Friday, February 21, 2020

3320. The Road to Peace: Reflections on the Occasion of the 41st Anniversary of the 1979 Iranian Revolution

By Kamran Nayeri, February 21, 2020
Credit...Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

Thank you to Alma and Henry Cooper to invite me to speak at Proyecto Latino Americano on KPFT, the Pacifica Network station in Houston, Texas. When Alma and I first talked about it, there was a still an immediate threat of a U.S. war against Iran a couple of weeks after the assassination of Major General Ghasem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds (Jerusalem) Army (Sepah-e Quds) of the Guards of the Islamic Revolution of Iran (mistakenly translated as Revolutionary Guards).  General Soleimani was its commander for 22 years and very successful in leading the effort to bolster the Shiite influence in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen, and projecting the Islamic Republic as a regional force facing off the United States and Israel in the Middle East.  In brief, Soleimani carried out Ayatollah Khomeini’s pan-Shiite, Pan-Islamic vision.  This also put the Islamic Republic on a collision course with the Persian Gulf rising Sunni kingdoms, especially Saudi Arabia, allies of Washington, who also have been pushing their own particular version of Islam, in Saudi’s case, Wahhabism, the same ideology as that of Al-Queda. 

However, due to the priorities of KPFT which was in a period of fundraising this presentation was delayed and the immediate threat of a U.S. war against Iran subsided.  This gives us an opportunity to consider the recent crisis in a much broader scope and a deeper sense that a discussion of how to immediately organize and mobilize the broadest possible coalition to stay the hands of the warmongers in Washington and demand unconditional end of sanctions against Iran, no war against Iran, and U.S. out of the Middle East.  Tonight, I would like to also talk about the necessity of a peace campaign that is focused on the roots of war and who can end all wars and how. 

I would first outline the root causes of the U.S. hostility towards Iran and show how the Islamic Republic actually undermined the best chance the working people of Iran had to face off the imperialist threats by destroying the 1979 revolution.  It was the Islamic Republic, not U.S. imperialism, that carried out a systematic bloody counter-revolution against the potential social revolution in Iran to establish a theocratic capitalist regime that has increasingly become dictatorial.  

In the second part of this essay, I will outline my argument that wars are simply the most overt form of attempts to dominate human societies in order to extract wealth from nature. As such, they are just one of the many manifestations of power relations in human societies since the dawn of civilization. Every civilization has been based on an economy with myriad eco-social relations of production that presuppose relations of domination and control. As such all civilizations eventually succumb to eco-social crises as many have collapsed in the past. We are currently in the midst of three existential threats to humanity, catastrophic climate change, the Sixth Extinction, and the ever-present danger of nuclear holocaust, as well as many other regional crises, such as increasing water scarcity. The anthropocentric industrial capitalist civilization is heading toward collapse. The new generation of Iranians working people and youth, as well as everywhere else in the globalized world, can save humanity by transcending capitalist civilization to replace all power relations of dominance and control with peaceful eco-social relations in the direction of an Ecocentric Socialism. 

The Iranian Revolution, Counter-revolution and Imperialism 

The assassination of Soleimani
Now, let’s revisit the key aspects of the assassination of Soleimani.  First, it was a premeditated and illegal act.  Trump had signed off on Soleimani’s assassination seven months before it was carried out. Both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations had considered and decided against assassinating Soleimani who was closely followed by American intelligence because they feared it may lead to a war with Iran.  The warmongers in the Trump administration who have urged pulling out of the nuclear accord with the Islamic Republic and then imposed a series of severe economic and financial sanctions against Iran that has hurt the working people most including by sharply devaluating the rial against the dollar thus making daily necessities such as food and medicine to expensive for many also urged Trump to order the assassination.  Contrary to lies Pompeo, Trump, and others told the American public, the assassination had nothing to do with “protecting American lives” or any “plot by Soleimani” to hurt American troops. 

The assassination was also illegal because Soleimani was a high-level official of the Islamic Republic visiting Baghdad on an official visit where he had been welcome for many years as an ally. In fact, the deputy chairman of Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) and commander of Kata'ib HezbollahAbu Mahdi al-Muhandis, was also killed with Soleimani.  The Guard of the Islamic Revolution financier and key commander, Abdul Reza Shahlai, who was in Yemen at the same time was unsuccessfully targeted.  

Second, while the assassination attempt heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran increasing the potential for an armed conflict neither parties were prepared for war.  Trump bluffed that he has ordered the targeting of 52 sites for attack presumably by cruise missiles, including cultural sties that constitute a war crime if the Islamic Republic retaliated.   But when Tehran attacked two American basses in Iraq with its short-range missiles, Trump claimed that no America was hurt and that the Islamic Republic has “stood down.”  At the time of this writing, it is admitted that more than 100 American servicemen and women in Iraq had brain injuries due to the Iranian missile attacks.  Thus, Trump’s claim of no injury was a fig leaf for him to cool off hostilities. 

The Islamic Republic for its part had no appetite for war either.  Hours before the missile attacks, Tehran informed Baghdad of its intentions for two obvious reasons: it did not want to launch an attack on two military bases in Iraq without informing its government and it did not wish to hurt any Iraqi military personnel on these bases that presumably are used for training the Iraqi army to fight ISIS.  Clearly, the Iraqi government could not order its soldiers to leave the bases or take cover without informing the U.S. military leaders on these bases. So, the Americans knew of the intended attacks well before they were carried out. We know they ordered the personnel to take cover in cement bunkers.  Still, over 100 had brain injuries due to the attack.  But Tehran actually minimized the human toll of these attacks; had they been surprise attacks they would have done many more casualties forcing Washington to retaliate, escalating the confrontation.

A war with Iran could be more disastrous for U.S. imperialism that any other war since Vietnam.  It is true that the U.S. military can destroy many of the key infrastructures in Iran, including its oil industry, using cruise missiles. But most people may not realize that the Islamic Republic has been very successful in developing its own missile and drone technology.  On September 14, 2019, drones were used to attack the state-owned Saudi Aramco oil processing facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais in eastern Saudi Arabia that caused billions of dollars in damages. Iran-supported Houthi rebels in Yemen took responsibilities. But there was no disagreement that the drones were made in Iran.  In fact, I suspect that the assassination of Soleimani might have been Trump’s response to that attack on the Saudis.  Uzi Even, a founding scientist of Israels’ Dimona nuclear reactor warned wrote in Haaretz:

“[With the effective attack on Saudi oil installations] The Iranians, or their proxies, showed that they can hit specific targets with great precision and from a distance of hundreds of kilometers. We have to accept the fact that we are now vulnerable to such a strike.” (Even, October 6, 2019)

Tehran can retaliate against U.S. forces and its allies in the Middle East, including the oil industries where almost 65% of the world’s oil originates from.  This will bring down the world economy for an extended period of time.  

Much of the oratories on both sides of the recent conflict was intended for domestic audiences and for their respective allies in the Middle East. 

The roots of hostility
To get a perspective on the roots of hostilities between the U.S. and Iran, it is important to recall that the Iranian people overthrew the U.S.-backed Mohammad Reza Shah’s dictatorship in a massive uprising in February 1979.  ON August 19, 1953, a CIA-MI6 coup had installed the Shah in power by overthrowing the democratically elected government of the nationalist leader Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh.  Mossadegh was and still is a popular figure in Iranian politics because he led the effort to nationalize Iranian oil that the British were exploiting for their own benefit. The 1953 coup paved for 25 years of the increasingly bloody dictatorship of the U.S. imposed Shah.   

The CIA coup which ended a 12-year period of democratic opening and mass movement from 1941 when Reza Shah was deposed by the Allies for his sympathies for the Nazis.  During this period the pro-Moscow Tudeh Party was founded and became a mass organization with influence in the Iranian labor movement. The National Front, a nationalist movement, that supported Mossadegh, was also formed and became very popular. Yet both failed to organize and mobilize the Iranian people against the CIA coup and they were crushed under the blows of Shah’s repression after the 1953 coup (for a recent account of the coup, see, Salvador Solar, February 19, 2020). 

As part of Shah’s campaign against its nationalist and socialist oppositions, he embarked on a capitalist modernization campaign he called the White Revolution. Key to it was a program of land reform to reconstitute the Iranian countryside where a majority of the population lived on a capitalist basis while providing the newly forming manufacturing industry with cheap labor supply.  Thus, from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s the industrial proletariat increased to 3 million workers.  Those in large more prosperous industries like oil began to organize themselves largely independent of all political parties.   

The 1979 Iranian Revolution
The 1979 Iranian revolution was the largest urban mass uprising since the 1917 Russian revolutions (for a succinct account of the rise and fall of the revolution, see, Nayeri and Nassab, 2006). It changed the strategic relation of forces in the Middle East to the detriment of imperialism. In November 1978 when the Shah had imposed Marshall law headed by a general, oil workers went on a general strike and on two consecutive days millions of Iranians demonstrated in the street; in one account as many as 17 million demonstrated in two days in November in a country of 38 million. 

The revolution overthrew imperialism’s regional gendarme, an ally of the colonial-settler state of Israel, and a supporter of South African Apartheid. It dissolved the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO), a regional anti-Soviet Union military pact. 

No political party or individual led the February revolution. Instead, grassroots organizations in the neighborhoods, workplaces, high schools and universities, and among peasants and oppressed nationalities, and eventually in the armed forces, were formed to challenge the Shah’s power structure. Workers began to exert control over workplaces. Peasants moved to take the land they had tilled for centuries; closely tied to this oppressed nationalities began to revive their cultural heritage and exercise autonomy. Universities became centers of political discourse. Neighborhoods were organized through popular committees. Political parties, including the banned socialist groups, began to function increasingly openly. Finally, as the discipline in the armed forces began to break and some soldiers went to the side of the revolution, the population armed itself and overthrew the monarchy. 

It was entirely possible for Iranians to inaugurate the first government of workers and peasant in the Middle East and open the road to socialism. 

Instead, Ayatollah Khomeini, who had opposed the Shah’s capitalist modernization programs in 1963, including land reform and the extension of the right to vote to women, and was subsequently arrested and exiled to Iraq, captured the moment and established himself as the spokesperson for the revolution. By 1983, he had used populist demagogy and ruthless repression to suppress all independent mass organizations, in particular, the oil workers shoras (council), and practically all political parties to consolidate a theocratic capitalist regime. Thus, the Islamic Republic and Soleimani have offered a historically reactionary response to imperialism in the Middle East.  

Political confusion on the Left
A couple of weeks after the assassination of General Soleimani, I came across a Photoshopped poster of his image surrounded on one side by Fidel Castro and Ernesto Che Guevara and on the other by Simon Bolivar and Hugo Chavez, on the Facebook page of a socialist friend. When I tried to trace the source of the poster, I only found rightwing websites claiming that it has been promoted by the Venezuela government and its foreign policy.  However, I found no one who claimed that poster as their own.

For all I know, the poster could have been manufactured by a rightwing outfit who wanted to push a war against Iran by suggesting that the Islamic Republic, like the Cuban revolution and the Chavista government in Caracas is a threat to the interest of world capitalism and must be overthrown.

Still, the fact that my socialist friend promoted this dubiously sourced poster with a questionable political message is a prime example of confusion on the left. How can anyone place a general of the Islamic Republic that destroyed the 1979 Iranian revolution through massive violence, including against women, oppressed nationalities, students and youth, some religious minorities, artists and intellectuals, and working people and their independent organizations?  How can a theocratic capitalist regime that according to Amnesty International’s estimate executed  over 4,482 disappeared prisoners during this time from July 19, 1988, for approximately five months have anything to do we socialist ideals, program, and strategy? This crime was so horrendous that Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri who was picked by Khomeini himself as his successor publicly condemned it.  Khomeini was so outraged that he placed Montazeri under house arrest where he remained until his death.  

This sort of political confusion in the socialist movement is due to two factors.  First, after the counter-revolutionary bureaucratic caste that rose to power in young Soviet Russia in the 1920s with Joseph Stalin as its leader not only physically destroyed the leadership of the Bolshevik Party of Lenin, it also destroyed its revolutionary internationalist program, strategy, and norms.  Stalin adopted a new “theory” of Socialism in One Country as he tried to accommodate imperialist powers and the capitalist ruler. He resurrected the Menshevik two-stage theory of the revolution to subordinate Communist Parties to the capitalist leaderships in revolutions in the colonial and semi-colonial counties beginning with the Chinese revolution of 1925-27. These capitalist leaders who in every case eventually turned their guns against workers and peasants and the Communists were called “anti-imperialist” leaders who would lead the first stage of the revolution. Later, Kremlin repackaged the same theory as a “non-capitalist path to development.” A similar policy of class collaboration was urged on the Communist parties in the industrial capitalist countries under the guise of “popular front” against fascism which subordinated them to the “democratic” capitalist parties. This is how the U.S. Communist Party began supporting the Democratic Party in the elections since the 1930s. 

The second source of confusion comes from the Dependency School theories.  In response to the anti-colonial revolution that spread in Asia, Africa, and Latin America and the Caribbean in the aftermath of World War II, a series of theories were developed that are collectively called the Dependency School. Latin American  Dependency theorists included Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Celso Furtado, Raúl Prebisch, and Theotônio Dos Santos. Outside Latin America, some notables include Paul Baran, Andre Gunder Frank, Arghiri Emmanuel, and Samir Amin.  What is common to all Dependency theories in their focus on the role of imperialism (external factors) and the sphere of exchange as causes for whatever a particular theorist calls the reality of Third World counties in question (“dependency,” “underdevelopment,” “dependent development,”  etc.)

This is not the proper context to critically discuss these theories. Anyone interested in further reading can consult my short essay with references to the literature (Nayeri, 2018). For our purpose tonight, it is sufficient to stress that Dependency theories also have paved the road to political support for nationalist and “anti-imperialist” governments in the Global South, including the Islamic Republic of Iran.   (For a prominent example, see my critical discussion of Fidel Castro’s political support for the Islamic Republic, Nayeri, 2010) 

Methodologically, I would argue, it is more illuminating to focus on the modes of production and internal contradiction of any nation taking class, not nation, as the unit of analysis. A brief review of who Ayatollah Khomeini was and what his Islamic Republic presents may be helpful.

The social and political roots of Khomeini and the Islamic Republic
Shiism and the state
For centuries, the ruling classes of Iran relied on two institutions: the monarchy and the Shiite clergy.   The ascendence of Shi’ism to the official religion of Iran originated in the Safavid dynasty (1501-1722) that also inaugurated the modern Iranian nation-state.  Some historians have argued that the reason was that the Safavid Turks wanted to differentiate their territory from the Ottoman Turks who were Sunni.  We must remember that today’s Iran and Turkey occupy smaller territories than they did five hundred years ago and that both states have always been multi-ethnic and multi-religion territories. Declaring an official religion made it easier to give their respective state some form of cohesion and religious authority. Thus, Shiism became the state-sponsored religion and remained so until the rise of the Islamic Republic in which the relationship was reversed, it is now the Shi’ite hierarchy that wields the power of the state for its own benefits.

Shiism and class formation
For over 2,000 years, Iran was an agrarian economy based on the village (deh). Under the Safavids, there were three primary forms of private landholdings (amlāk) that include at least one but typically many villages. These were (1) private estates of large landlords; (2) the private estates of the reigning Shah considered separately from the estates owned by the crown and called amlāk-e ḵāṣṣa or amlāk-e ḵāleṣa; and (3) private estates set aside in special trusts by owners for the permanent benefit of heirs and descendants in accordance with Shi'ite legal principles and known as waqf-e ḵāṣṣ.  Thus, the Shi'ite clergy has been tied to land ownership and the royal court for centuries.  However, in the late nineteenth century, European ideas of Enlightenment and modernity penetrated Iran which laid the intellectual basis for the Constitutional Revolution (1906-11). In the twentieth century, this landownership system became an impediment to the development of capitalism in Iran and increasingly questionable politically.  To facilitate the former and to undermine his enemies on the right and the left, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi carried out a program of land reform. 

"By 1962 a land reform law was enacted. This law, which was implemented in stages over a decade, effectively abolished amlāk by making it unlawful for a single landowner to possess agricultural property in excess of one village. Landlords were required to sell all surplus villages to the government, which in turn arranged for their resale to the peasants who held cultivating rights. A by-product of this program was the virtual disappearance of all the traditional dues and servitudes the peasants had rendered to landlords. As a consequence of the land reform program, amlāk, which had been a characteristic feature of Iranian land tenure patterns for more than two thousand years, virtually ceased to exist." (Hooglund, 1989). 

The Shi’ite clergy has been closely tied with the bazaar merchants who in turn were linked with their supplier both artisans and agricultural producers in Iran and abroad.

“The bāzār was and is a social institution, comprising religious, commercial, political, and social elements. The bāzār is the center par excellence of personal transactions, commerce, and communication in urban life; thus one needs to under­stand the bāzār’s function within its context, the city. In Iran, the city forms a political, commercial, cultural, and religious center for its hinterland. The bāzār has played a very important role in this relationship, reflecting the character of the Muslim city.” (Floor, 1989)
The bazaar also had had a political function:

“The Friday mosque—the main religious and political center of the city—and the bāzār are always found together. In the mosque the population prayed in congregation, came to hear proclamations of its rulers, and gave vent to feelings about the ruler’s policies.” (ibid.)

The merchant class has had a tense relationship with the royal court and some prominent merchant have supported mass protests in the 20th century, yet they have consistently served as a conservative force.  Thus, while the bazaar merchants participated in the Constitution Revolution, they did so in a sit-in at the British embassy. It was not unusual for big merchants to have dual Russian citizenship as it helped with their overseas trading practices and offered them a measure of protection against the royal court. 

Thus, the Shah’s modernization programs, which included the extension of the right to vote to women, and land reform, directly threatened the interests of the Shi’ite hierarchy and its landowning and merchant allies resulting in the June 1963 revolt organized by Khomeini and other clerics. The revolt was crushed and Khomeini imprisoned. His life was spared and he was exiled to Iraq only after key Shi’ite clerics conferred him the title of Ayatollah raising the risk of any harm to him by the government.  Ayatollah Khomeini who had already positioned himself as an anti-American and anti-Israeli politician who wants to “protect” society from “decadence” went on be become the leader of a section of Shi’ite clergy that opposed the Shah and played a key role in the mass movement that overthrew him in the 1979 revolution. 

The social function of the Shiite clergy
It is also important to understand the organizational form of the Shiite clergy and its social function. For some time, it has been organized through Marja or the system of emulation of religious authority.  This was founded in the 1830s when Mohammed Hassan Najafi became the first transnational Shi’ite religious authority (Marja) in Najaf, Iraq. Najafi created a universal patronage network through which he received religious taxes and endowment incomes, and appointed religious representatives from Shiite cities from Iraq to India.  

“In the 16th Century, Shi’ite jurists [mujtahids] had established a new conceptual theory describing the relationship between [Shi’ite] community leaders and Shi’ite worshipers. According to the theory, each worshiper should either reach the highest educational level in Shi’ite jurisprudence (ijtihad) or follow a living person who has attained such a level. The theory of ‘following’ (taqlid) was intertwined with another significant theory, which permitted Shi’ite jurists to receive religious taxes on behalf of the infallible and hidden twelfth Shi’ite Imam. It is believed that this Imam will return at the end of time to establish a just global government. Thereafter, a new form of Shi’ite leadership emerged that both provided the monarchy with legitimacy and was protected by it, but was also financially independent from it.” (Khalaji, no date)
Thus, in addition to their waqf landholding (described above), the Shiite mujtahids also benefitted from taxes they collected. There are two forms of such taxes. Khums (Arabic for a fifth) is a tax paid equal to a fifth of the surplus from the income left after annual expenses of a Muslim’s that is paid to a mujtahid.  Zakat is a tax on income-generating property or assets paid to a mujtahid.  The mujtahid is supposed to spend such revenue for the welfare of the Shi’ite community such as orphaned children and for religious affairs, such as scholarships for a new crop of talabeh (seminary students) recruited from adolescent boys usually from the villages.

The Islamic Republic added to these sources of revenue for the Shiite clergy portions of the state’s revenue which is given to the religious institutions as part of the secret annual government budget.  The formal, public budget supports the Shiite controlled capitalist State machinery and economy, including the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution, of which Ghasem Soleimani was a Major General. 

A note on imperialism
Of course, imperialism has been with us since the rise of early civilizations that built empires.  However, our concern today is with capitalist imperialism, the modern age nemesis responsible for numerous wars, hundreds of millions of casualties, and untold environmental and ecological destruction, including two world war centered in Europe. The last world war ended with the U.S. atomic attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki with a civilian population of 290,000 and 240,000 respectively. There were other civilians including Koreans and Chinese as well as Japanese soldiers as well as allied POWs when the bombs were dropped. 

But what is capitalist imperialism? In the short essay I cited earlier (Nayeri, 2018), I argue that the monopoly capital theory of imperialism popular with socialist currents is problematic because (1) on the theoretical level it is based on a erroneous revision of Marx’s theory of the capitalist mode of production, and (2) its various formulations are based on refuted empirical grounds (Answar Shaikh, 2016, uses Marx’s theory to offer an integrated empirical study of the U.S. economy). 

Moreover, imperialism is embedded in the very nature of capital as self-expanding value, which is essentially a process, the process of reproducing value and producing new value.  Historically, the capitalist firm has found it necessary at the time to operate outside of the boundaries of the nation-state for acquiring raw materials, for selling at international markets, or to produce overseas because of cheaper local labor power or for better access to raw material and commodity markets. The capitalist state’s primary goal is to preserve the capitalist system and its interest at home and abroad. In this sense, the foreign policy of capitalist states is the extension of their domestic policy. Just as the capitalist state protects capital against the working people at home, it also works through diplomacy and military force as needed to protect the interest of “national” capitals (firms) abroad.  That is what U.S. politicians mean when they call to go to war if necessary to protect “American interests!” 

This theoretical framework is more consistent with the historical record. Thus, history of the founding of the United States by the colonial-settlers which began with mercantilism and primitive capitalist accumulation by the early European migrants who uprooted the Native American nations to expropriate the wealth provided by nature was followed by the early proto-capitalist plantations as part of the cross Atlantic slave and cotton trade that helped create the basis of ongoing capitalist accumulation both in England and in the United States.  The U.S. armed forces just like the domestic police forces, federal, state or local are primarily to defend the U.S. capitalist class interest. This becomes clear in any long-lasting labor strike.  

American imperialism did not start in the late nineteenth century as the monopoly capitalist theories would have it but with the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 that declared Latin America its “backyard.” That is when the modern division of the world into the early industrializers (who have been recognized as imperialist) and latecomers that have been subjected to imperialist domination (that have been called by various names depending on occasion and theories, nowadays, Global South).   

It follows that every capitalist country potentially is expansionist, hence potentially imperialist. Thus, the struggle for supplies markets, commodity markets, and labor markets, hence spheres of influence, is not limited to the hegemonic capitalist powers like the United States but it has become, with the rise of semi-industrial and industrial latecomers, including countries like Russia and China, a much wider phenomenon. Even lesser capitalist powers, like Israel, Iran, Turkey, and even Saudi Arabia have aspirations to become regional powers and they have come increasingly into conflict and ad hoc alliances with each other. These regional conflicts also merge with the global rivalry of larger capitalist powers resulting in today's multi-polar world where the United States, European Union, Russia, and China, as well as their allies elsewhere in the world, participate. The conflict between the United States and the Islamic Republic is framed in this sort of rivalry.  That is also why the United States wants to ensure having a government friendly to its interests in every country, hence the age-old doctrine of regime change. 

The rise of the Islamic Republic that now wields influence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen runs counter to the strategic goals of the U.S. administrations since the 1979 Iranian revolution.  It is also undermining the dominant position of Israel, the U.S.  garrison armed with nuclear weapons in the Middle East. 

An Ecocentric Socialist Strategy for Peace

As I was writing this essay, a friend shared a blog post that celebrated the life of A.J. Muste who was a pacifist labor and socialist leader. The blogpost quoted Muste’s words: “There is no road to peace, peace IS the way.”  It is easy to dismiss Muste’s words as that of a pacifist.  However, I think oo feel that we should not just oppose wars but also to campaign for peace. However, as I will explain in a moment to be peaceful is far more than opposing wars. It is also the only way to emancipate humanity.  

All politics is about power
All politics is about power relations.  In the current election year in the United States, for example, this is in plain view as various factions in the Democratic Party compete among each other by presents different platforms to unseat Donald Trump who has in just three years consolidated his hold on the Republican Party to follow his retrograde anti-humanity and anti-ecological nativist America First vision.  It is clear that both parties and all candidates are claiming to have the vision and program to tackle problems of American capitalism and to ensure the global dominance of the U.S. ruling class well into this century.  It is clear that each candidate and each party wants a mandate to exercise the power of the American capitalist State: the executive branch, the legislative branch, and the judiciary. The American ruling class and its various groups will wield this power against the working people of this country and worldwide as well as their competitors around the world to further their interests.  It is an illusion among the working people and parties who claim to speak for the working people that by engaging in capitalist politics we can improve our lives, especially if we think about the working people of all backgrounds and across the world and in the current state of the world where humanity is facing the existential threats of catastrophic climate change, the Sixth Extinction, and the danger of a nuclear holocaust. 

We live in a vast web of power relations and have been raised to accept them as natural, so much so that most of us take them for granted.  A very common power relation is class relations. All workers know who is the boss and from time to time we are aware of the tension between employers and workers when a strike erupts. But most workers take for granted the fact that a tiny capitalist class should own the social means of production and that working people have to rely on them for their livelihood.   The “Me Too” movement also points to the relation of domination and subordination between men and women in our society (in the Latin culture it is called Machismo that is so prevalent that even in Cuba 59 years after Fidel Castro proclaimed the socialist character of the revolution). But the relation of domination and subordination exists among adults and children, between Whites and non-Whites in many modern-day societies and so on.  We have names for these relations of dominance and subordination, like classism, racism, sexism, homophobia, imperialist domination, colonialism, etc. 

A key power relation is between humans as a species and the rest of nature: it too has several names: human-centeredness, speciesism, anthropocentrism. We need to explore it a bit later. 

Historically, various combinations of naked force and ideology have been used to bring social groups and the non-human nature under domination and control.  Some recent examples are slavery in the American south, Apartheid in South Africa, and Zionism in Palestine.   

As Marx’s critique of religion, civil society and the state show, modes of production and their attending (eco)social relations lay at the root of these power relations. For an example of the validity of this proposition consider human control and domination over nature. Just one example: the international meat industry in 2011, a year for which I have available statics, slaughtered more than 58 billion chicken (more precisely, 58,110,000,000), nearly 3 billion ducks (2,917,000,000), more than a billion pigs (1,383,000,000) worldwide. Other farm animals slaughtered for the meat and poultry market numbered in hundreds of millions each: 654,000,000 turkeys, 649,000,000 geese, and guinea fowl, 517,000,000 sheep, 430,000,000 goats and 296,000,000 cattle (Heinrich Böll Foundation, 2014, p. 15). 

The point to take away is that violence is endemic in all eco-social modes of production since the dawn of civilization and it is not just violence against some group of humans by another group of humans; it is also violence by human society as a whole against the rest of nature. (I have elsewhere discussed the ethics of our relationship with the rest of nature, See, for example, Nayeri 2013; also, see, Francione, 2008 ) To campaign for peace is not simply to oppose imperialist wars or colonial wars, it is also to oppose racist, anti-women, homophobic, and similar forms of violence, and most of all, the violence against other species and Mother Nature which is happening on a much higher scale to extract ever more wealth for them.  

Alienation as the precondition for subordination and exploitation
The question presents itself: how could any group of humans subordinate, oppress, and exploit other groups of humans and the rest of nature through systematic forms of violence? 

The answer is alienation. By alienating others as not be kin or and of lower moral standing to us.  The Whites (and not just slave owners) considered the African slaves as not fully human. The ideology of the South African Apartheid also held the native African population as less human than the European colonial-settlers. We can see the same racist ideology in play with the Zionist occupiers of Palestine. This is how the holocaust happened, be degrading Jews as an impure race. And, of course, this is how billions of sentient beings are raised and slaughtered without any widespread protest by human societies as the bulk of humanity has internalized these animals as having no moral standing of their own. The idea of freedom and pursuit of happiness is reserved only for humans and, in reality, not even for the bulk of humanity who are exploited by the ruling classes to extract ever more wealth from nature.

The problem of alienation from nature as a historical phenomenon predates the rise of private property, family, and the state which Frederick Engels brought to our attention, in good measure because in the late nineteenth century the sciences of anthropology and archeology were in infancy.  Human history was limited to what could be discerned from available ancient texts which dated to the period after the invention of writing about 3,200 years ago. When Marx and Engels wrote The German Ideology (1845-46) in which they outlined their materialist conception of history, the term “prehistory” did not even exist. It came into use in the 1850s as ancient material other than written texts became available to early archeologists and anthropologists who began to map out human history before the invention of writing.  These fields of inquiry advanced rapidly only in the mid-twentieth century when carbon-dating of archeological findings became available.  Just two years ago, we learned that the first evidence of the early humans (Homo sapiens) was about 300,000 years ago in northern Africa, not 200,000 years age as previously confirmed. 

For this entire at least 300,000 years, save the last 10,000 to 5,000 years when the first farmer emerged until the first towns emerged, humanity lived in very small groups of forgers. It is generally accepted by anthropologists and archeologists that hunter-gathers lived a life that offered them an abundance of leisure time and they were free of infectious diseases (these arose with farming and sedentary lifestyle of a growing and increasingly concentrated population).  Our forager ancestors also had a wealth of practical knowledge about their ecosystem, including knowledge about a few hundred plants and animals that coexisted with them. That is how they survived for 300,000 years and their population gradually grew across the planet.  

But what is of interest to us here is their worldview. Hunter-gatherers did not differentiate themselves from the rest of nature and many held an animist worldview that saw other animate and inanimate life (sky, river, mountain) as persons. As such, they treated the rest of nature with respect and live with them in relative harmony. 

Some 10,000 years ago, for reasons we cannot explore tonight, groups of hunter-gatherers in the Fertile Crescent and then in other places on Earth became settler farmers by systematic domestication of some plants and animals. Domestication requires making individuals and groups of a wild species dependent on humans for their livelihood and survival. This is what a farm is an artificial (human-made) ecosystem where the domesticated species are raised in a controlled environment for the purpose of the farmer.  Domestication has debased every domesticated species.   For example:

“Compared with their wild ancestors, sheep have undergone a reduction in brain size of 24 percent over the ten-thousand-year history of their domestication; ferrets (domesticated far more recently) have brains 30 percent smaller than those of wild polecats, and pigs (sus scrofa) have brains more than a third smaller than their ancestors.” (Scott, 2017, pp. 80-81)

By domesticating other animals and plants, we have also domesticated ourselves, losing our resiliency as a species. Humanity today will find it impossible to live outside of civilization as each and every one of us depends for our livelihood to an increasingly distant and complex web of eco-social relations of production.  While civilization has brought with it some benefits such as public health and medicine, it has also brought with it disease physical and psychological that results from thousands of years of domination and control of nature, including human nature.

The rise of the economy and civilization
We know that the early farmers were not as well off as hunter-gatherers and this remained the case for a few thousand years.  But eventually, some early farmers began to produced an economic surplus.  With the rise of the economic surplus, the population increased and farming settlements expanded, the social division of labor appeared and early city-state emerged. So did private property, nuclear family and the state. These were the hallmark of social alienation as the tribal life which was the cornerstone of foraging life disintegrated into various social groups estranged from one another. While the state originally arose to protect the economic surplus and the farming settlements, it gradually became independent of and dominant over the farmers, artisans, and traders and extracted part of their economic surplus for the protection offered them. Thus, the exploitation of early farmers began by the state.  Thus, the first economies and class societies emerged.

An economy is simply the collection of various modes of production that makes up a social formation, a sum total of all eco-social relations of production of society to extract wealth from nature by exploiting some groups of working people.  Again, the meat industry provides us with an example. It includes a web of eco-social relations of production organized by a handful of transnational corporations in which farm animals who are essentially born into an enslaved existence are raised for their meat sold at food markets to realize profits. In this production and valorization process, the primary object of exploitation are billions of farm animal and the secondary object of exploitation are the workers. The market value of processed meat is expected to rise from $714 billion in 2016 to over $1.5 trillion by 2022. (Global Meat Industry - Statistics & Facts, January 17, 2019)   The international meat industry employs millions of workers. In the U.S. alone the meat and poultry industry employs nearly 500,000.  These workers are essential in the production of meat and poultry. The billions of animals slaughtered each year and the workers exploited by the industry enable the capitalists in the meat industry to reap profits. 

The point to take away is this: all class societies since the dawn of civilization have been organized by their ruling classes to extract wealth from nature through the exploitation of working masses whether they were slaves or serfs or factory or office workers, or independent producers.  To maintain this wealth-generating machine, maintaining and enforcing power relations are essential. Thus, the very eco-social relations of production since the dawn of civilization have been violent relations to dominate and control nature, including human nature. To end wars we must end all forms of violence against nature and against other species and ourselves which can only happen if we transcend the anthropocentric industrial capitalist civilization in the direction of an ecocentric socialist society. 

Crisis of civilization
The present-day anthropocentric industrial capitalist civilization differs from the earlier civilizations in that it has unleashed the rapidly increasing power of science and technology in the service of the capitalist class to extract wealth from nature by exploiting billions of working people on a global scale.  Of course, there are positive unintended consequences of this new incarnation of civilization, such as increased life expectancy, public health, education, better housing and wider access to the cultural heritage of humanity to name a few.  At the same time, the human population since 1800 has grown exponentially as per capita consumption has also grown which is a requirement for capitalist accumulation.  As Adam Smith noted: division of labor is limited by the extent of the market.  

The combination has brought us the Anthropocene (The Age of Mankind) which has decidedly subordinated much of life on Earth to humans resulting in three existential threats to us and much of life on Earth: catastrophic climate change, the Sixth Extinction, and the threat of a nuclear holocaust.  These are not some threats in the distant future. If scientists are right, civilization may collapse by the end of the century if no action to stop these threats are taken very soon.  

Let’s recall that all civilizations have been subject to the eco-social crisis of their own and many have collapsed.  Let me just name those civilizations in the Americas that collapsed:

  • The Maya
  • The Olmec
  • Teotihuancán
  • The Hohokam
  • The Anasazi

Thus, it is not at all shocking if the anthropocentric industrial capitalist civilization would also collapse. What is astonishing that it has taken relatively so little time for the existential crises to occur, by the most expansive theory of capitalism a mere 500 years!

Of course, we also know of many of there ecosocial crises that are not considered existential because they are regional at this stage. Take for example the water crisis in the Middle East and North Africa.  Not only climate scientists project that much of the Middle East will become uninhabitable by the end of the century due to the climate change if it is not stopped soon, but the water crisis also poses a more immediate danger to much of the Middle East and North Africa.  According to August 21, 2014, Financial Times article in Iran:

“Thousands of villages rely on water tankers for supplies, according to local media, while businessmen complain shortages are a daily hazard in factories around Tehran. At least a dozen of the country’s 31 provinces will have to be evacuated over the next 20 years unless the problem is addressed, according to a water official who declined to be named.”(See, Proyect, 2018; Nayeri, 2018)

We know the Syrian civil war was in part driven by persistent drought due to climate change that forced many peasants to become shantytown dwellers. Access to water drinking water is partly responsible for the current annexationist policies of the Israel government, hence the crisis facing the Palestinian people.  

As of this writing, Ethiopia and Egypt are facing each other off over the $4.5 billion mega-dam project upstream over the Nile River as by the former as Egypt critically depends on the Nile for its economy and fast-growing population. 

Peace Is the Way

Now, let us get back to Muste’s insightful comment: “Peace is the road!” But peace will require peaceful relations among people and with the rest of nature. To achieve peace, we must undo all existing power relations in human society, that is, to end all relations of domination and subordination, hence all exploitations. To do so required a long process of de-alienation from nature and in society. Without doing away with these power relations there can be no peace!

To overcome the existential threats to humanity, and all other eco-social crises facing us, we must work toward transcending the anthropocentric industrial capitalist civilization. It is only Beyond Civilization, in an Ecocentric Socialist society, a society in harmony with nature and with itself.

The young generation in Iran is coming to politics after four decades of Islamic Republic rule. The path forward is not to denounce one power structure with another but to do away will all power structures. That is how the working people of Iran would confront imperialism and Iranian ruling class and its clerical capitalist regime; by revolutionary non-violence which requires opting out of power relations and creating the future through praxis of peaceful ways of life on Earth (For some of my own thinking about this set of issues pleases see, Nayeri, 2018). 

Postscript:  With the reported death of four people in Iran, it is clear that Coronavius has arrived there and a sizeable inflected group exists in congested Iranian cities, including in Qum, the sit of Shiite clergy. The World Health Organization warns of a global pandemic and Iran could become an epicenter if the highly contagious little understood new virus spreads unchecked. The increased frequency of "new" and highly dangerous viruses from HIV to ebola, to SARS, and now Coronavirus offers another dimension of the crisis of the anthropocentric industrial capitalist civilization. China has become the hotbed of new dangerous viruses because it has brought to close proximity a high density of human population, their food sources that include both farm animals and wildlife, and an inanimate environment conducive to pathogen metamorphosis, hence species-specific viruses "jumping" to the human population (See, Wallace, 2016; Wallace, 2020). In fact, the rise of infectious diseases coincided with the early farming settlement and the rise of civilization. Hunter-gathers who lived in small groups that were always on the move were not prone to infectious diseases. 

Acknowledgment: I am grateful to Massoud Nayeri, a friend from the 1979 Iranian revolution, and a long time peace activist, who suggested me as a speaker for the radio program and urged me to accept the kind invitation. He read the first draft of this essay and offered helpful comments to improve it.  Thanks, also, to John Barnzman who brought the blog post about A.J. Muste to my attention. 

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