‘Reformist’ confusion stunts opposition protests

Yassamine Mather reports on the February 11 Revolution Day celebrations

Last week’s official celebrations of the February 1979 uprising that brought down the shah’s regime in Iran stood in total contrast to the events of 31 years ago.

The Islamic state’s lengthy preparations for the anniversary of the revolution included the arrest of hundreds of political activists, hanging two political prisoners (for “waging war on god”), and blocking internet and satellite communications. In addition, the government brought busloads of bassij paramilitaries and people from the provinces to boost the number of its supporters – it considers the majority of the 14 million inhabitants of Tehran to be opponents.

The 48-hour internet and satellite blackout was so comprehensive that the regime succeeded in stopping its own international press and media communications. On the morning of February 11 connections to Iran’s state news agency and Press TV were lost. Foreign press and media reporters found themselves confined to a platform next to where president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was speaking. Neighbouring streets and squares were barred to them. The bassij blocked all routes to Azadi Square by 9am and dispersed large crowds of oppositionists who had gathered at Ghadessiyeh Square and other intersections, preventing them reaching the official celebration.

From the speakers’ podium, surrounded by bassij and revolutionary guards, many of them dressed in military uniform, Ahmadinejad produced yet another fantastic claim. In the two days since his instruction to Iran’s nuclear industry to step up centrifuge-based uranium enrichment from 3% to 20%, this had already been achieved! Nuclear scientists are unanimous that such a feat is impossible.

Huge flags surrounded the Azadi Square podium and the official demonstration was dominated by military figures – typical of the kind of state-organised shows dictators such as the shah have always staged. The crude display of military power, together with the severe repression in the run-up to the anniversary, had nothing to do with the revolution it was supposed to commemorate.

In fact the events of February 11 2010 were the exact opposite of February 10-11 1979, when the masses took to the streets and attacked the repressive forces of the regime, when prison doors were broken down by the crowds and political prisoners released, when army garrisons were ransacked and the crowds took weapons to their homes and workplaces, when the central offices of Savak (the shah’s secret police) were occupied by the Fedayeen, and when airforce cadets turned their weapons against their superiors, paving the way for a popular uprising by siding with the revolution.

The show put on by our tinpot religious dictators was an insult to the memory of that uprising. Yet despite all the efforts and the mobilisation that had preceded the official demonstration, despite the fact that the confused and at times conciliatory messages of ‘reformist’ leaders had disarmed sections of the green movement, the regime could only muster 50,000 supporters. Meanwhile tens of thousands in Tehran and other cities took part in opposition protests – even in the streets close to Azadi Square despite the presence of large numbers of bassij. The protests were so loud that, according to Tehran residents, the state broadcast of Ahmadinejad’s speech had to be halted and instead TV stations showed the flags and crowds to the accompaniment of stirring music. Fearing that the bassij might not be able to control the protesters gathering in neighbouring squares, the government decided to start its extravagant ceremony early and then cut it short. So, despite only beginning at 10am, it had finished by 11.30.

Over the last few months there has been a lot of official nostalgia about the1979 revolution and ironically there are undoubtedly political parallels with the current situation – not least the fact that, just like Ahmadinejad and ‘supreme leader’ Ali Khamenei today, in February 79 ayatollah Khomeini was not on the side of the revolution. In the words of Mehdi Bazargan (Khomeini’s first prime minister), “they wanted rain and they got floods” (in other words, they wanted a smooth transfer of power, with the repressive, bureaucratic and executive organs of the royalist state left intact).

Yet the events of February 10-11 1979 shattered those hopes. No wonder the first official call by Khomeini, on the day the Islamic republic came into existence, was for people to hand over seized weapons to the army and police, for ‘order’ and for an end to strikes and demonstrations. From the very beginning religious clerics in Iran were an obstacle to revolution and for the last 31 years all factions of the Islamic Republic, including the ‘reformists’, have done their utmost to negate what was achieved with the bringing down of the shah’s regime.

Looking back at the events of 1979, in many ways it is amazing to think that a rather weak, confused and divided left managed to accomplish so much in such a short time. But for many Iranians of a different generation the current struggles are indeed the continuation of the same process – and many of them are determined to continue this struggle, however long it takes.

‘National unity’

Of course, if the anniversary of the revolution was not a good day for the government, the ‘reformist’ leaders of the green movement too had little to celebrate. Fearful of growing radicalisation, as witnessed by the Ashura protests in December, they spent most of January in both open and secret negotiations with the office of the supreme leader searching for a compromise.[1] Even though by early February it was clear that no deal was on the cards, they continued to issue confusing statements about how to approach the official celebrations.

Both Mehdi Karroubi and Mir-Hossein Moussavi implied that participation in the demonstration (official or otherwise) was important as a show of ‘national unity’. They condemned any attack on the bassij and other militia and repeated their declarations of allegiance to the Islamic Republic. Many of their supporters joined the official protests wearing no identifying colours and were therefore counted by the regime as supporters.

As always, the main problem with our ‘reformists’ is that by remaining loyal to the ‘supreme leader’,[2] by condemning the popular slogan, ‘Down with the Islamic regime’, they fail to understand the mood of those who have taken to the streets in protest. If for a while they were lagging behind the protests, today they no longer even understand the movement they claim to lead. That movement is adamant in its call for an end to the current religious state, an end to the rule of the vali faghih (Khamenei, whose ‘guardianship of the nation’ is supposed to represent god on earth) – the repeated shouts of ‘Death to the dictator’ are directed at the so-called ‘supreme leader’ himself.

The February 11 protests marked a setback for Moussavi and Karroubi – not just in terms of their politics, but also in their choice of tactics. First of all, it is foolhardy to organise demonstrations to coincide with the official calendar of events, as it allows the regime to plan repression well in advance. Secondly, it was absurd to call on people to join the regime’s demonstrations and, thirdly, opposition to a repressive dictatorship cannot simply rely on demonstrations. The state has unleashed its most brutal forces against street protesters, and we need to consider strikes and other acts of civil disobedience too.

A lot has been written by Persian bloggers about the ‘lack of charisma’ of Moussavi and Karroubi. However, the truth is their main problem is not personality, but dithering. This has cost them dear at a time when opposition to the regime in its entirety is growing, and the left can only benefit from this.

The anniversary of the revolution reminded Iranians of the slogans of the February 1979 uprising. The principal demands of the revolution were for freedom, independence and social justice (the ‘Islamic republic’ was a post-revolutionary constitutional formula imposed by the clergy). Thirty-one years later, no-one, not even the majority of Khomeini’s own supporters, who currently form the green leadership, claim there is any democracy in the militia-based monster of a state they helped to create.

Iran’s independence from foreign powers is also debatable. US hegemony might be in global decline, but in Iran, following America’s defeat in February 1979 and the subsequent US humiliation of the embassy hostage-taking in 1980, the last two and a half decades have seen a revival of US influence. As discussed in detail at the February 13 Hands Off the People of Iran day school in Manchester (see opposite), we can even see US influence during the Iran-Iraq war (Irangate and the purchase of US arms via Israel). In the late 1980s US policies of neoliberalism and the market economy dominated Iran’s financial and political scene and since 2001 the Iranian state has supported US military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On the issue of social justice, even though the previous regime’s downfall had a lot to do with class inequality, the Islamic version of capitalism has brought about much harsher conditions for the working class and the poor. The Islamic state’s own statistics show a constant growth in the gap between rich and poor. The impoverishment of the middle classes, the abject poverty of the working class, the destitution and hunger of the shantytown-dwellers – these are all reasons why the current protests continue in urban areas.

Crocodile tears

In the midst of all this internal conflict, Iranians face the continued threat of war and sanctions. On February 15 Hillary Clinton declared: “Iran is moving towards a military dictatorship.” Yet there is nothing new in the power and role of the revolutionary guards in Iran. Ever since 1979 they have been the single most important pillar of the religious state, involved in every aspect of political and military power. What is new is their involvement in capitalist ventures, empowered by the relentless privatisation plans driven by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

In recent years capitalists in Iran and elsewhere have complained about the revolutionary guards’ accumulation of vast fortunes through the acquisition of privatised capital – precisely the pattern seen in eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union and elsewhere. Those in power, often with direct connections to military and security forces, are in a position to purchase the newly privatised industries. That is the case with many US allies in the region, yet we have not heard the state department commenting about ‘creeping military dictatorships’ in those countries.

No doubt, as repression increases, Iranians’ hatred of the bassij and revolutionary guards will increase and they will respond to these forces as they did in the protests of late December and last week. However, they do not need the crocodile tears of the US administration – indeed interventions like those of Clinton and condemnations of the repression coming from the US and European countries tend to damage the protest movement inside Iran. After all, Iranians are well aware of the kind of ‘democratic havens’ created under US military occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the last thing they want for their own country is regime change US-style.

It is difficult to predict how the opposition movement will develop, but those of us who have argued that the current protests have economic as well as political causes are in no doubt that we will witness many more street demonstrations, strikes and other forms of civil disobedience. The state is clearly gearing up for another round of repression and there is no sign that those arrested in the last few weeks will be released. Death sentences have been passed on a number of political prisoners, some of them arrested prior to the elections of June 2009 (some have been found guilty of the crime of participating in protests held while they were in prison!).

Even before the new wave of sanctions hits the country, the economic situation has worsened. Thousands of workers are about to lose their job following the bankruptcy declaration of the electricity and power authority last week. Hundreds of car workers – the elite of the Iranian working class – are being sacked every week. On the other hand, the involvement of the working class in the political arena has increased to such an extent that even the BBC Persian service admits we are witnessing a “qualitative change” in workers’ protests.[3]

Four workers’ organisations – the Syndicate of Vahed Bus Workers, the Haft Tapeh sugar cane grouping, the Electricity and Metal Workers Council in Kermanshah, and the Independent Free Union – have published a joint statement declaring their support for the mass protests and specifying what they call the minimum demands of the working class.[4] These include an end to executions, freedom of the press and media, the right to set up workers’ organisations, job security, an end to temporary ‘white contracts’, equality in terms of pay and conditions for women workers, abolition of all misogynist legislation, the declaration of May 1 as a public holiday with the right of workers to demonstrate and gather freely on that day, the expulsion of religious workers’ organisations, which act as spies, from workplaces …

Meanwhile, Tehran’s bus workers have issued a call for civil disobedience: “Starting March 6, we the workers of the Vahed company, will wage acts of civil disobedience … to protest the against the holding of Mansoor Osanloo in prison. We appeal to the Iranian people and to the democratic green movement to join us by creating a deliberate traffic jam in all directions leading to Valiasr Square.”[5]

Workers involved in setting up nationwide councils have issued a radical political statement regarding what they see as priority demands Iranian workers ought to raise at this stage. Emphasising the need to address the long-term political interests of the working class, they also call for unity based around immediate economic and political demands.

As the struggles in Iran enter a new stage, where the weakness of the ‘reformist’ leaders is causing despair amongst sections of the youth, and at a time when the US, Israel and now Saudi Arabia are issuing threats of direct military action and sanctions, the need for international solidarity is stronger than ever before.

Notes

  1. See ‘Reformists fear revolution’ Weekly Worker January 14.
  2. See, for example, ‘Karroubi accepts Ahmadinejad as Iran’s president’ The Daily Star (Lebanon), January 26.
  3. www.bbc.co.uk/persian/iran/2010/02/100204_l12_ar_labour_movement.shtml
  4. See www.iran-chabar.de/news.jsp?essayId=27347
  5. ahwaznewsjidid.blogfa.com/post-3521.aspx

Against the status quo: An Interview with Iranian trade unionist Homayoun Pourzad

Against the status quo
Against the status quo

Despite unrelenting state repression, there have been rumblings throughout the 2000s of renewed labor organizing inside the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI). One result of this upsurge in labor organizing was the May 2005 re-founding of the Syndicate of Workers of the United Bus Company of Tehran and Suburbs, a union that has a long history, albeit one that was interrupted by the 1979 “Revolution,” after which the union was repressed. The unions’ leader, Mansour Osanloo, was severely beaten and thrown in the Rajaei prison where he remains in a state of deteriorating health. Osanloo is an Amnesty International “prisoner of conscience.”

Another important result of the new labor organizing has been the emergence of the Independent Haft Tapeh Sugar Workers Union which launched an aggressive 42-day strike in June 2008 over wage-theft and deteriorating working conditions. In 2009, the regime imprisoned five union leaders in an attempt to smash the union for “acting against national security through the formation of a syndicate outside the law.”

Since the dramatic street demonstrations that so captured the international media’s attention beginning on June 2009, the direction of events inside the IRI has sparked considerable debate as well as confusion. The continuing rivalry between various power factions within the government lends itself to no easy predictions, while little is known of the internal dynamics of the Green Movement responsible for the demonstrations. The fate of an already vulnerable organized labor movement in this volatile environment is likewise unclear. Whatever the outcome of the current power struggles, the future of Iranian organized labor is now an international issue. Its right to organize is in desperate need of support.

Following the U.S. Labor Against the War Conference, and in order to better grasp this situation, Platypus Review Assistant Editor Ian Morrison sat down with Homayoun Pourzad, a representative from the Network of Iranian Labor Unions, to discuss the current crisis and the effects of “anti-imperial” ideologies on understanding the character of the IRI. Morrison conducted this interview, which has been edited for publication, on December 3, 2009.

Ian Morrison: Before we get into the current situation, could you explain the organization of which you are a part, the Network of Iranian Labor Unions (NILU)?

Homayoun Pourzad: The idea for the NILU first arose about three years ago. Some of us already had union experience dating from before the 1979 Revolution. It upset us that, with millions of workers, there were no Iranian unions independent of the state, but only the semi-official Islamic Workers’ Councils. What gave NILU its initial impetus was the Tehran bus drivers’ actions led by Mansour Osanloo and his friends.

There was a nucleus of independent labor organizations in various trades, but the government always moved quickly to stifle that independence. Iran’s Labor Ministry and the Ministry of Intelligence have standing directives to crush independent workers’ activities, regardless of which faction is running the country. The government is very brutal in its attempts to destroy the nascent labor movement.

On the surface it looks like not much is happening with union labor activity in Iran, but even in the face of government oppression, many workers are secretly engaged in organizing underground unions. These efforts have not yet peaked. Also, organizers have to walk a fine line, since once you get too big you are more easily detected. So labor organizers have to be careful how they recruit, and how many workers meet together at once. But the nucleus of the movement is in place and once the situation allows for it there will be a huge mushrooming of independent labor unions. The NILU operates in two different trade associations. We are also doing our best to start publication of a national labor press. The task is to make labor news available and to begin to provide some political analysis.

IM: Could you explain the political crisis in Iran that has unfolded since the election and how it is affecting your efforts to organize labor?

HP: First of all, anybody who tells you that they have a full picture is lying, because the situation is very crazy.

There are at least five dozen, semi-autonomous power centers, factions, and groups vying for influence. Not even [Supreme Leader Ayatollah Sayyid Ali] Khamenei knows for certain what will happen tomorrow. But this does not mean there is complete anarchy. Speaking generally, there are at present four major centers of power, or rather, three plus one. The first three are Supreme Leader Khamenei, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Revolutionary Guards, while the fourth, the nascent popular movement, is of an altogether different character though is still remains somewhat amorphous. It is still finding its own voice, needs, and strengths — but it continues to evolve. For the foreseeable future, the first three powers will more or less effectively determine how things will turn out. This said, Khamenei is already weakened. This is for two reasons: He apparently has health problems and, more importantly, he has had made huge political blunders. In another country, people would probably say,

“He’s only human.” But, in Iran, he is not only human. He is somewhere between human and saint, at least for his supporters and propagandists. But saints are not supposed to make blunders, at least not so many in so short a time!

IM: What is the relationship between the NILU and the nascent popular movement?

HP: There is no organic relationship between them, just as there are no organic relationships to speak of between the different elements of this movement. Mousavi does not even have an organic relationship with his own followers because of the pervasive power of repression. So, the nascent labor movement’s relationship with the popular movement is tenuous by both necessity and because of the way things have evolved. That said, we fully support their goals and will participate in all demonstrations. We even support Mousavi himself because he has remained steadfast at least up until now in defending the people. So long as he continues to do this, he deserves our support. Of course, if he changes tack, that is a different story. We think this is a truly democratic movement such as we have not seen in Iran before, including during the Revolution. Every group involved with the Iranian Revolution, without exception, believed only in monopolizing power; democracy was nobody’s concern. But now there is a very mature movement in that sense, particularly among the young people, and the fact that it has withstood so much violence in the last few months shows that it is deeply rooted. Many people were worried at first that the protests would fizzle out, but the continuance of the actions up to this day vindicate our support. The Iranian government has really gone overboard with stopping the protestors — it has been very bloody and violent — and still they have been unable to squash the protests entirely.

IM: But do you think Mousavi stands for workers’ rights at all? He seems to have a checkered political history.

HP: We do not know what his stance is. He seems generally favorable to workers’ rights, but, at any rate, our platform is not identical to his. The movement supporting Mousavi is a broad national-democratic front; we are all working with a sort of minimum program. The movement has formulated no long-term plans, and it is now in danger of being decimated. We do not have any illusions that anyone in the leadership of the Green Movement is 100 percent on board with workers’ rights, but this is not the time to discuss that. Right now, we are fighting a dangerously reactionary dictatorship. Things will become clearer as time goes on, but right now we do not seek to magnify the differences among those opposing the dictatorship.

IM: There are some who see Ahmadinejad, because he is so anti-American, as anti-imperialist, and thus as leftist. What is your response to such characterizations?

HP: Well, the problem with this argument is that it assumes everyone in the world who rants and raves against the U.S. or Israel is somehow progressive. Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar, Sada’am Hussein, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — these men are all more truly anti-American than any leftist. But the rhetoric of Ahmadinejad and his ilk is all demagoguery, as far as we are concerned. Either it is in the service of power politics, or else it is just a fig leaf to hide the disgrace of their own politics, which in all these cases is profoundly anti-Left and anti-working class.

IM: Still, in the peace movement here some people are uncomfortable taking a stand against Ahmadinejad or policies in Iran because they think that this is tantamount to supporting American policy.

HP: Well, I can tell you how every democratically minded person in Iran would reply: Ahmadinejad is essentially creating the ideal situation for foreign intervention. He is deliberately provocative. For instance, there is no need to use the kind of language he uses against Israel; it is genuinely odious, his frequent comments about the Holocaust and the like. But he speaks like this for a reason: He is a right-wing extremist seeking to rally his people through fear and hatred. That is what he is doing. To us it is actually incomprehensible how anyone could support Ahmadinejad just because he rants and raves about America. It really makes no sense to us. When I tell people in Iran that there are some progressive groups in America that support Ahmadinejad, they think I am pulling their leg. It makes no sense to them. But I know that this goes on and, to the extent it does, it gives the Left a bad name.

IM: What is your take on Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is very popular on the Left in America? He is interviewed in progressive organs such as The Nation, for instance. He appears on the mass media as leading a front against America together with Ahmadinejad.

HP: We really do not know. We are really confused as to why Chavez is Ahmadinejad’s buddy. It makes no sense to us. It has made it almost impossible in Iran to defend his Bolívarian Revolution. When you have people being beaten or tortured, and so on, and then tell them, “Well, there is this government that supports your government, but these guys are good guys,” it is difficult to fathom, really. We hope that Chavez changes his policy, because when there is a change of government in Iran it will be accompanied by a total rupture with everyone who supported Ahmadinejad.

IM: What in your view is fueling the current crisis?

HP: Well, let me go back to a point I was making earlier. Ayatollah Khamenei, because of his errors, has seen his status diminished. He no longer has about him the mystique that once so terrified and intimidated people. Then you have Ahmadinejad, who has turned out to be a rogue element for the regime, one that is perhaps doing more damage than good for them right now. Then there are the Revolutionary Guards, who have the bulk of the real power in Iran. They have made a power grab all over the country, so that now they control the economy, the political situation, and the Parliament. Still, Khamenei, Ahmedinejad, and the Revolutionary Guards are in an ongoing struggle for power. They unite only in the face of common enemies, whether internal or foreign, and not always then.

The current crisis in Iran is best understood as a set of concurrent crises: First, there is the legitimacy crisis, which I discussed just now with reference to Khamenei; second, is the political crisis where the various factions within Iranian “politics” cannot agree on anything; third, is the economic crisis which the ruling class is utterly incapable of addressing. The country was in recession even before the election. What will bring the economic crisis to a head is Ahmadinejad’s plan to cut all the subsidies, which are quite big, between 15 to 20 percent of the GDP (though nobody really knows for sure the exact amount, due to the lack of transparency in the administration). The supposed populist Ahmadinejad intends to cut the subsidies for transportation, utilities, energy, and even for staples such as rice and wheat. After this happens, there will be spiraling inflation, of course. The cut in subsidies for energy and utilities will force factories currently operating at a loss and/or below capacity to engage in massive layoffs. That is when we will see a number of labor actions. There may also be short-lived and violent urban uprisings. But rather than these riot-like urban uprisings, we are focusing on organizing labor to bring the country to a halt if need be.

Iranian labor is in a really awful situation, arguably the worst since its inception a century or so ago. With millions of workers in the formal sector, we still lack official, legal independent unions. On the other hand, the situation is ideal for organizing. The labor force is ready for independent assertion, though they need the kind of support that only comes from dedicated organizers.

Iran’s spiraling political and economic crisis coincides with another crisis that is only just beginning, the international crisis regarding the nuclear problem. Diplomatic talks are failing, as was inevitable. We feel that the regime is trying to build a bomb, but probably not testing it for a while. There is a clear danger that this might lead to an air attack or to some other form of major military intervention, which would divert attention from the internal situation. Indeed, as I said above, this is what this regime is hoping for. It would be a monumental mistake if there were to be an attack against Iran, since the nuclear program can only truly be stopped if the popular movement becomes more substantial and is able to change the government, or at least force changes in its policies.

IM: So your sense is that, with the nuclear program, Ahmadinejad is actually trying to provoke aggression?

HP: Indeed. We condemn any kind of foreign intervention, but we also condemn Ahmadinejad’s provocative policies, in part because they are geared toward provoking just such an intervention. Anyway, we do not think the military route is the way to go with this, because it is not likely to succeed even in halting the nuclear program. We think the labor movement in Iran is poised to play a strategic role, even on the international stage, because once the working class organizes itself, it really can cripple the regime, especially given the current economic crisis. And, as I say, a major strike wave is looming in Iran.

The situation for Iranian workers right now is dismal. For the last 4 or 5 years the demand for labor has dropped. There is also the mania for imports that Ahmadinejad has encouraged for the last 5 years. The result is that across the country factories are facing shutdowns and bankruptcy. There is also an immigrant Afghan labor force of roughly seven hundred thousand, with whom we sympathize, and whose expulsion from the country we oppose just as we oppose the many forms of coercion and discrimination this government levels against them, but it is a fact that their acceptance of as little as 50 to 60 percent of normal salary exerts downward pressure on everyone’s wages. So, if you look at all these factors, you see that things are really awful for Iranian workers; their bargaining position is weak. In the current environment, once you go on strike or you have some sort of shutdown, they can easily fire you and find someone else.

The labor status quo has also changed. Few people are aware of this, but Iran once had very progressive labor laws. In the aftermath of the Revolution, it was very hard to legally fire workers. But now, 65 or 70 percent of the labor force consists in temporary contract workers who lack most basic rights. They can now get fired and be deprived of their benefits quite easily. This is what makes the situation so very ripe for organizing, and makes organization necessary, despite the regime’s brutal repression. They do not allow for any labor organizations independent of the state, and they are ruthless. The least that could happen to an exposed labor organizer is that he gets fired and thrown in solitary confinement for several months.

This year is critical for the Iranian labor movement in many ways, and we need support of all kinds. Iran is in great danger. The government acts like an occupying army. It treats the country’s ethnic minorities — Kurds, Baluchis, and Arabs — as though they were foreign nationals. The resulting national disintegration grows worse day by day. At the same time, extremist groups are finding it increasingly easy to operate. Among the Sunni minority, fundamentalism is growing.

There is nothing to be said in favor of this regime, after the election. Before the election, there were perhaps some disparate elements within the government working toward reform, but this has ceased to be the case. All that remains is extremely retrograde: the government is ruining the country’s culture and economy, while sowing discord among the people. They are turning minorities against each other and against the rest of the country — Shia against Sunni, not to mention men against women — all because the Islamic Republic state wants to retain and expand power. When these methods fail, they turn to brutal and undisguised repression.

IM: I am wondering about the comparison of what is happening today to the 1979 Revolution. There were mass mobilizations then, with various leftist groups and parties involved, but when the Shah fell, it left a power vacuum that was filled by reactionaries. First, is the comparison salient? Second, is there the possibility of there emerging a power vacuum, and what can the labor organizers do in this situation?

HP: You are wondering if, because there is not a clearly formulated platform for the movement, that it may go awry, and extremist groups come to power? Of course, this is a possibility. But I think there are reasons to be optimistic. Thirty years of this sort of psychotic, pseudo-radical extremism has really taught everybody a lesson. You have to be either extremely naive, or a direct beneficiary of the system not to see that the country has been harmed. In general, the young people are more mature than their parents’ generation. The youth do not have the same romanticization of revolutionary violence, which was one of the reasons things got out of hand in 1979. It was not only the clerics that were extremists, practically every group endorsed revolutionary violence of one kind or another; it is just that in their mind their violence was justified, whereas everyone else’s violence was “reactionary.” The new generation does not hold those beliefs. Iranian society has a strong extremist strand, but I believe that is changing now. There is a belief in tolerance, in wanting to avoid force, and in trying to understand one’s political opponents rather than just crushing them. This is something extremely important and not altogether common in much of today’s Middle East.

Let me also say, along these lines, that Islam has never really undergone a Reformation. But we are seeing signs of this happening in the IRI today. It is happening very quietly in the seminaries. It could only happen where Islamists have actually come to power and shown beyond all doubt the inadequacy or even the bankruptcy of their ideas and their ideologies. This forces healthy elements within the clergy — not those who are out there to enrich themselves, but those who are religious because they are utopian-minded — to go back to their books, to the Koran, to revise the old ideas. Such clerics are not in the majority yet they are sizable and they are spread throughout the clerical hierarchy from grand Ayatollahs to the lowest clergy. Earlier, the idea of reforming the medieval interpretations of the Koran and Islam came mainly from Muslim intellectuals, but now a considerable part of the religious hierarchy is coming to the same conclusion. Some are operating in very dangerous circumstances. There is a special court of clergy, similar to the Inquisition courts, that want to silence them. But such ideas cannot be silenced so easily.

If there is a military attack on Iran, it will set back the progress of many years. This is exactly what the regime wants, at this point, which is why Ahmadinejad is so provocative. He wants the Israelis to launch an air strike. The West cannot simply bomb a few installations and think that it will all be done. The current regime would strive to escalate that fight. Even if Obama verbally condemns an intervention in Iran by another nation, Iran will use it as a pretext to expand the fight and things will rapidly get out of hand. It would provide him with a new recruitment pool, which is drying up, because right now the best and the brightest of Iran do not go into the Revolutionary Guards. Their recruits today are opportunists or those who simply need the money. The people are turning against the regime. What could change all this is if we came under attack, if, as they would claim, “Islam is threatened.” The regime might then successfully stir up nationalistic sentiments, perhaps not so much in Tehran, but that is only 14 million or so. Most of the country lives in smaller towns, and the only news they get comes from state broadcasts. These people could become recruits, leading to all sorts of awful things. In the meantime, at the very least we will continue to see street fighting, riots, and so on. The youth will only endure torture and being kicked out of schools up to a point. As it is, the regime opens fire on peaceful street demonstrations — I have seen it myself. The government’s hope is that some of the young people will arm themselves and fight back. That is one of the dangers here.

IM: You are here for the U.S. Labor Against the War Conference. What sort of relationships do you hope to build with other labor unions in America and around the world?

HP: First, I want to communicate to them what is happening in my country, that there is a labor movement and that it needs support. More specifically, even though there is no guarantee that this will change what this government is doing, we hope with the help of our American friends to put together an international committee of labor unions in defense of Iranian labor rights. The Iranian state does not even pretend to care what the international community or the general public thinks of them. Still, they are weaker now than ever before, and the regime is concerned about what might come after a military action or major sanctions. So, for the first time it looks like they are going to be sensitive to what trade unions, especially those against intervention, have to say, or what they will do. In fact, Ahmadinejad’s government has been sending envoys to the International Labor Organization (ILO) and courting it assiduously. They go out of their way to placate them, whereas ten years ago they did not give a damn what the ILO thought. So there may now be some scope to pressure the regime to release imprisoned labor organizers. In addition to that, we would like to inform the American labor movement and the public at large of the dangers of any kind of military intervention.

IM: Do you think there are any possibilities for a party of labor in Iran? That is a problem all over the world. Different labor organizations meet up, and there are groups that believe in various trade union rights, and they release statements to that effect. But there is no political body that consistently stands up for working people.

HP: I may have sounded too much of an alarmist, for I emphasized the dangers. But the opportunities are also great. Like I said, you have almost eight million workers in need of organizing. They will even be able to organize themselves, if the situation changes. The Green movement holds promise, I think. It came totally out of the blue; no one expected it, from the Ministry of Intelligence to the opposition and the foreign governments. This means there are elements that could coalesce into a progressive and democratic labor party. It should not be forgotten that Iran not only has a huge working class, but also a tradition of left-wing activity going back some 100 years. The working class in Iran, moreover, is not semi-proletarian as it was during the Iranian Revolution. This generation of workers has advanced political skills and a mature political worldview. You are no longer dealing with peasants just come to the city. Iran is fairly industrialized in many ways and these workers have their own subcultures. We have a good situation in that sense. So yes, there is a good possibility that we will have a strong labor party. The conditions are there, but none of this will materialize without a strong, deeply rooted labor movement.

So what needs to be done? We must put across to other sectors of society what the working class stands for. The protest movement is now primarily middle class. That is its primary weakness. But once labor strikes get underway in the next few months, we hope they will change how the Green movement sees the workers, themselves, and their moment. It is our job as labor activists to put across a genuine working class platform and to familiarize the country with working class demands.

We cannot, as some Left groups do, start condemning the Green Movement just because it lacks a strong Left component. It is the Left’s job to influence the movement and to see that its demands and wishes are incorporated-not just with respect to Mousavi, but to the movement as a whole.

We cannot start condemning the movement even if and when it starts lurching to the right, because, again, it is the Left’s job to be there side by side with it. By being there, I mean, for example, our press must also reflect their concerns and their needs. We should not be supercilious, but rather have a healthy dialogue with all the different contingents within it. Above all, we should not speak from above in a condescending manner. Only when we are side by side with the people who are fighting on the streets will they listen to us. In the last six or seven months, there has been an incredible growth of interest in the Left. This has been very spontaneous, among young people. If anything, the old generation mishandled their political situation and turned young people off by looking down on them.

If the labor movement gets its act together, it could really help the present popular movement, which, on its own, lacks the muscle to stand up to the regime. With the workers on board there can be economic strikes. In 1979, for months there were people yelling and clamoring in the streets, but it was only when the oil workers entered the picture that the Western governments told the Shah to leave.

Because of all this and because of the fact that the labor movement, by its nature, tries to avoid extremism or revolutionary romanticism, there is reason to hope. The labor movement’s pragmatism allows it to stave off the dangers of extremism from both Left and right. The two main labor unions, the sugar cane workers and bus drivers, are resolute in protesting against the status quo and advancing their political and social agenda. They are supported by over 90 percent of the work force. If you talk to bus drivers in Tehran they are all upset about what has happened recently, but you never hear anything disparaging about the union leadership and what they have done. This shows the kind of work organizers have done. This was not a spur-of-the-moment thing. They organized over several years and held many sessions with intellectuals who taught them constitutional rights, economics, and so on. But, of course, there have been mistakes, as is to be expected. But those mistakes were necessary in some ways, so that the rest of the labor unions will not repeat them.

 

Source: Platypus Review

Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri (1922-2009)

Montazeri The contradictory figure of Ayatollah Montazeri died in the early hours of Sunday, December 20. In one of his last statements, he warned that the current crisis in Iran was threatening the entire basis of the regime.

Yet how did this man – originally a stalwart of the state, one of the main architects of the Islamic Republic of Iran and, until 1989, a designated successor of the Islamic Republic’s founder, Khomeini – come to such a dramatic conclusion?

The official version of events has it that they fell out over Montazeri’s opposition to the execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988. The truth is that conflict had flared between them earlier. Official history will remember Montazeri as the man who played a crucial role exposing the Iran-Contra scandal. This was a scandal that both revealed the emptiness of the regime’s ‘anti-imperialist’ credentials and also something about the nature of this man; a senior, yet simple cleric who had maintained illusions about these rhetorical pretensions (despite weight of the evidence to the contrary that had piled up by the mid-1980s).

Thus, he was genuinely horrified to discover that the inner circles of the regime – from Khomeini to Hashemi Rafsanjani, from Khamenei to Moussavi – were deeply implicated in the arms for hostages scandal. Iran was sold arms via Israel, including Hawk missiles, at a time at a time when the USA was publicly calling for a worldwide ban arms sales to the Islamic state.

Iran was loudly claiming to implacably oppose both US imperialism and the Zionist state. Yet the quid-pro-quo for the Israeli-brokered arms deal was Iran facilitating the release of US hostages held by Hezbollah in Lebanon. The negotiator in the US was Lt. Colonel Oliver North, a military aide to the National Security Council, reporting to Robert McFarlane, and later John Poindexter. An inventive reactionary, North improvised an addendum to the plan: diverting proceeds from the arms sales to support the counterrevolutionary Contra rebels in Nicaragua.

Montazeri was horrified to when he found out about this sordid deal. It was his office that leaked the news of Reagan’s secret talks with Iran to a Lebanese newspaper and provided background information about the rest of the deal. The Lebanese paper’s scoop was picked up by the world’s media and this broke Iran-Contra affair worldwide.

Khomeini and others involved in the conspiracy were furious and started a campaign to undermine Montazeri. His solidarity organisation (set up to support ‘anti imperialist’ movements throughout the world) was taken over and its head, one of Montazeri’s relatives Mehdi Hashemi, was executed.

To undermine him, Khomeini’s inner circle (including Rafsanjani and Moussavi) encouraged rumours and jokes about his simple- mindedness. When Montazeri met students returning from higher education abroad, they introduced themselves to him as holders of Phds and MScs.  Montazeri was supposed to have replied that his son had a BMW.

At the end of the Iran Iraq war in 1988, Khomeini issued orders to execute political prisoners who were beyond ‘redemption’. That year, thousands of Mojahedin and communist prisoners were executed – despite the fact that most of them had already received custodial prison sentences or even had served their sentence and were eligible for release.

Montazeri broke ranks with other clerics in condemning the executions. In a letter to Khomeini he wrote : “our prison system and our human rights record are worse than the Shah’s regime”. All this despite the fact that he was aware of Khomieni’s illness and was thus potentially weeks away from becoming  “Supreme religious leader” himself.

Of course had he not been an Ayatollah, he would have paid with his life for any of the above offences. As an Ayatollah, Montazeri’s worst punishment was a period of house arrest in 1997 after he had criticised Khamenei’s leadership. In June 2009, he called the presidential election results fraudulent and later issued a fatwa against Ahmadinejad’s government.

Yet protest movements against religious states do not need ‘spiritual leaders’, and Montazeri himself would have objected to being dubbed as such by sections of the ‘Green Movement’ and the media. However, in one of his last statements he warned Khamenei that the current political crisis in Iran was now endangering the very existence of the Islamic regime. It is likely that the words of this senior cleric, one of the founding figures of  an Islamic Republic now riven with crisis, will haunt Iran’s rulers in the months to come as they stumble from one crisis to another.

Yassamine Mather, Hopi Steering Committee

Is it the oil, stupid?

To say that oil figures prominently in the Middle East is to state cyrusbinathe obvious. However, does this mean that the politics of imperialism in the region should be solely or mainly explained through attempts to gain control over oilfields and pipelines? That has certainly been the approach of much of the left in Britain and elsewhere. Noted US-based academic Cyrus Bina, author of The economics of the oil crisis, disagrees with such crude simplifications. Having studied the oil industry, international relations and global economics for many years, he has developed a sophisticated Marxist theory of the oil crisis, oil rent, and monopoly and competition in the oil industry. Here, in this short, representative, article, first published in 2004, he makes a convincing case that the US under George W Bush was not concerned with obtaining direct control over oilfields.1 With the ongoing US-UK campaign to impose tougher sanctions on Iran, including its huge oil industry, plans for regime change brought about from above and, failing that, a devastating military strike, the left urgently needs to correct past mistakes. Cyrus Bina is about to embark on a speaking tour of Britain that will include meetings in Manchester, Glasgow and London. In particular he will be addressing the November 28 annual general meeting of Hands Off the People of Iran

Saddam Hussein was an ideal enemy and Iraq was an easy target. Iraq had already lost nearly two thirds of its forces and more than 80% of its infrastructure and civil society in the 1990-91 Gulf War and, if that was not enough, it was subjected to frequent American and British bombings, along with nearly 12 years of stringent sanctions. The war against a weak symbolic enemy seemed inevitable.2

In the May 12 2003 issue of The Nation, there appeared a tiny piece entitled, ‘It’s the oil, stupid’, by Michael T Klare, who – like much of the majority of the popular left – is obsessed with oil in connection with the deceitful invasion of Iraq by the Bush administration.

To be sure, the motivation of the Cheney-Wolfowitz gang and the impeachable actions of the president himself all point in the direction of personal gain. Similarly, the fact of the transfer of tens of billions of dollars from the public coffers to the willing hands of a handful of favourite companies that were readily chosen as the beneficiary of this destructive creation is beyond dispute. Yet, to be worthy of analysis, one needs to be brave enough to go beyond surface phenomena in order to grasp the complexities associated with deeper epochal understanding of this bizarre tragedy.

Writers like Klare and George Caffentzis (the latter, incidentally, holds that oil is a “metaphysical” commodity) should realise that their oil scenario, firstly, ignores the analytical periodisation of oil history into: (a) the cartelisation of oil; (b) the transitional period of 1950-72; and (c) the globalisation of the entire oil industry since the mid-1970s. Secondly, it overlooks the distinction between ‘administrative pricing’ and value theoretic price formation. Thirdly, it neglects the nature of property relations, formation of differential oil rents, and character of the Organisation of Oil-Exporting Countries (Opec) in the (post-1974) globalisation of oil. Fourthly, it discounts the pivotal role of the least productive US oilfields that is key to the worldwide pricing of oil. Fifthly, it fails to recognise that Opec prices are constrained by worldwide competitive spot (oil) prices, and thus Opec oil rents are subject to global competition. And finally their oil scenario fails to realise that the unqualified usage of words, such as ‘access’, ‘dependency’ and ‘control’, in the context of a globalised oil industry, is anachronistic.3

Hegemony and mediation

The concept of hegemony is indivisible and ‘organic’ in respect to its constituent economic, political and ideological counterparts. And it is due to the consensual internal dynamics and intrinsic ideological power of the whole that one can exert minimal external and antagonistic power projection. This, in a broad measure, defines hegemony and its relevance to international relations, for instance, during the rise and fall of Pax Americana (1945-79). Gramsci, nevertheless, focuses on the “organic intellectuals” and examines their relationship with the “world of production” mediated through the complex intricacies of “civil society” and “political society”.4

Hegemony, in my view, has four characteristics. It must be: (a) organically consensual; (b) internally driven; (c) historically endowed; and (d) institutionally mediating. The focus here is upon the rise and fall of Pax Americana, a historically specific inter-state transnational system that rose after 1945 and fell in the late 1970s. The matter of hegemony and hegemonic structure is the mutual characteristic of the system as a whole, and not a separate property of the hegemon. Therefore, given the demise of Pax Americana, the claim of American hegemony remains baseless.

The epochal measure of hegemony

In order to see the concrete manifestation of hegemony in the then-ascendant Pax Americana,5 one has to focus on the application of the (tripartite) ‘doctrine of global containment’ after World War II. This doctrine embodied: (a) the containment of the Soviet Union; (b) the containment of democratic/nationalist movements in the ‘third world’; and (c) the containment, cooption and moulding of the social, political and intellectual atmosphere in the United States.6

The example of the first containment is the forceful confinement of the Soviets behind the ‘iron curtain’ and imposition of cold war. The cold war was a multidimensional hegemonic phenomenon, spanning the economy, polity and the entire realm of culture and ideology worldwide.

Evidence of the second type of containment is the declaration of an anti-colonial policy, on the one hand, and subversion of the democratic national movements in the ‘third world’, on the other. This doctrine often led to covert campaigns and coup d’etats that brought a number of dictatorial regimes to power whose contradictory material existence and discursive mirror image have, nevertheless, become an embodiment of Pax Americana itself.7 At the same time, America’s deliberate attempt at the speedy economic transformation of these social formations – for instance, via the introduction and forceful implementation of universal land reform programmes – has led to their hasty inclusion within the capitalist sphere of transnational exploitation and transnational markets.

Finally, the third containment strategy was implemented in terms of US domestic thought control and marginalisation of independent and militant institutions and labour unions within America’s ‘civil society’. Thus, historically, the American state smashed the militant labour unions and political and professional institutions of the left in order to universalise a ‘hegemonic model’ of intellectual emulation that shifted the entire American political spectrum significantly to the reactionary right. McCarthyism was just the tip of the iceberg in this regard.8 Here, underpinning social relations, on the one hand, and the mediating economic, political and ideological institutions, on the other hand, have reflected the measure of hegemony embedded in this system.

At a more concrete level, since the 1970s, it is through the particular historical relationship of state and the manifold social, political and economic integration and disintegration vis-à-vis transnational capital that the US-dominated hierarchy of Pax Americana and thus American hegemony has come to an end. Yet during the ‘golden age’, Soviet containment had its own manifold objectives that proved successful. The containment of democracy and independence in the third world chunk of Pax Americana had, nonetheless, left some degree of formal national sovereignty. And post-war containment of people’s political thought and action in US domestic ‘civil society’ had not led to the establishment of a police state with arbitrary, pre-emptive and systemic totalitarian objectives, if not practices.

In December 2001, the Bush administration unveiled its ‘National strategy to combat weapons of mass destruction’.9 The Bush administration used the unfortunate events of September 11 2001 as a convenient cover in order to advance toward its ‘permanent war’ policy.10 This was a formal annunciation of the Doctrine of pre-emption, a fundamental policy break from the Doctrine of containment, as follows:

“An effective strategy for countering WMD [weapons of mass destruction], including their use and further proliferation, is an integral component of the national security strategy of the United States of America. As with the war on terrorism [ie, invasion of Afghanistan, etc], our strategy for homeland security, and our new concept of deterrence, the US approach to combat WMD represents a fundamental change from the past ….

“Because deterrence may not succeed, and because of the potentially devastating consequences of WMD use against our forces and civilian population, US military forces and appropriate civilian agencies must have the capability to defend against WMD-armed adversaries, including in appropriate cases through pre-emptive measures. This requires capabilities to detect and destroy an adversary’s WMD assets before these weapons are used” (emphasis added).11

The mismeasure of ‘blood for oil’

Institutionally, the traditional petroleum cartels must be viewed as a precursor to, and not a substitute for, the highly developed contemporary global oil market. Today’s oil sector is globally structured and competitive.12

Here, contrary to the bourgeois reading of the term, competition is neither perfect nor imperfect. It rather reflects the coercive aspect of concentration and centralisation of capital in the oil industry. Yet, the myth of the war-for-oil scenario is hard to resist.

On the right, in an interview, James Schlesinger remarked: “The United States [Bush, the father] has gone to war now, and the American people presume this will lead to a secure oil supply. As a society we have made a choice to secure access to oil by military means. The alternative is to become independent to a large degree of that secure access.”13 On the left, Michael Klare declared: “Two key concerns underlie the administration’s [Bush, the son] thinking: First, the United States is becoming dangerously dependent on imported petroleum to meet its daily energy requirements, and second, Iraq possesses the world’s largest reserves of untapped petroleum after Saudi Arabia.”14

Thus, the positions of the right and the left on the cause of these wars are remarkably identical. The question is, why? Is it because of the correctness of rightwing neoclassical theory in revealing the universal truth? Or is it because of the fallacious economic ideology that is uncritically accepted by the theoryless and clueless left?

Finally, the Indian leftist electronic journal Aspects of India’s economy devoted its entire December 2002 double-issue to ‘What is behind the invasion of Iraq’.15 The authors conclude, among other things, that the attempted conversion of oil revenues from the US dollar to the euro prompted the invasion of Iraq by United States. As Krugman pointed out in a short note, any possible shift from the US dollar to the euro on the part of Opec will result in a “small change”.16

However, the fly-by-night authors do not lose any opportunity to grasp this straw in the midst of dreadful confusion. The globalisation of oil since the mid-1970s has rendered the sui generis categories of ‘access’ and ‘dependency’ meaningless.17 Based on my value-theoretic framework, I distinguish between what is ‘organic’ and what is ‘conjectural’ in the pricing of oil. To be sure, the price of production of the highly explored oilfields within the US lower 48 states is the global centre of gravity of oil prices everywhere. As a result, in competition, the more productive oilfields in the world are potentially able to collect additional profits in terms of oil rents.

Let us look at a simple exercise, attempting the calculation of the value of all Iraqi proven oil reserves in today’s prices.18 Given the Iraqi proven oil reserves of nearly 110 billion barrels, in two separate assumptions, let us assume two alternative production schedules of 2.5 and 5 million daily barrels, as follows:

If the rate of utilisation of these reserves, ceteris paribus, will be set at 2.5 and 5 million average daily barrels, these oil reserves would be exhausted within nearly 120 years and 60 years, respectively. Accordingly, our respective annual production schedules are:
1. (2.5 x 365 = 912.5) 912.5 million annual barrels
2. (5 x 365 = 1,825) 1,825 million annual barrels.

Assuming $20 per barrel for the price of Iraqi oil (viz the 1990s average market price) and about $10 for the Persian Gulf differential oil rent.19

Let us further assume:
1. an 8% real discount rate;
2. a 3% annual inflation rate;
3. a 3% annual growth rate of addition to the proven reserves.

Scenario 1

1. The assumption of 2.5 million daily barrels: Given an annual production volume of 912.5 million barrels within 120 years and $10 of differential oil rent per barrel, the value of differential oil rents for 120 years is as follows:
912.5 million x 120 = 109.5 billion barrels
109.5 billion x $10 = $1.095 trillion

Given an 8% annual discount rate, a 3% annual rate inflation and a 3% annual growth rate of addition to proven reserves, we have applicable rate of discount of 8%. Thus, the present value of $1.095 trillion at 8% discount rate to be received in a lump sum after 120 years is $106.8 million.

2. The assumption of five million daily barrels: Given an annual production volume of 1,825 million barrels within 60 years and a $10 differential oil rent per barrel, the value of differential oil rents at the end of 60 years is as follows:
1,825 million x 60 = 109.5 billion barrels
109.5 billion x $10 = $1.095 trillion

Given an 8% annual discount rate, a 3% annual rate inflation and a 3% annual growth rate of addition to the proven reserves, we would have applicable rate of discount of 8%. Thus, present value of $1.095 trillion at 8% discount rate to be received in lump sum after 60 years is $10.81 billion.

Based upon the second, much larger figure of the two, the price tag for differential oil rents in Iraq is slightly less than $11 billion. Now, let us assume that the Iraqi oil reserves are underestimated: say, that they are five times the reported figures. Thus, ceteris paribus, one would arrive at $11 billion x 5 = $55 billion. Now, let us double our reasonable figure of $10 for differential rent per barrel. Again, we would never arrive at a figure much larger than $110 billion for the present value of all differential oil rents to be paid to the Iraqis. In other words, the ‘Iraqi oil price tag’ does not exceed $110 billion to be received in lump sum at the end of the period. This is indeed chump change, given the staggering costs associated with prosecuting the war and the unanticipated financial and incalculable human costs of the occupation of Iraq.

Scenario 2

Let us further assume that the proceeds from differential oil rents in Iraq will be received on an annual basis: say, for 55 years. In other words, assume that the Bush administration and its future successors are able to invent a pill that tranquillises not only the people of Iraq, but also the people of the entire world in order to calmly and comfortably steal the Iraqi oil rents for 55 years, till 2058. Now we need to calculate the summation of the present value of annuitised annual Iraqi oil rents for the period of 55 years. This scenario is more realistic, since the payments of oil rents are made on an annual basis. Again, for the sake of argument, we have chosen a much larger average figure of 5 million daily barrels, assuming a very optimistic production schedule:
5 million x 365 = 1.825 billion annual barrels
1.825 billion x $10 = $18.25 billion

The present value of $18.250 billion annual payment, to be paid for 55 consecutive years is equal to $224.8 billion.

According to the Nordhaus estimates, the direct and indirect costs of forceful occupation of Iraq would range somewhere between $120 billion and $1.6 trillion over a 10-year period.20 Should my estimated value of Iraqi oil warrant such a huge undertaking? As we can see, the reductionist view of ‘no blood for oil’ is hardly an answer to the complex objective forces that – despite the misleading intention of new US foreign policy – are underlying the upheavals of present global polity. Rather such misleading intention, and prior and subsequent actions on the part of the US government, are readily explicable by the underlying epochal forces that so irreversibly led to America’s loss of hegemony, on the one hand, and American refusal to accept it gracefully, on the other hand.

This is the main and real cause of the new world disorder rather than this ad hoc ‘oil scenario’ that the popular left harps on about.

Notes

  1. This article originally appeared in Union for Radical Political Economics Newsletter of spring 2004. See www.urpe.org/index.html
  2. See, for instance, a neo-conservative view by Kenneth Adelman: ‘Cakewalk in Iraq’, The Washington Post February 13 2002.
  3. For theoretical underpinnings see C Bina The economics of the oil crisis New York 1985.
  4. A Gramsci The prison notebooks New York1971, p161.
  5. See R Steel Pax Americana New York 1977.
  6. See GF Kennan Memoirs: 1925-1950 Boston 1967.
  7. The 1953 and 1954 CIA coups against Mossadegh and Arbenz are but the two prime examples.
  8. See MB Levin Political hysteria in America: the democratic capacity for repression New York 1971.
  9. One has to distinguish between epochal and temporal reflections of the Bush administration.
  10. The Wolfowitz-Berle neo-conservative project of permanent war, particularly for ‘redrawing’ the map of the Middle East, was formulated long before September 11 2001.
  11. White House The national security strategy of the United States of America September 17 2002, pp1,3.
  12. Here competition is defined in Marxian terms.
  13. J Schlesinger, interview: ‘Will war yield oil security?’ Challenge March-April 1991.
  14. MT Klare, ‘Oiling the wheels of war’ The Nation October 7 2002. As a corollary, the ‘necessity’ of oil exploration from Alaska’s wildlife can also be justified by such arguments.
  15. ‘Behind the invasion of Iraq’ Aspects of India’s economy No33-34, December 2002.
  16. See P Krugman, ‘Nothing for money’, March 14 2003: www.wwsprinceton.edu/~pkrugman/oildollar.html
  17. MT Klare, ‘Oiling the wheels of war’ The Nation October 7 2002.
  18. This is a rough exercise just for the sake of illustration and approximation of the order of magnitude of Iraqi oil rents. One or two points in the discount rate or inflation rate would not make a significant difference in the basic argument. The figure of $224.8 billion is for 55 consecutive years. If the occupation of Iraq is assumed to be for a 10-year period or so, then a fraction of this figure will be relevant, which in turn will be even much smaller in magnitude than the commonly estimated cost of US war and occupation of Iraq.
  19. See C Bina The economics of the oil crisis New York 1985.
  20. WD Nordhaus, ‘Iraq: the economic consequences of war’ New York Review of Books Vol 49 (19), December 5 2002.

Green road to nowhere

iranpic1The sham presidential election of June 2009 has unleashed a rainbow of political forces, writes Yassamine Mather, including an increasingly strong red component. The task of the left is to support and strengthen the red component of this rainbow, the Iranian working class, as the only force capable of bringing about democracy, and the only movement conscious of the international complexities of the current situation

Every day for the last few weeks Iranian workers have been protesting, at times in their thousands – at their workplaces, outside government offices and provincial offices complaining about job losses, non-payment of wages, privatisation … Universities have been the scene of daily protests and ordinary people have used every opportunity, even football matches, to express their opposition to the regime. At the same time a new wave of exiles, including reporters, writers, professors of literature, are leaving the country, despairing of continued repression and the ineffective ‘reformist’ leaders.

For the overwhelming majority of Iranians, however, such an option does not exist. Tens of millions of wage-earners have no choice but to continue their struggles against the regime in their daily confrontation with factory-owners and the religious state that backs them. In the words of those at Wagon Pars, who went on hunger strike last week, workers have “nothing to lose but their unpaid wages”. The 1,700 employees of Wagon Pars, manufacturer of freight wagons and passenger coaches, have been in dispute with management and the state for months over unpaid wages. In August 2009 these workers went on strike and staged a sit-in protest on factory grounds, locking the gates and preventing managers from entering.

The factory had been privatised as a subsidiary of troubled car maker Iran Khodro, after Iran’s supreme leader changed article 44 of the constitution, removing the guarantee of public ownership for key industries. Protests and threats of strike by Iran Khodro workers forced the government to retreat, showing the vulnerability of the rulers when confronted by united working class action. Iran Khodro workers have now won five of their demands, including an overtime pay rise of 20% for all workers on the production line.

Last week there were also major workers’ protests over non-payment of wages in Louleh Sazi Khouzestan (manufacturers of pipelines) and a demonstration by Tractor Sazi workers in Kurdistan, where tens of workers were sacked, while others are expected to work longer hours. Managers in most of these disputes blame the world economic downturn for the new wave of job losses. Nearly four months after the huge demonstrations of June 2009, the continuation of protests in workplaces and universities proves that opposition to the regime goes well beyond the issue of the sham presidential elections.

Sanctions and the working class

Sanctions have compounded an already dire economic situation. In the South Pars oilfields almost 6,000 contract workers are threatened with job losses, as whole fields are abandoned following news that Total, Repsol and Shell are pulling out. The current protests should indeed be seen in the light of the world economic crisis – whose effects have been felt far worse in the countries of the periphery – as well as the impact of sanctions. Iranian workers are adamant that the dire economic situation is one of the main reasons why protests continue and evolve, despite the failures of the green movement. Some of their supporters talk of the “suffocating silence” of the green movement’s leadership.1

Of course, workers’ protests in Iran are nothing new. They have been going on for years. What is different is the massive increase in their number and the introduction of political slogans, such as “Death to the dictator” or “Tanks, bullets, bassij [militia] are not effective any more”, in workers’ sit-ins, protests and demonstrations. Workers were the first section of the population to confront unscrupulous capitalists and the religious state, and their audacity paved the way for the wider opposition to develop. Now they are showing themselves the most tenacious in continuing the protests, even if the western media do not find workers’ actions newsworthy. The problems they face are enormous. Unlike the myriad well funded NGOs, some with dubious links to US regime-change funds, the Iranian working class has no source of ready income. On the contrary, their protests cost workers their meagre wages.

Reporting workers’ struggles on radio and TV is considered ideological, while giving wall-to-wall coverage to the utterances of ‘reformist’ Islamists or bourgeois liberal politicians is deemed ‘impartial’. The state can identify and punish labour activists much more easily than demonstrators. Nowhere is the state’s control more severe than in the oil industry. Worker activists discussing possible strike action are moved from their regular posts to other areas.

Yet none of the state’s increasingly repressive measures seem to deter the Iranian working class, who are turning the defensive actions of last year into more aggressive forms of protest, establishing road blocks, taking managers hostage, bringing their families to occupy closed factories and workplaces. In order to overcome the lack of news coverage of their struggles, Iranian workers are setting up their own means of communication through internet sites and email.

But the combination of proposed new sanctions and the ‘new’ economic policies of the regime will make life even harder for the majority. Just when it became clear that Iran has no intention of adhering to a proposed deal for the ‘resolution’ of its nuclear crisis2 and the US began passing legislation to impose new unilateral sanctions, the majles (Islamic parliament) discussed regulations that would sharply reduce energy and food subsidies, in compliance with long-term demands of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

In the US, the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act (IRSA), approved by an overwhelming 414 to six margin in Congress, will allow local and state governments and their pension funds to divest from foreign companies or US subsidiaries with investments of more than $20 million in Iran’s energy sector. And the house foreign affairs committee has scheduled a vote for October 28 on the Iran Petroleum Sanctions Act (IRPSA) bill. This will impose sanctions on companies involved in exporting refined petroleum products to Iran or expanding Tehran’s capacity to produce its own refined products. Similar sanctions are likely to be imposed by France, the United Kingdom and Germany. Meanwhile most US politicians and commentators agree that sanctions affecting the general population could actually bolster support for the Tehran government.

The new subsidies legislation in Iran will increase the prices of goods, including gasoline, natural gas and electricity. Similar legislation was proposed by ‘reformist’ president Mohammad Khatami during his term (1997-2005), proving once more that, when it comes to major economic decisions, including compliance with IMF demands, the two main factions of the Islamic regime have identical policies. It is therefore no surprise that ‘reformist’ MPs, including supporters of Mir-Hossein Moussavi, the main challenger in the June elections, back the measure.

With subsidies and the current rationing system, a litre of gasoline costs 100 tomans ($0.10). The new bill will raise the price to as much as 500 or 600 tomans per litre – before the effects of US/European sanctions start to bite. The measure could double Iran’s already astronomic rate of inflation, fluctuating between 15% and 30%. It will make the poor poorer, while the rich will be least affected. Ironically, legislative bodies in both the US and Iran are making sure the Iranian people will suffer this winter. Iran is the world’s fifth-largest crude oil exporter, but its eight refineries cannot produce near enough fuel for the home market.

Islamic values?

If anyone had any doubt about the reactionary nature of the ‘reformist’ leaders, this week’s meeting and joint statement from Moussavi and Khatami should have shattered their illusions. They called for “a return to the values of the Islamic republic and to the country’s constitution”. What values are we talking about? Air raids on inhabited villages in Kurdistan in the early 1980s, when Moussavi was prime minister? Or the massacre of peasants who sheltered leftwingers in Kurdistan? The values that led to the mass execution of political prisoners in 1987, or the values behind serial political murders during Khatami’s presidency? The list of ‘Islamic values’ under Khatami and Moussavi is indeed endless. These gentlemen and the ‘reformists’ as a whole are obsessed with calling recent events a coup, as their pleas for a return to the ‘glory days’ of the Islamic republic make clear: Iran had previously been a democracy, you see – at least when Khatami was president or Moussavi was prime minister – but then in June 2009 there was a coup!

In reality, the Islamic regime’s attitude towards any form of opposition has not changed much over the last few months. Opposition groups and labour activists, women and student protesters have been arrested, tortured and executed throughout the last 30 years. What has changed is a reduction in the executive power of the ‘reformists’, who have been part and parcel of the regime. It is hard to see how one could call the current state of affairs a coup when the major players claiming to be the victims still hold their positions. Former ‘reformist’ president Ali Akbar Rafsanjani (1989-97) remains chair of the council of experts and chair of the national security council. Khatami’s International Institute for Dialogue among Cultures and Civilisations is not under threat. Clerical allies of the ‘reformists’ in Ghom remain free to express their opinions.

None of this, of course, makes Iran a democracy. Iran remains a religious capitalist state with all the contradictions of such a combination. However, what we are witnessing is not a coup, but divisions amongst rulers.

Left illusions

The events of June 2009 have unleashed a whole set of new movements in Iran. One can no longer speak of a single movement. In the words of activists inside Iran, we see a rainbow of political forces, including an increasingly strong red component. As I said at the CPGB’s Communist University in August, the task of the left is to support and strengthen the red component of this rainbow, the Iranian working class, as the only force capable of bringing about democracy – but also as the only movement conscious of the international complexities of the current situation.

However, the events of the last few years, as well as the BBC’s obsession with the Iranian clergy and ‘ayatollogy’,3 has moved much of the exiled left and some of their supporters inside Iran further into liberalism and nationalism. For these forces, mesmerised by the euphoria of maintaining ‘unity’, class politics has become a dogmatic irrelevance. Yet there have been very few times in Iran’s history when the role of the working class has been so pivotal in the political arena as it is today – as sections of the Iranian working class, in particular in the oil industry, keep reminding us.4 They are the force that continues to fight for their jobs and their livelihoods, and in doing so they are in the forefront of the battle for democracy.

Throughout the 1970s and 80s, the pro-Soviet Stalinist left in Iran started its analysis of the political situation from an international perspective. According to the dogma, there existed two camps, imperialism and socialism, and from that followed tactics and strategy. In an almost total reversal of that old position, we now see an Iranian ‘left’, often with roots in organisations that had pro-Soviet tendencies, looking only at Iran and analysing the region and the world through the prism of nationalism. No wonder this ex-left has become so liberal in its attitudes towards imperialism, war and sanctions.

By identifying the main enemy as the current regime in Iran with its Islamic characteristics (as opposed to its capitalist nature), this section of the ‘left’ becomes, consciously or unconsciously, part of the rightwing agenda. It seeks justice for Iranian workers from pro-imperialist trade unions; it wants tribunals financed by the Pentagon for abusers of human rights and executioners of political prisoners; it sees nothing wrong with accepting funds from western capitalist organisations to set up NGOs; when it comes to imperialism, it supports ‘third campist’ positions, choosing to ignore the predominant role of the hegemonic forces in world capitalism (this malaise goes well beyond the disintegrating splinters of the Worker-communist Party of Iran, spreading to other sections of the exiled left like a contagious disease).

That is why, at a time of political upheavals which should see the radicalisation of this ‘left’, we hear the most astonishing comments, ranging from the sublime – ‘Both Israel and Palestinians are equally at fault over Gaza’ (the Palestinians presumably for being occupied), ‘We should support a third campist position’ – to the ridiculous – crediting the bourgeoisie in western Europe for “bringing about universal suffrage” (N Khorasani, feminist activist). Our liberal left is keen to talk of social movements rather than class politics, forgetting that social movements, in Iran as anywhere else, are so divided by class, nationality, religion and politics that it is impossible to consider them a single coherent force – the women’s movement being a clear example.

The heralded movement of movements in Iran will go nowhere unless the working class succeeds in putting its mark on current events. In so doing it will inevitably have to deal with the increasing ‘liberalism’ of sections of the ex-left.

We are at the beginning of such a struggle and it will take a long time. Nevertheless the signs from debates amongst workers inside Iran are encouraging. Car workers and oil workers who face international capital in their daily protests seem unaffected by the myth of bourgeois liberal heavens that will permit the development of trade unions, apparently a precondition for all workers’ struggles! The Iranian working class – and here one should include the millions who have lost their jobs because of the neoliberal policies of finance capital – are in daily confrontation with world capitalism.

No wonder, despite their hatred of the Islamic regime, they remain the only class aware of the objective interests of the United States and it allies in controlling the Middle East and the Persian Gulf region. Unlike sections of the national minorities or the women’s movement, which have become pawns in imperialist games, Iranian workers have maintained their opposition to a regime which is subordinate to the US in the global pecking order, and are conscious that their movement must draw clear lines against bourgeois alternatives and imperialist plans.

They are already taking initiatives well beyond the limited horizons of our liberal left, talking of workers’ control in the thousands of abandoned factories and plants throughout the country. They are talking of the need for unity in organising employed and unemployed workers, of the need to set up neighbourhood organisations in working class districts. They are discussing the possibility of a general strike, its likely risks and potential rewards.

They certainly have no illusions regarding any of the shades of the green movement, even though they clearly understand the unprecedented opportunities presented by the current divisions amongst Iran’s theocratic rulers. Our solidarity and our support should be with the working class – and its many allies in the women’s movement, amongst students and in the national and religious minorities.

The Iranian coup four months on

Mehdi Kia examines the state of the movement against the clerical regime

It is now four months since the coup in Iran, thinly disguised as presidential elections. Even though the victors of the coup appear to have succeeded in consolidating themselves and the opposition forces have apparently been pushed back into defensive positions, the massive anti-government demonstrations on September 18 – the last Friday of the month of Ramadan, Quds day, which is traditionally given over to anti-Israel demonstrations – show that there is much life left in the opposition.

Whatever happens over the next weeks and months, the Islamic regime has walked out of its fortress, crossed over the moat and the drawbridge has been irrevocably destroyed behind it. There is no going back. In this article I will outline the reasons for this conclusion, and go on to describe the achievements, the weaknesses and some of the lessons for the progressive forces fighting the regime in Iran. Hopefully there may also be some lessons for the left abroad, confused as it appears to be as to how to interpret the scenarios beamed at it from Iran. In writing this article I am hugely indebted to Ardeshir Mehrdad, with whom I have had many conversations, but I take full responsibility for any errors of fact, interpretation or analysis.

The coup

The people of Iran woke up on June 13 to face a regime that was in fundamental ways different from the one that had been in power when they went to bed. The night before, an hour before the polls closed, the news of Ahmadinejad’s victory with about 63% of votes appeared on the official Pars web site.

One of my friends saw this and in her astonishment rang friends and her brother abroad. But by the time they logged on the page it had been taken down, to reappear about two hours after the polls closed. The figure was to remain more or less the same throughout the next two days as count after count came in. It was a unique example of vote-counting – backwards. Anyone doubting not only the fact that a fraud had taken place, but that its scale was grotesque, must be a believer in Ahmadinejad’s halo1 and his claim to be in touch with the ‘occulted’ 12th Imam. The fraud was clearly part of a plan laid out weeks before by the sepah pasdaran (revolutionary guards). At one stroke they had removed large sections of the clerical establishment from power.

The constitution of the Islamic Republic is a curious amalgam. One arm is a top-down ‘caliphate’, headed by the velayat faqih, who has absolute and unquestionable power over all civil and political society.2 The other arm is a bottom-up ‘republic’, where an executive president and a parliament – the Majles – are elected by direct ballot. These make up the twin-structures of the Islamic Republic.

However, at every level the ‘republic’ is subordinate to the ‘caliphate’. Not only are representatives of the leader implanted into every organ of state, but also he is the head of the judiciary and the military-security apparatus. He chooses the Guardian Council that vets, and can reject out of hand, all candidates and also all laws passed by the Majles.

Yet the elections are not entirely sham. They have allowed the various factions of the regime to gain positions of influence within the power structure using the electoral process. Moreover, the presidency (and its cabinet) has executive power and the leadership depends on it to run the day-to-day affairs of the country.

The June ‘election’ was the last chapter in a political project master-minded by the pasdaran (revolutionary guards) and the osulgran (principled) faction, whose fundamental goal is to rid the country once and for all of the factionalism that has blighted the ruling elite since the beginning.3 Having previously conquered the town councils and then the Majles, the osulgran considered it essential to ensure that the presidency remained in its hands. This was to be the last chapter in the project to remove the factionalism of the regime and achieve yekparchegi (loosely translated as ‘uniformity’) – a continuous aim since the early days of the regime.

Out went the ability of the various factions to use the election process to manoeuvre for power and influence. Out went the ‘republic’ from the ‘Islamic Republic’ amalgam. The revolutionary guards and a handful of mullahs more or less linked to the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, have cleared the way for the unencumbered ‘caliphate’ – or have they?

The protest

The scale of the fraud was such that the people erupted. The streets of Tehran were flooded by thousands who were outraged at the audacity of the ‘results’. Everyone expected some cheating, but not such brazen fraud. Clearly Ahmadinejad subscribes to Goebbels’ dictum that if you make a lie big enough people will believe it – how could anyone lie so blatantly if it was not true? But the people had seen the scale of participation in the voting and witnessed the pre-election fever. Over the last 30 years this degree of voter mobilisation has always meant that the protest vote has been higher.

The shock to the pasdaran was genuine, and I think the revolutionary guards were caught off guard. They had already put in place ‘security precautions’, such as the suspension of  mobile phone SMS services, in case of any protest. But the sheer numbers on Tehran’s streets had not been anticipated. So the pasdaran held back as the scale of demonstrations escalated to nearly three million people by the third day. Then, as the protest gradually lost its natural momentum, they moved in and clamped down until demonstrations of no more than a few hundred people were possible.

It is worth reiterating that in the first days the entire security apparatus available to the regime was mobilised. They had pulled out all the stops. If they had lost that day, it is difficult to imagine what would have happened next. They did not take the risk of confrontation, but bided their time, hoping – correctly, as it turned out – that street protest would slowly exhaust itself.

The day three million pairs of feet marched Tehran’s streets was the day the reformist leaders instructed the demonstrators to walk in silence. They did that after slogans of “Death to the dictator” and “Death to Khamenei” had been heard on the previous days. There could not have been a better example of the limitations of the reformist movement. Stuck between wanting to remain within the constitution of the Islamic Republic and the obvious pressure from below to go beyond, they found themselves performing absurd contortions.

For example, they tried to insist that peaceful demonstrations are constitutional, even though they knew full well that in the very same constitution it is the Council of Guardians which decides what is legal. And when Khamenei, the supreme leader, told the people to stop fussing over a few million votes4 and go home the reformists had the stark choice of shutting up or joining the real opposition to the regime. The final death agony of the reformists is the first main gain of the post-election movement.

As significant was the evolution of the slogans which progressively marginalised and ultimately threaten to sideline and negate the reformist leadership. They went from “What happened to my vote?” through “Death to the dictator”, “Death to Ahmadinejad” and “Death to Khamenei”, to finally “Esteqlal, azadi, jomhuri irani” (“Independence, freedom, Iranian republic”). They shouted this in the streets and, when this became impossible, from rooftops at night. All the main red lines were being crossed. The near sacred ‘leader’ not only became an object of jokes, but people were calling for his death. This had not happened for 30 years and would have been unthinkable to the majority of Iranians even a few months ago. Taboo after taboo was being broken.

The significance of the last slogan cannot be underestimated. “Independence, freedom, Islamic Republic” was the pivotal call of the 1979 revolution – the first two words describing the content and the last the vehicle by which these were supposedly to be realised. This was a democratic, anti-imperialist revolution that contained the illusion that these goals could be achieved through an Islamic regime. By discarding the Islamic Republic but keeping the first two components, the people shouting this slogan were making a clear link with the revolution of 1979, declaring it to be unfinished, while reiterating its democratic and anti-imperialist aims and proclaiming the new, secular vehicle that was to bring them about.

While the slogan is only in its infancy, it betrays the seeds of a true anti-Islamic Republic uprising that is both democratic and independent of foreign influence. No ‘colour revolution’ here! This is the second gain of the post-election movement.

The third achievement was the forging of new links and the rudimentary skeleton of independent organisations. The involvement of youth, and particularly students, at the election headquarters of the reformist candidates allowed the creation of new acquaintances, friendships and political links that were consolidated further over the ensuing street demonstrations. The fact that some of the leadership of these street and neighbourhood actions has been won by the left is noteworthy.

Fourth, when even sections of the ruling elite are forced to admit to and protest against beatings, torture and even rape, then you know that all the curtains have been torn apart. They even tortured the son of a member of the usulgaran (principled) – the victors of the election. Of course torture is not new to the regime and has been well documented by human rights groups. Those reformist leaders who protest today know that very well – some had even participated in interrogations, and served in governments when torture and execution were being conducted on an industrial scale. Neither is rape a new political weapon – at one stage it was systematically carried out against female political prisoners to make sure they could not enter heaven.5 Grieving families in 1981-83 were given not only the bullet that killed their loved one (and charged for the cost), but also a ‘marriage’ ring by the pasdar who had raped them. That was the macabre ritual of some of the rapes that took place in the prisons of the regime.

This time rape of both men and women was used as a weapon of terror. To admit to this is to cross another red line. The ethical pretensions of the first “rule of Allah on earth”6 in modern times lies in ruins.

Fifth, the very fact that the protest movements have broadly kept under the ‘green’ umbrella is a sign of the maturity of the Iranian people. There is not one green movement, but several; or, as someone said, many colours are subsumed under the green banner. At one extreme are the followers of the defeated reformist candidates, Moussavi and Karroubi. At the other, radical sections that clearly want to overthrow the Islamic regime, including the left. In between are various shades of groupings, mostly not at all clearly defined.

More importantly they are in a state of flux. This is a movement in development. Most of the tendencies within it are gelatinous and not clearly demarcated from other tendencies. The amorphous mass of protestors are linked through what they do not want. What they do want is in the process of evolution, and evolves at different rates and sometimes in contradictory ways. Thus at any given moment incompatible positions and views may be held by individuals.

At present the reformist leadership provides the radical elements with an umbrella of relative safety. That the physical crackdown, savage as it has been, has been less so than when the regime was liquidating enemies that were clearly outside its own circle – the left and the mujahedin – is evidence of this.

Finally there was the ability of the protestors to use all modern means of communication: SMS, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube projected every move, every protest, every battle, every beating and most shootings across the world. Blogs and internet sites updated the world on a minute-to-minute basis. Internet-savvy youth circumvented all efforts to block the information flow. Countless servers abroad were used to bypass the regime’s censorship.

The Iranian protest movement became truly internationalised. The entire world saw Neda Aqa-Soltani’s last dying moments. Her child-like innocent eyes as they glazed over with death looked out at all of us, and indelibly imprinted that look in the global memory. The brutal extinguishing of Neda’s young life, a life with such hope, so courageous, also sounded the death knell for the regime which pulled the trigger.

The costs

The achievements were underwritten by blood. Over a hundred killed, thousands beaten, tortured, raped. Many broken spirits forced to confess on television to absurd links with foreign embassies and agents. Mass trials. More confessions – some, like the one by Said Hajjarian, a former interrogator and one of the theoreticians of the reformist movement, verging on the comic when he blamed foreign textbooks used at the universities for the corruption of youth. And now the first death sentence.7

This is the heavy price that was paid, and is being paid, as thousands remain in prison and arrests continue daily. But, without wishing to belittle the savagery, it is much less severe than what we saw in the attack on Kurdistan in 1979, in the bloody crackdown of the left and Mujahedin in 1981-83 and in the massacre of thousands of political prisoners at the end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988.

Perhaps among the costs we should also list the tactical mistakes made by the opposition. The reformist leadership was overtaken by events at every turn. Moussavi himself admitted in the early days that he followed where the people led. Where the reformists did give directions, these were often mistaken ones, handicapped by the reformists’ contradictory position of being, on the one hand, Islamic regime insiders and, on the other, at the head of an oppositional movement that has no choice but to go beyond the regime if it is to achieve its aims.

Silencing the millions on the one day when their overwhelming numerical advantage could have dealt a serious, even potentially mortal, blow to the revolutionary guards (at least in Tehran, where the regime had mobilised all the forces at its disposal) was a huge tactical mistake. So was sending them into the street day after day in diminishing numbers against an increasingly confident and brutal security apparatus. Calling on them to gather in absurd places, such as in front of parliament, where they clearly were meant to impress the waverers among the Majles deputies. All it did was place a few thousand people in a place with no real means of escaping the rabid revolutionary guards or one million-strong basij militia and their thugs in civilian clothes.

The street was an arena of struggle during the 1979 revolution precisely because the numbers on the street kept on increasing. When it became obvious that the numbers prepared to risk death and almost certain beating was declining, a change in tactics would have been sensible for any imaginative leadership.

The insistence on using slogans that only addressed the issue of elections was yet another error committed by the reformists – again arising from their real quandary. This weakened the ability of the protest to become linked to other social movements – eg, the women’s or national movement. It would have made sense to carry slogans defending the various other democratic demands of the peoples and nationalities of Iran. There was a unique opportunity to unite the various social movements into a larger mass. And to draw the population of south Tehran, the shanty towns and the poorer areas of the various cities into what has been predominantly, though not exclusively, a youthful protest movement in the northern suburbs.

Most critical has been the failure to unite with the rapidly escalating workers’ movement. During the same period workers have been active across the country in numerous strikes, sit-ins, hostage-taking, occupations, road blocks and demonstrations. The economy of the country is in free fall and inflation is rampant. Large sections of Iranian industries are on the verge of bankruptcy. Hundreds of thousands of workers are being laid off or see their jobs on a knife-edge. The casualisation of labour, laying off full-time workers and replacing them with part-time contract workers – on so-called white contracts8 – has made the life of the working people of Iran impossible. Inflation has made already poor workers destitute. Here is a minefield of actual and potential human material for self-organisation and protest.

Finally the protest still remains predominantly in the capital, Tehran. While there have been demonstrations in Isfahan, Shiraz, Mashad, Kurdistan and other towns, they have been somewhat less extensive.

The lessons

What the movement lacks is determined organisation. And what is missing is an organised, united left with a clear view of its aims, a clear strategy and a clear understanding of the tactical steps necessary to arm the amorphous and multi-faceted mass movement with political direction. This is a moment that may only come once in a generation. As the bard said, there is a tide in the affairs of men which taken at the flood leads on to fortune. The tide is in flood and the chance may not return again for the foreseeable future.

Unfortunately most of the forces that are either masquerading as left or are genuinely on the left inside (and indeed outside) Iran have a rather binary, black-and-white vision of politics. Movements are either to be supported outright or rejected out of hand. Yet, on closer inspection the current protest movement in Iran can be seen to be made up of multiple, overlapping circles, with boundaries that are continuously in flux. The contours of these multiple ‘green’ movements are vague and are continuously being dissolved and reformed into new shapes.

This binary view of life and politics is best demonstrated by the attitude of the left to the reformists. Either they reject them outright, ignoring the fact that the reformists, used wisely, can help open up the space for the working class and the struggle for democratic rights. Or they fall behind the reformists, mouthing only the slogans they think are acceptable to them.

One view has in reality no tactics to fulfil its strategy – whether it is a democratic republic or socialism. The goal becomes a mere slogan, an article of faith, like a religious mantra. It remains a distant utopia, since the groups upholding it have no policy to lead us from A to Z.

The other view essentially ditches strategy (if there ever was one), replacing it entirely with tactics. The tactic of the united front becomes the strategy – an aim in itself. These groups become appendages of the reformists, mere followers, mouthing their slogan “Hameh ba ham” (“Everyone together”). Worse, they act as the police of the reformists, fearful of any slogans that might upset the balance, which in practice means only allowing those chosen by the reformist leadership.

Neither group can ever hope to lead the present protest movement out of its current impasse. What is needed is the vision, and leadership, that can utilise a variety of tactics in order to broaden and deepen the current protests, and most importantly to push it beyond the limited aim of a rerun of the latest election. We have seen the seeds of this broader movement in the slogans that have surfaced here and there, as discussed earlier. What is now needed are tactics that allow this passage through the mountain passes ahead; to transform the seeds of a movement into a movement proper.

Looking forward

I will summarise a few points that I believe need addressing, without in any way claiming that these are exhaustive.

First, it is important to realise that at this juncture the reformists do impart an umbrella that provides relative safety for the broader opposition. The fact that the regime cannot slaughter its errant ‘children’ (what it used to call the khodiha – insiders) with the same equanimity and savagery that it can outsiders is witnessed by the reduced scale of the repression compared to previous waves. A vigilant, radical leadership would use this umbrella, without falling under its shadow, and only for as long as it provides a cover. But a radical leadership would pursue its own independent programme and push the movement towards the adoption of tactics that will ensure its deepening and strengthening.

Secondly, one such tactic is the linking of the various social movements – women, nationalities, religious, etc – with the current protest movement. One of the gravest error of the reformist leadership was to ignore everything but the ‘vote’. Demands that relate to these democratic rights should be incorporated in the current struggle, allowing a broader section of society to participate.

Thirdly, a key movement that is currently boiling over with anger is that of the working class – a movement that is fighting for its very survival in the face of neoliberal policies and mass layoffs. There has been little, or no, effort to link the post-election protest movement to the nationwide working class protests which have been escalating over the last two months. Physical and material support for the protesting and striking workers is vital – and vital now. It was the combination of massive street demonstrations and a general strike that broke the back of the shah. Radicals within the protest movement should be aiming towards a general strike by supporting and deepening the present dispersed working class struggles.

Fourthly, the massive unemployment in the country also means that there is a large constituency of the poor – those living on the margins of society in the countless shanty towns surrounding our major cities. Inflation hits these millions harder than any other group, and increasing unemployment constantly adds to their number. These people essentially organise at the neighbourhood level and have been over the years in a continuous fight with the state for the means of life.

Their battle is mainly in the basket of consumption, avoiding taxes, trying to get services such as electricity and water free, over roads, etc. Their main form of struggle is in the streets.9 Their ongoing everyday fight for survival must be linked with the general movement for democracy. These people played an important role in the 1979 revolution. They can do so again.

Fifthly, no real use has been made of the weapon of civil disobedience. For a state desperate for legitimacy, this is a very powerful weapon. A universal campaign to stop paying for water, electricity, municipal tax, etc will greatly weaken the state. These too can be organised at the local as well as national level and is another important possibility for self-organisation.

The use of mass street demonstrations needs to be rationalised. To expect millions to march day in day out shows a poverty of tactics. People will do so only if each day brings out more people than the day before. Otherwise you expose the bravest and most radical of the protestors to arrest and worse. The successful Quds day demonstration showed that, when such protests are chosen wisely, the regime is forced to hold back from the massive repression of demonstrators. The time to call people onto the streets is when they are expected to be on the streets, and stream out with their own independent slogans.

The protest movement has been internationalised, but sadly a large section of its real constituency – the left and progressive forces abroad – are stuck in the swamp of a simplistic, third-worldist ‘anti-imperialism’ lacking class content. It is truly pathetic to see support for a regime whose president communicates with a ghost that died 1,100 years ago, whose regime sacks workers in their millions as part of a neoliberal privatisation policy, whose security forces shoot down peaceful demonstrators. Article after article shows this utter poverty of ideas, the disastrous notion that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.10

There is a saying in Iran, ‘We have little hope of any help from you. At the very least stop harming us.’11 The Iranian left abroad has a clear duty to teach some of its comrades the truths about Iran, help them out of their theoretical cocoon and gain their active support for a principled opposition.

Notes

  1. Ahmadinejad has claimed that during his recent speech to the UN general council a halo appeared over him. He has repeatedly said that he is in direct contact with the 12th Shia imam Mahdi, whose occultation occurred in the 10th century and whose reappearance will herald the day of judgment.
  2. Article 5 of the constitution describes his role in this way: “During the occultation of the vali al-asr (may god hasten his reappearance), the vilayah and leadership of the ummah devolve upon the just and pious faqih, who is fully aware of the circumstances of his age; courageous, resourceful and possessed of administrative ability, he will assume the responsibilities of this office in accordance with article 107.”
  3. See A Mehrdad, M Kia, ‘Regime crisis and the new conservatives’ Weekly Worker September 8 2005; and www.iran-buletin.org: www.iran-bulletin.org/IB-MEF-3/presidentialelections_edited.htm
  4. The regime ultimately accepted that there could have been up to three million fraudulent votes – not enough to upset their safe margin of ‘victory’.
  5. It is believed that virgin girls will automatically go to heaven, whatever their sins.
  6. Article 2 of the constitution states: “The Islamic Republic is a system based on belief in the One God (as stated in the phrase, “There is no God except Allah”), His exclusive sovereignty and the right to legislate, and the necessity of submission to His commands.”
  7. www.iranhrdc.org/httpdocs/English/pdfs/PressReleases/2009/Statement%20on%20execution%20of%20Zamani.pdf
  8. See Y Mather, ‘Misogynist torturers cling on to power’ Weekly Worker August 27.
  9. See A Bayat Street politics New York 1997.
  10. See, for example, www.wsws.org/articles/2009/sep2009/iran-s21.shtml
  11. Ma ra ze kheire to omidi nist, shar maresan.

Threats over uranium enrichment aid regime

We don’t want nuclear power - we don’t want huge salaries. We work so that we can live - we don’t live to work.
We don’t want nuclear power - we don’t want huge salaries. We work so that we can live - we don’t live to work.

Ahmadinejad uses the ‘enemy without’ to justify increased repression, arrests and the torture of the ‘enemy within’, writes Yassamine Mather

The dramatic statements by Obama, Brown and Sarkozy about Iran’s undisclosed nuclear enrichment plant, made in a ‘breaking news’-style press conference on the first day of the G20 gathering in Pittsburgh, were clearly intended to prepare the world for a new conflict in the Middle East. The presentation of the ‘news’ and the language used in delivering the threats were reminiscent of the warnings about Iraq’s ‘45-minute’ strike capability.

According to Obama, “Iran is on notice that when we meet with them on October 1 they are going to have to come clean, and they will have to make a choice.” The alternative to sticking to ‘international rules’ on Iran’s nuclear development, would be “a path that is going to lead to confrontation”.

Yet in some ways the existence of a second uranium enrichment plant is old news. By all accounts US and UK secret services had known about this plant for at least three years – Israel and France also knew about it for some time and had delivered their finding to the International Atomic Energy Agency earlier this year. The ‘dramatic’ disclosures came at a time when Russia was already on board regarding further sanctions. Given its billion-dollar trade with Iran, China – one of Iran’s major commercial partners – is unlikely to change its opposition to further sanctions.

So what was the main purpose of the Obama-Sarkozy-Brown show on September 25? Could it be it was directed mainly to audiences in the US, UK and France, to convince them that, at a time of economic uncertainty, western leaders have to deal with a ‘major external threat’ posed by Iran’s nuclear development?

But the elephant in that press conference room was the Israeli nuclear programme. While Iran might be approaching nuclear military capability by 2010-15 (no-one is claiming it has such capability now), another ‘religious’ state in the Middle East is exempt from IAEA regulations and possesses between 100 and 200 nuclear warheads (this according to US estimates), yet it maintains a policy of ‘deliberate ambiguity’ on whether it has nuclear weapons.

Former IAEA director general Mohamed El Baradei regarded Israel as a state possessing nuclear weapons, but there has been no IAEA inspection, hence the ambiguity over the number of warheads it possesses. Strictly speaking, as a beneficiary of the largest cumulative recipient of US foreign assistance since World War II, Israel is not supposed to have any. Yet every year the US congress approves billions of dollars of US military aid to Israel. For the fiscal year 2010, Obama is requesting $2.775 billion.

The Symington and Glenn amendments to foreign aid law specifically prohibit US aid to nuclear states outside the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). Iran has signed the NPT. Israel has not.

Of course, none of this justifies the Iranian rulers’ obsession with reaching a stage where they can produce nuclear weapons. Unlike middle class nationalist Iranians, who even in their opposition to the regime, favour the government’s nuclear programme, the Iranian working class has been clear on this issue, as shown by placards on recent demonstrations: “We don’t want nuclear power – we don’t want huge salaries. We work so that we can live – we don’t live to work.”

Millions of Iranian workers have not been paid for months, while capitalists and the religious government keep telling them of Iran’s economic crisis and shortfalls in both the state and private funds, yet the Islamic regime seems to have sufficient funds to equip one more nuclear enrichment plant, paying billions – presumably to dubious sources – for black market equipment. The current escalation of the conflict also exposes the stupidity of the Iranian rulers who only admitted to the existence of this ‘secret’ plant after its existence was ‘exposed’.

Of course, Iranians have become so used to hearing total lies from the leaders of all factions of the Islamic regime that the revelation of the existence of this facility, hidden not far from the capital, did not come as a surprise. After all, this is the same government that used Photoshop to pretend a failed rocket did succesfully launch, the same government that cheated in the presidential elections, then lied about the number of people killed in the subsequent protests, and the same government whose president claims to have seen a white light descending from another world while he was addressing the UN assembly in 2007.

Further sanctions will bring more poverty for Iranian workers and it will be the Iranian people who will pay the price for the foolishness of the very leaders they have been protesting against for over two months. The US is keen on sanctions against companies exporting refined oil to Iran (which imports 60% of its requirements). It now looks like France and Germany are sceptical about such sanctions. They refer to the Iraq experience and the ease with which petrol can be smuggled across land borders.

The Iranian government has already indicated that it will cut petrol subsidies. It is blaming the west and hopes such a move will unite the country against the ‘foreign enemy’. Contrary to the pessimism of sections of the Iranian left in exile who ‘despair’ of the growth of the ‘Green’ movement or who have joined the bandwagon behind ‘reformist’ presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Moussavi, workers in oil refineries in Iran are well aware of the historic role of their class in the current situation and there have been discussions regarding strikes in this industry for the last few weeks. These workers have two valid concerns: (1) that their strike should not benefit Moussavi (he is hated by these workers, some of whom remember his time in power); and (2) that their strike should not help US efforts for regime change from above.

Western countries are also considering options including an embargo on investment in Iran’s oil and gas sector, an end to loan guarantees to all companies investing in Iran, a ban on Iranian businesses trading in euros, and a ban on foreign companies insuring Iranian shipping and air transport. All of these measures will target the Iranian people, the majority of whom hate the clerical state.

UN lies

If the Iranian government lied about its nuclear installations, Ahmadinejad’s speech last week at the UN was also full of deceit. His holocaust-denial comments, repeated in every interview he gave while in the US, were a deliberate attempt to divert attention from mass protests at home and to heighten the tension with the rest of the world. This regime and this president rely on foreign crises to survive – he desperately needs enemies abroad to divert attention from problems at home, and the Obama-Brown-Sarkozy trio gave him that.

However, his speech contained other lies. The man who has printed money in an attempt to solve Iran’s economic problems told the world: “It is no longer possible to inject thousands of billions of dollars of unreal wealth into the world economy simply by printing worthless paper assets, or transfer inflation as well as social and economic problems to others through creating severe budget deficits.” He also criticised “liberal capitalism” (as opposed to clerical capitalism?). After all, this is the president of a government that is busy privatising every industry in Iran, from services in the oil industry to car plants and Iran’s national telecommunications. The telecom company was privatised and sold to the ‘revolutionary guards’ in the last week of September, although Iran’s ‘monopoly regulatory commission’ is now said to be investigating this.

However, such actions by Iran’s Sepah Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guards) do not imply that the country is under military capitalist rule: they are controlled by the most conservative sections of Iran’s clerical elite. The Pasdaran ownership of the telecommunication services is only another success for supreme leader Ali Khamenei, his son and the clerics around him, as this ideological military force has no life and no significance without clerical rule.

The few delegates in the UN assembly hall who heard Ahmadinejad condemn the excesses of “liberal capitalism” might have thought Iran is an egalitarian religious society. Nothing could be further from reality. After 30 years in power Iran’s Islamic regime has created one of the most unequal, corrupt societies of the region, where the gap between the rich and the poor is amongst the highest in the world. As Ahmadinejad was speaking, Iran’s car workers (amongst the best paid sections of the working class) were protesting at long shifts causing ill health and workers throughout Iran were on strike or demonstrating against non-payment of wages. While factory closures due to privatisation continue, Aryaman Motors, a Tehran-based company specialising in reproducing classic cars, launched a new series of replica vehicles based on the original design of the earliest Rolls Royce models at $120,000 each – wealthy Iranians have already pre-paid for the first models that will be finished later this year.

In his speech Ahmadinejad also referred to the disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, failing to mention Iran’s role in support of US aggression in both – as leaders of the Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran keep reminding us! The Iranian president then referred to breaches of human rights in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. Of course, it is inevitable that abuse of human rights by the ‘torch holders’ of liberal democracy in the US and the UK will be used by every tinpot leader in Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere to justify the torture and execution of opponents. The Iranian president is the leader of a government that has killed at least 72 civilians and tortured hundreds in the last two months alone, yet the actions of western governments allow him to stand up in New York and give moral lectures about ‘human right abuses’. We truly live in irrational times.

Protests and divisions

The first days of the new university term in Iran saw major protests on campuses throughout the country – the largest being at Tehran University on September 27-28. Students shouted “Death to the dictator” and booed the new minister of higher education. Security forces retreated from the campus. On Tuesday September 29 students protested at Sharif University, once more causing the minister for higher education to abandon plans to speak. Meanwhile, security forces are warning football crowds not to chant political slogans at the Tehran derby between Esteghlal and Persepolis on October 2.

As former president and leading ‘reformist’ Ali Akbar Rafsanjani continues his efforts to find a compromise between the regime’s warring factions, the first signs of a rift amongst ‘reformists’ has appeared. In an open letter addressed to Rafsanjani, another ‘reformist’ presidential candidate, Mehdi Karoubi, writes: “What is your answer to the people who, under dangerous conditions, question the actions of the Assembly of Experts under your leadership? … By what measure have you preserved the ideals of the revolution in your role as chair of the Assembly of Experts, whose first duty is fighting injustice?”

Moussavi’s latest statement on September 28 is also predictably uninspiring. Its repeated references to the “wisdom” of Iran’s first supreme leader, Ruhollah Khomeini, confirmed his continued allegiance to the ‘imam’s line’. But this will not gain him much support amongst young Iranians, who will not accept any solution short of the overthrow of the entire regime. Moussavi’s call on his supporters to “avoid any radical measures which could damage the achievements so far made by the opposition” expose once more his fear of radical change and his determination to save the religious state.

All this is very good news for the revolutionary forces. However, the threat of sanctions and war only strengthens Khamenei and Ahmadinejad. In the words of UN weapons inspector Hans Blix, any “rush to punitive sanctions – tightened to the point where ordinary Iranians, already suffering the effects of chronic unemployment, had to endure petrol shortages or big fuel price hikes – could backfire spectacularly”.

Hands Off the People of Iran has always condemned sanctions and threats of war against Iran. We oppose them not only because we want to see imperialism defeated, but because they increase patriotism and nationalism, thus helping the reactionary regime. The government will use the ‘threat of the enemy without’ to increase repression, to arrest and torture its ‘enemy within’. Sanctions disorganise the working class, as people are forced to squander their fighting energies on day-to-day struggles to keep their jobs and feed their families – Iranian oil workers are right to be concerned about going on strike at a time when sanctions will also target ‘imported refined oil’.

The proposed US-European sanctions dramatically degrade the ability of the working people to struggle collectively on their own account, to organise and to fight. In other words, for the sake of Iranian working class we must continue our opposition to war, sanctions and regime change from above, while increasing our solidarity with the revolutionary movement inside Iran.

Mass protests re-ignite

Yassamine Mather calls for support and solidarity for workers in Iran

If anyone was in any doubt about the continuation of the political crisis in Iran, demonstrations on Friday September 18 in Tehran, Tabriz, Mashad, Shiraz, Isfahan and elsewhere put an end to that.

Tens of thousands of Iranians, ignoring repeated warnings by the security forces, used the state-sponsored demonstrations for ‘Qods day’ (Jerusalem day) on the last Friday of Ramadan to voice their opposition to the government and the clerical regime’s supreme leader. Undeterred by two months of executions, arrests and show trials, the opposition used the opportunity to fill the streets and voice their protests.

Earlier, president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had once again done harm to the Palestinian cause by repeating his abhorrent holocaust-denial claims: “The holocaust was a false pretext for the establishment of Israel in 1948. It is a lie based on an unprovable and mythical claim … Why shouldn’t we be allowed to research this? … All western governments are victims of a Zionist conspiracy that dictates their foreign policy.” Never mind capitalism or imperialism – it is all to do with conspiracies. Many will remember anti-Semites making similar remarks in the 20th century.

But it is not just this anti-Semitic message that helps the Zionists. A section of Iranian youth who have heard nothing but empty rhetoric about Palestine, all mouthed by a reactionary dictatorship, are not as supportive of the Palestinian cause as older generations. In a country where the majority of the population live in poverty, those who are foolish enough to believe the Shia state’s exaggerated claims relating to financial support for Hezbollah or Hamas blame such largesse in ‘foreign aid’ for their own destitution.

However, last Friday was mainly about opposition to Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, and Ahmadinejad. The demonstrators were shouting for the Iranian government to go, with slogans such as: “Death to the dictator. We will revenge our dead. Death to Khamenei. Coup d’etat government, resign, resign! Dictator, dictator, have shame; the Iranian people are ready to revolt – this is our last warning.” A number of slogans were addressed to the bassij (Islamic militia) – some calling on them to stop siding with the oppressors and join the people, others warning them of the consequences of killing protesters.

A minority were shouting a reactionary, nationalist slogan: “No to Gaza, no to Lebanon. My life for my country.” This was a reference to the regime’s support for Palestinians in Gaza and Shias in Lebanon, and it was promoted mainly by rightwing forces. This slogan had been rejected out of hand the week before the demonstration by sections of the left.

A statement by the Organisation of Revolutionary Workers of Iran (Rahe Kargar), distributed last week, reminded Iranians of their shared destiny with the oppressed in Palestine and Lebanon. Saying that Palestine should not be equated with Hamas. Rahe Kargar pointed to the unprecedented solidarity shown by people throughout the world for the protest movement in Iran. The leaflet called on demonstrators to reciprocate this internationalism and proposed the slogan, “Wake up – Iran has become Palestine”.

This was a timely reminder for sections of the Iranian left, many of whom are increasingly tailing bourgeois liberal politics rather than coming up with a leftwing alternative. The Iranian working class cannot struggle for power in one country; if we are serious about ditching the Stalinist idiocy of socialism in one country, the tasks of the Iranian working class cannot be limited to the borders of Iran. More importantly, whether Iranian rightwing nationalists like it or not, it is the US and western powers who in recent months have associated the two issues of Iran and Palestine more than ever before.

Obama

In late August news from the Middle East was dominated by claims that Barack Obama had managed to convince Israel to freeze its construction of new West Bank settlements in exchange for the US adopting more stringent policies regarding the Iranian nuclear plan. Soon afterwards, especially following the visit of Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu to Europe, leaders in London, Paris and Berlin were singing from the same song sheet. We were ‘reliably’ informed that US special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell was preparing to announce the resumption of peace talks by the end of September. The American promise to take a firmer line against the Iranian nuclear plan was supposed to convince Jerusalem it needed to get on board the initiative. The US, Britain and France plan to pressure the UN security council to expand sanctions against the Islamic Republic, including sanctions on its gas and petrol industries – a move that is claimed will destroy Iran’s already collapsing economy.

Less than a week after these pronouncements it became clear that Israel had officially approved the construction of more than 500 new homes in the occupied West Bank. This is in addition to Netanyahu’s refusal to apply any freeze at all to the colonisation of Greater Jerusalem, or to stop construction projects that have already been started. The new homes will be built in six settlements – all of which are included in the blocs Israel wants to retain under any peace agreement, according to Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper.

On the other hand, despite news of direct talks to be held in early October, threats of military action against Iran are increasing. An editorial in The Wall Street Journal in early September warned Obama that the United States must quickly put a stop to the Iranian nuclear programme, otherwise Israel will bomb the facilities: “An Israeli strike on Iran would be the most dangerous foreign policy issue Obama could face,” the paper declared. Another Republican hawk, former ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, maintains that additional sanctions alone will not be enough to make the Iranians abandon their nuclear ambitions. William Cohen, who served as defence secretary during the Bill Clinton presidency, says that “there is a countdown taking place” and that Israel “is not going to sit indifferently on the sidelines and watch Iran continue on its way toward becoming a nuclear power.”

Netanyahu has skilfully used the huge general onslaught against Obama by the forces of the US right, with whom the Israeli PM is allied. Together they have managed to deflect the pressure on Israel to freeze colonisation of the occupied territories, and divert attention to the Iranian ‘threat’. At the moment it seems that the US right and their Israeli ally are ahead. George Mitchell’s trip to the Middle East got nowhere, and it is unlikely that Obama will make any progress in talks with Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas.

We in Hands Off the People of Iran have always maintained that threats of further sanctions and war have nothing to do with the alleged development of Iranian nuclear weapons. All the evidence suggests that the Iranian regime’s plan is (eventually) to achieve nuclear weapons capability, rather than actually produce nuclear weapons.

However, we are witnessing a conflict between two alternative US strategies regarding Iran’s future role in the region. During his election campaign Obama seemed prepared for some accommodation, allowing the Islamic regime limited regional influence in exchange for better cooperation with the US. But the US right and Israel preferred to continue the Bush policy of no accommodation, tighter sanctions, regime change from the outside and the threat of military action. The American promise to take a firmer line against the Iranian nuclear plan was supposed to convince Jerusalem to get on board the initiative, yet less than a year into the Obama presidency, pressure from Israel and the US right – at a time of political uncertainty in Iran, combined with Ahmadinejad’s holocaust denial – has ensured there is no progress in this area. The threat of an Israeli military strike against Iran, as well as the possibility of new sanctions, is today as serious as ever before.

Whichever way one looks at the problem, the issues of Palestine and Iran cannot be separated. Yet an oppressive regime in Iran cannot be a genuine ally of the Palestinians; and the liberation of the Iranian people cannot be achieved while the region continues to suffer war, occupation and repression.

On September 18, prompted by the left, some demonstrators in Tehran had the right slogans: “Whether in Gaza or in Iran, stop killing people; Iran has become like Palestine.” The dominance of this slogan in the Tehran demonstration showed the presence and effective role of the left. The demonstration was also unique in a number of other ways. As many commentators have said, it marked a new phase in the continuing struggle between the government and the Iranian people. The massive turnout almost two months after the protests of June and July prove the vulnerability of the unpopular president and government.

New phase

The composition of the protest differed from earlier demonstrations, in that protesters in Tehran and in other major cities were almost uniquely from the poorer districts. The middle classes only came out mid-afternoon, when reports of the size of the demonstrations assured them of safety. It was the first real nationwide protest – tens of thousands came out in Isfahan, Shiraz, Mashad, Tabriz, Rasht, etc. Older women were present in large numbers, probably for the first time since the recent wave of demonstrations started. According to many accounts, Iranians had left their homes in the morning of September 18 fearful that they would be in a small protest surrounded by vicious bassij militia. Only when they reached the agreed assembly places did they become aware of how large the protests were.

Many recount with joy the fleeing of the state’s ‘Hezbollahis’ and their oversized speakers, once they realised how big the opposition protests were going to be. In many of the films on the internet, the faint voices of pro-government demonstrators are being drowned out by slogans from the much larger and more militant opposition. Before the demonstration, it had become clear that Ahmadinejad and his government favoured using the full might of the state to frighten the population. However, the supreme leader and his allies in the conservative faction of the regime, increasingly worried that further repression might challenge the very existence of the Islamic regime, tried to portray the Qods demonstration as a day of ‘national unity’. In the end, of course, the day exposed the deep divisions in Iranian society for all to see.

Although tear gas was used and a number of people were arrested, the level of force use against the demonstrators was less than on previous demonstrations and certainly less than threatened. It will be interesting to see how the protesters will react to this clear retreat of the supreme leader.

Another important factor regarding the September 18 protest was the continuation of the protests at an important football match in the evening. The spectators’ anti-government slogans could be heard for miles around the stadium, but the national radio and television company was forced to abandon live coverage of this rather crucial game between Estghlal and Steel Azin, blaming faulty cameras in the stadium! Foolishly the match was broadcast live on radio, so very few people in Iran are in any doubt about the nature of the state broadcasting authority’s ‘technical’ difficulties. In another victory for the demonstrators on the same day, Ahmadinejad was forced to cut short an interview on national TV, as shouts of “Death to the dictator” could clearly be heard during the broadcast.

No doubt the events that day will  shape the coming weeks and months. Schools and universities are opening this week, although many campuses will remain shut until November. The experiences of the demonstration and the football match clearly show that, as soon as a crowd gathers, political opposition to the regime will be voiced. On the other hand, short of calling for a curfew and direct military rule, how can the government avoid public gatherings? And, if it does go towards a curfew, how will reformist opponents within its own ranks react? Are they going to ban football matches? Will they close down universities and high schools?

In a clear sign of retreat, Khamenei’s speech at the end of Ramadan continued a theme taken up earlier in September, in an attempt to pacify sections of the opposition. Khamenei had earlier rejected the idea that foreign powers were involved in the country’s post-election demonstrations: “I do not accuse leaders of the recent events of being stooges of aliens, including the US and Britain, since it was not proved for me. We should not proceed in dealing with those behind the protests on the basis of rumours and guesswork.”1 On September 20, with ‘reformist’ ex-president Ali Akbar Rafsanjani standing a couple of metres from him, he warned government supporters against accusing opposition members of wrongdoing without proof: “While a suspect’s own confession was admissible, his testimony or accusations could not be used to implicate others.”2 A clear dismissal of the show trials which have dominated the government’s agenda in the last few weeks, where ‘reformist’ prisoners accused Rafsanjani and fellow reformists Mohammad Khatami and Mir Hossein Moussavi of collaborating with foreign enemies.

Khamenei’s speech has pacified leaders of the ‘reformist’ movement, as shown by Rafsanjani’s conciliatory tone in a speech to the council of experts on September 22.3 But it is clearly too little too late as far as the protesters are concerned.

In another development, ayatollah Hosein-Ali Montazeri (once the designated successor to Iran’s first supreme leader, Ruhollah Khomeini), has replied to a letter from Moussavi, who was seeking guidance, in this way on September 22: “The path to reforming the current system is a very difficult one: the entire regime has lost credibility … A government that was supposed to be the pride of Shias throughout the world has turned the youth and the masses in our country against Islam and religion.”4

The September 18 protests came after three weeks of intensified workers’ protests. In Pars Wagon (train carriage makers), workers angry at non-payment of wages smashed tables and chairs in the canteen. In the Iran Khodro car plant, workers commemorated the death of a fellow worker who collapsed after working three successive shifts. Similar workers’ protests took place in Arj (manufacturer of electrical household goods), Arak Aluminium and many other workplaces. Although most of these protests started off in support of economic demands and against closures, whenever the security forces appeared this prompted the use of the now familiar slogan of “Death to the dictator” – an echo of “Death to the shah”, which dominated the workers’ protests of 1978-79.

Workers in Iran need our support and solidarity – against both imperialist threats and the repressive religious state.

Misogynist torturers cling to power

irandemoWorkers are growing in confidence, reports Yassamine Mather

Over the last few weeks, following the show trials of ‘reformist’ personalities and the imposition of even more severe forms of repression in Iran, the nature of protests has changed considerably.

However, demonstrations continue on a daily basis in Tehran and most other Iranian cities, with numbers attending ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand. Reports from the working class neighbourhoods of Tehran, such as Ekbatan, Apadana and Karaj, and from the white-collar suburbs of Tehran Pars, indicate that anti-government demonstrations take place every night and often lead to confrontation between protesters and Bassij militia.

Last week dozens of political prisoners started a hunger strike in Evin prison and on the first day of Ramadan families of those arrested in recent protests gathered outside calling for the immediate release of all political detainees. There are daily protests in factories and workplaces against the political and economic conditions and in some provinces, including Khorassan, there is news of peasants protesting against confiscation of their land by religious authorities. Five hundred peasants from Sarakhss have staged a sit-in for the last week in front of Mashad’s main petrol station, complaining about the use of religious legislation to expropriate their land.

The crisis in the government continues, with clear divisions between the conservative ‘principlists’ and the proposed government. On Thursday August 20 Mahmoud Ahmadinejad unveiled a cabinet boasting 11 new faces, including three women. Loyalty to the president seemed to be the main factor, as ‘conservative’ and ‘reformist’ MPs alike condemned the nominations. Clearly Ahmadinejad will face an uphill struggle getting them passed by the majles (parliament). Even the principlist faction seems to be opposed to most of the nominations, guaranteeing months of uncertainty and the continuation of the political crisis. According to the ILNA news agency, speaker Ali Larijani complained: “The ministry is not a place for apprenticeship; it is a place that requires expertise and experience”.

Iran’s defence minister-designate is on an Interpol ‘wanted’ list over the 1994 bombing of a Jewish centre in Argentina. Interpol put out a ‘red notice’ for Ahmad Vahidi in 2007 over the Buenos Aires attack that killed 85 people. As for the women appointees, they were clearly chosen for their ultra-conservative views on everything – including women’s rights. These comments from Fatemeh Ajorloo, Ahmadinejad’s choice for minister of social services, speak volumes: “… it is men who go for khastegari [the custom of a man asking for a woman’s hand] and they remain responsible for the marriage. This is great: that is how society should operate. Why did the family break down in the west? Because women went to work and men lost their true role.” That was from a speech in defence of quotas for university entrance – the government believes too many women are going into higher education.

Ajorloo is also a defender of new legislation before the majles entitled ‘Efaf’ (chastity). She is in favour of a ‘uniform’ for Iranian women of all ages – a long black chador (a tent-like covering from head to toe, pinned under the chin) and, to be fair, she herself is a walking advertisement for this bizarre attire, as revealed by her official photos.

However, even tame Islamist women like Ajorloo are too much for Iran’s clerics. A number of senior ayatollahs have expressed opposition to Ahmadinejad’s decision to nominate women ministers. On August 22 conservative MPs told the media that leading Iranian clerics – including grand ayatollahs Nasser Makarem Shirazi and Lotfollah Safi Golpayghani – had “doubts about choosing female ministers and want Ahmadinejad to reconsider”, according to the Tehran Emrouz newspaper.

Defending his nominations for ministerial posts, Ahmadinejad managed to offend almost everyone by comparing his outgoing health minister, Kamran Lankarani, to a peach that any man would want to eat! A conservative MP, Ali Ghanbari, said it was beneath the president’s dignity to compare his minister with a fruit. A video of Ahmadinejad’s peach comments has been widely circulated on the internet and posted on blogs and social networking sites.

‘Against torture’

As the protests continue and news of atrocities in prisons and detention centres spreads, the anger against the ineffectiveness of ‘reformist leaders’ – some of whom are clearly involved in behind-the-scene deals with the conservative faction – grows.

The super-rich ayatollah Ali Akbar Rafsanjani is in the process of being rehabilitated in the centres of religious and political power. He was consulted by the supreme leader in the nomination of the new chief justice and attended his inauguration ceremony. Rafsanjani’s August 22 statement urging Iran’s political factions to follow orders from the supreme leader, had all the hallmarks of a new conciliatory move. Rafsanjani has also reportedly reiterated his previous call to politicians and the media to “avoid causing schisms” and “take steps toward the creation of unity”. Clearly for Iran’s ‘reformists’, the survival of the Islamic regime remains paramount.

Over the last two months ‘reformist’ presidential candidates Mir-Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi have done very little to improve their standing, falling far short of the expectations of their most ardent supporters. However, as news of the torture and death of protesters detained after recent demonstrations spread, first Karroubi and then Moussavi realised that unless they acted they would lose any credibility. First came the statement by Karroubi that he was enraged by the torture of demonstrators and then both men issued statements condemning the torture and rape of detainees – ‘reformist’ leaders say 69 protesters died in the post-election violence.

Although one should welcome any condemnation of torture, some of us cannot help remembering comrades who died under torture when Moussavi was prime minister and Karroubi was a close ally of Iran’s first supreme leader, Ruhollah Khomeini – he was head of the Khomeini relief committee and the Martyrs’ Foundation between 1979 and 1989. Let me mention one in particular – comrade Nastaran, with whom I shared a room in Kurdistan. In the autumn of 1983 she left our Kurdistan Fedayeen base, having been given responsibility for a workers’ committee in south Tehran.

Nastaran was arrested a few months after returning to Tehran and, although she had tried to swallow her cyanide tablet (a standard practice among arrested Fedayeen members), she did not manage to commit suicide. Fellow prisoners, who saw her between the day of her incarceration and her untimely death are unanimous in describing the frightening state to which she was reduced following months of torture. She “couldn’t stand on her feet”, she had been lashed so many times. She “couldn’t see – her eyes were too swollen from all the beatings” …

Over the last week I have not stopped thinking about Nastaran. Maybe if messrs Moussavi and Karroubi had done something about torture in those days, she and thousands like her who died in the dungeons of the Islamic Republic would still be alive. But, of course, had they done so, their beloved Islamic Republic, the regime they still want to save, would not have survived the protests of the last three decades.

In 2009 the religious judiciary denies all accusations of torture and rape of prisoners as baseless – the detainees making these claims cannot even produce the basic prerequisite for a prosecution: witness statements from four male adults!

In the meantime the trials of ‘reformist’ leaders have continued and have featured on a tragicomic show on state TV. In addition to the ministers of ex-president Khatami and ideologues of the Islamic ‘reformist’ movement such as Saeed Hajjarian, the conservative faction is now trying in absentia German sociologists Max Weber and Jürgen Habermas!

Hajjarian, the prosecutor said, once met Habermas, who was famous for his theory of civil disobedience, according to which it is permissible to refuse to obey certain laws, demands and commands of a government, or of an occupying power, without resorting to physical violence. The accusations against Weber were not mentioned in court (presumably because he died in 1920), but the Shia conservatives clearly do not like him either!

Last week Moussavi, Karroubi and Khatami launched a new front: the ‘green road to hope’. As the title suggests, this a road to nowhere, yet it is already clear that the front, which aims to “unite the opposition from below” with branches in every city and community, is organised from above. As time goes by, another generation of young Iranians is learning through practice not to have any illusions about reformists leaders whose only concern remains their tattered political careero:s. Yet in the absence of a powerful left, there is little prospect for real change in Iran.

If up until June 2009 factory owners and the government blamed the ‘world economic crisis’ for non-payment of workers’ wages, job cuts and mass unemployment, after June they have had another excuse: the protests paralysed the economy and that is why workers cannot be paid. No doubt Iran’s economy is in serious trouble, yet it is mainly the working class, the wage-earners, who are paying the price.

Over 1,500 major Iranian companies are on the verge of bankruptcy and they include major firms such as the Arak Automobile Factory and Azar Water Company. Iran Khodro, Iran’s main car plant, was only saved by an injection of over $1 billion by the government in early August. Managers of this factory and other major companies are encouraging workers to accept redundancy packages so that they can conform with the government policy of only employing temporary contract workers (Ahmadinejad’s last minister of labour had promised that by 2010 100% of Iran’s workforce will be employed on such contracts).

But workers are resisting. Kashan textile employees are amongst those staging demonstrations against the non-payment of wages – they have not been paid for 22 months. These workers have pointed out that their dispute with managers predates the current political crisis. This month there was a major dispute at the Pars Wagon Company, when workers destroyed the canteen in protest at non-payment of wages, smashing windows and breaking tables and chairs.

And workers in Haft Tapeh staged a noisy sit-in on Friday August 16 as part of a long-standing struggle with the factory’s management. They are demanding the implementation of an agreed job reclassification, increased wages, better overtime pay, an end to the logging of every task and no more sackings of contract workers.

There are also directly political protests in workplaces. On hearing of an impending visit by Ahmadinejad, workers at the Bandar Abbas shipyard threatened to go on strike in mid-August, saying they would not allow a “coup d’etat president” to visit.

News coverage of events in Iran often concentrates on what is happening amongst the ruling circles, but Pars metal workers protesting against job cuts, low wages and poor working conditions for the last six months say they will continue their protests until the media inside “Iran’s capitalist hell” is shamed into broadcasting their demands.

In other developments, a new formation in Tehran, the Council in Support of Iranian People’s Struggles, has become more active. It includes political organisations, women’s groups and sections of the independent left in opposition to the entire regime and in support of workers’ struggles.

Clearly most of these protests would have gone on irrespective of the political turmoil. However, the events of the last few weeks have given a new momentum to workers’ actions, whose slogans are now more political and less defensive. They are lasting longer and pose a real threat to the efforts of all factions of the regime to control the political situation and maintain the status quo.

Show trials and apologetics

showtrialsJust as Iranian ex-leftwingers in the west call for reconciliation between the two wings of the Islamic regime, the ruling faction clamps down on its rivals. Yassamine Mather reports

The Stalinist show trial of Saturday August 1 – when a number of prominent ‘reformists’ appeared on Iranian state TV to ‘thank their interrogators’ before repenting – was not the first such event in the Islamic republic’s history. Leaders of the ‘official communist’ Tudeh Party were similarly paraded on Iranian TV to denounce their own actions in the 1980s, while in the 1990s we had the trials of ‘rogue’ elements of the ministry of intelligence.

However, this time the Islamic leaders forgot that a precondition for the success of such show trials in terms of imposing fear and submission on the masses is total control of the press and media. What made this particular effort ineffective – indeed a mockery – was that it came at a time when the supporters of supreme leader Ali Khamenei have not yet succeeded in silencing the other factions of the regime, never mind stopping the street protests. So, instead of marking the end of the current crisis, the show trials have given the protestors fresh ammunition.

The paper of the Participation Front (the largest alliance of ‘reformist’ MPs) stated: “The case of the prosecution is such a joke that it is enough to make cooked chicken laugh.” The Participation Front was one of nine major Islamic organisations which ridiculed the prosecution claim that the ‘regime knew of the plot for a velvet revolution’ weeks before the election. Some Tehran reformist papers are asking: in that case why did the Guardian Council allow the ‘reformist’ candidates to stand in the presidential elections? Perhaps the Guardian Council itself should be put on trial!

Former president Mohammad Khatami, candidates Mir-Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi and other ‘reformist’ politicians have denounced the trial as “illegal”, yet they do not seem to realise the irony in this criticism. First of all, no-one but the ‘reformists’ within the regime has any illusions about Iran’s legal system (both civil and sharia law). Second, the time to oppose show trials was two decades ago, not when you yourself are a victim of the system and there is no-one left to defend you. It was not just in the 1980s that messrs Khatami, Moussavi, Karroubi, etc kept quiet about similar trials. As late as the 1990s, during Khatami’s own presidency, they did not exactly rebel against the show trials of the intelligence agents who ‘confessed’ to having acted alone in murdering opponents of the regime. Some of the most senior figures implicated in that scandal, a scandal that was hushed up by the Khatami government (‘for the sake of the survival of the Islamic order’) – not least current prosecutor general Saeed Mortazavi – are now in charge of the ‘velvet revolution’ dossier.

For the Iranian left the trial and ‘confessions’ have also been a reminder of the plight of thousands of comrades who probably faced similar physical and psychological torture in the regime’s dungeons in the 1980s, although only a handful of them ever made it onto TV screens – many died anonymously in the regime’s torture chambers. Of course, we do not know if the Iranian government has improved its torture techniques since those times, but some senior ‘reformist’ politicians appear to have broken down much more easily than those thousands of young leftwing prisoners.

Those ‘reformist’ leaders who are still at liberty are not doing any better. Despite facing the threat of arrest and trial themselves, they maintain their allegiance to ‘Iran’s Islamic order’, reaffirming their “commitment to the Islamic regime” (Khatami) and denouncing the slogan promoted by demonstrators, “Freedom, independence, Iranian republic”, as Moussavi did on August 2.

A couple of weeks ago there were signs that negotiations between Khamenei and another former president, Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, had made some progress and once more there was the possibility that, as the two factions of the regime buried some of their differences, the mass movement could become a victim of reconciliation amongst senior clerics.

The show trials not only put an end to such illusions, but promised an unprecedented intensification of the internal conflict. But this came too late for the authors of the statement, ‘Truth and reconciliation for Iran’, signed by a number of academics and activists who are notorious apologists of the Iranian regime and published on a number of websites, including that of Monthly Review.1 The statement has one aim: to save the Islamic regime by advocating peaceful coexistence between the two warring factions or, in the words of the statement, “the vital unity of our people against foreign pressures”.

In explaining the background of the conflict with imperialism, the authors state: “… despite Iran’s cooperation in the overthrow of the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan, the administration of George W Bush labelled the Islamic Republic a member of the ‘axis of evil’.”2 I am not quite sure why Iran’s support for US imperialism in the terrible Afghanistan war should be put forward as an example of the regime’s reasonable and moderate behaviour by anyone who claims to be anti-war.

The statement goes on to praise the wonderful election process, failing to mention that only four candidates loyal to the regime’s factions were allowed to stand or that voting for a president of a regime headed by an unelected ‘supreme religious leader’ is a bit of a joke … But this marvellous ‘democratic election’ is used to legitimise Iran’s nuclear programme.

The statement contains some seriously false claims: “… we have advocated the human rights of individuals and democratic rights for various groups and constituencies in Iran.” I am not sure which universe they think the rest of us reside in, but until the escalation of the conflict between the two factions of the regime many of the authors of the statement were insisting that everything in Iran’s Islamic Republic was great.

According to the defenders of ‘Islamic feminism’ amongst them, Iranian women enjoy complete political and social freedom – which no doubt would have come as a shock to tens of thousands of young women who joined the protests precisely because of their opposition to draconian misogynist regulations imposed by the religious state.

Many of the signatories are associated with Campaign Iran and the Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran, which have made a virtue of not advocating “democratic rights” for Iranians, since that would confuse those simple-minded ‘ordinary people’ at a time when Iran is under threat. They insisted that the existence of a women-only fire brigade was proof of gender equality in Iran and the fact that the ‘crime’ of homosexuality is punishable by death is no reason to declare the regime homophobic – after all, liberal Iran has a very high rate of sex-change operations.3 The signatories are mistaken if they think they can rewrite history and portray themselves as defenders of “human rights” in Iran – we will neither forgive nor forget their disgraceful pro-regime apologetics.

Our ex-leftists clearly fail to understand the significance of the street protests: “The votes of a great portion of the Iranian society for both Ahmadinejad and Moussavi show that the best solution is negotiations for reconciliation and creation of a government of national unity from the ranks of principlists and the green movement and reformists.” While even bourgeois liberals and Moussavi supporters admit that the protests have now reached the stage where the green movement has no alternative but to tail the masses and their anti-regime slogans, the signatories’ advice to the ‘reformists’ is to ‘negotiate’ with those who have killed dozens of demonstrators, tortured hundreds and imprisoned thousands, including some of Moussavi’s allies.

When the ‘Truth and reconciliation’ statement tries to look at the causes of the current unrest, it gets things wrong: “However, in the view of a considerable number of Iranians who are discontented and frustrated with the restrictions on civil and political freedoms, there were various irregularities in the elections, including the suspension of reformist newspapers and mobile telephone SMS service on election day. This caused mass public demonstrations in support of nullifying the election.”

In fact both wings of the Islamic republic have made a lot of people “discontented and frustrated” and restricted “civil and political freedoms” since the day the regime came to power. There have been disputed results in at least three previous presidential elections, but what differentiates the current crisis from previous ones is ‘the economy, stupid’. Not only is the global economic crisis being felt far worse in the countries of the periphery, but the effects in Iran are compounded by a government that based its 2008-09 budget on selling oil at $140 a barrel; a government that aimed to privatise 80% of Iran’s industries by 2010, thus creating mass unemployment, a government that printed money while pursuing neoliberal economic policies; a government whose policies resulted in a 25% inflation rate, while the growing gap between rich and poor made a mockery of its populist claims to be helping the common people.

Last week I wrote about the political stance of Stalinists who, by supporting Moussavi, are advocating, as they have done throughout the last decades, a stageist approach to revolution.4 The signatories of the ‘Truth and reconciliation’ statement have taken things a step further: they do not aim for the next ‘stage’ any more, advocating instead the continuation of the religious state with peace and harmony amongst its many factions. The protests might have pushed Khatami, Moussavi and Karroubi to adopt slightly more radical positions, but they certainly have failed to influence our conciliators.

The demonstrators in Tehran shout “Death to the dictator”, but the Casmii and Campaign Iran educators condemn “extremist elements who used the opportunity to create chaos and engaged in the destruction of public property”. Anyone who knows anything about events since the election is aware that it is the state and its oppressive forces that have used violence against ordinary people. How dare these renegades condemn the victims of that violence for resisting this brutal regime?

What is truly disgusting about the statement are the pleas addressed not only to leaders of the Islamic reformist movement in Iran (to make peace with the conservatives), but also their requests to Barack Obama and other western leaders to be more accommodating to the Iranian regime. As if imperialist threats and sanctions have anything to do with the good will, or lack of it, of this or that administration. The language and tactics might change, but just as a bankrupt, corrupt and undemocratic Islamic Republic needs external threats and political crisis to survive, so US and western imperialism needs not only to offload the worst effects of the economic crisis onto the countries of the periphery, but also to threaten and occasionally instigate war. Our movement must aim to stop this lunacy, but in order to do so we need to address the democratic forces in Iran and the west rather than pleading with imperialism and Iran’s reactionary rulers.

The open support of the supreme religious leader for the conservatives has radicalised the Iranian masses. Separation of state and religion has now become a nationwide demand and we must support the demonstrators’ calls for the dismantling of the offices and expropriation of funds associated with the supreme leader and of all other religious foundations. The abolition of sharia law, of the religious police and of Islamic courts is part and parcel of such a call. Even as the show trials were being broadcast, Iranian workers were continuing their struggles against privatisation (Ahmadinejad’s first economic priority in his second term is the privatisation of oil refineries) and the non-payment of wages.

These days capitalists who say they are unable to pay their workers blame not only the world economic situation but also current events in Iran itself. Yet many of them do make profits and quickly channel them abroad. Iranian workers have been demanding representation at factory level to monitor production and sales, and calling for the total transparency of company accounts. We must support these immediate demands as part of our own anti-imperialist strategy.

At a time of crisis it is inevitable that the bourgeoisie, both in the developed world and in the countries of the periphery, will act irrationally. However, it is sad to see sections of the ‘left’ adopting a different form of irrationality. If we are to expose the warmongering endemic to contemporary capitalism, we must base our approach on the independent politics of the international working class.

That is why the idiotic, class-collaborationist ‘theories’ of Casmii, Campaign Iran and the current dominant line in Monthly Review are such a disaster for the anti-war movement.