by Frank Brenner
May 29, 2010
This greatly understates the vehemence with which the WSWS denounced last year's mass demonstrations, which posed the most serious challenge ever to the Islamic regime. As we explained elsewhere,  while it was necessary for Marxists to expose the bourgeois leadership of Mousavi, it was equally essential to solidarize ourselves with the democratic aspirations of the millions of demonstrators who were risking life and liberty to oppose the hated regime of the mullahs.
But the WSWS coverage of these events was, as we pointed out, “noteworthy precisely for its antipathy to the masses.” The WSWS made no distinction between the leadership and the demonstrators even though there was lots of evidence “even before the election that many of those who backed Mousavi were only doing so because they felt there was no other viable choice and that their opposition to the Islamic Republic went far beyond what their candidate stood for. Those contradictions came out in the demonstrations themselves, which were often organized to a large extent outside the official control of Mousavi’s Green movement and increasingly replaced the approved slogans of reform with the revolutionary challenge of 'Death to the Dictator.'”
The WSWS also insisted on portraying the demonstrations as a purely middle class movement, ignoring reports that sections of the working class were joining the protests. There was also the clear implication that the protest movement was being manipulated, if not directly hatched, by US imperialism.
The WSWS line on the Iranian events was epitomized by the following statement: “To the extent that students, young people and any workers opposed to the regime have been swept up in the opposition movement, they are being exploited as pawns in what can only be described as an attempted palace coup.” 
We pointed out that as a consequence of this vilification of the demonstrators as “pawns in an attempted palace coup”, the WSWS “said nothing for months about the brutal repression meted out to the protestors by Ahmadinejad’s thugs, including mass arrests, beatings, murders while in custody and judicial frame-ups.”
Now, in the high-profile case of Jafar Panahi, the WSWS has chosen to end this shameful silence. What accounts for this? There's no indication of any rethinking of the WSWS political line: that's evident not only from the “note of caution” at the end of the Panahi statement but most tellingly from the links to the recommended articles appended to the statement, which includes the same article I just cited, the one that characterizes the demonstrators as “pawns in an attempted palace coup.”
One has a right to ask: if this characterization is still valid, then on what grounds is the WSWS defending Panahi? After all, if Panahi is just another of the “pawns in an attempted palace coup,” isn't there some legitimacy to the Ahmadenijad regime's jailing of these “pawns”?
But listen to Panahi, in a message he sent from prison, thanking those who were working for his release: “Your voices are joined with those of my wife, my children, and those of all of my compatriots working for my freedom, that reach me from beyond these prison walls. But let us not forget the thousands of defenseless prisoners here, who have no one to pass on the message of their distress. Like me, they have committed no crime. And my blood is no more important than theirs.”
But the WSWS has indeed forgotten these “thousands of defenseless prisoners.” Panahi is right – “my blood is no more important than theirs” – which means that anyone who fails to defend them isn't really defending Panahi. But that is exactly the sort of 'defense' of Panahi the WSWS is putting forward.
Defending these prisoners doesn't mean endorsing Mousavi and the bourgeois leadership of the Green movement. To anyone not blinded by sectarianism, it should be evident that Marxist politics has to work on two fronts – solidarizing ourselves with the democratic aspirations of the demonstrators while doing everything we can to show them that those aspirations will only be met through a politically independent movement of the working class for a socialist Iran. The WSWS is happy to issue calls for socialism in Iran but it completely isolates those calls from the living struggles of the masses, which means that its calls are nothing more than empty rhetoric.
To go back to the question of why the WSWS chose to issue a statement defending Panahi, it is clear that factors other than political principle were involved. One doesn't need to be a Sherlock Holmes to figure out what is going on here.
Panahi's case had become a cause celebre within the film community. Many prominent filmmakers, actors and intellectuals had come out with statements demanding Panahi's release. At the Cannes film festival earlier this month, his case was raised time and again: renowned Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami praised Panahi at a news conference, actress Juliette Binoche told the audience at the closing night ceremony that Panahi's so-called crime was “to be an artist, to be independent,” and since Panahi's jailing prevented him from participating as a judge for the prestigious Palme d'Or, the other judges left one chair empty during their deliberations as a sign of protest.
The WSWS has worked for many years now to develop ties in the film community, especially through regular attendance at various film festivals. Arts editor David Walsh covers film festivals in North America, Richard Phillips (who wrote the Panahi statement) does the same in Australia, Stefan Steinberg has the German beat.
(For a tiny movement this is an extraordinary investment of resources, to what end it's hard to say. How endless reams of film reviews are supposed to raise the cultural consciousness of the working class – or contribute to a Marxist theory of art – is very much a mystery. Nor has this work produced anything noticeable in the way of recruitment among filmmakers or actors. What it has done is given the WSWS a superficial credibility as a commentator on cultural issues. And that matters in a movement that has little contact with workers and exists almost solely as a website.)
In any case, if you spend a lot of time at film festivals, you can't avoid responding to the pressures emanating from these circles. The Panahi case was a big deal in those circles, and for a supposedly revolutionary socialist website to say nothing on this matter would have raised a lot of eyebrows. In other words, the decision to make a statement on Panahi had less to do with defending the democratic rights of a jailed filmmaker and more to do with 'practical', i.e. cynical, considerations. The statement amounts to a fig leaf to hide the unpleasant truth about the WSWS's reactionary vilification of the Iranian masses.
Even at that, the WSWS waited an unconscionably long time – two months – to make its statement, though WSWS film reviewers like Walsh and Phillips undoubtedly heard about Panahi's arrest soon after it happened. In other words, grudgingly and only in the case of someone too famous to ignore, would the WSWS come out in defense of one of the “pawns in an attempted palace coup.”
(The contrast between this slow-motion reaction on the Panahi case and the rapid response of the WSWS in defending famed film director Roman Polanski – who is facing extradition to and imprisonment in the US – is striking. To be sure, the defense of Polanski is justified, but there is nothing overtly political about the charges he is facing, though of course there are many political implications to his case. With Panahi, however, the politics are front and center – and that's precisely why the WSWS waited so long before commenting.)
Sectarians have often been known to combine ultra-left rhetoric and reactionary politics. Underlying this apparent contradiction is the sectarian's distrust of, and even hostility towards, the living struggles of the masses. That is really what is behind the WSWS stance on Iran. While wanting to be on record as defending Panahi, the WSWS has actually served as a de facto apologist for the regime that put him in jail. To call this hypocrisy is an understatement.
 “Jailed Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi on hunger strike,” WSWS, May 24, 2010: http://www.wsws.org/articles/2010/may2010/pana-m24.shtml
 The Downward Spiral of the International Committe,Conclusion: http://www.permanent-revolution.org/polemics/downward_spiral_ch08.pdf, p. 210, n. 11
 “For workers' power and a socialist Iran,” WSWS, June 17, 2009: http://www.wsws.org/articles/2009/jun2009/pers-j17.shtml.
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