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"Mr. Petras, We Are Not Capitalism, We Suffer From Pre-Capitalism Reaction"

 By Khosrow Sadeghi Boroujeni, Shahin Shahr, Isfahan


I have known professor James Petras as a progressive sociologist who, contrary to mainstream sociology, defends the people and sees realities in line with the interests of toiling majority and not that of the ruling elite. His articles and speeches about Globalization and Neo-liberalism speak to that reality.


That the tenth presidential election in Iran was free of any "fraud" has offered enormous lessons, which I have written about in my previous article. One of those lessons was that now a clear line separates the "people" from those who are "against the people". Many have taken the position to be with the people or against them with clarity and full knowledge of events and others as a result of incorrect analysis.


Millions have participated in peaceful rallies in Tehran and other cities in June and July demanding annulment of the presidential elections.


What motivated me to write this particular article was a piece by James Petras about recent Iranian elections and my disbelief in his expressed views, which a large segment of political left in Iran and around the world concur with those views. Others like Scott Ritters, Paul Craig Roberts, Stephen Lendman, Azmi Bishara and Kaveh Afrasiabi have expressed similar views that contradict the reality of events in Iran. But because James Petras is better known in Iran and his articles are often translated and published in progressive Iranian publications and Farsi websites I am only commenting on his articles on recent events in Iran.


From the onset the reader is introduced to James Petras' intentions by the articles title "The Stolen Elections' Hoax" [a ridiculous joke presented by those who lost the elections (presumably the reformists)].


Saeed Rahnema in his article "The Tragedy of The Lefts Discourse On Iran" has offered a critique of the liberals and the left in the west. He wrote "the most stunning aspect of the Petras' piece is the total absence of any sympathy for all the brave women, youth, teachers, civil servant and workers who have been so vigorously campaigning for democracy, human rights and political freedom risking their lives by spontaneously pouring into the streets when they realized they were cheated."


Elsewhere in his article, Rahnema express that Petras "is telling Iranian women, youth, union activists, intellectuals and artists, that their demands and 'concerns' for political and individual freedoms, human rights, democracy, gender equality and labor rights are not 'vital' ...It seems he is telling the Iranian left: rofaga (comrades) if you are being tortured, if you are rotting in prisons, if your books are being burned, if you are losing your jobs don't worry, because the 'working class' is receiving subsidies and handouts from the government!"


Petras uses a socioeconomic analysis of the electorate in order to conclude that supporters of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are working class families, who because of limited access to the media such as the Internet and satellite TV, because they don't live in the cities and since they are unfamiliar with the English language could not be reached by foreign journalists. As a result reporters' analyses are based on views expressed by the middle class, who live in Northern Tehran and are largely Mousavi's supporters. He considers the reform candidate as the preferred candidate of media, Western governments and Zionists, and as a result directs his criticism at reformers and Mousavi.


I don't know if Mr. James Petras has read Eric Hooglund's article "Iran's rural Vote and Election Fraud" published on ZNET (which I have translated to Farsi).


Eric Hooglund reported from a far-flung village, away from media outlets. These were people who turned the town to a "green" festival. Even in the village of the 850 people, Ahmadinejad's supporters were a minority consisting of government workers and those corrupted by government aid. As Hooglund reports even if all rural Iran had voted for Ahmadinejad, which is not realistic, it would be impossible for 35% of the population of rural Iran to provide for Ahmadinejad's victory for 65% of the vote.


It is not necessary to rely on foreign reporters to prove James Petras wrong. I live in Iran myself and I experience reality with my body and soul in a way that those like James Petras cannot understand. I have friends who live in poor neighborhoods and shantytowns of South Tehran, who were organizing for elections. They didn't hesitate to tell me that people's slogans rejected Ahmadinejdad's claims that he is their president. On the contrary, they are much more radical than the reformer candidate. How is it possible that a populace that is more radical than reformers would vote for Ahmadinejad, who has repressed labor activists much worse than previous administration? James Petras like many Iranian leftists see the ideological complexities of the candidates with a reductionist view in relation to politics of the West and the Unites States, and condom the reformers as a pro-western wing of the system. This is an error not unlike the one made by progressive Hugo Chavez, who gave a helping hand to Ahmadinejad in condemning Iranian popular uprising.


Has Petras listened to Mousavi's speeches with any care? Mousavi has repeatedly rejected the one-sided policies of WTO and has pointed to the American agricultural "policies" arguing that the embrace of such practices would be ruinous to "national economies" in less developed nations. He has repeatedly expressed his displeasure with reforms based on article 44 of the Constitution that in essence forms a neo-liberal economic policy. Are these the views targeted by James Petras? Similar reductionist views have afflicted the Iranian left who without regard to the Iranian sociopolitical superstructure and merely on the basis of the existence of "exchange value" in economic relations imagine the existing system and "capitalist" and see the main social contradiction between "labor" as "capital' and exploitation of man by man. But is the basic contradiction in Iran "exploitation" and economic exigencies or is it "autocracy" and ultra-economic exigencies. If so, then what is the difference between an Iranian sugar cane worker in Haft-Tappeh and a General Motors worker in the United States?


In an analysis by Reese Erlich titled "Iran and Leftist Confusion" Erlich Points to Petras' conclusions about the results of elections and comparison to elections in Argentina, Venezuela and Bolivia, arguing that these leftist observers have not visited Iran. Erlich was himself in Iran during the recent event, though he points out that lack of direct experience does not generally preclude one form expressing views about a country. He suggests, however, that in this specific case direct experience is particularly beneficial. In relation to Petras and his comparison of Iran with countries in Latin America he wrote: "comparing Ahmadinejad with Chavez or Evo Morales is absurd. I have reported from both Venezuela and Bolivia numerous times. Those countries have genuine mass movement that elected and kept those leaders in power. They have implemented significant reforms that benefited workers and farmers. Ahmadinejad has introduced 24% annual inflation and high unemployment".


What we call "inflation" has reached the highest level ever under Ahmadinejad. Inflation is not just a number and a symbol, it is a reality that afflicts the working class and charts their daily life. The working class and the rural population may be pleased to receive "welfare", but as soon as they go to the market and see the increase in the price of goods and realize that their conditions have not improved they recognize the government's demagogy better than the intellectuals and the elites. The people who have experienced this inflation for four years on one hand, and have witnessed the demagogy and populist politicking are not likely to vote for Ahmadinejad. Questioning the assertions about election fraud and rejecting the protests of millions of people of various socioeconomic classes is tantamount to confrontation with the popular movement and is like taking a position against the movement, standing with those who repressed the public and reject the will of the people.


I am one of Iran's youth and I live in a mid-size city, and like James Petras, I study sociology. But what I have learned so far is that I have to adjust my theories to realities instead of adjusting realities to be upside down in order to match with theories. Mr. Petras! If you think that the Iranian public votes for the reformers who are the representatives of the middle class and the urban bourgeoisie, and who are in turn supporters of the West and Capitalism, you should doubt your theories and have the courage to correct them. Perhaps you have mistaken a pre-capitalist system that is still struggling with under-development and ideological impediments, with a capitalist system based on labor-capital relationship.


There are some basic conditions that still elude us here and you take for granted. Fundamental rights like freedom of speech or women's rights are not yet attained. The theories of far left that you use in your analysis to criticize liberalism and its false promise of freedom will not get us anywhere. Because we in Iran are faced with such reactionary forces, which in fact prevent us from direct confrontation with liberal tendencies and capitalist mechanisms.


Yes Mr. Petras we are not capitalism; we suffer from pre-capitalism "reaction".

... Payvand News - 07/23/09 ... --

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