Monthly Archives: October 2009

Hopi Annual General Meeting

hopi-agm-logo-medSaturday November 28 2009
Somers Town Community Centre, 150 Ossulston Street, London NW1 1EE (near Euston station). Registration from 10am.

Download a leaflet here:  AGM leaflet front leaflet back


Since the June 2009 elections, the situation in Iran has dramatically changed. Thousands have taken to the streets in defiant protest – despite the Iranian regime’s history of brutal repression. Initially, they were commonly portrayed as middle-class backers of the leading ‘reformist’ candidate Mir-Hossein Moussavi, but as protests have continued, and Moussavi himself has repeatedly shown his timidity and ties to the theocratic state, the mood has radicalised dramatically and this anger has embroiled wide swathes of the society. Many of those who were initially protesting against the election outcome now question the entire basis of Iran’s Islamic republic and there are daily strikes and protests. Come along to our AGM to discuss this and many other issues.

Motions:
All Hopi members can submit motions, which will be taken during the relevant part of the agenda. Deadline for motions: Friday, November 20. Deadline for amendments: Wednesday, November 25.

Click here to read the motions.

Agenda:

  • from 10am
    Registration:
    £10 waged/£5 unwaged
  • 11am-11.30am
    Report
    of Hopi secretary Mark Fischer, incl. campaigning priorities for the next 12 months
  • 11.30am-1pm
    Imperialism’s need for conflict and the situation in the Middle East
    With Moshe Machover (Matzpen founder) and Mike Macnair (CPGB)
  • 1-2pm
    Lunch
  • 2pm-3.30pm
    Why sanctions are not a ‘soft alternative’
    With Cyrus Bina, author ‘Modern Capitalism and Islamic Ideology in Iran’
  • 4pm-5.30pm
    Iran’s workers’ movement since the June 2009 elections
    With Yassamine Mather, Hopi chair
    incl. Launch: Day of solidarity with workers in Iran

There will also be a fundraising event in the evening at the same venue. To find out more, or to reserve your place, send an email to office@hopoi.info

Green road to nowhere

iranpic1The sham presidential election of June 2009 has unleashed a rainbow of political forces, writes Yassamine Mather, including an increasingly strong red component. The task of the left is to support and strengthen the red component of this rainbow, the Iranian working class, as the only force capable of bringing about democracy, and the only movement conscious of the international complexities of the current situation

Every day for the last few weeks Iranian workers have been protesting, at times in their thousands – at their workplaces, outside government offices and provincial offices complaining about job losses, non-payment of wages, privatisation … Universities have been the scene of daily protests and ordinary people have used every opportunity, even football matches, to express their opposition to the regime. At the same time a new wave of exiles, including reporters, writers, professors of literature, are leaving the country, despairing of continued repression and the ineffective ‘reformist’ leaders.

For the overwhelming majority of Iranians, however, such an option does not exist. Tens of millions of wage-earners have no choice but to continue their struggles against the regime in their daily confrontation with factory-owners and the religious state that backs them. In the words of those at Wagon Pars, who went on hunger strike last week, workers have “nothing to lose but their unpaid wages”. The 1,700 employees of Wagon Pars, manufacturer of freight wagons and passenger coaches, have been in dispute with management and the state for months over unpaid wages. In August 2009 these workers went on strike and staged a sit-in protest on factory grounds, locking the gates and preventing managers from entering.

The factory had been privatised as a subsidiary of troubled car maker Iran Khodro, after Iran’s supreme leader changed article 44 of the constitution, removing the guarantee of public ownership for key industries. Protests and threats of strike by Iran Khodro workers forced the government to retreat, showing the vulnerability of the rulers when confronted by united working class action. Iran Khodro workers have now won five of their demands, including an overtime pay rise of 20% for all workers on the production line.

Last week there were also major workers’ protests over non-payment of wages in Louleh Sazi Khouzestan (manufacturers of pipelines) and a demonstration by Tractor Sazi workers in Kurdistan, where tens of workers were sacked, while others are expected to work longer hours. Managers in most of these disputes blame the world economic downturn for the new wave of job losses. Nearly four months after the huge demonstrations of June 2009, the continuation of protests in workplaces and universities proves that opposition to the regime goes well beyond the issue of the sham presidential elections.

Sanctions and the working class

Sanctions have compounded an already dire economic situation. In the South Pars oilfields almost 6,000 contract workers are threatened with job losses, as whole fields are abandoned following news that Total, Repsol and Shell are pulling out. The current protests should indeed be seen in the light of the world economic crisis – whose effects have been felt far worse in the countries of the periphery – as well as the impact of sanctions. Iranian workers are adamant that the dire economic situation is one of the main reasons why protests continue and evolve, despite the failures of the green movement. Some of their supporters talk of the “suffocating silence” of the green movement’s leadership.1

Of course, workers’ protests in Iran are nothing new. They have been going on for years. What is different is the massive increase in their number and the introduction of political slogans, such as “Death to the dictator” or “Tanks, bullets, bassij [militia] are not effective any more”, in workers’ sit-ins, protests and demonstrations. Workers were the first section of the population to confront unscrupulous capitalists and the religious state, and their audacity paved the way for the wider opposition to develop. Now they are showing themselves the most tenacious in continuing the protests, even if the western media do not find workers’ actions newsworthy. The problems they face are enormous. Unlike the myriad well funded NGOs, some with dubious links to US regime-change funds, the Iranian working class has no source of ready income. On the contrary, their protests cost workers their meagre wages.

Reporting workers’ struggles on radio and TV is considered ideological, while giving wall-to-wall coverage to the utterances of ‘reformist’ Islamists or bourgeois liberal politicians is deemed ‘impartial’. The state can identify and punish labour activists much more easily than demonstrators. Nowhere is the state’s control more severe than in the oil industry. Worker activists discussing possible strike action are moved from their regular posts to other areas.

Yet none of the state’s increasingly repressive measures seem to deter the Iranian working class, who are turning the defensive actions of last year into more aggressive forms of protest, establishing road blocks, taking managers hostage, bringing their families to occupy closed factories and workplaces. In order to overcome the lack of news coverage of their struggles, Iranian workers are setting up their own means of communication through internet sites and email.

But the combination of proposed new sanctions and the ‘new’ economic policies of the regime will make life even harder for the majority. Just when it became clear that Iran has no intention of adhering to a proposed deal for the ‘resolution’ of its nuclear crisis2 and the US began passing legislation to impose new unilateral sanctions, the majles (Islamic parliament) discussed regulations that would sharply reduce energy and food subsidies, in compliance with long-term demands of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

In the US, the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act (IRSA), approved by an overwhelming 414 to six margin in Congress, will allow local and state governments and their pension funds to divest from foreign companies or US subsidiaries with investments of more than $20 million in Iran’s energy sector. And the house foreign affairs committee has scheduled a vote for October 28 on the Iran Petroleum Sanctions Act (IRPSA) bill. This will impose sanctions on companies involved in exporting refined petroleum products to Iran or expanding Tehran’s capacity to produce its own refined products. Similar sanctions are likely to be imposed by France, the United Kingdom and Germany. Meanwhile most US politicians and commentators agree that sanctions affecting the general population could actually bolster support for the Tehran government.

The new subsidies legislation in Iran will increase the prices of goods, including gasoline, natural gas and electricity. Similar legislation was proposed by ‘reformist’ president Mohammad Khatami during his term (1997-2005), proving once more that, when it comes to major economic decisions, including compliance with IMF demands, the two main factions of the Islamic regime have identical policies. It is therefore no surprise that ‘reformist’ MPs, including supporters of Mir-Hossein Moussavi, the main challenger in the June elections, back the measure.

With subsidies and the current rationing system, a litre of gasoline costs 100 tomans ($0.10). The new bill will raise the price to as much as 500 or 600 tomans per litre – before the effects of US/European sanctions start to bite. The measure could double Iran’s already astronomic rate of inflation, fluctuating between 15% and 30%. It will make the poor poorer, while the rich will be least affected. Ironically, legislative bodies in both the US and Iran are making sure the Iranian people will suffer this winter. Iran is the world’s fifth-largest crude oil exporter, but its eight refineries cannot produce near enough fuel for the home market.

Islamic values?

If anyone had any doubt about the reactionary nature of the ‘reformist’ leaders, this week’s meeting and joint statement from Moussavi and Khatami should have shattered their illusions. They called for “a return to the values of the Islamic republic and to the country’s constitution”. What values are we talking about? Air raids on inhabited villages in Kurdistan in the early 1980s, when Moussavi was prime minister? Or the massacre of peasants who sheltered leftwingers in Kurdistan? The values that led to the mass execution of political prisoners in 1987, or the values behind serial political murders during Khatami’s presidency? The list of ‘Islamic values’ under Khatami and Moussavi is indeed endless. These gentlemen and the ‘reformists’ as a whole are obsessed with calling recent events a coup, as their pleas for a return to the ‘glory days’ of the Islamic republic make clear: Iran had previously been a democracy, you see – at least when Khatami was president or Moussavi was prime minister – but then in June 2009 there was a coup!

In reality, the Islamic regime’s attitude towards any form of opposition has not changed much over the last few months. Opposition groups and labour activists, women and student protesters have been arrested, tortured and executed throughout the last 30 years. What has changed is a reduction in the executive power of the ‘reformists’, who have been part and parcel of the regime. It is hard to see how one could call the current state of affairs a coup when the major players claiming to be the victims still hold their positions. Former ‘reformist’ president Ali Akbar Rafsanjani (1989-97) remains chair of the council of experts and chair of the national security council. Khatami’s International Institute for Dialogue among Cultures and Civilisations is not under threat. Clerical allies of the ‘reformists’ in Ghom remain free to express their opinions.

None of this, of course, makes Iran a democracy. Iran remains a religious capitalist state with all the contradictions of such a combination. However, what we are witnessing is not a coup, but divisions amongst rulers.

Left illusions

The events of June 2009 have unleashed a whole set of new movements in Iran. One can no longer speak of a single movement. In the words of activists inside Iran, we see a rainbow of political forces, including an increasingly strong red component. As I said at the CPGB’s Communist University in August, the task of the left is to support and strengthen the red component of this rainbow, the Iranian working class, as the only force capable of bringing about democracy – but also as the only movement conscious of the international complexities of the current situation.

However, the events of the last few years, as well as the BBC’s obsession with the Iranian clergy and ‘ayatollogy’,3 has moved much of the exiled left and some of their supporters inside Iran further into liberalism and nationalism. For these forces, mesmerised by the euphoria of maintaining ‘unity’, class politics has become a dogmatic irrelevance. Yet there have been very few times in Iran’s history when the role of the working class has been so pivotal in the political arena as it is today – as sections of the Iranian working class, in particular in the oil industry, keep reminding us.4 They are the force that continues to fight for their jobs and their livelihoods, and in doing so they are in the forefront of the battle for democracy.

Throughout the 1970s and 80s, the pro-Soviet Stalinist left in Iran started its analysis of the political situation from an international perspective. According to the dogma, there existed two camps, imperialism and socialism, and from that followed tactics and strategy. In an almost total reversal of that old position, we now see an Iranian ‘left’, often with roots in organisations that had pro-Soviet tendencies, looking only at Iran and analysing the region and the world through the prism of nationalism. No wonder this ex-left has become so liberal in its attitudes towards imperialism, war and sanctions.

By identifying the main enemy as the current regime in Iran with its Islamic characteristics (as opposed to its capitalist nature), this section of the ‘left’ becomes, consciously or unconsciously, part of the rightwing agenda. It seeks justice for Iranian workers from pro-imperialist trade unions; it wants tribunals financed by the Pentagon for abusers of human rights and executioners of political prisoners; it sees nothing wrong with accepting funds from western capitalist organisations to set up NGOs; when it comes to imperialism, it supports ‘third campist’ positions, choosing to ignore the predominant role of the hegemonic forces in world capitalism (this malaise goes well beyond the disintegrating splinters of the Worker-communist Party of Iran, spreading to other sections of the exiled left like a contagious disease).

That is why, at a time of political upheavals which should see the radicalisation of this ‘left’, we hear the most astonishing comments, ranging from the sublime – ‘Both Israel and Palestinians are equally at fault over Gaza’ (the Palestinians presumably for being occupied), ‘We should support a third campist position’ – to the ridiculous – crediting the bourgeoisie in western Europe for “bringing about universal suffrage” (N Khorasani, feminist activist). Our liberal left is keen to talk of social movements rather than class politics, forgetting that social movements, in Iran as anywhere else, are so divided by class, nationality, religion and politics that it is impossible to consider them a single coherent force – the women’s movement being a clear example.

The heralded movement of movements in Iran will go nowhere unless the working class succeeds in putting its mark on current events. In so doing it will inevitably have to deal with the increasing ‘liberalism’ of sections of the ex-left.

We are at the beginning of such a struggle and it will take a long time. Nevertheless the signs from debates amongst workers inside Iran are encouraging. Car workers and oil workers who face international capital in their daily protests seem unaffected by the myth of bourgeois liberal heavens that will permit the development of trade unions, apparently a precondition for all workers’ struggles! The Iranian working class – and here one should include the millions who have lost their jobs because of the neoliberal policies of finance capital – are in daily confrontation with world capitalism.

No wonder, despite their hatred of the Islamic regime, they remain the only class aware of the objective interests of the United States and it allies in controlling the Middle East and the Persian Gulf region. Unlike sections of the national minorities or the women’s movement, which have become pawns in imperialist games, Iranian workers have maintained their opposition to a regime which is subordinate to the US in the global pecking order, and are conscious that their movement must draw clear lines against bourgeois alternatives and imperialist plans.

They are already taking initiatives well beyond the limited horizons of our liberal left, talking of workers’ control in the thousands of abandoned factories and plants throughout the country. They are talking of the need for unity in organising employed and unemployed workers, of the need to set up neighbourhood organisations in working class districts. They are discussing the possibility of a general strike, its likely risks and potential rewards.

They certainly have no illusions regarding any of the shades of the green movement, even though they clearly understand the unprecedented opportunities presented by the current divisions amongst Iran’s theocratic rulers. Our solidarity and our support should be with the working class – and its many allies in the women’s movement, amongst students and in the national and religious minorities.

Do not deport Sheida Jahanbin!

No Deportations to Iran!

No Deportations to Iran!

Sheida Jahanbin, a former member of the Freedom and Equality Seeking Students in Iran, is facing deportation from the Netherlands where she resides in exile. Sheida is twenty seven years old. She was a student of Architecture and Graphic Design at the Azad University of Tehran before she was forced to abandon her studies and flee Iran following her arrest for holding a left-wing meeting. Before she left Iran she had a promising career in journalism writing for Tose’e Newspaper, Azma Magazine and Fekre Rooz journal. If Sheida is deported, she will face arrest, prison, torture and even death.

We call on our supporters and friends to write to the Dutch consulate and send messages of solidarity to her solicitor supporting her case to be granted leave to stay permanently in the Netherlands. Her IND number is 0808-14-1310.

If you can get your union to send letters of support please send a copy via email to Hands Off the People of Iran: office@hopoi.org.

Please send letters and messages of protest to:

R. Hijma
Postbus 14002, 3508 SB Utrecht, Netherlands
fax: 0031302331150
phone: 0031302333734

Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands
38 Hyde Park Gate
London SW7 5DP
United Kingdom
tel.: 0044 (0)20 7590 3200
fax: 0044 (0)20 7225 0947.

The Iranian coup four months on

Mehdi Kia examines the state of the movement against the clerical regime

It is now four months since the coup in Iran, thinly disguised as presidential elections. Even though the victors of the coup appear to have succeeded in consolidating themselves and the opposition forces have apparently been pushed back into defensive positions, the massive anti-government demonstrations on September 18 – the last Friday of the month of Ramadan, Quds day, which is traditionally given over to anti-Israel demonstrations – show that there is much life left in the opposition.

Whatever happens over the next weeks and months, the Islamic regime has walked out of its fortress, crossed over the moat and the drawbridge has been irrevocably destroyed behind it. There is no going back. In this article I will outline the reasons for this conclusion, and go on to describe the achievements, the weaknesses and some of the lessons for the progressive forces fighting the regime in Iran. Hopefully there may also be some lessons for the left abroad, confused as it appears to be as to how to interpret the scenarios beamed at it from Iran. In writing this article I am hugely indebted to Ardeshir Mehrdad, with whom I have had many conversations, but I take full responsibility for any errors of fact, interpretation or analysis.

The coup

The people of Iran woke up on June 13 to face a regime that was in fundamental ways different from the one that had been in power when they went to bed. The night before, an hour before the polls closed, the news of Ahmadinejad’s victory with about 63% of votes appeared on the official Pars web site.

One of my friends saw this and in her astonishment rang friends and her brother abroad. But by the time they logged on the page it had been taken down, to reappear about two hours after the polls closed. The figure was to remain more or less the same throughout the next two days as count after count came in. It was a unique example of vote-counting – backwards. Anyone doubting not only the fact that a fraud had taken place, but that its scale was grotesque, must be a believer in Ahmadinejad’s halo1 and his claim to be in touch with the ‘occulted’ 12th Imam. The fraud was clearly part of a plan laid out weeks before by the sepah pasdaran (revolutionary guards). At one stroke they had removed large sections of the clerical establishment from power.

The constitution of the Islamic Republic is a curious amalgam. One arm is a top-down ‘caliphate’, headed by the velayat faqih, who has absolute and unquestionable power over all civil and political society.2 The other arm is a bottom-up ‘republic’, where an executive president and a parliament – the Majles – are elected by direct ballot. These make up the twin-structures of the Islamic Republic.

However, at every level the ‘republic’ is subordinate to the ‘caliphate’. Not only are representatives of the leader implanted into every organ of state, but also he is the head of the judiciary and the military-security apparatus. He chooses the Guardian Council that vets, and can reject out of hand, all candidates and also all laws passed by the Majles.

Yet the elections are not entirely sham. They have allowed the various factions of the regime to gain positions of influence within the power structure using the electoral process. Moreover, the presidency (and its cabinet) has executive power and the leadership depends on it to run the day-to-day affairs of the country.

The June ‘election’ was the last chapter in a political project master-minded by the pasdaran (revolutionary guards) and the osulgran (principled) faction, whose fundamental goal is to rid the country once and for all of the factionalism that has blighted the ruling elite since the beginning.3 Having previously conquered the town councils and then the Majles, the osulgran considered it essential to ensure that the presidency remained in its hands. This was to be the last chapter in the project to remove the factionalism of the regime and achieve yekparchegi (loosely translated as ‘uniformity’) – a continuous aim since the early days of the regime.

Out went the ability of the various factions to use the election process to manoeuvre for power and influence. Out went the ‘republic’ from the ‘Islamic Republic’ amalgam. The revolutionary guards and a handful of mullahs more or less linked to the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, have cleared the way for the unencumbered ‘caliphate’ – or have they?

The protest

The scale of the fraud was such that the people erupted. The streets of Tehran were flooded by thousands who were outraged at the audacity of the ‘results’. Everyone expected some cheating, but not such brazen fraud. Clearly Ahmadinejad subscribes to Goebbels’ dictum that if you make a lie big enough people will believe it – how could anyone lie so blatantly if it was not true? But the people had seen the scale of participation in the voting and witnessed the pre-election fever. Over the last 30 years this degree of voter mobilisation has always meant that the protest vote has been higher.

The shock to the pasdaran was genuine, and I think the revolutionary guards were caught off guard. They had already put in place ‘security precautions’, such as the suspension of  mobile phone SMS services, in case of any protest. But the sheer numbers on Tehran’s streets had not been anticipated. So the pasdaran held back as the scale of demonstrations escalated to nearly three million people by the third day. Then, as the protest gradually lost its natural momentum, they moved in and clamped down until demonstrations of no more than a few hundred people were possible.

It is worth reiterating that in the first days the entire security apparatus available to the regime was mobilised. They had pulled out all the stops. If they had lost that day, it is difficult to imagine what would have happened next. They did not take the risk of confrontation, but bided their time, hoping – correctly, as it turned out – that street protest would slowly exhaust itself.

The day three million pairs of feet marched Tehran’s streets was the day the reformist leaders instructed the demonstrators to walk in silence. They did that after slogans of “Death to the dictator” and “Death to Khamenei” had been heard on the previous days. There could not have been a better example of the limitations of the reformist movement. Stuck between wanting to remain within the constitution of the Islamic Republic and the obvious pressure from below to go beyond, they found themselves performing absurd contortions.

For example, they tried to insist that peaceful demonstrations are constitutional, even though they knew full well that in the very same constitution it is the Council of Guardians which decides what is legal. And when Khamenei, the supreme leader, told the people to stop fussing over a few million votes4 and go home the reformists had the stark choice of shutting up or joining the real opposition to the regime. The final death agony of the reformists is the first main gain of the post-election movement.

As significant was the evolution of the slogans which progressively marginalised and ultimately threaten to sideline and negate the reformist leadership. They went from “What happened to my vote?” through “Death to the dictator”, “Death to Ahmadinejad” and “Death to Khamenei”, to finally “Esteqlal, azadi, jomhuri irani” (“Independence, freedom, Iranian republic”). They shouted this in the streets and, when this became impossible, from rooftops at night. All the main red lines were being crossed. The near sacred ‘leader’ not only became an object of jokes, but people were calling for his death. This had not happened for 30 years and would have been unthinkable to the majority of Iranians even a few months ago. Taboo after taboo was being broken.

The significance of the last slogan cannot be underestimated. “Independence, freedom, Islamic Republic” was the pivotal call of the 1979 revolution – the first two words describing the content and the last the vehicle by which these were supposedly to be realised. This was a democratic, anti-imperialist revolution that contained the illusion that these goals could be achieved through an Islamic regime. By discarding the Islamic Republic but keeping the first two components, the people shouting this slogan were making a clear link with the revolution of 1979, declaring it to be unfinished, while reiterating its democratic and anti-imperialist aims and proclaiming the new, secular vehicle that was to bring them about.

While the slogan is only in its infancy, it betrays the seeds of a true anti-Islamic Republic uprising that is both democratic and independent of foreign influence. No ‘colour revolution’ here! This is the second gain of the post-election movement.

The third achievement was the forging of new links and the rudimentary skeleton of independent organisations. The involvement of youth, and particularly students, at the election headquarters of the reformist candidates allowed the creation of new acquaintances, friendships and political links that were consolidated further over the ensuing street demonstrations. The fact that some of the leadership of these street and neighbourhood actions has been won by the left is noteworthy.

Fourth, when even sections of the ruling elite are forced to admit to and protest against beatings, torture and even rape, then you know that all the curtains have been torn apart. They even tortured the son of a member of the usulgaran (principled) – the victors of the election. Of course torture is not new to the regime and has been well documented by human rights groups. Those reformist leaders who protest today know that very well – some had even participated in interrogations, and served in governments when torture and execution were being conducted on an industrial scale. Neither is rape a new political weapon – at one stage it was systematically carried out against female political prisoners to make sure they could not enter heaven.5 Grieving families in 1981-83 were given not only the bullet that killed their loved one (and charged for the cost), but also a ‘marriage’ ring by the pasdar who had raped them. That was the macabre ritual of some of the rapes that took place in the prisons of the regime.

This time rape of both men and women was used as a weapon of terror. To admit to this is to cross another red line. The ethical pretensions of the first “rule of Allah on earth”6 in modern times lies in ruins.

Fifth, the very fact that the protest movements have broadly kept under the ‘green’ umbrella is a sign of the maturity of the Iranian people. There is not one green movement, but several; or, as someone said, many colours are subsumed under the green banner. At one extreme are the followers of the defeated reformist candidates, Moussavi and Karroubi. At the other, radical sections that clearly want to overthrow the Islamic regime, including the left. In between are various shades of groupings, mostly not at all clearly defined.

More importantly they are in a state of flux. This is a movement in development. Most of the tendencies within it are gelatinous and not clearly demarcated from other tendencies. The amorphous mass of protestors are linked through what they do not want. What they do want is in the process of evolution, and evolves at different rates and sometimes in contradictory ways. Thus at any given moment incompatible positions and views may be held by individuals.

At present the reformist leadership provides the radical elements with an umbrella of relative safety. That the physical crackdown, savage as it has been, has been less so than when the regime was liquidating enemies that were clearly outside its own circle – the left and the mujahedin – is evidence of this.

Finally there was the ability of the protestors to use all modern means of communication: SMS, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube projected every move, every protest, every battle, every beating and most shootings across the world. Blogs and internet sites updated the world on a minute-to-minute basis. Internet-savvy youth circumvented all efforts to block the information flow. Countless servers abroad were used to bypass the regime’s censorship.

The Iranian protest movement became truly internationalised. The entire world saw Neda Aqa-Soltani’s last dying moments. Her child-like innocent eyes as they glazed over with death looked out at all of us, and indelibly imprinted that look in the global memory. The brutal extinguishing of Neda’s young life, a life with such hope, so courageous, also sounded the death knell for the regime which pulled the trigger.

The costs

The achievements were underwritten by blood. Over a hundred killed, thousands beaten, tortured, raped. Many broken spirits forced to confess on television to absurd links with foreign embassies and agents. Mass trials. More confessions – some, like the one by Said Hajjarian, a former interrogator and one of the theoreticians of the reformist movement, verging on the comic when he blamed foreign textbooks used at the universities for the corruption of youth. And now the first death sentence.7

This is the heavy price that was paid, and is being paid, as thousands remain in prison and arrests continue daily. But, without wishing to belittle the savagery, it is much less severe than what we saw in the attack on Kurdistan in 1979, in the bloody crackdown of the left and Mujahedin in 1981-83 and in the massacre of thousands of political prisoners at the end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988.

Perhaps among the costs we should also list the tactical mistakes made by the opposition. The reformist leadership was overtaken by events at every turn. Moussavi himself admitted in the early days that he followed where the people led. Where the reformists did give directions, these were often mistaken ones, handicapped by the reformists’ contradictory position of being, on the one hand, Islamic regime insiders and, on the other, at the head of an oppositional movement that has no choice but to go beyond the regime if it is to achieve its aims.

Silencing the millions on the one day when their overwhelming numerical advantage could have dealt a serious, even potentially mortal, blow to the revolutionary guards (at least in Tehran, where the regime had mobilised all the forces at its disposal) was a huge tactical mistake. So was sending them into the street day after day in diminishing numbers against an increasingly confident and brutal security apparatus. Calling on them to gather in absurd places, such as in front of parliament, where they clearly were meant to impress the waverers among the Majles deputies. All it did was place a few thousand people in a place with no real means of escaping the rabid revolutionary guards or one million-strong basij militia and their thugs in civilian clothes.

The street was an arena of struggle during the 1979 revolution precisely because the numbers on the street kept on increasing. When it became obvious that the numbers prepared to risk death and almost certain beating was declining, a change in tactics would have been sensible for any imaginative leadership.

The insistence on using slogans that only addressed the issue of elections was yet another error committed by the reformists – again arising from their real quandary. This weakened the ability of the protest to become linked to other social movements – eg, the women’s or national movement. It would have made sense to carry slogans defending the various other democratic demands of the peoples and nationalities of Iran. There was a unique opportunity to unite the various social movements into a larger mass. And to draw the population of south Tehran, the shanty towns and the poorer areas of the various cities into what has been predominantly, though not exclusively, a youthful protest movement in the northern suburbs.

Most critical has been the failure to unite with the rapidly escalating workers’ movement. During the same period workers have been active across the country in numerous strikes, sit-ins, hostage-taking, occupations, road blocks and demonstrations. The economy of the country is in free fall and inflation is rampant. Large sections of Iranian industries are on the verge of bankruptcy. Hundreds of thousands of workers are being laid off or see their jobs on a knife-edge. The casualisation of labour, laying off full-time workers and replacing them with part-time contract workers – on so-called white contracts8 – has made the life of the working people of Iran impossible. Inflation has made already poor workers destitute. Here is a minefield of actual and potential human material for self-organisation and protest.

Finally the protest still remains predominantly in the capital, Tehran. While there have been demonstrations in Isfahan, Shiraz, Mashad, Kurdistan and other towns, they have been somewhat less extensive.

The lessons

What the movement lacks is determined organisation. And what is missing is an organised, united left with a clear view of its aims, a clear strategy and a clear understanding of the tactical steps necessary to arm the amorphous and multi-faceted mass movement with political direction. This is a moment that may only come once in a generation. As the bard said, there is a tide in the affairs of men which taken at the flood leads on to fortune. The tide is in flood and the chance may not return again for the foreseeable future.

Unfortunately most of the forces that are either masquerading as left or are genuinely on the left inside (and indeed outside) Iran have a rather binary, black-and-white vision of politics. Movements are either to be supported outright or rejected out of hand. Yet, on closer inspection the current protest movement in Iran can be seen to be made up of multiple, overlapping circles, with boundaries that are continuously in flux. The contours of these multiple ‘green’ movements are vague and are continuously being dissolved and reformed into new shapes.

This binary view of life and politics is best demonstrated by the attitude of the left to the reformists. Either they reject them outright, ignoring the fact that the reformists, used wisely, can help open up the space for the working class and the struggle for democratic rights. Or they fall behind the reformists, mouthing only the slogans they think are acceptable to them.

One view has in reality no tactics to fulfil its strategy – whether it is a democratic republic or socialism. The goal becomes a mere slogan, an article of faith, like a religious mantra. It remains a distant utopia, since the groups upholding it have no policy to lead us from A to Z.

The other view essentially ditches strategy (if there ever was one), replacing it entirely with tactics. The tactic of the united front becomes the strategy – an aim in itself. These groups become appendages of the reformists, mere followers, mouthing their slogan “Hameh ba ham” (“Everyone together”). Worse, they act as the police of the reformists, fearful of any slogans that might upset the balance, which in practice means only allowing those chosen by the reformist leadership.

Neither group can ever hope to lead the present protest movement out of its current impasse. What is needed is the vision, and leadership, that can utilise a variety of tactics in order to broaden and deepen the current protests, and most importantly to push it beyond the limited aim of a rerun of the latest election. We have seen the seeds of this broader movement in the slogans that have surfaced here and there, as discussed earlier. What is now needed are tactics that allow this passage through the mountain passes ahead; to transform the seeds of a movement into a movement proper.

Looking forward

I will summarise a few points that I believe need addressing, without in any way claiming that these are exhaustive.

First, it is important to realise that at this juncture the reformists do impart an umbrella that provides relative safety for the broader opposition. The fact that the regime cannot slaughter its errant ‘children’ (what it used to call the khodiha – insiders) with the same equanimity and savagery that it can outsiders is witnessed by the reduced scale of the repression compared to previous waves. A vigilant, radical leadership would use this umbrella, without falling under its shadow, and only for as long as it provides a cover. But a radical leadership would pursue its own independent programme and push the movement towards the adoption of tactics that will ensure its deepening and strengthening.

Secondly, one such tactic is the linking of the various social movements – women, nationalities, religious, etc – with the current protest movement. One of the gravest error of the reformist leadership was to ignore everything but the ‘vote’. Demands that relate to these democratic rights should be incorporated in the current struggle, allowing a broader section of society to participate.

Thirdly, a key movement that is currently boiling over with anger is that of the working class – a movement that is fighting for its very survival in the face of neoliberal policies and mass layoffs. There has been little, or no, effort to link the post-election protest movement to the nationwide working class protests which have been escalating over the last two months. Physical and material support for the protesting and striking workers is vital – and vital now. It was the combination of massive street demonstrations and a general strike that broke the back of the shah. Radicals within the protest movement should be aiming towards a general strike by supporting and deepening the present dispersed working class struggles.

Fourthly, the massive unemployment in the country also means that there is a large constituency of the poor – those living on the margins of society in the countless shanty towns surrounding our major cities. Inflation hits these millions harder than any other group, and increasing unemployment constantly adds to their number. These people essentially organise at the neighbourhood level and have been over the years in a continuous fight with the state for the means of life.

Their battle is mainly in the basket of consumption, avoiding taxes, trying to get services such as electricity and water free, over roads, etc. Their main form of struggle is in the streets.9 Their ongoing everyday fight for survival must be linked with the general movement for democracy. These people played an important role in the 1979 revolution. They can do so again.

Fifthly, no real use has been made of the weapon of civil disobedience. For a state desperate for legitimacy, this is a very powerful weapon. A universal campaign to stop paying for water, electricity, municipal tax, etc will greatly weaken the state. These too can be organised at the local as well as national level and is another important possibility for self-organisation.

The use of mass street demonstrations needs to be rationalised. To expect millions to march day in day out shows a poverty of tactics. People will do so only if each day brings out more people than the day before. Otherwise you expose the bravest and most radical of the protestors to arrest and worse. The successful Quds day demonstration showed that, when such protests are chosen wisely, the regime is forced to hold back from the massive repression of demonstrators. The time to call people onto the streets is when they are expected to be on the streets, and stream out with their own independent slogans.

The protest movement has been internationalised, but sadly a large section of its real constituency – the left and progressive forces abroad – are stuck in the swamp of a simplistic, third-worldist ‘anti-imperialism’ lacking class content. It is truly pathetic to see support for a regime whose president communicates with a ghost that died 1,100 years ago, whose regime sacks workers in their millions as part of a neoliberal privatisation policy, whose security forces shoot down peaceful demonstrators. Article after article shows this utter poverty of ideas, the disastrous notion that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.10

There is a saying in Iran, ‘We have little hope of any help from you. At the very least stop harming us.’11 The Iranian left abroad has a clear duty to teach some of its comrades the truths about Iran, help them out of their theoretical cocoon and gain their active support for a principled opposition.

Notes

  1. Ahmadinejad has claimed that during his recent speech to the UN general council a halo appeared over him. He has repeatedly said that he is in direct contact with the 12th Shia imam Mahdi, whose occultation occurred in the 10th century and whose reappearance will herald the day of judgment.
  2. Article 5 of the constitution describes his role in this way: “During the occultation of the vali al-asr (may god hasten his reappearance), the vilayah and leadership of the ummah devolve upon the just and pious faqih, who is fully aware of the circumstances of his age; courageous, resourceful and possessed of administrative ability, he will assume the responsibilities of this office in accordance with article 107.”
  3. See A Mehrdad, M Kia, ‘Regime crisis and the new conservatives’ Weekly Worker September 8 2005; and www.iran-buletin.org: www.iran-bulletin.org/IB-MEF-3/presidentialelections_edited.htm
  4. The regime ultimately accepted that there could have been up to three million fraudulent votes – not enough to upset their safe margin of ‘victory’.
  5. It is believed that virgin girls will automatically go to heaven, whatever their sins.
  6. Article 2 of the constitution states: “The Islamic Republic is a system based on belief in the One God (as stated in the phrase, “There is no God except Allah”), His exclusive sovereignty and the right to legislate, and the necessity of submission to His commands.”
  7. www.iranhrdc.org/httpdocs/English/pdfs/PressReleases/2009/Statement%20on%20execution%20of%20Zamani.pdf
  8. See Y Mather, ‘Misogynist torturers cling on to power’ Weekly Worker August 27.
  9. See A Bayat Street politics New York 1997.
  10. See, for example, www.wsws.org/articles/2009/sep2009/iran-s21.shtml
  11. Ma ra ze kheire to omidi nist, shar maresan.

1700 Iranian workers on hunger strike

Starving to feed their families.

Starving to feed their families.

1700 Iranian workers on hunger strike over unpaid wages – 1700 employees of Wagon Pars Company in Arak have gone on a hunger strike to protest the company’s failure to pay their wages and pension. ILNA’s Kar news agency reports that this is the ninth protest organized by the employees this year.

The workers have announced that if their demands are not met, they will block the highway entrance to the City of Arak. Mohammad Reza Madahi, deputy chief of the company’s Islamic Workers Association announced: ” 75 days of unpaid wages and retiree pensions and benefits” were the cause of the protests in the past six months.

Manouchehr Moghaddam, executive director of Arak Wagon Pars Factory has confirmed the two-month delay in payment of the workers’ salaries and said that the main stockholders of the company are responsible for it.

Deputy Chief of the worker’s association announced that the workers have started a hunger strike because their picket lines were broken and strikers were dispersed in order to admit a visiting party from Kazakhstan.

The workers have announced that the hunger strike will continue until their demands are met.

Some of the company’s possessions have already been confiscated by order of the court for its “failure to honour its agreements.” Today office equipment of the company was confiscated by company pensioners who have not received their pay for many months.

Wagon Pars Company started work in 1976 building various kinds of wagons for trains and in 1986 it merged with Industry and Innovations Department of Iran. It is one of the largest manufacturers of rail and rolling vehicles in Iran.

The company was recently privatized following the execution of new government policies.

ILNA news agency and Payvand 10 Oct 2009

Threats over uranium enrichment aid regime

We don’t want nuclear power - we don’t want huge salaries. We work so that we can live - we don’t live to work.

We don’t want nuclear power - we don’t want huge salaries. We work so that we can live - we don’t live to work.

Ahmadinejad uses the ‘enemy without’ to justify increased repression, arrests and the torture of the ‘enemy within’, writes Yassamine Mather

The dramatic statements by Obama, Brown and Sarkozy about Iran’s undisclosed nuclear enrichment plant, made in a ‘breaking news’-style press conference on the first day of the G20 gathering in Pittsburgh, were clearly intended to prepare the world for a new conflict in the Middle East. The presentation of the ‘news’ and the language used in delivering the threats were reminiscent of the warnings about Iraq’s ‘45-minute’ strike capability.

According to Obama, “Iran is on notice that when we meet with them on October 1 they are going to have to come clean, and they will have to make a choice.” The alternative to sticking to ‘international rules’ on Iran’s nuclear development, would be “a path that is going to lead to confrontation”.

Yet in some ways the existence of a second uranium enrichment plant is old news. By all accounts US and UK secret services had known about this plant for at least three years – Israel and France also knew about it for some time and had delivered their finding to the International Atomic Energy Agency earlier this year. The ‘dramatic’ disclosures came at a time when Russia was already on board regarding further sanctions. Given its billion-dollar trade with Iran, China – one of Iran’s major commercial partners – is unlikely to change its opposition to further sanctions.

So what was the main purpose of the Obama-Sarkozy-Brown show on September 25? Could it be it was directed mainly to audiences in the US, UK and France, to convince them that, at a time of economic uncertainty, western leaders have to deal with a ‘major external threat’ posed by Iran’s nuclear development?

But the elephant in that press conference room was the Israeli nuclear programme. While Iran might be approaching nuclear military capability by 2010-15 (no-one is claiming it has such capability now), another ‘religious’ state in the Middle East is exempt from IAEA regulations and possesses between 100 and 200 nuclear warheads (this according to US estimates), yet it maintains a policy of ‘deliberate ambiguity’ on whether it has nuclear weapons.

Former IAEA director general Mohamed El Baradei regarded Israel as a state possessing nuclear weapons, but there has been no IAEA inspection, hence the ambiguity over the number of warheads it possesses. Strictly speaking, as a beneficiary of the largest cumulative recipient of US foreign assistance since World War II, Israel is not supposed to have any. Yet every year the US congress approves billions of dollars of US military aid to Israel. For the fiscal year 2010, Obama is requesting $2.775 billion.

The Symington and Glenn amendments to foreign aid law specifically prohibit US aid to nuclear states outside the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). Iran has signed the NPT. Israel has not.

Of course, none of this justifies the Iranian rulers’ obsession with reaching a stage where they can produce nuclear weapons. Unlike middle class nationalist Iranians, who even in their opposition to the regime, favour the government’s nuclear programme, the Iranian working class has been clear on this issue, as shown by placards on recent demonstrations: “We don’t want nuclear power – we don’t want huge salaries. We work so that we can live – we don’t live to work.”

Millions of Iranian workers have not been paid for months, while capitalists and the religious government keep telling them of Iran’s economic crisis and shortfalls in both the state and private funds, yet the Islamic regime seems to have sufficient funds to equip one more nuclear enrichment plant, paying billions – presumably to dubious sources – for black market equipment. The current escalation of the conflict also exposes the stupidity of the Iranian rulers who only admitted to the existence of this ‘secret’ plant after its existence was ‘exposed’.

Of course, Iranians have become so used to hearing total lies from the leaders of all factions of the Islamic regime that the revelation of the existence of this facility, hidden not far from the capital, did not come as a surprise. After all, this is the same government that used Photoshop to pretend a failed rocket did succesfully launch, the same government that cheated in the presidential elections, then lied about the number of people killed in the subsequent protests, and the same government whose president claims to have seen a white light descending from another world while he was addressing the UN assembly in 2007.

Further sanctions will bring more poverty for Iranian workers and it will be the Iranian people who will pay the price for the foolishness of the very leaders they have been protesting against for over two months. The US is keen on sanctions against companies exporting refined oil to Iran (which imports 60% of its requirements). It now looks like France and Germany are sceptical about such sanctions. They refer to the Iraq experience and the ease with which petrol can be smuggled across land borders.

The Iranian government has already indicated that it will cut petrol subsidies. It is blaming the west and hopes such a move will unite the country against the ‘foreign enemy’. Contrary to the pessimism of sections of the Iranian left in exile who ‘despair’ of the growth of the ‘Green’ movement or who have joined the bandwagon behind ‘reformist’ presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Moussavi, workers in oil refineries in Iran are well aware of the historic role of their class in the current situation and there have been discussions regarding strikes in this industry for the last few weeks. These workers have two valid concerns: (1) that their strike should not benefit Moussavi (he is hated by these workers, some of whom remember his time in power); and (2) that their strike should not help US efforts for regime change from above.

Western countries are also considering options including an embargo on investment in Iran’s oil and gas sector, an end to loan guarantees to all companies investing in Iran, a ban on Iranian businesses trading in euros, and a ban on foreign companies insuring Iranian shipping and air transport. All of these measures will target the Iranian people, the majority of whom hate the clerical state.

UN lies

If the Iranian government lied about its nuclear installations, Ahmadinejad’s speech last week at the UN was also full of deceit. His holocaust-denial comments, repeated in every interview he gave while in the US, were a deliberate attempt to divert attention from mass protests at home and to heighten the tension with the rest of the world. This regime and this president rely on foreign crises to survive – he desperately needs enemies abroad to divert attention from problems at home, and the Obama-Brown-Sarkozy trio gave him that.

However, his speech contained other lies. The man who has printed money in an attempt to solve Iran’s economic problems told the world: “It is no longer possible to inject thousands of billions of dollars of unreal wealth into the world economy simply by printing worthless paper assets, or transfer inflation as well as social and economic problems to others through creating severe budget deficits.” He also criticised “liberal capitalism” (as opposed to clerical capitalism?). After all, this is the president of a government that is busy privatising every industry in Iran, from services in the oil industry to car plants and Iran’s national telecommunications. The telecom company was privatised and sold to the ‘revolutionary guards’ in the last week of September, although Iran’s ‘monopoly regulatory commission’ is now said to be investigating this.

However, such actions by Iran’s Sepah Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guards) do not imply that the country is under military capitalist rule: they are controlled by the most conservative sections of Iran’s clerical elite. The Pasdaran ownership of the telecommunication services is only another success for supreme leader Ali Khamenei, his son and the clerics around him, as this ideological military force has no life and no significance without clerical rule.

The few delegates in the UN assembly hall who heard Ahmadinejad condemn the excesses of “liberal capitalism” might have thought Iran is an egalitarian religious society. Nothing could be further from reality. After 30 years in power Iran’s Islamic regime has created one of the most unequal, corrupt societies of the region, where the gap between the rich and the poor is amongst the highest in the world. As Ahmadinejad was speaking, Iran’s car workers (amongst the best paid sections of the working class) were protesting at long shifts causing ill health and workers throughout Iran were on strike or demonstrating against non-payment of wages. While factory closures due to privatisation continue, Aryaman Motors, a Tehran-based company specialising in reproducing classic cars, launched a new series of replica vehicles based on the original design of the earliest Rolls Royce models at $120,000 each – wealthy Iranians have already pre-paid for the first models that will be finished later this year.

In his speech Ahmadinejad also referred to the disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, failing to mention Iran’s role in support of US aggression in both – as leaders of the Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran keep reminding us! The Iranian president then referred to breaches of human rights in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. Of course, it is inevitable that abuse of human rights by the ‘torch holders’ of liberal democracy in the US and the UK will be used by every tinpot leader in Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere to justify the torture and execution of opponents. The Iranian president is the leader of a government that has killed at least 72 civilians and tortured hundreds in the last two months alone, yet the actions of western governments allow him to stand up in New York and give moral lectures about ‘human right abuses’. We truly live in irrational times.

Protests and divisions

The first days of the new university term in Iran saw major protests on campuses throughout the country – the largest being at Tehran University on September 27-28. Students shouted “Death to the dictator” and booed the new minister of higher education. Security forces retreated from the campus. On Tuesday September 29 students protested at Sharif University, once more causing the minister for higher education to abandon plans to speak. Meanwhile, security forces are warning football crowds not to chant political slogans at the Tehran derby between Esteghlal and Persepolis on October 2.

As former president and leading ‘reformist’ Ali Akbar Rafsanjani continues his efforts to find a compromise between the regime’s warring factions, the first signs of a rift amongst ‘reformists’ has appeared. In an open letter addressed to Rafsanjani, another ‘reformist’ presidential candidate, Mehdi Karoubi, writes: “What is your answer to the people who, under dangerous conditions, question the actions of the Assembly of Experts under your leadership? … By what measure have you preserved the ideals of the revolution in your role as chair of the Assembly of Experts, whose first duty is fighting injustice?”

Moussavi’s latest statement on September 28 is also predictably uninspiring. Its repeated references to the “wisdom” of Iran’s first supreme leader, Ruhollah Khomeini, confirmed his continued allegiance to the ‘imam’s line’. But this will not gain him much support amongst young Iranians, who will not accept any solution short of the overthrow of the entire regime. Moussavi’s call on his supporters to “avoid any radical measures which could damage the achievements so far made by the opposition” expose once more his fear of radical change and his determination to save the religious state.

All this is very good news for the revolutionary forces. However, the threat of sanctions and war only strengthens Khamenei and Ahmadinejad. In the words of UN weapons inspector Hans Blix, any “rush to punitive sanctions – tightened to the point where ordinary Iranians, already suffering the effects of chronic unemployment, had to endure petrol shortages or big fuel price hikes – could backfire spectacularly”.

Hands Off the People of Iran has always condemned sanctions and threats of war against Iran. We oppose them not only because we want to see imperialism defeated, but because they increase patriotism and nationalism, thus helping the reactionary regime. The government will use the ‘threat of the enemy without’ to increase repression, to arrest and torture its ‘enemy within’. Sanctions disorganise the working class, as people are forced to squander their fighting energies on day-to-day struggles to keep their jobs and feed their families – Iranian oil workers are right to be concerned about going on strike at a time when sanctions will also target ‘imported refined oil’.

The proposed US-European sanctions dramatically degrade the ability of the working people to struggle collectively on their own account, to organise and to fight. In other words, for the sake of Iranian working class we must continue our opposition to war, sanctions and regime change from above, while increasing our solidarity with the revolutionary movement inside Iran.

Azadi Stadium erupts against the regime

Fans defy calls to keep protests away from stadium

Fans defy calls to keep protests away from stadium

Imagine going to a Celtic vs Rangers derby and seeing both sides fans chant the same slogans, march together afterwards and defend each other from the police. You would probably think you have entered an alternative universe. In Iran that is what happened on October 2 at Azadi stadium when Perspolis (باشگاه فوتبال پرسپولیس) and Esteghlal (باشگاه فرهنگی ورزشی استقلال ایران) met. These clubs are the most successful clubs in Iranian football and have had a bitter rivalry on par with that of Celtic and Rangers. Fans chanted “As long as Ahmadinejad exists – this will be the result of Derby”, “Down with the dictator!”, “Ya Hossein, Mir Hossein” and other slogans of the opposition movement. Below are some videos of the protests: