Saturday, Oct 25th, 2014

Iran Fantasies

It’s of course a question of solidarity. But solidarity is different from cheer-leading, the Party Line isn’t always the correct one, and leftists seem to have gotten taken for a real ride. Not the outcome anyone wished

By on Thursday, July 2nd, 2009 - 726 words.

It looks like no one voted for Ahmadinejad. Stipulate that fact, and everything falls into place: Ahmadinejad has no legitimacy. His economic programs were worse than worthless. The countryside despises him. The cities are in revolutionary ferment. His populism was sheer charlatanism. His rhetoric, abrasive demagoguery. If no one voted for him, it becomes easy to prove fraud: even one Mousavi supporter means more votes than Ahmadinejad got. Little itty-bitty problem: such a claim is unadulterated non-sense.

Imagine that some of those Iranians, not being wily fellows, did vote for Ahmadinejad. Imagine something really nuts: that the election broke down upon class lines. Who voted for Ahmadinejad? Why? Some guesses.

First, the notion that Ahmadinejad is the neo-liberal and Mousavi, the “hardcore socialist,” in the depraved rhetoric of Hamid Dabashi, simply isn’t correct. There are useful qualms to register about Ahmadinejad’s economic policies over the last four years. But there’s little dispute that he’s operating within limits handed down from above. Ayatollah Khamanei has made it an explicit policy to speed up privatization within Iran, already a long-standing feature of the post-war political conjuncture.

As Kaveh Ehsani notes, in the spring of 2005 he issued a edict that reinterpreted Article 44 of the constitution, which had enshrined state ownership of the economy. “To speed up national economic development; expand ownership among the populace with the purpose of assuring social justice; improve the efficiency of enterprises; enhance economic competition; reduce the fiscal and administrative burdens of the state; improve employment and income for the population; and encourage the people to invest and save.” Ahmadinejad has diverted part of this drive to privatization into the creation of newfangled forms of dispersed ownership, and is widely viewed as an obstacle to wider privatization. Thus it doesn’t shock that the Iranian business community rallied against Ahmadinejad.

Did the countryside vote for him? Eric Hooglund doesn’t think so, because the countryside he’s studied for “over 30 years” represents less than 35 percent of the Iranian population, compounded by a few anecdotes he reports about rural mobilization. Dabashi rather likes this statistic. Problem is, rural geographers and rural sociologists as well as social scientists of all sorts commonly take the UN/World Bank’s rural/urban numbers on their face.

But the definition of “urban” in Iran is often a hamlet of a few thousand people–plainly organically interlinked with the countryside, as are cities of up to 50,000 people, to say nothing of recently-created or newly-burgeoning cities with yet-greater populations, where there has been a massive influx of peasants from the countryside in recent years due to the rapid urbanization often associated with petro-states and third-world cities in general.

What’s the point of all this? Two things. One, again and again, the “social fact” that Ahmadinejad supporters’ votes carry the same weight as those who voted for Mousavi is elided in analysis of the Iranian election, whether there was fraud or not. Is this elitist? Illiberal? Condescending? Have many analysts identified more with the effervescent and/or liberal and/or attractive, young, and wealthy protesters in the streets at the expense of those not in the streets (which is not to spuriously assert that the protesters were a homogeneous mass–I know that anti-Mousavi-ites were among those in streets, as were Marxists)? Yes, they have.

Two, mass protest has waxed and now waned. Mousavi, behind whom protesters rallied, “has been increasingly indecisive on tactics,” and “Rafsanjani has clearly decided to defer to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on handling the outcome of the elections, and has come out as critical of the crowd politics and occasional turbulence they produced. As a multi-billionaire and man of the establishment, he may well have been frightened that the massive street rallies for Mousavi a week ago signaled a danger to the status quo, which he is attempting to preserve,” writes Juan Cole, a point echoed by Sadegh Zibakalam and Ali Reza Eshraghi. The regime is more important than these local aspirations. Such are the men the protesters tragically mobilized behind. And without their support, the crackdown is hammering the leftists and activists in the street with the sheerest force.

As Richard Seymour sonorously intoned, it’s of course a question of solidarity. But solidarity is different from cheer-leading, the Party Line isn’t always the correct one, and leftists seem to have gotten taken for a real ride. Not the outcome anyone wished.

But shit isn’t the real action over in Honduras?

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Max Ajl

Max Ajl is a writer and activist from Brooklyn, NY, currently based in Cairo/Gaza, specializing in measured polemics about Venezuela and Israel-Palestine. Check out his blog, Jewbonics, at

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