Monday, December 15, 2008

Hope for Hopi

I attended the Hands Off the People of Iran AGM on Saturday which was really excellent. Apologies for the slight delay in the report - I've been having a wonderful weekend of Green Party admin getting out the first conference agenda (which members can now access from the SOC page on the members site - along with the online prioritisation ballot, wooo). You can read other reports here and here.

For me the arguments of Hopi are simple. We should be opposed to the killing and oppression of innocent people in Iran whether it is done by Western powers or by the Iranian regime. We need a campaigning organisation that guards against war and provides solidarity to those who are at the wrong end of injustices meted out by the government of Iran.

For an organisation with such simple and clear aims it has managed to provoke not a little controversy. The unfortunate fact is that there are some who think that if somebody objects to one set of killings then they must implicitly be for the other. In the eyes of the war mongers opposing interventionist regime change makes you a supporter of the murder and imprisonment of ethnic minorities, gay people, trade unionists, etc.. To others, criticise those killings and you are "objectively" on the side of the war machine, itching to obliterate a nation.

Those people are wrong and Hopi is right. The other thing Hopi provides is a place where you can hear an extremely high level of debate and where disagreements are conducted in possibly the most cordial and fraternal manner on the left, outside of my own living room of course. I suspect the one fact is related to the other.

It's very instructive to hear well informed and well considered political discussion on Iran particularly if, like me, you're starting from a reasonably basic level. In terms of my report I think I'll confine myself to two main aspects of the AGM. Solidarity work and the likelihood of war.


There were a number of Iranians who spoke throughout the day some from the floor, some giving presentations, and one thing that struck me - apart from the useful content - was that these are people like us. I don't mean that in the faux anti-racist sense - but in the sense that political activists in the UK will recognise in themselves the political activists of Iran. We fight for the same reasons, we use the same methods, we are identical despite all the differences between us and our circumstances.

Bus workers who organise a union in Tehran do it for much the same reasons as a bus driver in Norwich. Students who demonstrate and stick their fingers up at the authorities are expressing exactly the same rage and frustrations there as here, our movements are of a piece. Whilst, for sure, there are many serious issues they face that we do not (and, I guess, vice versa) it is entirely to the point to reassert that those we give solidarity to are not "foreign" to us - but our brothers, struggling in circumstances often more difficult than our own.

As we recognise the same virtues and vices, the same mannerisms and justifications I think it helps us cut against the prevailing stereotype, where Iran is simply the place of a theocracy and its victims, and shows the other Iran where people live their lives as we live ours. I don't know - perhaps that doesn't make sense - but what I'm trying to get at is that solidarity is not an act of charity but assistance to those who fight our fight but in another place.

Don't attack Iran

The most contentious motion of the day was on the threat of war. The steering committee had submitted a motion outlining various aspects of the political situation and where Hopi was going as an organisation.

Supporters of the magazine Permanent Revolution put forward an extremely clear minded amendment addressing themselves to a rather poorly worded section that claimed that, after Obama's election, the "US regime" was likely to become "even more belligerent, thus increasing the threat [of war]."

PR sought to reverse this and pointed to the likelihood of a new approach from the US which will prioritise diplomatic measures and the possibility of tightening of sanctions over the threat of war. Eminently sensible stuff frankly.

The arguments against this (and I'm not trying to simplify them but I did have a little trouble making sense of them) was that a) the Democrats are identical to the Republicans and we shouldn't get sucked into Obama-mania by assuming he isn't going to nuke everybody, b) we are against war on Iran so we must ensure we don't take it lightly and c) sanctions are a weapon of war in themselves and bombings will simply be an escalation of current policy rather than a new phase.

All of these points I disagree with and, on this, PR weren't just correct they seemed to be correct for the right reasons too.

Firstly, being opposed to war does not mean you have to pretend that a war is imminent. That only sows distrust in your judgement. The boy who cried wolf doesn't get proved right when the wolf eats him, he just proves himself ineffective at giving warnings. There are some people who I know who have, literally, been telling me for five years that Iran is about to be invaded. Well, they've been wrong for five years and let's hope they'll continue being wrong.

Secondly, for US strategy to become more belligerent than the Bush years it would have to make a fetish out of war, torture, the smashing of civil liberties, and the demonisation of its "enemies" - and then top it! Nothing points to this being the case, not because we're all in love with Obama (but he does have dreamy eyes) but because they understand it's a failed strategy and are not going to continue to pursue it out of a stubborn refusal to lose face.
  1. If Obama wants to get elected again he will not invade Iran in the next four years. He wants to get elected again.
  2. The logistics of escalation are simply daunting. An attack on Iran is not just another thing to do, it makes their job in Iraq and Afghanistan harder too. They don't want that - and they certainly don't want the repercussions such an attack would have in Pakistan. In their terms it doesn't make sense.
  3. The political realities on the international scene are that the US would have next to no allies for another war and it would undermine Obama's current arguments about "reboot"ing the relationship with the Middle East and asking for extra allied forces to bolster the Afghan presence. The US will not invade without allies, and they don't exist.
Imperialism might not have a degree but Obama is not a stupid man. He wants to be successful - why would adding yet another failed military intervention help his cause? The immediate prospects for US policy in the Middle East are phased withdrawal from Iraq and an attempt to turn the pig's ear of the Afghan conflict into something Obama can brag about in four years time. We should focus our efforts on the damaging effects that sanctions are having on the material standards of living of ordinary people and the way it enables to regime to consolidate its power by labelling all opposition as a form of allegiance to foreign powers.

Anyway, in a room with about sixty people only seven of us thought the US trajectory was not an upping of the neo-con stakes. It's kind of weird being in a minority in one room, when you know you'd be in the majority in almost any other room on the planet... oh well, I shall console myself with the fact the motion to decenter the organisation away from London, just a wee bit, was won with a handsome majority.

All in all I was pleased to have gone and feel that Hopi is an organisation that, generally, understands some pretty basic principles that, for whatever reason, seem to have alluded others in the progressive movement. Let's support the people of Iran in their desire not to be killed by their masters at home or their would be masters in the darkened boardrooms of the West.

Note: what do you think about the prospects of war?
Take part in The Daily (Maybe) poll, right.


Vicky said...

Excellent report. I like the title!

I was one of the steering members who backed Hopi's original motion (and indeed defended it to my PR comrades) but I must admit I was won round on the day, particularly by the clarity of the arguments put forward by George Binette. Oh well.

I'm the blonde one carrying Hopi North West's first banner, made with poster paint in my own living room. Very amateurish! That was nearly a year ago when attending a march with that banner was still enough to get SWP comrades tutting at you (these days, they just look sheepish while they take our leaflets).

Robert said...

I'd take HOPI a lot more seriously if they did some actual campaigning . You know,leafletting petitioning, street stalls, that sort of thing. Instead most of it's energy seems to go into attacking the Stop the War Coalition and others on the left.
I'll just stick with Stop the War thanks.

James said...

So 53/60 people thought that Obama was more likely to invade Iran than Bush was, or that Bomb Bomb Bomb Iran himself would have been?

Crazy shit.

Vicky said...

Robert, Hopi Manchester holds weekly or twice weekly street stalls, both on Oxford Road and in the city centre... Complete with, you guessed it, leaflets and petitions. I'm afraid in Manchester you are more likely to see a Hopi stall than you are a Stop the War stall, such is the state of the SWP. And considering Stop the War has taken us from millions marching to ever dwindling numbers of protesters - a national demonstration in London to greet Bush last year had under 1000 turn out - it's perfectly right that Stop the War should be the subject of criticism, and lots of it.

Jim Jay said...

James - yes it was a bit surreal, and its not like the argument wasn't put in a very sensible and persuasive way either. Odd.

Robert - its not either / or, you can be part of both. Hopi do not pose the question the way you do - they want closer relations with stwc, sadly some people on the left are a bit crap and sectarian so that's been difficult so far.

For instance, the guy who moved and won the motion to get the pcs to affiliate to the stwc was also the same guy who got the pcs to affiliate to hopi - I'd have thought that was doing something.

Anyway, hopi is a small organisation but it does campaign and a large part of the conference was devoted to the launch of its new anti-sanctions initiative.

Vicky - yes, GB has a very good way of explaining things I find. I always warm to positions that he puts - even if I don't always agree with them.

Jim Jay said...

Vicky - we posted simultaneously then! Personally I do believe that stwc has many faults - but I think our criticism needs to be aimed at revitalising the anti-war movement and so this needs to be couched in friendlier terms (even when we're having a "discussion" with someone who sees no such need for discussion to be fraternal)

All - I just realised two people have voted that they think it will be Iran who is the aggressor and forces others to respond... I only put that option in to cover all the possible bases I didn't think anyone would actually vote for it!

I'm fascinated why you think this will be the case and what kind of action you think Iran might take...

Robert said...

Vicky,glad your group in Manchester does some campaigning.
Why don't you encourge your comrades in Cardiff to do likewise?
They're good at pontificating about what the left should be doing but not so good at actually doing it themselves.
They're also good at blaming the ills of the entire left on the SWP as well.
And everyone's "sectarian" but them.

Robert said...

Sorry, I was a bit belligerant there . Didn't mean to be.
You can't really blame the swp
(who were not the only people in StW and shouldn't be held responsible for all StW's actions)for the decline of StW . All movements wax and wane . It's impossible to keep millions coming out on demos time after time.
Perhaps if others pitched in to help out?

Jim Jay said...

No worries Robert.

You see I think there was a very important point put at conference which was that when we had two million on the streets it was before the war and there was a tangible national feeling that it was possible to stop it. The government went ahead anyway - people felt deflated, that now there was nothing they could do and the movement *naturally* had a set back from its highest point.

That isn't the stwc fault.

Now I have criticisms of how the coalition dealt with the period from, say, six months after the war began - but they tend to be lighter criticisms of tone and approach rather than a condemnation that its all their fault. It's Labour's fault, it's Bush's fault, it's not the stwc "fault". In my view anyway.

That doesn't mean it could not have been better and it absolutely definitely needs to be refreshed at the top as well as at the bottom now, but I don't find recriminations very helpful in this.

Robert said...

I don't disagree with any of that at all,
I have a terrible habit of re-recriminating if someone recriminates at me which I need to curb.:-(

ModernityBlog said...


good report, a politically honest one

I have read two other reports and didn't get any sense of the debate, your one was candid and readable.

I think the reasons that you put forward on Obama are more likely, no one can tell the future but it seems (and I hope that's the case) that Bush's fuckup in Iraq lessens the desire to attack countries in the Middle East and else where.

But why no discussion on Nukes? it seems to me that the Iranian elite WANT an attack to consolidate their position and go for a bomb in earnest, second time around

why else would the Iranian President keep boasting about the refinement of Uranium?

I seriously hope that there isn't any form of attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, but the bellicose rantings from the theocracy don't help any.

Jim Jay said...

Hi MB - you've reminded me I haven't replied to something you said in an earlier thread - however that takes looking things up and I'm determined to take things easy today... tomorrow, I'll do it tomorrow.

Anywayt, thanks.

Actually you've made me think back and if nukes were discussed it was in passing (perhaps Vicky can correct me on that...) most commentators take the rhetoric from the regime to be posturing for the domestic audience.

After all any aggressive manouver Iran makes will be the green light for military strikes - which is why they seem unlikely to me.

Certainly there is an incentive for Iran to build nuclear weapons as it may well feel the pressure to have the toughest forms of defence possible - I would be opposed to that, but I believe the best way to prevent that is to take the heat out of the relationship... make Iran want to normalise relations... although what the prospects are for that will all depend on so many factors it is, as you say, very difficult to predict.

ModernityBlog said...

Jim, no problem :)

all I am asking for is, er, context

without the supposed rush for nukes it becomes hard to explain WHY an attack might have (or is) contemplated

and I think it weakens HOPI if they avoid that issue, because it is the elephant in the room

Robert said...

Of course the thing is,if Israel has nukes Iran will want them to.
Looking at all the reports on the conference I think the elephant in the room for HOPI is zionism.Doesn't seem to have been mentioned.(I'm happy to be corrected)
It's a mistake to equate the Iranian regime with imperialism which I hope HOPI isn't doing.
It's important that we solidarise with the struggles of the Iranian people but the best help we can give them is to build a broad movement against an imperialist attack on Iran. And that would mean with working class muslims as well as others.
Did the confrence discuss that?

ModernityBlog said...

Robert wrote:

"Of course the thing is,if Israel has nukes Iran will want them to"

why? is it an automatic assumption that it should be so?

seems a bit strange to accept such reasoning

because once you accept those underlying assumptions, then ANY country (after Iran) could use that to claim that they too need nukes

so would Greens (like Robert) be for Iranian Nukes, but against them, if Malawi did the same?

I hope you see the problem?

Robert said...

" "Of course the thing is,if Israel has nukes Iran will want them to"

why? is it an automatic assumption that it should be so? "

Given Israel's belligerance to it's neighbours and being the US's closest ally in the middle east,yes.
Of course Modernity knows I meant that.
I don't think I'll continue with this argument as I've made a promise to myself that I'll keep my temper on the interwebby and this is the sort of argument that will run and run and get nowhere.

Jim Jay said...

MB: I'm not sure Robert is a Green, at least if he's said so I missed it.

Iran has been the subject of consistent hatred from the US since the 79 revolution. Sometimes this has taken the form of arming those to fight wars against it (Iraq). A war in which countless numbers of Iranians died.

And sometimes it has involved sanctions, sabre rattling and assorted demonisations.

Now leaving aside the rights and wrongs of whether any of that was justified for a moment what's clear is that you can't expect the regime to have any response apart from to prepare for war and arm itself appropriately.

A process of love and presents would have done far more to undermine the regime - but then I suspect the US would rather deliver regime change from above (and they get to keep whatever spoils they choose) than allow a genuinely democratic upsurge to determine a new independent government.

If we're against nuclear weapons we need more than treaties we have to undermine the processes that lead to states (both liberal democracies and unliberal non-democracies) wanting them.

Robert: I wasn't quite sure what you meant by Zionism being the elephant in the room. If you mean is Iran under threat from the outside - then yes there was a long discussion on that in various sections of the day. Is that part of a general strategy towards the middle east, primarily but not exclusively on the part of the US - then yes.

As I said in my report there was a long detailed discussion about our role in the anti-war movement and specific discussion on what form the main threats to Iran were.

Although, Israel was mentioned in this context, there was no particular focus on the foundation of Israel or in depth discussion of Palestine for instance (there was a very mini discussion about Hamas and Fatah at one point but it was an aside really as the focus was on sanctions and solidarity).

Robert said...

Maybe "elephant in the room" was not the best expression to use.
It's just that given Israel could be used as a proxy for an attack on Iran for the US I expected to see more on that in the various reports.
I'm actually not that hostile to HOPI.It doesn't really exist where I live but we do have an active Stop the War group.
Also I think there should be more of a focus on building a broader campaign aimed mainly at opposing an attack on Iran rather than demanding everyone has to share the same opinion on the Iranian regime.
And on a lesser note there's a bit too many CPGBers about. I'm sorry that sounds sectarian but I'm allergic.;-)
Oh,and I'm red with greenish tinges.

ModernityBlog said...


absolutely agree, your point:

"If we're against nuclear weapons we need more than treaties we have to undermine the processes that lead to states (both liberal democracies and unliberal non-democracies) wanting them."

is the nub of it

but that means NOT accepting spurious arguments such as "he has one, therefore I must have one" which are similar to children arguing over sweets in a shop.

if you are pro-nukes, then every one gets them **

if not, then no country automatically has a "right" to spend billions and billions to make destructive weapons, with no fit social purpose.

** not something I'd recommend

Robert said...

Obviously,I'd rather no-one had nukes.I understand why Iran wants them. Doesn't mean I approve of Iran having them.

ModernityBlog said...

well Robert,

what if El Salvador wants them, do we sympathise with that too?

what about Haiti? suppose she feels that neighbouring states are being aggressive against her? and then Haiti wants nukes

should Greens or socialists support that too?

why stop at Nukes?

why not have ' "Greens and Reds" for better conventional weaponry' too?

see, it is a very slippery slope

Robert said...

Ah,what if? What If?
Didn't I say I didn't want Iran to have nuclear weapons? I merely said I understood why they wanted them.
After they have a hostile agressive neighbour armed to the teeth by the US who showed in their invasion of Lebanon and their treatment of the Palestinians how dangerous they are.
But no , I don't want Iran or anyone else to have nuclear weapons.

ModernityBlog said...


as far as I can see from the map Iran's neighbours are Iraq, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Armenia, and other bits of the old USSR

I can't quite see how Israel (pop. about 6 million) would want, without provocation, to attack a country some 700 miles away that has a population of some 70 million, just for the sake of it?

maybe you could explain, logically, why they would do that?

Jim Jay said...

I think Roberts point about understanding why something happens is important and does not imply in any way approval.

I think we should try to understand why peadophilia happens - doesn't mean I approve.

The point is that Iran's regime is strengthened by the belligerance towards it and they are encouraged to spend money they can't afford on weapons they don't need by the pressure they are put under.

The US could have taken a different approach and would have achieved more of their (stated) aims by now with carrots rather than sticks.

In parallel I believe that after the fall of the Berlin Wall the US could have overturned the Cuban regime by flooding it with cheap goods and MTV - but it chose to tighten the blockade - it would rather beat its opponents into submission than work towards positive change.

ModernityBlog said...

Indeed Jim,

which brings us full circle back to the subject of context

and you will remember that the US deferred to the EU for a few years on this issue, more carrots than sticks, but to no avail.

but does that "understanding" extend to appreciating why some in the region are very jittery about nukes?

that's why I suggested without discussing this point the context of the issue is somewhat lost.

Robert said...

Modernity,are you saying relationships between Iran and Israel(population 6 million,military aid from the US bilions of dollars ) are all hunky dory then? No sabre rattling over the useful excuse of alleged Iranian support for Hamas and Hezbollah ? No encouragement from the US to attack to act as a US proxy ?
I suppose the invasion of Lebanon and the bombing of Syria were philanthropic acts ?
On another note,another reason for Iran getting jittery is being surrounded East and West by countries under US occupation.

ModernityBlog said...


Robert wrote:

"Modernity,are you saying relationships between Iran and Israel(population 6 million,military aid from the US bilions of dollars ) are all hunky dory then?"

er, NO, but I am asking YOU, why that isn't the case?

and if could it relate to Uranium refinement by the the Iranian theocracy?

Robert said...

Of course it's obvious how it relates but obviously not to you who seems to be under the delusion that Israel is some harmless little country like Belgium.
Anyway,I'm saying no more as I'm likely to get cranky :-(

ModernityBlog said...

No, Robert, it is NOT obvious

it need spelling out and discussing.

that's what I like about the Greens as opposed to the rather old New Left in Britain

the Greens make an honest effort to debate things and try to understand WHY, whereas many old politicos assume they know everything and nothing needs debating

so unless there is a clear and open debate on this topic and the issues surrounding it, it won't be convincing

Robert said...

You know I think I have been clear enough but I'm not going to convince a zionist (no offence) so why bother?

weggis said...

Perhaps we should update Godwin's Law to include the word "Zionist"?

I have no evidence to suggest that Modernity is a "Zionist". Perhaps, Robert, if you dealt with the substantive issue of what Modernity is saying, rather than make a judgement about his/her motives, we might get somewhere?

Robert said...

Read his blog,mate. Anyway the discussion (such as it is ) is allegedly about HOPI.

ModernityBlog said...


perhaps you should prefix your comments in any discussion with something like this:

"I am not going to convince a woman/gay/zionist/Jew/Israeli/Irishperson/catholic/Labour Party member/American/....... (fill in other ethnic or social group that you don't like or have some hang up with)

so why should I bother?"

that type of statement from you could save a lot of time, and would make it clear that you are not really interested in the arguments or discussing complex issues, but something else