Steve Clark pens a piece supposedly about Iran, though I doubt any Iranian will recognize his country by reading it. I tried to make head or tail of it, and all I can muster is that it's not really about Iran at all. Instead it's about the Socialist Workers Party (SWP)--an exercise in group psychotherapy.
The article isn't worth reading unless you're an obsessed Party-phile like me. You'll learn nothing about Iran, and discovering anything about the SWP requires more work than it's probably worth. But here goes.
It begins auspiciously enough with a preface by the editor, including this paragraph [links added by me].
The Militant, echoing bourgeois media coverage, inaccurately presented those actions [unrest in December & January--ed] as largely a response to economic grievances and Tehran’s cutbacks of subsidies and social expenditures. This was captured by headlines in the Jan. 15 and Jan. 22 issues: “Economic Crisis Behind Protests in Iran Cities” and “Working-Class Discontent Continues to Spread in Iran.” While improved coverage appeared in subsequent articles, the failure to publish an explicit correction denies readers the facts and analysis they need to understand the political roots of these events and their significance in the ongoing class struggle and wars in the Middle East and today’s world.I've read those pieces (both by Terry Evans) and see nothing that needs to be retracted. Mr. Clark is not at all explicit about what in Mr. Evans' articles requires correction, perhaps apart from the headlines.
This paragraph is as explicit as Mr. Clark ever gets.
Two centuries of experience have taught politically conscious workers that neither popular revolutions, nor resistance by working people to the consequences of defeated revolutions, are fueled primarily by “economic discontent.” Much deeper social and political questions of class, sex, sect and race push working people into action in our tens and hundreds of thousands (and, at decisive points, in our millions). Above all, it is the class and social inequities and indignities of capitalist exploitation and oppression that erode the moral legitimacy of the rulers and their state. And nothing propels mounting resistance more than the privileged classes’ military adventures and wars, as the rulers’ nationalist and religious rationalizations (Persian and Shiite, in the case of Iran) begin dissolving in blood.For the life of me, I read nothing in Mr. Evans' articles that contradicts this at all. Only the word "economics" in the headline slightly diminishes the effects of "class, sex, sect and race." Though forgive me for not having noticed such a glaring error to begin with.
A "Kremlinological" analysis suggests that Comrade Evans is about to become a non-person, whose serious ideological errors make him unfit to be a worker-Bolshevik. I think this is the wrong conclusion--the prefatory remarks explicitly blame "The Militant," not the individual reporter. Nobody is likely to be liquidated.
A second interpretation is that the Party is losing its working class outlook and becoming boringly mainstream. Nobody interested in Iranian politics (or any politics, for that matter) will find the list of "social and political questions" objectionable. To the contrary, they're obvious and uncontroversial. This is Marxist dialectics turned into bland truisms.
But I don't think this is the correct interpretation, either. However banal Mr. Clark's piece might be, the Party is not arguing for banality. Theirs is another agenda.
So that leaves a third interpretation, namely that the Party wants to rewrite history. To wit: it needs to justify its support for the 1979 Iranian Revolution, while at the same time opposing the current Iranian government. This is harder than it sounds: the Party supported the Soviet Union to the very end, yet strongly criticized its Stalinist government as betrayers of the Revolution. The term used to describe this "dialectical" relationship was critical support. That is, within Russian politics the Stalinists had to be opposed at every turn, but vis a vis the United States the Soviet Union had to be defended. The Party upholds that same principle for North Korea (less support and more criticism) and Cuba (more support with less criticism).
But the SWP now wants to withdraw critical support from the Iranian government, and oppose them outright. This is surely the morally correct position: it will allow them to oppose Assad in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas in Gaza--murderers all. But it leads to great theological difficulties--somehow revolutionaries in 1979 have to be transformed into counter-revolutionaries who have to be categorically defeated.
And therein lies the rub. Mr. Clark is very clear that the Party supported the 1979 revolution. But sometime and somehow between 1979 and 1982 a counter-revolution occurred. He's not at all forthcoming about what or how this decisive event happened--that's what makes the article so frustrating to read. But mysteriously it has something to do with Farrell Dobbs' book Teamster Bureaucracy (!?), the fight of women to wear the hijab (before 1979), and then not wear the hijab (after 1982). There was no cataclysmic event, no paroxysm of violence, nor any other single marker to signal this fundamental shift in the class line.
Weird. Long time followers of The Militant will recall that the Party viewed the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe as workers' states, even into the late 1990s. Despite the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany, the East Germans had still fundamentally changed the ownership of the means of production and the relationship of class forces. Despite the collapse of the Stalinist regimes, no counter-revolution had taken place, and therefore social conditions had not fundamentally changed.
It's all described in Jack Barnes' rather silly book entitled US Imperialism Has Lost the Cold War, published in 1998. It's a view they periodically reassert, though I think they've long since given up on calling Eastern Germany a "workers' state."
Yet in Iran, for no discernible reason, a revolutionary government has quietly morphed into a bourgeois, counter-revolutionary government without anybody noticing--at least not until Steve Clark let us in on the secret last week.
Inconsistency aside, I actually applaud the Party for their newfound theory. It does put them on the side of angels, sharing a position not only with me, but also Louis Proyect. The opposite opinion is held by much of the Left, including the execrable Socialist Action, which shills for Bashar al-Assad even to this day. Sort of like supporting Pol Pot.