Commentators have been quick to point to the failure of Jeremy Corbyn and friends to condemn the Iranian government’s current bout of repression towards pro-freedom demonstrators. Nobody should be surprised. The Tehran government may not be to everyone’s taste but it can be forgiven an awful lot by the far Left.
I was a teenage Trotskyite when the Shah had his Peacock Throne kicked from beneath him in the Iranian revolution of 1979. I remember the excitement that a lackey of the CIA and Western imperialism (yes, people on the Left did think like that) had been booted out. Of course, the Shah’s unpleasant autocracy was replaced by reactionary theocrats straight out of the Middle Ages, but the main thing was that our enemy’s friend was gone. Some on the Left even welcomed not just the Shah’s exit but the character of the new regime itself. Michel Foucault, the hero of every sociology lecturer, was effusive in praising the revolutionaries. Managing to overlook the early signs that the revolution was hardening into a tyranny, he was seduced by its total rejection of everything Western.
The new regime further delighted the Left by making America look weak and helpless with the Tehran hostage crisis. The Americans struggled to find the right response, and then faced a disastrous humiliation to their armed forces when the helicopter-borne commando rescue mission ended in disaster and the tragic death of eight US servicemen.
The old regime of the Shah, with its vicious secret police SAVAK, had certainly been bloody. So too was the new one, but the concerns of the Western Left had moved on and few seemed to notice the brutal repression launched against the Iranian people. Iran’s socialist opposition was crushed. The Marxist Tudeh party, which had survived SAVAK’s violent attention, was almost wiped out. Much of its membership was judicially murdered – often with grim theatricality: one technique was public hanging from cranes. Amnesty International reports which Mr Corbyn could easily find with two or three mouse clicks show a terrible history since the revolution of persecution and terror. The victims included ethnic minorities, trade unionists, political dissidents and of course women and gay people. The level of repression has fluctuated since 1979 but it has never stopped.
The regime’s victims were often the sort of groups that the Left here once felt obliged to support. There had been a time when socialists saw international solidarity as their first duty, but for many of them that duty was now relegated to second place after anti-Westernism.
To the comrades of ‘Stop the War’, which Mr Corbyn used to chair, Iran’s regime demonstrated its worthiness with its permanent position of opposing the West. Anyone who describes America as the ‘Great Satan’ has to be loved. Better yet, Iran even physically confronted the West in Iraq. After Saddam fell, Britain and America weren’t just fighting the remnants of Ba’athism but Shia militias who received much material and moral support from Iran.
To some on the far Left, that sort of record easily trumps concerns about anyone’s human rights. What could have more cachet than fighting US and British ‘imperialism’? So Mr Corbyn would presumably have had no problem when he accepted money from the Iranian government for TV work, or for his various displays of sympathy for some of Iran’s pet causes and equally nasty allies. The test he faces now is whether he can move away from his automatic anti-Westernism and show moral leadership by expressing support for an oppressed people struggling against a nasty and thuggish government. Judging by his record on Venezuela, I’m not optimistic.