Hands Off the People of Iran is launching a week of action in solidarity with the grassroots opposition movement in Iran, running from Saturday, February 13 to Saturday, February 20.
This will see fundraising events, protest actions and meetings. Comrades around the country are coming forward with ideas for activities that range from pickets and petitions, to benefit meals for a few comrades and friends. We want to mobilise every Hopi supporter to participate in the week, at whatever level their circumstances and time constraints allow. (And make sure you send us small reports and photos for our website!)
February is a key month in the Iranian political calendar. The Shah’s regime imploded in February 1979. Every year since, the government has initiated official state-backed marches and rallies to celebrate the revolution and to bolster the myth that its social and political dynamic was simply ‘Islamic’.
However this year, in the aftermath of the huge upsurges post the rigged presidential elections in June 2009, the regime will face stiff opposition. There will be counterdemonstrations organised by both the Green reformists such as the western media darling Mir-Hossein Moussavi and by more radical trends within the movement, forces that are subject to a media blackout.
In their different ways, both these reformists and the elements to their left will challenge the theocracy for the legacy of 1979. This difference is vital, however. The likes of Moussavi charge that the regime has lost its way and deserted the ‘true’ Islamic nature of the revolution. For the left, 1979 could have had a very different outcome. That is, a victory for the forces of popular democracy from below and fundamental social change.
Iran is in turmoil and the opposition is utilising every opportunity to protest and organise. These counterdemonstrations will also commemorate the 40th day since the death of the leading reformist cleric Ayatollah Montazeri and also the murder of protesters in the Ashura demonstration in late December.
This poses important tasks to the anti-war and solidarity movement in this country and beyond.
First and foremost, we have to dramatically step our work against any imperialist intervention against Iran. Military action would be a disaster for the burgeoning movement. It would disrupt and disperse the masses just at a time when we are beginning to see the potential for a new Iran, shaped by the democratic and militant action of millions of ‘ordinary’ Iranians themselves.
Sanctions – the so-called ‘soft’ option – have the same demobilising effect, if anything in a more insidiously poisonous way. When working people have to spend their time individually begging, bartering or borrowing their way round shortages of basic foodstuffs and amenities, their ability to collectively impose a progressive agenda on society as a whole suffers.
So, we have to see off the threats of imperialism. We have to give the ‘red’ strands within the Green movement in Iran the space to survive and thrive. In contrast to some mistaken comrades in the anti-war movement, Hopi knows that the real Iranian anti-imperialists are amongst the millions of protesters on the streets, not in the corrupt and deeply compromised echelons of the clerical bureaucracy.
In addition to our anti-war work, we must also supply these comrades with the oxygen of publicity.
The bulk of the mainstream English or Persian’s media reporting of the upsurge since June 2009 has implied that the ‘Green movement is a homogeneous bloc, where the masses are little more than ‘walk-on/walk-off’ bit-part players in a drama directed by Moussavi and the reformists.
In truth, these ‘leaders’ have struggled to keep up with the movement. Actions and slogans on the ground have gone far beyond even the maximum demands of the reformists. Since at least September ’09, important elements amongst workers, students, women and youth have called for the overthrow of the entire regime. While the Green leaders repeated assert their loyalty to the existing order, militant slogans from the movement they purport to lead demand the overthrow of the supreme religious leader, Khamenei and the entire apparatus of Islamicist rule and oppression.
None of this finds reflection in the mainstream media. The BBC and the western news outlets are the propaganda wing of the imperialist campaign. Sanctions and the threat of military strikes serve the purpose of undermining the Ahmadinejad-led regime and preparing a ‘colour revolution’ a la Georgia or the Ukraine, headed by the likes of Moussavi. The BBC’s selective silence about the evolving politics of the real movement beneath this ‘hero’ makes it the propaganda arm of that reactionary campaign.
We will target the BBC for protest during the week of action. Details of protests and activities are being finalised as this bulletin goes out. We will keep comrades posted, but check regularly on our website for updates.
انقلاب ایران ، مبارزه با امپریالیسم مبارزه با سرکوب جمهوری اسلامی
شنبه ۱۳ فوریه ۲۰۱۰ ،ساعت ۱ بعد از ظهر,
University of Manchester Students’ Union, Meeting Room 1.
نشست ۱:امپریالیسم و ایران،با سخنرانان از دانشگاه گلاسکو و کارزار دستها از مردم ایران کوتاه
HOPOIنشست ۲:انقلاب ۱۹۷۹ ایران و امروز،با سخنرانان ازحزب سبز و
جشن و پذیرائی، ساعت ۶ بعد از ظهر
Whitworth Arms, 508 Moss Lane East, Rusholme, Manchester, M14 4PA.
شایان ذکر است که جهت جمع آوری کمک به مردمی که در ایران در ستیز هستند و همچنین ،غذا و نوشیدنی نیز موجود میباشد.
**لطفا از آوردن هر گونه دوربین عکاسی و فیلمبرداری خودداری فرمائید.**
برای اطلاعات بیشتر و یا کمک برای برگزاری هر چه بهتر مراسم،لطفا به این آدرس ایمیل بزنید و یا با کریس تماس بگیرید
برگزارکنندگان:کارزار دستها از مردم ایران کوتاه & دانشجویان ایرانی واتحادیه دانشجویان دانشگاه منچستر
THE IRANIAN REVOLUTION
Fighting Imperialism and Fighting Repression Day School
Saturday February 13 @ 1pm
University of Manchester Students’ Union Meeting Room 1
Meeting 1: Imperialism and Iran
With speakers from Glasgow University and HOPI
Meeting 2: The Iranian Revolution 1979 and Today
With speakers from HOPI and the Green Party
Starts at 6pm
508 Moss Lane East, Rusholme, Manchester, M14 4PA
There will be drinks and food all night to help raise money for those in struggle.
**No Cameras will be permitted at this event**
If you want to help out or find out more please email email@example.com or call Chris on 07883924372
Organised by Hands Off the People of Iran & Iranian Students and University of Manchester
– January 28, 7.30pm, Boole 3, Main Campus, University College Cork, College Road: “Siahkal 1971 – Tehran 2010 the history of the new left in Iran”. Hosted by University College Cork Historical Society
Yassamine Mather, Iranian political activist and writer will trace the emergence of a movement of extraordinary significance in the struggle for democracy in Iran today.
– February 9 Hopi discussion and organising meeting Solidarity Books, Douglas Street, Cork Come along and help to plan our week of action.
The video below gives an impressions from the conference, which discussed imperialism’s drive towards war; why we oppose sanctions on Iran, the workers’ movement in Iran and the tasks of the solidarity movement. For more videos of the conference, click here
In an interview with Panjereh Weekly, Abdolhossein Ruholamini revealed the death of Ramin Aghazadeh. Abdolhossein Ruholamini, Mohsen Ruholamini’s father, claimed that this is the fourth death because of the treatment of prisoners at Kahrizak detention center.
Ramin Aghazadeh died following his release from Kahrizak detention center. Mr. Ruholamini believes that his death was a result of injuries caused in Kahrizak. He stated, “Authorities did not release reports on the fourth victim of Kahrizak, because they believed that it would harm the conscience of society.”
Mohammad Kamrani, Mohsen Ruholamini, and Amir Javadifar are the other victims of Kahrizak detention center.
Parliamentary reports named Saeed Mortazavi as the responsible individual for the Kahrizak incident. Saeed Mortazavi was the former prosecutor of the Islamic Revolutionary Court and Prosecutor General of Tehran.
Translation by: Xan I.
رامین آقازاده” چهارمین قربانی کهریزک معرفی شد”
گزارش چهارمین مرگ کهریزک از سوی مسوولان منتشر نشد چرا که به عقیده آنها ممکن بود وجدان عمومی جامعه خیلی جریحهدار شود.
کلمه: عبدالحسین روح الامینی پدر محسن روحالامینی از قربانیان بازداشتگاه کهریزک از قربانی چهارم این بازداشتگاه خبر داد.
به گزارش کلمه، روحالامینی در گفتگویی با هفته نامه پنجره اعلام کرد که رامین آقازاده قهرمانی چهارمین قربانی وقایع بازداشتگاه کهریزک است.
وی همچنین گفته که این فرد پس از آزادی از بازداشتگاه کهریزک بر اثر شدت جراحات وارده جان باخته است.
وی تصریح کرد: «گزارش چهارمین مرگ کهریزک از سوی مسوولان منتشر نشد چرا که به عقیده آنها ممکن بود وجدان عمومی جامعه خیلی جریحهدار شود»
پیشتر اعلام شده که بود که محمد کامرانی، محسن روحالامینی و امیر جوادیفر کشته شدگان وقایع کهریزک هستند.
گفتنی است بر اساس اعلام کمیته پیگیری مجلس شورای اسلامی در خصوص بازداشتگاه کهریزک سعید مرتضوی دادستان سابق تهران مقصر اصلی این وقایع معرفی شد.
Isfahan’s Steel Company is and has always been one of the largest industrial complexes in Iran.Despite this, and although workershave been involved in industrial action to improve their working conditions,Iran’s Steel Company workershave never benefited from the right to form any type of trade union , workers organisation…to defend their wages and, to pursue their just rights and demands.In the current situation, as a result of severe economic hardship and the uncertain future, at a time when workers in this complex face many backbreaking pressures, as a group of workers of Steel Company we have decided to take the very first steps in the direction of defending workers right and consolidating our dispersed ranks hereby announcing the formation of the Provisional Council of Isfahan’s Steel Company Workers.Since this step (the formation of the council) was taken in conditions of underground work, it is not based upon workers’ elections.That is why the council has given itself the title “provisional” however, as a body it is committed to hold free elections with the participation of all factory workers as soon as suitable conditions arise.Until such time, this council will endeavor to defend therightsofall workers in this complex and we willkeep fellow workers informed of all our decisions through statements.
The council presents its positions and views as follows:
1 – The council considers all workers equal and alike.It believes that both the obvious and hidden discriminations between official workers and workers under contract (those employed directly by the company under contract or through contractor companies) are initiated entirely by managers and decision makers and workers are not responsible for this.The Council believes that the creation of such discriminations amongst workers is a deliberate policy to divide workers in this complex.
2 – Council believes that the right to strike is an absolute right of the work force, and, in conditions where the company’s workers have not received their wages (for between two to six months) going on strike is the only means by which the workers can struggle for their demands.Therefore the council states its solidarity with courageous workers of Ehyagostaran Espadan, Nasooz Azar, Isaargarane-hadid, Nasre Bonyad and all the workers who have gone on strike to fight for the payment of their unpaid wages.
3 – The councils warns workers to be aware of the delays of official deadlines for payment of their wages and monthly bonuses, There is apossibility that management is trying toreduce or abolish monthly bonuses ; that is why workers have every right to go on hunger strike, white strike (working less and disrupting production lines) and finally strike. Such actions are just and legitimate.
4 – Council finds Plant’s policies of blaming workers for all the severe hardships they face ,especially when accidents causes workers death or severe injuries leading tohandicap as an inhumane policies and, declares thatthe main reasons for safety failures aresevere working conditions for the workforce, worn off equipment, oldtechnologies and pressure and expedition that the management imposes upon workers to increase production .
5 –At a time when the official line of poverty in urban areas is declared (by the state) to be 800 thousands Tomans, the council finds maximum income of 400 thousands Tomans per month an obvious oppression towards workers and their families and expects gradual, step by step annihilation of discriminations between official workers and reset of the work force.
6 – The council believes Privatising the Steel Company complex will have terrible effects upon the workers’ living conditions and their labour and considers the reconstruction period for privatization as definite proof that showed the effects of this policy on workers’ income and conditions; this is an experience we, Iran Steel workers are experiencing every day.
7 – Billions have been paid for expenses and hundred million Toman contracts made and spent on theSteel Company Football Team during the last few years at a time when official workers are paid with delay and rest of the workforce hasincomesbelowthe poverty line. The Council’s view is that such policies are outrageous.
8 – Council considers company’s weekly ATISHKAR as a management source use for self flattery and exaggerated claims.The claim that the company produced and suppliedthe railroad for the National Rail Company – is a blatant lie and every worker here is aware of it.The Council expects ATISHKAR’s content to include reports about workers’ payment conditions and their protests, covering all incidents that cause death and disability, announcing the names of workers dying at work and also monthly reports about work accidents.
9 – Due to not having aboveboard activities the council asks all workers to create their spontaneous workers nucleuses all over the Steel Company and, it believes without such units formed by workers themselves they will not have a chance develop their struggles and advance in them.Role of such units is bringing awareness, unity and solidarity among workers and electing leaders for their struggles.Such units can be formed around team of friends, recreation groups, workers welfare boxes and so forth.
Fellow workers! We shake your hands in solidarity.
Provisional Council of Isfahan Steel Company – January 2010
Despite unrelenting state repression, there have been rumblings throughout the 2000s of renewed labor organizing inside the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI). One result of this upsurge in labor organizing was the May 2005 re-founding of the Syndicate of Workers of the United Bus Company of Tehran and Suburbs, a union that has a long history, albeit one that was interrupted by the 1979 “Revolution,” after which the union was repressed. The unions’ leader, Mansour Osanloo, was severely beaten and thrown in the Rajaei prison where he remains in a state of deteriorating health. Osanloo is an Amnesty International “prisoner of conscience.”
Another important result of the new labor organizing has been the emergence of the Independent Haft Tapeh Sugar Workers Union which launched an aggressive 42-day strike in June 2008 over wage-theft and deteriorating working conditions. In 2009, the regime imprisoned five union leaders in an attempt to smash the union for “acting against national security through the formation of a syndicate outside the law.”
Since the dramatic street demonstrations that so captured the international media’s attention beginning on June 2009, the direction of events inside the IRI has sparked considerable debate as well as confusion. The continuing rivalry between various power factions within the government lends itself to no easy predictions, while little is known of the internal dynamics of the Green Movement responsible for the demonstrations. The fate of an already vulnerable organized labor movement in this volatile environment is likewise unclear. Whatever the outcome of the current power struggles, the future of Iranian organized labor is now an international issue. Its right to organize is in desperate need of support.
Following the U.S. Labor Against the War Conference, and in order to better grasp this situation, Platypus Review Assistant Editor Ian Morrison sat down with Homayoun Pourzad, a representative from the Network of Iranian Labor Unions, to discuss the current crisis and the effects of “anti-imperial” ideologies on understanding the character of the IRI. Morrison conducted this interview, which has been edited for publication, on December 3, 2009.
Ian Morrison: Before we get into the current situation, could you explain the organization of which you are a part, the Network of Iranian Labor Unions (NILU)?
Homayoun Pourzad: The idea for the NILU first arose about three years ago. Some of us already had union experience dating from before the 1979 Revolution. It upset us that, with millions of workers, there were no Iranian unions independent of the state, but only the semi-official Islamic Workers’ Councils. What gave NILU its initial impetus was the Tehran bus drivers’ actions led by Mansour Osanloo and his friends.
There was a nucleus of independent labor organizations in various trades, but the government always moved quickly to stifle that independence. Iran’s Labor Ministry and the Ministry of Intelligence have standing directives to crush independent workers’ activities, regardless of which faction is running the country. The government is very brutal in its attempts to destroy the nascent labor movement.
On the surface it looks like not much is happening with union labor activity in Iran, but even in the face of government oppression, many workers are secretly engaged in organizing underground unions. These efforts have not yet peaked. Also, organizers have to walk a fine line, since once you get too big you are more easily detected. So labor organizers have to be careful how they recruit, and how many workers meet together at once. But the nucleus of the movement is in place and once the situation allows for it there will be a huge mushrooming of independent labor unions. The NILU operates in two different trade associations. We are also doing our best to start publication of a national labor press. The task is to make labor news available and to begin to provide some political analysis.
IM: Could you explain the political crisis in Iran that has unfolded since the election and how it is affecting your efforts to organize labor?
HP: First of all, anybody who tells you that they have a full picture is lying, because the situation is very crazy.
There are at least five dozen, semi-autonomous power centers, factions, and groups vying for influence. Not even [Supreme Leader Ayatollah Sayyid Ali] Khamenei knows for certain what will happen tomorrow. But this does not mean there is complete anarchy. Speaking generally, there are at present four major centers of power, or rather, three plus one. The first three are Supreme Leader Khamenei, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Revolutionary Guards, while the fourth, the nascent popular movement, is of an altogether different character though is still remains somewhat amorphous. It is still finding its own voice, needs, and strengths — but it continues to evolve. For the foreseeable future, the first three powers will more or less effectively determine how things will turn out. This said, Khamenei is already weakened. This is for two reasons: He apparently has health problems and, more importantly, he has had made huge political blunders. In another country, people would probably say,
“He’s only human.” But, in Iran, he is not only human. He is somewhere between human and saint, at least for his supporters and propagandists. But saints are not supposed to make blunders, at least not so many in so short a time!
IM: What is the relationship between the NILU and the nascent popular movement?
HP: There is no organic relationship between them, just as there are no organic relationships to speak of between the different elements of this movement. Mousavi does not even have an organic relationship with his own followers because of the pervasive power of repression. So, the nascent labor movement’s relationship with the popular movement is tenuous by both necessity and because of the way things have evolved. That said, we fully support their goals and will participate in all demonstrations. We even support Mousavi himself because he has remained steadfast at least up until now in defending the people. So long as he continues to do this, he deserves our support. Of course, if he changes tack, that is a different story. We think this is a truly democratic movement such as we have not seen in Iran before, including during the Revolution. Every group involved with the Iranian Revolution, without exception, believed only in monopolizing power; democracy was nobody’s concern. But now there is a very mature movement in that sense, particularly among the young people, and the fact that it has withstood so much violence in the last few months shows that it is deeply rooted. Many people were worried at first that the protests would fizzle out, but the continuance of the actions up to this day vindicate our support. The Iranian government has really gone overboard with stopping the protestors — it has been very bloody and violent — and still they have been unable to squash the protests entirely.
IM: But do you think Mousavi stands for workers’ rights at all? He seems to have a checkered political history.
HP: We do not know what his stance is. He seems generally favorable to workers’ rights, but, at any rate, our platform is not identical to his. The movement supporting Mousavi is a broad national-democratic front; we are all working with a sort of minimum program. The movement has formulated no long-term plans, and it is now in danger of being decimated. We do not have any illusions that anyone in the leadership of the Green Movement is 100 percent on board with workers’ rights, but this is not the time to discuss that. Right now, we are fighting a dangerously reactionary dictatorship. Things will become clearer as time goes on, but right now we do not seek to magnify the differences among those opposing the dictatorship.
IM: There are some who see Ahmadinejad, because he is so anti-American, as anti-imperialist, and thus as leftist. What is your response to such characterizations?
HP: Well, the problem with this argument is that it assumes everyone in the world who rants and raves against the U.S. or Israel is somehow progressive. Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar, Sada’am Hussein, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — these men are all more truly anti-American than any leftist. But the rhetoric of Ahmadinejad and his ilk is all demagoguery, as far as we are concerned. Either it is in the service of power politics, or else it is just a fig leaf to hide the disgrace of their own politics, which in all these cases is profoundly anti-Left and anti-working class.
IM: Still, in the peace movement here some people are uncomfortable taking a stand against Ahmadinejad or policies in Iran because they think that this is tantamount to supporting American policy.
HP: Well, I can tell you how every democratically minded person in Iran would reply: Ahmadinejad is essentially creating the ideal situation for foreign intervention. He is deliberately provocative. For instance, there is no need to use the kind of language he uses against Israel; it is genuinely odious, his frequent comments about the Holocaust and the like. But he speaks like this for a reason: He is a right-wing extremist seeking to rally his people through fear and hatred. That is what he is doing. To us it is actually incomprehensible how anyone could support Ahmadinejad just because he rants and raves about America. It really makes no sense to us. When I tell people in Iran that there are some progressive groups in America that support Ahmadinejad, they think I am pulling their leg. It makes no sense to them. But I know that this goes on and, to the extent it does, it gives the Left a bad name.
IM: What is your take on Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is very popular on the Left in America? He is interviewed in progressive organs such as The Nation, for instance. He appears on the mass media as leading a front against America together with Ahmadinejad.
HP: We really do not know. We are really confused as to why Chavez is Ahmadinejad’s buddy. It makes no sense to us. It has made it almost impossible in Iran to defend his Bolívarian Revolution. When you have people being beaten or tortured, and so on, and then tell them, “Well, there is this government that supports your government, but these guys are good guys,” it is difficult to fathom, really. We hope that Chavez changes his policy, because when there is a change of government in Iran it will be accompanied by a total rupture with everyone who supported Ahmadinejad.
IM: What in your view is fueling the current crisis?
HP: Well, let me go back to a point I was making earlier. Ayatollah Khamenei, because of his errors, has seen his status diminished. He no longer has about him the mystique that once so terrified and intimidated people. Then you have Ahmadinejad, who has turned out to be a rogue element for the regime, one that is perhaps doing more damage than good for them right now. Then there are the Revolutionary Guards, who have the bulk of the real power in Iran. They have made a power grab all over the country, so that now they control the economy, the political situation, and the Parliament. Still, Khamenei, Ahmedinejad, and the Revolutionary Guards are in an ongoing struggle for power. They unite only in the face of common enemies, whether internal or foreign, and not always then.
The current crisis in Iran is best understood as a set of concurrent crises: First, there is the legitimacy crisis, which I discussed just now with reference to Khamenei; second, is the political crisis where the various factions within Iranian “politics” cannot agree on anything; third, is the economic crisis which the ruling class is utterly incapable of addressing. The country was in recession even before the election. What will bring the economic crisis to a head is Ahmadinejad’s plan to cut all the subsidies, which are quite big, between 15 to 20 percent of the GDP (though nobody really knows for sure the exact amount, due to the lack of transparency in the administration). The supposed populist Ahmadinejad intends to cut the subsidies for transportation, utilities, energy, and even for staples such as rice and wheat. After this happens, there will be spiraling inflation, of course. The cut in subsidies for energy and utilities will force factories currently operating at a loss and/or below capacity to engage in massive layoffs. That is when we will see a number of labor actions. There may also be short-lived and violent urban uprisings. But rather than these riot-like urban uprisings, we are focusing on organizing labor to bring the country to a halt if need be.
Iranian labor is in a really awful situation, arguably the worst since its inception a century or so ago. With millions of workers in the formal sector, we still lack official, legal independent unions. On the other hand, the situation is ideal for organizing. The labor force is ready for independent assertion, though they need the kind of support that only comes from dedicated organizers.
Iran’s spiraling political and economic crisis coincides with another crisis that is only just beginning, the international crisis regarding the nuclear problem. Diplomatic talks are failing, as was inevitable. We feel that the regime is trying to build a bomb, but probably not testing it for a while. There is a clear danger that this might lead to an air attack or to some other form of major military intervention, which would divert attention from the internal situation. Indeed, as I said above, this is what this regime is hoping for. It would be a monumental mistake if there were to be an attack against Iran, since the nuclear program can only truly be stopped if the popular movement becomes more substantial and is able to change the government, or at least force changes in its policies.
IM: So your sense is that, with the nuclear program, Ahmadinejad is actually trying to provoke aggression?
HP: Indeed. We condemn any kind of foreign intervention, but we also condemn Ahmadinejad’s provocative policies, in part because they are geared toward provoking just such an intervention. Anyway, we do not think the military route is the way to go with this, because it is not likely to succeed even in halting the nuclear program. We think the labor movement in Iran is poised to play a strategic role, even on the international stage, because once the working class organizes itself, it really can cripple the regime, especially given the current economic crisis. And, as I say, a major strike wave is looming in Iran.
The situation for Iranian workers right now is dismal. For the last 4 or 5 years the demand for labor has dropped. There is also the mania for imports that Ahmadinejad has encouraged for the last 5 years. The result is that across the country factories are facing shutdowns and bankruptcy. There is also an immigrant Afghan labor force of roughly seven hundred thousand, with whom we sympathize, and whose expulsion from the country we oppose just as we oppose the many forms of coercion and discrimination this government levels against them, but it is a fact that their acceptance of as little as 50 to 60 percent of normal salary exerts downward pressure on everyone’s wages. So, if you look at all these factors, you see that things are really awful for Iranian workers; their bargaining position is weak. In the current environment, once you go on strike or you have some sort of shutdown, they can easily fire you and find someone else.
The labor status quo has also changed. Few people are aware of this, but Iran once had very progressive labor laws. In the aftermath of the Revolution, it was very hard to legally fire workers. But now, 65 or 70 percent of the labor force consists in temporary contract workers who lack most basic rights. They can now get fired and be deprived of their benefits quite easily. This is what makes the situation so very ripe for organizing, and makes organization necessary, despite the regime’s brutal repression. They do not allow for any labor organizations independent of the state, and they are ruthless. The least that could happen to an exposed labor organizer is that he gets fired and thrown in solitary confinement for several months.
This year is critical for the Iranian labor movement in many ways, and we need support of all kinds. Iran is in great danger. The government acts like an occupying army. It treats the country’s ethnic minorities — Kurds, Baluchis, and Arabs — as though they were foreign nationals. The resulting national disintegration grows worse day by day. At the same time, extremist groups are finding it increasingly easy to operate. Among the Sunni minority, fundamentalism is growing.
There is nothing to be said in favor of this regime, after the election. Before the election, there were perhaps some disparate elements within the government working toward reform, but this has ceased to be the case. All that remains is extremely retrograde: the government is ruining the country’s culture and economy, while sowing discord among the people. They are turning minorities against each other and against the rest of the country — Shia against Sunni, not to mention men against women — all because the Islamic Republic state wants to retain and expand power. When these methods fail, they turn to brutal and undisguised repression.
IM: I am wondering about the comparison of what is happening today to the 1979 Revolution. There were mass mobilizations then, with various leftist groups and parties involved, but when the Shah fell, it left a power vacuum that was filled by reactionaries. First, is the comparison salient? Second, is there the possibility of there emerging a power vacuum, and what can the labor organizers do in this situation?
HP: You are wondering if, because there is not a clearly formulated platform for the movement, that it may go awry, and extremist groups come to power? Of course, this is a possibility. But I think there are reasons to be optimistic. Thirty years of this sort of psychotic, pseudo-radical extremism has really taught everybody a lesson. You have to be either extremely naive, or a direct beneficiary of the system not to see that the country has been harmed. In general, the young people are more mature than their parents’ generation. The youth do not have the same romanticization of revolutionary violence, which was one of the reasons things got out of hand in 1979. It was not only the clerics that were extremists, practically every group endorsed revolutionary violence of one kind or another; it is just that in their mind their violence was justified, whereas everyone else’s violence was “reactionary.” The new generation does not hold those beliefs. Iranian society has a strong extremist strand, but I believe that is changing now. There is a belief in tolerance, in wanting to avoid force, and in trying to understand one’s political opponents rather than just crushing them. This is something extremely important and not altogether common in much of today’s Middle East.
Let me also say, along these lines, that Islam has never really undergone a Reformation. But we are seeing signs of this happening in the IRI today. It is happening very quietly in the seminaries. It could only happen where Islamists have actually come to power and shown beyond all doubt the inadequacy or even the bankruptcy of their ideas and their ideologies. This forces healthy elements within the clergy — not those who are out there to enrich themselves, but those who are religious because they are utopian-minded — to go back to their books, to the Koran, to revise the old ideas. Such clerics are not in the majority yet they are sizable and they are spread throughout the clerical hierarchy from grand Ayatollahs to the lowest clergy. Earlier, the idea of reforming the medieval interpretations of the Koran and Islam came mainly from Muslim intellectuals, but now a considerable part of the religious hierarchy is coming to the same conclusion. Some are operating in very dangerous circumstances. There is a special court of clergy, similar to the Inquisition courts, that want to silence them. But such ideas cannot be silenced so easily.
If there is a military attack on Iran, it will set back the progress of many years. This is exactly what the regime wants, at this point, which is why Ahmadinejad is so provocative. He wants the Israelis to launch an air strike. The West cannot simply bomb a few installations and think that it will all be done. The current regime would strive to escalate that fight. Even if Obama verbally condemns an intervention in Iran by another nation, Iran will use it as a pretext to expand the fight and things will rapidly get out of hand. It would provide him with a new recruitment pool, which is drying up, because right now the best and the brightest of Iran do not go into the Revolutionary Guards. Their recruits today are opportunists or those who simply need the money. The people are turning against the regime. What could change all this is if we came under attack, if, as they would claim, “Islam is threatened.” The regime might then successfully stir up nationalistic sentiments, perhaps not so much in Tehran, but that is only 14 million or so. Most of the country lives in smaller towns, and the only news they get comes from state broadcasts. These people could become recruits, leading to all sorts of awful things. In the meantime, at the very least we will continue to see street fighting, riots, and so on. The youth will only endure torture and being kicked out of schools up to a point. As it is, the regime opens fire on peaceful street demonstrations — I have seen it myself. The government’s hope is that some of the young people will arm themselves and fight back. That is one of the dangers here.
IM: You are here for the U.S. Labor Against the War Conference. What sort of relationships do you hope to build with other labor unions in America and around the world?
HP: First, I want to communicate to them what is happening in my country, that there is a labor movement and that it needs support. More specifically, even though there is no guarantee that this will change what this government is doing, we hope with the help of our American friends to put together an international committee of labor unions in defense of Iranian labor rights. The Iranian state does not even pretend to care what the international community or the general public thinks of them. Still, they are weaker now than ever before, and the regime is concerned about what might come after a military action or major sanctions. So, for the first time it looks like they are going to be sensitive to what trade unions, especially those against intervention, have to say, or what they will do. In fact, Ahmadinejad’s government has been sending envoys to the International Labor Organization (ILO) and courting it assiduously. They go out of their way to placate them, whereas ten years ago they did not give a damn what the ILO thought. So there may now be some scope to pressure the regime to release imprisoned labor organizers. In addition to that, we would like to inform the American labor movement and the public at large of the dangers of any kind of military intervention.
IM: Do you think there are any possibilities for a party of labor in Iran? That is a problem all over the world. Different labor organizations meet up, and there are groups that believe in various trade union rights, and they release statements to that effect. But there is no political body that consistently stands up for working people.
HP: I may have sounded too much of an alarmist, for I emphasized the dangers. But the opportunities are also great. Like I said, you have almost eight million workers in need of organizing. They will even be able to organize themselves, if the situation changes. The Green movement holds promise, I think. It came totally out of the blue; no one expected it, from the Ministry of Intelligence to the opposition and the foreign governments. This means there are elements that could coalesce into a progressive and democratic labor party. It should not be forgotten that Iran not only has a huge working class, but also a tradition of left-wing activity going back some 100 years. The working class in Iran, moreover, is not semi-proletarian as it was during the Iranian Revolution. This generation of workers has advanced political skills and a mature political worldview. You are no longer dealing with peasants just come to the city. Iran is fairly industrialized in many ways and these workers have their own subcultures. We have a good situation in that sense. So yes, there is a good possibility that we will have a strong labor party. The conditions are there, but none of this will materialize without a strong, deeply rooted labor movement.
So what needs to be done? We must put across to other sectors of society what the working class stands for. The protest movement is now primarily middle class. That is its primary weakness. But once labor strikes get underway in the next few months, we hope they will change how the Green movement sees the workers, themselves, and their moment. It is our job as labor activists to put across a genuine working class platform and to familiarize the country with working class demands.
We cannot, as some Left groups do, start condemning the Green Movement just because it lacks a strong Left component. It is the Left’s job to influence the movement and to see that its demands and wishes are incorporated-not just with respect to Mousavi, but to the movement as a whole.
We cannot start condemning the movement even if and when it starts lurching to the right, because, again, it is the Left’s job to be there side by side with it. By being there, I mean, for example, our press must also reflect their concerns and their needs. We should not be supercilious, but rather have a healthy dialogue with all the different contingents within it. Above all, we should not speak from above in a condescending manner. Only when we are side by side with the people who are fighting on the streets will they listen to us. In the last six or seven months, there has been an incredible growth of interest in the Left. This has been very spontaneous, among young people. If anything, the old generation mishandled their political situation and turned young people off by looking down on them.
If the labor movement gets its act together, it could really help the present popular movement, which, on its own, lacks the muscle to stand up to the regime. With the workers on board there can be economic strikes. In 1979, for months there were people yelling and clamoring in the streets, but it was only when the oil workers entered the picture that the Western governments told the Shah to leave.
Because of all this and because of the fact that the labor movement, by its nature, tries to avoid extremism or revolutionary romanticism, there is reason to hope. The labor movement’s pragmatism allows it to stave off the dangers of extremism from both Left and right. The two main labor unions, the sugar cane workers and bus drivers, are resolute in protesting against the status quo and advancing their political and social agenda. They are supported by over 90 percent of the work force. If you talk to bus drivers in Tehran they are all upset about what has happened recently, but you never hear anything disparaging about the union leadership and what they have done. This shows the kind of work organizers have done. This was not a spur-of-the-moment thing. They organized over several years and held many sessions with intellectuals who taught them constitutional rights, economics, and so on. But, of course, there have been mistakes, as is to be expected. But those mistakes were necessary in some ways, so that the rest of the labor unions will not repeat them.
The attempt by the two wings of the Iranian regime to shelve their differences is unlikely to defuse the mass movement, writes Yassamine Mather
More than two weeks after the demonstrations of December 27 2009, the political repercussions of these events, and the reaction to the anger and radicalism of the protesters, continue. Clearly now no-one, from the government to the ‘reformists’, to the revolutionary opposition, has any doubt that the current protests are no longer about who should be the ‘president’ of the Islamic Republic, but represent a serious challenge to the very existence of the religious state.
Ashura is a day of mourning for Shia Muslims, as they commemorate the martyrdom of Hussein, a grandson of the prophet Mohammed in 680AD. In December 2009 it coincided with the seventh day following the death of a clerical critic of the regime, ayatollah Montazeri. Throughout Iran hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets with slogans against the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, and calling for the overthrow of the Islamic Republic. When security forces attacked, the crowds fought back. Tehran was “covered in thick smoke from fires and tear gas” and there was “hand-to-hand combat between security forces and the protesters,” with reports of street battles in other major cities.1 For the first time in the last 30 years, many women came out into the streets to join the demonstrations wearing no headscarves or hijabs.
At a number of locations in Tehran security forces were forced to retreat, as demonstrators burnt police vehicles and bassij posts and erected barricades. There are videos showing instances where police and bassij were captured and detained by demonstrators and three police stations in Tehran were briefly occupied. Demonstrators also attacked Bank Saderat in central Tehran, setting it on fire.
The government’s reaction was predictable. Since December 27 bassij and pasdaran (revolutionary guards) have been unleashed to impose further repression. Hundreds of people have been incarcerated. The summary arrest of leftwing and worker activists, the death sentences issued against left political prisoners, the sacking of workers already in prison are part of a deliberate attempt by the regime to impose an atmosphere of terror.
Ultra-conservative clerics have also called for the arrest and execution of ‘reformist’ leaders. In a speech on January 9 the supreme leader told government security forces and the judiciary to act decisively against “rioters and anti-government demonstrators”.
Despite the bravado of Khamenei, there are clear signs that the demonstrations of December 27 have divided the conservatives further on how to respond to the protests. While supporters of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad openly call for more arrests and even the execution of political opponents, the ‘principlist’ faction2 within parliament is preaching caution.
On January 9, a parliamentary committee publicly blamed Tehran’s former prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi, a close ally of Ahmadinejad, for the death of three prisoners arrested during anti-government protests in June 2009. The committee found that Mortazavi had authorised the imprisonment of 147 opposition supporters and 30 criminals in a cell measuring only 70 square metres in Kahrizak detention centre. The inmates were frequently beaten and spent days without food or water during the summer.
Ali Motahhari, a prominent fundamentalist parliamentarian, told the weekly magazine Iran Dokht: “Under the current circumstances, moderates should be in charge of the country’s affairs.” He suggested Ahmadinejad should also be held accountable for the deaths in Kahrizak and for fuelling the post-election turmoil. Iranian state television is broadcasting debates between ‘radical’ and ‘moderate’ conservatives, in which Ahmadinejad is blamed by some for causing the crisis.
There are two reasons for this dramatic change in line:
1. The December 27 demonstrations were a turning point, in that both conservatives and ‘reformists’ came to realise how the anger and frustration of ordinary Iranians with the political and economic situation is taking revolutionary forms.
2. The principlists are responding to a number of ‘proposals’ by leading ‘reformists’ as a last attempt to save the Islamic Republic. Fearful of revolution, ‘reformist’ leaders from the June 2009 presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Moussavi to former president Mohammad Khatami have made conciliatory statements, and the moderate conservatives have responded positively to these approaches.
In a clear sign that ‘reformists’ have heard the cry of the revolution, Moussavi’s initial response to the Ashura demonstrations was to distance himself from the protests, emphasising that neither he nor Mehdi Karroubi had called for protests on that day. His statement on January 1 entitled ‘Five stages to resolution’ (of the crisis) was a signal to both his supporters and opponents that this was truly the last chance to save the Islamic regime from collapse.
Western reportage of the statement concentrated on his comment, “I am ready to sacrifice my life for reform.” Of course, Iranians are well known for their love of ‘martyrdom’, from Ashura itself to the Fedayeen Islam in 1946,3 to the Marxist Fedayeen (1970s-80s). Iranians have been mesmerised by the Shia concept of martyrdom, inherited from Sassanide ideals, a yearning to put their lives at risk for what they see as a ‘revolutionary cause’. But Moussavi will no doubt go down in history as the first Iranian who is putting his life on the line for the cause of ‘reform’ and compromise!
His five-point plan is seen as a compromise because it does not challenge the legitimacy of the current president and “presents a way out of the current impasse” in order to save the Islamic Republic, basically demanding more freedom for the Islamic ‘reformist’ politicians, activists and press, as well as accountability of government forces, while reaffirming his allegiance to the constitution of the Islamic regime, as well as the existing “judicial and executive powers”. The preamble to the proposal explains very well Moussavi’s message to the supreme leader and the conservative faction: it is not too late to save the regime, but this could be our last chance.
It reads: “Today the situation of the country is like an immense roaring river, where massive floods and various events have led to its rising and then caused it to become silted. The solution to calm down this great river and clear its water is not possible in a quick and swift action. Thinking of these kinds of solutions that some should repent and some should make deals and there should be some give and take to solve this great problem is in practice going off the track … I also believe that it is still not too late and our establishment has the power to accomplish this important task, should it have insight and a respectful and kind view toward all of the nation and its layers.”
This statement was followed on January 4 by a ‘10-point proposal’ from the self-appointed ‘ideologues’ in exile of Iran’s Islamic ‘reformist’ movement: the former Pasdar, Akbar Ganji (nowadays introduced on BBC and CNN as a “human rights activist!”), Abdolkarim Soroush, Mohsen Kadivar, Abdolali Bazargan and Ataollah Mohajerani.4
Fearful that the Moussavi plan will be seen by many as too much of a compromise, the group of five call for the resignation of Ahmadinejad and fresh elections under the supervision of a newly established independent election commission to replace that of the Guardian Council. In the last few days both Khatami and another former president, Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, have publicly declared their support for the compromise, while condemning “radicals and rioters”. Khatami went further than most, insulting demonstrators who called for the overthrow of the Islamic regime.
All in all, it has been a busy two and a half weeks for Iran’s ‘reformists’, terrified by the radicalism of the demonstrators and desperate to save the clerical regime at all cost. Inevitably the reformist left, led by the Fedayeen Majority, is tailing the Moussavi-Khatami line. However, inside Iran there are signs that the leadership of the green movement is facing a serious crisis.
None of the proposals addresses the most basic democratic demand of the Iranian people: separation of state and religion. A widely distributed leaflet and web post inside Iran entitled ‘Who is the leader of the current protest movement in Iran?’ refers to comments made by ayatollah Taleghani 31 years ago,5 at the height of the revolutionary movement. Taleghani, faced with a similar question, replied that it was the shah who led the protest movement because the repression he imposed and his inability to compromise caused it to move forward day by day. The leaflet concludes that the current force leading the movement is supreme leader Khamenei, who by his words and actions is fuelling the revolutionary fervour.
Working class response
In every event Iranians see real and imaginary parallels with the 1978-79 uprising that led to the shah’s downfall. Last week the publication of Khamenei’s alleged escape plans and the revelations that senior clerics had arranged to send their fortunes abroad to avoid sanctions and the consequences of an uprising reminded Iranians of January 1979, when the shah and his entourage were busy making similar arrangements.
The Iranian left is not immune to such nostalgia. Arguments about the ‘principal contradiction’ and ‘stages of revolution’ seem to dominate current debates. While some Maoists argue in favour of a ‘democratic stage’ of the revolution, citing the relative weakness of the organised working class, the Coordinating Committee for the Setting Up of Workers’ Organisations (Comite Hahamhangi) points out that the dominant contradiction in Iran, a country where 70% of the population lives in urban areas, is between labour and capital. They point out that the level and depth of workers’ struggles show radicalism and levels of organisation and that the Iranian working class is the only force capable of delivering radical democracy.
Leftwing organisations and their supporters are also discussing the lessons to be learnt from the Ashura demonstrations. Clearly sections of the police and soldiers are refusing to shoot at demonstrators and the issue of organising radical conscripts in order to divide and reduce the power of the state’s repressive forces must be addressed. In some working class districts around Tehran and other major cities the organisation of neighbourhood shoras (councils) has started.
The current debates within the ruling circles have had no impact on the level of protests undertaken by workers and students. There are reports of strikes and demonstrations in one of Iran’s largest industrial complexes, Isfahan’s steel plant, where privatisation and contract employment have led to action by the workers. Leftwing oil workers/employees are reporting disillusionment with Moussavi and the ‘reformist’ camp amongst fellow workers and believe there is an opportunity to radicalise protests in this industry despite the fact that close control and repression has intensified over the recent period.
Last week a number of prominent labour activists, including Vahed bus worker Mansour Ossanlou, who are currently in prison (some incarcerated for over a year) were sacked from their jobs for ‘failing to turn up at work’, which prompted protests in Vahed depots and the Haft Tapeh sugar cane plant. In late December workers at the Lastic Alborz factory went on strike demanding payment of unpaid wages. This week workers have been holding protests at dozens of workplaces, including the Arak industrial complex, the Mazandaran textile factory, at the Polsadr metro construction and in Tonkabon.
Over the next few weeks Iranian workers will face major challenges. Even if the two main factions of the regime achieve a compromise, it will be unlikely to defuse the movement. In fact the conciliatory line of Moussavi and Khatami is certain to further reduce their influence amongst protesters. However, if the religious state is able to reunite, it will be more difficult to attend demonstrations, call strikes and hold sit-ins, etc.
Whatever happens, Iranian workers will need our solidarity more than ever. That is why Hands Off the People of Iran is currently planning a week of solidarity and fundraising actions in February – check the Hopi website for more details (www.hopoi.org).
1. New York Times December 29 2009.
2. One of the groups in the conservative faction of the Iranian parliament.
3. Fedayeen Islam was one of the first truly Islamic fundamentalist organisations in the Muslim world. It was founded in Iran by Navab Safavi in 1946 for the purpose of demanding strict application of the sharia and assassinating those it believed to be apostates and enemies of Islam.
Iranian workers are on the offensive, reports Chris Strafford
2010 has begun the way 2009 ended in the Islamic Republic of Iran, with millions protesting in cities and towns across the country. But the dangers facing the Iranian people have undoubtedly increased over the last few weeks.
Further sanctions are being put in place, and Obama is holding back Israel for the time being, but has been promising “decisive action” if Iran does not halt all uranium enrichment. One Israeli diplomat was quoted in The Guardian as saying, “Obama has convinced us that it’s worth trying the sanctions, at least for a few months” (January 3). The imperialists seem to be moving towards military aggression this year – Washington has now dismissed the validity of the intelligence estimate which concluded that Iran was no longer trying to acquire nuclear weapons.
They have also been hypocritically talking about repression and democracy in Iran. Yet it was the CIA that put into power and propped up the vicious regime of the shah, under whom similar scenes to what we are seeing on the streets of Iran today were played out again and again. And today the US and Britain support regimes which are equally adept at violent oppression, such as that of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.
While the alleged threat of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons is played upon, the only actual nuclear power in the region, which happens to have a history of bloody military adventures and aggression, continues to threaten Iran. Israel undertook joint war games with the US in October to test its new ground-to-air missile defence system.
Imperialist warmongering and sanctions have undoubtedly damaged the mass and working class movement in Iran, but despite that at present that movement is very much on the offensive. The funeral of ayatollah Montazeri, who died on December 20, became a focus for the latest opposition protests, with hundreds of thousands attending. A founder of the Islamic Republic, he later became a loyal oppositionist who was horrified by the mass murder that took place under Khomeini, along with the embarrassment of the Iran-Contra affair. His funeral procession and the gatherings in Qom were attacked by state repressive forces, which only fuelled the protests.
Tens of thousands of ordinary Iranians came out onto the streets on Sunday December 27. Clashes took place in Tehran, Shiraz, Isfahan, Ardebil, Arababad and Mashhad. Martial law was declared in Najaf-Abad and at least four were killed in the city of Tabriz. In every part of Iran security forces, backed up by bassij militia and Revolutionary Guards (Pasdaran), resorted to violence to put down protests.
In Tehran the supreme leader’s residence was surrounded by massed ranks of Pasdaran and police. Throughout the day chants such as “This month is a month of blood! Khamenei will be toppled!” rang out in the streets. A clear indication of how far the movement has come since the initial protests against the rigging of the June 2009 presidential elections by one wing of the regime against the other.
In Tehran clashes erupted at many religious sites, as people started to gather for the planned opposition protests. The fighting was intense, with security forces being forced to retreat, as demonstrators burnt police vehicles and bassij posts and erected barricades. In a couple of instances police and bassij were captured and detained by demonstrators and three police stations in Tehran were briefly occupied. Demonstrators also attacked the Saderat Bank in central Tehran, setting it on fire.
As the day wore on, the security forces began to crack, with the first division of the special forces refusing orders to shoot protestors. There are many pictures and videos that show police retreating or being beaten back. There are also unconfirmed statements from sections of the army declaring that they will not be used to put down popular unrest.
Over a week on it is still unclear how many were killed – reports range from seven to 15, but it is known that the nephew of ‘reformist’ leader Mir-Hossein Moussavi is among them. The official cause of the deaths that have been admitted varies from ‘accident’ to ‘murder by unknown assailants’. Marxist groups and the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organisation (MKO) have also been blamed, although videos and pictures have been posted online of the bassij firing on demonstrators.
Hundreds have been incarcerated and 300 of those arrested during the recent protests have been moved to section eight of Gohardasht prison under the control of the Revolutionary Guards. Beatings, torture and rape of prisoners is continuing on a daily basis. Ebrahim Raiesi, first undersecretary of the judicature, said that the “rioters” will be prosecuted immediately and that charges range from “causing disorder” to “war against Islam” (which is punishable by death).
On December 30, 500 bassiji and Hezbollah attacked a gathering at the University of Mashhad armed with knives. They injured dozens of students and arrested over 200, possibly killing two. The day after, over 4,000 students and professors staged protests against the attacks and arrests at Ferdowsi and Azad universities, but were laid siege by security forces and militia.
Students, professors and parents have tried to find out information about those arrested and hospitalised. They sent a delegation made up of representatives from the university Islamic Society to meet with officials, but they were themselves arrested. Amongst them is Seyed Sadra Mirada, a relative of Khamenei.
Protestors have taken to chanting “Independence, freedom, Iranian republic” – a slogan that has been condemned by Moussavi as too radical, as the ‘reformists’ go to great lengths to try and impose some sort of control on the mass movement. Other slogans that have been used include “Not the coup government, nor America” and “No colour revolution here!”
The ongoing political crisis in Iran is compounded by the economic crisis caused by the neoliberal polices pursued by consecutive governments, the world economic crisis and sanctions. Inflation is running at over 25% and unemployment has reached 12.5% – nearing 30% for young workers – impoverishing millions of families. Workers in numerous industries have gone months without pay, and on January 4 those at the Mazandaran textile factory downed tools in protest against non-payment of wages and the laying off of workers on temporary contracts.
The economic situation and the political upheaval have fused the demands of the workers’ movement with those of students and the mass movement as a whole. More and more workers are taking part in, sometimes leading, the street protests. This has scared the authorities, who have begun rounding up known left and worker activists across Iran.
The regime aims to scare the movement off the streets with dire threats. On January 2 the Revolutionary Guard released a statement saying: “The devoted bassijis of Greater Tehran will smother all the voices that come out of the throat of the enemies of the sacred regime of the Islamic Republic.” This came amongst calls by leading conservative clerics, such as the chair of the Guardian Council, ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, for the execution of leading activists. A motion has been submitted to the Iranian parliament calling for “enemies of the Islamic Republic” to be hanged within five days.
The international workers’ movement must be prepared for a new round of mass murder in Iran. We must support our comrades in any way we can. The majority of the left has indeed come out in support. To its credit the Socialist Workers Party has continued to back the movement, whilst opposing imperialism – something it previously said the anti-war movement could not do. Maybe the SWP will now permit the affiliation of Hands Off the People of Iran to the Stop the War Coalition, now that the SWP itself has taken up a watered down version of Hopi’s principled stance.
However, there remain nominal socialists who defend the mass murder and repression of the regime in Iran. Respect MP George Galloway, Andy Newman (Socialist Unity blog and Respect member) and groups like the Stalinist CPGB-ML have all defended the “mature democracy” of the Islamic Republic (Newman – www.socialistunity.com/?p=5051) and poured scorn on the mass movement as an attempt at some sort of colour revolution. Such claims have clearly been disproved by what is happening on the streets and the slogans taken up by the movement. Newman has been particularly idiotic, opting to ignore the murder of thousands of trade unionists, socialists, feminists and LGBT people under the clerical regime and instead defending the miserly welfare provisions that exist in Iran.
Defenders of the regime see it as anti-imperialist, forgetting that the clerics have made deals with the imperialists before and will no doubt do so again, if they think that will maintain their rule. The Iran-Contra affair and the welcoming of the US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq are good indications of how consistently the theocratic regime ‘opposes imperialism’. No, the only genuine opponents of imperialism can be found on the streets: democrats, students and most of all the working class. It is these forces to whom we must give our support – in deeds as well as words.
It is essential to maintain a clear position of opposition to any faction of the Islamic Republic and to US-led imperialism. We must begin to strengthen the campaign against sanctions initiated by Hopi – Stop the War Coalition needs to take up this issue in a serious and organised way, so that the anti-war movement can begin to win the argument that sanctions undermine working class struggle through impoverishing the masses. We need to state loud and clear that sanctions are not some soft option, but part of the imperialist war drive.
On the morning of Wednesday, January 6th at 4:00am, Fasih Yasamani, a political prisoner, was hanged in Khoy Prison.
According to a report from the Committee of Human Rights Activists in Kurdistan, the execution officials unexpectedly and without following the legal procedure executed this Kurdish citizen who was a native of the village Khoy (located in north-western Iran). He was in prison since 2007. The officials refuse to hand over the body to his family.
Mr. Yasamani was accused of belonging to an opposition party (Pajvak). However, there was no evidence to support the accusations, except for Mr. Yasamani’s own confessions which, according to him, was said under torture.
Fasih was 28 at the time of his execution. After Ehsan Fatahian [who was executed on Nov 11th], Fasih is the second political prisoner to be executed in the Kurdish region in recent months.
At the moment, there are 17 other political prisoners on death row in Kurdistan.
Here are their names:
Ms. Zeynab Jalalian, Habibollah Latifi, Shirkoo Moarefi, Farhad Vakili, Farzad Kamangar, Ali Heydarian, Hossein Khezri, Rashid Akhondaki, Mohammad Amin Agooshi, Ahmad Pouladkhani, Seeyed Sami Hosseini, Seyyed Jamal Mohammadi, Rostam Arkia, Mostafa Salimi, Anvar Rostami, Hasan Talei, and Iraj Mohammadi.
Mehdi Kia co-editor Middle East Left ForumKargar) discusses the mass movement in Iran and the weaknesses of the theocratic regime. This article is from the magazine Permanent Revolution and was written in November.
The coup in Iran, that took place through the June presidential elections, gave the appearance of the regime being firmly in the saddle. But in Iran appearances are deceptive. The large antigovernment demonstrations that took place on the last Friday of the month of Ramadan (18 September), and again on the anniversary of the occupation of the US embassy on 4 November, not only showed an opposition that is alive and well, but one becoming progressively more radical. Whatever happens over the next months the Islamic regime has crossed three bridges that have collapsed behind it. There is no going back. The road can only be downhill all the way to the abyss.
Firstly by excluding a significant portion of the ruling clergy from the corridors of power it has seriously disrupted the accepted practice of power sharing among the numerous factions of the regime. This ability to maintain unity, manoeuver and change tactics, has been a key to the survival of the regime through thirty years of upheaval. How else could a government with an ideology based on a nomadic mercantilism run a moderately advanced capitalist economy without imploding at the first decision forced on it by modern life? Factions were the inevitable product of every major decisionmaking moment over the last three decades. And the ability to keep the regime together while swinging frantically from one policy direction to another was its secret of survival. This regime has survived from one crisis to another through creating structures such as the Expediency Council to paper over the inevitable divisions.1 At one stroke the 2009 election coup removed many of those safety valves.
Secondly the country saw a three-million strong demonstration on June 17 that confronted the entire security apparatus of the country, an apparatus clearly taken off guard at the size of the turnout.
It was the inability of the reformist leadership to seize the moment that saved the government’s neck.
Faced with the masses on the streets, the pasdaran (revolutionary guards) did not risk a confrontation, but bided their time hoping, correctly as it turned out, that the street protests would slowly tire themselves out. Then as the protest gradually lost its momentum the security forces moved in and clamped down until demonstrations of no more than a few hundred people was possible.
Yet the people adapted quickly using “official demonstration days” (such as the anniversary of the occupation of the US embassy) to stage their own counter-demonstrations.
All the while the slogans have become increasingly radical. What began innocuously as “what happened to my vote” went through “Khameneii, Khamenei, your guardianship (velayat) is dissolved”2 to ” “death to the dictator”, “death to Ahmadinejad” and “death to Khamenei”. Taboo after taboo was broken and red line after red line was trampled upon. Nothing is sacred, not even the semi-divine supreme leader. This is a watershed.
The third body blow to the system has been the final discrediting of the reformists. They have been consistently trailing the people, lamely trying to keep up, or begging them to tone it all down.
Their marginalisation can be seen from the radicalisation of the slogans despite their entreaties.
Notwithstanding the desperate efforts of the western media, both print and broadcast, to cast the opposition as a “green” movement whose sole purpose is to overturn the election results, the opposition has increasingly become multicoloured, clearly targeting the entire Islamic regime. The efforts of the reformist movement to “reform” the unreformable was always doomed, but now can be seen in all its contradictions.
Since September we have witnessed a greater spread of the opposition movement to cities and towns other than Tehran. The November demonstrations also took place in Tabriz, Shiraz, Isfahan, Najaf Abad, Ahwaz, Shahre Kord, and many other towns.
The opposition is also being radicalised. This is shown in the evolution and radicalisation of the slogans, which have progressively marginalised the reformist leadership. The transformation of “what happened to my vote” finally to esteqlal, azadi, jomhuri irani (independence, freedom, Iranian Republic) has profound implications. “Independence, freedom, Islamic Republic” was the pivotal slogan of the 1979 revolution, the first two demands describing the content and the last the institution by which these were supposedly to be realised.
This was a democratic, antiimperialist revolution that was under 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 today are making a clear link with the revolution of 1979, declaring it unfinished, reiterating its democratic and anti-imperialist aims, and proclaiming the new, secular government that could realise it.
While the slogan is only in its infancy, it has increasingly become more prominent. It betrays the seeds of a true anti-Islamic Republic uprising, that is both democratic and independent of foreign influence.
The slogan was supplemented on the 4 November with “na dowlate coup d’etat; na mennate amrica” (“neither the coup d’état government, nor relying on America”). No “colour revolution” here!3 The radicalisation has gone hand n hand with increasing prominence of left activists. The escalating casualty figures and arrests on the streets goes hand in hand with an increasing street presence of people from the poorer areas of south Tehran. But most striking is the continuous high profile of women activists – battling the basiji thugs in civilian clothes.
We have also witnessed a broadening of the demands to include those of women, of nationalities and other social movements, and of course the right to demonstrate. But in particular we have seen the early steps in bringing together the ever-growing protest movement of the workers with the general anti-regime movement.
Workers are protesting against job losses, real cuts in wages and destitution – a fight for their very survival in the face of neo-liberal policies of mass layoffs and privatisation. There are clear signs that the need to link the two movements is being increasingly recognized by the grass root leadership on both sides. Calls to set up neighbourhood resistance committees by the left are welcome but clearly only a beginning on a long road.
Broadening and deepening
The old left, both Iranian and non-Iranian, is largely confused about what is happening in Iran today. The protests are either portrayed as a fully-fledged uprising, or more commonly, as another “colour revolution”. It is neither.
What we are witnessing in Iran is not an uprising in any real sense, let alone a revolution. However the seeds of an uprising have been planted, which if tended properly, can grow into an uprising that will unite the various springs of protest into one giant river with a single goal. The slogan of “independence, freedom, Iranian Republic” can provide one such goal. For this to be achieved a number of steps have to be taken. The grass root leaderships of the opposition need to be able to use everything at their disposal to widen, but also deepen, the movement.
To broaden the movement, it is necessary to draw in the disparate social movements, each with their own individual demands, into one huge movement that encompasses these demands. Thus the youth, the women, the nationalities and all the other movements have to be drawn into a co-ordinated single movement. Already youth and women play a critical role in the opposition and have been instrumental in its radicalisation.
The execution of Ehsan Fattahian, a Kurdish left activist, and the imminent execution of Shirko Moarefi another Kurdish activist, shows the regime’s dread of the active involvement of the nationalities of Iran.
The movement must also learn to use the relative safety of the umbrella provided by the reformists without falling under their spell. 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 scale of the current repression, bad as it is compared to previous waves when literally thousands were slaughtered. A vigilant radical leadership will use this umbrella for as long as it provides a cover while pursuing its own independent programme, pushing the movement to adopt tactics that will ensure its deepening and strengthening.
To deepen the movement requires, more than anything, the linking of the workers’ protest movement to the general movement for democracy. The workers’ protest movement has reached levels not seen previously. Most recently oil workers, central to the Iranian economy, have began to flex their muscles.4 In Iran today it is impossible to have a meaningful and lasting democracy without the self-organisation of the working class. The only democracy that has a chance of surviving the inevitable imperialist onslaught must have at its head the only class that is, by its very existence, opposed to imperialism.
Imperial domination functions, and is imposed, through the subjugation of the working class, and only the self-organisation of this class can stand up to this domination. Undoubtedly the working class of Iran is still not organised as a class. This generation of workers has not even experienced real trade unions. Moreover the massive unemployment in the country creates a large constituency of the poor, living on the margins of society in the countless shantytowns surrounding our major cities, providing real organisational challenges.
But perhaps critically an uprising, let alone a revolution, cannot take place without a leadership that can see the road ahead clearly and lead the movement towards its goal. That leadership, which can weave the various strands of the movement into a single party and ensure that the fruits of victory are not handed to the imperialists or to another reactionary regime, as happened after the 1979 Iranian revolution, can only come from the left. Only the left can lead an uprising beyond regime change into a change in the social structure of the country. A change not just in political relations, but in the economic relations of the people.
But for this we need a left in Iran with a vision and the understanding of how to achieve this. Not much of either is visible in what passes for the left today. A “left” that looks up to a regime whose president communicates with a ghost that died 1100 years ago,5 whose regime sacks workers in their millions as part of a neoliberal privatisation policy, whose security forces shoot down peaceful demonstrators and expects it to oppose imperialism, does not deserve that name. To these comrades we say “the sun is out in Iran. Get out from under your umbrellas”. No. We need a left with a vision. Yet that left is being born in Iran as elsewhere, though it has a long way to maturity.
And a final word for that section of the left abroad, like James Petras, Monthly Review and others, who have become an apologist for Ahmadinejad’s regime. We say to you, “if you cannot help us, if you cannot support the struggles in Iran, at least don’t harm us”. By all means oppose imperialist pressures on Iran. Keep up the opposition to sanctions with every weapon at your disposal; sanctions can only harm the people of Iran without damaging the regime. And of course stop any military adventure against Iran. You help us with that and the people of Iran will deal with their regime. It may take time, there may be many more sacrifices, but we will prevail in the end.