Summary: On popular struggles inside Iran, the stakes in Israel and Palestine, and the responsibilities of Marxist-Humanists. Excerpted from a presentation to the Chicago Convention of the International Marxist-Humanist Organization in July — Editors
The Movement from Below in Iran
Last February, the people’s uprising in Iran marked a new beginning in the movement against the Islamic regime. In contrast to previous movements we’ve witnessed in the last three decades, this new spontaneous movement from below seemed to push beyond mere political reform. The regime is unable to suppress it – it continues with women, workers, the poor, as well as ethnic and religious minorities and young students. Every day, workers are going on strike, from factory workers to truck drivers and teachers, mostly for improvements in living conditions, union rights, and wages, which are humiliatingly low. Even according to government officials in Iran, the wages are way below the poverty level and female workers are subject to twice as much oppression and discrimination. Most labor or teacher union leaders are in prison, but the uprising is not over and is moving forward, as seen in the “Down with dictator” slogan targeting Supreme Leader Khamenei. More recently, we have heard the slogan, “Down with the Islamic regime,” a response to the environmental crisis in central regions like Isfahan and southern regions like the Khuzestan province.
A month ago, in Kazeron, and now in major cities like Khorramshahr and Abadan in the province of Khuzestan, we are seeing uprisings against the Islamic regime. We are seeing a major water crisis in those areas. Water supplies have been undermined in the name of agricultural self-sufficiency, resulting in disproportionate sedimentation, all to serve the interests of ruling class gangs like the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (Sepahe Pasdaran). The IRGC is selling drinking water to Iraq while its own people have no water. This regime has practically destroyed the Iranian agricultural environment, and forcefully displaced millions of villagers into cities. In Khuzestan province, this water crisis not only dried up some of the vital lagoons, but also reduced the flow of rivers into the Persian Gulf, causing salt water to enter the rivers and dry up a million palm trees. Freshwater drought and rising salt concentration have destroyed large areas of agricultural land. Without the construction of seawater centers, this regime is unable to control the water crisis, even within the limits of what Arab reactionary regimes can achieve, even though most of these countries don’t even have a small river. And worse, the answer to thirsty people takes the form of bullets or tear gas!
In the recent uprising in Khuzestan, we witnessed a united people, with Arabic slogans alongside Persian ones. This resulted from the double oppression of the two million Arab workers in the province, who suffer both class oppression and racial and ethnic discrimination. Iran may be moving toward the actual overthrow of the dictatorial Islamic regime. (1)
While this people’s uprising was taking shape, Trump and the U.S. government broke with the Iran Nuclear Deal. The U.S.’s implementation of new sanctions intensified the possibility of a new war in the Middle East. Reformers in Iran who had supporters among the middle class and professionals hastened to remind people that if they try to overthrow the government, Iran could become a new Syria. The economic sanctions, which started and then were somewhat mitigated under Obama, had already created an unbearable situation for Iran. During the last few months, people’s monthly income increased on the average from 700,000 to 900,000 tomans ($70 to $90), while the cost of food almost doubled. People had to pay $3.50 for one dozen eggs.
After the Iran Nuclear Deal, Iran’s frozen assets were supposed to be returned, but only 20% of Iran’s money was in fact received. In addition, the Iranian government has no place for all its poor people. While a high percentage of people are living below the poverty line, the fundamentalist regime continues its adventurist, subimperialist policies. It spends its funds in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen, arming them to increase their influence in the region.
Trump’s break with the Iran deal is undermining the Iranian people’s struggle and creating economic misery for them. On the other hand, Trump officially and publicly endorsed the subimperialist alliance of Israel and Saudi Arabia. In part, this was in reaction to the Iranian regime’s support of Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad, in addition to Iran’s involvement in Iraq and Syria and support of Houthis in Yemen. With the help of the IRGC and Russia’s bombardment of Syrian rebels, Bashar Assad’s government has survived.
The Middle East has become a new battlefield for the imperialist powers due to its key strategic and economic importance. At the same time, the structural crisis of capitalism, coupled with the globalization of production, has created the conditions for the resurgence of fascism and economic nationalism, as highlighted by the election of Trump in the United States.
At this moment, as Marxist-Humanists, we must exercise caution and avoid the pitfalls that significant factions of the left have fallen into regarding the situation in the Middle East. We must oppose the reactionary forms of anti-imperialism exemplified by the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Assad regime in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Putin’s Russia.
As Raya Dunayevskaya theorized this question over 50 years ago, “The tragedy of the present situation, insofar as those who profess Marxism is concerned, is this: Just when the freedom movements should be most concrete, they lapse into ‘general theory,’ and just when they must be hold forth a universal, a vision of the new society on totally new beginnings, they suddenly demand ‘taking sides’ with communist state-capitalism ‘because’ it is against Western Imperialism.” (2)
We must of course oppose U.S. imperialism and its followers, who include Iranian monarchists and the Mujahideen. This means we must support the progressive movements from below in Iran that can re-create the dialectics of liberation for today.
On the Israel-Palestine Conflict
As Dunayevskaya wrote in 1967, “Israel has as much right to exist as any other country. Its right to existence is the only issue on which Marxist-Humanists express themselves positively. On issues other than that of self-determination, it goes without saying Marxist Humanists take no sides in disputes between nations, nor compromise their revolutionary position for a totally new society based on human, not class foundations.” (3)
There is no question that Israel has engaged in repeated attacks, economic blockade against Gaza, and apartheid policies in the West Bank. In these ways the Israeli state has acted with unthinkable inhumanity against the Palestinian people. Most recently Israel’s barbaric massacres of unarmed Palestinian protesters at the Israel-Gaza border have undermined any vision of two-state solutions. As long as the ultra-right wing remains in power in Israel, there is no hope for any future progressive outcome. Only those revolutionary subjects with progressive ideas within the two sides can change the outcome.
The U.S. and other imperialist and subimperialist powers, especially the Israeli state, are responsible for the Palestinian people’s suffering. We can also say this about the Palestinian leadership and those who pretended to defend Palestinian people like the Islamic Republic of Iran: The Islamic republic, while suppressing its own people, tries to act like a savior by funding Hezbollah and Hamas in order to gain more power in the region.
Our defense of the right to national self-determination of the Palestinians is dialectical. At the same time, it is not only the Palestinian people in the region who are under attack by the reactionary Israeli state. The Kurds have also been suffering and for several decades have been under attack by reactionary Turkish, Iranian, Iraqi, and Syrian governments, because they have dared to struggle for their own self-determination.
Thus, it is not only a question of Western imperialism, and we need also to consider the other imperialist and reactionary powers. There is no difference between these reactionary states, which from one side are supported by U.S. imperialism and from the other side by Russia, as well as all the reactionary states in the region. History has shown how these powers change their direction – one day supporting one nation and another day destroying it. Look at the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. One day they were friends of the U.S. against Iran under Khomeini and suddenly the next day the biggest enemy. Look at the Shah of Iran who was the biggest friend of Israel and watchdog of the U.S. in the region. And today a different Iranian reactionary regime is the prime target of U.S. imperialism and and the same time, a partner of Russia and Syria against the Syrian liberation movement.
Israel is as reactionary as the other states in the region. The fact is, as Raya maintained: “Marxist-Humanists cannot allow themselves to be drawn into the criminal maneuvers of Big Powers or Little Power politics. What does concern us is how to utilize the events in the Middle East, what they all over again revealed about global conflict among the Big Powers, and also what they revealed about the failure of the struggle for the minds of men in the freedom movement themselves.” (4)
The Movement from Below in Iran and the Dialectics of Organization and Philosophy, an Unresolved Issue
“…During all these years, all post-Marx Marxists – including Lenin who did dig into philosophy but not the party, and Luxemburg who did dig into spontaneity but not philosophy- is organization, the dialectic of philosophy and organization” — Dunayevskaya, June 1987 presentation on the Dialectics of Organization and Philosophy.
The key question of the 21st century that has yet to be fully resolved is how to build a dialectical relationship between philosophy and organization in response to today’s spontaneous movements from below. The new uprisings in Iran showcased to the world the self-activity of the masses in motion under some of the most undesirable conditions – a repressive state apparatus and insecure, unstable living conditions. However, we also need revolutionary theoreticians to relate the self-activity of the masses to dialectical [philosophy. Today’s Khuzestan uprising creates a new chapter in Iranian movement for freedom. That is why the question of the relationship between organization and philosophy is playing an important role in the past and today.
The main failure of Iranian leftists is that they are unable to break from the concept of the Leninist vanguard organization or, if they do, they don’t have philosophy concerning the relationship of organization to spontaneous revolution. In fact, a liberating vision of the future cannot be left to spontaneous action. The movement from practice to theory also needs the movement from theory to practice. Each of these by themselves are one sided. They have to be united and hear each other speak (6). The liberation movement in Iran needs the dialectics of philosophy and organization. That makes the task of Iranian revolutionary theoreticians and groups like ours much harder. For we also need to answer the unsolved question of the past century- what happens after the revolution? This is especially true of Iran, where the masses went through a major revolution in 1979 that ended in the reactionary Islamic Republic. Therefore, they are adamant that they will not take the risk of revolution without some confidence that it would end in a more positive fashion.
- Central Committee of the Road worker organization, July 11, 2018, “From the bread movement to the water movement, the wave of mass struggles in Iran”.
- Dunayevskaya, Selected Writings on Middle East. June 8, 1967, “The Arab-Israeli Collision, the World Powers, and the struggle for the Minds of Men.”
- Dunayevskaya, Power of Negativity. June 1987 “Presentation on the Dialectics of Organization and Philosophy.”
- Dunayevskaya, Power of Negativity. May 12, 1953 “Letter on Hegel’s Absolutes,” the “philosophic moment” of Marxist-Humanism.