[Video] For a New Year! For a New World! Nowruz Spring Celebration

Kevin B. Anderson,
Mansoor M.,
Marcelo Mendez,
Hamid Vahed

The West Coast Chapter of the International Marxist-Humanist Organization held a well-attended Nowruz (Persian New Year) celebration that combined enjoyment of food and drink by our members and friends, as well as speeches on Yemen, ecology and the new society, and Marx’s concept of communism/free association. It also featured Iranian-Latin Fusion Music/World Music by “Mansoor and Friends” – Editors

How Should Marxists Respond to the Yemen Crisis? – by Hamid Vahed

The focus of political crisis has been shifting from one point to another very rapidly. What started in Tunisia transferred to Egypt and toppled the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak. Following the events in Egypt, the people of Libya and Syria rose up against their dictators. If Qaddafi was overthrown relatively easily with the help of the whole imperialist world, Assad in Syria has survived after three years of armed struggle.

Unlike Qaddafi, who was completely isolated, Assad has enjoyed the assistance of Iran, Lebanese Hezbollah, and Iraq’s Shia militias. In Syria, the Alawites, who are a Shia sect, have the upper hand in the government.

Space for a progressive party was lacking in the Syrian crisis. Progressives were hemmed in by both the Assad government and reactionary parts of the opposition, which were funded by imperialists and subimperialists like Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

With the appearance of ISIS, the crisis was transferred to Iraq. ISIS took advantage of the unhappiness of the Sunni minority in Iraq and conquered some major cities like Mosul. The advance of ISIS was stopped by the resistance in Kobane, in the Kurdish region of Syria. In fact, Kobane rekindled the spirit of revolution in the Syrian civil war. Although the leaders of the resistance in Kobane were impressed by the newly anarchist ideas of “Apo” Ocalan, the leader of the PKK, revolutionary Marxists all over the word supported and helped the resistance in Kobane. For Marxists, Kobane recalled the Paris Commune. Although it was organized in part by anarchists, Marx and Engels did not hesitate to support the first workers’ state.

Kobane was an exception in our era, in which religious movements have appeared, one after the other. Once Marx said, “Religion is the opium of the people.” By that Marx meant that religion acts like a tranquilizer that calms down the exploited, unhappy workers, and makes them stop asking questions and fighting for justice, instead relaxing and praying. If Marx witnessed the emergence of Khomeinism in Iran, the Taliban in Afghanistan, Boko Haram in Nigeria, and ISIS in Syria/Iraq, he would have said religion is the LSD of the people, which makes people nuts and wanting to explode themselves and behead their foes and all of it under the name of Allah and his Prophet Muhammad. In the face of all these reactionary religious movements, Kobane was an exception in that leftist fighters there defeated ISIS.

Soon after the victory in Kobane against ISIS, the flame of civil war flared up in Yemen.

Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Yemen was divided between South and North. The South was supported by the Soviet Union and the North was pro-Western. After the collapse of the Soviet bloc, Yemen became one country. The conflict between the present Yemeni government and the Houthis goes back a decade. The Houthis are a sect of Shia Islam. The Islamic Republic of Iran has supported and trained their militia. Last month, during the celebration of the anniversary of the founding of the Islamic Republic, a picture of the Houthi leader — Abdolmalek Alhouti — was carried in the procession.

Iran’s intervention in Yemen has worsened its relations with the Saudis. Recently, some Arab countries like Egypt, Sudan, Jordan, and Kuwait, as well as Turkey and Pakistan, started air strikes against the Houthis, who are in control of most of the Yemen. The U.S. and Israel openly supported these airstrikes.

The Houthis want a religious Islamic government. The Marxist position should be to reject the rhetoric of Islamic leaders when they use populist propaganda to stir up the masses. Unlike many in the global Left today, who have supported Assad, the Houthis and Iran, the Marxist position should condemn the imperialist attack on Yemen but should not fall for the anti-U.S., anti-Israeli rhetoric of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Houthis.

Both sides of the conflict in Yemen are reactionary. The Houthis want to impose a religious government and are supported by Iran, while the other side is supported by imperialist and subimperialists (Turkey and Saudi Arabia).

Stalinists have openly and without any hesitation supported and defended the Houthi rebels, but Marxists should not forget the outcome of the Iranian revolution of 1979.

A friend of mine asked me if the possibilities existed for a progressive movement in Yemen, similar to Kobane. I replied that I am not sure, but noted that for more than twenty years a pro-Soviet regime ruled South Yemen. It was the only Arab country where something like this took place. During this time, Marxist literature was published and many progressive social measures were taken. Marxist revolutionaries in the Dhofar region of neighboring Oman also fought a long war against the imperialists and the Shah of Iran in this period.

 

To be sure, the Marxist tradition exists in Yemen, but the question is how and when this tradition will bear fruit and we will witness the development of a revolutionary party in Yemen.

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Glimmers of the New Society in the Environmental Movement – by Marcelo M.

I don’t think there’s any need to go over capital’s dire implications for the fate of the species and its rather horrific manifestations, both past and present. So let’s turn towards more positive prospects.

Joel Kovel writes in his ecosocialist book, The Enemy of Nature, that “the ecological crisis is like a nightmare in which the demons released in the progressive domination of nature on a world come back to haunt the master.” I think that by visiting the graves of these spirits, by reviving, in respectful manner, the life experiences of those tread under the wheels of capitalism, we uncover the hidden potential of societies, buried in the wake of the Western world.

Take single-row cropping. Previous societies would plant species not in single file, but in a wide variety, this knowledge passed down and refined from the work of previous generations. Some beans would be planted, along with squash, pumpkins, potatoes, perhaps a rock here or there. This would allow for the humble worm to digest rock and release vital minerals plants need, a bird coming down to eat this worm and in the process fertilize the soil via its waste, the end result of these processes being fertile soil and a high yield of crops. Humans are only one part of this ecosystem, and many past societies would acknowledge this, expressed through their cultures. Though this knowledge has been washed away, I don’t think it’s gone forever. If anything, we need alternative societies more than anything. Previous societies didn’t have the scientific method, but they did have experiential knowledge. I think that a mix of traditions and modern day advancements reveal what new societies will be like.

I think the role of the IMHO in helping usher new societies is very important. Few groups are asking the right questions regarding an ecologically sustainable, socially just society, let alone finding the right answers. The theory this group produces is sharp, to say the least. It’s also very exciting. It leaves the imagination to wonder what application of such theory would look like. Personally, I’d like to see a Marxist-Humanist film, a film that captures the role capital plays in the formation of today, and how a better tomorrow may be brought about.

I wish I could speak more about the environmental movement, but I am only twenty years old, with little experience in the movement. Though powerful forces make closing the wage gap difficult, I think that the age gap is within our control, something I’ve noticed in the actions I’ve participated in. And the process of creating new societies shouldn’t be so high up in the air. Walking around, you just see everyone on their phones, heads in a downward tilt. It’s like capital’s won. I think people smiling and saying hello is something I’d like to see in new societies.

 

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Karl Marx’s Concept of the New Society – by Kevin Anderson

Nowruz as we know is a spring festival, a New Year’s celebration timed to the beginning of spring. It is Iranian, but also Afghan, Kurdish, and Pakistani, among others. (And it’s a much more intelligent date for New Year than the Western Christian notion of New Year in the dead of winter.)

In a way, Nowruz and other great popular celebrations and festivals are communistic: shared food and other resources, cooperative labor to create and carry them out, diminishment if not suspension of social hierarchies. In this way, such festivals point toward a future of freedom and self-determination for all.

At the same time, these festivals are often supervised by state or religious hierarchies. Nor are they free of traditional gender and status hierarchies. Thus, they are also part of the structures of domination. Sometimes they allow a society to let off steam, so as to return afterwards to regular, oppressive existence.

What of popular, freedom-seeking revolutions? Aren’t they in a way the extension and radicalization of festivals like Nowruz? Isn’t that why so many of them occur in the spring? Isn’t that why the Russian revolutionary Lenin, in the midst of 1917, called revolution “a festival of the oppressed”?

Karl Marx wrote repeatedly of democracy, communism, and the free association. What did he mean by that?

Well, for starters what Marx meant was not substituting state-capitalism for the private interest of individual capitals, as was tried in Russia, China, Cuba, etc. Still less did he mean religious fanatics claiming their moralizing rule would eliminate the oppressions of private interest and imperialist machinations, as in Iran.

First, for Marx communism or the free association meant the throwing off of political domination — don’t forget that in his lifetime almost all countries were monarchies, empires, or military dictatorships — and establishment of democracy. But that was only a political revolution, as we had in America in 1960s with Civil Rights Revolution, or as many of those who came onto the streets in Iran in 2009 seemed to be advocating.

Second, for Marx the process meant deepening that democracy toward communism or free association.

Steps toward this deepening of democracy included:

Abolition of private property over the means of production: large landholdings, large industrial and communications networks, etc. This would crimp the wealthy, for sure.

For the working people — and here I mean not just those working for wages but also those toiling in unwaged housework, child-rearing, etc. — communism or the free association meant for the first time, real leisure time. As he wrote in Grundrisse, quoting an 1821 pamphlet: “Truly wealthy a nation, when the working day is 6 rather than 12 hours. Wealth is not command over surplus labor time…but rather, disposable time outside that needed in direct production, for every individual and the whole society” And at our higher level of technology today, that could mean far less than 6 hours per day.

Also for the working people, communism or the free association meant meaningful, creative labor, ending what he termed the stultifying division between mental and manual labor, where a few end up doing more creative labor and the many instead do drudgery.

Also for the working people, communism or the free association meant cooperative labor, carried out in common and under democratic control.

At its root, communism or the free association meant ending production for value, surplus value, and eventually profit, and production instead on basis of, as he wrote in Capital, on the part of “freely associated human beings.” There it is, in his own words, the free association.

That type of free association is what we experience on a small scale in something like Nowruz. But what we need is Nowruz in permanence, or at least the best parts of it. That would echo Marx’s old slogan, “revolution in permanence.”

 

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Iranian-Latin Fusion Music/World Music – by Mansoor & Friends

Before and after these 3 speeches, Mansoor & Friends performed their Iranian-Latin Fusion Music. Here is a video clip from their song, “Aya Be Yad Dari [Do You Remember]/Sweet,” which features an Iranian melody from an old song, sung to a Latin rhythm with English lyrics.

 

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4 Comments

  1. Dave Black

    Like Hamid, I celebrate the victory of the secular-left Kurdish fighters against ISIS at Kobane. As he points out, in the struggles and conflicts of the Middle East, “Kobane was an exception in our era, in which religious movements have appeared, one after the other.” Hamid refers to the revolutionaries of a generation or so ago in the Middle East, many of whom had popular support. There should be more discussion on why all these were defeated. Did this happen just because of the strength of imperialist intervention and religious reactionaries, or was it also because of their own serious shortcomings in both theory and practice. It should be noted that the formerly “Marxist-Leninist” Yemeni Socialist Party currently supports the Western-backed bombing of Yemen by Saudi-led coalition forces.
    When Marx came up with his famous line about religion being the opium of the people, the religious preachers at the time really were promoting their creeds as an alternative palliative to opium. At the time opium had been cheapened as a legal mass-consumer goods as result of the British naval attack on China: English factory workers could buy a dose of laudanum from the pharmacies on their way to work at the dark satanic mills; and in some some rural areas taverns served opium-laced beer.
    Hamid will no doubt be aware that the full quote from Marx’s Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right regarding religion is not so one-sided as is often thought:
    “Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”
    And,
    “Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower.”
    Historically, from the early Christians through to the Muslim, Jewish and Christian heretics of the Middle Ages, and Martin Luther King and beyond, religious protest against suffering has frequently taken forms that have been revolutionary in both thought and life. Atheism in its “Marxist-Leninist” and Dawkinsite variations doesn’t really do “fantasy or consolation” convincingly and tends to promote bourgeois rationalism and pragmatism.
    Hamid says:
    “If Marx witnessed the emergence of Khomeinism in Iran, the Taliban in Afghanistan, Boko Haram in Nigeria, and ISIS in Syria/Iraq, he would have said religion is the LSD of the people, which makes people nuts and wanting to explode themselves and behead their foes and all of it under the name of Allah and his Prophet Muhammad.”
    Whilst the murderious insanity of these groups might go beyond the metaphor of religion as the opium of the people, I don’t think LSD is relevant in this context. There is no evidence – apart from the Fox News variety (which is evidence-free) — that tripping on LSD “makes people nuts and wanting to explode themselves and behead their foes.” I’m sure if this was the case the likes of ISIS would be using it for those very purposes.
    In fact, in 1950s the British armed forces tested LSD on troops during battlefield exercises and found it made them totally useless at fighting and impervious to orders.
    “Fifty minutes after taking the drug, radio communication had become difficult, if not impossible. But the men are still capable of sustained physical effort; however, constructive action was still attempted by those retaining a sense of responsibility despite their physical symptoms. But one hour and ten minutes after taking the drug, with one man climbing a tree to feed the birds, the troop commander gave up, admitting that he could no longer control himself or his men. He himself then relapsed into laughter.”
    http://scribol.com/anthropology-and-history/soldiers-on-acid
    I’d prefer to see Islamists climbing trees to feed the birds rather than murdering people.

    Reply
  2. ali kiani

    I liked the article because it not only reflects the political reality of the Middle East and its complications, which the left is confronted with, but also the importance such movements as Kobani. But the comment Dave made is also valid, with one exception, that what Hamid said has roots in a fanatical Islamic group. The fact is that the first terrorist group was an Iranian Muslim one called Fedayeen Islam that carried out a number of political assassinations by feeding opium to members at the time of their acts to prepare them for carrying out an assassination in Iran. My point is that you can not draw an accurate political picture of what is happening in the Middle East if you are not aware of the important aspect of religion and culture and politics and the difficulties Marxists and Marxist-Humanists are facing as they confront this challenge.

    Reply
  3. Shahab

    In my opinion what we have to focus on – from the revolution in Iran to the Arab revolution and ISIS and Yemen today – is the political role of religion, not its stupefaction role. The reality is that political Islam — contrary to those religions that seek to appease the people and encourage them to give up and accept the existing conditions — has had a arousing (not awakening) role, and has moved the masses, raising the flag of protest and riot against states. This can be explained by the political vacuum due to the lack of a progressive and democratic alternative during a social and political crisis and lack of political parties that enjoy mass support and are able to organise the class struggle and play a role at a time of social and political crisis. (Keep in mind that imperialism also has a role in these vacuums and in preventing the development of a progressive and democratic alternative.) Political Islam has raised the flag of insurgency and protest — and without any competition to excoriate it — but as Hamid says is reactionary and does not present any progressive and democratic alternative and is a leap to retrospection and not revolution. The question for Marxists is not only to remind us of this repressiveness to those who think this insurgency of religion contains a spontaneous revolutionary element. But the main question is, after drawing a line with two reactionary poles and after solving the crisis of representation, and creating the revolutionary leadership in the middle of social crisis: What can we do and what is to be done? I know the answer to this question is not in anybody’s pocket. But this is the main problem.

    Reply
  4. Hamid Vahed

    Dave has asked several questions, I answer to his most important one: ”why the left was defeated in Iran after 1979 revolution?”.
    1. Long before Khomeini stated to send his political cassette tapes through his people to Iran, he was not well known. Two organizations of MKO and Fedayeen had a 7 years bloody battle against the Shah’s regime. There were a lot of prisoners from these two organizations and they were very popular among students and intellectuals.
    2. Although the Shah forced Khomeini to go into exile and stay in Iraq, the Shiite clergy structure remained untouched and very much alive. There were about 25,000 clerics freely preaching all over the country. These clerics were funded by the center of activities in two cities, Qom and Mashhad. The structure of the Shiite clergy was working very much like a political party. Guidelines were coming from Khomeini and distributed all over the country. In one year Khomeini became the most well-known figure in the opposition. Then he flew from Paris to Iran. Obviously if the imperialist powers did not want this, he could not easily move from Iraq to France and from France to Iran. In order to keep the capitalist order, Khomeini was the best alternative for Imperialist powers. Without him, the left in Iran could easily win the revolution.
    3. Khomeini was a populist. He said the after the Shah, the poor will enjoy free housing, transportation, water and power and women will not be forced to wear hijab and Marxists will be free to express their opinions. The populist rhetoric of Khomeini not only deceived the masses, but also confused some political parties like the pro-Soviet Tudeh Party. Although the true repressive nature of Islamic regime appeared after they got into power, the Tudeh Party supported Khomeini in spite of the increasing numbers of organized attacks on meetings and gatherings of progressive parties. For the Tudeh Party, democracy meant anti imperialism. The Tudeh Party was trying hard to convince other leftists to accept their understanding of the Iranian revolution and support Khomeini’s regime who in near future will find their real friends in Iranian left.
    4.Tudeh propaganda created a big split among the among the biggest leftist organization in the Middle East, the Fedayeen. The majority of the Fedayeen followed Tudeh and started to support Khomeni. This split broke the backbone of left in Iran.
    5. Beside the destroying effect of Tudeh, the other Stalinist parties did not have a clear vision of the situation and were adventurist. Peykar was talking about revolutionary conditions and was choosing offensive tactics. League of communists, another Stalinist organization decided to start the armed struggle from jungles in north of Iran. The adventurist tactics gave a good excuse to Khomeini regime to murder and imprison all leftist activists.
    6. The Left in Iran has learned from its mistakes and the new generation of Marxist leaders has drawn a clear line between Marxism and Stalinism, between opportunist apologetics and revolutionary strategy.

    Reply

FROM THE SAME AUTHOR