politics, there are different ways of arriving at �what is to be done,� both
practically and theoretically. In the U.S., one frequently practiced method is
to watch the mouths of the imperialists and their ideologues and wait for them
to say something or make some declaration, and then say the exact opposite and
call that an anti-imperialist position; analysis is then retrofitted to justify
The other way is to
start from principles, observe the changes in reality, study the history of the
social forces involved in those changes, and derive your own positions and
demands, based on where you stand in the course of your struggles.
A lot of alarms have
been ringing for the past four or five years, regarding interventionist
strategies taken up by imperialist planners, in which under the guise of �democracy
building,� truer aims of the American power elites (regime change where needed)
are furthered by the CIA or any of the 16 assorted intelligence agencies run by
the U.S. (see: The
Burbank Digest for expos�s on these people).
Large sums of money
have been and are being spent on creating seemingly spontaneously grown
citizens� organizations that shape and give direction to dissent among the
populations overlorded by governments not liked by the U.S. Such �revolutions�
as the 2003 Rose Revolution in Georgia, the 2005 Orange Revolution in Ukraine,
or the 2005 Cedar Revolution in Lebanon are cited as examples of this
�democracy movement� type of moving of pieces by imperialist game planners. It
is natural that, in these half-covert operations, human rights are used as a
Because of this push
by the right into the discursive and practical area of �human rights,� some Western
leftists have abandoned this area of advocacy when it comes to countries they
perceive as being under attack by the imperialists, and, therefore, most talk
of human rights violations in such countries has become taboo, since it
allegedly paves the way for the continuation of the imperialist interventions,
and subjugation of more natives around the world.
Leaving aside the
unjustifiable presuppositions of such a stance, this position completely
yields, uncontested, a major domain of class conflict to the dictates of the
right-wing ideologues, and leaves it completely up to the right-wing fanatics
to frame this issue. Though it seems easy to forget, it is important to bear in
mind that most of the �natives� have been living under brutal social conditions
for a long time, otherwise imperialists would never be able to exploit their
misery in the first place (and here I am talking about places where supposedly
the imperialists are not the direct and immediate overlords).
Ironically, the more
militant members of what I call the �Human Rights? Bah! Humbug!�
faction, actually fight most vehemently against the advocates of human rights
in countries like Iran. So we have a situation where Iranian secularists --
secular liberals, democrats and radical democrats, social democrats and
socialists, supporters of student activists, labor and women�s rights
activists, and all others -- who for the past 30 years have been
fighting for more rights in Iran, not only have a medieval theocratic setup
with vast oppressive capabilities to fight, but now have the Western leftists
to fight as well.
amounts to the first ever anti-solidarity movement I know of, sort of
launched by the Western left. (It�s only �sort of,� since none dares give it
formal expression.) An innovation in �socialist� surrealism.
But just because the
right wing exploits a dire situation, in the process contextualizing �human
rights� in an upside down manner for its own agenda, it does not mean that we
should just drop this concept. What�s wrong with offering our own, leftist,
humanist, emancipatory contextualization of human rights, something that is so
fundamental to our strategic dreams? A contextualization that offers both a
critique of the imperialist abuses of the concept and demands an expanded
concept of human rights everywhere is the true challenge that the Western left
faces in this area, yet seems to be desperately wishing it away.
But, what of the
second road to �what is to be done� about human rights? Start with a basic
principle: Democracy (the real thing, not just having some elections) is
anathema to imperialism. Therefore, when people�s democratic rights are crushed
anywhere, that�s an actual present, or a potential future, victory for
When labor rights
activists in Iran, for example, are jailed, tortured and/or executed for,
judicially speaking, completely absurd �crimes� such as �fighting against god�
(whereas in reality, for example, they�re being persecuted for organizing
against the ravages of capitalism in their locale), this lowers the floor on
the workers� rights and well-being everywhere in Iran, and is to the long-term
benefit of the imperialists (as well as, naturally, to the benefit of the local
capitalists all the time).
When women are kept
under the thumb of an oppressive misogynistic and patriarchal regime, this also
lowers the floor for accepted/acceptable social misery OVERALL (not just for
women), and this is very beneficial for the future or current plans of the
imperialists (not to forget the local capitalist pigs who love it too; what
with the four full-time wives and the infinite number of temporary wives they
can have in that system).
Those two items should
suffice. You can extrapolate in the same manner in all areas of social
oppression allowed by the theocrats ruling Iran (non-existent political rights
of assembly and the right to form independent political organizations, no free
speech rights, no cultural national and religious minority rights, forget
completely about gay and lesbian rights, the list goes on.)
Why trash human
For some leftists in
the U.S., �human rights� is always in between inverted commas, particularly
since the political culture in the U.S. is very much inclined to single-issue
politics. But even (especially?) for those who think in more programmatic
fashion and in terms of platforms representing social demands and solutions,
the human rights topics are separate from and subservient to fighting for
overall change of the system, and definitely subservient to the �socialist
project.� This is a grave mistake.
Let�s imagine a
somewhat inverse situation. It would not be acceptable to most American
socialists if I were to say, for example, �It�s not really worth spending so
much time and energy on things like, �Free Mumia!� or �Reform the Prison
System!� or �End the Death Penalty!� Those are side issues; they take away from
the fight against imperialism, which is the most important conflict,
overshadowing everything else. Plus, those sorts of campaigns narrow the
horizon on the larger issues.�
To that, an informed
American socialist could say that the oppression of the African Americans
(which by nature must include the persecution of black radical leaders) is
structurally tied up with American imperialism. Without (slavery and) racism
and its uninterrupted existence under morphed dynamics throughout the different
stages of the North American modern social history, American imperialism most
likely would not have materialized in the first place. Therefore, the fight for
human rights and dignity of the African Americans (and, therefore, the defense
of their radical leaders wrongfully imprisoned) is integral to a socialist
project in the U.S., and all those so-called �reformist� slogans are just and
even revolutionary demands because they address part of the social conditions
currently oppressing large sections of the working classes.
The situation with
political prisoners in countries like Iran is very much analogous to the above
scenario. Political prisoners represent the most radical of the activists
working against oppression in their societies, and their persecution is
structurally required, a part and parcel of the continuation of oppressive
class-based injustices in the global south.
So, as global
southerners, our fight for democracy and human rights must at the same time be
an anti-imperialist struggle, just as the struggle of African Americans for
social justice must by necessity find its anti-imperialist edge if it is to
succeed in the long-term.
Now, I know I�m not
the world�s dumbest man, but I just can�t see why some tend to talk like
leftists, but act like the right. Are they on a mission to confound, or are
they truly confused?
I think deep down, for
some people who have ended up in the left, for one reason or another, their
overall attitude is tainted by cynicism. Not saying that this is a huge crowd,
but the presence is significant enough to warrant a little something about cynicism.
Here I have in mind a
person who, knowing something about the U.S. government�s terrible crimes, to
my statement, �Iran�s government tortures political prisoners!� does not say immediately,
�Well, let�s get together and fight both those bastards!� but
says instead, �Oh, yeah?! Big deal; the U.S. government does it too! Take a
number and join the line!�
Love . . . so hard to
find! Such responses indicate deep cynicism, nihilism and narcissism, all of it
boxed up in a finely bejeweled self-referential worldview.
When I say to a man or
a woman that so and so is being tortured in Iran, what does the Western cynic
imply? That, �If WE -- the repository for all good -- do it, then
of course you little, lesser people do it, too!� Hear the racism?
And so it goes with
the cynic, as the bottom drops further and further out of sight.
rhetorical schema here is that of evasion. Evading what�s real. Evading the
responsibilities of looking at the reality and analyzing it, talking to others
about it; evading doing the hard work of studying things before offering
analysis, and instead jumping to the first knee-jerk reaction that comes to
mind; evading learning how to ask the right questions, taking the right
actions, accepting that you could be wrong and make mistakes, learning from
mistakes, actions and their results, and on and on.
In the realm of a
discussion related to �human rights,� the cynic elaborates in reasonably
authoritative sounding language, for example, that working on the human rights
situation in Iran is really the work of the Iranian people. People outside Iran
should just stay quiet about that. Especially right now! (The present
always carries exceptionalities!) If you can do something to stop �your own�
government (the U.S., the U.K., what have you) from abusing human rights, do
that. But, don�t meddle in other people�s business.
Ironically, a good
number of people most likely to say something like that (Iranians among them),
especially right now, regularly advocate without any qualms on behalf of other
nationalities such as the Palestinians, Iraqis, Afghans, or at one point advocated
on behalf of East Timorese, or black South Africans fighting apartheid, and
participated in lively international campaigns of solidarity with the people of
El Salvador. So, of all the people, they should know best about the importance
of international solidarity movements in achieving historical goals. So, what
is it that makes them stop seeing the harm they are doing by refusing
solidarity to the people of Iran, living under a theocratic dictatorship?
�Human rights� must be
taken out of the inverted commas between which it exists in most people�s
minds; it is not a single-issue, a one-track, way of looking at social
struggles for justice.
with the Economic & Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 must know how
Marx felt about the need for total revolt against a social system that
alienates all from all.
reconstituting alienation of laborers, men and women, from their means of
independent survival (e.g., during the historical period of primitive accumulation
of capital, and still to this day), the alienation of laborers from their tools
as well as the products of labor (in the manufactories and factories, and even
small, mom and pop subcontracting workshops), and the alienation of workers
from the entire process of labor; and ultimately, the overall alienation of men
and women from other men and women, and the maximum atomization of societies --
these are central processes of control, from the standpoint of capital and the
states that represent it.
If we take the kernel
of the concept, alienation, and apply it to �human rights� as a much larger
issue (taken as including social economic justice), then we can understand that
imprisoning social activists is not an incidental case of random injustice
practiced a lot in some locations and less so in others, but is a symbolic and
necessary social act on the part of states representing capital that can and
does happen everywhere. It is to quash preventively any ideas by any others
about daring to oppose, it is to spread terror in the hearts of the doubters
and skeptics lest they actively turn oppositional, and it is meant to freeze
any hopes of disrupting the alienating processes needed by capital�s endless
I leave it up to the
reader then to answer the question: To show or not to show solidarity with a
man or woman, anywhere, who attracts the wrath of any capitalist state; to
support or not to support his or her acts of defiance?
A grave fallacy
It is often taken as a
point of departure, often assumed, that imperialism and its structures are
external to the local socio-political conditions existing in separate
nation-states in the periphery/global south. (This is separate from the fallacy
that assumes imperialism is simply the foreign policy of powerful states.)
imperialism is the whole that is larger than the sum of the individual local
conditions of all the class-based social existences and injustices on the
globe. Put differently, although the sum of the local class-based injustices everywhere
does not add up to all the capabilities of (or possibilities for
maneuver by) the imperialists, those local injustices greatly contribute to and
significantly define the conditions within which the imperialists are bound
The flip side is: the
more real democracy exists in more locations in the periphery, the more levers
of economic and political powers are held in the hands of the people, and the
less able are the imperialists to maneuver and position themselves for
By democracy, I do not
mean having mere elections, though real and meaningful elections must always be
present and on a far more universal level, with the right to recall at any
point. But much more so, these electoral procedures must be in relation to some
real social substance; Democracy
means real and visible control by the people over the political and economic
social factors that determine their well-being.
So, the fight for real
democracy must by necessity include the fight for human rights as a permanent
duty; for the rights of the people, social groups, communities, and, yes, the
individuals are not and cannot be taken as some political expedience. As
socialists, we are fighting for a society in which the free and unfettered
development of the individual is the precondition for the development of the
society. That fight starts right now, not after some abstract utopian miracle
brought to earth at a moment in some unknown future.
Imperialism and the
Just as it is ill-advised
to separate the fight against a brutal prison system in the U.S. from the fight
against imperialism at home, it is harmful to conceptually disconnect the fight
for democracy and human rights in the global south from the anti-imperialist
What we have to recognize,
if we are to build a true internationalism, is that imperialism is, in its
essence, the sum total of all the local miseries and injustices aggregated in
the world, plus some (more on this, below).
By creating and
recreating anew each day a world, in which a thousand-and-one layered, myriad
differentiations of misery and social injustice are the routine, imperialists
create a multitude of spaces into which they can crawl, either in their overt,
institutional forms (extraction of raw materials and resources by their
corporations seeking lower taxes, lower wages and/or lesser environmental
internalization costs; or, CIA overt access; or, when needed, armies of war),
or in their covert guises (George Soros-type �democracy proliferation movements,�
covert and semi-covert ops, etc.).
The �plus some� in the
above quasi definition is important if we are to fully understand the workings
of imperialism. The �plus some� is all the structures, all the institutions and
their histories. But, institutions and structures built on misery and injustice
cannot last forever. Which brings us back to the radical human agency, to the
necessity of fighting injustice and misery everywhere and anywhere we can, with
a truly internationalist mindset.
Put very simply, we have
to realize that we are all just as important. I know that this is a big jump
and quite difficult for a Western reader to accept immediately, or easily. But,
happily, it is true.
Every locality is
equally imperative. No locality has any more import nor should hold any
arrogance over any other locale. The more democracy we can create in more
localities of the globe, the more areas of maneuver we remove from the
imperialists. The more areas are liberated, the more exponentially the balance
of forces shall be inverted.
So . . . why leave all
the playing field to the imperialists by playing it cynically? If we start from
solidarity, if we take our multitudes of ideas and opinions and angles and
contributions as something positive, and not something amounting to �cacophony,�
then we�ll find our strengths more readily.
But, step one: if you
suspect that you may suffer from, or if like me you have observed yourself at
times in the company of, cynical thoughts, even if but for fleeting seconds as
they might have been, then find those thoughts and interrogate them; and watch
And take human rights
seriously or real humans won�t take you seriously.
Reza Fiyouzat can be reached at email@example.com. He keeps a blog at: revolutionaryflowerpot.blogspot.com.