This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse this site you are agreeing to our use of cookies. For more information, see our privacy statement

New Left Review 59, September-October 2009


Few countries have remained so opaque to objective scrutiny, so resistant to coherent analysis, as Iran. Recurrently characterized as the most hostile of all Middle Eastern regimes to the West, the Islamic Republic has connived at the American invasion of Iraq and occupation of Afghanistan, helping to prop up puppet regimes of the us in Baghdad and Kabul. Regularly represented as little more than a clerical dictatorship, it has—uniquely in the regional Umma—held genuinely contested elections, and maintained a parliament where debate is not a façade and votes are unpredictable; yet prison—or much worse—awaits principled dissent. Widely held to be an obscurantist theocracy, it has transformed popular literacy and given more women higher education than any regime in the neighbourhood. Famous for its poetry in the past, since 1979 the country has produced one of the richest cinemas in the world, even while millions have been driven out of it by cultural repression. Today Iran is moving towards centre stage on the international scene, as the us prepares to tighten the economic noose around it, to preserve Israel’s nuclear monopoly inthe region; and the regime in Tehran, more domestically isolated and dividedthan in the past, confronts a mass opposition enraged by electoral fraud andeager for more comprehensive accommodation to the West. The conjunctionof these two crises has unleashed a torrent of clichés and homilies in the Euro-American mediasphere. In this issue, we publish the first of a series of pieceson Iran, aiming at more informed and critical coverage of the country. In astrikingly original essay, James Buchan sets the current impasse of the regimein a cultural-historical perspective going back to the Constitutional Revolutionof 1905. Many further questions remain open. Among those consistently glossedover or ignored in standard treatments of Iranian politics are the comparativeeconomic and political records, in practice, of the Rafsanjani/Khatami andAhmadinejad governments; the class composition of the Green bloc of 2009;the social basis of regime loyalism; the exact roles, respectively, of the ArmedForces and the Revolutionary Guards in the power structure of the country;the intellectual, regional or other grounds of factional divisions within theclergy; not to speak, of course, of the strategies and activities of the Westernregimes bent on bringing Iran to heel as one more domesticated pawn of the‘international community’. nlr hopes to address these and other issues as thetwin crisis unfolds.

james buchan


Hegel says in his lectures that history must repeat itself to be intelligible. [1] G. W. F. Hegel, Vorlesungen über die Philosophie der Weltgeschichte, ed. Georg Lasson, Hamburg 1968, vol. 3, p. 712. Yes, rejoined Marx, in his most elegant piece of journalism, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852), first as tragedy, and then as farce. [2] Surveys from Exile, Harmondsworth 1973, p. 146. Marx saw the coup d’état of Prince Napoleon in 1851 as a comic re-enactment of Napoleon Bonaparte’s seizure of power on the 18th Brumaire, Year viii of the French revolutionary calendar (1799), mere historical play-acting in altered circumstances. What would Hegel and Marx have made of the June days in Iran? The victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the tenth election for the Iranian Presidency on 22 Khordad, or June 12, was for his supporters an instance of divine grace and for his rivals a vulgar fraud. For the student of Iranian history, June 12 falls into a pattern in which popular revolutions (1906 and 1979) are disrupted by a coup d’état and then another and then another. In place of Muhammed Ali Shah Qajar, we have Ali Khamenei, for the Cossack commander Liakhov there is Interior Minister Mahsouli, and for Reza there is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a Persian Bonaparte in a car coat.

Subscribe for just £45 and get free access to the archive
Please login on the left to read more or buy the article for £3


James Buchan, ‘A Bazaari Bonaparte?’, NLR 59: £3

If you want to create a new NLR account please register here

’My institution subscribes to NLR, why can't I access this article?’

New NLR website coming soon—click here for a preview.