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Reply to Phil Wilayto on Iran

Phil Wilayto’s message, “Two petitions, two approaches toward defending Iran” urges people not to support the latest statement from the Campaign for Peace and Democracy (CPD), “End the War Threats and Sanctions Program Against Iran – Support the Struggle for Democracy Inside Iran.” As Wilayto notes with distress, the CPD statement has drawn wide support.

Phil Wilayto’s message, “Two petitions, two approaches toward defending Iran” urges people not to support the latest statement from the Campaign for Peace and Democracy (CPD), “End the War Threats and Sanctions Program Against Iran – Support the Struggle for Democracy Inside Iran.” As Wilayto notes with distress, the CPD statement has drawn wide support.

If you would like to read the statement, see the emerging list of signers or add your name to it, please go to our website. Initial signers are listed at the end of this message.

CPD has two fundamental differences with Phil Wilayto.

First, we don’t believe that the current regime in Iran is one that the left ought to admire. Governments that outlaw labor unions, oppress religious minorities, deny rights to women, criminalize gays, execute minors, censor university curricula, persecute journalists and students, impose religious rule and torture and kill prisoners and harass their families are opposed to everything the left should stand for.

Second, we reject Wilayto’s view that the left may not “take sides on internal matters in Iran,” or, presumably, in any other country targeted by the United States. (Obviously Wilayto does not object to the left taking sides on the paramilitary terror in Colombia, or Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians or South African apartheid, on the grounds that these are or were “internal matters.”) Of course we don’t want the US government invading or intervening on the grounds of a country’s oppressive government. Washington only invokes Ahmadinejad’s crimes hypocritically and tries to use them to cover its own imperial goals. But it’s another thing entirely for the independent left, which fights against its own government’s reactionary domestic and international policies, to criticize rotten regimes around the world and speak up for victims of persecution. Grassroots international left solidarity should be extended to people in all countries, whether their governments are supported or opposed by Washington.

In an attempt to discredit CPD, Wilayto declares that the Campaign was formed back in 1982, “with the goal of promoting anti-socialist movements in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.” While we were certainly opposed to the grim one-party dictatorships of the East Bloc (which Wilayto seems to think were “socialist”), the fact is that the Campaign was launched with the goal of opposing the Cold War and both of the superpowers. In the words of our Statement of Purpose, we “engaged Western peace activists in the defense of the rights of democratic dissidents in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and enlisted East-bloc human rights activists against anti-democratic U.S. policies in countries like Nicaragua and Chile. Along with the European Nuclear Disarmament Movement, the Campaign was recognized internationally for its leadership in building grassroots solidarity across the Cold War divide, and for its refusal to ‘choose sides’ in the East-West conflict. CPD rejected the self-destructive notion that ‘The enemy of my enemy must be my friend.'”

Wilayto goes on to say that CPD’s “campaigns are virtually all directed at undermining governments under attack by Western powers.” This is patently false, and Wilayto must know it. A cursory look at our website shows the following CPD actions over the past two years, in addition to our ongoing work on Iran:

  1. Our statement calling for an end to the blockade of Gaza and to all military aid to Israel.
  2. Our call to urge members of Congress to vote against the Afghan war supplemental funding.
  3. Our call for the withdrawal of all US and NATO forces from Afghanistan and Pakistan now.
  4. Our participation in the anti-drone protest, called by Cindy Sheehan, at CIA headquarters.
  5. Our letter of solidarity to Egyptian labor protestors.
  6. Our work to gather signatures for a statement opposing the reactivation of the US Fourth Fleet deployed to the Caribbean, the military coup d’etat in Honduras and the agreement between the US and Colombian governments granting the US access to military bases in Colombia.
  7. Our opposition to the proposed Czech-US agreement to accept a US military radar.
  8. Our publicity for left groups in Pakistan calling for a cancellation of Pakistan’s debt and a redirection of the enormous resources wasted on the criminal wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
  9. Our support of the people of Haiti after the earthquake and our position that, “We need to state clearly and firmly now that we oppose the US military occupation of Haiti.”

And yes, we have criticized Cuba’s treatment of dissidents. We believe that the right to freedom of expression and to form independent unions, associations and political parties is indispensable to the ability of ordinary people to defend their interests in all countries. In Cuba today, the promotion of these rights is especially urgent, as a “reform” that includes the layoff of 500,000 workers has been recently announced by the government; meanwhile other critical decisions are also being made about Cuba’s future.

The fact is that Wilayto’s problem with CPD is not, as he claims, that we disproportionately defend democratic rights in countries under attack by Western powers. The record shows that this is a totally unfounded charge. Wilayto and people with a similar perspective from the International Action Center, ANSWER, and Workers World simply think that the left and the peace movement should not defend democratic rights in these countries at all. In our view, this is an abdication of internationalism and elementary democratic principles.

Wilayto paints a wildly distorted picture of Iran today. He suggests that the Ahmadinejad government defends the interests of “the poor and the working class,” neglecting to mention that it has presided over the privatization of large sections of the economy. (See Kaveh Ehsani, Arang Keshavarzian and Norma Claire Moruzzi, “Tehran, June 2009,” Middle East Report Online, June 28, 2009). Wilayto also ignores the fact that Iran’s government has recently announced the implementation of its long-held plan to lift subsidies on energy and basic foodstuffs. Despite the government’s pledge to protect the most vulnerable from the effects of this policy, working and poor Iranians are justifiably terrified for their economic futures. In Greece, France, Spain, and elsewhere, workers have resisted their governments’ austerity plans. Iranian popular resistance has already begun and may well explode, but it is crippled by the lack of freedom to organize, in particular by the repression of independent unions. (For details on the imprisonment of Iranian trade unionists like the bus drivers’ union leader Mansour Osanloo, see Iran Labor Report.) Iran’s independent trade unions have offered broad support to the Iranian democratic movement because its struggle opens up the possibility of freedom for unions to defend the interests of Iranian workers.

Far from asking “US activists to declare their unconditional support for all” forces opposed to the Iranian government “without distinction,” as Wilayto alleges, CPD has criticized Green leaders such as Mir-Hossein Mousavi for reasons that are very pertinent to Iranian workers. We have drawn attention to the murders of leftists that took place under Mousavi’s prime ministership, his ties to billionaire Rafsanjani and his support for privatization. We did note, however, that Mousavi’s call for women’s rights and greater personal freedom had inspired many people, and that their sense of being cheated had pushed many to a more thoroughgoing critique of the system. And we expressed hope that Iranians would be moved to transcend Mousavi’s politics, just as we hope that people in progressive struggles in our own country will go beyond the conservative politics of most of their leaders. (See CPD’s “Question and Answer on the Iran Crisis” and “Reply to Critics Edward Herman and David Peterson on Iran”).

Moreover, our statement of support clearly refers to the mass democratic movement that emerged on the streets following the election of 2009 and has since been driven underground, not to the armed bands in the Iranian countryside or expatriate Iranian royalists whose goal is anything but democracy and social justice.

We at the Campaign for Peace and Democracy believe that solidarity among activists from different countries in their common fight for human rights, democracy, self-determination, workers’ rights, women’s rights and social justice is essential to the cause of peace. We are delighted at the strong support we have received for our Iran statement, which notes the hypocrisy of Washington’s invoking concerns for democracy in Iran while supporting brutally authoritarian regimes such as those in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. We are pleased that so many have joined with us in our forthright opposition to US military and economic threats against Iran while supporting the struggles within Iran for an open society. Again, if you would like to read the statement, add your name to it or donate to help publicize it, please see it here.

INITIAL SIGNERS OF CPD IRAN STATEMENT: Bashir Abu-Manneh, Michael Albert, Greg Albo, Elahe Amani, Kevin B. Anderson, Stanley Aronowitz, Parvin Ashrafi, Ed Asner, Rosalyn Baxandall, William O. Beeman, Judith Bello, Medea Benjamin, Blase Bonpane, Eileen Boris, Sam Bottone, Joan G. Botwinick, Laura Boylan, MD, Frank Brodhead, Steve Burns, Leslie Cagan, Antonia Cedrone, Adam Chmielewski, Noam Chomsky, Margaret W. Crane, Charles D’Adamo, Hamid Dabashi, Gail Daneker, Bogdan Denitch, Manuela Dobos, Tina Dobsevage, MD, Martin Duberman, Lisa Duggan, Stephen R. Early, Carolyn Eisenberg, Michael Eisenscher, Mark Engler, Gertrude Ezorsky, Samuel Farber, Thomas M. Fasy, MD, Dianne Feeley, John Feffer, Barry Finger, David Finkel, Bill Fletcher, Jr., Jean Fox, Dr. Harriet Fraad, David Friedman, Robert Gabrielsky, Bruce Gagnon, Barbara Garson, Irene Gendzier, Jack Gerson, Joseph Gerson, Sam Gindin, John Gorman, Greg Grandin, Jules Greenstein, Arun Gupta, E. Haberkern, Mina Hamilton, Cole Harrison, Thomas Harrison, Nader Hashemi, Howie Hawkins, Bill Henning, Michael Hirsch, Madelyn Hoffman, Iranian Centre for Peace, Freedom and Social Justice-Vancouver, Doug Ireland, Marianne Jackson, PhD, Melissa Jameson, Malalai Joya, Jan Kavan, Kathy Kelly, Tooba Keshtkar, Assaf Kfoury, Mina Khanlarzadeh, Jack Kurzweil, Dan La Botz, Micah Landau, Joanne Landy, Marc H. Lavietes, MD, Roger E. Leisner, Jesse Lemisch, Rabbi Michael Lerner, Traven Leyshon, Nelson Lichtenstein, Amy Littlefield, Martha Livingston, Robin Lloyd, Jan Majicek, Betty Mandell, Marvin Mandell, Nasir A. Mansoor, Dave Marsh, Don McCanne, MD, Scott McLemee, David McReynolds, Deborah Meier, Martin Melkonian, Marilyn Morehead, Bitta Mostofi, Erika Munk, Ulla Neuburger, Mary E. O’Brien, MD, Derrick O’Keefe, David Oakford, Rosemarie Pace, Leo Panitch, Mike Pattberg, Peace Action New York State, Maggie Phair, Christopher Phelps, Charlotte Phillips, MD, Frances Fox Piven, Danny Postel, Judy Rebick, Katie Robbins, Leonard Rodberg, Richard Roman, Bruce A. Rosen, Elizabeth Rosenthal, MD, Matthew Rothschild, Coleen Rowley, Saffaar Saaed, John Sanbonmatsu, Ajamu Sankofa, Saskia Sassen, Jennifer Scarlott, Jay Schaffner, Jason Schulman, Peter O. Schwartz, Lance Selfa, Stephen R. Shalom, Cindy Sheehan, Gar Smith, Stephen Soldz, Cheryl Stevenson, Patricia Storace, Bhaskar Sunkara, David Swanson, William K. Tabb, Hoshang Tareh Gol, Jonathan Tasini, Meredith Tax, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Sheila Thorne, Chris Toensing, Bernard Tuchman, Adaner Usmani, Wilbert van der Zeijden, Steven VanBever, David S. Vine, Barbara Webster, Lois Weiner, Suzi Weissman, Naomi Weisstein, Laurie Wen, Cornel West, Billy Wharton, Julia Willebrand, Reginald Wilson, Sherry Wolf, Julia Wrigley, and Leila Zand.