The following was originally published as an editorial in Socialist Voice No. 12 (Spring 1981).

The Hostage Hustle

by Sy Landy

On January 20, the fifty-two Americans held hostage in Iran were released as a result of a deal between Washington and Teheran. The instant hype was incredible. Television covered “The Journey Home” as if it was the Odyssey. The press dumped its load of prefabricated patriotism on what was, unfortunately, a receptive public. But the whole affair was orchestrated by the American ruling class through its White House politicians.

The hustle was designed to divert attention from the fundamental problems crippling society at home. American workers, beset by inflation, unemployment and the collapse of their hopes, feel themselves to be powerless prisoners of forces they do not understand. Identification with the seemingly innocent and helpless hostages was made easy. Beleaguered workers were asked to identify with a beleaguered America attacked by irrationally evil forces while pursuing its noble goal of bringing democracy to the world. No wonder so many people were so relieved when the hostages were finally freed. But the whole script is a fraud.

American imperialism is no innocent victim. There isn’t a politician in Washington whose hands aren’t dripping with the blood of thousands murdered by the U.S.’s loyal junior partner, the Shah. In fact, American capitalism has presided over oppression and exploitation all across the face of the earth in the relentless vampire pursuit of profit. It is the same capitalism that is the cause of the catastrophe facing American workers today.

If Americans are victims of a diversion, so were the masses of Iran. At the time of the embassy seizure, the Khomeini regime was anxious to re-establish connections with imperialism. But it had to face the increasingly hostile Iranian workers, who were beginning to link their deep anti-imperialist awareness with the need to oppose Khomeini’s capitalist government that had brought them little but grief. To regain popularity, Khomeini leaped to the support of the students who had taken the embassy.

The January deal retrieved only a portion of Iran’s resources held captive in the West; U.S. bankers, in fact, got the lion’s share. But Khomeini & Co. got enough to restore their commerce with imperialism. Recovered funds will pay for increased weaponry for use not only in the war against secret documents found in the embassy, which contained data on the CIA’s collaboration with the Shah’s butcher regime, remain sealed. The current Iranian leaders, many of whom were themselves involved, want these files burned just as much as Washington does.

The American public has been treated to an orgy of intimate detail on the habits and horoscopes of the hostages, a display designed to obscure more than illuminate. The brightest of lights was turned onto the purported torture of the hostages. Workers everywhere abhor torture. But we can and should remain indifferent to such violence committed against CIA killers. On the other hand, masses have a legitimate need to protest even the smallest act of torture committed against innocent clerks, for example, if there were any. Sad to say, many American workers do not yet see this class difference.

Further, even if the alleged acts of brutality were committed, they were puny compared to the physical tortures, maimings, dismemberments and murders carried out in the Shah’s dungeons with the knowledge, aid and complicity of the U.S. government. Carter, Reagan & Co. called the Iranians barbarians, but when did these gentlemen ever insult the well-dressed and clean-nailed CIA murderers for killing oppressed working people abroad? Indeed, why have there been no frenzied headlines telling us that these stalwarts of civilization were leading a campaign against the murderers of Black children in Atlanta? Why no Presidential screams of “barbarism” against the savages in Buffalo who kill Blacks and rip the hearts out of their bodies?

American workers, you are being hustled! The politicians and the press are whipping up racist and chauvinist hostility so that once again they can send U.S. soldiers into war in order to prop up the decaying capitalist system. The present national chauvinism goes hand in hand with the regrowth of violent racism against Blacks, Latinos and other minorities at home, all designed to divide workers and encourage further assaults on your livelihoods. They egg you on to rage against other peoples like the Iranians. But do you think that the capitalists themselves take this seriously? After pages of blather on the hostages in the New York Times of January 21, there appeared a little article with the headline, “Business Interested in Trade with Iran.” Oh yes, the capitalists are quite willing to make a profit together with Khomeini while they yell about him for your benefit. But they have a little problem, for the article’s subhead informs us: “U.S. Companies Voice Willingness to Resume Links if Stability in Teheran Is Demonstrated.” Translation: Khomeini must crush the rambunctious workers and minorities and restore order so that profits will not be interrupted again. For this, fellow workers, they may very well need your assistance – as cannon fodder. And if you succumb to racism and stew in the patriotic pap being dished out, that is what will happen. Blood, inflation, unemployment for you. Profits for them.

It is correct to hate those who torture, humiliate, make you jobless and take the food off your table. Pacifism is for idiots. Be angry and anxious to fight - but against the real enemy, the capitalists who are hustling us all.

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