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New Left Review I/166, November-December 1987


Val Moghadam

Socialism or Anti-Imperialism? The Left and Revolution in Iran

A spectre is haunting the Iranian Left—the assembled ghosts of orthodox Communism, Maoism and populism. Together these had converged, on the eve of the Revolution, to construct a Third Worldist discourse and practice that stressed the evils of dependent capitalism and imperialism. Agribusiness, transnational corporations, military expenditures, the oil companies, the corrupt royal court, savak, the comprador bourgeoisie, consumerism—in short, imperialism and its internal base—were the targets of the propaganda and agitation of all left opposition groups. The trouble was that they were high on the list of the religious opposition as well. Eventually, sometime after the collapse of the Pahlavi state and in the course of the Left’s struggle for its rightful place in the political arena of the new Republic, it became clear that two strategic mistakes had been committed: namely, neglect of the question of democracy, and underestimation of the power of the Islamic clergy. It is now widely accepted that this blindspot was due to an inordinate emphasis on the anti-imperialist struggle and an almost mechanical application of the dependency paradigm. The all-too-general model left little scope for considering the highly uneven development of class and production relations, the power of the pre-capitalist classes or the political–cultural project of the clerics (which, contrary to what some foreign observers thought, was decidedly not the same as liberation theology). Above all, it led to a downgrading of the importance of a democratic-socialist (not merely ‘national’) alternative to the Shah’s regime.

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