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

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