Hammer, Sickle and Four logo
The Internationalist
July 2009

World Socialist Web Site Alibis Ahmadinejad . . . and Itself

Where Were You, David North?

One of the more prolific sources on the Internet regarding the Iran turmoil has been the World Socialist Web Site (WSWS). Although a casual reader might miss it, the WSWS is run by David North’s Socialist Equality Party (SEP) which periodically claims to defend the “heritage” (while trampling on the revolutionary program) of Trotskyism. Usually posing as a kind of generic socialist alternative to “mainstream” organs of liberal U.S. imperialism such as the New York Times and The Nation, the SEP declares its “solidarity” with the “International Committee of the Fourth International” (ICFI), consisting of SEP subsidiaries in several countries. Like the WWP in the “antiwar” movement, this dual posture occasionally brings the WSWS into conflict with segments of its cyberreadership – as currently over Iran. The Northites are not as crude as the Marcyites, preferring to one-sidedly bash Mousavi rather than singing hosannas to Ahmadinejad. But in the end, North & Co. politically line up with the hard-line Islamists ... and not just today. Back in 1978-79, these “socialists” loudly defended Khomeini against the Trotskyists who warned against bowing to Islamic reaction.

The WSWS’ main line of argument is that the pro-Mousavi “green wave” in Iran is another edition of the U.S.-sponsored “rose revolution” in Georgia (2003) and “orange revolution” in Ukraine (2004). As we wrote earlier, “at first glance this looks very much like a U.S.-instigated color-coded ‘revolution’,” and “certainly, the imperialists are up to their usual dirty tricks” – but there are important differences. First, the U.S. government has not staked everything on “regime change,” and has responded hesitantly. Then there is the scale of the demonstrations – not a few thousand or tens of thousands, as in Tbilisi and Kiev, but many hundreds of thousands. The WSWS’ claim (“Iran, Imperialism and the Left,” 7 July) that “the Mousavi protest movement was a middle-class protest that lacked mass support” just doesn’t hold water. Certainly, just because a movement is big doesn’t make it progressive: look at U.S.-backed Solidarność in Poland. What fueled that movement was anti-Soviet Polish nationalism and Catholic reaction. In Iran today, while the protests are politically dominated by a wing of the Islamic Republic’s bourgeois rulers, they are fed by mass discontent over three decades of reactionary clerical dictatorship.

In order to make the claim that the Iranian protests are exclusively middle-class, the WSWS has not seen fit to mention (in 29 articles on the elections and their aftermath) the mass arrests of almost 200 labor activists in Tehran and Kurdistan this past May Day, a number of whom are still in jail. And while it belatedly cited, once, the calls for solidarity with the protests from the Tehran bus workers union and the Iran Khodro auto workers union, and the latter’s half-hour strike against the repression, it has not mentioned the brutal repression both unions have suffered as a result of striking against the Ahmadinejad government. And if Iran is analogous to Venezuela, as the WSWS suggests, where are the huge demonstrations of urban poor in Tehran defending Ahmadinejad against pro-imperialist bourgeois and petty-bourgeois protests, as has occurred in Caracas? (James Petras explained this away by saying that working youth “had little time or inclination to engage in street politics”!)

There is another important component notably missing from the WSWS reports on Iran: the massive participation of women in the protests. This can be seen in countless video clips and is attested to by every account. Yet nowhere does the WSWS refer in any serious way to the brutal oppression of women in Iran – not a single mention of the veil or hijab, or the harassment by the hated Islamic morals police! This blind spot is no accident coming from David North, whose predecessor as head of the Workers League (the forerunner of the SEP) notoriously exclaimed: “the working class hates faggots, hippies and women’s libbers, and so do we!”

As a fig leaf to cover up its pronounced pro-Ahmadinejad “tilt,” once or twice the Northites have claimed in an aside, “WSWS is the most consistent and principled opponent of this government” (“Iran, the media and the World Socialist Web Site,” 26 June). You wouldn’t know it from their recent coverage of the biggest upheaval in Iran in 30 years. Earlier this year, the WSWS did a retrospective on 1978-79 in which it noted that, “ultimately, it was the oil workers’ strike that broke the back of the Shah’s regime,” but that, for lack of a Bolshevik party:

“Instead, what emerged from the revolution was a clerical-led bourgeois nationalist regime, an Islamic Republic, that ruthlessly suppressed the working class, restored bourgeois order, and defended capitalist property....
“The tragedy of the Iranian revolution is that the working class proved incapable of assuming a political role commensurate with its social weight in the struggle against the Shah’s dictatorship.
“For this, Stalinism is entirely responsible.”
–“The Tragedy of the Iranian Revolution,” WSWS, 11 February

Actually, there were quite a few other culprits on the left who hailed the Islamic “revolution,” including the Workers League (WL) led by North. One is prompted to ask, “Where were you, David North?” (When Nikita Khrushchev denounced Stalin’s crimes at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1956, a delegate in the hall reputedly called out, “And where were you, comrade Khrushchev?” – alluding to the fact that he was a loyal henchman of Stalin for decades.)

The answer is that that North was among the loudest cheerleaders for the Islamic “revolution” and vile slanderers of any leftists targeted by the mullahs. In a front-page statement by the WL leadership, “Long Live the Iranian Revolution!” (Bulletin, 16 February 1979), North hailed Khomeini’s takeover as “a decisive turning point in the world revolution” and an “irreparable blow to U.S. and world imperialism.” A statement by the International Committee of the Fourth International led by North’s mentor Gerry Healy declared, “We pay tribute to the Ayatollah Khomeini who became the symbol of the anti-Shah revolution” (Bulletin, 27 February 1979). A few weeks later, the WL declared that “the Khomeini movement...represents a progressive alliance of the anti-imperialist nationalist forces” (Bulletin, 30 March 1979). When Khomeini’s thugs viciously attacked demonstrations on International Women’s Day (March 8) and later that were protesting the imam’s imposition of Islamic dress codes, in particular the head-to-toe veil (chador), North called the demonstrations for women’s rights “A Provocation Against the Iranian Revolution” (Bulletin, 13 March 1979).

In contrast, the then-revolutonary Spartacist League (SL) was virtually the only group on the left internationally that told the truth about Iran, headlining, “Mullahs Win” and calling for “Down with Khomeini! For Workers Revolution!” (Workers Vanguard No. 225, 16 February 1979). In “Iran and the Left: Why They Supported Islamic Reaction,” WV reported:

“The streets of Teheran are filled with the anguished cries of those, from middle-class liberal women to Guevarist guerrillas, who claim they were taken in by Khomeini’s revolution. Tragically, the voice of the revolutionists who warned of the reactionary clericalist aims of the mullahs was drowned in the clamor of opportunists singing the praises of the ‘anti-imperialist’ ayatollah. It is the Iranian masses who will pay the price.”
Workers Vanguard No. 229, 13 April 1979 (available on our web site, see Marxist Readings at www.internationalist.org)

This sent the Workers League into paroxysms of slanderous cop-baiting. Its response was a diatribe by Alex Mitchell denouncing the SL as “Provocateurs Against Trotskyism and the Iranian Revolution” (Bulletin, 1 May 1979). The WL asked “what police academies” did WV writers come from, and wrote that “there is every reason to believe” that the SL’s “antics” were “directly orchestrated by the FBI and CIA.” WV’s warnings against clerical reaction were labeled “reactionary vomit,” and for good measure they added: “The news that Tehran resounds with the ‘anguished cries’ of ‘middle-class liberal women ... who claim they were taken in by Khomeini’s revolution’ is, as far as we are concerned, very good news indeed.”

As the mullah regime stepped up its bloody repression against the Kurdish minority, Arab oil workers in Khuzhistan, unveiled women, homosexuals and leftists, some of the opportunists who initially hailed the Islamic “revolution” began to get cold feet. But not the Northites. When members of the HKS (Hezb-e Kargaran-e Socialist – Socialist Workers Party) active among the Arab oil workers were picked up and thrown into the regime’s dungeons (the same ones formerly used by the SAVAK), the WL hailed their arrests. After an Islamic court handed down death sentences for 12 of the 14 arrested, North’s Bulletin (7 September 1979) published a vile article headlined, “Defeat Imperialist Conspiracy Against Iran!” Basing itself on the ties of one of the components of the HKS to the U.S. Socialist Workers Party (SWP), against which North & Co. had been running a vicious smear campaign, the article said: “Both the origins and activities of the group in Iran strongly validate the charges made against them.”

With the barest fig leaf “urging” the Iranian government to not carry out the death sentences, the WL instead called for “deportation of the provocateurs and associates of the Socialist Workers Party.” Even this hypocritical statement was soon forgotten as North launched a sinister propaganda barrage denouncing the “SWP-CIA operation”: “Carter’s Revisionist Agents: Enemies of the Iranian Revolution” screamed the Bulletin (16 November 1979). “SWP-CIA Resumes Covert Operations in Iran” was the title of a three-page spread (Bulletin, 7 December 1979). This was followed a week later by two pages on “SWP (USA/CIA) Agents in Iran: The Ahwaz Operation Terminated” (Bulletin, 14 December). Using the vilest techniques of Stalinist agent-baiting, the clear import of the WL lies and slander was to get the HKS supporters killed. In fact, the pro-SWP wing of the HKS was in the process of splitting to form the HKE (Revolutionary Workers Party) in the winter of 1979/80, and repeatedly declared its support for Khomeini, over the U.S. embassy occupation diversion and again over the war with Iran.

For North & Co., the deadly smears against the Iranian socialists were only a sideshow in the years-long campaign together with Gerry Healy, dubbed “Security and the Fourth International,” in which they tried to frame SWP leader Joseph Hansen as an FBI agent. The SL responded that Hansen was an “honest revisionist” and demanded “Who Gave Healy His Security Clearance?” Even more sinister was the role North and Healy played next door in Iraq, where in 1978 they alibied the execution of 21 Iraqi Communist Party members by the Baathist dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and turned over names and photos Iraqi dissidents in London to the Iraqi embassy, fingering them for arrest, torture and possible death. And they did this while the Healyites were receiving blood money from Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi and the Iraqi government itself. North and Healy were truly provocateurs for hire.

In an article in the Bulletin (16 March 1979) in the midst of the campaign denouncing any opposition to Khomeini as provocation, “The Iraq Revolution and Stalinism,” the WL declared that the Iraqi CP was part of a Moscow operation setting up cells in the Iraqi armed forces and “it must accept the consequences.” The fact that the Healyites not only hailed the execution of the Iraqi CPers but also turned over information on Iraqi militants came out later, as Healy’s ICFI imploded in the mid-1980s. The evidence of this monstrous crime was printed in an article by Healy’s long-time deputy, Cliff Slaughter, who reported:

“The practice behind it was an unprincipled financial and political dependence on the Iraqi bourgeoisie.
“Now we know more. A News Line photographer was sent to the Iraqi Embassy with pictures of opponents of the regime....”
News Line, 20 November 1985, cited in “Healyism Implodes,” Spartacist No. 36-37, Winter 1985-86<

As for the money from Arab regimes – more than one million British pounds in total – this was detailed in an ICFI Control Commission report which gave the following breakdown of amounts received beginning in the mid-1970s:

Kuwait £ 156,500
Qatar £ 50,000
Abu Dhabi £ 25,000
PLO £ 19,997
Iraq £ 19,697
Unidentified or other sources £ 261,702
Total £ 1,075,163
–reprinted in Workers News, April 1988

For years the Healyites had been on the take from these bourgeois regimes as they trumpeted the virtues of the “Arab Revolution.” Shortly after writing his smear of the Spartacist League, Alex Mitchell published a hagiographic article about Qaddafi, “The Green Book – Born Out of Struggle Against Imperialism” (Bulletin, 16 October 1979). It was a quid pro quo, as they received payment for services rendered from the Libyan dictator, Saddam Hussein and their other paymasters. Clearly in Iran they were angling for the same sort of deal with Khomeini.

Claiming to have clean hands, David North, now the top dog in the SEP, retained leadership of some of the remnants of the International Committee. Scapegoating Healy alone for the opportunism of the ICFI, North pretends that their tendency had remained fundamentally healthy. Thus North’s international organ claimed that the ICFI had “exposed” the “class character” of the Khomeini regime – citing its 12 February 1979 declaration as proof. But take a look at what the declaration actually says:

“Khomeini's own political doctrine is vague, contradictory and ambiguous. It combines progress and reaction, sharia law and the Constituent Assembly, oppression of women and personal liberty.”
–quoted in “How the Workers Revolutionary Party Betrayed Trotskyism 1973–1985,” Fourth International, Summer 1986

What kind of “opposition” is this mealy mouthed statement supposed to be?! It should be clear any “ambiguity” about Khomeini’s program of social reaction existed only in the minds of the International Committee. And while Khomeini was massacring the left, slaughtering Kurds and other non-Persian nationalities, persecuting women and suppressing the working class – Healy and North were cheering them on in the name of the “Iranian Revolution.”

As for the revelations about receiving payoffs from just about every Arab sheikh, emir and colonel in the region, the amounts reported by Healy’s lieutenants’ investigation were probably far less than the real total. Moreover, they only revealed this after the funds had dried up. North’s claim that the ICFI leaders “didn’t know” about this blood money is utterly unbelievable. That Healy’s daily paper was likely subsidized by “one or more Arab governments” was widely rumored on the British left and stated in print by Sean Matgamna’s Socialist Organiser in 1980.

But, then, what do you expect from a charlatan like David North, who denounces unions and justifies scabbing, while as David Green he is the president of a $25-million-a-year non-union printing company, Grand River Printing & Imaging? No one should give an ounce of credence to these scab “socialists.” ■