My enemy’s enemy is still my enemy

To badly mix metaphor with a Charlie Daniel lyric, I couldn’t resist chasing this dead horse once more around the parking lot. Because when an “Iran cleric urges severe punishment for rally leaders” I’m guessing that means lots of prison and torture, something you’d think lefties would oppose.

Just because Mahmoud Ahmadinejad thumbs his nose at the US doesn’t mean leftists should support his brutal regime

While I remain agnostic about the numbers [of the Iran election results], I was sure about one thing, and pretty much proven right. On the hard left, the ghosts of the Comintern and heirs of WH Auden’s necessary murderers reflexively and with few if any qualifications support Ahmadinejad, just as they did Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic’s bloody trail across the Balkans, or Hugo Chávez’s thuggish tactics against any centres of alternative power, or indeed Fidel Castro’s robust ways with dissidents. To be bathed in the blood of the Leninist lamb, all a thuggish kleptocrat has to do is to oppose Uncle Sam.

It is unfairly alleged that there is a Middle Eastern aphorism about my enemy’s enemy being my friend. It is in fact the hard left’s modern position, made all the worse, because we never hear that agnostic qualifier “but” – as in “He opposes US imperialism, but he has reduced his people to poverty, locked up the opposition, tortured and shot dissidents and censored the media.”

We did not think that winning elections gave Bush the right to repress all opposition, and anyone who thinks that Ahmadinejad’s dubious triumph gives him a license for brutality is guilty of, to put it mildly, moral inconsistency.

Yet I heard someone yesterday on KPFK use his interpretation of what Lenin wrote to justify support for Ahmadinejad because the Holy Books Hath Writ that the petit bourgeoisie can be backed by revolutionaries under some circumstances. Which seems both grandiose and overly academic to me. Like the clerics in Iran care about support from dinky little Marxist parties and really guys, maybe it’s time to stop justifying everything based on your interpretation of the Gospel According to Marx and look at the world as it is instead. As for all those dead bodies piled up in mounds in Iran, such lefties remain silent. Apparently thuggery is justifiable when it’s done by those deemed to be allies and only opposed when done by those assumed to be enemies.


  1. “Everybody funny, now you funny too.” –George Thorogood

    A person must be judged by who he/she allies himself with. An obsession with power makes association with thuggery inevitable. Why is it that those who claim to want to give “power to the people” still want it for themselves first?

    I know the arguments: that power gets concentrated by nature, and therefore it takes a powerful opponent to take it from the powerful. But that just trades one dictator for another. It’s much like economics, where before the invention of progressive taxation it was accepted that only 5-10% of society would have money, the rest would live as serfs, slaves, or whatever the equivalent was in that time and place. For millenia, the goal was to topple that 10% and take their place.

    Today we no longer accept that as reasonable in economics. Why should we in politics? There are plenty of successful experiments in alternatives to centralized power being practiced throughout the world.

  2. I heard PSL-er (actually a leader in the PSL) on KPFK last night trying to justify his support for Ahmadinejad also. Of course, this kind of thing needs to be opposed and ‘progressives’ and lefties should be behind the demands of democratic rights and expansion of freedom that the Iranian protest movement is putting up. But we definitely should not become friends of imperialism or buddy-buddy with ‘cruise-missile leftists’ like Ian Williams either.

    • I completely agree. I support those courageous folks in the streets of Iran, not any political faction.

    • Interesting it was someone in PSL. I was a member until being purged a while back, apparently for being insufficiently doctrinaire.

      Micro Marxist parties often follow the Leninist vanguard party model. While members of such parties can unquestioningly be hugely dedicated and tireless organizers, they can also become fanatical, with ideological deviation not permitted. Which makes it difficult if not impossible for them to organize on a mass basis because by definition they exclude those who don’t agree with them 100%. Thus they end up mainly recruiting for their party, marginalizing themselves, and having factional wars.

      Louis Proyect started the highly regarded MarxMail listserv as a path for creating alternatives to that.

      I have been strongly influenced by the example of The Socialist Union, a group led by Bert Cochran and Harry Braverman who left the Trotskyist movement in 1953 in order to create an alternative to the sectarian “vanguard” model. For six years they published a magazine called The American Socialist and worked to regroup the left. Marxmail is a conscious attempt to link up with their traditions.

  3. Agree except for the “dinky little Marxist parties” line. Iran has major communist movements and parties, and has since the 1940’s. Many forget that the ground troops for the 1979 Islamic revolution were the Marxists and Social Democrats centered around Tehran University (and it’s nearby “Embassy district”)

    • I’m mainly referring to the micro Marxist parties in the US, not those elsewhere that have political power and mass followings.

      After the Islamists took power in Iran, as I recall, they liquidated the Marxists. Just another example of how enemy of my enemy is not always a friend.

  4. I also agree. To support and turn a blind eye towards a regime that represses their people in such a brutal way and at the same time criticize right-leaning governments for doing the same is pure hypocrisy.

    I do not particularly support Mousavi; I know that he’s moving the masses in order to fetch power for himself. Once in power, he might as well become another Ahmadinejad; both would also have to report to the Religious Elite that is in power.

    I too support the people in the streets.

  5. I’m interested in Louis Proyects ideas about left organizing as well, Bob. The US Solidarity org, Canada’s New Socialist Group and France’s New Anticapitalist Party are other interesting examples in my opinion.

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