Reading Hayek in Tehran

Reading Hayek in Tehran
Comment: Left-wingers around the world may have been pleased by the election of 'reformist' Rouhani, but Iran's power structures have the leftists in their sights, writes Soheil Asefi.
6 min read
26 Oct, 2015
Iran is tackling leftists after the nuclear deal by reaffirming its grip on society [AFP]

"Regrettably, the remains of Socialist ideas and a hatred of Capitalism more or less continue to exist in our society."

Who do you think might have said these words? No, it was not US Senator Joseph McCarthy speaking in the 1950s.

It was "the anticipations" of Mahmoud Alavi, an Iranian cleric, politician and the minister of intelligence in Hassan Rouhani's government in Iran, as foreign investors are flooding to Khomeini International airport and some brutal western sanctions are being suspended.

Crackdown on civil society

In the meantime, privatisation in the Islamic Republic of Iran has entered a new phase with an Iranian version of the structural adjustment programme.

This includes the free market mechanisms of privatisation, deregulation of the labour market, flotation of the currency and deregulation of prices becoming more central to the policies of the current theocracy ruling Iran.

At the same time, a fresh wave of crackdowns on civil society in Iran and the violation of human rights in the post-deal era has been lost amid news of "the Iran deal" - and of foreign investors trying to tap into the country.

As the school year begins in Iran. the demands to release seven teachers detained for peaceful union activities is growing. The Ministry of Intelligence attacked two homes in Tehran and Karaj and arrested at least five student activists and transferred them to the notorious Evin Prison.

Prior to this, the death of Shahrokh Zamani, one of the most well-known and respected imprisoned labour activists in Gohardasht (Rajai Shahr) Prison in the city of Karaj, came as shocking news to social and political activists within the country and the diaspora.

Shahrokh was a member of the founding board of the Syndicate of Paint Workers of Tehran and the Committee to Pursue the Establishment of Workers' Organisations. A few months before his death, in a letter from prison, Zamani addressed "the labour organisations of Iran and the world".

     A new wave of diatribes and historical misrepresentations against the left have also emerged

Following his death behind bars, the crackdown on independent labour activists and trade unionists in what has been called "the last major closed market in the world" continues.

The Iranian Writers' Association has also been a target of the "moderate" papers on the one hand, and the security services on the other. The IWA has historically been the abode of a number of prominent Iranian leftist intellectuals and progressive authors.

It was banned and has been under extreme pressure under both the shah's regime and that of the Islamic Republic.

Anti-left hysteria

A new wave of diatribes and historical misrepresentations against the left have also emerged in the neoliberal religious-reformist newspapers here. The latest - which has sparked off an intense debate - was a slanderous article on the anniversary of the 1975 execution of Bijan Jazani and his comrades.

Jazani was a major figure among modern Iranian socialist intellectuals. The cover of a popular "cultural" neoliberal monthly, Mehrnameh, featured a picture of the late Jazani under the headline: "The terrorist intellectuals."

Along the same lines, a few days after "the Iran deal" was announced, state TV once again aired the notorious so-called confessions of the leaders of the Tudeh Party [The Communist Party] in the darkest days of repression and massacre in the 1980s.

It is reported that the supreme leader has asked state TV to "educate" young people

"Marxist and communist groups did not use cogent thoughts and arguments and forced their ideas on their members," Khamenei reportedly said. "If there is any truth in the news regarding rebirth of Marxist movements in some of Iran's universities, there is for sure American funding supporting it, and it is to divide the students."  

Khamenei also said that he had known many Tudeh Party leaders from the past and seeing their confessions on TV, denying their own beliefs, had surprised him.

"The students should learn these lessons," he reportedly said. In the mid-1990s, Noureddin Kianouri, the party's former general secretary - under house arrest with his wife and comrade Maryam Firooz until end of their lives - wrote an open letter to Khamenei, detailing the horrific torture of himself and his wife alongside other top leaders of the party while in the Islamic Republic's prisons.

Therefore, it is not a big surprise if Abbas Milani, an Iranian pundit from the Hoover Institution referred to as "a great historian" in the reformist papers and diaspora Persian media, has become a star of one of the pro-Rafsanjani papers within Iran.

It is not surprising that, at the same time, many independent and Marxist intellectuals and journalists have been banned or face stark restrictions in the newspapers inside Iran.

The interview with Milani published a few years ago which was supposed to be about Iran's intellectual movement was criticised by a number of prominent Iranian writers and intellectuals within the country and the diaspora.

Along the same lines, Hesamedin Ashena, a professor at Emam Sadegh university - which is known to be affiliated with the intelligence apparatus - where many Sepah (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) have graduated from appeared on the cover of these papers.

He was recently featured on the cover of Andisheh-ye-Pouya ["Dynamic Idea"], one of the magazines of the neoliberal forces within Iran. The magazine is pro-Iran's "moderate" government - like a number of other "reformist" publications.

A dishevelled Ashena looking like other typical Islamic Republic politicians, is the subject of an article called Drinking a cup of Espresso with President Rouhani's adviser. In large type, the cover quotes Ashena: "Rouhani's project is to decontaminate Iran of the leftist disease."  

Appointed by Rouhani as his adviser for cultural affairs, Ashena was one of Rouhani's campaign managers and ironically introduced the famous "key" that came to symbolise his campaign.

Normalisation versus democratisation

Nevertheless, evidence has shown that demands such as unemployment insurance, public health insurance, free education, a proportionate increase in wages, affordable housing or rent according to income, the right to establish independent unions, unionised workers, minimum wages in line with inflationary rises, and workers' participation in management of economic entities, collective agreements for work, cultural and entertainment facilities for all have been rooted in the foundations of socialist ideas and years of struggle for freedom and social justice in Iran.

Thus it is not irrelevant if Saed Hajarian, a former intelligence officer and a known Iranian reformist political strategist, has said that Rouhani's mission has never been "democratisation", but "normalisation".

Contrary to what a number of mainstream human rights activists expected from recent upheaval and the "moderate" government in Tehran, recent policies and actions by the Islamic Republic certainly support Hajarian's claim.

Soheil Asefi is a 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 al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.