Supporters of the Iran Tribunal have desperately been trying to defend their abandonment of working class principle. Yassamine Mather reports on the contortions
The Iran Tribunal – convened to put the Tehran regime in the dock for its massacre of 5,000-10,000 political prisoners in 1988 – took place in London over June 18-22. While it largely went unnoticed by the public in Britain, it caused uproar amongst sections of the Iranian left.
The tribunal was not the first well-financed attempt to divert the genuine anger of the Iranian people, and their hatred of the Islamic regime (in its many factions), towards dubious ends. Similar stunts have taken place before under the auspices of so-called NGOs – which turn out to be little more than fronts for the United States and the European Union.
The National Endowment for Democracy – which organised and paid for the Iran Tribunal – is a case in point. The NED is in fact a not very covert operation run by the CIA. This is from an Information Clearing House interview with a former CIA agent: “The NED is supposedly a private, non-government, non-profit foundation, but it receives a yearly appropriation from the US Congress. The money is channelled through four ‘core foundations’. These are the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (linked to the Democratic Party); the International Republican Institute (Republican Party); the American Centre for International Labour Solidarity; and the Centre for International Private Enterprise (US Chamber of Commerce).”1
The NED’s NGO status provides the fiction that recipients of its largesse are receiving ‘private’ rather than US government money. The LewRockwell.com website explains this further:
“Washington’s formula for regime change underwent a makeover in the 1980s. In a bid to ensure US political and economic interests were safeguarded, CIA-backed coup d’etats ousted democratically elected leaders from Iran to Chile. In their place were brutal dictatorships and governments that committed heinous crimes against their people … The concept of democracy promotion is simple: finance, train, and politically back local opposition forces around the world that support the American agenda.
“On this very subject Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to former secretary of state Colin Powell said, ‘We do this through surrogates and non-governmental organisation and through people who are less suspecting of the evil that may lurk behind their actions than perhaps they were before. Have we learned some lessons in that regard? You bet! Do we do it better? You bet! Is it still just as heinous as it has always been? You bet!’ So, while the goal remains the same, it is no longer the CIA, but the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and its partners spearheading the effort.”2
The NED is also heavily involved in Egypt. According to the Los Angeles Times, “In Egypt, the four US organisations under attack for fomenting unrest with illegal foreign funding were all connected to the endowment [NED]. Two – the GOP’s International Republican Institute and the Democratic Party’s National Democratic Institute – are among the groups that make up the endowment’s core constituents. The two other indicted groups, Freedom House and the International Centre for Journalists, receive funds from the endowment.”3
It should be obvious to anyone claiming to be on the left that genuine human rights, workers’ rights and prisoners’ rights are not the real concern of such an organisation. And the fact that so many former political prisoners of Iran’s Islamic dictatorship, including those who survived the dark days of the 1988 mass murder in Iranian jails, stayed away from the Iran Tribunal charade and wrote extensively on the reasons they did not attend is a credit to the Iranian left – comrades such as Homayoun Ivani, Vazir Fathi, Mojdeh Arassi, Farrokh Ghahremani and many others. The fact that many groups of the exiled Iranian left have chosen to keep silent about this issue – or, worse, have actually supported the tribunal – is a sad reflection of their bankrupt politics.
Sections of the Iranian left, desperate for the overthrow of the Islamic Republic, frustrated by three decades of exile and eager for funding (or even the hope of a place in Iran’s post-Islamic republic future), are determined to cooperate with US-funded groups and meanwhile pretend to be offended by accusations of supping with the devil – they are objectively aiding the drive towards imperialist military intervention against Iran.
Others have simply been duped. Despite long years in Europe or North America, many of these comrades are still not at home with the language of their adopted country … and obsessively write on the internet in Farsi. Many are clearly ignorant of what the NED stands for and some seem even to be unaware of the politics of the Conservative Party, prominent members of which were, of course, involved in the Iran Tribunal.
So, instead of responding to the valid points raised by those of us opposed to this stunt, they attempt to turn the tables. In desperation, organisations such as Rahe Kargar (Heyat Ejraii), which warn of the trap of accepting regime-change funds, are accused of supporting Iran’s Islamic regime! Conspiracy theory was always the forté of some of the individuals and groups going down this route. However, this is really unacceptable behaviour – especially when such accusations are thrown simply as a means of avoiding giving a straight answer to a straight question: what is the role of the NED in this tribunal?
This is definitely the case when it comes to the main group supporting the tribunal: one of the many Fedayeen Minority factions – this time the one headed by a comrade Tavakol. Those of us who know this former member of the central committee of Fedayeen are not surprised that the man who believed socialism can be built in Iran with the help of Soviet industrial might is now ready to accept regime-change funds (not just for the Iran Tribunal, but also for a feminist website associated with his group, Shahrzad News). Apparently anyone who does not understand the ‘revolutionary’ logic of accepting such handouts must be an agent of the Islamic regime!
For others, such as Rahe Kargar (Comite Markazi), who have in recent times taken a distance from revolutionary politics, justifying the NED’s close connection with the tribunal comes easy. The fact that the tribunal’s chair is directly associated with the NED is merely ‘coincidence’. They too claim that those like Rahe Kargar (Comite Ejrai) who have exposed these links are covertly supporting the Islamic regime.
A Comite Markazi central committee leaflet (in Farsi) states that because the Iran Tribunal is a “single-issue campaign” it does not need to take a position on the danger of imperialist military attack.4 First of all, at a time when war threatens to devastate Iran – with serious, unpredictable consequence for the Middle East and the world – single-issue campaigns seem a bit irrelevant. However, in this particular case the problem is far worse: irrespective of the ignorance of some, the Iran Tribunal has become an integral part of the plans for regime change.
In this respect the response of one of the tribunal’s main spokespersons to a question posed by a TV reporter is illuminating. In response to the seemingly naive question, “Why aren’t the organisers of the tribunal taking a position regarding the threat of war against Iran, when asked to do so?”, a tribunal spokesperson replied: “We are not a political organisation. That is why we didn’t take a position on the issue of war.” Yet at the end of the same interview the worthy spokesperson remarks: “Oh yes, we are for the overthrow of the Islamic regime.” So being against war is political, but calling for the overthrow of the Islamic regime isn’t?
A third set of arguments relies on such stupid ideas that, out of respect for readers of this paper, I will not go into too much detail about them. But to give you an idea of their banality, let me quote a sentence from someone who defends NED sponsorship: “NGOs do not necessarily follow the policies of the governments that fund them.”
This might sometimes be true, but it is clearly not so with the NED. Here is what George W Bush said of the NED on the occasion of its 20th anniversary in November 2003, six months after the invasion of Iraq: “I’m glad that Republicans and Democrats and independents are working together to advance human liberty.” He ended his address this way: “Each of you at this endowment is fully engaged in the great cause of liberty. And I thank you. May god bless your work.”5
So let us reiterate the facts. The Iran Tribunal is backed by NED funds and there is no doubt about the NED’s role in the US. There are dozens of sites promoting its work and they all verify what we have written. The NED is not just another NGO.
The Obama administration budgeted $80 million for it in 2009, according to the White House website and, of course, US radical and progressive sites are full of detailed reports about the NED, its funding and its raison d’être. Prominent US intellectuals have certainly exposed its close connections with the CIA.
NED funding was not our only concern. There was also the question of the legal team, which consisted of an impressive group of rightwingers. Sir Geoffrey Nice is associated with the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission. John Cooper QC is another Tory luminary on the panel.
I have heard it said that the reason the intellectuals and lawyers involved are not radical is “because we don’t live in the 1960s and 70s”. Apparently there are no radical leftwing academics nowadays. I have news for those who think like that: not only are there many US academics, intellectuals and writers who consider themselves leftwing and oppose imperialism without having any illusions in Islamic fundamentalism; some have set up an alternative to the NED. They have called their NGO (set up with very limited funds) the International Endowment for Democracy. It was set up in 2006 and is “a new foundation of progressive American scholars, lawyers and activists dedicated to promoting real democracy in the country that needs it most: the USA.”6
Their website was created to “critique the anti-democratic work of the National Endowment for Democracy” and supporters include: Bertell Ollman, the founder and president, author of many works on Marx; the late Howard Zinn, author of A people’s history of the US; political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal; Annette Rubinstein, a lecturer at the New York Marxist School; Gore Vidal, author of numerous essays, novels and plays; Ellen Meiksins Wood, author of Democracy against capitalism; David Harvey, author of The new imperialism; and so on. So the world has not lost all its radical and progressive lawyers, academics and intellectuals: they just do not happen to support the ‘non-political’ rightwing agenda of the NED and its Iran Tribunal. On the contrary, they are actually very much involved in exposing such dubious projects and their CIA funders.
Some have asked how the Iranian left can be so stupid not to see where all this is leading. I am afraid the answer to this question is not that simple. Yes, some are ignorant of the facts, while other do not follow non-Iranian affairs, viewing world politics through a single lens: that of opposition to Iran’s Islamic regime. Of course, the regime has created such a hell on earth that one can understand the motivation of such people and their thirst for justice. However, imperialism and its sponsored NGOs do not sympathise with the mainly leftwing political prisoners who were massacred in their thousands in the summer of 1988 – what did they say then when the executions were actually taking place, when socialist opponents of the regime were being targeted by regime death squads? Why is it that they have suddenly become interested in the events of more than two decades ago? It is no coincidence that the Iran Tribunal took place at the height of western propaganda, at the time when the spectre of war overshadows all issues relating to Iran.
That is why we point the finger not at the naive and ignorant, but at those amongst the Iranian left who have been corrupted by regime-change funds – unprincipled groups moving rapidly to the right. These types are impressed by the rise of the former leftwinger, Jalal Taleban, now the president of Iraq, and can imagine themselves eventually occupying high office in Tehran. No doubt some of them actually believe their actions will benefit the working class, oppressed women, the Kurdish people … However, when members of the ‘vanguard’ accept imperialist funds they have truly crossed the line.
Finally, because Hands Off the People of Iran has been the butt of much criticism for our principled stance on the Iran Tribunal, let me repeat the three basic tenets of our campaign: No to imperialist war! No to sanctions! No to the theocratic regime! I would like to use this opportunity to thank comrades – in particular former political prisoners – who have supported us in the face of the barrage of insults from the spineless left.
We have said it many times and I emphasise it again: we are for the revolutionary overthrow of the Islamic republic – all its factions, all its structures. But this can only be achieved from below, through mass action. Any other type of regime change – a coup d’etat, replacement by military action, the coming to power of the many-coloured alliances or configurations proposed by the US and its allies – will have one major victim: the Iranian working class. In the capitalist world we live in, only fools and those in search of political positions can envisage ‘liberation’ through the NED.
1. ‘Former CIA agent tells how US infiltrates “civil society” to overthrow governments’: www.informationclearinghouse.info/article4332.htm.www.rahekaregar.com/elamiye/2012/06/22/el_iran_teribunal.pdf.