Thursday, November 18, 2010

Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi's Court Statement

Jafar Panahi in Teheran this past August

Note: We are reprinting in full the passionate statement issued last week by Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi to the court in Teheran. Panahi has established an international reputation based on such films as The White Balloon,” “ Crimson Gold,” and “ Offside.” He was arrested earlier this year by security forces of the clerical Iranian regime while making a film that was characterized by the pro-government press as "anti-state". Panahi had made no secret of his support for the protests that broke out following last year's election. In March he was jailed in the notorious Evin prison for three months. After staging a hunger strike he was finally released on bail in May. An international campaign demanding his freedom won the support of the elite of the film community. Among the notables who spoke up for Panahi are the famed Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami. He was joined by American filmmakers Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola. At the Cannes film festival last year the famous French actress Juliette Binoche could not hold back her tears at a news conference for Panahi.

Panahi's statement is a powerful defense of basic democratic rights against the autocratic theocracy of modern day Iran. He also makes it clear that it is not only he personally who is on trial but the entire Iranian cinema and Iranian culture as a whole. Panahi's statement is not that of a revolurionary socialist but of a principled advocate of democratic rights and the autonomy of culture. Doubltess Panahi maintains certain illusions about the viability of the leadership of the protest movement, illusions which we as Marxists do not share. Nevertheless it is important to proclaim our solidarity with the protestors despite our opposition to their leadership. It is in that spirit that we are reprinting Panahi's eloquent statement. (For previous statements we have published about Panahi's case, see "A case of political hypocrisy: The WSWS's 'defense' of jailed Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi" and "More on the WSWS and Panahi: An exchange with a reader". )

Alex Steiner

Nov. 18, 2010

Your Honor, I would like to present my defense in two parts.

Part 1: What they say.

In the past few days I have been watching my favorite films again, though I did not have access to some of them, which are among the greatest films of the history of cinema. My house was raided on the night of March 1, 2010 while my colleague Mr. Rasoulof and I were in the process of shooting what we intended to be a socially conscious art-house film. The people, who identified themselves as agents of the Ministry of Intelligence, arrested us along with other crew members without presenting any warrants. They confiscated my collection of films as well and never returned them to me. Subsequently, the only reference made to those films was by the prosecutor in charge of my case, who asked me: “What are these obscene films you’re collecting?”

I have learned how to make films inspired by those outstanding films that the prosecutor deemed obscene. Believe me I have just as much difficulty understanding how they could be called obscene as I do comprehending how the activity for which I was arrested could be seen as a crime. My case is a perfect example of being punished before committing a crime. You are putting me on trial for making a film that, at the time of our arrest, was only thirty percent shot. You must have heard that the famous creed, “There is no god, except Allah,” turns into blasphemy if you only say the first part and omit the second part. In the same vein, how can you establish that a crime has been committed by looking at 30 percent of the rushes for a film that has not been edited yet?

I do not comprehend the charge of obscenity directed at the classics of film history, nor do I understand the crime I am accused of. If these charges are true, you are putting not only us on trial but the socially conscious, humanistic, and artistic Iranian cinema as well, a cinema which tries to stay beyond good and evil, a cinema that does not judge or surrender to power or money but tries to honestly reflect a realistic image of the society.

One of the charges against me is attempting to encourage demonstrations and incite protests with this film. All through my career I have emphasized that I am a socially committed filmmaker not a political one. My main concerns are social issues; therefore my films are social dramas not political statements. I never wanted to act as a judge or a prosecutor. I am not a filmmaker who judges but one who invites other to see. I don’t get to decide for others or to write any kind of manual for anybody; please allow me to repeat my [intention] to place my cinema beyond good and evil. This kind of belief has caused my colleagues and myself a lot of trouble; many of my films have been banned, along with the films of other filmmakers like me. But it is unprecedented in Iranian cinema to arrest and imprison a filmmaker for making a film, and harass his family while he is in prison. This is a new development in the history of Iranian cinema that will be remembered for a long time.

I have been accused of participating in demonstrations. No Iranian filmmaker was allowed to use his camera to capture the events but you can not forbid an artist to observe! As an artist it is my responsibility to observes in order to get inspired and create. I was an observer, and it was my right to observe.

I have been accused of making a film without permission. Is it really necessary to point out here that no law has been passed by the parliament regarding the need for a permit to make a film? There are only some internal memos which are going through changes each time the deputy minister is changed.

I have been accused of not giving a script to the actors. In our filmmaking genre where we work mostly with non-professional actors, this is a very routine way of filmmaking practiced by myself and many of my colleagues; the cast mostly consists of non-actors. Therefore, the director does not find it necessary to give them a script. This accusation sounds more like a joke that has no place in the judiciary system.

I have been accused of having signed a declaration. I have singed one: an open letter signed by 37 prominent film makers, in order to express their concern about the turn of events in the country. I was one of them. Unfortunately, instead of listening to the concerns, we were accused of treachery. However, these filmmakers are the very same people who have expressed their concerns in the past about injustices around the world. How can you expect them to remain indifferent to the fate of their own country?

I have been accused of organizing demonstrations at the opening of Montreal Film Festival. At least some truth and fairness should back up any accusations. I was the chair of the jury in Montreal and arrived only a few hours before the opening. How could I have organized a demonstration in a place where I hardly knew anyone? Let’s not forget that in those days the Iranian Diaspora would gather at any relevant event around the world to voice their demands.

I have been accused of giving interviews to Persian-speaking media abroad. I know for fact that there are no laws forbidding us from giving interviews.

Part 2: What I say.

History testifies that an artist’s mind is the analytical mind of his society. By learning about the culture and history of his country, by observing the events that occur in his surroundings, he sees, analyzes and presents issues of the day through his art form to the society.

How can anyone be accused of any crime because of his mind and what passes through the mind?

The assassination of ideas and sterilizing artists of a society has only one result: killing the roots of art and creativity. Arresting my colleagues and I while shooting an unfinished film is nothing but an attack by those in power on all the artists of this land. It drives this crystal clear however sad message home: “You will repent if you don’t think like us.”

I would like to remind the court of yet an other ironic fact about my imprisonment: the space given to Jafar Panahi’s festival awards in Tehran’s Museum of Cinema is much larger than his cell in prison.

All said, despite all the injustice done to me, I, Jafar Panahi, declare once again that I am an Iranian, I am staying in my country and I like to work in my own country. I love my country, I have paid a price for this love too, and I am willing to pay again if necessary. I have yet another declaration to add to the first one. As shown in my films, I declare that I believe in the right of “the other” to be different, I believe in mutual understanding and respect, as well as in tolerance; the tolerance that forbid me from judgment and hatred. I don’t hate anybody, not even my interrogators.

I recognize my responsibilities toward the future generations that will inherit this country from us.

History is patient. Insignificant stories happen without even acknowledging their insignificance. I, myself, am worried about the future generations.

Our country is quite vulnerable; it is only through the [guarantee] of the state of law for all, regardless of any ethnic, religious or political consideration, that we can avoid the very real danger of a chaotic and fatal future. I truly believe that tolerance represents the only realistic and honorable solution to this imminent danger.


Jafar Panahi

An Iranian filmmaker

Monday, November 8, 2010

On the Anniversary of the October Revolution

On this day, the 93rd anniversary of the Russian Revolution, we are publishing an excerpt from a speech given by Trotsky on the occasion of the Fifth Anniversary of the revolution.  The text is taken from the volume, The First Five Years of the Communist International, Volume 2.  This HTML version is from the Marxist Internet Archives. 

Nov. 7, 2010 

The Fifth Anniversary of the October Revolution and the Fourth World Congress of the Communist International

Delivered Before the Active Membership of the Moscow Organization
October 20, 1922

Comrades, the Fourth World Congress of the Communist International will convene during a jubilee for the Soviet power, its Fifth Anniversary. My report will be devoted to these two events. The jubilee is of course a purely formal one; involving a date on the calendar, but events are not regulated by the calendar. The fifth anniversary of the Soviet power does not represent any kind of completed historical period, all the less so because in our revolutionary epoch everything is undergoing change, everything is in flux, everything is still far from static, nor will the finished forms be reached soon. Nevertheless it is quite natural for every thinking individual, all the more so a Communist, to strive toward an understanding of what has taken place, and to analyse the situation as it shapes up on this formal date on the calendar, on the fifth anniversary of the Soviet power and, therefore, also on the occasion of the Fourth World Congress of the Comintern.

The Tangled Skein of Capitalist Contradictions is Becoming Unravelled, Beginning with Russia

Two day ago I happened to attend a party cell meeting at the former Bromley plant. One of the comrades there, a member of the cell, raised the following question: In what country would the proletarian revolution be most advantageous from the standpoint of Communist interests? After a moment’s reflection I replied that taking it so abstractly one would have to say that a revolution in the United States would be the most advantageous. The reason for this is quite easy to understand. This country is the most independent in the world, economically speaking. Its agriculture and industry are so balanced as to enable the country to lead, in the event, say, of a savage blockade, a wholly independent existence. Moreover it is the richest country in the world, disposing of the foremost industrial technology, holding in its hands approximately one-half, perhaps slightly less, of the visible gold reserve. It is a country concentrating in its hands the bigger half of world production in the most important branches. Naturally, were the proletariat of this country to take power into its hands, it would possess unsurpassed material foundations, and organizational and technical premises for socialist construction. The next country in order is – Great Britain, while Russia would come on this list if not the very last in the series (because there exists Asia, there is Africa), then at any rate very low toward the bottom of the list of countries within the borders of Europe. Yet history is, as you know, unravelling this tangled skein from the opposite end, namely from the end where Russia is located, a country which, in the cultural and economic sense, is the most backward among the major capitalist countries, a country which is extremely dependent in the economic and technological sense, and which, in addition, has been utterly ruined by the war. And if we were to ask ourselves today what are the political premises for the proletarian revolution in the United States, then naturally one may grant a possible course of events such as may extraordinarily hasten the conquest of power by the American proletariat. But if we take the situation as it stands today, then we must say that in this strongest, largest, and most decisive leading capitalist country, the political premises, i.e., premises on the plane of the creation of systematic party and class organizations, are the least prepared. One could devote an entire report to explain why history began unravelling the skein of revolution from such a weak and backward country in the economic sense as ours, but in that case I would be able to speak of neither the Fourth World Congress nor of the fifth anniversary of the Soviet power. It suffices right now that we have been compelled for these five years to pursue the work of socialist construction in the economically most backward country, while capitalism, mortally hostile to us, has been preserved in bourgeois countries far superior to us economically. This is the fundamental fact, and from it, naturally, stemmed the fearsome intensity of our civil war.

The Fundamental Lesson of the Russian Revolution

Here, if we wish to draw our fundamental conclusion, we must say in praise of our party that it has set a colossal example – for the proletariat of all countries – of how to fight for power and of how, after conquering it, to defend this power by means of the most resolute measures, applying wherever necessary harsh and ruthless methods of dictatorship, without flinching before any decisive measures in trampling upon bourgeois hypocrisy, when at stake is the securing of state power by the revolutionary proletariat. And this textbook of the Russian Revolution, which ought to be written, the workers of all countries will study in the course of the next few years or perhaps decades, because it is impossible to say how long the proletarian revolution will endure from its beginning to its termination: It is a question of an entire historical epoch. Whether we did or did not make mistakes during the civil war (and of course there were mistakes), we nevertheless did on the whole accomplish the most classic part of our revolutionary work. We have more than once spoken of the mistakes which conditioned our need to retreat in the economic sphere, a major retreat which is known among us as the NEP (New Economic Policy). The fact that we marched forward at the very beginning along a certain road, and then retreated and are now fortifying ourselves on certain positions, tends to disrupt in the extreme the perspective not only among our enemies but also among many of our friends. Correspondents sympathetic to us and many Communists, European and American alike, pose as the first question, both during the departure of our delegation to Genoa as well as today, the fact that many things have changed in Moscow (and there were many visitors to Moscow in 1919 and 1920) and that Moscow now resembles too much other European and American cities. And in general where is the guarantee that you Russian Communists will check the further development and head for Communism and not for capitalism? Where is the guarantee?

The general impression at a superficial glance is that the socialist conquests gained in the first period are now spontaneously and automatically melting and crumbling away and there does not seem to be a power capable of retaining them. It is possible, Comrades, to approach the question from the other end and say as follows: Let us for a moment forget that we proceeded along the line of the so-called War Communism and later retreated to the present position. Let us take the situation as it exists today and compare it with what it was on October 25, or on the eve of the 1917 revolution. If our foreign well-wishers or the European and American Communists were to submit us to a cross-examination, we would say: The railways, the mines, the plants and the factories were at that time in the hands of private owners. Enormous areas of the land and the country’s natural resources were in the hands of private owners. Today all the railways, the overwhelming majority, or in any case all of the most important plants and factories, all of the most valuable natural resources in the country are in the hands of the state, which is, in turn, the property of the working class, supporting itself upon the peasant masses. This is the fact which we have before us as the product of five years. There was an offensive followed by a retreat, but here is the balance sheet: As the product of five years, the most important means of industry and production and a considerable sector of agricultural production are under the direct supervision and management of the workers’ state. This is a fundamental fact. But what has produced the retreat? This is a very important question, because the very fact of the retreat tends to disrupt the perspective. How did we conceive the successive order, the course of nationalizing the means of industry and of the organization of socialism? In all our old books, written by our teachers and by us, we always said and wrote that the working class, having conquered state power, will nationalize step by step, beginning with the best prepared means of production, which will be transferred to the socialist foundations. Does this rule remain in force today? Unquestionably it does, and we shall say at the Fourth World Congress, where we will discuss the question of the Communist program: will the working class on conquering power in Germany or in France have to begin by smashing the apparatus for organizing the technical means, the machinery of money economy and replace them by universal accounting? No, the working class must master the methods of capitalist circulation, the methods of accounting, the methods of stock market turnover, the methods of banking turnover and gradually, in consonance with its own technical resources and degree of preparation, pass over to the planned beginnings, replacing accounting by a computation of the profitability or non-profitability of a given enterprise, replacing accounting by taking stock of the centralized means and forces, including the labour force.

This is the fundamental lesson which we must once again teach the workers of the whole world, a lesson we were taught by our teachers. If we violated this lesson, it was owing to conditions of a political character, owing to the pressures brought to bear upon us after our conquest of state power. This is the most important difference between the proletarian revolution as it has occurred in Russia and the revolution which will occur, say, in America. In that country, prior to the conquest of power, the working class will have to surmount the most colossal difficulties but once it has conquered power, the pressure on those fronts on which we were compelled to fight will be far less, because our country with its petty-bourgeoisie, its backward kulaks (well-to-do peasants), experienced the revolution in a different way and because our revolution caught the Russian bourgeoisie by surprise. By the very fact of the October revolution we taught the bourgeoisie to understand just what it has lost when the workers took power and it was only the fact of the revolution itself that impelled the bourgeoisie, the kulaks and the officers to organize. We smashed the bourgeoisie not so much prior to October 25 and during the night of October 25-26 as in the three years’ interval following October 25, when the bourgeoisie, the landlords and the officers fathomed what was involved and began the struggle against us with the aid of European capitalism. In Europe we have a process differing profoundly from that in our country, because there the bourgeoisie is far better organized and more experienced, because there the petty-bourgeoisie has graduated from the school of the big bourgeoisie and is, in consequence, also far more powerful and experienced; and, in addition, the Russian Revolution has taught them a good deal. In these countries therefore the preparation and the arming of counter-revolutionary gangs is now taking place parallel with the preparation and tempering of the Communist Party for this struggle, which will be far more intense prior to their October 25, but not afterwards. Only before. The fact that in our country, the day after the conquest of power, the plants and factories turned out to be the fortresses and citadels of the bourgeoisie, the main base upon which European imperialism was able to depend, this fact compelled us to resort to nationalization, independently of our ability or the extent of our ability to organize these enterprises with our own forces and resources.

And if, for political reasons, we drove the property owners out of the factories, while being ourselves bereft of the possibility of even immediately gaining hold of these factories; if, for political reasons, we brought down the sword of dictatorship and of terror upon the stock market and the banks, it is self-evident that we thereby mechanically destroyed the apparatus in the service of the bourgeoisie and which the bourgeoisie employed for organizing the economy and for distributing the productive forces and commodities in the country. Insofar as we destroyed this apparatus at a single blow, we were, generally speaking, obliged to replace it with another – with the apparatus of centralized accounting and distribution. But such an apparatus had first to be created; we had to have it; but, naturally owing to all the preconditions, owing to our entire past, owing to our level of development and knowledge, we could not possibly create it. And so, because of the titanic and ineluctable aspects of the civil war as such, and because of the impossibility even for an advanced working class and all the more so for us, in a backward country, to create an apparatus of socialist calculation and distribution in the space of twenty-four hours – precisely because of this there arose the entire tragedy of our economy. War Communism, too, was not our program – it was imposed upon us. To the extent that there were fronts in the civil war, to the extent that we were compelled to destroy the enemy’s bases of support behind these fronts, i.e., the private capitalist enterprises of all categories, to that extent we were driven to manage the enterprises in a migratory and warlike manner. This was the epoch of War Communism and I shall not conceal that here, as is always the case, people tended to make a virtue out of necessity, i.e., in the same measure as War Communism was imposed upon us, the party workers and the leading party institutions tended to be carried away by inertia, in the sense of deluding themselves that we had here a complete solution of the tasks of socialist economy. But if we draw the balance sheet, we must say that the offensive and the retreat in the domain of economy had been dictated by the requirements of the civil war, which were absolutely imperative, and which cut across our economic conditions and the degree of our economic adaptation, or lack of adaptation. In other words, essentially both our offensive along the line of War Communism as well as our retreat along the line of the NEP were historically unavoidable in part and as a whole; and only on the basis of this historic necessity is it possible and necessary to analyse our subjective errors – both as a party and as a state power.

The Overhead Expenditures of the Revolution

There remains, Comrades, the most important question of all. As a result of five years, the workers’ state, as I said, disposes, after our retreat, of the most important means of production, and wields power. This is a fact. But there also is another fact – namely that we represent today one of the poorest countries in Europe. Yet it is quite obvious that socialism has meaning only to the extent that it assures a higher productivity of labour. Capitalism in its day superseded feudalism, while the latter superseded slave economy. Why? Because each succeeding economic order was more profitable in the socio-technological sense than the order it shunted aside; and socialism will naturally acquire its practical and not theoretical justification only on the condition that it supplies a greater quantity of goods per each unit of labour power for the satisfaction of social needs. And this is the chief argument employed against us. It was made use of even by the French representatives at Genoa; and Colrat, the French economic expert, repeated it in a crude and insolent form: “Don’t you dare teach us socialism when your own country is in a state of complete disorganization.” We would have preferred to provide in the last five years proofs of empirical character that is, show Europe an economy superior to the one which we obtained in 1917. This does not happen to be the case, but this is already ascribable entirely to the expenditures incurred by the revolution itself. Not a single revolution was ever accomplished without a lowering of the country’s economic level; and one of the conservative bourgeois historians of the French Revolution, Taine, so highly esteemed in the Third French Republic, has affirmed that for eight years following the Great French Revolution, the French people remained poorer than they were on the eve of revolution. This is a fact. Society is so shot through with contradictions, that it is capable of reaching a higher stage of development only through an internal class struggle. Society is so constituted that an internal class struggle in the fully unfolded form of civil war implies a lowering of economic levels. But, at the same time, of course, (every school boy knows this today), it was precisely and exclusively the Great French Revolution that created in France those governmental, juridical and cultural premises which provided the sole basis for the development of capitalism there, with all of its prowess, its technology and its bourgeois culture. In other words, what I wish to say is that the five-year period (and we must say this to all our critics, malicious and well-meaning alike who employ this argument) does not provide a historic scale by means of which it is possible to weigh the economic results of the proletarian revolution. All that we see up to now in our country are the overhead expenditures in the production of the revolution. These are expenditures for the revolution itself. And naturally, since these expenditures had to be covered from inherited capital, which, in turn, had been disorganized and devastated by the imperialist war, it therefore follows that we see in our country many more ruins of capitalism than results of socialist construction. The scale is far too small. This is what we must repeat once again at the Fourth World Congress of the Communist International. Five years in relation to the task of superseding capitalism by socialism, a task of the greatest historical magnitude – five years could not naturally bring about the necessary changes and what is, naturally, most important these five years constituted the period when socialism – as I said in the beginning – was being built or attempts were made to build it in the most backward country. The Great French Revolution, on the other hand, unfolded in the most advanced country on the European continent, a country that had attained a higher level than any other, with the exception of England across the Channel. In our country, the state of affairs assumed a far less favourable turn from the very beginning.

Here, Comrades, are in rough outline, those arguments which we shall develop in our party’s name at the Fourth World Congress where we are bound to ask our European and American comrades and at the same time ourselves, too: How do matters really stand with regard to the chances for the development of the European revolution? Because it is perfectly self-evident that the tempo of our future construction will in the highest measure depend upon the development of the revolution in Europe and in America.