Iran's 'resistance economy' dries out in neoliberal rehab

Iran's 'resistance economy' dries out in neoliberal rehab
Comment: As the big game hits the headlines once again, a look at the "Resistance Economy" in Iran gives us a clearer picture of the ongoing upheavals, writes Soheil Asefi.
6 min read
30 Jun, 2016
The Iranian version of the 'Resistance Economy' comes with historic precedent [Getty]

Iranians have been marking 27 years since the death of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Although for a number of people this occasion is a time to go outside the capital to relax, this year, a crowd gathered in Khomeini's shrine, to chant "death to America".

Nevertheless, the commemoration of Khomeini's legacy, both in the ruling theocracy and its pro-West opposition is still the time they choose to pursue their specific agenda regarding the transformation of power and capital in post-revolutionary Iran.

The Khomeini-Washington big game

While the dropping of Iran sanctions has been described as "the biggest thing for the global economy since the Berlin Wall fell", the pro-West Persian media - particularly BBC Persian - has lately faced more attention from Tehran.

Iran's highest-ranking official has been making statements about such provocations. One of the latest was about a recent story by BBC Persian, "Two Weeks in January: America's secret engagement with Khomeini."

There is nothing unexpected in the newly declassified US government documents released by Washington in early June. Though when Rouhani comes under fire from "hardliners" for concessions made to the West over "the Iran deal", the BBC story might be seen as a generous dedication to the "moderate" government.

The nitty-gritty of the story comes down to the same old wheeling and dealing of the Islamists under the leadership of Khomeini and his Western-educated advisers. Once he established power, he outed several as the fixers of the Western plot to curb the nascent revolution and help the agents of the West in the Cold War era.

During a period in which Iran was entirely engulfed in anti-Shah protests and the regime's weakness and impending collapse was increasingly evident, the crunch came with the decision to use political Islam against the left - and, as a result, to prevent any potential influence emerging from the USSR.

It's not a huge surprise that the British propaganda machine reminds the current supreme leader of his former counterpart

The scenario to implement the "Islamic Green Belt theory" - promulgated by Carter's National Security Council under Brzezinski to halt Soviet expansion in the region - affected the direction of the upheavals, when the Iranian people were giving their eye teeth to topple Carter's "island of stability".

Nevertheless, years later, it's not a huge surprise that the British propaganda machine reminds the current supreme leader of his former counterpart who was ready to humiliate himself in front of what he called "the Great Satan" to achieve US support.

Portraying the future Islamic Republic of Iran as an ally of the United States, BBC Persian quoted Khomeini: "You will see we are not in any particular animosity with the Americans."

Resistance economy

Predictably, the initial reaction of Khamenei was to dismiss the whole story as another dirty trick by British-US forces against "the pure Imam". Putting the apparently well-supported logic of anti-hegemonic rhetoric aside, what made it a real parody was his support of the current economic policy of Rouhani's "moderate" government as the embodiment of "resistance economy".

The term was first used in 2005 in relation to the Gaza Strip. Imposing western sanctions on Iran to bring its people to their knees is another example of the use of the term "resistance economy".

Though the response has emphasised reliance on domestic capacities, reducing dependence on oil exports and developing barter trade and an import substitution industrialisation, Tehran's economic policy package is devoid of specific development plans or industrialisation projects.

The president and most of his economic advisers subscribe to an economic doctrine that frowns upon government intervention in economic affairs - unless such interventions help "pave the way" for unfettered market operations.

At the same time, while Iran's supreme leader called the US "The Great Satan" during his speech at Khomeini's tomb, David Lipton - the IMF's first deputy managing director - was lecturing the ayatollah's officials on how to return more smoothly into the arms of "The Great Satan" itself.

"I would like to thank Governor Seif and the other officials who have made this visit possible - especially Iran's executive director at the IMF," he said on a recent visit. "So many of you have contributed to the long and important relationship between Iran and the IMF. I speak here today at a pivotal moment for Iran's economy. With important sanctions lifted, your country has a new opportunity to deepen its integration into the global economy."

Interestingly, Lipton's advice to Tehran involves reminding officials of the necessity of continuing the IMF's agenda in Iran. This was shortly before the IMF's self-criticism, when after empowering the one percent and impoverishing millions, the IMF admitted neoliberalism was a failure.

However, the inevitable aftermath of the historic sellout, aka "the Iran deal" - which was never a peace deal - could do nothing other than bear such fruit.

While Khamenei said "merging a country's economy with the global economy is not an honoir, but a damage", Ibrahim Razaghi, professor of economics at Tehran University, stated that 65 percent of the country's food was imported:

"By implementing liberal policy in Iran, unemployment rates are skyrocketing, while the most liberal countries such as the US, the UK and France are supporting their domestic production, our administration supports foreign manufacturing."

According to Iran Economist, Ali Tayebnia, Tehran's minister of economic affairs and finance recently asked for more significant direct foreign investment.

In the meantime, while Khamenei maintains that "economic independence will only be achieved through the economy of resistance", Iran said it had started preliminary talks to obtain loans worth a total of at least $1.5 billion from the World Bank for the country's small and medium-sized businesses.

Thus, Jeffrey Sachs, the known UN "humanitarian" neoliberal shock trooper, who had a significant role in integrating Poland and Bolivia's economy into the global market economy in the late 1980s, is now on his way to Tehran.

The question is whether the new oil contracts are able to secure Iran's national interests

Recent secret oil contracts are also another area in which one can see signs of the "resistance economy". The decision by the 55th General Assembly Meeting of Iran's Central Bank regarding the post-"Iran Deal" era has been sharply criticised by independent observers.

The question which needs to be addressed is whether the new oil contracts are able to secure Iran's national interests in terms of Iran's share of production.

The key players in the new oil contracts, including Oil Minister Bijan Zangeneh, believe that the only way to get out of the current state of underdevelopment of national oil corporations and the oil ministry is the growth of private oil companies and the opening up of the industry to multinationals.

Decoding the Iranian version of "the resistance economy" as part of neoliberal globalisation in the global South points to some historical continuity.

The similarities between the Khomeini-Washington effort to curb a revolution include when Ibrahim Yazdi, the first Iranian minister of foreign affairs, played a significant role in the US-Khomeini collaboration in shaping the outcome of the 1979 revolution. The agenda of Javad Zarif, his current successor, is just some of the evidence for Yazdi's contribution.

Nevertheless, in spite of the statement put out in early June by Iran's labour minister in Geneva: "We have taken several unprecedented steps in Iran as the ties between employers and employees have never been any closer before," the facts speak to a different narrative. 

The bodies of seventeen Iranian gold miners, each of whom sentenced to 100 lashes for protesting against their sudden lay-off, must become a point of political subjectivity.

The flogging took place this month, just in time to welcome the internationally "rehabilitated" Iran back into "the international community".

Soheil Asefi is an independent journalist based in New York. Follow him on Twitter: @SoheilAsefi

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.