18 June, 2009

Political Liberties vs. Economic Justice in Iran?

(Here's a link to a demotix story with a few good shots of today's mass rally in Teheran. And here's a slideshow from The Guardian.)

Continuing on a theme from my previous post, I'm having some doubts about the "class analysis" of the Iranian elections put forward by a few commentators. For example, Ron Jacobs writes: "Ahmadinejad’s support comes from those who need bread while Moussavi’s comes from those with plenty of bread and now want more civil liberties. While it is arguably true that Ahmadinejad’s policies have caused as many economic policies [problems?] as they have solved, the fact remains that his supporters believe in his 2005 campaign call to bring the oil profits to the dinner table."

This is certainly true to some extent, even though I think it's over-simplified - but I don't think Jabobs is right to draw the conclusion that the struggle for "political liberties" and "economic justice" is currently "at odds" in Iran. First of all, to argue this would seem to imply that in at least some instances, only an authoritarian regime can bring economic justice. Secondly, it is not clear that Mousavi would bring political liberties to Iran any more than Ahmadinejad is going to bring any significant economic justice. But if Mousavi (or rather the mass protests currently under way in Teheran since I don't think Mousavi should take credit for this) did in fact bring more political liberties or even the fall of the Islamic regime, wouldn't Iranian workers and poor be the biggest winners in the long run - even if Mousavi and his allies are in favour of slightly more neo-liberal economic polices than Ahmadinejad?

Iran is not Venezuala, and Ahmadinejad is not Hugo Chavez. If he really was this populist - if slightly authoritarian - leader advocating economic justice and staunch anti-imperialism that he is sometimes portrayed as, then why doesn't the urban poor of Teheran, who surely outnumber the upper middle-class by at least 5 to 1, come out in support of him? Maybe if he had in fact brought the "oil profits to the dinner table" during his last period in power, they would have.


  1. My statement regarding political liberties vs. bread has been misinterpreted by the blogger here. If one reads it, I am merely saying that it seems like this is currently how the case is being represented. Naturally, should more civil liberties (than currently exist) come to Iran all people would benefit. However, contrary to Per Bjorklumd's apparent suppostion that neoliberal policies bring freedom and any economic suffering endured by the poorer class in Iran would be outweighed by the greater civil liberties does no hold up. Two reasons, neoliberal policies can exist with any type of government (witness China or Malaysia) and, secondly, economic justice for all is much more likely to bring freedom than neoliberal economics. The primary gist of my article was that the fate of Iran is in the hands of the Iranian people and that the only philosophy that seems capable of combining freedoms and justice would be one like the leftist movement suppressed by the mullahs in 1979-1980

  2. No, I did not propose that "neoliberal policies bring freedom and any economic suffering endured by the poorer class in Iran would be outweighed by the greater civil liberties." On the contrary, my main point in this and my previous post is precisely that one should not equate the street movement in Iran and its demand for political liberties with support for the economic policies of Mousavi, Rafsanjani, and others. I believe the movement is much broader than this, and given the repression faced by workers and union activists in Iran, has the potential to become even broader.