It should come as no surprise as a secularist, atheist and a communist that I am opposed to the religious theocracy that currently governs Iran. The governing theocrats hijacked the popular revolution of 1979 led by communists, workers and students. After their installation in power, those same mullahs had thousands of our comrades summarily murdered in order to consolidate their reactionary state. Every socialist and communist should yearn for their overthrow at the hands of the Iranian working class.
Now it is true that the Islamic Republic of Iran has been subjected to threats from Israel and US, which must be clearly and consistently exposed and opposed. We should not let anything happening in Iran be used to justify any US grab for Middle East hegemony. That is not in dispute.
Such respect for the people of Iran as they try to take back their corrupt government. You will see great support from the United States at the appropriate time!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 3, 2018
However, we should be wary of reducing the world to a single defining contradiction. It is true that the United States is the main bulwark of imperialism, but it is hardly the only reactionary force in the world. In many cases, the “big bully” of the USA is opposed to “little bullies” like the Iranian mullahs. We should resist the urge to “prettify” local oppressors, who find themselves (for whatever reason) are in opposition to US imperialism. We are told that supporting protests in Iran (or elsewhere) is giving ammunition to imperialism and fostering regime change.
Now there are protests in Iran. There is a remarkable hostility among leftists toward sections of the people who rise up, albeit in still inarticulate ways. This reflects a politics of despair where we have no alternative but to fall int line behind any forces (no matter how reactionary or not) who (for a myriad of reasons) who are in conflict with the United States. But what about us, leftists in the imperialist centers? Should we rally to the Iranian theocrats during moments when they are exposed, hated, de-legitimized, targeted by large swaths of the people?
It is true that the United States, as evidenced by Trump’s tweets, wants an outcome amenable to their interests. Again, that is to be resolutely opposed. However, does that mean that a pro-US outcome is the only alternative to the Islamic Republic? A great deal is unclear due to the “fog of war” that accompanies such news and the filters of the bourgeois press. Certainly there are monarchists in the streets (a minority it appears) along with those with more leftist demands. What line and politics will come out on top remains unclear. In other words, there are many dynamics at work and different players with their own interests.
We should not reduce this movement, like the one in 2009, to those who called it into being. It is not necessarily limited to the forces who claim to lead it. It’s course is not set by them. The people themselves can develop their own programs to represent their own organizations. The US is certainly intervening in a myriad of known and unknown ways. But their outcome is not guaranteed. Who says that the people of Iran have no agency, no possibilities or opportunities of overturning the simple binary of choices on the table?
In a world filled with reactionary governments, whether the US or Iran, leftists and the people generally do not have to pick between them. There is the possibility for other openings where radical and revolutionary forces can learn, organize and act. The politics of “lesser evilism” in regards to foreign affairs follows the same logic as on the domestic front – it is a politics of lowered expectations and cold cynicism that denies the possibility of revolution. This simplistic approach denies the ability of the people to learn complex politics and act with their own agency.
Iranian people awakening to political life and fighting for the first time are liable to go through rapid changes. Just look at the US in the 1960s. At a very basic level, we should understand the importance, the promise of people rising against their oppressors. We should have confidence in them to find their way and find a revolutionary road as they come together. It is true that this outcome is not guaranteed, nothing ever is. Revolutionary lines can lose. When movements erupt, revolutionary ideas often travel in their wake.
To borrow an old Maoist phrase: “It is right to rebel against reactionaries!”