In the current conflict over Iran, the most important question is what America’s real goal in Iran and the Middle East is. Why? Because, as long as we don’t have a certain and reliable answer to this question, as long as we don’t know what the opponent’s hidden real purpose in this crisis is, we are incapable of figuring out what is to be done, in other words, incapable of collectively taking the correct position on this situation.
The American foreign policy leaders’ claim in this situation is very simple. They say that the objective of the American interference in this region is to spread democracy and human rights. Based on this claim, the social order that is currently dominant in the world, whose hegemon is America, pretends that there is no ulterior motive or interest and that there is nothing behind its interference. Pro-Americans in Iran and the region, too, naively repeat the same claim. However, does everyone in Iran and the region share the same naive interpretation of the matter? Below — to the extent that space in this short article allows — I will try to answer this question. But there is another question, too: when rights and freedoms of a nation are negated and trampled upon and its progress and development are blocked due to the domination of reactionaries, is it the duty of a destructive foreign power to restore this nation’s rights and freedoms and open the gate of progress and development? Where in history is there an instance of a foreign power, instead of the nation in question itself, doing any such thing?
Those who encourage foreign interference do not understand its implications and have no idea about the impacts of war on people’s lives. They propagandize a vulgar formula that insinuates that anyone who opposes war and foreign interference is in support of the Islamic Republic. There is no evidence for such a claim. Those who insist on it do so in order to “terrorize” the opponents of war and foreign interference and hide their own worship of foreign powers behind it.
My position on the Islamic Republic is clear. However, I wish to remind those who mistakenly believe the aforementioned formula that the conflict in the current situation cannot be reduced to only two sides, i.e., the American government and the Islamic Republic. In this conflict there exists a third side: those who apparently are supposed to remain voiceless and helpless victims, even though they are the ones who will pay the price and suffer injury. This third side are the people of Iran, and I will attempt to look at the situation from their point of view.
Society has its own existence distinct from diverse political systems that govern it. Political systems come and go in a short period of time — what remains is society. No one should let society be destroyed because of its government. We must deal with the problem from the point of view of the people and their historical destiny. The war in which both sides — the American government and the Islamic Republic — are interested will bring the people nothing but death, slaughter, ruin, distress, destruction of economic infrastructure and national wealth, famine, poverty, indigence, disease, and aggravation of existing hardships. No matter which side starts the war, only the Iranian people will pay the price. That is why I want to hold up a mirror to those who naively and foolishly desire foreign interference, so that they can understand what they are shamelessly propagandizing.
However, in addition to them, I also want to speak to the masses of common people who are made desperate by oppression. Among them, too, an idea is gaining influence, the idea that foreign interference could be an opportunity. Evidently, the idea is that they should wait for a better day that will come at the expense of others and that they can enjoy freedom without themselves paying any price for it. That is dead wrong. Those who naively seek to gain a better future at others’ expense are doomed to suffer greatly. How can anyone believe that a nation halfway around the world will come to the Middle East and sacrifice its own people and national treasure so that another nation can enjoy democracy and human rights? Once we reject such a naive belief, we must then look for the real goals and motives of this foreign interference.
There is a subtle but very important point that few notice (which is a source of great confusion): the fact that the will of the Iranian people is to establish a democratic system in this country, to maintain their rights and freedoms, and to open the path to development has nothing to do with the American strategy that sees the Middle East as a crucial part of its game. In other words, America doesn’t come to the Middle East to restore the rights of the Iranian people but to control oil and change the political geography of the region by military force in accordance with its neoliberal strategy.
However, a society that is always waiting to see what others decide for it is an immature society that doesn’t believe in itself, a society that doesn’t believe that it can make its own decision and it has its destiny in its own hands. Many of those who are sitting in comfortable places criticize the struggle waged, and political choices made, by the past generation under the Shah’s regime. They do not realize that the generation they criticize had a serious faith that they could change their own society, or else they wouldn’t have taken to the streets even at the cost of ultimate sacrifices. If that generation were defeated in trying to achieve their ideals, at least they fought and were defeated. Today’s generation have lost the courage to fight and are waiting for miracles made by others. In every battle there is a possibility of victory and defeat. The previous generation had the maturity and ability to fight, believed in their own power to change life, and embarked upon their struggle. Today’s generation are looking to others for help, not having attained the maturity to recognize themselves as makers of history who must take sides in a battle. When they think of changing a social system, the horizon of change seems to them so far away that they think it might as well be on another planet. Is the art of making students mere passive consumers of neoliberal nonsense who are enamored of America, forgetting the previous generation’s struggle, the only art of some of the religious intellectuals who, given voice and privilege by this government, have dominated the currents of ideas and student movements over the last couple of decades?
For anyone who has a passing familiarity with imperialism, its past and its interests, it is not hard to discover the real motives of the current interference. However, the naive opinion of those sectors who are waiting for America to determine their destiny is spoon-fed by the imperialist media (radio, satellite television, journals), and imperialists are in turn using this environment to create a pretext for their interference and to spread their influence. If knowledge and opinions of common people and even our activists are so politically shallow and propagandistic, if they understand the recent US invasion in the Middle East based only on its legal and political excuses (i.e., problems of democracy and human rights), the reason is that, in the neoliberal environment during the last two decades, society has not received enough information about the politics and interests of the imperialist system.
However, the capitalist system is first of all an economic system, which is a mode of production, trade, capital export, and profit making, not a legal and political system. The “Washington Consensus” is the name for the new strategy of international financial capital that is dominant in the current system of capitalism. This economic system is driven by big capitalists’ interests and managed through such apparatuses as the Federal Reserve, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization. For this strategy to work, it requires a neoliberal world. However, there is a contradiction in the system — contradiction between international capital’s needs to keep profit rates high and sovereign nations that have different kinds of markets, resources, and workforces. Because international capital wants to go anywhere in the world, pursue its activity freely, and have access to other nations’ markets, resources, and workforces, national borders are becoming its obstacles.
Economic pressures that such institutions as the IMF, the WB, and the WTO put on various countries to make them conform to their neoliberal strategy (e.g., Structural Adjustment Programs) and political and military pressures exercised by capitalist powers exist for the purpose of opening up their markets and changing political systems for more profits of international capital.
Removing the trade obstacles, contrary to what neoliberals say, does not increase national incomes, and, even in the best of times, it creates more poverty and inequality than ever before. Research by Branko Milanovic of the World Bank shows that, by 1998, the income of the richest one percent had become equal to that of the poorest 57 percent of the world population. At the same time, the GINI index climbed to 0.66 (The Guardian, 18 January 2002). There is a great deal of research and statistics that prove that the neoliberal propaganda, which says neoliberal policies help development, is a myth. In addition, financial markets’ domination and hidden maneuvers therein create unexpected economic instability on the world scale. Nations and regions that had adopted the neoliberal strategy more thoroughly than others incurred heavier damage than them. Mexico of 1994-95, East Asia of 1997-98, Russia of 1998, and Argentina of 2001 are so far the most prominent victims of financial collapses of “emerging markets,” the type of collapse that is now considered one of the fundamental characteristics inherent in this kind of market.
The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR)1 compared the concrete results of the period of globalization (i.e., from 1980 to 2000) and those of the preceding two decades characterized by Keynesian demand management (from 1960 to 1980), based on numerous indicators such as per capita GDP, average life expectancy, neonatal, infant, and adult mortality rates, and literacy rates of total and student populations. Alex Callinicos described and analyzed CEPR research findings in detail in his book An Anti-Capitalist Manifesto.2 The conclusions of this research, from the point of view of economic growth and in terms of almost all other indicators, demonstrate that the period of globalization represented a clear decline compared to the preceding two decades.
John Weeks in his article “Globalize, Globa-lize, Global Lies: Myths of the World Economy in the 1990s,”3 also based on the findings of such research, states his own conclusion as follows:
the country groups that introduced the globalization policies to the greatest degree fared least well in the 1990s relative to previous decades (the OECD, the Latin American and the sub-Saharan countries); the best performing group since 1960, East and South-East Asia, entered into a severe recession in the 1990s; and the group whose growth improved in the 1990s without recession, South Asia, was that which least adopted policies of deregulation, trade liberalization and decontrol of the capital account. The hypothesis that those policies foster growth is unconfirmed; that is, it is a myth of globalization.
The new strategy of neoliberalism is especially damaging for weaker economies: opening these poorer countries to financial capitals makes them suffer severe losses. That is because these financial capitals, without playing any role of consequence in production, strangle their economies by speculative methods.
With new “financial instruments” using innovative methods, revenues of financial capital in general, as well as in “emerging markets,” have soared in the last two decades, particularly in the most fraudulent and parasitical fashion that has ever been witnessed in economic history. This economic order works through the channel of capital flows in stock markets and market activities of international credit (the channel in which sovereign debts of nations are bought and sold and in which debtor nations come under pressure and are every day exposed to damage). Activities of financial capital are different from production and trade. Rather, they constitute an open space for dishonest, speculative financial maneuvers whose practical instruments are securities and “financial derivatives,” i.e., pieces of paper that frequently are not backed by clear assets in real economy and that are merely means of obtaining unearned incomes through gambling. When we set aside verbal contortions and similar theoretical justifications that are forged for this kind of gamble, financial capital, in its simple truth, is a swindle, which, using its tricks of the trade, attracts and appropriates a great share of economic wealth produced by others in the sphere of production in which it plays no direct role.
Financial capital, which in itself is not productive but is voracious for greater profits than productive capital, endeavors to turn any chance — even bets on future environmental vicissitudes — into financial properties and securities, which can be bought and sold and serve as objects of speculation. The terminus of operation of these “value-producing securities” for the last two decades is Enron Energy — one of the financial monsters of the neoliberal era — among other financial apparatuses, which even made an innovation of future weather and turned it into a means of profit making. The fate of this company, one of the Wall Street darlings of the golden age of neoliberalism, is an exemplary specimen of the totality of activities of financial capital today.
The valuation of the shares of this company [Enron] at stock markets went from 70 billion dollars to virtually zero within a year. This company, by wasting its own workers’ savings and risking the destruction of the retirement savings of millions of other workers which had made Enron’s capital flow enormous, is representative of a shadowy and intricate spider web of swindlers, spreading from the headquarters of big corporations, via the banking, accounting, and insurance industries, all the way to Washington. It was discovered that at least 212 of 248 members of Congress who served on the committees that officially audited and investigated this financial scandal had taken money from Enron or the disgraced accounting firm tied to it, i.e. Arthur Andersen.
That, in sum, is a perfect picture of the system of neoliberalism, which, whether by economic pressures or political and military pressures, is spreading and imposing itself throughout the world.
Aggression to eliminate the obstacles that stand in the way of spreading the neoliberal order and to remake the world according to it is employed in the name of democracy and human rights. However, freedom and democracy, essentially, can only result from the historical development of a social and economic order and the development of people that accompanies it. Freedom and democracy are not commodities that can be detached from a given social order and imported, let alone brought by force, from abroad. Those who are looking for a freedom “imported” by force have not understood anything about its essential meaning.
Pondering upon the corrupt and parasitic essence of financial capital and its means of profit making that in the era of globalization have come to hold such a sway over the whole capitalist world order, one is reminded of Lenin, whose emphasis was on the essence of financial capital. I have comrades who once played a child’s game with Lenin and Leninism two or three decades ago and who, having had second thoughts about their own former Leninist positions after a decade or two of political exile abroad, now preach the path of capitalist development. If they, in their youth of Lenin and Leninism, had understood the meaning of Lenin’s thought, which said that “capitalism in the era of imperialism, because of the emergence of financial oligopoly and financial capital’s predominance, is parasitic and tends toward corruption,” today, when the functions of this financial capital are more obviously in accordance with Lenin’s thought than ever before, they would not have so easily strayed from their former positions. They neither grasped what Lenin really meant in those days, nor do they understand today what the path of capitalist development means and where unregulated capitalism will end up.
It’s common enough to think that neoliberalism is seeking to impose its reign over half the world, but, in the case of the Middle East in particular, the problem of oil and its importance for future transformations of world economy eclipse all other concerns. In this respect, the Middle East is among the most sensitive strategic areas for the United States as the global power.
War for control of energy resources is not a simple matter. The USA dominates the Middle East not only because this region is very important for itself, but also because it wants to subordinate China — an emergent, growing power — and Europe and Japan to a US-controlled oil regime in the Middle East, the most vital region for meeting their increasing energy needs. Since the USA consumes more than 25% of the world oil production but, even combined with Canada, has only little more than 3% of the world’s known oil reserves, this policy is understandable. Donald Kagan, a right-wing political pundit and Yale University professor, in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, offered an opinion that clearly and succinctly explained the point: “When we have economic problems, it’s been caused by disruptions in our oil supply. If we have a force in Iraq, there will be no disruption in oil supplies.”4
Pay attention to the reality that, even combined with Canada, the USA, for all its weight and importance in the transformation of the world, has only 3% of the world’s known oil reserves; that Western Europe, for all its function and importance in world economy, has only 2% of the world’s known oil reserves; that Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, which for 50 years didn’t need to import a single drop of oil, together have only 7% of the world’s known oil reserves; but that the Middle East is the place that by itself has 65% of the aforementioned reserves. Then, the importance of this region and the essence of political crises therein are better revealed (according to the chart in the appendix inserted in a 1 January 2001 estimate of “World Proved Reserves of Oil and Natural Gas” and the editorial of the December 2002 issue of Monthly Review,5 this region seems even more significant). Further, pay attention to the reality that, based on the forecast of the US Department of Energy in 2002, the world oil demand, in the next 20 years, will rise from 77 million barrels per day (as of the time of the forecast) to 120 million barrels per day, whose consumption increase will be mainly driven by the USA and China, and all angles of the issue will become clear. Of course, in any stage of the history of the capitalist order, diverse economic, political, and military interests and considerations exercise reciprocal influences over one another, for they have and will act as a totality. However, the problem of oil in the Middle East is not just an economic question. In addition to the prospect of making profits, which is among the great concerns of big capitalist corporations, political and strategic considerations concerning this region, too, exist behind each influence of the oil question.
Given the above, naive and simplistic ideas about the current issues or facile and careless thoughts about social liberation have heavy consequences. My fear is that, by the time their repercussions and consequences are fully understood, it will be already too late to prevent war. Therefore, now is the time for all humanists who love Iran to set aside chimerical notions and, with one voice, oppose war and all who are clamoring for military adventurism, for, under the current conditions, there can be nothing except aggravation of oppression and repression and anti-democratic retrogression for the Iranian people.
1 Mark Weisbrot, Dean Baker, Egor Kraev, and Judy Chen, “The Scorecard on Globalization 1980-2000; 20 Years of Diminished Progress,” July 2001.
3 John Weeks, “Globalize, Globa-lize, Global Lies: Myths of the World Economy in the 1990s,” Phases of Capitalist Development: Booms, Crises and Globalizations, Eds, Robert Albritton, Makoto Itoh, Richard Westra, and Alan Zuege, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2001.
Dr. Nasser Zarafshan is a member of the Iranian Writers’ Association Kanoon and a distinguished member of the Iranian Bar Association. He was arrested in 2000 for his speech indicting the intelligence services for murdering five intellectuals in 1998. He was sentenced in 2002 to five years of imprisonment. He was released on 16 March 2007. The original essay in Persian was published in Aftab on 11 November 2007 and Roshangari on 25 November 2007. Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi.