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[This is an unpublished piece on Iran by Slavoj Zizek, which the mainstream media are apparently not interested in publishing.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.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

This is what democracy looks like

The turmoil in Tehran over the past few days manifests precisely the 'minimal difference' that belies the line of confrontation in the so-called 'clash of civilizations'. What was always missing in this simple dichotomy is the actual struggle, the actual tension. The real clash is neither between Western democracy and Islam, nor between democracy and authoritarianism, nor simply between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi. In the context of stolen elections, one should always remember that in the "world's greatest democracy", the Republican party stole at least one, possibly two elections - this with a flourish, and deploying a variety of tactics ranging from racially-targeted voter fraud (50,000 alleged ex-felons fraudulently purged from the register in one case, most of them black) to voter intimidation, orchestrated at various levels nationwide but most notably in Florida, by ex-president George W's dear old brother, Governor Jeb.

So what is the difference between a stolen election in the "world's greatest democracy" and a stolen election in Iran? Well, for starters, the Americans never took to the streets in revolt, never rose up in anger against the political system that cheated them. In the 2000 election it was Al Gore himself who was behind the final, 11th hour betrayal, when about 20 members of the Congressional Black Caucus filed objections to the Florida results, demanding a full recount; Gore, as President of the Senate, ruled them out of order, one by one.

But beneath all the concrete acts of betrayal, what took place in the US election was a betrayal of democracy by itself. Americans, ironically enough, betrayed democracy because they believed too much in democracy, or in the institutions of democracy - they lacked a healthy dose of cynicism. Living in a state of collective denial for 8 years, leaving it up to democratic institutions to correct themselves, was preferable to revolt. "Denial ain't nothin' but a river in Egypt," as Louis Armstrong put it.

What all this should tell us, I think, is that real democracy - the 'will of the people' - cannot be guaranteed by any system. The very notion of 'democratic institutions' or 'democratic government' is already a contradiction of terms, of sorts - something to be watched over carefully. The only guarantee of democracy is the willingness of the people to revolt. A government is only 'democratic' as a function of the people's preparedness to wipe it out at the slightest whiff of corruption - by any means necessary. Democratic legitimacy can be vested in institutions and formal procedures only so long as the threat of collective violence persists, even if it is never realized.

What is amusing in all this is the bewilderment of western journalists who see Iranians as a people 'ruled by fear', now all of a sudden taking to the streets and taking up an open struggle. Well, under the circumstances, and given the odds against them, they appear to be far less fearful than anyone thought. They have slightly more corrupt and less democratic institutions than some countries in the west, and face greater state/police brutality; yet despite this, as a people they are clearly more capable of exercising a collective will, with or without institutions.

The real struggle in all this is not between Iran and the USA, or Islam and the West, or authoritarianism and democracy: it is a struggle between collective will and state/institutional authority as such - 'democratically' legitimated or not. It is a struggle that takes place within democracy, within a political system of any sort, within an institutionalized religion even - rather than between 'different' nations, religions, or political systems. It comes down to what Deleuze calls 'internal' difference - real differences are always internal. The USA in fighting Islamism or communism was always fighting its own demons: in the case of China it eventually reconciled not only with communism but with authoritarian rule (i.e. China was granted permanent 'Most Favoured Nation' status in 2000 by the U.S Congress). Communism became palatable for US politicians once it eliminated any trace of collective will or 'people rule' - becoming, effectively, state capitalism.

Which explains why some right-wing US politicians and commentators are tacitly or ambiguously supporting Ahmadinejad (while the liberals are just shrugging their shoulders). The real threat to their agenda, as they well know, comes not from Islam but from any expression of collective will, from popular revolt as such. It just never seems to go their way, that's all.

Parallels to the 1979 revolution are apt, most of all because what is at stake is a repetition, in the Deleuzian sense: in 1979, the revolutionaries lost in the end, as the critical mass was hijacked by Islamic fundamentalists firmly on the side of state authority. What is needed is a repetition - authentic repetition is never repetition of the same, but the repetition of a possibility; and it is only with repetition that the truly new emerges. It is time to return to that fork in the road.

Slavoj Zizek recently criticized the left's stance toward Iran, pointing out among other things that Mousavi's opposition movement has activated an emancipatory dimension within Islam itself, rather than pandering to Western liberal ideology. That is precisely it - internal difference. One divides into two. This is the only path to true universality: nous sommes tous Iraniens.* Mousavi is within Islam the emancipatory voice that the Left should be within neoliberal capitalism - not to mention the American brand of neoliberal capitalism, which happens to be paired with a fundamentalist Christian faith not all that different from the Iranian mullahs.

The ambivalence of the US political establishment is most likely due to the embarrassing realization that what is happening in Iran is "Iraq, the way it should have happened," as Zizek put it. I would only add that the irony is double: it's not just about the failure in Iraq, it's also the failure in Iran itself - some fifty-odd years ago. One reason why Western democracy never took root in Iran in the first place is because, when the Iranians tried to build a progressive democratic society on their own, one where women were more emancipated than they were in most Western nations at the time, and certainly more than they would be in Switzerland for decades**, their dream was crushed by the very same hegemonic powers now rooting for war on Iran. The Iranians elected a socialist government in 1951, which proceeded to enact a range of popular social reforms, including the denationalization of Iranian oil, at the time controlled by British interests under a 100-year concession granted under duress by a previous unconstitutional government; the British and Americans, prompted by a dispute in which the International Court of Justice ruled itself incompetent - effectively ruling in Iran's favour - removed Iran's democratically-elected government and installed the Shah as dictator.

Similarly, Iraq today after a dose of US democracy is more religiously conservative than most Arab countries - more than it has ever been in history. The thing about western democracy is it's a bit like the ridiculously overpriced pharmaceuticals peddled by multinational corporations, where the side effects seem to reproduce the symptoms they are meant to cure. The common side effects of antidepressants, for instance, include "urinary retention, blurred vision, constipation, sleep disruption, weight gain, headache, nausea, gastrointestinal disturbance/diarrhea, abdominal pain, inability to achieve an erection, inability to achieve an orgasm (men and women), loss of libido, agitation, anxiety" - couldn't all that make one a little depressed? (Conveniently enough, if the side effects do appear, it's impossible to tell whether it is the drug or the disease any more.)

Or take for instance the common side effects of antihistamines: "drowsiness, headache, blurred vision, constipation, dry mouth, dizziness, difficulty passing urine, confusion" - are we talking homeopathy here?

A lesson we should draw from history: the most common side effects of 'spreading freedom and democracy' include "authoritarianism, religious dogma, fundamentalism, outbursts of violence, political repression, economic depression, mass killings, imprisonment of political opponents, war, etc...

The Iranians, left to their own means, are off the medication and are fixing things themselves. One should only hope that they don't give up. And that those outside Iran who take the idea of free self-determination seriously will look past Mousavi's beard.

*in the wake of September 11, 2001, a French newspaper headline proclaimed 'Nous sommes tous Americains' ("we are all Americans"). I agree, but in the sense of 'universality as struggle'; many of us were the skeptical Americans who did not sheepishly buy into their government's rhetoric.
**incidentally, I was recently shocked to find out that one Canton in Switzerland only granted women the right to vote in 1990, after a decision by the Swiss supreme court; at the federal level, women's suffrage was granted only in the 1970s.

Why are the iranians dreaming again?*

The following is a guest post from Ali Alizadeh, Researcher at the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy, Middlesex University. You can also see him discussing the situation in Iran here on BBC's Newsnight.

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

Iran is currently in the grip of a new and strong political movement. While this movement proves that Ahmadinejad’s populist techniques of deception no longer work inside Iran, it seems they are still effective outside the country. This is mainly due to thirty years of isolation and mutual mistrust between Iran and the West which has turned my country into a mysterious phenomenon for outsiders. In this piece I will try to confront some of the mystifications and misunderstandings produced by the international media in the last week.

In the first scenario the international media, claiming impartiality, insisted that the reformists provide hard objective evidence in support of their claim that the June 12 election has been rigged. But despite their empiricist attitude, the media missed obvious facts due to their lack of familiarity with the socio-historical context. Although the reformists could not possibly offer any figures or documents, because the whole show was single-handedly run by Ahmadinejad’s ministry of interior, anyone familiar with Iran’s recent history could easily see what was wrong with this picture.

It was the government who reversed the conventional and logical procedure by announcing a fictitious total figure first – in four stages – and then fabricating figures for each polling station, something that is still going on. This led to many absurdities: Musavi got less votes in his hometown (Tabriz) than Ahmadinejad; Karroubi’s total vote was less than the number of people active in his campaign; Rezaee’s votes were reduced by a hundred thousand between the third and fourth stages of announcement; blank votes were totally forgotten and only hastily added to the count when reformists pointed this out; and finally the ratio between all candidates’ votes remained almost constant in all these four stages of announcement (63, 33, 2 and 1 percent respectively).

Moreover, as in any other country, the increase in turnout in Iran’s elections has always benefitted the opposition and not the incumbent, because it is rational to assume that those who usually don’t vote, i.e. the silent majority, only come out when they want to change the status quo. Yet in this election Ahmadinejad, the representative of the status quo, allegedly received 10 million votes more than what he got in the previous election.

Finally, Ahmadinejad’s nervous reaction after his so-called victory is the best proof for rigging: closing down SMS network and the whole of country’s mobile phone network, arresting more than 100 leading political activists, blocking access to Musavi’s and many other reformists’ websites and unleashing violence in the streets...But if all this is not enough, the bodies of more than 17 people who were shot dead and immediately buried in unknown graves should persuade all those “objective-minded” observers.

In the second scenario, gradually unfolding in the last few days, the international media implicitly shifted its attention to the role of internet and its social networking (twitter, facebook, youtube, etc). This implied that millions of illiterate conservative villagers have voted for Ahmadinejad and the political movement is mostly limited to educated middle classes in North Tehran. While this simplified image is more compatible with media’s comfortable position towards Iran in the last 30 years, it is far from reality. The recent political history of Iran does not confirm this image. For example, Khatami’s victory in 1997, despite his absolute lack of any economic promises and his focus instead on liberal civic demands, was made possible by the polarization of society into people and state. Khatami could win only by embracing people from all different classes and groups, villagers and urban people alike.

There is no doubt that new media and technologies have been playing an important role in the movement, but it seems that the cause and the effect are being reversed in the picture painted by the media. First of all, it is the existence of a strong political determination, combined with people becoming deprived of basic means of communication, which has led the movement to creatively test every other channel and method. Musavi’s paper was shut down on the night of election, his frequent request to talk to people on the state TV has been rejected, his official website is often blocked and his physical contact with his supporters has been kept minimum by keeping him in house arrest (with the exception of his appearance on the over a million march on June 15).

Second, due to the heavy pressure on foreign journalists inside Iran, these technological tools have come to play a significant role in sending the messages and images of the movement to the outside world. However, the creative self-organization of the movement is using a manifold of methods and channels, many of them simple and traditional, depending on their availability: shouting ‘death to dictator’ from rooftops, calling landlines, at the end of one rally chanting the time and place of the next one, and by jeopardizing oneself by physically standing on streets and distributing news to every passing car. The appearance of the movement which is being sold by the media to the western gaze – the cyber-fantasy of the western societies which has already labelled our movement a twitter revolution, seems to have completely missed the reality of those bodies which are shot dead, injured or ready to be endangered by non-virtual bullets.

What is more surprising in the midst of this media frenzy is the blindness of the western left to the political dynamism and energy of our movement. The causes of this blindness oscillate between the misgivings about Islam (or the Islamophobia of hyper-secular left) and the confusion made by Ahmadinjead’s fake anti-imperialist rhetoric (his alliance with Chavez perhaps, who after all was the first to congratulate him). It needs to be emphasized that Ahmadinejad’s economic policies are to the right of the IMF: cutting subsidies in a radical way, more privatization than any other post-79 government (by selling the country to the Revolutionary Guards) and an inflation and unemployment rate which have brought the low-income sections of the society to their knees. It is in this regard that Musavi’s politics needs to be understood in contradistinction from both Ahmadinejad and also the other reformist candidate, i.e. Karroubi.

While Karroubi went for the liberal option of differentiating people into identity groups with different demands (women, students, intellectuals, ethnicities, religious minorities, etc), Musavi emphasized the universal demands of ‘people’ who wanted to be heard and counted as political subjects. This subjectivity, emphasized by Musavi during his campaign and fully incarnated in the rallies of the past few days, is constituted by political intuition, creativity and recollection of the ‘79 revolution (no wonder that people so quickly reached an unexpected maturity, best manifested in the abstention from violence in their silent demonstrations). Musavi’s ‘people’ is also easily, but strongly, distinguished from Ahmadinejad’s anonymous masses dependent on state charity. Musavi’s people, as the collective appearing in the rallies, is made of religious women covered in chador walking hand in hand with westernized young women who are usually prosecuted for their appearance; veterans of war in wheelchairs next to young boys for whom the Iran-Iraq war is only an anecdote; and working class who have sacrificed their daily salary to participate in the rally next to the middle classes. This story is not limited to Tehran. Shiraz (two confirmed dead), Isfahan (one confirmed dead), Tabriz, Oroomiye are also part of this movement and other cities are joining with a predictable delay (as it was the case in 79 revolution).

History will prove who the real participants of this movement are but once again we are faced with a new, non-classical and unfamiliar radical politics. Will the Western left get it right this time?

* The title is a reference to Michel Foucault’s 1978 writing on Iran’s revolution: “What are the Iranians dreaming about?”