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Monday, June 11, 2012

New Persian Translation of Marx's Capital and the Iranian Economy

This paper examines the new features of Hassan Mortazavi’s new translation of Marx’s Capital Volume 1 and the responses which it has received inside Iran. I argue that what led to this translation was both a dissatisfaction with the failure of the Iranian left during the 1979 Iranian Revolution, and an interest on the part of a new generation of Iranian youth in philosophically based, non-dogmatic and constructive alternatives. Approaching this translation form the vantage point of current debates among leftist Iranian economists can also illuminate key concepts in Marx’s critique of capitalism. This paper was originally published by on May 31, 2012.

The New Persian Translation of Marx’s Capital and the Iranian Economy

by Frieda Afary

Abstract: This paper examines the new features of Hassan Mortazavi’s new translation of Marx’s Capital Volume 1 and the responses which it has received inside Iran. I argue that what led to this translation was both a dissatisfaction with the failure of the Iranian left during the 1979 Iranian Revolution, and an interest on the part of a new generation of Iranian youth in philosophically based, non-dogmatic and constructive alternatives. Approaching this translation form the vantage point of current debates among leftist Iranian economists can also illuminate key concepts in Marx’s critique of capitalism.


Although the mass protests that followed the fraudulent 2009 Iranian presidential election were violently suppressed in the course of six months, the democratic sentiments that gave birth to them are alive and searching for ways to express themselves. The dire state of the Iranian economy, the deep dissatisfaction of the Iranian masses with the existing regime and the continuing revolts in the Arab World are making it increasingly difficult for the regime to keep a lid on the boiling pot that is Iran.

The mass protests in 2009 did not raise questions about economic justice similar to the early stages of the Winter 2011 revolts in Tunisia and Egypt. However, the simultaneity of economic, political and social crises in Iran and the rise of a global anti-capitalist movement have put the question of economic justice on the agenda for the democratic opposition movement in Iran. The new Persian translation of Capital, Volume I can provide a basis for these movements by illuminating key aspects of Marx’s critique of capitalism.

I. What Gave Birth to this Translation?

The first translation of Capital which was published in 1974( and about which more details will be provided below) was marred by the Stalinist views of its translator, Iraj Eskandari, the chairman of the USSR affiliated Tudeh Party.

This was no surprise, given that the versions of Marxism that were dominant among the Iranian left before and during the 1979 Revolution were represented by the the works of Josef Stalin, Georges Politzer, Mao Zedong, Regis Debray, Paul Sweezy, Harry Magdoff, Oskar Lange, Maurice Dobb and Paul Baran. These works constituted the theoretical foundations of the majority of the Iranian adherents of Marxism.(1)

Since the 1979 Revolution however, a new generation of Iranian leftists has arisen which is critical of the former generation for its mostly Stalinist and Maoist views and the ways in which those views led the majority of the Iranian left to lend support to Ayatollah Khomeini as an “anti-imperialist” in the early stages of the revolution.

The new generation prefers more thoughtful and theoretically based action as well as constructive alternatives. Many young intellectuals who express an interest in Marxism today are inclined to humanist, Hegelian and non-dogmatic interpretations of Marxism.(2) Above all, the new generation’s experiences under a religious fundamentalist regime have made it detest any kind of dogmatism, be it Islamic or Marxist or otherwise.

Given these interests, a wave of new translations of works by Marx and independent Marxist thinkers began to appear mostly during what became known as the Reform Period(1997-2005). These translations included Marx’s 1844 Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, Georg Lukacs’s History and Class Consciousness, Horkheimer and Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment, Istvan Meszaros’s Beyond Capital, Rosa Luxemburg’s Selected Writings, Isaak Illich Rubin’s Marx’s Theory of Value, Mikhail Lifshitz’s Marx’s Philosophy of Art, Raya Dunayevskaya’s Philosophy and Revolution, Stephen Eric Bronner’s Reclaiming the Enlightenment, Negri and Hardt’s Empire, Marc Poster’s Foucault, Marxism and History, Alex Callinicos’s Marxism and Philosophy, and David Schweickart et al’s Market Socialism: A Debate Among Socialists.

In addition to these translations, many websites, weblogs and online magazines devoted to discussing a variety of socialist ideas came into existence in this period. Most were banned or forced to cease publication after the suppression of the 2009 upheaval however.

Although the new translations of works by Marx and independent Marxists have greatly expanded the horizons of the Iranian Left, there is still a dearth of discussion on the actual content of Marx’s Capital and its significance for Iran today.

 In the 1920s, the Iranian Armenian Marxist economist, Avetis Sultanzadeh (1890-1938) had advocated a non-capitalistic road of development through an alliance between the budding worker and peasant movements in Iran and the proletariat of industrially advanced lands. By 1931, his opposition to the Stalinist USSR leadership’s backing of the Iranian nationalist army leader and new king, Reza Shah, led to his imprisonment in the USSR. In 1938, he was executed.(3)

During the first year of the Iranian revolution, the Marxist thinker, Mansoor Hekmat (1951-2002) had published several essays which were based on a serious study of Marx’s Capital, Lenin’s Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, and economic facts concerning the mass migration of peasants from the rural areas to the cities after the introduction of a state-directed land reform program in the early 1960’s. Hekmat challenged those on the left who claimed that Iran had a semi-feudal economy. Instead he argued that Iran had a dependent capitalist economy which was part of the division of labor imposed by the global stage of monopoly capitalism or imperialism.(4)

More recently, some leftist Iranian economists have used certain interpretations of Marx’s Capital in their analyses of the Iranian economy. For instance, Farhad Nomani and Sohrab Behdad’s Class and Labor in Iran which is the most comprehensive analysis of the Iranian economy in the period after the 1979 Revolution, equates Marx’s concept of capitalist production relations with property relations and defines capitalism strictly as the private ownership of the means of production. Hence they argue that during the first ten years after the Iranian Revolution, which witnessed the consolidation of large landholdings and enterprises in the hands of the state and “parastatal” organizations known as Bonyad (Foundations), there was a “shriveling” of the capitalist relations of production, an expansion of “petty commodity production” and a decline in the accumulation or concentration of capital. They further argue that it was only in the period after the end of the Iran-Iraq War in 1988 that a policy of economic liberalization “reinvigorate[d] the capitalist relations of production” (p. 36) although “very slowly and timidly”(p.61). (5)

 Another leftist Iranian economist, Mohammad Maljoo, however, argues that capitalist production relations are not limited to the private ownership of the means of production and can take place in an economy owned by the state. He has pointed to the fact that in Iran, an increase in the rate of accumulation of capital has gone hand in hand with greater state control and state ownership of the means of production. His research on labor in Iran’s state-controlled oil and petrochemical industry further points out the lowering of wages and benefits, the prevalent use of temporary workers and the elimination of safety equipment as the basis for the accumulation of capital. (6)

Clearly, leftist Iranian economists are not in agreement concerning the definition of capitalist production relations and the nature of the Iranian economy.

In this essay, I would like to argue that the new Persian translation of Capital, Volume I, can address the above questions in important ways by shedding illumination on key concepts in Marx’s critique of capitalism. First, I will enumerate this edition’s new features. Then I will discuss how it has been received inside Iran. Finally, I will address some ways in which this edition can illuminate current debates concerning the Iranian economy.

II. The Unique features of the new Persian translation of Capital, Volume 1

Marx’s Capital, Volume 1 was first translated into Persian during the years 1966-1970 by Iraj Eskandari, a leader of the Tudeh Party who had been educated in France as an economist. Eskandari published Volume I as a single book in 1974,(7) and Volume II in 1981.(8) He had begun his translation from the 1872-75 French edition of Capital, Volume 1, an edition translated by Joseph Roy and supervised by Marx. However, later he decided to base his translation on the 1890 German edition which was edited by Friedrich Engels. This choice was made despite the fact that Marx himself had considered the French edition to have “a scientific value independent of the [German] original.”(9)

In 2007, an Iranian activist in exile, Jamshid Hadian, published another translation of Capital, Volume 1, based on Ben Fowkes’s English translation which was almost entirely based on the 1890 German edition produced by Engels.(10) Hadian’s translation was published in Sweden.(11)

In the Spring of 2008, Hassan Mortazavi, a prominent Iranian translator who is known for his translation of Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts,(12) and other Marxist works, published a new translation of Capital, Volume 1.(13) It offered readers the opportunity to see the differences between the 1890 German edition,(14) and the 1872-75 French edition.(15)

Mortazavi first began by translating Ben Fowkes’s English translation into Persian. He also asked Kaveh Boveiri, a young Iranian scholar to compare his Persian translation with an old edition of the French translation by Joseph Roy.(16)

 Mortazavi then compared his Persian translation with Jean-Pierre Lefebvre’s French translation of the 1890 German edition.(17) Next, he obtained two volumes of the Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe (MEGA) which greatly assisted him with his project. MEGA 2 II/7 (18) contains the full text of the French translation by Joseph Roy and an apparatus which compares the French text with the 1867 and the 1873 German editions. MEGA 2 II/10 (19) contains the full text of the 1890 German edition and an apparatus which singles out many passages that were in the French text but were not included in the1883 and the 1890 German editions.

He carefully compared his Persian translation with MEGA 2 II/10 and then with MEGA 2 II/7. Next, he translated all the passages that were added to or changed in the 1872-75 French edition but were not included in the 1890 German edition or Ben Fowkes’s English translation or Lefebvre’s French translation. He also received assistance from Kamal Khosravi, an Iranian scholar of philosophy in Germany, who translated “The Fetishism of the Commodity and Its Secret,” the last section of the first chapter of Capital, Volume 1, from the 1873 German edition into Persian.(20)

The final product contains the following: 1. The 1890 German edition as presented by Ben Fowkes and Jean-Pierre Lefebvre, 2. The changes and additions from the 1872-75 French edition provided in the margins of each page, 3. The translator’s preface, 4. A preface which contains the translation of two essays by Kevin Anderson on the differences between the 1872-75 French edition and the 1890 German edition,(21) 5. A name index, 6. A subject index, 7. A general index.

The work as a whole reflects a great deal of scholarship, and an ability to express complex subjects in beautiful Persian prose.

III. Translator’s Preface, Interviews and Reviews

 Between its publication in March 2008 and the outbreak of the mass protest movement that exploded after the June 2009 election, this new translation was reprinted once. It also received reviews and discussions in important reformist daily newspapers, Kargozaran and Shargh as well as the Persian language BBC website. Over 3000 copies have been sold. However, since June 2009 censorship has prevented new reprints and further reviews inside Iran.

 Mortazavi is greatly influenced by Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 and Marx’s Grundrisse, works which in his opinion “do away with the myth that there is a contradiction between the young Hegelian Marx who is not quite familiar with material and economic realities, and the old economist who has been emancipated from the Hegelian dialectic.”(22)

 In an interview with Mortazavi which was published by the now banned Iranian daily Kargozaran, the questions centered on the philosophical foundations of Marx’s Capital, the differences between Marx and Engels, and whether there was a break between the young and the old Marx. Mortazavi’s responses further expanded themes from his preface:

 "I believe that a single thread connects the Marx of the 1844 Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts to the mature Marx of Capital. To me the significant issue is that we are facing both a continuity of thought and a discontinuity at various points. . . not two people who are separated from each other from an epistemological standpoint."(23)

An interest in a non-deterministic interpretation of Marx’s Capital is also evident in a review by Babak Ahmadi,(24)prominent writer, translator and author of The Philosophical Glossary of Marxian Terms.

Ahmadi urges Iranian readers to study Capital ,Volume 1 in conjunction with Marx’s Grundrisse(25) in order to learn about “the enormous research on which Capital stands and the deep roots which Marx had in the humus of Western philosophical thought.” He also expresses his appreciation for Antonio Negri’s view of the multi-dimensionality of Marx’s economic studies, of which Capital was only one dimension.

Mohsen Hakimi (26), labor activist and the translator of Georg Lukacs’s Young Hegel cites two passages from the French edition of Capital, Volume I which Kevin Anderson had singled out as manifestations of Marx’s openness to rethinking previously held positions.

The first passage concerns the relationship of industrialized to non-industrialized lands. In the preface to the 1867 German edition, Marx states: “The country that is more developed industrially only shows, to the less developed, the image of its own future.”(27) In the French edition however, Marx changes this sentence: “ The country that is more developed industrially only shows, to those that follow it on the industrial path, the image of its own future.” (28)

Hakimi emphasizes that this passage reveals Marx’s opposition to the view that all societies inevitably have to follow one path of development.

The second passage singled out by Hakimi from Anderson’s preface, concerns the relationship of human beings to nature:

In the 1867 German edition, Marx writes: “Labor is first of all, a process between man and nature. . . She/He sets in motion the natural forces which belong to her/his own body. . . in order to appropriate the materials of nature in a form adapted to her/his own needs. Through this movement she/he acts upon external nature and changes it, and in this way she/he simultaneously changes her/his own nature. She/he develops the potentialities slumbering within nature, and subjects the play of its forces to her/his own sovereign power.”(29)

In the French edition, Marx alters part of this passage: “ While through this movement she/he acts upon external nature and modifies it, she/he also also modifies her/his own nature and develops the potentialities slumbering within it.”(30)

 Hakimi comments: “This slight change reveals that in the French edition Marx emphasizes the interaction between humans and nature instead of the domination of human beings over nature (a view which has been correctly critiqued by environmental activists).”(31)

 Although almost all the reviews(32) reflect an interest in a philosophical and non-deterministic Marx, none have specifically related the content of Marx’s Capital to the current debates on the Iranian economy. This new edition of Capital, however, can address current debates among leftist Iranian economists in some important ways.

IV. Approaching this Translation from the Vantage Point of Current Debates Among Leftist Iranian Economists

Although the most recent economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. and Europe have greatly damaged the Iranian economy and the lives of ordinary Iranian citizens, Iran’s economic problems preceded these sanctions. Hence, my focus here will be on the debates concerning the nature of the Iranian economy itself.

As we saw earlier, Farhad Nomani and Sohrab Behdad’s recent work, Class and Labor in Iran argues that post-revolutionary Iran saw a “shriveling” of the capitalist relations of production because the economy became state-owned. In their opinion, this trend was only partially reversed with a limited reintroduction of private enterprise in the period after the end of the Iran-Iraq War in 1988.

 Maryam Panah’s The Islamic Republic and the World: Global Dimensions of the Iranian Revolution, has characterized the Iranian economy in the 1980s as a “managed war economy” which “sat uncomfortably between state ownership… and a capitalist market”(p. 121)

Mohammad Maljoo,(33) on the other hand argues that capitalist production relations can also exist in a state-owned economy such as the Iranian economy. In his opinion, the problem with Nomani and Behdad’s analysis is the following:

"[T]he form of ownership of the means of production plays the main role in determining the mode of production . . . On this basis, as a rule, the expansion of government ownership of the means of production is considered an impediment to the expansion of the capitalist system…The duality, 'state/market' also seems to be especially important in this school of thought. "(34)

Maljoo has specifically examined the ways in which Iran’s state-owned oil and petrochemical industry has increased the rate of accumulation of capital by firing its permanent employees and hiring them as well as others as temporary employees at much lower wages and without benefits through state owned “private”contractors.(35)

 Another leftist economist, Ahmad Seyf, points to the weakness of Iran’s non-petroleum production, the destruction of its agricultural sector and its extreme reliance on imports.(36) Seyf, Nomani and Behdad argue that a capitalist economy with full protection for private property would be the first step toward encouraging investment in production and stopping the flight of capital.(37) Only then, they argue, will the conditions be created for a civil society and democratic openings that can allow for labor organizing and changing the balance of power in favor of the dispossessed.(38)

 I would argue that the new Persian translation of Capital can shed illumination on these debates in three important ways. 1. It emphasizes the critical importance of Marx’s concept of abstract labor in his analysis of capitalist relations of production 2. It offers ground for analyzing monopoly capitalism 3. It anticipates aspects of what we now know as globalization.

1. In the first section of the first chapter, “The Commodity,” Marx claims that abstract labour is the substance of value. He writes: "If then we disregard the use-value of commodities, only one property remains, that of being products of labour. . . congealed quantities of homogeneous human labour i.e. of human labour-power expended without regard to the form of its expenditure. . . As crystals of this social substance, which is common to them all, they [products of labour] are values—commodity values."(39)

 The German original for “congealed quantities of homogeneous human labour” is “Eine blosse Gallerte unterschiedsloser menschlicher Arbeit.”(40) The Persian translation can be rendered as “a plain lump of undifferentiated human labour.” Through this choice of words, Mortazavi has attempted to illustrate the way in which individual labor under capitalism is denuded of its particularity.

Furthermore, in chapter one, “The Commodity,” Marx’s additions on the concept of abstract labor can help illuminate what he meant by “the dual character of labor” under capitalism. In the last and most famous section, “The Fetishism of the Commodity and its Secret,” the translation based on the 1890 German edition states the following about the pre-capitalist modes of production in which labour did not have a dual character: “The natural form of labour, its particularity—and not, as in a society based on commodity production; its universality—is here its immediate social form.”(41)

 The French translation states: “The natural form of labour, its particularity—and not, as in a society based on commodity production; its universality, its abstract character—is here its immediate social form.”(42)

Marx’s relating of the phrase “its abstract character” to “the form of labour” under capitalism is one among many instances in chapter one where commodity production is identified by the mode of labor and not merely by the act of exchange. This distinction is important, given that many Marxists attribute the abstract character of labour only to the abstraction that results from equating different kinds of labour in the process of exchange.(43) Marx however, seems to emphasize the abstraction that arises from how labour itself is performed. Marx’s critique of abstract or alienated labor is much further developed in the chapters on “Co-operation,” “Division of Labor and Manufacture” and “Machinery and Large-Scale Industry,” as well as in his earlier works, The Grundrisse , and the 1844 Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts.

 2. Some of the additions to the French edition of Volume I also reveal that Marx did not simply see capitalism as limited to one form, i.e. free market competition between individual private capitalists within each country. Rather, he laid the ground for analyzing monopoly capitalism and how it arose from within competitive capitalism.

 In the chapter on “The General Law of Capitalist Accumulation,” Marx argues that competitive capitalism’s drive to increase the rate of accumulation of capital can lead to greater and greater centralization of the means of production. In a passage that was later addressed by Lenin’s Imperialism,(44) Marx writes:

 "The battle of competition is fought by the cheapening of commodities. The cheapness of commodities depends… on the productivity of labour, and this depends in turn on the scale of production. Therefore the larger capitals beat the smaller. . . with the development of the capitalist mode of production, there is an increase in the minimum amount of individual capital necessary to carry on a business under its normal conditions."(45)

Marx adds the following to the French edition:

"In any given branch of industry centralization would reach its extreme limit if all the individual capitals invested there were fused into a single capital. In a given society this limit would be reached only when the entire social capital was united in the hands of either a single capitalist or a single capitalist company. . . Centralization intensifies and accelerates the effects of accumulation, it simultaneously extends and speeds up those revolutions in the technical composition of capital which raise its constant portion at the expense of its variable portion, thus diminishing the relative demand for labour."(46)

 The above passage is one of the few additions which Engels did include in the 1890 German edition. This passage has also been cited by some Marxists as a basis for a theory of state capitalism. More discussion concerning its content is needed in relationship to analyzing the various forms of capitalism in our contemporary world.

 3. In the chapter on “The transformation of Surplus-Value into Capital” where Marx has made an addition concerning “the many sided competition in which the development of capitalist production has involved workers from the entire world,” he writes:

“The issue is no longer the reduction of the wages of the English to the level of continental Europe. Rather, in the near future the wages of the Europeans will be reduced to the level of the Chinese. This is the perspective that Mr. Stapleton, a member of the British parliament, has shared with his constituency in a speech about the price of labor in the future. He says: ‘If China becomes a large producing nation, I do not know how the industrial population of Europe will be able to continue the struggle without reducing its wages to the level of its competitors.’"(48)

 Clearly, Iran’s full integration into the global capitalist market requires a labor force that would compete with Chinese or Indian workers in lowering the cost of production. An effort to intensify this competition is already taking place with the current regime’s Plan for Targeted Monetary Subsidies which has removed state subsidies on basic food items and petroleum, and a recent agreement between the Iranian and the Chinese labor ministers which allows for the use of Chinese day laborers in the construction of a highway from Tehran to the Caspian Sea.

The passages which I have singled out are only a few of many thought-provoking alternate texts in the French edition which deserve study and discussion. They also pinpoint some of the concepts which Marx thought were particularly important and needed expansion and further exploration.


I began this essay by discussing the environment in which a new translation of Capital, Volume 1 appeared in Iran: On the one hand, deep mass dissatisfaction with the economic, social and political crises that confront Iran. On the other hand, the rise of a new generation of youth which is interested in philosophical ideas and eschews dogmatism.

The issues and concerns which Iranians bring to Marx’s Capital can raise important questions not only for Iranians but for the global anti-capitalist movement.

It is very significant that, in his translation, Hassan Mortazavi chose to include the additions to the French edition which Marx thought had “a scientific value independent of the [German] original”.(49) Those additions can give readers a deeper understanding of Marx’s dialectical process of thinking.

Although the current repressive regime in Iran makes it extremely difficult to have open and free debates on the content of Marx’s Capital, this new edition has offered a critical foundation for those on the left who are aiming to develop a constructive alternative to capitalism.

May 2012


1.Sohrab Behdad has provided a list of the translations of works by Sweezy, Lange, Baran, Dobb and others which were published by him and Farhad Nomani prior to the 1979 Revolution. He has also addressed how censorship under Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi’s regime led to a paucity of translations of Marxist works. See Behdad 1998.

2.The recently banned online youth journal, Sarpich, was an important forum for young socialist intellectuals who expressed the above interests.

3.Chaqueri 1983. Sultanzadeh had also developed an important critique of Rudolf Hilferding’s Finance Capital, by arguing that finance capital could not dominate industrial capital. Instead, industrial capital was the determinant. Sultanzadeh preferred Lenin’s analysis in Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism. See “Is There an Age of Finance Capital?” in Sultanzadeh, 1984.

4.See Hekmat 1979. Unfortunately, Hekmat had very strong Leninist views on organization.

5.Iranian economist Ahmad Seyf also argues that only an economy characterized by the private ownership of the means of production can be characterized as capitalist. He writes: “The outer shell of our economy is capitalist but when the outer shell is peeled, there appears a concoction that does not fit any previously known paradigm.” See Seyf 2009

6.See Mohammad Maljoo 2006 and 2011

7.Marx 1974

8.Marx 1981

9.Marx 2008, p. 45 and 1976, p. 105.

10. Marx 1991

11. Marx 2007

12. Marx 1999

13. Marx 2008

14. Marx 1991

15. Marx 1989

16. Marx 1971

17. Marx 1983

18. Marx 1989

19. Marx 1991

 20. In his correspondence, Marx had stressed that chapters one through six should also be consulted in German, although he saw the 1872-75 French edition as the most definitive version. See Anderson 2010, pp. 175-76, n.21.

 21. Anderson 1997, and 1983

22. Marx 2008, p. 10, Mortazavi 2009

23. Mortazavi 2008

24. Ahmadi, Babak 2008

25. Marx’s Grundrisse was translated by Baqer Parham and Ahmad Tadayyon, and published in Tehran in 1985.

26. Farhadi Babadi 2010

27. Marx 2008, p. 30, and Marx 1976, p. 91.

28. Marx 2008, p. 30, addition #17 and Marx 1989, p.12

29. Marx 2008, p. 209, Marx 1976, p. 283

30. Marx 2008, p. 209, addition #6, Marx 1989, p. 145

31. Farhadi Babadi 2010

32. Based on my research, so far only one review has attacked this translation. In his website, Iraj Farzad claims that any attempt to separate Marx’s contributions from those of Engels is “more aimed at questioning Marx’s Capital itself.” See Farzad 2009.


34. Maljoo, 2007, pp. 3-4. Fariborz Mas’udi also critiques Nomani and Behdad’s Class and Labor in Iran by stating that “The problem begins when the authors equate production relations with property relations, despite the definition of production relations.” See Mas’udi 1390 [2011].

35. See Maljoo 2011

36. Seyf 2009 and 2012. Maryam Panah points out “the concentration of capital in the defense industry.”(pp. 123-124)

37. Seyf 2009

38. Nomani and Behdad 2011

39. Marx 2008, p. 68, Marx 1976, p. 128

40. Marx 1991, p. 40

41. Marx 2008, p. 106, Marx 1976, p. 170

42. Marx 2008, p. 106, addition #60, Marx 1989, p. 58

43. See Arthur 2004, pp. 13, 41-55

44. See Lenin 1961, pp.205-24

45. Marx 2008, p.673, Marx 1976, p.777

46. Marx 2008, pp.674-675, Marx 1976, pp.779-780, Marx 1989, p.548

47. See Dunayevskaya 1981, p. 148, Binns 2003, p. 80

48. Marx 2008, p. 647, Marx 1989, pp.522-523

49. Marx 2008, p. 45 and 1976, p. 105


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This essay was originally published by on May 31, 2012

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Asghar Farhadi’s Films Raise Questions about Man-Woman Relationships & Class

The Oscar nomination of “A Separation” for best foreign-language film and best original screenplay, has drawn much attention to Asghar Farhadi as a writer and director. As The Hollywood Reporter wrote: “Just when it seemed impossible for Iranian filmmakers to express themselves meaningfully outside the bounds of censorship, Asghar Farhadi’s Nader and Simin, A Separation, comes along to prove the contrary.”

Why has this film drawn so much attention? Many Iranian and international film critics have pointed out that this film in particular and Farhadi’s films in general are preoccupied with ethical quandaries and the search for truth. Other critics have singled out Farhadi’s ability to present complex characters and the complexity of human relationships in general. No character is portrayed as entirely heroic or entirely evil.

What are some of the key themes that Farhadi has singled out in A Separation?
At a question and answer session following the screening of this film at the 2011 Berlin Film Festival, Farhadi stated the following: “…I think the end of a movie should not be an end but a beginning for finding answers to the questions which have been raised in the course of the film. . . When writing the screenplay for A Separation, I was constantly going to divorce courts to observe the proceedings. We live in a country with a high divorce rate, even though it seems that Iran is a country in which people are very traditional and divorce is not a traditional but a modern phenomenon. The reason for this contradiction is the fast pace with which the country is moving toward modernization. . . There is also a hidden feud in the country. . . There is a hidden war between social classes: A war between the class of the dispossessed and traditional, and a class which wants to live according to the rules of the new world…” (

At a press conference following the first screening of the film in Tehran, Farhadi stated: “This film is in a way the expansion and coming together of the contents and themes of my three previous films. However, this coming together was not in any way determined or planned. When I finished writing the story for this film, I felt that this film and this story could be the culmination of part of my filmmaking career. . . ”
( )

If by “my three previous films” Farhadi means the films for which he was both writer and director, he would be referring to About Elly(2009), Fireworks Wednesday(2006) and Beautiful City(2004). Hence, in the remainder of this article, I would like to take up how Farhadi presents some of the above mentioned themes in these films.

Farhadi’s sensitivity to the man-woman relationship, can be seen from the very first scene of A Separation which opens in a divorce court. Simin, (Leila Hatami), who has obtained a visa for the family to emigrate, wants a divorce because her husband is not willing to emigrate. Nader(Peyman Moadi), wishes to stay in Iran to take care of his elderly father(Ali-Asghar Shahbazi) who has Alzheimer’s. Simin will not leave without her daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi). By law, however, Nader has custody of their daughter who in this case also desires to stay with her father. The judge refuses to issue a divorce and encourages the couple to resolve their problems.

As the film proceeds, and Simin moves back to her parents’ home, we become aware of the fact that Simin has been the main caretaker for Nader’s father up to now.* We also realize that the conflict between Nader, a bank employee and Simin, an English teacher, is not limited to the conflict between a desire to emigrate and the obligation to care for one’s elderly father. Nader is capable of displaying behavior that can be characterized as stingy, abusive, mendacious, insensitive and unreasonable.

The issue of class inequality and its complex relationship with gender is depicted in the predicament of Razieh(Sareh Bayat), a pregnant working class woman who is hired by Nader as a housekeeper and caretaker for his father. Razieh who has hidden her new employment from her husband, has to travel with her small daughter for over two hours each way on bus to get to Nader’s house and work from early morning to the late afternoon. In exchange Razieh will receive $300 per month which is barely over the official minimum wage in Iran.

Razieh is married to an unemployed cobbler, Hojjat(Shahab Hosseini), and has to face frequent visits from her husband’s creditors and authorities who take him to prison for not having paid his debts. Without advanced skills or any funds, and with a small child and another one on the way, she has no option but to stay in this marriage.

In Fireworks Wednesday, the themes of gender and class are presented by focusing on one day in the life of an upper class couple in Tehran. The couple are constantly fighting because the wife, Mojedeh (Hedieh Tehrani) suspects that her husband (Hamid Farrokhnezhad) is having an affair with the next door neighbor(Pantea Bahram). Their fights are being viewed from the eyes of a young woman servant, Ruhangiz(Taraneh Alidoosti) who has been hired for the day from a temporary agency.

Without in any way belittling Mojdeh’s plight vis a vis her husband, Farhadi also reveals her insensitive attitude toward the servant, the wife of the building’s janitor, and a delivery man. Neverthess, the servant develops much sympathy for Mojdeh when she realizes how unhappy Mojdeh is in her marriage despite her financial comfort.

In About Elly, the man-woman relationship continues to remain central. Elly (Taraneh Alidoosti), a young preschool teacher, has been invited to join a few urban middle class couples, their children, and a young single male family friend (Shahab Hosseini) on a trip to the Caspian Sea. She is aware that the purpose of inviting her is to introduce her to this single man who is visiting from Germany and is looking for a wife.

All the interactions are friendly, warm and jovial until suddenly, Elly disappears. At that point each tries to blame the other for this unfortunate incident. However, the story becomes even more complicated when Elly’s mother is contacted, and it becomes known that Elly has a fiancé (Saber Abar) who will come to search for her.

Farhadi’s dialogues give voice not only to the views of those who rush to condemn Elly for being dishonest but also to the views of her friend, Sepideh (Golshifteh Farahani), the one person who has a great deal of sympathy for Elly and her possible motivations for hiding this trip from her fiancé. Although these motivations are not discussed, it is clear that for a preschool teacher who has to experience the daily hardships of gender oppression and poverty in Iran, the prospect of marrying a man who would take her to Germany is very seductive. Farhadi’s portrayal of Elly’s fiancé is also sensitive and leads the viewer to believe that he was in love with her.

In general, Farhadi is at his best in his portrayal of man-woman relationships and of class inequality in Iranian society today. Most of his female characters are outspoken and challenge conventional expectations. His poor and working class characters are articulate, expect a better life and are resentful of class inequalities.

Given his powerful portrayal of the above themes, I was surprised by part of Farhadi’s statement at last year’s Berlin Film Festival, in which he characterized Iran’s “war between social classes” as “a war between the class of the dispossessed and traditional, and a class which wants to live according to the rules of the new world…” This statement does not address the fact that an increasing portion of the urban poor and the working class in Iran is now literate and welcomes many aspects of modernity.

In fact, Farhadi’s film, Beautiful City portrays a young working class woman and shanty town dweller, Firoozeh (Taraneh Alidoosti) who lives with a man from whom she has had a child. In the course of the film, she falls in love with her brother’s former prison mate, A’la (Babak Ansari). Some of the scenes, follow these two characters as they travel around town and spend time together in their effort to free Firoozeh’s brother from a death sentence. Such a portrayal breaks with conventional views of traditional working class women shanty town dwellers.

Today, in Iran, the existence of a mostly literate urban poor and working class population, along with a young student population—women and men, many from working class families—who have been exposed to modern ideas in universities, remains a key threat to the Iranian regime.

Watching Farhadi’s films and pondering the intricacies of the rich dialogues which he has created, can lead to fascinating discussions on the critical issues that are animating Iranian society.

About Elly, Fireworks Wednesday and Beautiful City are available on DVD with English subtitles. About Elly and Fireworks Wednesday can also be checked out free of charge at some U.S. public libraries in major metropolitan areas.

*In his review of A Separation, Dan Geist, makes the following observation: “Any hint of callousness on her [Simin’s] part is offset by the fact that of the few words the old man can still utter, the one he speaks most often is ‘Simin.’ Judging by the way he enunciates the name, the care she has provided has surely been tender; unquestionably, and more relevant to the events of the tale, it has been tireless and precise. A Separation commences on the day the unerring execution of that care ends.” See “‘A Separation’: At Sea in the City of Ten Million Tears” in Tehran Bureau. October 5, 2011.

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Monday, January 9, 2012

Progressives Inside Iran Respond to Occupy Wall Street Movement

Translator’s Note: During the past few months, progressives inside Iran have taken advantage of the Iranian government’s anti-Wall Street rhetoric to hold several forums to discuss the significance of the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Below are excerpts from two presentations which also offer different views of the nature of the current economic crisis. The first by Mohsen Hakimi, labor activist, writer and translator, was presented to the Iranian Sociological Association in Tehran. The second by Mohammad Maljoo, economist, was presented at a “Workshop on the Socio-Economic Analysis of the Occupy Wall Street Movement” at Tehran University’s School of Social Sciences. These translations were first published by Tehran Bureau on January 3, 2012. (

The Occupy Wall Street Movement: Strengths and Weaknesses
Author: Mohsen Hakimi
Date: December 2, 2011
Translated by Frieda Afary

…I would like to begin my presentation by citing the Occupy Wall Street Movement’s definition of itself. This description is posted on its website and acts as its manifesto:
Occupy Wall Street is a leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%. We are using the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic to achieve our ends and encourage the use of nonviolence to maximize the safety of all participants. This movement empowers real people to create real change from the bottom up. We want to see a general assembly in every backyard, on every street corner because we don't need Wall Street and we don't need politicians to build a better society. The only solution is World Revolution. [See]
The Strengths of the Occupy Wall Street Movement:
1. Based on the above statement, this movement can be called an anti-capitalist movement (and not merely anti-war or anti-imperialist or anti-globalization and the like) for the following reasons:
* Wall Street is the world’s most important financial trade center. Openly stating that 99% of the population do not need Wall Street or the politicians, signifies open opposition to capitalism.
* The active body of this movement mainly consists of the unemployed, women, college students and dissatisfied and protesting artists…Let me start with the unemployed. Unemployment is an effect of the capitalist system. A fundamental feature of this system is the effort to increase profit-making for the capitalist class in different ways. One of these methods which is mainly used in advanced capitalist countries such as the U.S. and Europe, is to increase the productivity of labor through the use of the latest technological and scientific achievements. However in the context of capitalism, the use of advanced technology and machinery leads to unemployment and the redundancy of workers…This system uses advanced technology to increase profit. However, in doing so, i.e. by making living workers redundant, it deprives capitalism of the real source of profit, i.e. those very same living workers. Hence, it creates a tendency in capitalism which is called “the tendential fall in the rate of profit.” The rise of crises in capitalism is the actual result of this very tendency. Whether this tendency is actualized or not, an inevitable outcome of capitalism is unemployment. In 2011, international capitalist institutions such as the International Labor Organization and the International Monetary Fund have declared that youth unemployment in the U.S. stands at 17.7%...
Women are another important pillar of this movement. Although women in the U.S. are legally equal to men, in reality they are subjected to prejudice and inequality. Women receive less pay for work equal to that of men…Another form of oppression of women in the U.S. and the West in general is violence against women…
Finally, college students are another sector of the population that has created the Occupy Wall Street Movement. One of the main reasons for the active participation of college students in this movement is their inability to pay student loans obtained from universities…
* …A unique feature of the Occupy Wall Street Movement is that it has further penetrated the depths of society. In addition to opposing finance capital and the politicians, it has turned the social problems of everyday life into another realm of the struggle against capitalism. Problems such as illness (for example AIDS or cancer), homelessness, and death resulting from illness and loneliness had been marginalized in previous movements under the leadership of parties and unions. By intervening on these issues, the Occupy Wall Street Movement seeks to challenge competition and prejudice in human relations and instead develop solidarity, cooperation and equality among people…
* …This movement has placed new sectors of the population within the ranks of the working class, sectors which were not seen as part of the working class before. This implies the acceptance of a new definition of the working class, a definition which has been buried under the debris of capitalist and specifically postmodernist or reformist or sectarian perspectives in the post-Marx period. For example, one of the perspectives propagated by postmodernist thinkers was that the industrial working class—which in their opinion constituted what Marx meant by “the proletariat”—had diminished and had been replaced by the expanded service sector. Thus, postmodernist thinkers removed non-production workers such as sales clerks, transportation workers, teachers, nurses and the like from the ranks of the working class, and gave the working class a very weak and ever diminishing identity. Rescuing Marx’s definition of workers from this debris, and confirming the fact that a worker is not only an industrial worker or a production worker but someone who has no other means of survival but selling her/his labor power to the owners of the means of production, distribution and exchange, was a turning point, a great achievement and a strong point against capitalism…
* Calling for “World Revolution” as the only solution to problems, can only be meaningful in opposition to capitalism, because capitalism is not only the problem of this or that country but a global problem…
2. …Another important strength of this movement is that it is not dominated by traditional parties and unions...For leftist parties, the main issue has not been to guide a social revolution of the working class for the abolition of the social relation of capital and through the establishment and rule of anti-capitalist councils. Rather [their goal] has been to use workers’ struggles in order to achieve political power and establish another form of capitalism i.e. state capitalism. Labor unions have not only failed to elevate workers struggles for reforms within the context of capitalism, to the level of the struggle against the system of wage labor. Labor unions themselves have turned into the main agent for the domination of reformism within the working class anti-capitalist struggle…
3. …Prior to the rise of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, the liberal opposition movement in Iran could present western liberal democracy as the promised land which Iranian workers should struggle to reach. Now this inversion of reality is hardly possible. Now even the uncritical supporters of liberal democracy have no option but to admit to the problems which capitalism has created for humanity…Now they will try to tell workers not to look for an alternative beyond capitalism and only seek the escape route within the confines of reformed capitalism…In order to prove their claim, they point to the collapse of the alternatives counterposed to capitalism up to now ( including state capitalism which has called itself “socialism” in countries such as the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, North Korea and the likes)… It will be a big mistake if labor activists in Iran counter liberal capitalism’s strategy of inversion by repeating a fatal experience of the past and presenting as an alternative to capitalism, that which has been put into practice in the name of “socialism” and “communism” and has failed disastrously…
The Weaknesses of the Occupy Wall Street Movement:
* This movement is still not organized, self-conscious and connected to a movement of employed workers …
* The Occupy Wall Street Movement still considers capital not as a social relation but as merely a financial power concentrated in banks…
* The Occupy Wall Street Movement lacks a charter, a minimal set of demands…
11 Azar 1390 (December 2, 2011)

The Deepening Crisis of Capitalism, the Intensification of Class Struggle and the Organization of an Alternative System
Author: Mohammad Maljoo
Date: November 28, 2011
Translated by Frieda Afary

From the inception of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, three themes have found increasing resonance: The deepening crisis of capitalism, the intensification of class struggle, and the organization of an alternative system…

On the question of the transition from capitalism to communism, Orthodox Marxism had three claims concerning these very same themes:

Concerning the first theme, i.e. the deepening crisis of the capitalist system, orthodox Marxism spoke of the tendency in capitalism to sow the seeds of its own destruction. In other words, competition among individual capitalists would lead to the deskilling [of labor] and technological innovation, and therefore to laying off workers, an increase in the size of the reserve army of the unemployed, a decline in wages and ultimately moving toward the crises of overproduction on the one hand and the tendential fall in the rate of the profit on the other hand.

Concerning the second theme, i.e. the intensification of class struggle, orthodox Marxism claimed that alongside the deepening of the crises, there would be a concentration of wealth at one pole of society and a concentration of poverty at the other pole. The polarization of society would lead to the intensification of class contradictions…

Finally concerning the third theme, i.e. the organization of an alternative system, orthodox Marxism also claimed that the material conditions for the creation of communism were born in the womb of capitalism, and that the realization of a communist order would only require a final act for the takeover of power…

In addressing the first theme, i.e. the deepening crisis of capitalism, Lenin essentially did not believe in [the idea] of a final crisis of capitalism. He believed that on the verge of the twentieth century, competitive capitalism had been replaced by monopoly capitalism which had expanded itself in an uneven way around the world in the form of imperialism under the control of finance capital…

If [as Rosa Luxemburg claimed—tr.] the crisis of capitalism emanates from surplus capital or underconsumption, the capitalist system can overcome this problem in various ways through deepening the rule of the logic of capital in various geographical locations. An ever increasing commodification of social life in various societies and geographical location creates both profitable opportunities for investing the surplus capital and an effective demand for overcoming the problem of underconsumption.

David Harvey reaches this very conclusion by increasingly introducing the element of geography into the process of accumulation of capital. The capitalist system will only logically reach its final limit when everything in the exact sense of the word has been commodified. In this respect, the capitalist system has not yet reached its final limit and can logically exit the deepest crisis with pride. At the same time, any crisis, no matter how superficial, can logically be the final crisis of the capitalist system.

The key point is this: The determinant for the survival or destruction of the capitalist system is not the depth of the crisis. The determinant is to be found in the second theme, the intensification of class struggle. If the capitalist system has been able to traverse all the crises and remain unharmed up to now, the reason is to be found not in capitalism’s power but in the weakness of class struggles…

In following Lukacs, the Frankfurt School believed that instrumental reason essentially negated revolutionary subjectivity, even if the objectivity of revolution became ever more possible and urgent. Gramsci sought to develop the concept of hegemony in order to answer this question. In other words, he demonstrated how in bourgeois civil society, meanings and values are produced which lead to the spontaneous satisfaction of various sectors of society with the status quo.

Althusser spoke of ideological state apparatuses which actualized the process by which the exploited and the exploiters followed the dominant ideology. However, as Foucault says, wherever there is power, there is also resistance.

Although Gramsci and Althusser offered convincing theories concerning capitalism’s power to use ideology and politics to weaken class struggle, neither one offered a convincing theory concerning the counter-hegemonic project. It was up to Karl Polanyi to develop the counter-hegemonic project.

Polanyi showed how different classes and sectors in civil society spontaneously create a defensive counter-movement from below against the capitalist system, and defend themselves against the dangers inherent in this system. The point is the following: It is not the depth of the capitalist crisis which determines whether the final crisis of the capitalist system has arrived or not. The determinant is the balance of forces between the hegemonic and the counter-hegemonic projects. The stronger the counter-hegemonic side, the more likely the final crisis of capitalism, regardless of the depth and scope of the crisis itself. However, the moving force for strengthening the counter-hegemonic project and weakening the hegemonic project must be found in the third theme, i.e. questions about the organization of the alternative system.

Contrary to the predictions of orthodox Marxism, the material conditions for the organization of the alternative system have not yet been provided spontaneously in the womb of capitalism. If those conditions are not provided spontaneously, then two questions gain significance.

The first question concerns the nature of the alternative system. Is it the alternative of social democrats such as Joseph Stiglitz or Paul Krugman? Is it the alternative of environmentalists such as James Lovelock? Is it the alternative of anarchists such as James Scott or Noam Chomsky? Is it the alternative of autonomists such as Antonio Negri and Felix Guattari or Michael Hardt? Is it the alternative of post-developmentalists such as Arturo Escobar or Maji Rahnema? Is it the alternative of socialists such as David Harvey? Or is it the alternative of communists such as Michael Lebowitz or Michael Albert?

The second question concerns the appropriate political pathway for achieving the alternative system. Is the pathway for achieving a socialist alternative to be found in parliamentary struggles, as Eduard Bernstein claimed? Or should the capitalist state first be destroyed and a new form of state constructed, as Lenin claimed?... Reform or revolution? …The main point is the following: If the emergence of the final crisis of capitalism is not dependent on the depth of the crisis but on the strength of class struggle, the motivating force for class struggle also arises from a certain minimal level of agreement on the type of alternative system and the appropriate political method for achieving the alternative system.

7 Azar 1390 (November 28, 2011)

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