French translation of Yassamine Mather’s article ‘The Beginning of the End’ on the Carre Rouge website.
Yassamine Mather examines a regime in crisis and looks to working class forces for a solution
The continuation of demonstrations and protests against the Islamic republic of Iran, albeit on a smaller scale than two weeks ago, have fuelled further divisions at every level of the religious state: the Shia scholars of Ghom oppose the clerics in the Council of Guardians; leaders of the Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guard) are arrested for siding with the ‘reformist camp’; senior ayatollahs are divided, with Ali Saneii and Ali Montazeri declaring the election results fraudulent, while most other grand ayatollahs have remained loyal to the supreme leader.
Nearly a month after the elections, the political crisis in Iran still dominates events in the Middle East, while in the country itself most people, irrespective of their political allegiance, agree that the situation has changed so dramatically over the last few weeks that nothing in the Islamic republic will ever be the same again.
With the exception of isolated believers in conspiracy theories, no-one doubts that the Iranian people have expressed loud and clear their desire for an end to the current political system and – in view of the fact that the ‘reformists’ keep wasting valuable time, still expecting miracles from above – it is the entire Islamic order, not just the conservatives, whose future is called into question.
Let us be clear: most Iranians do not believe a word of government claims that the protests were organised from outside Iran. As far as they are concerned, this crisis has all the hallmarks of one made in the Islamic republic. The regime has relied on crisis after crisis to survive over the last 30 years, constantly using real and imaginary foreign threats as an excuse for failure to deliver on any of its promises of equality and prosperity for the masses. A victory for Mir-Hossein Moussavi, coinciding with a new administration in the US, carried the ‘danger’ of reducing, albeit temporarily, tensions with America, thus depriving the Islamic regime of its convenient external scapegoat. That could not be allowed to happen.
The supreme leader, ayatollah Ali Khamenei, admits he favoured Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and clearly as early as this spring, before the ‘selection’ of the final candidates, plans for an Ahmadinejad victory were in the pipeline. Our arrogant supreme leader could not resist the temptation of a premature announcement. From April he used a number of public occasions to declare his wish for, and confidence in, four more years of an Ahmadinejad presidency. Presumably this is when plans for the stuffing of ballot boxes were organised – boxes that were still being discovered in the corridors and libraries of the ministry of the interior last week.
However, at a time of conflict over the country’s nuclear programme, Iran’s rulers needed to demonstrate their legitimacy to the ‘international community’. Ignoring the level of dissatisfaction and opposition that existed in the country, once the number of candidates was reduced to four members of the inner circles of the religious state’s factions, an election show beyond anything seen in the last 30 years was sanctioned. The press and the media of the reformist faction were given a short-lived relative freedom. Within the framework of the existing order, all four candidates were allowed to expose the shortcomings of their opponents.
Corruption, incompetence, lies and deceit came out into the open, and even Ahmadinejad, certain of Khamenei’s backing, went beyond the normal red lines of the Shia state. But the elite of the Islamic republic, in both factions, underestimated the level of hatred and anger towards the regime amongst the young, who make up over 70% of the population. An Iranian sociologist, speaking from Tehran, compared this anger to a glass of water getting fuller and fuller: “We all failed to notice it, until the last drop – but then the election process caused it to overflow.”
Most Iranians were already familiar with the huge wealth, accumulated through corruption, of Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, former president and current chairman of the Assembly of Experts. It was the foreign account of Khamenei’s close relatives (including his son, whose personal account of £1.6 billion has been frozen in London) and the charts showing the position of Ahmadinejad’s relatives in the most important financial posts that deprived the conservative front runner of any credibility. Looking back at the turbulent election period, clearly workers’ organisations and Marxist groups who advocated a boycott, at a time of mass hysteria around Moussavi’s candidacy, were right to do so.
It is obvious that Khamenei, surrounded as he is by subservient advisers, underestimated the fury that followed the dashing of hopes – otherwise he might have chosen a more modest percentage for the Ahmadinejad ‘victory’. But in order to establish Ahmadinejad as the truly legitimate leader of the Iranian people, Khamenei needed a higher vote than the 20 million claimed by Khatami in 1997.
Looking back at the election, it is possible that the Islamic order could have been saved had the regime decided to pull an Ahmadinejad victory with a smaller margin or even in the second round. Alternatively, a Moussavi presidency, despite the problems posed by his exaggerated promises of personal freedom within the religious state, would undoubtedly have lengthened the life of the Islamic regime by a few years, until yet another generation of Iranian youth, fooled by promises of reform, witnessed the ineptitude and unwillingness to change of our modernist Islamists. Once the results were announced, however, it soon became clear that Moussavi is a weak character – and his popularity continues to plummet, as he struggles to tail the mass movement.
According to reports from Iran, on June 13, as the Moussavi camp dithered, it was students and activists of the left who first took to the streets of Tehran in the initial protests. They were joined by demonstrators from working class districts of Tehran who hate Ahmadinejad.
In the words of a leaflet by Iran Khodro workers, his “exhibitionist distribution of cash in the poor districts of major cities is an insult to the Iranian working class”. Oil workers in Tehran state that Iranian workers, whose strikes in 1979 brought down the shah, do not want charity and remind us of their demands over the last four years: the abolition of ‘white’ (temporary) contracts, an end to mass unemployment and low wages, the prompt payment of wages, better housing – the real grievances of the poor and the working class. Workers in Iran are well aware that Ahmadinejad’s government cannot and will not respond to such demands – it is still seeking to maintain its position as the IMF’s model for the implementation of neoliberal economic policies.
Iran Khodro workers warn of the disastrous consequences of printing money during hyperinflation and compare Ahmadinejad’s economic policies with those of Mugabe in Zimbabwe. Addressing fellow workers, they say: “It is the Iranian working class who will pay for Ahmadinejad’s mad economic policies.”
In fact right from the beginning it has been workers, unemployed youth and students – who have suffered under four years of military presence on campuses – who have been in the forefront of the protests. Young women in particular hate the regime for its constant interference in their daily lives. They are the ones whose early presence on the streets of Tehran on June 15 encouraged hundreds of thousands of people – including, yes, people from Tehran’s middle class districts – to join the protests, which prompted Moussavi to attend the demonstration himself late in the afternoon. They are the ones who are continuing the protests even as the repression intensifies. In the absence of any clear direction from Moussavi or fellow reformist candidate Mehdi Karroubi, these are the forces that have called for demonstrations on July 9, the anniversary of the student protests of 1998.
No-one can doubt the significance of June 15. For years Iranians had felt isolated, demoralised and fearful of the regime. On that Monday, according to Tehran’s mayor, around three million people were on the streets of the capital. In Isfahan, the historic Shah Jahan square – one of the largest open squares in the world – was jammed with protesters. Shiraz and Tabriz saw similarly huge demonstrations. The Iranian people had finally spoken and the solidarity they found in those protests has given them unprecedented confidence and the sense of victory.
As in 1979, it is this confidence that encourages them to confront the most brutal forms of repression with courage and determination. Unarmed demon-strators confront the Bassij, apparently with no fear for their lives, and those who claim that such courage and determination are a feature of the middle classes have no understanding of the realities of Iranian society. Last week during a protest in a shanty town near Tehran, where the regular battles of those living beyond the official Tehran border with the authorities has resulted in the deployment of the Bassij (the hated Islamic militia used against protesters), the crowd shouted “Death to the dictator”, attacked the Bassij and succeeded in forcing them to retreat, leaving behind their motorcycles.
In working class districts of Tehran, groups of people have been throwing paint on photos of the supreme leader, writing slogans under his portraits and using every opportunity to taunt the religious militia with slogans such as ‘Death to Khamenei’ and the rhyming chant, “Rahbar ma ola-gheh – ye dastesham cholagheh” (“Our supreme leader is an ass – one of his arms is paralysed”). Iran’s state television is also under attack after broadcasting the ‘confessions’ of young demonstrators, who, bruised and exhausted, are shown on TV admitting they are ‘agents of foreign powers’.
If the middle class districts of Tehran have been quiet during the day (at night people do go on rooftops throughout the city), the working class districts – in the factories, mines and shanty towns – have been the scene of impromptu protests. On July 1 thousands of workers in a mine in Khouzestan province started a strike and when security forces arrived to disperse a sit-in, the workers shouted “Death to the dictator”. Haft Tapeh sugar cane workers restarted their strike on Sunday July 5, accusing the authorities of failing to deal with their previous demands.
Discussions about a general strike are continuing and last week after almost three weeks of organising demonstrations, an organisation calling itself the Workers’ Committee in Defence of Mass Protests issued a number of statements regarding the organisation of demonstrations – security measures that should be taken, advice on what to do if the Bassij attack, as well as detailed suggestions regarding civil disobedience.
With every day that passes the two reformist candidates are losing support. Having spent two weeks hoping for a breakthrough with the cleric-led Guardian Council, Karroubi, Moussavi and finally former reformist president Mohammad Khatami issued statements calling the election results, together with the new government, illegitimate. However, ordinary Iranians are furious at Moussavi’s reference to the current debacle as an argument “within the Islamic family”, while the reformists’ ally in the Council of Experts, ayatollah Rafsanjani was seeking the vote of enough ‘councillors’ in order to demote, or at least put pressure on, the supreme leader.
As always, the reformists are aware that their destiny is tied to the that of the regime, yet by seeking solutions within the ruling circles, while promising the impossible to the crowds in the street, they are digging their own graves. They know they only gained support in June 2009 because many Iranians decided to opt for the lesser of two evils. Once the clerical regime denied this limited opportunity and slammed the door, the days of support for Moussavi and Karroubi were numbered. However, no-one should underestimate the effect this unprecedented schism at the highest level of the Islamic regime will have.
The Islamic republic is a complicated beast. Power lies in a twisted web of clerical, executive, judicial and military circles: the Guardian Council, the Council of Experts, the majles (Islamic parliament), Council for the Safeguarding of National Interests, the government led by the president, civil, criminal and ‘revolutionary’ (political) courts, the army/Pasdaran, Bassij, various Islamic associations (some calling themselves parties) …
Until now all of these forces, whatever their differences and factional allegiances, ended up obeying the supreme leader. In fact throughout the last 30 years the most important role played by both Khomeini and Khamenei, as vali faghih (supreme leader), was as an arbiter of power between the various factions. All this came to an end on June 19, when Khamenei declared the presidential voting results accurate and sided with Ahmadinejad. It is therefore correct, as Hamid Dabashi does in the Cairo weekly, Al Ahram, to identify the supreme leader as the principal loser in the current situation (June 25-July 1).
The second loser is Ahmadinejad – the incompetent racist who in the 1980s was an interrogator in Evin prison, often leading the post-torture questioning of leftwing activists, and who is in his element as the loyal servant of the supreme cleric.
The reformists are also losers in this process – every day that goes by, their support continues to drop. They are caught in a corner, trying to save an Islamic order that is not prepared to compromise even with them.
But there are winners too – the peoples of Iran, the demonstrators, those who risk their lives every day against the regime and its military might. The repression is severe, brutal and unlike anything seen since the 1980s. However, this only shows the desperation of the regime. The demonstrators are winning.
The creative way in which they have used every opportunity to voice their hatred of the current regime has given them hope and confidence, which makes it certain that the current conflict will not end until the regime is overthrown. It has made too many enemies, especially amongst the youth and the poor, for anyone to be able to contemplate its survival.
In the forefront of those who have defied fear and repression to go onto the streets of Tehran are women (many of them under 30) who will never forget how Pasdars arrested them for showing a fringe of hair and how they were subsequently flogged (in many cases 60-80 lashes) for this ‘crime’. Young men and women who over the last decades have been arrested, humiliated and imprisoned not just for expressing political opinions, but in hundreds of thousands of cases for failing to adhere to strict interpretations of Islamic dress or behavioural codes.
Students who are tired of the interference of the state in every aspect of their private and public lives; workers who have faced poverty, non-payment of wages; shantytown dwellers who are in daily conflict with the authorities over lack of water or electricity; relatives of those killed by the regime, and not just in recent protests, when at least 100 people have lost their lives, but also of those executed by the regime for their political beliefs in 1979, the 1980s and 90s (and let us not forget that the executioners of Iran’s political prisoners belong to both the ‘reformist’ and the conservative camp): none of them will forgive or forget the criminals responsible.
In the last few days parents of those arrested in recent demonstrations have been gathering every lunchtime outside Iranian prisons, demanding the release of the prisoners and justice for those killed by the Bassij. Too many people in Iran find another four years of Ahmadinejad too awful to contemplate – they will not stop their protests, with or without Moussavi and Karroubi.
The Islamic regime had the chance to entice people with promises of a slightly less repressive order under a Moussavi presidency, but blew it. However, faced with severe repression at home and the continued threat of military attack (a second Israeli nuclear submarine is now getting close to the Persian Gulf), the one kind of ‘solidarity’ the people of Iran do not need is the one offered by the imperialist states and their ‘regime change’ associates in Iran. The enemies of the Iranian working class – in the Moussavi camp, amongst royalists or within the confused left – will seek support from European states, the US administration, rightwing trade unions, liberal NGOs, media personalities … while the defenders of the Iranian working class will remain vigilant in choosing our allies.
In Hands Off the People of Iran we have maintained our consistent, principled, anti-imperialist, anti-regime stance, and we are in an excellent position to build a much larger campaign in support of the struggles of the Iranian people. In doing so we welcome the cooperation of all Iranian and international forces that share our principles. But let me be clear – we cannot unite with supporters of Moussavi or those who seek war or sanctions instead of, or as a short cut to, revolutionary change from below. We will not suspend our criticisms of those prepared to tolerate imperialist war or economic sanctions – measures that will harm Iranian workers first and foremost.
There are calls for political sanctions against Iran now being proposed by liberals such as Shirin Ebadi and by two of the three splinters from the Worker-communist Party of Iran.
It is not our business to advise Washington or London what measures they ought to take against Tehran – quite the opposite. We say they should stop interfering in Iran. Instead we seek solidarity from below – amongst workers, trade unionists and anti-capitalist forces – with the struggles of the Iranian people. That is the essence of our politics and we will not be diverted from it.
An article by Hopi Steering Committee Member David Broder on the Commune website:
While in the last two years there were strikes on the Tehran bus network and in isolated factories, as well as illegal student protests thousands strong, the post-election demonstrations were by far the greatest challenge to the authority of the Ayatollahs’ regime since it was established in 1979.
Whether or not it was the intention of defeated reformist presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi, the only “outs” for the regime’s hierarchy when he continued to encourage protests were either total capitulation or to crack down hard in order to defend the very survival of the institutions of the Islamic Republic. Even though Mousavi is himself no radical, the very fact that he maintained his dissent after the Supreme Leader had approved the election of Ahmedinejad necessarily meant the assertion of some elementary democratic principles as against the values of the current regime.
This despite the fact that, as Ayatollah Khamenei remarked in a speech demanding an end to protests, everyone who voted had in fact voted for a variant of theocracy: since the candidates were vetted by the religious leadership and so it was impossible to vote against the regime as such.
Indeed, Mousavi was himself the Prime Minister of Iran from 1981 to 1989, presiding over the Iran-Iraq war as well as the butchering of many thousands of leftists as the Islamists cracked down on the workers’ movement which had played a central role in the overthrow of the Shah and so posed an unwelcome threat to the Ayatollahs’ monopoly of power. No democrat, Mousavi has been idolised in mainstream Western media as a liberal challenger to the existing order: but the real challenge emerges not from this particular individual, who many who usually boycott polls turned out for and who has a rather ‘light’ personal control over his supporters, but from the resistance of the masses themselves.
Of course, we have to be realistic in our assessment of this movement’s real potential, and it is easy to be carried away by Western media exaggerating the support for pro-Western liberals as well as our own understandable enthusiasm for the mass movement. In fact it is politically very diverse (and with diffuse goals) and not particularly proletarian in make-up, which threatens both its chances of succeeding and the hope that it might do something rather more worthwhile than change the suit in charge of the slaughterhouse.
These questions are important for the anti-war movement, and although Stalinist groups backed Ahmedinejad, some leftists’ attitudes have been shaken up by the need to say something positive about a movement which most people in Britain would sympathise with. Although Hugo Chávez had congratulated Ahmedinejad on his ‘victory’, his British allies Socialist Appeal saw mirages of working-class revolution on the streets of Tehran.
The SWP were also in a pickle. For twenty years they have supported the “anti-imperialism” of the regime, saying it was not appropriate for the Stop the War Coalition to support movements inside Iran, and tried to silence the anti-war, anti-regime Hands Off the People of Iran campaign. This time round Socialist Worker celebrated “people power” in a remarkable change of tack. (They have performed a similar 180-degree turn over the Lindsey workers, many of whom in fact have the same politics and slogans as in their January strikes when the SWP condemned them).
The extent to which the anti-war movement in Britain continues to ignore oppositionists in Iran still hangs in the balance, however. It was always of course right to resolutely oppose Western intervention (any war or ‘surgical strike’ would have made the current movement unthinkable), but real solidarity with the Iranians themselves always has to include supporting struggles within that country against the regime.
As it is, the people demonstrating in recent weeks appear to have been beaten down by the state machine including its Basiji (religious militia). Nevertheless, the movement may resurface or express itself in different ways as it looks increasingly unlikely that Mousavi will come to power.
Indeed, whilst many observers have compared the Iranian regime’s crackdown to Tiananmen Square-style methods of breaking opposition, few make the point that the Iranian regime seems much less able than China in 1989 to work its way towards a liveable economic position. This presents dangers for the regime both from technocrats and army men who think it is incompetent, and from the people on the receiving end of the economic disaster.
The underlying social crisis in Iran will continue even if the religious hierarchy is able to put a lid on the current wave of resistance. New battles over unpaid wages and rampant inflation, as well as the terrible lack of personal and democratic freedoms (particularly for women and LGBT people), will go on. As such our solidarity with the Iranian working class and its struggles must continue even once Mousavi’s fans at BBC and CNN have turned their attention elsewhere.
Mike Macnair explains why it is now more urgent than ever to fight on two fronts
(first published in the Weekly Worker- source)
In last week’s issue James Turley charted the responses of the British left to the mass mobilisations in Iran against Ahmadinejad’s ‘re-election’ and to the repression unleashed by the regime. In the main comrade Turley celebrated the fact that the majority of the organised left had chosen the right side, though towards the end of the article he warned against the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty’s uncritical support for the social-imperialist International Trade Union Confederation’s June 26 solidarity protest (‘Litmus test for the soul’, June 25).
In the event, this sort of uncritical support turned out to affect wider parts of the left who attended that protest. It is therefore necessary to re-emphasise a very fundamental point. Solidarity with the mass movement in Iran has to be placed together with opposition to the US imperialist state’s (and its British side-kick’s) threats against Tehran, to the sanctions and to US plans for the Middle East.
Hands off the People of Iran has been arguing since its formation for the converse. That is, that opposition to US imperialism’s threats to Iran has to be placed together with solidarity with workers’ and democratic movements in Iran. Clearly it is one and the same point, simply seen from different angles. An independent working class policy in this context starts from fighting positively for the interests of the working class. It therefore involves fighting on two fronts: both against the big criminals (the central imperialist powers) and against the little criminals (the local capitalist states – in Iran, the clerical regime).
The victory of the working class can only come through ‘winning the battle of democracy’. This implies radical democracy in the government of particular states – and therefore, in Iran, the overthrow of the clerical regime; and therefore, immediately, support for the mass movement against Ahmadinejad’s ballot-rigging. But radical democracy also requires an end to the subordination of one nation to another – and therefore, opposition to an imperialist military attack on Iran, to the current regime of sanctions blockade and to any extension of sanctions. This also means opposition to the sort of regime change from above or stage-managed ‘colour revolution’ which would put in place a government more immediately dependent on the US.
The replacement of Bush by Obama has altered the tone and the rhetoric of US policy. But the same underlying structural dynamics are still in place which have led to the continuing war in Afghanistan, the invasion and occupation of Iraq, US support for the Israeli war in Lebanon in 2006 and air strike against Syria in 2007, and the war threats and sanctions against Iran.
US productive dominance in the world economy is in (relative) decline, just as the productive dominance of British capital was in (relative) decline in the later 19th century. The result is a necessity for the US to shift – as Britain shifted in the later 19th century – towards increased exploitation both of the central role in finance and of military-political resources, in order to maintain its dominance or at least slow its decline.
In this context, the US has an objective interest in control of the Persian Gulf region. This was stated as a formal foreign policy principle – the ‘Carter doctrine’ – in 1980. The underlying ground for this interest is military, and not an interest in ‘cheap oil’.
It is true that cheap petrol and other energy resources support the American suburb, the mechanised agriculture of the Midwest, access to the wilderness resorts in the mountains, and the cities in the deserts like Las Vegas and Los Angeles. In doing so, cheap petrol supports the domestic political-economic regime in the US which provides consent for its regime and its imperialist role from the US ‘middle class’ (in US terms, mainly the upper part of the working class). But until the 1960s US oil producers dominated a cartelised oil market, and since then oil markets have become globalised. So political arrangements in the Middle East are almost completely irrelevant to the availability of cheap fuel – Cyrus Bina, in The economics of the oil crisis (New York 1985), provides a systematic treatment of the issue.
More fundamental is the fact that the military regime which has continued to operate since the US victory in World War II runs, almost entirely, on oil. Except for a few nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers, the navy runs on diesel, the air force on aviation fuel, and the army on petrol and diesel. Not only does oil fuel the direct weapons of war (fighting ships and aircraft, tanks, etc), but also the logistical underpinning which keeps troops in the field and these weapons running and supplied with munitions.
The problem this poses is not that of US access to oil (or to cheap oil) to run its military. Again, oil resources are global and the oil market is globalised. The problem is, rather, of US capacity to interdict access to oil by potential state competitors under hypothesised conditions of open great-power war (when the globalised oil market would disappear). The potential state competitors are all on the Eurasian ‘supercontinent’: the USSR before its fall, Europe if it can overcome its political subordination to the US, China if it can manage the transition from Stalinism to imperialism successfully. Hence, given US air and naval dominance, oil reserves in the Americas and Africa are strategically secondary. Military-political control of the Gulf region is strategically dominant.
The other side of this coin is that the cold war system allowed the local states of the Middle East some room for manoeuvre between the US and the USSR. Thus Iran was – until the revolution of 1979 – a US client, while Ba’athist Iraq was – between the late 1960s and Saddam Hussein’s coup in the same year – a Soviet client. In 1979 the US lost a client in Iran and gained one in Iraq, until changing US needs led to the Gulf War of 1990-91 and all that has followed.
The fall of the USSR immediately seemed to create a ‘unipolar world’ round the US, and the 1991 Gulf War – a display of US military power for its own sake, and of US leadership in the ‘international community’ through the UN – seemed to emphasise the point. But the underlying relative decline of the US has meant that there was still room for manoeuvre for local states, albeit on a smaller scale than was possible with the USSR. Thus both the Iraqi regime under sanctions and the Iranian clerical regime have been able to manoeuvre to some extent with European countries and with China.
The Carter doctrine provides the context for continued US support for Israel, and for America’s successive wars and manoeuvres in the Middle East since 1979. What the US seeks in the region is the sort of degree of political control of the local states which the US had, in the high period of its dominance, in Latin America.
There is a sense in which the project of maintaining US global dominance through military-political control of the Persian Gulf region is a utopian delusion. All dominant powers sooner or later decline, and the US is most unlikely to be an exception. Moreover, there is some evidence in recent wars of a tendency towards exhaustion of the US oil-based military model as a means of imposing order (as opposed to its capacity to merely inflict destruction). An actual failure of the US military model would, in turn, imply that control of the Middle East would lose its geopolitical significance.
There is also a considerably stronger sense in which the invasion and occupation of Iraq was an irrational means of pursuing US interests in the region. This irrationality is an indirect effect of the deepening destabilisation of global capitalism, which tends to bring to the fore irrational trends in politics – and also strengthens the direct capitalist interest in war spending as a form of economic stimulus.
None of this, however, means that the US does not have an objective interest in control of the Middle East and in particular of the Persian Gulf region. This implies an interest in (preferably) obtaining a political regime in Iran which is directly politically subordinate to the US state. Or, if this is not feasible, an interest in destroying Iran’s capacity to act in the wider region through massive destruction of its infrastructure and military capability.
If anything, the Iraqi fiasco strengthens the US interest in ‘dealing with’ Iran. Having invaded Iraq, the US attempted to impose the sort of political order the neocons believed could be created – and failed. It fell back on the traditional method of imperialism: backing whichever local group was willing to take US support. In Iraq, that has meant mainly the Shia Islamist parties, who are clients of the Iranian regime. The overall effect was therefore to strengthen the regional position and autonomy of the Iranian regime.
Paradoxical as it may seem, the withdrawal of US troops from urban bases and routine patrolling in Iraq (June 30) actually strengthens the US military position in the case of an attack on Iran. Instead of troops spread thinly over wide areas, vulnerable to guerrilla attack or a sudden change of sides by the ‘Iraqi security forces’, there are a relatively small number of large fortified bases, backed by air power.
The Iranian presidential election took place in this context. The mass movement which erupted as the fraud became apparent was not a ‘colour revolution’ orchestrated by mass media and backed by a powerful US NGO/diplomatic/media presence and by a section of the local state apparatus, like Ukraine, Georgia or Lebanon. It was a real mass movement of outrage at the electoral fraud, backed by a section of the elite of the clerical regime who saw the fraud – correctly – as a coup by the Revolutionary Guard and associated factions.
The US and British political leaderships and media struck a studied pose of ‘neutrality’ until the immediate outcome – the repression of the movement – had become clear. This in itself is evidence that the US and British states did hope for a ‘colour revolution’, but merely lacked the means to create one. Once the outcome was clear, the US and British leaderships and media turned at once to condemning the repression.
The ITUC is part of this state operation. It came out of a merger in 2006 of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, which originated in the cold war as a CIA-sponsored operation in the labour movement (funny how the US is so keen on free trade unions outside its own borders, while within they are subject to elaborate legal controls), with the Catholic – Christian Democrat-sponsored – World Confederation of Labour. The ICFTU’s policy for the 47 years of its life has dutifully tracked US foreign policy.
In terms of politics outside Iran, the outcome is win-win for US imperialism and its British sidekick. If the mass movement had led to the fall of the regime or even to a ‘reformist’ incumbency, the US could have offered the new Iranian administration deals on sanctions, etc, which could bring it into closer subordination to the US. The electoral fraud and the repression of the movement, on the other hand, will inevitably strengthen the hand of advocates of ‘tougher sanctions’ and – from Tel Aviv and from sections of the US state – of military action against Iran in the short term.
We should therefore expect to see at the very least new proposals for sanctions, and an increasing amount of Ahmadinejad = Hitler rhetoric in the mass media. The advocates of an attack on Iran will attempt to exploit the political advantage in ‘western’ opinion which they can expect to gain – at least for a time – as a result of the election fraud, the mass movement and the repression. It is therefore not impossible (though it is hard to assess the likelihood) that there will be a rapid escalation of tensions round the nuclear issue preparatory to air strikes in the short term.
Anti-war and solidarity movement
The danger in this situation is that the imperialist powers will move towards – at least – more sanctions, and – at most – war in the short term; yet the anti-war movement will be unable to respond effectively because it has committed itself to prettifying the Iranian regime in ways which cut it off from broad masses. Meanwhile, the advocates of solidarity with the Iranian masses against the regime are seriously at risk of simply becoming a tail for US and British foreign policy.
We need to fight on two fronts, as Hopi has argued: both against the imperialist sanctions and war threats and for solidarity with workers’ and democratic movements in Iran. This is not just a matter of moral principle.
In order to oppose the sanctions and war threats effectively, we need to do so with eyes fully open to the tyrannical and corrupt character of the Iranian regime and the fact that its ‘anti-imperialism’ is no more than rhetoric. Otherwise, we will cut ourselves off from broad masses who do recognise the character of the Iranian regime and are tempted – in spite of Iraq! – to imagine that ‘the international community’ or our own state can play some sort of progressive role by getting rid of it.
But equally, in order to build real solidarity with workers’ and democratic movements in Iran, we need to oppose the sanctions and war threats. In the case of the sanctions, the point is obvious. The sanctions at the end of the day penalise the Iranian working class and the poor, and provide opportunities for lucrative money-laundering and smuggling operations for sections of the Iranian elite. If they fall, the bombs, too, would inevitably fall not only on the hardened target of Iranian nuclear operations, but – as they fell in Serbia and in Iraq – on any part of the Iranian infrastructure which could be claimed in some way to have ‘military value’.
The elections, the fraud and the mass movement all make this struggle more urgent. The majority of the organised British left took a step forward by being on the side of the mass movement against the regime. It now needs to take the next step further forward: to recognise the need to fight on two fronts continuously, not merely episodically.
Permanent Revolution and HOPI Steering Committee member Stuart King on the largest period of social unrest in Iran since 1979.
Following the announcement of “an overwhelming victory” for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the 12 June Presidential election and the defeat of opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, up to a million people poured onto the streets in a series of protest demonstrations. For almost a week the capital and the regime was paralysed as masses of people marched against what they saw as a stolen election.
The demonstrations, which centred on Tehran but also took place in some other major cities, united the many opposition forces in Iran. Students and women played a prominent role but they were joined by workers, the unemployed, small traders and even some clerics. The demonstrations continued for several days and were subject to increasing repression.
On Monday 15 June seven people were killed by the Basij militia, an auxiliary of the Revolutionary Guards and a power base of President Ahmadinejad. Student dormitories and universities were attacked and students beaten without mercy. Hundreds of leading oppositionists and academics were arrested, often in the middle of the night, and held for short periods.
Despite this repression the mass movement developed its own means of organisation and defence. The use of SMS, blogging and twitter helped to organise the demonstrations against a powerful dictatorship. Indeed, so scared was the regime that the night of the election announcement the government had the entire mobile phone system in Iran closed down in an attempt to prevent mobilizations against the regime.
Through his election coup Ahmadinejad has initiated a military-style government, argues Mehdi Kia
The Islamic regime in Iran has entered an irreversible turning point. In the first instance, on the morning of June 13 2009 it was fundamentally different from what existed before. At the same time the events of the last two weeks have freed the opposition from much of its illusions in the possibility of reform within the regime. The way is now open for moving toward new horizons. Let me explain.
The regime that rose out of the revolution of 1979, after the bloody suppression of any democratic content, was essentially a government by a particular section of the Shia clergy who believed in the concept of velayate faghih – put simply, the absolute rule of a supreme leader as a “just and knowledgeable religious jurist”. The mullahs who refused to accept this interpretation of Islam were marginalised and excluded from the corridors of power. The constitution of the Islamic regime gave the faghih supreme and absolute power over every decision-making apparatus of the state. The mantle of this all-powerful supreme leader was naturally taken up by ayatollah Khomeini.
It must be remembered, however, that this regime rose out of a revolution which indisputably incorporated virtually the entire population of the country. Hence a parallel structure was created where the executive president, the majles (parliament) and later the municipal councils were chosen by elections.
But the elected organs could not make any decisions that were not acceptable to the leadership. The council of guardians, a body appointed by the supreme leader, was set above them to vet all candidates for elective office, and all the laws passed by the majles. The prime role of elections was to provide legitimacy for the non-elected power structures. Hence the frantic efforts at every election to get the people out to vote.
Thus elections in Iran are not free in any accepted sense of the word, since no candidate, nor any legislation, can pass the hurdle of the unelected council of guardians that is not acceptable to the leader. But elections for such organs as the majles and the presidency had an important subsidiary role. An understanding of this role is important if we are to understand the meaning of the coup d’etat orchestrated by Ahmadinejad, in alliance with a handful of clergy.
The Shia clergy is by its very essence a fragmented entity. This arises from the concept of taqlid (emulation) – which, simply put, means that any Shia believer can follow whichever mullah that takes his or her fancy. In essence the Shia clerical establishment is not hierarchical, but multifocal. It has multiple, and potentially infinite, centres of taqlid, each with its own unique collection of followers. Add to this the complexity of adapting the laws of a religion laid down over a millennium ago to a modern industrial state, and you can see the setting for the constant splitting of the ruling ayatollahs into factions, at almost every major decision-making juncture.
Elections allowed the different factions of the clergy believing in the rule of the faqih to test out the legitimacy of their solutions, and by inference their position in the ruling hierarchy, by reverting to the popular vote. Thus the factions would fight over the popular vote and would use this to manoeuvre in the corridors of power. Hence the regime that Khomeini bestowed on the country was in no way democratic for the population of Iran, but allowed a large amount of freedom, indeed a form of internal democracy, within the ruling clergy.
Interestingly the people of Iran, deprived of any real voice in government, have used the rivalry between the factions to manoeuvre and obtain some breathing space. They did this alternatively by their vote or the boycott of that vote. One can only understand the massive turnout to elect Khatami in 1997, and the massive boycott of the majles elections in 2004 in this light.1 The same can be said of the massive turnout in the present elections. They also very astutely used the fight between various factions as a defensive shield behind which they fought for their own democratic goals.
That it was a well planned coup and not something concocted at the spur of the moment can be seen from two observations. Firstly the chorus of Revolutionary Guard commanders who congratulated Ahmadinejad on his certain victory and gave their support for it in the weeks before the election. And, second, by the fact that the official Fars News website declared victory for Ahmadinejad two hours before the polls closed, with a percentage of votes which remained unchanged until the final count.
Ahmadinejad orchestrated his previous victory four years ago like a military operation.2 This time he announced it like a victorious Caesar, even before the results of the battle could possibly be known. That was no coincidence. He was declaring to the world, and to the Iranian people, that the rule of the ayatollahs is over. The rule of the military-security machinery has begun.
What Ahmadinejad engineered, in alliance with a large section of the security apparatus and a handful of mullahs, was to essentially deprive the clergy of their ability to use elections to increase the power base of their particular factions inside the regime. This was not a flash in the pan. The election coup had been systematically organised over the last 12-15 years. It began with mobilising and the methodical winning of all electable and non-electable organs – starting with the mayorships of major cities (Ahmadinejad is an ex-mayor of Tehran), the municipal council elections, the majles and the presidency of Ahmadinejad in 2005.
In parallel the military-security apparatus became a major economic force in the country.3 The coup on June 12 was the logical next, and last, step in a long process by which those that called themselves the osulgaran (‘principled’) have been catapulted into undisputed power. The mass protest by the clergy4 can be explained by the fact that they have been unceremoniously thrown out of the power structure of Iran.
The regime that took power last week showed its fangs early. Not only did the thugs it unleashed beat up protestors, but they smashed their way into the homes of people who had given them sanctuary. They forced their way into university dormitories across the country to wreck everything in sight and indiscriminately beat the students. The arrest of politicians, journalists, students and demonstrators is taking place daily.
The overall aim of the osulgaran faction, to which Ahmadinejad belongs, is to do away with the factional nature of the Iranian regime and have a top-down, unified, military-style government with a population which supports it unequivocally and by acclamation without being allowed to organise in any form. This is to be a united country, under an undivided, single and monolithic regime, preparing for war, with an economy that reflects those aims. The unorganised ‘people’ are to be mobilised when and if necessary to act as fodder for that war.
You can glimpse this structure in the victory speech made by Ahmadinejad a few days after the election. There he dismissed and derided political parties and appealed to the people to stay on the scene to defend the country.
A capitalist regime, using extreme nationalist populist slogans, ruling the country through thugs and being acclaimed by a public not permitted to organise in any form other than what is dictated from above, and with militaristic, adventurist ambitions! Have we not seen this before?
The second consequence of the election coup is to free the Iranian people once and for all of any illusions as to the ability of the regime to reform. The final explosive demise of the election escape valve releases the people of Iran from the grip of, or hopes for, a reformist option.
They showed that understanding when they defied calls by the front runner in the election, Mir-Hossein Moussavi, to stay at home. Indeed, not for the first time we saw the spectacle of the reformists running after the people so as not to be thrown aside. Both Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi had to make an appearance in that and subsequent demonstrations, clearly desperate to regain the initiative. And at each step they have struggled to keep up with the popular anger.
The strident call of supreme leader Ali Khamenei for suppression of the demonstrations, the warning that any bloodshed would be laid at the door of the reformists and the subsequent savage attacks on street protests will further push the reformist leaders into the margins. The road is now open for the entire structure to be challenged from below.
This will be a difficult road. The reasons are not hard to discern. The regime has shown that it has no difficulty in mounting savage repression. This is an ideological regime, organised on fascist lines and fighting for its life. It has a well organised and financed body of Revolutionary Guards, as well as the voluntary bassij to do its deeds. While both of these will undoubtedly have within them large sections who are sympathetic to the popular movement, it is unwise to underestimate the power of ideology and even more the hierarchical structure of these organisations making the bassij foot-soldier far more likely to obey the orders to shoot than the conscript army of the shah.
Moreover the leaders of the regime are children of a revolution, an eight-year war with Iraq and a 30-year suppression of any popular protest. They did this efficiently in 1997, when several cities erupted; they did it again when they bloodily put down the student movement four years ago. They have been organised on a national scale with the sole purpose of keeping the population in order. They are used to repression and have had a lot of practice at imposing it.
On the other side the people are leaderless. They have been denied the right to organise in any meaningful way for over half a century, with only brief interludes of real freedom. The systematic, bloody repression of the left and all progressive forces has left its mark. Many of the exiled organisations are atrophied and are totally divorced from the country. Within Iran a new left has undoubtedly emerged, but it has yet to organise in any effective form, or even to polish its ideological understanding of the dynamics of Iranian society and the world. The working class has been in a life and death struggle with daily survival in an economy that has been in a spiral of decline.
This setting does not favour the development of working class organisations that can politically challenge the regime. Yet there are tactics that the opposition to the regime can adapt which will allow it to overcome its weakness.
In the face of certain savage oppression, and in the process of producing organisation, the struggle has to utilise tactics that take its weaknesses into account and play on its strengths. Any tactic that paralyses the regime yet puts the people out of reach of the security apparatus is more likely to succeed. Already youth on motorcycles have been using these tactics to get news of street battles to different parts, drawing the security forces into side alleys, where they become fragmented, disappearing into people’s homes when under attack, chanting “Death to the dictator” from rooftops at night, and making intelligent use of SMS, email, twitter, Facebook, etc to communicate with each other and get their message abroad.
Among other tactics that can be used are mass strikes – or, to be more accurate, stay-at-homes: ie, unofficial strikes. This keeps protestors away from the forces of repression, but paralyses the regime by depriving it of its workforce. As we go to press, there has indeed been a call for a stayaway on June 23 and for three days of mourning between June 23-25. Despite all that has been written about the Iranian revolution, it was this tactic, and not massive street demonstrations, that broke the back of the shah’s regime. Moreover, any such act of mass civil disobedience is difficult to suppress.
The organisational deficit of the protestors can be turned into an advantage by concentrating on local neighbourhood networks that will be much less easy to destroy than a central leadership. This form of organisation has the added advantage of being excellent teaching grounds for the experience of direct democracy. The highly creative use by the youth in Iran of modern means of communication allows for coordination of protest – the aim being to paralyse the state. Finally we have the age-old Iranian tactic of sanctuary – in an avowedly Islamic regime it is very difficult to attack people taking sanctuary in a mosque or shrine. Thus one can use the weakness of the regime to strengthen the opposition.
The battle will be long and bloody. Yassamine Mather has already highlighted some of the difficulties that lie ahead.5 However, we are on the slow but upward spiral to an Iran where different groups can gather and organise around their specific needs. And where we can have the kind of democracy that allows the working people of the country, those not owning the means of production, to organise towards a truly democratic socialism.
1. See Middle East Left Forum: www.iran-bulletin.org/IBMEF_1_word%206%20files/Election%20to%207th%20majles_with%20pict.htm
2. See A Mehrdad and M Kia, ‘Regime crisis and the new conservatives’ Weekly Worker September 8 2005; and Middle East Left Forum: www.iran-bulletin.org/IB-MEF-3/presidentialelections_edited.htm
3. See A Mehrdad and M Kia op cit for a detailed discussion of the rise of the neo-conservatives.
4. The majma johaniune mobarez (Association of Combatant Clerics) was one of the first organs to protest at the coup. On June 22 it published an announcement that challenged the supreme leader outright – a totally unprecedented phenomenon.
5. Yassamine Mather, ‘Death to the Islamic republic’ Weekly Worker June 18; and also on www.iran-bulletin.org
Ayatollah Khamenei’s June 19 speech reminded many Iranians of some of the utterances of the shah in the last months of his rule: former president and current chairman of the ‘assembly of experts’ Ali Akbar Rafsanjani cannot be corrupt – he has been the supreme leader’s friend for over 50 years! Everyone in Iran had accepted the results of the elections: it was all the fault of foreign powers and foreign media that some people are now doubting them! Conspiracies are all around us and, just as in colonial times, the British are behind it.
The problem with most dictators is that, even in their dying days, they believe they can stop the movement by simply passing orders or blaming ‘foreign powers’. Some supporters of the shah are still under the illusion that he was not overthrown by the 1979 Iranian revolution, but was deposed thanks to a plot by Britain and the US. In fact, as he went on speaking, attributing strange comments to Obama (the US president has apparently admitted in public that he had been looking forward to the demonstrations that have rocked Iran), one wondered if Khamenei, well known for using opium as a painkiller for his injured arm, had taken a double dose that morning.
He said that he liked Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and agreed with most of his statements (one assumes that includes denial of the holocaust, the claim that Ahmadinejad had introduced Venezuela to Islam, that inflation is going up in all European and western countries, that Iran’s economic problems have nothing to do with government policy, but are solely the consequences of the world economic crisis … ).
Yet the supreme leader did rebuke his president on one issue: he was wrong to accuse Rafsanjani and his own adviser, Ali Akbar Nategh Nouri, and their relatives of corruption. Both families were his friends, pillars of the Islamic state and he did not want to hear such “baseless accusations”. This, it seems, is the only comment made by Ahmadinejad in his four years as president which is a lie or an exaggeration.
However, if Khamenei and his advisers had thought this speech would put a stop to the protests, they were mistaken. In the absence of a clear lead by Mir-Hossein Moussavi or fellow ‘reformist’ candidate Mehdi Karroubi (neither of whom persevered with their previous calls for further demonstrations) Saturday’s protests were far more radical, challenging the very existence of the Islamic state. For the first time since 1979, crowds shouted “Death to the vali faghih” (supreme religious leader) and “Death to Khamenei”. By Monday the slogans were aimed against the whole order: “Death to the Islamic regime”, “Death to the Bassiji” and, in another flashback to 1979, the taunting of the security forces with “Be scared of the day we are armed”.
It is now clear that the attempt to impose Ahmadinejad on the Iranian people for another term has thrown the entire regime into terminal crisis, as calls for a general strike are gaining support. On Sunday June 21, Karroubi, still dreaming of a compromise, commented that the regime could yet save “the Islamic order” by annulling the elections. But the failure to do so, combined with the hesitation and dithering of the ‘reformists’, means we are seeing the beginning of the end. No doubt the process could be drawn out and its outcome unpredictable, but it has begun and no-one can stop it.
Of course, the expulsion of foreign reporters and banning of many newspapers have reduced media coverage of the protests, including the new slogans and changing nature of the demonstrations, but most bourgeois journalists still in Tehran could see that by June 23 the very existence of the Islamic republic regime was being challenged by demonstrators. In central districts of Tehran, youths were attacking banks as well as government offices and military barracks.
The calls for a general strike, sit-ins and other forms of civil disobedience are gaining momentum and the protests have now clearly spread to many provincial cities and even some smaller towns, despite the regime’s resort to increasingly repressive methods. Contrary to the claims of apologists for the Iranian regime and some reporters, the demonstrations were not and are not dominated by the middle classes. In fact Iran does not possess such a huge middle class and those who did turn out took courage by the presence on the streets in the first week of large sections of poorer classes.
Those of us who can identify the class composition of demonstrators from their clothes and accents have not had the slightest doubt about the predominance of workers and wage-earners (including teachers, nurses and public employees) on recent protests, but for the benefit of those who have no knowledge of Iran and who keep telling us the demonstrators are ‘middle class’ let me explain some basic facts.
If you live in a country where the ministry of labour claims that over 80% of the workforce are employed on limited contracts and reassures capitalists that by 2010 the figure will have reached 100%, who do you think will join protest demonstrations?
If you live in a country where in the year ending March 2009 despite the repression there were over 4,000 workers’ actions against privatisation and job losses (unemployment stands at 30%, while inflation has reached 25%), including sit-ins, the kidnap of managers, as well as strikes, who do you think will join protest demonstrations?
If you live in a country that has been praised by the International Monetary Fund for its firm pursuit of neoliberal economic policies, all under a certain Mr Ahmadinejad, who do you think will join protest demonstrations?
If you live in a country where teachers and nurses have waged at least four major strikes in the last two years against their government’s economic and political stance, who do you think will join protest demonstrations?
Let us stop talking of the ‘middle class’ nature of these specific protests. However, a number of points have to be considered. Contrary to comments by people such as George Galloway, the Iranian revolution of 1979 was not started by the working class. Students, many of them children of middle class families, initiated the anti-shah protests, which were confined at first to university campuses, and the same students were later in the forefront of the first major demonstrations. It is no secret that the actions of a minority of middle strata can sometimes spark a mass movement.
In 2009, however, the working class has not been slow off the mark – as early as last week the idea of a general political strike has been in the air. It is the left and its activists who have been slow to respond to such calls.
On June 18 Iran Khodro car workers issued the following statement: “We declare our solidarity with the movement of the people of Iran. Autoworkers, fellow workers, what we witness today is an insult to the intelligence of the people, and disregard for their votes, the trampling of the principles of the constitution by the government. It is our duty to join this people’s movement.
“We, the workers of Iran Khodro, … will stop working for half an hour on every shift to protest against the suppression of students, workers and women and declare our solidarity with the movement of the people of Iran.”
Similarly, the union of Vahed bus workers declared on June 19: “In recent days, we continue witnessing the magnificent demonstration of millions of people from all ages, genders and national and religious minorities in Iran. They request that their basic human rights, particularly the right to freedom and to choose independently and without deception, be recognised. These rights are not only constitutional in most countries, but also have been protected against all odds.”
The statement went on to condemn the “threats, arrests, murders and brutal suppression” and called for support for the protests, which “demand a response from each and every responsible individual and institution”. It continued: “… since the Vahed Syndicate does not view any of the candidates as supporting the activities of workers’ organisations in Iran, it would not endorse any presidential candidate in the election. Vahed members nevertheless have the right to participate or not to participate in the elections and vote for their individually selected candidate.
“Moreover, the fact remains that demands of almost an absolute majority of the Iranians go far beyond the demands of a particular group … [We] fully support this movement of Iranian people to build a free and independent civil society …”
Oil workers have also used well established channels of communication to discuss the possibility of a strike. Meanwhile a general strike has affected the whole of the Kurdish province, with most cities and towns practically closed down. Calls for a nationwide general strike are growing by the day.
Yassamine Mather, Hopi chair, looks at the social upheaval englufing Iran and the tasks of internationalists
The election campaign of the four presidential candidates was largely ignored by the majority of the population until early June, when a series of televised debates triggered street demonstrations and public meetings. Ironically it was Mahmood Ahmadinejad’s fear of losing that prompted him to make allegations of endemic corruption against some of the leading figures of the religious state, including former president Ali Akbar Rafsanjani and Ali Akbar Nategh Nouri, former interior minister and adviser to supreme leader ayatollah Khamenei.
In doing so he crossed one of the red lines of the Islamic regime. Once that was done, the floodgates were open. The language used by all three of his opponents – Moussavi, Karroubi and Rezaii – became more colourful. As Ahmadinejad continued to rail against 20 years of corruption and political and economic interference by the “economic mafia” associated with important figures, including Rafsanjani (currently chairman of the ‘assembly of experts’ charged with electing the supreme leader), his opponents wasted no time in using equally strong language to condemn his own presidency, pointing out the worsening economic situation, mass unemployment and 25% inflation, as well as Iran’s “embarrassing international profile”.
In response to these accusations, Ahmadinejad’s election campaign made some historic claims. Apparently he is the man who brought Islam to Venezuela and Latin America! He has secured a written apology from Blair (prompting a denial by the foreign office). And he is the only president who is so feared by the US that it has been forced to drop regime-change plans for Iran. At times Iranians must have thought their president and his supporters lived in a parallel universe.
In just 10 days the two opposed factions between them managed to expose every unflattering aspect of the 30-year-old Islamic regime. No-one in opposition could have done a better job – no-one else had such in-depth knowledge of the levels of corruption and incompetence prevalent among the inner circles of power.
It was unprecedented for the authorities, including Ahmadinejad’s government, to tolerate the various election gatherings and slogans. But the eyes of the world were now on Iran and the regime put on a show: Bassij militia and Islamic guards turned a blind eye to women who failed to adhere to Islamic dress code for the duration of the campaign. Comrades and relatives inside Iran were telling us the atmosphere was like the pre-revolution days of 1979. Political discussions were held at every street corner, political songs of the late 70s became fashionable amongst a generation born long after the February uprising.
Those who had advocated a boycott of the elections were constantly reminded that it was the mass boycott of the 2005 presidential elections that had allowed Ahmadinejad to come to power. Consequently many life-long opponents of the regime reluctantly decided to vote, if only to stop the re-election of the incumbent. On polling day the regime’s unelected leaders basked in the euphoria of a large turnout, yet they were already facing a dilemma: how to keep control in the post-election era.
If Mir-Hossein Moussavi did become president, those who voted for him would expect serious change and the supreme leader was well aware that neither he nor the new president would be able to meet expectations. That is why he and the senior religious figures around him decided to do what most dictators do: rig the elections and declare Ahmadinejad the winner. Nothing new in such measures; but the supreme leader and his inner circle made two major miscalculations: they underestimated the anger and frustration of the majority of the population; and they failed to realise that the high turnout could only mean a massive ‘no’ to Ahmadinejad and, by proxy, to the entire Islamic order.
Added to this was the sheer incompetence of the vote-rigging. In previous presidential elections, the vote had been announced province by province. This time the results came in blocks of millions of votes. Throughout the night the percentage of votes going to all four candidates changed very little. It seemed obvious that the interior ministry was playing with the figures to make sure the overall percentages remained constant.
Early on Saturday morning, the supreme leader congratulated Ahmadinejad, which was seen as official endorsement of the results. But by Sunday afternoon, under the pressure of impromptu demonstrations, he was forced to reverse this decision, and called on the council of guardians to investigate the other candidates’ complaints. By the afternoon of Monday June 15, with a massive show of force by the opposition – over a million demonstrators on the streets – he was instructing the council of guardians to call for a recount. By Tuesday there was talk of new elections.
Had our supreme leader studied the fate of that other Iranian dictator, the shah, he would have known that at a time of great upheavals, as in 1979, once the dictator hesitates and dithers he loses momentum, and the thousands on the street become more confident.
The slogans and militancy of demonstrators in Tehran and other Iranian cities is today the driving force in Iran – and not only for the supreme leader and his entourage. These slogans also dictate the actions of the so-called ‘official opposition’. The meek, scared Moussavi, whose initial response to the vote-rigging was to seek a reversal of the results by the “centres of Shia religious guidance”, suddenly gained courage and appeared at Monday’s protests. After promising that he would protect people’s votes, he could not ignore the tens of thousands who on Saturday and Sunday were shouting, “Moussavi, return my vote”, “What have you done with our vote?” and even one of the students’ slogans, “Death to those who compromise”.
There can be no doubt that Ahmadinejad’s press conference and victory rally on Sunday played a crucial role in increasing the size of the anti-government demonstrations on Monday and Tuesday. As riots were taking place all over the capital, the reference to Iran as a “very stable country” reminded many of the shah’s claims that Iran was an island of tranquillity, less than a year before he was overthrown. In response to a reporter’s question about protests in Tehran, the president referred to his opponents as “dust and tiny thorns”. A comment that he will regret forever, as the huge crowds on Monday and Tuesday kept taunting him.
Demonstrators in Tehran are also shouting slogans adapted from those of 1979, often prompted by leftists and students: “Tanks, guns, Bassij are not effective any more”, “Death to the dictator”, “Death to this regime that brings nothing but death”. Clearly the supreme leader’s standard response of bussing in supporters from the countryside to put up a well-orchestrated show of force (as they did for Sunday’s and Tuesday’s pro-Ahmadinejad rallies) does not work any more. Sunday’s event failed miserably, with reporters claiming that many of those arriving by bus could only speak Arabic. By Tuesday some of Ahmadinejad’s non-Iranian supporters arrived at the rally with yellow Hezbollah flags. As Mr Ahmadinejad has no supporters amongst Sunni Arabs in the Khouzestan province of Iran, if these reports are correct one could guess that participants at the state-organised rallies included the thousands of Shias invited in June every year from Iraq, Lebanon and Pakistan to participate in the events commemorating the anniversary of the death of Khomeini.
It is difficult to predict what will happen in the next few days. However, one can be certain that nothing will be the same again. No-one will forget the fact that both factions crossed many ‘red lines’, exposing each other’s corruption, deceit and failure. No-one will forget the obvious vote-rigging that makes a mockery of ‘Islamic democracy’ – when Moussavi called it a “charade” he was only echoing the sentiments of the masses.
On Tuesday another presidential contender, Mehdi Karroubi, said: “This week ‘the republic’ was taken out of the Islamic regime”. No-one will forget that the immediate response of the regime to peaceful protests was to arrest, beat up and shoot opponents. No-one will forget that at least seven people have been killed in these protests.
There is little doubt that Moussavi /Karoubi/Khatami and Mohsen Rezaii will look for compromises and will ultimately sell out. However, these protests have gained such momentum that already in Tehran people compare the plight of Moussavi (if he does become president) with that of Shapour Bakhtiar – the last prime minister appointed by the shah, whose government lasted a few short weeks before the revolution overthrew the entire regime.
However, before the British left gets too excited and starts sending its blueprints for revolution to Iran, let us be clear about some facts: working class organisation remains very weak during this crucial period; most of the Iranian left is as confused and divided as it was in 1979, but now, of course, it is much smaller. Repression against labour activists and leftist students is harsher than ever.
Yet students’ and workers’ organisations have been very active in the anti-government demonstrations and they have managed to change some of the slogans of the protests, turning anti-Ahmadinejad slogans into slogans challenging the entire Islamic ‘order’. There was talk of a one-day general strike. However the organisations discussing this decided to try to improve the left’s intervention in current events before contemplating such ambitious calls. We should not expect miracles, but one can see that unlike the Iranian exile left (some of whom have benefited from the largesse of organisations offering regime-change funds, while others have tailed rightwing-controlled international trade unions) the left inside Iran has been conscious of the revolutionary potential of this period and, given its relative weakness, is doing what it can to make an independent, principled, but systematic intervention. That is precisely why the authorities’ attacks on university campuses, where the left is strongest, have been so severe; and why we must do all in our power to support comrades in Iran.
When it comes to predicting Iranian politics, no one can claim to have a crystal ball. However, it is reassuring to see that the unique position Hands Off the People of Iran took – against imperialism, against the threat of war and for the overthrow of Iran’s Islamic regime – has been vindicated by the events of the last two weeks. Imagine what would have happened if during the last year we had witnessed a military strike by Israel against Iran’s nuclear industry, or various US plans for regime change from above had materialised. Political Islam in Iran and the region would have been the undisputed winner of such a scenario. We were right to argue that positive change can only happen from below and from inside Iran and we will continue to maintain this position.
At the same time, these events have exposed the ignorance of groups such as the Socialist Workers Party, whose leaders kept informing us about the virtues of Islamic democracy in Iran. We have seen the selection of candidates by an unrepresentative nominated council of guardians; the role of the supreme leader in inventing the results of an election; and the brutal repression of legal and official opponents. If that is what the regime can do to its own, one can imagine the kind of treatment reserved for its opponents.
But even under the threat of beatings and executions, an overwhelming majority of the Iranian people have shown that they do not believe SWP-type apologia. No-one in their right mind should ever make such claims again. Hopi’s judgement was correct and we did not compromise our principles; that is why, now that the Iranian working class is in need of international solidarity more than ever, we are in a good position to help deliver it.
February 1979: After the revolution
When Ayatollah Khomeini arrived in Tehran on 1 February 1979, a brief period of freedom for Iranians came to an end. Hands Off the People of Iran chair Yassamine Mather looks at the development of the Islamic Republic’s suppression of dissent
February 1979: Women of the revolution
Thirty years after the toppling of the Shah in Iran, Hands Off the People of Iran supporter Azar Sheibani looks at how Iranian women have defied the reign of misogynist terror
Dogs, Fleas, Pigs ..and Sean Matgamna
Nothing in common with those who excuse war
Interview with a leading member of Iranian Students for Freedom and Equality
Abominable Warmongering Left
Learn the lessons of the Fedayeen
Lies, Obfuscation and Utter Nonsense
News Update: AWL leaders are still liars
Excusing nuclear Armageddon
Mark Fisher and James Turley
Sons of Imam Matgamna
Latest negotiations: war by other means
Following the Geneva talks, the threat against Iran is as real as ever, argues Ben Lewis
Tehran changes reflected in anti-war movement
Ben Lewis looks at the newly formed National Peace Council in Iran and warns against tailing such a supine political initiative
Dancing to the US tune
Suddenly, the SWP-backed Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran has no problem in criticising the Iranian government, writes Nick Jones
Third campism is a stinking corpse
James Turley argues that the left, rather than twisting words, must approach defeatism creatively
No Friends of Women
Yassamine Mather continues her discussion of political islam by examining the women’s movement in Iran, its achievements and contradictions
Yassamine Mather continues her discussion of political islam. In this article she describes how the left’s illusions in Tehran’s ‘anti-imperialist’ foreign policies played into the hands of enemies of the working class
Yassamine Mather reviews the effect of US and UN moves against Tehran
Donkey economics and islamic martyrdom
Yassamine Mather looks at the theocracy’s political economy
Behind the lies of Petraeus
What is the truth about Muqtada al-Sadr’s connections with Iran?
Yassamine Mather looks at al-Sadr’s pragmatic opportunism and puts the record straight
Basra shows anti-occupation momentum is growing
What lies behind the spin about the Iraqi ‘government’ attempting to take back control of Basra? Mike Macnair examines the issues.
Allying with imperialism
Hopi attends, but does not endorse pro-imperialist protest. Mark Fischer reports.
Bringer of death, destruction and disorganisation
March 20 is the fifth anniversary of the US-led invasion. Mike Macnair examines the features of present-day US imperialism and sets out once again the basic tasks of the workers’ movement
Galloway’s Iranian propaganda?
The Respect MP has turned on supporters of gay rights in Iran and falsely accused us of warmongering, says Peter Tatchell
Defence of ‘western interests’
Hopi’s Yassamine Mather trounces Nick Cohen in debate, reports Mark Fischer
New Sanctions and More U.S. Threats Against Iran
By Larry Everest
Iran: No let up in US threats
Problems facing the peoples of Iran and West Asia are rooted in the contradictions of 21st century world capitalism, says Yassamine Mather
Preparing for the Hopi launch conference
Interview with Ben Lewis, member of the steering committee of Hopi
When Che’s Children Went to Iran
by Reza Fiyouzat
Who REALLY Holds the People of the World Nuclear Hostage?
Why a U.S. Attack on Iran Must be Stopped.
In his infamous “Axis of Evil” 2002 State of the Union address, Bush put Iraq and Iran in the bullseye of the next phase of the “war on terror.” He outlined what were to become the whole set of concocted lies about Iraq’s “WMDs”—lies used to justify a war that has brought about—according to documented estimates—over a million deaths and created four million internal and external refugees.
Political Islam in the Service of Imperialism
by Samir Amin. All the currents that claim adherence to political Islam proclaim the “specificity of Islam.” According to them, Islam knows nothing of the separation between politics and religion, something supposedly distinctive of Christianity.
The 1979 revolution and the failures of the left
This document was written in early 1983 by Saber Nikbeen, (Torab Saleth) then a member of the International Executive Committee of the USFI (United Secretariat of the Fourth International, the most well-known leader of which was Ernest Mandel), as part of the pre-world congress discussions. The author of this document was very critical of the USFI for a de facto support of a grouping that had illusions regarding the Khomeini regime.
Filling a political gap
November 1 2007. Yassamine Mather of Hopi spoke to Mark Fischer after the Stop the War Coalition conference on October 27 2007
Lies cannot stop imperialists
In her speech to the October 27 conference of the Stop the War Coalition, Somaye Zadeh of Campaign Iran tried to counter the imperialist lies about the Tehran regime with misinformation of her own. Yassamine Mather insists upon the truth
Ditch the strategic illusion
Pro-Tehran apologetics in the Stop the War Coalition represents a kind of nostalgia for the ‘anti-imperialist front’, writes Mike Macnair
For principled solidarity
Unite in opposition to both imperialist war and theocratic rule, says Yassamine Mather
America’s Bleeding “Cakewalk”
March 2007. The campaign of misinformation by the Bush administration is already under way against Iran, writes Cyrus Bina
Making Cars in Iran: Working for Iran Khodro
April 2007. Critique article by David Mather, Yassamine Mather & Majid Tamjidi
US ‘double or quits’ – Mike Macnair
March 16 2006. Three years after the invasion of Iraq, and with Iran now in US sights, ‘Out now!’ must still be our main demand, writes Mike Macnair
May 3 2007. Immediately after the London May Day demonstration, Hands Off the People of Iran held a public meeting near Trafalgar Square. Hopi activist Torab Saleth introduced the discussion
Double standards in London and Tehran – Yassamine Mather
April 12 2007. In the furore over the capture of British sailors and marines and their theatrical release by Iran’s islamic regime, a number of essential points seem to have been forgotten by the British media, and even by so-called anti-war broadsheets, says Yassamine Mather
Will Tehran be next? – Yassamine Mather
February 22 2007. Every day the media publish new information about plans for a military attack on Iran and, although many of these stories are simply recounting previous revelations, there is no doubt that the danger of (limited or extensive) military action by the US is now very real. Yassamine Mather reports
Alliance Against War in support of Iranian workers’ struggles May 2006 – published in Variant and Workers Weekly
Marxism Fringe July 2006 London University – The need for genuine working class internationalism, in particular when it comes to the question of Iran. Yassamine Mather
Empire and Beyond ,University of Leeds,Organised by The Conference of Socialist Economists, Capital and Class – ‘Car Workers in Iran – exploitation and conflict’ David Mather
Socialisti Parti (4th International) Sweden
Gutenberg April 2006
The anti war movement should support the struggles of Iranian workers
Iran Discussion – Human Rights Film Festival Scotland – Sat 14 Oct 2006
Yassamine Mather ‘The practical solidarity of the anti-war movement should be directed primarily towards the Iranian people and in support of the daily struggles of Iranian workers for the right to survive.’
Centre for Socialist Theory and Movements – Glasgow University
Anti Imperialism and the true nature of political Islam. February 2006
Marxist Forum Scotland – June 2006 – Strathclyde University
Criticism of the antiwar coalition case of Iran
Speaker: Workers left Unity – Iran
Don’t attack Iran, Bring the Troops Home – Scottish Coalition Against the War
15 February : Speaker – Workers Left Unity – Iran
Students Against War – Feb 21
Speaker: Workers Left Unity – Iran
Meetings in Germany
Achse der friede
Speaker: Nader Sadeh
Speaker: Nader Sadeh