The following statement, which also appears in Proletarian Revolution No. 78, was distributed as a leaflet by the League for the Revolutionary Party on July 19, 2006 in New York as part of a protest on the first anniversary of the execution of two young gay men in Iran.
We are here to commemorate the hanging of Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni, two young gay men in Meshhad, Iran, a year ago today. They were only 17 years old at the time of their execution. Mahmoud and Ayaz’s sole crime was to love each other; the Iranian government’s accusations that they had raped a younger boy are a stereotypical slander. Routinely in Iran, gay men are framed on a range of trumped-up charges punishable with death.
The murders of Mahmoud and Ayaz inflame us to fight against many an injustice: against the vicious, often murderous, oppression faced by gay men, lesbians, and transsexual and transgendered people; against the barbarous use of the death penalty by capitalist states; against religious obscurantism, used throughout the world to rally support for oppressive regimes.
Yet particularly in the United States, a nation whose rulers invade and destroy nation after nation in defense of their imperialist rule, we must never fall into the deadly, chauvinist illusion that we live in a more refined, civilized part of the world. The memories of Mahmoud and Ayaz live as a standing rebuke, not only to the mullahs and politicians of Iran who bear direct responsibility for their killing, but to imperialist capitalism, which extends its bloody grasp throughout the world.
In the United States, gays, lesbians and the transgendered are no longer—and not yet again—subject to state-sanctioned murder solely for who they are. But their lives are often imperiled by murderous bigots, and when they are killed these crimes are too often winked at by the powers that be. Here in New York City alone, over the last four years, the murders of Rodney Velázquez, Brian Boothe and Rashawn Brazell remain unsolved. Nationally famous cases, such as the killings of Matthew Shepard and Gwen Araujo, are rare not because of the viciousness of the crimes but because their killers were caught, arrested, tried and convicted.
The disdain of homophobic cops who fail to investigate such crimes is not a matter of a few bad apples; nor can it be overcome through sensitivity training. As institutions charged with social control and defense of property, the police and courts have a clear bias in favor of those regarded as “respectable.” Excluded from having a legally recognized family, gays, lesbians and transgendered people labor under the burden of having to prove their legitimacy. A small minority of the rich or famous can buy their way partially out, but the majority of working-class gays face a double oppression.
The fight over gay marriage rights is only the latest battleground in the struggle for social inclusion, and it will not be the last. The resistance, shared by Republicans and Democrats—the “Defense of Marriage Act” was signed by Clinton—to full, equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians sends the message that this is a group of people who are not fully human.
The U.S., with 60 executions in 2005, was exceeded only by China, Iran and Saudi Arabia. These four nations—a statified capitalist country under fake-socialist tyranny, a clerical-fascist regime, a stiflingly conservative monarchy, along with our supposed “democracy”—are responsible for 94% of the world’s executions.
Capitalist rulers use the death penalty as a means of terrorism against their populations. It is used to single out social scapegoats. In Iran, gays are a target, and so Mahmoud and Ayaz suffered their tragic fate. In the U.S., the death penalty confirms and reinforces the central role of racism in our society: 80% of all death row inmates are Black or Latino.
Much outrage has been justifiably focused on the fact that Mahmoud and Ayaz were minors. Even if one accepts the dubious charges against them, or the even more doubtful notion that we can trust any capitalist state to decide on matters of life and death, the notion that those held too young to vote or hold full civil rights can be held criminally responsible and pay the ultimate price is widely met with great repulsion. Since 1990, only eight countries have executed those who were minors at the time of their alleged crimes. The U.S. and Iran are at the top of the list, with Iran only matching the U.S.’s numbers in 2005. In March 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court narrowly decided to end the practice, finally. Iran’s crime of today is the U.S.’s crime of just yesterday.
The regime in Iran is a clerical-fascist government in which ultimate power rests with an unelected “Supreme Leader” and the clerical “Council of Guardians.” This regime came to power by hijacking and then crushing the workers’ revolution of 1979, which overthrew the U.S.-backed monarchy of the Shah.
Successive U.S. governments have remained hostile to Iran, and the imperialist “war on terror” is widely perceived as a war on Muslims. But the U.S. ruling class is happy to work with reactionary Islamists in defense of its own imperialist interests. The U.S.-backed monarchy in Saudi Arabia uses its conservative Wahhabi brand of Islam to justify its rule. In U.S.-occupied Afghanistan, the Taliban were driven out. But the sharia courts, with their laws oppressing women, gays and the population at large, were secured in place. In Iraq, the U.S.’s closest collaborators are the Shi’ite religious parties, whose militias attack women, students and any workers who mobilize in defense of their rights.
The bourgeoisie was once a progressive class striving for enlightenment. Now that it has secured its rule throughout the world it finds it more profitable to keep the people mired in ancient prejudice. Recent decades have seen a rise in fundamentalism in all regions and religions. Perhaps the most cynical turn among capitalists has been their self-stupefaction, the widespread turn from a scientific to a superstitious world view. In the U.S., this has been a bipartisan turn as well, with Bush’s shows of religiosity finding a more eloquent counterpart in Barack Obama’s calls to “embrace Christ.” Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, recognizing a somewhat kindred spirit in the White House, recently wrote Bush suggesting that a common religious outlook could serve as the basis for some form of collaboration! Its dismissal by Bush reflects not any intrinsic clash between Bush’s Christianity and Ahmadinejad’s Islam but U.S. imperialism’s overriding drive to secure its dominance in the Middle East. Iran is simply in the way.
The presence of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, two countries bordering Iran; the imperialists’ blatant double standard, in which Israel’s stockpile of nuclear weapons, an open secret, is winked at while Iran’s nuclear power program is harassed and condemned; repeated threats, by U.S. and Israeli leaders, to attack Iran through bombings and worse: All these have helped Iran’s rulers bolster their once faltering popularity by encouraging a surge of national pride. Like many nationalist leaders, Iran’s rulers seek scapegoats for social unrest among “degenerate” and “cosmopolitan” elements in the population; in Iran as in many other parts of the world, gays have felt the brunt of this attack.
In fact, the attack on Iranian gays is an affront to the history of the peoples of Iran. Same-sex love can be documented in their cultures going back for thousands of years. This is true for all the world’s cultures, because it is an essential part of the human condition, merely one form among many that our species’ potential for sharing and compassion manifests itself. The mullahs’ fantasy of a pure Iranian Islamic identity, rigidly heterosexual, male dominant, and without troublesome class divisions, is an invented tradition designed to keep the people of Iran in line.
In the Middle East especially, repressive pro-imperialist rulers have encouraged Islamism, in hopes of sapping support for any working-class communist alternative. The long history of Stalinist pseudo-communists in betraying anti-imperialist struggles, as well as the unattractive reality of the statified capitalist societies they hailed, made this all the easier. Islamist leaders, in order to place themselves at the head of mass struggles, often make use of distorted anti-imperialist language. But fundamentally, as capitalist forces, their aim is to seek accommodation with the imperialists.
U.S. imperialism, already drenched in blood from its conquests in Afghanistan and Iraq, is indirectly responsible for the crimes of its local Islamist sometime-rivals-sometime-allies. Rulers whose crimes include the tortures at Bagram and Abu Ghraib, the concentration camp at Guantánamo and the massacres and rapes at Haditha and Mahmudiya have no moral right to complain about the crimes of the Iranian regime.
Winning the trust of our fellow workers in and from the Middle East demands that workers in imperialist countries take a stand against the racist attacks by our rulers. Unfortunately, some European and American leftists, including some who have supported the call for this demonstration, see imperialism and Islamism as more or less equal enemies, and sometimes even side with the former against the masses in the Islamic countries.
For example, when a right-wing Danish newspaper published a series of cartoons portraying the Prophet Muhammad as a terrorist, it was a racist attack on the peoples of the Middle East and South Asia, spreading the “terrorist” blood libel. It was also a religious insult; as Marxists we are not religious, but we seek to overcome religious influence through dialogue and shared experiences of struggle, not insults directed at the masses. These racist and religious insults reflect the rising tide of imperialist chauvinism against the Islamic world and immigrants from there, rampant in the U.S. and Europe. While calling for no state bans, genuine Marxists opposed the cartoons on these grounds.
Some leftists, however, focusing on the calls of some Islamist leaders for new laws against “blasphemy,” chose to see the protests against the cartoons not as self-defense against chauvinism but an attack on “free speech.” Peter Tatchell, the spokesman for the British gay rights group OutRage! which called for this protest, was one such, a position that put him in the position of marching alongside notorious union-busters like the “Freedom Association” in a so-called “March for Free Expression.” Politics, when not based upon principled opposition to all forms of bigotry and chauvinism, can make for strange bedfellows.
Humanity is at a crossroads. Capitalism’s continued rule offers humanity nothing but more wars, executions, mass acts of terror and grinding exploitation and poverty. But the international working class, the one class with no essential interest in oppression or exploitation, has the potential to put an end to capitalist barbarism. If it rises up to overthrow the capitalists in revolutions the world over, it can take hold of the productive power of the world economy to put an end to poverty and build a world of abundance for all. It can lead a political struggle against the racism, chauvinism and sex and gender oppression that thrive in capitalism’s world of want. The choice is socialism or barbarism—whether the barbarism of a local thug or of a world-straddling emperor.
To prepare our class for its revolutionary role, the most politically conscious workers—those who seek a world cleansed of oppression, in which humanity can reach its fullest potential— must come together in an organization prepared to fight for that goal: a revolutionary party. Such a party works to expose the role of all leaderships that try to make peace with the capitalist system and thereby condemn us to the continued growth of barbarism. It fights against all types of backward consciousness that only foster divisions in the ranks of the oppressed and exploited. It engages in every struggle; at all times it says what is. It tells the truth.
Only by building such a party internationally can the working class prepare itself for the titanic task of undoing the disasters the capitalists keep making—and building a new world in their place.