Sanctions and malware are preparatory acts of war against Iran. Those who condemn the crimes of the regime should also condemn the crimes of imperialism and its agents, writes Yassamine Mather
As the prospect of failure of the third round of talks between Iran and the 5+1 countries looms, the US-led soft war on Iran has been ratcheted up with the threat of further sanctions and the launching of a powerful computer virus targeting Iran’s nuclear research facilities. The virus has already spread to the commercial sectors, including the oil and banking industries.
According to an article in The New York Times, president Obama secretly ordered increasingly sophisticated attacks on Iran’s computer systems at its nuclear enrichment facilities. The plan had originated during the Bush presidency, but its first successful use came with the spreading of the Stuxnet virus two years ago.
The new virus – code-named Sholeh (flame) – is supposed to be 20 times more disruptive to computer systems than Stuxnet. Flame’s main targets are in Iran and so far thousands of government and corporate computers have been affected. The threat from Flame is disguised by the fact that it appears to unsuspecting users as a legitimate Microsoft program.
The reaction of Iran’s ruling circles had been mixed. One faction of the regime claimed that the US and Israel are abusing a grey area in international law – that of Cyber warfare. They demanded that Iran should complain to the United Nations. Meanwhile, the Kayhan newspaper, which is associated with supreme leader Ali Khamenei, followed his defiant line, delivered in a speech on June 3: “Any attack by Israel on Iran will blow back on the Jewish state like thunder.”
Last week saw the collapse of the latest round of talks between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency ahead of the June 18-19 5+1 talks with Iran. The IAEA wanted to visit Iran’s Parchin military base, where Iranian scientists are alleged to have tested explosive triggers for nuclear weapons. Iran denies that it has been conducting such experiments, but it has refused to allow IAEA officials near the site since 2005.
For the Iranian people, failure of the talks means continued sanctions, job losses and financial hardship. Bread prices rose by 20% on June 9 and Iran’s Central Bank has released a chart which shows a steep rise in the price of most basic foodstuffs during the past year. The price of chicken is 57.1% more than last year, and that of red meat has increased 39% (beef has gone up by 48.5%). The price of vegetables by 78.6%.
Iran’s oil sales are down by about 600,000 barrels per day and shipments of Iranian crude are expected to drop further when a European Union oil embargo comes into effect on July 1. Tehran is already estimated to have lost more than $10 billion in oil revenues this year.
Regime change funds
Sanctions and malware are not the only weapons being used in the soft war against Iran. The US, Canada and the European Union are allocating considerable sums of money for propaganda against the current regime and for regime change from above.
Various ‘alternative governments’ and campaigns (for human rights, women’s rights and even workers’ rights) are being funded. Several websites, radio and TV stations have come up with proposals for workshops or a tribunal on the regime – fronted by a rainbow of the Iranian opposition, but backed by US/Canadian and EU regime change funds. A number of comrades at the Hands Off the People of Iran conference in April of this year raised the need to name and shame such groups. This article is an attempt to start a debate on the subject.
In the past we had become used to the ‘usual suspects’ being among the beneficiaries of regime change largesse: the Iranian opposition headed by those nouveaux riches Pahlavis, the family of the former shah; liberal bourgeois alternatives, headed nowadays by former supporters of the Islamic regime; and individuals whose fierce support for the market has positioned them in the extreme right of the political spectrum. There are ‘personalities’ such as Mohsen Sazegara (former Islamist politician turned neoliberal ideologue, a darling of both the Bush and Clinton administrations); and groups like the People’s Mujahedin (MEK), rightly compared by Owen Bennett-Jones with the Iraqi National Congress, whose cooperation with the US paved the way for the 2003 invasion.
However, what is new and more worrying is the way in which sections of the left (to be precise, the Stalinist left) attempt to justify acceptance of financial support from US/EU regime change funds. Of course, regime change against Iran has a long history: a lot has been invested in it and it works in mysterious ways.
As we know from our experience in Hopi, political campaigns, publishing journals and bulletins, organising broadcasts, etc all cost money and clearly the weaker, more spineless sections of the Iranian left have been lured by the prospect of regime-change funding. In general the Iranian beneficiaries of regime change funds can be divided into two distinct categories:
1. Those who admit accepting foreign funds: mainly liberal and rightwing forces, such as monarchists, bourgeois republicans, former Revolutionary Guards like Sazegara and former Islamist greens (nowadays social democratic or liberal activists). These groups and individuals may publicise the source of their funding to ‘prove’ their importance, their relevance.
2. Those who receive such funds, but refuse to admit it, mainly because they still would like to masquerade as part of the left. These include sections of the Fedayeen Minority, Kurdish groups such as Komaleh, various splits from what was Iran’s Communist Party and a number of well-meaning, but dubious campaigns.
Those who supply the funds are often keen to unite this spineless ‘left’ into single campaigns alongside rightwing forces keen to brag about the source, and that is why even the most secret donations are eventually exposed. One such example is the International Tribunal for Iran, which manages to unite sections of both the left and right, including those proud of their connections with organisations such as the National Endowment for Democracy (see below).
Hopi activists have been approached a number of times to lend their support to this campaign. In the past our response, in line with Hopi’s aims and objectives, has been: ‘We can only support campaigns against the Iran regime that have a clear policy in opposition to the US-led war drive. Can you give us the assurance we need – for example, by adding a clear statement against war and sanctions?’ This simple request has often been met with silence. In the meantime sections of the Iranian left – mainly comrades formerly associated with the Fedayeen Minority – have traced the funding for this tribunal and denounced its association with regime change from above.
Recent attempts to get Hopi involved in publicising and participating in this event led us to look more closely at the tribunal and its steering committee. Most of what is produced below is from the tribunal’s own website, as well as articles written by comrades involved in campaigns to defend political prisoners in Iran, and ex-members of the Fedayeen Minority. I am particularly grateful to former Fedayeen comrade Homayoun Ivani, who has written extensively on this subject.
Starting in July 1988 and lasting about five months, the systematic execution of political prisoners inside Iranian jails took place. Thousands of supporters of left groups, including the Fedayeen, Peykar, Rahe Kargar and the Tudeh Party of Iran, as well as members of the Mujahedin, were slaughtered.
Leading figures within the Islamic regime, including ayatollahs Hossein Ali Montazeri and Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, have admitted that such a massacre took place and many of us who lost comrades during those terrible few months want to hold leaders of the Islamic regime to account for this and other crimes. However, we do not wish to be associated with some of the forces involved in the tribunal. On the contrary, we see their involvement as an insult to the memory of communists and socialists who sacrificed their lives in defence of the Iranian working class.
The original idea behind such a tribunal came from the left and many of us in Workers Left Unity Iran supported something like the Russell Tribunal from the 1960s to investigate the mass murder of political prisoners in Iran. However, one of the of the main contributors to the funding of this tribunal is the Iran Human Rights Documentation Centre, whose founder, Payam Akhavan, chairs the tribunal’s steering committee. The IHRDC until 2009 received large sums from the US state department’s Human Rights and Democracy Fund.
Akhavan is also associated with Human Rights and Democracy for Iran, known as the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation, which, according to its own website, relies on the “generous support of a diverse array of funders”. Approximately 50% of its support comes from US foundations, 34% from European foundations, and 16% from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), an NGO funded by the US Congress. The NED was set up in 1983 during Ronald Reagan’s presidency to ‘promote democracy’. It has supported more than 1,000 projects abroad that are ‘working for democratic goals’ in more than 90 countries. Other beneficiaries of the NED’s Iran donations include the Centre for International Private Enterprise, which aims to “raise awareness among Iranians of means in which civil society can pursue reforms that address their economic, social and political problems”.
So who is on the steering committee of the International Tribunal for Iran?
Payam Akhavan himself was a legal advisor to the prosecutor’s office of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda at The Hague (1994-2000) and has served with the United Nations in Cambodia, East Timor and Guatemala. He has appeared as counsel in leading cases before the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court, the European Court of Human Rights and the Permanent Court of Arbitration. In 2005, he was selected by the World Economic Forum as a “young global leader”. One would have thought all that would be enough for the left to keep well clear of him.
John Cooper QC, chair of the tribunal, has advised the government of Slovakia on human rights policy and the Cambodian regime on war crimes trials. In 2004 he was invited to present a paper on human rights in Beijing by the British Council.
Sir Geoffrey Nice QC has prosecuted several cases before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. His main claim to fame results from the cases against Dario Kordi? and Goran Jelisi? – both found guilty of war crimes. Both were undoubtedly criminals, but we all know the US/EU agenda regarding these trials.
In summary, the tribunal is yet another example of a potentially worthy cause corrupted by regime change funds. One day the Iranian people themselves will investigate the massacre of the political prisoners in 1988, but no-one on the left should touch the current ‘tribunal’. As Homayoun Ivani has put it, the executions cannot be investigated in a vacuum: the historical background and its occurrence at the end of the cold war should be taken into account. In the tradition of such liberal institutions, there is no mention of the politics of the victims by the organisers. I could not find a single reference on the tribunal’s website to the fact that many were communists.
One of the ‘left’ broadcasters that is publicising the tribunal is Shahrzad News, which is a ‘feminist news agency’ running a Persian and English-language website. Shahrzad was one of 11 organisations to benefit recently from a €15 million EU fund to “improve reporting of human rights issues”, distributed via the Dutch government. Its international solidarity activities include gathering messages of support for the Iranian people from a group of Dutch parliamentarians. These include Liberals and Christian Democrats, not to mention out and out racists.
It is difficult to understand what possessed an organisation, formally of the left and indeed still claiming to be of the left, to broadcast messages of solidarity from MPs whose opposition to the Islamic regime has nothing to do with support for the Iranian people, still less for the Iranian working class, but is driven by nationalistic Islamophobia. The left, and in particular the Iranian left, should steer well clear of such forces.
While some comrades find it difficult to comprehend how sections of the Iranian the left could sink so low as to accept such funding, those of us who remember these individuals’ eagerness to accept Soviet and Iraqi money are not surprised. These are no defenders of the working class: they have no understanding of class politics. For them revolution is the act of a vanguard ‘leading the masses’ at whatever cost: the end justifies the means. Many of us have now witnessed how in reality the dubious means they use can turn out to define the end.
In remembering comrades executed not just in 1988, but throughout the 1980s and later, we should first and foremost remember the ideals and the politics of those who were executed. Many were Marxists, defenders of the Iranian working class, anti-imperialists and anti-capitalists. They would be horrified to discover the kind of funding used to set up a tribunal in their name.
The genuine left in Iran is staying well clear of such temptations. We cannot and will not tarnish the memory of comrades who died so courageously in the dungeons of the Islamic regime.
2. O Bennett-Jones, ‘Terrorists? Us?’: www.lrb.co.uk/v34/n11/owen-bennett-jones/terrorists-us.
6. See ‘Dutch parliamentarians address the Iranian people’: www.youtube.com/watch?v=c4NDuWcmAf0.