Platypus panel at the Left Forum 2010 in New York City, Pace University, March 20, 2010.
Rather than asking what the Left thinks of Iran, this panel will pose the question, what does Iran reveal about the Left, its limitations and failures? This panel will address the crisis of the Islamic Republic and the historical task of the Left to clarify its role regarding the current Green Movement today. The 1979 Islamic Revolution continues to weigh on the political imagination of the Left. Perspectives on the Left either focus on Green Movement’s electoral and civil rights struggle, ignoring its Islamist leadership by Mousavi and others, or, in some cases, tout Ahmadinejad as a progressive “anti-imperialist,” denying the discontents expressed in the Green Movement. The 1979 Islamic Revolution continues to haunt the present, in the form of an impoverished imagination of what is possible. We will look more deeply at the political question of Islamism and how the Left can best understand Iran’s revolutionary past. What deeper failure on the Left allowed Iran to develop as it has? Whatever claim the current movement has to being secular in form -- that is, popular in discontent, and pluralist in that it possesses no elaborate program -- the legacy of the Islamic Revolution in the current crisis represents the unresolved failure of the Left to achieve greater freedom that cannot be reached through religious or populist means.
Laura Lee Schmidt (Chair) – Platypus Affiliated Society; History, Theory, and Criticism of Art and Architecture, MIT
Siyaves Azeri – Worker-Communist Party of Iran
Hamid Dabashi – Columbia University
Christopher Cutrone – Platypus Affiliated Society; University of Chicago
The Platypus Affiliated Society presents:
30 Years of the Islamic Revolution in Iran
The Tragedy of the Left
6:00pm Sunday, September 13, 2009
at The Brecht Forum 451 West St New York, NY
A panel discussion with:
Ervand Abrahamian Professor of History at Baruch College, CUNY and author of Iran: Between Two Revolutions, 1982
Siyaves Azeri Head of the Committee of International Relations of the Worker-Communist Party of Iran
Hamid Dabashi Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University and the author of Iran: A People Interrupted, 2007
Moderated by Pam C. Nogales C. (Platypus)
By tailing after events, the Left betrays its revolutionary history. The Iranian election protests of the last three months have been no exception. Leftists have hailed the amorphous social upheaval in the streets of Tehran as a step towards the transformation and progressive “evolution” of Iranian society. Yet, however optimistic this position may sound, celebration without understanding only obfuscates our political situation. Undoubtedly, the Left today should demand the overthrow of theocratic regimes. But here is the importance of ideology: how the regime is overthrown — who participates in this act and how they understand their political practice — has real effects. In 1977-79, the international Left overlooked this problem by uncritically supporting those seeking to overthrow the Shah. In so doing, the Left helped a right-wing popular movement establish the theocratic dictatorial government the protesters fight against today. How are we as leftists to make sense of this political failure so as to help rebuild an emancipatory Left today? In the spirit of renewal, Platypus asserts that if the Left is to change the world, it must first transform itself!
Past events: http://platypus1917.org/category/multimedia/
Recommended Platypus Review articles:
1. 30 Years of the Islamic Revolution: An Interview with Ervand Abrahamian
2. The Failure of the Islamic Revolution: The nature of the present crisis in Iran
IMG caption: A Mujahidin-i-khalq demonstration in Tehran during the revolution. The figure on the left is Dr. Ali Shari’ati
Questions for the panelists
Who were the major political players in the Iranian Revolution—individuals, organizations, classes? What role did the Left in Iran play in preparing, carrying through, and influencing the outcome of the Revolution? How, if at all, did international Leftist elements influence the course of events?
How do you see the Iranian Revolution in relation to the history of modern revolutions marked by, among others, 1789, 1848, 1917?
Why is it that, historically, Leftists have understood secular movements as offering greater possibilities for the attainment of human freedom than those guided by religious commitment?
Some believe that Iranians suffer from an inherent traditional disposition that intractably blocks the influence and efficacy of a secular Marxist politics — a politics ultimately too “Western” to have any purchase in a place like Iran. How does this rather narrow particularistic argument impede Leftists today from learning from past political failures on the Left? How do we explain the failure of a Marxist politics to capture the political imagination of Iranians via a retrospective look at the trajectory of the Left—before, during, and after the Iranian Revolution? How do we understand the political disenchantment in Iran as part of our time, i.e., as modern, and not as the stubborn remnants of “tradition”?
One of the fundamental axes around which oppositional politics has orbited over the course of the twentieth century is imperialism and its relation to capitalism. Therefore an understanding of how imperialism and capitalism are related—and consequently, how to oppose one, the other, or both—has proved central in the self-understanding of political actors and the choices they and their organizations have made. At issue here is how a Left schooled by a generation that may be loosely called “third wordlist”—with an emphasis on the extortive role of the First to the Third World, the death of revolutionary potential in the First (and Second) World, and the importance of resistance to the major capitalist hegemons—understood itself and thus acted based on these understandings. Overall, how did understandings of capitalism impact political decisions and alliances both within revolutionary Iran and in the global Left?
How did Leftists in Iran understand the relationship of Iran to modern capitalism? What were the essential relationships that defined capitalism in their understanding—between bourgeoisie and proletariat? Between center and periphery? How was the anti-imperialism of Khomeini the same or different than the anti-imperialism of Shari'ati and other Leftists—and how did they perceive their interrelations?
How was “the West” understood by Iranian revolutionaries? Was there any revolutionary potential invested in the “developed” capitalist nations? Was the proletariat of the West still a potentially revolutionary force? How did Iranian leftists understand the internal dynamics of Western societies vis a vis their own political situation?
What was the range of responses to the Iranian Revolution by the International Left? How was Iranian society understood? Was someone like Michel Foucault, in his fascination with the religious elements of the Revolution and his look towards the Revolution as providing a new and different model of revolutionary (post-) politics, overcoming the revolutionary heritage of 1789, typical or an outlier? How did these understandings affect the role the international Left would play over the course of the Iranian Revolution?
What were the explicit goals of the Iranian Revolution? Were they met? Could they have been met? Why did the Iranian Revolution end with an “Islamic Republic?” What is an “Islamic Republic” and how does it relate to or deviate from the goals of the Revolution as a whole?
Can we imagine a counterfactual case where the Iranian Revolution did not end as it did? What would have had to have been different in 1977-1979 for another, more progressive, outcome to have occurred? How far back historically can we trace the conditions that made for the Left’s failures in the Revolution? What political decisions might have been made in the Revolution itself that could have shaped differently the course of events?
Do you think that the idea and the reality of the Islamic Republic should be challenged? Why are Leftists today not calling for the overthrow of the Islamic Republic?
What are the ideas that have captured the political imaginations of the Tehran protestors today? Are they similar or different to the ones that inspired the revolutionaries of 1977-1979? How does the recrudescence of these ideas affect our understanding of the protests today? What does it say about the protesters self-understanding when they rally under the slogan, “Khomeini, where are you? Mousavi is alone!”?