The Red Critique


The War(s)

Mas'ud Zavarzadeh

The war(s) in Gaza are "both for the defense" of "property and for obtaining new property" (Grundrisse). There is no "war" (singular) in Gaza, there are wars (plural). Wars without end. They have had devastating consequences for the dispossessed. The wars never end because of the domination in the region of a two-tiered economy that sharply divides the owners from workers—the exceptionally rich from those who live in "absolute poverty."

The wars are, therefore, both inter-class wars between the rulers and the ruled in each country as well as intra-class (colonial) wars among the owning classes of different "countries." The current war in Gaza is fought, outwardly, between Israel and Hamas. But Hamas is an armed militia of the Islamic Republic (formerly known as Iran). The intra-war is an extension of the inter-wars: the conflicts between the forces and relations of production upsetting the social relations in each country. "In proportion as the antagonism between classes within the nation vanishes, the hostility of one nation to another will come to an end" (Manifesto).

The most recent inter-class conflicts within Israel are expressions of class antagonisms that have persisted since the beginning of the country. They are deeply mediated by cultural and political discourses on democracy, good government, and the rights of minorities, but, at root, they are class wars over distribution of the social surplus—the inequality of which will be protected by reform of the judiciary.

In the Islamic Republic the current inter-class wars are fought under the political banner of "women-life-freedom" which is ostensibly for "FREEDOM":

For dancing in the streets

For the fear when kissing

For my sister, your sister, our sisters

For changing rusted minds

For the shame of poverty

For yearning for a normal life

For those kids who survive by searching through dumpsters, for their dreams

For this imposed economy

For this polluted air

For Valiasr Street and its worn-out trees

For Piruz [the last Asian cheetah cub in Iran] and his possible extinction

For dogs, innocent but banned

For non-stop crying

For never experiencing this moment [a photo is shown of a young girl who was killed when the Revolutionary Guards shot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 over Tehran in 2020]

For smiling faces

For students, for their future

For this forced "Heaven"

For imprisoned elites

For Afghan children

For all these countless "for"s

For all these meaningless chants [such as "Death to America"]

For the collapse of these flimsy houses

For feeling serenity and peace

For the sun after a long night

For anti-anxiety pills and insomnia

For men, homeland, development

For girls wishing to be boys

For women, life, freedom

For freedom

For freedom

For freedom

But the song, as some of its lines show, is a folk song of a class fight between the expropriators (the "mafias" as they are called) and the people over the dire living conditions in the country. The majority of people in the Islamic Republic live under "absolute poverty"—consuming around 2000 calories a day, below the amount required to sustain the human body.

The Islamic Republic (attempts to) suppress these inter-class wars by hanging the insurgents, shooting them on the streets and disappearing them. Those who survive are put in jail where men and women are tortured, raped and maimed until they become so broken that even when they are "freed" they commit suicide because they cannot live with themselves anymore.

Economically, Israel, with its advanced capitalist economy, needs cheap labor power to prosper and compete with other capitalist countries. Its occupation of the West Bank and its attempt to control Gaza are less about national security, as claimed, and more about Israel needing the West Bank and Gaza as a source for a vast industrial reserve army—a "lever of capitalist accumulation," a disposable "mass of human material" always "ready for exploitation" (Capital 1). Israel exploits this reserve army and, through it, puts pressure on wages in Israel, making labor cheap for Israeli big business.

The Islamic Republic does not have a capitalist economy. It is an "evolved" feudal regime. Unlike Israel, it cannot accumulate through "relative surplus labor" because it has no industrial-technological base. Its mode of accumulation is by "absolute surplus," which means it needs more people (e.g. the State's campaign to raise the birth rate) and land resources—thus its various (proxy) wars for control of the region's resources.

The Islamic Republic is an "evolved feudalism" because over half a century ago "Iran" had a "land reform" which was opposed by the clerics who found it violated the sacredness of private property. They now govern the country. The land reform failed to change the structure of land owning and its economics. Over one-third of the land in the country belongs to the religious institutions (awqaf أَوْقَاف) and is controlled by the Vali-ye Faqih ولی فقیه ("Supreme Leader"), who canonically is the ultimate land owner and in control of the economic order.

"Evolved feudalism" because its economy, like all economies, has been impacted by worldwide capitalism. It has elements of industrialization. But its "industry" is a simulated, "montage" industry that puts together parts imported from abroad.

The Islamic Republic is an industrial Potemkin village.

The missiles "industry" of the Islamic Republic, for example, which has attracted attention because of the use of some of its products by the Russian army in Ukraine is North Korean. Its drones—used by Hamas, the Houthis and the Russians—are reverse engineered from American drones. Its nuclear program was set up by a Pakistani scientist.

Lacking an industrial base, the Islamic Republic is unable to even refine enough of the oil it extracts from the land for domestic consumption. It imports gasoline from Russia and other countries.

The working class of the country consists of extractive and assembling workers who have a trade unionist consciousness.

The economy of the Islamic Republic, in other words, is essentially land based. However, with its agriculture being ruined because of mismanagement of its water resources, it now relies for income on its other land resources—oil and gas which it aims to expand by controlling the offshore gas resources in Gaza. But that is not enough.

Therefore, through the Quds Brigade of the Revolutionary Corps, it controls Syria from which it extracts phosphates as a source of uranium for its nuclear program. Its Jihad Brigade, Hezbollah, dominates Lebanon through which the Islamic Republic is gaining access to the Mediterranean Sea where warships of the Islamic Republic navigate. In Iraq, the Islamic Republic has a vast sphere of economic influence through which it launders money and obtains euros, dollars and other foreign currencies.

Once, this was Iraqi farmland more than twice the size of San Francisco. Now it's (area marked) controlled by an Iran-linked militia.

Map of Former Iraqi Farmland
The New York Times, December 9, 2023

But how does a bankrupt feudal regime finance its colonial ventures? The financing of Quds and Jihad brigades is by money (never recorded in the country's formal State budget) obtained from smuggling oil. Since it does not have money, the State gives crude oil to the Revolutionary Corps which sells it on the high seas to the highest bidders and uses the revenue to finance the jihad brigades. Another major means for financing its ventures is through smuggling and trafficking narcotics using its militia forces. The smuggling of drugs is represented as a narco-jihad for building the Islamic Caliphate and fighting the West.

The colonial venture of the Islamic Republic to control the labor power and resources of others is not done entirely by force. The Islamic Republic's colonial policies are Gramscian: it constructs hegemonic consent through its utopian promise to establish an Islamic Caliphate and create what Deleuze and Guattari call a "new earth."

The utopian ideal makes the Islamic Caliphate appealing to the forgotten, the "half parts" and the excluded who are disappointed by capitalist modernity. The Islamic Caliphate is promised to be robustly anti-modern. It will re-start history. The Islamic history will be a history free from the corruptions of Western civilization. History in the anti-modern caliphate will be theological not technological. It will be a Heideggerian history of theo-Being: a history without being historical.

Unlike history in the West, which it says will simply disintegrate because of the West's loss of religious faith, environmental abuse of God's earth, class inequalities, nudity (lack of Hejab), (homo-)sexuality, usury…, the anti-modern history of the Caliphate will be teleological: It will have an end that ends all ends, the world will live in an everlasting beginning since it will be the time of the "appearance" of the hidden 12th Imam—al Mahdi (المهدي). Mahdi will replace the rule of man by the rule of God.

One of the major missions of the Revolutionary Corps is economic—to control the resources of the region and put its labor power in the service of the Caliphate. However, its economic task is given a religious appearance: the Corps is to cleanse the world, to erase Zionism, US imperialism, global capitalism… for the preparation of the emergence of the Mahdi. Women's compulsory Hejab is part of this cleansing the world of sensual desires.

The Islamic Caliphate is therefore not a secular colonial regime as in the West. To become a subject of the Caliphate is not losing one's identity -- a subaltern. It is acquiring one's full subjectivity in re-making the world by becoming an agent of the Mahdi for ending the corrupt capitalist world based on moneylending.

The Islamic Caliphate will have no secular history and, unlike Israel, no worldly boundaries; there will be no borders. The "nation state"—a Western invention—will disappear; all lands and labor power belong to the borderless Islamic Caliphate.

The Caliphate will be what Antonio Negri calls a post-imperialist "empire," a new feudal post-colonial "smooth space" where in the name of God, without force, it can exploit the resources and labor power of others.

The war between Israel and the Islamic Republic (through Hamas) is a war between two economic orders over resources and labor power, a war driven by their internal class contradictions.

As witness to the war, the left has become a "true" left (Manifesto). Instead of making the war intelligible by analyzing its underlying structure to raise the world's class awareness and find ways of changing the economic orders that require wars, the left has instead retreated into a sentimental mourning, waiting for the next war to mourn more.

To call for the left to abandon mourning is a call to abandon a world that needs mourning.

For the "true" left, "serious political contest" has become "altogether out of the question." It has invented a new form of activism by lamentation.

The "true" left is a militancy of tears. 

Islamic Republic
The Woodrow Wilson Center