Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Guest post - Ahmadinejad’s ‘mature democracy’: reply to Andy Newman

Cross posted from Dave's Part :

HOW would you define a ‘mature democracy’? Would a government that restricts the right to stand in elections solely to candidates approved in advance, and even then regularly stuffs ballot boxes, deserve the designation in your book?

What if you were told that the state in question was an open theocracy which consolidated its hold on power through the execution of tens of thousands of communists and other leftists, at a conservative estimate?

Would it affect your judgement if you were further informed that in the country we are talking about, independent trade unionism is not allowed, and homosexual acts sometimes attract the death penalty?

If you see yourself as a socialist or a liberal, would you pen a leftist apologia for a ‘mature democracy’ that has in the last few days killed at least eight pro-democracy protestors and arrested several key opposition leaders?

Blogger Andy Newman - main writer on Socialist Unity, Britain’s most widely read far left website - would. Thanks to his cadre Marxist background, he can see through the smokescreen of ideology generated by the bourgeois press, designed to dupe the impressionable into misguided solidarity with the victims of the dictatorship in Iran.

It’s their own fault they are corpses. The stupid bastards didn’t seek the ‘dialogue and compromise required for a peaceful win-win resolution’ with Ahmadinejad's 'mature democracy'. Read it all here.

The spooky thing is the way that Newman’s long and unnecessarily prolix screed transposes the arguments that Stalinists and even some orthodox Trotskyists deployed in decades past in defence of the Soviet Union and its satellite regimes.

Readers with long enough memories will find many claims in the piece strangely familiar. There is the contention that while the system under discussion is obviously not democratic by our standards, it can - by chop-logic yardsticks - be classified as democratic in a different way; standard liberal criteria do not apply.

Oh, and the economy works to the advantage of the poor. Any amount of evidence adduced that points to the enrichment of the elite is by the by here.

Newman notes that ‘general subsidies have been a big part of the welfare state in post-revolution Iran’, risibly painting Ahmadinejad as some kind of Persian Polly Toynbee.

He thereby forgets that all modern states have some kind of welfare element. He might as well maintain that Hitler operated a pretty neat job creation programme, and offered soft loans to unusually fecund German mothers.

Given the centre of gravity in Marxist thinking in the past, it is just about possible to see where Uncle Joe’s fellow travellers were coming from. But somehow a man politically formed in the one far left tendency that above all others resisted this chain of thought has ended up as a compagnon de route of repressive political Islam.

Let’s dispose right way of the inevitable canards that will surely be thrown in my face. I am opposed to military intervention in Iran by any imperialist power or any imperialist proxy. Nor does opposition to Ahmadinejad imply backing for Mousavi.

Elementary Marxism suggests that both represent opposing factional interests within the same ruling class. So we are duly reminded by Newman that ‘progressives need to avoid a simplistic polarisation between different strands of elite opinion both of which are disadvantageous to the mass of the population’.

That’s a bit of a contradiction, given the way in which he is plainly aligned to Ahmadinejad’s ‘populist and redistributive social welfare policies’.

But we should take our guidance from the Iranian left on this one; you know, Andy, the people you ostensibly uphold as co-thinkers. They are on the streets, participating independently within the broader Mousavi current.

In need of some wriggle room, Newman opts for the famous ‘in so far as’ tactic. ‘In so far as’ the protestors wish to change some of the ‘more oppressive aspects of Iranian society’ and stick to demanding such things as union rights, they can be completely supported. Presumably the less oppressive aspects of Iranian society are fair enough. Newman does not say under which category throwing students off tall buildings can be classified.

Many of Newman’s other positions will astound anyone aware of the revolutionary Marxist tradition in which he was formed. Revolution ‘might mean civil war’, Newman points out. Nobody who has read a few history books will doubt that.

Hilariously, he blasts the Mousavi opposition for its resort to ‘extra-constitutional means’. One shudders to think what he would have made of that naughty boy Lenin, or even the early 1980s Labour Party soft left, which advocated ‘extraparliamentary action’.

The clincher for Andy is that Ahmadinejad has the armed forces on his side. Dictatorships generally do, mate. You are politely referred back to Engels for the Marxist position on ‘bodies of armed men’, comrade.

Newman’s conclusion? The western left should avoid ‘trite cheerleading’ in support of the Mousavi tendency. What we need is to be trite cheerleaders for Ahmadinejad’s ‘mature democracy’ instead, he seems to suggest. I think he is wrong.