Mass protests in Iran: Death to the Islamic Republic! Victory to the Iranian people!

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”.

28th Khordad-June 18th-08In 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”.

28th Khordad-June 18th-06There 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.

28th Khordad-June 18th-04At 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.

More articles

Older articles

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

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Nothing in common with those who excuse war
Interview with a leading member of Iranian Students for Freedom and Equality

Abominable Warmongering Left
Moshé Machover

Learn the lessons of the Fedayeen
Yassamine Mather

Lies, Obfuscation and Utter Nonsense
Tami Peterson

News Update: AWL leaders are still liars
Vicky Thomson

Excusing nuclear Armageddon
Mark Fisher and James Turley

We don’t want war,” say the AWL. “But if Israel attacks Iran, who are we to condemn it?
Vicky Thomson

Sons of Imam Matgamna
Yassamine Mather

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

Communists for the imam’s line

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

Sanctions hit workers, not theocratic regime

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

Responding to Workers Power on HOPI

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
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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

From Stealing to Robbing: A Post-Script to “No Blood for Oil!”
a talk given by George Caffentzis at Stony Brook University on March 27, 2003

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

Defiance grows
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

Mobilise the dispossessed – Mehdi Kia

Not a mistake but a state crime – Mike Macnair

Heads in the sand – Yassamine Mather on the Stop the War Coalition’s Scottish conference

Defend Iran’s workers, not its rotten regime – Yassamine Mather

Against imperialist war, for Iran workers – Yassamine Mather

Bush ups the ante – Mike Macnair

Yassamine Mather explains why the campaign Hands Off the People of Iran has been set up

Imperialism and method – Mike Macnair

Imperialism versus internationalism – Mike Macnair

Imperialism lives on – Mike Macnair

Secrets and lies – Mike Macnair

Political Islam’s Relation to Capital and Class – Ardeshir Mehrdad and Yassamine Mather Journal Critique

Bitter Reality of political Islam: Lessons of 26 years of Islamic Power in IRAN – text of Yassamine Mather’s Yurukoglu lecture

Middle East: Imperial assault and tasks for the left – Ardeshir Mehrdad interviews Alex Callinicos

Political Islam – Capital and Class – Ardeshir Mehrdad and Yassamine Mather
Variant 25 Spring 2006

Middle East:Cradle or grave of the Empire – Ardeshir Mehrdad
‘Ahmadinejad – Myth and Reality’ Variant Autumn 2006

Iran’s workers need support Weekly Worker 639

Deliberate mistake? Why did Iran’s president demand that Israel be “wiped off the map”?

Against war, for workers’ rights Weekly Worker 623

Sabre-rattling threats – Weekly Worker 593

Workers Left Unity Iran – The anti war movement, Hezbollah and the issue of political freedoms

Fearing for the worst Weekly Worker 583

Dangerous adventure – Iran’s Nuclear industry

Basra quagmire – Yassamine Mather – Weekly Worker 613

The fake left looks to change from above Weekly Worker 582

Alliance Against War in support of Iranian workers’ struggles May 2006 – published in Variant and Workers Weekly

Workers Left Unity Iran calls for participation in 18 March Worldwide protests against the war

Reject sanctions and the mullahs

Open letter to the anti-war movement from Workers Left Unity Iran

La guerre et les luttes de classe Yassmine Mather – À L’Encontre

Conference Papers

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

Conference

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

Meetings

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

Marxistische initiative
Speaker: Nader Sadeh