Thursday, June 25, 2009

On Iran’s Elections: Legitimacy, Fraud, and Openings for Revolution by Mike Ely

Is the winner legitimate here too?

The issue for revolutionaries is really not whether Ahmadinejad ‘legitimately won’ most of the votes or not? Who gives a shit ultimately? The election itself is not legitimate — because this whole system is an oppressors’ system, a dictatorship of mullahs resting on a structure of capitalism. It is all illegitimate, and needs to be seen that way. And swept away.

by Mike Ely

So what is the point of all this hashing (among leftists) over “Did Ahmadinejad really win or not? Did he have a landslide?”

It is very strange to see some argue that if Ahmadinejad won without fraud — then he has a legitimate right to rule.

Who set those terms for this moment? Who decided that this is a measure of who is right, and who is wrong in Iran, in the larger world?

There is in that a strange legitimizing of bourgeois politics (in both Iran and by extension in the U.S. too.)

And it comes out sharply when people start portraying the Islamic theocracy in Iran as some kind of advance, as something precious. For example, the Workers World (see “What Fraud?“), connects their defense of Ahmadinejad with such positive assessment of the Iranian system:

” The Iranian people have benefited enormously from their revolution and cannot easily be turned back.”

I rejected this notion of “gains of 1979” elsewhere, and won’t repeat those arguments here.

But the basic fact is all these governments are bullshit (the U.S., Iran, the Iraq of Saddam Hussein and of today, Russia, France, and so on around the world): They all represent oppressors and criminals — without exception. All of their various electoral systems are carefully and institutionally rigged — stacked against the people’s interests in fundamental ways. And they all routinely involve layers of fraud, manipulation, demagoguery, deceit, bribery, coverup and much more.

But then, there come moments (flashes of conjuncture) when the nature of these political structures becomes VISIBLE more broadly. The underlying reality becomes VISIBLE to millions. There is a de-legitimization of institutions and governments that deserve no legitimacy. And it is a good thing for birthing more radical revolutionary movements.

Some initial thoughts:

In Iran: This election was rigged — fundamentally — in the sense that only supporters of the status quo could get in — and in the sense that any real opponents of this order have faced prison, torture and execution.

This particular “rigging” is a form that the “dictatorship of the bourgeoisie” takes in Iran. Electoral democracy is typically “rigged” in capitalist countries — in the U.S. it is done by the two party mechanism, the winner take all system, the need for zillions of dollars to be a “serious candidate,” the media ability to decide who is “credible” and who is “fringe” and so on.

And for many different reasons, there has been widespread frustration in Iran among more secular and change-minded people with that whole arrangement (including the political system where candidates must be pre-approved based on their support for a basic theocracy.)

This was not simply a matter of “stolen ballots” — but a long building frustration with the state of politics.

Or to put it another way: Would this Iranian election be “fair and just” and a legitimate expression of the people will – if (somehow) millions of ballots weren’t miscounted? Say there was massive fraud, but it can be shown that Ahmadinejad would have won without that fraud, should we then say “ok, this need not be de-legitimizing, and anger of the fraud is not particularly justified”?

Watergate Makes Nixon’s Landslide Irrelevant

An analogy: in 1972, the war criminal Nixon faced an election. He did all kinds of sinister covert “dirty tricks” (including the Watergate plumbers’ break-in of the Democratic Party national headquarters). And Nixon won by a landslide, crushing the vaguely antiwar Democrat George McGovern.

Now, there was fury when the Watergate misdeeds came to light. It was deeply de-legitimizing for this President (and for the system itself). And the scandal led to his disgrace and resignation.

The truth remains that he won the 1972 election, and would have won it without “dirty tricks.” And (like Ahmadinejad) Nixon credited the “silent majority” — especially conservative working people soon to be known as “Reagan Democrats.”

Nixon won by a landslide, but so what? Is that the issue? An issue? Does it mean that he had a right to rule, and the exposure of fraud was a thwarting of the people’s “real” will? No.

The whole set up was rigged anyway — it was stacked against our struggle for change, and our struggle against the war. The fact is that the election scandal exposed Nixon, and the “normal” operations of this system. People felt disenfranchised for many reasons (mainly in that an unpopular war had continued for seven years without any visible way of stopping it) — but the exposure of the fraud and coverup was a spark (from within the inner-fighting of the ruling classes) that had a huge effect on broad popular disenchantment. (It didn’t so much disenchant the already radicalized! we already HATED Nixon with a bright blue passion! It touched much more broadly.)

Broad popular outrage often erupts from things that don’t particularly enrage us revolutionaries. After the sixties’ radicalized have been brutalized, and Cointelpro-ized after the Panthers were shot down — it was hard for radicals to be PARTICULARLY infuriated and indignant when Nixon’s plumbers just bugged some friggin phone in the Democratic Party HQs…. i mean WTF?

But for millions of new and less radical people it was a historic outrage and the last straw.

And wouldn’t it have been odd, for communists somewhere, to say “yeah but don’t forget, Nixon did win by a landslide, and he had the support of most working people….” and so on.

No, in such moments, communists united with that mass outrage, with the demands that Nixon be forced out — and debated how to do such work in ways that would advance revolutionary and communist goals.

An Opening In Iran, Finally, After a Long Awful Time

So here is the deal: In Iran, in the aftermath of this election, there was, obviously, a widespread feeling that it has all been fixed. In areas, the opposition had apparently been expect to win, and didn’t. The outcome was so disappointing, and hopes had been so high ,that millions of people felt robbed. And millions truly believed that Ahmadinejad could only have survived in power by stealing the election.

This feeling combined the deeper malaise and frustration with a flashpoint. And brought new forces and new illegitimacy into the mix.

The issue really is not whether Ahmadinejad “legitmimatly won” a majority or not? Who gives a shit ultimately? The election is not legitmiate — because this whole system is an oppressors’ system, a dictatorship of mullahs resting on a structure of capitalism. It is all illegitimate, and needs to be seen that way

Another analogy: Compare this to the Bush-Gore farrago over Florida. That election (and all elections in the U.S.) was “rigged” before any voting started — some reliable, tested imperialist chief was going to win. One or another of these cliques was going to the White House. There were shades of difference in politics and personality (obviously) but both were totally committed to this system, this empire, capitalism, and many of the common strategic and policy frameworks that do unite the ruling class. In essense, the system presented people with a choice that was no choice.

But then, when it hung by a thread and the Supreme Court of majority Republicans pushed it into the Republican column — there was an additional de-legitimization (on the system’s own terms) — and it produced a larger crisis.

The issue (for revolutionaries) was never “Did Gore really win Florida?” We didn’t feel “We wuz robbed!”

The issue (for revolutionaries) was that this was a crack in the legitimacy of this system that dragged millions of people into political life. And also there was a feel of a rolling coup here –of highly questionable moves toward a one party system (where the heights of power –Ccongress, the military, Supreme Court and the White House — were all of converging on the same rightwing politics.

Usually elections legitimize the next pig-to-be-president. But in this case the 2000 election semi-permanently de-legitimized Bush for a big sections of the population and this is afavorable condition for struggle and revolutinary political work. And this was a good thing — especially given that emergence of a “rolling coup” which needed to be opposed.

The same is true in Iran — the de-legitimization of the Islamic Republic is a good thing for revolutionary openings.

It is also a “good thing” for other forces wanting openings (including sinister forces of many kinds). And there ARE other forces (including some wanting closer relations with the U.S.) But so what? Such contradictions are not only common but inherent in abrupt political crisis and change.

We need a dynamic and forward-looking approach to events — that perceives the chances for advancing a revolutionary politics against all the forces of class society. To view things as a pick or choose of “evils” (pick Iran’s government or the U.S.) is to display a profoundly demoralized and mistaken sense of what is possible in our world.

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