On the Crisis in the Gulf
Interview with Suzy Weissman
Suzy Weissman: Welcome to Portraits of the USSR, I am Suzy Weissman and today my guest is Mansour Hekmat This program deviates a little bit from the norm, since we are not going to be speaking directly about the Soviet Union, but more about the crisis that has been engulfing the Middle East and the World and its impact on the United States, the Middle East and the Soviet Union. My guest is Mansour Hekmat and he is a founder of the Iranian Communist Party which should not be confused with the Iranian Tudeh Communist Party, the section lets say of the third international that is allied with the Soviet Union. This is something quite independent and Mansour is speaking to us from his place in exile. He does not live in Iran. Welcome to "Portraits of the USSR", Mansour.
Mansour Hekmat: Thank you very much.
Suzy Weissman: I'd like for our listeners if you could give some background to the crisis in the Gulf perhaps elaborating how it came out of the Iran/Iraq War.
Mansour Hekmat: I'm not sure that it came directly out of the Iran/Iraq War. I think probably the Iraqi military forces or the War Machine as they call it was prepared during that war. But the event itself I don't think came out of that situation. I think it is more the case that the whole global situation, especially the period that we are entering now, the post cold war period, created an atmosphere that that military machine could be used in such a way. I don't think it has a direct connection to the Iran-Iraq War and is in anyway a continuation of it.
Suzy Weissman: But how do you see Iraq's action against Kuwait? Was this because their economy was in such desperate shape after the war and they needed to insure that the price of oil was up?
Mansour Hekmat: I think there are a whole list of arguments analyzing the Iraqi action and incentives in doing so, and I don't think I can add anything to it. I think the economy was one question. The fact that Iraq owed a lot of money and the fact that it needed lot more for economic reconstruction; the fact that Kuwait was, as the Iraqi government said, overproducing oil and therefore undercutting the price of oil; all these things were part of the calculation. There are also other elements on the Iraqi side. I think the need for the emergence of some kind of a pole within the Arab world, and the fact that Iraq coming out of Iran/Iraq War and having stopped the Pan-Islamic onslaught was in a good position to fill that gap, these are factors that contributed to this action.
Suzy Weissman: What about Iran, how is this crisis going to effect Iran's role both in the Middle East and in the World and I guess with the United States as well, how will Iran come out of this crisis?
Mansour Hekmat: I think on the whole it will push Iran, as a the totality, more toward the West. Contrary to what some people may think, it wouldn't ally itself to Iraq in a confrontation with the U.S. I think it creates a situation also that would be more convenient for the Iranian government to make such a turn. But that is for the state and for the government as a whole. I think some factions within the Iranian government would also turn in the opposite direction. On the whole I think that is the general picture.
Suzy Weissman: When you say that it will push Iran more toward the West I think I agree with you there. But are you saying that this might change the nature of the government itself and the personnel or you will see the present people who are the leadership in Iran moving toward the West and moderating their stance toward the West?
Mansour Hekmat: I think the general situation is that the Rafsanjani faction is becoming more in charge of the situation and the shift toward the West wouldn't entail a change in the complexion of the Iranian regime, I don't think so, I think that the Rafsanjani faction would strengthen its position and would have a freer hand in suppressing the Hezbolah faction, the Pan-Islamic faction. I don't think structural changes will come about as a result of this situation per se.
Suzy Weissman: How has Iran emerged from the Iran/Iraq War, what state is the country economically?
Mansour Hekmat: That is the main area one can say it didn't come out well from the Iran/Iraq War. In the beginning when the war actually ended or the seize fire was declared, when Khomeini declared that Iran is also prepared to accept the United Nations resolution, at that point there were hopes among the population that there may exist some kind of stability and some kind of normalization of relations with the West that would allow economic reconstruction to take place. That didn't materialize. Basically, because the Hezbolah faction, the pan-Islamic faction was too strong to allow such a course to be taken and any economic improvement on the part of the Rafsanjani faction was made dependent on the suppression or at least curtailment of the pan-Islamic faction which has taken so long already. The economic situation is really bad in the country as far as my information indicates. There is no sign of this getting better, unless for the last two months with higher oil revenues- unless there is some change there. Up to two months ago there was no sign of any improvement in material standards of living.
Suzy Weissman: Well, what about as the result of the war itself, how much of Iran's economic infrastructure was destroyed in the war?
Mansour Hekmat: To the extent that it was the oil industry I think its very much, I can't put a figure on it. The whole refineries, ports, and pipelines were destroyed in the South. I don't think other infrastructure was damaged in any serious way within the Iranian territory, deep inside. The problem was always raw materials and intermediate capital goods. That used to be imported on a large scale and not just because of the war, but because of isolation of the Iranian government, they could not be imported any longer. So many of the factories and many economic units are working much below capacity. Probably 30-35% of the productive capacity is utilized. And that is a major problem. Not the actual physical damage done to the economy.
Suzy Weissman: What public political position has Iran adopted vis-a-vis the crisis in the Gulf?
Mansour Hekmat: It shifted along time, and it also varies according to the faction which is having the microphone. It shifted from total support of the U.S. side, more or less total support of the U.S. side, it shifted gradually to some kind of middle of the road position in which there is also condemnation of the U.S. and certain level of cooperation with Iraq in, say, allowing commodities to cross the borders and so on.
Suzy Weissman: How does Iran stand to gain from this crisis, you know from being seen as The country in the region that is perhaps closer to the United States that will gain from producing more oil and selling it and then perhaps will it come out as the regional leader as it was in the sense during the period of the Shah?
Mansour Hekmat: To answer the second part of your question, I would say no, it would not come out the regional leader as such because it is worn out as a military force in the area. It doesn't have sufficient ideological framework for such a regional role. I don't think Islamic fundamentalism or any kind of watered down Islamism can be used for such a regional role, it appears that nationalism would be a better vehicle for any force which is supposed to perform this role. Islam doesn't appear to be a proper ideological framework for that. Politically, the government doesn't have that backing and that legitimacy inside Iran to allow it to perform this role. How Iran is going to gain, I would say basically in terms of normalization of relations with the West. And when I say Iran I mean the regime installed in Iran, I don't mean Iran as a country or as a people. But the government in Iran, the Islamic Republic, will benefit in the sense that first it will have its normalized relations with the West and it has already happened with Britain. That would allow some kind of international help and also access to world markets for productive goods and, secondly, it would also benefit financially by producing larger quantities of oil at higher prices. I think these are the main factors which would help the Iranian government.
Suzy Weissman: You mentioned that the Iranian Islamic government cannot be used as a tool in a sense the way that previous government has or even as the way nationalism could be used, is Islamism becoming a spent force in Iran? How much internal support is there for the Islamic regime?
Mansour Hekmat: I think Islamic fundamentalism, Islamism, was spent within the Iranian context a long time ago. I think a great deal of the West's conceptions and also propaganda about the Islamic nature of the Iranian society was exaggerated and the support that people were supposedly giving the regime, that was exaggerated from much earlier on. But the cause was alive in the context of the Middle East as a whole, in a broader context, and I think with the events now, with the crisis that exists in the Middle East now, it is also spent within the middle eastern context too. I think Arab nationalism, which will have Islam as a secondary element within it, would be a much more powerful mobilizing force for the population there.
Suzy Weissman: But what will that do to Iran? That you are talking about the Middle East as a whole? Will that have the tendency to isolate Iran more within the Middle East?
Mansour Hekmat: Within the Middle East, I think so. The Middle East and within the Islamic world, so called, yes.
Suzy Weissman: Well that certainly does sort of give us a new panorama of the region. So you feel that Iran is going to be pushed more toward the West and Arab nationalism will be more of the focus in the Middle East?
Mansour Hekmat: Yes, exactly, that is what I think.
Suzy Weissman: What do you think that is going to do internally? Now, I know you have mentioned that the West has had a sort of propaganda coup in trying to demonstrate that the Iranian masses support this Islamic fundamentalism and you are saying that is not true and I suppose if anyone were to look more closely at the situation and just see the amount of force that had to be used within the society that things are not so rosy as they pretend. What is the internal situation in Iran, is this government illegitimate, does it have any support, do they have to use the Secret Police massively?
Mansour Hekmat: The problem is that we have a population in a state of desperation and one must to some extent try to learn the mechanism of mass thinking and mass psychology. People would not object to the government in a very active way because they are so desperate. If you remember the revolution against the Shah was made in a period which there was a great deal of savings, for example, within the working classes and standards of living were high and people could fight and also take the economic burden. Nowadays there is such economic desperation that people are pushed toward being more conservative politically, minding their own business and trying not to lose what they have. To that extent the regime doesn't rest on a turmoil. To that extent it is safe because not only there is no political opposition organizing inside the country, any active political opposition that would endanger as a whole system, but also people are conservative in terms of political change and they look up toward international forces, towards international camps, towards international relations for a solution to their problem. The average Iranian, while knowing that his/her ideals are different, still would wish for Western influence and for Western pressure on the Iranian regime. They wouldn't mind it now. However they might be anti-imperialist in their minds, and however they might be dissatisfied with what the West is doing in the area or what the Shah used to do as a pro-Western element there, however this may be the case, they are in such a state of desperation that I think their major concern would be stability and investment and jobs and lower inflation and so on. It is a society down on its knees and as such I think the Iranian regime can last longer. If the situation in the Middle East gets worse or a war comes about or if there are political pressures on the Iranian government then we may find another condition altogether because this dissatisfaction and this desperation can also turn into some kind of a mass protest. This is not what is happening now. Right now I think people are more resigned politically and think more in terms of themselves and their families and their economic survival.
Suzy Weissman: So in a sense, what you are outlining is the politics of despair and defeat and it looks like that Khomeini was able to inflict a larger defeat on the Iranian working class than the Shah was.
Mansour Hekmat: I think so...yes...l think so exactly.
Suzy Weissman: But do you think that the workers themselves see themselves as having been better off materially under the Shah?
Mansour Hekmat: Yes, sure.
Suzy Weissman: So but this leads to another question and that is because of the changes of the world over the last year in which communism, so called communism as it existed in the so called socialist world, has been defeated ideologically and we're seeing throughout the world this sort of born-again marketeerism. Does that have some currency in Iran as well, do you think that workers there see no alternative to the politics of capitalism, the ideology of the market?
Mansour Hekmat: You must remember that in many third world countries, also in Iran, socialism and communism, the official communism that was part of the political structure, did not have its base and its support among the working classes or the labor movement. It was a movement based on the intellectual element in the society, on the intelligentsia, and that base has been alienated from socialism or communism in general. I should say that, yes. But the working class was more or less unaffected by communism either way. Either by the mainstream or the so called communism of the poles, of the Soviet bloc and the Chinese and so on, or by the radical left that existed during the revolution. So the workers have been more or less aloof from the fate of communism as a tradition and as a movement. It is only now that they are beginning to be introduced to some kind of working class communism, to some kind of worker-oriented socialism and the propaganda and education that goes within the class over the question of socialism it is much more intense than it was lets say 15 years ago. So the Iranian working class is not part of the disillusioned population of the world in regard to socialism and communism. The intelligentsia has definitely broken away from it and that I think is a major development.
Suzy Weissman: Is that wide spread too among the many organizations of the left?
Mansour Hekmat: I think the organizations of the left are redefining themselves in a very conservative way according to the law of the averages they just see what the market rate is for socialism and they just take position according to that. I'm talking about the organizations other than the Communist Party which I'm speaking on its behalf. The Iranian left, the radical left, the intelligentsia based radical left, is now very much into Gorbachevism, into all the fashionable trends that goes inside European communism that is merging it [communism] with democratic ideals, making it "human", or rethinking their communism in more or less the same lines as is happening in Europe. That is the case there, but on other poles, us for example, we represent a kind of shift towards more orthodox and classical marxism and towards a sort of labor oriented, worker-oriented socialism.
Suzy Weissman: What I'm interested in what you are saying is that the left in Iran and I guess by extension, other third world countries, never concerned themselves much with working class politics. Is that because these countries are newly industrializing and there is a new working class now that has become a political actor, what do you base it on? Perhaps the guidelines of the old Comintern? What is the reason for that?
Mansour Hekmat: I think it has both a local and regional basis as well as a global and international basis- this shift away from working class politics and away from working class socialism. I think globally it began with the fact that at some point in the history of communism, a national interest was made the main focus of contemporary communism of that time. That is building the Soviet economy and building the Soviet society and I think there was a great element of nationalism introduced into socialist movement which was itself a wedge which allowed it to separate itself from working class socialism in capitalist societies of the West. But there is also a regional element. If you see then after the development in the Soviet Union we have Maoism, which is in itself a crystallization of non-working class socialism. It is a sort of facade for some kind of peasant movement, attempts for nation building and independence and so on and you see a national movement presenting itself with a marxist or semi-marxist language or with a Marxist guise. So I think if you see within the international context itself you have a move away from the working class politics. Within the West itself you have the student socialism of the 60's which didn't have much to do with working class socialism and working class protest, working class social protest. So I think that was an international trend. But within the countries of the third world those ideas were picked up as forms of protest by the intelligentsia. As far as I can read within the Iranian history, Iranian socialism has been a product of the Iranian educated layers and the intelligentsia. So it is true that within the Iranian context the fact that the Iranian working class is young and probably it is three or four decades that you have them in a considerable size, that has contributed, but it has only reinforced an international, trend. It is not a uniquely third world concept.
Suzy Weissman: So you have a fairly young working class that has grown up in one regime after another that is universally repressive even though as you say its become worse in a sense, they at least were able to combat more effectively for their own standard of living under the Shah than under the present regime and ideological climate which pretty much ignores them. What is going on now in the Iranian working class?
Mansour Hekmat: Let us go back to the question just for a minute because I thought you said the working class came more strongly during the Shah's regime than the economic struggle. That is not what I meant. The actual economic mechanism, the actual market and the fact that there were quite a great deal of revenues, allowed a degree of full employment and therefor higher levels of wages then, but the protest, working class as a protesting class, as an active class, you can observe this more after the revolution than before it. That is one point. The other, I think I lost track of the rest of the question.
Suzy Weissman: Well basically I am trying to get you to give us a sort of panorama of the political struggle as it exists for the working class today in Iran.
Mansour Hekmat: Yes, I can just sum up the ten years after the revolution for you in a few sentences probably. The first period we have is the period of anti-Shah struggle, and there we have the working class as a very active element, especially the oil industry workers. And along with that movement, which was the core of the anti-Shah movement we also have a great deal of illusions and false hopes in relation to the Islamic forces which showed itself after these forces came to power. It took two or three years for the Iranian working class to realize that the struggle against Shah represented a combination of forces which did not necessarily have common interests and it took some time for the Iranian working class to move as a class, or as a mass movement, against the new regime and there you only see them in a very economic capacity. We see them in movements which are basically economic in demands and in their action. Which is fair enough. Political opposition to the government from the working class has not materialized and also the ideological shift within the working class toward socialism is something newer, it probably dates back five years now. There is a great element of penetration of socialist ideas within the rank of active worker militants. Before that we could say that the Islamic tendency had the upper hand even within the class as far as the class's thinking and approach to questions are concerned.
Suzy Weissman: But this shift toward socialist ideas among the more active layers in the working class, doesn't, isn't there a tension developing then lets say between that current of thought or the more generalized prevailing in the world which is moving away from socialist politics?
Mansour Hekmat: I could say that there is to some extent, I can't just measure them, I can't actually judge which current is going to be the dominant one within the working class. But you sec a great number of circles, not a great number but a considerable number of circles within the working class movement who are actually shifting towards some kind of criticism of socialism as a whole. You can see that due to the fact that a great number of books are published on the subject. More or less everything which is published in Europe criticizing socialism or socialist history or socialist economics is translated and printed in Iran and there is a great deal of talk about socialism from a critical point of view. Whereas Marxist or pro-socialist books are banned and people who distribute or sell them or read them are persecuted. So, I have come across circles and individuals within the militant layers of the Iranian working class who have sympathy towards some kind of criticism of socialism and they may form a kind of basis for a new liberal-laborist trend in the Iranian working class. But that can only be serious if that laborist and reformist liberal tradition may present itself as an alternative to the regime as a whole. They [workers] won't actually shift towards the line which you can probably see in Europe unless it can provide some kind of alternative to the government. Whereas the radical socialist tendency does not have that problem. They accept it as an opposition and join it as an opposition current. That is why the picture may be distorted for the moment. But if there is a political breakthrough in Iran, if there is some kind of a democratic situation, then we can judge which of the currents in the working class movement are stronger: a liberal reformist line, more or less modernizing, pro-modernization line or a radical socialists line.
Suzy Weissman: [Ok. I like to let the listeners know that you are listening to KPFK Los Angeles. The programme is the portrait of the USSR and I am Suzy Weissman. My guest today by telephone is Mansour Hekmat He is a founding member of the Iranian Communist Party and a member of its leadership. That is not the same as the traditional communist party allied with the Soviet Union. Mansour is speaking to us from his place in exile as it is still a very dangerous occupation to be a left wing communist in Iran as in many places.] We have been discussing the situation in the Gulf and moving more toward the internal situation in Iran and I would like to switch it just a little bit to talking about what you think this crisis in the Gulf will lead to with respect to Iran's role in the Middle East and also how the changes in the Soviet Union, what kind of changed relationship will Iran have with the Soviet Union?
Mansour Hekmat: I think we discussed the first part of the question in relation to in what role Iran will find itself following this crisis. I think that very much depends on the course of the crisis itself. We didn't get to talk about the nature of this crisis or its future yet. I think if war breaks in the region, it would be the worst scenario for the Iranian government. I think that would lead to a disintegration of the Islamic Republic also, along with many other regimes in the region, and the whole region would be swallowed into a kind of decade of turmoil and change and that would be a very difficult situation for the Islamic Republic. If a political solution is found and if Iraq is given some concessions and the situation calms down, then I think that Iran on the whole has gained economically to some extent and has lost a great deal of prestige within its own constituency that is the so called Islamic world and even Islamic fundamentalist trends. Iran is going to be a secondary force in the region if the situation evolves peacefully.
Suzy Weissman: What do you mean that it is lost, why has it lost position with regard to Islamic Fundamentalism in the region?
Mansour Hekmat: I think the essence of this movement, i.e. Islamic fundamentalism, is anti-communism expressed along with anti-Americanism. And if you just look at the situation now, it is Arab nationalism that is mobilizing and taking advantage of anti-American sentiments in the Middle East. And I think that it is already clear that the Hezbolah in the Middle East and also in Europe, to the extent that the Muslim's can be found there, are shifting their allegiance to some extent towards Iraq or at least are being critical of the dominant trend within the Iranian government which is the Rafsanjani line, as a conciliatory line toward the U.S. So I think this is a crisis for pan-Islamism and for any government or any regime based on it.
Suzy Weissman: Well it is just interesting because are you trying to outline the crisis as a sort of rivalry between pan-Islamism and pan-Arabism?
Mansour Hekmat: You mean the crisis in the Gulf? No, I outline it basically as something which revolves around the U.S.A. and its role in the post cold war period, but we never got to talk about that. I don't think it is a regional problem at all. I don't think it is a regional crisis and I don't think it concerns the question of occupation of Kuwait so much. Perhaps the first two or three days, that was the issue in the Middle East. Right now, I think, that single act of occupation triggered a global crisis in the context of the post cold war power structure of the world and I think the situation now has nothing to do, anymore, with the regional forces the regional tendencies. I think it can be better understood if one looks at the position that the U.S.A. will find itself, or was going to find itself, in the post cold war period. I think that is the main issue in the Middle East now, not the Arab World and not Kuwait as such.
Suzy Weissman: I think that is very good. So, in a sense you see it as a kind of last gasp of the declining power of the United States to reassert itself in the world through this crisis?
Mansour Hekmat: I definitely do, I think there was a great deal of confusion in relation to what is going to happen to the U.S. given the breakdown of the Soviet bloc, given the German unity and there was a great deal of confusion surrounding the concept of NATO. This opportunity has been created for America, and I think America also partially made it for itself, to reassert its position and to gain a role in the future world, in the post Eastern Bloc world. I think that is the main issue here.
Suzy Weissman: So the real question was not how you see Iran and Iraq emerging from this crisis but how you see the United States emerging from this crisis?
Mansour Hekmat: I think so, yes.
Suzy Weissman: Perhaps I should not bring it into the last four minutes of the program, but what do you think this will do to the role of Israel in the Middle East?
Mansour Hekmat: I think along with Iran they are going to be the major losers politically in the situation. If the war breaks out I think you are not going to see a peaceful Israel anymore, which is not peaceful now already anyway. I think the whole fate of Israel will be thrown into question along with the fate of many other regimes in the region. If the war breaks out I think it is going to be a two decade issue, with lots of forces getting involved and forces actually transforming into other things as we go along and Israel will be the main loser. As a state, as a government, as a Jewish state.
Suzy Weissman: And if Israel is the main loser, who do you see as coming out the best in this crisis, it is kind of asking you to look into a crystal ball, how do you see the outcome of the crisis? Let's say that it does go into an actual arm conflict of long duration?
Mansour Hekmat: I don't see any winner. I don't see anybody winning in this situation. I think its going to be a genocide in the region. It is going to affect the whole world. I think its going to reverse the whole developments that we have been witnessing during the last five or six years. I think it is going to even affect the balance of forces between the factions within the USSR. I think if the war breaks out the Gorbachev line, let alone the Yeltzin line, in the Soviet Union is going to be under a lot of pressure and new forces will develop even in Eastern Europe. I don't see any winner. I think that people are going to suffer a lot, in terms of lives and hardships, and I don't see any force emerging as a victorious force. As socialists we are going to be losers too because for years we are going to be dominated by false ideologies, nationalism, religious ideologies, patriotism and the confrontation of social forces which I would say are historically obsolete, redundant, and defunct. I think that they are going to come to the fore again, take the scene and they are going to overshadow the real problems of the world which I think is basically around wage labor, private property, and real human emancipation. I think they are going to be overshadowed in the whole world.
Suzy Weissman: By this rising nationalism, I think you're right that it will put a great deal of pressure on Gorbachev and if anything it could strengthen the hands of the obscurantist nationalist forces there. What I mean by that is their anti-semitic and inward looking and pan-slavic. Do you have anything finally to say perhaps on a more hopeful note?
Mansour Hekmat: I only wish that American public opinion would be more critical of what it is fed in terms of analysis and even information. That is the only hope. As long as the American population actually buys the kind of propaganda or the kind of false information or half-truths that it is fed, I don't see any real way out of this situation. I think that probably the conditions there- and I haven't been there recently-is much close to the period when America was beginning to go into Vietnam. I think people can learn from history and they can prevent such a thing happening again.
Suzy Weissman: Ok, thank you very much. My guest today has been Mansour Hekmat and we have been discussing sort of a wide-ranging way the Persian Gulf crisis' impact on Iran and Iraq and the United States and also the internal situation in Iran and it has been a very illuminating and interesting discussion and I would like to thank you very much for being my guest on the "Portraits of the USSR."
Mansour Hekmat: Thank you.