Archive for January, 2014

Changed and unchanged: What do the negotiations with Iran tell us about US policy?

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

This is an edited version of a talk given by Mike Macnair to the January 25 Hands Off the People of Iran day school.

rowhaniSince the last national meeting of Hands Off the People of Iran there have been some very substantial changes to the policy of US imperialism, as well as to the policy of the Iranian government, following last year’s ‘election’ of Hassan Rowhani as president (in practice, these were not free elections; more the exercise of choice by the supreme leader). We have also seen the opening of public negotiations – private negotiations had been taking place significantly before the election of Rowhani. And there is an interim deal for an extremely limited relaxation of sanctions in exchange for what is in substance capitulation by the regime on the nuclear enrichment issue.

I use the word ‘capitulation’, but in reality it was a rational course of action on the part of the regime, taking into account the actual relation of forces, the operation of sanctions and their impact. By contrast, it would in a certain sense have been irrational for the regime to pursue the object of nuclear enrichment against the will of the United States. ‘In a certain sense’, because there was a certain rationality for the regime in presenting itself as a national champion of the autonomy of Iran and so on. But at the same time, having regard to the global relation of forces, the situation is not one in which the pursuit of nationalist agendas against the will of the United States is a rational course of action for any country. We have seen that spectacularly in the cases of Zimbabwe, Iraq and many more.

US policy

US policy in the wake of the opening up of public negotiations is now extremely obscure. In Egypt there has been substantial restoration of the ‘military regime without Mubarak’ in the wake of Mushir Sisi’s overthrow of the elected Muslim Brotherhood president, Mohamed Mursi, and the US has in effect ‘talked both ways’ in relation to the regime. The US is not claiming that the army coup is welcome or a step towards ‘constitutional rule’, which it clearly is not. But it had evidently been seeking some sort of deal with the Muslim Brotherhood before that period, and it is no longer in a position to pursue that agenda now.

Meanwhile, the ‘Libyan revolution’ turns out merely to have produced a failed state with localised militias. As for Syria, the civil war is ongoing and negotiations do not seem to be leading anywhere – military analysts generally judge that the regime is gradually winning. Various US commentators say that admittedly there has been a lot of aid from Iran and from Hezbollah, plus logistical help and supplies from Russia. Nevertheless, it does look as though the regime is gaining the upper hand. Again the attitude of the United States has been extremely variable: from threatening action following the crossing by the Syrian regime of the “red line” of the use of chemical weapons, to backing a negotiated settlement.

Most recently there has been a revival of the Sunni insurgency linked to al Qa’eda in western Iraq. The Iraqi Shia government is an artefact of the US invasion, but is also an ally of the Iranian regime. US responses are extremely unclear.

In Syria particularly, although there has been anti-regime rhetoric from the US, we cannot speak of solid US support for any part of the opposition. It is true that aid is being sent, with US acceptance, to the opposition groups from the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia and it is very unlikely that they are doing this directly against the will of the United States: they have a degree of autonomy, but not that much. But this does not represent a determination on the part of the US to ensure victory for the opposition,

The Saudi regime and Israel clearly think there has been a turn in US policy towards a deal with Iran, which is against their interests. Part of this policy is diplomatic manoeuvring of the hard cop/soft cop type in connection with the negotiations. But it has gone a little bit further than one would expect, certainly on the part of the Saudis, in that respect. Washington ‘Beltway commentariat’ pieces are more than usually varied and confused, and do not show a debate between clear lines of action.

There is a school of thought that the US should reorient its policy in the Middle East to reconciliation with the Iranian clerical regime, with the consequences for US alliances which would flow from that, including not just refusing to give active support to the opposition in Syria, but trying to make some kind of deal with the Ba’athist regime. One can see a possible reason for such a course. After the ‘Arab spring’ the US fairly clearly attempted to make a deal with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and with other Islamists, using its existing alliance with Saudi Arabia as the linchpin. However, what has become clear both in Libya and Syria and also in a sense in Egypt, is the inability of the Sunni Islamist groups to create order.

This is also true in a sense in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood throughout its time in government always had snapping at its heels Salafist tendencies of a more extreme character. This made it necessary for the Brotherhood itself to take a more strongly Islamist line than the Turkish government (which western commentators were holding up as a model for the MB). And then, in turn, the Brotherhood’s more strongly Islamist line put it at odds with the Egyptian urban middle class, posed problems for the tourist industry, which is a very substantial part of the Egyptian economy, and also involved conflict with the army, judiciary, etc. Hence the development of a movement of opposition against Mursi and his pre-emptive overthrow by the army. So Egypt is an instance of the inability of the MB to create order.

To put it another way, these are examples of the inability of Saudi clients to create order. The Saudi regime itself is extraordinarily primitive politically: the precarious alliance of the large Saud family with a section of Salafist ulama, a regime which is able to maintain legitimacy solely by the massive disbursement of oil rents to the ‘native’ population and the maintenance of a large migrant labour underclass. It is unsurprising that translating Saudi support for Salafist policies into countries with large Arab cities and without major oil revenues fails to produce workable political models.

In contrast the Iranian regime clearly is able to maintain a sort of order. The Iraqi Shia government, with the backing of Iran, appears to have done that for the imperialists’ purposes, though only by ‘sectarian cleansing’, and so not in Sunni-majority areas. The ‘Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’ creates no more than localised sectarian militia operations.

In Syria, similarly, the Islamists – as much as, if not more than, the ‘secular’ opposition – are proving to be incapable of creating a serious counter-order to the regime in areas they ‘control’. It is the same with the Sunni Islamist groups in Libya. And so there is a logic for the US in reorienting its alliances and looking more favourably on the Shia regime in Iran, because at least this regime can create a degree of order.

It cannot be said, however, that this is a definite turn on the part of the US. The agitation for increased sanctions coming out of the Congress is one sign of that. And US commentator Juan Cole suggests that the treasury department is agitating against the easing of sanctions. I am not entirely sure why that would be the case, but, if it is true, it could be because the lifting of sanctions would mean that the US would have to release large quantities of money which it is holding. If that is the reason then it is an extraordinarily short-termist view.

Regime change

There is an alternative line, for which the aim remains regime change in Iran – and this is not just among Republicans. There are people associated with the Democrats and with the administration who have projected the line that the negotiations are simply a diplomatic stage: escalating demands will be placed on the regime, which will force Iran out of the negotiations and thereby lose its diplomatic cover.

The people favouring this line are actually those who proposed in early 2013 that there should be private negotiations with the clear statement that there were two alternatives on the table. Either there would be a deal, under which Iran would obtain civil nuclear power under tight controls, with international inspectors and so forth, with the regime making as many concessions as were necessary for that to take place; or there would be a full-scale US attack. Not an Israeli surgical strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, but a full-scale US air, naval and missile attack. In other words, not an invasion, but a ‘shock and awe’ bombing campaign with an emphasis on taking out Iranian air and naval capabilities, as well as its potential nuclear capacity.

It seems to be agreed across the board that the ‘surgical strike’ option is not real, that the real options are either a negotiated solution or a full-scale bombing campaign. But at the same time there is also a lot of talk presenting Israel as the hard cop – ‘If we don’t get a solution soon, then Israel will attack’ – giving the impression that the United States will be unable to keep its attack dog on the leash for an indefinite period of time.

We should remember in this context that the long period of sanctions against Iraq, combined with episodic military attacks, in the period 1991- 2002 was punctuated by negotiations, by partial relaxations of sanctions, by ‘a deal is possible’ type periods – and still it ended in war.

Indeed, when Lord Goldsmith, briefed by US lawyers, presented the legal justification for war against Iraq in 2003, he claimed that the 1991 war had never actually finished. Therefore, since there had been a breach by the Iraqis of the terms of the ceasefire laid out in 1991, there was a right to take military action without further legal authorisation.

The context then is the persisting sanctions regime. We in Hopi have repeatedly made the point that the ‘sanctions regime’ is a euphemistic term, that it is in reality a commercial blockade or siege of Iran. These activities at any time before the very recent past would be understood as acts of war. The conduct of the United States and of the western powers in relation to this regime is a form of warfare against Iran. It is not perhaps as obvious or as immediate and spectacular as bombing campaigns, invasions and so on: but it is, nevertheless, a form of warfare.

It is a form of warfare which again, as we have repeatedly demonstrated, is actually aimed at the civilian population. In spite of the talk of targeting the regime, the reality is that those close to it are always able to find a way round the sanctions. They have been throughout. Recently, thanks to the corruption scandal in Turkey, one of the means by which actors within the Iranian regime have been able to find ways around the sanctions – and indeed even enrich themselves – has been revealed to the world. The people who are hit by the sanctions are the civilian population, for whom the payment of wages, medical capabilities, etc have been adversely affected.

So it is not only the case that the United States has been for some years pursuing a war of sanctions (even if this has now been slightly mitigated by their very partial lifting through the negotiations), but this is also actually a terrorist policy. Terrorism, to the extent that the word is not purely ideological, consists of attacks directed at the civilian population with the purpose of inducing fear and terror. That is what the sanctions policy is.

The question then is, why has the US been pursuing a war policy against Iran?

Carter doctrine

The long-term background is that of the Carter doctrine, which was actually formulated by president Jimmy before the outbreak of the Iranian revolution of 1979. According to this doctrine, it is essential for the security of the United States that no ‘outside power’ (it is unclear what exactly that means) should be capable of conducting military operations in the Persian Gulf. This is not peculiar. There are all sorts of similar US ‘national security’ doctrines, the most spectacular of which was adopted in the late 1940s: that it is essential for the security of the United States that the US navy has unrestricted access to the Chinese coast. That is to say that the US does not, still, recognise that there is such a thing as Chinese territorial waters.

But the question in a sense is, why is the Carter doctrine in place? Because of it, the overthrow of the shah of Iran was viewed as an immediate attack on US security; because of it, the US backed Iran in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, both directly and through the agency of Britain and so on. Why?

The very standard, commonplace leftwing explanation is that the United States needs cheap oil as the basis for the ‘consumer society’. Now certainly Carter’s public motivations for this doctrine were based on that – that is what he gave as his public explanation. But in fact US operations in the Middle East have tended since the 1980s (and certainly including the Iran sanctions) to increase the price of oil, not reduce it. Moreover, US interests and involvement in the region goes back to the displacement of Britain and France in the 1940s and 1950s: when – for example – Britain and the US overthrew the Mossadeq government of Iran in 1953, the upshot was that the oil companies that were nationalised under Mossadeq passed from British ownership prior to nationalisation to predominate US ownership under the shah. Moreover, at this time the problem was hardly one of access to cheap oil: in that period, the US was a major producer and exporter of oil, so it cannot be the case that the US economy was being strangled by the high cost of oil and that this was the reason for those US operations in the 1950s.

Today, the US is moving back in the direction of ‘energy independence’ through fracking and so on, though it does not expect to attain the status it enjoyed in the 1950s until around 2020-25. But, although events since 2011 have led to disorientation of US policy and to a loss of control, Washington remains deeply concerned with the Middle East and the need to manoeuvre in an agile way, which is difficult due to the US constitutional structure.


The immediate question, therefore, is actually one of global control. With regard to the Middle East the question is posed not in relation to cheap oil as the foundation of the consumer society, but as oil as a munition of war. Oil which drives tanks. Oil which drives military aircraft, trucks and so on, none of which can be driven by electrical power. So that what the US wants from control of the Middle East is the ability to turn off the taps to other hypothetical rival powers.

Again, we can go back further than this. The US has been interested in global control since the 1940s – predating the cold war obviously. In 1941-47 the initial aim of US foreign policy was to prevent the re-emergence of the British empire. And indeed in 1944-47 the US was still looking to use its alliance with the Soviet Union to block any sort of deal which would lead to the revival of the British empire. There is a very useful discussion of this in Ben Steill’s recent book, The battle of Bretton Woods, which is about global monetary policy and US-UK rivalry at that time.

The underlying issue, at the end of the day, is the global reserve currency and the advantages that come with it, centrally in financial markets. In this respect the US has taken over the role which Britain enjoyed from the 19th century down to 1940. If the global financial taps are under your control you can dictate access to markets – in particular markets for capital goods. You can also dictate access to raw materials at favourable terms (which does not necessarily mean cheaply). In the situation that the US has been in since its effective defeat in Indochina in the middle 1970s, it has actually been advantageous to the United States for the price of oil to be high, as compared to its rivals in Europe and particular China, which does not have any significant oil resources.

It is a common error – and a standard piece of ideology – for bourgeois economists to claim that the relative strength of the currency is immediately related to the strength of the economy, and that if there is a strong economy there will automatically be a strong currency, and therefore exchange rates will auto-adjust in a floating currency regime. But it does not work like that.

The strength of currency relies, at the end of the day, on the ability of the state to enforce payment of debts. The currencies we use are not gold, but debt instruments. And at the end of the day the ability to enforce payment of debts flows from military strength. In turn military strength flows from productive capabilities – but productive capability under certain conditions, the conditions of global, great-power war. The US is the world’s top-dog country because it won in 1941-45. Just as Britain was the world’s top-dog country because it won 1789-1815.

This brings us back towards the concrete. The first point is that the United States remains absolutely dominant, despite being in relative decline. It is undoubtedly the case that the US armed forces are more powerful than the next 10 armed forces put together.

The consequence of being the world’s top-dog country is that financial transactions tend to run through your financial centre, and your domestic economy tends to become financialised. Amongst other effects, ‘onshore’ land values, and hence rents and other housing costs, tend to rise, so that in turn wages have to go up. The result is the ‘offshoring’ of productive capacity elsewhere in search of lower land and wage costs. This, in turn, undermines the long-term basis of the military power which makes the country world top-dog. You can keep paying for the immediate military power out of the tribute received from retaining reserve currency status and control of a major financial centre; but this financial tribute flows increasingly from the appearance of strength, rather than from underlying productive dominance, leading to military strength. In order to retain the appearance of strength, it becomes necessary to take military initiatives of one sort or another to demonstrate that you are strong (while as far as possible avoiding a great-power war which would demonstrate the hollowness of that claim).

In the period down to 1975, the US’s policy sought to create an order beneficial to global capitalist development. However, since the defeat in Indochina, US practice has changed: initially aiming to give the USSR and its allies a taste of ‘insurgency’, and beginning with Mozambique, Angola and Cambodia, the US demonstrated its power by simple destruction – reducing states and societies to rubble and warlordism. Libya is only the most recent example.

Going back to the debates among the various authors in the Beltway commentariat, they are very much concerned with the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Fallujah and so on; they are desperately concerned that the course of action that the United States is currently engaged in will make it appear weak. The result is profound irrationalities in decision-making, and one of the features of that which is visible in the analysts’ debate is over whether to reorient relations towards Iran. This is pretty clearly a rational course of action from the point of view of US capital, but at the same time, because of the danger that it will make the US state appear weak, there is another school of thought, which argues particularly for much bigger overt US intervention in Syria and the drawing of ‘red lines’ against Iran (for example, against continued support for the Syrian Ba’athist regime).

So there is a real risk of the war of sanctions turning into a bombing war. The fact that there are negotiations and a few sanctions have been lifted does not mean that this risk has been wholly removed.


The second issue is that we are not just in a period of the relative decline of the United States, but in a period of the decline of capitalism as a social order, as a practice.

The form of this decline is in a sense just like the period of the counterreformation in feudalism, in which there was an aggressive state promotion of feudalism and Catholicism. We are in the counterreformation period of capitalism. Neoliberal globalisation is partly in the interests of the United States, because the US is too much in relative decline to be able to afford the concessions to rival powers that it made during the cold war period or the ‘golden age’ of the 1950s and 60s. But neoliberal globalisation also partly reflects an aspiration of capital to restore another ‘golden age’ – the period before 1917 – and to get rid of all the concessions that were made to the working class subsequently (universal suffrage, the welfare state in Britain and so on). This aim of going back implies a much more aggressive state promotion of state-backed pseudo-capitalism.

And that too is present in the negotiations phase in relation to Iran. As Yassamine Mather has written in a number of recent articles, the Rowhani regime is actually more aggressively neoliberal, or more overtly, ideologically neoliberal, than the Ahmadinejad regime was.

There was a lot of talk after 2009, and to an extent continuing today, amongst the liberal left to the effect that ‘neoliberalism is over’, ‘neoliberalism is dead’ and so on. But the reality is that in the five years which have passed since the crash of 2009 we now talk the language of ‘structural reform’ rather than that of ‘neoliberal globalisation’. There is some nibbling at the edges of bringing back protectionism, in one way or another. But the underlying neoliberal offensive of capital against the working class – and of the United States against the subordinate powers through aggressive trade liberalisation, through demands that wages must fall to ‘competitive’ levels and welfare systems be cut – is not only still with us, but it is very much alive and kicking. So any idea that the negotiations between the US and Iran will result in better conditions for the Iranian working class is an illusion. Whether there are negotiations or not, whether sanctions are removed or not, the US will continue to demand ‘structural reform’, the end of subsidies, wage cuts, (and in private, the suppression of trade unions), and so on.

In conclusion, there is a real, continuing danger of a reversion to the policy of regime change and hot war. Most of the sanctions – or, more bluntly, the US-led siege of Iran – continue; and, even if all the sanctions were lifted, there is the continuing pressure of US-led neoliberalism, which the Rowhani government clearly supports, for attacks on working people and the poor.

Do not imagine, therefore, that the negotiations and any potential deal will remove the continuing threats against the people of Iran emanating from the United States.

HOPI: Grappling with the new situation

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

How to meet the challenge presented by the US-Iran deal? Peter Manson reports on Hopi’s day school

Iranoilworker smallAround 40 people attended the school organised by Hands Off the People of Iran on January 25. As Hopi secretary Mark Fischer explained in introducing the day, the election of a new Iranian president and the subsequent negotiations on Tehran’s nuclear capability had “changed the context of our work”.

But it had not changed the underlying principles. Hopi, he said, has “laid down a marker” for anti-imperialist, anti-war work, in that it makes clear that the allies of the solidarity movement must be the Iranian working class and democratic movement, not the oppressive regime. We must now “take stock” of the new situation after the election of Hassan Rowhani.

The day featured sessions on an overview of the Middle East, looking at the role of imperialism and Israel; on the position of Iran’s working class; and on the country’s national minorities. The school ended with a brief discussion of Hopi’s priorities on how to build solidarity. In every session there was plenty of time for debate and engagement with the platform speakers.

Starting the ball rolling was Mike Macnair of the CPGB, who opened the session on the Middle East. He was sharing a platform with Israeli communist Moshé Machover, who dealt with Zionism’s particular interest in provoking conflict with Iran. I will not report in detail on what comrade Macnair said, since his whole contribution can be read elsewhere in this issue,1 but his wide-ranging speech dealt not only with Iran, but Syria and Egypt too. He warned that sections of the US establishment see the current negotiations with Iran as part of a strategy to launch a full-scale attack – although he stressed that an invasion was ruled out. Comrade Macnair also commented briefly on the political-economic background – the decline of capitalism and in particular of the US hegemon.

Israel and Iran

Comrade Machover began his contribution by saying that it followed on from what Mike Macnair had just said about the unlikelihood of an invasion. Invasions, he said, “no longer work”. Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya – all had gone very badly. Which is why he agreed with comrade Macnair that there would be no imperialist troops sent into Iran.

Comrade Machover made the point that it is a truism to say the ruling class pursues its own interests. But it is also an oversimplification: it pursues what it thinks are its interests. And imperialism is not monolithic, containing within it sharply conflicting interests. For example, war in the Middle East might be good for the oil companies and arms suppliers, but it would be very bad for other sections. Having mentioned oil, he agreed with comrade Macnair that any war would not be about access to oil, although it would partly be about control of it.

Comrade Machover reminded the school that, while Tehran has agreed to roll back its nuclear programme, that does not mean that Iran was now reduced to being a client state – far from it. Which is why Israel still has an interest in provoking a conflict. Iran’s influence in the Middle East diminishes Israel’s hegemony in the region.

However, there is a second reason why a war with Iran would be useful from Israel’s point of view. As comrade Machover has explained on several occasions, including in the Weekly Worker,2 it would provide it with an opportunity to “ethnically cleanse” the West Bank under cover of the crisis and chaos produced by war, as outlined in the ‘Sharon plan’ of 2002. In that sense the US war on Iraq was “finished too soon” for Israel. From the US point of view, an attack on Iran would not only “deal with” that country: it would “take the lid off” the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Comrade Machover noted that in Israel’s negotiations with the Palestinians, prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu is not just demanding recognition of Israel: he is demanding recognition of its status as the “nation-state of the entire Jewish people”. In other words, endorsement of Israel’s’ racist immigration policy. However, as with Iran, we are very far from “complete capitulation”. So the situation could end in a new conflagration, involving Israel and both Iran and Palestine.

During the debate, one comrade disagreed with the platform speakers on Iraq: the invasion had accomplished what the US wanted to achieve, she said. To which comrade Macnair replied that, yes, Saddam had been overthrown, but that had been followed by utter devastation; comrade Machover added that as a result the US had “lost control”.

There was also discussion about US motives for a possible attack. One comrade from the Iranian left group, Rahe Kargar, commented that it would be the “last mistake of a declining hegemon”. John Bridge from the CPGB pointed out that the US no longer has a “grand strategy”. For example, having sought a rapprochement with the Muslim Brotherhood following the ‘Arab spring’, the US now seems to be operating in a strategic void.

Charlie Pottins from the Jewish Socialists Group believed that Netanyahu’s “state of all the Jews” would require the help of anti-Semitic elements in the west – comrade Machover pointed out that Israel’s immigration policy was actually a “limiting factor”, meaning that the Zionist state could never pull in the necessary numbers: in fact the sources of potential immigration were “now exhausted” – one reason why Zionism can never achieve complete victory.

Working class

Opening the session on the struggles of workers in Iran, Hopi chair Yassamine Mather first of all looked at the effect of sanctions on the working class. They had adversely affected the everyday life of the mass of the people, producing mass unemployment and dire poverty. Recent figures show that Iran is registering -8% growth, combined with 40%-plus inflation.

Of course, it is untrue to say, as regime propagandists claim, that all Iran’s ills result from sanctions. The economic hardship and the repressive apparatus can hardly be laid in their entirety at the door of the imperialists. Few buy into those claims and comrade Mather was sure that “people will rebel”. Nevertheless, it is clear that sanctions were aimed at the mass of ordinary people and it is they who have indeed suffered as a result.

Comrade Mather pointed out that seven out of the eight candidates standing in last year’s presidential elections favoured making a deal with the US. The supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, had effectively accepted it as a necessary evil. So there can be no doubt that sanctions in the end forced change – not regime change, but a government ready to concede on nuclear development. So now Iran has agreed to limit its uranium enrichment programme and destroy certain stockpiles – otherwise it will face the reimposition of the small proportion of sanctions that have been relaxed.

However, in parallel with the softening in relation to nuclear capability there has been a toughening of the regime’s economic policy and its attitude to the working class. While previous president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was hardly the workers’ friend, Rowhani had stepped up the regime’s neoliberal policies: the aim is to eliminate “residual socialist practices”. There is a drive to attract foreign investment on the basis of Iran’s cheap labour. Repression in some ways is being stepped up too.

Comrade Mather concluded her speech on an optimistic note: the regime “still fears the working class” and she was sure those fears were justified.

Next to speak was Torab Saleth, who was a socialist activist during the Iranian revolution of 1979. At that time there were limited numbers of workers, although the working class population was constantly being expanded, thanks to migration from rural areas – there were half a million people living in shanty towns in Tehran alone, he said. But by the late 70s working class confidence was rising, as was the number of strikes – the general strike at the end of 1978 was a key factor in the crumbling of the shah’s regime, which finally fell in January 1979.

Comrade Saleh talked about the creation of neighbourhood committees, which linked up with the strike committees to form a formidable component of the revolution. But, despite this, the working class suffered from a “lack of leadership” resulting from the weakness of the organised left. It was little wonder that the committees often used mosques as their local bases from which to organise. However, at this time, he emphasised, the working class was “not dominated by Islamic ideology”.

During the course of the insurrection the strike committees, or shora, took up arms. The workers took over the factories, as the owners fled. They began to take over the distribution of essential supplies – much to the consternation of the bazaaris. However, noted comrade Saleth, these shora did not really link up beyond the individual workplace or district, which led him to conclude that the situation was “nowhere near dual power”.

It was the Islamists who realised the potential – students “following the imam’s line” took up the idea of uniting the shora, and the working class did not challenge the new regime. Islamic “storm troops” were recruited from among the urban poor and within a year all the councils were in Islamic hands. The working class was facing not just defeat, but a long period of retreat.

Comrade Saleth went on to talk about the debate on the left on the way forward. Should we attempt to reignite the factory committees? Should we just become trade union activists? His view had been that clandestine workers’ committees and a clandestine national union should be set up, “along the lines of the Polish Solidarity”.

Turning to the current period, he said that lately there has been a “huge upsurge” in working class struggles, but there is little to show from them organisationally, either in the shape of mass unions or a workers’ party. Nevertheless, in the new period following the easing of relations with the west, there were possibilities for the workers’ movement. Like comrade Mather he was “optimistic” – he was enthusiastic about “new elements” in the class, and about the state “being less able to repress”.

There were questions from the floor about old and new forms of oppression, about the role of the ‘official communist’ Tudeh party and about the influence of US-backed international union federations. On repression, comrade Saleth warned that we should not expect any weakening of the regime’s apparatus – the ‘legitimacy’ endowed by imperialist recognition might actually strengthen it.

On the Tudeh party, he said that fortunately it had lost almost all influence – but that did not mean other left organisations were making any kind of progress. Comrade Mather concurred: Tudeh had “called Torab and me imperialist agents”, but it had “lost all credibility” in the eyes of a whole generation. You could be generous and say it had been “a mistake” to support the regime, as Tudeh did. But it had been quite another thing to actually collaborate with it in fingering left activists, many of whom were subsequently killed by the regime.

On the question of the influence of pro-imperialist organisations such as the American Federation of Labor- Congress of Industrial Organizations, comrade Mather explained that some workers’ leaders in Iran take the view that my enemy’s enemy must be my friend. They have been prepared to collaborate with regime change projects. Fortunately most such ‘leaders’ quickly lose their rank and file base and become seen as mere imperialist stooges.

Nevertheless, both comrades were confident that it was only a matter of time before we would see real working class organisations getting off the ground.


The final session in the school proper was opened by Nasrollah Ghazi of the Organisation of Revolutionary Workers of Iran (Rahe Kargar), who discussed the question of Iran’s national minorities. He pointed out that only 67% of the Iranian population have Farsi as their first language and there are many thousands of Azeris, Kurds, Arabs and Baluchis. They suffer official discrimination, when it comes to language, traditional and religious rights, and, of course, they are denied any form of national representation.

However, it is clear that the struggles of these minorities are entirely led by the various nationalists, who are not interested in linking up with each other, let alone in promoting an all-Iran struggle. As a result, many are easily courted by the imperialists, who have an interest in the breaking up of Iran. For comrade Ghazi the solution is not separation, but centralism. Yes, there must be the right to self-determination, but the influence of imperialism must be strongly resisted. He finished his contribution with the call to “End the Islamic regime” and “For a democratic republic”.

There were some useful points added from the floor. For example, comrade Mather pointed to the weaknesses of the national struggles: the Kurds in Iran, for instance, were ‘served’ by four main nationalist organisations – two close to the US, and one linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Comrade Bridge thought we ought to say more than just “self-determination”. With the imperialists attempting to redraw the map of the Middle East, we should emphasise the necessity of working class leadership and the struggle for socialism.

In summing up, comrade Ghazi said he was not for a federation. There was “no solution without socialism after the demise of the Islamic republic”.

The day ended with a brief discussion on ‘Building solidarity’, introduced by comrade Mather. She reminded comrades that Hopi organised in Sweden and Germany as well as Britain, along with the charity set up by Hopi, Workers Fund Iran, which raised funds for those in struggle. She recommended that Hopi organise a campaign around political prisoners in particular. To this end Hopi would give greater priority to its website and Facebook page.


Petition: End the siege of Yarmouk Camp

Monday, January 27th, 2014

yarmouk_camp_bildA group of eleven of us, including Noam Chomsky, Mazin Qumsiyeh and As’ad Abukhalil have sent a letter to the Iranian government asking them to talk to the Assad government of Syria and insist that it end its siege of the Yarmouk refugee camp.

We start off the letter by explaining we are opponents of any warfare or sanctions against Iran and that we opposed President Obama’s plan to bomb Syria.  We want to make it clear that we are not cooperating is U.S. or Western imperial plans for Syria.

On the other hand we’ve been asked by Palestinians in Syria to speak out against the literal starvation going on inside Yarmouk camp just a few miles from downtown Damascus.  There are tens of thousands left inside the camp facing a siege by pro-Assad forces that has gone on for more than 180 days.  A siege directed mostly against civilians is cruel and illegal.

An appeal to the Iranian government might seem a hopeless, useless effort, but at this time Iran might not want to be embarrassed on this issue. The Iranian government is seeking to make agreements with the U.S. so does not want bad publicity.

Join us in an open letter to the Iranian government.  Click here:

150 signers after the first day online

Livestream of tomorrow’s HOPI dayschool

Friday, January 24th, 2014

While no substitute for being in the room and taking part in the day’s proceedings, a live stream of the HOPI dayschool tomorrow, Saturday 25th, will be accessible online. This is an experiment for HOPI which we hope will be useful for both Iranian comrades and others who unavoidably cannot make it on the day.

The stream will be accessible at the link below beginning at 10:30 am

Behind the liberal facade of Rowhani

Friday, January 24th, 2014

Despite the easing of sanctions and the mixed messages in Tehran, writes Yassamine Mather, the Islamic regime is thoroughly committed to the capitalist free market, not the welfare of the masses

Revolutionary Guards: guardians of counter-revolution

Revolutionary Guards: guardians of counter-revolution

In the early hours of Monday January 19, centrifuges used for the enrichment of uranium up to 20% were switched off in Natanz nuclear plant as part of Iran’s agreement to halt enrichment of uranium above 5% purity, and the ‘neutralising’ of its stockpile of 20%-enriched uranium was begun. These were the first steps towards disposing of all the country’s stockpile of 20%-enriched uranium within six months.


Video: Yassamine Mather on Rowhani in Davos, Iran sanctions, and HOPI Conference

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

The uneasy agreement between the 5+1 powers and Iran over the country’s nuclear programme has provoked controversy in both countries and an almost hysterically hostile campaign from Israel. In the confusion, some clear facts emerge.


University of London Union, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HY

Registration: 10am

1) Imperialism, nuclear negotiations and US -Iran relations: Mike Macnair.
Israel and the need for war: Moshe Machover

2) Workers’ struggles before and after 1979: Torab Saleth
The Rouhani government, sanctions and workers’ struggles: Yassamine Mather

3) Iran’s national minorities: Nasrollah Ghazi

On Facebook 

This event will be broadcast on Livestream


Video: BBC Persian service, Anaysis Programme, End of the Year with Yassamine Mather (فارسی)

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014
BBC Persian Service Analysis Programme

BBC Persian Service Analysis Programme

BBC Persian service, Anaysis Programme, End of the Year with Yassamine Mather

Video: Third Anniversary of the Arab Spring (فارسی)

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

1 Video of an interview  with Yassamine Mather on the third anniversary of the Arab Spring.

BBC Persian Service