any of those other phrases we all sometimes use when we get an “aha” moment about things and suddenly something is blindlingly clear to us to which previously we had been clearly blind. Usually when that happens, the people around us act in one of two ways: (1) “You mean you’re just now figuring that out? Where the hell have you been?”, or (2) “What the hell are you talking about? Have you been into your wonder weed from that commune in California again?”.

Rarely are turning points, crossroads, forks in the road, watershed moments, etc., recognized for what they are at the time. Events that seem life-changing at the time frequently turn out to be momentary excitement. Truly pivotal events can only be recognized in the aftermath of the results they bring about once those results are traced back to their source. In the meantime, as Tupac says, life goes on.

The events in Iran since June are the natural outcome of a people feeling “like a dog that’s been beat too much” and spending half their lives covering up. The roots lie in the history of the Islamic Republic going back to the beginning, but they are particularly the outcome of changes that have taken place in Iranian society since the beginning of the student movement of 1999. Like a caterpillar that has woven its cocoon, the larva of Iranian democratic yearning and learning has been spreading out of sight underneath its protective layer. It has spread in varying degrees throughout all classes, ethnic groups, and geographic divisions in the country.

On the evening of 12 June, in the aftermath of having their election so blatantly stolen with such contempt for their votes, the cocoon could no longer contain its charge and the butterfly burst forth.

In his vastly (and often wrongly) overquoted masterpiece, The Art of War, Sun Tzu states to his pupil that the battle is over long before the first blow is struck. The social and political quake that shook Iran this summer has shaken its landscape so much as to no longer be recognizable. The massive overreaction by the Sepah, the Basij, the Hezbollahi, and various other repressive tools against the Green Movement has not been the confident, or even cocky and arrogant, enforcement of obedience by a regime that is unshakable in its foundation. Rather, it has been the panicked scramble for purchase and anchorage of a regime that knows its position is no longer tenable, that for it the light at the end of the tunnel belongs to an oncoming train.

Some commentators, gleefully in some cases and despairingly in others, have pronounced that the Green Revolution begun in June has ended, and ended in defeat. In a sense, it is over, though in the opposite of way they think. The mullahs know it, the Supreme Leader knows it, Ahmadi Nejad knows it, the Sepah know it, the Basiji know it, the Judiciary knows it.

The mad scramble now is for who gets the power once the facade finally falls and the charade fades away. Beneath its hidebound skin of rigid orthodoxy, Iran has been drastically altered since the Islamic Republic first came to power, especially in the last ten years. It's not their country anymore.

Sure, they are the big bullies in the schoolyard right now. At my junior high, there was a small group of friends who got picked on a lot. Then one day they were standing around and decided, “Hey, an injury to one of us is an injury to all of us”. So, when one of them got picked on, they all would go meet the bully and tell him would have to fight each of them one at at time, or he could quit.

That started when they were in 7th grade, and by 9th grade there were a few hundred of them. They never picked fights or pushed anyone around, but they did stand up for each other, and even kids outside their group. And they never had to fight, not even once. They were the runts, but not even the biggest bully wants to fight 200 runts, even one at a time.

The Green Revolution won on 12 June. Everything the regime has thrown at it since has been an effort to convince itself of its own relevance, which is no longer existent. Robin Williams needs to go to Tehran and do his J.B. Stoner imitation for the regime: "Look here, Mr. Khamenei; you've got around 125,000 Sepah, 400,000 Basiji, and a few thousand mullahs and bazaaris, and you’re surrounded by 69 million pissed off citizens. Does the name 'Custer' mean anything to you?"

A Tale of Two (Three) Revolutions

True democracy is not imposed from above but springs up from below. The great strength of the Green Revolution is that the way in which it operates is true democracy in action. It already has the tools it needs to go forward. Of course, government is different than a movement and will have to be more organized. Parties will be formed, alliances will split, friends will castigate each other, cousins will verbally stab each other in the back. Just like at a family reunion.

Currently, the Green Movement operates not at the orders or direction of any “leaders”, but by consensus and voluntary cooperation. “It is grassroots, organic and not controlled by any organization,” said former president Abolhassan Bani-Sadr in a recent interview. Many, almost always observers outside Iran, have complained about this “lack of leadership” and “disorganization” of the movement. There is no one set of people to co-opt, influence, or bend to one’s will; there is no network, apparatus, or organization to destroy and thereby render the movement inert.

Even those most often referred in the western press to as “leaders of the green movement” – Mousavi, Karroubi, Khatami, Rahnavard, Saan’ei, and (sometimes) Rafsanjani – have consistently denied that they are anything more than equal members of the movement. Mousavi said in a recent interview, “Everyone can talk about their ideas and the movement expands within a collaborative environment. As one of the members of the movement, I too will express my comments and suggestions in this environment.”

Every time the “leaders” have made calls for the people to come out, they did so long after plans had been made and routes laid out by the actual movement itself and events were in motion. For instance, the focus on taking over national celebrations and observances was not the decision of the “leaders” but the consensus of the rank-and-file of the Green Movement in the streets about the time of the observance of the 40th day (30 July 2009) after the death of Neda and the others on Bloody Saturday (20 June).

At every step, commentators outside the movement have also tried to water down the goals and aspirations of those in the streets, or they have gone the other way and greatly exaggerated those same goals and aspirations. The latter is fairly easy for the movement to shrug off; the former is more insidious and more of a betrayal.

Whereas Mousavi says “we must take into account all Iranians inside and outside who promote our land,“ many of the former group commentators also condemn nearly every Iranian who adds his or her voice in support of the green movement or against the atrocities of the regime. Mousavi’s remarks in the same interview about the movement having no official spokesperson outside the country did not mean that no one outside Iran has a voice but rather that all Iranians, inside and outside Iran, should have an equal say. However, among those outside whom those inside, especially in the movement, pay attention to include, besides Bani-Sadr: Mohsen Sazegara, Shirin Ebadi, Fatemeh Haghighatjoo, Fariba Davoodi, and the “five intellectuals” listed later.

No one in the movement wants the Green Revolution to turn violent. Violence is the tool of regime, a tool of repression. They don’t want a repeat of the 57 Revolution; they want back the revolution that was stolen from them in 1979. They even use slogans in imitation of those from 1979 specifically to say “we are the real revolution”: “Marg bar Diktador”, “Esteghlal! Azadi! Jomhuri-ye Irani!” (Jomhuri-ye Islami in 1979), and “Allahu Akbar!” shouted from the rooftops.

In response to claims made by some in Iran, but more by those outside, insinuating their goals are merely to reform the Islamic Republic, demonstrators picked up the chant “Change not Reform”. Many of those to whom this was a response have turned it around to say that the green movement wants “change not revolution”, their implication being that rather than altering its fundamental structure, the Islamic Republic merely be tweaked.

What the people in the streets mean, however, is that they do not want a mere exchange of one brand of mullahs for another, an exchange of a strict totalitarian regime for one that is merely moderately repressive authoritarian, but real change. They want the Revolution they won in 1979 and the secular democracy they were promised would come with it.

The chant “Marg bar Jomhuri-ye Islami” which has been used since June, the carrying in protests this fall of green, white, and red flags without the symbols of the IRI, and the cries on Green Quds Day of “Not Gaza! Not Lebanon! I die for Iran!” further demonstrate the direction in which the people of the streets wish to go.

The revolution of the Black Islamism of Khomeini (vs. the Red Islamism of Shariati), or the Black Revolution, took place on the day the constitution of the Islamic Republic was forced down people’s throats. The Hezbollahis who had seized control of the Majlis after Shapour Bakhtiar departed for what he thought would be safe haven, offered the constitution or chaos, which was no choice. The Black Revolution was not a revolution but a coup d’etat and a counter-revolution.

In fact, the Black Revolution bears striking resemblance on many points to another pseudo-revolution that was both a coup d’etat and a counter-revolution: the Bolshevik, or Red, Revolution of 1917:

Both of them usurped revolutions away from broad-based coalitions of disparate forces.

Both had significant 10-day periods, “Ten Days that Shook the World” vs. “Ten Days that Changed Iran”

Both imposed constitutions on their respective countries without any debate.

Both turned on and slaughtered allies that had helped them come to power.

Both faced war invasion and war almost immediately after coming to power.

Both used those wars as an excuse to eliminate dissidents in mass numbers extra-judicially.

Both carried out mass purges and executions a decade after their assumption of power.

Both became one party states – the Communist Party in the USSR and the Party of God in the IRI.

Both were led by bitter, vindictive, unscrupulous long-term exiles who lied about their intentions, gave lip service to the goals of the true left, and pursued absolute power in the name of ideology and the establishment of a totalitarian state.

Some have stated that forced hijab is a secondary issue that can be dismissed or hidden under the cover of “civil liberties” or “human rights”. Perhaps they are unaware this seems like patting the women of Iran on the head and saying, “There, there, little lady, let the big boys handle the important issues and we’ll get to yours later”. On the contrary to that stance, the suppression of women is the foundation upon which the Islamic Republic was constructed, and forced hijab both the symbol and the foundation in turn of that suppression.

The fundamental importance of the women’s movement cannot be understated. In fact, without the women’s movement there would be no Green Revolution; they are its most passionate advocates and most loyal participants. In the words of women’s rights activist Fariba Davoodi: “If you take these women, there are more behind them. We will be there, and you will hear our voices. The government has to understand that it is in a woman’s blood to speak out. The strength of the women’s movement is that the women are not fearful of what will happen to them next.”

Where do we go from here?

The aspirations and goals of the Green Movement, and of the people of Iran, cannot be reduced to such abstractions as “human rights” and “civil liberties”. While the leaders of the recognized opposition may appear “hesitant and confused about what they are fighting for…caught between what they desire and what they think is attainable”, the rank-and-file of the movement is determined to attain what they desire. And what they desire is freedom.

This much is spelled out in the ten points in the “statement of five intellectuals” (Mohsen Kadivar, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Abdolkarim Soroush, Abdolali Bazargan, & Akbar Ganji) released in January which covers most of what those inside Iran want. Careful reading will show that the realization of these ten demands will mean an end to Velayat-e Faqih as well as to the Islamic Republic in all but name. These points are included at the end of this essay.

In the aftermath of 22 Bahman, with a dearth of exciting videos on Youtube and a deficit of really cool pictures on Flickr, not to mention a miniscule number of Tweets, many outside Iran have eagerly celebrated or despairingly mourned the end of the Green Revolution. The truth is that if any victory at all was won by the regime on 22 Bahman, it was a Pyrrhic victory. The regime had to go to huge expense and complex logistics and strained manpower to thwart Revolution Day being taken over by the people in green. The fact that more rather than less (as so many outside have claimed) came out into the streets of Tehran than on Ashura and that demonstrations took place in more cities on that day than before was the movement’s answering Parthian shot.

The conflict between the green movement and the regime is a war of attrition. Some battles like the one on 22 Bahman the regime may win, at least on the surface, but sooner or later resources or personnel or both will be exhausted or burned out. Fortunately, the movement has decided that their revolution will be carried out by nonviolence.

Nonviolence as a tactic of mass social protest began in Spokane, Washington, in 1908, during the Free Speech fights of the Industrial Workers of the World with the municipal government of that city. Wobblies were perturbed by the fact that whenever one of them gave a speech in the street, he or she was arrested for disturbing the peace while the Salvation Army went unmolested doing the same even to the music of a brass band. Wobblies sent out a call to all men willing to be arrested. One would take the soapbox, literally, speak until arrested upon which another would take his place. So many volunteers showed that soon both the city and county jails were packed, and eventually the city surrendered.

It was from the Wobblies that Gandhi derived the practical application of his principle of nonviolence, and, of course, from Gandhi that King derived his own. Ironically, one of the chief developers of the Wobblies’ tactics was none other than James Connolly, who eight years later was shot in Kilmainham Jail in Dublin, Ireland while tied to a chair because of wounds he received in the Easter Rising.

Of the two methods of a “weaker” opponent carrying out a war of attrition against a superior foe, guerrilla war and nonviolence, nonviolence is the only one that permits eventual reconciliation while allowing both sides to save face. Because the mullahs, the Sepah, the Basiji, and the bazaaris profitting off the regime are not going anywhere because they have nowhere to go. They are in the same boat as the Ulster Scots in the Six Counties of Northern Ireland, the European Ashkenazim in that portion of the Levant they call Israel, or the Afrikaaners of (formerly) apartheid South Africa.

I have said before, “I am a Terran, a citizen of Earth. Iran is part of my home, and all its people my brothers, sisters, and cousins”. The mullahs, the Sepah, the Basiji, the bazaaris, and other supporters most certainly fall into the “all its people” category. The lengths to which Nelson Mandela went to reconcile rather than retaliate are a good model for Iran to emulate post-IRI.

Before I have said many times that I have no use for the whole Iran nuclear question which I regard as little more than a phallus-waving contest between different cliques of neoliberals. Yes, Ahmadi Nejad, sweetheart of too much of the western Left (such as Gorgeous George Galloway), is nothing more than a neoliberal seeking profit for himself and his friends from the sell-off of state- owned assets, which is the essence of neoliberalism.

The purpose of a war of attrition is to make the position of one’s opponent untenable and/or force your adversary to realize the tenuousness of that position. The Green Movement has gone a long way toward making the regime realize the tenuousness of its hold, but it still has a long way to go.

I remember back when I was taking Fouad Moughrabi’s “U.S. and the Third World” course at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and one of my classmates changed her mind about doing her term paper on South Africa because the situation at the time seemed so hopeless. Frankly, in the early 1980’s, it was hopeless. What eventually helped turn the tide in South Africa for those opposing apartheid was the support for sanctions that began in the mid ’80’s.

What I also remember is that the arguments which were made at the time against sanctions on South Africa are exactly the same as the arguments against sanctions for the Islamic Republic. Therefore, I wholeheartedly and unequivocably support economic and financial sanctions targeted or broad with the purpose of destabilizing the regime, not because of its imaginary nuclear program but because of its abuse of its own citizens. It is the only method through which we on the outside can truly and in a likewise nonviolent manner support the nonviolent struggle of the Iranian people.

Contrary to his promises of ridding the Islamic Republic of corruption, under Ahmadi Nejad’s term of office that corruption has increased many times over. In dismantling the vast array of state-owned industries and businesses, Ahmadi Nejad has steered the largesse almost exclusively to his supporters and benefactors, most prominently the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. As a result of this and other mismanagement by his administration, the Iranian economy is in shambles.

Objective outside analysts can demonstrate Iran’s economy is in a steady decline, at a much faster rate than the rest of the world is suffering because of the global financial disaster. Many civil workers and public employees have received no salary or wages for months. The same is true for employees of many businesses and industries owned by the government and its allies throughout the country.

As was the case with South Africa, many worry that sanctions will hurt ordinary citizens. A good friend of mine, an Iranian, who is strongly in favor of sanctions replied both Yes and No to the question. In the short term, he said, there will be more pressure on the people. But sanctions will hurt the regime and the current administration even more, financially for certain and politically as well.

For hardship will lead to unrest, strikes by labor, increased demonstrations in number, breadth, and intensity, until both the regime and the administration will no longer be able to escape the fact that its position and the repressive measures with which they have subjugated the people and nation of Iran are no longer tenable, just as the apartheid regime in South Africa discovered.

I know many, especially on the Left, feel squeamish about the idea of sanctions because the move originally derived from the neocons’ imperialistic desires in the region, and/or because they recognize the nuclear issue for the straw man that it is. However, taking a stance against sanctions for those reasons is to hand over one’s chains to those whom you claim to oppose, because that validates the framework in which they have put the question.

One reason first and foremost to support sanctions against the regime, the IRGC, and their commercial allies: the strongest voices for sanctions come from within the movement inside Iran itself, as was the case previously in South Africa. In answer to those who would say that sanctions such as these can easily be avoided, I point to the examples of Rhodesia and Libya, the attempts of both of which were quickly thwarted using much less effective methods of detections than are true of those today.

Azadi, barabari, va edalat baraye hamae Iran: Rooze ma khahad amad.

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