On the Margin of the “Crisis of Marxism” in Our Day

This article was authored by Yashar Daroshafa and was initially published in Farsi here.

Genealogy of a question

The “crisis of Marxism” is one of those questions within the Marxist tradition that has been brought up by Marxists from the birth of this notion up until today due to the political upheavals and ups and downs of the theory itself. Names like Carl Korsch, Louis Althusser, Nicos Poulantzas, Paul Sweezy and others have emphasized the term “crisis of Marxism” for years. Many incidents such as from the “Paris Commune defeat” to the “rise of Stalinism”, from the “20th Soviet Congress” to the “collapse of the Soviet Union”, from “May 1968” to the “rise of neoliberalism” and from the “September 11, 2001” to “Trump’s presidency”, all have been events and upheavals that Marxists found challenging for Marxism to face. Even though no one has written any text titled “the crisis of Marxism” influenced by contemporary history in Iran, traces of it can be tracked in some Marxists’ writings: from arguments like “Tabriz Social Democrats” on the dichotomy of socialism or democracy to Soltanzadeh’s [book] “Iranian Economic Discovery and English Colonialism”; from “masses revolution” by the Tudeh Party to “Maoist” revolutionary organization; from Masoud Ahmadzadeh’s ‘Arm Resistance: Both Strategy and Tactic” to Jazani’s “Battle with Dictatorship”; from the “Ideological revolution of Mojahedin” to “Fascism: Nightmare or real” [published] in Rah-e-Kargar (Worker’s Path); from the formation of Mansour Hekmat’s “Workers’ Communism” to the hegemony of “Frankfort School” in Arghanoun Magazine; from the “syndicate struggles” of the 1380s to the idea of “event”; form the “anti-neoliberalism” to the “Axes-of-Resistance left”; and from the “council left” to the “republican left”. Events and incidents can be enumerated leading of each of these formulations. I listed these to demonstrate that we have also not been alienated with this issue of  the “crisis of Marxism” in Iran, regardless of weak interpretations from the right. The historiography of these discussions including rich sources, is a valuable work that deserves to be done in another opportunity. The aim of this text is to put forward points around the “crisis of Marxism” and its implications in the current condition of Iran.

The Crisis of class, party and revolution

Today, thanks to the dissemination of a variety of Marxist books in addition to various websites which write and translate works in the realm of Marxism, it seems the situation is not that bad. Even with that, we need more updated critiques and discussions around three issues of “the condition of the working-class struggle of Iran”, “the modality of class and communist organizing” and “preparing for the socialist revolution”. Marx deemed three notions of “class”, “party”, and “revolution” to be his analytical achievements which he wrote to Joseph Weydemeyer on March 5, 1852: 

“… And now as to myself, no credit is due to me for discovering the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them. Long before me bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this class struggle and bourgeois economists, the economic economy of the classes. What I did that was new was to prove: 

(1) that the existence of classes is only bound up with particular historical phases in the development of production (historische Entwicklungsphasen der Production)

(2) that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat,[1] 

(3) that this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society .”

Since Jina’s uprising, “class struggle” which started [in the uprising of] December 2017, is replaced with the issue of “gender oppression” especially highlighting the “compulsory hijab”. In the wake of this, despite the spectacular presence of Kurdistan and Baluchistan in the struggle, there was even no chance for the issue of “the right of self-determination for oppressed nations” to be perceived in the political climate [of Iran]. To be clear, I don’t mean to sideline the issue of “gender oppression” in comparison with the “class oppression”. The goal is to unfold this discussion from the viewpoint of the “crisis of Marxism”: the inability to connect various forms of oppressions by the fundamental contradiction between labor and capital. The compulsory hijab is clearly one form of sexual/gender oppression that can be interwoven with other forms of this oppression also with the contradiction of labor and capital. However, the lack of this intersectionality in the political struggle gives the Right of control of the struggle and the Left is accused of denying “social freedoms” while nobody talks about the Right’s permanent blindness regarding the “justice and equality” and that [they believe] “equality” has a logical-political priority above liberation.

Moreover, since the beginning of the struggle in December 2017, we have constantly heard that the people’s “spontaneous movement” is able to topple the system and install a new liberatory order. This has specifically been the case for the workers’ movement. Some optimist sections of the Left were convinced that the “workers are ready to take power in their hands” after the formation of gatherings and large (and somehow successful) strikes, but they don’t explain why class-based organizing is not continuous and pervasive. In the past decade, we have faced the accelerating advancement of neoliberalism in four areas of labor: wage, job security, safety in the work environment, and the right to [workers’] organizing. Having said this, it cannot be assumed the workers’ movement is prepared just by looking at sporadic uprisings in “Haft Tappeh” and “Foulad”. In addition, according to Lenin’s politics, there is still a long way to hear the voice of socialism from the working-class throat. Although in case the vacuum of power occurs, we might witness such a voice, but this probability doesn’t discontinue the necessity of organizing the [working] class. After Tudeh’s [party] unprecedented organizing in 1940, the Left movement [of Iran] has not yet been able to repeat such a pervasiveness and membership except for a short period of time after [the 1979] revolution by the Fadae organization. Since the 1940s from the spectacular struggle of Nassaji workers in Isfahan to the full strike of oil workers in 1329, the working class has never experienced such a passion and organizing in its socio-political life.

The question in the end is whether we have the determination to move these protests towards a revolution or a type of regime change. If we see the question within the “crisis of Marxism”, the revolution must lead to the establishment of the “proletariat dictatorship”. The mere power transfer and reproducing institutions like parliament and government that include tens of parties and unions (as Alain Badiou calls it “Capito-parliamentarism”) cannot be the result of a “revolution”. Proletariat dictatorship means the abolition of private property, state, identity politics and bourgeois division of labor. What is loud today in the country these days as the “republican Left”, is nothing but accepting the capitalist foundations spiced with the Western democracy which [aim to] take over the “people’s councils” by establishing a “constituent assembly” as the pillars of such an alternative. Such a model of politics during the constitutional monarchy, buried the “provincial and regional associations”, and cut off the revolutionary movements of [Mohammad-Taqi] Pessian, Gilan Republic and Sheikh Mohammad Khiabani (we remember that Reza Khan [Pahlavi] entered the politics to establish a republic), and [this model of politics after the 1979 revolution] crushed the workers, farmers and students’ council between February 1979 and May 1981.

Marxism in current Iran must be able to answer the confusions around three notions of “class”, “Party” and “Revolution”. This is a responsibility on the shoulders of the theory to find a right guideline among all these various ideas. The issue is “methodological” as [György] Lukács said. 

There should be again referenced to Lenin’s “three fractions and resources of Marxism”: The critique of political economy, socialism and historical materialism.

Capitalism, imperialism and dictatorship

Once the Left’s formulation was to fight imperialism, both in the international arena (for example in [support of] Palestine) and in the national arena (against the dependent Pahlavi’s regime). The slogan “death to imperialism and its berserk dogs” was the result of that [belief]. But today’s points of contention are whether imperialism other than America and Europe, including China and Russia, and whether this regime (Islamic Republic) depends on global imperialism. The so-called “Axes of Resistance” Left influenced by this contention, distorts the “contradiction of people versus imperialism” affected by the idea of “epoch”, where countries like China and Russia although capitalistic, wish to prevent the countries of [Global] South of falling under the yoke of American imperialism. Their technological and military support to countries like Iran clearly strengthens the power of the Islamic Republic, but this must be looked at from the viewpoint of preparing the infrastructures to move to socialism in the future and assess if it generally benefits the people. There are two phenomena that are ignored while scrutinizing these countries, anti-Left (also Left killing) and anti-worker, and only by focusing on the power of [US] Dollar, imperialism is reduced to only anti-America. This movement [Axes of Resistance] will not explain that if we imagine that America is the only imperialist, how can a regime like the Islamic Republic (with the feature described) have the power to stand against it? Republican and secular approaches, on the other hand, focus on discriminatory, oppressive mechanisms and internal exploitation and domination, forget the imperialist roles and arrive at a kind of a “regime-change” instead of a “revolution”. With these formulations, the policies of the internal economy are not understood as the logic of imperialist capitalism, and the Islamic Republic is looked at an unusual regime that must be brought to the global circle.

The lack of class politics can be clearly seen in both of these approaches. The future and destiny of the working class are not important either for Anti-imperialists or anti-despotists. If the first group is sacrificing the “current” condition of the working class for an unclear socialist future that is supposed to be constructed by China and Russia, the second group in the best scenario, understands systemic corruption caused by “Political Islam” partially as the source of all inequalities that can be fixed with a “transparent democratic republic” (and with the increase of foreign investments). The second group don’t even ask if “political Christianity” (realized in Trump’s “evangelicals” supporters) or “political Judaism” (realized as “Israel”) have any connection with American and Israeli capitalism. Forgetting the departing point of “capitalist means of production” and the new accumulating techniques through neoliberalism (as a classist governing tool exported from imperialism) and the flexibilities of this system to internalize various politics and cultures (from “Islam” to “Buddhism” and “Hippism”) is the similarity of both “Anti-imperialists” and “anti-despotisms”. The imperialism that “anti-imperialists” speak about, is detached from their formulation of “internal country’s capitalism” and is more similar to the Islamic Republic’s term “Global Arrogance”; and the “equality politics” of the “anti-imperialists” that take into account a kind of “citizen-centered based on private ownership” in which the mechanisms for “superficial democracy” becomes more accessible.  

The domination of this dichotomy is part of the “crisis of Marxism”; the crisis that demonstrates a lack of originating [the critique and analysis] from the “capitalist means of production” in the Islamic Republic and understanding the placement of class struggle against it. 

Theory in relation to historical vision

Kamal Khosravi wrote in an article in March 1991 amid the collapse of the Soviet Union and after the tragedy of the summer of 1988 called, “The Crisis of Theory and Crisis of Historical Vision” (Naghd  Publication, No. 4) which is kind of his intervention in the question of “crisis of Marxism”. While the crisis of theory is understood as a situation in which theory is unable to explain its subject, the crisis of historical vision points to a situation where the society neither can maintain its current structure nor has an alternative to change it. By accepting the dissonance between the mentioned crises and the simultaneity of them in his opinion, the theoretical critique (negative critique) and evaluating new practical experiences (positive critique) should be independently considered. It can be said with this formulation that when we speak about the “crisis of Marxism” today, “negative critique” should be used in the analysis of the meaning and concept of “exploitation” and shows how “historical subject” is derived from the abstract materializations such as “wage”, “interest” and “bribery” in the political economy of Iran. The “positive critique” should evaluate the possibilities of council governance for production and service units as well as collective living places (buildings, neighborhoods, villages and towns).

The greatest problem today in relation to the Marxist theory in Iran is the lack of actualizing its capabilities in national and regional analysis. A multitude of classic and new Marxist works have been quickly translated into Farsi, but they are neither discussed nor used as frameworks to understand the current condition. In other words, the theory is not employed and its dynamism is not realized; As a result, they are used as the Qur’an verses that must be memorized and be mentioned here and there in conversations. Our Left also regarding the “historical vision” still see itself in a bottleneck of a “realism” which is based on a “step-by-step revolution”: reaching democracy first and all the contrasting forces shall be gathered for its realization, then enter the conflict for socialism. Lenin reminded us years ago in “Two Tactics of Social Democracy [in the Democratic Revolution]” why it’s necessary for the proletariat to take simultaneous responsibility for democratization and socialism because the bourgeoisie and the so-called “middle-class” will try to sterilize the possibilities of socialism immediately after the temporary victory.


Today communist politics is most needed in the internal struggle. A politics that is based on “class analysis” and the derivations of “national”, “gender/sexual” and “environmental” oppressions, its vision is to abolish private property and alternate it with “council governance” as well as create a “regional solidarity [movement]” to push back the small and big imperialists. “Revolution” from the standpoint of this politics is to take down the foundations of oppression through conflict with the ruling class. This battle while relying on the “working class”, puts the effort to connect solidarity with “women” and “oppressed nations” to “overthrow the state”, “eradicate patriarchy” and “put down unbalanced development”. This revolutionary solidarity is under communist politics in which as mentioned before, the “solidarity” criteria would be the abolition of private property, state, identity politics and bourgeois division of labor.

The ”crisis of Marxism” in Iran today is theoretical on one hand and hints to retreat from class [struggle], and on the other hand, is the lack of utilizing the framework of [Marx’s] value theory to analyze the “Islamic Republic capitalism”; In regards to praxis, on the one hand, it hints to “retreat from organizational work” and on the other hand it smudges the boundary between “regime change” and “revolution”. We need to build the Marxist sources (“the critique of political economy”, “socialism” and “historical materialism”) upon the “class analysis”, “council governance” and “party”.

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