Thursday, April 29, 2010

Khiaban No. 66: Tehran at Center of Struggle

Translation of a lead article from the latest Khiaban newspaper.

Tehran at the Center of Struggle
Government: Tehran will be butcher
Society: Tehran will be recreated

by Amir K.
Khiaban #66 / Tuesday, April 20, 2010

In recent days, Ahmadinejad proposed a contentious plan. Using the excuse of possible earthquakes in Tehran, Ahmadinejad's faction is talking about a plan for the largest mass population transfer/relocation in Iran's history. He has announced that more than five million of Tehran's residents must be relocated to other places, and all the nation's existing structures must be reorganized accordingly. One of the early phases of this plan includes the transfer of all universities to locations outside Tehran. Ahmadinejad's view of the future is this: by relocating certain of Tehran's functions out, people will also accompany those functions and leave the city. This plan clearly demonstrates the importance of Tehran as the most crucial focal point of the current juncture. Everything is tied to Tehran.

Today's Tehran has been the historical product of the growth of modern Iran. Tehran could not have taken its current form without the presence of despotic governments in Iran that have shaped it: a small ancient town, which was chosen as the capital and was turned into the center of power with all its requisite institutions. From the centrality of government departments and offices and the banks, to the security forces, as well as higher education and research and medical institutions and hospitals, to communications systems. However much of a mega-city Tehran might be, and though it has been the seat of power to the kings and the clergy, the modern urban mentality in Iran was usually found in other centers, which were closer to modern production. That same mentality nurtured a demand for a new way of life and with its human agents would target despotic governments. Tabriz in the Constitutional Revolution (1905-11) and a constellation of southern cities in the 1978-79 Revolution were the centers of that urban mentality, which, by becoming gun-wielding Constitutionalists or striking oil workers, respectively turned into the end points of the Qajar dynasty and the house of Pahlavi.

Tehran of 2009 (1388, Iranian calendar), however, was a newly born Tehran in the history of Iran. For the first time, the ruling class was caught in a street storm in Tehran. This new Tehran is a Tehran that is the product of the late dynamics of world capitalism and domestic capital as a moment of its global totality. Tehran is no longer necessarily only the seat of power for the government; it is a ripe sample of a neo-liberal mega-city. A new system has emerged, in which the concept of state and citizens/subjects has changed, and a new composition of relations between capital and labor is dominant. Since everything has been economized/commoditized, Tehran has been elevated to a new vanguard location of social production, and it has nurtured within itself a new urban mentality, which cannot tolerate the existing stifling government. A full explanation of recent social economic developments of Tehran, which has led to the current moment, cannot be fitted into this short article. However, we must point out that the current social movement in Iran is tied to Tehran's characteristics and particularities, and the movement's strengths and weaknesses come down to the current situation and position of Tehran in today's Iran. This city has turned into a focal point, whose future direction will shape the fate of the society. Tehran, much like the political arena in Iran, is faced with three urban management plans: Ahmadinejad's plan, the Green plan, and a plan that is socially oriented or socialist.

Ahmadinejad's plan contains within it the program of some parts of the ruling classes, who currently hold the political power. The total uprooting of the people's revolution is tied mainly to the destruction of its objective conditions of existence. This new urban mentality, which like a monster has risen to challenge the ruling mullahs, will have to be controlled by destroying the political geography that gave rise to it. It is therefore not bewildering that Ahmadinejad would propose such a plan. The expulsion of the university from the city as well as the relocation of productive units, and consequently the transfer of urban labor forces to other locations, seeking to guarantee the Supreme Leader's subjects the ability to reside in the capital, along with the total management of the different urban layers, is Ahmadinejad's answer to their current predicament. His fascistic plan has objective conditions for existing also. Tehran is a problematic, a complication. It is a big can of worms that a majority of its residents would admit to it being so. Ahmadinejad is counting on Islamic Goebbels, so as to mobilize certain layers of the society in support of his fascistic plan.

The Green, or reformists', urban plan is completely similar to their Green political plans. Nothing will be touched or moved from its current place. All will be as before. Just like those past golden days, when they (today's reformists) were in power. In politics, they support not touching the constitution, and in urban matters they support not touching Tehran. They are part of the ruling class, but a part that does not share in political power at the moment. Today's Tehran, just like the current constitution, has elevated them to their current class heights. If Tehran with its current arrangement ceases to exist, how could they make huge profits? How could everything be packaged and sold? How will the markets for parts companies and auto companies be provided? If there were no Tehran, how could they sell overcrowding and market shares for housing, and how could they commodify everything, including healthcare, and sell them to make more profits? They have become ruling elites in the existing Tehran, and only this Tehran will recreate the conditions for them to remain ruling elites. Therefore, since they avoid raising 'death to' slogans, their slogan is this: Long Live Current Tehran! Just like their political slogan is: Long Live Islamic Republic!

A socially oriented plan, however, does not start with the interests of the ruling elites. It starts from the interests of the society. Tehran's existing situation simultaneously facilitates and obstructs the movement of the people toward freedom and equality. The very urban mentality that carries the political movement against the ruling government carries with it also the mark of the unequal fabric that governs the totality of our society. The cafes, books, bookstores and the learning halls, which help in shaping that modern urban mentality, are not available to lots of people. In Tehran itself, large segments of people experience the city only in its margins. Lack of rationality, which now rules over the city, grinds away billions of hours of the citizens' lives in traffic instead of spent on the citizens' productive, cultural and social growth and development. It is life in tiny rented rooms, deprived of decent standards of living, that has caused a huge segment of these very urban dwellers to pour onto the streets in an uprising against the ruling misery. On another level, Tehran has been built up at the cost of the deprivation of provincial towns and cities. Concentration of capital in Tehran, concentration of construction and development in Tehran, concentration of research and educational institutions in Tehran, concentration of everything in Tehran, has on its other side the deprivation of the rest of the social fabric. If in Baluchestan the dissident leaders are violent Islamic fundamentalists while in Tehran women students carrying stones, this is due to the large schism between the center and the periphery. A socially oriented plan cannot accept the continuation of the existing conditions, since it is these very conditions that block people from achieving what they need. Tehran and the whole of society need a new organizational re-arrangement. However, socially oriented transformation has fundamental differences with fascistic machinations. Yes, we too say that several existing institutions' existence in Tehran is harmful. However, instead of expelling the universities from the city, we should abolish the Revolutionary Guards bases and Basiji garrisons. Instead of relocating workers to satellite townships without any facilities, and instead of the city remaining in the hands of the military-security-industrial rulers, the city must belong to the urban laboring forces. [Additionally] the center-periphery distinction must be brought to an end.

A social revolution will be the evolution of Tehran's street movement to a widespread and universal social flourishing.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Khiaban No. 64: Self-Organization or Strengthening Social Networks?

Translation of a lead article from the latest Khiaban newspaper (#64).

Self-Organization or Strengthening Social Networks?
by Amir K.
Khiaban #64 / Monday, March 29, 2010

What is self-organization? Maybe it is better to start with the opposite. If we don't organize ourselves, others do it. Self-organization therefore is in opposition to being organized by others.

Let me give some examples. In many social spheres in daily life, we are organized by other people. Look at our jobs. In general, a great part of most people's lives is organized in jobs and workplaces, which are not managed by us. At work, we are placed in particular levels [of responsibility] defined by a small group. We therefore pursue goals set by our jobs' organization, which have not been determined by us. We perform tasks that have been assigned to us. At chosen times, we punch in our time cards to start work, and at designated hours we punch out.

Look at our cities and our places of living. Our lives are organized in a particular spatial arrangement, in the planning and production of which we have had no roles. The fact that you may live in an apartment development in the outskirts of the city, and have to wake up before sunrise and spend two to four hours a day in traffic, and in order to survive expend effort for eight to twelve hours in your workplace, all this gives life an organization that has been imposed by 'others'.

You may know, there are days [in Iran] called 'yom allah', organized in schools by school administrators. There are ceremonies, speeches, decorations in the hallways and classrooms, there are sweets handed out and prizes to this or that hand picked few, all of it organized very well. However, International Day of Women/March 8th, or Worker's Day/May 1st, or many other 'controversial' days don't spark the interests of those 'others' to organize. Billions upon billions are spent on organizing military and security companies and firms, but in many spheres needed by the society no budgets are allocated to organize them.

Maybe now self-organization can be understood better. Self-organization then is not everybody's problematic. Those who are currently involved in organizing the society don't much like the society to find self-organization. They benefit from the current organization of the society; an organization that comes with profits for them, and catastrophe for a majority. Self-organization is the organization of ordinary citizens by themselves and for achieving goals that they have set themselves.

In principle, organizing is a function of a collective goal. The collective goal in self-organization comes out of the needs of the people who form that organization, and by necessity and by definition are in contrast/opposition to the existing and dominant organizations. This is because self-organization does not follow the interests of those 'others'. It follows the interests and the wellbeing of the 'self'. If the ruling system has organized women's lives in such a way that they spend their days in the kitchen, taking care of their kids, cleaning and dusting, and filling their seeming leisure time watching superficial TV series so that they remain obedient, imprisoned and unwaged workers, women's own needs and dreams however bring forth other goals for their lives, and if women organized themselves, they would pursue these goals in a collective manner.

Self-organization gives those who work, those who are unemployed, those who are kept in the margins, the outcasts and the cursed, and any other oppressed and exploited group, the ability to determine their goals themselves and to struggle collectively to achieve them.

Self-organizing is a foundational/creative act. A group of people founds a society for a particular goal; goals which are determined by them, and they create the modes of their own organizing. Self-organizing is also a combative action. It intends to take back those spheres and domains that the class system has expropriated from these groups. It is therefore not without reason that many [commentators] would remain silent about self-organization. But, what is their alternative?

The fashionable phrase 'social networks and how to strengthen them' is a familiar one, no? It is rare to come across an article, some text or call for action or statement in relation to the opposition movement and not see social networks not mentioned as the suggested and prescribed form of social action for the movement. Using this phrase, however, is not without reason. Social networks are neutral. Except for pomp and fanfare this concept carries nothing, and it does not open up a definite direction or path toward creating a new society.

Each of us is placed within a collection of social interactions. [For example] in a network of relatives, in a network of coworkers, a network of fans of this football club or that film director. These networks exist. In any of the most undeveloped all the way to the most advanced human societies, you can draw several different social networks. The concept 'social network' says nothing about the nature and inner workings of injustice, oppression and discrimination. And it is not an alternative to those. Networks are shaped based on the current system and how an existing society works, and they could change with them. Networks do not necessarily follow any consciously determined goals. You are not determining any specific goals when along with your relatives you are defined as a member of a family network.

Social networks are not acts that create or found new things. They are a continuation of the status quo. In any factory [in Iran, for example], there exists a network of relationships among those who work there. However, in rare factories can you see any organization of the employees (be they unions or councils, a syndicate or a public assembly, or ... ) created by themselves and in order to pursue their own goals. Therefore, the slogan to strengthen social networks in effect will have no benefits for those who work in such places.

Strengthening social networks is not a combative act, either. It has no animosity with any person or setup or system, and it cannot have any such antagonism. In the concept of social networks there is no element of confrontation or conflict between 'us' and 'them', and there is no goal-driven 'organization'. Network is a white concept. Neutral. It is fancy speechifying, but empty of any specific idea of struggling in concrete conditions. 'Social networks' has not entered the discourse of many because it lacks anything to say and any plans or platforms, but precisely because it can be used to mask social conflicts and struggles, to mask any confrontation of opinions and interests, and to mask the division of the society into dominant and dominated groups.

People's victory depends on their self-organization. This principle is not to deny the role of political parties or the role of leadership, a discussion that will be dealt with in another writing. But it must be said in brief that 'our' political parties are also a result of our self-organization. People's self-organization has different forms and complexities. Self-organization can encompass the efforts of a group of people in a factory or a company to secure the rights of the group members, or the collective attempts of a group to disseminate gender awareness among women in the form of a magazine, or a larger, more complex organization that works in the form of a political party that puts forth a particular program for organizing the entire society. We will return to this issue in the future.