Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Monday, April 10, 2006

In defence of the memory of a Revolution

'To articulate the past historically does not mean to recognize it ‘the way it really was’ (Ranke). It means to seize hold of a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger. Historical materialism wishes to retain that image of the past which unexpectedly appears to man singled out by history at a moment of danger...Only that historian will have the gift of fanning the spark of hope in the past who is firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he wins. And this enemy has not ceased to be victorious.'
Walter Benjamin, On the Concept of History.

I was struck by this quote of Benjamin's in the context of the looming threat of war on Iran. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has said the idea that George Bush wants to bomb Iran, possibly with nuclear weapons, is 'completely nuts'. He is right - the consequences of such a strike would be disasterous - but the problem is that the US ruling class - George Bush aside - are not 'nuts' but know exactly what they are doing. They have 'unfinished business' in Iran they need to settle. This month's Socialist Review has a timely and excellent article by Chris Harman on how they need a future war on Iran to erase the memory of a past revolution which challenged their power:

'George Bush, wounded by his inability to crush resistance to the occupation of Iraq, wants to show that the might of the US can punish people anywhere in the world who disobey its orders - whether in the Middle East or in Latin America.

Many liberals and some of the left refuse to see this. They see the Islamic republic as a backward theocracy, steeped in medieval barbarism, and virtually fascist. The regime does have all sorts of reactionary attitudes and practices. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has an attitude to gays and women not a million miles away from that of the current pope, or the Christian fundamentalists in the US.

But Iran is neither medieval nor fascist. Ahmadinejad became president by getting the votes of some of the poorest people in an election which split the country's ruling layer. Iran is in fact a capitalist country, but with a state very much shaped by the struggles that convulsed it in the wake of the revolution of 1979.'

Though the revolutionary struggle of the working class in Iran was lost - the wave of reaction that followed had an important difference from most other waves of reaction which follow:

'Sections of the bazaar capitalists and the clergy around Ayatollah Khomeini wanted to maintain their independence from the US while smashing the left. They were also afraid of cutting themselves off from masses, who still expected to gain from the revolution. So in 1980 the Khomeini group backed students occupying the US embassy, and moved against their previous "moderate" bourgeois allies.

Anti-imperialist language won them the popular support to hit out at opponents of all sorts, using a bombing campaign from the then left inclined Islamist organisation Mojahedin-e Khalq (which went on to support Sadaam Hussein in Iraq and is now an ally of the US) as an excuse for massive repression.

This sealed the Khomeini group's domination of the post-revolutionary state, allowing it to establish a constitution in which there are elections, but vetoes on what elected politicians can do. But it also earned Iran the undying hatred of US imperialism, which will no more forgive what it did to the US embassy in 1979 than it will forgive Castro's Cuba for taking over US-owned sugar plantations in 1959.'
Anyone who stands up against US power is not safe from Bush and Blair's 'war on terror', even those past fighters who are already dead.

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At 2:24 am, Blogger maps said...

Agreed. IMO we need to support the right of Iran to defend itself, and develop nukes if it wishes, without beautifying the Iranian regime. What do you think of George Galloway's recent booklet on Iran?

At 10:48 am, Blogger Snowball said...

If it is anything like his radio show discussions of Iran then I am sure it will be good. Saying that, I haven't yet read it.

Have you?

At 1:14 am, Blogger maps said...

Will blog about it soon.

At 11:42 am, Blogger Tom said...

'Democracy' is a bit of a slanted term here. I take that to entail free citizens and free=fair elections. not happening in Iran (increasingly not happeneing here, with regard to free citizens).

Iran is a capitalist country. it is also an extremely theocratic and authoritarian one. The same sort of anti-Imperialism exhibited by the Nazis: an ethically self contradictory one.


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