Sunday, June 15, 2008

Hands off the people of Iran

Time and financial considerations meant I was only able to attend the first day of the Hands of the People of Iran weekend school, but certainly day one was absolutely excellent. My day started slightly surreally as I met Sian Berry and Jim Killock going the other way and was on the same train to London as Tony Juniper who was attending a different conference (Liam's report on that here).

One welcome element of the school was the utter civility and open mindedness of debate. I know this is not necessarily prized as a virtue among much of the left but for me I find it very helpful if I'm to be involved in anything. Despite the fact that there were some quite pronounced political disagreements among the participants the debate was always conducted in a thoughtful and respectful manner, and never along party lines or for point scoring. It's almost as if participants were listening and engaging with what each other had to say - unheard of!

On a personal level I found it very educational. Iran is definitely not one of my specialist subjects so it was useful to hear Torab Saleth's really excellent potted history of Iran and Christine Cooper's detailed economic run down on the impact of sanctions for instance.

I'd never heard Torab speak before and despite the fact that he did throw around Marxist jargon a bit I was impressed by the fact that he actually understood what the term petite-bourgeois actually meant, which makes a nice change. Anyway, normally I'd be inclined to cool towards any speaker who liberally peppered a talk with this sort of thing but as it happens he was exceptionally good and it was all relevant rather than unthinking.

In terms of giving a grounding in pre-1914 history I found this particularly useful although his account of 1979 seemed slightly skewed - I suppose this is to be expected having been a participant in those events. I certainly didn't feel qualified to pull him up on anything from the floor, but I'm yet to be convinced about the US being in favour of Khomenei's rise to power (to head off the left once the Shah had been overthrown) which just seems to be a totally untenable position.

Christine Cooper was very good despite the fact that she started by apologising for how boring she was going to be (oh, I hate that!) and had a PowerPoint presentation for us. In fact the economic detail was one thing I really, really wanted to hear so personally I found her contribution one of the most useful of the day despite her unfounded lack of confidence in her abilities.

Another speaker, David Mather, had just completed a long research project on the working class movement in Iran and his precis of the work was extremely useful, especially combined with the photo gallery of scenes from recent protests and strikes in Iran displayed on one wall.

A particularly interesting comment was made when one questioner asked what role religion played among trade union activists. David said that they had been expecting religion to be extremely significant, possibly as a tool of the employers to break strikes in the way that, for instance, it influences the working class movement in Turkey. However they were surprised to find that trade unionists consistently told them that religion just was not important. David did introduce the caveat that it might be those activists downplaying its importance but it's clear religion is not being used as an explicit tool to undermine the movement - possibly because of the fusing of the state and religion in Iran rather than despite it.

The final session was a discussion between the two legal minds of Bill Bowring (Haldane society) and Mike MacNair (CPGB) ostensibly on human rights and humanitarian interventions. I have to say that although the discussion was intellectually very interesting I think it might have been more at home in a CPGB weekend school rather than a discussion around Iran, which hardly got mentioned at all.

There was a long discussion on national self determination for instance (which has sparked all sorts of thoughts that I may well post on another time) which, for me at least, was only obliquely relevant to the topic at hand - but this is more of an observation than a criticism as I found the debate pleasantly refreshing.

Throughout the day there was a consistent resurfacing of a debate around whether the Iranian regime was a client state of the US which, unless I'm missing something, doesn't seem to be a debate that has entered the mainstream of political discussion. In fact I'd go so far as to say that it's a consensus that the Iranian and US regimes are not entirely friendly to one another. The honour of refuting this quite odd idea went to John Bridge who was very good at patiently outlining how we don't have to see things in such black and white terms.

A state is not necessarily either a client state of the US or purely anti-Imperialist - it's clear that Iran shares some interests with the US and they are at logger heads over other things. Surely not a difficult position to grasp and this idea that the US is at the root of all evil is, it seems to me, slightly disrespectful to the rest of the world who should be credited with being social actors in their own right too.

Anyway, if you do get the chance to attend any Hopi events I'd certainly recommend it for the openness of the political discussion and valuable educational merits. I certainly feel like I have a better grounding in the subject now and am slightly less pessimistic about the possibility of the left being able to discuss their differences without falling back on slander, point scoring or macho posturing.

5 comments:

Jim Denham said...

I still can't forgive HOPI for their equivocation over th week of action in support of Mansour Osanloo and other Iranian trades unionists earlier this year. OK: I personally went over the top, at the time, in suggesting that HOPI scabbed (as the SWP *did*), but their equivocation was still pretty shameful. Was there any discussion of that?

Jim Jay said...

I was only there on Saturday but there was some discussion about it when I was there, although because of the way it came up I wasn't sure I fully understood what was being said.

Two CPGB members John Bridge and Mark Fischer both mentioned it in quite a self critical way.

They thought that they were right at the time (and I'm not sure I know the ins and outs really) but that they'd failed to address other people's concerns and that they raised it, it seemed to me, in a kind of mea culpa way. Without actually renouncing their previous position.

Which was interesting.

a very public sociologist said...

Good to see a comradely time was had by all - considering the cpgb's have been spilling much ink in the WW of late on 'the right to be rude', the fact it went nice and smooth's a welcome surprise.

Speaking of conferences, will you be coming down to the CNWP one as well, Jim?

Reasonably Revolutionary said...

Jim, HOPI supports trade unionists in Iran absolutely. We have done more than any other group to build links with the trade union movement and the anti war movement here with the social movements in Iran. What is more surely the highest level of support we can give the comrades in Iran is by fighting not to have bombs dropped on them whilst building solid links with the social movements. If you want a campaign that does that i suggest you join us.

Also you have to ask yourself Jim why did the ITF/ITUC not say anything about the biggest threat to the Iranian people at all.

If you look at the slogans of the students' movement in Iran, you will see that they stand both against war and sanctions and against the regime. Surely that is the way to go.

And if you want to look at scabby lines Mr Denham i would suggest you should look alot closer to home.

Reasonably Revolutionary said...

Jim, HOPI supports trade unionists in Iran absolutely. We have done more than any other group to build links with the trade union movement and the anti war movement here with the social movements in Iran. What is more surely the highest level of support we can give the comrades in Iran is by fighting not to have bombs dropped on them whilst building solid links with the social movements. If you want a campaign that does that i suggest you join us.

Also you have to ask yourself Jim why did the ITF/ITUC not say anything about the biggest threat to the Iranian people at all.

If you look at the slogans of the students' movement in Iran, you will see that they stand both against war and sanctions and against the regime. Surely that is the way to go.

And if you want to look at scabby lines Mr Denham i would suggest you should look alot closer to home.