Twenty-five years ago, the list of countries denounced as official ‘enemies’ and targeted with asphyxiating economic sanctions by US imperialism was relatively small. The infamous ‘Axis of Evil’ trope, utilised to great propaganda effect during the presidency of George W Bush, focused primarily on just three countries: Iran, Iraq and north Korea (with Cuba as an honorary fourth member).
Today, the naughty list has grown to astonishing proportions. Nearly one third of the world’s countries are now subject to some form of US, European Union or United Nations sanctions regime. The problem with sanctioning so many countries, however, is that the central purpose – making isolated pariahs of the targeted nations – begins to be defeated.
Inevitably, targeted nations are starting to team up in an attempt to minimise the devastating impacts of imperialist economic blockades. One striking example is the blossoming relationship between two very different countries on opposite sides of the world: the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
Venezuela-Iran cooperation dates back to the first presidency of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, when he made anti-imperialist solidarity a principle of his government’s foreign policy. Since then, the two countries have developed a deep politico-economic partnership encompassing industries such as automobiles, petrochemicals, communications technology and tourism.
During Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi’s visit to Caracas in June 2023, a total of 19 separate cooperation agreements were signed, and it was announced that bilateral trade between the two nations would be increased to $20bn. Iran has shipped many desperately needed fuel tankers to Venezuela in open defiance of US military threats, and an Iranian supermarket chain is now operating in Venezuela, selling a mixture of local Venezuelan and imported Iranian products.
Does the Venezuela-Iran alliance stem purely from necessity; from a mutual desperation for sanctions relief? Perhaps if the sanctions did not exist, these two countries would quickly drift apart owing to their incompatible and opposing politics?
This point of view is popular amongst the majority of self-identifying ‘socialist’ and ‘communist’ organisations in the west. Such organisations tend to idolise – sometimes to the point of embarrassment – anti-imperialist Latin-American countries that speak European languages and share cultural similarities with Europe, whilst dismissing out of hand the achievements of anti-imperialist countries in Asia and Africa, characterising them as reactionary or fascistic simply because they don’t share European attitudes on culture war issues like LGBT or abortion.
To be sure, there are many obvious political and cultural differences between Iran and Venezuela. Attitudes towards women’s dress and the extent to which religion plays a role in politics, for example. But Venezuela is not as militantly secular a state as some imagine: President Nicolás Maduro makes no secret of his catholic faith, and Venezuela (alongside Sandinista Nicaragua) has some of the strictest abortion laws in the region – presumably owing to the country’s catholic majority.
More importantly, since the 1979 revolution, despite rejecting scientific socialism, Iran’s Islamic Republic has nevertheless for the most part made it a point of principle to stand in solidarity with nations oppressed by western imperialism. Indeed, Iran is one of a small handful of countries to have maintained this stance even during the height of imperialist reaction in the 1990s.
President Raisi’s recent visits to Nicaragua and Cuba as well as Venezuela – the three Latin-American states most under siege from the USA – and his warm reception in all three countries are further evidence of this phenomenon.
This is a relatively unique attitude amongst islamic political movements, which generally tend towards reactionary sectarianism and dissociation from non-muslims. Iran has paid a heavy price for this solidarity, not only facing crushing US sanctions and an unprecedented media demonisation campaign but also making an enemy of more reactionary muslims affronted by Tehran’s strong support for ‘infidel’ governments in imperialist-targeted nations like Syria and Russia.
Iranian internationalism, despite playing a crucial role in the victories of resistance movements in Syria, Lebanon, occupied Palestine and Yemen, is almost entirely ignored by most so-called communist organisations in the west, which often do nothing but repeat imperialist media propaganda about defiant feminists and evil mullahs pretty much verbatim. Indeed, many of these self-styled ‘socialists’ seem to show much more virulent hostility towards anti-imperialist Iran than they do towards any of the US client regimes in the middle east.
The reality is that even from an ideological perspective, Iran and Venezuela have more in common than they have dividing them. In contrast to the disruptive effects of US internal party politics on that country’s international agreements, the Iran-Venezuela alliance has thrived despite multiple changes of government in Tehran and a change of leadership in Caracas.
Venezuela has been helped by the fact that control of foreign policy in Iran lies with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the so-called ‘hardliners’ grouped around the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, who tend to exhibit a much stronger anti-imperialist consciousness compared with the more pro-western ‘reformists’ who tend towards Gorbachev-style appeasement politics.
Unlike the petty-bourgeois chauvinist parties that pass for ‘socialist’ in the western imperialist world, the Venezuelan PSUV is well aware of who the allies and the enemies of the oppressed peoples are. Whilst western leftists typically depict Iran’s 1979 revolution as some great tragedy that produced nothing of value, President Maduro has repeatedly praised the Iranian revolution and directly compared it with the Bolivarian revolutionary process, in the sense that both have not only effectively liberated their peoples from imperialist interference, but actively seek to help others throw off their chains as well.
At the meeting of the World Anti-imperialist Platform in Seoul, a Swiss comrade spoke of the need to understand the current historical phase and its primary contradiction: the contradiction between Euro-Atlantic imperialism and the emerging Eurasian anti-imperialist bloc.
Those in the communist movement who fail to understand this, and dogmatically hold that capitalism v socialism is the sole contradiction of our era, will inevitably scoff at President Maduro’s analogy.
Those comrades who do understand this reality have a heavy responsibility to educate the masses. The future of humanity depends on it.