Iran: Socialism’s Ignored Success Story
May 23, 2017
by Ramin Mazaheri
Iran just completed their presidential election, but this article will not discuss the candidates, the result or the political consequences.
I work for Iran’s Press TV, which essentially makes me a civil servant, and I think it is correct for me to not reveal who I voted for in order to preserve my independence within the government. I’m quite happy to work for “the people” instead of “a person” – as in private media – and I will support which ever candidate the people choose.
Why will I support Iran’s government, whoever is in charge? Truly, it is not for my paycheck.
I support Iran because I support socialism where ever I can find it, and Iran has socialism in abundance.
Iranian Socialism has been so successful at redistributing wealth to the average person; has safeguarded the nation’s security despite being ringed by US military bases and repeated threats; has grown the economy despite an international blockade; has produced a foreign policy motivated on political principles; and has fought against the divisive identity politics which undermine human solidarity.
I have actually seen Iran over the decades, unlike 99% of the journalists who claim to understand Iran, so you can’t dissuade me.
And I’m not even going to try to persuade you. This is not that article, either.
This article is to lay out for left-wing readers and supporters of socialism what should be crystal clear: Iran is a socialist nation. Even more than that: Iran is a socialist success story.
Iran, like all nations, has had its unique developmental history; of course we have been reading Marx just as long as anyone else, as well.
But the most convincing and simplest way I can put it to non-Iranians is this: Europe came to socialism through industrialization, theory and war, but Iran came to socialism through its religious and moral beliefs. The ends are the same, and that is all that should matter to anyone who is truly trying to promote socialism for the benefits it brings to the average person.
The Problem Is Not Us, It Is You
I repeat: The problem is not us, it is you…when it comes to looking at Iran’s contributions to socialism.
I believe that around 99% of Westerners have no idea at all what Iran is really like. Unfortunately, this total ignorance about Iran and the Muslim world is the historical norm in the West.
The greatest contribution of Middle East scholar Edward Said was that his book, “Orientalism”, definitively proved through historical scholarship that the West has never, ever, ever been favorable towards the Muslim world.
Not in the 8th century, when Muslims were occupiers of the Iberian Peninsula, not in the following centuries when Islam was an ideological competitor to Christianity; not in the 15th century, when the Ottoman Empire occupied the Balkans; not in the 19th century, when the Europeans occupied the Middle East & North Africa; not in 1916, when they redrew the borders for the West’s benefit; not in 1945, when they bombed countries like Syria which had fought on their side against the Germans and the Italians; not in the 1960’s, when their reaction to independence was neocolonialism; not in 1979, when they created the forerunner of the Taliban; not during 2 wars in Iraq, a war in Syria today, etc.
Said’s point was: Never has the West viewed or treated the Muslim world as equals, much less intellectual equals.
Given this history, why should us Iranians expect the reality of our high-achieving modernity to be accepted and admired?
LOL, believe me, I am over it! I write this to enlighten you, not me! I humbly hope that it works.
I will address the elephant in the room, and quickly: Yes, I assume that a large part of this prejudice is religious. Some Christians cannot accept that Islam promotes the most recent prophet of the monotheism which they both share.
Such religious prejudices are not my problem, and they do not blind my analysis of 2017 Iran.
No socialist believes in a “clash of civilizations” or “religious war”, anyway.
My point is not to criticize Europe for a lack of brotherhood with their fellow Abrahamic religion: My point is to criticize them in 2017 because most Westerners believe that that even the most leftist Iranian cannot even qualify as merely a “conservative social democrat”!
Can There Never Be a Muslim “Democrat” or an Iranian “Republican”?
The proof of this bias is the decades of Western support for the oppression of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Iranian Revolution and any Muslim attempt to allow their religion into their politics. This is even though Christian Democratic parties governed Europe for decades after WWII, and it is absurd to think that the Christian dogma is not upheld and promoted in European politics today.
So, if Iranians cannot even be allowed to fulfill 19th century notions, why would the West accept that 2017 Iran can be even more truly leftist than the merely centrist ideology of European social democracy?
Of course, the average European cannot accept this, and this is why Western Socialists are aghast at my idea that Iran is an “ignored Socialist success story”.
The radical left of European Socialism, which seeks to destroy organized religion, is especially aghast, but they are a tiny minority and on the way out, thankfully. They do not realize that they have already been drastically tempered, if not ousted, in the still-Socialist countries they purportedly admire: Cuba is full of Santeria and Pope pictures, yin-yangy Confucianism is being promoted in China, etc.
But these Western radicals are a minority who simply cannot accept that spirituality cannot be rubbed out, largely because they see it as a choice or a social conditioning instead of a part of many people’s intrinsic nature (if not theirs). A modern Socialist must accept that this fight has already been fought and decided. The capitalists certainly advance as we chase our tails….
Even if leftist detractors can get past religion, they immediately will talk about Iran’s human rights faults.
I respond: Yawn yawn yawn African-Americans fill US jails; Muslims fill France’s jails; this is the centenary of the British-orchestrated Persian Famine, which killed 8-10 million people and actually made Iran the biggest victim of WWI, that is just one Western/capitalist inspired famine/death/human rights violation yawn yawn yawn.
I am not here to say Iran is perfect – only God can be – I am saying that Iran is absolutely no worse than the West. It is an undeniable fact that the current Islamic Republic of Iran has far less blood on its hands than most – and Iran has not invaded a country in 300 years!
Religion, human rights – these are all classic diversions from the facts presented against socialist societies, and Iran certainly is one.
Iran Checks All the Boxes as a Socialist Nation and as Revolutionary Socialist
What are the key components of socialism? Let’s clarify our terms.
The first is leadership by an avant-garde party committed to defending the revolution: Iran certainly has this, and it crosses over Principlist/Reformist party lines.
The second is central planning of the economy: Whoever had won, they would be largely implementing the 6th Five-year plan (2016-2021). And there is also the “Resistance Economy” approach promoted by many, which is certainly anti-globalization.
The third is control over the media: This is mixed – I would say Iran does not really have this in the traditionally Socialist sense. Cuba has no private media, for example, while Iran has dozens of private newspapers and innumerable TV satellites. But Iran does have limitations, so let’s check this box.
The fourth is support for foreign liberation movements: When the history of Palestinian liberation is finally written, just as a now-free South Africa thanks Cuba for sending troops to Angola, will not Palestinians do the same for Iran’s decades of support? The same with Lebanon and now Syria, correct?
The fifth is democratically devolving as much democracy as possible in order to empower the average person: There is no doubt that Iran is the most vibrant democracy in the Middle East, and by a huge margin. The difference between Iran’s social-democratic procedures and guarantees in 2017 when compared with 1978 is obviously laughable. I write this from Paris, a nation in an 18-month state of emergency with no end in sight….
If your country has these five crucial components: Congratulations! You are in a socialist country!
A little bit more on each for the naysayers….
An Avant-Garde Party
Iran is a one-party system – that party defends the 1979 Revolution. China is a one-party system – promoting Chinese communism. Many would say that the US is a one-party system – promoting imperialist capitalism.
The difference between Iran & China and the US is that in the former their one-party systems are formalized, explicit and well-known; in the US it is informal, but just as strong, and maybe even stronger.
I don’t think this needs much further explanation but, for example, you cannot propose to end the Iranian Revolution and run for office. In France a presidential candidate in their recent election (Jean-Luc Melenchon) won 20% of the first-round vote by proposing to abolish France’s current 5th Republic.
Like all socialist countries, Iran is criticized for not having democracy but they do: it is simply within their own particular structure. Just as in the USSR, there was lively debate about how to advance their own system – should we following the right-wing model of socialism of Bukharin/Khrushchev or the left-wing model socialism of Lenin/Trotsky? – but there was no debate about deviating from their chosen national system, i.e. communism. When they did allow such debates under Gorbachev, Soviet Socialism was almost immediately subverted by capitalist reactionaries and consigned to oblivion.
Again, please examine the repression of communism in the US, South Korea, Greece, Italy, Chile, etc. for historical examples of capitalist “one-party systems”, which are definitely NOT avant-garde and promoting socialism….
The idea that Iran has no avant-garde party but is some sort of totalitarian structure governed by the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is only expressed by those who are supremely ignorant about Iran. For the second presidential election in a row Hassan Rouhani won despite not seeming to be Khamenei’s preferred candidate, after all.
Central Planning of the Economy
I think I can illustrate Iran’s state of economic socialism with this anecdote: Back in 2013 all 8 presidential candidates were pushing for more privatization…not to promote capitalism, but because everything has already been nationalized for so long, LOL!
So Iran has already done the nationalizing, and maybe they need to do more? However, socialist countries have increasingly agreed that some revenue-producing businesses are needed to meet some of the basic needs of their people: North Korea has the Kaesong Industrial area, Cuba’s Port Mariel is giving some space to completely foreign-owned businesses, Vietnam and China have plenty of state-run capitalist enterprises, etc. The reality is that even producing things as simple as soap need some expertise, and very often only capitalist corporations can have that expertise.
That’s why the Iranian government went on a spending spree in 2016, but it was decidedly not your typical capitalism. (I do not want to appear to credit only the Rouhani administration because economic policy is produced by the entire government in 5-year development plans, as already noted.)
Iran was feted like a king in places like France and Italy because they were prepared to spend dozens of billions of euros. But what pleased me was how Iran spent: They demanded equal partnerships, joint ventures and technology transfers.
These are the ways in which foreign investment can be mutually beneficial and not exploitative – this was good for France too. I am not a dogmatic person who is absolutely against all capitalism, but I am against all exploitative capitalism.
My point is: It was a socialist spending spree, not a capitalist one. Iran did not just give money away; they did not waste money on vanity projects; this was not one billionaire dealing with another for their own benefit; they invested in Iran via long-term central planning, i.e. the socialist view of economic management.
This is not like France’s ruling “Socialist Party” recently selling off national industrial jewel Alstom to the United States’ General Electric: The French people got nothing for that. That was capitalism; that was globalization
Iran is not in favor of globalization – they are not even a member of the World Trade Organization, unlike 164 other countries. Some will say this is solely due to the opposition of the United States, but it is not: As many in Iran said during the election: membership in the WTO is against Iran’s principles…and these are socialist principles regarding the economy – there is nothing about the WTO in the Koran.
Control over the Media
It’s true you can’t have Charlie Hebdo in Iran – hardly a major loss –but Iran is certainly no Cuba.
Iran’s refusal to crack down on TV satellites which permit reactionary, anti-revolutionary channels like BBC Persian and VOA Persian (UK and US government-funded respectively) appears to be a dangerous fire which Havana will not tolerate. This tolerance does give Iran “human rights” credibility with the West – well it doesn’t, but it should!
I would suggest that Iran is simply confident that foreign propaganda cannot overwhelm the obvious successes of the 1979 Revolution. I imagine that Cuba feels that they cannot take chances, being just 100 kilometers from the USA.
Of course, Cubans simply laugh at Western propaganda channels like the US government’s pathetic Radio Marti. Cubans are supremely intelligent politically and, after all, their education programs are decades older than Iran’s.
Iran, like Cuba and China, bans pornography. I note that such respect for sexuality and for women is a very basic tenet of Socialism. If your utopia includes unfettered access to porn I suggest that you are a libertarian, and not a socialist.
I remind again that the media glasnost implemented by Gorbachev was a major driver in the catastrophic implosion of the Russian Revolution. To privatize media means, necessarily, that you are giving those few people rich enough to actually start newspapers the chance to promote their obviously capitalist worldviews.
I, for one, am not about to cry over the lack of published capitalist, imperialist, sexist, racist, regressive anti-revolutionary nonsense, and neither are most Iranians. As sad as the Dutch may be about it – Iran is not Amsterdam!
Support of Foreign Liberation Movements
Some will say that Palestine is just a “distraction” from Iran’s own problems. Nonsense – this is a point of pride to all Iranians. This is a point of admiration for Iran from the entire Muslim world, just as it is a negative point for much of the Western world.
This is another way Iran is revolutionary Socialist country: they support oppressed countries on the basis of ideology. Perhaps Iran is not the “Mecca of Revolutionaries” which Algeria was in the 1960’s, but let’s agree that the rate and scope of revolutionary movements worldwide are at a much lower level today, sadly.
Russia may support Syria, for example, but it appears more for Moscow’s self-interest and the idea of national sovereignty – which is the idea of national self-interest – rather than a moral-based ideology.
Call Iran the same as Russia – no insult there – but you cannot deny that Iran supports Palestine for reasons which are clearly to the detriment of their own success, i.e., they do it out of solidarity and morality. Were Iran to recognize Israel they would surely have the international dogs called off them…but Iran is a revolutionary Socialist society, as you are hopefully agreeing with by now.
Iran is also an anti-racist society, like all modern socialist societies.
They constitutionally protect minorities, with parliamentary seats for Armenians, Assyrians, Christians and Jews, despite their small numbers. Iran may not promote them, but their tolerance of local languages like Azeri and Kurdish far exceeds that of many minorities in Western Europe. Iran accommodates the 5th-largest number of refugees in the world, while French authorities put up gates and even ‘’anti-migrant boulders’’ to deny refugees even the barest shelter.
When it comes to religion they are extremely tolerant of ancient Iranian Zoroastrianism and all of the pre-Prophet Muhammad Abrahamic religions. Any religion after Prophet Muhammad? Well…it is an “Islamic” Revolution, after all.
This is perhaps a pedantic point but an important one on a verbal, Foucauldian level: Has there been any “revolution” in the world since WWI which was not “socialist”? I can’t think of any, because without a socialism component it cannot be a revolution – it can only be a continuation of the capitalist/feudalist/bourgeois status quo, or a military coup.
The two fundamental tenets of socialism are redistribution of wealth and empowering the average person so that they can reach their full potential. Dismantling the social roadblocks thrown up by capitalism against the non-wealthy has clearly been a major goal of the Islamic Revolution, and I can quite easily prove it has been achieved with a tremendous amount of real-world success.
Since 1990 – when the West’s attack dog of Iraq was beaten off – no country’s Human Development Index has improved more than Iran’s, with the lone exception of South Korea.
Everyone should take notice, especially Socialists, as it is we anti-capitalists who prize human development – not economic development – above all.
That’s why I’m going to leave the Human Development Index as the only proof of success. For me, I have so many other econometrics, anecdotes and personal reflections to prove that Iran has succeeded in creating a new, better, modern society that to do so is quite boring.
Bottom line: It is obvious that I do not have to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Despite the tremendous amount of opposition, violence and propaganda, Iran has advanced the most in the past 3+ decades.
I say “the most” because, unlike South Korea, Iran has done this without 30,000 US troops currently on its soil; it was not preceded by decades of brutal dictatorship which slaughtered hundreds of thousands of people (mainly leftists); and they did not collaborate with the Americans in the division of their nation which currently causes the greatest possibility of thermonuclear war.
Iran didn’t get to #1 as many others did: by capitalism and imperialism.
Iran’s recent election had a 73% voter turnout rate, ranking it #12 in the world. Unlike many of these other 11 countries, Iran does not compel citizens to vote. There is obviously tremendous support for the Iranian system from the Iranian people because…they are not blind to success, I would say!
The hardest thing to get people to do when it comes to socialism (or Iran) is to think realistically: Nobody can achieve “perfect” socialism. No country has 100% voter turnout. No country has zero human rights violations.
But for Iran you have add on another layer of misconception: Many of the “restrictions” in Iranian society predate 1979 by centuries: women were largely wearing the hejab before then; unmarried people, especially young women, also lived at home before 1979; alcohol could send you to prison then and now.
My point is: Iran is a culturally conservative nation, and it was like that long, long before 1979. You will have to simply trust me that Iranians don’t need a government to make them want to live in a society which appears conservative to modern Western standards.
Again, Iran is not Amsterdam, LOL! Maybe you can talk about the royal court in Shiraz in the 14th century as being a hotbed of drunken poetic reveling, but this is does not reflect the reality of life for the average person.
Only an Iranian will agree quickly with this statement and move on: Take away the 1979 Revolution and you would still have many of the same rules in place – they would just be enforced informally.
I will, lastly, put it this way: Take away the mullahs, and you still have to deal with my grandmother!!!!!
But to believe that the government has not empowered people since 1979…well, back then the average woman had 7 children, was illiterate 70% of the time, and the UN was not calling its health care system “excellent”.
Today, the birthrate is 1.7 children per woman, the overall literacy rate is 93% and the right-wing Washington DC-based think-tank the Brookings Institution runs dumbfounded articles with headlines like “Are Iranian Women Overeducated?”.
All in 30+ years…and have you thought it was capitalism that did it?!
Socialists Who Ignore Iran Are Not Really Socialists At All
Do you still want to think that Iran is a country solely motivated by religious radicalism and not the ideals of socialism? Well, then I place you on the right and the left, and that is the point of this article.
It is bad enough that the right (capitalists, imperialists) not only co-opt Socialist ideas as their own (social security, Medicare, Medicaid, affirmative action programs, welfare, free schooling, free nurseries, etc.), but it is laughable when the left refuses to see the leftism in Iran because it does not fit with their preconceived, totally inflexible notions.
Any true Socialist/Communist should realize that attacking Iran is doing a capitalist’s job for them.
And how can someone who proclaims to be a “leftist” have the exact same interpretation of Iran as a right-wing capitalist does?
Again, it is simply laughable that Iran is “not” what it really is.
But this is what always happens: Chinese communism “is not really communism”…despite having 1-party rule, a state-run economy, control over the media, support for Vietnam and North Korea, and the 2nd highest HDI improvement from 1970-2010.
North Korean communism is just a “cult of personality”…despite expelling the Japanese, resisting the Americans, maintaining their independence, security and high-level of education. Cuba is just the Castro dictatorship and, again, not communism.
This is all anti-socialist propaganda – for capitalism there can never be ANY “Socialist success story”.
You remain adamant that you do not want to implement all the principles of the Iranian Islamic Revolution in your country?
Fine, it is your country to decide for as you like. Like I wrote, no worries – Iran hasn’t invaded in 300 years and it sure seems like our military is necessarily focused on defense.
But just because you disagree with some aspects of the 1979 Revolution I encourage you not to throw the baby out with the bath water. I remind you that I needed only one fact to prove that Iran has been improving at a rate which is essentially the best in the world over the last 3 decades – how far below Iran does your country rank, hmm?
I write this article because practically no media in the English language will ever pursue the links between Iran and socialism. We leftists know this not just anti-Iran bias, but a much larger anti-Socialist bias.
However, it is truly suicidal to ignore the left-wing successes in Iran because, even if you reject some of them, Iran has clearly found MANY modern solutions to our MANY modern problems: surely some of them can be of use to you, right? Is Iran ALL wrong?
Of course not – only Satan can be all wrong.
Therefore, I advise those fighting against capitalism and imperialism: Please afford Iran a bit more respect and interest than you would afford Satan!
And Now I Take Our Victory lap
I can only laugh at those who say Iran’s revolution has failed!
“Oh really? Who was the puppet that was installed? Who was the king that was restored? What is the name of the popular democratic revolution which replaced the peoples’ one of 1979, because I have not heard of it and I still see many familiar faces from 1979?”
The revolution has succeeded, and I am not sorry to say so.
Not that I care about your opinion – this is for YOUR own benefit: YOU will not win socialism, anti-capitalism or anti-imperialism in your country if you cannot learn from the successes of others.
But sadly, your inability to recognize socialism in Iran imperils all of us, because the people worldwide cannot win in the long term if even like-minded leftists cannot stick together to work against fascism, capitalism and racism.
But Iran, Cuba, China, etc. – we can win enough of these things for ourselves, at least.
We are doing just fine – steady as she goes, eh? All thanks to central planning, as the capitalists veer from crisis to crisis, with the 1% sucking up a greater percentage every time. Our election had huge participation rates, as usual, dwarfing the European cultures who probably want to claim they invented voting, along with everything else. Asia has heard it all before….
For the non-Western readers: I know that the vast majority of you already support Iran. I have talked with too many of you over my life – I know better. I also know that for us “field slaves” we have to give that impression in order to survive, sometimes, or at least to avoid annoyances.
Anyway, many Westerners appear to misunderstand Socialism completely: they don’t realize it is intrinsically a global idea; they think the Franco-German-Russian (European) variety is the only one. More Eurocentrism blinding them to reality, and necessarily limiting them….
But I look across the West and I see nothing but leftist failure after leftist failure: The fall of communism in Russia, the breakup of Yugoslavia, the obvious absorption of “left” parties into the dominant right-wing parties, the rise of austerity, the advance of globalization at the expense of national interests….
So the next time you look at Iran, you should applaud it as a rare socialist success. Iranians will certainly keep living their path of creating modern socialism, Inshallah.
Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for Press TV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. His work has appeared in various journals, magazines and websites, as well as on radio and television.