Workers World Supporter Defends its Position on Iran–and a Reply

From http://kasamaproject.org

Kasama received the following piece from Greg Butterfield (aka Redguard). Greg is a longtime supporter of the Workers World Party and contributor to their newspaper WW, and has been engaging with the Kasama Project  from its beginning.

Given the criticism that many have made here of  these politics, it is helpful to hear them articulated and defended well.

By Greg Butterfield

“That struggle is desirable which is possible, and the struggle which is possible is that which is going on at the given moment.’ This is precisely the trend of unbounded opportunism, which passively adapts itself to spontaneity.”
–Lenin, What Is To Be Done?

A great deal of criticism has been leveled at Workers World Party over its position on the Iranian elections. Not surprisingly, the critics frequently couple this with a denunciation of WWP’s position in support of the Chinese government’s actions to halt the Tiananmen Square protest movement in 1989.

It must be said straight away that, even if the uprising in Tehran had clear, anti-imperialist leadership, it would still be the principle responsibility of the movement in the U.S. and Europe to oppose imperialist intervention — military, political, economic, covert, etc. The fact that those who are rushing to support this movement do not in most cases even raise the issue or speak about the dangers of U.S. intervention says volumes about the sorry state of these “revolutionary” forces.

workersworldsm(WWP, of course, was one of a few organizations protesting the escalating war threats against Iran by the Bush regime in recent years and striving to bring this issue to the anti-war movement’s attention. Let me remind you, dear reader, that the Pentagon has an armada off the Iranian coast and is carrying out bloody terrorist occupations of Iraq to the West and Afghanistan to the East.)

No doubt there are protesters in Tehran – probably many of them – who believe that they are taking part in a genuine progressive struggle for progressive goals. No doubt, so were many of those in China in 1989 and in the subsequent “color revolutions” in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East. But this does not change the objective character of the movement, or its relationship to imperialism and its efforts to weaken and take over the Iranian regime.

We have seen this all before: In China in 1989; in Yugoslavia throughout the 1990s; in Central Asia in the early 2000s; more recently in Lebanon: The “color (counter-) revolutions.” The imperialists employ this method in part because they can rely on large segments of the Western left, whether social-democratic or “revolutionary,” to fling history and theory aside to jump to the defense of the latest uprising, regardless of its social content – in effect, becoming their accomplices. (It’s more effective on those who like to consider themselves “revolutionary” than so-called “humanitarian interventions” of the Somalia type, which are still popular enough with liberals and social-democrats.)

If there is not a fundamental difference, then why have the U.S. and co. not jumped on the bandwagon of the revolutionary movements in Nepal? Venezuela? Bolivia? To ask the question, it seems to me, is to answer it – these are countries where genuine peoples’ movements with anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist leadership (at least of a strong section of the movement) are in unambiguous conflict with imperialism, are alert to the dangers of sugary U.S. promises and cash, and are aware that they must conduct the struggle on both fronts – against imperialism and the national ruling classes.

It’s sad but true: imperialism complicates the class struggle. This isn’t new. What is new is the increasing sophistication that U.S. imperialism exercises in influencing “popular uprisings” to topple embattled governments that stand in its path, in both workers’ states and bourgeois nationalist ones. This policy has taken a quantum leap in the post-Soviet, “unipolar” era.

Of course, it is easier to support a struggle that is not condemned or is even popular with the corporate media and bourgeois-liberal public opinion. But it is the responsibility of those who present themselves as anti-imperialists, communists and revolutionaries, especially here in the belly of the beast, to make use of the hard-fought lessons bequeathed to them and not be taken in by these deceptions to let the U.S. off the hook.

It is not WWP, with its opposition to imperialism, “who think the world is stuck 50 years ago,” as Rowland Robinson of the blog “By Any Means Necessary” claims. Rather, it is those who think that they can take a shortcut around the hard road of fighting imperialism that are living 30 – 50 – really, at least 70 years — in the past – back to the time of Max Shachtman and James Burnham, who elaborated the views later taken over by “Trotskyists” and “Maoists” of various types.

In fact, the position elaborated by these Western “revolutionaries” against Iran’s government (or China, or North Korea, or Hamas, etc.) is essentially identical to the doctrine of “Soviet social-imperialism” so popular with U.S. Maoists in the 1970s and 1980s. This amounted to drawing an equal sign between U.S. imperialism and the Soviet Union (or worse, calling the Soviet workers’ state the “main danger”) and thereby abandoning their anti-imperialist responsibilities toward Angola, Cuba, Ethiopia, Vietnam, etc., ad nauseum.

Who, in this crisis, is asking the fundamental questions about the role of U.S. imperialism? About who stands to benefit from a collapse of the Ahmadinejad government in the current situation? About what the collapse of the Iranian regime under these conditions will mean not only for the people of Iran, but for occupied Iraq and Afghanistan? For Palestine and Lebanon? Venezuela and Nepal? About how far a U.S. oil grab in Iran would set back the struggle in the Middle East, and here?

WWP and a few others are the ones asking these questions.

Sam Marcy, founder of the Workers World PartySam Marcy, founder of the Workers World Party

Finally, a few words are necessary about the class character of People’s China and the charges leveled by Robinson and others that WWP values “tanks” over the peoples’ struggles.

In his piece “On the Problems of Marcyism and Global Class War,” Robinson states, “The best evidence that the Marcyists can present that China must be socialist and anti-imperialist is that of the United States’ hostility to China during the Cold War.” It’s tempting to say this is blatant lying, but I’ll be generous and call it ignorance of WWP’s position.

It is not WWP, but most of the U.S. left, including Maoists, Trotskyists and social-democrats of various stripes, that have taken the completely unscientific view that China magically turned capitalist without the destruction of the state that emerged from the 1949 revolution. Some base it on which political grouping is in power; some on the degree of market reforms; or on the penetration of Western capital in the economy. But really, the only difference between them is when they date it to – 1959, 1979, 1989.

[Author’s note: It’s important to say that there are revolutionary forces who come out of these movements — particularly from the Maoist movement — who have come to similar conclusions as WWP and carry out principled struggle against imperialism, including but not limited to, the Communist Party of the Philippines, Freedom Road Socialist Organization (Fight Back), the Socialist Unity Centre of India, the Anti-Imperialist Camp, etc.]

In the late 1960s and 1970s, when others were decrying the Cultural Revolution or slavishly following every twist and turn of the Chinese leadership, Sam Marcy and his co-thinkers were carefully looking at the revolution and its trajectory.

As early as the fall of Lin Biao in 1972, Marcy showed how, while the Cultural Revolution fell short of achieving its stated goals (as do many great and profound revolutionary struggles), it had fortified the Chinese workers’ state, particularly the relationship of the People’s Liberation Army and the masses, in a way that would safeguard China against counter-revolution in the coming period. And this is precisely what happened. (See in particular “The Cultural Revolution and the Fall of Lin Biao”)

China was not swept up in the counter-revolutionary wave that destroyed the Soviet Union and the Eastern European workers’ states in the late 1980s and early 1990sbecause the Chinese workers’ state was fortified to act in its self-defense in 1989 DESPITE the many abuses of the capitalist roaders in leadership of the government.

I take pride, as a member of Workers World Party, in knowing that we live and struggle by Trotsky’s profound words:

“It is the duty of revolutionists to defend every conquest of the working class even though it may he distorted by the pressure of hostile forces. Those who cannot defend old positions will never conquer new ones.”
Further Reading:

WW editorial — Iran: What Fraud?
http://www.workers.org/2009/editorials/iran_0625/Sam Marcy: A Victory for People’s China
http://www.workers.org/marcy/cd/sam90/1990html/s900125.htmVenezuela Denounces Interference Against Iran
http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/venezuela170609.htmlAnti-Imperialist Camp – Iran: A Snub for the West
http://www.antiimperialista.org/content/view/6177/50/Statement by a Group of Iranian Anti-war Activists about Iran’s Presidential Elections
http://monthlyreview.org/mrzine/iran100609.html

China cautions U.S. on Iran
http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/KF20Ak03.html

Greg Butterfield’s revenant avatar

Message to U.S. Peace Groups: A Little Humility, Please
http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/veiluva190609.htmlLeon Trotsky: Balance Sheet of the Finnish Events
http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1940/04/finnish.htm

To order the first two issues of Absent Cause, visit:

http://redguard.etsy.com Or email redguard@gmail.com to trade.

[*Author’s note: It’s important to say that there are revolutionary forces who come out of these movements — particularly from the Maoist movement — who have come to similar conclusions as WWP and carry out principled struggle against imperialism, including but not limited to, the Communist Party of the Philippines, Freedom Road Socialist Organization (Fight Back), the Socialist Unity Centre of India, the Anti-Imperialist Camp, etc.]

This entry was posted on June 25, 2009 at 8:11 am and is filed under ChinaIranMarxist theorycapitalismcommunism. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

[*Author’s note: It’s important to say that there are revolutionary forces who come out of these movements — particularly from the Maoist movement — who have come to similar conclusions as WWP and carry out principled struggle against imperialism, including but not limited to, the Communist Party of the Philippines, Freedom Road Socialist Organization (Fight Back), the Socialist Unity Centre of India, the Anti-Imperialist Camp, etc.]

In the late 1960s and 1970s, when others were decrying the Cultural Revolution or slavishly following every twist and turn of the Chinese leadership, Sam Marcy and his co-thinkers were carefully looking at the revolution and its trajectory.

As early as the fall of Lin Biao in 1972, Marcy showed how, while the Cultural Revolution fell short of achieving its stated goals (as do many great and profound revolutionary struggles), it had fortified the Chinese workers’ state, particularly the relationship of the People’s Liberation Army and the masses, in a way that would safeguard China against counter-revolution in the coming period. And this is precisely what happened. (See in particular “The Cultural Revolution and the Fall of Lin Biao”)

China was not swept up in the counter-revolutionary wave that destroyed the Soviet Union and the Eastern European workers’ states in the late 1980s and early 1990sbecause the Chinese workers’ state was fortified to act in its self-defense in 1989 DESPITE the many abuses of the capitalist roaders in leadership of the government.

I take pride, as a member of Workers World Party, in knowing that we live and struggle by Trotsky’s profound words:

“It is the duty of revolutionists to defend every conquest of the working class even though it may he distorted by the pressure of hostile forces. Those who cannot defend old positions will never conquer new ones.”
Further Reading:

WW editorial — Iran: What Fraud?
http://www.workers.org/2009/editorials/iran_0625/Sam Marcy: A Victory for People’s China
http://www.workers.org/marcy/cd/sam90/1990html/s900125.htmVenezuela Denounces Interference Against Iran
http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/venezuela170609.htmlAnti-Imperialist Camp – Iran: A Snub for the West
http://www.antiimperialista.org/content/view/6177/50/

Statement by a Group of Iranian Anti-war Activists about Iran’s Presidential Elections
http://monthlyreview.org/mrzine/iran100609.html

China cautions U.S. on Iran
http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/KF20Ak03.html

Red Guard's personal avatar

Greg Butterfield’s revenant avatar

Message to U.S. Peace Groups: A Little Humility, Please
http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/veiluva190609.htmlLeon Trotsky: Balance Sheet of the Finnish Events
http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1940/04/finnish

  1. Mike E said

    June 25, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    Mike Martinez asks some questions that are important:

    – Were the elections in Iran rigged?

    Yes. And always were. Just like elections in the U.S. are essentially and permanently rigged.

    And then (on top of that) there are special cases of PARTICULAR fraud (Mayor Daley steals chicago votes for JFK in 1960, Supremist Court taps Baby Bush in 2000 etc.)

    – Those protesting in Tehran, what are they protesting for?

    Again and again, a very simplistic assumption emerges that things are always “one thing” — that they have a single defining nature, and that we can (with very little work) uncover it.

    The fact is that “those protesting Teheran” are, obviously, fighting for many things — with many different levels of understanding. And like people in intense struggle and sacrifice, their understanding and demands change quickly — and they regroup and cross-fertilize in ways that were not possible in “ordinary times.”

    On one level, there is a demand to reverse the election (or to have another one, or whatever). But who thinks that is the essence or core of all this? Or that it would remain the essense of things?

    – What is the class character of the protest?

    I find this kind of question very odd. And I’m not sure how others determine class character, and i have no idea what Mike means by these terms.

    But, all through political life I have seen such questions wielded in the most crudely reductionist way.

    For example: What was the “class character” of Mao’s revolutionary army?

    We have all seen this question answered in two ways:

    a) reductionist: It was a peasant army, therefore could not be a workers army, therefore could not be a socialist army, therefore….

    b) or in a strangely idealist way: Though demographically and sociologically it was a peasant army, it was led by a line that was (in its essense) a proletarian line, and so regardless of the nature of the people in this army, the movement overall had a proletarian essense. (In other words, for some forces “proletarian” is reduced to an idelogical market, and the label is affixed to signify retroactive approval.)

    On another level, lets assume for a moment that “the class character” of the movment is mainly urban middle class. What are we to draw from that?

    What was the class character of the Sixties upsurge in the U.S.? What was the class character of the student antiwar movement? While much of the Black liberation struggle stirred working class and impoverished sections of the people, certainly much of the social movements of that time (women, cultural, art, antiwar) were middle class in their “class character.” And? What are we to deduce from that? That they are not significant? that they are suspicious? that they are not real? That they are not as good as whatever is, at the moment, stirring “the workers”?

    This is very class reductionist, and leads to very bad analysis.

    – Do these protests benefit the working class of Iran or the international working class?

    Leaving aside the assumption that one can simple announce what “benefits” the working class of the world…

    Let me say that i seems clear that we can say that this break in the normal functions and straitjacket of the Islamic regime is HIGHLY beneficial to oppressed people all over the world. It helps discredit the politicized Islamic reaction that has so sapped the strength of more radical and secular politics. It will create networks and radicalized scenes all over iran — that will certainly have a huge impact on the future.

    – Is US imperialism fanning the flames of rebellion in Iran for its own benefit?

    Du-uh. Certainly. And while that may be obvious to us (i.e. to revolutionaries debating here). It is something we need to expose widely and energetically, so it is known much more broadly.

    – Does US imperialism really care about democracy in Iran?

    Again du-uh. Meet the Shah, meet the overthrow of Mossadegh. And amillion other examples of the U.S. promotion of its interests in highly contradictory ways.

    And again while that may be obvious to us (i.e. to revolutionaries debating here). It is something we need to expose widely and energetically, so it is known much more broadly.

    – What does imperialism have to gain?

    I think that the U.S. seeks to gain the stabilization of its hegemony in the Middle East. A weakening of the Iranian regime (let alone a “regime change”) is one of the few ways the U.S. can imagine pulling a “victory” out of the debacle in Iraq.

    Similarly (by the way) the collapse of the Russian Tsar had all kinds of benefits for imperialists like britain, france and the U.S. — including in oppressed countries and the third world. It is generally true that when a significant and reactionary force is weakened (by the struggle of the people) that other reactionaries rush in to benefit. So what? Can you imagine all the ways this can be used to justify coming to terms with the swine who strangle human lives — in china, or iran, or korea.

    When the day comes that we are weakening U.S. imperialism in historic and hopefully fatal ways… I guarantee you, there will be those who point out that this will enable China to finally settle with the Tibetans, or Russia to bully turkey or a dozen other scenarios. So what?

    The important thing is to find and promote the places where something new and radically different can burst out, amid the ugly scrambling and collisions of reactionaries. And to fight (within those openings) for the most radical and thoroughgoing revolutions possible — in the direction of socialism and communism.

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