With comedy from Shappi Khorsandi and an introduction by John McDonnell MP. The event is co-sponsored by the Labour Representation Committee (click here to read their letter, urging support for the event). For details of screenings in Glasgow and Manchester, click here)
Wednesday, May 12, 6pm. Soho Theatre, 21 Dean Street, London W1
Jafar Panahi – the well known Iranian film maker – was arrested on March 1 and is still being held without any charges. He has twice been offered bail, but has refused in solidarity with all those incarcerated for their participation in the mass demonstrations against the regime that have shaken Iran since June 2009.
The Hopi showing of the director’s most popular film in the West – ‘Offside’ – is an important opportunity to raise the profile of Panahi and step up the pressure on the regime in Tehran. We believe that international solidarity of this sort – not the threat of military strikes or sanctions – is the way to deliver effective aid to the struggle of ordinary people in Iran for freedom and social change.
Please let us know if you can distribute leaflets and we’ll send you some. Maybe your union branch is planning a mailout soon?
Even if you can’t come, perhaps you could sponsor the event by making a donation? You can do so on http://hopoi.org/?p=1195
You could also try to get your organisation/trade union branch to sponsor the event.
Tickets: £10 (£20 solidarity, £5 unwaged). All profits go to the charity ‘Workers Fund Iran’. Please buy your ticket via Paypal here or by sending a cheque/postal order to PO Box 54631, London N16 8YE
You can also get a new copy of the film from us – we recommend a donation of £10 to cover all costs. Just add the amount when you’re paying.
“We the undersigned call for the immediate and unconditional release of Iranian film maker, Jafar Panahi, and all political prisoners incarcerated since the mass democratic upsurges against the theocratic regime in the aftermath of the rigged elections of June 2009.
The Iranian people themselves must be free to shape their own future; free from interference either from the western powers/Israel in the form of military attack and sanctions, or the repressive apparatus of the theocratic state.
Hands off the people of Iran!”
Initial signatories include:
John McDonnell MP, Labour Party
Lisa Goldman, artistic director Soho Theatre
Jeremy Dear, general secretary National Union of Journalists
Moshe Machover, Israeli activist
Nader Sadeh (Berlin)
To add your name, email firstname.lastname@example.org as soon as possible. We are aiming to publicise this statement in many newspapers and websites. You can also join the Facebook group to Free Jafar Panahi, which keeps you updated with the campaign
Other signatories include:
Yassamine Mather; Hopi
Ruben Markarian, Rahe Kargar;
Mohamad Reza Shalgouni, Rahe Kargar;
Harry Cohen MP;
Pete Firmin (joint secretary and president, Brent Trades Union Council – pc);
Bill Wilson, member of the Scottish Parliament;
Anthony Neilson, Writer/ Director and Literary Associate of the RSC;
Marsha Jane Thompson, Labour Representation Committee;
Elaine Smith, member of Scottish Parliament;
Rebecca Lenkiewicz, Writer;
Dr Sue Blackwell, National Executive Committee (elect), University and College Union
Andy Hewett, Green Left;
Jenny Morgan, filmmaker;
Peter Grant, Manchester Piccadilly No1 Branch, ASLEF;
Priya Thakar, University of Manchester;
Chuck Hamilton, Tennessee Human Rights Coalition;
Mark Fischer, Communist Party of Great Britain
Behrooz Farahany, Solidarité socialiste avec les travailleurs en Iran-Paris;
Keith Baker, chair Scottish Education and Action for Development;
Paul Frost, East Midlands Green Party T U Group Rep, Unison member;
Christina Purcell, Manchester Met UCU Campaigns Officer (pc);
Dr. Marsha Levine, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research;
Abe Hayeem, Chair, Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine;
Dieter Elken, Marxist Initiative, Berlin;
Mick Hall, Organized Rage;
Aleksander Glogowski PhD, Jagiellonian University, Cracow, Poland;
Regi Theodor Enerstvedt, professor emeritus, University of Oslo, Norway;
Anders B Jonasson, senior lecturer, University of Skövde;
Ali Reza Akhavan;
Prof. Haim Bresheeth;
Dr. Mehrdad Emadi;
Toby Abse; Andrew Coates;
Ann M. Crosby;
Joanne George Wills;
B. Plant ;
Ali Reza Akhavan;
John S. Burke,
Nadia Marques de Carvalho;
Dr. A. Holberg, Germany;
Maud Bracke, University of Glasgow;
ارژنگ بامشاد Arjang Bamshad
احمد نوین Ahmad Novin
امیر جواهری لنگرودی Amir Javaheri Langaroudi
رفعت لنگرودی Rafat Langaroudi
گیلک جواهری لنگرودی Gilak Javaheri Langaroudi
هما جوادی Homa Javadi
ابوالحسن عظیمی Abolhassan Azimi
عیدی نعمتی شاعر Aydi Nemati (Poet)
سیاووش میرزایی شاعر Siavash Mirzaii (Poet)
رضا چیت ساز Reza Chitsaz
داریوش ارجمندی Dariush Arjmandi
پریسا آزادیان Parissa Azadyan
مریم اسکویی Maryam Oskoui
فریدا سهابیان Frida Sohrabyan
سیران مرادیان Siran Moradyan
شهاب شکوهی Shahb Shokouhi
یوسف آبخونYoussef Abkhoun
پروین شکوهی Parvin Shokouhi
نقی ریاحی لنگرودی Naghi Riyahi Langaroudi
سروژ قازاریان Sorouj Ghazaryan
نجف روحی Najaf Rouhi
حمید آذر Hamid Azar
رضا سپید روحی Reza Sepid Rouhi
علی جالینوسی Ali Jalinous
احمد شکوهی Ahmad Shokouhi
بهرنگ ریاحی لنگرودی Behrang Riyahi Langaroudi
محمد تجلی جو Mohamad Tajali Jou
بهروز نظری Behrouz nazari
صادق افروز Sadegh Afrouz
احمد سعیدی Ahmad Saiidi
علی یوسفی Ali Youssefi
نگار فکری- Negar Fekri
Bettina Allamoda (Berlin), artist
Eight things you can do now to support the campaign!
Over two months since his arrest, Panahi, whose most famous films are the widely acclaimed The circle (winner of the Golden Lion prize at the Vienna film festival in 2000) and Offside, has still not been charged with any crime. Twice offered bail during that time, he has refused out of solidarity with all those incarcerated for their participation in the mass demonstrations against the regime that have shaken Iran since June 2009.
His detention is the most serious example of the treatment Panahi has suffered so far. Up to now, the theocratic regime has been conducting a campaign of harassment against the 49-year-old artist. He has been unable to travel abroad since wearing a green scarf – the colour of the opposition movement – at the Montreal Film Festival in 2009. He was also arrested briefly after attending the memorial service for student Neda Agha Soltan, who was murdered by regime forces during a demonstration. Earlier the ministry of culture and Islamic guidance had announced he would not be allowed to make another movie until he ‘re-edited’ earlier films and he was unable to work for a year.
There is a clear theme of social criticism in his work. In a 2007 interview with the LA Times, Panahi described himself as “a socially committed filmmaker” who operates in the context of a brutally oppressive society: “My movies are about limitations and restrictions, and these are restrictions that I’ve personally experienced.” However, those are minor relative to “the greater restrictions that Iranian women are suffering”, he said.
The prison authorities are piling on the pressure. His wife, Tahereh Saeedi, was only allowed to meet him on March 31 – almost a month after his arrest. She reports that his interrogators continually cover the same ground: “They keep asking him the same questions in order to find contradictions in his comments,” Saeedi revealed in a radio interview.
Moshé Machover, a member of the Hopi steering committee, commented in a press statement: “Jafar Panahi has taken a brave stance. He stands shoulder to shoulder with those brave participants in the mass movement of opposition to the theocratic regime that have been arrested. Now we must stand shoulder to shoulder with him.”
Comrade Machover continued: “Our most effective act of solidarity with the inspiring movement for radical change that has filled Iran’s streets is to ensure that imperialism does not launch another disastrous military adventure in the Middle East, this time against an Iran which is pregnant with radical, genuinely democratic change from below”.
John McDonnell MP, a supporter of Hopi, said: “The world must make its voice heard in demanding that Jafar Panahi is released without charge along with all those incarcerated for nothing more than demanding basic civil liberties and democratic rights. These violations of basic human rights must not be allowed to go unnoticed and without protest.”
Eight things you can do now:
Send emails, faxes and letters of protest to the embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran, 16 Prince’s Gate, London SW7 1PT; email@example.com; 020 7589 4440. Don’t forget to send us a copy.
Put on showings of Panahi’s films:The wounded head (1988), Kish (1991), The last exam (1992), The circle (2000), Crimson gold (2003) and above all Offside (2006). We have been given official permission to show his films, so we can help you to get hold get a copy of the film and DVDs to sell. We can also provide a speaker to introduce the film
Order Hopi’s ‘Free Panahi’ postcards. Get people to sign the cards and return them to us asap – we will forward them to his family in Iran to show our solidarity. We ask for a donation of £5 or more for 30 cards to cover postage and printing costs
Order the A4 bulletin we have produced to highlight Panahi’s case (as well as the ongoing threat of a military attack and increased sanctions). We ask for a donation of £5 or more for 30 bulletins to cover postage and printing costs
Get your trade union branch/organisation to sponsor this important campaign.
Financially support the campaign: please use the Paypal button below or send cheque/s to Hopi, PO Box 54631, London N16 8YE
Mohammad Reza Shalgouni is a founder-member of the Organisation of Revolutionary Workers of Iran (Rahe Kargar) and has been elected as a member of its central committee on a number of occasions. He spent nine years as a political prisoner in Iran under the shah and today is an active supporter of Hands Off the People of Iran. Yassamine Mather interviewed him for the Weekly Worker
Could you explain the origins of your organisation and the space it occupies on the Iranian left?
Before answering your questions, I see it as my duty to thank your party, and especially the comrades involved with the Weekly Worker, for your coverage of issues concerning the movement of the Iranian people and working class. I hope your efforts can help eradicate the obvious misunderstandings of large sections of the western left.
Rahe Kargar started its activities in the early summer of 1979 and those who founded the organisation were mostly ex-activists of the guerrilla movement, who during their incarceration in the shah’s prisons had come to the conclusion that armed struggle had not only failed to weaken the dictatorship, but that it harmed the relationship between the left and the working class.
Rahe Kargar was one of the first organisations of the left that pointed out the reactionary nature of the Islamic Republic and more importantly deduced from this that the Iranian revolution was defeated once the clergy took power. The clergy was a force that would undoubtedly suppress the movement and independent workers’ organisations, as well as all aspects of modern culture (without which socialism would have no significance). It was with this analysis that, in the midst of widespread general optimism stemming from those who considered the ‘massive popular presence on the streets’ as a definite sign of the victory of the revolution, we drew attention to the threat of fascism and the need to confront its formation.
From our point of view, it was important to pay attention to the characteristics of the new dictatorship and to confront the forthcoming threat. Unlike a substantial section of the left, we considered the clergy and their influence and government as the main threat and, inspired by Marx’s analysis of the ruling classes in England and France in the 1850s, we said that, although the clergy in power is defending the interests of the bourgeoisie against workers and toilers, it has its own interests when it acts as a governing caste. And that this is a result of a Bonapartist equilibrium resulting from the simultaneous weakness of both the bourgeoisie and the working class, the two main classes in society, at a time when neither can take political power.
Rahe Kargar started its existence in opposition to the Islamic Republic and has continued to struggle against this regime. But we have always had clear and firm anti-imperialist positions and we categorically oppose any imperialist intervention in Iran or anywhere in the Middle East. We have always been against the dependence of opposition forces on foreign powers.
From the beginning we opposed the dominant traditional position of the Iranian left, concerning the ‘stage of the revolution’ or defence of the bourgeois democratic revolution, and we have always insisted that a durable democracy in the specific conditions of Iran is impossible without the working class coming to power. That requires independent mass organisation of the class in the political, economic and social arena and this cannot be achieved solely through party organisations. That is why non-party, mass organisations of the workers and toilers can also play an important role. In addition, party organisation might take the form of a number of socialist and workers’ parties, which can form a united workers’ front.
Two other issues that distinguish Rahe Kargar from other leftwing organisations in Iran are:
1. the attention we pay to the issue of nationalities in Iran (a multinational country); we defend the right of the country’s nationalities to self-determination, while emphasising the need for voluntary, democratic unity;
2. the destructive confrontation between tradition and modernity (a form of schizophrenia in our country) and putting an emphasis on the importance of keeping in touch with leftwing religious forces, which maintain a democratic and class understanding of religion and strive for a class alliance of workers and toilers.
In our opinion these are essential conditions for the class unity of the proletariat.
Can you give us an overview of the current situation, including the role of the reformists, the process by which sections of the movement became radicalised and the role of the working class?
In order to understand the dynamics of the current anti-dictatorship movement we must pay attention to a number of issues:
First, although this movement expressed itself in protests against rigged elections, its origins predate June 2009. In other words, in order to understand the situation we must remember that the gatherings in June in support of the reformists had nothing to do with people’s illusions about the elections or the reformists’ programme, but were mainly due to opposition to the institution of the vali faghih (Shia supreme religious leader). In fact these elections were similar to 1997, when people voted for Khatami mainly to confront that institution (the supreme leader wanted Ali Akbar Nategh-Nouri to be elected at that time) and it should be said that at least during the last 10-12 years, the majority of Iranians have either participated in or boycotted elections as means of expressing opposition to the ruling dictatorship.
Second, the Islamic Republic has major differences with other dictatorships in the third world. We are dealing with a regime that came out of a mass revolution and for a while it did have considerable influence amongst the masses. The Iran-Iraq war (one of the longest of the 20th century) and political pressure by the United States and its allies throughout most of the last three decades have added to the regime’s need to mobilise its mass base.
However, the Islamic regime is also a rare entity amongst world governments in that the clergy has imposed religion as the dominant force in the state apparatus, denying people’s sovereignty even on a theoretical level and in its constitution. In addition, the Islamic Republic is a plural or multi-centred dictatorship, which so far has not succeeded in destroying its own factions and has not become a dictatorship run by a single individual.
Given the above, elections play a different and a more important role in this system compared to most third world dictatorships. Here the principal organs of power are not electable and elections are limited to the lower echelons within the power structure, which are controlled by the structures nominated by the supreme leader. Elections are above all a means to hide the absolute dictatorship foreseen in the constitution and to mobilise the masses, convincing them of a defining role in state policies. Elections are also a means by which the state organises relations between its own factions (its inner circles) and as a result of this the regime has no alternative but to take its elections seriously. So, once candidates have been screened by the Council of Guardians, there is less vote-rigging, compared with other dictatorships. That is why open electoral fraud disturbs the balance of forces in the regime, not only exposing its absolute despotism, but creating difficulties for regulating relationships between its factions.
Third, the Islamic Republic is a religious dictatorship. In this regime civil repression complements political repression. The regime considers daily and constant control over people’s lives as its raison d’être and this repression creates widespread popular resistance. Throughout the last three decades we have seen a weary, direct and indirect mass resistance to the regime’s efforts to impose sharia law and this has played an important role in the erosion of the regime’s support base. In this confrontation, middle layers of society have played an active role, especially in the major cities. That is why some foreign observers (erroneously) refer to the current protests as the revolt of the middle classes.
Fourth, although at the time of the revolution the religious leadership benefited from considerable influence and this was reflected in the support for the governments stemming from the revolution, the imposition of velayat faghih (guardianship by the supreme leader) created many contradictions, which not only forced the government into constant confrontation with society’s daily life and therefore confrontation with large sections of the population, but also created problems within the clerical hierarchy and the religious establishment.
These factors led to a situation where the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic was seriously challenged (in both the political and religious spheres) especially after Khomeini’s death and this precipitated the loss of it support base. In fact the appearance of the reformists (who mainly came from the ‘left’ faction of the regime, or the ‘imam’s line’ group in the first decade of the existence of the Islamic regime) and their victory in the 1987 presidential elections, has no other significance but a sharpening of this crisis of legitimacy. Efforts over the last 12 years by the office of the supreme leader to control the influence of government reformists were mainly attempted through the strengthening of organs under the direct control of the leader and rendering meaningless elected bodies. All this broke down the equilibrium that had previously existed, and it is no coincidence that the crises of the political and religious legitimacy of the regime have coincided.
The office of Iran’s supreme leader is not only in total confrontation with the people, but at the same time most of the Shia ayatollahs who are accepted as sources of religious guidance are trying to distance themselves from him. The truth is that the traditional Shia religious governance is a form of republic (in the way Engels refers to the Protestant church as the ‘republican church’ and the Catholic church as the ‘Royalist church’), but now vali faghih is trying to change it into a royalist system, making the independence of centres of guidance impossible.
Fifth, the vali faghih system is keeping all the real levers of power directly under the control of the supreme leader. In fact under the current constitution his absolute authority is unprecedented even in comparison to absolute kings. As far as religious matters were concerned, even the kings had to accept religious authority, whilst in Iran all the power of both religious and state authorities is concentrated in the hands of one leader. Given the needs of the revolutionary period and later the requirements of war, the first supreme leader, Ruhollah Khomeini, tried to present himself as the embodiment of popular will, but during the last two decades, as the crisis surrounding the legitimacy of the regime increased, Ali Khamenei has been forced to use levers of power under his control to neutralise the general and inevitable inclinations of the people and work actively to destroy them.
As a result of this absolute ‘royalist’ power embedded in the constitution, the regime has been recognised as a naked dictatorship by ordinary Iranians. Nowadays all its armed forces are under the direct control of the supreme leader and the president cannot even send a policeman to someone’s door without his permission. The Revolutionary Guards are not only in charge of national security: they also control many of the country’s major economic activities. Today, Iran’s economy is not just divided between the private and the public sector: there is a third, very powerful sector controlled by foundations under the direct influence of the supreme leader – even the parliamentary accounts committee has no control over it. According to some estimates, the resources under the control of these ‘foundations’ account for a quarter of the country’s internal gross production. The broadcasting authority is a state monopoly under the direct control of the vali faghih. The supreme leader is in charge of one fifth of the country’s oil income.
The coincidence of the economic crisis with the anti-dictatorship movement is a sign of the explosive potential of the current situation in Iran. During Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency, despite all the talk of ‘protecting the disinherited’, Iran’s economy has reached a more critical stage.
Unemployment is increasing at a frightening rate and, according to some estimates, amongst youth it has reached 70%. It should be noted that the 15-30 age group constitutes about 35% of the population. Before the elections, inflation was above 25%, according to figure released by Iran’s Central Bank (even after the manipulation of statistics), and despite the government’s denials it has gone up in recent months. In the first three months of Ahmadinejad’s presidency the cost of housing in most major Iranian cities rose by 1,500% and the cost of housing took up around 75% of the income of an average working class family.
Contrary to the illusions of some left groups outside Iran, Ahmadinejad’s so-called ‘pro-disinherited’ policies played an important role in worsening the structural crisis of Iran’s economy. The first term of the Ahmadinejad presidency coincided with an unprecedented rise in the price of oil and he spent a substantial part of the country’s oil income, as well as the country’s foreign exchange reserves, strengthening the social position of vali faghih. By injecting most of these resources into projects that had no economic value and only benefited the regime’s inner circles, the government created unprecedented inflation, the main burden of which fell on the shoulders of workers and toilers. It is enough to remember that, according to Ahmad Tavakoli (head of the research centre of the Islamic Majles, and one of the most hard-line Principlist-conservative factions of MPs), 46% of all the the ‘quick turnaround’ policies claimed by Ahmadinejad to confront unemployment never existed. In other words, all these claims were a cover for giving credit and low-interest loans (at times no-interest loans) to close associates of the vali faghih. Of course, had it been any different, it would have been surprising, because corruption is endemic in Iran’s Islamic Republic. In fact this regime has all the preconditions for relentless, institutional corruption. It is a rentier oil state and a brutal religious dictatorship, depriving non-believers of any rights.
Right now, according to figures released by the Central Bank, the country’s banking system is facing total bankruptcy, because the banks have provided 50,000 billion tomans (around $50 billion) in non-returnable credit, lost in handouts to the regime’s inner circles. Now, the banking system cannot even provide loans to small production units desperate for credit.
According to some evaluations, around 35% of the population live below the absolute poverty line. This means they face hunger and constant malnutrition. In addition to all this, as a result of the shortage of resources and considerable drop in oil income, the government has been forced to implement sudden measures to abolish subsides for all essential commodities, starting with the energy sector. The implementation of this policy will lead to a jump in the rate of inflation and increase poverty and destitution, making the lives of workers and toilers unbearable.
In view of all this, in my opinion the conditions are not suitable for reform. In general, reforms can only be achieved when the state is reasonably stable and the population is relatively calm and accepts the existing conditions. However, not only do people consider their situation unbearable, not only is there a lively protest movement, but the state is also at breaking point. In such conditions any retreat by the government will only encourage the people. That is why the reformists have little chance of gaining from the situation.
In reality, the electoral fraud, the removal of many reformists from power and the arrest of many of their leading figures was no more than a manifestation of the open bankruptcy of the reformist discourse in our country. It was not the reformists who rebelled against the vali faghih: it was the supreme leader who practically threw them out of the inner circles of the religious state.
In the midst of all this, the emergence of a self-instigated movement against electoral fraud propelled the reformists to the leadership of mass protests. That is the contradictory situation created by the rigged elections – reformists managed to lead the protest at the very time when the bankruptcy of the reform programme had become obvious. Clearly this situation cannot last long. We are now in the post-reformist era and the best proof of this is the growing gap between the slogans of the protest movement and the reformist discourse. The demonstrations that started with slogans like ‘Where is my vote?’ have now moved on to slogans such as ‘Death to the dictator’, ‘Death to Khamenei’, and even ‘Death to the principle of velayat faghih’.
The people’s protest movement started under reformist leadership for two obvious reasons:
1. the first protests were against election fraud and it was inevitable that candidates who lost should take pole position within them;
2. in periods of severe repression, protesters usually rely on some sort of cover to protect them – a cover that can reduce a little bit the cost of protest.
In any case, although the reformist programme was clearly bankrupt, the fact that reformists flocked to the ranks of the protest demonstrates the crisis within the regime. A phenomenon which is a necessary precondition for a revolutionary situation. Today, the presence of reformists on the side of the popular movement is a sign that the ruling order’s position is untenable. At a time when the regime cannot even tolerate reformists who abide by the velayat faghih constitution, we can see a sign of absolute dictatorship and despotism, reducing the regime’s chances of survival. Clearly this situation cannot last for a long time. However the reformists themselves have reached the end of the road – caught between the velayat faghih system and the anti-dictatorship movement of the masses, they are so hemmed in, they have lost the ability to take any initiative.
The brutal, repressive reaction of the regime in confronting the protests was one of the most important factors in the radicalisation of the protest movement over the last eight months. As I mentioned before, the protests against rigged elections (which was indirectly a protest against velayat faghih) disrupted the calculations of the regime. They had not expected mass popular interest in the elections and had even organised TV debates between candidates (a rare event in the Islamic Republic) to try and inject some enthusiasm and show the elections to be a real contest.
In the three weeks before the elections support for reformists candidates became so widespread that Ahmadinejad’s defeat was obvious to everyone. It was in this atmosphere that the vali faghih system, seeing a repetition of the 1997 elections, declared two days before the elections, via the Revolutionary Guards, that a ‘velvet revolution’ was being planned by western powers. On the day of the election itself the Revolutionary Guards staged a military manoeuvre in Tehran to stop this alleged attempt. The election headquarters of reformist presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Moussavi was ransacked by plain-clothed security forces.
When the authorities saw the angry reaction of the masses after the announcement of the unbelievable results, they attacked Tehran University on the night of the election, killing a number of people and injuring more than a hundred. And again on June 15, when three million people were marching peacefully against the rigged results, they opened fire on defenceless protesters, killing more people and arresting hundreds. After that came the torture and rape of young boys and girls in prisons, and the death of more than a hundred political prisoners in detention. Illusions in reformism rapidly evaporated and slogans now clearly proclaimed opposition to all the main organs of the current order.
Throughout the last eight months, the shameless Goebbels-like lies of the regime has aggravated the situation. For example, they shamelessly claimed that Neda Agha Soltan, the young girl killed by the security forces, had died through a plot by a BBC reporter, even though witnesses to the attack arrested her killer and confiscated his security ID. When Massoud Ali Agha, a physics professor and supporter of Moussavi, was killed, they claimed he was a nuclear scientist and so Mossad had targeted him. All this, plus the escalating repression, has played a crucial role in reducing the reformists to a forgotten phenomenon and radicalising the youth (the main force behind the anti-dictatorship movement).
Contrary to the opinion of those who consider the movement ‘middle class’, there can be no doubt that workers and toilers have played a very important role in the current protests. For example, how can one say that the June 15 demonstration was only middle class, when Tehran’s mayor admits three million people joined the protest (in a city with a maximum of 12 million inhabitants). Of course, the workers were not raising their own slogans in this demonstration, but the same is true of other sections, such as women and the youth, whose participation in the protests is not in doubt.
We should not forget that we are currently dealing with an anti-despotic movement which is facing brutal repression. In such movements, political protests take the form of sporadic demonstrations, fighting here, fleeing there, and under such conditions workers cannot get involved in independent political struggle at their workplace or in the districts where they live. This is a point made by Rosa Luxembourg in her summation of the Russian uprising of 1905. The experience of the February revolution in Iran against the shah confirms this. In that uprising there was no sign of independent workers’ protests until the massacre of September 1978. It was only after that event (the police opened fire on demonstrators, killing large numbers), when street actions became more difficult and dangerous, that protests moved from the street to workplaces and gradually we witnessed important workers’ strikes. And, of course, at that time, until very close to February 1979, most of the workers’ strikes only raised economic and trade union demands.
At present too, despite all the arrests and repression of labour activists, workers’ protests in support of their demands has manifestly increased. A review of workers’ protests over the last eight months and a comparison of these with the same period last year leaves no doubt that the workers’ movement is on the rise. The least one can say is that without a movement based on workers, toilers and the poor (who constitute the overwhelming majority of the population of the country) the current anti-dictatorship movement will get nowhere and in fact it is even difficult to envisage its continuation. Of course, the elimination of subsidies on essential goods (which is due to start in the first weeks of the new Iranian year, beginning on March 21) will no doubt lead to major workers’ protests and this can create suitable conditions for the development of class-consciousness.
We must also remember that under dictatorships people do not believe any of the government’s propaganda and in general do not consider the enemy of the government as their enemy (they are more likely to consider them as friends). In other words, that famous saying, ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend’, gains legitimacy. In today’s Iran, where the regime’s entire propaganda is geared towards opposition to the United States, public opinion against the US is weaker than in most Islamic countries. A couple of months ago when Obama was discussing the nuclear issue with the regime, in one of the demonstrations people were shouting, “Obama, Obama, you are either with them or with us!”
However, this does not mean people are oblivious to the dangers of military action or economic sanctions. One can say with certainty that the majority of Iranians are opposed to economic sanctions and any military action against their country. In particular, the US military invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan and the general massacre and destruction it has created in our two neighbouring countries has had a profound effect on public opinion in Iran. There are even signs (unfortunately) that Iranians support the regime’s nuclear programme and would not even mind if their country possessed nuclear weapons. In fact the painful experience of the bombing of cities during the Iran-Iraq war and especially the indifference of western states towards the use of chemical weapons by Saddam’s regime during that war created a sense of nationalist impotence which the regime tries to use. It is no coincidence that at present the state raises the nuclear issue in order to divide the masses.
How optimistic are you regarding the future of this movement? What are the prospects of the working class putting its stamp on any regime that follows the defeat of the theocracy?
There are many reasons to be optimistic about the prospects for this movement. In fact, even if this movement dies down today and its continuation becomes impossible, what it has achieved so far will have historic consequences.
The events of the last eight to nine months have left the Islamic regime with no future. Even if it survives for a while, it will never recover from the fatal blows it has suffered at the hands of this mass uprising. The young generation, the main motor of these protests, did not witness the 1979 revolution or the bloody repression of the first decade of this regime and until recently it was preoccupied with minor changes and certainly not thinking about social revolution. This generation is now irreversibly against the very existence of the Islamic regime.
There is no doubt that during the last three decades Iran’s economy has fared worse than other countries in the region. For example, in 1977 (a year before the revolution), Iran’s gross national product per capita was 60% more than Turkey and five times more than Egypt’s. Now Iran’s GNP, despite its oil income, is only 14% ahead of Turkey, and just twice that of Egypt.
The civil repression imposed by the regime will have consequences that will be with us for a long time. It is enough to remember that Iranian girls have been deprived of participation in sport for three decades and have not taken part in any major international sporting competition. The damage resulting from this is a tragedy that is occasionally referred to even within the pages of the regime’s own educational journals. The reason is that, according to the clerics, girls’ sporting activity must not be seen from people in neighbouring buildings, for example, and this makes any form of sport in girls’ schools impossible. The absence of any rights for women has turned half of the society into second-class citizens, as far as law is concerned.
Around 15% of the country’s population – the Sunnis, who are mainly Kurds, Baluchis and Turkmens – face double deprivation because of their religious beliefs and this endangers the country’s territorial unity. It is a weapon in the hands of the US and its allies.
For all its claims of supporting the ‘disinherited’, Iran’s Islamic regime is thoroughly corrupt, it is a parasitic state, pursuing brutal, anti-worker policies. According to many estimates, the current line of poverty in Iran stands at 800,000 tomans ($800), while the official minimum wage (which is often ignored and workers are paid less) is 300,000 tomans ($300). More than 80% of workers have temporary jobs and those in workplaces of less than 10 employees (ie, the majority of Iranian workers) are officially exempt from any labour legislation. For them it is the law of the jungle. Even those activists who demand the establishment of independent workers’ organisations or workers who fight for payment of unpaid wages are arrested and tortured.
It is revealing to compare the government’s attitude towards capitalists and managers compared to its attitude to workers. Last year when the government announced a two percent rise in tax for bazaar merchants, it faced a strike by shop owners in the Tehran bazaar and the state retreated immediately.
All this shows that the current anti-dictatorship movement is the only hope for improving the plight of the working class and ordinary people in Iran. The continuation of this movement and expansion of its scope has created a suitable atmosphere for raising class-consciousness and the formation of independent workers’ organisations and no doubt will improve political conditions in favour of workers to such an extent that it will, in the words of the Persian proverb, learn in one night what usually takes a century. Of course, if the regime creates such an atmosphere of fear where workers’ participation in political and economic protests becomes more difficult and costly, there is a danger that the struggle will take a violent form, when the role of organisations associated with foreign powers would increase, initiatives from below by the working class would fade away and reactionary, anti-democratic forces would gain the upper hand.
Let us not forget that, unlike the shah’s regime, Iran’s Islamic Republic has many powerful enemies throughout the world who seek to find allies amongst the forces opposed to the regime. No doubt such a scenario will harm democratic and socialist forces within the movement and it will give the regime an excuse to link the people’s legitimate struggles with foreign powers. In my opinion the worst scenario in the current situation would arise if groups associated with foreign powers gained more influence within the opposition, because even if they do not manage to stifle the protests they will divert it from its democratic direction.
However, given the current awareness amongst social movements inside Iran, especially amongst the youth over the last 10-12 years, one can be hopeful that the anti-dictatorship movement will not be diverted from such a path. Of course, liberal discourse still dominates Iran’s political scene and the left has a steep hill to climb to overcome this problem. But if the protest continues and takes a revolutionary path, as the role of the working class increases, the conditions for the dominance of socialist thought will develop.
How do you see radical change in Iran linking in with political developments in the region as a whole?
The coming to power of the clergy in the February 1979 uprising in Iran undoubtedly played a significant role in the development of Islamic movements in the region. In my opinion, the overthrow of the Islamic Republic in Iran can play an important part in weakening the influence of Islamic movements.
The reality is that Iran’s Islamic experience is about 10 years older than other countries and so disillusionment with Islamism came much earlier than in other Muslim countries. The overthrow of the Iranian regime could increase that process in other countries, even though it might not necessarily lead to the coming to power of defenders of socialism in our country. Given the current situation in Iran and the region, such a perspective is possible.
It should be pointed out that, although liberal discourse is still powerful in Iran, the economic crisis engulfing world capitalism, the destructive effects of US military intervention, the bankruptcy of corrupt, pro-western regimes in the region and the fact that they are not tolerated – all this has created suitable conditions where, with the demise of Islamism, toilers in the region might turn towards more enlightened horizons. We are now witnessing the Islamic movements subsiding and if US military interventions stopped this decline would be faster. In none of these countries would liberalism be capable of responding to the stacked up problems of poverty, dictatorship and obscurantism, nor can it benefit from mass support amongst workers and toilers.
Right now in two key countries of the region, Egypt and Turkey, a powerful working class movement is rising and if in Iran the anti-dictatorship movement succeeds in strengthening the working class left (and in my opinion there is a strong possibility of that happening) it may be that a ‘strategic bloc’ would be created in these three key countries. A strong left in Iran, Egypt and Turkey would be in a good position to oppose not only the swagger about the ‘free market’ and neoliberalism, but also the obscurantist slogans of Islamism. In reality both currents are not as attractive as they used to be in the Middle East and if the left can learn from past mistakes and take up a democratic, radical, mass-orientated discourse, our region can move in a direction similar to Latin America.
The principal danger for the formation of such a perspective in our region is the destructive policies of the US. For example, Nato’s plans in Afghanistan and Pakistan might lead to the disintegration of both countries – a phenomenon that will be as destructive as an earthquake for the whole region, and especially Iran. Countries in the region have strong religious, tribal and cultural links and Iran has more than 2,500 kilometres of common borders with these Afghanistan and Pakistan. Tribal strife in Kirkuk could heat up dangerous nationalist strife in Iraq, strengthening such arguments in the region and producing disastrous consequences.
What are the role and tasks of the international solidarity movement with those fighting the Iranian regime?
Undoubtedly the solidarity of western organisations and parties with the Iranian people has an important subjective effect on political and social activists inside the country.
Of course, we must have a realistic understanding of this influence. The truth is that the Islamic regime has a monopoly when it come to the radio and television that is available to all and especially the lower classes. These media present everything in a distorted manner, with Goebbels-like lies, and constantly make use of the support of some western left groups who praise the regime’s anti-imperialism! This creates a certain hatred of the ‘international’ left amongst the population. Let there be no doubt: any support for the regime is met with nothing but animosity from the people it suppresses. Satellite radio and television, available to around 20% of the population, is mainly controlled by the US, UK or sections of the opposition directly or indirectly connected to foreign powers and most of them are anti-left and combine opposition to the regime with propaganda for the stance of the US and its allies.
Expressions of support for the working class movement in Iran from international progressive, leftwing organisations is mainly possible through the internet. However, although it is the most important means of communication for the majority of anti-dictatorship activists, inevitably it has a limited number of users – an optimistic estimate would be that 10% of the population has access to the internet.
Despite these limitations, though, support for the anti-despotic movement and, of course, for worker struggles plays an important role in strengthening the left and attracting the country’s youth towards socialist ideas. Let us not forget that there are already favourable conditions for the re-establishment of a strong worker-socialist movement and clear positions taken by socialist forces in the west help bring neoliberalism as well as Islamist ideas into disrepute. In my opinion the anti-war, anti-sanctions movement abroad undoubtedly has a positive influence on the Iranian people, because, as I said before, the overwhelming majority of Iranians do not want to see a repetition of the Iraqi or Afghan experience in their own country, and they have seen how it is ordinary people who suffer the burden of sanctions (Iran has already had three decades of sanctions).
But the important issue is that opposition to the imperialist policies of the US and its allies must not lead to support for the Iranian government. Unfortunately the position of certain ‘anti-imperialist’ forces in the west is as damaging as the stance of those who support military intervention and sanctions. It is vital to oppose war and sanctions, but it must never take the form of supporting the dictatorial, bloodthirsty and obscurantist Islamic Republic. We must not forget that any support for the Islamic regime discredits leftwing and socialist ideas and in practice strengthens the hand of the US and its allies. Whether they like it or not, leftwing apologists for the regime actually help strengthen the imperialist, pro-capitalist camp in our country.
Our readers have followed Rahe Kargar’s stance on many issues for over two decades. Could you explain the reasons for last year’s split in your organisation?
The reason for the split was that for quite a while a group of people had tended towards a kind of reformist anarchism and latterly they wanted to impose their anti-organisation model on the rest of us.
Of course, they were only a minority, but others who did not necessarily agree with them politically ended up supporting them organisationally, creating conditions which would have meant nothing but dissolution. This made coexistence in the same organisation impossible. Amongst the comrades who had more formulated ideas were those who followed an interpretation of John Holloway’s ‘change the world without taking power’. But they propagate a caricature version of this, portraying any organisation as stifling and they are opposed not only to the notions of a working class party and state, but even to trade unions and other workers’ organisations.
The conflict started around an article written by one of the comrades regarding the establishment of independent trade unions in Iran. This comrade warned workers that such an organisation would lead to hierarchical structures and claimed that unions, which limit their politics to economic issues, would benefit the liberals and pave the way for conciliation with capitalists. Those responsible for the website and the organisation’s paper, followed our internal rules and put this article in the ‘point of view’ section of the website and some comrades considered this discriminatory. The reality is that the Iranian working class is actually fighting to establish independent organisations and it is not our policy to leave the working class defenceless.
Another difference arose around Palestine, starting with Israel’s attack on Gaza. They thought the condemnation of Israel’s crimes must be expressed in such a way that it would not strengthen Hamas and, although this was not clearly expressed, they wanted us to condemn both sides (Israel and Hamas) equally. Our position was that Israel’s crimes must be condemned unconditionally and firmly.
Jamal Saberi (full name, Jalal Ahmadzade-Nouei) is a political activist opposed to the current Islamic regime in Iran. After refugee status was rejected for Saberi by the Japanese government, he was arrested, and now he faces deportation to Iran; a move that will no doubt lead to Saberi’s arrest by the Iranian regime. In detention, Saberi will face torture and possibly death.
Jamal Saberi left Iran for Japan in 1990. In 1992 he joined the Worker-communist Party of Iran (WPI) and began his political activities in Japan against the violation of human rights in Iran. As a member of WPI, an Iranian opposition party, Jamal wrote many articles against the Islamic Republic of Iran. He also wrote articles that exposed Japan’s diplomatic relations with the Iranian regime. Several of his writings have appeared in the Japanese press as well as Iranian publications such as Hambastegi (organ of the International Federation of Iranian Refugees – IFIR) and Javanan-e Komonist (organ of Communist Youth Organization).
He applied for refugee status in Japan on May 28, 2002. His application was turned down by the Immigration Bureau of the Japanese Ministry of Justice on March 28, 2002. He appealed this decision in April of the same year. The appeal was rejected and the Japanese police issued an order for his arrest and deportation.
Jamal was arrested in late October 2003 and transported to the Immigration Bureau’s detention center, where he was kept for one year. At the time of his arrest, Jamal had already become a popular human rights activist among the Left organizations, human rights organizations, and the trade unions. Consequently, his detention was protested by several organizations that eventually succeeded to stop the deportation order.
Albeit, the Japanese government did not grant Jamal refugee status, and the UNHCR did not make any efforts to assist Jamal Saberi.
Jamal Saberi’s lawyer has stated recently that his client is in danger of deportation to Iran.
Human rights activists around the world are working hard to ensure that Jamal Saberi does not get deported to Iran. The International Federation of Iranian Refugees (IFIR) has urged all organizations to take immediate action to save Jamal Saberi from deportation to Iran. The IFIR demands from the Japanese government to release Jamal from jail, revoke his deportation order, and take appropriate measures to protect his life in Japan.
Send off your appeal online here via the following form and/or phone/fax your appeals at:
Japan ministry of justice
1-1-1, Kasumigaseki, Chiyoda-ku,
Tokyo 100-8977 the Red Brick Building (The Ministry of Justice)
Tel: 00813 3592-7911 or 0081-3-3580-4111
UNHCR IN Japan – Tokyo
4-14 Akasaka 8-chome, Minato-ku,
Tel: 0081- 3-3499-2310
مبارزه با جمهوري اسلامي بيشك اشكال گوناگون و گه گاه پيچيده اي دارد۔ هم بايد در خيابانهاي تهران آنرا به مصاف طلبيد هم بايد براي بستن سفارتخانه ها(يا بهتر بگوييم ادارت جاسوسي ) آن در خارج كشور نبرد كنيم۔ هم بايد به چاوز در حمايتش از ايران اعتراض كنيم و هم به ژاپن بخاطر معامله كثيفش در تبادل اپوزيسيون با جمهوري اسلامي بخاطر منافع اقتصاديش۔
اين گروه در اعتراض به همين امر است۔ معامله كثيف پشت پرده دولت ژاپن با جمهوري اسلامي ۔ در اعتراض به ژاپن در تهديد به ديپورت جمال صابري يك مبارز خستگي ناپذير و شناخته شده عليه جمهوري اسلامي به ايران۔
The United States and its allies are racketing up the pressure on Iran as they have recently forced the heavyweights of the petrochemical industry Vitol, Glencore, Trafigura, BP and Royal Dutch Shell to end petrol sales to the fifth largest oil exporter. The building, construction and manufacturing £13 billion conglomerate Ingersol-Rand has also ceased business with Iran after threats to its operations by the Obama regime. These ending of contracts or refusing to enter into new terms with companies and the regime in Iran is down to massive U.S. pressure which is now culminating in new legislation that would penalise those companies that supply fuel to Iran. The legislation is an extension of the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996 which would include severe and damaging monitoring and interference in trade with Iranian companies and Western businesses. This legislation also includes forced divestment from Iranian operations and interests by companies based or have interests in the United States.
Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and other Arab states have been receiving visits from US and Israeli officials threatening them about the risks they face by doing business with Iran. Brazil’s President Lula defied warnings from U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton on business with Iran as she lashed out at the Brazilian government on her recent trip. Brazilian based companies will no doubt be put under massive pressure by the U.S. Government over the coming months.
Moves in the U.S. are being backed up in Europe and on the U.N. Security Council with only China as the stumbling block in the UN. The French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner was reported as being hopeful that new sanctions will be agreed that will target the Revolutionary Guards, Shipping, Banking and Insurance Sectors. This will no doubt lead to massive job losses and the further impoverishment of the working class.
Iran finds itself in a situation like other natural resource rich former semi-colonies, whilst sitting on one of the biggest known oil reserves in the world, its oil industry is dilapidated and has a fraction of the needed refining capabilities to ensure it can serve its internal market and industry. These sanctions will hold back any expansion in petrochemical industry as well as starving the population of petrol for daily use, further pushing down the living standards of population.
It is essential that the worker’s movement take the strengthening of the sanctions regime seriously. It is a mistake to see sanctions as an alternative to military action. Sanctions are a form of soft war and just like Iraq pave the way to some military action, either through targeted bombings or full scale invasions. The sanctions regime should be seen as a siege tactic to impose hunger, demoralisation an and desperation. Iraq was a perfect example of how sanctions impact on the population, the sanctions regime throughout the 1990’s killed over a million Iraqis and disproportionately children. The U.S. and its allies were hoping for a revolt out of desperation, which never came just like Zimbabwe. Such sanctions strengthen such regimes support base and demobilise the masses as they attempt to live a decent life and feed their families.
Sanctions like a military strike are a disaster to the cause of freedom and democracy. The only force capable of bring about genuine and progressive social change in Iran is the working class. We should also not look to the Iranian regime as a consistent anti-imperialist force not only does it support the puppet governments in Iraq and Afghanistan the theocratic regime supported and welcomed the invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. The only real anti-imperialist force is the working class of the Iran and the region. Our line in the UK is clear, our primary target is the British state and it’s allies who are strangling Iran in the run up to military action. We must continue and redouble our efforts to build organic support and solidarity links between the broad labour movement here and workers, youth and women in struggle in Iran.
Yassamine Mather looks at the politics, hypocrisy and dangers of Ahmadinejad’s nuclear programme:
There seems to be no end to the confrontation between western governments and Iran’s Islamic regime over the nuclear issue.
In the latest phase of the continuing saga, on February 23, a day after the announcement by the head of Iran’s nuclear programme that the country will build two new uranium enrichment facilities, Iran wrote to the International Atomic Energy Agency claiming that it is ready to hand over the bulk of its stockpile in a simultaneous exchange for fuel rods for its research reactor, adding that the exchange must take place on Iranian soil. This falls short of the demands by the so-called ‘five plus one’ (United States, Great Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany). They had demanded that Iran’s enriched uranium is first processed and then converted into fuel rods in Russia and France, returning the enriched fuel rods to Iran within a year.
Of course there are clear reasons why both sides need the confrontation to continue. For the US it is a question of asserting its authority in the Middle East and reducing Iran’s own political influence in the region – an influence which, ironically, has been considerably strengthened by the establishment of the Shia occupation government in Iraq and the overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Barack Obama will not bomb Iran’s nuclear installations for the same reasons that George W Bush did not do so: partly because such a raid could not hope to stop the Iranian nuclear programme for more than a few months, and partly because Iran threatens retaliation against Israel and US troops, via its allies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and Lebanon, not to mention the fact that such an attack might lead to a rise in the price of oil.
For the Iranian government, besieged by protesters in all its major cities, the continued threat of war and the imposition of further sanctions is a godsend. It can use sanctions as an excuse for the disastrous economic situation, for further attacks on workers’ wages and for accusing all its opponents of being agents of foreign powers and increasing repression against the opposition as part of ‘measures to strengthen national defence’ in its war against US and UK.
The latest IAEA report, published on February 19, was the first to be produced under the new IAEA director, general Yukiya Amano, who replaced former chief Mohamed ElBaradei last year. The report’s tone and its conclusion differ considerably from those produced under ElBaradei.
Last week’s document implies the agency suspects Tehran might already be trying to develop a nuclear warhead and has begun enriching uranium to higher levels, theoretically bringing it closer to what is required for an atomic bomb. In addition, a worrying section of the report states: “On February 14 2010, Iran, in the presence of agency inspectors, moved approximately 1,950 kg of low enriched UF6 [uranium hexafluoride is a chemical compound consisting of one atom of uranium combined with six atoms of fluorine] from FEP [fuel enrichment plant] to the PFEP [pilot fuel enrichment plant] feed station. The agency inspectors sealed the cylinder containing the material to the feed station.”
If it is true that Iran has moved 94% of its enriched uranium from underground, one could argue that this is a deliberate provocation added to president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s order for uranium to be enriched to 20%. Such a provocation would aim to encourage Israeli military attacks in a desperate attempt to cling to power. Clearly Israel and more recently Saudi Arabia do not seem to share US reservations about such military action. Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak is in the US this week for ‘ talks on halting Iran’s nuclear drive’, prompting this headline in the Washington Post: “Prepare for war with Iran – in case Israel strikes”. Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has also renewed his call for the ‘international community’ to impose an oil embargo on Iran, if necessary without UN security council approval.
When Israeli leaders further inflame the hysteria over Iran’s nuclear industry they are without doubt being two-faced. Israel refuses to sign up to the nuclear proliferation treaty (NPT) and therefore is not obliged to report on its own arsenal of nuclear weapons or allow the inspection of its nuclear facilities. Most analysts agree that it has up to 400 nuclear warheads. Israel refuses to confirm or deny this. With that in mind, on September 18 2009, IAEA agreed a resolution which “expresses concern about the Israeli nuclear capabilities, and calls upon Israel to accede to the NPT and place all its nuclear facilities under comprehensive IAEA safeguards …”
That is why attempts by the US and the European Union to stop Iran obtaining nuclear technology are hypocritical. IAEA’s protocols which are supposed to prevent nuclear proliferation are a one way street. Countries which possess sufficient nuclear weaponry to destroy the world several times over (and are continuing to add to their arsenals) are laying down the law to others – or some of them. The US and its EU allies have for decades refused to even admit that Israel has nuclear weapons.
Ironically Iran’s current status as the regional ‘threat’ is itself a direct consequence of the US-UK invasion of Iraq and the coming to power of a Shia, pro-Iran government in Baghdad. The recent pronouncements by the US and Israeli governments regarding Iran’s nuclear programme are more to do with Iran’s influence in the region, its close relations with the Maleki government in Iraq and the consequences of such influence in the forthcoming ‘elections’ in that country. That is why anti-war activists must condemn constant threats of military action against Iran and oppose sanctions.
However, two wrongs don’t make a right and just because the US is opposed to Iran’s nuclear policy, the left inside and outside Iran cannot take an opportunist position of defending nuclear proliferation in Iran while opposing it in the rest of the world. In embarking on an unprecedented programme of privatisation, accompanied by systematic non-payment of workers’ wages, including in the state sector, Iran’s rulers have constantly blamed financial difficulties. Many in Iran are questioning the wisdom of spending astronomic sums purchasing nuclear technology (often on the black market) by a regime that claims to be so short of funds.
Any support by the anti-war movement for the current rulers in Iran will be in direct opposition to the views of ordinary Iranians who are victims of the repressive policies of this regime, and to millions of Iranian workers who are victims of a corrupt Islamic government’s privatisation policies. We must show our solidarity by supporting the majority of Iran’s population, its workers, and dispossessed – against international capital, against the warmongers, but also against the repressive Islamist regime.
If you are outraged by 31 years of anti-women Islamic laws against Iranian women! If you are disgusted by 31 years religious oppression and repression! If your heart is full of pain because of fallen heroines such as Neda and Taraneh! If you hate the inequality and discrimination against women! If you oppose patriarchy in any form!
Join Our March on March 7 2010 on the occasion of the International Women’s Day to support the Iranian women’s struggle against the anti-women Islamic regime of Iran!
Date and Time: 7th March 2010 at Noon
Assembly: In front of the Embassy of Islamic Republic of Iran
16 Princes Gate, London SW7
Nearest Underground Station: South Kensington
Message from 8 March women’s organisation (Iran-Afghanistan)
Inci Kaya (European Democratic Women Movement)-Turkey
Yassamine Mather(Hands Off The People of Iran)
Houzan Mahmoud (Organisation of women’s Freedom in Iraq)
Sabrina Qureshi (Million Women Rise)
Million Women Rise
European Democratic Women Movement
Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq-Abroad representative
Rhythms of Resistance
Iranian Youth Committee-UK
Solidarity Council with Iranian People’s Struggle
Hands off People of Iran
www.8mars.com Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information please call: 07521134454
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.
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. 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’, 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.
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.
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. 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.”
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.
Hands Off the People of Iran is launching a week of action in solidarity with the grassroots opposition movement in Iran, running from Saturday, February 13 to Saturday, February 20.
This will see fundraising events, protest actions and meetings. Comrades around the country are coming forward with ideas for activities that range from pickets and petitions, to benefit meals for a few comrades and friends. We want to mobilise every Hopi supporter to participate in the week, at whatever level their circumstances and time constraints allow. (And make sure you send us small reports and photos for our website!)
February is a key month in the Iranian political calendar. The Shah’s regime imploded in February 1979. Every year since, the government has initiated official state-backed marches and rallies to celebrate the revolution and to bolster the myth that its social and political dynamic was simply ‘Islamic’.
However this year, in the aftermath of the huge upsurges post the rigged presidential elections in June 2009, the regime will face stiff opposition. There will be counterdemonstrations organised by both the Green reformists such as the western media darling Mir-Hossein Moussavi and by more radical trends within the movement, forces that are subject to a media blackout.
In their different ways, both these reformists and the elements to their left will challenge the theocracy for the legacy of 1979. This difference is vital, however. The likes of Moussavi charge that the regime has lost its way and deserted the ‘true’ Islamic nature of the revolution. For the left, 1979 could have had a very different outcome. That is, a victory for the forces of popular democracy from below and fundamental social change.
Iran is in turmoil and the opposition is utilising every opportunity to protest and organise. These counterdemonstrations will also commemorate the 40th day since the death of the leading reformist cleric Ayatollah Montazeri and also the murder of protesters in the Ashura demonstration in late December.
This poses important tasks to the anti-war and solidarity movement in this country and beyond.
First and foremost, we have to dramatically step our work against any imperialist intervention against Iran. Military action would be a disaster for the burgeoning movement. It would disrupt and disperse the masses just at a time when we are beginning to see the potential for a new Iran, shaped by the democratic and militant action of millions of ‘ordinary’ Iranians themselves.
Sanctions – the so-called ‘soft’ option – have the same demobilising effect, if anything in a more insidiously poisonous way. When working people have to spend their time individually begging, bartering or borrowing their way round shortages of basic foodstuffs and amenities, their ability to collectively impose a progressive agenda on society as a whole suffers.
So, we have to see off the threats of imperialism. We have to give the ‘red’ strands within the Green movement in Iran the space to survive and thrive. In contrast to some mistaken comrades in the anti-war movement, Hopi knows that the real Iranian anti-imperialists are amongst the millions of protesters on the streets, not in the corrupt and deeply compromised echelons of the clerical bureaucracy.
In addition to our anti-war work, we must also supply these comrades with the oxygen of publicity.
The bulk of the mainstream English or Persian’s media reporting of the upsurge since June 2009 has implied that the ‘Green movement is a homogeneous bloc, where the masses are little more than ‘walk-on/walk-off’ bit-part players in a drama directed by Moussavi and the reformists.
In truth, these ‘leaders’ have struggled to keep up with the movement. Actions and slogans on the ground have gone far beyond even the maximum demands of the reformists. Since at least September ’09, important elements amongst workers, students, women and youth have called for the overthrow of the entire regime. While the Green leaders repeated assert their loyalty to the existing order, militant slogans from the movement they purport to lead demand the overthrow of the supreme religious leader, Khamenei and the entire apparatus of Islamicist rule and oppression.
None of this finds reflection in the mainstream media. The BBC and the western news outlets are the propaganda wing of the imperialist campaign. Sanctions and the threat of military strikes serve the purpose of undermining the Ahmadinejad-led regime and preparing a ‘colour revolution’ a la Georgia or the Ukraine, headed by the likes of Moussavi. The BBC’s selective silence about the evolving politics of the real movement beneath this ‘hero’ makes it the propaganda arm of that reactionary campaign.
We will target the BBC for protest during the week of action. Details of protests and activities are being finalised as this bulletin goes out. We will keep comrades posted, but check regularly on our website for updates.
انقلاب ایران ، مبارزه با امپریالیسم مبارزه با سرکوب جمهوری اسلامی
شنبه ۱۳ فوریه ۲۰۱۰ ،ساعت ۱ بعد از ظهر,
University of Manchester Students’ Union, Meeting Room 1.
نشست ۱:امپریالیسم و ایران،با سخنرانان از دانشگاه گلاسکو و کارزار دستها از مردم ایران کوتاه
HOPOIنشست ۲:انقلاب ۱۹۷۹ ایران و امروز،با سخنرانان ازحزب سبز و
جشن و پذیرائی، ساعت ۶ بعد از ظهر
Whitworth Arms, 508 Moss Lane East, Rusholme, Manchester, M14 4PA.
شایان ذکر است که جهت جمع آوری کمک به مردمی که در ایران در ستیز هستند و همچنین ،غذا و نوشیدنی نیز موجود میباشد.
**لطفا از آوردن هر گونه دوربین عکاسی و فیلمبرداری خودداری فرمائید.**
برای اطلاعات بیشتر و یا کمک برای برگزاری هر چه بهتر مراسم،لطفا به این آدرس ایمیل بزنید و یا با کریس تماس بگیرید
برگزارکنندگان:کارزار دستها از مردم ایران کوتاه & دانشجویان ایرانی واتحادیه دانشجویان دانشگاه منچستر
THE IRANIAN REVOLUTION
Fighting Imperialism and Fighting Repression Day School
Saturday February 13 @ 1pm
University of Manchester Students’ Union Meeting Room 1
Meeting 1: Imperialism and Iran
With speakers from Glasgow University and HOPI
Meeting 2: The Iranian Revolution 1979 and Today
With speakers from HOPI and the Green Party
Starts at 6pm
508 Moss Lane East, Rusholme, Manchester, M14 4PA
There will be drinks and food all night to help raise money for those in struggle.
**No Cameras will be permitted at this event**
If you want to help out or find out more please email email@example.com or call Chris on 07883924372
Organised by Hands Off the People of Iran & Iranian Students and University of Manchester
– January 28, 7.30pm, Boole 3, Main Campus, University College Cork, College Road: “Siahkal 1971 – Tehran 2010 the history of the new left in Iran”. Hosted by University College Cork Historical Society
Yassamine Mather, Iranian political activist and writer will trace the emergence of a movement of extraordinary significance in the struggle for democracy in Iran today.
– February 9 Hopi discussion and organising meeting Solidarity Books, Douglas Street, Cork Come along and help to plan our week of action.