The placard says: “We are hungry”
Michael Copestake reports on HOPI’s successful weekend school
“The only thing that is certain is uncertainty,” said Labour MP John McDonnell in his talk at the April 21-22 weekend school organised by the Hands Off the People of Iran at the University of London Union.
Given the negotiations between the five members of the United Nations security council plus Germany and Iran that have just completed in Istanbul and are due to resume next month in May in Baghdad (of all the places to talk peace in the Middle East, could there be a more ironic one?) and the decline in the number of those mobilised on demonstrations and marches against war, the truth of this statement should be well noted by all. The continued threat of direct military action against Iran combined with factors such as the US electoral cycle constitute a heady and unpredictable brew.
The weekend school was part of the continued efforts of Hopi to reorientate the left against both the imperialist war drive and the sickening anti-working class regime of the Iranian state itself. Aiming to provide an analysis of the forces driving to war and the general condition of the Iranian state and society, Hopi brought together a range of speakers, including Iranian activists and exiles, National Union of Journalists president Donnacha DeLong, as well as comrade McDonnell himself.
The speaker for the first session on the Saturday was CPGB’s Mike Macnair, who sought to explain what he judged to be the increasingly irrational military adventures of the United States and its imperialist allies. These tend to end in social chaos, as in Iraq, rather than the imposition of some pax Americana, and comrade Macnair linked them to three distinctive cyclical tendencies within capitalism.
The first of these is the business cycle, which in its upswing phase imbues a sense of optimism and belief in progress, while a period of downturn or stagnation provokes attempts, including through war, to distract attention from the ensuing crises of capitalist legitimacy.
The second cycle is much longer-lasting and relates to the rise and decline of the hegemonic capitalist state itself. Giving examples of this process from history, comrade Macnair referred to the Netherlands, the British empire and now, in the present day, the United States itself. Here the qualities which create the success of the new pretender in stealing the crown from the previous declining hegemon breed their own failure over time. These take the form of the loss of previously world-beating industrial production, which provokes the use of brute military force to maintain ‘top dog’ status – irrational adventurism in order to maintain credibility and deter potential successors.
Lastly there is the general decline of capitalism itself, said the comrade. This expresses itself in the fact that United States intervention has not stimulated the significant economic development of capitalism in the states where it has intruded that was seen in the case of previous imperial powers. Taking patterns of immigration as a measuring stick, comrade Macnair noted that previous empires led to an exodus of the population of conquering powers to the new colonies, whereas today the reverse is true – people from the oppressed countries are driven to seek a better life in the core countries.
It is the failure of much of the left to understand these factors that leads it down the dead end of calling for the bourgeoisie, in essence, to act more rationally: it should desist from starting wars and spend the money on the welfare state or whatever. But that fails to grasp the wider – perfectly rational from the point of view of imperialism – imperatives that drive the seemingly crazy waves of destruction.
This interpretation proved controversial for some in the debate that followed, with speakers questioning the category of ‘irrationality’ and suggesting it was lacking in explanatory power. Others pointed out that the war on Iran has been a long time coming, with sanctions going back over 30 years, when capitalism was, presumably, still more ‘rational’. The connection between the business cycle and general political ideology was questioned by one speaker, as was the phenomena of a ‘cyclical hegemon’, while another comrade wondered exactly why China might not be a legitimate rival to the US for this position. During the following exchanges comrade Macnair offered a robust defence of his thesis and expanded on many of its elements in relation to the points being made.
Iran working class
Iranian trade unionist and former political prisoner of the Iranian regime, Majid Tamjidi, gave an illuminating and hard-headed assessment of the plight of the Iranian working class, caught as it is in the vice of imperialist sanctions and neoliberal Islamic despotism.
What came through in comrade Tamjidi’s talk was the nightmarish coincidence of the needs of the US and Iranian states, which serves to push both further down the road towards military conflict. The bluster and bravado with which the Iranian regime responds to sanctions and threats of war feed US portrayals of Iran as intransigent and in need of a swift and harsh remedy. The missing element in the narratives of both the imperialist and Iranian governments is the masses themselves, yet they are being crushed under the weight of both sanctions and the neoliberal policies of the theocratic state, resulting in 60% of Iranians living below the poverty line, 12 million on insecure ‘instant dismissal’ temporary work contracts, and at least 30,000 deaths per annum in workplace accidents.
This focus on the desperate economic situation of Iran and the Iranian working class was picked up in a session on the second day on the political economy of Iran, addressed by Mohamed Shalgouni of the Organisation of Revolutionary Workers in Iran and Hopi chair Yassamine Mather.
The audience was straining to hear the words of comrade Shalgouni, not just because he was so quietly spoken, but because of the great interest in the things he had to say. He provided a compelling dissection of the role of the regime in the economy of Iran, of which 70% is directly or indirectly controlled by the state and its related bodies, increasingly under the auspices of utterly phoney privatisations that give ownership of companies to state and military officials technically at ‘arm’s length’ from the government in a kind of pocket-bursting, oligarchic give-away, last seen on a such a scale in the crash privatisations undertaken in the collapsing Soviet Union. That there can be such a bonanza for state bureaucrats and heavies is a legacy of the revolution, which resulted in the expropriation of the holdings of the royal family and a series of nationalisations. This self-interested gangsterism by the state, taken with three decades of increasingly severe sanctions, has led to the ruin of much of what remained of the Iranian economy and, with the possible closure of French car plants under the pressure of the United States, the situation grows more and more dire.
Indeed, the size of the ‘black economy’, much of which is controlled by state, army and militia bureaucrats, and includes imports, currency and the trade in alcohol, is estimated at being worth $60 billion a year: about the same as Iran’s official imports. As comrade Yassamine Mather elaborated, domestic industry, including the production of agricultural staples at a price affordable to the Iranian proletariat, has been deliberately run down by the mercantilist, middle-man interests of the state and bourgeoisie, as it is easier to extort money from the masses when all of the country’s needs are met by imports controlled by the collective state gangster rather than from domestic production.
Aware of the basket-case economy and a desperate, volatile society it has created, the Iranian state, whilst it slashes subsidy and welfare for everyone else, continues to subsidise around five million supposedly grateful economic dependants who can potentially act as extra-military brownshirts against Iranian workers when society inevitably produces explosive protests.
Speakers from the floor wondered how the supposedly deeply religious government of the clerics justified its privatisations, though the answer was provided quickly that this was done with great ease – and was typical of theologians throughout history, whenever god gets in the way of fistfuls of hot cash. Other questions ranged from the role of the military in exploiting the economy and the possibility of conflict between them and the clerical wing of the state.
More focused on the immediate situation facing the wider world and its working class movement was the talk given by comrade Moshé Machover, co-founder of Israeli socialist party Matzpen. This was also the case with the panel discussion led by left-Labour stalwart John McDonnell MP, who humorously referred to himself and Jeremy Corbyn as the “parliamentary wing” of Hopi, Sarah McDonald, a runner in the previous weekend’s Vienna marathon in aid of Workers Fund Iran, and NUJ president Donnacha DeLong.
Comrade Machover focused on the relationship between Israel and Iran. He believed that the recent Istanbul negotiations with Iran had produced a vaguely positive outcome despite Hillary Clinton’s hawkish rhetoric. Attempting to identify exactly why Israel was so pro-war, the comrade identified two main factors. The first was that an Iran with nuclear arms, or nuclear potential within the terms of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, reduces the relative power of Israel in the region and its ability to be the watchdog of the United States.
The second reason was that the Israeli state is seeking a pretext in order to engage in a further ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians, thus solving the so-called ‘demographic problem’ of the growing Arab population of Israel. The acceptance by the Israeli military in its own documents and in the words of some of its own leading figures that the ‘Iranian bomb’ is not a serious threat disproves the notion that this issue is about Iran’s nuclear capability. It is more about provoking a situation of such turmoil that the mass expulsion of Palestinians could be more conveniently undertaken.
The panel discussion made up the final session of the weekend, with comrade De Long recounting his experience of the Iranian regime during his time as an Amnesty International worker and gave an example of the power of the social media in spreading cutting criticisms of the regime than can serve as morale boosters and potential incitements to action for ordinary Iranians.
John McDonnell reported that the word in the Westminster village was that, should there be an attack on Iran, it may be around September time, though the Israelis were suffering from an itchy trigger finger and he did not discount them acting alone. Comrade McDonnell emphasised the correctness of Hopi’s line against imperialism, sanctions and the regime itself and that it was essential that these ideas be spread more widely into the labour and trade union movement as a whole. Whether this took the form of meetings with individual trade union general secretaries and MPs, of cultural events and campaigns such as the film screenings in aid of Jafar Panahi, of direct action or of good, old-fashioned marches and demonstrations was not important: what matters is spreading the message.
The comrade also emphasised another part of what Hopi stands for as particularly important: support for working class and progressive forces and for socialism in the Middle East. We absolutely must not, the comrade insisted, ever refrain from stating plainly that the only progressive force in Iran (and elsewhere) capable of combating imperialism and overthrowing the neoliberal clerics is the working class, and that the only way to lasting peace and prosperity in the whole region is through socialism.
Describing her experience of practical solidarity with the Iranian working class was CPGB member Sarah McDonald, fresh back from the Vienna marathon. She, along with others, had raised almost £1,000 for Workers Fund Iran. Comparing the project of transforming the left into a healthy and principled anti-war force to a marathon rather than a sprint, the comrade emphasised how the act of having to ask others for support and sponsorship for the marathon had itself been a very useful form of political activity: it provided the opportunity to explain the aims of Hopi and its stand against any war against the people of Iran.
During the ensuing debate comrade McDonnell was asked what the atmosphere in parliament was like at the moment, given that earlier in the year he had reported that it felt like a rerun of the lead-up to the Iraq war. He replied that the atmosphere had calmed somewhat, but that in the EU Britain remains the most hawkish state. Donnacha DeLong, by this point proudly wearing his cap decorated with anarchist badges, suggested that Hopi might be able to use the Levenson inquiry to expose the collusion between the Murdoch press and the government to bring the Iraq war to bloody fruition.
Others from the floor emphasised that, despite real anti-war sentiment – for example, around the Afghanistan debacle – the conclusion that many had reached from Iraq and the endless ‘numbers are everything’ marches organised by the Stop the War Coalition was that war cannot be stopped. That is why it is so essential to link the struggle against war to a rounded, working class politics and that is what Hopi will continue to do.
The veteran labour activist and political analyst Majid Tamjidi, who now lives in exile, will be joining our weekend school on Saturday April 21 at 2.30pm.
He will address the vital issue of ‘How sanctions and the Islamic regime destroy the Iranian working class’.
His intervention comes at a time when thousands of jobs are being lost. Many people have returned from the New Year holidays on April 1 to be told that their jobs have gone. Others haven’t been paid for many months. We know of many people who now have to move out of their homes, because they cannot pay the rent anymore.
The Iranian theocracy has played a big part in destroying the once so mighty Iranian working class – but the sanctions are doing the rest. Some believe that sanctions are an alternative to war. But in reality, they are a form of wardesigned to soften up a country for regime change from above. But the ruling elites in the US, the UK and Israel have no interest in establishing genuine democracy in Iran – or their own countries, actually. The interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan brutally underlined this.
The official rate of unemployment in Iran stands at 12% (although most commentators estimate it is at least double that) and the pressure on the Iranian car industry perfectly illustrates how sanctions impoverish the working class:
- Iran Khodro (one of the country’s three major car manufacturers) employs 150,000 workers and most of these are now at risk. At the end of the Iranian new year holidays (April 1), large numbers of workers in the industrial/manufacturing sector who returned to work were sent home. Sanctions impact on the economy, but Iranian bosses also use them to discipline their workforces.
- Workers from Shahab Khodro car manufacturers, some with 20 years experience, were told their jobs had simply disappeared when they came back from the holidays.
- In Iran Khodro, 30% of contracts have not been renewed (the overwhelming majority of Iranian workers are now contracted labourers thanks to the theocracy’s willingness to follow the dictates of the IMF/World Bank).
- Iran’s car manufacturing industry is also facing a serious crisis after Peugeot Citroen, fearing the enforcement of US-led financial sanctions, stopped its trade in February. Iran was Peugeot Citroen’s second-biggest market in 2011 in terms of trade volume. However it came under increasing pressure after a US lobby group, United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), called on the US Congress to investigate the French car company’s transactions with the Islamic Republic.
- At the same time, the theocracy increases the pressure on labour activists and oppositionists. For example, Vahed bus drivers’ union executive member Reza Shahabi has been sentenced to 6 years in prison and a further five year ban from trade union activism. He has also been ordered to return around secen million Toman’s which had been raised in solidarity to help imprisoned trade union activists. This is after two and a half years in prison for being arrested on charges of “propaganda activities against the regime” and another five years for “collusion to act against national security.” These are the typical charges activists face for standing up against oppression and fighting for the working class.
The danger of a new war in the Middle East is increasing every day. The war drums are beating ever louder, especially in Israel. Hands Off the People of Iran is hosting this weekend conference in order to highlight the dynamics behind the sabre rattling. Continue reading Hopi weekend conference: April 21-22, central London
(This article first appeared in the Weekly Worker)
It seems such a long time that there have been threats of military action against Iran without them being followed through that some people may have become a bit blasé. It is a bit like the boy who cried wolf too many times perhaps. However, the reality is that his time the threats are very serious.
The reasons why there are serious threats now have very little to do with the Iranian nuclear programme. Most people agree that the Iranian government exaggerates the stage it has reached and the west also exaggerates this – in regard to uranium enrichment, for example – both for their own reasons. I am not dismissing the nuclear issue altogether, but I do not think it is the reason why we are facing these serious threats.
There are other reasons. First and foremost there is the world economic crisis and the fact that the United States is in economic decline. It is feeling the pressure of both the crisis and the partial erosion of its hegemonic position – not to the extent that its hegemony is threatened by some competitor seeking to take over that role, of course. Because of that it cannot tolerate states like Iran – despite the fact that it follows every neoliberal instruction dictated by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and so on. The problem is that politically Iran is not playing the game that the hegemonic power wants it to play. For that reason it has to be taught a lesson.
Let me stress here – because within the Iranian left and opposition in general there is some confusion on this issue – I am not saying that the United States is threatened by China as a new emerging political power. China’s economic dependence on the US is well known, but, most importantly of all, China’s economic reserves are held in US dollars and in US banks: it would not be in the interest of the Chinese to wage an economic war against the United States; quite the reverse. And China too is very much affected by the economic crisis, just as many countries in the developing and emerging economies are facing its effects.
Leaving aside the effects of the economic crisis, the political reason the US needs to exert its power in the region arises from the fact that its position has been damaged by the two wars it has waged in Iraq and in Afghanistan. I am not using the word ‘defeat’ in this context, as it is more complicated than simply saying the US was defeated in Iraq: clearly it was not. But the outcome is certainly not what anyone in the US political establishment would have wanted: a political regime totally allied to the Iranian government. That must have been the worst-case scenario for American strategists. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq under the Ba’athist regime was a staunch opponent of the Iranians and its downfall has strengthened Iran. The same is also true of Afghanistan. Iran was no friend of the Taliban, but the Karzai regime has distanced itself at times from the US and has moved to find better relations with Iran – both with the supreme leader and with Ahmadinejad. The rapprochement between Iran and Afghanistan gives Iran influence in a very strategic part of the world. This strategic importance is not simply about oil (though there is the additional issue of the oil-rich Gulf region), but about its geopolitical significance.
As the Saudis keep telling the US, the two wars have produced Shia governments all the way from the borders of Iran to the Levant, and that is a serious matter. In the regional context I know that some people in the Stop the War Coalition have said that if Iran is attacked we will see demonstrations in every Arab country, not least Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood will be up in arms. The reality is that there is now another very forceful voice in addition to Israel telling the United States to go to war against Iran, and that voice is Saudi Arabia – and, by extension, some of the Sunni Islamic groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Anyone who has any understanding of the Gulf, who knows the history of the Muslim Brotherhood, will understand that would be their position as well – the MB has expressed this in various interviews. The opposition to Iran from the Saudis and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries is poisonous and vehement: you can hear it and you can feel it if you watch Al Arabiya television for 10 minutes. For them it is clear that Iran is the main enemy; they have forgotten about Israel. In fact Israel, Saudi Arabia and the GCC now have a common enemy: Iran.
Also we have now seen Hamas distancing itself from both Syria and Iran, contrary to what hopeful, and I assume uninformed, members of the STWC are telling us. Hamas has been issuing statements saying that if there is a war between Iran and Israel it will stay neutral. As someone who has never supported Hamas it frightens me that it would make such a statement. But that is the reality of the regional context and no manner of wishful thinking can change this. Iran has influence in the Middle East, but also many enemies, and the United States knows it.
In addition to all this the US is in an election year and there is not a single primary where the Republicans do not voice concern about Obama’s ‘irresponsible’ attitude and ‘softness’ on Iran, which adds to the pressure. It is not simply a matter of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee supporting a Republican candidate instead of Obama: I assume AIPAC-influenced votes are divided between both parties. But constant allegations in an election year that the administration is not doing enough, that it is not showing its muscle and that it is displaying weakness can be added to the reality of a superpower feeling threatened by the economic crisis and its political position.
So the threat of war should be taken seriously. The people of Iran are certainly taking it seriously and for them it is a nightmare, a disaster. Whatever political opinion Iranians may hold, they consider the threat of military action a terrible reminder of the Iran-Iraq war – but they realise that this time it could be far worse and on a far larger scale. And in many ways it seems the war has already started because the majority of the people are suffering from the severity of the sanctions. These are not sanctions like those applied against South Africa. They are really affecting ordinary people in their day-to-day lives.
The effects are both psychological and material. For a few years there have been shortages of surgical equipment, of medication, of certain types of spare parts for cars and planes and so on. If your car needs a spare part and the part is on the US list of equipment which could potentially be ‘used for nuclear arms acquisition’, you will just have to write off your car. Alternatively people have attempted to make their own spare parts – and the state has attempted to do the same thing for aircraft – which has made things extremely unsafe. There have been serious accidents, with people endangering their own lives and their surroundings, as they try to work round the sanctions in various ways.
However, the most serious effects of the sanctions have been felt since January and there are two reasons for this. One is that the banking and foreign exchange measures have really hit home. Swift (the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication), through which credit/debit transactions are run via member-banks, is now removing Iran from its list, which means that credit cards can no longer be used in Iran from next month. This is problematic for ordinary Iranians, but also makes it difficult for industry to buy raw materials. I was talking to some people who work in a factory and they were saying that the owner cannot get any of the material he used to buy. They said that usually the capitalists make up such stories as an excuse to sack workers, but in this case the stories are true – they cannot perform the necessary transactions. There have been some smaller banks prepared to bypass these sanctions, but these are being forced to comply.
Banking sanctions have affected the Iranian currency dramatically since January of this year. This was added to the EU decision to stop buying Iranian oil from July. But just the announcement of the banking sanctions brought the Iranian currency to its knees – it lost half its value in 10 hours. Apart from the psychological effect, this shows us how the capitalists both within and outside government circles have been losing confidence in their own state – so much so that suddenly nobody wants to keep their money in tomans (one toman equals 10 official Iranian rials). One dollar is now worth 2,000 tomans – up from 1,200 before the announcement. The state intervened, restricting currency trading and increasing interest rates, but, of course, none of this has had the desired effect and the value of the rial has almost been halved.
Iran’s economy is now one of an importing country, apart from oil. This has resulted from neoliberalism, as well as the land reform and privatisation that has taken place. Agriculture in Iran has been destroyed. The country now imports most of the fruit and vegetables that used to come from within. In most ‘third world’ countries you can usually say, at least food staples are relatively cheap, but this is not the case in Iran. Land reform has driven the peasantry off the land and into shanty towns in the urban areas. What is left of mechanised agriculture is utilised for export crops, which provide good foreign currency returns. Privatisation has resulted in widespread destruction of sections of the food industry, affecting staple foods. The price of rice doubled in January and the same is true for other grains.
In addition to that, imported food is being held up. Shipping companies have been told that if they offload their goods in Iranian ports they will be put on sanction lists. They are taking this very seriously and mostly complying. There are reports, for example, of a ship full of grain from the Ukraine refusing to offload its goods once it had docked. Its owners had second thoughts and told the crew to leave. It was better for the company to do this than be on the US blacklist.
These sanctions have nothing to do with stopping Iran’s nuclear programme. They are for regime change. The US has made up its mind to flex its muscles in the region and install a more compliant regime in Tehran. Now, many Iranians are very sympathetic to the idea of regime change, but they most certainly do not want this to come about through outside interference. Ironically a notion that is so distasteful to ordinary people inside Iran has appealed to certain organisations in exile, some of whom are so desperate for regime change that they do not stop and think about the implications of military action, or what would come afterwards. Could it be worse than the current situation? Yes, it could. The examples of Iraq and Afghanistan prove it.
Things are indeed very bad for workers in Iran. Unemployment has rocketed, with youth unemployment particularly serious. Many workers are on contracts that allow for instant dismissal, and are often not paid for months. In addition to this, the struggle of Iranians against their own religious state is intensifying. What was, in some senses, a pluralistic dictatorship, is now becoming much more monolithic. This can be seen in the recent election results, combined with the defeat of the green movement in 2009.
Of course, there is strong opposition to the regime. But people do not want another state to decide the fate of their country, and in that sense I think the opposition to the war is so strong that it might actually strengthen the regime and help it survive. It is one of those cases where one does not know how far that process might go. Some say that the US is betting on the fact that the stepping up of sanctions will make the people so desperate they will rebel. But in my view they are wrong: it could have completely the reverse effect.
In some ways we saw this in the election results at the beginning of March. Of course, the regime exaggerated the turnout – I would say that at most one third of the electorate voted. This was despite the fact that the government did its best to make it an election against the war, claiming that voting was a matter of honour, of preserving the nation. One can see the how serious the situation is by the following conundrum: on the one hand, the regime stays in power and the threats increase. On the other hand, the regime change planned by the US would almost certainly involve the dismantling of the country we currently know as Iran.
Take Balochistan. The US is clearly looking to separate it off. It has emerged that Israeli Mossad agents have approached the Balochi opposition pretending to represent the CIA and it was only a year later that the US found out. Then, of course, there was the flood of denials. The US is doing this with more subtlety than the Israelis, but the idea remains one of creating a ‘greater Balochistan’ standing between and in opposition to both Iran and Pakistan.
The Kurdish issue is also an obvious one. There is strong opposition to the repression of the Iranian state. But some of the Kurdish groups would be happy to see a Kurdish republic created under US supervision, presumably not realising where that would lead. It would be a worse outcome for the Kurdish people than the terrible situation they already have to endure under Iran, Iraq and Turkey.
It goes without saying that I support the Kurds’ right to self-determination. Kurdish areas in Turkey and Iraq, as well as in Iran, have been deliberately kept more undeveloped than any other part of those countries, first by western client regimes and then by subsequent governments. As a result there is a very small working class in these regions. For example, working class Iranian Kurds tend to seek employment in Tehran or Azerbaijan.
I would argue for a united socialist Iran with a united, autonomous Kurdistan as a federated part of it. That is a much more attractive proposition for the Kurdish working class than the establishment of a small independent country based on three separate, economically undeveloped regions all with a very weak proletariat. Because of the absence of a strong working class, the Kurdish nationalist parties tend towards pre-capitalist, feudal methods in order to maintain their support. It would be possible to unite these three enclaves into a single state, but that state would be dominated by reactionary forces. Would that be progress for the Kurdish people or the Kurdish working class? I do not think so. As much as I defend the right of the Kurdish people to self-determination – and it must be their choice – I would advocate a federal arrangement within a socialist Iran. That would be better in the long run than a small, impotent Kurdistan state.
Similarly the separation of the Arab regions of Iran has always been on the agenda of neighbouring Arab countries. There is strong sentiment involved: Iranian Arabs speak a different language, they have been repressed. Even when oil prices were at their peak the region was deprived, with people being racially abused and so on. However, becoming part of Saudi Arabia or other states of the Gulf Cooperation will not do them any good either, yet that is the plan. And then there is the idea that a big chunk of Iran should be incorporated into Azerbaijan – there is an understandable sentiment amongst some Azeri Turks in Iran that the idea of joining a bigger Azerbaijan republic would be better than remaining part of Iran.
But all of these scenarios would be profoundly negative – not just for the Iranian peoples, but for the broader region and the world as a whole. Decimating a country in order to make sure that the hegemonic state remains powerful and has no headaches in the region is not a solution. The fact that national minorities in the region have been badly treated is well established and this is a serious issue that must be resolved through the right to self-determination. However, as communists we must be honest and state clearly that the fragmentation of Iran into small, weak units would produce a far worse situation than the present one. As in occupied Iraqi Kurdistan, it is likely that lackeys of the US would be in charge – no-one can claim that Kurds in Iraq are in control of their own destiny. The demand should be for the voluntary union of Iran’s peoples on the basis of democracy and equality.
There are those on the left who say that now is not the time to raise our voices against the Islamic Republic. But opposing this war does not mean suspending our opposition to the theocracy. Within the Iranian opposition there are very few – whether on the left or right – whose opposition to the war leads them to cease opposing the regime. It is the Islamic regime which has created this appalling situation for its own people. The regime itself has imposed neoliberal economic policies that have produced the situation where sanctions are so effective now. It is the state that is responsible for this economically disastrous situation, where the country is becoming utterly dependent on imports for every basic food item. So we cannot say that it is not about the regime.
Then there is the idea that I hear from some Stop the War people that the streets of London are not the place to fight the Islamic Republic. This is an insult to us Iranians. I fought the Islamic Republic in Tehran, but I was forced into exile. I fought the Islamic Republic in Kurdistan, but I could not stay because of the war being waged there. It is my right and my internationalist duty to fight the Islamic republic on the streets of London and no-one from Stop the War can tell me otherwise. Yet it is very often the same people who then tell us that “We are all Greeks today” when it comes to the protests in Athens and elsewhere. What is the logic of that? How come we are “all Greeks”, or “all Egyptians”, but we must not be all Iranians. Oh no – better not say anything about the Islamic regime! Needless to say, I do not accept this argument.
However, I also do not underestimate those sections of the Iranian opposition that are soft on the threat of war. The danger posed by such oppositionists is a very serious one for the Iranian people. I have no expectations otherwise of the right – the royalists have been dreaming from their comfortable homes in Washington or California of regime change imposed by the US for 33 years. But there are groups even among left opponents of the regime that now say, maybe the sanctions are a good idea, because perhaps it will force the hand of the Iranian government. Whether they have that effect or not, they may well destroy the country and starve millions of Iranians in the process. Hardly a useful way to change a regime. You might end up with one that is even worse – perhaps a military dictatorship with a ‘reformist’ Islamist figurehead. Would this be a solution to the problems facing Iran?
There are also sections of the Iranian left that take the opposite stance. Time and time again we have told organisations that defend the Iranian working class – and there are many who have done a good job in raising the issue of workers being attacked and arrested, etc – you cannot do this effectively unless you also raise the issue of war and sanctions. They never took this seriously until this year. However, I am very glad that the International Alliance in Support of Workers in Iran has now issued a very clear statement against war and against sanctions. That is a good step. However, I must say that if they had joined us two or three years ago to build a serious campaign in defence of Iranian workers, while at the same time opposing war and sanctions, we would have been in a much stronger position.
I think, because of our principled position, Hands Off the People of Iran is in a unique position to lead the fight against this war. Now is the time to build Hopi, not as an alternative to the Stop the War Coalition – what a ridiculous suggestion – but as an organisation that has built up a reputation precisely because of that principled position. Personally I thought there was no point in Hopi applying yet again to affiliate to STWC, to be honest. But we can build Hopi because the Iranian working class needs us to and it is our duty to provide them with internationalist support and solidarity. But this is not just about Iran. It is about maintaining principle in terms of internationalism, in terms of dealing with the crisis, in terms of not falling for superficial slogans.
This is not just a repeat of the Iraq war: it is perhaps even more serious in some ways. These threats come at a time of economic crisis and it could turn out to be a war aiming to save capitalism. So let us build Hopi, make it stronger. Let us go nationwide. We have the politics, we have the comrades who have stayed loyal to the campaign and we have the correct arguments.
Sarah McDonald and other comrades will be running the Vienna marathon to raise money for Iranian Workers, here she explains why you should show support
The threat of war in the Middle East is increasing daily. The drums are beating especially loudly in Israel, and the Iranian people are facing a fight on two fronts: against imperialist intervention and against the Iranian regime. Now, more than ever, we must show active solidarity.
Workers Fund Iran was set up in December 2005. It aims to reduce and relieve poverty amongst Iranian workers (both employed and unemployed), who are victims both of the economic policies of the Iranian regime and the sanctions imposed by imperialism. It aims to put at the centre of its activities the need to rebuild international working class solidarity, directly with the workers of Iran. WFI is involved in many fundraising activities to support its work, ranging from solidarity meals to solidarity cricket (!). Yet another WFI tradition is perhaps the ultimate test: marathon running. The last such event with WFI participation was in Berlin, where well over €500 was raised last September. This year, 40 WFI runners will be pounding the streets of Vienna in the name of international solidarity.
Last August, as I was whiling away another pleasant summer’s day in the CPGB office, I was asked if I’d be up for running a marathon at some point over the next year. “Why not?” I replied. Words I have come to regret uttering on many an occasion over the past eight months or so (normally somewhere around the 18km mark during a training stint). Having been a semi-competent middle-distance runner for the last six or seven years, I wasn’t quite starting from scratch – but going from the concept of running 26.2 miles to the reality of it is … well, painful.
So a small squad of us registered for the Vienna marathon (the point, for me at least, where the idea become a reality). Since then, we’ve battled the weather, training through the winter’s high winds, cold and rain. We’ve sustained injury (all of us have done ourselves damage at some point through running stupid distances). Now, with less than three weeks to go we’re hoping to make it intact to the finishing line (my personal goal is not to get overtaken by a 70-year-old dressed as a chicken), with a pint of Austria’s finest beer glowing in the sky like a Monty Python-style Holy Grail animation. Though we are looking forward to April 15 (albeit with trepidation!), I think it’s a safe assertion that we’re looking forward even more to April 16 when this is all over (as, I’m sure, are our friends, colleagues, family, etc, who we’ve bored to death with our running tales).
There are important lessons to be learned from this experience (not least, don’t mix isotonic sports drinks with energy gels). By taking part in events that involve active solidarity you get a sense of being a part of something, whether that’s through training, competing with each other (in a comradely fashion, of course), organising meals for the runners, putting on meetings and events around the marathon or planning walking tours exploring the history of Red Vienna. It’s fair to say those who are running and those who are flying across to support us are very much immersed in the event. In essence, our comrades have put in blood, sweat and tears (some of us quite literally).
We are now asking for your support. With two and a half weeks to go, we need all the sponsorship we can get. So, comrades, dig deep! Think of those hours of pounding the pavements and parks; though sleet, snow and iliotibial band syndrome.
The most important lesson, of course, is that it is both possible and urgently necessary for the working class to organise solidarity, not charity. The popularity and universality of sport can greatly assist this process. For example, the BBC’s Sport relief recently saw people in this country raise over £50 million. What a shame that these funds will be frittered away, filtered through the corrupt, bureaucratic and undemocratic apparatuses of bourgeois charity. Surely, our goal as the workers’ movement must be to raise this kind of money and beyond – strengthening the cause of working class self-organisation and combativity across the globe. The funds we raise right now will, of course, be much smaller. But they are symbolically important, and point towards what our movement could achieve.
We would also urge comrades to show their support for the Iranian people by attending the Hands Off the People of Iran school in central London over the weekend of the April 21-22. There will also be a full update of how our marathon runners got on in Vienna and you can, of course, buy us a well deserved pint in the pub afterwards.
You can sponsor us by going to http://hopoi.org/?page_id=11 (please clearly state the purpose of the donation: ie, Workers Fund Iran marathon) or by clicking here: http://www.charitychoice.co.uk/workers-fund-iran-11724
We would very much appreciate your support!
Video from the March 4th demonstration in Toronto against sanctions and the threats of war on Iran by the US and its allies. HOPI’s message – that we must oppose both war and the Iranian theocracy – is gaining ground, especially amongst Iranians living in Canada. This is evidenced by interviews with some of the demonstrators- and the numerous HOPI placards being waved around at the demo!