Monday, June 29, 2009

Ahmadinejad and accumulation

Oh, I know, this is so last week. It's over already. The twittering has stopped, the protesters have been beaten into retreat, the Youtube videos aren't being uploaded at the same frequency. This week is all about celebrities turned zombie. Still, indulge me for a moment. This image of Ahmadi the pious populist, I think, arises in part from a certain spectacle positioning. After all, the corporate media find it difficult to construe someone as an enemy without also implying that they are some kind of 'commie', one of those heretics who rejects the sacred wisdom of property rights, free markets etc. The election commentary, with its condescending subtexts about Ahmadinejad's ability to win over the ignorant poor by tossing sacks of potatoes their way, surely reflected this. And anyway, it is not within the media's repertoire to explain the underlying divisions in Iran's ruling bloc, or to give anything but a crayola account of the class politics of elections. Partly, I suspect, such crude plot devices is what drove Juan Cole to dismiss the issue of class in his own analysis. Some belated analysis worth paying attention to, then, includes this discussion of labour under Ahmadinejad; this discussion of privatization and accumulation in Iran; and this useful discussion of the elections from the Middle East Research and Information Project.

The main point that arises, I think, is that the division that has been posited between a kind of socially conservative resource populism on the one hand, and a socially liberal austerity programme on the other, is not adequate. The more that comes out about the elections, the more it is clear that they exposed a raging war in the ruling class over political ascendancy and property, with relatively minor differences on other matters exaggerated. The second point is that the right-wing bloc behind Ahmadinejad has tended to use anti-imperialist rhetoric to justify the most naked transfer of wealth from the public sphere to capital, particularly to more influential players in the bazaari class and state-affiliated capitalists. They shake their fists at Washington just as they're about to go further toward neoliberalism than even the IMF proposed. And they justify it by referring to the need to break the sanctions imposed by Washington. This policy is obviously designed not to enrich the poor or sustain them in the long term, or strengthen their bargaining power as workers, but specifically to reduce their long-term wealth and purchasing power by redirecting a larger portion of socially produced wealth to a specific sector of the capitalist class. Ehsani et al are far too soft on Mousavi in their discussion (Ehsani called Mousavi's programme 'social democratic' on a mailing list, which I think is about as credible as Hamid Dabashi's claim that the man was a hardline socialist). This appears to stem from their assessment that the faction backing Ahmadinejad are uniquely dangerous and authoritarian, posing far greater dangers to democracy and labour than even the crooked neoliberals supported by Rafsanjani. Their tone may be unduly alarmist, and their approach to the elections is not one I share, but it is hard to argue with the overall analysis.