The Cannonites and Iran

Silence Is Golden

(September 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 36, 8 September 1941, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The subjugation of Iran by Anglo-Stalinist imperialism is all but completed now. The oil fields and refineries are already under the direct control of the invaders. So are the strategical railroads and highways. Hitler’s agents and spies are on their way as fast as they can run or be deported. All that is left to Shah Riza Pahlevi, at this writing, is nominal police control of the capital and the assurance that he will continue getting his little rake-off on every barrel of oil pumped out of Iran’s wells.

What is the essential difference between the assault on Denmark or Holland by Hitler and the assault on Iran by Churchill and Stalin? The professional democrats and warmongers in the United States wept tears of indignation at the former and shouted cheers of enthusiasm at the latter.

Where the Difference Lies

That is understandable, because they are people without honorable principle, scruples, or a sense of shame. In both cases, the invader claimed that the victim’s territory was being converted by the enemy into a war base against himself. In both cases, the invader destroyed the sovereignty of the victim in the name of preserving its sovereignty. In both cases, the invader claimed that his action was purely defensive. In both cases, the invader claimed that he was only helping keep the victim from being drawn into the war. In both cases, the invader declared that he was taking the initiative only in order to prevent the enemy from taking the initiative. And in both cases – lo and behold! – the invader was so surprised to find economity wealth in the territory of his victim that he promptly proceeded to loot it and to establish a military-police regime to protect him while the looting was going on. In a word, in both cases the imperialists acted as imperialists always have.

Yet there is a difference so far as our “democrats” are concerned. What is it? Simply this: in the one case, it is “the other fellow’s” imperialism, and in the other case it is “our” imperialism.

A reader might object by saying: What else can you expect from the apologists for imperialist depredation? The objection is well taken: Nothing else can or should be expected.

Not a Word From the Cannonites

But the same objection does not hold true of the Cannonites, for example. From them something quite different should be expected. But what is to be expected and what you actually get are two different things. The last issue of The Militant, the organ of the Socialist Workers Party, with all the space at its disposal, did not have one single word to say about the invasion of Iran, although it went to press in plenty of time after the event to make possible some comment – a paragraph, say, or at least a syllable. For the Cannonites, the invasion of Iran does not exist.

Why not?

When Stalin, in concert with Hitler, invaded Poland, the Cannonites (to be sure, only after we, and then Trotsky, had prodded them into it) were ready to denounce Stalin’s act as “criminal and shameful.” But when Stalin, in concert with Churchill, invades Iran, the Cannonites not only do not denounce it as “criminal and shameful” or as anything else, but they do not characterize it at all. They pretend it just isn’t there. They stuff their ears, eyes, noses (yes, noses as well, because the invasion stinks of oil) and mouth with austere silence.

Can this be because the invasion of Poland was carried out in alliance with a fascist imperialism, whereas the invasion of Iran was carried out in alliance with a nice, popular, “democratic” imperialism? Can it be that the Cannonites “denounced” in 1939 because of bourgeois-democratic pressure, but do not “denounce” in 1941 because there is no bourgeois-democratic pressure upon them to do so now?

We haven’t had much luck with questions, similar to those asked above, which we have put to the Cannonites before. But perhaps persistence will yet succeed in piercing their awe-inspiring taciturnity. It is worth another try.

What Shall We Advise?

The Cannonites are for the “unconditional defense of the Soviet Union” in any war with a capitalist-imperialist country. Poland, for example, was such a country. Let us assume that Iran, a semi-colonial country, is in any case a tool of a capitalist-imperialist power.

As a “defensist” Cannon is in favor of revolutionists being the “best soldiers” in the Red Army. He is also for revolutionists being the “best soldiers” in the American and presumably also in the British armies. We ask: what kind of soldiers should revolutionists be in the Iranian army?

Further: the “defensist” position is for the victory of the Red Army in the war; it is for political opposition in the army of Stalin’s imperialist allies; it is for defeat, for military defeatism (with all that this implies) in the army of Stalin’s enemy, for example, the army of Iran. Our question is: in what part of Iran and in what part of the Iranian army are the Cannonites for defeatism – in the north (which is invaded by Stalin), in the south (which is invaded by Stalin’s ally, British imperialism), or in both? Also, which part of the Iranian army should be called upon to desert to the Stalinist army (which, according to one astrologer in the Militant, is now “Trotsky’s Red Army”!), and which part, if any, should desert to Wavell’s army?

Further: We think we know what the Cannonite position would be if and when the Iranian people were to rise in a revolutionary movement against imperialism. What we do not know is this: Would the “defensists” call upon the people of Iran NOW for two weeks ago) to arm themselves and drive the British imperialists and/or the Stalinists out of Iran, and proclaim the full national independence of the country?

Such questions might have been set aside as “general” or “hypothetical” five or ten years ago. Today, however, they are specific, concrete and real. Will the Cannonites answer them? Or are suspicious people right in believing that the only way they can defend their position on Russia in the war is by swathing themselves in impenetrable layers of golden silence?

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