on the background to the Geneva talks, November 2013 Continue reading
on the background to the Geneva talks, November 2013 Continue reading
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:
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:
1. Payam Akhavan (chair and spokesperson of the tribunal’s steering committee) has links to organisations that have accepted large amounts of money from the US government
2. The tribunal refuses to take a stand against war and sanctions on Iran
3. Mainstream lawyers and politicians like Sir Geoffrey Nice, John Cooper QC and Maurice Copithorne ideologically support the tribunal – why?
4. The pro-war Mujahedeen is closely involved with the tribunal
5. Many organisations and witnesses have withdrawn
6. Critical voices have been silenced
7. Conclusion: The tribunal has become part of the campaign to legitimise war and sanctions to enforce pro-western ‘regime change from above’.
The arguments in more detail:
1. Payam Akhavan (chair and spokesperson of the tribunal’s steering committee) has links to organisations that have accepted large amounts of money from the US government.
He is leading member of Iran Human Rights Documentation. This has received a large amount of funding from the US government.[i] Akhavan is also active in Human Rights and Democracy for Iran (also known as the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation).This is financed by a variety of American and European foundations, amongst them the infamous National Endowment for Democracy (NED). The NED was founded in 1983 by former US president Ronald Reagan to spread his version of “democracy” around the globe
2. The tribunal refuses to take a stand against war and sanctions on Iran.
Yassamine Mather, chair of Hands Off the People of Iran, has written to the tribunal’s steering committee, requesting that it takes a stand against the threats of war on Iran and the devastating effect that the sanctions are having on the country. She did not even receive a reply.
Organisers of the tribunal subsequently stated that the tribunal is “non-political.” Yassamine Mather has responded that, “without clear opposition to war and sanctions, the tribunal effectively strengthens the hand of all those reactionary forces contemplating a military attack on Iran. The danger of war grows every day. I am a strong opponent of the regime in Tehran – but a war would be disastrous for the forces in Iran who have a real interest in democracy: the workers, women’s groups and social movements in that country.”
In contrast, Payam Akhavan is a keen supporter of sanctions on Iran. For many years, Payam Akhavan has been pushing his sponsors’ agenda for ever harsher sanctions. He is one of the authors of the International report published by the Responsibility to Prevent Coalition, which calls for “a comprehensive set of generic remedies – smart sanctions – to combat the critical mass of threat, including threat-specific remedies for each of the nuclear, incitement, terrorist and rights-violating threats”. This 2010 report was, incidentally, also signed by Tory MP Michael Gove and “Carl Gershman, President of the National Endowment for Democracy”.[ii]
(In an interview with a Canadian newspaper, Akhavan boasts: “After years of lobbying, we succeeded in persuading both the US and EU to adopt targeted sanctions against Iranian officials. Canada is far behind in this regard.”).[iii] On March 8 2012, he attended a meeting of the European Union to present a report he had co-authored that contains the proposal to blacklist not just “individuals”, but “the organisations and government bodies that commit these violations”, which “should also be put under sanction”.[iv]
Sanctions are supposed to destabilise the regime and prepare the ground for ‘regime change from above’. In reality, they impact below: first and foremost ordinary working people are harmed by them. There have been clashes on the streets of Tehran over the price of food – even stallholders at the Grand Bazaar are supporting the demonstrators- most Iranians will tell you that the sanctions are the main reason for their misery. In other words, they help deflect anger away from the theocratic regime. They weaken the only force that can deliver real democracy: the workers’, students’ and women’s organisations, who are today weaker than they have been for many years. Clearly, sanctions are a form of war.
3. Mainstream lawyers and politicians like Sir Geoffrey Nice, John Cooper QC and Maurice Copithorne ideologically support the tribunal – why?
Sir Geoffrey Nice is a supporter of the Human Rights Commission of the British Conservative Party; John Cooper QC has stood for the Labour Party in elections. Payam Akhavan was voted “young global leader” at the World Economic Forum in 2005. All three are well-known, high-ranking lawyers, who in the name of what they dub “the international community” have over the years confronted many dictators and government heads in international courts (generally when these have turned on their former sponsors in the US, of course).
Between 1995 and 2002, Maurice Copithorne acted as UN human rights rapporteur for Iran. “Some Iranians travelled to meet him in 1995 in order to get him to start an investigation of the 1988 massacre,” according to a member of the Norwegian tribunal support committee (which has since withdrawn). “But they weren’t even allowed to meet him. His aide told them that he would only deal with the current situation in Iran and was not interested in things from the past.” Of course, this was at a time when the US was making efforts to stage a rapprochement with Tehran and to enlist it as an ally in the fight against the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. It was in this geo-political context that Copithorne’s 1998 annual human rights report was seen as a political whitewash of the theocracy’s oppression. For example, in that report he opines that “the Islamic Republic of Iran is making progress in the field of human rights”.[v].
Why is Copithorne interested in the massacre now? And why have members of the Conservative Party donated their services for free? After all, this is the same Conservative Party that was in government in 1988 and remained ostentatiously silent as leftists and democrats were systematically culled by the theocracy. This is the same Conservative Party that supports harsh sanctions on Iran and continues to rattle the war drums.
Clearly, all these people are ideologically committed to the trial – which explains why the organisers refuse to come out against war and sanctions. This effectively contradicts the tribunal’s claims that they are “non-political”.
4. The pro-war Mujahedeen is closely involved with the tribunal
For the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), the overthrow of the regime has always been the key objective and it explicitly supports sanctions and war to achieve it. (In the first Gulf War, it famously sided with Saddam Hussein and supported his attacks on Iran, including active participation in military operations). The Mujahedin’s backing for the Iran Tribunal is actually disputed by the tribunal, yet the involvement of people with close MEK links seems to tell a different story. Hardly surprising: after all, the US government has recently announced that it has removed the Mujahedin from its list of terrorist organisations.Leila Ghalehbani (who is featured in a video on the tribunal’s front page) is the sister of a number of Mujahedin prisoners who were killed in 1988. Iraj Mesdaghi, a survivor of the massacre, describes himself as “a former member” of the organisation. The website of the pro-Mujahedin organisation, Human Rights and Democracy for Iran, has just published a very sympathetic interview with Payam Akhavan, in which he is sympathetically prompted to tell readers how he feels about being “slandered” by the British leftwing paper, Weekly Worker, in its critical coverage of the IT. [vi]
5. Many organisations and witnesses have withdrawn.
The organisations that have withdrawn their witnesses, support for and cooperation with the tribunal include Rahe Kargar (Komitee Ejraai) and the communist organisation Charikhaye Fadai Khalgh (one of the offshoots of the original Fedayeen). Others, like the Communist Party of Iran, have dropped their support. The Marxist-Leninist Party of Iran (Maoist) has split over the issue, as has the Iranian Left Socialist Alliance in the US and Canada. The most ferocious criticism has come from the tribunal’s Norwegian support committee, which has since dissolved because it felt “duped” by the tribunal organisers.
6. Critical voices have been silenced.
A number of tribunal witnesses have used their statements to condemn the links of the committee to the NED and publicly stated that they are against war and sanctions on Iran. In two highly critical statements the Norwegian support committee describes how all IT witnesses who arrived in London on June 17 were taken to a briefing session, where they were explicitly asked not to raise any politics during their session. They would not be asked the name of their organisation or their political views, as this was “not a political tribunal”. One witness wanted to challenge the tribunal and at the end of his 30-minute session made an anti-imperialist statement. Outrageously, his whole statement was excluded from the tribunal’s report.
7. Conclusion: The tribunal has become part of the campaign to legitimise war and sanctions to enforce pro-western ‘regime change from above’.
The tribunal is part of a campaign that includes sanctions and the threat of war: they are designed to destabilise the theocratic regime, so that it can be easily toppled. But such a regime change from above cannot bring democracy, as the most recent examples of Iraq and Afghanistan prove.
Hopi is campaigning for a real tribunal that can investigate the crimes of the Iranian regime – but which at the same time takes an implacable stand against war and sanctions. Democracy in Iran will come from below, from the struggles of its working people themselves; they need solidarity, not the pro-imperialist bleating of Johnny-come-lately ‘democrats’ like Cooper, Nice and Copithorne.
On January 28 around 300 protesters gathered at the American embassy to oppose the increasingly bellicose rhetoric against Iran and Syria. Called by the Stop the War Coalition under the title of ‘Stop the war before it starts: don’t attack Iran/Syria’, the protest was in many respects something that seasoned activists in the anti-war movement would be all too familiar with. Well-meaning, if often slightly tedious and repetitive speeches, a few chants and the promise to build an enormous opposition that could finally scupper the imperialists’ plans once and for all. However, it soon became apparent that this was not going to be simply ‘business as usual’. In a somewhat embarrassing indictment to the approach of ‘as broad as possible’ typified by the coalition, several speakers were booed or chanted down, and fights broke out between protesters. At one point a group of Iranians from the London Green movement lined up against supporters of the Syrian Baathist regime under the sway of Bashar Al-Assad. It was not pretty.
The first indications that something was not quite right came when I was handing out Hands Off the People of Iran leaflets (‘Make your voice heard’: see here). The leaflets were readily snapped up, but it soon became apparent that several of the people I had handed leaflets too – particularly young men – were sporting baseball caps emblazoned with the Syrian flag (not that of the Syrian opposition) and a picture of Al-Assad in all his despotic glory.
At the same time, about 40 Iranian protesters were gathering behind banners reading ‘Free Iran’. From afar, this demonstration must have seemed like the prelude to some conflict, not a demonstration to oppose one.
When the rather compromised figure of Abbas Eddalat of the Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran spoke, noise erupted from the ‘Free Iran’ contingent. In the din it was not all clear what he was saying – though he went out of his way to assure the protesters that the theocratic regime in Iran was not interested in building nuclear weapons. It was obvious that the Iranians wanted their voices to be heard in a different fashion, by somebody else.
This angered the Syrians, and soon both groups squared up. They were separated only by police barriers and four or five rather dumbfounded police constables. Some of the younger male Syrians initially managed to get quite close to the Iranians. Wrapped in Syrian flags and with bandanas reading “labeik Khameni – I worship Khamenei” around their heads, they meted out some quite heavy blows to some of the Iranians leading the chants. Adding to the absurdity of the situation, the handful of Iranians waving the Islamic Republic of Iran flags then joined with their Syrian comrades. One woman joined the two together and waved them proudly. The Iranian Khamenei supporters were in a distinct minority – most were young men from Syria. Yet the Iranian Islamists were not coy, with one pushing Hopi chair Yassamine Mather as she was being filmed. This sets a rather distasteful precedent.
Chants of ‘Long live Syria’ were met with ‘Down with Hezbollah’. Some of the chanting being lead from the stage was utterly drowned out. Keen to find out just who some of these people were, comrades working with Hopi managed to speak to some of them, and were informed that it was actually acceptable for women wearing bikinis to be stoned.
There was a fleeting moment of humanity, however, when the clashes temporarily were broken off to remove a small girl from the crowd, who had been hurtled to the floor.
But from this point on things were really out of control. The stewards were quite rightly at a loss, and some of the protesters were calling in the police to break up fights.
Speeches from the platform were constantly interrupted: it seemed that the Syrians wanted to talk about Syria. Indeed, this demonstration was also supposed to be about Syria too. But the organisers were keen to play down the Syrian aspect and none of the platform speakers really discussed Syria at all. This obviously upset the al-Assad fans, leading to them disrupting the demonstration and letting loose on the Iranian oppositionists. They did their best to make it known just how much they loved al-Assad, instigating attempts by rather embarrassed Iranians to stop them .
One of the main organisers of the Syrian contingent could be seen handing out copies of the CPGB-ML’s publication, ‘Proletarian’. I therefore wondered whether some of the hostility towards StWC speakers also stemmed from the latter organisation’s unceremonious ejection from the coalition for their veneration of former Libyan despot, Colonel Gaddafi.
Opportunism is the handmaiden of inconsistency. After all, just a few months ago the leadership of Stop the War booted out these very same people for their fawning praise of Gaddafi, supposed man of the people.
So it was fine (indeed a precondition of membership!) to oppose imperialist intervention in Libya while supporting protesters against their own dictator, but when it comes to Iran … No, no comrades, we cannot allow forces to affiliate to the coalition (like Hopi) who have the temerity to oppose imperialism AND criticise the theocracy. Many platform speakers were absolutely correct to chastise the double standards of the West when lecturing Iran on the perils of nuclear technology. But we also have to look at our own movement’s double standards once in a while.
The organisers did their best to calm the situation. But the arguments of the main speakers Lindsey German, John Rees and Andrew Murray were, as with their arguments against Hopi, largely mendacious.
“You are making the biggest mistake of your lives if on the basis of opposition you support the war”, Lindsey German shouted over the noise.
Quite right. In the past, the Iranian left has, of course, been tainted by the presence of all sorts of useful idiots lining up with the war drive. But the 40 or so Iranians at this demonstration were clearly, visibly anti-war. Most were keen to take a Hopi leaflet, and many carried official Stop the War placards reading ‘Don’t attack Iran’. Some of their supporters held up signs making the obvious point: ‘Sanctions and war kill Iran’s democracy movement’. If there is a criticism that can be made of the ‘London Green movement’, it is that their opposition to the entire regime came far too late. But now is the time to organise. The Iranians present on the demonstration should affiliate to the StWC and fight for basic internationalist principles.
German, Rees et al are actually going to fairly desperate lengths to dodge the issue at hand, ie the fact that they have consistently – both in the SWP and their new setup – opposed the affiliation of anti-imperialists critical of the Iranian regime. Hopi does not to make it a condition of entry that the StWC adopts the same policies as Hopi. We are in Britain and thus – yes – our main duty is to stop the warmongers. But we reject the notion that we must silence ourselves if we want to take part. Given that a section of the Iranian regime are not exactly indifferent to the prospect of war (desperate times, desperate measures!) this matter is hardly a mere trifle.
Indeed, I am also a bit perplexed by the notion that ‘the Iranian regime is a matter for the Iranian people themselves’. On one level this is obvious. Even though the clashes between Hezbollah supporters and Iranian democracy protesters may have made it feel like Tehran, the demo took place in London.
But is not the struggle against war in the Middle East – a powder keg of war and revolution – bound up with the strength and success of radical movements for change from below? Is it so heinous a crime to have platform speakers who have politics beyond ‘let’s all stop the war’? Fresh from a trip to Cairo, John Rees made this very point: the unfolding Egyptian revolution stood as an indictment of the arguments made by liberal and social imperialists about how US intervention brings democracy: the Egyptian military are shooting democracy protesters with US bullets! Indeed, but why does such a fundamental point only apply to US client states, and not those at odds with imperialism too? His logic shows something that far too many of the left (and on the far right) still cling too – the notion of an ‘anti-imperialist camp’ led, however imperfectly, by those like Al-Assad, Nasrollah or Khamenei.
Yet this flawed logic is increasingly at odds with reality. Indeed, there are encouraging signs that Counterfire’s erstwhile comrades in the SWP seem to be gradually turning away from their previous approach. (We should not forget that in 2006 SWP members Somaye Zadeh, Alys Zaerin and Casmi’s Abbas Eddalat led the charge against Hopi’s affiliation to StWC with very dubious, pro-theocracy arguments – see here: http://www.cpgb.org.uk/worker2/index.php?action=issue&issue=695).
But back in December, an Iranian SWP member, comrade Ali Alizadeh, gave a talk on ‘The lessons of Islamism’, in which he ended with a call to oppose any imperialist intervention without falling into the trap of allying ourselves with the regime. (His talk can be viewed online at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pn3__XoTlTk). For the moment his comrades do not seem to be doing much about fighting for this line in the StWC. Curiously, the report of the demo by Sian Ruddick in Socialist Worker online does not mention the stand-off at all (http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=27366). SWP comrades obviously pretend this did not happen.
After all, Saturday’s sorry mess is just another tragic testament to the perils of popular frontism, of the poverty of political vision manifest in the StWC leadership over the years.
Hopefully there will be a rethink. But for the moment, the signs are few and far between. Chris Nineham could only roll out the usual call: put aside our differences and build the ‘broadest possible movement’. Always absurd, this message was rendered slightly more absurd by the fact that only state intervention could prevent what appeared to be a full-scale fight between the Iranians and the Syrians.
We in Hands Off the People of Iran have constantly pointed out the dangerous waters the anti-war movement will get itself into by putting narrow sect manoeuvering over politics and principles. We do not rub our hands in glee at the mess that unfolded before us on January 28, because it discredits our movement as a whole. Yes, we want the broadest, most militant movement of opposition possible. But we also want a movement that thinks and debates, that does not leave its politics outside of the movement, and that welcomes a whole range of critical views and ideas – not just those that are not too unpalatable for German, Rees and Murray.
We are potentially heading into extremely dangerous times. More than ever, a clear message of working class internationalism is needed in our movement. We call upon all anti-imperialists to fight for the right of Hopi to affiliate to the StWC – and for a clear change of strategy. The times demand nothing less. Join Hopi’s campaign and fight for anti-imperialism in the anti-war movement.
The war drums against Iran are beating ever louder. The new embargo on Iranian oil, to come into force on July 1, is only the latest in a long list of measures imposed by US and EU imperialism. It bans all new oil contracts with Iran, and cuts off all existing deals. Also, all of the Iranian central bank’s European assets are to be frozen.
We are told that the sanctions are designed to weaken the regime and “force Iran back to the negotiating table” over its nuclear programme. This is clearly nonsense:
themselves to a large degree from the effects. In fact, leaders of sanctioned regimes are almost always strengthened (and enriched) by sanctions.
We know from history that sanctions are only the first step in wars being waged against ‘unfriendly’ regimes. A military attack against Iran is very much on the agenda. Should the regime in Tehran really decide to close the Strait of Hormuz, this could happen sooner rather than later.
That is why it is so important that we side now with the people of Iran in their struggle against their own theocracy and the threats by imperialism!
Make your voice heard now! Send us a message in the form of an email, voice mail, short video or a photograph holding attached poster and encourage your comrades and friends to do the same. We will post all messages on a special section on Hopi’s website and on YouTube, Facebook and other social media sites. Plans are also afoot for solidarity events, film screenings and fundraising events. Can you get involved? Donations are much appreciated too!
Chair, Hands Off the People of Iran
Hands Off the People of Iran unequivocally condemns the ratcheting up of sanctions on Iran in the aftermath of the much-heralded report of the International Atomic Energy Agency on that country’s nuclear capability on November 8. The report did little more than confirm the assessment that Hopi arrived at some time ago: that at worst Iran may be interested in the so-called ‘Japanese’ option. This is nuclear development that stops just short of the capacity to produce a nuclear weapon – but only by a month or so. But this is something that has been commented on many times before.
Despite the fact that this report contained little or nothing that was new (it was little more than a compilation of UK satellite pictures and the pre-existing reports of the CIA and other western intelligence agencies), imperialist leaders have fallen over themselves to express horror and outrage at these ‘new’ findings:
Even this was not enough for the rabid Israeli regime, which frothed about Iran having a nuclear weapon within a year and made ominous noises about military action. Israel feels politically vulnerable, given the current upheavals in the Arab world. An Iran with nuclear capability challenges its regional hegemony in a broader sense, but there is also a very practical concern. Iran’s missile delivery system is sophisticated enough to deliver a conventional payload to Tel Aviv – hence the November 7 explosion/assassination at the military base in Bid Ganeh, some 20 kilometres (12 miles) west of Tehran. Amongst others this killed major-general Hassan Moqaddam, a key figure in Iran’s ballistic missiles programme: according to Time magazine, a “western intelligence source” laid the blame at the door of the Israeli spy agency, Mossad, and warned that “there are more bullets in the magazine”.
On one level, the western powers are in a weak position when it comes to convincing the wider population that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. The debacle of Iraq – and farcical claims around Saddam’s supposed “weapons of mass destruction” – have prompted many commentators to dub the IAEA’s report “Iran’s 45-minute moment” (a reference to the nonsense peddled about Iraq’s supposed capability to drop bombs on strategic European targets in that time frame). Of course, from the point of view of Iraq’s barbaric rulers, if such weapons had existed it would have been a fairly obvious military response to the invasion of their country to use them. Similar claims today about Iran’s nuclear ambitions will raise many a sceptical eyebrow.
The veracity of the report will also be called into question when it is recalled that the current IAEA director general, Yukiya Amano, has often been accused, on solid grounds, of pro-US bias. According to diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks last year, US diplomats favoured his nomination, as he was “in tune with the US position regarding Iran’s nuclear programme” – a revelation that will help undermine the US/Britain’s charges against the regime.
However, on another level the case for imperialist intervention has undoubtedly been bolstered by the relatively ‘clean’ regime change in Libya (so far …). The overthrow of Gaddafi by western-backed insurgents is widely perceived of as a ‘good war’, in stark contrast to the quagmire of Iraq; the inability of the anti-war movement in this country to mobilise large numbers onto the streets in opposition to the intervention is a mark of this.
The current low level of anti-war mobilisation is a big problem for all those who oppose the imperialist interference in the Middle East, for we should be clear that the war on Iran has already started. It is unlikely to take the form of military invasion and occupation at any stage – the experience of the running sore of Iraq has chastened the imperialists on that front. What we will see – are seeing – is war pursued by other means:
These sorts of tactics betray the strategic goal the US and its allies have in mind. Ideally for them, a repetition – in a ‘tidier’ form – of the Libyan scenario. That is, that pressure from imperialism engenders splits in this deeply discredited regime and its possible collapse/paralysis. Then indigenous opposition forces spearhead regime change, with the active aid and encouragement of the west. Clinton has spoken openly of her administration’s hopes for the implosion of the regime. There is solid ground for her optimism. Fraught divisions exist at every level of the theocratic regime, most dramatically in its top echelons with the ongoing conflict between supreme leader ayatollah Khamenei and president Ahmadinejad, and continued joint conflict with timid reformists such as Mir-Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi.
The Obama administration would have been encouraged in this by recent developments in the Iranian opposition movement. A pro-war/anti-war-pro-sanctions debate is now dominating Iranian political discourse generally and has engendered a split into two major trends in this opposition. First there are those such as Mohammad Khatami who totally oppose the war, despite their criticisms of the regime. However, this does not flow from any sort of principled or consistently democratic position; rather, it is inspired by nationalism. Khatami has called for “national unity” in the face of this crisis and offers the supreme leader advice about ‘changing course’.
Far more worrying has been the significant section of the opposition (including some who could be politically designated as ‘soft left’, but mainly composed of liberals) who appear to be almost egging the Americans to launch a military strike. The example of the Nato bombing of Libya is looked to by these forces as a positive example of ‘humanitarian intervention’. Although there does not appear to be the appetite in Washington for air strikes, the US’s ally in the region, Israel, remains politically unstable and bellicose: witness the recent statement by Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak that “We do not expect any new UN sanctions on Tehran to persuade it to stop its nuclear defiance. We continue to recommend to our friends in the world and to ourselves not to take any option off the table.”
The stance of Hands Off the People of Iran is crystal-clear. We implacably oppose the sabre-rattling of the imperialists and demand that all sanctions on the country are lifted, that all threats of military action be rescinded. We call for this not because we have any illusions in the loathsome regime in Iran. It starves its own people; it denies them basic human rights; it endangers their lives through its elaborate games of brinkmanship with the US and its powerful allies. Unlike some politically demented leftists, we say that nuclear weapons in its hands would be a defeat for the forces of democracy and radical social change, as well as a profoundly destabilising development in the region.
No, we oppose the warmongering – whether it takes the hard form of assassinations, threats of military action, or the ‘soft’ option of sanctions – because we do not have any illusions in the loathsome regimes in place in Washington, London or Tel Aviv either. The intervention of these powers and their allies has nothing whatsoever to do with the promotion of ‘democracy’ – indeed, the regimes the imperialists impose often have features that are significantly worse than the previous team of oppressors of the people. Hopi insists that democracy can only come in Iran from below – from the struggles of the workers’, women’s and students’ movements. It will never fall from the sky in the tip of a US or Israeli bunker-buster.
We look to those like the working class and anti-capitalist activists, left intellectuals and students who met in an anti-capitalist conference in Iran on November 4. Many of the contributions emphasised the need to strengthen the workers’ struggles, the underground left/workers’ groups and the fight for left unity – “It is a shame that hero worship of certain intellectuals acting as semi-gods has harmed unity amongst the forces of the Iranian left,” said veteran labour activist NA. Military action against Iran, whether overt or covert, whether air strikes or sanctions, only acts to disorganise and disorientate these forces for change. This is why the threatening military backdrop to the conference was discussed by participants and Clinton’s bellicose statements noted. This is why Hopi contributes to their struggle for freedom by fighting against any imperialist attack on their country.
The imperialists want change in Iran via a palace coup or politically neutered opposition movement. Hopi says genuine democratic change must come from below, through the initiative, elan and thirst for change of the masses themselves! l
Over the last year workers in Iran have struggled on several fronts. The subsidy cuts coupled with the crisis in world capitalism are driving living standards down for the majority of Iranians. Basic food stuffs are rising in price at a phenomenal rate, with bread rising a massive 25% and unsubsidised fuel increasing 7 fold. This is in a country with the third largest oil reserves in the world and the necessary refining abilities to produce cheap and affordable fuel for the entire population. The sanctions regime continues to undermine Iranian industry, robbing many workers of their jobs whilst the elite continue to amass great wealth. We stand with the Iranian working class fighting austerity and call for an end to all sanctions. We also call for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners.
There have been important centres of working class resistance where the working class has shown its strength. At the Alborz tyre factory in Iran over 800 workers have held protests outside of the presidential office after 9 months of unpaid wages. There has been a recurring struggle over wages being withheld on a regular basis since privatisation of the factory in 1991.
The state-run Haft Tapeh sugar cane factory workers have faced consistent repression and attempts to crush their union. Ali Nejati, the President of the Union, is in prison and in ill health facing further charges of endangering national security. This continued repression, failure to pay wages and the refusal of the management to allow sacked workers to return have forced workers to down tools and strike several times over the last 12 months.
The strikes in the Petrochemical industry starting on March 19 at the Imam Port complex were contagious and spread across the industry. The initial demands focused on ending the current contract system that offers only precarious work and little security. Thousands of workers have been on strike demanding the introduction of the 2005 directives on hiring.
At the Pars Paper Company over a thousand of workers struck in defence of 60 laid off workers who had been at the company for over 10 years. In Qazvin workers at multiple textile plants have struck against unpaid wages, with some workers going unpaid for over a year. They were also joined by workers from the city’s Ziaran slaughterhouse who have unpaid wage claims going back two years.
At Iran Khodro the overworked yet militant workforce has continued to be a beacon of resistance. In January 4 workers were killed and 13 injured as a worker who was ill and tired after repeated back-to-back shifts collapsed at the wheel of the truck he was driving. Workers immediately demonstrated and called on the CEO to resign. Scuffles broke out between security and revolutionary guards.
The protest movement that erupted in 2009 was savagely put down by the security forces with violence not witnessed since 1999. Many leaders and activists remain in jail, many have fled and gone underground and hundreds have been murdered. Yet flickers of open defiance continue and below the surface the Iranian masses have rejected the theocratic regime. It is only a matter of time until mass action will threaten the existence of the Islamic Republic.
The uprisings in the region are a nightmare vision of the future for the regime as the revolts creep closer to the border. The imperialists have also suffered defeats, with Mubarak, a lynchpin of their domination, falling along with Tunisia’s Ben Ali. Yemen’s Saleh is soon to go. In this chaotic atmosphere the war threat has increased as we must not rule out further military action by the imperialists to demonstrate their power and reassert political domination. As part of threatening war with Iran, Saudi troops have gone in to suppress the people in Bahrain. This is what the intervention in Libya is about: not protecting civilians. The current interventions in the region must end and there must be no attack on Iran.
Hands Off the People of Iran reiterates our commitment to oppose the war threat and sanctions whilst supporting the struggle against the theocratic regime.
Hands Off the People of Iran Steering Committee
This successful meeting on February 12 2011 agreed to launch the campaign ‘Free Jafar Panahi and all political prisoners in Iran!’
Find below information on the motions that were passed and who is sitting on our new steering committee.