Friday, June 26, 2009

notes on Iran

When people risk violence in order to confront their rulers this is driven by biological need more than strategy. It would be a tremendous achievment if the Iranian people succeeded in further democratising their country, and it's regrettable that democracy has to be fought for this way and at such cost. Ahmedinejad probably won the election, and the reform candidate, Mir Hossain Mousavi seems to be like an Iranian Henry Hunt, except more Thatcherite. This isn't really important. It is to be hoped that these recent events strengthen opinion in the West in favour of non intervention in Iranian politics.

1. Economy

Iran has a GDP of approx $165bn, of which oil and gas exports account for approx $35bn, so oil exports account for one fifth of output. Its greatest resource is labour not oil. Iran is a populous country, in comparison to other middle east oil states, with a population of 70m. The country is practically self sufficient in food production, producing $20bn of agricultural products domestically, with net imports of around $1.5bn.

Iran is therefore unlikely to be a victim in a situation of competitive Hobsonian imperialism, where rival countries try to insource skilled labour and outsource unskilled labour, since it is guaranteed foreign currency earnings, and so capital investment, as long as a competitive market for oil exists. Since these factors mitigate in favour of the country remaining politically independent, rather than passive, it is in the national interest, as long as the capitalist system exists, to maintain that independence by guaranteeing the security of food production as much as possible. Whichever political system the country has, it will always be prudent to maintain the current relatively labour intensive agrarian base, insofar as it maximises output.

The prominence of skilled labour, and to a lesser extent diffuse agriculture, mitigate against the development of a terror society. Hence, we can speculate that if the current regime fell apart to be replaced by a bourgeois "directory", the worst-case scenario of the Western pro-Ahmedinejad lobby, the situation might not degenerate hopelessly.

2. Political system

Iran's corporatist political system was established by Islamic revolutionaries in order to lessen the antipathy of rich and poor: of "oppressor and oppressed" as much as possible. As in every corporatist system, the principle of equanimity toward the various classes that constitute class society, each permitted to reproduce itself as itself and nothing more, works itself out in the fusion of the party bureaucracy with the surviving ruling class. Iran's corporatist bureaucracy is now threatened by its bourgeoisie because in reality it cannot bridge the antagonisms generated by capitalism; because it cannot prevent the accumulation of capital; because it redistributes more to the rich through inflation than to the poor through welfare.

In as much as the bureaucracy is threatened from the right it can be said to represent the interests of those groups also threatened from the right: the peasants and commercial middle class. But the regime represents their interests in a rather circuitous way, it is not simply a magnified image of the dominant ideas of these groups. It is a bureaucratic regime principally occupied with its own bureaucratic goals. Karl Marx wrote of the French peasants of 1851: "they cannot represent themselves; they need to be represented", an historically specific argument based on technology as much as ideology. In Iran the peasants are too dispersed to be mobilised, and their patriotism, in this instance, can be thought doubtful. Since it is the children of the commercial middle class, afforded the opportunity of higher education, who are now in confrontation with the regime, the patriotism of this group can be thought doubtful too.

Disclaimer - these are notes based on reports in the UK press and should be judged accordingly

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

corrections, links

I should have mentioned re the "British Jobs/British Workers" strike, after my rather ad hoc comments, that proper reporting ought to have established first of all:

1. whether Total had reneged on an earlier agreement

2. how much the workers earned, and how this might change

The struggle now does not involve patriotism at all, but whether Total can get away with sacking its workers for going on strike.

Comrade Lenjino on the Lindsay strike

I don't think I could piece together a better analysis of the situation in Iran from English language public domain sources than Louis Proyect has:


It's a minefield of disinformation!

Whenever I've checked the blog Vineyard of the Saker I've found it accurate - it quotes a source in Iran, and briefs against Mousavi and Rafsanjani.

This piece about the Baseji, I think, rather oversells this organisation. The goon is ultimately the enemy of the worker, structurally, even.

could Ahmedinejad be new "Geordie Messiah"?

Perhaps as chairman of the beleaguered Tyneside club, the former hardliner could more comfortably display his grandiloquent rhetoric, comparing to an indestructible diamond, new signing Nigel Quashie.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009


"The fight started here at Lindsey: the fight against discrimination, the fight against victimisation and the fight to put bread on your table for your children. Gordon Brown said it is indefensible. If the prime minister will not defend the working man, if parliament will not defend the working man, then the union will defend the working man."

"discrimination"? "bread"?

I wrote some notes about the "British Jobs/British Workers" protests back in January. I didn't see the point at the time of "virtually" and meaninglessly upbraiding the "British Workers" via the internet, but I think these events might be sociologically important. Firstly, as far as can be ascertained the local construction workers formerly received fairly good wages,

the basis of relatively decent wages in the construction industry depended on:

1. level of activity in the industry

2. number of industry workers unemployed: so called "reserve army"

3. state of competition in the industry

4. time/money trade offs for employers

hence the workers' wages was based on an underlying "mechanism" that was relatively stable for a while, during the growth phase, but changed markedly once the recession kicked in.

The conflict over Italian contractors brought in to work at the refinery was probably related to altered conditions insofar as:

1. the ongoing practice of cheaper foreign labour being brought in, coextensive as it is with the effects of market forces, could be targeted as an aspect of the working of market forces amenable to political intervention

2. or, maybe the local workers erroneously blamed the use of foreign workers for their problems

3. perhaps the altered circumstances in the market allowed the company to deliberately confront local workers

I think for the local workers to take action against their worsened circumstances they probably had to have a credible programme by which the former distributive "mechanism" could be restored, or where something like it could be created, which wasn't really possible. This is what I imagine underlay the "British Jobs/British Workers" aspect: a strange outburst of right radicalism, untidily recuperated by Unite the union, once it already had nowhere else to go.

If the workers had really been on the breadline in the first place, it would have made more sense to fight for council housing indexed to wages, rather than against immigration, once the fight had been extended to a general political struggle. I think the dream of "grabbing the immigration lever" somehow seemed more credible than the dream of "grabbing the social housing lever". Neither was immediately on the cards. Also, the local workers might have pressed the injustice of the deterioration in industry wages/conditions effected by housing workers of any nationality in special "hulks", presumably council approved, without having to "go nationalist" at all. Again, I think the reasons they didn't do this lay in the structure of the industry and the abruptness of recession.

the neoliberal Battleship Potemkin

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

after Kandinsky

(a provisional reconstruction of, and development of, Kandinsky's system, outlined in Kandinsky's 1911 monograph Concerning the Spiritual in Art, but considered to have possibly wider sociological relevence.)

1. Initial premises:

Suppose a special case of neo Burkean naturalistic philosophy: the absence of an immanent technical limit. Consider designated artistic masterpieces to represent the precipitate of humanity's self actualising struggle. These designated masterpieces can be called "dominant art". Humanity is considered to be purposive and its dominant art sublative of its purposive struggle.

2a. Since works of art concretely exist, a technical limit must exist for "humanity's self actualising struggle".

2b. hence abstract art: the dramatisation of an imagined technical limit.

2c. dominant art is abstract art (2a).

3a. from the systematisation of dominant art necessarily follows the innovation of new dominant art, since dominant art is necessarily formally unamenable to systematisation (2c), and dominant art represents the precipitate of humanity's ongoing purposive struggle.

3b. hence the stress on systematisation as a political strategy in 20th Century social criticism; or, the imagined political efficacy of art criticism in 20th Century literature.

3c. since dominant art sublates humanity's purposive struggle, humanity cannot purposively effect innovation in art without this new art negating existant dominant art and superceding it in turn.

3d. hence the Hegelian dynamics of late 19th and early 20th Century art and art criticism.

4a. since all instances of dominant art are equally sublative of humanity's purposive struggle, dominant art is not merely art, but only one kind of omnological work. The importance of art subsists in its sublative function rather than its optical merits. The particular form of an omnological work is relatively unimportant.

4b. paintings are equivalent to "the spiritual life".

4c. art is equivalent to philosophy.

4d. sex is equivalent to art; is equivalent to philosophy.

4e. "a chef can discourse on cooking techniques as if they were moments in universal history".