Cultural Lumpenism

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I have great respect for the courage and integrity of our progressive artists and intellectuals who are imprisoned under torture by the Islamic Republic agents: writers such as Zarah Ghahramani, Yaghoub Yadali and Emadeddin Baghi, filmmakers such as Mahnaz Mohammadi and Jafar Panahi, social scientists such as Kian Tajbakhsh, feminists such as Bahareh Hedayat and Nasrin Sotoudeh, student leaders such as Majid Tavakkoli. I have the same feelings for Ahmad Batebi, who has been imprisoned and tortured, and for over 80 writers, translators, poets and political activists, such as the Foruhars, Mokhtari, Pouyandeh and Saeedi Sirjani, who have been victims of Serial Murders by the Islamic State’s agents from 1988 to 1998.

On the other hand, we have intellectuals whose views are close to those of the Islamic regime, whether the hardliners or the Islamic reformists. These intellectuals do not appear to actively collaborate with the Islamic regime as its agents, but they do express their support for certain oppressive actions and suppressive measures by the IRI to different degrees and on different occasions and continue to do so. One of such supporters of the Fundamentalists (particularly their Islamic Constitution) and Islamic Reformists is the famous novelist, Mahmoud Dowlat-Abadi.

My essay about Dowlat-Abadi’s “lumpenism and anti-feminism” (1) is more about this writer’s sexism than his lumpenism. Consequently, I decided to write the present essay on lumpenism in general, Iranian lumpenism in particular and how some of the lumpenist characteristics apply to the novelist, Mahmoud Dowlat-Abadi. To this end, I did further research on the writer’s life, personality and politics.

Obviously, Dowlat-Abadi is not the only writer who shows a tendency towards lumpenist behaviours. In fact, the presence of this tendency among the Iranians of all social classes and categories, including the educated and intellectuals, constitutes one of the major elements of the present Iranian cultural poverty.

What is Lumpenism?

The German word lumpen, meaning a loafer in tatters, was originally coined

by Marx and Engels in the combined word “ lumpen-proletariat” in the

“Communist Manifesto.” According to them, it describes the lowest layer of the working class, composed of people who have no role in production, are displaced from their socio-economic category, live in the margins of the society and by dubious ways such as begging, brokering and scams. They become a tool in the hands of right-wing forces and “mere numbers” in fascist movements against the working class, Because of their being gleaners of the bourgeoisie and aristocracy, and the culture that goes with. They prevent the working class from taking power to rule the society. That’s why they considered this social group counter-revolutionary (2).

In today’s under-developed societies such as Iran, the formation of this opportunistic group as a significant layer of society takes place when a rural /agricultural/non-industrial society is heading towards consumerism, industrialization and capitalism, with its lack of a definite assortment of classes, its class confusion, its chronic unemployment, its permanent tendency to increase the workers’ misery. Lumpens are the remnants of the pre-industrial and pre-capitalist society who cannot adapt themselves to this transformation.

In modern times lumpenism is a sub-culture that could be found in any social class, and according to Merriam-Webster dictionary, “lumpen is of or relating to dispossessed and uprooted individuals cut off from the economic and social class with which they might normally be identified. For instance, lumpen proletariat and lumpen intellectuals.” This group often does pseudo-work and is a floating social layer without identity and because of this very feature, their employment by other groups and classes is easily possible.

In its present meaning and more prevalent use, a lumpen comes from any social class and is roughly equivalent of vulgar, rogue and hoodlum. And Lumpenism is used to describe a sub-culture or a cultural tendency in some individuals of any social class and category to behave like a lumpen: to wear shabby clothes, to have renounced their social status expectations, and to avoid politics as a result of their ignorance or opportunism.

Lmpenism is one of the effects of under-developments. In developed societies where citizenship laws rule, the power of lumpen is not vast. On the contrary, in traditional and under-developed societies, lumpen has an extra-ordinary power. This power, when used as a tool, becomes more dangerous.

Lumpenism, Iranian Style

Lumpenism is a sub-culture whose functions and features might appear to vary according to different political systems, but its fundamental features remain the same. In Iran, from the beginning of its contemporary history, lumpens had their own specific characteristics. Unlike Western societies where lumpens were originally part of the working class, in the Iranian societies most groups that were known as lumpens were part of the petty shopkeepers, not the working class, and accordingly had a degree of financial capacity. They were used by all the political spectrum of the society, the right-wing and the left-wing and the nationalist groups during the political crises.

Reza Shah Pahlavi Era

During the reign of Reza Shah, some lumpens were Mafiosos and small-time thugs

(jaahels / daashes), some were petty shopkeepers and some others, cooks and Kebab-BBQ-makers who belonged to low-class guilds in the Bazaar. A famous figure among them was Hossein the Cook of head (animals’). Also, the development of urban communities caused complications such as the expansions of walled prostitution districts, to which Jaahels joined to work as pimps and supervisors of the domiciles of the sex-workers in these districts.

On August 25th, 1941, the Allied forces, Britain and the Soviet Union, invaded Iran and subsequently forced Reza Shah to abdicate in favour of his son. With the removal of Reza Shah, the centralized power of the monarchy collapsed and the Iranian society entered a period of confusion, anarchy and freedom. The leftists, nationalist forces, religious forces and royal court supporters, all became very active in the disrupted society, each recruiting some segments of the social group of lumpens, leading them into the Iranian political and social scene both as actors

and mere numbers. These lumpens, who could be found in all political spectrum of the society, carried pocket-knifes, had religious beliefs and emotional attitudes. A famous example of these individuals is Sha’ban Ja’fari, also known as Sha’ban the Brainless, who joined the Royal court and its supporters along with his recruits. It was customary among the Jaahels during fights only to inflict minor wounds on their rival groups’ bodies thus avoiding police intervention. However, Sha’ban Ja’fari was careless in using his knife, sometimes inflicted dangerous wounds; he thus got the nickname of “Brainless.”

Mohammad-Reza Shah Pahlavi Era

During the reign of Mohammad-Reza Pahlavi, lumpenist culture became more

varied. There were three types of political lumpenism (some overt and some others, covert) and two types of entertainment lumpenism. Some lumpens participated in both types of lumpenist activities.

Lumpens who overtly participated in politics consisted of the pack of Velvet-Hats (Kolah-Makhmalis) and Jaahels, illiterates or elementary school-dropouts, who lived in south-Tehran ghettos and made their living by bullying local small businesses and gathering “protection money”, or by other parasitic and dishonest jobs.

Their main attributes were religious beliefs, emotional attitudes and misogyny.

In the August the 19th, 1953 coup d’état by the CIA to bring back the Shah to power, although the above lumpens did not have any central or major role, they supported the institution of Monarchy, which was the symbol of tyranny, and acted to the detriment of democracy and freedom in Iran. Sha’ban Ja’fari, the Brainless, led a group of thugs who disrupted mass gatherings organized in opposition to the Shah in Tehran. Not only did they play the role of “mere numbers” in order to give a popular quality to the event, but also they seized several governmental buildings, including the Radio station and the Prime Minister’s office and house, using violence and abnormal behaviours.

Some of these same lumpens did not participate in these raids because of their religious beliefs. In the August the 6th coup d’état, a lumpen leader by the name of Tayyeb Haj Rezaei who had mobilized a group of men from south of Tehran to attack the governmental institutions, faced the dilemma of religious authority (marja’eeyyat), which was connected to his religious beliefs. So, he refused to continue his collaboration with the Royal institutions and instead cooperated with the clergy and religious authority.

Of course, we cannot generalize the idea that whenever the religion stands against the throne, the lumpens stand against the throne as well, as there are lumpens like Sha’ban Ja’fari who defended the monarchy until he died. However, lumpens recruited their forces from the traditional religious centres such as the Platforms For Passion Play (Takyeh) and Houses For Mourning the Martyrdom of Imam-Hossein (Hosseiniyeh). They were also, because of their religious beliefs, owners of “Mourning Cliques”, which caused them to have more connections with the religious forces of the society. These same lumpens used other methods of recruitment through locations such as the walled prostitution district called Shahr-e No (New City) and the traditional Persian gymnasiums for men only, called Zour-Khaneh-ha (Houses of Force).

After the 1953 coup d’Etat, as a result of their collaboration with the Pahlavi regime, the financial situation of lumpens such as Hossein Ramezan the Ice-monger, Hossein the Liver-monger, and Sha’ban the Brainless, improved. In the case of Sha’ban Ja’fari, he became the owner of a club and was influential without being a political figure.

A decade later, when the Shah’s White Revolution of 1963, which aimed at

diminishing the land-owners’ and clergy’s influence and creating a new base of support among the peasants and working class, led to the June 5 Uprising, lumpens were once again used by the Shah’s regime. This time, their role consisted of intimidation, control and removal of the land-owners and clergy as opponents and the intermediaries between the regime and the people.

Following the White Revolution, as the Iranian cities were flooded with villagers who settled in shanti-towns during the 1960’s and 1970’s, the Iranian pseudo-modernism became the ground for the growth of lumpenist entertainment and culture. The pack of Kolah-Makhmalis and Jaahels managed the Lalehzar cafés’s sub-culture called Khaal-touri (3) that produced popular songs partly on the lumpen life, and the phenomenon of Jaaheli and Kolaah-Makhmali cinema or Farsi films, entirely devoted to the life and culture of lumpens, emerged. In tandem, this lumpenist culture was distributed in all parts of the country through the expansion of cinemas and television. In Farsi films and popular songs, everybody was miserable and looked for a miracle to be saved.

But there were also exceptions. Some filmmakers used lumpen types in their films without trying to promote lumpenism, such as Kimiai who, in his film Kaiser, succeeded in achieving a kind of esthetics in the cinematic narrative and visual form. However, lumpenism of the time turned the aesthetics that occurred in this film into the lumpenism of Jaahel and the dancer.

During this same period, other types of lumpens, members of the Shah’s Secret Police, the SAVAK, were engaged in covert activities against the opponents of the regime. They consisted of spies, interrogators and torturers.

Concurrently, another category of covert political lumpenism appeared during 1960’s and 1970’s among the leftists and Islamic-leftist forces. This does not mean that their class origin was the same as the lumpens; it means that their tendencies, attitudes and actions were aligned with the lumpens as a result of their ideological beliefs, identification with the poor members of the lower classes, and the influence of the popular lumpenist culture mentioned above. Male and female members of the leftist organizations had a crumpled and unkempt appearance, and wore blue jeans and a long shirt. Women did not wear make-up and tried to look as masculine as possible. Men wore heavy shoes and army jackets, short hair, and a heavy mustache, which covered their upper-lips to be distinguished from the Islamic groups who were as crumpled and unkempt. The specific lumpenism of the members of the guerilla movement mainly consisted of rejection of higher education and life in general.

Many of the present political judgments and behaviours such as political insults and discrediting political rivals and opponents are the prolongation of the same ideological attitudes of the leftists and Islamic leftists, the latter being the members and ex-members of the Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO).

The Islamic Republic Era

After the 1979 Uprising and the establishment of the Islamic Republic, the prominent examples of lumpenism were the emergence of wayward gangs and the Basiji para-military forces who were the Kolaah-Makhmalis and Jaahels of the ancien régime easily surrendering themselves to the reactionary events and transforming into fundamentalist thugs.

In cinema and television, the lumpenist contrast of Jaahel and the Dancer gave way to the contrast of the backward couple Suitor-Bride and provided a fertile ground for the reproduction of the cultural lumpenism.

Statistics for cinema and television production based on the lumpenist polarization Suitor-Bride exceeded the previous making of lumpenist films of Jaahel-Dancer. And lumpenism turned the esthetics of the films “Leili is with me” and “lizard” into the lumpenism of “The Dismissed”.

Cultural lumpenism is gradually produced and reproduced in the form of movies and TV series. From the production of popular movies (Charlatan, Enamoured, Broken-hearted, A Hat For the Rain, Runaway Bride, Iranian Wedding, honourable Suitor, The Dismissed) to TV event-based series (lumpenism of The Tenth Night), along with the lumpenism of television comedies and also lumpenism of the radio and TV announcers, they entirely reflect the deplorable growth of lumpenism and its reproduction in the Iranian audio and visual literature under the Islamic Republic.

In this era, lumpenism has moved from the margins to the text through the media of cinema and television and is active in an expanse larger than its own sub-culture. (4)

Cultural Lumpenism of Iranians

Following this review of the contemporary socio-historical origin of the Iranian lumpenism, I’d like to move on to examine the cultural lumpenism among Iranians.

Cultural lumpenism is equivalent of being systematically dishonest, inauthentic, unreliable, and shifting one’s attitudes and opinions according to circumstances.

In Iran, there are extensive cultural habits in all social classes, which are borrowed from lumpenism. People from middle and upper-middle classes and even aristocracy speak, behave or act, with different degrees, in lumpenist ways. As they are not economically and socio-politically “lumpens”, yet sometimes or often speak, behave or act like lumpens, we say that they have lumpenist tendencies. Unfortunately, lumpenism is a national cultural phenomenon in Iran.

National cultural lumpenism has its roots in the Iranian mass culture where the civil society is not fully developed, laws are not enforced and citizens, deprived of the right of assembly in cultural centres, tend to be spectators of events and to conform to external norms and have mass behaviours. In lumpenized society, lumpens (Basijis and Hezbollahis) are politicians who run the society or are in charge of the mobilization of the masses and act for the interests of the dictatorial regimes (Kolah-Makhmsalis and jaahels).

Without really having religious beliefs, lumpens always go towards religion for solace and support. They are less inclined to prayer and fasting, but have good relationship with the clergy. Some lumpens love Ali, the Prophet’s son-in-law, more than other Islamic saints. Maybe the reason is his having been an athlete with a strong body, a skillful swordsman, a warrior. Their admiration for Ali is mixed with some veneer of Sufism. The traditional Persian gymnasium’s pit has always been the school of Ali.

Cultural lumpenists do not actually value their lumpenism. That is why whenever they are criticized, they collectively become defensive or show hostile reactions. To adapt themselves to the majority, some people either approve of lumpenism or keep silent. Thus, our popular culture gradually declines and we remain in the collective state of denial and self-delusion.

The origin of cultural lumpenism is sets of beliefs that are based on logical errors, which are either fossilized and intolerant of criticism or always escape criticism with the help of illogical factors.

The fundamental error of lumpenism is the belief that the lumpen is always right and others who claim to know and think differently are considered mentally ill! One of the reasons for disturbed opposition to the concept of intellectuality is this very mistaken belief. That’s why lumpens always make excellent fighters for ideological dogmatists and theological thinkers. Cultural lumpens limit the grounds of rationality, which is based on criticism-tolerant belief of “I know that I don’t know.” They believe that they possess the truth.

Logical, semantic, conceptual and epistemological inconsistencies are open secrets of lumpenism’s durability in the theoretical expression. Therefore, the identity of lumpenism finds meaning in its opposition to intellectuality and without this opposition, lumpenism logically cannot be viable. (5)

As a matter of fact, lumpenism, which is also equivalent of vulgarism, seems to sit well with Iranians of all types and groups. Iranian people of any social class and category would sometimes, if not always, use vulgar words and expressions or adopt vulgar behaviors. Some high-class individuals may also occasionally exhibit lumpenist behaviors. For instance, when the second Pahlavi king called the Iranian intellectuals “in (pronounced An=Shit) tellectuels”, he obviously behaved like a lumpen. He was, and still is, imitated by those who need a famous figure as a support system for their public vulgarity.

Cultural Lumpenism among intellectuals

Unfortunately, cultural lumpenism has always existed among the Iranian intellectuals, especially among poets and writers. They did not / do not carry knives or attack buildings or gather as a gang to shout slogans. Instead, they either use obscene words or adopt reactionary and discriminatory ideas, and sometimes both.

In pre-modern Iran, some poets took advantage of cheap literature. Generally, the Persian classical literature (12th to 15th centuries AD) were bursting with graphic sexual poems by Sufi masters. These poems are not only about sex with women, but more extensively about sex with beautiful boy children. Pedophilia and sexual molestation of boys by adult men was prevalent and a common theme in classical and even early modern Persian poetry.

Many Persian male poets described their own pedophilia, which was a dominant, institutionalized, codified and status-defined form of same-sex relations of their time. An older man, playing the active role in sex, would get hold of a male child or amrad” (not a man) as his obedient partner. Relationship of the adult male with the boy child included customs of courtship such as sending presents, teaching poetry, counseling, bodybuilding, and expanding social contacts for the future career of the child partner. The relationship continued when the boy became a man.

Some poems by Souzani Samarqandi who lived in the 12th century AD are the following (6):

“Lovers can see her round and rosy buttocks

her nice soft anus, her nice tight vagina”

رنگش به چشم عاشقان آيد سرين گرد گل
زهي خفتنگه نرمش زهي خارشگه تنگش

“What can I say on the features of that child’s anus, as that child

is all anus and anus and anus from his foot to his knee”

صفات كون آن كودك چه گويم خود كه آن كودك
همه كونست و كون و كون ز پايش تا شتالنگش

I know not what will be at the age of twenty but in the village

He doesn’t say ouch if one pushes till the testicle one’s donkey stick

ندانم چه خواهد شد به سال بيست كاندر ده
نگويد آخ اگرتا خايه بفشارد خر غنگش

“He’s heard from someone that silver will come out of stone

His stone-like flute was welcome for the aim of getting silver”

شنيدست از كسي كزسنگ سيم آيد همي بيرون
ز بهر سيم ورزيدن خوش آمد بوق چون سنگش

Sa’di Shirazi, the writer and poet of the 13th century, who has a small book of vulgar poems by the name of Hazaliaat (7), wrote the following poem about his own pedophilia:

“Sa’di became known everywhere as a pedophile

And this is not a fault, but admired in our nation.”

نام سعدی همه جا رفت بشاهدبازی
ملت ما تحسین است وین نه عیب است، که در

“This cane that’s in the middle of your ass

Would break if a door is made of iron”

اين عصا كاندر ميان كون توست
بشكند گرآهنين باشد دري

“I mentioned his ass’s name with my tongue

Water came over the mouth of the penis”

بر زبان نام كون او بردم
كير را آب بر دهان آمد

The most famous lumpenist poet and writer that I can think of is Obeid Zakani (14th century AD), whose obscene poems –meaningful or not – and obsessive vulgarism are familiar to most of us. In his “Delgosha dissertation” (8), he writes:

“A woman went to a judge and said: My husband has placed me in a tight seat and that makes me depressed. The judge said, “He has done very well. The tighter women’s seat, the better it is.”

In more recent times, there are other lumpen poets such as Sheikh Reza Talebani (19th century), some of whose obscene poems are the following (9):

“I don’t like much the sodomized kid

If there is, bring me one who’s not been sodomized”

چندان خوشم از بچه كون داده نيايد
گر هست يكي بچه ناداده بياريد


“They say if you fuck, heaven will shake

What worth has the heaven that shakes with a fuck

It’s us and a dark chamber in which

We fuck hundred kids and not a brick shakes”

گويند اگر وطي كني عرش بلرزد
عرش كه به يك وطي بلرزد به چه ارزد

ماييم و يكي حجره تاريك كه در وي
صد بچه كنيم و يكي خشت نلرزد

Another lumpen poet of the 19th century is Sadegh Molla Rajab who says (10):

“I wish two kids in the back of the shop

Mount each other and I watch”

دلم مي خواد كه دو تا بچه در پس دكون
به كون هم بگذارند و من نظاره كنم

It was with the Constitutional Revolution (1905-1907) that Pedophilia as well as homosexuality among adults became taboo under the influence of the Western cultures. Satirist poets of the Constitutional era, such as Iraj Mirza and Aaref Eshqi were focused on social and political issues instead of sex with children.

To be continued.

Notes لومپنیسم و ضد فمینیسم . ۲۰۱۲ . آزاده, آزاد

*(2) Marx and Engels Collected Works, Vol. 6, P. 494.

*(3) “Khaal-touri” means an improvised piece of music; improvised Music played during wedding ceremonies by unprofessional individuals in exchange for money. In the past, Khaal-touri was also attributed to shallow individuals. It seems that the root of this word refers to the walled prostitution district of “Shahre No”. Apparently, one of the Madams in that place was called Auntie Touran. She used to sing and dance in an improvised way. So, when people attended a party and wished to have improvised music, they asked for songs and dances in style of Auntie Touran (Khaaleh Touran). And the word “Khaaleh-Touran” gradually became Khaal-Touri. (Source: Dekhoda Dictionary).

لمپنیسم .( ۲۰۱۰ ) ۱۳۸۹. نارنج سبز سیاسی علمی ( ۴)*

*(5) Ibid.

انتشارات امير كبير. دخو نامه (حاوي بيت هايي از سوزني ). گردآوري توسط دروديان . دهخدا ( ۶)*

هزليات . قرن سيزدهم . شيرازي سعدي ( ۷)*

دلگشا رساله . قرن چهاردهم . زاكاني عبيد ( ۸)*

. در تاريخ ۱۹۰۹ ميلادي فوت شده است . شيخ رضا طالباني ( ۹)*

يك كتابچه مانندي توسط انتشارات سيدان سليمانيه ي عراق بدون درج تاريخ منتشر شده است اما آدرس دقيق اشعار ايشان مربوط به نسخه ي خطي مجلس شوراي اسلامي است بدين صورت كتابخانه ي مجلس شوراي ملي

شماره قفسه : ۹۷۸۵

شماره ثبت كتاب : ۸۶۴۱۴

تاريخ نهايي بازديد : ۱۳۸۴

( ۱۰)*

ملا صادق ملا رجب اصفهاني به تاريخ ميلادي ۱۸۹۱ فوت شده است و كاتب خوش خط قرآن و

دعا بوده است در نسخه خطي به خط نستليق مجلس شوراي ملي بدين صورت

۷۵۰۷ گ

زبان: فارسي

سرشناسه : ملا رجب

عنوان: ديوان ملا صادق ملا رجب اصفهاني

اصفهان كتاب خانه ي سعدي به تاريخ ۱۳۳۴


Dr. A. Azad is a sociologist and an independent scholar.

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