|The Early Days of a Better Nation|
Monday, June 22, 2009
But all science would be superfluous if the outward appearance and the essence of things directly coincided. Marx, Capital, Vol. III, ch. 48
Superficially, the Iranian Revolution of 1979 was a gigantic reactionary mass movement to establish an Islamic theocracy. Likewise, a couple of years later in 1981, the insurgent Polish trade union Solidarity superficially appeared to be a Catholic, nationalist mass movement to overthrow the unpopular People's Republic and restore capitalism. And today, the Iranian uprising seems on the surface to a brave and massive, but minority, protest movement in favour of the neoliberal Islamist candidate who may (or may not) have lost the election and against the right-wing populist Islamist candidate who may (or may not) have stolen the election.
In all of these cases, and many more, Marxists have warned anyone who would listen that the superficial appearance shouldn't be mistaken for the essence, for what was really going on under the surface of events. The underlying essence varied, and varies, according to the Marxist but whatever it is, you can be damn sure it wasn't something you would have thought of yourself, or gathered from the biased reportage of the bourgeois press. Not many people would have looked at a photo of shipyard workers kneeling to take Mass and thought, 'What they're really after is socialism from below.' Not many people could hear millions of voices chanting 'Allahu akbar!' and think, 'Ah yes, the power of the people is greater than the man's technology.' Crowds hauling down statues of Lenin didn't look as if they were celebrating the spirit of 1917, but that just goes to show how deceptive appearances can be.
Wittgenstein: “Why do people say that it was natural to think that the sun went round the earth rather than that the earth turned on its axis?” I (Elizabeth Anscombe, a friend and pupil of Wittgenstein) replied: “I suppose, because it looked as if the sun went round the earth.” “Well, he asked, what would it have looked like if it had looked as if the earth turned on its axis?”