Monday, 26 August 2013

Miliband's 'Lesser Evil'.

It is timely given that it was Ralph Miliband who predicted that Labour would always fail the working-class. He couldn’t have been more right. Yet the failures of Ed Miliband will be portrayed as the inevitable disaster of a leftward shift. To understand such a falsehood is to grapple with history. The Labour Party surrendered the ground of opposition long ago. It was set in motion years before Ed Miliband took on the leadership role. The battles waged in the 1960s and 70s internal to the Establishment have had consequences which are still living with. Monetarism filled the cracks of the decaying post-war settlement with James Callaghan stepping in with just the rhetoric the IMF demanded of the British government. That was 1976. By 1979 the choice we faced was between a right-wing Labour government and an even more right-wing Conservative government.

Almost 35 years later and we’re still ensnared by the politics of frugality. The election of 1979 should not be forgotten even if the old hag has finally given up the ghost. The lesser evil offered by Labour in 1979 set the course for the way things have transpired and before we knew it the lesser evil of Tony Blair was on the television. The incessant bleating of John Major’s scandal government couldn’t have made the Third Way more appealing. Blair would make a few gestures to his base – such as minimum wage, devolution, fox-hunting ban etc. – only to institute tuition fees, crackdown on civil liberties and leave the banks to run amok. All the while the Labour government sat back as income inequality steadily grew to its highest point since 1961. As if all of this isn’t bad enough, by 2005 Blair had invaded Afghanistan and Iraq with all the gusto of a child playing with toy soldiers. There ceased to be a lesser evil at all in other words. 

The afterbirth of Blairism first appeared before us as the mound of Brown, only to be left inert and solid by the cold winds of the 2010 election. Since then Ed Miliband has tottered about as Labour leader making as few commitments as humanly possible. The gutter-press went on a pre-emptive offensive against any possible imaginative thoughts in Miliband’s head and dubbed him ‘Red Ed’ for good measure. Yet Miliband soon brought on board Maurice Glasman to engage in ‘Blue Labour’ shenanigans to siphon off the communitarian appeal of ‘Red Tory’. The competition is over a very small slice of votes, while the working-class vote is taken for granted. So he’s had plenty of experimentation with ‘Blue Labour’, ‘predistribution’ and, finally, ‘One Nation Labour’ which was literally plagiarised from the Conservative government of 1868. In spite of this inconvenience, Matthew D’Ancona described Miliband’s speech as ‘divisively left-wing’.

Serious minded people can see that the trilateral consensus has reached an impasse where the only task left is to dress up right-wing policies as cute and cuddly. Brown’s odour remains very much with us. Even though the financial crisis was a product of decades of economic policy around the world the Conservatives have succeeding in shifting the terms of the debate from growth to cuts. The Labour Party works within the same field of assumptions. Appropriately Blair is all for austerity and Ed Miliband has, in effect, signed on for austerity lite (at best). The reddest moment might’ve been last September when Miliband said “We will repeal [the Coalition’s] NHS bill” on the grounds that “it puts the wrong principles back at the heart of the NHS.” That’s not a bad statement, yet the NHS bill isn’t specified (thereby leaving open the possibility of a U-turn). Around that time Labour leader was saying that the next Labour government wouldn’t spend £3 billion to undo the restructuring currently underway. Again, the Health and Social Care Act remained unnamed. Then in June of this year the same walking disappointment reiterated his desire to repeal Cameron’s ‘Health Act’. None of this wordplay inspires confidence.

It seems obvious that the Labour Party is not settled in leadership, let alone in policy where Miliband has insisted that he won’t make promises which he cannot keep (so he makes no clear promises at all). The cowardice is for all to see. Blair and Brown managed to lose the Labour Party around 5 million votes in a period of 13 years. It may be too early for the Labourites to distance themselves from the legacy of New Labour. That would concede ground to the Conservatives who seek to blame everything that they are doing on Brown’s juggernaut-like spending spree. It is significant that the Conservatives failed to achieve a parliamentary majority against this backdrop of mass-disaffection. In fact, the Conservatives could only muster a 3% increase since 2005 and they haven’t seen a majority victory since the glory days of John Major. Perhaps it was a sign of inexorable decline when the carcass of Stephen Milligan was found festooned with electoral cord, bin bag, fruit and stockings.

The state of crisis within the Labour Party may be obvious, but the parallel crisis in the Conservative Party has received little discussion. The plump-lipped Michael Portillo has speculated that the Tories might not see a majority in this decade either. No governing party has ever increased its majority in Parliament since Anthony Eden. In that case it will have been 30 years since the Conservatives held a majority share of the seats in Parliament. No opposition party has achieved a majority swing for a good eight decades. It looks as though Parliament may still be hanging in 2015. Only the well-disciplined bootlicker Liberal Democrats can secure another coalition with one of the real parties. And the psephologists of the Labour-Conservative oscillation know it. In other words, the conditions are there for a left-wing alternative to challenge the centre-ground. We can even build that alternative, or sit and wait for the lesser evil to reappear.

This article was written for and posted at The Third Estate on August 26th 2013.

Sunday, 18 August 2013


Click on the map above and you’ll see just what isn’t going to be discussed seriously in the newly resumed ‘peace process’. When Ariel Sharon fell into a coma (not even a tenth of what he deserved) in one his better moments Christopher Hitchens thought it timely to summarise what he described as the “four alternatives in the Israeli-Palestinian quadrilateral”:
1) The status quo of mingled apartheid and colonization that would eventually see the Israelis ruling without consent over a people as large as or larger than themselves and that is now almost universally seen as intolerable and unsustainable.
2) Move towards a state where those under its jurisdiction are equal citizens with the right to vote, which would be the end of Zionism.
3) The destruction or removal of one people by the other or their common ruin in a catastrophic war.
4) A partition between two separate states.
Since the negotiations are underway, once again, we should keep these possibilities in mind. The process of expansion is fully underway to the extent that the Israeli election acknowledged the question of stealing large chunks of the West Bank. Naftali Bennett proposed that 60% of the West Bank should be annexed, whereas it seems Netanyahu is looking to grab 10%. Netanyahu’s government is backing 1,200 more settler-colonies in East Jerusalem and the West Bank where a ’security barrier’ longer than the Berlin Wall is being built to secure the major concentrations of arable land for Israeli settlers. This is out of more than 3,000 housing units approved in December 2012 just after the Palestinians won a modicum of statehood. Incidentally, the Palestinians can now pass war crimes charges against the Israeli government thanks to the new status they have attained. Every year the UN General Assembly votes on resolutions to establish a two-state settlement and every year the votes are overwhelmingly behind the peaceful solution. And yet we find that there is an obstacle sitting on the UN Security Council, as highlighted by Professor Norman Finkelstein:
1989 – 151 to 3
1997 – 155 to 2
1998 – 154 to 2
2002 – 160 to 4
2003 – 160 to 6
2004 – 161 to 7
2007 – 161 to 7
The United States votes on the side of Israel regularly and works to block all progress at the UN (where there is a consensus on this question), occasionally finding allies in a coalition of votes from such countries as Dominica, Palau, Nauru, Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia. In 2011 the US went as far as to veto a resolution which was consistent with its official legal opposition to settlements. This caught some attention because it was an unprecedented level of support. In 2012 the UN voted to bestow on Palestine the same statehood as held by the Holy See. The votes came in at 138 in favour of Palestinian statehood with 41 abstentions and 9 votes against the claim. We can expect the same approach should the Palestinians seek to pass any war crimes charges against the people responsible for the numerous operations carried out to stamp out all currents of opposition. There is a lack of any agreement on principle as well as any kind of framework for peace to be achieved. The Palestinian position is rooted in international law, e.g. that the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem are occupied territory, which is exactly what the Israeli government rejects. The preference for ‘direct negotiations’ is mainly about stalling for time as the encroachment into Palestinian territory extends and grows more and more bold.
The Netanyahu government insists that there must be a referendum on any peace deal, that’s in conjunction with continued settler colonisation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Any such referenda would be a gesture to justify and legitimise the theft of Palestinian land and not to safeguard a solution to the crisis. Ultimately, we find the Israeli government is morally culpable as well as negligent in its preference for expansion at the expense of security. In the meanwhile the Palestinians are accused of ‘rejectionism’, and worse, even when Arafat offered to concede 50% of Israeli settlements in the West Bank which Finkelstein’s calls “a monumental concession”. The international border is based on a 78:22 split of the land between Israel and Palestine, this is the world’s consensus in law which the Israelis have been opposing for 46 years. The border may now be so blurred as to undermine all hope of a two-state settlement. All of this begs the question: how much is enough?
Somehow we find ourselves incapable of asking this important question and we haven’t been able to do so for quite some time. The Israeli government has been even more stubborn in its refusal to answer such a question. That’s a part of this tragedy. The eastern border of Israel can’t be pinned down, the international border has been rejected, the ‘security barrier’ seems somehow insufficient and any limitation set on expansion is to be opposed it would seem. Technically Israel could extend its border further down the Jordan river and into Jordanian territory. It’s an ultra-nationalist fantasy, but we shouldn’t dismiss it as impossible. There were problems of this kind from the beginning and even before the beginning. Chaim Weizmann and the Zionist Delegation at Versailles laid out a map of the Promised Land. On that map the northern border of the Jewish state was going to be situated at the Alawi river in Lebanon. Over 65 years later and the borders remain in flux just as Israel remains without a settled constitution and the Palestinians remain without a proper state. It should be obvious to everyone that this is an intolerable state of affairs.
This article was originally written for and posted at the Third Estate on August 15th.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Beyond Liberation.

Today we find class politics are all too readily dismissed, and suspiciously so, in the decades since the fall of Communism. Instead it was the newly emergent identity politics which took hold at the wake of socialism’s funeral. In the era of political-correctness we find class politics missing from the discussion, only for its space to be filled by identity – whether it is gender, sexuality or race – in ways which couldn’t possibly threaten the prevailing order. But this isn’t the end of the story. It was Christopher Hitchens who once remarked that “Socialism has been to its own funeral more often than Tom Sawyer.” We may find if we are so inclined, that the majority of the working-class in world terms is female. If class may be abolished through the culmination of the class struggle, then it may be possible to overcome other forms of domination.

This has been the case for a lot longer than we might like to admit. The term ‘proletariat’ is actually derived from the Latin for ‘offspring’ which refers to those who were too poor to serve the state with anything other than their wombs. It denotes to a specific swathe of the masses in the Roman Republic. Too deprived to contribute to economic life in any other way, these women produced labour power in the form of children (who would then be reared by the state as soldiers and sent into battle). What society demanded from them was not production but reproduction. The proletariat started life among those outside the labour process and not from within it. The labour these women endured was a lot more painful than breaking boulders.

In the post-industrial capitalist societies we find that the service sector staffed by vast numbers of women has expanded enormously. And of course, there are those women who have made it in the financial sector – but they are not the proletarians and have little stake in a class-conscious feminism. Even when Britain was the workshop of the world the industrial working-class were outnumbered by domestic servants and agricultural labourers. The sweatshops of the developing world are packed to the brim with female workers, both young and old. And so, we find the politics of class and identity can converge on common material conditions.

The journalist Germaine Greer takes the notion of women's liberation as more than equality, as the achievement of formal equality would mean equality with unfree men and that's hardly emancipation. Liberation from constraints on divorce, abortion, jobs and income are not the end but the beginning. The case of recognising the raising of children and even housekeeping as work with a living wage is an example of what Greer is talking about. Venezuela has gone one step further this year and put aside pensions for full-time mums. This is a much more radical proposal than quotas for women in board rooms, which would just give rise to a few more Thatcheresque women in Greer’s terms. As Lindsey German has written “The talk of glass ceilings and unfairly low bonuses for women bankers misses the point about liberation, which is that it has to be for all working women and not just a tiny number of privileged women.”

Under capitalist conditions the wage a woman receives as a sex worker or indeed a performer in pornography is no different than the wage received by a waitress. Not in the narrow sense that the rate of pay is the same per hour, but rather in the sense that in each case the worker’s labour is still exchanged for a wage. The labour contributed remains disproportionate to the wage received in order to guarantee profitability. It’s about the extraction and the accumulation of profit on the backs of other people’s labour. The advocates of decriminalisation should take note that the content of the labour is not what matters in a society where free-choice and markets prevail. Indeed, in a society of free-choice sex work would be an option among many. A moralising ban on pornography and prostitution seems somewhat futile in light of this. It misses the point.

Objectification is a part of capitalist society; it is a part of the productive process, with the role of wage labour and the commodities resulting from it. Being paid for sex is no different than being paid to smile as a waitress. Wage labour is not a category with any moral precepts or implications, it is merely functional. It's not immoral as much as amoral, relativist and pragmatic. The moves by David Cameron to impose an ‘opt-in’ mechanism over the internet inflow of pornography are contrary to the thrust of a market society. It often seems as though Conservatives want to unleash all of us to the freedom to fail, at least when it comes to the economy. Yet when it comes to social questions the Right wade into our personal lives in order to reassert ‘traditional values’ over us.

The case for feminism has to be made from the ground up, the same with socialism, beginning with the conditions already prevalent in society. In this way we can see that there is a point of divergence between the feminist mission and the structure of capitalist society insofar as the objectives crash against the pillars of market ideology. This may be a terrifying prospect for middle-class liberal feminists, but it’s the way it should be. Women can't just be as free as unfree men. The attainment of civil rights and liberties is only the end of one kind of struggle, which is certainly not at odds with class society and the capitalist system. It’s the aim of human emancipation, not mere liberation under capitalism, to which this cause must be welded.

Originally written by Ellie Crowe and JT White on August 10th 2013 for Pulse.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Death to Slavery.

Below I have reproduced the letter Marx and Engels wrote to President Lincoln upon his re-election in late 1864. The letter was signed by every member of the International Workingmen's Association (the First International) and was originally printed in The Bee Hive in January 7th 1865 just months before Lincoln was assassinated. Beneath the next photograph, I have reproduced Marx's letter to Lincoln's successor President Andrew Johnson.

    To Abraham Lincoln,
    President of the United States of America.
    Sir: - We congratulate the American people upon your re-election by a large majority. If resistance to the Slave Power was the reserved watchword of your first election, the triumphant war-cry of your re-election is, Death to Slavery.
    From the commencement of the titanic American strife the workingmen of Europe felt instinctively that the star-spangled banner carried the destiny of their class. The contest for the territories which opened the dire epopee, was it not to decide whether the virgin soil of immense tracts should be wedded to the labor of the emigrant or prostituted by the tramp of the slave driver?
    When an oligarchy of 300,000 slaveholders dared to inscribe, for the first time in the annals of the world, 'slavery' on the banner of armed revolt; when on the very spots where hardly a century ago the idea of one great democratic republic had first sprung up, whence the first declaration of the Rights of Man was issued, and the first impulse given to the European revolution of the eighteenth century; when on those very spots counter-revolution, with systematic thoroughness, gloried in rescinding "the ideas entertained at the time of the formation of the old Constitution," and maintained "slavery to be a beneficent institution, indeed the only solution of the great problem of the relation of labor to capital," and cynically proclaimed property in man "the cornerstone of the new edifice"; then the working-classes of Europe understood at once, even before the fanatic partisanship of the upper-classes for the Confederate gentry had given its dismal warning, that the slaveholders' rebellion was to sound the tocsin for a general holy crusade of property against labor, and that for the men of labor, with their hopes for the future, even their past conquests were at stake in that tremendous conflict on the other side of the Atlantic. Everywhere they bore therefore patiently the hardships imposed upon them by the cotton crisis, opposed enthusiastically the pro-slavery intervention, importunities of their "betters," and form most parts of Europe contributed their quota of blood to the good cause.

    While the workingmen, the true political power of the North, allowed slavery to defile their own republic; while before the Negro, mastered and sold without his concurrence, they boasted it the highest prerogative of the white-skinned labourer to sell himself and choose his own master; they were unable to attain the true freedom of labor or to support their European brethren in their struggle for emancipation, but this barrier to progress has been swept off by the red sea of civil war.
    The workingmen of Europe feel sure that as the American War of Independence initiated a new era of ascendancy for the middle-class, so the American anti-slavery War will do for the working-classes. They consider if an earnest of the epoch to come, that it fell to the lot of Abraham Lincoln, the single-minded son of the working-class, to lead his country through the matchless struggle for the rescue of an enchained race and the reconstruction of a social world.


    To Andrew Johnson,
    President of the United States.
    The demon of the "peculiar institution," for the supremacy of which the South rose in arms, would not allow his worshippers to honourably succumb on the open field. What he had begun in treason he must needs end in infamy. As Philip II.'s war for the Inquisition bred a Gerard, thus Jefferson Davis' pro-slavery war a Booth.
    It is not our part to call words of sorrow and horror, while the year after year, and day by day, stuck to their Sisyphus work of morally assassinating Abraham Lincoln and the great republic he headed stand now aghast at this universal outburst of popular feeling, and rival with each other to strew rhetorical flowers on his open grave. They have now at last found out that he was a man neither to be browbeaten by adversity nor intoxicated by success, inflexibly pressing on to his great goal, never compromising it by blind haste, slowly maturing his steps, never retracing them, carried away by no surge of popular favour, disheartened by no slackening of the popular pulse, tempering stern acts by the gleams of a kind heart, illuminating scenes dark with passion by the smile of humour, doing his titanic work as humbly and homely as heaven-born rulers do little things with the grandiloquence of pomp and state; in one word, one of the rare men who succeed in becoming great without ceasing to be good. Such, indeed, was the modesty of this great and good man that the world only discovered him a hero after he had fallen a martyr.
    To be singled out by the side of such a chief, the second victim to the infernal gods of slavery, was an honour due to Mr Seward. Had he not, at a time of general hesitation, the sagacity to foresee and the manliness to foretell "the irrepressible conflict"? Did he not, in the darkest hours of that conflict, prove true to the Roman duty to never despair of the republic and its star? We earnestly hope that he and his son will be restored to health, public activity, and well-deserved honours within much less than "90 days."
    After a tremendous war, but which, if we consider its vast dimensions, and its broad scope, and compare it to the Old World's Hundred Years' War, and Thirty Years' Wars, and Twenty-Three Years' Wars, can hardly be said to have lasted 90 days, yours, Sir, has become the task to uproot by the law what has been felled by the sword, to preside over the arduous work of political reconstruction and social regeneration. A profound sense of your great mission will save you from any compromise with stern duties. You will never forget that to initiate the new era of the emancipation of labour, the American people devolved the responsibilities of leadership upon two men of labour - the one Abraham Lincoln, the other Andrew Johnson.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Goodbye, Mr Ahmadinejad.


It’s good to see Mahmoud Ahmadinejad finally out of office. It was a shame that the protest fallout of the last election didn’t succeed in ousting him. Instead the thugs of the Revolutionary Guard were deployed and the demonstrations were crushed. The emergence of Hassan Rouhani as the next President should not be understood in separation from those events just four years ago. The violence of the state remains a flagrant memory for Iranians. The spectrum of Iranian politics may only be varying forms of conservatism. In this election it was particularly so, as the ‘Supreme Leader’ Khamenei sought to ensure the range of candidate was incredibly narrow. Even former President and veteran politician Rafsanjani was barred from entering the race. Yet it was Ahmadinejad’s crony who was rejected for an old ally of Rafsanjani and Khatami.

The long-term future of the clerical regime will be on the mind of the ‘Supreme Leader’, as it always has been, and it was clear that the continuity of the Ahmadinejad era may not be the wisest way of proceeding. Mysterious charges have come to pass against the outgoing President, which he will face in November and that in itself is significant.[1] It’s possible that the Islamic regime is looking to split the grass-roots opposition of the Green movement. If a series of reforms are passed it may be a way for the clerics to extend their rule by winning over more of the young and women as a base. That’s one possibility as the support of conservative Iran in conjunction with a police state may not be enough to guarantee the future of the Islamic Republic. At the same time, it’s worth noting that the ‘Supreme Leader’ may be able to offset serious reform at home through the Syrian conflict. The safe bet might be on reformist gestures rather than any substance.

As Patrick Cockburn has observed, Tehran is fully behind the Assad regime because the attempt at regime change in Syria is interpreted as a necessary precondition for a strike on Iran and possibly its Shi’ite allies in Lebanon and Iraq. In fact, the Iranian re
gime has just pledged 4,000 troops to the defence of the Assad dictatorship.[2] It’s astonishing that there can be a discourse on these events without any regard for history. The motivations in Tehran for backing Assad to the bitter end are hardly discussed. It is long forgotten now that the Syrians were the only regional powers to support Iran (along with Israel incidentally) in the savage war with Iraq in the 1980s. In those days the US found Saddam Hussein to be an adequate ally against Khomeini’s Islamic regime. Yet once the Gulf War came and went Hafez al-Assad became the preferred Arab despot for the Washington tyrannophiles.

If we examine history (itself a heresy in contemporary discourse) we find that we have been here before. The previous government to Ahmadinejad was headed by President Khatami and it posed as a shift to reform from the past administrations. The aims were to normalise the Islamic Republic and resituate it in the traditional role that Iran has played in the region. Elected in 1997 Mohammed Khatami relied on the support of the women’s vote, as reformists typically do, as well as the urban middle-classes. He convinced the ‘Supreme Leader’ to allow him to run because the system requires a steam valve to release the political tension built up after nearly two decades of conservative governments. It was a politically expedient sales-pitch to a faux-cleric who was once President himself. From all of this we can see that the Iranian leadership cannot be taken as ‘irrational’ or ‘crazy’.

The Khatami administration had no qualms with the structural adjustments to the Iranian economy. Indeed, Khatami was eager to speed up the processes of privatisation and deregulation which he had inherited from Rafsanjani. Likewise the aim of re-establishing Iran in its traditional role required a normalisation of relations with the US, as well as client-states like Israel and Saudi Arabia. It shouldn’t be forgotten that the traditional role of Iran was a ‘cop on the beat’ alongside mercenary-states such as Israel, Turkey and Pakistan. This is the crowd to which Rouhani belongs. In these terms it’s easy to see the appeal of the anti-imperial bluster with which Ahmadinejad straddled Iran for nearly a decade. The former Mayor of Tehran promised the Iranian people economic concessions, such as instituting pensions for the thousands of women who work as carpet weavers and were blinded by their occupation by the age of 40.[3] The backbone of conservative populism in Iran is the rural and urban poor, precisely those desperate enough to seek refuge in religion.

At the same time, Ahmadinejad offered crumbs to the poor and needy he opted for the Khomeini vision of Islamic Iran as the only alternative to the decadence of Western liberalism. This is the alternative to the Khatami propositions to normalise relations with Washington. It’s what has led Iran to forge alliances with Caracas as well as Moscow and even Pyongyang. Yet there must be a tension in the ruling-class of the country to allow for such a fluctuation between the ‘moderates’ and the ‘extremists’. The foreign policy of Iran remains completely rational in the terms understood by Iran’s intelligentsia. The development of nuclear power and the capability for nuclear weapons was originally a policy of the Shah. After seizing power Khomeini immediately had the reactors shut down, only to reluctantly reopen them once Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass-destructions and Iran needed a deterrent. So this is an old story, nothing new.

President Khatami sought to normalise relations with the US by lending intelligence support to the invasion of Afghanistan. It was saleable move as the Taliban had butchered Shi’ites and killed Iranian diplomats after which Khatami acted to prevent a war with Afghanistan. The Khatami government helped set up Hamid Karzai as the US objectives shifted from retaliation for the World Trade Centre attacks to regime change in Afghanistan. In return for these gestures Bush put Iran on the ‘Axis of Evil’ for its sponsorship of groups like Hezbollah. That was in early 2002 and months later when the US and Britain were looking for support to invade Iraq the incorrigible Jack Straw flew to Tehran. The memory of the insane war with Iraq was, and is, still haunting Iran. Khatami offered to provide assistance – in the form of intelligence, logistics and advice – to the forces looking to plunder Mesopotamia. The future of Iraq was no less insignificant than that of Afghanistan.

Jack Straw pitched the idea to Colin Powell, who found it appealing, but couldn’t convince the White House to get behind the idea. It may have been arrogance on the part of the Bush administration. Perhaps the Bushites feared the prospect of an emboldened Iran and its influence filling the void left-over from Saddam Hussein. In the end the US couldn’t hold-off elections and couldn’t prevent Iran from having a hand in the future of Iraq. It may have been inevitable in a predominantly Shi’a country. Neither Iran nor Iraq wants a re-run of the war that took place in the 80s. The prospect of peaceful relations between Iran and Iraq could lead to greater stability in the region, and that’s undoubtedly not what the US wants. The possibility of a Shi’ite alliance across West Asia is terrifying precisely because it could threaten the US control of the oil spigot.

Despite Washington’s intransigence the Khatami government sought a roadmap of improving US-Iran relations. Khatami wanted to hold talks with the US and put everything on the table. He offered to turn Hezbollah into a non-violent political organisation which accepted the two-state peace settlement.[4] In exchange Khatami hoped the US government would abolish all sanctions on Iran and refrain from instigating regime
change in Tehran.[5] It was drawn up through discussions between Khatami, Khamenei and others. According to a BBC documentary on Iran’s recent political history the ‘Supreme Leader’ actually gave his approval for 85% to 90% of the proposals. George W Bush sent a sharp message to Tehran by refusing to acknowledge or engage with the offer. The message was received and by the next election the ‘reformism’ of Mohammed Khatami had been written-off as a failure. Onto the stage marched Ahmadinejad with the blessing of the clerical establishment.

Now we have seen the process fall the other way. The terms Ahmadinejad spent in office reaped no great results for Iran. The intransigence and aggression of the West was hardly deterred by the absurd posturing of the crackpot statesman. Talk of war has been a recurrent theme in discourse for Americans, Europeans and Israelis. Meanwhile the huge costs incurred by the Iraq war meant the possibility of war with Iran unfeasible for a long time. Later, the Bush administration refused to back Ehud Olmert’s dream of bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities.[6] Yet the White House has since launched a campaign of assassination against nuclear scientists in the country. The US has even gone as far as to remove the MEK from its terrorist list.[7] It was a sweet ‘Thank You’ for the group’s cooperation in the campaign of bombing and killing Iranian scientists. It’s a strategy which has been coupled with economic strangulation in the form of sanctions, which may keep the Iranian people from rising up against the regime.

All the while Tehran is no doubt very aware of the threat posed by US military bases in neighbouring countries: the Fifth Fleet is based on Bahrain and the island of Diego Garcia has been utilised to station bunker-busters and nuclear submarines. It would be ridiculous to attribute any responsibility to Iran for this aggression. Lebanon was the battlefield between Israel and Iran in 2006, now it may be Syria’s turn. The effect of the Lebanon war was conservative in Iran; the Syrian civil war may have similar consequences. Time will only tell. The contradictions of Iranian society are turning, as always, in societies everywhere, towards a conclusion which will only be obvious in hindsight. The enemies of democracy in Iran include not just the ‘Supreme Leader’, but the US, Israel and Britain as well. Whether or not we see war in coming decades is very much up to us.

This article was later posted at the Third Estate on August 6th 2013.