It was with utmost appreciation that I read Shourideh Molavi and Niloofar Golkar’s analysis of the 2009 revolutionary movement in Iran. The radical Left’s unfortunate confusion with resect to Iran did not, of course, begin with the recent movement. One can hardly find a greater betrayal of internationalist principles adopted by the approach of the Western Left than toward the complexities of Iranian society in the aftermath of the 1979 Revolution. Never have the disastrous results of abandoning internationalism been so glaring and apparent.
The Left’s endorsement of the Islamic Republic as some sort of revolutionary or anti-imperialist alternative led to massive confusion, not least for the thousands of Iranian leftists who were slaughtered during bloody regimes’ first decade. This same confusion – i.e. this same betrayal of internationalist principles – has led leftists to politically support reactionary forces like Hezbullah in Lebanon and even to support the establishment of medieval Sharia law in Ontario! It’s thus not surprising that these leftists have been unable to build any meaningful connection with those they claim to support.
The short but riveting piece by Golkar and Molavi makes an important contribution by correctly identifying these wrong-headed approaches as hypocritical, simplistic (in terms of assessing Iranian class dynamics) and Neo-Orientalist. Their other important contribution is to explain how the different wings of the Islamic regime represented by Mousavi and Ahamdinejad both support the oppressive order in Iran and stand behind its turn toward IMF-style measures like privatization.
I would add that it’s necessary for the Left to move beyond “solidarity” so that we might begin to foster genuine socialist internationalism, an important principle that has unfortunately been lost during recent decades. Revolutionaries in Canada and other parts of the West need to do more than “understand” the revolutionary movement in Iran and the Arab World. Even building actions in “solidarity” with Iran is not enough. Instead, we must boldly take sides and positions, criticize, and help it to formulate strategies for going forward.
This was the approach taken by those of us who founded the Afghan & Iranian Youth Network of Ontario (AIYNO) in the summer of 2009. Among AIYNO’s principal founders, some (like myself) were Iranian communists who had been in Canada for less than a year while others were born or had spent most of their lives here. These personal details did not determine the kind of internationalist work we conducted under the AIYNO banner. Taking an internationalist approach, we participated in solidarity actions, boldly took part in movement discussions during its different phases, and also encouraged Iranian “solidarity activists” living here to fully participate in the struggles of the Canadian workers and youth (Toronto City workers strike, fight for status for all immigrants, etc.). In our view it was unacceptable for Iranian activists in Canada to think of themselves solely as a “solidarity” activists, to not take part in local struggles, or to advance superficial (yet popular) claims like “I want to do just solidarity. I don’t want to comment on the movement in Iran since I’m not the one fighting in the Tehran streets.”
It was with this internationalist approach that we were able to mobilize large numbers of Iranian youth in Ontario who had been inspired by the movement in Iran. Today, many of them are no longer “just trying to do something for their country.” Instead they have become internationalist Marxists and socialists fighting for the emancipation of the working people in Iran, Canada, and around the world.
As revolutionary movements rise in the Middle East and other parts of the world, the Left needs to rejuvenate its internationalist roots by remembering the honorable examples of the history of our movement – the Communist International in its early years, the Spanish Civil War, Cuban revolutionary intervention in Africa, etc. To wit, we need to view all struggles around the world as relevant to the single central task of socialists everywhere: revolutionary overthrow of capitalism on a world scale. Without such internationalism, the Left will yet again end up in the confused position that Golkar and Molavi point to in their excellent take on the matter.