Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Democracy is Coming to the USA: Kshama Sawant, the New Face of Socialism in America

Following on my closing comments in the last post about the election of Bill de Blasio as Mayor of New York, on a somewhat related note, a somehow even more promising ray of hope in US politics is the recent election of Kshama Sawant to the Seattle City Council.

It's not just that she unapologetically describes herself as a socialist in a country where 'socialism' has become a bad word, nonetheless winning a surprise victory over a well-funded, business-friendly Democrat incumbent. And it's not just her articulate, direct, no-nonsense, cut-straight-to-the-chase public speaking style; or her experience as an organizer and campaigner for OWS and raising the minimum wage. And it's not just that she says all these things we want politicians to say but that they never say - even the most promising ones - for fear of upsetting their corporate sponsors, or being perceived as radical. It's that she does all these things, bucking all the trends and received wisdom of US electoral politics, changing the game as it were - running a low-budget campaign with no big business support, with less than half the campaign funding of her incumbent opponent - and succeeds in the most grass-roots way possible: by getting the voters' attention.

"There will be no backroom deals with corporations or their political servants," she proclaims in her inauguration speech yesterday, and I believe her. "There will be no rotten sell-out of the people I represent."

Skip to 29:30 for Kshama's swearing-in and speech.

"A completely dysfunctional Congress does manage to agree on one thing," she says emphatically, "regular increases in their already bloated salaries…Yet at the same time allowing the federal minimum wage to stagnate, and fall further and further behind inflation…We have the obscene spectacle of the average corporate CEO getting seven thousand dollars an hour, while the lowest-paid workers are called presumptuous in their demand for just $15."

This is sexy stuff, people.

Sawant's response to Boeing's threat to move jobs out of Washington state if they don't get tax breaks and wage concessions? She calls their tactics 'economic terrorism', urging state leaders to reject "blackmail" and tell Boeing's CEOs, if you want to go, you can go - we don't need you. "The machines are here, the workers are here. Let us take this entire productive activity into democratic public ownership and retool the machines to produce mass transit."

Fuck yeah. This is what I've never understood about even some of the more progressive, left-leaning folks I know around here - they never seem to see a way out of this type of situation but to give in to corporate demands. This is why the unions are weak, and why the political establishment is for sale to the highest bidder - because there isn't enough of this type of thinking. Because people are naively afraid of taking risks, taking or even contemplating radical measures - like taking over factories - in response to what I will argue are just as radical threats and measures, macroeconomic blackmail and terrorism, such as the outsourcing and wholesale transfer of entire production systems to locales where workers can be more easily exploited. They did it in Argentina with FaSinPat and the fabricas recuperadas, why not here? If Big Business has you by the proverbial balls, you grab them by the balls.

This lady is pretty convincing, and she clearly means business. She could go much further than Seattle City Council. I really hope she does. And I hope there will be more like her.

It just might be that, as Leonard Cohen put it, democracy is coming to the USA.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Universal History in The Dark Knight Rises: A Tale of Two (or More) Cities

I finally saw The Dark Knight Rises a few weeks ago, and have been mulling over some ideas ever since.

First off, I don't see the 'Occupy' reference at all - certainly not a criticism or indictment of Occupy Wall Street. I mean, seriously? Just because someone attacks the New York Stock Exchange, it's a reference to the Occupy movement? Are people really that hysterical nowadays? Did the Occupy movement have anything to do with using high-tech weaponry to take over an entire city's infrastructure and capture an atom bomb in order to blow up the city and kill everyone? Anywhere in that ballpark? Nope. I don't see it. Frankly, any suggestion that this is a criticism of the Occupy movement is plainly, on its face stupid. Or hysterical. Or both.

Yes, yes, I know - the rhetoric. When Bane blows up the tunnels and takes over Gotham City, capturing the entire police force underground, in his speech at the stadium he proclaims 'We come not as conquerors, but as liberators.' He then proceeds to talk at length about how he is giving the city 'back to the people', ridding them of their corrupt leaders who have been telling them a pack of lies all these years. I get it.

However the thing about that is, there is a pretty blatant, neatly spelled-out and virtually literal historical reference here, which it seems virtually everyone who has commented on and written about this film has entirely missed. The words spoken by Bane in the stadium speech are almost verbatim the words spoken to the Iraqi people by one General Stanley Maude in the Proclamation of Baghdad, on the occasion of the British occupation of Iraq, way back in 1917:

"Our armies do not come into your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators."

After which the British army proceeded to maim and murder a large part of the civilian population of Iraq, quelling revolt with one of the very first documented uses of air-to-ground artillery against a civilian population in recorded history, decades before Guernica - a kind of Guernica before Guernica. (As related by Sven Lindqvist in A History of Bombing)

One British officer on the scene, Arthur 'Bomber' Harris (later responsible for the firebombing of German cities in WWII; and in particular notorious for choosing to target civilians rather than, say, railway transport links, including those used to transport Jews to the death camps, despite pressure from Jewish groups in Britain) reported with enthusiasm the remarkable effect that mowing down scores of Iraqis with heavy air-to-ground artillery had on the surviving population. Talk about state-sponsored terrorism.

Needless to say, the same rhetoric also blatantly echoes that deployed in Iraq 80-something years later, this time by the Americans. Wasn't it all about "winning hearts and minds" and "we're here to free you from your corrupt regime", and so on, and so forth? Anyone remember all the talk of 'regime change'? before they started all the torturing and murdering, that is - resulting in the death of over 100,000 people in a useless war started on false pretenses. Bane, too, is on a mission to rid Gotham city of its corrupt, lying leaders and 'give it back to the people'.

Paul Wolfowitz, one of the key neocon ideologues, notoriously told a congressional hearing: "I am reasonably certain that they will greet us as liberators…"

The fact that Bane, along with Ras al-Gul, seems to have a vaguely middle-eastern or central Asian origin further reinforces this link. The entire story could be seen as a complex role-reversal scenario - we are shown in vivid detail what it might look like if a foreign power occupied a major American city saying 'we're here to liberate you from your corrupt leaders' and then proceeded to commit unspeakable crimes. Gotham is Baghdad, Bane is any old US or British general in Iraq, and the underlying message is: this is how they see us, the so-called liberators...

Given that the writing/directing Nolan brothers team are a couple of well-educated Brits (Christopher is an alum of my alma mater, UCL) is a reliable indicator that this cannot be a coincidence. They even suggest as much in the script, when Commissioner Gordon tells Blake: "You're a detective now, son. You're not allowed to believe in coincidence anymore."

One could of course view the referential whole of the story as ambiguous - it could be a reference to both Occupy and the empty liberation rhetoric of imperialist overlords with ulterior motives, along with the ambiguity of revolutionary language that unites them. Nolan is reported to have acknowledged the influence of Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities on the writing of The Dark Knight Rises - a story of the French Revolution, which unlike Occupy certainly involved plenty of revolutionary violence. Bane, then, is a figure in the cast of Robespierre, though undoubtedly far more extreme or fanatical, given that his commitment to revolutionary goals is nonexistent and his aim is ultimately extermination - destruction of the city. The revolutionary rhetoric is deployed purely to create chaos and buy time.

In a Rolling Stone interview, Nolan denied any intent to vilify the Occupy movement, stating "If the populist movement is manipulated by somebody who is evil, that surely is a criticism of the evil person. You could also say the conditions the evil person is exploiting are problematic and should be addressed...You don't want to alienate people, you want to create a universal story."

Right, so - legitimate concerns, genuine need for social change, exploited by a villain with ulterior motives. And we have a 'universal story' - one that speaks to different contexts, time periods, different points of view. Role reversal is precisely at the heart of this historically-grounded universality - an intersubjective collective empathy accessed by walking in someone else's shoes, or for that matter swapping places. If this is a tale of two cities, it could just as well be Gotham/New York and (the spectre of) Baghdad, for instance.

When asked whether Bruce Wayne would vote for Mitt Romney, Nolan replies "Before or after Bruce goes broke?" He is clearly hinting at a fairly materialist message about how economic circumstances dictate one's political perspective. And the implicit lesson - the moral of the story - is a variation on the old biblical 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you'. Or to put it in Game Theory terms, it suggests the 'TIT FOR TAT' strategy , which has been shown to be the simplest and most successful in cooperative games such as the iterated prisoner's dilemma - demonstrating that over the long term, altruism and cooperation are (paradoxically, perhaps) closely linked to self-interest, and more beneficial to the individual as well as the whole of society than selfishness and 'dog eat dog' mentality.

"What's the worst thing our villain Bane can do?" Nolan asks. "What are we most afraid of? He's going to come in and turn our world upside down...That has happened to other societies throughout history, many times, so why not here? Why not Gotham?  We want something that moves people and gets under the skin."

My thoughts exactly. The liberal hysteria about the supposed reference to Occupy seems, perhaps despite best intentions, fairly self-centered and myopic, confined to the relatively simple coordinates of recent American history and binary politics of Republican/Democrat. To me it seemed pretty obvious while watching The Dark Knight Rises that the story was an attempt to re-imagine an experience relatively foreign to Americans - a foreign military occupation by villains utilizing the same duplicitous rhetoric deployed by colonial/hegemonic forces worldwide, throughout history - on contemporary American soil, as if to say "this is what it would look like if this type of thing happened here."

And that's the important point, the key transposition. If so many critics and commentators missed it, that is rather their failure, an index of that same 'failure of imagination' that people talked of in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. It is all too easy to see the horror of Gotham in ahistorical terms, as pure fiction/fantasy, or at best a narrative that panders to xenophobic right-wing fantasies, and miss the clearly historical reference, the whiff of chickens coming home to roost. The failure to genuinely imagine and internalize the possibility that 'this could happen here' - with all its consequences, political and social - is a typical conceit stemming from the myth of American/Western uniqueness and exceptionality. But even more significant is the failure to recognize in the horrors wrought upon Gotham by Bane the very horrors that American or British troops have wrought on distant lands in military campaigns christened with poetic names such as 'Desert Storm' and 'Shock and Awe'. With the same empty rhetoric. And with similarly sinister and self-serving motives.

Even Slavoj Žižek, in a somewhat surprisingly positivist critique of The Dark Knight Rises, is unable to answer the key question:

The prospect of the Occupy Wall Street movement taking power and establishing a people’s democracy on the island of Manhattan is so patently absurd, so utterly unrealistic, that one cannot avoid asking the following question – why does a Hollywood blockbuster dream about it? Why does it evoke this spectre? Why does it even fantasise about OWS exploding into a violent takeover?

One can only be baffled by this question, again, if one fails to see the historical reference(s), the role reversal. The echoes of OWS are purely incidental - and the ambiguously revolutionary rhetoric should only alert us to the way in which the language of revolution is appropriated by figures like Bane, just like the British colonial prelates of yore, or the modern-day military-industrialists of American empire. To view this as a criticism of Occupy is to ignore context - to heed words and ignore actions; to make the mistake of taking seriously the hypocritical American rhetoric of "spreading freedom and democracy".

Among the first to sound the liberal hysteria alarm about the allegedly conservative politics behind The Dark Knight Rises was a blog post on Slate, which asks the insidious question: is Batman part of the 1 percent? And this only on the basis of a preview, prior to the film's release.

Where Nolan's vision perhaps encounters a kind of cognitive dissonance in the commentariat is that the structure of political organization evoked in the film is the inverse of that in the Wizard of Oz, a cultural milestone that may go some way in explaining American foreign policy of the past few decades. In the Wizard of Oz, the moment Dorothy accidentally kills the Wicked Witch, the Witch's subjects, freed from her spell, suddenly become good. This type of 'magical thinking' perhaps explains in part why many Americans, including (perhaps) Paul Wolfowitz, may have genuinely believed that the Iraqis would welcome their murderous, racist troops as liberators, once they got rid of the 'evil leader'.

The Dark Knight Rises, by contrast, gives a far more realistic portrayal of a flawed proto-revolutionary moment, which even Žižek might agree with on second thought - suggesting that revolutions are necessarily violent, and that the removal of even a corrupt leader by a foreign power imposing its will, in the absence of any indigenous revolutionary program, is bound to create a power vacuum and lead to a bad end - a decidedly un-revolutionary one at that. It is in this respect that another criticism of Zizek's is mistaken - Nolan's point is not the typical conservative one, that society needs a strong central state authority to preserve law and order; rather, it is the lack of an organized indigenous revolutionary or reformist initiative of any kind, the imposition of a revolutionary program and removal of authority from the outside, by a foreign agent, that guarantees chaos.

What Žižek seems to be getting at but not quite getting, in the concluding paragraphs of the above-cited piece, is the subversive core of this spectacle - how easily the society of Gotham crumbles when key figures of authority are removed; how easily the people take up Bane's bidding and sack the palaces of the rich, turning the city upside down. This is clearly not an indictment of OWS, or of 'people power', but a fairly subversive suggestion that an unequal society, in which the maintenance of law and order depends on a few figures of authority who can easily be removed or manipulated, a society heavily reliant on a state monopoly over the use of violence, is in fact a weak society - filled with discontent waiting to be unleashed and/or manipulated. That the rule of law, along with all the lofty ideals of a progressive, democratic society, is useless if it is not, as Rousseau put it, 'in the hearts of men'.

Another interesting echo of Nolan's reference to A Tale of Two Cities is the recent campaign for Mayor of New York. Bill de Blasio, the challenger from the progressive Left and eventual winner (a true Lefty for once) has vowed to put an end to New York's 'Tale of Two Cities' - one super-rich, the other abjectly poor.

It's probably a safe bet that Bruce Wayne, if he's around, voted for de Blasio.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Only 'Slightly Fundamentally Wrong'

In the wake of the Boston bombings this summer, it is worth remembering that such massacres, and even worse, are a regular occurrence in places like Iraq or Syria. The Syrian rebels themselves drove the point home, expressing condolences to the Boston victims through a touching banner displayed at a protest in the city of Kafranbel:

A group of Bostonians replied with their own banner:

The beauty of these reciprocal gestures is that despite the apparent incongruity, neither minimizes the other's tragedy. They contextualize one another in a way that transcends the global political game that their respective governments are involved in, authentically approaching a kind of collective intersubjectivity. To paraphrase C.G. Jung, the closer together the individuals, the weaker the state, and vice versa. This works across national boundaries, too. True communal/collective spirit is not and should never be about negating the individual, but on the contrary - it is about making the collective, and each individual within it, stronger.** 'Individualism', as commonly understood in the sense of 'each man for himself' - weakens and alienates us, isolating and exposing each individual to the whims of state authority.

This Syria-Boston exchange of solidarity is not an isolated instance, either - during the Egyptian protests against Mubarak, while the people of Wisconsin were in the streets protesting against Governor Walker's all-out assault on unions, there were reports of Egyptian protesters holding signs in solidarity with Wisconsin. And it is not far-fetched to imagine that the domino effect that may have played a role in the 'Arab Spring' uprisings goes well beyond the Arab world, as discontent with governments worldwide grows and protest movements are spawned, from Spain to Greece to Turkey, Brazil, Israel, just to name a few of the bigger ones.

Vladimir Putin may be a total crony proto-fascist, but it's always amusing to see crony politicians/states calling out one another over each other's doublespeak. In particular, this: “I was always appalled when our western partners and the western media called the terrorist, who did bloody crimes in our country, ‘insurgents’, and almost never ‘terrorists’,” Putin explained, in reference to the fact that Russian authorities had alerted US authorities to Tamerlan Tsarnaev's activities and links to fundamentalist groups, long before the Boston bombings.

This reminds me of the film 'Good Kurd, Bad Kurd' - which explores the baffling incongruity of the Kurds in Turkey being on the CIA list of terrorist organizations (Turkey is a NATO ally), while the Iraqi Kurds are 'freedom fighters', even though they are both part of the same national liberation movement and fighting for the same thing.

It would be trite to criticize the US media for devoting more coverage to a tragedy closer to home - however another incongruity is worth noting. On the heels of the Boston bombings, two days later in fact, an explosion at a fertilizer plant in the town of West, Texas, claimed far more casualties - at least 15 killed and more than 160 injured, with more than 150 buildings damaged or destroyed - registering as a 2.2 richter scale tremor.

According to an article in the Guardian, this is largely attributable to austerity cuts to agencies such as OSHA as part of the right's war on 'big government'. Greater reliance on self-reporting following the de-funding of government enforcement is "just one more part of a cycle that began in this country with the collapse of collective bargaining, an institution that at one point created workplace safety committees, which took the place of both expansive state regulation and whistleblowing as a means of securing safe places to work...It's no coincidence that many of the worst such incidents occur in states affected by both austerity cuts and low or declining union membership."

Indeed, OSHA had not made a site visit to the West, Texas plant since 1985, despite occasional complaints.

And yet - industrial accidents in remote, rural areas are just not sexy stuff, like terrorism. You can't make spy stories or exciting terrorist-hunting flicks like Zero Dark Thirty out of that.

So the US government pours billions of taxpayer dollars into spying on the entire world and fighting a 'terrorist' threat that, according to the FBI's own statistics, claims less lives globally every year - 12,533 in 2011, virtually none in the US - than there are gun homicides in the United States alone. (14,612 in 2011)

The threat from terrorism was never particularly significant in comparative terms, even if you take an anomaly year like 2001, and factor in the deaths on September 11. The total number of deaths from terrorism in the United States, from 1980 to 2001, including September 11? 2,993. In 2007, the highest year on record since 2001? 15,732 deaths from terrorism globally, of which only 33 Americans, 21 of those in Iraq. Tom Diaz, until recently a senior analyst at the Violence Policy Center, gives similar figures: "In 2010, 13,186 people died in terrorist attacks worldwide; in that same year, in America alone, 31,672 people lost their lives in gun-related deaths." That's a global rate of 0.23 per 100,000 population for 2007 (or 0.00023%), and 0.19 per 100,000 population for 2010.(0.00019%)

By contrast, here are some interesting bullet points:

  • According to OSHA, there were 4,609 fatal industrial accidents in the USA in 2011 - an improvement compared to 20 years ago, but a slight increase on 2009.  That's a rate of 1.4 per 100,000 population, about 6 times greater than the global rate of deaths from terrorism, according to the FBI's 2007 figures, and 139 times greater than the rate of Americans killed by terrorists, worldwide.
  • Over 30,000 Americans die in motor vehicle accidents each year. That's 9.6 per 100,000 population, about 48 times greater than the global rate of deaths from terrorism, and 900 times greater than the number of Americans killed by terrorism every year.
  • According to a Harvard study, over 44,789 Americans die each year due to lack of health insurance. That's 14.4 per 100,000 population, about 60 times greater than the global rate of deaths from terrorism. That's also an annual rate about 15 times greater than the number of Americans killed by terrorism in 2001 (the year of September 11), and 1,357 times greater than the number of American deaths from terrorism in 2007, the highest year on record since 2001. Let me rephrase that, just to make sure it sinks in - Americans die from lack of health insurance, every year, at a rate about one thousand three hundred and fifty-seven times greater than the rate at which they are killed by terrorists, worldwide. Talk about death panels.
  • In summary, far more Americans die every year from any one of these causes than have died from terrorism in the 33 years since 1980. In the case of annual healthcare-related deaths, based on the Harvard study figures, about 10 times more Americans die from lack of healthcare - every year - than the number of Americans killed by terrorists in the last 30+ years - according to FBI figures.

Driving a car or working in heavy industrial labour jobs in America - or for that matter, just being here, especially without health insurance - poses far greater risks than global terrorism, from a purely statistical point of view.

And it's not as if all the military/intelligence spending is what's keeping anyone safe from terrorism - on the contrary, the highest annual death toll from terrorism on record since 2001, as I mentioned, is 2007, which saw the most intense fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. These are wars started by the US, the latter as we know on completely false pretenses, and moreover fueled by an official and secret US policy of 'divide and conquer' - courtesy of one Colonel Steele, a veteran of the "dirty wars" in Central America in the 1980s who was sent to Iraq precisely for the purpose of organizing paramilitary Shia militias and uniformed death squads, along with interrogation/torture centers, inciting sectarian violence. (explored in a BBC documentary, James Steele: America's Mystery Man in Iraq)  Of the 100,000+ killed in the Iraq war, at least 30,000 - according to leaked documents included in the Wikileaks Iraq war logs - were innocent civilians killed by US troops. In other words, US troops have murdered at least 6 or 7 times more innocent men, women and children in Iraq than the number of Americans killed by terrorists in the 30+ years from 1980 to today, including those killed on September 11, 2001. The United States government may still be, as Martin Luther King, Jr. put it, "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today."***

Furthermore, deaths from terrorism worldwide, comparatively insignificant as they were to begin with, have declined since Bush left office, and since the 'war on terror' ceased to be as much of a policy priority. Which is a good reminder of Foucault's dictum on how law enforcement breeds its own monsters, where a given 'vice' - [insert "terror" or "drugs"] - "may have been designated as the evil to be eliminated, but the extraordinary effort that went into the task that was bound to fail leads one to suspect that what was demanded of it was to persevere, to proliferate to the limits of the visible and the invisible, rather than to disappear for good. Always relying on this support, power advanced, multiplied its relays and its effects, while its target expanded, subdivided, and branched out, penetrating further into reality at the same pace." (The Will to Knowledge, 42) In much the same way as Wall Street bankers are said to turn to Karl Marx for instructive tips on the functioning of the capitalist economy, this passage from Foucault easily sounds like a page from Colonel Steele's field manual.

The vast state surveillance apparatus devoted to fighting terrorism (or drugs, for that matter) is basically a bunch of grown-up kids with technology and guns living out their sick, violent fantasies, snooping on the whole world, and leaving it to the rest of us to solve the world's real problems, including the ones they create.

A quick browse through my notes on Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine is a good reminder that neoliberal economic policies will kill far more of us than global terrorism. They already have. Far more people die every year from the combined effects of hunger, treatable diseases, industrial accidents, pollution, malnutrition, mismanaged natural disasters, etc - or from any one of these causes - than from terrorism. In other words, from the effects of deregulation, post-colonial economic imperialism, austerity cuts, the hypocritical enforcement of patent regimes on pharmaceuticals in the developing world (see my Medicine, Ethics and Law paper on the left), and so forth. Not to mention state-sponsored violence - war, terrorism, drone strikes - which in the case of Iraq, basically comes down to one big, disastrous experiment in neoliberal/neoconservative free marketeer nation-building, given what we know of the motivations that drove the Straussian Milton-Friedmanite Chicago School devotees in the Bush administration.

So while more billions are being poured into fighting 'global terrorism' with its relatively negligible casualties worldwide, and military aid to corrupt third-world regimes, a single industrial accident this summer, the last in a series of similar accidents - the building collapse in Bangladesh - killed more than 230 sweatshop workers and left hundreds trapped under the rubble. Gotta keep those cheap goods comin'. As reported in the Guardian:

'...police ordered an evacuation of the building after deep cracks became visible in the walls, officials said. But factories based there ignored the order and kept more than 2,000 people working.

Dilara Begum, a garment worker who survived the accident, said supervisors had told them to return to work on Wednesday, saying the building had been inspected and declared safe. 

"We didn't want to go in but the supervisors threatened to dock pay if we didn't return to work."

More recently, another Guardian article reported on the deaths of dozens of Nepalese migrant workers due to brutal labour conditions in Qatar, where employers routinely confiscate workers' passports and hold back wages to keep labourers from running away. Thirty Nepalese recently took shelter in their embassy to escape working conditions:

"The overall picture is of one of the richest nations exploiting one of the poorest to get ready for the world's most popular sporting tournament."

This might, I suppose, sound ironic to someone still labouring under the illusion that wealth in capitalist societies is accumulated through hard work rather than theft, lies, luck, and plunder. Furthermore, it is worth noting that the exploitation of migrants in Qatar is not news - this has been going on for years. The difference is that the World Cup preparations have drawn the world's attention to it, and perhaps exacerbated the situation somewhat.

In a recent episode of the Colbert Report, featuring Thomas Herndon, the UMass grad student who discovered the infamous 'spreadsheet error' in Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhardt's highly influential pro-austerity paper (incidentally, Herndon did his undergraduate study at Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA, where I live), Stephen Colbert eloquently and cheekily summed up the twisted logic of austerity: "we need to keep cutting the government budget, and keep laying people off until those people get jobs."

And the schtick goes on: "an academic paper by Harvard economists Rogoff and Reinhart, that fiscal conservatives worldwide used to argue for austerity, was recently refuted by a UMass grad student just because it had a few simple spreadsheet errors, and a couple of little staggering omissions, that made it slightly fundamentally wrong."

That's right. Only slightly fundamentally wrong. We don't need to worry about getting the numbers right - about the industrial accidents, gun homicides, car accidents, lack of access to healthcare, the economic stupidity of suicidal austerity cuts, corporate welfare, bank bailouts, foreclosures, exporting of jobs overseas, deregulation, drones, disaster response, starvation, malnutrition, foreign wars, state-sponsored violence, torture - as long as the borders are secure and we're safe from terrorists.

                           *         *         *

** This is actually pretty straightforward stuff - in line with Marx and Engels' dictum (in the Communist Manifesto) that in a communist society "the free development of each must be the condition for the free development of all." It is in fact under conditions of capitalism that the needs of the individual are subjected to the needs of the market, capital, state, etc.

*** Given the US government's position in the bully pulpit of the world, its long-standing official refusal to even recognize the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, as well as - in practice - international and local jurisdiction law generally in relation to its military activities, along with the Obama administration's effective amnesty of any wrongdoing by the Bush administration, it is unlikely that any US official will be brought to justice for crimes that, at a minimum, equal those of the Bosnian and Rwandan genocides - the latter at least in severity, if not in magnitude. The occasional crime that is prosecuted, of individual low-ranking soldiers and on US soil, is basically a farce - and a classist/chauvinist one at that. Obama's statement upon entering the White House: "We've been through a dark and painful chapter in our history. Nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past." Really? Nice going, Obama. Try telling that to the survivors and victims of the Iraq war. And is this meant to suggest that nothing was gained by the Nuremberg trials, or by prosecuting criminals like Karadzic and Milosevic? Or is there just a double standard at work here? Was it the Iraqis misfortune that their oppressors were American? Not even 'truth and reconciliation' for them, then?

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

La historia es nuestra y la hacen los pueblos.

Today, on the 12th anniversary of September 11th, is the 40th anniversary of "the other September 11th" - the Chilean coup that overthrew the democratically elected Salvador Allende, in favor of the US-backed fascist Pinochet. It took place on September 11, 1973. Here is a great short film about it, by Ken Loach.

"St. Augustine said: Hope had two beautiful daughters - Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to change them."

And let's not forget the words of Allende: La historia es nuestra y la hacen los pueblos. ¡Viva Chile! ¡Viva el pueblo! ¡Vivan los trabajadores!

Check out the complete text of Allende's last speech here. 

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Healthcare reform in the USA: Biggie Size it

For weeks I have been putting off writing about the health care reform debate in the US. This is an issue that has interested me deeply for some time, and in the past I have done a lot of research on health care spending globally, some of it for a course on Medicine, Ethics, and Law, and some out of personal interest. A recent discussion in a stream of comments on a Facebook status update finally sparked the writing of this post.

In response to an anti-insurance rant by an American friend of mine comparing insurance giants to Big Brother, someone else commented "...I might become Big Brother. If I'm paying, it is going to totally hack me off to see the 250 pounders on their scooters buying sodas, ho hos, cigarettes and beer. I'll be following them through the store, 'nope sorry honey, none for you!"

Now I won't even get into all the moral complexities brought into play when well-off Americans (such as the commenter) complain about the unhealthy lifestyles of the millions of uninsured poor whose real incomes have not budged since the 1960s even as the economy and prices have grown, who are effectively the economic and social victims of the deregulation that has brought prosperity to the middle classes, and the associated fast-fooding and automobile-dependency of the American lifestyle; the fact that Mississippi is both the poorest and the fattest state in America (the fattest nation in the world) should give you an idea. (Yes, I am saying that the rich got rich on the backs of the fat and poor they complain about.) Nor is it necessary to inquire extensively here into how those unhealthy lifestyles developed on the ground level - for anyone interested in how America came to be the fattest nation on the planet, watch Morgan Spurlock's 'Super Size Me' - it's a good start. (hint: it does have something to do with aggressive marketing strategies and corporate profit margins)

If you want to think in such inhuman terms, the simple statistical truth is that people with unhealthy lifestyles (i.e. smokers) are actually much less of a burden on the health system, because - surprise!! - they die younger. It just so happens that a grossly disproportionate amount of money - even here in the UK, on the much-maligned NHS - is spent on the last few decades of life for those who, due to their extremely healthy lifestyles, get past 65. And no, there are no 'death panels' on the NHS, contrary to what has been reported in the American press. (As an aside, if obesity is the complaint, cigarettes have the added benefit of reducing the burden even further, given that tobacco is an appetite suppressant and most chain-smokers are highly unlikely to be obese. ) So in all fairness, the fat-asses my interlocutor complained about might be equally if not more justified shoving cigarettes down her throat to save the public the expense of keeping her alive well into her 70s and 80s...

But thank God that most people in countries with national health insurance schemes don't think that way, and neither does anyone follow fat-asses through the store and tell them what to eat, nor do old people get cut off when they get past a certain age.

The cost of end-of-life care and old-age care for that matter is disproportionately high anywhere, except where a policy choice is made to have so-called 'death panels', but I have not heard of such a country. Conservatives like to point to well-publicized cases of, say, the NHS refusing to fund a particular trial of an experimental cancer drug or something of the kind. You think that HMOs on private insurance don't refuse to fund treatments? Of course they do, all the time, and even more so - I can confirm this from experience as a patient on both sides. And think of the economic incentive - the only difference is that with private insurance, such decisions are made first and foremost for the sake of corporate profit margins rather than the public interest or absolute budget limits. In a national health care system - no profit margin means more money to spend on health care.

And whether you're insured privately or on a national insurance scheme, you always have the option to pay for treatments not covered on the insurance out-of-pocket - but that's got nothing to do with what system you're in. In fact, if anything, in such cases you'd be better off being in the UK, than in the US, where no price caps and sparse market regulation mean that treatments paid out-of-pocket would cost several times more.

The disproportional cost of old-age care is even greater in the US. When I last looked at the WHO statistics on public health spending, the US government's per capita health spending - the public funds spent on healthcare - was higher than in any European country besides France. Public health spending in the US is basically Medicare and Medicaid. What that means is that Americans are already paying more than most Europeans in taxes and other public spending per capita to fund a government-run healthcare system - but they only benefit from that money if they are over 65 or very poor and fulfill certain criteria.

One major reason as mentioned is that caring for seniors (i.e. the Medicare program) is very expensive, and the more so the older they get. But another reason is that the US healthcare system is way overpriced - i.e. no price caps - drug companies can charge whatever the hell they want, which is why congress tried to pass a bill a few years back to buy drugs from Canada, from the same companies, the same brands.

Factor into the public spending all the out-of-pocket costs (even Medicare isn't totally 'free'), the private insurance spending which is even greater per capita, both insurance premiums and co-pays, and you get a health system that is priced way above what its actual performance deserves, taking into account the standard of living and price index, which are greater in many European countries.

Do you get a better healthcare system for all that money? Don't think so. Last time I looked at WHO's health performance indicators, the US was middle-range, sharing the same infant mortality rate as Cuba - one of the poorest countries in the word, but one which alleviates that poverty with a health system that performs well beyond its means. I can't imagine what the NHS would be like, or the Cuban health care system for that matter, if they spent the amount of money per capita that the US already spends on Medicare and Medicaid.

Yet another reason for the high cost of healthcare in the US is precisely that it is too cumbersome compared to single payer healthcare systems. That is the argument against private insurance and in favour of something like the NHS - which precisely has the benefit of making things simpler, cuts out a lot of bureaucracy and paperwork. (Again, I can confirm this from experience as a patient on both sides)...

Another type of scare story cited by pro-corporate Americans (such as this blog) is that a national healthcare plan would 'victimize' immigrants and other vulnerable populations. One story cited is of an immigrant spouse of a New Zealander who is denied care due to rules that do not allow immigrants to be a 'public burden'. It is irrelevant whether the story is true or not. And let's not even discuss the blanket assumption that an immigrant in New Zealand would have access to health care through private insurance were things otherwise. The simple fact is that any American who buys this argument is unfamiliar with their own immigration system. (No surprise there, most likely they've never been through it) Under current rules, a legal 'green card' immigrant in the US is not allowed to become a 'public burden'; any American citizen with an immigrant spouse is required to sign an affidavit to this effect, declaring that they will be financially liable in the event that their spouse becomes a 'public burden' (i.e. by claiming social security).

Obviously, the issue at stake is not the humane provision of a health service for all New Zealanders or Americans, but the inhumane immigration rules which exclude non-citizens. When I signed up for the health service here in the UK, I didn't have to prove anything except my address, and even that only for the purpose of ensuring I am with the right GP for my area. Aside from my medical history the past few years, the only thing the NHS knows about me is my name and address. They don't know or care what my legal status is here - and I am not even a permanent resident, but a student now on a two-year post-study work visa. Once, a friend who lives in Italy contracted a kidney infection while on a brief visit here - she has a chronic condition - she was able to get phone advice over a 24-hour help line the same evening without even giving her name, and treatment from our GP the next morning, no fuss.

I can imagine what the next complaint would be, and I have heard that one too - 'medical tourism'. What people seem to forget is that going to the doctor is no fun for most people. I sure as hell put it off even when I should go to the doctor, even when I can do it for free. You don't need the disincentive of co-pays, let alone going to another country to get it. We're not talking government-sponsored tickets to the theater. When people go to the trouble of going to another country specifically to get medical treatment, most likely they really need it badly, and they can't afford it or obtain it otherwise. Anyone who's got a problem with that is sick in the head.

Yet another thing to consider is that it works both ways - the fact that someone visiting the UK from another country can get medical treatment here without a problem, and without charge, should they fall ill during their visit, is something we should be grateful for as human beings; just as much as the fact that I can similarly travel worry-free in some countries. If some people do abuse the system and come here for free treatment on purpose even when they could get it otherwise, or for treatment not medically necessary, there is really very little you can do about it without harming the majority of people who don't abuse the system, but it doesn't really worry me that much. You can't ever totally avoid people pissing in public parks, yet the fact that it happens is no argument for keeping them closed.

If you want to compare costs, I would advise anyone in the US lucky enough to have a health insurance plan to take a good look at their paycheck; and calculate what they pay in income tax, and add to that the health insurance premiums, social insurance, out-of-pocket costs, take it all out. And then calculate what you get in return. I guarantee that they will find that on average, contrary to the perception that Europeans pay a lot of taxes, Americans are the ones getting screwed over. Not by the government, however - but by the insurance companies and pharmaceutical giants.

Because ultimately, any health insurance money comes out of your paycheck, even if your health insurance is 'employer-funded'. The higher the insurance premiums, the less money there is for you to negotiate over. This is something that annoys me about some union bargaining strategies - in 2002, the AFL-CIO officially opposed a ballot initiative in Oregon to provide a state-wide health-coverage plan, on the grounds that the tax that would be imposed to finance it took up to 8% income tax (with as low as 2% for lower incomes) and up to 11% payroll tax. The employer, the AFL-CIO held, should bear a greater portion of the cost. But this is a bogus argument, as some local unions who favoured the plan realized - the tax money taken together would amount to much less than what is doled out on private insurance plans; in reality it doesn't matter who finances the health care on paper - whether it is payroll or income tax, the more money it costs, the less there is to negotiate over for pay rises and other benefits. The goal should be to cut health care costs, and one big way to do it is to eliminate insurance companies and corporate profit margins. The rest we can squabble over later.

Also, while medical malpractice is certainly another major contributor to the cost of healthcare in the US, that should have no impact on the extraordinarily high cost of Medicare, which is driven largely by drug prices and old-age care, which rarely involves malpractice.

Moreover, the highly litigious, adversarial culture of high payouts in damages that has developed in the US is precisely the result of a privatized system. When you pay for something, when health is a commodity rather than a public service, you have different expectations of it, even if those expectations are entirely misguided - i.e. relying on the misguided notion that if you pay doctors more they are less likely to make mistakes.

My only major criticism of Obama's health care package would be that it does not go far enough. In order to truly address all the problems with the US healthcare system without creating new ones, what needs to be dealt with is not just the cost of health insurance premiums, but the cost of health care itself - down to the root. If you simply move to a single payer system without imposing price caps (especially on pharmaceuticals), without investing in lower-cost medical education (recognizing foreign medical school diplomas would be a start), or investing in preventive care and patient education, even with all the savings achieved by cutting out the insurance companies (see Paul Krugman's article;) operating the system may prove to be simply too expensive. The system may be headed for insolvency, just as Medicare is at the moment.

Not to mention the need to address the shocking amount of disinformation and ignorance among Americans regarding this issue. As Krugman notes in a more recent piece, some Americans who benefit from Medicare don't even know that it is a government-run program.

Going back to the obesity issue, rather than complaining about it, perhaps my interlocutor should have considered whether the 250-pounders buying soda and ho hos are precisely why America needs national health insurance. Most people like them most likely don't even have health insurance, or regular access to a doctor, or anyone to tell them - before it is too late - that their enormous weight is something they should see a doctor for, that it is the product not so much of the quantity they eat, but the kind of food they eat. But bear in mind that if their lifestyles do change and their life expectancy goes up, they will cost the health care system - public or private - more, not less.

If as Morgan Spurlock puts it, "everything's bigger in America", then the healthcare plan needs to be too. America needs one super-sized biggie McWhopper of a public health insurance scheme in order to sort out all its problems.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Zizek on Iran: will the cat above the precipice fall down?

[This is an unpublished piece on Iran by Slavoj Zizek, which the mainstream media are apparently not interested in publishing. It was e-mailed to me by an Iranian friend and has appeared on the Support for the Iranian People 2009 blog. The argument is pretty much the same one made by Zizek in one of the lectures I attended at Birkbeck last week (in which he mentions my friend Ali by name, should anyone dispute the authenticity of the article). There is some audio of Zizek's lecture on the above-mentioned site, as well as here, in part IV, I believe.]

Slavoj Zizek

When an authoritarian regime approaches its final crisis, its dissolution as a rule follows two steps. Before its actual collapse, a mysterious rupture takes place: all of a sudden people know that the game is over, they are simply no longer afraid. It is not only that the regime loses its legitimacy, its exercise of power itself is perceived as an impotent panic reaction. We all know the classic scene from cartoons: the cat reaches a precipice, but it goes on walking, ignoring the fact that there is no ground under its feet; it starts to fall only when it looks down and notices the abyss. When it loses its authority, the regime is like a cat above the precipice: in order to fall, it only has to be reminded to look down…

In Shah of Shahs, a classic account of the Khomeini revolution, Ryszard Kapuscinski located the precise moment of this rupture: at a Tehran crossroad, a single demonstrator refused to budge when a policeman shouted at him to move, and the embarrassed policeman simply withdrew; in a couple of hours, all Tehran knew about this incident, and although there were street fights going on for weeks, everyone somehow knew the game is over. Is something similar going on now?

There are many versions of the events in Tehran. Some see in the protests the culmination of the pro-Western “reform movement” along the lines of the “orange” revolutions in Ukraine, Georgia, etc. – a secular reaction to the Khomeini revolution. They support the protests as the first step towards a new liberal-democratic secular Iran freed of Muslim fundamentalism. They are counteracted by skeptics who think that Ahmadinejad really won: he is the voice of the majority, while the support of Mousavi comes from the middle classes and their gilded youth. In short: let’s drop the illusions and face the fact that, in Ahmadinejad, Iran has a president it deserves. Then there are those who dismiss Mousavi as a member of the cleric establishment with merely cosmetic differences from Ahmadinejad: Mousavi also wants to continue the atomic energy program, he is against recognizing Israel, plus he enjoyed the full support of Khomeini as a prime minister in the years of the war with Iraq.

Finally, the saddest of them all are the Leftist supporters of Ahmadinejad: what is really at stake for them is Iranian independence. Ahmadinejad won because he stood up for the country’s independence, exposed elite corruption and used oil wealth to boost the incomes of the poor majority – this is, so we are told, the true Ahmadinejad beneath the Western-media image of a holocaust-denying fanatic. According to this view, what is effectively going on now in Iran is a repetition of the 1953 overthrow of Mossadegh – a West-financed coup against the legitimate president. This view not only ignores facts: the high electoral participation – up from the usual 55% to 85% - can only be explained as a protest vote. It also displays its blindness for a genuine demonstration of popular will, patronizingly assuming that, for the backward Iranians, Ahmadinejad is good enough - they are not yet sufficiently mature to be ruled by a secular Left.

Opposed as they are, all these versions read the Iranian protests along the axis of Islamic hardliners versus pro-Western liberal reformists, which is why they find it so difficult to locate Mousavi: is he a Western-backed reformer who wants more personal freedom and market economy, or a member of the cleric establishment whose eventual victory would not affect in any serious way the nature of the regime? Such extreme oscillations demonstrate that they all miss the true nature of the protests.

The green color adopted by the Mousavi supporters, the cries of “Allah akbar!” that resonate from the roofs of Tehran in the evening darkness, clearly indicate that they see their activity as the repetition of the 1979 Khomeini revolution, as the return to its roots, the undoing of the revolution’s later corruption. This return to the roots is not only programmatic; it concerns even more the mode of activity of the crowds: the emphatic unity of the people, their all-encompassing solidarity, creative self-organization, improvising of the ways to articulate protest, the unique mixture of spontaneity and discipline, like the ominous march of thousands in complete silence. We are dealing with a genuine popular uprising of the deceived partisans of the Khomeini revolution.

There are a couple of crucial consequences to be drawn from this insight. First, Ahmadinejad is not the hero of the Islamist poor, but a genuine corrupted Islamo-Fascist populist, a kind of Iranian Berlusconi whose mixture of clownish posturing and ruthless power politics is causing unease even among the majority of ayatollahs. His demagogic distributing of crumbs to the poor should not deceive us: behind him are not only organs of police repression and a very Westernized PR apparatus, but also a strong new rich class, the result of the regime’s corruption (Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is not a working class militia, but a mega-corporation, the strongest center of wealth in the country).

Second, one should draw a clear difference between the two main candidates opposed to Ahmadinejad, Mehdi Karroubi and Mousavi. Karroubi effectively is a reformist, basically proposing the Iranian version of identity politics, promising favors to all particular groups. Mousavi is something entirely different: his name stands for the genuine resuscitation of the popular dream which sustained the Khomeini revolution. Even if this dream was a utopia, one should recognize in it the genuine utopia of the revolution itself. What this means is that the 1979 Khomeini revolution cannot be reduced to a hard line Islamist takeover – it was much more. Now is the time to remember the incredible effervescence of the first year after the revolution, with the breath-taking explosion of political and social creativity, organizational experiments and debates among students and ordinary people. The very fact that this explosion had to be stifled demonstrates that the Khomeini revolution was an authentic political event, a momentary opening that unleashed unheard-of forces of social transformation, a moment in which “everything seemed possible.” What followed was a gradual closing through the take-over of political control by the Islam establishment. To put it in Freudian terms, today’s protest movement is the “return of the repressed” of the Khomeini revolution.

And, last but not least, what this means is that there is a genuine liberating potential in Islam – to find a “good” Islam, one doesn’t have to go back to the 10th century, we have it right here, in front of our eyes.

The future is uncertain – in all probability, those in power will contain the popular explosion, and the cat will not fall into the precipice, but regain ground. However, it will no longer be the same regime, but just one corrupted authoritarian rule among others. Whatever the outcome, it is vitally important to keep in mind that we are witnessing a great emancipatory event which doesn’t fit the frame of the struggle between pro-Western liberals and anti-Western fundamentalists. If our cynical pragmatism will make us lose the capacity to recognize this emancipatory dimension, then we in the West are effectively entering a post-democratic era, getting ready for our own Ahmadinejads. Italians already know his name: Berlusconi. Others are waiting in line.

people reloaded: why mass protest in iran is true politics worth supporting

by Morad Farhadpour and Omid Mehrgan [translators and philosophers based in Tehran]

[This piece is copyright-free. Please distribute widely.]

In the past two weeks, the majority of people in Tehran and other cities in Iran (including Shiraz, Ahwaz, Tabriz, Isfihan) have been on the streets, protesting against the theft of the presidential election by a handful of state’s agents at the top level. It was not a rigging in the usual western sense, no added votes or replaced ballot boxes, the election went on properly, the votes were taken and probably even counted, the figures transmitted to the ministry of interior, and it was there that they were totally disregarded and replaced by totally fictitious figures. That is why all the opposition forces (Sazman-e-Mojahedin-e-Enghelab, Mosharekat party...) together with people called it a coup d’état.

Global public opinion and, especially, the body of (leftist) intellectuals, Inspired by recent events in the middle Asia and east Europe, mostly regard this Iranian mass protest as another version of the well-known, newly invented, neo-liberal, U.S.-sponsored, colour-coded revolutions, as in Georgia and Ukraine. But is it the case in Iran? This article intends to clarify the issue, to reveal the properly political essence of current mass movement, and to demonstrate that this movement has the potentiality of a self-transcendence, of surpassing its actual demands, of traversing its current phantasy. To do this, we shall first examine the contemporary tradition of radical politics in Iran. Without these references, the current movement, which truly deserves this title, can not be understood correctly.

People, whether consciously or not, are frequently recollecting the 1979 Revolution and the 1997 Reform Movement. Many of their slogans are transformed slogans of the '79 Revolution. The paths of demonstrations are symbolically significantly, the same as those against Shah. But this does not mean that people are imitating the '79 Revolution: there are many new possibilities and creativities, many formal and thematic inventions. As for the 1997 Reform Movement, and its aftermath (the crushing of student protest in 1999), the affinities are even more obvious. Khatami, along with Mir Hossein Mousavi, is one of the most significant leaders and supporters of the protest. It is as if people are trying to redeem the 2nd of Khordad (May 23, 1997), to revive the unfinished hopes and dreams of those days. But this time, the protest is by no means limited to students and intellectuals. Although Khatami in 1997 was elected with 20 million votes from the most varied sections of the nation, the movement was characterized by the political and cultural demands of the middle-class, of students and educated people. But, apart from this, what is the true significance of the 2nd of Khordad Front for politics in Iran?

On the 2nd of Khordad, for the first time since Iranian Revolution, we were encountering a dichotomy between the state and the total system of Islamic Republic of Iran, known as Nezam (System, which is based on the principle of Velayat-e-Faghih, the supreme authority of high-ranked Mullahs). This duality was partly due to the fact that the leader of the opposition, Khatami, was at the same time the chief of the state. It was the only occasion where this duality, which is, in a sense, one between the development of productive forces and cultural, political backwardness, between secular democracy and religious fanaticism, could be revealed. Before and after that period, the state and Nezam have been basically in accordance, as it had been in the Shah's Regime. One of the reasons, if not the main reason, why elections in Iran are of such importance for democratic movements, despite trends to boycott them, lies precisely in the significance of this very duality. Seen from a classical-Marxist perspective, in order to pave the way for the development of productive forces, in order to accomplish the ‘civilizing mission’ of capitalism, there must emerge a bourgeois state capable of carrying out the process of democratization and modernization. Whenever the state has been in full accordance with Nezam, this process fails to go on. Besides this, we deal with yet another duality, one between the capital and the state, the former as the means of development (with all its discontents, aptly and righteously exposed by the Marxist tradition), and the latter as the organ of regression and anti-modernism. So, the progressive and socialist opposition in Iran are faced with the unprecedented, hard task of fighting in two fronts: against religious fanaticism and the authoritarian factions in a semi-democratic government, and simultaneously against global capitalism and its hegemony by means of the production of wars. In a sense, intelligentsia in Iran are very similar to that of Russia and Germany of 19th century. We are a handful of schizophrenics who are, at one and the same time, against and for progress, development, capitalism, state management and so on. In other words, for us, the Faustian problematic, his tragedy, is formulated in a typically Hamletian way. This ambivalent attitude (to western civilization) can be characterized by the dialectic of state and politics. We are neither dealing with a pure politics a la Alain Badiou, nor with a classical Marxist politics, exhausted in class struggles, nor with the liberal-democratic politics of human rights, which was, by the way, the dominant discourse of opposition in Iran before Mousavi. Our supposedly radical politics consists of every one of these elements, but is not reducible to any of them. To deploy Agamben’s terminology, it is a politics of people against People, i.e. voiceless, suppressed people, against People officially constructed by the state. The current movement materializes, in many respects, this very politics.

But the question, which has confused the western (left) intelligentsia and has caused the most varied misunderstandings regarding Iran, is whether Ahmadinejad is a leftist, anti-imperialist, anti-privatization, anti-globalization figure. The common answer is a positive one. That is why certain misguided western leftists tend to regard the current mass movement in support of Mir Hossein Mousavi and against Ahmadinejad as the struggle of liberalism against anti-imperialism, of privatization, liberal-democracy against the enemies of global hegemony of America. The main aim of this article is to expose, to expel this widespread illusion. As regards the other confused camp, the Western, more or less, Islamophobic liberals, who are inclined to identify Ahmadinjad with Al-Qaeda, who refer to Mousavi, because of his Islamic-Republican career in 80’s, as another version of Islamic, anti-democratic Ideology, one could say that they too are caught up in an illusion based on easy Euro-centrist generalizations and lack of familiarity with the Iranian historical context. We should thus answer the simple question: what is actually at the stake? Apart from the triad of French Revolution, the triad of modern emancipatory politics, liberty, equality, fraternity, one could maintain that the main bone of contention in this struggle is precisely politics itself, its life and survival. Our government is called the Islamic Republic of Iran. Now the republican moment, which has always been downgraded by the conservatives, is presently being annihilated. It is precisely through this very outlet that any popular politics, from social movement of dissent and class politics to the defence of human rights, might survive.

Another common approach, no matter how radical, supportive, or conservative, to mass protest in Iran is the following: it is a youth movement, at its best, similar to 68’s student protests. New young generation in Iran, armed with Internet, socialized by social networking sites, tired of Islamic ideology, has awakened, claiming its own way of life, and so on. According to this attitude, which is evoked by a number of journalists, it is only the middle-class intellectuals, students, feminists, and other educated people in large cities who are rallying on the streets, communicating with each other thanks to the internet. What is striking is that the state discourse in Iran widely promotes this very attitude. The ruling elite, based on a populist rhetoric, tends to single out a certain section of the nation and call it the People. The state television, Seda-va-Sima, is the main place where this People is represented, indeed constructed, mostly through the usual populist tactic of one nation versus the evil external enemy who is the cause of all trouble. It presents a unified, pure, integrated image of People, all devoting themselves to Nezam, all law-abiding, religious, etc. This image of People is daily imposed on the masses and inscribed onto the body politic. Against this formally constructed People, with the state as its formal face, there has come out another people, a subaltern, muted people, claiming its own place, its own part in the political scene. June 2009 Election was a decisive opportunity for this people to declare itself, in the figure of Mousavi, who from the beginning insisted on people’s dignity as a true political right. But why him? Why not, say, Karroubi, the other reformist candidate? Has Mousvai, now the leader of the mass movement, appeared on the scene in a purely contingent way? Has he by mere chance, by force of circumstances, as it were, become the leading figure, the reform-freedom-democracy incarnate? The answer is positively negative. To elucidate this, we have to draw attention to the tradition from which he has emerged and to which he has repeatedly referred during his electoral campaign. As we said before, this tradition is rooted in 1979 Revolution and has been revived in the 2th of Khordad Movement -- whereas, Karroubi’s ‘politics’ was based on a subjectless process in which different identity groups would present their demands to the almighty state and act as its passive, divided, depoliticized supporters. In fact, Karroubi’s campaign, with its appeal to Western media, using the word ‘change’ in English, and profiting from celebrity figures, was the one that could be called a Western liberal human-rights-loving, even pro-capitalist movement. The fact that millions transcending their identity and immediate interests joined a typically universal militant politics by risking their lives in defence of Mousavi and their dignity, should be enough to cast out all doubts or misguided pseudo-leftist dogmas.