As the Iranian regime cracks down on protesters, Mick Wallace MEP is being pilloried by the Irish Times for painting the situation as a case of two equal sides. Kieran Allen sets out his opposition to Wallace and explains why it comes from a very different place to that of The Irish Times.
The Iranian regime has executed 23 year old Majidreza Rahnavard by public hanging. He was accused of moharebeh, meaning ‘waging war against God’ and killing two members of the paramilitary Basij Resistance Force, a ruthless paramilitary force that has been attacking protestors.
Majidreza was tried behind closed doors, tortured, and did not have a right to his own lawyer. He is one of several people facing execution as the Iranian regime tries to crush a protest movement with terror.
Mick Wallace MEP is opposed to such executions and has said that Iranians have a right to protest. But in a recent speech in the European Parliament he said,
‘There are peaceful protests. Many Iranians are unjustly imprisoned and should be released, and far too many have been killed by the aggressive crackdown. There has also been much violence and murders by some protesters – untold damage and destruction. It would not be tolerated anywhere.’
It was a classical piece of rhetorical balance, implying that both sides are to blame. Yet there is no balance in Iran. The regime is well armed, has a network of torture prisons and has already killed scores of protestors. Ending with the punchline ‘it would not be tolerated anywhere’ implies that protesters have gone too far and some measure of state repression is justified.
Now imagine if such a statement was made about civil rights protesters in Northern Ireland. The British government often denounced ‘young hooligans’ to gain cover for the violence they unleashed.
Campism in a Multipolar World
Mick Wallace has been one of the few voices in the European Parliament that has denounced US imperialism, championed the rights of the Palestinians and more recently tweeted ‘Capitalism is based on Perpetual Growth and has done untold damage to the planet… we cannot fix climate change with more capitalism’. These sentiments are to his credit.
But he is totally wrong about Iran. And there are two main reasons why he has taken such a wrong path.
One is, what is called in left wing jargon, ‘campism’. This sees struggle against US imperialism as the main priority in the world and is therefore willing to side with or make excuses for any of its opponents. ‘Campism’ deploys a version of the old adage that ‘My enemy’s enemy is my friend’ or a variant of this so that criticism of US opponents is muted.
It is an approach that does not serve the left well. US imperialism may be the dominant power – but it is not the only imperialist one. Capitalist competition leads to a fusion of corporate and state interests and results in an easy shift from economic to military competition. Alongside the US, countries like China and Russia operate as imperial powers – albeit weaker ones. And weakness does not imply that one is more progressive than the other. Moreover, there are a host of other countries such as Turkey or Saudi Arabia with regional ambitions which we might label as sub-imperialism. In brief the world is more complicated than the binary of ‘evil empire’ versus the rest.
‘Campism’ developed on the left during the Cold War, when the US faced a rival in the USSR. It was a wrong approach then because behind its socialist rhetoric, the USSR operated as a dictatorial and exploitative power.
Today, however, there are no excuses. Far from even rhetorically opposing US capitalism , Putin sees himself in the tradition of the Tsars, denounces the Bolshevik revolution and funds the far right. And far from the Iranian regime being ‘progressive it has executed thousands of left wingers, including members of the Tudeh Party (Communist Party) which had seen it as an anti-imperialist force and potential ally.
People Power from Below
The second reason why Mick Wallace got it so wrong is that he is skeptical of people power movements from below when these emerge in countries hostile to the US. Like some others, he tends to see them as either puppets of or being manipulated by US agents. There can be little doubt the US will seek to benefit from opposition movements in enemy countries -just as China or Russia will make propaganda from a Black Lives Matter movement in the US. But masses of working people are capable of creating their own movements to fight economic rights or in the case of Iran for ‘Women, Life, Freedom’. Thinking otherwise means giving up any form of liberation and assuming that we can only choose between lesser evil in the dominant camps.
This skepticism was most in evidence in both Mick Wallace and Clare Daly’s attitude to Syria where they failed to fully challenge the Assad regime. Significantly, Mick Wallace evoked the Syrian case when discussing what he considered the campaign of propaganda and destabilisation against Iran. He claimed that those who ‘supported the so-called Syrian revolution’ are responsible for the country lying in ruins. The truth is exactly the opposite. A genuine revolution that was part of the Arab Spring was drowned in blood by the Assad dictatorship.
The Irish Times’ Hypocrisy
Finally, it should be said that while Mick Wallace is wrong, this should not put us in sympathy with the campaign being waged against him and Clare Daly by the Irish Times. This paper has run many articles against the two, analysing their speeches on a variety of issues. This is in sharp contrast to their coverage of Fine Gael MEPs who voted against resuming search and rescue efforts for drowning migrants in the Mediterranean sea. There has been no follow-up article indicating how these MEPS favour the growing militarisation of Europe.
In the past, the liberal stance of the Irish Times often conveyed an impression that there was some sympathy for the left. But as Irish society has changed, the liberalism of the Irish times has revealed a dark hatred for anything that resembles the radical left. Today the Irish Times talks to a D4 audience who are embarrassed that there are Irish MEPs who challenge the imperialist agenda of their liberal EU. They have never forgiven the radical left for its role in helping to defeat their beloved water charges.
This is why they will use every mistake made by Wallace and Daly to try to undermine the genuine left that currently exists in Ireland. Our criticism of Mick Wallace therefore comes from an entirely different place.