Thursday, September 3, 2009

Khiaban No. 40: For Organizing

Translation of an article by Milad S., a regular contributor to the Khiaban newspaper. Thanks to the sender! 
(You can see pdf uploads of Khiaban newspaper

For Organizing
By Milad S.
Khiaban #40 / Monday, August 24, 2009

1. In the current struggle, the main force is the people. 'The people' means the laboring forces, the industrial workers, teachers and students, employees of the health and services sectors and the office workers, university students, the unemployed and the poor. Different segments of the population have joined the street protests to different degrees; ranging from general mobilization in some parts to hesitance and waiting in other parts.

The foundational principle is that the laboring forces, in widely varied working situations and at times without cultural or organizational continuity in a country consisting of different peoples, do not need centralized guidelines; rather, they need a multiplicity of guidelines, kinds and fields of activities. Therefore, based on the heterogeneous conditions of the existence for laboring forces, the first principle of organizing is the definiteness of place.

This principle has two components. Undoubtedly, organizing industrial workers and organizing low-ranking office workers/staff or teachers are subjected to different circumstances, their demands too vary, and likewise the situation in a small town in Kurdistan is not the same as those in the country's capital. In the course of the collective overall organization of these demands, this heterogeneity of places rediscover each other through all-encompassing demands and move in the same direction. The decisive factor here is that this co-direction of the movement which based on its logic is a passing phenomenon, does not eliminate the place-specific multiplicity of demands.

The second component of the principle is the logic of belonging. If we expend effort for the betterment of life in a specific neighborhood, the Shiite and the Baha'i, the Jewish and the Muslim, women and men, they all belong to this neighborhood. If we are attempting to organize a strike in a factory, the Afghan workers, the Baluchi and Khuzestani workers too work in that factory, in that location. This belonging to this very place must be obtained as a right in its real effectiveness.

2. The second point is about the difference between organizations of intellectuals or supporters of the communist ideal and the people's organizations. At this historical moment and due to the existence of new communications capabilities, forming of a network comprising numerous small groups of communists, and creation of a minimum of coordination based on collective understanding and agreement is possible and more adaptable for social action. A weakness of this type of work is the time it takes to reach collective agreements; obviously a centralized leadership can reach decisions more quickly. In my view, however, this weakness can be compensated for with the improvement of the means of communication, especially with the help of the infrastructure available outside the country. On the other hand, the very process of reaching collective decisions and agreements is part of the very definition, and distinguishing feature, of the communists' work. In this very process, we can correct the tone and content of our ideas. In other words, the central committee is this very pluralistic network, the communist ideal is the work of independent organizing of the people, and the polit-bureau too is the collective decisions.

However, these communist groups are not the same as the people's independent organizations. The goal of the organization of labor force is putting forward people's demands and creating conditions for intervention in the process of production of social wealth. Groups of communist activists either bring forth the idea of forming these organizations, or in their actions they attempt to belong to such organizations or to their leadership. To imagine that the mere formation of a communist group, reading some books and engaging in theoretical discussions is the same as communist activity is completely mistaken. The end result of the communists' work should be the organization of the people. Any theory, any level of competence in discussing the details of the French or the October Revolution, or any sociological theory can help our work and help solidify our knowledge of organizing, but these cannot replace the people's organizations. An association of communists is only a part of the people's organizations. If this principle is not forgotten, the group itself can find ways of avoiding cliquishness and ossification of their internal relations. In some experiences, for example, in order to reduce the danger of becoming a closed circle, simple formal mechanisms have been used, such as limiting the number of members to an odd number, e.g. three, five or seven to a group. The oddness of number disturbs an internal relations based on pair relations and symbiosis to a certain extent. Another experience is that when unanimity of ideas is impossible while the conditions are pressing, based on a lottery, one person is chosen as the leader for a short period of time, such as several weeks. This person's role is to cast the decisive vote when a group cannot reach consensus. This role is completely based on drawing lots, and not on any individual characteristics of the person. Specific actions: writing and distribution of night-fliers; or creating a preliminary cell in order to form a workers' organization in a factory, or in order to create a support fund for teachers' or university students' organizations, in order to create a secret or publicly announced local free health clinic or a free school; or any other project that is needed and doable, is an effort directed toward presence in a people's organization in their places of work or living.

3. Organizing of people is not a means or a tool; organizing the people around time- and place-specific demands is the realization of the communist movement. In today's Iran, this very principle is in fact the only way out of the endemic crisis that has engulfed all the social spheres. To escape this historical crisis, no device or technique deployed by the state will solve the problems. The people's organized presence, without any ideological affixes or titles, is not only the dam blocking the way of the capitalist state apparatuses' aggression against the people's livelihood and integrity, but today even their body. These organizations of the labor force, and the possibility of their spread to the poor, is the way out of the crisis for the entirety of the society.

To clarify the principle of the independent organization of people, a line must be drawn against a phenomenon that has become prevalent in the last two decades. NGOs, or Non-Governmental Organizations, are deeply ideological structures. The boundaries of NGO activities are defined by the space separating the state power from the particular interests of different socio-cultural groups in society. This space, the civil society, has been defined in contrast to the private space based on private property, and in contrast to the state as the public discourse. This definition and this position, is historically specific to bourgeois societies. It is now decades since, in advanced capitalist societies, capital itself has obliterated the boundaries between the private space and the public domain.

Today, capital is extremely social and no bourgeois is anywhere in sight; today, the suburb itself is a factory for producing surplus value. Capital has left no room for civil society, and there are no neutral or separating spaces in their bourgeois sense. Besides, capital's progress has never shied from aggression against the private space or the public/social resources. Contrary to what the orthodox would say, cultural products and creations, including cultural identities too, are not super-structural things. I don't understand the meaning of 'super-structure' exactly. The dominant culture, the media and visual representations today are part of the cycle of production and accumulation of profit in a modern society; sexuality, historical traditions and even childhood are commoditized and are spheres of investment. Today, the defense of civility does not occur in the suspended space between the state and capital. Exactly for this reason, a true liberal, not these pretences of being liberal in academic environs, but freedom-seekers and those truly against totalitarianism, had better join the communists.

The people's independent organizations are separate from state power, and this independence is gained by them based on their connections to the labor force, to the production process and the places of living. This means that these organizations, in any place where possible, will turn to self-management. To put it more theoretically, the operational space for these organizations is not the 'public space', but a space based on the definition of a common cause while forming these organizations. That which distinguishes the work of communist groups from that of the NGOs is firstly the control that the people assume over their organizations, and secondly going beyond the civil society as an artificial space under the control of capital. Let it be said too that, in my view, in today's Iran the space of social negotiation between particular interests and the state will either rapidly be transformed and move beyond the limits of particular interests, or become an appendage of the state, a charitable activity. As a result, under conditions whereby the existing choices for a communist group is either passivity or engaging in cliquish discussions, being active in such organizations while being aware of their ideological limitations, can help gain an initial experience of social work.

4. Along the same lines, we must pay attention to a misunderstanding. To be a Muslim, either in good faith or just in pretences, doesn't have a jot to do with “Islamic”, as in an adjective for [a particular kind of] social interventionism. Being a Muslim is an individual concern, and we can probably find as many kinds of personal Islamic beliefs as there are Muslims in Iran. One Muslim can be working alongside communists in a popular organization and still remain a very pious human, while another can be a torturer in the basement rooms in the Evin prison. And both could pray five times a day. These beliefs are not the determining criteria for social behavior. The adjective 'Islamic', however, is a completely different creature.

The problem of the Islamists in Iran, both those ruling and those currently condemned, during these past decades is the conflation of the adjective 'Islamic' and being a Muslim. This is an ideological and totalitarian manipulation of some people's Muslim-ness. And all this, based on fiqh [religious jurisprudence], meaning the same legal rulings of the 16th century, which was left behind almost one hundred years ago. A Sixteenth century jurist does what we see they try to do now. He cuts off people's hands in Sattar Khan highway (a highway in Tehran, named after one of the leaders of the Constitutional revolution, 1906, which had abolished religious interference in jurisprudence). So, as you see, for the Islamists, "Islamic democracy" means the Islamist people, whose similarities with being a Muslim occur only in name, and in truth cannot be anything but this state's functionaries, choose the best fitted among themselves, but claim this selection should be valid for all Iranian people. Such an imaginary plan is fundamentally incapable of understanding a thing called 'society'. Let alone democracy.

5. In order to spread a single word among the people, it takes efforts proving that one can be trusted. Those who want to shortcut history, make announcements in the name of the people, and proceed forward by manufacturing public opinion -- they consider people dupes and want them to remain thus. Without having any roots in people's organizations, and without a people who have gained social consciousness in the process of fighting for their rights, calling on the people to engage in massive projects, no matter how radical they may seem, at least for the communists is meaningless.

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