HOPI STATEMENT: MAY DAY IN IRAN SUPPORT WORKERS’ STRUGGLES!

iw2Hands Off the People of Iran has consistently identified the workers of Iran as the solid anti-imperialist force in that country, a force that has shown resilience in opoposition to the religious state . This is the section of Iranian society that the anti-war movement in the west must be a partisan of and ally with. This understanding explains why we have been implacably opposed not simply to any military attack on the country, but also the so-called ‘soft war’ option of sanctions: when the working class is distracted daily by the struggle to simply keep body and soul together, its ability to intervene in national politics with its own, radical agenda for democratic change is drastically restricted.

We therefore enthusiastically welcome news from Iran that May Day – international workers’ day – saw workers tenaciously defy military and security forces to organise illegal gathers and protests throughout the country. In Tehran and other major cities, slogans were raised against low pay, unemployment and the non-payment of wages. In an audacious symbolic act, the largest demonstration of all gathered outside the Islamic parliament, the Majles. We send our warm congratulations to all those who participated in these inspiring May 1 actions and re-commit ourselves to aid their struggles, first though mobilising the workers’ movement in this country to take a stand against war and sanctions and, second, through the direct provision of financial and other aid where we can.

The potential power of the workers is not simply recognised by Hopi, however. Increasingly, forces very far from the progressive movement – frustrated by the impotence of political groups such as the reformist Greens – are taking an interest in the class that has been the most persistent and courageous opponent of the Islamic regime.

For instance, the US journal Foreign Policy writes: “As Iran’s economy continues to deteriorate, the labour movement is a key player to watch because of its ability to pressure the Islamic Republic through protests and strikes … And thus far, Iranian labourers have not joined the opposition green movement en masse. But the economic pains caused by the Iranian regime’s mismanagement, corruption and international sanctions have dealt serious blows to worker wages, benefits and job security – enough reason for Iranian labourers to organise and oppose the regime …”. More ominously for today’s theocracy, it goes on to draw a parallel between the repression of today and “the Shah’s treatment of Iranian workers before his overthrow, particularly in the regime’s denial of the right to organize, the quashing of protests and strikes, and its refusal to address worker’s rights.”1

In the UK during the same week, The Economist published an article with the strap: “Though watched and muzzled, independent labour unions are stirring”.2

The new, restive mood amongst the working class coincides with turmoil at the very top of the regime:

* Confusion is rife about who will or will not stand as a candidate in the country’s forthcoming presidential elections and whether the Guardian Council will allow Mohammad Khatami (the last ‘reformist’ president) or Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei (president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s anointed successor) to participate

* On April 29, the Guardian wrote that according to a unconfirmed report from a source in the Revolutionary Guard’s intelligent unit, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had been arrested and held for seven hours. This is yet to be confirmed, but what is true is that the man had threatened to release audio tapes proving there was fraud in the 2009 presidential elections. Before he was released, Ahmadinejad was apparently warned to keep silent about matters ‘detrimental’ to the Islamic regime – like presidential vote-rigging, for instance

* Iran’s press and media are dominated by speculation about ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani after he announced he is not ruling himself out as a candidate in the June 14 polls

In this fluid situation, what is the role of activists in solidarity with the workers of Iran? Hands Off the People Iran says we must:

1. Step up our efforts to block any military action against Iran. The regime is already using bellicose posturing from the US and Israel to depict its opponents as a fifth column for western imperialism. An actually military attack would dramatically derail the slow recomposition of the working class movement and give the theocracy a golden opportunity to unite the people around a ‘defence of the nation’ … led by itself, of course

2. Fight to end the form of war that is currently being waged on Iran – sanctions. The main victim of the these is the working class and the resultant poverty and desperate struggle for the basic necessities of life effectively excludes it from the political life of the country. The oil industry and parts of the manufacturing sector are on the verge of a complete shutdown and as a result tens of thousands of workers have lost their jobs. Others have not been paid any wages for up to two years, yet they continue going to work so that they can keep their jobs. Workers make ends meet by taking up extra part-time work – anything from driving taxis to selling goods on the pavement.

We say it is our internationalist duty to provide solidarity and material aid to the working people of Iran. Their struggles, though defensive in the main, should be a source of pride for us in the resilience of our class. The key problems are the barriers placed in the way of workers organising as a political force. Given this vacuum, regime change forces of the right – both green ‘reformists’ within the religious state and the US-sponsored ‘republican and royalist’ champions of regime change from above – are now trying to hitch the social power of this section of Iranian society to their stalled reactionary projects.

So far they have had little success. But there is no room for complacency.

Notes

1. http://mideast.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/04/22/labor_and_opposition_in_iran

2. http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21576408-though-watched-and-muzzled-independent-labour-unions-are-stirring-aya-toiling

New era, new focus

The nuclear deal means we must refocus our campaigning priorities

If anyone had any doubts about the new relations between Iran’s Islamic Republic and the west, the messages by Iranian and US leaders on the occasion of the Persian New Year, Nowruz, will show that a dramatic change has occurred.

President Barack Obama said that, although the nuclear deal was “never intended to resolve all disputes between the United States and Iran”, it nonetheless “opened a new window of dialogue” and made it possible for Iran to “rejoin the global economy” through increased trade and investment, creating jobs and opportunities for Iranians to “sell their goods around the world”.

In his own congratulatory message, Obama’s counterpart in Iran, Hassan Rowhani, called for internal reconciliation following bitter divisions around last month’s elections. Reminding the country that “sanctions aimed at banks, oil, finance, money, petrochemicals, insurance, transport, and all nuclear-related sanctions have been lifted”, he declared that the scene was set for “our people’s economic activities”. Thanks to “god’s favour” and “the people’s efforts”, Iran got through the last year and now “without a doubt we all can create an Iran which is worthy of this great nation.”

Rowhani stated that the Iranian revolution had been “for Islam and morality”, and so, “in our revolutionary society, there should be no trace of lies, false accusations, mistrust, bad language and irritability. In our society, there should be no trace of corruption.” Hardly the Iran that most of its people would recognise.

While Rowhani said that further engagement with other countries was the key to economic growth, Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, seemed to disagree. What was needed was “self-sufficiency” and a “resistance economy”. After all, in Khamenei’s eyes, the “government of the US” is still Iran’s “enemy”. The Islamic Republic should take steps to reduce its vulnerability to the designs of the US and other “enemies”, he said.

Sometimes it is difficult to decide whether one should laugh at Khamenei’s hypocrisy or cry at his self-deception. Here is a man leading a country where the ‘approved’ president and his government are embarking on a major project to persuade transnationals to invest in Iran and take advantage of its cheap skilled labour, so that Iran can be fully integrated into global capitalism, which is still headed by a single hegemonic military and economic power, the United States. It is a country where the president’s opponents in the more rightwing factions have no hesitation in working with capitalists of any nationality, as long as they themselves can take their own cut, aided by corruption and the black market. Yet Khamenei is still going on about “self-sufficiency” and the “economy of resistance”. He is either delusional or an accomplished liar.

Irrespective of all this, the nuclear deal has marked a new phase in Iran’s relations with the west. There is no longer a threat of military action against the country. Of course, given the tumultuous situation in the Middle East, the civil wars in Iraq and Syria, the conflicts in Yemen, Bahrain and elsewhere, all this could change dramatically and suddenly. No doubt the election of a Republican president, whether it is Donald Trump or one of his rivals, would signal an end to the “new window of dialogue” and a return to a conflict situation.

Nevertheless, we in Hands Off the People of Iran have decided that the case for a shift in the nature of our campaign is clear. It is no longer a case of opposing imperialist war against Iran. We need to concentrate our focus on the struggles against the neoliberal economic policies of the government by the Iranian working class – they are a beacon of hope in a region devastated by war and conflict. Our organisation will need a new name to reflect the changed circumstances.

Statement

The campaigning anti-war organisation, Hands Off the People of Iran, was founded in 2007 and quickly established itself as a principled focus for activists in the movement who understood it was possible and necessary to oppose the threat of imperialist war against Iran without dressing up the country’s rulers as ‘anti-imperialist’ or maintaining a diplomatic silence on their repressive crimes against the working people of the country. We are proud of the record of our campaign, but it is clear that these are challenging new political times in the Middle East and, in particular, that the new relationship between Iran and the west presents us with important new tasks.

The country’s rulers have complied with the nuclear agreement signed in July 2015 with the five ‘official’ nuclear powers (United States, United Kingdom, France, China and Russia) plus Germany. This has opened up a new period of cooperation and a degree of rapprochement between Tehran and US-led imperialism.

Given this new political context, Hopi activists have held discussions on the future of the campaign. The west, and in particular US imperialism, has emerged victorious from this confrontation. Of course, we have to remain alive to the possibility of new conflicts arising. The situation in Syria and Iraq, as well the Palestinian people’s struggles against Israeli colonisation, continue to be destabilising factors. In addition, the danger remains frighteningly real of regional wars, such as those in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain, escalating and dragging others into the maelstrom. However, it seems clear that the prospect of an imminent imperialist attack on Iran has considerably receded.

There is no doubt that the relaxation of tensions and the lifting of sanctions will mean an improvement in the material wellbeing of many working people in Iran. They, after all, are the ones who have borne the heaviest burden in the sanctions period. However, it will not mean a relaxation of the political oppression of the Iranian people by the regime. In fact, the rapprochement with its external enemy will free the Iranian ruling elite to concentrate on its internal enemy: the working class and its allies. As the threat of conflict with the US recedes, the regime will step up the domestic class war.

Iran’s president, Hassan Rowhani, and his foreign minister, Javad Zarif, have already sent very clear messages to foreign capital. Iran is open for business and its labour force – intimidated by years of recession, mass unemployment and the regime’s brutal repression – will accept low wages, poor conditions and vicious exploitation. These overtures have also been backed up by practical examples of the regime’s style of ‘labour discipline’. Thus, we have seen the brutal attack by the paramilitary Basij on a group of striking factory employees in Kalaleh, an assault brazenly reported by pro-regime media outlets as one of a number of exercises by this militia in preparation for future actions against protesting workers.

In these new circumstances, we need to refocus the work of Hands Off the People of Iran, to give it a different emphasis, a new style of work, and this must be reflected in a different name. In contrast to others, Hopi has been implacable in its commitment to the principle that the only consistent anti-war, anti-imperialist and democratic force in Iran and beyond is the working class. Now is the time to step up our solidarity with the beleaguered workers’ movement in that country, as the reactionary regime – having made important concessions on the international stage – looks to consolidate its repressive hold on domestic power.

Hands Off the People of Iran

 

 

Iran nuclear deal: HOPI statement

In the next few hours, the final stages of Iran’s compliance with the agreement signed in July 2015 will be completed and “Implementation Day” will be declared. This is the moment the five nuclear powers + 1 will declare Iran has dismantled those parts of its nuclear programme, claimed to be be part of a programme to gain nuclear weapons capability, . Immediately after this declaration all nuclear-related sanctions will be lifted and in theory there will be no barriers to economic deals and investments with Iran, including an end to an EU embargo on Iranian oil. One of the first and most significant consequences of the deal will be a drop in the price of oil as Iran’s export of half a million barrels of crude oil per day will hit the market.

Iran’s battered economy is in desperate need of additional oil income, the country will benefit from the resumption of connection to the Swift network (allowing foreign bank transactions), as well as release of cash from frozen assets.

On the international scene , for all the hysteria shown so far by Israel and Saudi Arabia in opposition to the deal, it very clear from statements made by Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei and the US president Obama , that we will not witness any change in the two countries policies towards Syria, Iraq .. The US’s twin track policy of containing Islamic State while promoting failed states in Iraq and Syria, is now supplemented by a policy of controlling Iran. There will be no sanctions against t states who promoted and supported Jihadist groups while the economic hardships Iran faced , especially during the last years of US and UN imposed sanctions, means the country’s leaders will not challenge any aspect of US foreign policy in the region, , limiting itself to regional conflicts with rival Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

Inside Iran, there were celebrations following the initial deal in July 2015, as Iranians hoped the lifting of sanctions will improve their lives and no doubt they will have better access to medication and essential supplies , the lifting of banking sanctions means Iranians can enter into personal and commercial transactions. Sanctions, lead to major job losses as major parts of the economy closed down leading to mass unemployment. They impoverished the majority of the Iranian population

While bringing windfalls of billions of dollars to those close the regime, benefiting from the black market and sanction busting. However , Iranians can’t expect long term benefits from the lifting of sanctions. Iran’s president Rouhani and his foreign minister’s message to foreign capital is very clear, Iran has a skilled labour force, after years of recession and mass unemployment this workforce will accept low wages . In preparation for this new wave of capital investment , the ‘reformist’ neo liberal state in Iran, lead by president Rouhani and his foreign minister Zarif have collaborated with the ‘conservative’ faction of the regime in the repression of working class activists. The death in prison of labour activist Shahrokh Zamani, the new wave of arrests against all those who have been active in workers rights , in civil rights are examples of such measures. No-one expected the nuclear deal to herald an improvements in democratic rights, however it is fair to say the situation has got worse in the last six months. Having made the decision to reverse the nuclear programme for the sake of remaining in power, the Islamic Republic of Iran remains opposed to political freedoms , and those fighting for the rights of workers , women, national and religious minorities will face an uphill struggle and they will now find fewer supporters outside Iran as funds for regime change from above, have dried up.

Hands Off People of Iran has always argued that democracy cannot be delivered from outside – be it by military means, sanctions or US-financed coups. Now that the nuclear deal heralds a new phase in Iran’s relations with Western powers we will concentrate on defending the Iranian people against their own rulers and the onslaught of foreign capital designed to increase exploitation of the Iranian working class.

 

John McDonnell: honorary president of HOPI now shadow chancellor

Hands Off the People of Iran congratulates Labour’s John McDonnell on his appointment as shadow chancellor. The MP for Hayes and Harlington was a founding member of HOPI and is honorary president of the organisation. He has consistently opposed imperialist intervention in Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East, as well as supporting movements for democracy from below.

We feature below a video of John addressing a day school held by HOPI in 2008.

 

 

No To Intervention! Islamic State atrocities must not disorientate us! There are no short cuts, no easy solutions to the crisis in the middle east!

warEvery new barbaric atrocity by the Islamic State (Isis) makes headlines. Precisely as they are intended to do. US attacks may have the effect of slowing down Isis’ military progress – but it cannot be beaten by military interventions.

Ironically, only a year ago all the talk was of US military intervention on the side of the Syrian opposition – forces that were even then dominated by jihadists who have today evolved into Isis. Today the US and UK are waging an air war against them.
This air war will bolster the regime of Bashar Assad, yesterday’s mortal enemy. Assad has consolidated his power with phoney elections; his army (supported by another ‘rogue state’, Iran) is as repressive as ever before. In short, nothing has changed except the priorities of the imperialist powers – there is now an urgent need to maintain control over the country they ruined in another ‘humanitarian’ intervention in 2003: Iraq.

So Shia Iran, and therefore its ally, Syria, are no longer the main enemy. On the contrary, Iran’s alliance and support is welcomed in Iraq, where, in true colonial fashion, Washington dismisses the prime minister of the occupation government and gets Tehran’s approval to install a replacement.

Ten years after de-Ba’athification and ‘year zero’, when neoliberal economics was supposed to bring about a democratic civil society and, according to some, trade union rights for Iraqi workers, the country remains devastated. It soon became obvious that the regional power benefiting from the political vacuum was Iran. With a friendly, at times obedient, Shia-led state in Baghdad, relative influence in Syria and growing links with Hezbollah in Lebanon, the clerics in Tehran and Qom could not believe their luck: the neoconservatives had handed them the Shia belt, stretching from Tehran (some would say Kabul) to the Mediterranean coast. Yet Iran’s influence and at times direct interventions in Iraq and Syria – not to mention Hezbollah’s political success in Lebanon – increased sectarian tension, a tension fuelled by Saudi and Qatari financial support for Sunni militias in Syria and Iraq, as well as political opponents of Hezbollah in Lebanon.

US threats against Iran and the hysteria about Iran’s nuclear programme since 2007, as well as subsequent crippling sanctions, were inevitable consequences of attempts by first Bush and then Obama to address the increasing geopolitical strength of Iran. The Arab spring in 2011 and 2012 only reinforced this position, as the US now had to consider the coming to power of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo. Ironically it was the defeat of the Arab spring and the rising power of fundamentalist jihadists, especially in Syria, that changed US foreign policy. Washington is disorientated and the reality is that last year’s enemies (the Iranian rulers, Assad and Hezbollah) are today’s allies. Unfortunately this disorientation is mirrored amongst sections of the left.
the choice is not between the abstraction that only ‘socialism will do’ or the ‘realistic’ politics of supporting ‘humanitarian’ interventions by the US and its allies. The mess in the Middle East makes a principled position all the more vital:

No foreign military intervention!

No support for one or the other reactionary state, one or the other hopeless, ‘moderate’ Islamic group, simply because they oppose the local dictator.

Remember:

  • Many of these jihadists were incubated by Saudi Arabia and other US allies
  • It was western colonialism that created the underlying problems of the region – arbitrary borders, crude imposition of ruling elites from religious minorities (Sunni rulers in Shia countries and vice versa).
  • All imperialist ‘humanitarian interventions’ are political, with the single aim of advancing the geopolitical hegemony of US imperialism. Otherwise we would have witnessed, if not US military action, at least forthright condemnation of Israel, as it massacred over 2,000 Palestinians in Gaza.
  • Sections of the left that tail the latest ‘humanitarian’ intervention end up supporting the bombing of pro-Assad forces, including Iranian Revolutionary guards one year and the bombing of Assad’s opponents the next, as ground troops supported by Iranian Revolutionary Guards help Iraqi forces to recapture Shia towns.
  • Every military intervention, ‘humanitarian’ or otherwise, brings new recruits into the ranks of the jihadists. Anyone in doubt should look at events in Afghanistan and how US bombing increased support for the Taliban.

One of the revolutionary left’s most important tasks in the current situation is to point to the fallacy of ‘humanitarian intervention’, while avoiding the short-sighted, opportunistic politics of falling behind this or that Arab/Middle Eastern state or Islamic opposition (‘moderate’ or jihadist, from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to Al Nasr in Syria). This sort of politics continues to discredit the international left in the Middle East, and play into the hands of the religious fundamentalists.

The Americans and their new regional ally, Iran’s Islamic Republic, hope the removal of the much hated Maliki and the coming to power of the ‘moderate’ al-Abadi will improve relations with Sunni tribes. However, as late as August 30, Sheikh Ali al-Hatim of the Dulaim tribe was urging fellow Sunni leaders to withdraw from talks to form a new government. Hatim also called on the Sunni authorities to clamp down on Shi’ite militias.

Principles

Faced with the horrors inflicted by the IS, there was some confusion amongst the left in the imperialist countries. However, the answers remain simple and straightforward. For example: in 2007 Hopi pointed out, in opposition to the line adopted by the Stop the War Coalition leadership, that threats of war against Iran do not mean us we side with a reactionary religious state.

In 2012, during the Arab spring, Hopi said warned that, while in Egypt the departure of Hosni Mubarak was a cause for celebration, in the absence of any viable leftwing alternative, the neoliberal economics of the Muslim Brotherhood’s, and by the imposition of aspects of Sharia law, would be a disaster. We rejected claims about the allegedly progressive and anti-imperialist nature of the MB and warned against calling for a vote for it.

We were also against the military coup in Egypt in the summer of 2013, which sections of the left at first giddily supported.

And we opposed US military intervention in Syria. Foreign interventions in that country from Iran and Russia on the side of the Syrian dictator, and from Saudi Arabia and Qatar in support of Al Nasr, Isis and the Free Syrian army, paved the way for subsequent disasters.

We repeat the warnings again. The Middle East has a complicated history, compounded by arbitrary borders drawn up by the colonial powers. It has seen imperialist interventions throughout the last century. Only one position that has stood the test of time:

  • No to social-imperialist calls in for ‘humanitarian’ intervention!
  • No ‘critical support’ to this or that regional dictator or Islamist group (‘moderate’ or otherwise)
  • Stand alongside those sections of the working class movement that have not been tainted by either social-imperialism or false anti-imperialism. do not be fooled: there are no short cuts, no easy solutions.

HOPI: Grappling with the new situation

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

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

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

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

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

Israel and Iran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Working class

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nationalities

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

HOPI STATEMENT: MAY DAY 2013 IRAN – SUPPORT WORKERS’ STRUGGLES!

Workers Portest
Workers Protest

 

Hands Off the People of Iran has consistently identified the workers of Iran as the solid anti-imperialist force in that country, a force that has shown resilience in opoposition to the religious state . This is the section of Iranian society that the anti-war movement in the west must be a partisan of and ally with. This understanding explains why we have been implacably opposed not simply to any military attack on the country, but also the so-called ‘soft war’ option of sanctions: when the working class is distracted daily by the struggle to simply keep body and soul together, its ability to intervene in national politics with its own, radical agenda for democratic change is drastically restricted.

 

We therefore enthusiastically welcome news from Iran that May Day – international workers’ day – saw workers tenaciously defy military and security forces to organise illegal gathers and protests throughout the country. In Tehran and other major cities, slogans were raised against low pay, unemployment and the non-payment of wages. In an audacious symbolic act, the largest demonstration of all gathered outside the Islamic parliament, the Majles. We send our warm congratulations to all those who participated in these inspiring May 1 actions and re-commit ourselves to aid their struggles, first though mobilising the workers’ movement in this country to take a stand against war and sanctions and, second, through the direct provision of financial and other aid where we can.

 

The potential power of the workers is not simply recognised by Hopi, however. Increasingly, forces very far from the progressive movement – frustrated by the impotence of political groups such as the reformist Greens – are taking an interest in the class that has been the most persistent and courageous opponent of the Islamic regime.

 

For instance, the US journal Foreign Policy writes: “As Iran’s economy continues to deteriorate, the labour movement is a key player to watch because of its ability to pressure the Islamic Republic through protests and strikes … And thus far, Iranian labourers have not joined the opposition green movement en masse. But the economic pains caused by the Iranian regime’s mismanagement, corruption and international sanctions have dealt serious blows to worker wages, benefits and job security – enough reason for Iranian labourers to organise and oppose the regime …”. More ominously for today’s theocracy, it goes on to draw a parallel between the repression of today and “the Shah’s treatment of Iranian workers before his overthrow, particularly in the regime’s denial of the right to organize, the quashing of protests and strikes, and its refusal to address worker’s rights.”1 

 

In the UK during the same week, The Economist published an article with the strap: “Though watched and muzzled, independent labour unions are stirring”.2

 

The new, restive mood amongst the working class coincides with turmoil at the very top of the regime:

 

* Confusion is rife about who will or will not stand as a candidate in the country’s forthcoming presidential elections and whether the Guardian Council will allow Mohammad Khatami (the last ‘reformist’ president) or Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei (president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s anointed successor) to participate

 

* On April 29, the Guardian wrote that according to a unconfirmed report from a source in the Revolutionary Guard’s intelligent unit, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had been arrested and held for seven hours. This is yet to be confirmed, but what is true is that the man had threatened to release audio tapes proving there was fraud in the 2009 presidential elections. Before he was released, Ahmadinejad was apparently warned to keep silent about matters ‘detrimental’ to the Islamic regime – like presidential vote-rigging, for instance

 

* Iran’s press and media are dominated by speculation about ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani after he announced he is not ruling himself out as a candidate in the June 14 polls

 

In this fluid situation, what is the role of activists in solidarity with the workers of Iran? Hands Off the People Iran says we must:

 

1. Step up our efforts to block any military action against Iran. The regime is already using bellicose posturing from the US and Israel to depict its opponents as a fifth column for western imperialism. An actually military attack would dramatically derail the slow recomposition of the working class movement and give the theocracy a golden opportunity to unite the people around a ‘defence of the nation’ … led by itself, of course

 

2. Fight to end the form of war that is currently being waged on Iran – sanctions. The main victim of the these is the working class and the resultant poverty and desperate struggle for the basic necessities of life effectively excludes it from the political life of the country. The oil industry and parts of the manufacturing sector are on the verge of a complete shutdown and as a result tens of thousands of workers have lost their jobs. Others have not been paid any wages for up to two years, yet they continue going to work so that they can keep their jobs. Workers make ends meet by taking up extra part-time work – anything from driving taxis to selling goods on the pavement.

 

We say it is our internationalist duty to provide solidarity and material aid to the working people of Iran. Their struggles, though defensive in the main, should be a source of pride for us in the resilience of our class. The key problems are the barriers placed in the way of workers organising as a political force. Given this vacuum, regime change forces of the right – both green ‘reformists’ within the religious state and the US-sponsored ‘republican and royalist’ champions of regime change from above – are now trying to hitch the social power of this section of Iranian society to their stalled reactionary projects.

 

So far they have had little success. But there is no room for complacency.

 

Notes

 

1. http://mideast.foreignpolicy.com/posts/ 2013/04/22/labor_and_opposition_in_iran

 

 

2.http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21576408-though-watched-and-muzzled-independent-labour-unions-are-stirring-aya-toiling.

 

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HOPI: We stand by our principles

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HOPI: clear line on the Iranian regime

Hands Off the People of Iran has been accused by some forces in the orbit of the Iran Tribunal of abandoning its central political slogans and effectively becoming an apologist for the Tehran regime. Hopi categorically rejects these accusations. Our opposition to the IT flows precisely from the principles embodied in our founding statement – principles that uphold implacable opposition to both imperialism and the theocratic regime. At the same time we were – and remain – crystal-clear about where change must come from: the struggles of the working class and the social movements.

Our criticism of the Iran Tribunal and the left organisations that have collaborated with it flows from this. The refusal of this body to stand against sanctions and the threat of war against Iran makes its condemnation of the regime’s crimes – accurate though they are in the abstract – an aid to imperialism’s plans and manoeuvres in the region. Quite apart from murky questions to do with the tainting of the IT through funding or indirect support, its silence on US threats and the possibility of an Israeli attack provide a damning indictment of the whole initiative.

Despite protestations to the contrary, some of those on the ‘left’ who have cooperated with the IT have effectively given up on the ability of the working class to win fundamental change in Iran. Their political decay and disorientation is illustrated by the agency they now look to in order to defeat the theocratic regime: the stance of the IT proves that, for these people, that force is now imperialism. Others who have given their support in hope of raising awareness of the crimes committed by the theocratic regime have done so at a political cost that is too high. Whatever media interest has been gained has been placed within the framework of strengthening the imperialist arguments for deeper sanctions and the possibility of a military strike.

In stark contrast, Hopi stands proudly by the founding principles we adopted at our first conference in 2007:

  •   No to any imperialist intervention. The immediate and unconditional end to sanctions on Iran.
  •   No to the theocratic regime.
  •   Opposition to Israeli expansionism and aggression.
  •   Support to all working class and progressive struggles in Iran against poverty and repression.
  •   Support for socialism and democracy in Iran and therefore solidarity with all democratic, working class, socialist and secular movements in that country.
  •   Opposition to Israeli, British and American nuclear weapons. For a Middle East free of nuclear weapons as a step towards worldwide nuclear disarmament.

Quotes: Why we don’t support the Iran Tribunal

Israeli socialist and found of Matzpen, Moshé Machover, believes that some of the organisers and participants have “acted with evident good will, but that is not enough. It often happens that people of good intentions lend themselves out of naivety to be exploited by evil forces. This is a danger that we must always guard against. Many good people, out of genuine and justified concern for women’s rights, were duped into lending legitimacy to the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001; and similarly good people, with genuine horror of Saddam Husain’s atrocities, were duped in 2003 into lending legitimacy to the disastrous invasion of Iraq.”

Norman Paech, human rights lawyer and member of Die Linke in Germany: “I have indeed supported the intention and the work of the committee to prepare this tribunal. I still think it is absolutely necessary that all facts about the horrific murders, the torture and the crimes of the 1980s are brought to light. But the background of the funding and the obvious links to the NED, of which I had no knowledge and which have only just been brought to my attention, make it impossible for me to continue this support. I find myself in particularly strong disagreement with the committee when it comes to my resolute opposition to sanctions and the threat of war on Iran. I do not want to be part of a project which is supported by the pro-war Mujahedin.”

John McDonnell MP: This tardy interest in “human rights” in Iran is clearly part of the US, Israeli and British governments’ drive to topple the theocratic regime – just like military threats and the vicious sanctions on the country, which are bleeding ordinary Iranians dry: food prices have rocketed, many workers have to be laid off as contracts with foreign companies are cancelled, hospitals cannot get hold of necessary and life-saving equipment. In this context, the refusal of IT’s steering committee to take a stand against the looming war and the calamitous effects of sanctions is a significant silence.

Mark Fischer, national secretary of Hands Off the People of Iran: “Financially and politically the tribunal is an integral part of the campaign for ‘regime change from above’.  This multi-front campaign utilises bombs, military threats, sanctions, killer commandos despatched by the Israeli secret service Mossad … and ‘human rights’ initiatives like the Iran Tribunal. For the sake of legitimacy – especially when it comes to ‘soft war’ initiatives like the IT or sanctions – the support of pliant politicians of the Iranian opposition is vital in this. Indeed, some of these forces have foolishly suggested that the worse the social conditions become in Iran, the weaker the regime.”

Mohammad Reza Shalgouni, a founder-member of Rahe Kargar, who spent eight years in prison under the shah: “It is inconceivable that a genuine tribunal of victims of the 1988 massacre would be associated with individuals or organisations who have such connections to the United States government.”

Professor Bridget Fowler, Glasgow University: I have read your very disturbing articles and support your anxiety about some of the funders to the Iran Tribunal, including – via the Abdorrahman Borroumand Foundation – the National Endowment for Democracy. I came to learn about the NED through discovering that it was one of the many organisations that had tried to destabilise the present Cuban Govt, so as to reinstate a regime which would back full privatisation as well as pursuing neoliberal demands.

Michael Parenti, US Marxist academic: Anti-imperialists and socialists should not take monetary or promotional support from organizations that are funded and directed by the imperialists. The NED and other such imperial interests are happy to undermine us with dollars as well as with brutal assaults. Never do they give anything that does not have strings attached to it. The imperialists have only their own self-interest in mind. The nectar they offer us is laced with poison. Build your own organizations as best you can, free from the infiltrations and subversion of those who preach democracy but who practice fascism.

Ruben Markarian, a leading member of Rahe Kargar: “The reality is that families of political prisoners who were seeking justice for their relatives have been delivered to the US and its allies.”

Professor Cyrus Bina, University of Minnesota: This so-called Tribunal is indeed a bashful front of US neocons and the Israel lobby in United States. Let’s not kid ourselves by walking on the eggshells on this and when it comes to Mr. Payam Akhavan.

Ashraf Dehghani, a prominent member of the Iranian People’s Fedayeen Guerrillas, has also come out strongly in opposition to the tribunal. “These days, we see that various imperialist powers are concerned about the issue ‘human rights’ and the defense of this or that political prisoner in Iran. One example of such concern by imperialist forces is the so called Iran Tribunal held recently in London.”

Ervand Abrahamian, historian of Middle Eastern and particularly Iranian history: I think this is not a good time to focus on the prison massacres. A better time will come once the nuclear issue subsides. Incidentally, Moussavi had absolutely nothing to do with the killings. There is a vital need to differentiate between different sectors of the regime.

Articles from all over the world, criticising the tribunal and its organisers: